Improving economic participation to overcome Indigenous disadvantage

I took part in a UQ Economics Thought Leadership event last week, looking at this topic. It was a family event as my cousin Robynne, who has done lots of work in this field (currently chairs the Board of the NSW Aboriginal Housing Office, as well as being a professor at UTS among lots of other positions), also took part. Here’s a link to the UQ page with a video recording and here are my Powerpoint slides.

My contribution was to link the discussion on Indigenous disadvantage to the national and global issues raised by Livable Income Guarantee and UBI proposals.

13 thoughts on “Improving economic participation to overcome Indigenous disadvantage

  1. Cash is best if consumers are informed and if the preferences of funders are irrelevant. If consumers are not informed – for example of the health problems associated with excess alcohol consumption or of excess levels of carbohydrate consumption (contributing to a diabetes epidemic) or regarding the long-term value of children attending school – then more targeted support may be preferable in the sense of yielding better social outcomes. In addition, as welfare programs are funded by taxpayers such taxpayers may have legitimate preferences over how the funds they provide are spent.

    Of course this will be rejected as paternalism. It is. But have non-targeted policies worked? Why not a more pragmatic approach?

  2. Well, with all due respect, yes, it does sound like paternalism to me. When you imply that non-targeted policies have not “worked”, do you mean that they have not altered behavior in the ways that you consider more appropriate? How would you feel if indigenous communities were able to target your income to alter your behavior in the ways that they consider to be more appropriate?

  3. It may not be a major part of the puzzle, but there is an interesting language aspect to this. I assume (perhaps wrongly) that many indigenous Australians are multilingual. How does this play out in economic opportunity? Some tentative suggestions.

    1 One of the salient aspects of bigotry is opposition to language diversity. These strangers are speaking Hindi/ Arabic/Polish, and I can’t understand them. What are they plotting? This should not of course be accepted, though it’s hard to unwind.

    2. Multilingualism seems to have modest benefits in cognitive development, notably in empathy. ( ) However, securing these benefits, and preventing multilingualism from coming a handicap, requires sensitivity among teachers. The second-language learner cannot be expected to perform equally in the language of instruction at a given age. They often aren’t underperforming, but on a different track.

    3. Knowing an additional language has an economic payoff if it’s widely spoken like Chinese, Spanish or Arabic. (The exceptions are rare, like the Navajo code speakers of the US Marines in WWII – the US Navy knew there were no Navajo speakers in Japan.) Unfortunately this does not hold for the languages of small and marginalised communities like indigenous Australians. There is nothing to be done about this.

    Sad anecdote from an old BBC series on the English language. They started one programme with two Welsh sheep farmers and their dogs. The farmers spoke Welsh to each other. They trained the dogs to understand about twenty words of command – bright animals. The language they were using for the dogs? English. Trained sheepdogs are valuable, and the value in the Welsh Borders is higher in English.

  4. 54% of Torres Straights persons in nearest goal are there for minor driving offenses. 

    English is second or third language. James said “Unfortunately this does not hold for the languages of small and marginalised communities like indigenous Australians. There is nothing to be done about this.” Nothing James? How about Australian govt employs native language speakers??? Easy peasy lemon squeezy as my kid might say.

    Few birth certicficates. No reasonable access to dept transport services, it is an ad hoc costly fly in flyout service. Or cop shop. Not staffed appropriately. Hence no licences. Hence 54% incarceration for minor vehicle offences. So disadvantaged. Imagine if your financial services licence was only available from a fly in fly out service. And you had no birth cert or licence or transport. And it is wet season. And fly in services won’t fly in. And coppers busy.

    Harry Clarke said “such taxpayers may have legitimate preferences over how the funds they provide are spent.”

    Sortition – a double edged sword.

    As Ian King says Harry, and we all agree – paternalistic. 

    And imagine we had a treaty – a proper one – and we were paying land tax to original owners. Or how about we just give Aboriginals Barangaroo, Crown and Wrest Point & the Federal Group? Seems fairer than “such taxpayers may have legitimate preferences over how the funds they provide are spent.”
    Approx 23 mins in … “Crime and Justice in the Torres Strait and Cape York’s Licensing Muster program

    Or give over Fortescue. We’d probably get more revenue.
    (pls no reply with ‘they haven’t got the skills’).
    “Traditional owners consider billion-dollar shot at Fortescue
    “A High Court defeat has left Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Metals Group exposed to a huge compensation claim that traditional owners could link to a percentage of the tens of billions of dollars in revenue the company has earned from iron ore mining in Western Australia.

    “The High Court denied Fortescue special leave to appeal earlier rulings from six Federal Court judges that effectively mean the company built part of its Solomon iron ore mining hub in Western Australia without permission of traditional owners.”

  5. … government can create opportunities for Australians for whom English is a second or third language. My point was simply that you can’t undo the huge structural advantage of languages spoken by hundreds of millions. Catalonia has good universities, and they promote Catalan as a language of instruction, but I don’t think much research is published in the language. IIRC it has about 10 million speakers, similar to Zulu, and they feel threatened.

  6. John that presentation was excellent. That compare and contrast on the 1990s and GFC Work-search allowance regimes (with strict compliance conditions) with the JobSearch payments (virtually open slather in how it was handed out) was very informative. I often wondered why there was no “bounce back” in the 1990s and a weak recovery after the GFC. Your presentation explained away much of my confusion. The UBI path seems to be superior to all other income support initiatives. The impact of dissaving on the unemployed seems to be crucial.

  7. James, yes, I agree “you can’t undo the huge structural advantage of languages spoken by hundreds of millions. “.

    Yet a recognition of language locally would ameliorate the incarceration rate in this specific instance imo.

    My point – simple actions not taken by authorities can and do, and particularly in aboriginal localities, cause structural damage to humans and thier communities. And go on seemingly unrecognised by those same authorities.

    My ptsd effected confidente is retraumatised regularly because if lack if recognition or institutional memory when in contact with authorities – even medical. And amazingly, the only trauma and language aware entity is an electricity supplier! Zero for government quango or nfp.

  8. And if you try to tell them Zulu and Xhosa are the same language they act like Australians do after you tell them they sound just like New Zealanders.

  9. As long as Australians do not claim they speak a complete different language, Australian is a dialect with an army after all, that is progress compared to many other parts of the world. But beware, after foolishly conceding to be a dialect/accent, the dialect police might claim you are discriminating against non-native speakers if you are less easy to understand for them than a BBC speaker.

    Catalonia’s language nationalism from a position of superior economic prosperity that depends on asymmetric relations with the rest of Spain gets little sympathy from me. Not only do Catalan Universities have a habit to teach courses in Catalan, they do so as they feel, with no excuse, including the ones described as Spanish language ones. Good luck Erasmus students….. Quebec gets a little more sympathy points, coming from a position of weakness. At the end, it is still a bigot enterprise there as well.

    (finally an excuse for a short rant about the absurdities of language/dialect politics)

  10. Maybe indigenous Australians should take a page from Iceland and produce some successful authors. The exotic angle could sell and would create a bunch of jobs for multilingual translators.

  11. To go a little more on topic, it is always amazing to me, just how much money governments are willing to spend on authoritarian re-education and control (not so for genuine straightforward education), programs for the poor, vs how much cash they are willing to give them. This seems to be rather universal and include all kind of groups.

    In more seriousness regarding the language issue: Speaking two languages is hard to turn into an advantage when one language is spoken by few, typically poor people. Even more so when those tend to speak the other relevant language.

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