I’m often hesitant to talk about Indigenous issues because I’ll probably say something offensive and come across as ignorant. I haven’t lived in remote communities or even come across many Indigenous Australians in my life, so I lack the experience to debate these issues confidently. However, I’m deeply curious about Aboriginal affairs and I imagine there are many others in the same boat, who are interested but shy away from discussion out of fear of saying the wrong thing.
So it’s a great relief to hear some common sense on the sensitive topic from Warren Mundine at LibertyFest. I felt totally comfortable chatting to him about Indigenous issues, asking my ignorant questions and hearing him speak from a lifetime of experience.
Where did Native Title come from? Does it help communities, or does it advantage some well-positioned individuals over others?
Where does the ‘Welcome to Country’ ceremony come from? Does the lip service “acknowledgement of elders past, present and emerging” alleviate anything other than ‘white guilt’?
Is the “stolen generations” concept a myth? Can the removal of indigenous children from their families ever be justified? Why is taking a raped child to safety and giving them a loving home controversial?
These are the kinds of curiosities I would usually keep to myself.
But what I took away from my discussion with Warren was that those kinds of questions are a distraction. The priority is to improve lives through jobs, health and school. While symbolic issues like #ChangeTheDate do have practical consequences, engaging in the culture war can be counterproductive to human flourishing when it divides us further politically.
Warren said his introduction to politics was through naively protesting for land rights, although he learned very quickly that in order to thrive and prosper, you need an economy to participate in.
Before the 1970s most Aboriginal Australians were employed, particularly on farms and cattle stations. Then the government intervened and gave them money for not working. The expression “sit-down money” apparently came from Aboriginal elders to describe passive welfare, the poison that has weakened family life and destroyed social norms that used to protect the vulnerable.
An economy is the foundation upon which to build a functional society. Crime, suicide, violence, isolation, child abuse, petrol sniffing, disease, illiteracy and homelessness are all symptoms of a decaying economy. At best, treating the symptoms will provide some temporary relief. The cure is economic participation.
Anthony Dillon summed it up well. “What do I want? It’s as simple as adults working and kids in school”.