Chris Graham

They had one job: Count 24 million people in the National Census. But now the Turnbull government looks like a deer caught in the headlights. One of the most stunning things about the spectacular implosion of the National Census is that it was billed by the government as “the largest online event in Australian history”.
SOMETIMES in life, you can feel pretty helpless. That said, I’m a privileged white guy in a privileged white society. So for me at least, it doesn’t happen very often. It happened last year. John Pilger is a journalist I grew up reading, and a large part of the reason why I entered journalism. Pilger was back in Australia making Utopia, his fourth film about the plight of Aboriginal Australians. He asked me to work on it with him.
Aboriginal Australians awoke on Sunday morning to find they had a new “Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs”, a pledge Tony Abbott delivered during the 2013 election campaign. One problem — noone, including within the media, ever stopped to ask Aboriginal people if they actually wanted a “Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs”, and in particular whether they wanted Abbott. As it turns out, they apparently don’t.
The election of the United States’ first black president was one of those moments. Most of us remember where we were when we first heard about it. I happened to be on Palm Island, a small community off the coast of Townsville, now home to more than 3000 Aboriginal people from different corners of Queensland. "Palm" is a former black penal colony, and to get sent there you had to commit such heinous crimes as refusing to stop speaking your native tongue, or getting caught hanging around a white Queensland town.
I was browsing the “Recognise” site recently – the hip, new rebranded “You Me Unity” organisation tasked with promoting constitutional recognition of First Nations Australians – when I came across this curious fact: “Research by Auspoll in late 2012 found strong Indigenous support for constitutional recognition. “Three-quarters of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people surveyed were in favour of recognition, and only 8% opposed it. The same overwhelming majority felt recognition would help protect against a loss of culture for future generations.”
There are at least two truisms in Aboriginal affairs. The first is that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I’ll come back to that one. The second is that the road through Aboriginal affairs, while often paved with good intentions, is sometimes paved with bad ones. I’m going to assume that when Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin held a gun to the head of Alice Springs town campers and told them that unless they signed over their land for 40 years it would be compulsorily acquired, that her intentions were good.
Tracker, June 6: You’ll forgive Aboriginal people for not jumping over the moon today at the Transit of Venus. One of the last times the "Evening Star" got between the Earth and Sun, it was used as the pretext for invasion. Ever a suspicious lot, the British had long wanted to claim the "Great Southern Land" for themselves, which they were sure existed thanks to the hard work of explorers from other countries. But they didn’t want to tip off other countries to what they were doing.
Australia, at least for me, is a paradox. As Dorothy McKellar famously wrote, “I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains, of rugged mountain ranges and droughts and flooding rains”. The extremes in our landscape and our weather seem to have been etched into our national psyche as well, which is something I’ve never quite understood.
Sick of having your welfare entitlements compulsorily controlled by the Rudd government?
In late June, the federal government helped launch a paper entitled Bridges and Barriers: Addressing Indigenous Incarceration and Health.
Indigenous Affairs minister Jenny Macklin was advised by her department against formally consulting with Aboriginal people over the compulsory acquisition of their land because it would be too expensive, tie up too many resources, and was unlikely to get the outcome the government wanted, leaked documents reveal.
Under a scheme about to be rolled out by the Rudd government, Aboriginal communities living in remote parts of Australia will be forced to bargain for access to public housing by surrendering control of their land for at least 40 years.
A Rudd government plan to punish parents dependent on welfare with up to three months’ loss of income if their children play truant has been condemned as “elitist and out of touch” by Tasmanian Aboriginal leader Michael Mansell.
Under the title “First steps in closing the gap”, the Indigenous affairs budget papers reveal that Labor has committed itself to six bold targets. They’re commendable goals, but are they achievable? National Indigenous Times’ managing editor, Chris Graham, gives his assessment of how PM Kevin Rudd’s first federal budget will impact upon Indigenous people.
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