Originally published 28 March 2011 by Benson Saulo
On the 13th February 2008 former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd addressed the Nation in a powerful and emotional acknowledgment and apology to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Stolen Generations. Apologising for the pain, suffering and the degradation of the longest living Culture through past Government and Parliamentary policies. On this day, which has gone down in the history books and the hearts of many Australians both Indigenous and Non-Indigenous, there was a sense of National pride and the almost unspoken desire to become a reconciled Nation regardless of Race, Religion or Creed.
Kevin Rudd called for a “future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility for all Australians”. Like many young Australians both Indigenous and Non- Indigenous throughout Australia, I viewed this special event with excitement and pride. Watching the events unfold on the giant screen in Martin Place, Sydney, the energy of the crowd was evident though it was silent, hanging on every word.
Whilst standing shoulder to shoulder next to a complete stranger I couldn’t help but reflect on the stories I’d heard about Charles Perkins and the 1965 Freedom Ride. The excitement and unfamiliar sense of accomplishment as they travelled throughout country NSW, exposing on a National level the inequality and divide in Australian society. Building momentum and awareness on the road to the 1967 Referendum, in which more than ninety percent of Australians voted in favor to grant Indigenous Australians the right to be recognised as Australian citizens and for the Government to introduce legislation relating to Indigenous Affairs.
33 years following the Referendum the 2000 Bridge Walk, attracting over 300,000 participants from all ages and backgrounds from politicians, Indigenous leaders, mothers and fathers, marched in the name of National Reconciliation. Another milestone for Australian society, another symbol for social inclusion and progress, yet 12 years after the momentous Bridge Walk and 3 years following the Apology Speech this sense of progress and reform at the highest level of Government is beginning to fade.
The same factors continue to plague the progress of Reconciliation in Australia; Education, Employment and Health, particularly in Remote Communities. These are factors that should not be identifiers for the divide between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians, but rather be a uniting factor in the push for social inclusion regardless of heritage.
But does the ideology of sustainable change and positive outcomes fit within the life cycle of a Government? Or is it something that should be pursued outside of the political point scoring rhetoric of the current and past Governments?
In a recent article featured in The Age, the CEO of Julalikari Council Aboriginal Corporation, Ms Pat Brahim highlighted this issue when interviewed on the recent article focused on Tennant Creek: Teens roam Territory streets looking for sex, alcohol and trouble as quick fix policy fails by Lindsay Murdoch (28th March 2011)
“the town’s problems a symptom of policy and program failures over many years – programs imposed by often untrained, uninformed bureaucrats living far away who seek quick fixes that suit the electoral cycles of successive territory and federal governments “
The idea of self-determination and self-governance has been marred with Indigenous people being setup to fail, through lack of infrastructure to grow success at the grass roots stage of business and short sighted Parliamentary targets set on monetary injections with no longitudinal view for building a successful community. Followed by intergenerational view of ‘nothing works’ and ‘we’ve done everything for these people’ being the ultimate fall out and hopelessness as the inherent outcome.
It is clear that before we can effectively close the gaps in Education, Employment and Health we need to remove the ability of the Federal Government to use Aboriginal Australia as an election tool and place it into the hands of a bi-partisan task-force with a 7 to 10year life span to include and pro-actively consulate with Indigenous community members to implement effective community strategies. Effective strategies in areas of:
- Alternate learning styles within the public school system
- Cross-Generational Relationships throughout society
- Health and Well-being including traditional medicines and dietary education
- Financial Literacy at school level and beyond
- Drug and Alcohol education and rehabilitation
- Attracting graduating students to remote areas to build on teaching skills
- Governance training and small business management run through Corporate and Organisations
- Land management and tourism opportunities.
These are just some of the basic and broad areas that should not continue to be controlled at a Government Level but rather on the ground with frameworks and resources in place to enable organisations to engage and promote community participation identified and supported by and through the bi-partisan task-force.
You may look at these ‘Effective Strategy Areas’ and think these ‘strategies’ exist already, organisations are out there doing these things everyday. This is true. Alternate learning styles and drug and alcohol education aren’t new ideas, these are areas with proven positive outcomes yet why does a $4 million drug centre in the APY Lands of SA go under-utilised in a community that has been identified as a community ‘at risk’ by the Federal Government.
Jonathon Nicholls from Uniting Care Wesley, in response to a SA State Government report to the Federal Government on the utilisation of the Facility, said;
“The report un-categorically says that those services don’t need a $4 million facility to operate”.
“It doesn’t need a collection of six buildings to meet the needs in remote Aboriginal communities”.
An un-targeted, short sighted, large financial injection political nightmare. A plain example of the lack of community and community based organisation consultation on the part of Government. SA Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, Grace Portolesi advised the decision on the centres future will be made shortly and that:
“I’d be more concerned about throwing good money after bad money in, insisting for the sake of pride that we maintain the service that does no longer resonate with community it’s seeking to service.”
Yet another service or facility wound back to save face with voters and the public, yet another Indigenous community falling into the “nothing works” category of Indigenous affairs.
It is time to move away from government controlled initiatives relating to the serious issues in Indigenous Affairs and our put faith back into our community through the long term support from a bi-partisan task-force working independently from the Government electoral cycles and working inclusive with Indigenous communities and organisations to develop and implement sustainable outcomes for Indigenous people right across Australia. This is the “future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility for all Australians” that Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd spoke of.