Thursday, 19 March 2015

The self-styled Australian Prime Minister for Aboriginal Affairs* "just doesn't have knowledge"

A passionate supporter of recognition, Mr Dodson said he feared that indigenous people would fail to see value in it against the backdrop of cuts to programs, especially those supporting indigenous rangers and legal services, and the push to cut funding to remote communities.

"If moderate indigenous voices make their concerns known, many of the well-disposed Australians will say, 'If the Aboriginal people don't see much advantage or opportunity or progress in the recognition, why should we bother to take that step?'

"This is a serious matter. If you are going to recognise Aboriginal people, what is the substance of it? The substance we are seeing at the moment is this: 'We're going to close down communities, force you into assimilation kind of activities, deny your right to have sites protected, and reject your cultural base to exist.

"It's an appalling concept to be saying we want to recognise your culture and your ancient history and your continuing existence when, in fact, that continuing existence is one that, in reality, you are trying to wipe out."

Mr Dodson, 67, was the founding chairman of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation and became known as the "father of reconciliation". He was also a commissioner for the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

After some four decades of advocacy for his people, Mr Dodson confessed he had never felt so disheartened at the direction of policy.

"I've normally been a fairly optimistic sort of individual in relation to Aboriginal affairs because there was always an avenue for dialogue with whoever was running the country, whether it was the Liberals or the Labor Party.

"Now you can't even have the debate."

He called on Mr Abbott to re-engage with indigenous leaders, saying the convening of a meeting was the crucial first step.
"We've got to get away from just thinking about program and policy and start thinking in terms of a relationship.

"Does Australia want to have a relationship with Aboriginal people, or does it not? Or does it simply want to improve the management and control systems over the lives of Aboriginal people? That's the seminal issue.

"Everything to date has been about management. How do we keep them in the reserves, isolated from the public? Then, how do we force them into some form of assimilation? And now? No one knows where it is going now.

"It's a full-on assault on those areas where languages and cultures at least have been sustained. That's a recipe for disaster because there is no evidence that people in the cities and the towns have fared any better."

Mr Dodson expressed doubts as to whether Mr Abbott was up to the task, saying the Prime Minister's remarks about those living on remote communities exercising a "lifestyle choice" highlighted his lack of understanding.

"I don't think he's capable of it, despite his good wishes or his best intentions. He just doesn't have knowledge and without knowledge he's not going to be able to do much to take the country forward around indigenous relationships and non-indigenous relationships. That's the sad part about it."

The Guardian 15 March 2015:

Tony Abbott has refused to concede that saying Aboriginal people who live in remote communities have made a “lifestyle choice” was a poor choice of words as the father of reconciliation issued a public plea to rebuild relations with Indigenous people.
The Australian prime minister has suffered near universal criticism from Aboriginal leaders over his “lifestyle choice” comments last week when he was defending the closure of Indigenous communities in Western Australia.
He has refused to apologise for the remarks and stood by them when asked if he would at least concede it was a poor choice of words.
“I’m not going to concede that. I accept people have a right to be critical of me, but I’m certainly not going to concede that,” he told Sky News on Saturday.

* "I want a new engagement with Aboriginal people to be one of the hallmarks of an incoming Coalition government and, if elected, this will start from week one with the establishment of a Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council." [Prime Minister Tony Abbott as then Opposition Leader on 10 August 2013]

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