Speaking Out

ABC Local Radio, Sunday nights, 9.30-10.00pm
Transcript of Program - Sunday, 18 April 2004 - 9.30 pm AEST
"ATSIC Bowled Out"

Sunday, 18 April 2004 - 9.30 pm AEST
Gary Foley and Jackie Huggins discuss the finer points of both party's plans for ATSIC and it's broader implications for Aboriginal Affairs.

Gary Foley
Gary Foley is an Koori activist, writer and historian. He's a Gumbainggir man from New South Wales.
Jackie Huggins
Indigenous member of ATSIC Review panel. She's also Co-chair of Reconciliation Australia, writer and historian.
Presenter: Karen Dorante

Karen Dorante : Northern Territory deputy chief minister, Syd Stirling, commenting on the Federal Government's axing of ATSIC and its plan to appoint an advisory body made up of distinguished Indigenous representatives. So how will the latest developments in Aboriginal Affairs impact on Indigenous communities? Will we see a return to the days of blackfellas protesting and marching on the streets and is the A-L-P the saviour of a national black voice. I'm Karen Dorante and with me are two indigenous Australians who remember the protest days of the sixties and seventies. Gary Foley was one of the key figures involved in the Aboriginal Tent Embassy and the Springbok and Commonwealth Games protests. He's now an historian based in Victoria. My other guest is Jackie Huggins who was part of the ATSIC Review panel, she's also an historian and co-chair of Reconciliation Australia. Welcome to both of you. What will the history books of the future says about ATSIC and this particular period in Aboriginal Affairs?

Jackie Huggins: Well ATSIC has existed now for 15 years I think that people have termed it as an experiment in Indigenous Affairs, which has failed. I think what will show was that obviously there was a lot of controversy around this time around the allegations of Geoff Clark and other national leadership within ATSIC and really the demise has happened through a number of reasons. I can't help to think that the media has obviously played a big part in all of this in bringing to the attention of the public, the Australian people, sometimes too unfairly without full knowledge of what ATSIC is, has done and what it did in the past and really to replace it with nothing or an advisory body I think is terribly wrong. So we'll say what's the next challenge and how do we try to get better outcomes for Indigenous people?

Karen Dorante : Will it be seen as a dark phase in Aboriginal Affairs?

Jackie Huggins: Yes well at the moment there's a dark cloud hanging over all of us. There will be some people of course who will be rejoicing particularly the right-wingers and One Nation Party definitely has always been saying that ATSIC should be abolished. Pauline Hanson raised it, got rapped over the knuckles for it, now all the white fellas are rejoicing about her victory in saying that. You know I think we've got to think long-term. I think everyone's still a bit in shock about the total devastation and the quickness of the response from the government. However it's not really surprising because the government had the review in last November and did nothing to respond about the recommendations. Here we find ourselves in a political minefield where Latham says something and Prime Minister comes back and says something else that's even more devastating, so what do you do? According to the news polls around the place ninety percent of the Australian population are in favour of it, so I think history will show that this has been one of the dark old days of Aboriginal Affairs. People have fought for to establish ATSIC and I guess no-one better that Gary knows about that in relation to getting better services, better organisation, better programs up for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. And I guess the next thing is what happens to the community-controlled organisations. Where do they go? How do they fit it? I think that's the next mark on the board really.

Karen Dorante : Gary Foley?

Gary Foley: I agree with Jackie on her last point. I would suggest however that when people are distant enough from this time to examine the history of ATSIC and what happened, I think they'll discover the real niggers in the woodpile in this little exercise was not John Howard and his mates, but instead the A-L-P, after all ATSIC was created by the A-L-P and I'm on record a long time ago of pointing out the flaws in ATSIC. I've never been a great supporter of ATSIC but it doesn't particularly please me at the moment that it's gone because of the context in which it's gone. I think John Howard; I mean this was all eminently predictable from Howard's position. He's an old assimilationist from way back, he loves the 1950s, he wants to take all of Australia back to there and this is yet another part of it. The other thing I think that history will be harsh in it's judgement of are some of the Aboriginal leaders who are now dismissing the idea of a group of experts advising governments, I mean what was the A team? There's certain Aboriginal leaders around who were quite happy to sort of jump in bed with the A-L-P when they set up their self-appointed bunch of supposed experts and leaders to negotiate the native title act which has proven to be a complete and absolute disaster. So I mean there's not going to be many winners in the history of ATSIC. I think it will also demonstrate, I would like to hope in future history will show that finally the Aboriginal people and especially the purported Aboriginal leadership finally realise we're in a situation of limbo in Australia. I mean historically they've always regarded the A-L-P as the good guys in Aboriginal Affairs and the Libs and Nationals as the bad guys, but since the Keating Government, since Bob Hawke backed off on his promise of national uniform land rights legislation which is what the Hawke government promised us from the beginning … ever since then the supposed good guys have in fact been worse than the bad guys. So Aboriginal Australia is essentially left in political limbo. It wouldn't surprise me if, no I'm not going to saying anything rash, but as we wake up this morning Aboriginal Australia confronted with a government that is clearly assimiliationist in its intent, I mean look at the statements of the minister in the last couple of days. It's clearly an assimiliationist message which takes us all the way back to good old 1930s, 40s and 50s, you know isn't it marvellous. It doesn't surprise me that the public opinion polls show so much support, the way in which the media flogged ATSIC in the last few years it's clear that the Australian people have been conditioned into supporting the position of the government, after all, Australia is a nation of sheep.

Karen Dorante : So we're not likely to ever see the kind of support for Aboriginal Affairs we saw during the 60s, during the referendum?

Gary Foley: Well absolutely not and there's clear historical reasons why you won't. I'm mean when Bob Hawke promised national uniform land rights for Aboriginal people legislation he was immediately opposed and the reason he backed off was because of this huge, vicious, gerbil-style propaganda campaign mounted by the vested interest in the pastoral and mining areas. The intensity of that particular campaign and then the later campaign against the native title act by the same sort of vested interest has resulted in Australian people being conditioned into believing all sorts of racist twaddle. That's how come Pauline Hanson got a run in her day and it's real interesting to see Mark Latham picking up the reins of Hansonism and running with it, mixing it with his Thatcherism and Reaganism so you know Australians ought to think hard and long about voting for a lunatic like him as an alternative to John Howard. Essentially the choice Australians now have politically is between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Karen Dorante : Jackie Huggins, do you have a different position?

Jackie Huggins: In terms of the historical analysis that right, you know we've actually come back to where we were thirty years ago. The old NACC days when Aboriginal people were just purely advisors to the government and really I believe that wasn't successful and of course reeks of assimilation of course. We are in limbo and I'm just waiting for another sun to shine or something or the sun to come up over the ocean give us a brighter day. But I think we're also a bit numbed by what's happening right today in terms of contemporary Indigenous Affairs there are people around who would obviously feel very relieved that all this is happening to Indigenous people. Nevertheless we've got our children, our grandchildren, children's children to think of in all of this and you know how we all pay our and make our contribution to better life at the moment its bit of a see saw if we can even say that, might be an equilibrium.

Gary Foley: I think it's interesting what Jackie's saying…at the end of the day if you look at history we are simply the latest generation of Aboriginal people who've been done over. I mean all of the great Aboriginal leaders of the last hundred years have all died virtually of a broken heart. (Jackie Huggins: Yeah) Bill Ferguson died of a broken heart because the ALP screwed him, here we are fifty years later lot of us a dying of a broken heart. Me and Jackie have both lost lots of friends, all black fellas have lost. The movement has lost a lot of good people in the last ten years and every single one of them have died without seeing the things that they fought for all their life achieved and I fully expect to die the same way.

Karen Dorante : How will the Aboriginal cause emerge out of this? We are obviously getting younger in terms of the Indigenous population, will we see a new era in black radicalism as some leaders are predicting?

Gary Foley: Well one would hope so. I mean I thought it was a bit funny that Lois O'Donoghue said we were all gonna be back on the streets like we used to be. I think it's really important that the next generation learn from the mistakes that we've made, that people in our generation have made.

Karen Dorante : What are those mistakes?

Gary Foley: That a lot of them jumped in bed with the A-L-P and people have got to realise look at all of the sort of cooperation in the early 1970s the days of confrontation and challenging the Australian government where we actually won some of those challenges we achieved more in those three or four years than all of the thirty years since where people have allowed themselves to be co-opted into the system. I mean there's a lot of rich black fellas' walking around nowadays. There wasn't in the 1970s, nobody was rich in the 1970s and I think the emergence of a black middle class has softened the way in which we deal with government and if the next generation want to make that same mistake the writing should be clear on the wall that approach being cooperative with government and allowing yourself to be manipulated has spectacularly failed. One would hope that the new generation of Aboriginal leadership will see that and take the challenge up to the Federal Government a bit stronger then it's been done in the last twenty years or so.

Karen Dorante : Jackie Huggins?

Jackie Huggins: Yeah, I totally agree with Gary in terms of the young leadership. I feel they're far more of course rather then like the old days it terms of education they've got it, sophistication. A lot of them haven't got the street wise smartness that obviously people like Gary, Dennis Walker, Sam Watson, Bruce McGuinness, you know I could go on and on and on, you knew grew up within that and I to a certain extent grew up in the 60s, 70s with that whole passion and fire in our bellies. Our young leadership now it's kind of grown up fairly passive if I could be so bold in terms of not (Gary Foley: Bourgeois and conservative, that's what they are) Yeah, hit the nail on the head there Gary. There's been that kind of luxury not taking to the streets you know. In those great days there obviously the fire was still in the belly it still maintained its rage and a lot of our younger people although there are fantastic people around I think should really rise to the occasion now and look they say that you know no-one's willing to stand away and let them up well you know I know plenty of people that are willing to do that because you know as Gary has said we're dying of broken hearts. We're dying you see, we're losing our people. I lost one of my best brothers he was 49 years of age the other night from a massive heart attack. What's happening, we're still going backwards in many respects.

Gary Foley: Because our leaders are dying so young a lot of the younger generation don't really get the opportunity to learn from history and history has the really powerful lessons. Anything that any new emerging young Koori activist needs to know is in the pages of history. Go and learn about assimilationism, what it really means. And the new generation of educated young fellas should understand the implications of assimilationism because it's a very seductive sort of thing, go to the universities and they get their mainstream stuff and they go out and work in the mainstream world and they lose contact with their community, that's the path to the destruction of Aboriginal people as a distinct people in this country. People have got to consider very carefully the implications of what Howard is advocating and Vanstone is proposing, you know, she's talking about we all one people in Australia you know we're mainstreaming their services. One of the greatest lessons of history that even Howard and them ought to understand is that history clearly shows that mainstreaming failed miserably. Mainstreaming was largely the cause of a lot of the problems that are out there now that we're claiming to want to address and so to sort of go back to mainstreaming is just insanity, but there you go. I reckon young people need to brush up on their history, look at the way we have been screwed as a people for 200 years. Every generation has tried to resist and every generation has ultimately been screwed and we've been losing the battle for 200 years and if we keep losing it much longer there ain't gonna be any of us.

Karen Dorante : Jackie Huggins, Mark Latham has a really hard task ahead of him doesn't he in terms of trying to sell his alternate proposal to set up a new improved ATSIC considering that most Australians seem to support John Howard's position?

Jackie Huggins: Yes, and I think that's the political smartness of, astuteness of John Howard in terms of delivering the blow the other day. It was sort of one-upmanship of politics being played again, somebody does something half and the other person will come and do it fully. Yet again Aboriginal people are the result of being left as a political football in all of this. Latham does have a hard time to sell this but you know I tend to always think which ever party has got in, who is better than the other?

Gary Foley: I agree. I'd go a step further. I would argue that since 1950 the governments that have done more damage to Aboriginal people and to Aboriginal interests have in fact been Labor: Whitlam, Hawke and Keating. We're left in a really extraordinarily difficult situation and I would argue that we ought to be putting the blowtorch on those blackfellas who take high profile positions in the A-L-P. There are a few Aboriginal A-L-P members of parliament around the country and one of the presidents of the A-L-P at the moment is Mr Mundine. What the hell's Mundine got to say for himself? Those people who've chosen to work within the system ought to have the blowtorch put on them so they can put the blowtorch on people in the A-L-P. I think the only real political way out of this mess is for Aboriginal Australia to turn its attention on the A-L-P and try and get the boofhead who is now the leader of the A-L-P to change his position. He's got to change his position because otherwise the only alternative whether people like it or not is pretty grim.

Jackie Huggins: Yeah and in terms of political parties and that, my advice to young aspiring Indigenous leaders coming up, don't join a party because once you do (Gary Foley: You're compromised) People will brand you It's a compromise you have to follow the party line and I'm sure that all of us have been asked to stand for various parties and so forth. I choose not to because I don't have the faith in the political system at all, whether its, you know, whatever kind of persuasion.

Gary Foley: I don't vote because I'm not an Australian. I'm a Gumbainggir man. Simple. If you vote, I mean if voting could change anything it would be illegal and doesn't matter who you vote for, politician gets in. When the Australian people finally wake up to themselves then maybe they'll stop being a nation of sheep and we really can be an independent nation. People shouldn't be surprised by John Howard proposing a group of specialist advisors I mean he likes to have things that tell him what he wants to hear just look at what's going on in other aspects of politics at the moment that's precisely what he's doing in security area and other areas so why shouldn't he do it to us.

Karen Dorante : Well look just one final question; can we actually draw any positives out of ATSIC's demise?

Gary Foley: Yes, absolutely. It means that a vast of number of white fellas are going to be out of work.
Jackie Huggins: Yes it does. I think it's about 70 percent.

Gary Foley: Lotta white fellas on the dole queues tomorrow. Good job Johnny Howard.

Jackie Huggins: And the other thing is you know I think when it's all when the sun comes up or something I can never see this, but I would love to see a turn around of white people in this country but I don't think that's going to happen.

Gary Foley: I'd also say the great irony in my position is I've been one of the most vehement vocal critics of ATSIC from its, even before its beginning. It's a great irony that at this point in time some good people are going to go down with ATSIC. And I'm specifically referring, there are good people on ATSIC at the moment and I'm not just saying because he's my brother. But my brother is one of the few honest men that I've known in Aboriginal Affairs in thirty-five years. (Jackie Huggins: This is Cliff) We don't always agree on everything obviously but (Jackie Huggins: He's a good man.) I have an enormous amount of respect for him and there's other people on ATSIC at the moment who are really good people. Not everybody is like some there. It's a great tragedy that some of them are going to be lost to the scene. I think it was, I got a great deal of respect for my brother and other people on ATSIC and that's probably the tragic part of it that some of them are going to get tarred with the same brush of others. It's a pity but I think in other ways it's a good thing because I've always said we should get rid of it and think of a new way. I'm not thinking John Howard's way but it does give us an opportunity to maybe get a bit of unity back into Aboriginal Australia with the realisation that unless we all pull together on this and we are unified then we're going to get well and truly done over. In the past when we've been unified in the late 60s and 70s we moved mountains as Chairman Mao says.