Ideas for undoing the Howard legacy

Larissa Behrendt, director of research at The Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, University of Technology Sydney

How would you characterise the policy shifts that happened during the last 12 years, under the Howard government?

A few key ideologies guided policy-assimilation and mainstreaming, opening up indigenous controlled land to non-Indigenous interests, mutual obligation and shared responsibility and the idea that all the real Aborigines live in the North.

It was [an incredibly] flawed approach, not just because these ideologies don’t work but because he has really eroded some of the gains Aboriginal people had made.

How have these policies impacted on Aboriginal people?

This is the real tragedy and it has happened in several ways. Through the move to Shared Responsibility Agreements in the post-ATSIC era we saw a lot of communities really struggle. Organisations had an additional layer of humiliating requirements-washing your face etc. [These sorts of things had to be done] just to get funding that would unquestionably flow to organisations in the wider community.

Similarly, the NT intervention is having a huge impact on people. People can’t buy groceries where they want, they can’t often travel because they have to use their coupons at certain stores. With CDEP cuts over 7000 jobs have gone. For people who were involved in programs which were really effective, you can’t underestimate the impact this has had on people’s psyche.

A lot of your writing talks about self-determination as being a principle that needs to make a return in Aboriginal affairs. What would that look like?

I get really cross when people say “you’ve had self-determination and it failed”. It’s always been undermined. Self-determination is the idea that Indigenous people need to be able to take control over the decisions that are made about their lives.

Indigenous people must be involved in the policy making, the development of services in their communities, in setting the priorities and identifying needs.

This is supported by the research which shows you need to have indigenous people playing that central role if you want to make any gains addressing socio-economic disparity.

What do you think Rudd needs to do now if we are going to see real change by 2020?

He needs to abandon the failed policies of Howard and he hasn’t done that yet. He has said that he’s going to take a research based policy approach but we are yet to see this.

But there is a broader issue that has arisen because of the way that Howard has been able to implement such racist and devastating policies for so long. Part of what Rudd needs to do is look at some of the things that are in the ALP platform about strengthening the rights to protection for people in general-looking at a Federal bill of rights, signing the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples and implement[ing] that into domestic law.

We need to take the opportunity to think about how we not just tinker with the policies, but how we actually change the playing field. We must address the fundamental vulnerability that Indigenous people face before hostile governments.

Jo Ball, disability support worker

What’s happening in disability care sector?

Like all of the community sector there’s a funding crisis. A couple of years ago the NSW government released $1 billion funding for people with disabilities. But in the sector this money has barely touched the sides.

Take respite services, which are supposed to provide short-term care so parents [of children with disabilities] can have a break. Respite beds are blocked in NSW because people are living [there] full time. Families know the department of housing waiting list is 10 years on average, so they simply [take someone] with a disability to respite and [don’t] pick them up. This is horrific. People don’t want to do it, but that’s the only way they can get care for the disabled [person] in their family.

How is policy developing?

What’s scary is the privatisation of care that’s taking place. Government is pulling back and funding private companies and churches, who compete with each other to run disability services. Contracts go to those who run the most “economically viable” service. Smaller organisations are losing their funding. This is leading to an erosion of quality and a loss of choice around service provision. There is a re-institutionalisation taking place.

People go through big organisations like sausage factories. Take transition to work as an example, say people being to taught to pack boxes. For people with autism, what might be best is one to one training and work. But people are now going to a 30 person class. This might be cheaper in the short term, but it’s not teaching people the best skills.

This costs the government in other places but they don’t want to see that. If people don’t get steady employment, if people aren’t trained up, then later down the track they end up in the jail system, or needing more medication. People are being set up to fail.

What change is needed?

In the early 90s you had the Richmond Report that said that too many people with intellectual disabilities were living in hospitals.

It said we’ve got to get people into the community. For a lot of people what this meant in practice was not enough care-people went out of the hospitals and into the jail system or onto the streets.

What I’d like to see come out the of the 2020 [summit] is a re-examination of the report-and an acknowledgement of the need for massive funding increases into community sector organisations, to help people live in the community with proper support.

Mark Diesendorf, Institute of Environmental Studies, University of New South Wales, author

What targets for the reduction of carbon emissions does the government need to combar climate change, and can they be achieved?

We’re looking at [the need for] 80 to 90 per cent reduction which means a complete restructuring of the energy sector. I did a study that showed it is possible given political will to cut Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions to 30 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. This is all using existing technology.

To go to 80 to 90 per cent by 2050 we have to go beyond existing technology. But I’m just taking existing [renewable] technologies and extrapolating based on performance improvements we’ve already seen in recent years.

What sort of action from government is necessary?

First should be a complete ban on all new conventional coal-fired power stations. They [would] commit Australia to huge emissions for forty years for each power station.

[The government needs to] remove the subsidies for fossil fuels that amount to over ten billion dollars a year. Most go into oil exploration and tax concessions for using cars.

Then we need to get policy changes that promote energy efficiency and renewable energy. We need an expanded renewable energy target. The Rudd government has promised to expand this to 20 per cent of electricity by 2020, I would suggest they need to extend that.

We also need to introduce carbon pricing and the Rudd government is slowly doing that through the emissions trading scheme.

We need stimulus for efficient energy use. That means setting mandatory energy ratings [and] performance standards for all buildings and energy using appliances. [These must be set] not just [for] new buildings as [at] present but all buildings and appliances that use energy.

The market completely fails for efficient energy use. Already there are many measures that are highly cost effective [but] not being implemented. So we need a regulatory approach. Another element is expanding funding for research and development both for energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.

Can renewable energy play a substantial role in energy generation in the short term?

In a [scenario] study I did renewable energy was producing 30 per cent of Australia’s electricity by 2020. By 2050 it could be contributing 100 per cent.

Initially the cheapest renewable source is windpower. Although windpower from a single site switches on and off, depending on the wind, if you take the output from a number of geographically dispersed windfarms it has a high degree of reliability.

One can easily bring that reliability up to [that of] a coal-fired power station by adding gas turbines which are switched on and off when they’re needed. With that you can replace several coal fired power stations.

Also by 2020 [there could be] a significant contribution from bio-electricity [by burning] the residues of existing crops. Australia has huge residues from wheat, sugar and plantation forests. Also by 2020 we would expect to have small contributions from solar electricity. Hot rock geothermal could become very large after 2020.

[That] adds up to 25 per cent of our electricity by 2020. The current proportion [of renewable energy] is 8 per cent-just about all hydro. There’s no doubt if we had the political will that wind power and some bio-electricity would go in at a very rapid rate.

Mark Diesendorf is the author of Greenhouse Solutions with Sustainable Energy, published last year by UNSW Press


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