More blah or real chances of progress for Australia’s indigenous peoples?

More blah or chances of progress for Australia’s indigenous peoples? 1

The Australian indigenous affairs minister, Nigel Scullion, has had an all-day meeting with indigenous leaders who demand urgent policy changes to address disadvantages faced by Australia's first peoples. Leaders gathered in Melbourne with the Minister and his senior bureaucrats to thrash out some of their key concerns outlined in the “Redfern Statement” released by 18 Indigenous groups in June. Some of the issues discussed included health, justice, preventing violence in indigenous communities and improving relations between the federal government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.


We have a contribution to make and what we want from engagement is to co-design solutions with the government in a collaborative and respectful way that recognises the values of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” said Rod Little, Co-Chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples. His fellow co-chair, Jackie Huggins, was upbeat about the outcome in an interview with national radio.


The congress has had its government funding withdrawn and is derided by many indigenous people as a toothless tiger. A major criticism of its stance is its support of the government drive for recognition of indigenous people in the constitution, seen by many as a scam to weaken indigenous activism for rights.


In his statement on the meeting Scullion said: “Today, I have listened closely to the views of a range of Indigenous leaders and acknowledged the significant areas where we share common ground.  The forum continues the Turnbull Government’s approach of working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as part of a close engagement with communities to ensure policies and programmes deliver the best outcomes for our First Australians.


“I wish to thank the participants and everyone else who was involved in developing the Redfern Statement. I share the aspirations of the statement and look forward to working with today’s forum participants into the future to implement measures that will improve outcomes for our First Australians.”


The Redfern Statement at a glance:

'The Statement calls on the next Federal Government to:

- Restore the $534m cut from the Indigenous Affairs Portfolio by the 2014 Budget.

- Commit to better and ongoing engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through their representative national peaks.

- Recommit to Closing the Gap by:

-- setting targets to reduce rates of family violence, incarceration and out-of-home care and increase access to disability support services; and

-- secure national funding agreements to drive the implementation of national strategies.

- Commit to working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders to establish a Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs in the future.

- Commit to address the unfinished business of reconciliation.'


A petition to be presented to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, Scullion, Shadow Indigenous Affairs Minister Shayne Neuman, Australian Greens spokesperson on Indigenous Affairs Rachel Siewert and Leader of the Australian Greens Richard Di Natale for a more just approach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs can be signed by clicking here.


The call to support the Redfern Statement argues: “In the last 25 years we have seen eight Federal election cycles come and go. Seven Prime Ministers, seven Ministers for Indigenous Affairs, countless speeches, policy changes, funding promises and cuts – all for the most marginalised people in Australia.


“We have had countless national reports, Royal Commissions, Coroner and Social Justice Reports into the state of affairs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. These reports have made over 400 recommendations, most of which have either been partially implemented for short term periods or ignored altogether.


“It's time to make a stand.


“We have seen repeated emphasis that Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people need to have a genuine say in their own lives and decisions that affect their peoples and communities. This is the key to closing the gap in outcomes for the First Peoples of these lands and waters.


“The next Federal Government of Australia will take power with our First Peoples facing the same struggles as they were 25 years ago. But this next Government also has an unprecedented nation-building opportunity to meaningfully address Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage. They have the mandate to act.


“Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander leaders came together in June 2016 to announce the Redfern Statement - a powerful list of clear policy asks of our political leaders. Read the Redfern Statement in full.”


Congress Co-Chair Little wrote after the meeting with the minister and his top officials:


The next steps must include:

– A meeting between the Prime Minister and the leading signatories of the Redfern Statement;

– At least an annual national summit with the Prime Minister and his cabinet to share knowledge between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Government representatives;

– A whole of Government approach to co-construct policies to ensure that our pathway forward is co-designed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the Government; and

– A commitment from the Government to develop intergovernmental mechanisms to ensure First Peoples have a voice at the highest levels of Government to ensure the Government’s focus reflects our values and priorities.

This Parliament has an unprecedented nation-building opportunity to meaningfully commit to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people determining what success looks like for them and for their communities.

Meanwhile two Aboriginal women members of parliament, both belonging to the opposition Labor Party, have delivered their maiden speeches. Both began them in their respective native languages.

The first indigenous female MP elected to the House of Representatives, Linda Burney, a former NSW MP and Minister, wore a cloak showing her Wiradjuri clan and personal totems as she said that while the Aboriginal part of her story was important, she would not be stereotyped or pigeon-holed. “These lands are, always were and always will be Aboriginal land,” Ms Burney, the Shadow Minister for Human Services, told Parliament.


Addressing the Senate Senator Malarndirri McCarthy pleaded with Prime Minister Turnbull to stop a planned marriage equality plebiscite.


One of two Senators representing the Northern Territory, where a third of the 243,700 population are Aboriginal, McCarthy spoke of a female relative who committed suicide because of the difficulty of reconciling her sexual identity with her strong Aboriginal culture. She also used the speech to call for statehood for the Northern Territory, saying it would help give Indigenous people a greater say in any constitutional recognition referendum. Supporters in the public gallery cheered and waved the Aboriginal flag during her speech.

Marriage equality activists want parliament to vote on the issue instead of the nation in a plebiscite, which they fear would incite hate speech and division.

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