Thursday, May 18, 2006

Bird's Eye View - Australian angst


I have noted with interest the recent national display of shock and sadness following the publication of Nanette Rogers' dossier of domestic and sexual violence which is endemic in the remote Aboriginal camps of central Australia.

Australians have come a long way since the country was first declared "terra nulla" by its early settlers and over the past few decades, the national conscience has become increasingly exercised by the plight of Australia's indigenous people. There have been numerous initiatives which have been aimed at protecting and restoring Aboriginal communities, whilst at the same time seeking to preserve their culture. In 2000, the organisation Reconciliation Australia was founded to "promote and build reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians".

Sadly, one of the unintended consequences of Australia's policy of non-interference with Aboriginal culture has been to lock the remote Aboriginal communities deeper into desperate cycles of poverty, ignorance, poor health and substance abuse.

So what can be done to address these problems? In my view, it is wrong to allow a veneer of "culturalism" to cover systematic abuse within any community: an Australian is an Australian is an Australian, whether indigenous or not. Aboriginal women and children are therefore entitled to the same protections as any other citizen. Moreover, it is a fiction to pretend that these communities have not already been greatly influenced by non-indigenous culture (please don't tell me Aborigines have been addicted to petrol-sniffing for 40,000 years). To allow these communities to implode under the weight of their own depravity because it is not for the Australian government to interfere with their "culture" is both patronising and wrong. I sincerely hope that the mass outrage felt by most Australians translates into an effective campaign to address these abuses and help pull the Aboriginal communities away from their path of self-destruction.

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