Thursday, June 22, 2006

X control of X affairs

Over at Troppo Ken Parish suggests that:
Board or committee members of Aboriginal councils and associations frequently (maybe even usually) lack a clear understanding of their role, and in particular the fact that a board generally does not interfere in the day-to-day management of the enterprise.
Gaynor Macdonald said in 2004:
In the 20-plus years I have worked with Wiradjuri people in central NSW, I have seen as much cultural destruction under the policy of self-management as they experienced in the whole century before it. Actual Aboriginal cultural practice has become harder and harder to sustain. The policy of self-management has been destructive of community-based authority structures, beliefs, kin-based relationships, internal political and economic values. This in turn has promoted social problems on an unprecedented scale, including substance abuse, violence and corruption...Self-management has not meant Aboriginal people could get together, empowered by structures through which valued and needed resources could flow, working out their own agendas, priorities and programs. Rather, governments have created "relations of management" between Aboriginal people ("land councils") to encourage outcomes governments see as desirable. Under the rubric that self-management is an enlightened approach that frees Aboriginal people from bureaucratic control, they are required to become the bureaucrats, expected not only to manage their communities but also to monitor and police them. The "softly-softly" approach taken in the past by law enforcement agencies towards malpractice in land councils, often to the despair of those trying to do the right thing, has been unhelpful. If people who had deliberately misappropriated funds in the early days had been charged and dealt with according to the law, others who followed later might have been discouraged from taking the system for a ride.
Interesting parallels could be drawn with student organisations that justify their existence under the banner of ‘student control of student affairs’. Concern is often expressed about the possibility of student association office-bearers and council members intervening in daily administration, but there is also a danger that student association office-bearers will be disempowered by professional managers and advisors (of which I was once one) that they become merely an expensive fifth wheel to governance. Ironically it is right-wing students who have done more damage to student associations because they believe that they can at being entrepreneurs (as at Melbourne University), whilst the left leaves the association management alone whilst they arrange the demos and storm the offices. Student association election turnout is usually low and candidates usually appeal as individuals rather than as represenatives of a party with a clear program, democracy fails to provide accountability. In the rare high turnout elections however polarisation is intense and a winner takes all culture can legitimate abuse of power (Melbourne the classic example). Perhaps this is an example of the general principle that organisations with grand aspirations and missions but little real resources or power are not likely to work well: consider the Palestinian Authority.


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