Reading Rosalind Kidd's The Way We Civilise (UQP), on the history of indigenous policy in Queensland up till 1980, originally published in 1997, I am left with some lingering questions about current indigenous policy debates, particularly those initiated by Noel Pearson.
Much of his concern is focussed around issues to do with welfare and education, targetting policy initiatives over the past twenty years. Fair enough. a reasonable debate to have.
Yet I came away from Ros Kidd's book feeling that the debate between Pearson and his critics was being conducted in a historical vacuum, with scant reference to the history of a century of underfunding, neglect and lack of accountability of goverment administrators. It is an appalling story that has shaped indigenous communities across Queensland. The sheer survival of people and communities has been a triumph of resilience and of the human spirit in the face of betrayal, falure to provide basic amenities of health and housing, fraud and rip offs, not to mention virtual slavery.
Many of the policy debates always seem to assume that we are starting from scratch and that this time we, who is the we? - usually government and its administrators, are going to get things right. The truth of the past is rarely acknowledged and indigenous poeple become once again the subjects of policy, not the agents of change engaged in the process of shaping their future.
After examining a history of Queensland government policy, Kidd queries whether what we have is an "Aboriginal problem" - would not the history of the past hundred years suggest that what we have is a "government problem"?