You’re Not Aboriginal Unless You’re Dirt Poor

Professor Marcia Langton from the University of Melbourne. Picture: Aaron Francis/The Australian

Apparently you?re not a real Aboriginal, unless you?re poor, illiterate, and live in a humpy out in the desert.

GST changes to channel more funding to remote communities

Changes to the definition of Aboriginality in distributing GST revenue to states and territories are being considered ? in a GST review submission by the Yothu Yindi Foundation, which declares ?illiterate, welfare-?dependent families in Papunya clearly should rate higher than a double-income, university-?educated family living in their own home in Parramatta?.

Australia’s “Indigenous” population has soared in the last decade or so. Mostly in cities in the east. It seems that too many well-off city-dwellers are discovering ?a touch of the tar? somewhere in the deepest roots of the family tree, and deciding that they?re as blackfella as Ernie Dingo. Which, just coincidentally, allows them to claim welfare funds set aside to tackle Indigenous poverty.

The submission suggests that a steady rise in the number of people in the nation?s south identifying as Aboriginal has left the Northern Territory at a demographic disadvantage, with a ??declining share of the national indigenous population? drawing money away from the ?desperate need? in its remote areas.

They have a point: most indigenous spending is being siphoned off to New South Wales and Queensland, with the bulk of it being spent in the cities and large towns. Remote and very remote communities which suffer the most grinding disadvantage receive less than half of the money.

But, while the intention is benign, getting more money to the most disadvantaged Aboriginal Australians the submission relies on some rather depressing assumptions about ?Indigeneity?. Wanting to change the definition of Aboriginality so as to redistribute money away from well-off east-coast city-dwellers, to impoverished, remote Outback communities, seems to assume that an illiterate, living in poverty in a humpy in Papunya is more Aboriginal than an educated homeowner in Sydney.

But, given all the hand-wringing about ?closing the gap?, surely the information being used to support the submission should be a cause for optimism.

?Proportionally, the Aboriginal population is doing well on the east coast,? says indigenous academic Marcia Langton.

In other words, the more Aboriginal Australians are integrated into the mainstream of Australian society, the better they are doing for themselves. Double-income, university education, homeowning in above-average income Parramatta? Why isn?t that being celebrated?

In fact, why is ?Indigeneity? even a factor in what benefits an individual receives from the government?

?It?d be an outrage if I were to say ?I?m indigenous (so) I?m disadvantaged it?d be ridiculous.?

Exactly. Many Aboriginal Australians are disadvantaged but so are many non-Aborigines. Many Aborigines are pretty well off.

Professor Langton suggested alternative markers such as high household occupancy rates and chronic disease rates could be more practical than a simple ?indigenous? category.

If the state is going to be doling out welfare, surely it should be based on individual circumstances like those, not ?race?.

Isn?t making blanket assumptions about an individual, based solely on their race, well… racist?

– The Australian