“Unfortunately much of the public debate around Aboriginal policy is far too often concentrated in the northern parts of Australia. While there is no denying that there are some common health and education issues in indigenous communities across the whole of the country, policy cannot be set based on just that experience.”
Don MacAskill is the CEO of Awabakal Newcastle Aboriginal Co-operative
Rather than setting Aboriginal policy to suit political cycles, our leaders should take the time to understand how differences can set long term outcomes writes Don MacAskill.
Since the Federal Budget in May there has been much said from all sides of the political spectrum about the fact that one size does not fit all when it comes to Aboriginal Affairs.
The Federal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, recently wrote in an editorial submission to National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) that there was ‘no one size fits all approach’. But what is still missing in this broad political debate is the detail.
The Indigenous communities living along the eastern seaboard of Australia have experienced some of the most significant impacts from colonisation. Yet for unknown reasons our political leaders choose to focus and set policy based on the experiences of our brothers and sisters in northern communities.
The approach needs to be applied in communities that are relevant to the needs of that community.
Part of the problem has been the paternalistic way that policy has been implemented in Aboriginal communities. That is why the broad policy initiatives can only be applied on common issues of disadvantage and then a different strategy applied to other issues of disadvantage.
This is not about throwing dollars at Aboriginal affairs. Funding is important but it is not the issue. To be effective Aboriginal policy development requires innovation from both Government and Aboriginal communities.
Importantly, Aboriginal communities need to take greater control and pursue a course that is less motivated by self-interest or family interest and make decisions based on the long-term needs of the whole community.
Equally important is for all levels of government to understand the issues that affect their communities. For example in the Hunter region of NSW, the Indigenous community compromises approximately 18,000 people – the majority of this population is under the age of 25.
For Awabakal it is about helping our leaders understand what the needs of this community are now and in the future. For the Hunter we must find better ways to help Aboriginal young people access education and career pathways now, but in the future these people will need assistance with family services including child care and health services.
The challenge is that our community is quite different to other communities only a few kilometres up or down the Pacific Highway.
As Mr Abbott said no ‘government can swiftly overcome two centuries of comparative failure’. But if any government is to make real advances in meaningful policy development and implementation then it must think about Aboriginal affairs beyond a political term.
For us, the voting public, we must see that this area of Australian policy is not up to governments and their bureaucrats.
In this great country of ours, communities are unique but they are varied. We must first understand the differences to appreciate what size is needed for each.
Don MacAskill is the CEO of Awabakal Newcastle Aboriginal Co-operative and can be contacted on 02 4940 8103.
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