Shareholders are being taken for a ride, as are donors, trade unionists, sports fans and taxpayers. The relatively few high-profile CEOs, charity leaders, trade union leaders, sports administrators and politicians foolish enough to forsake their duty and send other people’s money to the referendum Yes case are doing harm. Many of their supporters and funders, and possibly a majority, are against the proposition. They are not as foolish as their leaders.
Leaders who think that a solution to Aboriginal despair lies in permanent government intervention in the lives of those few Aborigines who are failing in this modern society should think again. It is not all about government. Changing the Constitution does not change behaviour. Changing the Constitution will not get children to attend school. Changing the Constitution will not stop the grog, or the abuse, or the awful habits that cause early death.
This week, Aboriginal children will walk into the store at Warburton in Western Australia and purchase the typical fare of an Aboriginal diet. On the same latitude as the border of Northern Territory and South Australia, Warburton is as remote as it gets. But cake, Coca-Cola, and energy bars are all available, and expensive. For adults, throw in smokes. These are typical purchases. Week in and week out. Eating and drinking junk foods, not working, and having no purpose in life other than consumption, is a death sentence. No amount of government intervention can save this. No Voice, no committee, no treaty, no ‘truth-telling’, no Makarrata can save these people.
Aboriginal people are a modern people. In Warburton, mobile phones are commonplace. Electricity keeps the food and drink cool. Without the paraphernalia of the modern world there would be no Warburton, it would have closed decades ago. Aboriginal people rely on modern means to survive. Most have no idea how it is made. This is cruel.
The task of leaders is to have every child understand how it is that the mobile phone and electricity that makes their food and shelter available comes in to being. Government may be the provider, but it is not the maker.
Government makes nothing, it merely covers the indignity of woeful ignorance.
Why do governments refuse to teach their citizens how their lives have been degraded to the point of begging? This is no gracious gift; it is stealing the future of these people. It is an abandonment of leadership. Recognition is not the same as reconciliation.
Aboriginal parents face an awful choice. To keep children ‘safe’ on country, away from the worst of modern life, grog and drugs, or in doing so, condemn their children to live restricted lives, with poor education, few prospects and a poor diet. The great lie of this referendum is that choices can be avoided. Somehow, 24 select delegates in Canberra will solve the parents’ dilemma. They will not; they will continue to mask the choice and, in default, make the choice for them. A slow death on country, rather than to break free, with the help of their families and guidance from outsiders on how to handle the wider world.
There is no love for Aborigines in this referendum proposal, just ego.
The Aboriginal people at Warburton are radically disabled. They are self-determining alright, sitting on country, speaking language, and dying early. And CEOs and the Prime Minister think that this is a good idea.
They must, because their solution is to change nothing. Not to learn how to create value, not to adapt, but to wait. Government monies as a permanent way of life are poison.
Gary Johns is President of Recognise a Better Way
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Dr Gary Johns served as former Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations, Special Minister of State & Vice-President of the Executive Council in the Keating Labor Government. A philosophical rethink saw him accept a series of appointments in the service of economic rationalism, including Senior Fellow at the IPA and Assoc. Commissioner at the Productivity Commission. He recently served as Commissioner of
the Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission.