In the market for reconciliation?

Donna Houston*, Gregory Martin, Peter McLaren

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

    1 Citation (Scopus)


    The interplay between history, politics and memory is always bound up in the conditions of the present. The same can be said for public national reconciliation projects that seek to address wounded national pasts and lay groundwork for hopeful futures. When we first began work on this chapter, it was in the turbulent months before the Howard government’s intervention into Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. It seemed to us in early 2006 that the suspiciously bright veneer of the Howard government’s ʼnew’ approach to Indigenous affairs was already peeling, revealing under its hasty application a potentially dangerous agenda for the aspirations of Aboriginal Australians for land justice and sovereignty. This dangerous situation had been brewing for some time. The Howard government’s abolition of the sole Indigenous national representative body ATSIC (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission) and its service delivery arm ATSIS (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Service) in 2004 had already pushed the funding and responsibility for its Indigenous programs into mainstream departments. The lynchpin of these arrangements hinged on the doctrine of ‘mutual obligation’, which emphasized the idea that basic human rights should be afforded alongside certain individual obligations and responsibilities to the state. Under John Howard’s political regime of modern conservatism, the term mutual obligation was not especially new. Its overarching political framework stressed both individual responsibility and market-driven ethics (Nguyen 2006). Mutual obligation can be viewed as a distinctly Australian twist on the neo-liberal political and economic transformations that have steadily swept the globe since the late 1970s (Nguyen 2006; Harvey 2005). It was first rolled out as part of widespread reforms in the welfare sector under ‘work-for-the-dole’ schemes, and under the Howard government it enjoyed a high degree of controversy in its application to Indigenous affairs. Among several flashpoints of anger and political outrage was the Mulan ‘shared responsibility agreement’, where it was widely reported that a remote Indigenous community was to receive a petrol bowser in exchange for washing children’s faces (McCausland 2005: 9). Of course since then the 2007 intervention in the Northern Territory has burdened remote Aboriginal communities with the full weight of the armed settler state.

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationReconciliation and Pedagogy
    EditorsPal Ahluwalia, Robert Hattam, Julie Matthews, Stephen Atkinson, Peter Bishop, Pam Christie
    Place of PublicationLondon ; New York
    PublisherRoutledge, Taylor and Francis Group
    Number of pages18
    ISBN (Electronic)9780203118986
    ISBN (Print)9780415687218
    Publication statusPublished - 2012

    Publication series

    NamePostcolonial Politics


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