Monthly Archives: August 2013

Getting down to one week out from the Federal election and there are more questions than details on Indigenous policies.

A rundown of recent announcements, in brief …


The ABC Vote Compass site provides a snapshot per electorate of which seats are ‘least’ and ‘most in favour’ of the statement Australian constitution should recognise indigenous people as Australia’s First inhabitants.

In a clear difference to the recently confirmed bipartisan support for a referendum on Constitutional Recognition to take place in the first term , the Greens announced support for a Treaty.


Has bipartisan agreements on CTG shut the door to leaders in Indigenous health seeking support for the Building on Ciosing the Gap platform

and the NACCHO ten-point Investing in Healthy Futures for Generational Change plan ?


It has been asked more than once if the era of the large land councils is coming to a natural end. Have they outlived their usefulness?

In keeping with past changes of government, should the Liberals achieve election victory in two weeks time, the focus will be on the ALRA (NT) Act 1976.

[ This is a Commonwealth act because the NT is a territory rather than a state, where different councils and acts apply. ]

More specifically, the federal government, the NT land councils, the NT government and the Traditional Owners (TOs) focus will fall to section: ALRA S20.A.

There’s already been years of reviews about devolving powers to TOs to speed up negotiations over land use agreements and exploration applications, leases and licences.

But the lack of capacity for alternative structures will curb any enthusiasm to dismantle the large councils – and both major political parties have voiced continued support for the larger structures to supply the administrative and financial management grunt to the smaller regional land councils.

NLC Chairman, Wali Wunungmurra, endorsed Senator Scullion’s comments of the Council’s place in the Top End landscape.

– NLC Full Council Meeting, Timber Creek NT June 2013

NLC Monthly Newsletter August 23

Future dealings of individual communities with their respective land councils depend on cooperative arrangements between land councils, the NT, state and federal governments. That’s where the energy for negotiations will be spent if the economic agenda is to be played out in the desired timeframes.

Communities and governments want results soon. They want action on their economic plans, and progress made with the funding allocations.


  • More details came to light on the proposed Indigenous Advisory Council, that would have a specific economic and commercial focus; was not intended to be a representative body; and membership was being canvassed. [Mundine]
  • Bipartisan support for the creation of a new Indigenous Policy Productivity Commission. [Pearson]


A name that will soon be very familiar to those following Indigenous policy reforms: Jawun.

The Jawun Indigenous Corporate Partnerships have been operarating for some time, and provides some background to yesterday’s $5m pledge of support from Tony Abbott for the ‘8 Empowered Communities’ taking part in the Jawun Empowered Communities initiative.

The initiative marks a new direction in Indigenous affairs and unless they are members of one of the communities who’ve opted in to the arrangement, observers will not be across the finer details of the program.

Regions are Cape York, the central coast of NSW, inner Sydney, Goulburn Murray, East Kimberley, West Kimberley, APY/NPY Lands, and Northeast Arnhem Land.

The community must make their own decisions.

It would seem that the 8 communities are signatories to the Jawun Empowered Communities initiative for that reason. Under this model, the price of admission is wanting to be part of the Initiative.

Underlying principles: ( as reported in the media and participants websites)

  • Movement on economic reform is driving these policy reforms.
  • Communities must already be at a point where they are ready to opt-in to the program.
  • There needs to be local leadership to engage with. Someone needs to be nominated, and effective as being the person in charge. They are the contact point, the local driver and the interface between community and corporate interests.

This is a significant break from the familiar custom of outsiders having the job of engaging a sometimes receptive and other times hostile community, and needing local agreement on business plans, land use proposals etc.

Years of Indigenous community advice confirmed by the ineffectiveness of efforts to do without it,  that nothing will be achieved unless locals make their own decisions are enabled by an initiative that if in keeping with past practices says ‘call us when you are ready’.

Leadership is a volatile subject – the federal election being just such an example – and there’s just as much speculation and vitriol in Indigenous affairs. 

The other issue that inevitably arises is ‘representation’. Queue references from media, researchers and community members alike to the National Congress, and draw parallels with ATSIC and the NIC.

It’s worth noting who served on this previous advisory council. The NIC advised beyond economic development, but the initial savage criticism faded once the Indigenous community realized who was appointed. The NIC met regularly for four years before being decommissioned.

Remote polling booths have now commenced in the Northern Territory.

Please advise of any corrections or feedback. Questions are welcome, and can be posted anonymously  at 



Promising prosperity



” When will learning an aboriginal language/dialect become part of standard curriculum in all Australian public schools rather than learning European languages? “
Previously posted on
I will answer as a lay person, though I’ve worked with linguists for years.

Of the 250+ languages that existed and the many Indigenous dictionaries now available online & in hardcover, approximately 150 remain in use across Australia. 
Indigenous kids are increasingly multi lingual, but Indigenous languages are only taught in discreet schools, where the traditional language is in regular use and the school supports a bilingual education system.
Aboriginal people also speak dialects that are combinations of languages, for example Light Warlpuri, and the old Darwin dialect (mixture of language, Kriol, Greek, Malay etc) and the language common to the more heavily populated ‘settled’ areas is Aboriginal English.


Definition of Aboriginal English: ‘distinctive features of accent, grammar, words and meanings, as well as language use’… depending on how strong the ‘old’ language continues to be used in that region.



Features include the way the English words are pronounced and some English words have slightly different meanings, the sentence structure is different, and speakers may include cultural references unique to time & place, and/or common to the shared Indigenous experience.
The extent of use may not be obvious, because speakers will tend to revert back to standard English – out of courtesy, but also because of the stigma associated with using it because it sounds ‘wrong’ and tempts ‘correction’.

That’s a great sadness for me because the nature of this way of speaking is very enjoyable. It is a very clever language, and uses expressions that don’t exist in English.


I would suggest that most regions would benefit more from instruction in how Aboriginal people communicate (can include language, hand signs, head movements) rather than a specific language.

If this stopped people from correcting children and adults on how to ‘speak correctly’, this would go a long way to improving how black & white people communicate.


Interactive map to give an idea of how many languages groups covered Australia 
NB: data is incomplete, some boundaries are disputed but the map continues to be the most accessible and widely used. 


This is a great resource – ‘Australian Aboriginal Languages’ – I’ve been keeping an eye on this project for over 10 years and it started long before I came across it – it’s great to see how much material is included now:

I was recently asked “Do you think all Australian school children should be taught about their local Indigenous mob and if so, what would be the best way to implement this?”
This is my response posted earlier onto the Q & A site ask/fm.
On education, I think all Australian school children should have the best quality education possible, and that includes learning about Australian history from prior to colonial times up to the present day Indigenous policies, and supplemented by learning from local people about the Indigenous culture in their region.


Meeting a group of elderly people who share their stories over a day or so, would be more meaningful if participants also understood the history and impact of 200+ years of colonialism and government policy. 

Without that perspective it’s an interesting day with charming people but it wont automatically lead to cultural appreciation or meaningful respect. Participants will never know why the elders they met (for lunch; for their ILUA mandated induction training; in NAIDOC Week) live in poverty in the black suburb for example, or more broadly why Indigenous disadvantage exists.


Cultural awareness built into every school curriculum means that Indigenous kids are not ‘other people’.


Even with the extraordinary jump in achievement of many Indigenous scholars, professionals, businesses etc, the interface between black and white is dominated by nonIndigenous advocates. Media and the wider community will continue to prefer the Indigenous world to be filtered – through activists, lawyers, anthropologists, doctors, sporting teams – because it avoids discomfort arising from the presumption that discussions with an Indigenous person are based around ‘anger, guilt and compensation claims’. 
In this equation Indigenous people continue to be ‘other’, and can be cut out of the picture altogether, never enjoying the social status, career success or personal satisfaction of achieving outcomes that the advocates experience on their behalf.


School children today wont labour quite so detrimentally under these archaic social divisions because they are familiar with each other, and recognise their cultural differences because it was just part of growing up. 

They share the school community, even if they are not best friends and go to each others’ birthday parties.


The relationship building wasn’t from court cases and mining leases, and reported on with degrees of bias by the media to a community divided on commercial, uninformed and prejudicial interests.


I support Indigenous kids having access to the very best schools available to them, to provide not only opportunities for themselves but because their school mates rather than growing up to be their advocates and employers, will have a future as their peers.

The annual Yothu Yindi cultural festival,  Garma 2013 was the site for a glimpse of major Aboriginal land management and economic development reforms flagged in separate pre-federal election announcements from prominent Aboriginal identities, Warren Mundine and Noel Pearson.

Both spoke during their visit to Gulkulu in northeast Arnhem Land, of the potential for new bodies that would be the voice of Traditional Owners (TOs), and the interface between Indigenous communities and the Australian government.  .

Elevation of Warren Mundine

The Opposition Leader Tony Abbott announced that if successful in a months time, under a federal government he leads, Warren Mundine would head a new super advisory group.

The advisory group would be empowered to review existing Indigenous governance structures and with input from TOs, give regular advice to the Prime Minister on the right balance of governance arrangements for managing the land, the communities and individual aspirations.

 In his own words,

Warren Mundine’s speech to the Garma Festival Corporate Dinner [10 August]

Shooting an elephant: 4 Giant Steps


Indigenous Chamber of Commerce  –  7 Point Reform Agenda

Noel Pearson Launches  ‘8 Empowered Communities’

Noel Pearson made Garma the site to call on support for formation of a new statutory body ‘equivalent to a productivity commission for indigenous affairs’.

“The group, headed by respected national figures Noel Pearson and Galarrwuy Yunupingu, is urging the establishment of a new commonwealth statutory body equivalent to a productivity commission for indigenous affairs”.

Cape York Institute:  8 Empowered Communities

In a long address, Pearson also became a face to key Macklin Indigenous policy initiatives past and present, with an account of negotiations with the Labour Government to cut through barriers to secure more funding of the Cape York welfare reform trial, when it’s future was placed in jeopardy by it’s other significant funding body, the Queensland government.

Noel Pearson (Chairman of the Cape York Group) ‘With Jenny Macklin and the Magical Oratory’

Without further detail it is difficult to know if these reform proposals – one an election promise, the other an aspiration – are mutually exclusive, or of the kind that are able to be fashioned to operate together.

Both proposals would impact on existing statutory authorities and the only national Indigenous representative advisory body, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples.

The list of Indigenous statutory authorities includes many familiar names: the IBA, Indigenous Hostels Limited, AIATSIS, ORIC, the TSRA and all of the Indigenous land councils.

Aboriginal land councils have histories of being under review.

In the Northern Territory from the Reeves review, to the HORCATSIA inquiry into the Reeves Report in the 1990s, up till the current government and the denial of a request from Traditional Owners within the Northern Land Council for the power to establish a break away land council in the Northern Territory. In NSW, the NSWALC is currently undergoing a 30 yr ‘generational’ review.

The Liberal party election promise of a new advisory group has taken the Indigenous community by surprise, and social media has been running hot on the choice and the selection process for the leadership of potentially the most powerful Indigenous advisory group in the country.

Along the path to achieving functional and effective Indigenous representation, lies the bodies that were established and dismantled.

Layering of committees is nothing new, with the creation of the NIC and the abolition of ATSIC still fresh in people’s minds.

Announcements of new ways of doing business come on the tail of recent elections of the second term of National Congress.

During the lives of these representative bodies, another strata of Aboriginal voice emerged, in the form of appointed advisors.

Indigenous life is ruled by committee

Boards can consist of members gained from membership votes, ministerial appointment or sponsorship. The result is committees of high profile people and some who only emerged through a committee building process.

There are also high level committees that fly underneath the Aboriginal community radar altogether, and their membership, activities and responsibilities are not common public information, and if not for public reporting obligations would operate completely beyond the Indigenous communities’ awareness. This lack of transparency is a rich pool for community suspicion and resentment.

Community members who build up a portfolio of public life and advisory roles run the risk of being considered too far removed from their community and too close to government, and need to constantly validate themselves with demonstrations of a strong cultural identity and working with communities, to others who will never have access to these forums at a senior level and demand high standards from those given the opportunity.

It’s a vexed issue for some, where being accused of self promotion takes the form of shunning in the Aboriginal community. The appropriateness of anyone putting up a hand, or accepting appointment can attract more interest than the workings of a new advisory or statutory body.

And here is the quandary with building advisory bodies.  Invited to contribute off the cuff about who should be in a leadership role the Indigenous community by applying variables of selection criteria, priorities and skill sets would most likely produce tens if not hundreds of candidates.

It could include names from existing advisory groups like National Congress, and others with memberships both elected and appointed. It may also throw up new identities, in the form of Traditional Owners who believe a new structure offers better opportunities for their land rich, cash poor remote economies.

The Indigenous vote

Warren Mundine is prominent in Australian political life with a career made remarkable by the transition in a matter of years from a term as National President of the Australian Labour Party to the promise of becoming the most senior Indigenous adviser to a Liberal federal government.

Abbott has expressed the strength of his support for Mundine, explaining his decision to create a new advisory group and appoint Mundine as the head was based on his long friendship with a ‘kindred spirit’.

Another demonstration of government to community engagement is the strong and enduring support the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd continues to enjoy from Aboriginal people for his leadership on the National Apology to the Stolen Generations.

However one need only look to the stunning victory of the CLP in the 2012 Northern Territory elections for confirmation that Indigenous constituents are not rusted on ALP supporters.

A sidenote to Indigenous policy reforms: NT Chief Minister, Adam Giles campaigned hard on promises to constituents that if successful, a CLP government would revisit TOs deep dissatisfaction with the previous NT government’s amalgamation of Aboriginal community government councils into ‘mainstream’ super shires. Traditional owners have argued since amalgamation that the power to manage their communities was taken from their hands.

Four weeks out from the federal election and the details of these new reforms – one announced as part of an election campaign, the other a call for support – have yet to be made available for scrutiny. To date there have been no responses from state and territory governments or Aboriginal land councils.

Traditional Owners wait to hear of any changes to how they have a say – on a pathway they can trust – to greater economic returns from their land.

Depending on whether bipartisan support is gained for a new ‘Indigenous productivity commission’, it’s foundation in the eight signed up communities – which include the Cape York and north East Arnhem land – would form a considerable powerbase of land, culture and community, and allay some concerns that the voice of remote Australia was missing from the table.

It also remains to be seen how the needs of 80% of the Indigenous population that do not live in remote areas and yet endure the same levels of disadvantage are included alongside the remote interests.

On the face of it, any body – an advisory group or an Indigenous productivity commission – that had the ear of government and the voice of the Traditional Owner fits the ideal relationship to unlock the economic potential in Aboriginal land and native title interests.

The Indigenous community waits for more information on what seems certain to be sweeping Indigenous policy reform, and is alive with speculation as to who could or should be tapped on the shoulder next.


There are two weapons in the Aboriginal lateral violence kit.

The first… ‘You are not a real Aboriginal’

And the second … ‘you don’t have the community’s permission to speak’.

For additional information see Lateral violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities – Social Justice Report 2011

These statements are the equivalent of calling someone a wife basher or far worse.  They are designed to smear another person’s character. They are seeds that social media will launch far and wide to be planted by those with vested interests and accidental digital gardeners alike.

Possible scenario:

One Aboriginal funded by government funds (includes a department, institute, advocacy group, service agency) says to another similarly funded and employed Aboriginal – ‘you are acting like a white person’.

[Tell me how my behavior is different to yours?]

You are paid by the government.

[So are you.]

I’m a better Aboriginal than you, I am from the community.

[Me too, I live in the same town like/city as you.]

I heard you have a white (insert family member).

[I know you have a white (again).]

My family has culture.

[So has mine. You just said you don’t know me, so how would you know my family?]

Impasse. Regroup.

I have a big mob who agree with me.

[I won’t ask you to prove that because you can’t. Not today, or tomorrow, or ever will you be able to prove that.]

My elders are very upset by people like you.

[Did you ask them about your behavior? And now it’s only people ‘like’ me? Not me. You have thrown both weapons. Neither of them hit.]

It might end there. Or increasingly in the digital age, escalate on social media.

True identities and employers are tracked down and a letter campaign commences. Monitoring can take the form of diarising and Storifying collections of Facebook comments and tweets. The purpose is to harass online with stalking behavior, and can also be used to supplement a complaint that attacks work ethic, corporate reputation, status and a person’s capacity to earn a living for themselves and their family.

Understanding relationships

Causes of discord & dysfunction

  • You are working for an Aboriginal community (organization, department, institute, advocacy group) and all the senior paid employees are non-Indigenous. You are given all responsibility with no authority and can clearly see why the service is failing to deliver on it’s claim to help Aboriginal people, but no one is interested in your opinion. You may be told that you possess the wrong tone, words, attitude or timing. You will work under this arrangement for twenty years.
  • You live with entrenched racism every day of your life. Generations before you suffered, and you see your children and your grandchildren will also be living in a world of the same institutionalized and sanctioned mistreatment of you and everyone else who identifies as Aboriginal.
  • You are part of someone else’s career. You are not a colleague, you don’t benefit from their advocacy, your life’s purpose is to contribute to their influence and financial success.
  • You do not understand the system and are suspicious that people who do are using it to hurt you. You are ‘jealous’.

‘Aboriginal jealousy’ is complex to define. It can be a reason for a career of bullying by employers and community, and a shortened life of misery and poor health, and is almost certainly the reason why talented productive people would go right out of their way to avoid it when it’s a needless encounter. It draws on issues of reciprocity and survival ideologies, and just as the other civilizations have spoken about it since before the age of writing, it can also be a highly motivating influence.

The way out of an uncomfortable recollection when Aboriginal people share everyday people experiences, is to respond with messages of support and empathy.

That makes me so angry. If someone did that to me I would have said something. But that’s just me.

The question is ‘how would you feel if you couldn’t speak freely?’

If it was actually dangerous to your health, your security, your job, your ride home from work on the bus, your status in the community, to your cat, or to your child?

Start by imagining a day or two, then more, of intergenerational oppression. All those times you didn’t say ‘No, that is unacceptable, it is not fair, you are being unjust to me’.

Jane Elliott’s blue-eyed/brown-eyed exercise in diversity training in the 1960s following the death of Martin Luther King, suggested just how quickly people can become distressed at being ‘oppressed’. Others have argued that it was cruel and unethical, and even a couple of adults who undertook the exercise described it as a form of torture.

Maybe there was just one time in your life when you really wanted to speak up.

A really important time for you, and you couldn’t. Maybe you would have had no say in the outcome, but saying ‘no, I object’ would have meant you died on your feet. And because of the threat to others, you still couldn’t stand.

No one need be concerned that there is an shutting down of the identity conversation. I am part of an ongoing discussion. It’s entry point is

Where are you from?

Who are your mob?

That identity discussion is to be had with every Aboriginal person I meet, even if there was no sound with only hands to signal with. In some parts of Australia Aboriginal groups continue the tradition of  communication, by using only their hands to ask these questions. The identity question is the precursor for discussions around connections to culture and family, and building communities.

What is known in some quarters as the ‘identity debate’ however, has morphed and splintered. Reference to a ‘debate’ has been adopted by a wide range of parties and individuals as part of a strategy for progress, or as a tactic to diminish others. It can get murky finding the source and the logic at times, and at others it is so clearly simple that one can match the ideology with the pay master.

Character smears, threatening behavior and faux identity debates are the vanquished taking up the weapons of the oppressors. I read from time to time someone throws it down like a loose sod of dirt or a sweaty head rag.

It’s not a lack of leadership to walk away from the throw down. It’s not any kind of declaration on identity.

It is walking away from an invitation to a public stoush for the benefits of people not out on the road doing the swinging. It’s not a safe or culturally responsible space. It’s not a fair fight and some have more to lose than others. In that situation, walking away is living on your feet.