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Social Engineering by Australia
12-27-2011, 12:08 AM,
Sad  Social Engineering by Australia
27 December 2011

2012 or 1912? Stigmatising and humiliating Aboriginal parents


⁠Michael Brull ⁠

As I keep writing , there is no evidence that the intervention has improved socio-economic conditions in Indigenous communities.

The Drum has so far featured a few replies to my articles – yet no response has yet refuted, let alone replied to this point. This apparent concession seems to me a significant one.

However, the fact that we're spending billions of taxpayer dollars on a failing policy is not the only reason we should oppose the intervention. The intervention has meant the stigmatisation and humiliation of Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. And it's getting worse.

The intervention was launched in the aftermath of lurid claims about paedophile rings. The Government declared a "national emergency" as justification for a range of racially discriminatory policies, targeted specifically at 73 "prescribed" Indigenous communities.

No-one ever disputed the severe problems facing some of the poorest communities in the world. However, utilising such drastically different – and drastically more punitive policies – exclusively at Indigenous communities sent an obvious message.

When the Labor Government handpicked a panel to review the intervention, they were told that "The intervention is telling the rest of Australia and the world that all blackfellas are paedophiles."

The stigmatisation was felt acutely. Indigenous legal academic Nicole Watson wrote scorchingly that the intervention "revealed some ugly truths about Australian society". She wrote there is nothing:

...more dehumanising than a specious allegation that parents have wilfully failed to uphold their most fundamental obligation – the duty to love their children. When levelled against an individual it can be devastating, as evidenced by the plight of Lindy Chamberlain. And when made against an entire group, it is a certainty that they will be rendered voiceless. Just as Australians willingly believed that refugee parents callously threw infants into the ocean, they embraced the lie that Aboriginal parents do not want the best for their children. That many Indigenous parents live in abject poverty is unarguable, but to suggest that they have nothing to offer their children is abominable. Likewise, the dehumanisation of our men was virulent. As an Aboriginal woman, my heart ached for all of the black men who have added to the richness of my life – Dad, my brother Sam, my uncles, cousins and my precious nephews. I can only imagine what it would have been like to walk in their shoes on 21 June 2007.

It was not just the fact of uniquely harsh policies being directed at Indigenous communities that stigmatised and humiliated them. It was also the fact of their implementation. In a survey of 168 women on income management, 74 per cent said they felt "people aren't as nice to me when they see that I use BasicsCard". The women said things like: "There is a shame attached to it", "Makes me feel more diminished. So small", "I don't see why it should happen to people who are doing the right thing. I would have been embarrassed to go to Woolworths with BasicsCard. I have no history of mismanagement or social problems", "People's looks when they see the card... the card brands you". And they noted the obvious: "all the black women have the card, but the white women don't".

Take a moment to imagine how you might feel, were you placed in this position. You walk into Woolworths to buy your groceries. However, you don't have real money. You have a BasicsCard, and you're not sure how much money is on it. You feel people watching you as you queue carrying bags of the necessities you're allowed. Your line is full of people who have certain racial features in common, like yours, who the Government has made clear can't be trusted with money. The BasicsCard line.

There is a separate line of people who look different to you. They can be trusted with money. How might you feel? How might you feel if you waited in racially segregated Centrelink queues, and your race was the one that not to be trusted with money?

Eighty-five per cent of the women surveyed said they do not feel respected when they speak to Centrelink. Eighty-four per cent said they do not want to tell Centrelink if they have problems. Can you imagine why?

These humiliating and degrading policies are to be expanded nationally, targeting the poor, and ethnic minorities who are vulnerable to vulgar stereotyping. One of the first testing grounds is Bankstown. Randa Kattan, the Executive Director of the Arab Council of Australia, has identified the predictable feeling within the community of why they've been selected:

Because it is Bankstown, because it is highly populated by the Arab community - Lebanese people - and because of the reputation Bankstown has gained over the years due to the negative media feedback. People feel targeted.

As if Indigenous communities had not been stigmatised enough, there is the new scheme to further humiliate the parents of truanting children. A few weeks ago, I noted that the Government had trialled its policy of cutting welfare payments to parents of children who were failing to attend school. She announced the expansion of this policy, based not on the evidence of the trials, but because of imaginary community support for this measure. Why didn't she base her policy on the evidence of the trials?

Well, the answer was sadly predictable. After apparently ignoring requests from the Greens, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations released the evaluation of the trial to the Sydney Morning Herald. Adele Horin writes that this:

...official evaluation of the trial's first year shows it did not improve the attendance rate, and had little effect on lifting enrolments.

The program ''did not demonstrably improve the rate of attendance … overall, nor was any effect apparent at any stage of the attendance process in 2009,'' the evaluation says. Even after the program was tweaked in the second year and produced a spike in attendance, the improvement was not sustained.

Well, no matter. The Government hid this evaluation from the public, and is still planning on expanding these measures. There is no evidence in their favour. One shudders to think how Labor can imagine this policy will help anyone. It is hard to imagine how it would help Indigenous children if their parents have no income, which would solely be allowed to go to necessities anyway. Perhaps Labor has decided that Aboriginal kids are more likely to go to school if they're hungry and their parents can't feed them.

Having tested two methods of cutting welfare to parents of truanting children, the new legislation would implement a third – presumably untried – method. It seems they are trying out a new method because they haven't yet seen it fail. The imagined process is set out in the Government's explanatory memorandum.

In brief, the process is basically as follows. The Minister will nominate a person or class of persons – "likely a truancy officer". This person will notify the Secretary when they are satisfied that a child is not attending school – how much school can be missed is apparently up to this person's discretion. They can then give a "conference notice" to the child's parents or guardians. If they fail to attend the conference, their welfare can be cut off. At the conference, the people looking after the child have to enter into a "school attendance plan". If they fail to enter into this plan, or fail to comply with it, their welfare can be cut off.

As noted, there is no evidence that this would improve school attendance rates, and this method has yet to be tried.

Think about it in practice. Your child doesn't attend school, for any number of reasons. You are hauled into school to talk to someone about how inadequate you are as a parent. They will decide the necessary steps to make sure that your child goes to school. And if you object to any of their ideas – which could be crackpot insane, culturally insensitive, dumb or unhelpful – this person can cut off your welfare and starve you and your kids. How do you feel when this presumptuous school official tells you the correct way to look after your kids? How do you feel when they respond to your disagreement about the school attendance plan by threatening to starve you and your child?

But put aside how degrading it is to make a parent submit in this manner to school officials. What might we expect such measures to have on the relationship of a child to his or her school? They will see their parents forced to cower meekly before school officials. They will see the school and Government having the power to starve them and their families. It will have a disastrous impact on their relationships with school, and on the authority of their parents.

And both parents and children will have received a clear message. Aboriginal parents cannot be trusted with their children. The White Man knows best, and sometimes Aboriginal children need to be protected from their parents, who are too stupid or lazy to try to get their kids to school. This should be viewed in light of the fact that "recent statistics on child removals show Aboriginal children are being taken from their parents in numbers much greater than the Stolen Generations."

2011 will end soon. But it seems more like we are going into 1912. Aboriginal people are being paid in rations, Aboriginal kids are being taken from their parents for their own good, and Australia has accepted that Aboriginal parents can't be trusted with their own children or money.

Perhaps we can progress soon to the moral level of the '60s, when these kinds of measures were at least controversial.

Michael Brull has a featured blog at Independent Australian Jewish Voices, and is involved in Stop The Intervention Collective Sydney (STICS)
Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love,
And in my soul am free;
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.
Richard Lovelace, 1649

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