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Posts Tagged ‘Aboriginal issues’

After viewing the clouds of the US convention speeches, I’ve been playing around with Wordle myself. Here are word clouds for a few of my favourite speeches in Australian political history. Links to the original text of each speech are below the clouds.

Redfern Speech, Paul Keating, 10th December 1992

Eulogy of the Unknown Australian Soldier, Paul Keating, 11th November 1993

The Light on the Hill, Ben Chifley, 12th June 1949

(NB: If you happen to be near the Central West of NSW later this month, here’s something to do)

Apology to the Stolen Generations, Kevin Rudd, 13th February 2008

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After 11 years of social divisiveness and conservatism, Team Howard now wants us to believe that they will work to create an equitable and tolerant society – in their fifth term of government.

First, it was John Howard’s semi-hemi-demi-backflip on reconciliation – announcing a constitutional referendum to acknowledge a self-evident fact in our Constitution.

Now, to try to win over the voters in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs that Malcolm Turnbull needs to retain Wentworth, Team Howard is showing signs of movement on rights to public sector superannuation for gay couples.

The obviousness of the Liberal Party’s ploys to win over socially liberal voters can’t be disputed. Howard is trying out announcements that stand diametrically opposed to his decades-old record of being a stodgy old conservative with a very narrow set of social values. He is trying to convince us that his failure to act, or even to appreciate the need to act, on these issues during the past four terms should be forgotten, because in the next three years, it’s all going to change.

It’s too late. And it’s too little:

While the Coalition will not grant gay couples de facto status, or adopt any of the other 58 recommendations outlined in a human rights report in June, it will allow, if re-elected, interdependent gay couples to share each other’s public pensions and super benefits – as heterosexual couples do.

They don’t want to go too far in actually doing these things – they just want to give the impression that they will. But if we have seen how equitable our society is under John Howard, how can we believe that Howard Mk V will be so different?

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I haven’t posted about John Howard’s “deathbed repentance” (as coined by Paul Keating) on reconciliation, because many sensible people have said many sensible things about it already (for instance, see the comments of Senator Bartlett, Guido at Rank and Vile, Ken Lovell at The Road to Surfdom, Senator Siewert, and Tim Dunlop). There has been a very mixed response – while cynicism about the political aim of Howard’s speech is widespread, some (such as Senator Bartlett) are pointing out that it can nonetheless be a valuable opportunity to move the reconciliation agenda forward. Others regard it as a pure vote-grabbing agenda that does not represent any kind of real movement in Howard’s position on reconciliation.

My main reaction has been that the announcement is a lot more about Howard than about any social policy agenda. The number of self-references in the Captain’s speech highlight that a primary goal was to adjust perceptions of the man, to at least as great an extent as it was about adjusting policy perceptions of the Government. John Howard wanted to show us that he had changed, that he can recognise his mistakes, and that he has new ideas and a vision for the future still. I didn’t buy it and I am not convinced that many will, particularly when it is still clear that he hasn’t moved beyond his opponent on these issues. But the extent of personalisation in Howard’s argument stands in contrast to the grand launch of Team Howard that we saw after the leadership debacle just last month – as Ken Lovell has noted, the Captain has very much been the public face of his Government, handing out all of the goodies single-handed. Vice-Captain Tip and the Deputy Vice-Captains have been relegated to talking pot-shots at Rudd, Gillard, etc.

With the meeting at Government House out of the way, we can look forward to the campaign proper getting underway. I will be interested to see the Captain’s formal announcement today – as Glenn Milne observed on Insiders this morning, the Coalition hasn’t had a good narrative running so far, and it seems to be shifting from week to week. Howard’s announcement of the election should give an indication of what they have ended up deciding to run with – but from last week’s speech, I suspect it will involve trying to convince the electorate that a leopard really can change its spots.

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"Kill them and take their stuff"

We should be ashamed to be listed among the nations who objected to this UN resolution:

The UN General Assembly adopted a non-binding declaration protecting the human, land and resources rights of the world’s 370 million Indigenous people, despite opposition from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States.

Among contentious issues was one article saying “states shall give legal recognition and protection” to lands, territories and resources traditionally “owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired” by Indigenous peoples.

Another bone of contention was an article upholding native peoples’ right to “redress by means that can include restitution or when not possible just, fair and equitable compensation, for their lands and resources “which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent”.

Opponents also objected to one provision requiring states “to consult and cooperate in good faith with the Indigenous peoples…to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilisation or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.”

So, we objected to a resolution on the grounds that it says things that our Constitution (as interpreted following Mabo) pretty much requires anyway? And that makes good moral and ethical, if not legal, sense?

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Stifling debate

Andrew Bartlett has noted that this morning will see the last of the debate about the new laws for the Northern Territory intervention. The legislation will then pass the Senate without any amendments, because why would the Government consider any of the points made by minority parties (including Labor) who don’t have the votes to make a difference?

Unfortunately, taking constructive criticism on board is not something this Government is willing to do. Mal Brough and the Government will get exactly the legislation they wanted, with exactly the overreaching and unfettered powers they wanted. What’s more, after the flurry of media coverage of this “national emergency” when it was declared, very little attention is being paid by the media now that the detail has arrived and is being debated.

This is a pattern that the Government has put to good use. They engineered a solid public relations event: a report was released, it was seized on to declare a national emergency, they were supported in their rush to the moral high ground by community leaders (or at least one – Noel Pearson) who believed in their good intentions, and they held fast against anyone who raised concern. Several weeks later, Parliament resumes, and many other issues and non-issues grab the spotlight. Now, it becomes clear to anyone who looks that the link between the report and the action is tenuous at best, the supporters of the spirit of the actions question the approach to implementing it, but the story seems to be over as far as most of the media is concerned.

Senator Bartlett has quoted some of the Government comments about the Little Children are Sacred report that have come up in the Senate debate. They show the disregard that the Government has for the recommendations of that review – instead, they have used the report purely as a tool to justify their motivation, but the policy approach is entirely their own and in many ways is inconsistent with the recommendations of the review. This had already been made obvious through the way in which the report’s authors were omitted from consideration as the legislation was introduced for debate.

After initially presenting fairly solid support for the Government’s approach, Noel Pearson wrote last weekend about his concerns, particularly about the extent to which the Government was taking control and power beyond what was necessary or appropriate:

The bill that is before federal parliament is inelegant and imperfect, but the thrust of its purpose is not sinister. It is necessarily urgent, but it needs to be decisively improved in some crucial respects.

It is absolutely imperative that the provisions relating to the holding of town leases and the subsequent disposition of leases not be within the sole and arbitrary power of the federal Government. Rather, this should be the province of an entity that is comprised of representatives of indigenous landowners.

Brough has emerged as the most active indigenous affairs minister in the history of this portfolio. Many indigenous people will vigorously contest any suggestion that he may yet end up making the most positive contribution to this most precarious of policy issues for the benefit of Australia’s most vulnerable people.

The difference between disaster and success will depend on whether Brough and Howard will engage with Yunupingu and the traditional leaders of the NT on a way forward. It will be a grave mistake for the federal Government to be as intransigent to amendments to its bill as those who have opposed the intervention entirely.

The Government has used a PR strategy for this policy initiative that has stifled and muffled all debate. They drew intense focus to an acute crisis, when in fact they are dealing with chronic problems. Once the spotlight moved away, they brought forth the detail and used their majority in both houses to push it through. The media helps to enable this strategy, because they seem to feel they covered the issues when the intervention was first announced. They need to revisit the issues, highlight the debate, and note the gaps that are widening between the perceived supporters and the Government on this issue.

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We will take your recommendations on board

… we just won’t put them in writing.

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Andrew Bartlett notes that the authors of the Little Children are Sacred report, which ostensibly drew the Government to declare a “national emergency” in indigenous child abuse, were not invited to give formal evidence before the Senate inquiry into the legislation. What’s more, the Liberal-controlled Senate has kept debate on both the NT intervention and the Murray-Darling takeover limited to a single day.

The lack of regard for the opinions of the report’s authors is probably not surprising since they have already indicated disappointment that they feel few (if any) of their recommendations have been addressed (see also here). It draws a striking parallel with the Bush administration’s response to the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report: acknowledge the value of the ostensibly independent report and the issues it highlights, but then ignore most of the suggestions (e.g., constructive engagement with Iran and Syria) and follow an entirely different approach (e.g., the troop surge and the escalated isolation of Iran) while claiming to be dealing with the important issue raised by the report. In other words, the report is used as a tool to justify taking action, but the specific recommendations of the report are ignored. The Government is happy to be told that action is needed and point to the report to demonstrate why they are acting, but they don’t want to follow any advice about how to act.

Unfortunately, the media seems to get caught up in reporting the detail of the policies that they don’t often point out the disparity between its origins and its implementation.

Of course, in Bush’s case, the ongoing problems in Iraq have started to shift him toward accepting the ISG recommendations more than six months later. In the case of the indigenous intervention, the Government may not have such an opportunity.

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