'Being there and listening' could be Government policy

Aboriginal Football Last week in Eureka Street, Brian McCoy wrote of a mind-set that uses coercion in an attempt to improve people's lives, on the basis that the end justifies the means.

'People enter Aboriginal communities with a set of ready-made answers around employment, health and education. I am reminded of a mind-set that seeks to change people's lives for the better, always 'for their own good'.'

He was alluding to the Howard Government's Northern Territory Intervention. He was comparing the former Government's heavy-handedness with that of the missionaries of the past. The missionaries believed that the removal of children 'for education' was both the good and only thing to do.

Often a particular course of action is good, not only for the intended beneficiaries, but also for those in charge. The motivation is mixed.

The Howard Government was seeking to score political points ahead of last year's Federal Election, by using part of the budget surplus to attempt to eliminate the greatest blight on Australia's social landscape.

For the church organisations, the desire to do good was mixed with their mission to convert the Aboriginal people to the Christian faith.

Brian McCoy's breakthrough technique was to go into communities which welcomed him, not necessarily to do anything much at all, except to listen. To his mind, this was the most important task of all. As one of our readers said last week in response to Brian's article: 'Nothing beats being there and listening. I wonder who cares enough to live with the communities?'

Brian would not be surprised that the Intervention has met with resistance, and its success is widely expected to be limited.

Meanwhile in Eureka Street tomorrow, Perth welfare rights advocate Susie Byers analyses the Federal Government's use of welfare payments to 'socially engineer' the lives of indigenous Australians. She refers to the Howard Government's welfare-to-work policy, and its devastating impact on human dignity.

'The underlying assumptions of the social security system need to change, with the focus shifted to assistance and empowerment rather than coercion and punishment.'

If the logic of last month's Parliamentary Apology to the Stolen Generations is translated into Government policy and action, there is every hope that this shift will take place, and that 'being there and listening' could be adopted as an official strategy.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.
Image: Brian McCoy



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Existing comments

These articles touch on the most fundamental aspects of community development. Unfortunately most of what is and has been called development has resulted in us imposing our solutions instead of spending time with the people and the communities, working with them as they decide what the need and how they want to respond.

Briefly, this is how Indigenous Community Volunteers (ICV) operates. We enter Communities at their request, and we provide volunteers to work with them on projects they have decided on.
Bill Armstrong | 05 March 2008

i have been here and listening for many years. currently in my 17th community. the song is the same, the pain never eases...the rhetoric of government never changes..the political intervention has only acknowledged for moral political gain what health workers have written, pleaded, screamed about for years. we remain with no real resources in terms of actual changes that could impact on people's lives in a positive fashion. What is the second biggest industry in the NT & WA after mining? you got it right, Indigenous people and white Toyotas.
marcel campbell | 07 March 2008


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