Suitable solutions ranged from the use of coercive measures to increase school attendance, to new curricula and teaching styles so that teachers were better attuned to the 'learner's frame of reference'. These alternative approaches could be characterized as those focused on behavioral change vs. those focused on creating an attractive and culturally relevant learning environment.
There are tangible links to more recent policy debates. A 2006 article discussed the rise of Shared Responsibility Agreements (SRAs) in the Howard Government's approach to Indigenous affairs. Under these agreements, state funding for specified services and infrastructure has been made contingent upon Indigenous peoples' commitment to behavioral change. Several SRAs have involved Indigenous commitments to increase school attendance rates in return for government funded facilities such as air conditioning units or public pools. While many participating communities expressed satisfaction with their SRAs, others have described individual agreements as patronizing and coercive. Recent attention has shifted away from SRAs and only a handful of new agreements have been signed under the current Federal Government.
However, a similar approach to school attendance is embodied in the new arrangements for income management in the Northern Territory. From August 2010, compulsory income management has applied to many people, including long-term welfare recipients and those deemed to be 'disengaged youth'. Where parents subject to income management under these criteria have school aged children, they are able to seek exemptions if they can show that their children are regularly attending school. This aspect of the policy is clearly designed to provide financial and other incentives for parents to send their children to school and, it could be argued, punishes those who do not.
Another recurring theme has been physical and mental health, as well as associated issues of alcohol use, gambling and relationships with the criminal justice system. One debate has concerned the appropriate way to understand and respond to alcohol abuse. A number of authors argued for encouraging Aboriginal drinkers to consume alcohol more moderately. Others argued that addressing problem drinking required environmental change through the provision of housing and jobs and the management of welfare money. In these papers we see that the currently influential ideas of harm minimization and income management are not new.
Indigenous policy debates continue to revisit the same ground because, rather than coming to a point of synthesis, the dominant perspective moves back and forth between three competing principles; equality, choice and guardianship. Over the last decade the dominant view has swung away from choice towards the guardianship principle.
Sanders asserts policy development in Indigenous political debate tends to contrast ideology with evidence. This approach is not helpful. Evidence, represented predominantly by statistics, needs to be interpreted, often with the aid of contextualizing factors. I t then needs to be translated into strategies for action which are necessarily colored by political ideologies and the ongoing struggle between competing political principles.
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