Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Close the Gap

I’ve wanted to write about the Federal Government’s Close the Gap campaign for quite a while. But I am going to use this opportunity to raise a much bigger issue that underpins the campaign, and other calls for equality, such as women’s salaries, gay rights, and racial equality to name a few. That issue is fairness.

When I hear of calls for equality, I always ask, why would you expect equality? I never hear calls for more white guys in basketball or more black guys in swimming. I never hear cries of outrage when women in sport never seem to make the speeds, heights, of distances of the men; or even fury over gay fellows being far more fashionable than the rest of us straight guys. It is just plain UNFAIR!

So why do we suddenly decide that equal outcomes are important when it comes to other things?

For a start, we can only observe outcomes, not opportunities. What most of use really want are equal opportunities. But how can we know? When we look at nationwide data we can’t know how many women chose to work less, chose not to continue their education, or chose to do more housework?

Let’s take a closer look at the Close the Gap campaign. For starters, why would we expect life expectancy of a single race, to be the same as the average life expectancy of all other race in our society combined? And what about mixed race people? Are they an average of the racial heritage in their bloodline?

I’m pretty sure the data is out there for a real comparison which would isolate race from a number of other factors that are likely to have a large impact on life expectancy, such as alcohol and tobacco consumption, hours of exercise per week, occupation, family history of illness, location and so on. Somehow my instinct tells me that it’s highly unlikely that after all these factors are considered, that race has any impact on life expectancy.

“Why, but of course not!”

That’s the response I would expect from Close the Gap advocates.

“Of course it’s not race exactly that is the cause of shorter life expectancies (because if it is, there’s not much anyone can do about it), it’s all those other factors that are more prevalent amongst Aboriginal people.”

So? They also prevail to varying degrees in people from all races. This campaign is ONLY about improving conditions for Aboriginal people. Closing the gap gets a lot more difficult if you are helping the other races as well. How is that fair? If we were really to be fair we would ignore race altogether. Not one single policy should require the identification of race. Our new campaign would be called Let's Live Longer, but I don't think it would appeal to our emotions so much.

But when it comes to government social programs, fairness appears all the rage. Those people who oppose markets in human organs probably epitomise misdirected notions of fairness. They imagine for example, that a world in which kidneys must be donated, and where 1,000 people (these are arbitrary figures) die each year awaiting a donor organ, is better that a world where kidneys are bought from willing donors and where only 100 people die waiting for a kidney - based on the notion of fairness. They cry that rich people will have an advantage over poor people for access to kidneys. True. But that's no different from the markets for food, clothing or housing. The point is that donors will be able to accept rewards, thus encouraging donations. And every extra kidney will go to someone, rich or poor. The fair scenario in this case treats people differently, while the unfair case treats them all the same. It's the kind of backward logic that bugs me all too often.

But before I move on from the racist livespan campaign and unfair view of life saving surgery, I will reiterate that we can still only observe outcomes, not opportunities. If more Aboriginal people choose to live in shanty towns in the desert, choose not to seek medical attention, choose to abuse alcohol and smoke like a chimney, than who are we to intervene?

My gut instinct tells me that the remote location of many Aboriginal people is a key factor, which itself captures level education, access to health services, diet, exercise, and probably drug abuse. But does that mean that we should supply all the modern services available in the big smoke at every little tin-pot shanty town in the desert? No way.

Anyway, that’s enough about very popular but completely racist campaign; on to the ever-popular issue of equal pay for women. Again, we have an opportunity vs outcome problem here. Did you know that tall people earn more on average as well? I want equal pay for short people!

I won’t continue. I feel frustrated by the absurdity.


  1. Hi, can't see an email address for you but I think some of your posts could be adapted fairly easy for our journal www.onlineopinion.com.au. I suspect you might get more comments on our site than on your own, and publicise your own at the same time. Your posts are provocative and present a good argument. You deserve a wider audience.

    Can you email me editor@onlineopinion.com.au?

  2. Re: "Aboriginal people choose to live in shanty towns in the desert,"

    Actually there is little real choice, the Land Trusts own the land and refuse to issue people with valid leases.

    Even those living in existing housing, depsite the million$ $pent on that housing are still denied valid tenancy leases.

    People without valid leases can NOT even obtain Apprehended Violence Orders to keep people from entering their home - as you are without a valid lease which gives you the right to exclude others.

    Without valid leases you have no right to get a tradesmen to fix things that are broken.

    IF you hire a tradesman to do a job s/he is not able to come to your house, while you are without a valid lease you have no right to have them come to visit you.

    Without a valid lease you do NOT have the right to have your spouse live with you or visit you.

    Permit permissions are given out grudgingly, yet can be cancelled at any moment - should you refuse to pay a bribe.

    The Australian Government has a five-year lease over town land, these five-year leases preserve existing interests in land, meaning people can continue to use the land in the same manner as they were using the land beforehand.

    Subleases have not been issued for existing land users under the five-year leases (including people residing in community housing) for to do so might give people rights.

    Can NOT have rights can we...

    The Central Land Council purports to argue on behalf of the Haasts Bluff Land Trust - purportedly on instructions from "Traditional Owners", that a "Traditional Owner" has no right to have their family live with them or visit them in their home...

    ..unless even "Traditional Onwers" obtain a lease.

    So our family - including belatedly acknowledged "Traditional Owners",have sort without success to obtain proper leases for decades.

    The Central Land Council stands up in court to argue that "Traditional Owners" have no rights, other than to stand somewhere upon the land...

    Strange how the Commonwealth still provides funds to pay Central Land Council's lawyers, yet denies legal aid required by "Traditional Owners" and others seeking judicial review for denial of such basic human rights.

    Yes, am member of one such segregated family.

  3. Paul, thanks for the comment.

    I can understand your predicament regarding the troubles acquiring of a valid lease on traditional lands. I think we both agree that some better property rights would be a good start on the road to improving living conditions in remote communities.

    But my point still remains. Each individual or family has the choice to stay on those lands or move elsewhere. While the desire to stay due to tradition and cultural belief is high, there are significant trade-offs for doing so, including both the lack of services and an ongoing battle for effective property rights, as you well know. If any individual or family so desired, they could pack their bags and move to an urban centre, where the smorgasbord of jobs, recreations, health and education services is much more plentiful.

    I appreciate your comment, and wish you all the best.

  4. Devoid of knowledge person

    Who is the moron big smoke talk stick to what you know and not what you pretend to know. Your ancestors or is that invaders from the tall ships firstly chased aboriginal people off their lands in order to develop industries in the name of your white capitalism. Now because aboriginal people are living out there in isolation what business is it of yours they were rounded up and put in missions, even contemporary Australia DO NOT ACCEPT PEOPLE OF DIFFERENCE MAYBE THE LITTLE YELLOW PERIL IS STILL LURCHING IN YOUR BIGGOTED ATTITUDE ALSO. Take a look at your Botany Bay there might be one of those tall ships there come to take you home. Perhaps you might avail yourself to some political understanding that without welfare handouts and the social illness which is attached to it has created an industry for you whitefellas to make money out of misery and suffering, like mining is stagnating presently so lets make money from suffering how god almighty is that know all. Go visit a remote community might be a whole different perception then to see how the millions get spent on white administration before service is delivered to any aboriginal commnity. A reminder who spent the 672mills and not 1 house built in 18 months what a joke how dare you impart your values on remote people wanting to build million $ houses out bush. A simple shelter to suit the people's needs for 10 thousand would suffice but ohh no gotta live up to your values.
    From: An Eastern Aranda woman and proud to be a traditional owner even with the threat of dumping your foreign uranium waste in our back yard. Gotta luv you ignorant snots.