Education, Govt funded inequality

by Luke Mansillo (First Published in The Guardian 28 Jan 2014)

New numbers show that Australian government schools are being ripped off. If parents choose to opt out of a public service, they should not expect the government to help them do it

The Productivity Commission released a new report showing that over the past five years, independent and Catholic schools have been receiving greater increases in government funding per student than public schools. Private schools received real increases of 3.4% per year between 2007 and 2012, while government schools received increases of just 2.4% per year.

The way our schools are funded is a matter of political philosophy – and it’s curious that any Coalition government would not seek to stop this increase. We can all agree that education is a collective want in every western democracy, and one that provides material benefits. In Australia, Britain and most of the developed world, education is provided through government schools. And as the collective want of education provision is provided for through these public schools, there is no need for governments to provide precious public resources to those who opt out.

To take a child out of a government school, for whatever reason, is a private choice which ought not to be funded. Any government with a liberal bent would not throw money at private endeavours – be it private education, private businesses asking for subsidy, private foundations or similar. After all, the word private itself means to have no public role. It is strange, then, that the trend shows no sign of slowing down.

Governments pay $15,768 on average per public school student and $8,546 per private school student, yet private schools get $1.2m a year more funding from all sources than public schools. In the process of accruing these extra monies, private schools are draining government schools of much needed public resources. Meanwhile, Australia’s public schools are sinks of disadvantage. Government schools teach the great majority of poor, disabled (76.6%) and Indigenous (84.7%) students, as well as those who do not speak English as a first language. However, in spite of the additional costs and burdens associated with teaching disadvantaged students, cost increases are under inflation (unlike private schools ), and the results for the average student are as good as their private rivals.

Interestingly, a University of Queensland study of NAPLAN results recently debunked conventional wisdom that having a child in a private school leads to better academic results. Furthermore, there is a disadvantage in sending a child to a private school if they go on to university, as more drop out in their first year. The pattern is repeated overseas – students in Britain who get BBB grades and attend government comprehensive schools outperform students from private schools with A level grades on all measures.

In spite of this, governments continue to shove money into the private education sector, presumably to keep the well-to-do-swing-voter happy. It is time for governments to put the people’s money in the people’s schools, not in hungry elite private school systems using public funds to build a tennis court or state of the art facilities.

Australians should be proud to have a free public school system which often does a better job than private schools. We can’t stand by and allow decay to grow as Christopher Pyne drags his curriculum reform red herring across the body politick.

Australia has a problem in education funding, something which was made abundantly clear for some time – something which Gonski attempted to ameliorate. Government schools are ripped off. This needs to be corrected, and no cent of public money should end up in the private school system – especially when it can do so much more good for both pupils and society in a government school.

Man as Machine XVII


Here in the following few lines, is England’s Shakespeare, putting exquisite words, phrases and ideas into Hamlet’s mouth; (Act 2, Scene 2)
‘… what a piece of work is man!  How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty!  In form and moving how express and admirable!  In action how like an angel!  In apprehension how like a god!  The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals…’

In this, I imagine, Shakespeare is surely talking about the Danes.  The play is, after all, set in Elsinore.  He is not talking about the English, in whose country, in the 18th Century, 95% of babies born did not survive beyond the age of five.
‘…how noble in reason…’ 

In whose country, between 1770 and 1830,(a mere fifty years) more than 6 million acres of ‘common’ lands were enclosed, thus depriving millions of people of the right to provide basic survival rations for themselves, or indeed, any type of livelihood at all.
‘ express and admirable…’

In whose country, thousands of villages were literally razed to the ground, their inhabitants driven off, to make way for sheep.
‘…in action how like an angel…’

In whose country, when people objected to being starved to death, they were set upon and  cut to ribbons by mounted  troopers weilding indiscriminate sabres.
‘…in apprehension how like a god…’

In whose country, for the most minor of crimes, people were transported (for the rest of their lives) to the ends of the earth.
‘…the beauty of the world…’

M a M Banner1In whose country, the richest country on earth, the peasantry, when called upon for King and country were, for the most part found to be unfit for military service. (due to malnutrition)
‘…the paragon of animals…’

Hamlet goes on to say;
‘…and yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me…’,

And can you blame him?

In 1828, and again in 1829 there were disastrous harvests.  Wages were cut to a minimum and threshing machines were introduced on some farms.

Fifty years earlier the standard hiring fair contract guaranteed the farm labourer a years work.  By the 1820’s these contracts guaranteed work only for a fortnight, sometimes for just a week.  Out of this almost obsessive need to pay as little as possible in the way of wages, all of England erupted in fury in what came to be known as the “Swing Riots’.  As I have outlined earlier, from Scotland to the English south coast, landowners were sent lists of demands.  These demands were always signed by ‘Captain Swing’.  Failure to comply meant buildings, machinery and crops were mysteriously destroyed overnight.  This always included the hated threshing machines which put so many out of work.  While the rioting went on, there was constant fear that the ‘natural order’ might be swept away.  In 1830 in a Parliamentary debate, Charles Grey (Earl Grey) suggested that the only way any sort of order might be established would be by reforming the House of Commons.  The Prime Minister, The Duke of Wellington gave it as his opinion that the present system was virtually perfect and therefore incapable of improvement.  (Wellington owed his position in Parliament to an Irish ‘rotten borough’ at Trim, County Kildare.)

When word got out of Wellington’s  thoughts on the reform of the House of Commons, his home was attacked by mobs of people, who had to be driven off.

On the 15th of November, 1830, the Tory party, torn apart by the granting of Catholic Emancipation, was defeated, and Charles (Earl) Grey was asked to form a Whig government.

Grey immediately set up a body to examine how the House of Commons might be reformed. In the meantime, Lord Melbourne, the new Home Secretary, set about dealing with these criminals who were rioting so tediously.  Special Commissions were set up which resulted in about two thousand half-starved, dispossessed and desperate rioters being brought before the courts.

252 were sentenced to death, 644 were imprisoned, and 481 were transported to Australia.  Most of the death sentences were commuted.  The rest were released.

It is important to realise here that Grey’s coming to power did nothing to stop the agitation for the reform of Parliament.  This was largely because the more radical elements outside of Parliament, be they either working-class or middle, did not believe for a second that the Whigs would keep their promises.  They had a ‘business as usual’ reputation and were likely to be as treacherous as the Tory party.

William Cobbett, who had spoken up again and again in defence of the farm labourer, raised the ire of important landowners who arranged for him to be brought before the courts on a charge of ‘seditious libel’.  Cobbett defended himself by accusing the wealthy of being parasites on the backs of honest hardworking  people, and that Parliamentary reform was the only way to resolve this situation.  Cobbett, gently and forcefully reminded the courts of who these parasites might be.  Eventually he was acquitted, but not before the government was embarrassed mightily.

An interesting aside here is that one of Cobbett’s periodicals was eventually sold to a chap called Hansard, and became the forerunner of the modern parliamentary record.


Assimilation 3

Passive Complicity believes we have no moral right to force assimilation upon anyone. In News Limited’s (The Australian’s parent) unrelenting push for assimilation “The Australian’s Australian of the Year” include four proponents of assimilation

In this post Gary Foley gives some background on one of those four,  Noel Pearson

THE CONTRARIAN: Liberation through acquisition

NATIONAL: Melbourne was recently privileged to receive a visit from Queensland’s most famous Lutheran since peanut farming Premier Joh Bjelke-Peterson.

I refer, of course, to the corpulent and verbose Aboriginal Man of the Moment- Mr Noel Pearson.

Noel PearsonWhilst Mr Pearson is apparently unkindly referred to by many in Aboriginal communities around Australia as the ‘Cape York Cane Cane Toad’, he nevertheless is a popular man among the strange and disparate collection of his white acolytes in Melbourne.

And they turned out in droves on this recent visit to Melbourne. Well, when I say ‘droves’, I mean about 70 of them turned up to hear his launch of the book version of Marcia Langton’s controversial Boyer Lecture Series.

It is always an instructive exercise when Mr Pearson visits this fair city in the south because one gets to observe just who constitutes his admirers and followers down this way.

His launch of Prof Langton’s Boyer Lectures book was held at University of Melbourne so one would not have expected many Aboriginal people to be in attendance because of the location alone. But even if it had been held at the Aborigines Advancement League I doubt whether the attendance of blackfellas would have been much higher than the three or four who turned up at Melbourne uni (and of those 4 who were at the book launch two of them were Marcia and Noel).

This is interesting because it is a vivid illustration of the fact that the followers of Australia’s best known Aboriginal political figure are almost exclusively upper middle-class white people. But as I said before, whilst they are almost all Anglo-Australians, they are a strangely disparate bunch.

Pearson’s admirers and followers in Melbourne range from Murdoch media attack dog Andrew Bolt, through wealthy corporate boardrooms and influential legal circles and include just about every right-winger in Melbourne. But given Noel’s hard line assimilationist ideas it is not surprising that he should be so admired among the political Right.

What is surprising is that also among his ardent following are “progressive” people who should know better, but who seem dazzled by his articulate and pompous declarations and his interminably long speeches.

And let’s face it, Pearson is a gifted orator in style and technique. However the problem for me is not in his style and technique but rather in the substance of the message he promotes.

Over the past two decades Noel has become the dominant voice in Aboriginal Australia. Or, to be more precise, has been avidly promoted by all sections of the Australian media as the voice to be heard. His political dominance is primarily due to the extensive coverage of his ideas in influential media outlets owned by Rupert Murdoch.

But Pearson has also been for years provided with acres of space in the Australian newspaper to push his political agenda, and after Prime Minister John Howard’s remake of the ABC in 2003 when he installed the likes of Keith Windshuttle, Janet Albrechtsen, and Ron Brunton onto the Board, the ABC has since become a compliant advocate for Pearson’s agenda as well.

Furthermore, if one also includes the supposedly “progressive” Monthly magazine among those providing a significant forum for Pearson, then one begins to realise that Pearson’s views monopolise almost the full spectrum of available outlets.
Pearson’s voice and ideas are being promoted and heard to the exclusion of all others voices from Aboriginal Australia.

Therein is the major reason for his being the dominant voice.

It also provides an understanding of why Premiers and Federal Ministers for Aboriginal Affairs jump whenever Mr Pearson has a hissy fit (such as QLD Premier Campbell Newman backflipping recently when Noel objected to a policy decision).

It is clear that Pearson is happy to use his political dominance to get his own way, but the question is whether Pearson’s way is a good way for Aboriginal people to go.

Noel’s speech launching Prof. Langton’s Boyer book was in part a reiteration of his assertions about what is the way forward for Aboriginal people. The familiar Pearson themes of the importance of individual home ownership and entrepreneurialism were there, as well as the tiresome chastising of those who don’t support these contentions as being ones who are tolerant of domestic violence and child abuse.

This latter accusation is particularly disingenuous because it implies the solitary way one can combat social dysfunction is through the path of individualism, materialism and free-enterprise entrepreneurialism. If that is the case, then it is clear that what Pearson’s ideas are ultimately about is pure and simple assimilationism.

Assimilation, both as an idea and government policy, was discredited and dispensed with almost fifty years ago along with the equally discredited “White Australia Policy”. Yet we see today a resurgence of these old assimilation ideas, largely through the pronouncements of the dominant Aboriginal political personality.

It should come as no real surprise that Noel Pearson is an advocate of ideas designed to recreate Aboriginal people as brown, middle class Australians. In his speech launching Prof. Langton’s book, he solemnly declared, “…I myself am bourgeois..”.

This is not news, though interesting in the sense that my dictionary defines Bourgeois as, “a person whose political, economic, and social opinions are believed to be determined mainly by concern for property values and conventional respectability.”

His own self-description then places him at odds with the ideas and values of most Aboriginal Australians, yet he is avidly promoted by his powerful friends in the media as the most admirable Aboriginal spokesperson around.

I have no problem with Pearson aspiring to middle-class ideals. It should come as no surprise given his upbringing in a Lutheran family on Joh Bjelke-Peterson’s favoured Lutheran-run mission in QLD, and his continued indoctrination when he became a boarder at a private school, namely St Peters Lutheran College in Brisbane. He later studied Law and History at University of Sydney.

Thus it is understandable that Noel should be steeped in the values and ideas of the white middle-class establishment. And like I said, I have no problem with Pearson holding ideas that seem to be the antithesis of an Aboriginal outlook on life. He is entitled to his ideas and he is no doubt eloquent in his expression of them.

The problem occurs when Pearson’s ideas become the dominant narrative in the interpretation, development and implementation of Government Aboriginal affairs policies.

On a personal level, I have only ever met Pearson once in passing, and found him to be a pleasant enough chap, and I do have a small level of admiration of his oratorical skills.

But I would seriously contest his interpretation of history that underpins the ideas and policies he promotes these days. Those ideas have already been imposed on numerous Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory in the form of the so-called NT Intervention.

Ideas of income management for people on welfare have already been extended to welfare recipients in certain mainstream communities and thus now impact on the broader community.

The punitive nature of these Pearsonesque ideas of social engineering are happily embraced by both ends of the limited Australian political spectrum, from right-wing racists to small “l” leftish earnest white social workers who in their own do-gooderness can’t understand why the black underclass don’t harbour the same white middle-class aspirational notions as their beloved Noel.

I am assuming at this point that readers are at least slightly familiar with the political and life trajectory of Noel Pearson, so I am not conducting an examination of that.

Instead I want to focus on the general historical assertions that form the foundations of his current political position. I would argue that if the basic assumptions that underpin Pearson’s analysis of dysfunction in Aboriginal communities today are wrong, then we need to re-think the current policies that emerge from that analysis.

Central to the argument of Pearson and his followers is the bland assertion that the ideas of what they call the “Self-Determination Movement” of the 1970s were a failure.

They further assert that these policies of “Self-Determination” were instrumental in creating what Pearson calls the “passive welfare mentality” that leads to most of the dysfunction in Aboriginal communities that is alcohol and drug related. These ideas have obvious appeal to those in the white community who would prefer to blame the victims of colonialism rather than the colonialism itself.

Hence an Australia that is still today fundamentally ignorant of its own history is happy to embrace the ideas of a black prophet who suddenly appears talking their own language of denialism.


Assimilation 2

News Limited’s (The Australian’s parent) unrelenting push for assimilation has been further enhanced by its selection of four of assimilations foremost proponents as “The Australian’s Australian of the Year”.

In this post Gary Foley gives some background on one of those four,  Warren Mundine

Warren Mundine: The white sheep of the family?
By Gary Foley, September 9, 2013

It would seem at the present time that the former National President of the ALP, Mr Warren Mundine, has momentarily eclipsed the Cape York Crusader Noel Pearson as the Aboriginal Man of the Moment.

Whilst Mr Mundine may lack the intellectual firepower of Noel Pearson, he has nevertheless elbowed his way to the front of the pack with his dazzling late-life conversion to the cause of all things Tony Abbott.

Mundine’s strategic realignment to become best buddies with Abbott at the beginning of the 2013 federal election campaign may have been a surprise to some, but only those who have not been taking notice of Mundine’s mundane comments on Aboriginal matters over the past few decades.

It is therefore instructive to recall Warren’s political trajectory over the long term if we are to begin to try and make sense of the political stance he has arrived at today.

We must do this if we are to ascertain when Warren is driven by pure political opportunism alone, or whether there is some internal logic and rationale to his strange political path over the years.

After all, here is a man who emerged from a respected Aboriginal family on the north coast of NSW; a family who collectively over many decades have been honourably involved in the struggle for justice for our people.

At his stage I should declare my interests and advise the reader that Warren is a distant relative of mine, and that this has tempered this article to the extent that I am treading cautiously in an attempt to not offend too many members of my extended family.

At the same time I believe that it is important for Aboriginal people to subject Aboriginal leaders in positions of power and influence to a level of scrutiny that a biased and ignorant mainstream media often fails to, so readers need to be aware of the tightrope I walk as I write this article.  Having stated that disclaimer, I would also point out that I have long referred to Warren as the “white sheep of our family” without seeming to upset too many relatives.

Warren was born to a devout Catholic branch of my family and was the ninth of eleven brothers and sisters.

His parents, Roy and Dolly were a strong and formidable couple who were clearly very influential on the young Warren.

From his father Warren says he acquired a strong belief in the importance of home ownership as well as a commitment to trade unionism.

He has said: “That was an important part of the bond between my father and I, that we were both union men…It would never have occurred to me not to join.”

From his mother he derived a strong attachment to Catholicism which he has said, “very much shapes” his political views.

“To me it’s a very important spirituality thing. I don’t think it’s all I’m about, but my faith has had a great influence on my life and got me through a lot of tough times.”

In 1963 his family moved from their home in South Grafton to Sydney suburb of Auburn. Later Warren would begin his working life as a factory fitter and machinist, and later working for the Sydney Water Board. He went to a TAFE college at night and earned the Higher School Certificate, which enabled him to move up to a white-collar job as a clerk in the Taxation Office in Martin Place.

He also briefly studied in Adelaide, where he attended the former South Australian institute of technology and earned a community development diploma, but this limited level of education has not inhibited Warren’s spectacular rise to prominence in Australian politics.

His political career probably began around 1982 when he can be seen waving the Koori flag and making a couple of radical speeches at the major demonstrations against the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane.

In Madeline McGrady’s film “We Fight”, on several occasions Warren can be seen lurking behind me as I am making a radical speech condemning policies of the Bjelke-Peterson government of QLD.

Again during 1987 in the lead-up to the major Aboriginal demonstration against the Australian Bi-Centennial, Warren is to be seen making a radical speech on a national televised forum on ABC-TV. Thus in the beginning Warren appeared to be politically Left of centre, but that superficial impression would not last for long.

In 1995, he began his journey to the Right of politics when he successfully stood as an independent candidate for Dubbo City Council in central-west NSW, later becoming deputy mayor, a position he held until 2004.

But his real rise to prominence came when the ALP decided to reform its rules and allow the rank and file to choose three national presidents for the next three years.

This led to the election of Carmen Lawrence as a token female President for 2004, to be followed by the grand old man of the ALP, Barry Jones for 2005 and a token Aborigine, Warren Mundine for 2006.

At the time there were not a lot of Aboriginal people who were members of the ALP after the great Land Rights sell-out of the Hawke Government, so Warren had a relatively clear run to be the token Aboriginal President.

It should also be remembered that Warren was sponsored in the push for Party President by members of the NSW Right faction of the ALP, including Mark Arbib, Karl Bitar and the now notorious Eddie Obeid.

But even before he would take up the Presidency, Warren managed to embroil himself in controversy by accepting an offer from the Howard Liberal government to become part of a new appointed Aboriginal advisory body to replace the Hawke government’s failed elected body ATSIC.

When Mundine was attacked for hypocrisy by NSW Labor Minister Linda Burney as well as the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, he was supported by Mark Arbib who asserted the nonsensical proposition that there was no inherent conflict between Mr Mundine’s membership of the NIC and his role as incoming national president of the ALP.

These should have been clear signals to both the ALP and the Aboriginal community that Mundine was on a path to the Right of politics.

Warren’s subsequent alignment with Twiggy Forrest’s dodgy organisation “GenerationOne” as well as his oft expressed admiration for the right-wing ideas of Noel Pearson and Marcia Langton were also clear indications of his drift to the right.

That drift was no doubt expedited when the ALP showed no inclination to giving him a safe seat and a ticket to parliament that a former Party President might be entitled to expect. Mundine had discovered what a lot of us already knew; that the ALP was such a fundamentally racist organisation that they had never in their 100 year history ever enabled an Aboriginal party member to be pre-selected to a safe seat.

This was probably a major factor, along with a serious heart scare in October 2012, that resulted in his finally allowing his membership of the ALP to lapse last year.

Since then two major events appear to have sealed Warren’s arrival as the new Aboriginal darling of Australian Right-wing politics.

The first was his marriage to Elizabeth Henderson, who is the daughter of Gerard Henderson, conservative political commentator and a former chief-of-staff to John Howard, and the second is his new political marriage to Tony Abbott’s new Indigenous advisory body.

Warren met Elizabeth three years ago at a function at the right-wing think tank, the Sydney Institute.

At the time both were married to other people.

Of the end of his second marriage, the devout Catholic Warren has said, “I never thought of myself as a bloke who was attractive to women but after I became president [of the ALP] it was like I became sexy to some people…I don’t really get it.  But I was getting offers.  And the ego got the better of me and I took one of those offers, and I got what I deserved, which was a divorce.”

In February this year 450 close personal friends turned up at Luna Park in Sydney (an appropriately Monty Pythonesque venue) for the wedding of Warren and Elizabeth. Sadly I have to report to readers that my invitation appears to have been lost in the mail, but I am told that among those who were in attendance were Tony Abbott, Twiggy Forrest, Jenny Macklin and Marcia Langton along with a large contingent of other right-wing luminaries and their acolytes.

The mere thought of the business and networking opportunities on that day just boggles the mind…

However it is Mundine’s arrival at the political door of Tony Abbott that appears to have surprised many pundits, even though one didn’t need to be a clairvoyant to predict that this might happen.

Abbott has declared that he and Warren are “Kindred spirits” and so we can now expect the “bromance” between these two staunch Catholic boys to develop and grow.

However, it remains to be seen whether this convenient relationship (or relationship of convenience) will ultimately be to the benefit of many Aboriginal people.

From Indymedia
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Weekly Wrap 27 January 2014

Another great week for Passive and not so passive Complicity.  Lets start, as always with a quote, this time from our new Australian of the Year.

Australia Day to me – it’s not a great day for me, to be honest. It’s a day that I have turned into a bit of a celebration – Aboriginal people are still here, we’ve adapted, we’ve moved on, we’re not focused on all of the bad things that have happened to our people but we’re celebrating our culture … and, you know, we are not going anywhere. That, to me, is what Australia Day means – it’s a celebration that us as Indigenous people are still here, the longest surviving culture in the world, and that should be celebrated.”
Australian of the Year, Adam Goodes, Indigenous Sportsman.
Read more about what Australia Day really means here

In our first post for the week Ken Boston argued that that the Australian Education Minister’s Curriculum Review is really an attempt to shore-up an education system that entrenches inequality.  Read even more on the dangers posed by this growing inequality here

We followed this with two consecutive episodes of our drama “Endette Hall” by Ira Maine.  Ira, himself, appears to be suffering a drug induced psychosis, yet overcomes this in his autobiographical writings.  It is not only Nurse Birch, nor the Window Man (Sash and Casements to the Gentry) Bodium Flint who are left hanging.  We, as readers, feel suspended too.  See if you can make head or tail of things here and here.  (No Refunds)

There followed Tarquin O’Flaherty, our resident Economic and Social Historian (and PC values our historians) used his vehicle “Man as Machine” to explain in one thousand words or less how Unions arose.  Educate yourself here

Friday brought us our first post of American Author Joe Bageant, the author of “Deer Hunting with Jesus” and “Rainbow Pie”, works that do much to explain the current polity of America.  The piece posted is title Whiskey, Snakes and Voltaire and starts: “I called the old man Grandpap. But most of my mother’s family called him a son of a bitch.”

Our dispatchee, with 40 years experience living within an Indigenous Community, again illustrates the paucity of our Governments Assimilationist, disrespectful and in many cases idiotic policies.  He quotes late politician Kim Beazely Senior who said “In Australia, our ways have mostly produced disaster for the Aboriginal people. I suspect that only when their right to be distinctive is accepted, will policy become creative”   Read the full dispatch here

For Poetry Sunday Ira Maine brought us Robert Herricks “Delight in Disorder”, with wonderful commentary.  Read this post to lift you spirits

Good reading, join the conversation.

Cecil Poole

Assimilation 1

News Limited and its acolyte, our Australian Government.

“Deeds to build a nation, endeavours to forge a future, actions roaring louder that words.  The five joint winners of The Australian’s Australian of the Year, Warren Mundine, Noel Pearson, Marcia Langton, Andrew Forrest and Adam Goodes have transformed indigenous Australia not through things they have said but through things they have done.” The Australian 24 Jan 2014.

News Limited’s (The Australian’s parent) unrelenting push for assimilation is further enhanced by its selection of four of assimilations foremost proponents as “The Australian’s Australian of the Year”.  News Limited has an acolyte, our Australian Federal Government, determined to assist in any way it can to assimilate Indigenous Australians.

This assimilationist intent is in reality the ongoing colonisation of indigenous peoples with the ongoing intent of taking land away, imposing foreign law and to destroy culture.  (See our MDFF of 18 January 2014 for Prof Taiaiake Alfred’s take on this)

NOTE Passive Complicity congratulates Adam Goodes on his selection as Australian of the Year.  We do not imply that he favours the assimilation of Indigenous Australians.

Passive Complicity will, over the next three days repost articles by indigenous critics of this assimilationist approach and of the voices chosen by News Limited to promote it.  Our first is  A Lode of Real Action
By Kado Muir, Mitch and Peter Watts, originally published in Koori Mail

As the dust starts to settle and Australia reflects on the outcomes of the recent federal election, many Aboriginal people have growing concerns over Tony Abbott’s new Indigenous Advisory Council (IAC) and the agenda behind its plans for real action for Indigenous Australians.

The Council appears to be on the road from idea to institution, with scant consultation or consent from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.  In the style that has marked so much of successive governments’ approaches to our issues, the proposed council is top down and unrepresentative, with Tony Abbott and Nigel Scullion being joined at the table by Warren Mundine, Noel Pearson and Marcia Langton.

There may be more Aboriginal leaders involved, but who knows? – and that is the whole point.  Unlike ATSIC or the newly elected National Congress – with all their limitations and flaws, the IAC is hand-picked by the politicians, not promoted by our people.  This is not to say that these three individuals do not have things to offer and positive contributions to make.  But they do not have a mandate to represent all our views and they hold views about Aboriginal ‘development’ that are far removed from the lived experience of many Aboriginal people, particularly in relation to the role of the state and of the resource sector.

ML BoyerLQIn 2012 Marcia Langton outlined her views though the Boyer lecture series ‘The Quiet Revolution: Indigenous People and the Resources Boom’. Her view that mining is helping to pull Aboriginal people out of poverty was widely promoted through the media. Less promoted was her connection to the resource sector through the Rio Tinto group and her involvement with the Australian Uranium Association’s Indigenous Dialogue Group.

Conflicting Views
Warren Mundine is not only the co convenor of the Uranium Association’s Indigenous Dialogue Group but also is a Director of the Australian Uranium Association. His views on the nuclear industry are in conflict with those of many Aboriginal Australians living with the legacy of nuclear testing or actively resisting uranium mining and radioactive waste dumping on their country.

We all want to make things better for our people, but there is a real danger in talking about the interests of mining and the need for change in Aboriginal Australia as though they are the same thing.  They are not.  It doesn’t have to be one or the other. We three do not believe that mining is always in the best interest of our families, the long term health of the country, or will stop the suicides, alcohol, abuse, violence, or raise the level of education or health services.

If mining meant these things, then the Aboriginal communities of the Pilbara would have a very different set of social indicators than the current ones.

The resource sector does have a role and a responsibility to improve outcomes in areas where it operates, but government must meet their responsibility to provide the roads, schools, health services and other infrastructure that people in cities take for granted.

Basic citizenship entitlements hard won by our predecessors following the historic 1967 referendum – should never be tied to or traded around proximity and access to a mineral deposit

Mining is neither a new development nor a new answer to old problems.  Mining has been around for hundreds of years.  Look at Aboriginal life in Australia’s mining regions around Roebourne, Port Hedland and Port Augusta. Spend a couple of days out at Laverton, go talk to the folks at the missions in Kalgoorlie, and tell us that mining is pulling Aboriginal people out of poverty.

Even in 2013 community development is at the front end of mining, particularly during approvals and heritage clearance.  But as soon as the commodity price drops or costs increase, it is the community development budget that is cut.

The establishment of the IAC, two thirds of which is directly aligned with the uranium industry, does not bode well for advancing a mature conversation around and action on the problems of Aboriginal disadvantage.  
At the very least there should be a diversity of communities and a diversity of views represented.

(NOTE: Passive Complicity will post articles on both Warren Mundine and Noel Pearson courtesy Creative Commons in the next few days.)

About the Authors
Kado Muir is a Tjarurru man, a member of the Ngalia tribe who are desert people from the Goldfields region in Western Australia. He is passionate about his Aboriginal heritage, history, language and culture. He teaches its values to all Australians through his writings, cultural awareness courses and artworks.

Mitch is from Alice Springs and has a proud history of working for Aboriginal rights.

Peter Watts is a member of the Arabunna people, one of several Aboriginal groups living in South Australia, has spoken at global conferences in Japan and Europe, on Aboriginal rights and environmental protection.

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Poetry Sunday 26 January 2014

Delight in Disorder by Robert Herrick,
A sweet disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness;
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distraction;
An erring lace, which here and there
Enthrals the crimson stomacher;
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribands to flow confusedly;
A winning wave, deserving note,
In the tempestuous petticoat;
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility:
Do more bewitch me, than when art
Is too precise in every part.
with comments by Ira Maine, Poetry Editor
Herrick had a good start. Born in London, the son of a wealthy goldsmith, he was apprenticed to his uncle , Sir William Herrick. The young Herrick’s interests, however, lay elsewhere and he was ordained in 1623. Eventually (1629) he became vicar of Dean Prior, in Devonshire. He lost this position during the Civil War, but had it restored on the accession of Charles the Second.

During all this time Herrick produced poetry of the finest quality. He was a long time admirer of Ben Johnson (who wrote ‘Volpone’, “The Alchemist’ etc). It is said that if Shakespeare had never existed, we’d be as much in awe of Johnson today as we are of the Bard.

Be that as it may, Herrick’s poetry was relatively unfashionable, not only during his lifetime but right up to the 19th century when he was ‘re-discovered’. Believe it or not, Shakespeare himself was also ‘unfashionable’ for years and years until the Victorian nouveau riche brought him back into the fold. Naturally, they also brought their  contemptible ‘respectability’  to bear on the matter, when they  took it upon themselves to ‘edit’ Shakespeare to the point where his plays became virtually incomprehensible!.

Just listen to this; Herrick’s advice  ‘…to the virgins, to make much of time…’

Gather ye Rose-buds while ye may,

Old Time is still a flying;

And this same flower that smiles to day,

To morrow will be dying.

Wouldn’t you give almost anything to have written something as fine as that?

Herrick never married, but the poem ‘Delight in disorder’ does tend to display a more than academic interest in ‘…erring lace..’ and the ‘…tempestuous petticote…’.

Not that it matters a tinker’s curse, but this poem does show more of an interest in the ‘…cloathes…’ than in the woman herself. In fact there is, in this poem, no mention of any part of the female anatomy whatever. This is skillfully done and we are artfully led to conclude that the wearer is a woman, when no such woman may have existed.
This is mere conjecture on my part, of course, but would as skillful a poet as Herrick ‘accidentally’ allow us space to speculate on this possibility? Surely if he wanted to ensure we were persuaded that there was a woman involved he would have included mention of specifically female attributes?. He does not, and I am almost persuaded that this is deliberate. Concealed, not obvious, but nevertheless deliberate.

Perhaps Herrick dressed up his horse, or his dog in female clothing? And, if that seems a bit too fanciful for your taste, well, we must consider other people, other possibilities… any suggestions?


MDFF 25 January 2014

こんばんはの友人(Konbanwa no yūjin) [Good evening my friends]
This is a work of fiction. Any deliberate similarity to real people is coincidental and without prejudice. Anyway, much of it mirrors Alice in Wonderland (“things are getting curiouser and curiouser”) and the windmills are not really evil giants, just stupid ones.

At a public meeting at the beginning of the Intervention (mid-2007) Jupurrula asked:
Why is Kevin Rudd using John Howard’s shoes and piggybacking his policies?
Napaljarri and others were heard to ask Why does the Government hate us so much? What did we do to them?
Is this what we deserve?…

Jungarrayi asked at the first public meeting in Yuendumu called by the NTER (Northern Territory Emergency Response):
Why aren’t you going after the perpetrators instead of us? (Responding to the much publicised allegations of wide-spread sexual abuse of children in remote Aboriginal communities which allegations were used as a politically opportunistic trigger to declare the NTER- the so called Intervention)

To which one might add: Why couldn’t they find the alleged paedophile rings? Where are the Weapons of Mass Destruction? What happened at the Gulf of Tonkin?

Where are the Children Overboard? Where have all the flowers gone?
Oh,when will they ever learn?…

An Aboriginal Health Worker (who had been employed at a remote Aboriginal community clinic for over two decades) who was getting some medicine out of the secured pharmacy room was asked by a ‘new’ kardiya (non-Aboriginal) nurse: “What are you doing in here?… you’re not supposed to be in here!”

Japaljarri had some decades ago, worked for the now defunct Yuendumu Housing Association during the height of the much maligned Self-Determination era. He’d been a plumber’s assistant.

Japaljarri’s hot water system needed a new element, so he went to the local Shire office and filled out a requisition form. Six months later a kardiya contractor turned up after having covered a distance greater than the distance between Paris and Amsterdam to fit the element. “Who fixed your hot water system?” asked the kardiya. “I don’t know” replied Japaljarri. The kardiya then drove back to Alice Springs.

At Yuendumu’s inaugural LRG (Local Reference Group) meeting (part of the Intervention) called to decide on the LIP (Local Implementation Plan), a brick wall was drawn on a whiteboard. The bricks were labelled ‘Education’ ‘Employment’ ‘Health’ ‘Law and Order’ ‘Housing’ ‘Garbage collection’ etc. No bricks were labelled ‘Ngurra’(Home/Land), ‘Kuruwarri’ (Yapa Law), ‘Purlapa’ (Dance/ceremony), ‘Jaru’(Language) or ‘Walalja’ (Family)

Jampijimpa asked: What I want to know is what is behind this wall?

 Once again one of my favourite quotations from Kim Beazley Sr.:
“In Australia, our ways have mostly produced disaster for the Aboriginal people. I suspect that only when their right to be distinctive is accepted, will policy become creative”

 Jim (my first geology boss), enlisted in the Australian Army at the tail end of WWII. He was put through a crash course in Japanese and sent to Japan as an interpreter. They’d enter a village, and a meeting would be arranged with the local leaders. Jim’s commanding officer would start off: “How do you perceive the post-war relationship between Japan and Australia to evolve in the foreseeable future?” Which Jim would render as: “Tenki no yoi hi. Dono yō ni anata no inasaku wa,-jō kite iru?” (A nice day. How is your rice crop coming on?). “Arigatō. Hai, sore wa hijō ni yoi tsuitachidearu. Inasaku wa umaku yatte iru” (Thank you. Yes it is a very nice day. The rice crop is doing just fine.) came the reply, which Jim would translate into: “They say that just like a cherry tree, the relationship between Japan and Australia could blossom into a lasting friendship in the post-war era”. Jim claimed to have been the most popular interpreter with the occupation forces. He spent the rest of his life interpreting sedimentary geological structures. He was good at that too.
If only, the Australian socio/political occupation forces had used interpreters like Jim, policy may have become creative. Might the relationship between kardiya and yapa, like a cherry tree, have blossomed into a lasting friendship?

Well may we paraphrase Jupurrula:
Why is Tony Abbott using John Howard’s shoes and piggybacking his policies?

Many of these questions remain unanswered. Do I have the answers? Absolutely not (maybe just a little).

Do the assimilationists and interventionists think they have the answers?

…I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken  Oliver Cromwell 1650…

How many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free?

How many times must a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see?

Watashi no yūjin. Kaze ga fui ni okeru kotae ga aru (My friend. The answer is blowing in the wind)


PS-…Why do you come here?



By Joe Bageant

I called the old man Grandpap. But most of my mother’s family called him a son of a bitch. Which never bothered me. I still liked him.

During the summers when I visited him in North Carolina I’d sit with the old man on the front porch of his cabin and plink away with a .22 rifle at whatever critters crawled out of the swamp. Sometimes if I got lucky it was a water moccasin snake. But more often it was a feral cat, a plain old housecat gone wild in the swamp — which the old man pronounced to rhyme with stamp. Swaaamp.

The swamp was a nearly supernatural place wherein the water turned a different color each morning. Some days it was blood red. Others it was electric green or cobalt blue because the nearby textile mill dumped it waste dyes upriver.

Grandpap Miles’ kids called him a son of a bitch because he ran off to live with the Seminole Indians after the ninth one, my mother, was born. Then at age 70 came back and bought a shack conveniently located between the swamp and the edge-of-town grocery/liquor store to sip cheap whiskey and read for the rest of his life.

Which is why I loved spending summers with him. The reading. I remember one summer when I was 13 he read much of Voltaire to me while I plinked away with that “cat rifle,” as he called it. Around dusk he’d wash up in a basin, put on his white cotton dress jacket and Panama hat and hobble down the gravel road to the store, where he’d mumble back and forth with the other old men who came there every evening for the same reason he did. An hour later return home with his bottle, plus a new box of .22 cartridges and we’d watch the sun go down together. After that he’d light the kerosene lanterns, cook some hominy and pork, then read silently until we both fell asleep.

Once he’d been an overseer on a big cotton plantation, owned a smart looking white Ford coupe and made a good living for his family, even during the Depression. He was fast and wild and knew how to turn a dollar when he bothered to. But after the drunken night he spit tobacco juice up against the woodstove and left for Florida, Grandmaw and all those kids had to move into a two-room pine board shack you could see daylight through.

Worse yet, they had to pick cotton, every able-bodied one of them, for a penny a pound. If you’ve never torn up your hands on the rough pod of a cotton bol under the unforgiving Dixie sun, you ain’t missed much, no matter how romantic it looks in the movies with all the black folks singing “Go Down Old Hannah.” It takes a damned lot of cotton to fill a 100-pound sack and when Old Hannah does go down behind the tight, flat line of the horizon, you’re ready to sing out of pure gratitude you didn’t drop dead in that cruel red dirt. So it’s no wonder my mama always said “Maybe I ain’t give my kids much, but by God they never picked cotton.”

You can see why they hated Grandpap Miles. Of course by the time the old man came back “just so we’d have to bury his sorry ass” as uncle Garland put it, there weren’t as many of his kids left to hate him. Two got killed in WW II’s South Pacific campaign, one froze to death in Korea and Uncle Frankie — who was as wild and fast as Grandaddy Miles — got his head snapped off as clean when he ran his Indian motorcycle under an oncoming truck in 1949. Once I asked Pappy Miles why he went to live with the Seminole Indians and left Grandmaw with all those kids. He said: “Folks left behind can only see a man running off. If they ain’t willing to run alongside they cain’t see what he’s running toward, which might be something finer than their tiny minds can imagine.”

This touched me somewhere inside because he always called me his “little running buddy.” I liked the old man even more after that. And I like his memory especially now, when I stop to consider that I stayed away from my family for more than ten years after leaving home at age 18. A couple of wives, thousands of books and a cotton sack full of troubles later, I suspect I got a little of his blood somewhere in the deal.

When Old Miles died he shook the ground. He got hit by a car on his dusky walk to the liquor store. I was 13. He was deader than a saw log. He was so mean he never even bled. But the whiskey ran from the broken bottle in the brown paper sack alongside the road. Cops came. Relatives came. Thankfully I was overlooked in the first few minutes of confusion. So I left with the newest box of .22 cartridges in my pocket.

Before he was even on the cooling board, folks were saying how shameful it was, the way he died. But as I sat on his porch and knocked that cottonmouth off a cypress limb with the cat rifle, his way of dying seemed fit enough to me.

And someday when I don’t have a boss riding my back and a woman riding my heart I’ll have time on my hands just like he did. Time to pour two slugs of whiskey. One for me and one for him. Then I’ll drink them both.

Maybe even read a little Voltaire.

See the introduction to this series of posts: Writing on Things Southern and Past

Man as Machine XVI

M a M Banner3Being a one thousand word attempt to explain how Unions arose.
by Tarquin O’Faherty

Trade Unions had been heavily legislated against in the 18th Century.  Various ‘Combination Acts’ absolutely forbade membership of these organisations which were seen to be a threat to ‘Free Trade’.  There was also in this the very British notion of ‘knowing one’s place’.  That there was a ‘natural order’ to how people lived, and that there was something distinctly ‘unnatural’ about the idea of trying to move out of one’s ‘place’ or as they said, “above one’s station’.  The new ‘middle’ class took this mediaval notion of ‘knowing one’s place’ to it’s heart and used it to be just as repressive, just as exploitative as the old merciless Tory Party had been.

John Doherty, an Irish spinner, arrived in the North of England in 1871.  Doherty did not ‘know his place’.  He was hugely influenced by Robert Owen and believed that the only way he and his fellow spinners could improve their lot was by forming unions.

There is no doubt about it, John Doherty thought big.  As the 1820’s wore on, and having suffered defeats in his various campaigns to stop wage reductions, he finally established a Spinners Union (1829) which covered all of the UK.  It was called the Grand General Union of all the Spinners of the United Kingdom.  But this union was only for spinners.  Doherty wanted more.  By early 1830 he had established the National Union for the Protection of Labour which was designed to cover every trade in the country, and also included the unskilled.

Employers were not happy.  This was beginning to look a tad dangerous.  So in a tactical move, they closed their factories down and waited.  Meanwhile the economic situation worsened.  More people were put out of work.  Eventually, the men gave in (because they were starving) and went back to work at the old starvation rates.  The Spinners Union survived this crisis but its power was reduced enormously.

The astonishing thing here was that despite the Spinners’ defeat, the National Association for the Protection of Labour just grew and grew.  It began to include miners, textile workers, Potters, etc.  Other groups, declining to join, instead formed their own unions, rather than give up what they saw as their independence to a central body.  From London to Scotland trade Unionism, industrial Trade Unionism, was waking up to the fact that governmental reform was a real possibility.

It was a very different matter for farm labourers.  Since 1815 and the depression that followed the end of the war, vast steam and water-driven factories had robbed the cottagers of the traditional opportunity to supplement their labouring income by weaving and spinning in their own homes during the winter.  Villages had been razed to grow wheat for the War.  This demand slowed and grazing animals replaced the wheat.  The absence of the old way of life, of a mixed farming economy further deprived farm labourers of income.  From the end of the Napoleonic Wars, less and less of this labouring class had enough land to either grow vegetables or keep a pig which was the way they had provided for them selves for centuries.  Country people took exception to this greed and exploitation and began to object.  The only person to write seriously about this was William Cobbett.  Cobbett was appalled at the conditions that countryfolk have been reduced to.  Villages were obliged to provide for the needy and they did this in such a niggardly way that people simply died of malnutrition.

There were riots not because of shortage of food, but because people had NO food.  (Read about this in Cobbett’s first hand account of this misery in his book ‘Rural Rides’.  It is still in print.)  The people were being exploited by the Church, their landlords and the government.  The people objected to being treated like this and rioted.  In the early 1830’s every county in southern England experienced rioting.  Machinery was wrecked, hay stacks burned, fences torn down, bad landlords taken out and thrashed, crops destroyed, sheep and cattle driven off.

Famously there was a lad in his late teens named Henry Cook, who took it upon himself to knock the hat off a Home Counties grandee with the illustrious banking name of Baring.  Henry Cook, along with several others, were hanged for this.  This hanging,these executions, were carried out to appease both Whigs and Tories and assure them that the country was still in safe hands.  Peasants didn’t matter.

What must be constantly kept in mind here is that old Tory families like Baring regarded the peasantry as being beneath contempt, as serfs, and deserving of nothing.  The Whigs had precisely the same attitude.  Nevertheless, there was real fear amongst the ruling classes of revolution.  The possibility of an English equivalent of the French ‘Terror’, where institutions were overwhelmed and aristos summarily executed loomed large in the ruling class mind.  The Whigs, much earlier than the Tories, began to side with the idea of reform because they realised quicker than most the power of the rising industrial middle class.  Make concessions to the new ‘middle’ class and revolution might be averted.

By 1832, Doherty’s National Association for the Protection of Labour had run its course, but the idea of trade unionism was by now fixed in peoples’ minds and various unions, in various guises kept up the pressure which would eventually result in shorter working days and better conditions.

Jeremy Bentham (1741-1832), the advocate of Utilitarianism which promoted the principle of ‘the greatest good for the greatest number of people’ was a long time supporter of what were considered at the time to be ‘lunatic’ causes; equal rights for women, separation of church and state, decriminalisation of homosexuality, the right to divorce, and the abolition of both the death penalty and slavery.  Robert Owen was a great admirer of Bentham and went out of his way to promote his Utopian ideas.  During the first thirty years of the 19th century Owen set up ‘New Lanark’ type communities in Ireland, England and in the US to promote his essentially Utopian  ideas.  Most of these ventures failed, not because the ideas were wrong, but simply because even Utopia needs good managers.  The single success of this venture was in the town of Ralahine, in County Clare in Ireland which survived for almost four years and was only driven to the wall by the proprietor’s gambling.  By 1828 Owen was living in London and his ‘co-operative’ ideas were now being taken up by trade unionists in a much more positive way.  Owenite societies had been formed, during and after the Napoleonic Wars with real, influential membership.  Owenite Cooperative Societies were springing up all through this period, 300 or more of which were in operation by 1830.  These co-ops would employ striking or laid-off workers in Co-Op owned warehouses and shops.  The whole idea was to point out that there was an alternative to the exploitation that workers experienced every day in sweat shops and factories.  Owen preached co-operation, not exploitation, and his ideas were hugely popular.