It is my Friday Lay Day blog and it is going to be relatively quick. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal (December 23, 2015) – Economists Say ‘Bah! Humbug!’ to Christmas Presents – that says a lot about how my profession struggles to appreciate reality in all its dimensions. Every year, it…
Its my Friday lay day blog. The aim is to write less here and more elsewhere. I don’t always succeed. Today I have a day full of meetings. One was with the Australian Productivity Council about the viability of establishing a majority-Australian owned motor car industry. I will have more to say about this on another day but the idea is interesting if not compelling. I noted the faked fake is a fake (‘Fingergate’). The tension in Brussels is rising and the position appears to be unchanged. The hardliners lecturing Greece about the need for more reforms. The Greeks claiming they will not reimpose austerity even though they currently are. And it is all leading in one of two directions – capitulation of exit. But closer to homefor a while. The press are zeroing in of the offensive barbs about Holocausts and Goebbels that our Prime Minister keeps using to slur his political opponents, which really, despite all the mock shock and hurt from the recipients, only serve to slur the deliverer and make him look like an idiot. But his other ‘foot-in-the-mouth’ moment came on March 10, 2015, when the Prime Minister, in an attempt to make himself look tough to shore up his waning political support, claimed that indigenous Australians were making “lifestyle choices” by residing in remote communities and live on income support. He was supporting the West Australian state government’s decision to ‘close’ down 150 remote communities and force the residents into larger settlements to ‘save money’. The policy is wrong at the most elemental level and reveals not only an ignorance about economics but also a total lack of understanding of the cultural and anthropological history of our nation.
The Prime Minister said the following during an interview on ABC Radio in Kalgoorlie:
What we can’t do is endlessly subsidise lifestyle choices if those lifestyle choices are not conducive to the kind of full participation in Australian society that everyone should have …
If people choose to live miles away from where there’s a school, if people choose not to access the school of the air, if people choose to live where there’s no jobs, obviously it’s very, very difficult to close the gap …
It is not unreasonable for the state government to say if the cost of providing services in a particular remote location is out of all proportion to the benefits being delivered,” Abbott said. “Fine, by all means live in a remote location, but there’s a limit to what you can expect the state to do for you if you want to live there.
First, the comments defy knowledge that social anthropologists have spent years accumulating. I have worked with indigenous people in remote communities some years ago and then spent 2-years studying them recently during my time working in the Northern Territory.
This account makes it clear that the Western culture which dominates in Australia is quite different to that of the indigenous Australians.
The Queensland Museum explains the – Aboriginal Peoples’ connection to land:
Aboriginal People are the ancestors of the original population of their geographical country (Australia). Their understanding of land and water is the living cultural knowledge that is passed down from generation to generation. This forms a rich and significant matrix of people, totemic, social, economic and spiritual connectedness with country. The connectedness extends from the past, and shapes both present and future land and natural resource management …
Aboriginal people have developed their own systems of knowledge and understanding of their ecology which is representative of a living symbiotic relationship with the land and waters of their traditional homeland estates. This knowledge includes widespread systems of knowledge incorporating biodiversity, climate, land, culture and people. Aboriginal People have established a shared living culture with their environment since time immemorial.
Struggle for land
Land is at the basis of all Aboriginal relationships, economies, identities and cultural practices. Despite the loss of land through dispossession, people maintain their connections with lands and waters through storytelling, ceremony and political activism. The fight for recognition of rights to land is a continuous struggle for recognition and respect.
Remember that indigenous occupation of the Australian continent is dated at between 50,000 to 80,000 years. Western occupation dates back to 1776 when the British First Fleet under the command of Arthur Phillips landed in Botany Bay, now part of modern Sydney.
Quite a difference in time frames.
This Document from the Queensland Studies Authority – Relationships to country: Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander people – explains how complex the association between indigenous people and the land is.
When I started out on working on these issues some years ago I was very ignorant. I recall one time an indigenous elder who was the Chairman of a local Land Council took me out to a place near a big tree. The tree was nothing special and the ground was dirt with rubbish prominent. It looked like a rubbish dump to me and was most inhospitable.
He told me – “This is the most important bit of land in my world”. I knew I didn’t understand the connection in any spiritual or emotional way but I knew there was something in what he was saying. That forced me to study the issue in more depth and consult social anthropologists to learn more.
I still do not feel the connection in any way. Land is where you grow things on, go for runs over and play football on. But I have learned how different the indigenous people feel about their connection to land.
They have cultural practices in song, dance and words to describe that connection which are largely opaque to the rest of us. Their identity and meaning is caught up in it. They are where they live because that is where they belong. Their sense of belonging is more complex than my sense of belonging. That is clear.
I had to go to the Land Registry today in Melbourne to deal with some documents pertaining to land ownership. Westerners buy and sell land – it is a commodity. We seek to profit in monetary terms from these activities. There is nothing spiritual about that at all.
A study of Australia’s economic history since White settlement shows that the way we expropriated the land that we declared was not occupied when we arrived here (the so-called – Terra nullius doctrine – that we hid behind to justify taking ‘legal’ possession, caused dreadful problems for the sustainability of indigenous communities. It undermined their food supplies and “destroyed grass species that were adapted to soft-footed marsupials”.
These small remote communities are not on some sort of ‘sea-change’ trip – living the lifestyle of the disgruntled city dweller who heads to the coast to get out of the rat race.
They are living according to their historic connection to the region they are identified by. Lifestyle in the sense that the Prime Minister used the term relates to which cafe you choose to sip lattes on a Saturday morning.
The second point is that the Prime Minister’s statements are in denial of what can be done to improve the material conditions of these remote communities.
When he talks about “the cost of providing services” he is confusing the monetary outlays that appear in accounting statements pertaining to government finances with the real resources that are deployed in providing the services.
This is a common error that separates Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) from most mainstream commentaries on government spending.
One of our large Northern Territory projects was to study regional development opportunities in six study regions which are shown in the following graphic. Some of the areas are difficult to get to, especially in the wet season when the single road in is impassable. The road distances involved are huge.
These are a small and fairly remote communities.
Here is the basis labour force data as at 2011 (Census of Population and Housing). LFPR is the participation rate and Emp/Popn is the employment-population ratio.
Many of the Non-Indigenous workers are public officials supplying public services.
You can see how disadvantaged the indigenous people are in these remote areas. They suffer high unemployment rates. A high proportion of the people end up in prisons due to alcohol related issues.
Please read my blog – So infested with neo-liberalism that they cannot add up anymore – for more discussion on this point.
Incomes are low and income support is crucial.
The Federal government undermined job creation in Australia via its fiscal austerity obsession but it also has failed to take responsibility for providing work to all Australians and, in particular, continued with the abandonment of the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP), which for many remote indigenous communities was the only employment available.
For those who would like to see a summary of the political machinations surrounding the CDEP this – CDEP: A timeline of destruction – is useful.
At the time, the decision to scrap the CDEP scheme by the previous Conservative government was described by researchers as just plain dumb.
I recall a discussion I had with a senior federal politician at the time it was scrapped (July 2007) – he said they Government wanted CDEP participants to be forced to move into the private labour market and not be cossetted by artificial government jobs. He, of-course, had an “artificial” yet high-paid government job but that seemed lost on him.
But the substantive point I made is that while I rejected the real/artificial distinction between private and public employment that was at the heart of his policy framework, the reality was something more stark. THERE WAS NO PRIVATE LABOUR MARKET in many of the regions where CDEP provided work. It is one thing to believe in incentives to get workers into the “market” but there has to be a operating “market” to get into.
Which raises the question of what a cost is.
The indigenous people are no longer living a traditional lifestyle. We wrecked that. But that is not the same thing as saying that the traditional connection to the land is also gone. That is within the DNA.
So it is without doubt that these remote communities can prosper from more employment and access to income-earning opportunities. There is not prospect of private employment growth in any significant magnitude.
The only alternative is for the public sector to create jobs. They can be connected to advancing human and environmental care services etc.
There are plenty of idle labour resources that can be deployed at minimal marginal “cost”. The Federal government can always afford to bring these resources back into production.
We developed coherent job creation plans as part of this project and an earlier one – Way out west ….
The Government refuses to adopt them and prefers instead to demonstrate its ignorance of these cultural imperatives and connections between land and people. The Whites don’t really have it. But that doesn’t mean others do not.
It was a disgraceful comment to make and he should just resign as a consequence.
Here is an interesting article published today on the issue – Indigenous AFL players speak out against closure of remote Aboriginal communities .
I don’t accept the primacy of culture by the way. There are absolutes in human existence that I think transpire all cultures.
For example, when I was working on projects for several remote communities during my little stint in the Northern Territory (2012-14) I was confronted with claims that one couldn’t criticise indigenous fishermen who caught turtles and then dragged them back to their houses using a rope attached to their bodies and their utility vehicles. The turtles would die a terrible death as they were dragged behind the cars along the rough roads.
It was a cultural tradition I was told. I was at a meeting where this was stated. I replied that Mitsubishi or Toyota utes were not part of traditional indigenous settlement.
Here is the First Dog on the Moon’s take on the Prime Minister’s ‘lifestyle’ comments – Lifestyle choices of the rich and racist. The guy with the red bucket on his head is our Prime Minister for those who live abroad. It is a long story.
David Cameron was right
I noted today that David Cameron claimed today in relation to the different fortunes of Greece and the UK that (Source):
The reason we are in a different position is that we took long-term, difficult decisions,
Absolutely correct. The UK, as a currency-issuing sovereign maintained a large deficit to support aggregate spending and growth returned as a result.
Remember those German TV video engineers last weekend who concluded after examination that the so-called middle-finger insult that the Greek Finance Minister apparently gave the Germans at a talk in 2013 was valid.
It was shown on a TV program to undermine the credibility of the Finance Minister.
Well it appears there is more to the story. The UK Guardian article (March 19, 2015) –
I faked Yanis Varoufakis middle-finger video, says German TV presenter – reports that the video was, as the Finance Minister claimed on the program, doctored.
Here is the admission from the satirist who explains what happened.
It also appears that the claim that the video was a fake was itself a fake. Hilarious.
The essence of style
I recently watched a movie – FAME Studio – which is situated on the Tennessee River in the North-West corner of Alabama.
The 2013 Movie – Muscle Shoals – is worth seeing even if there are few too many references to things creeping out of the water to inspire soul and all that sort of stuff.
The studio is famous because it was where some of the greatest R&B records were recorded and produced.
The producer and owner/creator of the studio – Rick Hall – said that at a time when segregation was still a major issue in the US and George Wallace was whipping up anti-black sentiment for political reasons, that his studio was “colour blind”. It was a marvellous thing to say really.
The first big hit for his studio was Arthur Alexander’s – You Better Move On – released in 1962. It later became a number one hit for the Rolling Stones in early 1964.
Arthur Alexander – was a local chap in the Muscle Shoals area (Sheffield).
Then hits came from Wilson Pickett (“Land of a Thousand Dances” and that drum sound), Aretha Franklin, Staple Singers and stacks more.
It is amazing that a little backwater in the US could do this.
The other interesting thing about the recordings was the “Swampers” who were four white guys from the local area who everybody thought were the greatest and funkiest black guys in the music scene – because of their sound.
One of them says they were funky because they “couldn’t play straight”.
Anyway, a little R&B memory coming up.
So here is Arthur Alexander’s first big hit.
Then Percy Sledge singing out loud. Join him it will make your day (at least it did mine).
And because of those drums, here is Wilson Pickett
The Saturday Quiz will be back again tomorrow. It will be of an appropriate order of difficulty (-:
That is enough for today!
(c) Copyright 2015 Bill Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.