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Australian Current Affairs

Australian government defends indigenous policy

The Gillard government has defended its indigenous policies after Howard minister Alexander Downer called for children to be moved out of remote communities and into boarding schools and for increased access to property ownership.

Mr Downer said sending children from remote communities into boarding schools in regional towns and cities would help them “acclimatise to the modern world”, although the Gillard government “apparently” does not want that to happen.

Private property ownership – which was first made accessible via leasing in 2006 under the Howard government – would drive investment and lift remote communities that were “like the Third World” out of poverty, he said in an opinion piece published in Adelaide newspaper The Advertiser.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said yesterday that home ownership was an “important foundation for economic independence” in remote communities and was being pursued by the government.

Ms Macklin said she has been lobbying the states to change laws to allow home ownership to take place.

“We know that in some areas, slower than expected land tenure reform, town planning barriers and policies around land administration and sale of public housing are holding back indigenous home ownership,” she said.

Mr Downer said “plenty of progressive indigenous leaders” want children to go to boarding schools, but the government wanted them to “remain rooted in their communities”.

“In those communities, the local people live in a collectivist, traditional society, where no one invests, works and not too many children go to school,” Mr Downer said.

“Frankly, it’s hardly surprising living standards are low.”

A spokeswoman for Education Minister Peter Garrett said “connection to family, land and culture is central” to the lives of many indigenous people and three school hostels were being constructed to help them receive a good education without harming those links.

The Australian last week revealed that two of three planned school hostels in the Northern Territory – which were intended to provide easier access to schooling for children from remote outstations and more secure accommodation for children of troubled families living nearby – have not been built.

Mr Downer lamented the lack of a frank national debate over indigenous policy, with many people “terrified of saying something politically incorrect, of being accused of being a racist or a Hansonite”.

Source: The Australian – “Labor defends indigenous policy”

About Craig Hill

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