From the ‘Quiet Revolution’ to ‘Crisis’ in Australian Indigenous Affairs

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Virginia Watson


In the space of one year the Australian federal political leadership transformed its own account of its achievements in Indigenous affairs from that of a ‘quiet revolution’ to a state of ‘crisis’. This article takes this idea that there is a ‘crisis’ taking place across remote Aboriginal communities as its starting point. However, in contrast to most assessments of this ‘crisis’ I argue that claims about ‘crisis’ do not derive naturally from accounts of the critical circumstances of daily life in remote indigenous communities. Rather, the idea of crisis can be understood as a process of narration, one that the federal political leadership has brought into existence through narrative and discourse. As I show, this narrative of crisis has had a very particular strategic effect. It has enabled the federal government to transform its failure to change the fundamentals of indigenous welfare (its ‘quiet revolution’) into a widespread, general crisis. In this way, this narrative of crisis thus marks a turning point: one at which the discourse of government responsibility for citizens has been overtaken and replaced by that of citizen responsibility to government – namely that indigenous people and communities themselves must now be held responsible for (governmental) failure in indigenous affairs. Seen in these terms, the critical circumstances of daily life in many remote Indigenous communities far from providing testimony of governmental failure provide something of an alibi, making the idea of crisis seems utterly feasible.

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Author Biography

Virginia Watson, University of Technology, Sydney

Virginia Watson teaches in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney. She is a member of the Transforming Cultures Research Centre and Cultural Studies Academic Group. Her research to date has focused on Australian Indigenous affairs.