Applying the Theory : Sources of Harm in Aboriginal Australian Communities

Johnson, Matthew Thomas (2013) Applying the Theory : Sources of Harm in Aboriginal Australian Communities. In: Evaluating Culture :. Springer, pp. 142-167. ISBN 9781349333769

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One of the most contentious public policy discussions in recent years has concerned harm within Aboriginal Australian communities. The argument has been that purported widespread social pathologies associated with welfare dependency — such as alcoholism, domestic violence, sexual abuse and general fecklessness — have coalesced to foster an environment which impedes the well-being of Aboriginal people (see Pearson 1999; 2000). Although often exaggerated or misrepresented for political effect (see McCallum and Waller 2012), the problems that do exist are serious. There is grinding poverty and massive inequality both within and between groups (see Austin-Broos 2010, 140–141). Explanations for the sources of harm have differed. Some have said that, in certain ways, Aboriginal culture is itself the obstacle to well-being (see Austin-Broos 2010; Dodson and Smith 2003, 8; Sutton 2009, 85; Toohey 2008, 7; cf. Cronin 2003). Others, such as Noel Pearson (e.g. 2005; 2007b; also, in parts, Langton 2002) have argued that passive welfarism is the ‘poison’ by which Aboriginal people have been excluded and reduced to frivolity, with engagement in the productive, ‘real economy’ required to make ‘serious’ Aboriginal life (see esp. Pearson 2009b, 8–11). Others still have argued that measures taken to manage people’s lives, through such measures as the Northern Territory Intervention of 2007, are an extension of colonial history, misrepresenting people’s interests and extending the reach of neo-liberal government reforms which fail adequately to acknowledge the vast array of productive activities undertaken by Aboriginal people (see Altman and Hinkson 2012; Coghlan 2012; Hinkson 2012; Lattas and Morris 2010; Maddison 2009, 74–82; Tout 2012).

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