A review of “Indigenous remain ‘asset rich, dirt poor’ 25 years after Mabo”.
In the article “Indigenous remain ‘asset rich, dirt poor’ 25 years after Mabo”, Indigenous affairs editor, Fitzpatrick (2017) presents the socioeconomic situation of the Aboriginal people, using the views of the former prime minister’s advisor, Josephine Cashman. Miss Cashman pointed out that the promises made to the indigenous people, presented in the Mabo case, had not been fulfilled accordingly after the year 1992. Many indigenous people still have inadequate housing, poor health, restricted education and lower average incomes. About 25 years from the Wik decision, many Aboriginals were classified under the popular term ‘asset rich but dirt poor’. Even though the land belongs to the Aboriginal people, they have a right to live there, but do not have the necessary resources to invest in businesses. The article then states that the Australian government should invest billions of dollars to help with the social, economic and political problems in the Aboriginal community. The practicality and realism of the solution presented by the author to solve the Aboriginal problem should be questioned and evaluated. In addition, following the Mabo Case, the problems that the Aboriginal community have should be identified. This review will summarise and provide a balanced evaluation of Stephine’s article.
Tracing back to 1992, the Mabo case on native title rights was passed by the Hight Court of Australia. The High Court put forward two principles that offered hope for Indigenous people. The first principle is that the Aboriginal people should have title rights to their land in respect to their custom; the law recognises the existence of indigenous customs through their relationship with the land (Behrendt, 2007). The High Court also granted ‘radical title’, that is, the government retains eventual power over the land but does not have full ownership of it. The second decision of the Mabo decision was to reject terra nullius, which means Australia’s legal system recognizes indigenous people have lived in Australia for thousands of years and enjoyed rights to their land. (Reconciliation Australia, 2014). The land has been owned by indigenous people under native title. but in terms of ‘closing the gap’, there has been only marginal improvement in the lives of Aboriginal people.
Since the Mabo case, the reality is, per the author, land rights for Aboriginal people has not led to an improvement in quality of life. Indigenous Australians may have gained ownership of land but this has not led to greater opportunities for them. As the article states, Aboriginal people were given back the ‘bike’ that was stolen by others, they can sit on it, but the people who stole the bike do not believe Aboriginal people should have the capability or freedom to ride it. It means that since 1992, the High Court gave indigenous people land rights but indigenous people are not able to use their land assets and resources to create profit. Indigenous people have not been in an economic position to improve the quality of their land or to use it to develop business projects. They have inadequate housing, poor environmental and living conditions and low levels of education, all of which prevent access to the ‘Australia Dream’. Furthermore, the rejection of the $1.3 billion Noongar agreement by the Federal Court is a case in point. The Noongar people under the settlement will lose out on continuing benefits and chances to expand their profits (Pearson, 2010). The Western Australian Government was also supposed to partner with the Noongar people to advance their social, economic and cultural development. (Pearson, 2010). So, the promise of Mabo not yet realized, Cashman demonstrates in her article that Mabo at least so far has been a failure.
The author makes the controversial statements that the government should put long-term investment of billions of dollars into indigenous Australian to develop their economy and infrastructure. Although the government need to address aboriginal problem, is this plan realistic? There are a considerable number of government programs that can be described as wasteful. These programs are expensive here because of the population of indigenous people and the area they live in (Ross, 2011). Aboriginal people live in remote areas, much of which is desert or bordering on desert (Figure 1). They need a large amount of money to develop ‘desert’ areas; to build more buildings and to provide many services, the cost is significantly higher. Is it reasonable to spend billions of dollars to develop these desert projects? Secondly, the government spent $5.7 billion of dollars on aboriginal people between 2009 and 2010. The productivity commission estimates that 18.6% of the total expenses is provided to indigenous closing the gap (Biddle, 2016). We can see that the money is not well-spent to change the indigenous society. In terms of ‘closing the gap’, there has been only marginal improvement in the lives of Aboriginal people. Closing the gap in education, health and other things between indigenous and Australians is an unattainable goal that will be difficult for Australia to meet in the future. However, a new report card finds the Closing the Gap program is failing on six out of seven key measures (Brennan, 2017). There are many challenges facing aboriginal communities, and the aimless investment on indigenous communities is not currently developing outcomes. The government should find a strategy that respects the humanity of Aboriginal people while also producing significant change.
Fitzpatrick’s article provides a considerable analysis of the socioeconomic situation of aboriginal people and makes the conclusion that indigenous communities remain ‘asset rich, dirt poor’ after Mabo Case. Mabo can be seen as a failure so the author points to the need for long-term investment, which Aboriginal society can share in the ‘Australian dream’. For my part, the author does not seem to appreciate the size of the challenge facing government and Aboriginal communities. More money by itself will not solve the problem. The article lacks balance in this area. It needed to examine the challenge facing Aboriginal society in more than just financial terms to arrive at a considered analysis and more balanced solution to the problem.
Behrendt, L. (2007). Finding the promise of Mabo. Retrieved from ADCQ: https://www.adcq.qld.gov.au/resources/a-and-tsi/mabo-oration/2007-mabo-oration/Finding-the-promise-of-Mabo
Biddle, N. (2016). FactCheck Q&A: is $30 billion spent every year on 500,000 Indigenous people in Australia? Retrieved from THE CONVERSATION
Brenna, B. (2017). Closing the gap: Malcolm Turnbull says Indigenous health and wealth progress 'not enough' Retrieved from NEWS ABC
Pearson, N. (2010). Promise of Mabo not yet realized. Retrieved from THE AUSTRALIAN:
Reconciliation Australia. (27 May- 3 June, 2014). National Reconciliation Week. Retrieved from:
Ross, R. (2011). Putting dollars on disadvantage: Australia’s indigenous spending. Retrieved from THE COVERSATION: