Friday lay day – lifestyle choices and destructive ignorance

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.

German precision

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).

The next big hit was from 1966, Percy SledgeWhen a Man Loves a Woman – was the studio’s next big song. He was an agricultural worker in the local area.

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

Saturday Quiz

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.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Malcolm Fraser is dead. It appears that when even a toxic turd is dead they become the recipient of all the shameless eulogising that the sheep are capable of.

    For me,a toxic turd is a toxic turd,dead or alive.

  2. Thank you for admitting that David Cameron was right.

    I am a retired accountant living in the UK, and as I now have time on my hands I have spent the last 6 weeks studying MMT, and have read L Ron Hubbards book “Modern Money Theory”. I now reckon I have a good inkling of how the money goes round as I like to put it. I understand how money is created in a sovreign country that issues its own currency, and I have gone a bit beyond by understanding how money creation is supported by the amount of energy (human as well as fossil fuel and geophysical) the state produces.

    Bill, you have previously berated our government for being incompetent, but I’m not so sure. Of course they will tell lies, but it would be a brave politician who stood up and said “we are going to increase the deficit”. I only have a working understanding of MMT – it was a stepchange for me because it is counter-intuitive. How could all the people who are working 10 hours a day to feed their families, then going home to attend to the screaming brats possibly gain any sort of knowledge of how the economy really works? So I hope and choose to believe that the politicians are telling us they are going to bring down the deficit and doing no such thing. As we have seen.

    I cannot believe that George Osbourne does not understand how the government spends, especially as he’s the guy that writes the cheques. And Carney certainly understands it because he is the one who writes up the government’s reserve account at the BoE.

    Here in the UK I think people on the gound are feeling that the worst of the GFC has passed. It might all be hype, but there is growing optimism. It’s not what the opinion polls are suggesting, but I get the impression from talking to people I know. Never did go much on polls anyway.

  3. Just realised I said “L Ron Hubbard” when I should have said L Randall Wray. Senior moment. I did say I am retired.

  4. Land is important to everyone,no matter what back ground.regardless of whether it is dressed up in

    We all need access to land;to live on,grow food on and extract clean drinking water.

    George monbiot wrote an excellent book “No Mans Land” about how western commodfication of land in east africa has wrecked traditional socio-economic systems and increased inequality and led to urban diaspora and the creation of city slums and an underclass. Also the loss of traditional holistic land management has exacerbated environmental damage and has played a huge role in endangering elephant populations.
    Western funded and managed conservation parks,which forcibly displaced indigenous inhabitants,have only created more problems.Including creating an underclass which carries out poaching considering they have no land to work or job for that matter.A habit which was considered abhorrent in traditional tribal custom.

    Part of the colonial plan to control and extract wealth was to dismantle tribal customary land use and dismantle communities and traditional economic systems and introduce western commodification and individual private ownership.This practice was continued by post colonial governments.

    Prior to this traditional tribes enjoyed a large economic surplus where everybody on their late teens until about 30 were encouraged to effectively go on a drinking holiday and create the vital social links and networks that would eventually be vital when they in turn sought to manage the family units’ cattle herds and rely on each other.

    This all eventually came to an end with the introduction of individual private property as colonial and then government agencies created councils which subdivided tribal lands into personal property.

    Predictablly the tribal chieftains due to their influence on these councils appropriated the best bits of land and the largest amounts.Lands which previously all tribal members had seasonal access to allow their cattle to forage.Prior to privatisation tribal members would move their cattle throughouy the dry and wet seasons avoiding harsh conditions and returning when conditions were more favourable.When the land became privatised some people ended up with land which would suffer severe drought and couldn’t support cattle,they would be unable to move the cattle as former tribal land shad become subdivided.people would become destitute and have to work on other people’s land.Or join the swelling numbers of urban poor.

    The book describes how tribe members were unable to take part in the ten year plus drinking and socialisation ritual as they now had bills to pay!some poor idea of progress.Equally frustrating was when the book described how the head western conservationist defended the artificial safaris resort (which displaced indigenous inhabitants and had an adverse affect on certain species) as being important as the country had international foreign debtors to pay off!

    The best way to unwreck traditional lifestyles is to allow aboriginal tribes people to own land in a community trust which matches more closely traditional forms of land use and allows them to benefit from holistic land management and resource use without the dangers of over exploitation and resource exhaustion and species endangerment which individual land privatisation can bring.

    This approach was proposed and enacted in east africa ,unfortunately the government would intervene and appropriateto land for western interests to expel inhabitants and turn it into a conservation safari resort park.

    Allow the aborigines their land rights restored in the most egalitarian manner possible.

    If you allow them to live off the land as they did in traditional times they won’t need government assistance,just like they didn’t prior to European settlement.

    As for western land use,it is only until relatively recently that in Britain people had a completely different relationship to the land.we used to be attached to our land as it was our livelihood (which is the root of all communities relationship with land).We used to collectively own it in communities or commons over generations.People had access to woodland and fisheries and fields and used them freely.communities annually subdivided strips to families to allow them to grow their own food.The commons were eroded by large land owners who by using legal title deeds and through acts of parliament appropriated land of the people and for themselves by ignoring ancient customary claims.This was of course the enclosures which was ongoing both before and long after cook’s discovery.

    Indeed Englands experience of land enclosure and Australia’s early european settlement are closely linked.As the enclosures created a greater number of landless proletariats who were forced to work for wages to pay rent.Many ended up being refugees in London (the real cause of rural to urban migration).Others eked out a living by raiding the landed for food or hunting on private lands.the more adventurous of these people would mark their faces(black them up for disguise). It was these people who would become convicted felons and become deported.They were a economic human surplus that needed to be exported .The truth is a large numbers of Britain’s convict were really just economic victims of the enclosures.
    The rest ended up as mill/mine workers or cannon fodder for the navy or domestic workers for the landed and propertied.

    Provide the aborigines with a public sector job program by all means.But better yet provide the aborigines with equal access to their tribal lands; communally owned by all members in the eyes of the law.

    As for the rest of us who didn’t win in the enclosures or land privatisation.Whether we are in the UK or Austrailia the best way forward is a land value tax,which won’t restore previous rights of access but will allow for the fair transfer and extraction of wealth from the monopolisers.The only reason “The whites don’t really have it” is because the trauma of the land enclosures hasn’t even been recognised or acknowledged; the complete dismemberment of cultural links and connection that Europeans use to have to the land.Some people families might have overcome this economic loss but that doesn’t mean that we are not due some form of compensation.

    All we have done is export this unnatural trauma across the world.Let the aborigines manage their own affairs on their own land.They will get by fine with their ancient survival skills and knowledge.It just won’t be similar to the work-rent model we are used to in western societies.

  5. Nigel Hargreaves

    No they really do believe what they say.Which is why I will be tuning out next election so I can miss all the nonsensical rantings about the importance of deficit reductions and which party will do it the best.

  6. Regarding “financing” of their “lifestyle choices”: What is the quantum of royalties paid by the miners to the WA govt.? If aboriginal communities and services had the first right to this amount, wouldn’t it be sufficient? I really have not idea where to get this information, but someone here would know.

  7. The budget summary for WA 2014-15 lists 6.2 billion as income from royalties. I can’t see any expenditure on aboriginals except 30 odd million for aboriginal health. Maybe I should dig deeper.

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