Wild Policy
Indigeneity and the Unruly Logics of Intervention
Tess Lea


Contents and Abstracts
Interlude I
chapter abstract

We meet John Singer, an Anangu man who leads Nganampa Health Council, Australia's oldest remote-area Indigenous-controlled health service, as he ponders how to motivate himself to continue the task of organizational leadership, given how very hard it has all become. The idea that realizing policy benefits is harder now than ever takes us to the central questions posed by this book: Can there be good policy under conditions of continuing settler occupation? Why does extracting benefits take so much work? Singer's experiences are revisited between chapters, as asides to readers from within the chaos of wild policies unfurling over the housing, health, land rights, mining, and other cases to come. John's asides are told from the perspective of an Indigenous man who, unlike heroic policy formulators, cannot walk away when policies turn feral.

1 Can there be good policy?
chapter abstract

Beginning with a description of the Bradshaw Fields training grounds, a military compound sequestered for Australian and American defense forces, this chapter outlines the different meanings of the term wild policy alongside the book's methodological and theoretical innovations and debts, and its geographic compass. Wild Policy argues that Indigenous social policy under continuing settler occupation is fundamentally about amelioration, not "cure," because fully expressed Indigenous well-being is irrelevant to state-enabled, militarily defended profiteering. Fights for policy-enabled benefits are thus fights taking place where the outcomes are not vital for extractive capital. Even so, there is room to maneuver in the cracks and gaps that haphazard settler colonial policy and Aboriginal resilience inevitably cocreate. Identifying these requires thinking about policy from an ecological, rather than a teleological, point of view, encountering its hauntological, artifactual, and ambient manifestations.

Interlude II
chapter abstract

A murder of the worst kind for an Indigenous health organization takes place: a brutal rape and bludgeoning of a non-Indigenous nurse, Gayle Woodford, at the hands of a deranged Aboriginal man. This event changes everything, hurling Nganampa Health Services, Australia's oldest remote-area community-controlled health service, one with a proud reputation for withstanding anarchic and mundane policy interferences, into a fight for survival.

2 Policy Specters
chapter abstract

In mid-2007, the former prime minister of Australia, John Howard, unleashed the Northern Territory Emergency Response, more popularly known as "the Intervention," which cast regional and remote Indigenous communities as the pallbearers of destruction, sexual violence, and anomie. Such portraits rationalized an ambitious regime of policy and program targets, the most expensive of which was the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP), the case study at the heart of this chapter. (The apparently rampant sexual abuse that was used to justify the Intervention never surfaced in any prosecutions.) Close ethnographic encounters reveal the fragility of infrastructural formations, as promised houses refuse to materialize, and instead, an impression-management campaign—comprising numerous official inquiries and a repeated metric about the number of houses to be delivered for an acceptable unit cost—successfully masks the policy disarray, returning majority (in)attention once again to Indigenous "dysfunction."

Interlude III
chapter abstract

A long-awaited, frequently cancelled visit to the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands from federal minister Ken Wyatt finally eventuates, prompting John Singer's critical reflections on how interactions between Indigenous leaders and policy worlds have changed over time—and not for the better.

3 Moorings, mining, and minutes
chapter abstract

Once upon a time, a skilled navigator named Matthew Flinders, unlucky in life and love, made his way around the tip of Australia into the Gulf of Carpentaria, mapping contours to strengthen British land grabs against still-lurking Dutch and French colonizers. His ship artist, one William Westall, was the first British painter to record a version of Indigenous rock art. The mistakes in Westall's artistic rendering form an analogue for contemporary systems of bureaucratic misrecognition. We follow the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP) to a key implementation site on Groote Eylandt. Here, institutional killjoys and Indigenous counteraudit/reverse chronicling are required to pull any houses into being. We also learn how the desire for extraction, and a corresponding ontological blindness, pulses through history into the present and remains entwined in the impossibility of "good" Indigenous social policy.

Interlude IV
chapter abstract

From his new vantage point as chair of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (NACCHO), John Singer comments on the growing distrust accorded to the concepts of community control and self-determination. With these concepts no longer lauded as policy objectives, the battleground has shifted. Aboriginal organizations are not seen as key generators of meaningful work or of national program direction. As the public sector empties itself of internal expertise in the name of cost-cutting and outsourcing, with the gap filled by for-profit consultancy firms and nongovernmental organizations, Singer feels that Indigenous people are being divided into fragmented groups, played off one against the other for funding, position, and influence. Meanwhile, a new inquiry is launched into Gayle Woodford's murder, throwing Nganampa Health Services into further turmoil.

4 Almost a miracle
chapter abstract

This chapter shifts the focus from interventions named on behalf of Indigenous groups to the efforts of a coalition of Indigenous friends and family, the Karrabing Indigenous Film Collective, to carve ways of being within the interstices of policy dysfunction/benevolence. Through a long-standing collaboration with anthropologist Elizabeth Povinelli, Karrabing films have reached global audiences. Their time-spiraling films provide a probative analytics of the life-shortening conditions of everyday life under continuing occupation in Australia, replete with policy contaminations from times past. A small number of Karrabing films are profiled, here with a focus on the less-often-attended policy relations imbuing Indigenous lives, on and off camera, that can't be known from art-house catalogues.

Interlude V
chapter abstract

Successful lobbying from Gayle Woodford's grieving family and nurse advocates has seen the passage of a law in South Australia designed to protect remote-area nurses when they work after hours. Known colloquially as Gayle's Law, it requires at least two people to attend any on-call issues. However, the law is restricted in its geographic range, and because Nganampa Health Services is predominantly funded by the national government, it is also not a law that South Australian legislators need to worry about resourcing. One casualty is Nganampa's residential aged-care service, which now needs to be outsourced to external management. Such entailments belong to the heartland of wild policy.

5 Militarized social policy
chapter abstract

This chapter confronts the links between Indigenous social policy, geostrategic military alliances, global trade, and my existence as a well-fed, privileged western consumer. The chapter considers the conditioning presence of a military political economy within Indigenous social policy. To establish this foundational military–social policy relationship, we revisit the various sites featured in previous chapters to think through the wider sociopolitical fields that all such sites are in, considering in closer detail what it might mean that Australia is a ripping-and-shipping economy.

Interlude VI
chapter abstract

Framed as an interview extract, the final interlude with John Singer is also a discussion about how the previous interludes and chapters have been edited, with key information redacted, following the advice of a defamation lawyer. The need to do so confirms Singer's growing sense that Indigenous people who criticize the government will suffer the consequences, and need to take increasing care. Following reviewer recommendations, we also revisit the story of John's childhood and how it came to be that, as a child, he grew up in New Guinea with Lutheran parents, only to be returned to Anangu kin. John doesn't care that a reviewer has also asked for a better explanation of Wild Policy's unorthodox use of hauntology as a concept, only that his story is represented accurately.

6 Wild Policy Manifesto
chapter abstract

This chapter serves as a primer for what might be done to thwart the unruly logics of interventions facing impossible obstacles within unequal worlds. It is a synthesis of key concepts, pitched toward theorists, practitioners, activists, and those still seeking to make a difference, giving hope to anyone operating in the thick of mad systems. It offers ways to apply the book's key findings, whatever one's zone of practice might be.