Brennan rubbishes return to paternalism

In a NAIDOC week talk to mark the 20th anniversary of John Paul II's visit to Alice Springs, Jesuit lawyer Frank Brennan will tonight argue that government partnership with a national Indigenous representative body - not paternalism - is the key to realising Indigenous aspirations.

At an event which includes the reception of the reconciliation Message Stick to be held tonight at Our Lady of Good Counsel parish in Deepdene, Melbourne, Fr Brennan will argue that well-meaning Cabinet ministers like Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott has often failed to realise the implications of their comments.

Mr Abbott last month called for what he describes as a new "form of paternalism" in Indigenous communities to improve the "appalling living conditions" of Indigenous Australians. "Paternalism," he said, "based on competence rather than race is really unavoidable if these places are to be well run."

Fr Brennan, who was made in 1995 an Officer of the Order of Australia for services to Aboriginal Australians, plans to rubbish the idea that Indigenous self-determination has failed and that remote communities will benefit from outside administrators.

"Now that the Howard government has been in power more than ten years," Fr Brennan said, "they know they can no longer blame their predecessors for the ongoing social disadvantage and dislocation of Aboriginal Australia."

Fr Brennan says that the last time a government politician used the paternalism term "benignly, publicly and just as mistakenly" was Joh Bjelke Petersen's minister Charles Porter who thought Christians should have no objection to paternalism because we all prayed the "Our Father."

But according to Fr Brennan, the Christian Aborigines present at Mr Porter's talk told him that voluntary submission to one's God must be distinguished from involuntary submission to state power, no matter how well intentioned the exercise of state power.

Contrary to present "mythology," Fr Brennan says, the affirmative action programs of previous Federal governments have borne fruit.

"They have helped create an Aboriginal middle class which did not exist previously," he said. "There are now Aboriginal and Islander professors and company directors, doctors and lawyers, nurses and teachers, senior public servants and administrators."

Fr Brennan said the Government must do more to attract such talents back to remote communities.

"No matter what government says, there is no real commitment to providing the resources and issuing the directives so that more police, teachers, nurses, tradesmen, and their families move to remote communities to provide the services and infrastructure which are missing," he said.

He says that rather than "a paternalistic state advised by its own hand-picked advisers," partnership between governments and remote communities is "the key."

"We will put good money after bad if we continue to believe that government can more efficiently address these questions without having to deal with Aboriginal representatives who have democratic legitimacy and local, traditional authority," Fr Brennan said.

Meanwhile, international church and ecumenical organisations have welcomed the adoption of the UN's Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, agreed at the inaugural session of the UN Human Rights Council, which concluded in Geneva last week.

The Council at its meeting also adopted the new International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

World Faith News reports that five church-related organisations including Franciscans International, Dominicans for Justice and Peace and Pax Christi International have earlier submitted a joint statement to the UN Council urging the adoption of these measures.

"The adoption of this convention confirms a shift in international law towards the rights of victims to truth, justice and reparation," stated Dr Guillermo Kerber, a specialist on human rights at the World Council of Churches.

The draft declaration will now move to the UN General Assembly, where member countries are expected to vote on it later this year. Although not legally binding, the declaration would set a benchmark against which countries' treatment of Indigenous peoples can be judged.

Frank Brennan, "What have the Aboriginal Dreaming and Land Rights Got to Do With us? Reflecting on Pope John Paul II's 1986 Visit to Alice Springs," Paper presented at Our Lady of Good Counsel, Deepdene, Victoria (6/7/06)
International Christian Bodies Welcome Adoption of New Human Rights Standards (World Faith News, 3/7/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
NATSICC Message Stick Relay

Aboriginal leader's critique of Brennan speech (CathNews 4/6/04)
Mixing law, religion and politics (Fr Frank Brennan)


6 Jul 2006