20 Feb 2009
Send In Some Trucks
By Scott Mitchell, New Matilda.
City dwellers hold forth on the "Aboriginal problem", but do any of them know what they're talking about? Scott Mitchell on days five and six of his two week intervention
This article is part of newmatilda.com’s Urban Intervention experiment. For more information read this.
The beach is free, but I think I'm getting cancer.
So is watching movies at people's houses. Free that is, not cancerous. I do that for most of the day and no-one says anything particularly interesting. I end up staying with someone. It saves me money and time getting home and I can't help but feel like a bit of a bum — because I don't even particularly want to be there. I feel like I'm using people.
At the Beach Road Hotel they serve Schnitzels the size of whole chickens with a side of salad. My mate looks up over his bird and says, "Pretty f*cking good for the price". All I can think about is how many loaves of bread and litres of milk $13 buys.
I ask the bartender how much a gin and tonic is, he replies that it's $7.30 and moves to start making it, I say "I'll have one pink lemonade". He still thinks I'm ordering a G&T and when I clarify he looks completely confused — I'd like to think that he's confused at the idea of refusing to buy a drink for $7.30, but more likely he's confounded by the childish, emasculating choice. The lemonade is $2.30.
My friend Chris has ambitions to be an ambitious lieutenant in young Labor. Like every member of the ALP he's come to the conclusion that everyone else in the ALP is "f*cked".
Yet it is with stereotypical ALP swagger, confidence and self-righteousness that he proscribes his solution for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory: "They should just have big trucks, like those mobile clinics" he imparts, "It would cost a lot, everyone says 'you're just throwing money at it', but sometimes it's worth it. You should have big trucks, with security and properly trained, high level doctors to look after these people instead of shipping out nursing students straight out of college".
The more that I read about the Northern Territory and the Intervention, the more absurd I find every argument, anecdote and opinion which seeks to address the "Aboriginal problem", without context. Even if you discount the different language groups and cultures which cover the vast swathes of land targeted by the Intervention there is enormous diversity. Few communities look the same. There are communities with serious social problems, just as there are communities with few. There are communities in which English is barely spoken, and some where everyone is fluent. There are different levels of education, infrastructure, health, housing, employment and crime all across the Territory and yet every community has been treated exactly the same — they have been treated as the worst case scenario. It's truly astonishing.
Both sides of the argument as to whether the Intervention has Aboriginal support also fall into the trap of assuming there's a singular voice on the issue.
The final Emergency Response Review Board report states that, "Many people with whom the board came into contact believed that income management did provide a new opportunity to manage their income". Despite this, a survey they conducted found that 85 per cent of respondents believe the Intervention was having a negative impact, while 90 per cent had problems receiving only half their welfare payments in cash. The report goes on to say that the "Testimony of many Aboriginal people, especially women... [supports the belief that many] families and children have benefited from income management".
Yet, the Review Board's survey, which was answered by more women than men found that, "No women reported an overall positive position regarding the Intervention changes", and that, "Of those few who do like using store cards, they are more likely to be male. Over 90 per cent of females disliked using store cards."
We watch The One Armed Boxer versus The Master of the Flying Guillotine and suddenly it's 1:00am. I'm too late to make the last train. Both my friends offer to pay for the cab fare, but I just go out and pay for it myself. It's a particularly depressing cab ride as I realise that despite trying to rein in my spending all weekend I only have about $50 dollars unquarantined with more than a week left.