Friday, November 14, 2014

The gap in Closing the Gap

The Productivity Commission has played an important role in the Australian Government’s Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage initiative, which became the Closing the Gap Agenda. It undertook a national program of consultation with Indigenous communities over the matter. As one of its Commissioners noted at the time every community they spoke with made a point of saying how crucial culture was in addressing the issues involved in Indigenous disadvantage.

Cultural involvement helps build self-esteem and a sense of community and music is central to engaging the young in co-operative activities that bear fruit.

In this complex area looking closely at what actually worked and why is the only way to find clues on how to progress. Despite this many of my former colleagues spent years while working on the Indigenous cultural programs managed by the arts and culture area of the Australian Government arguing that often it was recognition in practice of the importance of culture that worked.

The general importance of evidence and research in coming to grips with some of these entrenched and complex issues is discussed by Ross Gittins. Gittins outlines the complex interdependence of the various aspects of indigenous disadvantage.

He also makes an extremely important point that our ability to measure how effective government action is depends on having useful statistics and research. Yet in the name of efficiency government may actually be becoming less efficient – and less relevant and useful.

Unfortunately what’s missing in all this analysis of economic and social problems, as was also the case with the framework around measuring progress in addressing Indigenous disadvantage is the importance of culture. These tenacious social problems flourish when morale is virtually non-existent – and morale depends on a positive sense of self and community.

The experience of many years of the Indigenous culture programs was that involvement in arts and cultural activity – by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities – often has powerful flow on social and economic effects. By building self-esteem and generating a sense of achievement; developing a stronger sense of community; increasing skills and capabilities through involvement in engaging activities relevant to modern jobs and thereby increasing employability; and by helping to generate income streams however small, cultural activity can have profound long-term effects.

In the end this was becoming clearer in the work around measuring progress in tackling Indigenous disadvantage and increasingly an understanding of the importance of culture seemed to be growing. As part of these discussions the arts and culture area of the Australian Government produced some invaluable and ground-breaking work on this issue as part of a research capability that has since been lost.

Only time will tell if the new arrangements in Indigenous Affairs reflect this growing understanding of the important role of culture. Perhaps less ‘consultation’ and more listening might be useful.

This is a consolidated version of an earlier post to my Facebook page 'indefinite article'.

See also

The Magna Carta – still a work in progress
‘You don’t have to be part of ‘Indigenous affairs’ in Australia to find yourself involved. You can’t even begin to think of being part of support for Australian arts and culture without encountering and interacting with Indigenous culture and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and individuals who make it and live it.’ The Magna Carta – still a work in progress.

Literature and languages – inaugural Indigenous literary festival sign of things to come
‘The inaugural Victorian Indigenous literary festival Blak & Bright in February 2016 was a a very important event for Australian cultural life. It aimed to promote and celebrate a diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices. It raised important questions about how the movement to revive and maintain Indigenous languages – surely one of the great positive unsung community movements in Australian history – is related to ‘Australian literature’. Australian culture as a whole is also inconceivable without the central role of Indigenous culture – how would Australian literature look seen in the same light?’, Literature and languages – inaugural Indigenous literary festival sign of things to come.

The language of success ­– recognising a great unsung community movement
‘What is especially significant about the Prime Minister, in his Closing the Gap address, recognising the importance of Indigenous languages is that this is the first time a Liberal leader has expressed such views. It’s exciting because for progress to be made it is essential that there is a jointly agreed position. This moment arises from the tireless work over many decades of hundreds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language revivalists – surely one of the great positive unsung community movements in Australian history. By their hard work they have managed to change the profile of Indigenous languages in Australia. Unfortunately the address reinforced the tendency of government to overlook the success stories that are already happening in local communities and look for big institutional solutions. I hope it doesn’t turn out to be a missed opportunity’, The language of success – recognising a great unsung community movement.

The hidden universe of Australia's own languages
‘I’ve travelled around much of Australia, by foot, by plane, by train and by bus, but mostly by car. As I travelled across all those kilometres and many decades, I never realised that, without ever knowing, I would be silently crossing from one country into another, while underneath the surface of the landscape flashing past, languages were changing like the colour and shape of the grasses or the trees. The parallel universe of Indigenous languages is unfortunately an unexpected world little-known to most Australians.’ The hidden universe of Australia's own languages.

Black diggers – telling war stories
‘If you are convinced you have heard all of Australia’s great stories, think again. If you consider you know something about Indigenous Australia you probably need to start from scratch. Black Diggers, “the untold story of WW1’s black diggers remembered” is a great Australian story. Why over a thousand Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians left their communities in remote Australia or our regional cities or the big state capitals to travel overseas to fight and die in the European trenches far from home is part of a larger Australian story. Why they would bother when they were not even recognised as Australian citizens in their own land is a story all their own – but a story relevant to every Australian’, Black diggers - telling war stories.

Creative industries critical to vitality of Australia's culture
‘The developing creative industries are a critical part of Australia’s future – clean, innovative, at their core based on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally.’ Creative industries critical to vitality of Australia culture.

Indigenous cultural jobs – real jobs in an unreal world
'Subsidised Indigenous arts and cultural jobs are real jobs with career paths that deliver genuine skills and employment capability.' Real jobs in an unreal world

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