When Midnight Oil sported the word ‘sorry’ on their skivvies during the 2000 Olympics, who really benefited, other than, of course, future Labor minister Peter Garrett? Indeed, who genuinely benefited from former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd’s apology to indigenous Australians in 2008, other than Kevin Rudd? And what did Paul Keating’s Redfern speech in 1992 actually achieve?

Gough Whitlam’s highly symbolic pouring of soil into the hands of Vincent Lingiari is the stuff of Labor folklore, spawning one of our prettiest pop songs. But it also cemented into the minds of an idealistic generation the Left’s ‘noble savage’ meme, whereby Aborigines are viewed as separate from other Australians, with their main requirement being ‘spiritual identity’, i.e. collective ownership of the land, rather than, say, individual jobs, private property or a decent education. A dangerous idea, promoted by Whitlam’s anti-assimilation adviser ‘Nugget’ Coombs, that is at the heart of today’s welfare trap.

‘What is happening is that the Labor party has been very focused on touchy-feely symbolism. But on the ground it made not one iota of change in people’s lives,’ says Warren Mundine, explaining his recent decision to quit the party of which he was once national president.

‘I was glad to see the end of Labor’s long reign in Queensland,’ says Noel Pearson. ‘Premier Campbell Newman is right in his observation that while Labor grappled with social policies for indigenous Australians, there was no serious development program.’

‘Under Labor, [tens of thousands of people] were often forced off their country into larger communities and even towns, with disastrous results,’ says Alison Anderson, the Northern Territory’s new Indigenous Advancement Minister and one of four newly elected conservative indigenous MLAs.

Indigenous Australia has suffered greatly from leftist ideologies that value the grand symbolic gesture over practical outcomes, that suggest government must automatically provide the solution to every problem, that are disdainful of individual enterprise and ambition, and that worship at the twin altars of ‘victimhood’ and ‘entitlement’.

‘Somewhere along the road from poverty to prosperity, we took a side road and got stuck in a hell from which there seems to be no escape,’ Anderson maintains.

Kerryn Pholi, in a riveting piece for The Drum in September, explained her decision to get rid of her own proof of Aboriginal identity. ‘In my years of working as a professional Aborigine, I don’t think I did anything that really helped anybody much at all, and I know that I was a party to unfairness, abuses of power, wastefulness and plain silliness in the name of “reconciliation” and “cultural sensitivity”,’ she wrote.

‘As a professional Aborigine, I could harangue a room full of people with real qualifications and decades of experience with whatever self-serving, uninformed drivel that happened to pop into my head. For this nonsense I would be rapturously applauded, never questioned, and paid well above my qualifications and experience.’

Unusually, Pholi praised her indigenous ancestors for having the good sense to adapt to, rather than resist, the colonisation of Australia.

‘The fact that I am here, with a bit of Aboriginal in my genetic mix, means that at some point my Aboriginal ancestors had the wit to take advantage of what was on offer, and so they survived where others did not. I feel pride that my forbears had the sense to discard unhelpful traditions and cultural attitudes, and make the best of their lot for themselves and their offspring.’

Aboriginal Australia is waking up from its other ‘dreaming’ — a decades-long nightmare of welfare dependency and cultural apartheid based on the belief, encouraged by the soft Left, that mainstream Australia owes them a living, in order to right the wrongs of the past.

‘We’ve got to get jobs for every Aboriginal person. We’ve got to get them educated, get them standing on their own two feet,’ Mundine says.

In her landmark speech to the Northern Territory’s Legislative Assembly last week, Anderson spelled out the urgent need for proper education, starting with fluency in English, to lead to genuine jobs in mining and tourism, with an emphasis on
individual responsibilities.

Marcia Langton recently echoed those sentiments, calling for welfare based on need, not race, and rightly condemning ‘the World’s Greatest Treasurer’ for attacking the very mining magnates, such as Andrew Forrest, who are providing proper jobs to remote communities. Indeed, one of the reasons Mundine is so scathing of Labor is because, as the head of Forrest’s indigenous charity Generation One, he is in a unique position to bring about what many of his former Labor party colleagues have never shown much interest in: gainfully employed Aborigines.

Mundine’s disillusion with Labor is both personal and political. He marvels that it is the Liberals, not Labor, who have managed to get Aborigines proper federal political representation. Given the chance to put Mundine into the senate earlier this year, Labor opted instead for Bob Carr.

‘[The ALP] have never put an Aboriginal person in a winnable seat. They don’t care. And Aboriginal people are waking up to it,’ says Mundine.

In Sydney, eastern suburbs private boys’ school Scots College funds three or four Aboriginal student places a year. According to Scots’ Jonny Samengo: ‘Rather than a handout — which has been such a failure for many people — they are part of a program that changes not just the boys but the whole community that comes in contact with them.’

Intriguingly, as indigenous Australians turn to the right, many left-leaning white Australians appear to have lost interest in their plight. Noel Pearson is harshly critical of the Sydney Morning Herald, which he claims ‘did not cope well with the fracturing of the progressive paradigm. Its response was to stick its head in the sand… the Herald stable has no room for indigenous voices.’

Indigenous Australians have learned the hard way that conservative values of individual initiative and personal aspirations are what’s needed in their communities. While Labor activists love to pretend that they have done so much for Aboriginal Australia, the list of achievements — big on grand gestures and the crowd-pleasing symbols beloved of pop stars and white elites — has failed to supply genuine progress where it counts; in local communities and in the lives and ambitions of families and individuals.

As with all of Labor’s ideological fantasies, the touchy-feely symbolism and warm inner glow merely disguises an abject failure to deliver worthwhile, productive outcomes.

Rowan Dean is associate editor of  The Spectator Australia and a columnist with the Australian Financial Review.