Why has our indigenous policy failed?

TO answer this question, it would be easy to list the usual suspects, such as fluctuating political will and commitment; dependence on the political cycle; the lack of consultation; inadequate, mismanaged or misdirected service delivery; failure to address root causes; and a focus on symptoms.But the answer might be deeper. When considering the purpose of indigenous policy as framed by successive governments, policies at all levels and by all political parties have been formulated to address ”the indigenous problem”. This mindset may be at the heart of policy failure – indigenous people have been, and continue to be, defined as problems to be solved.Whenever I wrestle with indigenous issues to which there are no simple solutions, I am drawn back to my own people in western Cape York.Until fairly recent times in our 40,000 year history, we owned our land and had sovereignty over it. It was our economic, cultural and spiritual foundation. It defined us and shaped our identities. It was both our strength and our weakness – as hunter-gatherer peoples, it was all we had; without it, we had nothing.Then foreigners came. First to what is today called Sydney, then towards the end of the 19th century to eastern Cape York and, by the early 20th century, they had reached my land on the west coast. That is when ”the indigenous problem” began for us.This may be seen by some as a black-armband viewpoint but it is a historical reality, as are the displacement, dispossession and forced relocations of thousands of people that followed it. I have never held a black-armband view of life. Like many of my people, I am determined not to be enslaved by our history. But I am equally conscious of the need never to forget it.The consequences of history remain with us. They are evident in almost every remote community, regional centre or urban ghetto across our nation. The purpose of indigenous policy has therefore become a quest to right historical wrongs, fix broken things and give back a little of what was lost.Early in my career, I fervently believed in the power of policy to make a difference. When 22, I gave a speech to the then-prime minster, John Howard. I still have a strong interest in policy formulation and direction but I am now less naive about its capacity to solve ”the indigenous problem”.I told the prime minister that of the students in my class in Kowanyama I was the only girl who didn’t have a child at 15. Seven of the boys had been incarcerated, two for murder, rape and assault. Four had committed suicide. (Since then, more have died.)I told him about our addiction to passive welfare and its insidious effect on our lives. The solutions seemed obvious: education, better housing, employment, establishment of real economies and restoration of social order in our communities.But I also knew to heal ourselves, we needed more than these enabling structures. We needed to regain our connection with our lands, reawaken our cultures and re-establish our identities. Without the former, we would continue to languish in poverty and despair; without the latter, we would simply become another minority in a country full of minorities.My early mentor, Noel Pearson, recognised this simple truth long before I did. While his Cape York agenda focuses on education, economic advancement and personal responsibility, he is equally passionate about the need to retain our links to our lands.It must be difficult for many non-indigenous Australians to understand the issue of links to land. For many, land is real estate to be bought and sold, or a source of minerals. But the elderly couple who have to leave their home of 60 years for a retirement village will understand a house is more than a shelter. The third-generation farmer who tills the same soil as his grandfather will no doubt feel a strong connection to it. If you can imagine one family continuously occupying the same land for 40,000 years or more, using it not just to sustain life but as a place of reverence and worship, you will get some understanding of the importance of land to indigenous people.Even the notion of ”indigenous Australian” is a whitefella construct. We never saw ourselves as a homogenous people. We were Kokoberra, Kuku Yalanji, Guugu Yimithirr, Pintinjarra or Yolngu. Even today, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who live far from their ancestral lands, who may never have seen them, still identify themselves as Yirrijandji, Lama Lama, Badu or Erub people. The emotional and spiritual connection to the lands of their forebears still forms the core of their identities.The tragedy is that too many of our young people today have no such sense of their own identity or place and are consigned to live under the catch-all label of ”indigenous”. When I see these people, often in their LA gangsta gear, I am grateful my own links with my country remain strong. They don’t know who theyare or where they belong. They don’t know their own language and all too many can’t even speak standard Australian English.My knowledge of my home languages – Kokobera and Kokomenjan – is imperfect; I mix them and older people laugh when I speak. But I am enthusiastic about restoring them in my life. Do I need them to function? Probably not. But they are part of my identity and help me understand and appreciate who I am.What has all this to do with policy failure? A great deal. Policy makers have either failed to understand or ignored the diversity and complexity of indigenous societies. Monochrome policies are the norm.Take the Northern Territory intervention. Despite objections by some on the basis of human rights, most people I spoke with thought that when circumstances are so dire and the consequences, especially for children, so grim, direct intervention is justifiable, even necessary. I agree.But the intervention was based on the proposition that every family in every community was so dysfunctional as to warrant compulsory income management and the imposition of other measures.I can’t begin to imagine how my mother would have felt had such restrictions been in place when she was raising us. We grew up in what could be described as a dysfunctional community. But despite the circumstances, she protected and cared for us and encouraged us to be the best we could be.This one-size-fits-all approach to policy development has other unintended, and in some cases, disastrous consequences.The Community Development Employment Program was a work-for-the-dole scheme set up to promote the idea of mutual obligation. Clearly some remote communities will never be able to provide mainstream work for everyone who needs it. For them, CDEP is a logical and acceptable option. But its blanket application to all communities proved a major disincentive for people to find real work.The lessons from these experiences are clear. Indigenous diversity is real. It is more than rhetoric. What looks good in Canberra looks quite different in Kowanyama or the Kimberley. Each time I hear a new policy announcement covering the country or even a particular state, I become cynical – and afraid.Tania Major, a consultant based in Cairns, was Young Australian of the Year in 2007 and a former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander commissioner.
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It’s enough to make young Fido’s brain go into a spin

HUMANS have been breeding dogs for specific traits such as hair colour and tail length for centuries. Now researchers have found selective breeding has also altered the shape and position of the animals’ brains.Using MRI scans, researchers have discovered that the brains of small, pug-like dogs have rotated forward in their skulls compared with larger, long-nosed dogs such as Dalmatians and German shepherds. And the olfactory lobe, responsible for smelling, is lower in the brain cavity.”This is the first systematic example of brain rotation [observed] in any animal,” said the neuroscientist and study author Michael Valenzuela, who studies brain ageing in humans and animals at the University of NSW.Pug-like dogs, which look significantly different to the ancestor of domestic dogs, the wolf, were the result of human intervention, he said.”The very small, pug-like dogs have only come about through selective breeding.”Brain rotation in these could be an evolutionary trade-off because the length of their skulls had decreased in proportion to the width, said Dr Valenzuela, whose findings have been published in the journal PLoS ONE. ”We speculate that one of the reasons the brain may be rotating in pug-like dogs is that if it hadn’t rotated then there would be less space for the frontal lobe to develop,” he said.The frontal lobe is an area of the brain responsible for intelligence and problem solving, as well as social behaviour.Dr Valenzuela said examining the link between brain changes in dogs and their behaviour would be the next step in the research. ”The obvious step forward … is to do more sophisticated cognitive and behavioural tests in dogs and see if there is a relationship between brain rotation [and behaviour].”The researchers hope to find whether a dog’s sense of smell is affected by the repositioning of the olfactory lobe.”We think of dogs living in a world of smell but this finding strongly suggests that one dog’s world of smell may be very different to another’s,” said the veterinarian and study author Paul McGreevy, an associate professor of the University of Sydney.
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Luke Patten agrees to Salford switch

Canterbury fullback Luke Patten will join English Super League club Salford at the end of the 2010 NRL season.Patten has played 220 first grade games since he joined the Bulldogs from St George Illawarra in 2001 and made three appearances for the NSW Country Origin side.”Luke has been one of this club’s great leaders and we are sorry to see him go,” said Bulldogs chief executive Todd Greenberg.”We wish him well as he makes the most of an opportunity to extend his career in England and thank him for the service he has provided to the Bulldogs for the past 10 years.”He will long be remembered for his incredible reliability and determination as the last line of defence and for his inspirational plays.”His strong work ethic and his commitment to responsibilities off the field set a great benchmark for everyone who has played alongside him.”Bulldogs Captain Andrew Ryan has confirmed he will see out the final year of his contract and will be stay for the 2011 season.There had been speculation Ryan would also leave the club to play in England, but the former NSW prop has opted to remain with the club.AAP
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Zero tolerance campaign

BATHURST’S publicans are sending a clear message to their patrons this Christmas.
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They are stressing a good time doesn’t have to include violence, but unfortunately some sections of the community think part of an enjoyable night out includes a fight.

Robert Taylor from the Hotel Dudley says local publicans have had enough and are supporting the Australian Hotels Association campaign of zero tolerance.

“We’ve had enough,” he said. “It seems zero tolerance is the only way to go because it’s a way of changing the law by making it tougher on those who break it.

“On a daily basis, many hotelkeepers and their staff are required to deal first hand with violence in or around licensed premises.

“This type of behaviour endangers not just the staff, but the customers as well”

Mr Taylor said the AHA is campaigning for the adoption by all governments of a five point plan (see fact box) to make licensed establishments safer.

“The plan calls for tougher sentencing, and the enforcement of the law, so that hotelkeepers and staff can go about their jobs in safety and be confident that the law is there to protect them,” he said.

“Unfortunately the debate surrounding alcohol and violence has become hijacked by those people who believe that violence is solely caused by alcohol.

“Just because someone is intoxicated does not mean that it is alright for them to be violent, nor does it necessarily mean that they will be.

Full story in the Western Advocate.

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Rain …. atr last

SOAKING rain across the district was the topic of conversation around Bathurst yesterday, but it will take much, much more to ease the drought.
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While farmers were happy for any respite from the heatwave conditions, district agronomist Bruce Clements warned the rural community not to get excited.

With reports of 21mm at 3pm at the Agricultural Research Station in Panorama Avenue and upwards of 30mm at Trunkey Creek, 15mm at Vittoria, 20mm at Blayney and Newbridge, Mr Clements said yesterday it was just great to get decent, soaking rain for once.

“My phone has been ringing off the hook today from farmers wanting to know what is best to plant to make the most of the rain,” he said.

“Mostly it’s summer fodder crops such as millet while there’s also been plenty of interest where they can get oat seed from. However, it’s too early to be planting oats just yet.”

Mr Clements said the rain was especially handy coming so close to the storms a couple of weeks back.

“It’s allowing some response from native pastures and those who already have summer crops in,” he said.

“But in order to get out of his hole (the drought) which we are in it will take many more inchues … and then some more over several weeks.

MORE: Read today’s Western Advocate.

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Springboks deny rift in camp

South Africa have played downs reports of a rift in the team after the embattled Springboks suffered their third straight Tri Nations loss at the weekend.Australia comfortably beat Peter de Villiers’ side 30-13, leaving the Boks bottom of the log without even a bonus point to show for their efforts.The defeat for the defending champions in Brisbane followed back-to-back losses to New Zealand on the opening two weekends of competition.It has left plenty of questions for the coach to answer ahead of their next game on August 21.But for now there is mounting speculation of a camp in disarray, something the South African Rugby Union (SARU) have denied.”I’ve been with the Springboks for almost three weeks now and can categorically state there is no rift in the management team,” Andy Marinos, the national teams manager said.”In my various discussions with Bok coach Peter de Villiers, his assistant coaches Dick Muir and Gary Gold, as well as senior team members John Smit and Victor Matfield, it’s never once come up that there are problems in the camp.”For three weeks in a row we have not played well and made it harder for ourselves by playing with only 14 players on the field at crucial time during the games, away from home.”De Villiers will also meet his employers later this week for a report back on the tour.SARU are reportedly satisfied with the some part of the team, but are becoming increasing irritated by unnecessary remarks being made by the coach to the media.Last week they had to send out a statement in an attempt to defuse comments by the coach where he suggested referees had favoured the All Blacks in the first two matches for the benefit of next year’s World Cup.De Villiers said he was misquoted, but the issue and a few others are now set to be spoken about face-to-face.”We normally review performances after a leg like this, and we will begin this week,” SARU president Oregan Hoskins told the Cape Argus.”We’re concerned about the losses. We shouldn’t change the personnel – in other words we shouldn’t sack the coach.”Asked if his organisation had erred by appointing De Villiers to replace Jake White, who had just led the team to the 2007 World Cup crown, he added: “I’m not a coach. That’s why I don’t pick the team.”I wouldn’t say he’s best coach in the world, but I wouldn’t say he’s inferior to Jake White. I’d say they are on a par.”My issue with the coach is his media comments – I think that detracts from his ability. That’s where I’d like to concentrate.”PA
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Sale of water is banned, and that’s just lubbly bubbly

A NORTH Sydney school is believed to have become the first in NSW to ban bottled water and offer free tap-water refills to cut down on plastic waste.Students at Monte Sant’ Angelo Mercy College pushed for the ban on the sale of bottled water at the canteen. For good measure, there have also been moves to get rid of ”unethical” chocolate frogs and reduce packaging in school lunches. Several schools in Sydney are about to adopt similar measures.”We’d just like to get the point out that the consumption of water from plastic bottles is completely unnecessary,” said Claudia Saunders, a year 10 student who has been appointed ”environmental captain”.”At least with the water stations … the bottles are going to be used more than once.”Ms Saunders said environmental plans had been the subject of healthy debate at the school. ”I wouldn’t say there has been any resistance, but I guess a lot of people find it difficult to change behavioural patterns, or realise that individual actions will actually make a difference.”Banning bottles has proved a boon for the humble bubbler, which is enjoying a resurgence in schools and public spaces.Manly, Mosman, Waverley, the City of Sydney and Marrickville are all trying to limit sales of bottled water by installing more public drinking fountains.Shopkeepers in the Southern Highlands town of Bundanoon banned the sale of bottled water last year and the main street was lined with drinking fountains.The environmental campaigner Jon Dee said he had entertained dozens of inquiries from towns and councils about going down the same path.But the Australian bottled water industry says sales have remained strong, rising about 5 per cent this year, after a slight dip during the global financial crisis.
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Iran hit with new sanctions

The European Union and Canada hammered Iran on Monday with fresh sanctions against its energy sector as the West cranked up pressure on Tehran to resume talks on its disputed nuclear program.European foreign ministers formally adopted new punitive measures, going beyond a fourth set of UN sanctions imposed over Tehran’s refusal to freeze nuclear work, echoed by Canada within hours.The moves are aimed at reviving moribund talks between Iran and six world powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the US.”We want to see dialogue on nuclear weapons capability to start as soon as possible in order to reach an agreement,” EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said.”Until we get to that point we will continue to take our responsibilities seriously… (The) purpose of those sanctions is to persuade Iran, ‘we need to discuss this issue, and move forward’.”However, Iran responded by saying the sanctions would fail and only serve to complicate its showdown with the West.”Sanctions are not considered an effective tool … and they will only complicate the situation” was the reaction from foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast, quoted by the state news agency IRNA.Oil Minister Masoud Mirkazemi said the punitive measures would not affect the country’s oil production.”European oil companies had no presence (in Iran’s energy sector) and so they cannot have any impact on us,” Mirkazemi told IRNA.The EU measures include a ban on the sale of equipment, technology and services to Iran’s energy sector, hitting activities in refining, liquefied natural gas, exploration and production, diplomats said.The sanctions also prohibit new investments in the energy sector.The Iranian banking sector was also hit by restrictions forcing any transactions over $57,600 to be authorised by EU governments before they can go ahead.The identities of those hit by the new measures will be available when sanctions are published in the official EU journal, but diplomats said 41 people and 22 government entities were concerned.Canada’s sanctions also take aim at Iran’s energy and banking sectors, as well as chemical, biological and nuclear activities, Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said.Like the EU and the United States, Canada will bar all new investment in Iran’s energy industry, particularly crude oil refining and liquefied natural gas.Ashton has exchanged letters with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in recent weeks in a bid to revive talks, and Tehran has indicated that the talks could resume in September.The last high-level meeting between Iran and the six world powers was held in Geneva in October 2009 when the two sides agreed a nuclear fuel swap that has since stalled.Western powers have demanded that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment program, fearing that Tehran would use the material to build a nuclear bomb. Tehran says its atomic program is a peaceful drive to produce energy.AFP
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Final submissions heard

THE families of a young Oberon woman shot dead in cold blood and the man who killed her then himself were told yesterday the final submissions in a drawn out coronial inquiry would not be about apportioning blame.
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Counsel assisting the deputy-state coroner, Mr Patrick Saidi, told the relatives of Linda Nicole Andrews, 27, and Bruce Robert Speight, 38, he would not seek to lay moral blame for the murder-suicide at the feet of police who responded to the shooting nor the management of the Jenolan Caves Resort Trust where Mr Speight had lived, worked and stolen the high-powered rifle he used.

Instead, in the first of four final submissions yesterday, Mr Saidi said he would try and identify facts which coroner Jacqueline Milledge could rely on to recommend improvements in the police service, mental health services and information held about employee histories.

“The emphasis is on how we can prevent this tragic situation from happening again,” Mr Saidi said.

Mr Saidi told the inquest there was nothing on Mr Speight’s personnel file which gave any hint of the years of mental illness he had suffered or that he was capable, in a bout of depression fuelled by alcohol abuse of stealing a .243 Ruger from a secure trust gun cabinet and driving to Oberon.

MORE: Read today’s Western Advocate.

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Love Parade victim followed her passion

Only last week, as she flew off on a three-month trip around Europe, all Clancie Ridley could talk about was going to the Love Parade dance music festival in Germany.The music-obsessed 27-year-old from Georges Hall could not imagine a better way to start her overseas adventure.But it ended in the most devastating manner on Saturday when she was one of 19 people killed in a crush among the festival’s million-strong crowd at a tunnel leading to the festival.Her family, who farewelled Ms Ridley at Sydney Airport only last Wednesday, are planning to fly to Germany to collect her body.Her best friend, Carla Perovich, was yesterday having trouble understanding how this could have happened to ”the best person in the world”.She said Ms Ridley attended every outdoor music festival she could and had planned the start of her trip so she could meet up with friends at the event in the western city of Duisburg.”All she could talk about was Love Parade. She had made so many big plans for her trip,” Ms Perovich said.”She texted me as she was heading to the festival. She said that she was on her way and she was really excited.”I’m glad she passed away doing something that she wanted.”Ms Ridley travelled to Germany alone but met up with friends who were travelling around Europe. They had planned to travel together for three months before all heading home as a group, via Thailand for another festival.Ms Perovich said the others would all now come home early.Police said the dead included seven foreigners while more than 340 people were injured. Furious survivors yesterday demanded explanations for why security plans went so wrong and reports emerged that authorities had been warned beforehand that Duisburg was too small for the event.Television pictures showed lifeless bodies being passed over the heads of those frantically trying to escape.”I saw dead people in the tunnel, others alive but unconscious on the ground,” said Anneke Kuypers, an 18-year-old from New Zealand. ”Others were crying.”
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