Federal

Nov 16, 2009

Aboriginal Australia: like the poorest of Africa, says Amnesty chief

The Secretary General of Amnesty International has likened conditions in Central Australia to the poorest parts of Africa and Asia, and described the gap between rich and poor in this country as the most stark she's even seen.

Chris Graham

Tracker managing editor

The Secretary General of Amnesty International has likened conditions in Central Australia to the poorest parts of Africa and Asia, and described the gap between rich and poor in this country as the most stark she's even seen.

Irene Khan -- the head of the world's largest human rights organisation -- made her comments during a tour of remote Aboriginal outstations in Central Australia yesterday.

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14 comments

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14 thoughts on “Aboriginal Australia: like the poorest of Africa, says Amnesty chief

  1. Jon Hunt

    Yes, yes, yes. One hears the same thing over and over yet over and over it seems to fall on deaf ears. Where is the Australian public demanding that something be done? If not, then why not?

  2. Liz45

    I agree JON. Maybe Irene Khan will succeed in getting through. I’ve heard that the Rudd Govt’s answer to their disgraceful racist behaviours re the quarantine of incomes, is utilising it around the country. It just begs belief doesn’t it? It’s just plain wrong and they must know how demeaning and offensive it is. Some? a few? people like it, and that’s OK, but it should’ve always been an elective issue, in consultation with people, not upholding Howard’s patronising and paternalistic policies – smacks of the ration days of tea, flour and sugar? Back to punishing those who are suffering immense neglect, instead of being uplifting and exercising decency! Unbelievable!

  3. Rena Zurawel

    I do not believe for one moment that our governments are so stupid that they cannot help indigenous population or they have no idea how to solve the water supply problem, or instal solar panels on public buildings.
    If they are not intellectually challenged then they do things or do not do things, deliberately.
    Tertium non datur. Or is it the case of senatores boni viri sed Senatus bestiam?
    Probably. I personally heard from a ‘good’ SA politician, some years ago, that ‘the situation of Aboriginal population is not an election issue’.
    Fancy that. And the situation of boat people is..?.

  4. jungarrayi

    Deaf ears indeed:
    One Warlpiri description I’ve heard of visiting politicians and bureaucrats is “langa pati”
    Langa= ear(s) , Pati= hard impenetrable ground.
    One of the most common complaints I hear (I live on a remote Aboriginal community) is that
    “nuwu kaluju purta nyanyi” (they’re not listening to us).

    The Government appointed GBM (Government Business Manager) is known as “ngipri” (egg). His compound (complete with satelite dish, fence and barbed wire) is the “minna” (nest).
    Figure that one out!

  5. Jon Hunt

    Yes, that’s the whole problem and this is why nothing changes. They do not see that it is their attitude which perpetuates the problems that they allegedly are are trying to solve.

  6. Sean

    hmm, there’s a number of different issues raised here, and I don’t know if it’s all about wilful neglect and failure to listen etc. the issues are about recent efforts towards some level of forced centralisation and assimilation, but the existing ‘neglect’ is no worse than the living conditions before European settlement — and I believe that is why many of the people still live like this — you cannot have solar panels and phones and running water and all those things without some degree of assimilation and westernisation — which the people resist. I believe the govts then just give up and say it’s too hard and let people live and let live in this fashion. There are some current pressures by the govt to centralise which I am suspicious of, it may be more about dispossession from lands in order to get access to minerals or what have you.

    but I believe traditional low-tech living standards go hand in hand with ‘refusal’ to assimilate, and once you have mobile phones and running water and modern new homes etc then you have forcibly then assimilated the people, they’ve started to modernise and industrialise. if you have these things, then you also need to have repairmen in utes dropping by to fix things etc etc and you have created a cosy little european culture in no time.

    while govts also believe of course that these people have nothing to contribute to a technological age, especially while they want to live in the middle of nowhere. there is no ‘exchange of value’ in their eyes.

    I think people beating themselves up about lower quality of life, or shortened lifespans, or lack of plasma TVs and ipods or even basic mod cons etc are missing the point about what the terms of coexistence are going to be, and how you can possibly deliver these services without creating an assimilative environment. when kids live out in the middle of nowhere in basic camps and are surrounded by ground-borne bugs etc and have little or no access to modern medicine or even hygiene as we understand it, how do you deliver such education and services and amenities without fundamentally altering tribal structures and the professed desire to be left alone?

    this terms of coexistence dilemma is going to go on forever…

  7. Chris Graham

    “… the existing ‘neglect’ is no worse than the living conditions before European settlement — and I believe that is why many of the people still live like this.”

    One of the most ignorant comments I’ve seen in a while. Sean, in Arlparra theyy’re being charged $50 a week to live in a humpy. Is that how they lived prior to settlement?

  8. james mcdonald

    Sean, the “living conditions before European settlement” included hunting-gathering food supply that was relatively stable and are now broken. Most of the land is no longer available, and the rest has been profoundly changed. Aboriginal communities each had established annual customs including migration patterns, as well as intimate local knowledge of the available food supplies in nature. These annual customs and knowledge could be termed “technology”.

    The existing neglect is infinitely worse than the living conditions before European settlement. Something has been taken away–at its most basic, the food supply, and the right of ownership of that food supply–and very little has been put in its place, other than addictive substances, and a welfare dependency which is as degrading as it is hard to break out of.

  9. Jon Hunt

    I think one of the perpetuating factors in the problems facing Aboriginal people is the lack of easily obtained robust information about this topic, meaning many have to resort to fantasy, myths and stereotypes. Has anyone ever thought of making Aboriginal issues a requirement of school curriculum? If not, then why is it that a better factual understanding of these issues is not important enough warrant this?

  10. Sean

    Chris Graham
    Posted Tuesday, 17 November 2009 at 2:07 pm | Permalink
    “… the existing ‘neglect’ is no worse than the living conditions before European settlement — and I believe that is why many of the people still live like this.”

    One of the most ignorant comments I’ve seen in a while. Sean, in Arlparra theyy’re being charged $50 a week to live in a humpy. Is that how they lived prior to settlement?

    sorry, I’ll cross my HD-average anthropology major study off my transcript. I have no idea how paleolithic people used to live at all. No idea of the kinship relations and social structures, understanding of mutual reciprocity and collective ownership, use of territories and technologies, or the systems of social regulation and law.

    Chris, I think this ‘$50 humpy’ remark is a bit shallow and unhelpful. You’re saying somebody charging somebody else $50 for humpies is the root cause of all the problems? How about a more extensive analysis of these new economic relations then? Name names. Let’s stop crying in our lattes about this and get down to brass tacks.

    james mcdonald
    Posted Thursday, 19 November 2009 at 12:20 pm | Permalink
    Sean, the “living conditions before European settlement” included hunting-gathering food supply that was relatively stable and are now broken.

    I dispute that — there are still tribal groups in Australia huntign and gathering and subsisting off the environment, in some cases supplementing with brought in ‘Western’ food. At least that’s what I’ve been reading in the ethnographies, what are your sources? Not saying that nutrition and reliance on Western food is not a problem in some areas. By the way, see how your health goes wandering around in the desert all day fossicking for nuts and berries, catching the odd goanna as an easy target, exposed to the sun, countless parasites, snakes, insects, etc. You’re of the noble savage persuasion, james, obviously, and obviously extremely well informed. You suggest they should still be living this lifestyle, yet have A! Western standard health? Ever consider the average lifespan before European settlement with exposure to a harsh environment and no modern medicine or science? Not counting tribal warfare and violence.

    Most of the land is no longer available, and the rest has been profoundly changed. Aboriginal communities each had established annual customs including migration patterns, as well as intimate local knowledge of the available food supplies in nature. These annual customs and knowledge could be termed “technology”.

    The ‘migration patterns’ were generally extremely limited in locus, simply moving from area to area withn a prescribed range as naturally occurring food supplies ran out in an area. The range a tribe could roam in was pretty strictly controlled by common agreement with neighbouring tribes, backed up by force and warfare if necessary. A similar situation could be observed today in the South America rainforest or Papua New Guinean highlands. Although some South Americans and Papua New Guineans had graduated to a ‘horticultural’ style technology involving more fixed settlements which gave greater control over food supply by tending ‘gardens’ and keeping some domesticated animals — this never occurred in Australia, and all people were reliant on naturally occurring levels of food supply in a kind of equilibrium. Elders who became senile and slowed down the nomadic movements would often be killed with the agreement of the tribe elders.

    The existing neglect is infinitely worse than the living conditions before European settlement.

    yes, infinitely, infinitely worse. Very poetic stuff. I’m sure it’s factually true. Infinitely worse. No tear-jerking leftie latteism there. Why don’t you just leave the country in protest and surrender it back to the original occupants then, and they can return to a paleolithic lifestyle? Not got a visa? Like it too much in the inner city?

    As I’ve said, material conditions are much the same as before settlement. That’s why we have the current situation.

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