“I think everything is so low, bottom of the scale, that 2018 can only be better in my view.
“I think that what our people and our communities have to do is just take total control of their own affairs. Don’t wait for government, don’t wait for them to provide the solutions. Work it out ourselves and just move on.”
Pat Turner AM CEO NACCHO 20 Minute interview ABC Speaking Out
” Despite there being a number landmark occasions in 2017, one of the country’s most senior Aboriginal Bureaucrats says there has been little to celebrate in the Indigenous Affairs sector in 2017.
In a frank and honest Discussion, Pat Turner, CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) reflects on the key advances and shortcomings over the past 12 months.
We talk Aboriginal Health, Northern Territory Royal Commission, Deaths in Custody and Indigenous funding.”
On Speaking Out with Larissa Behrendt
Duration: 20min 40sec
2017 was a year of several significant anniversaries in Indigenous affairs.
The 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum.
The 25th anniversary of the High Court’s Mabo decision.
The 20th anniversary of the Bringing Them Home report.
The 10th anniversary of the NT Intervention.
An auspicious combination of anniversaries, each giving pause to reflect on the impacts of these events, and to ask the obvious question — how far have we come in 50 years? In 25, 20 or 10 years?
The age-old Western belief in the inexhaustible march towards progress would make many assume that these issues have been addressed, or at the very least improved.
This belief is evident every time you see someone say, “I can’t believe this is happening in 2017!” in reference to something they believe should now be a relic of a bygone era.
It was hoped that 2017 would enter the history books as another significant year in Indigenous affairs, with the passing of a referendum to ‘recognise’ Indigenous people in the Australian constitution.
Not only did this not come to pass, but the relationship between government and Indigenous groups feels like it may have reach a new low, unseen in decades.
Australia’s most successful referendum
In 1967 Australia passed its most successful ever referendum, with 90.77 per cent of Australians voting “Yes for Aborigines”. This allowed for Aboriginal people to be counted in the census, and the Federal Government was given the power to make laws for Indigenous people.
Up until that point, Indigenous people were the responsibility of the states, who each had their own laws and legislation defining and controlling the lives of Aboriginal people.
Fifty years later, many people believe that this momentous occasion gave Indigenous people citizenship rights and the right to vote. It did not.
It was also believed that the Federal Government would use their new powers solely to the benefit of Indigenous people. This too would prove to be false.
Larissa Behrendt wrote in detail about these myths as part of the ABC’s Right Wrongs site, which explored the impacts of the 1967 referendum.
Twenty-five years later, in 1992, the High Court handed down the Mabo decision determining that Australia was not Terra Nullius in 1770 when Captain Cook claimed the east coast of Australia.
Terra Nullius was the legal justification for the very existence of the Australian state, so it as hoped this decision would bring about significant Aboriginal land rights.
But it led to Native Title legislation instead.
The Mabo case itself took over a decade, and the man who instigated it, Eddie Koiki Mabo, would not live to see its conclusion.
Twenty-five years later though, his family are still fighting to keep his story alive and strong.
Bringing Them Home
Bringing Them Home was the name of the final report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families.
It was tabled in Parliament on the May 26, 1997. The following year this date would become known as Sorry Day, and would provide a call to action for governments to implement the 54 recommendations of the report.
The surviving members of the Stolen Generations still hold the stories from that shameful era. And members of each new generation of Aboriginal people forcibly removed from their families have their trauma compounded by this unaddressed history.
The recommendations from the Bringing Them Home report are still largely unimplemented, and the rate of child removal has steadily grown in the 20 years since.
The rate has doubled in the past decade, and every other month we see a headline warning of a “second Stolen Generation”. It’s a news story that has been on repeat for almost 20 years.
The NT Intervention
The NT Intervention has largely failed to bring about positive changes around the issues raised in the Little Children Are Sacred report, which was used as the key justification for the NT Emergency Response Act.
A group of eminent Australians from law, health, academia and the arts have called on the Federal Government to bring an immediate end to the Northern Territory Intervention and Stronger Futures policies.
This disconnect between stated goals of respect, inclusion and Closing the Gap, and the actions and outcomes actually achieved, has come to embody Indigenous affairs in 2017.
This has been personified by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, since he took over the reins of government in September 2015. The end of 2017 seems to show a very different Mr Turnbull than the one who shed tears for the Stolen Generations at the start of 2016.
Despite his inclination to open Indigenous affairs speeches speaking in Indigenous languages, this has failed to translate to an ability to listen to Indigenous people. Given the long history of government failure to listen to Indigenous peoples, few held out hope that Mr Turnbull would make good on his stated desire to do things with Indigenous people, instead of to them.
At the release of the ninth Closing the Gap report, six of the seven targets were not on track to meet their goals.
“It has to be a shared endeavour. Greater empowerment of local communities will deliver the shared outcomes we all seek,” Mr Turnbull said, at the time.
Now, months before the 10th report is due, the Federal Government has put out a call for community input into Closing The Gap.
This prompted Referendum Council member Megan Davis to ponder on Twitter: “If they didn’t listen to what community said on Uluru and meaningful recognition, why would the government listen to input on this?”.
The call for consultation coincides with a decision to remove over $600 million in federal funds for remote housing.
Safe and appropriate housing is regarded as an essential criteria for governments to meet the Closing the Gap targets.
While 2017 may not have given much hope for the immediate future of Indigenous affairs, National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation chief executive officer Pat Turner, offered some guarded optimism and some advice for 2018.