This is not a war we are going to win with steering committees and elected board members replicating the very systems that are working against us. To put it bluntly, Western free market economies and in particular neo-liberalism just doesn’t work. The United Nations no less agrees stating that privatisation and free market economies have had devastating effects on Indigenous health and wellbeing in its “State of the Indigenous Peoples Report” in 2009.
“The global ascendancy of neo-liberal economics and the entrenchment of corporate power in international and national affairs have deepened inequalities between and within nations and largely undermined efforts toward sustainable development,” the report said.
“Neo-liberalism is based on a belief the market should be the organising principle for social, political and economic decisions, where policy makers promote privatisation of State activities and an increased role for the free market, flexibility in labour markets and trade liberalisation.
“The benefits of these policies frequently fail to reach the Indigenous peoples of the world, who acutely feel their costs, such as environmental degradation and loss of traditional lands and territories.” (United Nations, 2009).
Neo-liberalism has been driven into our communities by people like Noel Pearson and Marcia Langton over the last 15 years and only last week a comprehensive report on Indigenous disadvantage outcomes revealed the adult Indigenous imprisonment rate increased 57 per cent between 2000 and 2013 and the rate of juvenile detention remained about 24 times that of non-Indigenous youth.
At what point do those in these camps admit their policies are not working and that we are seeing the same devastating effects here we have witnessed around the world when neo-liberalism has been introduced into Indigenous communities? Self-interest and individual gain are not compatible within our Original Peoples’ ideology, which relies on collective interest and community gain.
Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda stated in his human rights report published last week we remain the “greatest victims” of what can only be seen as an economic lie and deception.
Gooda made note of the more than $534 million cut from Indigenous programs and said it was “concerning” the largest block of new funding was to extend the controversial income management programmes in place around the country.
“Income management programmes” are supported by the big three, Noel Pearson, Marcia Langton and Warren Mundine as cuts to legal aid services, including the family violence prevention legal service, have in many areas already resulted in closures and loss of staff, despite government assurances there would be no effect on frontline services.
“Given the extent of over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the criminal justice and child protection systems, it is difficult to understand the rationale behind these funding cuts,” Gooda wrote.
The problem is neo-liberal theory is based on equality, not freedom. Equality is a major component of a free society but it is not its centre as the terms of reference that dictate freedom are defined by those in power. What may be equal to some, such as the right to work, becomes slavery for others.
Furthermore, the equality of modern neo-liberalism seeks equality of outcomes but without considering obstacles, class and race. As much as we would like to believe we are … we are not all born equal and though some individuals are able to overcome obstacles of race, poverty and position the majority continue to suffer.
A free society, embracing equality seeks equality and freedom of opportunity, wherein all people are granted equality and freedom under the law to seek what personal talents and hard work can get them despite the obstacles people face.
Neo-liberalism does not consider this. It also fails in addressing corporate greed. It uses privatisation to make up human disadvantage instead of voluntary charitable service. Therefore much of the aid given with one hand through philanthropy is taken with the other as we see mining and other corporations utilise disadvantage in appropriating access to the lands of the most vulnerable.
Track back and see if any of the aid provided by Andrew Forrest is occurring in communities other than ones where he has mining interests?
Funding of GenerationOne by Forrest, along with Rio Tinto and others who sponsor everything from sporting teams to academic scholarships whilst making billions of dollars from Aboriginal land and its natural resources is an example of their public relations self-interest.
OK, we can all be shaped and moulded to a certain extent. But with neo-liberal self-interest they create a world where most people care more about what they wear to work rather than the poverty that forces 12,000 of our people living in Western Australia and the Northern Territory from their Homelands. These Mobs might as well be living on the other side of the world compared to our own people benefiting from neo-liberalism living in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Cairns.
Other than greed the problem, of course, is the economic system is not functional. It’s broken. As productivity continues to increase overall, the vast majority of normal Australians are not sharing in the gains from this increase in productivity and growth with our own Original Peoples bearing the brunt of this inequality.
Wages for both the poor and the working class are not improving despite record productivity as opportunities for people to move beyond their own social class is now more difficult than ever before.
Corporate profits and stock markets are at record highs. The rich have never been better off. But everyone else is struggling more than ever before with no light at the end of the tunnel.
It now takes two and a half incomes to support the same lifestyle one income did 20 years ago. Women’s rights have had a profoundly beneficial social change but the introduction of women to the workforce has also served to mask the erosion of the middle class, as two parents now work to provide a comparable lifestyle to that which one parent used to provide.
Women becoming part of the workforce is not the problem – all people should be allowed to increase their position in life. The problem here is in the predatory behaviour of those in power having taken advantage of women’s right to work by enslaving the increasing income of families through higher mortgages and financial dependence to the corporations such as we have never seen before.
The freedom of women in the workforce should have also freed families from financial hardship imposed by the banks but it has actually had the opposite effect.
The only direction to go is down. Combine that with the fact of decaying infrastructure as well as a desperate need to make massive economic investments to head off crises such as climate change, water shortages, antibiotic-resistant infection, terrorism and a myriad of other problems and it becomes quite obvious the neo-liberal dream itself is fundamentally a nightmare.
The greatest problem within neo-liberalism is it prioritises assets over wages. This is why despite the workforce doubling over the last 20 years with women’s rights, we are not seeing the benefits to families on the ground. Neo-liberalism prioritises assets for a variety of reasons but the biggest by far is globalisation.
The ability of the wealthy to hire anyone they like across the world for nearly any job creates pressure on wages. Remember when mining magnate Gina Rinehart stated Australians had to “make more sacrifices” because “Africans were willing to work for only $2 a day”. Also when Warren Mundine stated there was “no real poverty in Australia”?
Neo-liberalism is really nothing more than a co-dependent relationship of corruption that occurs between the financial sector and government which masks a failing economy that keeps the rich ‘rich’ by taking from the poor.
It’s time to admit the economic system itself is fundamentally broken and rapid change will be necessary to fix it as we continue to bear the brunt of this economic deception.
All of this and the reality is, despite the Prime Minister’s assurances to the contrary, Australia is witnessing one of the largest upheavals in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs thanks to large scale funding cuts, policy changes and reviews by the Abbott government.
So no, neo-liberalism is not the answer. Instead those most in need are our People who are suffering most and it is we who must endure. The simple truth is if Abbott had he gone to the Australian people with his true intentions which included cuts to the ABC as well as attacks on the poor, the elderly, our own mob and the young as well as the sick and disadvantaged at the last election, he would not have been elected.
Therefore Abbott cheated on a grand scale and became Prime Minister by deception. The inherited mess created by Labor, which allowed this to happen, rings of the same lack of credibility that Abbott now carries.
They are as bad as each other – Western democracy, capitalism, neo-liberalism, invasion and the subsequent colonisation, whatever you choose to call it, it is failing our People and we need a change.
This brings us to the only real alternative we have, the Freedom Summit held in Alice Springs on November 27 and 28. It was here our People gathered without government funding independently to take a stand. This gathering became a uniform position of determined resolution by our People in stating that not one Original Nation of this Country has voluntarily ceded its sovereignty to the White man’s Australian government.
From the Freedom Summit there have been a number of what I like to call “Cultural Ambassadors” nominated as delegates to spread the word to both the world and our communities alike that we have had enough and that we, by consensus, reject wholeheartedly these projects such as Empowered Communities as designed by Noel Pearson; the Northern Territory Intervention with both Noel and Marcia Langton as its architects (no matter how much they try and distance themselves now); and the Forrest Report.
The most significant point that came from the Freedom Summit was we will determine our own pathways to self-determination. We will establish and identify policy from within our own communities and our People.
The Freedom Summit was the coming together of the multilayered diversity of our People but in accepting our differences we remain connected as the Original Owners of this sacred land and its water and the air above us. This is our Country, it was stolen through a physical invasion and taken through force
Cultural Ambassador, Paul Spearim Jnr said it up best: “There are many of us who have been dispersed and displaced by the tyranny and genocidal practices of previous governments, which sees fragmentation in our communities, where the invaders have impacted through the denial of our own practices in Culture, our languages and ceremony. For many of us we are striving to locate that which was taken but never lost. It has come time to reclaim our Culture, our ceremony and our languages back. This is not just our civil right, this is our human right.” (Paul Spearim Jnr, 2014).
The challenge from here for these Cultural Ambassadors will be in prioritising the needs that must be addressed in the short, medium and long term that will provide hope and leadership to our People.
In taking back the power and unity of the Freedom Summit to our communities these Cultural Ambassadors will identify who in their communities have the capacity to take on these leadership roles on a local, regional, national and yes, international level, in staking our rightful place as the Original Peoples of this sacred land.
It is the only viable alternative we have. Wana burra-li ma-li wiima-li wana-ma-li ngiyaningunda (Let’s start making our dreams happen together)
Dr Woolombi Waters is a Kamilaroi language speaker and writer and is a lecturer at Griffith University. He writes a weekly column for the National Indigenous Times.