Aborigines lost in the boom: Professor Marcia Langton

Joel Gibson | April 23, 2007

AN ABORIGINAL academic has compared Australia's commodities boom to the 19th century colonisation of Africa and accused the nation's political leaders of ignoring evidence-based solutions to the plight of indigenous people in favour of "political grandstanding".

Marcia Langton said Aboriginal Australia was a failed state, a "heartland of instability" within a booming economy, 40 years after the most successful referendum in Australian history gave Aborigines the vote.

As urban industrialists got fat off the land, its traditional owners were being left behind with no economic future.

"But so little of that money is going back into the community. It's a classic case of colonisation … like Africa in the 19th century, when all the wealth was extracted out for the people of Manchester and London while the people in Africa went poor."

"That [mining] wealth flows through to you in the cities but it's based on the extraction of all that Aboriginal people can rely on in the future."

Professor Langton, the foundation chairwoman in Australian indigenous studies at the University of Melbourne, made the comments in a speech at the annual lunch for the Jessie Street Trust held at NSW Parliament House last week.

Politicians were in the thrall of opinion columnists who had never visited remote communities but who described their disastrous state "like a form of pornography", she said.

An absence of evidence-based policy from all Australian governments had created the situation, she said, citing as another example the Federal Government's policy to fix the town camps around Alice Springs.

Last week the camps voted against a plan by the Indigenous Affairs Minister, Mal Brough, to turn the town's Aboriginal settlements into "normal" suburbs. It would require the housing authorities that run the camps to relinquish their perpetual leases over the land in return for $50 million of federal spending on housing and infrastructure.

But the camps could be fixed using examples such as that of the Northern Territory's Utopia community, Professor Langton said.

As the anniversary of the 1967 referendum approached, she said, indigenous issues needed to become part of the zeitgeist once more.

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