Thursday, 4 October 2012

That article on The Drum

Several people have sent me links and asked me to read a recent article posted on The Drum by Kerryn Pholi and I'm happy to say that last night I finally got there - and there I stayed until the early hours.

It was an interesting article, and I also tried to read some of the comments to it, but I got something much bigger from it than I expected - I am now a fan of Thomas Sowell.  I had never heard of him until I started reading the article and clicked on that link, but, as soon as I did I became hooked.  He challenges the thinking on race based privilege without any emotion or personal issues clouding the facts, and I only wish I'd been given the chance to read some of his works in high school.  

But, back to the article.

I'm glad Ms Pholi made the decision to write her piece, but happier still that she allowed it to become part of the public debate.   One of the most important things we need to do as a country is to have an open and uncensored dialogue going around the issues that we have with regard to race-based legislation, preferences and funding.  We need to be real about the outcomes we've achieved, be honest with ourselves, and not be afraid to talk about the problems we have created.

Of the negative Drum comments on the article, I found a couple of recurring 'themes' that I want to talk about a little more.  First, the notion that the article and its contents somehow labels all Aboriginal people who identify as such as 'only in it for the money and the benefits'.

Welcome to the blowback of affirmative action.

You see, simply by virtue of creating a stream of opportunities available to only a small minority of the population - you breed resentment in those who are excluded from taking up those opportunities.  You don't have to participate in the largesse to feel the blowback, rather, simply because of physical identity or how you identify yourself to others, you are forever guilty by association.  That is the price we will continue to pay for as long as there is preferential treatment for Aboriginal people and benefits for a select few based solely on racial identity alone.

Most Aboriginal people have probably experienced that annoying situation where your pride in an achievement, or possession of something you have worked hard to own has been dismissed as 'trappings of the freebies for Aboriginals' or similar.  Been there, done that a million times over.  Why any Aboriginal person would want their child to go through high school being taunted about the extra money they don't get from Abstudy is beyond me, but as long as we demand that Abstudy exist, our kids will spend another generation having their hard work and achievements dismissed at a time when we need them to find self-esteem and build pride in their abilities the most.

The other troubling notion I came across was the barely concealed outrage that someone would dare to burn their 'Certificate of Aboriginality'.   I don't know if people are looking to feel or be offended but please, don't give such a divisive document any credibility.  As someone who went through quite a struggle to get that same piece of paper, I support Ms Pholi in her action.  We are not talking about a sacred document here, in fact, quite the opposite.  Mine you hold on a slight angle for the best reading - a document that, like a piece of art, tells a story all in itself.  Not a story of my family, or ties to my culture, but another kind of story.  One where the issuing authority runs out of blank forms and seemingly cannot locate the master copy.  They decide to take one they prepared earlier, and with the help of a 12 year old work experience boy and a bottle of liquid paper, they create the new master copy.  Once the liquid paper is dried, it is simply a matter of holding the document in a photocopier on a 45 degree angle and bingo.  The mystical magical production line of blank Aboriginality application forms is revealed. 

Most people are aware that an Aboriginal child is not given a special certificate at birth that confirms their identity, rather, Confirmations of Aboriginality are applied for and granted in a way that is not regulated, and often arbitrary.  I feel more pride in my Medicare card than I do my Certificate of Aboriginality - and I say that to be factual, not inflammatory.  A Certificate of Aboriginality does not mean you are Aboriginal.  All it means is that some people signed off to say it is so.  Similarly, being denied that same certificate does mean you are not Aboriginal.  There is no oversight that ensures that the applications granted or denied hold up to any scrutiny, so it is a process that is ultimately without respect.  Over the years we've had our scandals with the system.  Rather than address the shortcomings - that to all but the most heavily invested are apparent - we've decided to pretend none exist.   We've allowed the certification process to become the great joke that it is.  And that is the continuing price we pay for keeping our heads in the sand and demanding we know better. 


  1. If more people read Tom Sowell as a result of the article then that is a good thing!

  2. True Charlie, A link if anyone wants -

    1. I forgot to put this link in the blog post but if anyone is interested, this is where you can read more of his speeches and columns -

    2. All his books are available on kindle/ipad, he was a student of Milton Friedman's if I remember correctly. You can check him out schooling people in debates from the 70s and 80s on YouTube.

    3. Oh and great article too Dallas.

    4. Thanks Charlie, will have to check out YouTube and find out more about these downloadable books. One in particular I searched my local library for was Civil Rights - Rhetoric or Reality? - they don't stock it but I'm just new to the world of e-books and didn't even think about searching online. Dilemma solved, many thanks!


      Here is a great clip which is relevant to the topic.

    6. Charles Murray is also worth a read. In his book; Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980, he derived, via his analysis a set of conclusions known as “Murray’s Law”. Essentially, it states that all social welfare programs are doomed to affect a net harm on society, and actually hurt the very people those programs are trying to help. In the end, he concludes that all social welfare programs cannot be successful and should ultimately be eliminated all together.
      Murray's Law:
      1. The Law of Imperfect Selection: Any objective rule that defines eligibility for a social transfer program will irrationally exclude some persons.
      2. The Law of Unintended Rewards: Any social transfer increases the net value of being in the condition that prompted the transfer.
      3. The Law of Net Harm: The less likely it is that the unwanted behavior will change voluntarily, the more likely it is that a program to induce change will cause net harm.

      Although derived from a study of the affects and effects of American welfare programs, Murray's Law may be universally applied to all forms of state sponsored social engineering.

  3. A fine article Dallas - you raise many issues that some people would choose not to deal with. Whether that choice would be because of their own vested interest in maintaining an industry that only teaches to take and not to give back, or because it is due to the current racial vilification laws that now make criticism of such an industry an offence subject to censure and heavy fine. It is an industry that is doing far more harm than good.

    They say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. I guess affirmative action is one of those good intentions that has had an adverse effect, rather than a positive one. When government becomes involved in social issues that should be left to sort themselves out through social discourse and learning, no good can come of it. By its very nature, bureaucracy is firmly bordered by rules and regulations which make it inflexible and unable to deal with issues generated by its own actions outside of those borders.

    And when people are employed to hold those borders and make a living from it, and it becomes the status quo, then breaching those borders is almost an impossible task by those such as yourself who can appreciate the problems being generated that the bureaucracy was originally put in place for to alleviate the perceived problems.

    Keep plugging away mate. Slow and steady wins the race.

    1. How true. We've scared so many sections of the population into silence for fear of being labelled racist and although such stifling of public debate on this issue is a short term win for those who prefer silence, in the long run, it cannot last - and indeed it seems there is a slow but steady tide of support to move back to open discussion.

      I want people to feel like they have a voice again. I don't have all the answers but I know we're never going to find them if we continue to only allow Aboriginal people to make decisions and have a voice in this debate. Continuing to allow only a select few to speak freely (based on nothing more than their race) is another road to hell, paved with good intentions - and definitely another race based resentment builder. Just what we don't need.

      Every person who has come here to comment (positive or negative) is another small step forward. Despite all that has happened, people are still willing to help, still want to fix things and still want to try to find the solutions to the problems. That is our way out of the hellhole we've created.

  4. Dallas, apart from a few babies, my first experience with aboriginal people was in 1970 in the Kimberley when I went to work there as a nurse. I had no preconceptions at all. I had no knowledge at all. And looking back this was probably the best thing that could have happened, as I was able to meet, mix with, and eventually marry one, without the agonies of negative stereotyping that might have occured in later years. What I found in the Kimberley at that time was two distinct classes of aboriginals. The mission and station blacks who lived in paternalistic, protected environments in remote areas, and the townspeople, composed of black and coloured people. Due to the law at the time, the only unemployed aboriginal people allowed in the townships were those living in designated reserves on the fringes of towns. The majority of workers in the towns were not whites. The whites were mainly the professionals in town. Doctors, nurses, teachers, pilots etc. The actual main running of the towns in the Kimberley was done by black and coloured people. They worked for main roads, power and water, the hospital, the airport, schools etc. They were all the semi and unskilled workers who provided the infrastructure that supported the towns. They were also well educated, most of them graduates of the catholic school system which had placed an emphasis on good basic literacy and numeracy. At this time aboriginal people in the Kimberley had no citizenship rights so there was certainly no affirmative action, no positive discrimination, no indigenous industry. Yet 40 years ago they existed as a a hard working, literate, proud race who owed nothing to government help and everything to their own efforts. Boy did we go wrong.

  5. Dallas,
    Two things -
    1) Neither you nor your commenters have the usual polemic and shrillness that that is associated with the entitlement / fairness debate in Australia. I put that down to the quality of your writing ... So keep yup the good work please :)

    2) have you see and ? They struck a chord with me, and may be a useful way of explaining how different 'starting points' (in both senses of the phrase !) in life can be limiting, but can be overcome.

    3) Bear in mind that I have no real expertise in these matters at all; As the saying goes "Some of my best friends are Aborigines", but I do know that they have more in common with me (immigrant white male with a higher than average income) than they do with an Aboriginal living in Redfern, Bourke, Katherine, Arnhem land or the Tanami. Having said that, given that both New Zealand and Australia were settled and colonised at similar times, I'd be interested in your opinion as to why / how one incorporated (or acquired) so much of the indigenous culture into public life while the other didn't ?

    Once again thanks :)

  6. Thomas Sowell's writings and speeches are very powerful. His logic is frightenly consise. What I'd give to be able to present my ideas in such an effective way.

  7. Good article, Dallas. Well written.

    As they say, it only takes a rolling stone to start an avalanche.