Friday, June 22, 2007

“Constitutional niceties” vs naked racism

Bizarrely missing from the extensive coverage in today’s Australian of PM Howard’s plan for Indigenous land and communities in the NT is a straight legal commentary.

The “constitutional niceties” point is given some minor coverage by Susannah Moran. She wheels out ubiquitous “expert” George Williams, who has seemingly forgotten that the NT’s mid-1990s euthanasia bill, as overruled by the Commonwealth at the time, has long since settled the non-existence of a hands-off-the-NT (and ACT) “convention” that he claims existed, until yesterday at least.

More seriously, Williams fails to grasp that the constitutional issues he opines on are a red-herring at best; it is breaching the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 where the Howard plan will either come unstuck, or if not, will render that Act worthless.

A few weeks ago, High Court judge Michael Kirby gave a pre-recorded video speech at a Melbourne panel presentation discussing the 40th anniversary of the 1967 referendum. His main topic was the High Court Hindmarsh Island case, in which a majority left open the prospect that, under the constitution’s race power, the federal government could make laws to the detriment of Indigenous Australians. At the time, I thought that Justice Kirby’s topic was either a bit obscure, or else a just a Judge-as-Dissenting-Hero set-piece, with the dissent de jour chosen to fit the event, but otherwise traversing a well-worn rut. I now wonder whether Justice Kirby perhaps knew something in May about yesterday’s announcement. In any event, it is going to be interesting to see just how the Howard plan will either trash or circumvent the Racial Discrimination Act.

As to the underlying issue – extreme dysfunction in remote NT Indigenous communities – of course something has to be done. Today’s Australian uses the “generation” word several times, without quite making express which generation/s is going to supposedly benefit from the Howard plan – today’s young children, presumably, but what about the rest? I don’t grudge a better future for those children, but on behalf of Indigenous Xers, I say that there’s definitely unfinished business:

“Nursing sister Elke Zalfren, who has spent many years treating renal failure in the Western Desert, suspects the dramatic spike in kidney failure in the [thirty-something] generation may be the result of scabies sores, which were not aggressively treated in the 1970s and ‘80s”. *

That is, a large chunk of the current remote-Indigenous health crisis rests with a minor (at the time) oversight, left to just fester and fester. And all this happened on boomers’ watch, of course.


I’ve added some links. Just to be clear about it, the red-herring “constitutional niceties” I’m referring to are the states’-rights (or quasi-states, in the case of the NT) nonsense – you know, all that life-or-death stuff like who regulates lighthouses: states or Commonwealth? I suspect that the constitution’s race power, as amended in 1967, will be a real issue.

Further Update 23 June 2007

Was the 1970s Indigenous land-rights and self-determination movement a mistake?

No, in the sense of it was well-meaning, and it could have worked – and may yet work.

Yes, in the sense that it was a naïve, boomer-centric (i.e. young adult-centric at the time) experiment, which like every other aspect of the c.1968 cultural revolution in the West, had no follow-up plan, and so was reckless, or worse, about the next generation having to pick up the pieces, once the fun times and cultural chaos inevitably ended with the mother of all backlashes.

The backlash of course brought more than two decades, and counting, of economic fundamentalism – my entire adult life. The sexual revolution inevitably led to the Aids epidemic – again perfectly timed to start around my 18th birthday. Yet boomer morons still pretend the late 60s to mid 70s counter-culture party, which lasted less than a decade, is raging on, or at least is suitable for fond reminiscence. It ain’t – that mini-decade is and was an adolescent embarrassment that boomers haven’t even begun to atone for.

The 1970s young adult-centric Indigenous movement, and its lack of a follow-up plan (i.e. what was the next generation supposed to do?), has meant one step forward and two steps back. Indigenous Xers are dying today as a result of an obscene chain of causation that started in their childhoods, as I’ve pointed out above. As if on cue, a letter to the editor in today’s Age tries to pretend the 1970s Indigenous movement has done at least some leasting good, by significantly reducing Indigenous infant mortality:

In the early 1970s, the Northern Territory's indigenous infant mortality rate was 110 per thousand. By 1980 . . . it had fallen to 31.3 per thousand. By 2000, it was 17 per thousand . . . Those who say that changes introduced in the 1970s had no positive impact are ignorant about how bad things were before then”.

- Rod Hagen, anthropologist, Hurstbridge

One six-month old lives, and probably then two 15 year-olds (or two 35 year-olds) die later on, eh Rod? Sounds like a good plan to me. Just as well I’m, like you, maintaining the rich-white-kid rage like it's forever 1975 – otherwise I might get distracted enough to remember it's 2007, and do the simple maths.

*Nicolas Rothwell, Another Country 2007 Black Inc p134

Monday, June 04, 2007

Gangland ten years on

Upon request, here are some thoughts on Mark Davis’ Gangland ten years on.

Whatever its upfront disclaimers about not being a boomer-bashing (nor hence by implication, an Xer-boosting) tome, Gangland undoubtedly slotted in the mid-90s Xer zeitgeist, often called “Grunge” at the time. Richard Watts (an Xer) attests to this point. Don Arthur (a tool, and boomer, I presume) makes snide of it, with a bad-taste reference to Kurt Cobain and Xers’ garages, a joke made all the sicker by a suburban garage being a trophy far beyond my, and many other Xers’, means in 2007.

It is odd that Davis’ recent Age article makes no mention of this zeitgeist. Like Peter Pan, Davis doesn’t want his book to date. The mid-90s’ grunge generation, born between 1963 and 1976, has certainly not moved on at 30, nor 40, in the way boomers at those ages went from hippies to yuppies overnight and en masse, circa 1980. But middle-aged nihilism is not good fodder and colour for Saturday supplements; shorn of youth, it is dangerously unpackageable.

Davis’ continuing playing of the yoof card may keep his arguments eternally fresh, but it also renders them necessarily illogical. His mid-90s DIY-publishing boosterism came to massive fruition, of course, with the internet, blogs etc. But rather than levelling the commentariat playing field, DIY-publishing has lead to a Babel-esque diffusion of ideas, and so the dilution of a shared sense of belonging (or a set of “core values”, if you must) among intellectuals. And in the turd on the icing on the cake of Davis’ playing of the yoof card, DIY-publishing in younger, post-Xer hands has morphed into the anti-intellectual dystopias of YouTube and MySpace.

Sidebar (update): Davis’ “Instead of the usual suspects, why aren't . . .” list

Richard Watts was chuffed to be included on the list in Davis’ recent Age article. With respect, it is comprised of a minority of those who already get ample commentariat exposure despite having nothing new to say (Andrew Leigh, FFS?), and a majority of those who serve on commentariat’s B-team – for a reason.

Three names not on the list that I’d put up for not being over-exposed, yet definitely having things to say are Christos Tsiolkas, Elliot Perlman and Waleed Aly – all Xers.

Tsiolkas got quite a few positive mentions in Gangland. More recently, his novel Dead Europe was subject to a bizarre and withering critique by boomer Robert Manne, who had issues with the novel’s nihilism and supposed anti-Semitism. Manne’s shock at the novel’s (undoubted) nihilism in turn shocked me – evidently this academic and critic does not know a single university-educated Australian male born between 1963 and 1976.

Elliot Perlman’s novel Three Dollars (1998, and so too late for Gangland mention) tells a quintessentially Xer-in-the-early-90s story. Predictably, it was widely slagged-off for being too fantastical fiction, by boomers still apparently living the 80s high-life decades later. His next novel Seven Types of Ambiguity was subject to a bizarre ad hominem critique by boomer Peter Craven.

Waleed Aly first caught my attention with an Age article on the Pope’s travails with Islam earlier this year. Aly nailed the issues, and displayed an impressive grasp of Catholic theology to boot.

None of these three could remotely be termed “insiders”. Tsiolkas works as a vet nurse (PDF) to pay the bills and Perlman is an expat for presumably the same reason. I’m not sure what trained lawyer Aly now does for a living, but his recent anti-lawyer serve here is magnificent. Oddly or otherwise, the three have also all been (although I’m relying on memory here re Perlman) keynote speakers at three of the four annual Emerging Writers’ Festivals held in Melbourne since 2004.

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