The 1967 referendum on Aborigines

Graeme Campbell

Way back in 1986 I visited South Africa. I recall having a discussion with a man who claimed that his company was the biggest air conditioning business in the whole of Africa. He told me that the company employed twenty-eight engineers of whom nine were Australians. On the staff he also had a dozen Indian engineers he confided to me that they were a bit of a problem because they were, he claimed, very racist which tended to make staff management more difficult.

With an element of cynicism I asked him how many black Africans he employed. He seemed completely unperturbed by the tone of my inquiry and told me that at present he employed no black African engineers but he would do so as soon as any became available. He them volunteered the information that half of his tradesmen were black and that they were very good. I asked what the pay difference was between his tradesmen and he said that they all got paid at the same rate, adding that there was nothing altruistic about this it was a necessity as they would not work for less.

I think that this is very relevant to day as we review the aftermath of the 1967 referendum that gave the federal government the right to make laws in respect to Aboriginal people. To evaluate the success or otherwise of this referendum we need to have some philosophical appreciation of what freedom is.

It is my contention that there are only two sorts of freedom, and they are economic freedom and political freedom. If anyone was offered a choice of one or the other, they would be very foolish if they did not opt for economic freedom. Economic freedom can buy political freedom. Political freedom buys nothing and if it is achieved in the absence of an economic base or at least a basic education it can easily be exploited by politicians, ideologues, well-meaning bleeding hearts, or - possibly the worst of all fates - by those seeking to expiate their own guilt, real or imagined.

This is, I submit, what has happened to our indigenous population. Far more effort should have been put in to explaining that freedom has its responsibilities. Instead we embarked upon a guilt ridden welfare binge. I have been often told by thinking Aboriginal people that welfare is killing them, and they are right. When we consider the enormous amount of money poured into the Aboriginal industry, it is bewildering that so little progress has been made. It is true that it has created a large number of jobs for white bureaucrats and professional Aboriginals.

Despite all the rhetoric to the contrary, we spend more per capita on Aboriginal health than we do on the rest of society, yet the perinatal death rate is twice as high as the national average and the average life span is seventeen years shorter. In some communities we are seeing entire generations being devastated by alcohol, drugs, motor vehicle accidents and lifestyle diseases like diabetes and renal failure. Throwing more money at this will not improve the situation unless it is accompanied by a change of attitude and a demand for greater personal responsibility.

The key to addressing poverty is not more welfare, it is employment and home ownership. It is so predictable and so depressing that Kevin Rudd seems to think that apologising for the myth of the stolen generation is going to help. What we need is jobs, jobs and jobs; I think that Mal Brough understands. He is in my view the best Minister we have had in this portfolio for a very long time. He will not be able to face down the massive industry that we have built up around aboriginal dependence without an informed and resolute government. The more likely outcome is that we will go on advocating the killing fields of welfare.


Articles by Graeme Campbell