Sunday, May 27, 2007

Racist plan to force English for Indigenous people - Mal Brough is not God

May 25, 2007 - Compulsory English 'pure racism'

"There's no need for him to preach to us. Mal Brough is not God."

Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough's plan to make English compulsory for Aboriginal children has drawn stern reaction from the indigenous community. He says he considering quarantining welfare payments to ensure Aboriginal parents send their children to school.

Australian Aboriginal folks have labelled the Howard Government's push to force Indigenous children to learn English as "racist". Native Title holder Rosalie Kunoth-Monks says Mr Brough needs a reminder that he is not God. Aboriginal activist Sam Watson says the Government is pinning the blame on the victims instead of helping them. "I'm absolutely infuriated by this," he said. "The Howard Government seems to be inventing new ways and means of perpetually blaming Aboriginal people and showing cultural disrespect to Aboriginal people."

Aboriginal people are concerned about losing traditional Aboriginal languages, a problem that is not being addressed. They say Mr Brough's proposal could lead to "cultural death"...
Prominent Aboriginal activist Sam Watson said the plan was "pure racism" and dismissed it as a political stunt. "They (politicians) are desperate for anything that will give them any kind of minor political advantage," he said.

"Holding children and their families to ransom for the government's systemic failure to provide the essentials is appalling and an abuse of human rights."

Former ALP national president and Labor candidate Warren Mundine said it was important that Aboriginal children learn to read and write their traditional languages, and learn about their cultural heritage, in addition to learning English, maths and science. "Learning about their culture gives them self esteem and that makes people want to get educated," he said.

Australian Greens Leader Bob Brown says indigenous languages were in danger of dying out. "Of more than 250 indigenous languages in 1788, as few as 60 remain alive and in use as a first tongue," Senator Brown said. "The Howard government's neglect of this national heritage parallels the push to extinction of Gaelic languages in Britain and Ireland in past centuries."

Reconciliation Australia board member Fred Chaney says the Government needs to offer more than rhetoric. "You're going to need to increase resources, you're going to need to do the job better, you're going to need to make sure you've got high quality staff on location," he said. "It's not a case of Aboriginal people having to change. I think the systems that deliver services to Aboriginal people have to become much more skilled and better resourced."

Central Australian Indigenous politician Alison Anderson says it should be up to parents to decide whether their children learn English. The Labor Member for MacDonnell says while she supports all children learning English, it should not be tied to welfare payments. "It's important for Indigenous kids to understand their foundation of who they are and first and foremost they're Aboriginals," she said. "Yes, we do have to learn English to participate in this society and it's up to individual parents. I don't think it should be enforced by governments, but we have to have rules and regulations and children going to school every day so they can participate in society."

Tauto Sansbury from the Aboriginal Justice Advocacy Committee says the Federal Government's move will take attitudes to Aborigines back 60 years. He says the plan is insulting and reinforces old-fashioned stereotypes. "They still want to treat Aboriginal people back in the 30s and 40s, where they're the master and we're the servant and our attitude is 'yes boss, we'll do what you want'," he said.

Central Australian Native Title holder Rosalie Kunoth-Monks says Mr Brough needs a reminder that he is not God. She says Mr Brough should stop putting Aboriginal people down. "To have the freedom in an affluent democratic country to speak your language as well as access that which is outside that will enable you to get jobs and so forth, we're well and truly aware of that," she said.

Australian Education Union says Mr Brough's attitude to Indigenous education verges on racism. Spokesman Adam Lampe says the "big stick" approach is culturally insensitive. Mr Lampe says a model that focuses on punishing individuals for not succeeding in certain areas of knowledge is reminiscent of a 19th-century approach.

New South Wales' first Indigenous MP, Linda Burney, says Mr Brough seems to lack a fundamental understanding of Aboriginality. "I think that he needs to understand that culture and country is incredibly important to Aboriginal people and they will be protected at all costs," she said. "Aboriginal kids do need to be bilingual but it's a bit rich coming from a person who actually is part of a Government that took away funding for bilingual programs in the Northern Territory."

Ms Burney says one of the biggest tragedies is losing traditional Aboriginal languages, a problem that is not being addressed. She says Mr Brough's proposal could lead to "cultural death". "Now, it is important to be bilingual - there's no two ways about it - but it can't be at the expense of your mother tongue."

Labor Indigenous affairs spokeswoman Jenny Macklin says the Government should first improve the resources available to teach Indigenous children "to actually act to improve the English language of Aboriginal children, not just talk in empty political rhetoric".

Prime Minister John Howard has strongly supported the push, telling Southern Cross Radio that Indigenous children should learn English, just as the children of migrants have to.

The Age
ABC Radio
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