It would be a gross understatement to point out that there is a significant gap between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians. Following the introduction of the Northern Territory Intervention, as well as commitments made by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson following the Apology to the Stolen Generations, this gap has become a question of significant national debate.
As with economics, the gap between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians is not a one-dimensional or two-dimensional problem, and cannot be overcome with a one or two dimensional solution. There is obviously a historical dimension, centred on the dispossession of lands by Indigenous Australians; lands which now command outrageous rents in the interest of a select few. There is another gap in the provision of social services and the wealth that flows from the land, leading to large disparities in education, health, life expectancy, and overall standard of living. But there is also a far more fundamental division within Australia: the great divide of consciousness.
Land is central to the consciousness, culture, and traditions, of Indigenous Australia. Prior to European settlement, Indigenous communities recognised the importance not only of preserving, but – much more importantly – in sharing the bounties of the land throughout communities. It is not uncommon to hear Indigenous Australians, even today, talking about their deep connections to the land. Where this consciousness has eroded, it seems to be, unfortunately, not uncommon to find alcoholism, drug abuse, and violence emerge in their stead.
We, as Non-Indigenous Australians come from a very different tradition. The European settlement of Australia was very much the product of the Enlightenment traditions of Western politics, economics, science, and rationality. For all its marvellous achievements, this is a tradition that has long ignored the centrality of land in its thinking and economics. To our own detriment, we have allowed a small minority to enclose the land, and the natural resources that spring from it, and charge the rest rents for that which they had no hand in creating. From this has sprung a range of social problems, from salinity, to the housing affordability crisis, to the rising cost of food and fuel.
Enter one of the Western world’s greatest, and most underrated, theorists: Henry George. The great achievement of George was to take the premises of the Western enlightenment tradition, and not only recognise within that framework the centrality of land, but also to point out how our traditional treatment of land was at the root of many social problems, and set out a program of truly solving them.
Our ignorance of land and its role in production has caused us many problems. But necessity is forcing a shift in consciousness to recognise the significance of land, particularly in Australia (though also across the broader developed world). Georgism is a program for returning Australia to being a country where the fruits of the land are equitably distributed between its inhabitants.
By doing this, we can make headway in closing the divide between the health and wellbeing of Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians. More importantly, by being a philosophy within our own Western tradition that recognises the importance of land, Geoism presents us with solid ground from which we can bridge the consciousness chasm between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians.