Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Opinion: Australian Government Swimming in Circles When It Comes to Indigenous Affairs

BLACKCURRENT: Lost in a sea of d-words
Opinion by Amy McQuire
National Indigenist Times, ISSUE 181 - 09 Jul 2009

ISSUE 181, July 9, 2009: AMY MCQUIRE laments that Australian governments keep swimming in circles when it comes to Indigenous affairs.

Devastating (Rudd).

Distressing (Gillard).

Disappointing (Abbott).

The three politicians above all used adjectives beginning with 'd' to describe this year's annual Productivity Commission report into Indigenous disadvantage. I have one too: disgusting.

Of course, it is not directed at the report, but rather at our nation's leaders.

For what word is there to describe how those in power repetitiously indulge in lamentations on the plight of Indigenous Australia, and then do nothing about it?

Last Thursday marked the Council of Australian Government (COAG)'s meeting in Darwin.

It was touted that the meeting would place Indigenous affairs on top of the list of priorities, and it did. But by far the most interesting news to come out of the meeting was the Commission's report.

It found the following:

INFANT/YOUNG CHILD MORTALITY: Indigenous infants and young children are still 2-3 times more likely to die than other children, despite improvements in infant mortality rates (young child mortality rates remain constant).

READING, WRITING, NUMERACY: No change in Indigenous student performance over the past 10 years. No closing of gaps between black and white students.

YEAR 12: While the proportion of Indigenous year 12 graduates has increased from 31 to 36 percent between 2001-2006, the fact the non-Indigenous rate also increased from 68 to 74 percent means the gap remains the same.

UNEMPLOYMENT: The Indigenous employment to population ratio has increased to 48 percent as of 2006, but the gap is still the same, as the non-Indigenous ratio has also increased.

CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT: Indigenous children are now 4-6 times more likely to be abused or neglected than non-Indigenous children.

IMPRISONMENT/JUVENILE DETENTION: Imprisonment rate increased by 46 percent for Indigenous women and by 27 percent for Indigenous men between 2000-2008.

Indigenous adults are 13 times more likely to be imprisoned in 2008. The Indigenous juvenile rate increased by 27 percent between 2001-2007.

Indigenous juveniles were 28 times more likely to be detained than their non-Indigenous counterparts.

For once, news.com.au decided to give an important issue precedence over their usual coverage of female body parts and crazed criminals, placing the story at the top of their website.

The Australian newspaper, who to its credit often keeps up with Indigenous affairs (although, controversially) also gave the report prominence online.

All stories included comments by the Prime Minister, who called the report "devastating" and said it meant "we have to redouble and treble our efforts to make an impact".

Thanks Mr Rudd. It's nice to see that you have reacted with such passion to the statistics.

Except, the report is hardly an 'expose'. It says nothing new.

The report is released every second year with almost identical results, and every second year prompts a similar reaction from politicians and media.

Take this news story I found on NIT online. It is from June 2005:

"The report into Aboriginal disadvantage released early today backs the Howard government's decision to make dramatic changes to Indigenous affairs in order to achieve better outcomes, Indigenous Affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone has claimed.

'Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2005' from the Productivity Commission reveals Indigenous Australians have made no improvements in all the key social and economic areas in the past two years.

It also found that between 1994 and 2002, rates for victims of crime, child protection notifications and imprisonment worsened.

In response, Senator Vanstone said she planned to ask state and territory governments what they were doing about continuing violence within Indigenous communities."

Four years on, and the 2009 report confirmed that there are still hardly any improvements for Indigenous people, and Indigenous incarceration rates continue to skyrocket.

Two years ago, NIT again filed a story (June 2007): "Poverty and unemployment have been blamed for a dramatic rise in the number of Indigenous people in Australian jails."

A new report reveals a 32 percent jump in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders imprisoned between 2000 and 2006. The bleak statistics are contained in the latest Council of Australian Government-commissioned report into Indigenous disadvantage [the Productivity Commission]."

Of course, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs at the time - Mal Brough - did the politically smart thing. He just blamed it on ATSIC.

"ATSIC was an abject failure... it was almost a fraud perpetrated on the Indigenous people and the Australian population," Mr Brough told ABC radio, acknowledging that although John Howard had been in government for 11 years, blackfellas were still to blame.

Although Mr Rudd is slightly more astute to realize ATSIC had nothing to do with entrenched Indigenous disadvantage, I doubt he also has the political will to make the changes Indigenous Australia so desperately needs.

His first report card on Indigenous disadvantage, which he promised on the first sitting day of Parliament each year and which was he delivered a month late, made no mention of any real progress government was making.

Instead, the report was full of rhetoric and spin, and simply recycled tired press releases stuffed with self-praise for apologising to the Stolen Generations.

If a government has to ride on the coat-tails of its first and only major movement in Indigenous affairs to justify its will in other areas of policy, then it really isn't taking many steps forward.

The Rudd government says it is going to 'reset the relationship' with Indigenous Australians, but its insistence on the NT intervention; on compulsorily acquiring the Alice Springs town camps; on linking welfare quarantines to school attendance; on refusing to boost Aboriginal legal aid wile incarceration rates sky-rocket; on refusing to provide reparations to the Stolen Generations; on scrapping CDEP regionally; on linking housing reform to land tenure while opposing against it in Opposition; on axing bilingual education; on refusing to properly support the homelands and outstations; shows that Mr Rudd is not being truthful when he says he will 'double' or 'treble' his government's efforts.

Australian governments, Labor and Liberal, are not just devastated, distressed, disappointed and disgusting.

They are also delusional.


* Amy McQuire is a Canberra-based journalist with the National Indigenous Times. She is of Darumbal and South Sea Islander descent, and hails from Rockhampton in Central Queensland. Amy is the current National NAIDOC Young Apprentice of the Year.

National Indigenous Times (no copyright listed)

Native Rights News is making this material from the online version of The National Indigenous Times available in accordance with the Fair Use Doctrine codified at Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information. Distribution of this material is for research and educational purposes that will promote social and economic justice and benefit society.
Native Rights News (NRN) is published by the Alliance for Indigenous Rights, a nonprofit corporation owned and operated by Temple Beit Shem Tov as part of its Peace and Justice Ministry.

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