Padraic P. McGuinness, “Our national disgrace,”
The Sydney Morning Herald, February 11, 1995, p. 32.

The report which was published this week on the state of Aboriginal health in the Northern Territory was shocking, since it showed that despite all the huge expenditures on Aboriginal health, welfare, housing and education over the past 25 years or so, there does not seem to be any improvement in mortality and disease rates among Aboriginal communities. What are we doing wrong? It is true that the report was concerned mainly with the health of Aborigines in the Northern Territory, especially Aboriginal women. But it only fed into the debate which was already raging as to whether control of health expenditures should be given directly to Carmen Lawrence’s Federal Department of Human Services and Health, or should continue at least in part, to be administered through the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC). Whatever may be said in criticism of the policies of the Northern Territory Government towards Aborigines (and it has to be said that the increasing number of Aborigines voting for the Country Liberal Party is evidence that many of them do not treat it as their enemy) it is clear that the problem is not confined to the territory.

The present Federal Government has had 12 years to come to grips with the problem. It is now obvious that whatever it has done, it has not produced an improvement in health standards. Billions of dollars have been spent on Aboriginal health and welfare, judges and Government ministers have seen with their own eyes the conditions in which people live and have emotionalised publicly about it, yet there has not been any improvement, but a deterioration in life expectancy and general health, especially among women. It ought to be apparent that the problem is not one of who controls and directs the money.

It is true that a lot of money seems to be spent without much evidence of a result of the kind intended — and much of this must be going on bureaucrats and others who fritter their time away, as well as on medical and paramedical staff who work back-breakingly hard to no net effect. One might think that this enormous additional expenditure on what amounts to only about 2 per cent of the population (because, of course, they share also in the general expenditure of government) would have some impact on the problems from which they suffer. It is not a matter of begrudging it — only the ill-informed really oppose such spending. It is unacceptable that there should be any group in a country as wealthy and advanced as Australia which is so much worse off in health and life expectancy, and everyone agrees that a solution must be found.

But what is the solution? The Australian Medical Association and other medical bodies will usually argue that it is a matter of spending more money on medical staff, medicines, hospitals, and so on. Others will talk about improvement of housing, of water supplies and waste disposal for Aboriginal communities in remote areas or on the fringes of towns, of education in the threat of AIDS, the ravages of alcohol and tobacco, and so on. But there has been plenty of money spent on all these things over the past 12 years, at least.

There has been a succession of ministers, and no shortage of prime ministerial support, for the whole of this period. We can no longer argue that it is just a matter of money, or just a matter of transferring responsibility from one level of government to another.

There has to be something much more fundamentally wrong with our whole approach. If we go on at present, and this is what a transfer of Aboriginal health from ATSIC to Dr Lawrence’s department would involve, despite the change of bureaucratic arrangements, we may well find future generations accusing our generation of genocidal policies, just as so many people these days make such accusations against the well-intentioned but hopelessly incomprehending policies of the past. Make no mistake. If the term means anything at all, the deteriorating health and life expectancy of Aborigines must be ascribed directly to the policies of the past 12 years, and of the years before that to the extent that the policies remain roughly similar — that is, the Government of Hawke and Keating deserves the charge of genocide if any government in Australia has ever done.

And those in the media, in academia, in the professions, and in the community generally who have applauded the policies of the past decade or so, and who have clamoured for more and more of the same, as if funding were the essence of the matter, will share the guilt.

By all means let there be organisational reform. None of that has worked so far, but there is a case for handing the whole problem of Aboriginal health, welfare, education and housing over to a single organisation. It is a genuinely national problem, and since 1967 the Commonwealth has had, if it wishes to exercise it, overriding powers to legislate with respect to Aborigines. ATSIC is so far an unsuccessful experiment in allowing a greater degree of self-government to them, and while it should be continued and improved as a consultative body, it is a failure in administrative terms. The objections of the Northern Territory Government do not matter, since its claims to Statehood are nonsense in any case — there is a good case for reducing the self-governing part of the Northern Territory to Darwin and its hinterland.

All such changes would, of course, generate enormous heat and controversy, but they still would not come to grips with the essential issue, that we do not know how to improve the health of the Aborigines. There is a general problem of indigenous peoples throughout the world, where health and mortality standards are much worse than in the white and urban populations. It seems that we are doing even worse than most, which, if anything, indicates how irrelevant and probably harmful our policies have been.

We are not going to get any solutions from the orthodoxy of the white proponents of current policies or from the medical profession — with, perhaps, the exception of the mavericks like the late Fred Hollows, who pointed out the inevitability of the spread of AIDS in the Aboriginal communities. His analysis of the reasons for this has been virtually suppressed. Anyone who questions the dominant paradigm of Aboriginal policy, and similar policies in other countries, is written off as an “arch-conservative” or something along those lines, as has been, for example, the New Zealand writer Alan Duff whose novel Once Were Warriors has been turned into a powerful film. Perhaps those who are so sure that a continuation of current directions of policy, with the addition of more funds, is the best way to go are the real “arch-conservatives”.

(in order of appearance on Economics.org.au)
  1. Where Friedman is a pinko
  2. The Economic Guerrillas: A lecture in honour of Maxwell Newton
  3. The Libertarian Alternative
  4. Libel laws block insider's revelations of Australia's industrial mess
  5. But perhaps the merchants of doom have a point
  6. The Origins of Paddy McGuinness
  7. The Itch for Influence
  8. LA safe from religious poverty
  9. Aunty should hang up her boots in face of premature senility
  10. Warning: health is a budget hazard
  11. New ABC Tory chief won't rock the boat
  12. Time to sell the ABC
  13. Youth victims of the welfare con
  14. Paddy McGuinness on class sizes (1991)
  15. More teachers won't solve the problems in our schools
  16. Paddy McGuinness on Catholics and wealth distribution
  17. Paddy McGuinness proposes inheritance tax equal to handouts received by deceased
  18. Let them swim nude
  19. Time to legalise heroin
  20. State-sponsored sports rorts
  21. The blight of the baby-boomers
  22. To reduce the problems of crime and corruption, legalise heroin
  23. We should ban Olympics
  24. Evidence shows heroin policy is not working
  25. Wowsers deny society while killing children
  26. Will Australia compete?
  27. Canberra's social revolution
  28. Paddy McGuinness in 1994 on the 2012 class size debate
  29. Why not pay for the ABC?
  30. Paddy McGuinness on David Stove
  31. Sometimes the truth hurts
  32. Paddy McGuinness on compulsory, informal and donkey voting, and breaking electoral laws
  33. Thomas Sowell, McGuinness, Aborigines and other minorities
  34. Genocide with kindness
  35. Hyde, McGuinness and Sturgess on Chaining/Changing Australia
  36. Paddy McGuinness defends comparing IQ of races
  37. Do-gooders should glorify smokers
Powered by Hackadelic Sliding Notes 1.6.5