This report presents a reflective evaluation on the treatment of Indigenous Australians and how this should impact the ethical practice of engineering. Indigenous Australians comprise of two groups: Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal. These groups existed in Australia and neighboring islands before European colonization. They largely depended on land and water. When the Europeans colonized Australia, they did not create any formal treaties to recognize the rights of Indigenous Australians. These people have been treated differently over the last century. In early 1900s, it was largely believed that Indigenous Australians were going to die out. In 1991, their population was about 351,000 people, and it increased to about 669,000 people in 2011. Currently, it is estimated that Indigenous Australians account for approximately 3% of Australia’s total population (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2009; Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013).
In 1901, Indigenous Australians were denied the 1901 Commonwealth Constitution rights. They were excluded from the census and lawmaking powers. A year later, their rights to vote in Commonwealth elections were disenfranchised. After some time, they were excluded from receiving pensions, joining the armed forces, receiving maternity allowance, and working in the Post Office. Aborigines Protection Board and the Chief Prosecutor were also given the powers to apprentice and remove Indigenous children from settlements and even separate them from their parents forcefully (New South Wales Government, 2010). In 1940, the Aborigines Protection Board was replaced with Aborigines Welfare Board, which was forced to raise the status of Indigenous Australians, grant them their rights and give them equal opportunities just like ordinary citizens. However, this did not happen and the segregation and oppression of the Indigenous Australians continued. In 1944, the right of Indigenous Australians to receive sickness and maternity allowances was restored and five years later, their right to participate in federal elections was restored. During these early years of 1900s, most Indigenous Australians did not have hope in life. Majority of those who were sent to jail committed suicide because they knew that justice could not be served. Some of them died due to poor health because they could not access good healthcare services. During those days, Indigenous Australians were mainly classified and treated as fauna (Walker, 2013).
From 1950 onwards, several policies were legislated to give Indigenous Australians same rights as other white Australians. For instance, these people got the right to buy, sell and drink alcohol, their allowances and social benefits were restored, their right to vote in Commonwealth elections was reinstated, several discriminatory practices against them were removed, those working in government settlements started getting equal pay, they were allowed to express their Aboriginality, Indigenous students were allowed to join any school, and they got the right to own land. In 1967, a referendum for equal rights was held and 90% of those who voted supported it (Personally-selected-aboriginal-art.com, 2010). However, Indigenous Australians still did not get the vote from this referendum. In early 2000s, Indigenous Australians got the right to be included in the census and vote (Australian Museum, 2017).
Over the past few decades, there have been several policies established and measures taken to give Indigenous Australians equal rights and freedom, and help them re-establish themselves. Australian people have been asked to provide necessary resources and assist Indigenous Australians decide their future (Dick, 2016). The Australian government spends about $3.5 billion every year to fix the perceived failure of Indigenous Australians (Convict Reactions, (n.d.)). However, many Indigenous Australians are still living and dying in custody, afflicted with domestic violence, drug abuse, alcohol and suicide. Their children mostly learn within the community. So the process of healing against the racism, discrimination and oppression that Indigenous Australians underwent is still ongoing although it is a complex process. But most Indigenous Australians are still affected with illiteracy, imprisonment, alcoholism, crime victimization, family breakdown, health disadvantage, domestic violence, unemployment, and sub-standard housing. These people are campaigning for their self-determination and protection of their culture and heritage, but lack of sufficient educational opportunity has been a major challenge to amplifying these efforts. Nevertheless, there are now many programs in place aimed at helping Indigenous Australians and cases of racism against them have largely reduced. It is also worth noting that most Indigenous Australians are still victims of the past and therefore they should not be forced to forget the past and live like other Australians (Malkin, 2009). The government should also ensure that the measures they take to reconcile and improve the lives of Indigenous Australians are not discriminatory in nature. Otherwise it is just a matter of time for the Indigenous Australians to live an equal life just like any other Australian.
There are several ways in which the history of Indigenous Australians should impact the ethical practice of engineering. First and foremost, engineers should always demonstrate integrity by being honest and respecting other people’s dignity. They should act objectively and without any bias on the basis of race, origin, social class, educational level or gender. Second, engineers should always educate the general public about the impacts of the projects planned for implementation and involve the local community in every stage of these projects. Third, engineers should consider other people’s opinions when developing social problems and make them understand why they are making certain decisions. Fourth, engineers should help people to understand that as time goes by, it is important to forego traditional beliefs and practices so as to allow development and implementation of modern engineering solutions to current societal problems. Fifth, engineers should always exercise leadership by bringing conflicting groups together and helping them understand each other. Last but not least, engineers should always be committed to serve the society and improve the welfare of people. In general, the history of Indigenous Australians can impact the ethical engineering practice by helping engineers to educate governments and the general public about their rights and responsibilities, how to make moral decisions and live a good life, live and work together, and how to find solutions in difficult times.
As an engineer, the history of Indigenous Australians and its impacts on ethical practice of engineering would influence communication with Aboriginal communities and representatives in different ways. First, I would give them a listening ear so as to hear their views, what they support and oppose, and what they want to happen from an engineering perspective. It is worth noting that these people have limited exposure to modern engineering developments and they are also conservative. Second, I would help them understand the evolution of engineering and its impacts on the society. This would help them understand and appreciate the potentials of engineering. Third, I would help them understand how engineering can improve their lives by giving them real life examples on what has happened in other parts of Australia and the world. Fourth, I would ensure that I involve them fully in each decision made on projects scheduled for implementation within their community. Last but not least, I would ensure that I use a language that is easy to understand even by people who do not have any knowledge in engineering. I would do this by using my professional skills in language and communication.
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