Fight for relevance – or search for balanced futures?

Nicolas Rothwell | December 13, 2008
Article from: The Australian

End of detente marks a fight for relevance

THE Northern Territory Government’s appetite for consultation with the victims of its policies succeeded in triggering a startling shift in indigenous politics this week: the much-honoured father of reconciliation, Patrick Dodson, currently doing duty as an adviser to the Darwin authorities, hit out in uncompromising fashion at the three chief architects of radical reform in Aboriginal affairs, Marcia Langton, Warren Mundine and Noel Pearson.

Dodson’s attack marks the end of a brief, uneasy, hard-brokered detente at the summits of the indigenous world.

A vast and now unbridgeable ideological and personal divide stretches between Dodson and his camp, the diehard believers in the rights agenda, and Langton, Pearson and their allies, who regard broad-scale intervention in remote communities as a fundamental imperative if Aboriginal society in the bush is to besaved.

The gauntlet has been thrown down: the battle lines are at lastclear.

The prize is influence and control over the federal Government’s policy agenda, as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin seek to craft their long-term approach to the crisis in northern and central Australia.

It is a fight over ideas, a fight for relevance and power, and a struggle between deeply opposed world views.

Broadly with Dodson are his brother, Mick, his former colleague at the Kimberley Land Council Peter Yu, who wrote a critical, and spurned, review of the intervention, along with a group of younger indigenous leaders from the southern states.

Aligned with or close to Langton, Pearson and Mundine are such traditional authorities as Galarrwuy Yunupingu from northeast Arnhem Land.

This was the most cynical of deals and within a year the supposedly pro-Aboriginal NT regime has had to bite the bullet and announce a new approach, ruling out any support for new outstations and making plain that existing settlements will not be fully serviced.

Multiple policy reforms thread through this newly adopted stand: a new approach to education, caused by a vast crisis in the schools system; a new local government blueprint; and a newcampaign to sign 40-year head leases for larger indigenous communities, so providing a pathway for secure investment and development.

In all this, a subterranean struggle is taking place — between Canberra and Darwin, between rival Aboriginal leaders and between competing, dependent bureaucracies of service providers, the so-called “Aboriginal industry” — to shape the change.

Dodson is the chosen appointee of a group in the NT system who hate the coercive aspects of the intervention’s reform agenda, and just want the money to flow freely to the bush from Canberra.

Langton, Pearson and Galarrwuy Yunupingu believe in aspects of the radical reform program — and they have low-key, almost covert support from Macklin andRudd.

Of all this, Dodson’s broadside is the symbol and the token.

An enmity both personal and ideological has now split the Aboriginal world, and divided the old alliance of disparate forces that, more than a decade ago, fought the great battles over native title law.

Few now believe that it can be a bright, happy, united morning again for this generation of the indigenous political elite.

full story,25197,24792695-5013404,00.html