User Choice

What Noel Pearson says in his weekend Australian article of May 28 that choice is power for development and progress and ultimately creates social change in individuals and families.

What he says makes a lot of sense to me. Mind you there is not much about the mechanisations of Noel Pearson that I agree with.

Linking choice to good health, education, social infrastructure and economic freedoms is a principle that I have believed in all of my working life.

Choice and the principles of user choice, goes to the heart of Indigenous development and is at the centre of a larger debate going on among Aboriginal learning centres, Aboriginal RTO training providers, and indigenous individuals, particularly the young emerging indigenous diaspora, than want a better life, and to be able to choose for themselves and take on the responsibilities and discipline of the choices they make.

Choice or more commonly known these days as user choice,; it’s not a principle that came to me as I was laying back in my swag , looking into the night sky and suddenly seeing a star falling in the east.

It came to me in a more realistic and tangible way.  I recall when I was growing up, when we kids got sick, or mum got sick, we had to go to the doctor in town based at the hospital. I recall walking through the bush down a sandy road about 2 kilometres to the bus stop and catching the early morning bus.

The bus would take us to close to the hospital where we would walk a few blocks. The hospital used to open at 9am in those days and close at 5pm.  I always remember my poor mum being one of the first there when the doors opened and sitting there in outpatients all day. All of the Aboriginal and Islander people were made to wait and gave up their turn in the queue to the white folk.

Mum and the other ladies just endured this practice in silence. The nurse would come out and look around and if there was a white person there, call their name. This would go on all day;  it did not matter that she had registered at 9am, she would sit all day with patience and dignity, waiting her turn. Sometimes we missed the bus, and we would have to walk the 8 or more kilometres home and we would arrive home just on dark.

When private health insurance came in, mum joined the family up and for the first time in her life she had a choice, to use whatever doctor she wanted for her family. She was so pleased and happy and stayed in health insurance all her life, just so she had the doctor of her choice.

I always remember that and the principle of choice has stayed with me ever since. Choice for her and many other Aboriginal people in those days meant a better and a healthy life style. I am not in hospital benefits now, only because we have a great Aboriginal health service and the blatant racism does not exist to the same extent of those bygone days. In those days, we always sat at the back of the bus even though there was no written law.  Aboriginal people were conditioned to move to the back of the bus.

My mum exercised what Pearson writes about, she exercised her individual right to self determination, personal empowerment, her self-actualisation of having control over her life and taking responsibility for herself and her family.

The discipline and responsibility of choice in my mum’s case, was to make sure she kept up her health payment. She maintained her payments even in her pension years; she stayed with a plan, a discipline she maintained for 40 years. Thinking back she would have been in the vanguard of Aboriginal people, using choice in joining a health medical benefits plan.

In today’s climate Aboriginal students and participants in education, there is a shift to user choice, for example kids can practically choose what university they go too, what training establishment they prefer. Students and program participants can now look at a school, university, RTO, look at the services they provide and then make an informed choice on where they want to go.

Most mainstream training organisations, RTO’s and the like, have taken a lot of time to set up proper and consistent  protocols, to embrace indigenous culture and are mindful of the requirements in education practises that fit in with the training needs of Indigenous people.

The job scene is also changing rapidly. One time the only job was as a stockman on the station, now after long periods of idleness and lost generations, people can now choose what training they want, where they want to train, and what job outcome can come from that training.

Choice changed my mother’s life all those years ago and choice has already changed the life style of many Aboriginal people. Having choice does empower people giving them the capabilities and the opportunity for a better outcome in life.

My view is that wherever you are, always choose user choice whenever the opportunity arises.

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