Intervention hysteria, truckie prostitution and a defence of Noel Pearson

The ABC Lateline program has exposed child prostitution in some Aboriginal communities catering to passing truckies. The federal opposition leader, Brendan Nelson has called for an extension of the Northern Territory intervention into these communities.

“The Intervention” has come to mean nothing. John Howard and Mal Brough’s plan is being dismantled, although much slower that N.T. Aboriginal people would like.

“The Intervention” has come to mean an ideological, non-specific plan for urgent action. It seems the Howard/Brough plan was never much more than this, but now that a new regime is redesigning policy and programs, “the Intervention” is just an illusion of recent history, not a real policy framework.

Brendan Nelson has called for “the Intervention” in W.A. and Qld. as well as communities on trucking routes.

There is still a strong backlash, including protests, to the N.T. intervention, which has no doubt strengthened people in N.T. communities in their negotiations with the new government. However there has also been opposition to extending “the intervention” into W.A. and Qld.

I don’t know anything of the W.A. situation but I have been following Cape York politics. Brendan Nelson has called for a Cape York Intervention. Protestors have protested against the Cape York Intervention. But the trial of welfare Quarantining in Cape York has nothing to do with “the intervention”. The Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership, in particular Noel Pearson has been lobbying for a range of reforms including welfare reform for a decade, a long time before Mal Brough dreamed up the N.T. Intervention.

The Cape York trial is an Aboriginal initiative, which has been developed over a decade. It does not impose a blanket welfare quarantine as the N.T. intervention did; it is only for people who are referred to a “Family responsibilities commission” by community agencies for such things as child neglect. The communities have volunteered to be part of the trial.

The trial is certainly not unanimously embraced in the Cape, but a particular leadership, including traditional elders, has done the black business over the last ten years and now managed to get some government support for their program.

Most importantly, unlike the N.T, intervention, welfare quarantining and the Family Responsibilities commission in Cape York is part of a broader program of housing, education and economic development.

Just as John Howard, Mal Brough and now Brendan Nelson see “the intervention” as a one size fits all program for all Aboriginal communities, there has been a one size fits all opposition to “the intervention” including opposition to local Aboriginal initiatives such as the Cape York welfare quarantine trial.

Brendon Nelson’s call for “the intervention” to deal with child prostitution on trucking routes is a clear example of blaming the victim. The child prostitutes have broken no law; it is the truckies who have committed the crime, yet Nelson sees Aboriginal communities as the focus for action.

Noel Pearson and others from the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership have also been accused of blaming the victim in calling for such things as welfare quarantining. However I believe such accusations do not take into account the desperation in communities such as those in the trial and the willingness to take drastic action, anything to change the way things are. In the news today elders from Aurukun are calling for their children to be taken off the community to go to boarding school because they are not safe in the community.

There is a big difference between blaming the victim and people, especially the victims of history, deciding there is something that they must do, a change that they must make happen on their own, by any means necessary.

Pearson is not blaming the victim. He, like the radical black power movement, proclaims that the white man will give you fuck-all, its no use appealing to them for salvation. This is not blaming the victim.

Even if there is a police intervention into the trucking industry to stop child prostitution, the communities on the trucking routes still must deal with questions of drugs, women’s business, poverty etc. as a community response to child/truckie prostitution, this includes changing the consciousness and behaviour of the victims. This is not blaming the victim, only a recognition that the forces of oppression still exist and the only people who can really do anything about it are the oppressed victims themselves, not the vigilance of the police or the repentance of the truckies for both will never occur.

I disagree with Noel Pearson’s plan but I am not a traditional owner of cape York. I believe there is indeed a one size fits all policy for indigenous issues – self-determination.

Self-determination relies on the capacity of local leaderships to lead. It is the process of growing leadership that is the priority for Aboriginal Australia and that will take on many different and conflicting forms in different communities. The essential issue is the social cohesion and functionality of a particular community or family to govern itself. Questions of the ideological correctness of this or that particular government policy are irrelevant.

Policy illusions of the white government such as “the intervention” or the new one “close the gap” have nothing to do with hope in Aboriginal communities. Only the re-emergence of a cohesive social order and leadership can provide hope.

Malcolm X’s notion of “by any means necessary” should be considered in weighing up the ideological correctness of such things as welfare quarantining Cape York style.

The success of failure of the Cape York trial will depend on who is in charge. What is the entrenched authority of the process? The Devil is always in the detail.

If Cape York elders, men and women are empowered, including by the power of the local police, school and hospital to enact their will in their community, then the trial will succeed. If bureaucrats and police are in charge, by way of “consultation” the whole process will fail.

Keeping control of the process, keeping it out of the control of the government, will be the test of the leadership for Noel Pearson and his associates in Cape York.


Filed under Aboriginal, australia, politics, reconciliation, society

13 responses to “Intervention hysteria, truckie prostitution and a defence of Noel Pearson

  1. Did anyone see the SBS insight program tonight? – On the N.T. intervention. (Tue 18/3/07)

    A very complicated and diverse range of N.T. Aboriginal opinions. Most seemed dissatisfied with aspects of the intervention but also supported particular aspects of it and seemed to think things were a bit better because of it.

    It is interesting that Barbara Shaw, the most outspoken opponent of the intervention was demanding more police in communities and complaining that the intervention has not provided this, and Sue Gordon, the head of the intervention saying that family workers are more needed to deal with child abuse than police are.

    It is clear that slogans such as “Stop the racist intervention” do not represent the N.T. Aboriginal perspective. Not only are the different aspects of the intervention complicated, but different communities have different perspectives on each of these aspects. No slogan other than “self determination” is relevant to what is going on.

    Greg Eatoch from the national Aboriginal alliance spoke against the intervention on the basis of the legislation being inherently flawed because of the dismissal of the racial discrimination act. I don’t know what the editors cut out of his comment, it did seem to be cut short, but this appeal to “justice” seemed very weak compared to the demands for specific programs and structures being demanded by the N.T. Aboriginal people.

    “By any means necessary” seems to be the ideological position of the N.T. people who weigh up principled notions of justice with the grief and pain of daily existence, and the partial relief that has come through such things as grog restrictions, welfare quarantining and increased policing.

    It seems to me the struggle is not an ideological argument for and against the intervention. The struggle is about building a cohesive sociology and collective power in Aboriginal Australia – by any means necessary.

  2. There have been complaints that that SBS have been selectively biased in their production of the insight program.

    It did seem one sided to me and as mentioned above i wonder what else spokespeople such as Greg Eatoch said that was edited out.

    However, I stand by what I said because what the insight program indicates, biased or not, is that there is no N.T. Aboriginal consensus about the intervention in the N.T.

    ALP M.P. Alison Anderson pleaded with Jenny Macklin to continue with the intervention. While Anderson has (I assume) reconciled her own opinion with her party’s and Macklin’s, she has been consistent in her position since the intervention began. Alison is an Aboriginal person elected of a predominantly Aboriginal electorate and she has maintained close consultation with elders and leaders amongst her constituency. It is wrong to say she is the servant of some white agenda in supporting the intervention.

    I see it as very problematic for white supporters to be taking sides in Aboriginal arguments from a position of detatched ideological loyalties. The problems are complex, the solutions are complex, the various different Aboriginal responses are complex. (An example being Barbara Shaws call for more policing of NT communities). Simplistic slogan based campaigns and demands for some liberal notion of justice may reinforce the campaigns and organisations that profess political support to Aboriginal Australia. But such barracking is at best irrelevant to the Aboriginal struggle in the NT (and Cape York) and at worst a destructuve distraction from addressing the real issues that need to be addressed.

  3. Barb Shaw also supports the “end the racist intervention” slogan (she’s one of the key architects of the campaign), and the Aboriginal Rights Coalition had to pay for her transport down here ourselves, while the Insight program paid for, for example, 4 people from Hermannsberg who support the intervention to appear on the program, along with various ALP minsters and so on.

    Similarly there were problems with the person “speaking on behalf of Yuendemu”, who was doing no such thing, as the sole reason that the “Invasion” hasn’t been imposed on Yuendemu is that the entire community is up in arms about it. The “spokesperson” “used to live” in Yuendemu, and had no right or authority to speak on their behalf.

    Insight’s aim was to provide a so-called “balanced view” of the Intervention, meaning getting people who are both opposed and supportive of the intervention, regardless of whether or not those people are actually representative of the people of affected communities, and regardless of whether or not their “balanced” panel represents the sentiments of the people they’re talking about.

    What’s more mate, the campaign is doing a lot more than “simplistic” sloganeering, and you would do well to do your research before writing off people who are heeding the calls of aboriginal communities who are being starved, invaded and having their rights stomped upon by the Cth government.

    Your last paragraph is a perfect piece of hypocrisy. You decry what you dislike about what everyone else is doing, then do it yourself. The arrogance is charming.

    Let’s start with the KEY demand of the ARC/ anti-intervention campaign: “Aboriginal control of aboriginal affairs”. That is – self-determination. The first problem with the intervention was the blanket nature it was introduced. The problem now is that the ALP intends to continue that approach with a charade of “consultations” with hand-picked “leaders” who will support their continuation (and extension) on the intervention. The Insight fluff-piece was a perfect example.

    And the term “the intervention” is certainly not meaningless to the people who’ve had their lives turned upside down by it, had their money taken away and who are forced to travel up to 700 km (one way) to go shopping.

    Humble pie, my friend.

  4. (note – in the following conversation I refer several time to “S.A.” which is the Socialist Alliance.)


    What is the campaign doing other than simplistic sloganeering? What is the on the ground action in support of Aboriginal Australia?

    If programs such as the Cape York institute are to be dismissed, what program of action is to be supported beyond simple sloganeering?

    Radical alternatives to the Pearson plan such as Denis Walker’s treaty process that was presented to the Canberra convergence has not been embraced by left activists. Only marches and propaganda has been the response to the NT intervention, no structural connection to Aboriginal agendas as Walker’s radical treaty or Pearson’s conservative economic development plan offer.

    I am aware of Barb Shaw’s role in building the anti intervention campaign. This is why I wrote …..”It is interesting that Barbara Shaw, the most outspoken opponent of the intervention was demanding more police in communities and complaining that the intervention has not provided this, and Sue Gordon, the head of the intervention saying that family workers are more needed to deal with child abuse than police are.”

    A one size fits all opposition to the intervention is the same problem as Howard’s one size fits all intervention, it is not based on local self determination. While you and other activists dismiss the opinions of those Aboriginal people who support notions of increased policing, welfare quarantining and grog bans you are reducing the principle of Aboriginal control of Aboriginal affairs to a shallow slogan. Like Howard you have ideologised and objectified Aboriginal people and constructed ideological responses to Aboriginal issues.

    I know there is strong opposition to the intervention just as there is strong support. Aboriginal control of Aboriginal affairs means supporting Aboriginal people in the decisions they make, not villifying those who make decisions that you disagree with.

    I believe I have “done my research” more than you give me credit for. I would be happy to respond if you can tell me why I am wrong, not simply that I am.

  5. No mate. You just don’t get it, do you? We are not simply “sloganeering” or advocating a “one size fits all”.

    What we ARE doing, is organising a coherent response from aboriginal communities, (and the broader community in support) to a vicious attack on aboriginal australia.

    I’ll tell you what – you go and pay the communities that you are so arrogantly “speaking for” the same 6 million dollar cheque that Pearson gets, and maybe we could pull a coherent solution together in a few weeks.

    As it is, you have NOT done your homework, as you are still ignoring:
    1. What is going on in the campaign against the intervention and for aboriginal self-determination.
    2. The “slogans” of the movement, which, if you get past the fact that they are slogans (as you appear to have a shallow obsession with the issue) you might reealise that they MEAn something.
    3. reality, especially the neoliberal one, and what it means in terms of the divisions in aboriginal australia.

    You ask: “If programs such as the Cape York institute are to be dismissed, what program of action is to be supported beyond simple sloganeering?”

    No single “plan of action”, as you well know (or at least claim to – or are you just being hypocritical?). The CAO-NT suggestions (not to mention the actual recommendations of the Meke Mekerle report) from the middle of last year would be a good start for the abuse issue in the NT. But for that, now that trust, self-determination and a lot of confidence has ben lost through a punitive re-invasion of aboriginal communities, there would need to be another round of GENUINE consultations with communities.

    Restore CDEP, and then get to work on improving it, across the country, not by artificially reincreasing the income quotient, but by tying it to across-the-board investment in infrastructure and development in aboriginal communities, based upon community needs.

    Stop the welfare quarantining immediately! It is a disaster not only waiting to happen, but actually happening right now.

    And I could give you a thousand more suggestions, but most of them have already been written a hundred times before. What’s missing is political will to take the options to the communities, consult with them, and then provide genuine followthrough. And for that to happen, you need to create a political voice that is coherent, and will be listened to. And sometimes you need to make them listen.

    I also take great offence at your ongoing arrogance vis-a-vis your claim that I, or anyone in this campaign are ignoring the wishes of aboriginal communities. We are taking our lead from those communities. You, on the other hand, appear to be taking your cue from overpaid coconuts like Pearson and anyone in the bourgeois media who makes you think there might be a bandaid solution.

    If you would rather do the work of Uncle Tom and the Station Manager, so be it, but don’t dare criticise those who are working to fix this disaster.

  6. Wombo,

    Well actually, I have been working with Denis Walker and the treaty process for the last 20 years and have never met Pearson, so my cues do not come from him.

    Walker and Pearson have comprehensive (but very different) plans but neither are embraced by the likes of you, and this is the point. The reason I focus on the issue of slogans is because you and many others see your role as social commentary and avoid building real power and social organisation relevant to Aboriginal people. Your sloganeering is relevant to noone except yourself, The government is certainly not listening and the difference of opinion in the Aboriginal communities means that your slogans, no matter how loudly you shout them in the street are easily dismissed as just words and washed away in the chaos.

    Lets look at CDEP, which is the only specific you seem able to tackle. Aboriginal Australia has been criticising CDEP since its beginning as just another welfare approach. CDEP is just work for the dole by a different name. Aboriginal people have been demanding a real independent economic base, yet as a purely kneejerk reaction to Howard/Brough you have demanded that CDEP be retained and upgraded with higher wages. Your suggestion to somehow “tying it to across-the-board investment in infrastructure and development in aboriginal communities” seems a bit bizarre but its inherent fault is that the racist state has not and will not commit anything to real development. Your suggestion means CDEP is tied to a proven impossiblity.

    I assume you have come across the notion of political economy before, but perhaps you have sloganised that too. Only an independent economic base that is not dependent on the good will of white society and government can tackle, not just poverty, but the inherent powerlessness of dispossession from land and economy.

    You cling to notions of upgraded welfare such as your CDEP prescriptions and you villify Pearson and others who attempt to engage with the real economy. Your slogans, if taken seriously, would be a recipe for just more of the same.

    You say……. “What we ARE doing, is organising a coherent response from aboriginal communities, (and the broader community in support) to a vicious attack on aboriginal australia.”

    but all you have done is had rallies and meetings where slogans are exchanged. I challenge you to show just one single thing that this campaign has done to build political and economic power in black Australia, in a Marxist, historical materialist, political economy kind of way.

    You have engaged in liberal moral outrage and nothing else.

  7. Apart from your arrogant and condescending tone, you continue to miss the point here.

    As we both well know, what’s missing are not the various solutions themselves, in abstract (which is why I didn’t go through them all – I’d be here all day), but the power to implement them on an appropriate basis, in line with community needs.

    The Intervention has not solved the problems that it was claimed to have been invented for (and I say “claimed”, because there was clearly another agenda at work). Worse, it has heightened already existing problems in NT communities, some of which are now reaching crisis point, and has forcibly taken away many of the resources that those communities had themselves often built up over many years.

    It’s a nett catastrophe for NT communities, because it’s one of those “blanket solutions” you’re so ready to accuse the anti Intervention movement of.

    What is missing – despite the occasional rhetoric now from Macklin, is the political will to carry through and put the solutions in practice under community control. I’ve made this point already, several times, and you need to remember it perhaps a bit more than you do when you’re engaged in your own witch hunts.

    You write: “but all you have done is had rallies and meetings where slogans are exchanged.”

    Let’s overlook your fetish with accusing people of “slogans” (as if they are somehow automatically evil, or some bullshit), and go back to my previous point. With what resources, precisely, do you suggest we go about our merry way of helping aboriginal society. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (taken as a whole) are among the most marginalised people in the Australian community (and that was so before the intervention too). And non-indigenous supporters are frequently from similar backgrounds.

    More importantly, we don’t run banks, or government, and not being millionaires can’t single-handedly carry out the reform of aboriginal australia and all of it’s problems. Neither can you, for all your pontificating. A key part to this entire process is the political, through which the issues can be properly funded (if not necessarily properly run).

    You also write: “I challenge you to show just one single thing that this campaign has done to build political and economic power in black Australia, in a Marxist, historical materialist, political economy kind of way.”

    Sure. The first thing is the National Aboriginal Alliance, which was formed in immediate response to the Intervention. There remain problems with the NAA, and the process of rebuilding a unified, cooperative and functional national aboriginal body is going to be a long and hard one. And most of the main people pushing that body forward are involved in the Aboriginal Rights Coalitions (or like bodies) around the country. What this campaign has done (and is doing) is bring together leaders (both from the grass-roots, and form traditional structures) from around the country to

    There is a position in the sovereignty debate called the “Nike option” – ie. “Just do it”. Instead of relying upon government to annoint the next round of leaders and policies form on high, aboriginal australia has to be able to tell government what it wants, in all the forms it wants, and to be able to exert the pressure necessary to pull it off.

    On economy you’re just sadly delusional. There is no way to create an “independent” economy for aboriginal australia that doesn’t rely – to one degree or another – on the goodwill or acquiescence of government.

    Your phrase “an independent economic base that is not dependent on the good will of white society and government” IS ITSELF a slogan, and not a particularly good one. You criticise me for suggesting that government needs to invest in aboriginal communities, then you argue that manna will simply fall form heaven. Praytel, HOW you intend to create “an independent economic base” for aboriginal australia that is not “dependent on the good will of white society and government”? For your second trick, you can pull a rabbit out of your hat.

    Vis-a-vis Pearson: if what he wants works for his community, and they want it, all well and good. From what I hear, neither of those is entirely the case, but it’s not a clear-cut issue. The difficulty arises when he starts meddling in other communities, and asisting in the invasion of communities in the NT. I’ll tell you what – if Pearson, and his developer brother – genuinely invested some of those many millions they have thrown their way every year by governments and big business into their own community, I might take notice. As it is, it’s simply become a trough for a man whose gotten a bit big for his boots.

    And as far as liberal moral outrage, well your post, and your position on the intervention, even after overwhelming (yes, overwhelming) condemnation – on very concrete grounds – of it from NT communites (especially those affected, unlike Hermannsburg, where even the “supporters” of the intervention are only happy about it so long as their own money isn’t quarantined), does a pretty good job of moral outrage. You read like a watered-down version of the editorial from The Australian.

    More concretely, there is a national conference being planned for late May in Sydney to address the issues of what where when how and who next in the struggle. And guess who’s organising it? Your favourite “sloganeers” from all over the country…

    Too many people have been working away at their pet projects for years, in isolation from most of the rest of the country, and often from reality. We all need to come together to work out a proper strategy to move forward. Maybe you should drop by. You could learn something.

  8. So many issues to take up Wombo, but first, I have never supported the NT intervention and have been very critical of it. It was clearly a political stunt. But Howard has gone and the stunt is over, the real nuts and bolts is what is being dealt with now, both constructive and destructive. The constructive elements should not be confused with the destructive elements on the bases of a blanket rejection of Howards stunt.

    I have noted that the Cape York trial has nothing to do with the NT intervention, it is a product of 10 years negotiation including all the black business. There is no blanket quarantining in Cape York as in NT.

    Throwing the Cape trial and Noel Pearson into the same basket as the N.T. intervention is a product of shallow slogan consciousnness, not intellegent analysis,

    However I agree with you that Noel Pearson’s opinion has not been helpfull when applied outside of his own turf such as N.T. The N.T. people have their own tribal realities and structures, as Pearson does on Cape York – this is your Nike sovereignty, nothing that a political campaign can achieve.

    There are many problems with the NAA and the Aboriginal rights coalition, the main one being they are not a manifestation of the tribal reality but rather a simple white committee mode. The process of the NAA predictibley reflect the mode of its coordinatior, a former federal and Qld senior public servant.

    The problem with the ARC is its main focus is the NT intervention but it is based in Sydney with a dominantly non NT leadership.

    These protest/commitee modes have cherry picked individuals from the N.T. and put them on the pedestal of the committees slogans, but they have failed to engage with the tribal and political entities of the N.T. who, more importantly than being victims of the intervention, are the political system and sovereign authority to make law on their own country. The schisms and dialectics within the sovereign processes, in the N.T., Cape York or inner city Bris, Melb, Syd. are very different from the political frameworks of the external protest and support networks such as NAA and ARC.

    The Aboriginal people in NAA and ARC are engaged in the black dialectics in their real lives, families and communities but the non-Aboriginal supporters do not see or engage with this political reality. It is just a theoretical political issue within the committee/slogan mode.

    When you villify Pearson, which is as innacurate as it is nasty, you show an ignorant disrespect to the sovereign Aboriginal political reality of Cape York. Based on your detatched slogans of the political committees you dismiss the power and history of tribal reality.

    It is the black political processes in the NT, Cape York and everywhere else that is the sovereignty that your slogans refer to but in real terms you dismiss it as flippantly as mainstream white racism does.

    You portray the Aboriginal supporters of the intervention as deluded fools or puppetts of of the government, you choose from your white ideological reference points who are the “leaders” and who are the uncle Toms and publically proclaim your judgements.

    You decide between the good blacks and the bad blacks just as white colonial society has done since the Endeavour voyage.

    But all Aboriginal people despite their political opinions are connected by way of family, country and ceremony and this is the real political power and the movement that needs supports and resources. The country component of the matrix is and always has been an independent economic base.

    You say…… “On economy you’re just sadly delusional. There is no way to create an “independent” economy for aboriginal australia that doesn’t rely – to one degree or another – on the goodwill or acquiescence of government.”

    I urge you to consider history to this point and realise the naivity of your above comment. Apart from its departure from revolutionary dialecticism, it is a pie in the sky illusion of white Australia that has never ever manifested and unless you can say why this moment in history may mark a radical change of political and cultural direction, the government and the white sociology that it administers is the enemy, the invader itself. To somehow suggest that liberation is dependent on the good will of the oppressor is absurd.

    In terms of cultivating the goodwill or acquiescence of government, isn’t this what you criticise Pearson for?

  9. Wombo,

    You may have seen this before, if not, I urge you to consider it.

    “Whiteness and Blackness in the Koori struggle for self determination” by Gary Foley in 1999

  10. Wombo,

    A couple more thoughts.

    Che Guevara wrote in his book on Guerilla warfare about the need for the guerilla movement to maintain social order and effectively assume the role of the state in dealing with criminal behaviour to, on the one hand get the support of the communities they operate in as well as to become entrenched in the social structure as an authoratative body.

    Similarly, in the Irish republican struggle the guerrillas drove heroin dealers out of the community including executing recalcintrants.

    Any revolutionary mode in Australia must also tackle law and order issues.

    In this country the guerilla campaigns were wiped out over a hundred years ago and today such strategies are not relevant to the circumstance. But I suggest the principle of the anti-colonial leadership assuming responsibility for law and order is still very relevant.

    At present the colonial mode of dealing with such things as chronic alcholism, family violence, etc. is a simple arrest and punish mode plus remove endangered children. Any Aboriginal leadership that may or may not assume authoritarian modes to deal with these issues in other ways than the present mode should be supported. The question is whether the police and authorities are doing what local elders want them to do or if they(police/state) are operating on their own agenda as they certainly were in the N.T. intervention. The essential question is of the power of Aboriginal leadership structures in community – customary law, is empowered so that its weight is increased in comparison to the police and state in determining such things as policing of communities.

    Arguing against the opinion and power of some Aboriginal people on the basis of some ideological disagreement only serves to weaken Aboriginal power.

    We should be supporting Aboriginal authority in Aboriginal community in its dialogue with the colonial state, not particular voices in that dialogue.

    I am certainly not saying dont take sides, I have consistantly (but reluctantly) praised S.A. for their connection to Sam Watson in Bris – because they have empowered him in his own black agenda on the ground in real terms. If we refuse to take sides we refuse to connect anywhere.

    But in our own understandings as non-Aboriginal people we must realise the struggle is about real power in relationships between contemporary customary law and the agencies of the state, not about public debate about the ideological correctness of the different opinions of Aboriginal authority.

    Barbara Shaw has connected with left activists in particular S.A. and the supporters of ARC. But it is important that the power of political campaigns in the eastern cities support Ms. Shaw in her dialogue with the colonial state on her country, not use her as ballast for the eastern cities own ideological debates.

  11. Just a few quick points, to clarify some things, as you’re clearly working on a number of (misguided) assumptions.

    The ARC is not just based in Sydney, nor is it simply picking up figureheads from the NT.
    There are Aboriginal Rights Coalitions functioning in Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and Alice.
    The ARCs (and particularly the aboriginal leadership within them) are in constant contact with a wide number of aboriginal leaders and activists from around the country.

    You write: “Throwing the Cape trial and Noel Pearson into the same basket as the N.T. intervention is a product of shallow slogan consciousnness, not intellegent analysis,”

    Wrong. The Cape trial was held up as an example and a partial template for the NT intervention. Noel’s subsequent foray into the NT issue solidified that on a political level, and the two have become fiercely liked (and yes, perhaps too much). But that’s reality, not sloganeering.

    You write: “These protest/commitee modes have cherry picked individuals from the N.T. and put them on the pedestal of the committees slogans, but they have failed to engage with the tribal and political entities of the N.T.”

    Once again, I would disagree. And where true, the problem is one of limited resources, meaning the process of engagement has sometimes been slow. And it isn’t happening in a vacuum, the Intervention IS actually overwhelmingly opposed in the NT, and affected communities are asking for our help, which is what we’re giving. And we are directly in touch with many of them, not just the Shaws.

    On economy, guerrilla struggle, and law, there is one key element that you keep overlooking, which makes your entire approach flawed from the outset. You aren’t looking clearly at the issue of power – who’s got it, and how to get it and use it.

    And in as much as “Nike sovereignty”succeeds, it IS political.

    And we have always distinguished between the good and bad elements of the Intervention. The problem is that the bad ones make the good ones unworkable, as any study of the effect it’s had on the NT will show (such as HREOCs latest report, for example).

    Until you get your head around these issues, you’re rhetoricising as much as the next fella.

  12. Wombo,

    John Howard and Mal Brough cherry picked sentences of Pearson to justify the N.T. intervention. They, like so many, have superficially loooked at a blackfella idea and tried to recreate it within their own ideological frameworks. They disregarded the template if there ever was one.

    If you are going to criticise Pearson or the Cape York trial you should base your criticism on Pearson and the trial, not what the likes of Howard and Brough have to say about it.

    I disagree with your analysis of the HREOC report, that it dismisses the NT intervention as unworkable.

    In the report Tom Calma states….

    “The NT intervention presents an historic opportunity to deal with a tragedy that has existed for too long, and that has destroyed too many families and too many young Aboriginal lives.

    Accordingly, the intention of the NT intervention does not come into challenge in this report.

    What does come into question is whether the approach adopted to achieve this aim is suitable.”


    “The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission maintains that the rationale behind the legislation – to protect children and to build capacity in Aboriginal communities – is one which can be undertaken without the need to resort to discrimination.”

    Calma is clearly criticising the cowboy attitude to legislation and human rights, in particular issues of land title and the abondonment of the racial discrimination act by the former government, not the intervention mode itself. I have not heard what Calma says of the Cape York trial but my own reading of the legislation indicates that it has not contravened the principles that Calma advocates.

    You say…… “You aren’t looking clearly at the issue of power – who’s got it, and how to get it and use it.”

    I say, it is you who have not addressed this issue, you seem to mistake the concept of power with the concept of public noise – rhetoric formed in accordance with white liberalism, not real power on the ground as Pearson is obviously dealing with and apparently succeeding in terms of your bizzare slogan of Nike sovereignty. (Cathy Freeman is the only one who has attempted Nike sovereignty, but I know what you are getting at.)

    And finally, ARC’s manifstation as an urban liberal protest movement detatched from tribal reality is not simply a matter of limited resources but is a structural issue determined by the situation of the activists that brought ARC into being.

    With the limited exception of S.A. in Brisbane and its connection to Sam Watson, a regional traditional owner, and his local agenda, ARC has simply regurgitated the white left wing mode of protest that has been so spectacularly futile in all the other slogans that it has engaged in – precisely because this mode fails to deal with the issue you raise – power and how to get it.

    Customary law and tribal reality exists in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide etc. too. But instead of activists in these places connecting to this reality (as per Denis Walker’s treaty mode) they attatch to ideological notions of Aboriginality in such places as the N.T. and Cape York which is so far removed from their lives it is meaningless.

    Exploitation and oppression, child abuse and family violence, entrenched poverty and ill health – all these things exist in the big cities as well as the remote communities. This should be the starting point for building power, not slogans and opinions aimed at other places.

  13. Wombo,

    This issue of power and how to get it is central to my critique of “the left” (in Australia) and its mode of political action, not just in relation to Aboriginal issues but to everything.

    Public protest makes sense in terms of an reformist electoral strategy, where the real power is in the parliament. Many leftists including S.A. dismiss electoralism, they run in elections as just a technique of propaganda not an attempt to gain some kind of state power, or do not run in elections at all.

    Socialist movements around the world who reject electoralism have relied either on the power of unions to strike or, in some form or another, power coming through the barrel of a gun, in particular guerilla warfare. The modes of electoral and armed power are not mutually exclusive but here in Australia’s protest movement there is no serious attempt to gain power in any sort. While there is ideological loyalty to unions the simple fact is they are totally contained by the bosses and state and no longer offer any power for radical change.

    In Aboriginal communities, what power is possible? Guerilla war was the dominant mode up until the 20th cntury and perhaps may be again one day, but right now it is simply not an option. Perhaps electoralism? Maybe, the new wave of Aboriginal ALP politicians in the N.T. is an interesting development to watch but the leftist protest movement is busy attempting to discredit these politicians especially over their response to the N.T. intervention. Aboriginal people have an unemployment higher than 80% so the possibility of strike is impossible. A Work for the dole (CDEP) strike can only hurt Aboriginal people themselves.

    So where is the power?

    Power lies in social cohesion and organisation on the ground in real communities. This power has been totally smashed in the genocidal history to date. Protest rallies, propaganda and radical opinion in cities does nothing to increase social cohesion and organisation, especially in the context of hopelessness generated alcoholism and depression.

    A transition to cohesion and organisation in real Aboriginal families, communities, tribes and country is the path to power. Whether that organisation leads to armed struggle or electoral reform or something else is a matter for future generations, right now the task is simple survival and reconsolidation.

    How do campaigns such as ARC provide assistance to developing social cohesion and organisation on the ground in Aboriginal communities?

    It seems to me the protest mode is just detatched commentary as the situation gets worse in Aboriginal communities.

    Noel Pearson, Marcia Langton, Alison Anderson and many others support aspects of the intervention in order to survive and consolidate rather than die out.

    It is sad when well intentioned leftists villify and dismiss such motivation as uncle Tom-ism, especially when the mode of action of leftists (despite their militant slogans) is a simple and contained protest mode within liberal, electoral frameworks including seeking more crumbs to fall from the masters table rather than building social and economic self determination..

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