LETTER by Alex Nelson: And the talkfests go on …

Sir – I note the advertisement for the upcoming 5th Indigenous Economic Development Forum to be held in Darwin in October (Centralian Advocate, August 26).

In the dim dark recesses of my mind, a memory is stirred – this seems vaguely familiar.

Checking the website revealed this Forum is the fifth one – of the current series.

One of the earliest initiatives of Territory Labor when it won office a decade ago was to host the Indigenous Economic Development Summit in November 2001, which established the IED Forums held biennially since that time.

As for history prior to August 2001 – well, somehow that’s irrelevant, isn’t it? Yet it’s amazing how the same themes repeat from one regime change to the next.

It’s also a decade ago that Charles Perkins passed away; and local Aboriginal business identity Ted Hampton followed in January 2002.

Both men were instrumental in organising the first National Indigenous Business Economic Conference (NIBEC) held at the Araluen Centre on 5 – 8 September, 1993.

Perkins was the chairman of the Arrernte Council of Central Australia which presented NIBEC, of which Hampton was the manager.

It was a big event, featured as a four page spread in the Centralian Advocate (3 September, 1993), and it attracted over 500 delegates in attendance.

NIBEC 93’s objective was to “bring together and unite the indigenous people of Australia to establish a support, educational, financial and growth mechanism that will release Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and individuals from the current dependency welfare economy”.

Charles Perkins did not mince his words: “Aboriginal people have to stop looking towards white people ‘in positions of influence’ to solve their problems”.

He said “it remained patently clear that that the Aboriginal people were seeking remedies for the solution of their problems apart from governments, the politicians and bureaucrats who could not even manage their own responsibilities” (“Perkins: self-help vital”, Advocate, 3 September, 1993).

It’s interesting to note how other events today echo that period of the early 1990s; for example, Alison Anderson’s contemplation of CLP membership mirrors Perkins’s support of former Liberal leader Dr John Hewson at a CLP Annual Conference in Alice Springs in 1991.

This year’s IED Forum will follow in the wake of the revelation of a secret federal Department of Finance report highlighting the dismal results for annual taxpayer expenditure of $3.5 billion on Aboriginal Affairs, especially in the NT.

In 1991 Charles Perkins slammed the state of Aboriginal Affairs: “In Australia there are 2000 organisations, 16000 people employed and a budget of $1000 million but Aboriginal affairs is going nowhere. It cannot go on like that” (Advocate, 30 January, 1991).

The second NIBEC meeting was held in Brisbane in August 1995. It followed the publication in March that year of a major report entitled “Black Money” in Australian Business Monthly, which asked: “What happens to the $2 billion Australian taxpayers pour into Aboriginal programs each year? And why isn’t it ever enough?

“Waste, rorts, duplication and mismanagement squander much of that money while Aborigines continue to live in shameful squalor”.

The article details many problems which remain familiar to this day.

I’m sure the delegates that attend this year’s Indigenous Economic Development Forum hosted by the NT Government will leave all fired up to do something about the plight of Aboriginal people and hugely inspired by all that untapped economic potential out there, with lovely warm fuzzy inner feelings.

I need to lie down – I’m feeling dizzy from all this endless spinning round in circles.

Alex Nelson

Alice Springs

 

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