Warren Mundine's new military intervention into Aboriginal Australia

Bob Gosford blogs.crikey 9 September 2013

Warren Mundine on the role of the military in Aboriginal communities:

Actually the military does have a place ... In the tsunami of Indonesia, you know at Sumatra and the Indian Ocean. And I said the military has got to train for emergency services and war situations.

Last evening Warren Mundine was interviewed by Ellen Fanning on the SBS TV program The Observer Effect.

For mine Fanning went pretty easy on Mundine. The interview did a good job of introducing him to a wider audience and to confirming him in his likely future role as the most powerful Aboriginal person in Australia under the sponsorship of new Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Mundine, without any apparent consultation with any person - black or white - outside of the Liberal Party, has been named as the Chair of Abbott's new Indigenous Advisory Council that will apparently have a vague but broad-reaching policy-setting role under Abbott's new Liberal/National Party coalition government.

Frankly I don't think that Mundine, particularly when he gets into the room with such conservative heavy-hitters and apparent fellow members of the Council as Marcia Langton and Noel Pearson, will carry all that much weight or influence, but the blue-and-not-so-blue-rinse-luvvy Liberal set from Sydney seem to like him.

The Fanning interview attracted a fair amount of comment - pro and con - on Twitter and you can see much of that discussion at the The Observer Effect's home page. Fanning invited Mundine onto the show via this tweet: "Ellen Fanning @warrenmundine hey there Warren. Trying to get in touch re an interview for SBS. Can you follow me and I'll DM you ?" on 4 September. Mundine's Twitter stream makes for the occasional interesting read, if only to see just how much he admires his new bosses and despises the old.

One question that comes to mind is that if Mundine is worthy of appointment to this position of apparent substantial power in indigenous affairs, why Abbott did not make a 'captain's pick' and drop him into a safe Liberal seat? This was after all one of the issues, following Labor's choice of Bob Carr for the vacant New South Wales senate seat in March last year, that apparently drove Mundine into the Liberal's welcoming arms. Perhaps it was that the 'Labor rat' factor - up until late last year Mundine was a rusted-on member of the New South Wales Labor right - may have made his pitch to any electorate difficult.

The conversation between Fanning & Mundine was often rather dull, but one passage towards the end did catch my ear. I recorded the show so here is my transcript (which may not be perfect) of this exchange towards the end of the half-hour interview.

Ellen Fanning: And would it ever be about sending the military back into indigenous communities as you have done under the intervention?

Mundine's first response was to rule that prospect out comprehensively.

Warren Mundine: Not as far as I am concerned.

But then he had a change of mind and heart ...

... Actually the military does have a place. One of the ideas we are looking at is how do we get surgery and medical stuff into indigenous communities. And I just had a sit there (?) one day with a cup of tea as you normally do and I said, well, you know ... In the tsunami of Indonesia, you know at Sumatra and the Indian Ocean. And I said the military has got to train for emergency services and war situations. They've got to go in there and set up a hospital, do surgery and move it on.

Ellen Fanning: So can you see field hospitals in indigenous communities?

Warren Mundine: I ... reckon that is something we could place. One, the Military could be trained for state emergency operations in communities and setting these things up. The Aboriginal community medical services could tap in to that.

We've got to get innovative, we've got to think differently and it is not about cutting programs or bringing new programs in.

It is about focusing on the outcomes and then putting in place how we do that outcome.

I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions about just what Warren Mundine is proposing here. However, particularly in light of the undoubted failure of the most recent use of the military as an intervention force in remote Aboriginal communities in the NT, there must be very real questions about the value of again using them - if even for a limited purpose - in Aboriginal communities. Unlike the Howard/Brough Intervention of 2007 that was restricted to the NT, Mundine is proposing multiple interventions into Aboriginal communities across the country.

It seems remarkable and more than passing strange that such broad-ranging policy interventions are being contemplated on the first the day after an election.

Maybe it was just a 'thought bubble'? Or just maybe it is a policy that this new government will implement.

Either way it is hard to see how short-term and apparently intrusive interventions to deliver emergency surgery operations on Aboriginal communities will do much to address more wide-ranging systematic issues like the appropriate and effective delivery of primary care services.

This article on community-owned and controlled Aboriginal health service delivery in the NT considers those issues and may provide Mundine and the new government with some informed insights into just how effective those locally owned and controlled services can be..

Tony Abbott's new government has yet to be sworn in. Warren Mundine has yet to be officially engaged by the new government in his role of Chair of a body that does not yet exist.