More reports for our racist Governments to ignore

Melissa Sweet 'Croakey Health' Crikey February 11, 2011

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda has today launched his first Social Justice and Native Title Reports. The 2010 Social Justice Report can be found here, and the Native Title Report is here.

According to the Commissioner’s media statement, the 2010 Social Justice Report makes the case for full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It also focuses on the need for stronger and deeper relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the broader Australian community, between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and governments, and within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities themselves.

"It is quite simple. Governments will be more effective if they develop service delivery models in collaboration with local communities," says Commissioner Gooda.

(How many times have we heard that said…and how many times has it been ignored ... )

Meanwhile, Des Martin, CEO of the Aboriginal Health Council of WA and health economist Professor Gavin Mooney, have raised some concerns about the PM’s report on Closing the Gap, also released this week.

Des Martin and Gavin Mooney write:

There are many aspects of the Prime Minister’s report on closing the gap that we and many Australians, both Aboriginal and non Aboriginal, will welcome. With respect to health, which is our prime concern, the downward trend in infant mortality among Aboriginal kids is especially welcome. We also accept that it will take time to eat into the gap more generally and that, even if we are currently doing so, that is difficult to measure. It is a big report and we recommend to Croakey readers to try to digest it for yourselves.

We want to focus on just five issues. First, we are surprised and disappointed that there is so little attention seemingly being paid to the social determinants of health in seeking to close the gap. They get a mention but a fleeting one and then there is no analysis and no indication that the government really believes that these not only do have major negative effects on Aboriginal health but that actively pursuing policies to address these negative effects might well yield dividends.

We know for example that for people living on the homelands or outstations, their health is better – yet the federal government, in tow with the NT government, continues its policy of seeking to centralise services. During this next year Prime Minister can we please see more action on the social determinants of health?

Secondly, AHCWA and its members are much interested in primary health care which is so important for the health of Aboriginal people. AHCWA has devoted much energy to attempting to have a say in the policy developments around Medicare Locals. To that end, in response to requests they received, AHCWA submitted two papers with its ideas to Minister Roxon’s Department at the end of September last year and again in December. Feedback has been minimal. Why?

Thirdly, in her speech in Parliament on Wednesday, the Prime Minister suggested that just as ‘Closing the Gap demands that the Australian Government meets our responsibility … [so it] also demands personal responsibility’ from Aboriginal people as if this was some sort of ‘equality of effort’ between equals!

Did the Prime Minister ever read the Sacred Children Report? Has she any understanding of the impact on the Stolen Generations of being taken from their families? Surely a role of government is to be understanding of and compassionate towards disadvantaged people? Treating Aboriginal people as equals is a bit much given how lacking in resources in the broadest sense they are as compared with the federal government! Tch! Tch! Naughty irresponsible Aborginal people!

Fourthly, in her speech she spoke, she said, as ‘an activist’ with respect to Aboriginal disadvantage. We would also consider ourselves to be activists in this context. So we seem to share her stance but, given her position of power, why as just indicated above does she not arrange that her Health Minister at least responds to the AHCWA ‘activists’?

Lastly and most fundamentally and perhaps in many ways summing up what we have said, in her report there is all too little recognition of the need to listen, to consult and to negotiate with those she wishes to help. Aboriginal people have some very good ideas about what is wrong and some very good ideas on how to make it if not right at least "righter". It is also the case that – going back to where we started in this piece – as the literature on the social determinants of health tells us taking away people’s self-respect and autonomy does not do their health any good.

Next year in the Closing the Gap Report, we want to learn about what the government has been doing to show respect for Aboriginal people and their views and values.

Mick Gooda launches indigenous reports

Belinda Merhab AAP Sydney Morning Herald February 11, 2011 - 2:54PM

Aboriginal people distrust the government and its paternalistic approach after the intervention into indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, says Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda.

The "draconian measures" introduced by the Howard government in 2007 had failed to allow indigenous people to be a part of their own solutions, he said.

Officially launching the first reports of his term, Mr Gooda said his main goal during his five-year term was to strengthen bonds between indigenous communities and the wider Australian community.

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He said a review into the NT's child protection system last year showed it was still "broken" four years into the intervention.

"What happened in the Northern Territory, we all felt, whether we lived in the Northern Territory or we lived in Melbourne, and it's added to the mistrust that we have in government," he told reporters after the launch in Sydney on Friday.

"We're sophisticated enough not to suspend the Racial Discrimination Act, not to impose restrictions on people's incomes, not to acquire our land."

Federal Labor had made some progress by reinstating the act, which allows people to challenge any perceived discrimination under the intervention.

But Mr Gooda said more needed to be done.

"We will eventually learn from the Northern Territory intervention that top-down imposition of measures will never be sustainable," he said.

Mr Gooda said another goal would be to change the constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

He has been appointed to the federal government's expert panel on constitutional change, which will report to what extent the constitution should change in November.

"It is very important that the Australian people own this process," the commissioner said.

"The constitution still allows laws to be made on the basis of race.

"Removing those powers will improve the human rights of everyone in Australia."

This had allowed indigenous people to be discriminated against in the past, and changing it, as well as amending the constitution's preamble, would raise the self-esteem of indigenous Australians.

Mr Gooda said he also wanted to see the full implementation of the "spirit and intent" of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People" in Australian law.