NACCHO Chair Justin Mohamed (left) and Deputy Chair Matthew Cooke (right) were at Garma Festival with Warren Mundine (Centre)
WARREN Mundine has thrust an overhaul of land rights at the centre of his call for a new approach to indigenous policy.
The former ALP national president has been hand-picked by Tony Abbott to chair a new advisory body on Aboriginal policy if the Coalition wins the September 7 election.
“The bureaucracy encasing indigenous people is complex, inefficient and unwieldy.
We have seen through the years examples of corruption taking hold in indigenous governance bodies — I do not believe this is the norm but the perceived lack of transparency makes these bodies more vulnerable to it.”
Mr Mundine, who travelled with Mr Abbott to the Garma festival in Arnhem Land today, said his appointment to lead the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council under a Coalition government would no doubt come as “a bit of a surprise for a lot of people”.
But he said indigenous Australians were not making progress on a number of key targets under the Closing the Gap initiative and more needed to be done, particularly in the areas of land rights and economic development.
Echoing the words of Galarrwuy Yunupingu, who made a plea this morning for political leaders to “wake up” land rights, Mr Mundine said: “It is our soul, it is our economic future, it is the way our children need to move forward.”
Mr Abbott praised Mr Mundine, declaring him a friend who shared his vision for indigenous reform
You can download Warren Mundine’s full speech here
MORE than 40 years ago, Australia embarked on a strategy for bringing indigenous people to full and equal participation in society. That has had significant successes.
Indigenous people do not suffer anything like the discrimination they suffered 50 years ago and have achieved things they could never have achieved in the past. Community attitudes have changed radically. There has been real reform in land rights and anti-discrimination laws, access to university and professions, and access to employment
But if someone had told me in the 1970s that during the following four decades Australia would spend billions and still have a vast gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians in areas such as health, education and employment, I would have been shocked. If someone had told me that by 2013 indigenous people would actually have gone backwards in some areas, I simply would not have believed them.
Yet that is the reality. I’ve visited communities where the reading level of younger people is worse than that of their grandparents, where the last group of people who learned how to read were the ones educated by the mission schools. Indigenous incarceration and alcohol abuse have increased in the past 40 years.
The Closing the Gap initiative, introduced by the Labor government and its Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin in 2008, was a transformative reform in indigenous affairs. The initiative focuses on six specific indicators in health, education and employment, sets empirical targets based around the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous people in those metrics, regularly measures achievements against the targets and publishes those results.
We know from the most recent report that the gap is not closing. This year marked the halfway point for the Closing the Gap targets and so far the outcomes have fallen short on health targets, moved backwards in some education targets and shown minimal improvement in employment figures.
I believe we will go another 40 years with no change unless we have a new strategy built on four fundamental principles: governance, land ownership, social stability and openness.
INDIGENOUS people are the most highly governed people in Australia. At every level of government there are additional structures for indigenous people on top of those that exist for the rest of Australia. Over-governance stifles autonomy and entrepreneurship and makes it nearly impossible to get anything done.
The present system is crippled by over-regulation and does not meet the criteria for good governance. Most statutory indigenous governance bodies are not truly representative and many are not transparent. The bureaucracy encasing indigenous people is complex, inefficient and unwieldy. We have seen through the years examples of corruption taking hold in indigenous governance bodies — I do not believe this is the norm but the perceived lack of transparency makes these bodies more vulnerable to it. In indigenous communities there are too many examples of a complete failure of the rule of law: with alcohol abuse, violence, sexual abuse of children, property crime and systemic truancy.
When I talk about transparent and representative governance here I don’t mean voting. I mean that many of the special bodies created to represent indigenous people are not reflective of the indigenous nations.
There are many statutory bodies with levels of authority in indigenous communities, such as land councils, regional councils, homeland councils, Aboriginal corporations and indigenous shire councils.
These bodies are not always transparent, with meetings and records open to the public or even their members. Many of these statutory bodies have substantial gatekeeper power over traditional lands or the exercise of native title. They may also hold royalties generated from land use by mining companies or from government compensation for dispossession. There are bodies with custody of hundreds of millions in funds held and collected on behalf of traditional owners, but the structure does not contemplate funds being distributed directly to the traditional owners. It has to be asked what the benefits are for indigenous people from these funds.
When Europeans came to Australia, indigenous people were grouped in nations, each with a distinct geography, language and culture. The identity of indigenous people was tied to the culture and language of their own nation, not to the Australian land mass as a whole.
Most statutory bodies created to govern indigenous people are not aligned to indigenous nations. In NSW there are twice as many land councils as nations, and land council members do not need to be descended from a nation that the land council services. In the Northern Territory there are four land councils and dozens of nations.
Many indigenous statutory bodies are expected to be all things to all people, carrying out normal municipal functions as well as running commercial operations and owning all the land and housing. Seeking permission from the council may mean seeking permission from the local government authority and the landowner and the monopoly service provider all in one. If they say no, there is practically nowhere to go for review.
We don’t need special indigenous bodies to handle things such as municipal services, commerce and service delivery. A local shire council that is part of the regular local government system can perform municipal functions just as effectively, if not more so, as an agency established under some special statute.
Where special governance is relevant is for matters uniquely relevant to the indigenous nation, such as the use of traditional lands, native title rights, community assets, culture, heritage and language. For this there should be one governance body representing each indigenous nation. One governance body to represent that nation on land and native title; hold land and other assets; collect royalties for use of the land or compensation for loss of land and use that for the benefit of the people of that nation; and preserve its culture, heritage and language. One governance body that companies that want to invest in an area can deal with on development and use of traditional lands.
I’m not talking about independent national sovereignty or suggesting that indigenous nations cede from the rest of Australia. I am talking about establishing a governance system that reflects the identity that indigenous people have to their own nations, governs the matters and decisions that are distinctive to those nations and provides certainty to those who want to engage with that nation.
In the next term of federal parliament, Australians will be asked to pass a referendum that formally recognises indigenous people in the Australian Constitution. Wouldn’t it be fitting if we also implement a system of governance that recognises the indigenous nations and gives members of those nations the ability to govern matters concerning their traditional lands, assets, culture, language and heritage?
- Abbott wants indigenous council (bigpondnews.com)
- Abbott a kindred spirit with Mundine (bigpondnews.com)
- NACCHO political alert: What is the future of Aboriginal leadership and activism ? (nacchocommunique.com)
- Tony Abbott unveils Indigenous advisory council, promises to close the gap (abc.net.au)
- Indigenous affairs: Tony Abbott says he and Warren Mundine are ‘kindred spirits’ (oddonion.com)
- Abbott a kindred spirit with Mundine (news.com.au)
- Abbott to make Mundine key adviser (bigpondnews.com)
- NACCHO celebrates International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (nacchocommunique.com)