Carpetbaggers, mercenaries and corruption rip off Aboriginal peoples

Gerry Georgatos The Stringer 15 October 2013

Vincent Lingiari & Gough Whitlam
There was great hope following Mapoon, Yirrkala, Lake Tyers, Wave Hill, Aboriginal Tent Embassy. In August 1975, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam went to Daguragu and poured Daguragu soil into Vincent Lingiari's hand, and said to Mr Lingiari, "Vincent Lingiari, I solemnly hand to you these deeds as proof in Australian law that these lands belong to the Gurindji people, and I put into your hands part of the earth as a sign that this land will be the possession of you and your children forever." But sadly that's not what government bureaucrats, mining companies and carpetbaggers heard.

There was great hope following Mapoon, Yirrkala, Lake Tyers, Wave Hill, Aboriginal Tent Embassy. In August 1975, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam went to Daguragu and poured Daguragu soil into Vincent Lingiari’s hand, and said to Mr Lingiari, “Vincent Lingiari, I solemnly hand to you these deeds as proof in Australian law that these lands belong to the Gurindji people, and I put into your hands part of the earth as a sign that this land will be the possession of you and your children forever.” But sadly that’s not what government bureaucrats, mining companies and carpetbaggers heard.

Western Australia has the nation’s highest median income – per capita it is the richest State in the Commonwealth of Australia yet it has the highest homelessness rate in the nation, and Aboriginal peoples bear the brunt of it. The majority impoverished in Western Australia are Aboriginal peoples – who have not benefited from the mining boom and who come last when the State puts together its budget. In the meantime Western Australian Aboriginal peoples endure the nation’s worst incarceration rates and whose youth are enduring spates of suicide – the world’s worst.

There are more than 230 Native Title determinations, more than 400 Aboriginal corporations but nevertheless the Closing the Gap health indicators are failing badly, and Aboriginal impoverishment continues. When the poorest 150,000 Aboriginal peoples are stood alone statistically and demographically from the 671,000 who identify as Aboriginal and Torres Islander peoples then we find that many of the indicators and statistics are as bad as they have ever been, and quite a few statistics are manifold worse than they had ever been. Therefore the Closing the Gap is a charade eschewed by the hiding behind and within collective statistics.

Many have long argued where has all the revenue generated by Native Title agreements disappeared to when we still see the worst of pernicious poverty and myriad ill-health, and many argue where have all the billions of dollars gone that have been spent by governments supposedly to address Aboriginal impoverishment. We have known the answers and the truth for more than three decades, from near the very beginning. All of a sudden people are starting to speak up as some of them have had enough of the fact of third world poverty in a first world nation.

Some argue that there is an industry built around Aboriginal issues which in effect siphons funds to personal benefit, but at what cost – from the impoverished? These critics are right, this is exactly the case, Aboriginal peoples and Aboriginal corporations have been screwed by the carpetbaggers.

In 1973, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam disbursed $44 million to Aboriginal health, half of it consumed by administrative spends – bureaucracy. Today the spend on Aboriginal peoples is arguably $26 billion. But for the poorest 150,000 Aboriginal peoples little has positively changed and much has got worse.

On October 15, Black Power living legend, Dr Gary Foley said on Brisbane’s 98.9FM’s Let’s Talk program with Tiga Bayles that a vast army of non-Aboriginal peoples are the ones who have benefited from the majority of the annual spending. He said Aboriginal peoples are the last to benefit, if it all.

“A vast white army larger than the Aboriginal population, an army of missionaries, mercenaries, misfits and parasites have been consuming the monies which were meant for (Aboriginal peoples),” said Mr Foley.

He said what most of us know that not just a coterie but an “industry” of so-called consultants, administrative personnel, bureaucrats, and infantries of line managers have set themselves up – carpet baggers of sorts – to reap sweetly from the Aboriginal spend.

“If all that money had been given to those in genuine need, to every black fella in need, then all of us would have good health and a good lifestyle,” said Mr Foley.

Mr Foley said that in the mid-90s Pauline Hanson had got it right that there was a quickly built up industry around Aboriginal issues that had not returned positive outcomes to Aboriginal peoples. He said that what Ms Hanson got wrong was the assumption that the industry was made up of Aboriginal people when indeed it is made up of non-Aboriginal peoples.

Mr Foley delivered a powerful and true anecdote. He said that as far back as the 1970s Aboriginal peoples were aware of the misspending by governments and the “joke” it had become. He said that at the time the health indicators for Aboriginal peoples were worse in WA than the rest of the country and consequently a bureaucracy of consultants and managers was constantly being set up. “There was a running joke among them, in WA Health, that if you wanted to drive around in a four-wheel-drive with a radio, and enjoy desert life with an esky, well here you go,” said Mr Foley. This is exactly what happened and continues to occur.

This is just not the case with Aboriginal programs and services, but also with Native Title. More non-Aboriginal people benefit from Native Title than do Aboriginal peoples. The Native Title industry is also more than a coterie of carpet baggers, it is an army of non-Aboriginal peoples ripping off Aboriginal peoples – Native Title practitioners, consultants and administrators. And then there are the Aboriginal Corporations, far too many of them not having made a difference to their people. As soon as one of them comes into the prospect of securing a Native Title determination and potential Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUA) the carpet baggers swarm. The snake oil charmers whether of a corporate bent or whether as sole traders swarm in with the corporate spiel, their promise of commercial developments, their promise of underwriting culture and community, their promise of good governance, their promise of a good future, but rarely have any delivered n their promises and have just plainly ripped off the joint. You’ll find in many Aboriginal corporations non-Aboriginal executives without any substantive work history to justify their position but nevertheless earning hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. As soon as an ILUA is generated, all of a sudden find executives on a quarter of million base salary while the communities languish in poverty and ill-health.

Far too many Aboriginal Corporations are run by non-Aboriginal executives, with token Aboriginal Boards, with maybe one Aboriginal person as an executive while all the rest are non-Aboriginal. And then there are the consultants, whether they are anthropologists, sociologists, joint venture commercial specialists – they come in droves to attach themselves to Aboriginal corporations and to invoice the house down, while Aboriginal peoples die in third-world conditions.

This is no longer about just an industry of carpetbaggers, it is about sheer and utter corruption.

Impoverished Aboriginal peoples have missed out on what would have been a once in a lifetime opportunity to rise out of poverty.

With Native Title generated ILUAs, even resource companies are slamming each other claiming some give more than others to Aboriginal corporations and that there are no cross-industry standards. Some resource companies are slamming the State and Federal Governments for not doing enough to wipe out an abject poverty that should not belong in a first word nation.

These are little steps – talking is one thing and action is another matter. So far it has only been a handful of researchers and rights advocates who have been pointing out the bleeding obvious.

Pilbara Meta Maya Regional Aboriginal Corporation CEO Rachael Denney said remote Aboriginal communities were not benefiting from the mining boom. She said the mining boom had generated some very damaging, negative effects. She argued rents are so outrageously disproportionately high that they have become a crippling stressor in terms of budgets. The high rents are wiping out support agencies, effectively shutting them down. Agencies that do struggle on with high rents have made staff redundant and are inadvertently short-changing the people who depend on them.

According to the Chamber of Minerals and Energy Aboriginal peoples make up nine percent of mining jobs and apprenticeships. But various organisations in the Pilbara including The Salvation Army, The Smith Family and Mission Australia are describing third world conditions. The descriptions of third world conditions are not limited to remote and semi-remote communities but are also being leveled at communities within major towns like Hedland, Roebourne and Onslow.

The descriptions of third world conditions are nothing new. The late Dr Archie Kalokerinos spent his working life in the remote with Aboriginal peoples and during the seventies described their living conditions as third world. Dr Kalokerinos dedicated himself to reducing the prevalence of glaucoma among Aboriginal peoples. He banged his head against brick walls trying to get the Commonwealth of Australia to address the impoverishment of Aboriginal communities – almost to the point that he was effectively ostracised. In recent years the Secretary-General of Amnesty International Shalil Shetty visited Australia and in particular the Northern Territory – he travelled to Utopia, north of Alice Springs. He described the conditions in Utopia as third-world. The UN’s Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay has described the Commonwealth’s ongoing neglect of Aboriginal peoples as racism.

The Stringer has visited many Aboriginal communities, and in recent times visited a number of the Pilbara’s Aboriginal communities. The Pilbara is the engine room of Australia’s mining boom – and super towns for the fly-ins have been built out of seemingly nowhere in places such as Karratha, Port Samson, Newman and so on. So the question begs; why not build towns like these for Aboriginal peoples and end the abject poverty?

Parliamentarians know the deal out there but few of them speak up.

The Pilbara’s Aboriginal Elders accept mining companies have helped individual Aboriginal operators improve their lives and those of their families but that they have not improved the lives of the majority of the people. Claims by mining companies that they are changing the landscape for Aboriginal peoples are scoffed at by many Elders. They say the claims are plainly rubbish and media spin.

Some Aboriginal corporations have become quite wealthy while at the same time many of their peoples remain impoverished. Are some Aboriginal corporations following the model of some of the resource companies – the organisation first, stakeholders next, and community last?

In the heart of Australian’s mining boom – the Pilbara – homelessness and youth unemployment rate amongst the Pilbara’s Aboriginal peoples have not dropped and poor health, especially among the Pilbara’s Aboriginal children, continues at the same rates.

WA’s Telethon Speech and Hearing Centre confirmed the prevalence of middle ear diseases with Aboriginal children was at crisis levels in Western Australia and particularly the Pilbara region.

Their screening data tragically describes more than 50 per cent of WA’s Aboriginal children under the age of 12 as unable to pass a simple hearing test.

In Roebourne, at the heart of the Pilbara region, more than 80 per cent of Aboriginal children could not pass the test and had middle ear diseases.

The Telethon’s Speech and Hearing Centre spokesman Paul Higginbotham said the issue of middle ear infection “was a health disaster and it must be addressed.”

The State Minister for Health, Dr Kim Hames acknowledged not enough has been returned to Aboriginal communities from the mining boom and even his Government’s $22 million investment in Aboriginal rural and regional health in particular to upgrade remote Aboriginal health clinics is only a drop in the bucket.

The Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation’s CEO Michael Woodley once said to me, “Real change will come when things are done directly for the people.”

“That will happen when our communities have the money spent on them in terms of housing, community institutions and other developments and when money is spent on enterprises that everyone benefits from and not from which only some people benefit,” he said.

“Profit-streams that go to individual operators, which is a positive in one way does not mean they flow on to communities. When the statistics on the Pilbara’s homeless rates and unemployment rates change, when our children’s literacy rates improve and when the gap on health closes, when our children can hear, then the mining companies and government will have something to rightly boast about.”

Many Aboriginal peoples do live with poor nutrition and do sleep on a dirt floor despite being within close proximity to the mining boom. Yet just about everyone in State Government is not speaking to this. Others sell the damaging messages that Aboriginal peoples are often not able to manage monies or advance themselves and then images of abject poverty and incidences of domestic violence and substance abuses are packaged with these messages and sold to the rest of the nation. Far too many are setting up the platforms for the carpetbaggers.

And while the carpetbaggers continue to line up, families suffer, thousands of families. In Hedland there are families sleeping under corrugated iron. There are families in homes so dilapidated that they are beyond repair. It is hard to believe this is Australia. It is not limited to Hedland. Kalgoorlie-Boulder’s Ninga Mia is a shocker with families there too in the most deplorable conditions. They have been there for ages, under the nose of the Department of Housing which does next to nothing. They live under corrugated iron and cardboard, within sight of mining prosperity. Kalgoorlie’s Wongi Pastor Geoffrey Stokes could talk endlessly about the ongoing neglect of his peoples by State and Federal Governments. The tragedy is just as bad in many parts of the Goldfields. It is also the case in the Kimberley – a shocker in the otherwise much visited tourist mecca – where homelessness rates are more than ten times the national average – once again, most of the homeless are Aboriginal peoples.

Interventionist programs and support agencies help but for the most part they are band aid responses – healing may come only with the elimination of abject poverty. The money is there; Australia is the world’s 12th most powerful economy. Western Australia accounts for 46 percent of the nation’s mining exports. In Hedland, according to the Department of Housing, 338 people (mostly Aboriginal) are on the waiting list but with an average wait of four years. Hundreds of others are not on any waiting lists, they do it dirt-poor. Nearby Hedland’s abjectly poverty stricken Aboriginal communities is the Port Hedland delta, Australia’s busiest port, exporting high grade iron ore to China and the rest of the world.

The money is there, but it has to be spent on Aboriginal peoples, acquitted substantively, and the carpetbaggers should nick off. Native Title needs to be fixed, and the corruption end. Otherwise, we will continue to watch Aboriginal peoples denied opportunity from the beginning of their lives, who will continue to be incarcerated at among the world’s highest imprisonment rates, who will live in overcrowded private and public housing, and their children will continue to die at the world’s highest suicide rates.