OUR REST & REFLECTION SERIES: Keep raising the unmentionables!


By former Coordinator-General for Remote Services in the NT, Bob Beadman (pictured).
Thanks for again raising the unmentionables. The things that discomfort people, the politically incorrect issues, but the matters that will ultimately destroy the Northern Territory unless they are corrected.
And they won’t be corrected until they are out in the open, examined, dissected, debated, dealt with. Essentially they are all about Indigenous peoples taking up participatory roles in the economy.
Social indicators make that an imperative. Economic reasons leave no alternative. Fewer and fewer workers nationwide simply cannot continue to keep a growing proportion of dependents. The baby boomer bulge in the nation’s demographics underlines this point.
In the Northern Territory’s case, the increasing proportion of Indigenous people make it blindingly obvious.
I notice from your 16 December email that you are encouraging a debate, amongst other things, about how long people can expect to be paid the dole.
This broad area of public policy was visited again and again in all four of my Coordinator General Reports.
Report 1 talked about declining jobs and training, and applying the work test.
Report 2 raised employment, economic development, social fabric, and school attendance.
Report 3 again raised school attendance (and alcohol as mentioned previously).
Report 4 summarised the previous work, and again revisited welfare, jobs and training; school attendance and attainment; and early childhood development.
You will also find comment in there alleging that governments distort downwards the true level of unemployment. What else is one to make of statistics in one remote community after another where the numbers in receipt of Jobsearch Allowance is often 10 times greater than the numbers considered unemployed?
The outcome of the recent Territory Elections warrants examination. One construct is that the bush communities have realised at long last that there must be a better life than intergenerational welfare dependency, and that they voted for fundamental change.
It was the bush that installed the Country Liberals into government.
And the new government has responded by creating a Cabinet Sub-Committee on Regional Development and Indigenous Advancement to better understand and progress action on these complicated, interconnected, issues.

Mr Beadman has written extensively about alcohol abuse and the “taboo topic” of foetal alcohol syndrome. He said this in his report number three to the government, covering the period of May to November, 2010, which includes a chapter entitled “Alcohol – the beverage of mass destruction”.
As for the unarguable evidence [about alcohol abuse], authorities only needed to turn to records of the Protective Custody Shelters (and sobering up shelters, or spin-dries as the desensitised people who deal with the fallout daily call them), or the Women’s Refuge Shelters, or the school attendance records.
If readers are still unconvinced I invite them to do a bit of research for themselves; on the incidence of grog in hospitalisations, road trauma, domestic violence, incarceration, homicides, assaults, stabbings, and the tragedy of foetal alcohol syndrome.
Or they could turn to the quantity of grog tipped out by police, the numbers of police grog related interventions by town by year, the work of the First Response teams. I can suggest a couple of other sources for further reading:
The Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation informed us on 7 June 2010 that one third of Australian women drank alcohol while pregnant, and that grog can have irreversible affects on the child.
“Drinking during pregnancy could cause severe abnormalities. But it is more likely to lead to learning difficulties.
As the kids get older their difficulties increase’ said the Deputy Chairman. ‘They fall further behind at school, become disruptive, and end up in the behaviour management unit. This grim scenario was 100 per cent avoidable. Don’t drink during pregnancy or when breastfeeding’.
People seem to have been very uncomfortable speaking about foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Hopefully this reluctance was put behind us with the announcement on 17 July 2010 by the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs of Australia’s first study into the prevalence and impact of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder on Indigenous children. Professor Elizabeth Elliott, a leading expert on the disorder and who will be involved in the study, said there had never been the funding or the expertise available to do such a study.
The announcement elaborated on the disorder. It can also cause stunted growth, brain injury, poor bone formation, kidney damage, eye and hearing problems, poor memory, attention deficiency, impulsive behaviour and mental illness.
The announcement appears to be the government’s response to a submission lodged more than a year ago, concerned that Australia had fallen behind in recognising and diagnosing this “completely preventable syndrome”.
A few days later it was revealed that a submission by Northern Territory Child Protection workers to the Bath Board of Inquiry into Child Protection in the Northern Territory proposed that “pregnant women who chronically abuse drugs and alcohol should be imprisoned for the safety of the unborn”.
The submission also called for “intensive parenting education in schools for students from the age of 13 – needed due to the social breakdown of the ‘grandparent generation’ in many Aboriginal families.
“Given the young age of the average first-time parent in remote communities, the process on intensive parenting education needs to start within the school system from the 8th grade and continue to the 10th grade”.
It is quite obvious that we haven’t effectively got these sorts of messages out there. It is imperative that we abandon whatever inhibits us from intruding on that personal space and deal with these taboo topics.


  1. “It is quite obvious that we haven’t effectively got these sorts of messages out there. It is imperative that we abandon whatever inhibits us from intruding on that personal space and deal with these taboo topics.”
    This quote from Mr Beadman suggests the obvious connection between unemployment, welfare and alcohol abuse has long been underestimated. How else could you excuse the many posts in the Alice Springs News Online during the past twelve months that support the Chief Minister’s infamous statement that “it’s not alcohol which is the problem, but the behaviour”?
    The STRONGER FUTURES ALCOHOL PROPOSALS – REGULATION IMPACT STATEMENT (NTG Dept. of Families, Housing, Community Servies and Indigenous Affairs. Nov. 2011) noted that “if the NT were a country then it would be amongst the countries in the world with the highest rates of per capita alcohol consumption.”
    Liberalised supply has been 40 years in the making, but I doubt if the NT will survive another 40 years, which, I suspect is the logic of the UK government in introducing a floor price.
    In 2010, the World Health Assembly approved a resolution to endorse a global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol.
    The NT government is marching into a future which will continue to produce the unsustainable social problems Mr Beadman refers to, unless they embrace “restrict” and “reduce” in terms of alcohol supply.

  2. Declining jobs and training shall continue until ALR(NT) Land Trusts and the Land Councils create environments supporting investment.
    Work tests continue to remain meaningless whilst these environment obstruct private investments with opportunities to create employment, economic development, social fabric, and school attendance demand opportunities.
    The ALR(NT) Land Trusts and Land Councils need explain why they continue to obstruct individuals wishing to invest, wishing to live in these communities.
    Commonwealth faced same problems as individuals wishing to invest.
    Rather than enact wider amendments to remove primary cause of obstruction to investment and opportunity the Commonwealth chose to provide itself a limited ability.
    Even Commonwealth’s limited ability ran out of time, before its limited intended changes completed, leaving more messes which shall take time and wasted resources to resolve.
    Clearly Commonwealth politicians remain committed to promotion of racism, apartheid, and segregation in Australia, ignoring all recognized injurious effects.
    Commonwealth’s apartheid approach needs be outlawed.
    Failure to ensure equality of opportunity free of racial measurement and related racism ensures flow of reports repeatedly summarising earlier reports on failings in employment, welfare, education, housing, and opportunities shall continue.

  3. I often wonder if the key to unlocking these unmentionables is the notion of exceptionalism.
    An assumed right to welfare-for-life with the accompanying refusal to join the workforce, a refusal to learn, an all-too-often appalling lack of consideration for young and unborn children, an ever-ready willingness to blame someone (anyone) else for the state of decay of one’s own life and a first recourse to violence can all be sheeted home to using the default excuse of indigenous heritage.
    What sad, no-hoper nonsense that has become. We all have, or had, grandmothers. They all walked and sat down somewhere.
    In my most recent incarnation as a night-filler in one of our large supermarkets, I work with many of the new arrivals to Alice Springs. I am often bemused to think what they must think of the countrymen fresh in from the communities, filthy, lazy, loud, drunk and demanding.
    These new arrivals work. They do not offer excuses. They ask for a chance, not lifelong support. We are very lucky to have them.

  4. Hal Duell @ January 9th. In the 1880’s, a mere 130 years ago, Hermannsburg Mission and later, Haast’s Bluff Outstation were set up in the wake of pastoral expansion following Stuart’s track of the 1860s.
    The Overland Telegraph Line had come through in the 1870s and central Australia began to have a white presence. This increased dramatically with the arrival of the Ghan in 1927.
    Along the way, country was annexed and “countrymen” as you call them, came under the influence of a new law.
    Indigenous imprisonment stats speak for themselves and despite the very recent redress through a conditional Land Rights, including welfare, your glib accusations do not take into account the immediate history of contested cultural space in Central Australia, nor the social disadvantage endured for so long by Indigenous people.
    Australia is a western oriented cultural domain with precious little Aboriginality in its outlook.
    Closer to the coast, it hardly exists at all. There, you will find, a new kind of lawlessness. Whitefellers are recent interlopers in the Dreaming. To say that Aboriginal people don’t face racism on a daily basis is like saying, “so what? Get a life!”
    This situation will not be helped by heaping more racist fuel onto the fire.


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