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The road to nowhere

I found the recent Four Corners documentary on the aboriginal settlement Imanpa deeply troubling. The show itself isn’t available on the web – the transcript is here and background information here – but you did need to watch as well as listen to pick up the dimensions of this situation of hopeless despair. Imanpa is a small isolated aboriginal community of 150 people plagued with chronic violence, substance abuse and a hopeless health, schooling and job situation. But, a Northern Territory aboriginal Minister says, Imanpa is typical of 1/3 of settlements in the NT.

Imanpa is collapsing. To quote the Four Corners website ‘Its main income stream, the work for the dole scheme, has been cut off. Someone has been ripping off community funds. The only store in town is broke. Most of the people have drifted to Alice; those who stay live in fear of rampaging petrol sniffers and drunks. The youth worker left after being attacked – but it’s ‘not a big deal’, says a female community leader. The nearest police station is 150 kilometres away. Few children go to school’.

Various policies – including ‘tough love’, ‘self-determination’ and ‘shared responsibility’ have all failed. So too has ‘easy welfare’. It is a story of policy failure, mismanagement and squabbling. The ideological divide is irrelevant since every approach has been tried and has failed.

‘No jobs, no anything, nothing’ says one young man.

Is there a future for Imanpa? These settlements were set up to get aborigines out of ‘big towns’, away from the booze but booze and substance abuse issues persist. Doors are smashed, toilets destroyed, people live in poverty and fear and wealk around town like zombies.

These types of settlements are dissolving as aboriginees move back to ‘large’ towns to ‘steal’ as one young man states. John Quiggin is looking at these issues and will report – he regards such small settlements as unsustainable market failures and I agree. Beyond that I have no idea. Some problems in mathematics have no solution. Maybe it is true in the world at large.

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