Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Ministers accused of untruths about Aboriginal woes


December 29, 2009

DARWIN: Government ministers and departments are suppressing the truth about the malaise in Aboriginal communities, according to the public servant in charge of the Northern Territory's key indigenous policy.

Bob Beadman said the natural tendency of ministers and departments - local and federal - to portray themselves in the best light promoted the positives rather than the negatives.

''Consequently parliaments and the public alike develop a skewed picture because the broader truth has been suppressed," he said.

Mr Beadman said the territory's Working Future policy to develop 20 indigenous growth towns, which he is overseeing, would require "patience, commitment and nerve", and positive outcomes would be elusive.

"We will need to remind ourselves regularly that the current condition has been at least 30 years in the making and the attitudes of many in those communities, and indeed many in government service, have become entrenched, or conditioned to an acceptance that all is right," he said.

Mr Beadman, who was appointed the territory's co-ordinator-general for remote services in June, after more than 40 years handling indigenous issues in the territory and federal public services, made the comments in a report posted on www.workingfuture.nt.gov.au.

But in a news release about the report, the territory's Indigenous Policy Minister, Malarndirri McCarthy, commented only on positive aspects and avoided Mr Beadman's criticism.

He warned that the building of houses, roads and sewerage was the easy part in ending indigenous disadvantage.

"The rebuilding of people, the restoration of their pride and self-worth is far more difficult and more important. If, again, indigenous people sit under a tree and watch this frenetic effect by government agencies of every kind with increasing astonishment, we will have squandered another opportunity for social reconstruction."

There were signs already that indigenous people were not taking up available work in shires and shops and job centres reported that many job offers were declined, he said.

"We must start to see some breaching of welfare recipients who decline work. Working Future represents a social reconstruction program of audacious scale. Yet I fear most see it as simply correcting infrastructure deficits."

Mr Beadman said it was widely accepted that closed communities and the availability of extensive welfare benefits without mutual obligation, obviating the need to work, had meant there was negligible private sector business investment in remote communities.

There were numerous examples of engagement with communities ''where teams of fly-in bureaucrats appear and develop plans, to the utter bemusement of the local people".

Referring to criticism that the NT had been "gilding the lily" on the amount of federal funds needed to counter disadvantage in centres such as Darwin and Alice Springs, Mr Beadman said budget explanations could be improved.

Mr Beadman is chairman of the NT Grants Commission, which allocates federal funding.