5 ways we can give Aboriginal disadvantage the boot

Last week The Australian newspaper reported claims that a high proportion of Aboriginal children in some Cape York communities are not receiving the assistance they need to address intellectual impairment. Also reported on an ABC website was the call for extra police officers to go to the remote community of Ali Curung to bring an ongoing conflict between two clan groups under control. On Anzac Day, a 16 year old Aboriginal boy took his own life in Broome. While these stories do not represent all of Aboriginal Australia, they do spotlight the serious problems which far too many Aboriginal people face today. If these are not dealt with now, they will blight the next generation.

While Aboriginal leaders, organisations, and committees are focusing on treaties and constitutional recognition, I provide five ideas here that I believe will result in a positive quantum change for Aboriginal people. We do not need to wait for the next apology, acknowledgement, royal commission, or government report to discuss and implement these ideas. The time is now.

The first idea is that while much attention has been given to closing the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, there is another more important gap that needs discussing: the gap between those Aboriginal people who are doing well and those who are living in conditions that most of us would not let a dog live in. It is increasingly difficult and futile to frame Aboriginal people as all being equally disadvantaged. Let’s not continue throwing taxpayers’ money at a group on the basis that just because they identify as Aboriginal, they must be disadvantaged. Let’s focus on helping those Aboriginal people who are most in need of the same sorts of opportunities their more advantaged cousins take for granted.

The second idea is to focus on employment. It’s no secret: close the employment gap and most of the other gaps will close. In The Australian, Helen Morton has stated that “Unemployment is associated with poorer physical and mental health. The bright eyes of children’s early hopes and dreams quickly fade without opportunities.” Those Aboriginal people who are not doing well, very often live in locations where employment opportunities are limited. When these opportunities are absent, self-respect is very often lacking. And a lack of self-respect erodes mental health, which leads to a lack of respect for others, violence, and crime.

Sadly, a generation of Aboriginal children in some parts of Australia watch their parents collect pensions, play cards, and fight. They do not see adults working as being normal. And if the children can’t see the adults working, then they may well reason that it is not worth going to school. The most recent Closing the Gap report states it clearly: “Along with building skills and financial independence, being employed contributes to overall wellbeing … it also has a positive flow-on effect for family members and the community more broadly.” The report further states: “Only 35.1 per cent of all Indigenous people of workforce age (15-64 years) in very remote areas were employed compared with 57.5 percent of those living in the major cities.”

The third idea is that while it is important to consider the role of government, it is also important to remember that the people have a critical role to play. The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody made this clear more than 25 years ago: “There is no other way. Only the Aboriginal people can, in the final analysis, assure their own future.” This does not mean doing it alone, but people must be actively involved in doing what they can to improve their lives. Fortunately, many Aboriginal people are assuring their own future, but a sizeable minority are not. Government can help provide opportunities to help this minority assure their own future, but the people must reach and grab those opportunities.

The fourth idea is that the commonalities between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people far outweigh any differences. The belief that Aboriginal people are a different species with a culture that requires special catering to has kept an Aboriginal industry thriving and allowed academics to build successful careers for themselves, while people on the ground languish. Where cultural differences exist they should be respected, as they are for other cultural groups such as more recent immigrants and refugees, but such differences should not be used as excuses for not participating in the mainstream. Many successful Aboriginal people have already proven that they can participate without compromising their cultural identity and obligations. They have made us a better Australia, so let’s follow their lead.

Finally, Aboriginal affairs is every Australian’s business. There is currently a doctrine that Aboriginal affairs is solely the responsibility of Aboriginal people and only they should be allowed to voice opinions – or at least those with the same opinions as the gatekeepers. This has been marketed as ‘self-determination.’ Actually it is separatism, and it is not working. It is poison. For far too long the Aboriginal industry has attempted to keep its doors closed while it conducted its ‘secret Aboriginal business’ funded by the tax payer. We are all in this together so let’s start working together.

It will be great when horror stories of Aboriginal people suffering are a thing of the past when more Aboriginal kids are in school, when more adults are working, and thriving communities are the norm. Aboriginal people are Australians and we should expect nothing less for them. For as long as Aboriginal Australians are diminished, all Australians are diminished.


Anthony Dillon

Anthony Dillon, originally from Brisbane resides in Sydney where he works as a researcher at Australian Catholic University and is a noted commentator on Aboriginal affairs with contributions in The Australian and Quadrant Magazine.  More of his writings can be found atwww.anthonydillon.com.au 
Anthony Dillon

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111 Comments on "5 ways we can give Aboriginal disadvantage the boot"

  1. Most indigenous are doing okay. Many are highly successful. There is no generic indigenous Australian and to talk as if there is distorts and distracts from the real and troubling issues.

    Those indigenous Australians who are diminished are so because of their own actions and the dysfunctional nature of their lives, due to well-intentioned but dysfunctional policies.

    Those indigenous Australians who are not struggling and non-indigenous Australians are not diminished because some indigenous, a minority, are still struggling to make a life living a fantasy.

    Needs-based benefits not race-based benefits are required and indigenous being held to the same level of accountability as non-indigenous. Enough patronising and enabling.

    • The term ‘aboriginal disadvantage’ is not being used to suggest that all aboriginal people are disadvantaged, it’s a reference to those who are. We will edit the post to make this more clear.

    • LibertyWorks Thanks. I think it is important to make the distinction. Many people are unaware of the fact that a lot of indigenous are doing fine and some, exceptionally well. Why would they not?
      Some non-indigenous are also struggling but we would not simply refer to them in a generic sense, implying this is the lot of all Australians.

  2. I disagree with the assertion that “Aboriginal Australians are diminished.” They are disadvantaged. However, their disadvantage in 2017 is caused by their victim mentality and their mistaken belief that the modern world will turn back the clock.

    Like it or not, the people of the modern world are in competition for food and prosperity with everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY. Indigenous Australians are no different to the Indigenous Alaskans or Peruvians. There’s no going back, that ship has sailed.

    The fact that there have been many successful hard working Indigenous Australians show that the pathways are there, the missing link is motivation. It’s like waiting for your rich uncle to die and endow you with the riches you believe are rightfully yours, only to find that he lives to 105 and leaves everything to his cat.

  3. Segregation will continue whilst it is promoted as such, not much has changed in my working life over 46 years!

  4. Very good. For too long, too much goes to too few. I have no objection to the amount of money being allocated to indigenous affairs, but I do have a problem with how few benefit from it. It is is precisely because it is a “closed shop”. We should never again see a job advised as aboriginal specific. That may help ensure the right messages reach the majority.

  5. An excellent article.

  6. Amazing article!

  7. Worth thinking about.

  8. I agree with everything that Anthony has written but I think that there is more that needs to be said. In our part of the world it is very obvious to me that there are cultural factors holding the people back from finding solutions to their problems. The ready acceptance of interpersonal violence is one, the subordinate position of women in traditional society is another, the compulsion to share all resources and assets and, one that is never talked about, the continuing belief in sorcery. All of these are linked. There is a much higher level of acceptance of interpersonal violence in all small scale societies than in larger more complex ones for the simple reason that they lack the institutions that allow the state to monopolise the legitimate use of violence to protect the citizenry that large scale societies have. Every family has o defend itself, there is no-one else that can be called on. Last year my wife’s aunt, a frail woman in her seventies, was punched in the face and chest by two much younger women at a meeting called by the Land Council to distribute funds to community members. She ended up in hospital in Adelaide. She took no action, the Land Council did nothing to make sure it didn’t happen again. That is because that sort of thing is so common and accepted that it is seen as normal. Everybody is ‘humbugged’ into giving up their cash and failure to do so can lead to violence. The windscreen on the same aunt’s car has been smashed. I was told that it was done by a young male relative who wanted money but didn’t get it. Again common behaviour regarded as normal. This is the single biggest cause of poverty in our part of the world because it doesn’t allow for budgeting, investment or saving. A little boy was evacuated into Alice Springs hospital recently. I asked why. I was told that he stood on ‘yarda’ that is the foreign object used by a sorcerer to cause illness and death by introducing it into the body of his victim. Apparently some careless old man had left it lying around. Hence the boy stood on it and became ill. Apart from causing people to live in terror this belief leads to the refusal of the people on the communities to adopt practices and behaviours that would lead to the eradication of life threatening illnesses that don’t occur elsewhere, or at least to nowhere near the same degree. The pronouncements of western (whitefella) medical staff are often ignored because they don’t believe in the efficacy of sorcery and therefore don’t know what’s ‘really’ going on. We only need to look at the horrific levels of violence against women in Aboriginal families and communities to understand the deleterious effects of the traditional status of women witnessed by whitefellas since Watkin Tench. Unless and until these problems are acknowledged and addressed forget about closing gaps. For the politically correct the face of the enemy is white and there can be no analysis of traditional culture that can be perceived as negative. It’s time we matured a little and recognised that whitefellas aren’t the masters of the universe that both the racist and politically correct think we are – we’ve got our own problems – and traditional Aboriginal culture has not come out of the Disney studios all pristine and perfect. It’s a human culture like all others and as a result has a few defects that can be fixed with a little thought, effort and the inevitable pain that comes with cultural change – but it is worth it.

    Dave Price

  9. Liberty works — I have commented in the past against some of your postings so you know I am not a blind follower when I say I fundamentally agree with this post. I have for some time held a position that Aboriginal only welfare and governance is in fact racist in that it assumes that Aboriginal people are incapable of making a meaningful life for themselves without getting fixed to a help-line of some description.

  10. Well put and a common sense approach.

  11. Common sense at last. Those who profit from the Aboriginal victim industry won’t like it but a great article and great approach.

  12. Its time we took care of our own not these parasites that you lot keep letting into the country for there free welfare.

  13. it is racist age-ist and classist to stop white middle-aged middle class people from getting government assistance to help overcome their profound disadvantages as poor Aboriginal kids!
    Those under-privileged middle class urban whites are every bit as needy as some actual Aboriginal kid from a town-camp outside Alice Springs….

  14. Many well intentioned Government programs have come and gone over the last century with NO result, the only thing that seems to work was low paying Jackaroo work of yesteryear, church matricial systems, interbreeding the aborigine out of them, and welfare cards. However what really has shown to be successful in the USA for reducing disadvantage, high unemployment and crime rates in the black population is abortion, which I believe with financial inducements would be most effective here.

  15. Excellent article Anthony Dillon

  16. I don’t agree with some of the points because they imply the same old patronizing attitude that has created the gap, as they like to call it. First, and most importantly, Aboriginal culture is relegated to history, which is a big mistake. Instead of trying to raise Aborigines to our level, we’d do better if we learned from them – yes, even the ones who live in places not fit for a dog… When I see half-castes, and people who identify as Aboriginal, I see white fellas in a dark skin. Not black fellas. As far as I can tell, they don’t speak for the true Aborigines, because they have no idea who they really are, or why their way of life was superior to white man’s ways. It does sound like common sense on the surface, but it won’t work in practice, because it won’t be their way. It’s someone else’s politically correct solution that sounds good in theory.

    • Isn’t it more patronising to act as though Aborigines are totally helpless and need everything done for them?

    • True Ben. What’s even more patronizing is pretending their culture is far inferior to ours because they have the audacity to be satisfied with living simply, without material possessions, creature comforts, and indulgent habits, and all the social dysfunction that comes with them. What a cheek!

    • Are you seriously suggesting that given the choice, aboriginal children living in appalling conditions and who are at risk of sexual abuse and violence on a daily basis would choose this level existence over the higher standard of living you presumably enjoy? What you are exhibiting is the soft bigotry of low expectations. These kids are Australian citizens and deserve better.

    • You could see it that way, if you choose, based on a narrow understanding of the issues. All the problems you list are either a result of our collective conditioning about what constitutes acceptable conditions, or the result of centuries of denying their right to exist as they had done for centuries prior to British colonization. It doesn’t bother me if you call me a bigot, or anything else because I know what I mean, and it ain’t even close to your perspective. One of the principles of learning is that we must be motivated to learn something new. If you’re satisfied with your perspective on this, it’s unlikely you’ll be open to new understanding, and nothing I could say will change your mind, and vice versa. However, if you believe you can teach me something I don’t know, I’ll be happy to consider it.

    • I’m pretty sure Peter that children living with neglect and abuse is regarded as unacceptable to all humans regardless of past history. This is the 21st century Peter.

    • I’m pretty sure that children living with neglect and abuse shouldn’t be considered acceptable either Shannon. However, the typical solution rarely solves the problem, does it? Why do you think that is? Oh, and thanks for reminding me of the century too. For a minute there I thought we’d been transported in time back to the dark ages, where people acted based on superstition and ignorance. Or back to the turn of the century when Aboriginal kids were taken from their parents. Or back to the settlement of Australia when Aborigines were treated as cattle. Or back to yesterday, when I read of people still implying superiority in the way they relate to Aborigines. The times haven’t changed much, have they?

    • A typical solution isn’t what Dillion is offering. That’s the whole point. Its not working as it is today.

      On the lost generation thing. (If you focus on the positives) The leading indigenous Australians of today are a product of this policy.

      Yeah let’s focus on shit from decades ago to solve today’s disasters.

      You’re lost.

    • That tone implies you’ve got nothing more, and I’m just getting started. This issue isn’t so simple we can solve it in a Facebook post Shannon. That’s why it hasn’t already been solved. To you, it may seem that I’m lost. But what would you suggest? Have you considered it independently yourself, while sitting waiting at Aboriginal communities, and observing quietly what happens? Do you have any better ideas, or have you just adopted this guy’s ideas because it sounds good?

    • My ideas are much more hard core than Dillon’s.

    • By the way none of this sounds good. It all stinks to high heaven.

    • Peter u have no answer
      No matter what people do u will fault them
      U r gay

  17. Yes, this I agree with, I have seen certain families milk the system for all they can, and the results produce damaged kids, unhealthy adults and chaos in the whole neighborhood that put everyone into warfare and danger. They built a legal protection system around themselves through family and racial connections and destroyed themselves and the rest of the neighbourhood. They abused every substance and rule they possibly could. Yes, take care where the welfare goes, it can only be of benefit to these people.

  18. Article completely ignores systemic racism and does not contain a single actionable point.

    • Phillip Kadaoui you may be interested in this article which address that issue somewhat

    • It does not address either point.

    • What do you suggest?

    • I’d suggest a law that prevents racist attacks is not going to have any detrimental effect on reaching equality in this country.

    • So you’ve suggested nothing really. For one 18C doesn’t prevent racist attacks (unless you’re willing to concede that racist attacks no longer occur?), and two, in what tangible ways would zero levels of racism actually help at risk women and children in remote communities living in appalling conditions?

    • For one, I’m not trying to be a political organisation, I’m not claiming to have solutions. 2. 18C (which YOU claimed “addressed my issues somewhat” ) provides a remedy for people if they are attacked with racial slurs. It has the same preventative effect as any other law. 3. If you do not believe systemic racism has any effect on poverty, then I don’t think you have much understanding of the issues and their history.

    • ‘Systemic racism’ is always offered up as the main cause of aboriginal disadvantage but there are a few aboriginal leaders who reject this explanation, including Anthony Dillon.

      Can you explain how, despite ‘systemic racism’ that the majority of aboriginal people are doing well? What is the difference between those aboriginal people and the ones who are struggling?

      LibertyWorks do not claim to have the answers, however we are happy to give a voice to Aboriginal thought leaders who have clear ideas on what needs to change.

    • As for your point no. 2, you seem to have misunderstood the point of sharing the 18C link with you, which wasn’t to suggest that 18C is the answer, but that it’s existence is patronising to aboriginal people and is part of the problem.

    • How is 18C part of the problem? Many aboriginal people do not share the view that it is patronizing.

    • And many do. Read the link given to you above to answer you question ‘how is it patronising’.

    • Also what is your answer to the question we posed above:

      “Can you explain how, despite ‘systemic racism’ that the majority of aboriginal people are doing well? What is the difference between those aboriginal people and the ones who are struggling?”

    • Yes if you totally ignore 18D then I can see how it might be patronizing.

    • Where are you getting your stats that the “majority” of aboriginal people are “doing well”? Life expectancy among aboriginal people in Aus is 10 years less than non-aboriginals. That does not reflect a majority of a population “doing well”

    • A huge reason for the lower life expectancy of indigenous people is the rich fake disadvantaged are sucking up the funds that should go to the truly disadvantaged in remote communities.

      These truly disadvantaged are not living in cities and that’s where most of the money is lost.

    • I didn’t mention systemic racism because it is such a minor issue.

    • In words of Marcia Langton: “A new generation of Aboriginal people is turning dreams into reality: education, economic participation, self-esteem and success are part of this new Aboriginal world, and there is no going back.”

      What is the difference between these successful aboriginal people and the ones who are languishing in dysfunction (considering systemic racism presumably affects them all)?


    • Do you have any actual data? LibertyWorks Or do you just rely on quotes that support your position.

    • Anthony Dillon Thanks, that comment allows me to happily ignore anything you have to say.

    • And based on your responses I too can dismiss what you say.

    • Shannon Petty My wife is a teacher in a low socec region of Brisbane. I have first hand experience of where at least some of these funds go. What is your experience? Do you have anything to back up your position?

    • So Phil is upset about the indigenous of this country dying at an earlier age than others. Are these people dying in equal numbers from urban areas and the remote areas?

      Do you have any information on this to educate us Phil?

    • Do you have any data Phillip to support your assertion that aboriginal dysfunction is caused mainly by ‘systemic racism’? Do you have anything to back up your position?

    • Where did I say systemic racism was the main cause? It has been entirely and deliberately dismissed as a factor in this piece.

    • Do you think systemic racism is the main cause, and if not, what is?

    • Phillip please tell us about your wife’s job.

      Is it open to indigenous people only?
      If it’s not then how many are non indigenous?
      Is this helping the people that need it most? Etc. Etc.

    • It is a state school. What scale is there for who needs it most? Aboriginals would be in a minority but it is very clear they have additional needs ESL for example.

    • What do you It is almost impossible to establish a main cause. What do you think is the “main cause”? I am convinced structural racism has a significant impact on any aspwcts of quality of life e.g. education, employment, housing.

    • So Phil your wife works for the government.

      Enough said….I understand mate.

    • Phillip Kadaoui I’ll say it again : racism is such a trivial factor in addressing the problems facing Aboriginal people.

    • Good article you posted here ⬆️ Anthony.

      “There is alternate history in Australia. It is a history of Aboriginal people struggling against adversity and successfully engaging with white Australia.”

    • Is bringing up the past disasters and throwing them in people’s faces productively engaging with anyone?

      I think not. It’s just a backwards path.

    • Anthony Dillon do you understand systemic racism is? And how many examples there are in the article you have presented?

    • The gvt dept I worked for had identified staff positions and identified programs they had sorry day and other indigenous celebrations and they were given a day off to attend There specific celebrations and they received more study leave than others and had special conditions to comply with when they were young offenders

  19. What disadvantage?

    • When we talk about aboriginal disadvantage we are referring to the aboriginal people mostly living in remote communities and mostly women and children who are victims of high rates of physical and sexual abuse and neglect.

    • I have worked and seen this !!! Thx guys. Most ppl only experience the bad ones in the cities

  20. The key to improvement for Aboriginal culture is FATHERS. Men lead their families and communities forward. They give their children structure and prepare them for the world. Without great FATHERS, you have nothing – a drifting, directionless and depressed mass. Restore respect for men, masculinity and fatherhood. Teach men that they are vital – that their families and community NEED them to find and develop their masculine and paternal skills and take hold and nourish their families and communities. The women and myriad of agencies should focus on this and support their men on this journey.

    • No men do not lead their families very patriarchal view they lead by being a role model something I do not see both in black or white communities. Our women are leaders and warriors in their own right you have to to bring up strong children it needs both mother and father uncles Aunty and a community

  21. Someone with common sense need people like him running the programs

  22. Fascists don’t know how to rally love.

    • And that has significance to the article in what way?

    • He has no argument. All aboriginals need saving lol

    • Kafir Ozzy I somewhat agree, only I’d add that all of Australian society needs saving. We’ve got to stop all this segregating, hell once we fought for inclusiveness in society now all we seem to do is segregate communities into socialist groups then throw money at the ones we deem ‘minorities’.
      It doesn’t help Australia be inclusive at all… We should be helping the economically downtrodden rather than a state created idea of the socially downtrodden.

  23. Aboriginals are Australians and should be treated exactly the same as all other Australians .They do not deserve special treatment any more than Italian ,Greek ,Chinese or English Australians,or any other “special interest” groups.

    • I’m aboriginal and agree. Only some support for the arts, remote communities and some culture programs. Help tourism travel

  24. Great article Anthony. Bill Dempsey was the first Aboriginal person I ever met. He lived down the road from me boarding with a family when he first came from Darwin. Every time Bill walked past my house I ran outside to talk to him and he was a very generous young man with a shyness about him that belied his football talent. It’s people like Bill who forged the way for young Aboriginal people to follow their dreams and it’s so refreshing to read that he is not politically correct and still refers to West Perth as the garlic munchers. I was the only one in my family who didn’t follow West Perth but I was a big fan of Bill Dempsey. Another great Aboriginal football star in those days was Graham Polly Farmer and he was revered not only as a football legend but as a man of integrity.

  25. I prefer Noel Pearson, Warren Mundine and Jacinta Price’s version. This is just black armband BS helping no one except the scammers involved in the Aboriginal ‘industry’

  26. Great article. I just hope we can put some of into place.

  27. Too much like common sense so our government won’t be in that

  28. The proof is there to see that throwing money at this problem isn’t solving anything. In fact it’s making things worse.

  29. make them actually work, get them off alcohol. Close the smaller and more isolated ones. They also have to want to not be disadvantaged.

  30. Tax cuts for big business is the obvious answer as well as bombing Moslem countries .
    Why should aboriginal people be treated any different than other Australians ?
    Its only there land that creates the wealth of the nation .
    It wouldnt be fair to the rest of Australia if they were paid proper royalties now would it ?
    Nit wits you are !

  31. where do you start to make things better that has not been done before = a thought take all young men not working to boarding schools and teach them a trade and how to be proud of what they are

  32. are we not all australians .

  33. STOP this segregation!! YOU cause the segregation by insisting on special treatment just because someone may be Aboriginal. We should all receive the SAME treatment!

  34. Interesting… this was raised by PHON, but people’s preconceived prejudices could not see beyond the merits.

  35. I always find it strange that people will identify with their on-sixteenth of Aboriginal blood and not the fifteen-sixteenths of European blood.

  36. Half if them are dead in the head from foetal alcohol syndrome, caroming, petrol sniffing and abuse as children.

  37. The problem is we assume they want to conform to our social constructs. They don’t want a bar of a 9-5 5 day work week creeping over 40-50 hours.

    Their ancestors did as they pleased and they are caught inbetween wanting a laid back lifestyle and enjoying modern life.

    There is little to be enjoyed about modern life when you give up almost all of your day to make little bits of plastic or digits on a computer screen go up.

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