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Saturday, June 30

Australian racism

I can't put better than Richard Ackland in The Guardian what is happening in Australia with Aboriginal people.

For 10 years [Prime Minister John Howard's] government did little other than dismiss the suffering of Aboriginal people in the past as an invention of leftwing academics in the present.

Under Howard, federal government support for black Australia slowly dried up. Services were slashed, native title restricted. By 2000 official figures revealed that more than 41% of indigenous women and 50% of indigenous men could expect to die before they reached 50. Still nothing was done. The condition of many Aboriginal communities - frequently and accurately described as third world - grew only worse. The dreamtime was a grog-ridden nightmare. In the last few years black leaders, government agencies and welfare bodies have been talking of a growing crisis in traditional communities and calling for immediate action. But not until last week did Howard, less than six months out from an election and facing polls pointing to, in his own words, "electoral annihilation", discover this "national emergency".

Alcohol banned in Aborigine areas
Aboriginal people gather in a street in Alice Springs (file image)
Alcohol and poverty have blighted Aboriginal communities
Australia is to ban alcohol and pornography in Aboriginal areas in the Northern Territory in a bid to curb child sex abuse.

All Aboriginal children in the territory will be medically examined.

The new proposals follow a report last week which found evidence of abuse in each of the territory's 45 communities.

The report blamed high levels of alcohol and poverty for the situation, which Prime Minister John Howard has described as a national emergency.

Ackland: For 10 years the trauma at the heart of Australia had not only been denied, but exacerbated. Now there was a damburst, a national outpouring of despair and anger.

For Howard the aborigines are the problem. His response is not to send teachers and doctors, his response is to send the army and the police. He is a risible human being and unfortunately the rest of my fellow australians that support this policy are just as disgraceful. But Howard has now won a number of elections appealing to them, and this is just another attempt.
The subsequent comments detail a litany of experiences of Australian racism and I'm sad to say that is my experience of most Australians (I lived there for fifteen years): they are either overtly racist or in denial, thinking 'sorry' is enough. There are a lot of people who actively support reconciliation but they're the minority. Even 'left' parties support racist policies. This isn't surprising though as Aboriginal people are largely invisible - most Aussies wouldn't know one - and effectively segregated. Most Australians in my experience are ignorant of their own history.

The plain fact is that at the heart of the problem are two issues: rights and resources. Aboriginal people need collective land rights and a settlement like the Maori and Native Canadians (who are much more successful) have. But they also need resources and that means spending. Much of this would be to bring Aboriginal settlements up to standard and provide equality in resources like health. I had a friend in the NT who had to travel hundreds of kilometres twice weekly for dialysis - this is common. Lack of facilities like sewerage is common.

The two go hand-in-hand. Rights is about recognising the past because it's part of the present problem. Even with the supposed shock of child abuse - whites were part of that problem. In Sydney there have been various child-sex scandals involving aboriginal kids and prominent white people. I had a friend who is an elder who dealt with the damage - dead kids - which resulted. They'd kill themselves, one way or another.

I don't agree with Ackland's hope though for some sort of damburst - I can't see it in the reaction I'm seeing in Australia. Australians had an opportunity with former PM Paul Keating's 'we poisoned the waterholes' Redfern speech in 1992 ["a fundamental test of our social goals and our national will"] and the reaction to the Mabo native title case, and the Millennium marches for reconciliation but it's been downhill ever since.

There are now less Aboriginal university students than ten years ago. And, as a former PM and a leading Aboriginal woman say in a statement, no democracy - Howard abolished it:

We believe we are the only western democracy with a significant indigenous minority that has no elected representation of any kind. Trachoma, the leading cause of blindness worldwide, is entirely a disease of third-world countries – except for Australia where it is the scourge of remote Aboriginal communities. Our governments pretend to be generous with aid to the third world. There is a third world living within Australia, to Australia’s shame.

We can be pleased that the Government accepts there is an emergency which requires action. But their first step needs to be a broad-based approach based upon respect, upon self esteem and on the recognition of a real partnership.

Rt Hon Malcolm Fraser Prof Lowitja O’Donoghue Mr Brian Butler
Malcolm Fraser and Lowitja O'Donoghue are Co-Patrons and Brian Butler is the Chairman of Stolen Generations Alliance.

I agree with Ackland that Howard is "a risible human being", but so are the Aussies who continue to support him and his policies. The Australian Aboriginal situation should shame Australia and Australians. It says volumes that it obviously isn't and the more who say this loudly to Aussies, the better.

A commentator on Ackland puts the situation for Aussies well:
June 28, 2007 7:50 PM

I'm from New Zealand, and this really disappoints me. Despite what you may have heard, and apart from sporting rivalries and poking fun at each other, New Zealanders tend to like Australians.

But there's a big difference between the two countries when it comes to race relations. New Zealand is far from perfect, and has its share of people with racist views, yet these views are rarely reflected in electoral results. For example, in the last general election, the leader of the conservative party attempted to copy Howard and attack "special privileges" for Maori people. After a brief surge in the polls it was back to normal, and he ended up losing. In the end, while they may be perturbed about many things, New Zealanders won't put up with out and out racism. Another example: in Australia, Howard basically refuses to deal with Aboriginal land claims. In New Zealand, there is a government agency set up to deal with them, and many claims have been settled. Again, a lot of New Zealanders aren't happy with this, but it hasn't prevented the government from engaging in the difficult, and ongoing, task of sorting out past injustices.

I often wonder why there is so much racism in Australia. Perhaps it is because most Australians do not personally know any Aboriginals. In New Zealand Maori people are everywhere. We all go to school and work together, and I personally have many Maori friends. That's not to say that Maori are not overrepresented in poverty and crime statistics, but there is no "separate society". Non-Maori New Zealanders deal with Maori all the time.

Part of it may be that Maori have been heavily involved in the political life of New Zealand. For the last 140 years Maori representation has been guaranteed in the New Zealand Parliament, with a set number of seats set aside for them in proportion with their share of the population (although in the last few decades Maori people have been free to choose to vote on the general or Maori roll, and the number of seats has been adjusted accordingly). Maori issues are always front and centre in New Zealand politics, often because Maori members of parliament are vociferous in defending their interests.

I can't understand why this cannot be the same in Australia. Believe me, this latest news could be very very bad for Australia. As some other posters have noted, Australia has not loomed large in the global consciousness as a racist state, whereas countries like South Africa have. It seems to me that this latest crisis may well change that. Many people are finding themselves taking another look at Australia and Australians, and this cannot be good.

I guess it's now up to the Australian people to do something about it. They better do something, or they will end up as pariahs, which would be a shame, because Australians are generally nice, fun, informal and outgoing people.

Recommended reading - Greer gets to the heart of remote communities
Worlds apart Australia's prime minister is sending in the army to tackle child abuse and alcoholism in the Aboriginal homelands. But his aggressive campaign will only make the situation worse, says Germaine Greer

PM 2.0

Downing Street syndicates content to YouTube. In it's latest, Taking a break during a typically busy day inside 10 Downing Street, Tony Blair confides that "nothing prepares you for the difficulty of being Prime Minister".

Here's another one showing him meeting the Queen, narrated by an Aussie for some reason (possibly tourism-related). John Major says: "you can be frank, even indiscrete .. nothing is bared, everything is open season".

The Downing Street YouTube Channel appears to be a relative hit.

City: London
Hometown: Westminster
Country: United Kingdom
#23 - Most Subscribed (This Month)
#9 - Most Subscribed (This Month) - Directors
#61 - Most Viewed (Today)

And some content is getting significant audiences.

Added: 3 days ago
Views: 56,850

Though probably not the one today (Gordon visits kids) which opens solemnly then proceeds into inappropriate disco music (there is such a thing).

Thus far in Downing Street's Web excursions, it's Tony Blair saying 'Am I bovvered?" which gets the most views - something above 300,000 in its various incarnations:

The website itself is getting more and more Web 2.0 like:

They even have a youth version, motto 'more than just a door'.

This encourages them to:


You may not get a reply to your email.

If the content of your message is private or personal, or you would like to be sure of a reply, you should post a letter to Gordon Brown at 10 Downing Street, London SW1 2AA.

'Country' isn't a required field.

Wednesday, June 27

BBC imitates The Onion

Er, why is this news?

In response to the commentator pointing me here - For 68 rudder-less minutes on Wednesday, the UK had no prime minister, it seemed. So did anything happen that could have rocked the country?

That sort of 'padding' is kindof fun but how is it news that websites update quickly? It is progress that alongside the newspaper's response someone looks at the Web but that's not what this is about. It's provincial to presume that websites wouldn't change, it's stating the bleeding obvious. Then it ignores the rest of the Web when it actually would be news to track the reaction across the Web. Very definition of 'dumbed down'.

Bytes · Estonian lessons - Best luminosity - What digidivide?

Back to life and catching up with the scrapbook ...


Citizen engagement: Growing grass roots, Rosie Lombardi,
“We get better information by electronic means, and people find it easier to get to it. We’re not seeing as good information coming out of town hall meetings,” he says, adding that summarizing these verbal proceedings is a laborious, manual exercise. “Meetings become more a way to validate electronic feedback.”

The more dynamic Web 2.0 enables greater online collaboration and allows people to easily organize themselves into communities of interest, says Cunningham. “This will allow people to find each other and create communities around public debate on political decisions. Once they reach critical mass, these can make their positions heard and influence decision­-making. Governments are struggling to be more modern and relevant in a post-modern world, so they ignore this trend at their peril.”

Michael Cross in the Guardian, talking about Estonia, found another reason why there are issues with DirectGov:

Centralisation comes with penalties, however. One is that, however centralised services are arranged geographically, some users will lose convenience. Another penalty comes with size and complexity: government systems are already too big, and big and complex IT systems go wrong more often than small and simple ones.

Finally, as the Estonian experience shows, there is the vulnerability caused by creating a single point of failure. Not just to cyber-attack, but to old-fashioned terrorism. Not to mention industrial action: if the Treasury is considering taking on public-sector unions in the next spending round, it might want to reflect that picket lines can be shared services, too.

The updated Accessibility guidance from WCAG will have the following luminosity recommendations:
Level AA Threshold
· Large text (and images of large text) have a contrast ratio of at least 3:1
· Regular text (and images of regular text) have a contrast ratio of at least 5:1
Level AAA Threshold
· Large text (and images of large text) have a contrast ratio of at least 5:1
· Regular text (and images of regular text) have a contrast ratio of at least 7:1


Public Sector Forums says that an important new review of the Government's strategy on the digital divide has been "hushed up".
PSF has managed to track down the whereabouts of said obscure report – which we found helpfully buried away in a deep, dark corner of the DCLG's Digital Challenge website, down at the very bottom of this page.

The report can be downloaded here, and shows that the Digital Inclusion Team completed and submitted their 125-page report in March. Strangely, it was not actually released until Sunday, 20 May, and then with no announcement or word of its existence, or any ministerial comment. A surprising move indeed, given the report's supposed importance and with digital inclusion being high on ministers' agendas, so we are told.

As we reported back in December when news of their findings first began filtering out, these made for very uncomfortable reading - depicting the Government's digital inclusion agenda as practically in chaos, with waste, repetition and disjointed policies the order of the day.

The report concludes - two years' on from the launch of the Prime Minister's much-vaunted Digital Strategy - that "the ownership and governance of the digital inclusion agenda", as well as policies and strategies, are "fragmented across government, industry and the third sector".