Only an indigenous person could have said it, but Marcia Langton’s attack on Greens politicians who ‘‘prefer to have their Aborigines drunk and stupid” should prompt the green-Left to take a hard look at its recalcitrant opposition to welfare reform.
Professor Langton’s abhorrence of Aborigines being depicted as victims was admirable. So were her criticisms of the Greens for opposing the government’s Healthy Welfare card, which would prevent welfare recipients wasting benefits on alcohol, drugs and gambling. Consultations on the card are under way and trials will begin soon in socially disadvantaged indigenous and non-indigenous communities. The card, recommended by Andrew Forrest’s welfare review, should encourage more responsible spending.
Greens senator Rachel Siewert showed a poor understanding of the deprivations suffered by many women and children in dysfunctional, welfare-dependent families when she demanded that the government abandon the card. As lawyer Noel Pearson says, the welfare trap remains as deep as ever, especially for Aborigines, with government service delivery encouraging recipients to remain passive. In Inquirer today, Mr Pearson explains a radical approach to reform being advocated by the leaders of eight diverse indigenous regions across the nation, from Redfern and La Perouse in Sydney to the NSW central coast, north to Cape York, west to northeast Arnhem Land, the Kimberley and the NPY Lands in the centre. It builds on the “rights and responsibilities agenda” he has fostered for 15 years on Cape York and prioritises the wellbeing of women and children. Its vital and worthy goal — to shift the role of government from being “rescuers” to “enablers” — poses a vast challenge, as the limited progress in “closing the gap” has shown.
The chances of the plan being successful will be boosted because it has come from a geographically and ideologically diverse range of indigenous communities and has not been handed down by government. Professor Langton is right. Aborigines must shake off the mantle of victims.