The More Things Change

The More Things Change: The Origins and Impact of Australian Indigenous Economic Exclusion (2010, PostPressed, Brisbane).
A synopsis is below
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My contact details are:
Dr Rae Norris
Adjunct Resarch Fellow
Centre for Governance and Public Policy
Griffith University

81 Taylor Rd
Gympie Qld 4570

Ph: (07) 54836904
Mobile (text only) 0428851569

The More Things Change: The Origins and Impact of Australian Indigenous Economic Exclusion

by Rae Norris
Adjunct Research Fellow, Centre for Governance and Public Policy
Griffith University, Nathan, Queensland.

This book aims to identify reasons for intractable Indigenous economic disadvantage in Australia. It does so by re-examining the history of relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians from 1788 through to recent times. Through this re-examination a set of beliefs about Aborigines, particularly in relation to work, which were commonly held in the period up to 1850 is identified. These beliefs relate to 1) Aborigines’ inferiority, 2) their laziness, incapacity and irresponsibility, 3) the need for white intervention, and 4) the disregard for Aborigines’ understandings, values and choices. Further examination of history from 1850 shows that these beliefs existed continuously through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and into the twenty-first, and continually influenced law, policy and treatment of Aborigines in the economy.

The new approach taken here sees Indigenous economic disadvantage as a result of the clash between two cultures. On the one hand was the British culture as it had developed by the time of colonisation of Australia and as it adapted in the colonies over the following decades. On the other hand was the Aboriginal culture which was ignored, despised and decimated by the introduced economy during the colonial period. The clash between these two cultures resulted in the wresting of the Aboriginal people from their land so that this land could be used for the colonists’ economic ends. In doing so, however, no acceptable place was found for the Aborigines in the introduced economy. Instead, on the basis of ingrained beliefs about Aboriginal inferiority, incapacity and need for ‘improvement’, Aborigines were dispossessed, incarcerated, subjected to constant surveillance and excluded from white society.

Most particularly, Aborigines were not treated the same as other free workers in the Australian economy, whether during the convict era, in the era of major expansion of the colonial economies during the nineteenth century, or during industrialisation in the twentieth century. The book examines the nature of this different treatment in law and in practice and shows how such treatment was justified by the persistent belief in Aboriginal inferiority and incapacity, irrespective of all proof to the contrary. Such beliefs were able to maintain their power and were reinforced by continuous disregard for Aboriginal values, understandings and choices. Even when Aborigines found solutions to their situation which accommodated to both their own culture and the introduced society, the same thinking blinkered the vision of the white authorities and prevented the success of such ventures or justified unequal treatment of Aboriginal workers, notwithstanding an abiding belief in a ‘fair go for all’.

The book raises the question of the reasons for the economic exclusion of Indigenous Australians, reasons which can be found in the importation of British beliefs and economic structures. The application of the identified sets of beliefs to law and policy pertaining to Aborigines in the period from 1850 to 1967 is explored by examining laws relating to employment of Aborigines in the ‘protection’ era from 1850 to the mid-1930s, and in the ‘assimilation’ era from 1937 to 1967. In addition two case studies of the treatment of Aborigines particularly in relation to employment are examined to show how the identified sets of beliefs operated in practice in the ‘protection’ era in Victoria and the ‘assimilation’ era in the Northern Territory.

The same beliefs also appear to underpin more recent definitions of, understandings about and policy initiatives designed to address this disadvantage. This is established through analysis of the 2007 Northern Territory Emergency Response which was motivated, and continues to be supported by both Government and Opposition, at least in part because of adherence to similar ways of thinking about Indigenous Australians in the economy.

The lasting legacy of the historical exclusion of Aboriginal Australians is shown through an examination of existing research which identifies the extent of Australian Indigenous economic disadvantage and through reviewing the findings of the research. In the light of the foregoing material, this recent research is found to be inadequate in its attempts to explain ongoing Indigenous disadvantage. The beliefs identified in the earlier chapters appear to underpin these attempts at explanation which do not stand up to scrutiny. The final chapter of the book proposes that, because the beliefs identified up to 1850 have existed continuously up to recent times and continually influenced law, policy and treatment of Aborigines in the economy, there is a need to redefine the problem of Indigenous economic disadvantage and seek new approaches to it, in full and respectful partnership with Aboriginal people. Some signposts to such changed definitions and new approaches are provided for readers’ consideration.

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