“Our Australian Reconciliation Barometer findings show that in the six months prior to the survey, 46 percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, experienced at least one form of racial prejudice.
“This is up from 39 percent in 2014, and is two and a half times higher than an Australian from the general community, of whom only 18 percent had had such experiences,”
Reconciliation Australia Chief Executive Officer, Mr Justin Mohamed ( and former Chair of NACCHO )
Almost half of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have described experiencing racism according to the findings of Reconciliation Australia’s latest Australian Reconciliation Barometer survey.
The Australian Reconciliation Barometer is a national research study conducted every two years to measure and compare attitudes and perceptions towards reconciliation in both the general Australian community, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Other key findings of the survey reveal that:
Many Australians (57% Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and 39% Australians in the general Australian community) agree Australia is a racist country.
Almost half (46%) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians say they trust other Australians, but only 1 in 5 (19%) of the general Australian community think Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians trust them.
Almost all Australians (97% Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and 89% Australians in the general community) believe the relationship is important.
Most Australians agree that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are important to Australia’s national identity (93% Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and 77% Australians in the general community).
“What we’re seeing since the first survey in 2008 just after the National Apology to Stolen Generations is that whilst we’ve maintained a lot of goodwill since then, we aren’t moving fast enough on issues of racism and trust. This is holding all Australians back from having positive relationships with each other,” Mr. Mohamed added.
“Part of the problem that our State of Reconciliation in Australia report uncovered last year is that we aren’t addressing racism at an institutional level. Attempts to weaken legal protections under the Racial Discrimination Act are ongoing; Australia is yet to implement its international obligations under the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and the Australian Constitution still allows for racial discrimination in our nation’s founding document.”
“The reality is, that unless goodwill is followed through with significant reform at an institutional level, Australia will continue to fall short of its full potential as a reconciled nation.”
Minister for Indigenous Affairs
Australian Reconciliation Barometer Report Response
9 February 2017
Reconciliation Australia’s biennial Australian Reconciliation Barometer has been released today, providing a snapshot of views on the relationship between First Australians and the wider Australian community.
Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, said the report showed some encouraging signs but there was still a lot more work to be done.
“It is very pleasing that most Australians surveyed believe reconciliation is important and that itis possible for all Australians to be united,” Minister Scullion said.
“Almost everyone – 97 per cent of those surveyed – believed that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are important to Australia’s identity, and that more Australians in the general community now accept key facts about Australia’s past. This is extremely important going forward.
“Sadly, of those surveyed, almost half of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people said theyexperienced at least one form of racial prejudice in the six months prior to the survey.
“Although there are notable improvements across the last two reports, there is still more Australia can do. There is a lot of goodwill out there and with further education we can ensure our First Australians enjoy respectful relationships to the same extent as fellow Australians.
“Australian businesses are leading the way through their commitments in Reconciliation Action Plans. Individuals in communities can also take a proud stand against racism.
“The Coalition Government is pleased to support Reconciliation Australia and the work it undertakes to increase the understanding of relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and fellow Australians within businesses and communities throughout Australia.”
“Yawurugun Janu buru Rubibi. I am from Broome. Ngayu nilawal Djagun. My name is Djagun. Ngayu Banaga wamba. I am a Banaga man. I acknowledge with respect the traditional owners of this country, the Ngambri and Ngunuwal people, their elders and their emerging leaders and I thank everyone who has made me welcome here.
In the Yawuru language from around Broome there are three key concepts from the Bugarrigarra which shape our ways of knowing and understanding. These concepts will inform my work here, as they have formed my being. They are: Mabu ngarrung, a strong community where people matter and are valued; Mabu buru, a strong place, a good country where use of resources is balanced and sacredness is embedded in the landscape; Mabu liyan, a healthy spirit, a good state of being for individuals, families and community. Its essence arises from our encounter with the land and people.”
Senator Patrick Dodson first speech below Part 1 : Shadow Assistant Minister Indigenous Affairs : photo above Amnesty
“The opening will be in Yawuru and Senate President (equivalent to the Lower House’s Speaker) Stephen Parry spoke in the language of the Kimberley region traditional owners.
“I just walked up to him in the corridor and said: ‘I’d like, if you wouldn’t mind, if you respond in Yawuru to a couple of things that I’ll say to you in Yawuru’,” the senator for Western Australia recounts.
“And he said: ‘Oh yeah, I’ll be interested in that, but you might have to give me some coaching.’
Behind Pat Dodson’s maiden speech see Part 2 Below
“Reconciliation Australia last week marks twenty-five years since the establishment of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (‘the Council’), and the formalisation of Australia’s reconciliation journey.
“It is an extra cause for celebration that the anniversary of the Council should come in the same week as the maiden speeches to Federal Parliament of Linda Burney MP and Senator Patrick Dodson”,
Reconciliation Australia CEO Justin Mohamed see Part 3 Below
Yawurugun Janu buru Rubibi. I am from Broome. Ngayu nilawal Djagun. My name is Djagun. Ngayu Banaga wamba. I am a Banaga man. I acknowledge with respect the traditional owners of this country, the Ngambri and Ngunuwal people, their elders and their emerging leaders and I thank everyone who has made me welcome here.
I now come to this place, elected by the people of Western Australia. I am honoured to serve our great state and thank the people of Western Australia for their confidence and trust in me. I will carry out my responsibilities and commitments to all Western Australians with dedication and vigour.
I come to this upper house, the Senate, very mindful of the traditional role of this place to represent the views of the states. I know that at times our views in the Senate may challenge those of the House. I pledge myself to negotiating any differences with respect and courtesy.
I am committed to working closely with our Labor team, led by our leader Bill Shorten, and all of my Senate colleagues to make a difference for the future of our country.
I am particularly honoured to serve in the 45th Parliament with my Aboriginal sisters, my fellow Labor colleagues, Senator Malarndirri McCarthy in the Senate, and Linda Burney in the House of Representatives. I also acknowledge my Aboriginal and Torres Strait brothers and sisters in both houses of the Australian parliament, and those who have led us here, such as Queensland Liberal Senator Neville Bonner, Senator Aden Ridgeway, and Senator Nova Peris.
The Senate and the House are now becoming more representative and inclusive of all the peoples of Australia. It is a positive step along our road to have Aboriginal people participating directly in the process of making Australian law. This was not the case at the time when our founding document, the Australian Constitution, was drafted.
The only two express references in the Constitution were section 127 and section 51(xxvi), and both related to our exclusion—a situation that lingered in the constitutional landscape of this nation until the 1967 referendum.
The presence of the First Australians, who occupied this continent for millennia, in this great land was disregarded. Something that Bill Stanner in his Boyer lectures referred as to as: …a cult of forgetfulness practised on a national scale.
Clearly, there is work to be done to address this, with constitutional recognition of the First Australians being an important step in this process. I look forward to the report of the Referendum Council and working with the 45th Parliament on this very important task.
I am a proud member of the Yawuru people of Broome. In the Yawuru language from around Broome there are three key concepts from the Bugarrigarra which shape our ways of knowing and understanding. These concepts will inform my work here, as they have formed my being. They are: Mabu ngarrung, a strong community where people matter and are valued; Mabu buru, a strong place, a good country where use of resources is balanced and sacredness is embedded in the landscape; Mabu liyan, a healthy spirit, a good state of being for individuals, families and community. Its essence arises from our encounter with the land and people.
These concepts are not newly minted. They come from the time before time began. We call this the Bugarrigarra—from when the earth was soft and yet to be moulded and given its form by the creative spirits. The Bugarrigarra encompasses the time well before Western philosophy, religion and laws existed or travelled to our lands in ships.
In 2006, after 12 years of litigation, the federal court recognised the native title rights of the Yawuru, and therein acknowledged the existence of our laws and customs under Bugarrigarra in Australian law. The Yawuru now hold some 530,000 hectares of land in and around Broome. Much of the Yawuru land is held under exclusive native title. Other parts are non-exclusive title. However, native title rights are vulnerable to the principle of extinguishment, which has the effect of returning native title rights to our lands and waters to terra nullius or Crown land.
When the Federal Court handed down its determination in 2006, the Western Australian state government appealed the decision. But two years later the full bench of the Federal Court upheld the original decision. During and following the appeal, formal negotiations were undertaken between the Yawuru people, the state government of Western Australia and the shire of Broome.
In February 2010, these good faith negotiations led to a native title agreement signed by all the parties and registered with the Native Title Tribunal in August 2010.
The ILUA—the Indigenous land use agreement—settled some key matters of land tenure and governance for the state and for the Yawuru people. The agreement provides a basis for building economic opportunity in our shared, cosmopolitan world subject, of course, to market factors and opportunities. The agreement-making process and the agreement itself help both communities to face up to the unfinished business of our place, of our country and of our status within the confines of the act.
They do not settle, however, fundamental matters of colonisation and dispossession. It is not a panacea, applicable in every case, but shows that local and regional agreement-making is achievable and can be mutually beneficial.
It has refreshed our spirit, our liyan. It enabled us to move on from the many mistakes, poor policies, ignorance and outright racism that have bedevilled us in the past. We now come to the table in our own right: respected as legitimate stakeholders, whose rights can no longer be bypassed, ignored or simply extinguished without compensation.
It is one model of agreement making I can commend, while recognising such a model cannot be adopted in all parts of our diverse country. Its limitations are that it does not deal with the claims of sovereignty that many Aboriginal people argue has never been ceded or surrendered. The basis for settlement remains contested since the discredited legal fiction of terra nullius was exposed in the High Court Mabo decision.
As a senator from Western Australia, I will work with my parliamentary colleagues in this place and elsewhere in shaping the social and economic future of our state and the nation as a whole.
I am especially focused on the needs of those who live in the regional and remote parts across this great land of ours, particularly in Western Australia. I firmly believe that to be successful in this endeavour we must ensure at all times the full and active engagement of all of our people.
I will be working in this place to: make sure that fewer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are locked up in our prisons; help develop northern Australia, in partnership with regional communities, industries and Aboriginal people; build consensus on changing our constitutional framework, recognising the need for meaningful discussions with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on a treaty or treaties; and ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and their organisations are key decision makers and empowered partners in programs to transform the current levels of injustice and bureaucratic domination.
In joining my fellow senators, I acknowledge and welcome those of my colleagues who are also new senators. We have become good schoolmates in Senate school. Some, though, have been elected on platforms which I will undoubtedly find challenging. I will not be averse to argument and debate on these issues. This place is, after all, the sanctuary of free speech.
The debates will, however, need to be informed by the fundamental principles of respect for the diversity and richness of our various cultures in Australia, and the recognition of our shared humanity. We know, as a fact, that some Australian legislation in the past was founded on outmoded patterns of thought and belief. Our laws have, at times, been based on ingrained paternalism and racial superiority, denying our shared humanity.
Such mindsets justified repeated acts of greed that grabbed the lands of our people without negotiation, settlement or compensation—and at times at great human cost, with many lives being taken or cut short. Those laws built bureaucratic systems and processes that controlled the lives of our people; stifling life choices; creating the sorrow, pain and anguish of children ripped from the arms of their mothers.
My family, along with most Aboriginal families, carry this pain in our recent history. I was born before the constitutional changes of 1967.
I was hiding in the long grass in the Northern Territory town of Katherine and watched my age-mates being taken by welfare and police. In Katherine I also watched in fear as white people were bussed in to the town hall meeting, where they vented their hatred and anger against Aboriginal stockworkers for walking off Wave Hill Station and for demanding justice and equal wages.
The Australian law at that time was unarguably founded on a social outlook that was highly ethnocentric, even racist. Many of the laws were genocidal in intent, application and consequence. The same moral compass justified the American laws that mandated racial segregation in the US before the civil rights movement.
Such views and laws led to the horrors of Soweto and Robben Island and even the hate crimes of Nazi Germany. These systems of laws and regulation shared the same legal, intellectual and moral parentage. These laws and regulations cannot be permitted to emerge once more in our precious democracy.
Our Australian democracy evolves and grows as our nation matures. In times past, people of a different race, a different colour, a different religion, a different sexuality were subjected to exclusion, oppression or discrimination under the laws made in this place.
Such laws cannot and must not return to this place. I want to work with all of you in building an Australian nation that is characterised, as it is said in Yawuru, as Mabu ngarrungu—a strong community; Mabu buru—a strong place, a good country in which all Australians of all backgrounds, religions and ethnicities have a life influenced by Mabu liyan—a healthy spirit with the good feelings and sense of worth that comes from mutual respect and balance.
All of us, regardless of race, culture or gender, share a strong identity as Australians wanting to build a common, tolerant and prosperous future together. If we work to find what we have in common rather than what divides us, I believe that we can be better people; we can build a better Australia; we can build a better place for the next generation together.
I would like to express my deepest thanks to my family—and some of them are here today—my friends and the many supporters who have assisted me on my journey to this place.
In coming here I have been warmed by the welcome from the Parliament House staff, as well as the security team and the Comcar drivers. I especially wish to recognise all the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders, men and women, who have gone before, and those who continue every day in the struggle for justice and equality.
I acknowledge respectfully the women who have taken on leadership roles for our people—women such as Faith Bandler, Bonita Mabo, Mum Shirl, Lowitja O’Donohue and many others across our lands.
In closing: I was privileged last month to be at the 50th Anniversary of the Gurindji walk off by the stockmen and their families from Wave Hill Station near Katherine in the Northern Territory. The Gurindji, led by Vincent Lingiari, walked off in protest at poor working conditions and living conditions on the station, but at the core of the strike was a fight for land justice, for equality, for recognition of a people’s right to their law, to freedom, to justice and a fair go. Their stance was proudly supported by the union workers of Darwin and by many non-Aboriginal Australians from across Australia.
When Gough Whitlam handed the title to the Wave Hill pastoral lease back to the Gurindji in 1975, he poured dirt from the country into the hands of Vincent. At the time, Prime Minister Whitlam said:
I want to acknowledge that we Australians still have much to do to redress the injustice and oppression that have for so long been the lot of black Australians.
I want to promise you that the act of restitution which we perform today will not stand alone – your fight was not for yourselves alone and we are determined that Aboriginal Australians everywhere will be helped by it.
All Australians everywhere have been lifted by this powerful moment of moral truth and justice; a moment that made Australia a better place, the kind of country we want to be.
Vincent’s reply to the Prime Minister was in Gurindji, translated as:
Let us live happily as mates, let us not make it hard for each other.
It was a testament to his strength, his resilience and his generosity of spirit. After a century of theft, of violence, of dehumanising exploitation, of structural and institutionalised racism, of a stolen generation policy, genocidal in its intent and its impact, this leader was ready to move forward to build a better place.
Vincent held a vision for his people’s freedom—a vision based on fair treatment, getting country back and getting people back on country.
His vision was for equal wages, for a self-sufficient, independent, economically secure and culturally grounded community free from oppression and degradation. This vision was never fully realised, but it remains a worthy vision for us all.
In this Senate, I want to work with my fellow senators to help to build a better country, a better place, a strong, just and inclusive Australia. I look forward to our work together.
PART 2 Behind Pat Dodson’s maiden speech
Senator Pat Dodson was Australia’s first Aboriginal Catholic priest and then “the father of reconciliation”, but he is apprehensive as he prepares to address the Senate for the first time.
Patrick Dodson looks intently into the lens, his brown eyes focused as they peer over a pair of spectacles.
Camera lights hit his beard, giving each strand its own tone of grey.
Unchanging, however, are the iconic red, black and yellow colours around his wide-brimmed hat.
On a shelf in his parliamentary office is a biography, Paddy’s Road, written more than a decade ago.
The book’s cover is black and white, save for the cotton band and its colours of the Aboriginal flag.
Senator Dodson was Australia’s first Aboriginal Catholic priest and then “the father of reconciliation”, thanks to his chairmanship of the former Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation.
He has been in the public eye for more than a quarter of a century, but the 68-year-old novice frontbencher never imagined he would hold public office.
“Not in my wildest dreams,” he says about an hour before his first speech.
“I’ve been so used to screaming from the outside of the Parliament or trying to lobby ministers to get their ear on some matter.”
This afternoon, the lobbying is being done from Australia’s Senate chamber.
The latest version of the inaugural address is drenched in yellow highlighter and laid out on his thinly-populated desk.
I immediately notice the first words.
Ngaji mingan, Mr President (How are you Mr President?)
Gala mabu ngangan (I am good)
Janu buru Rubibi. Yawurugun (I am from Broome)
Ngayu nilawal Djagun (My name is Djagun)
Ngayu Banaga wamba (I am a Banaga man)
The opening will be in Yawuru and Senate President (equivalent to the Lower House’s Speaker) Stephen Parry will also be speaking the language of the Kimberley region traditional owners.
“I just walked up to him in the corridor and said: ‘I’d like, if you wouldn’t mind, if you respond in Yawuru to a couple of things that I’ll say to you in Yawuru’,” the senator for Western Australia recounts.
“And he said: ‘Oh yeah, I’ll be interested in that, but you might have to give me some coaching.’
“So I said: ‘Well that’s fine, we’ll organise that.’
“That’s the spirit that a lot of Australians don’t see about this place.
“Unfortunately we perform, I think, under-par when it comes to Question Time and that’s what most Australians see.”
As it creeps towards 5:00pm, more and more supporters, from all corners of the continent, enter the office.
Mr Gooda has become a royal commissioner 25 years after Senator Dodson was one.
Then, he was probing Aboriginal deaths in custody.
Sadly, problems inside prisons persist and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people encounter justice systems far too often.
And you only had to glance at the office coffee table to see that.
“Race Riot”, The West Australian’s Wednesday front page said, after a protest over the death of an Aboriginal teenager in Kalgoorlie turned violent.
Senator Dodson emerges from his private office after one final run-through.
He shakes hands with his brother Mick — 2009 Australian of the year and former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner — then walks to the chamber.
“Apprehensive. You’re never comfortable when you walk into that Senate,” he says.
At 5:01pm, Senator Dodson begins in Yawuru before acknowledging local Ngambri and Ngunnuwal peoples, elders and “emerging leaders”.
On the left side of his jacket is a badge featuring a red ‘R’ — the logo representing the Indigenous constitutional recognition campaign.
The badge nearly did not make it — it seemed broken just minutes ago — although the oratory would have compensated for any absent accessory.
Senator Dodson says constitutional change is needed to overcome a “cult of forgetfulness practised on a national scale”, as William Edward Hanley Stanner once described Australia’s neglect of its first peoples and their history.
Senator Dodson, one of Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s closest advisors on Indigenous affairs, talks of “the need for meaningful discussions with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on a treaty or treaties”.
He acknowledges sovereignty is something “many Aboriginal people argue has never been ceded or surrendered”.
Some of Senator Dodson’s new Upper House colleagues hold constitutional recognition in low regard.
Some also want to dilute sections of the Racial Discrimination Act.
“Some though have been elected on platforms which I will undoubtedly find challenging,” he says.
But he warns them against taking Australia’s statue books backwards, in the direction of bygone laws that “were genocidal in intent, application and consequence”.
“Such views and laws led to the horrors of Soweto and Robben Island and even the hate crimes of Nazi Germany,” he says.
“These laws and regulations cannot be permitted to emerge once more in our precious democracy.”
Senator Dodson hopes, with a record number of his Aboriginal brothers and sisters on Capital Hill, Australia’s race hate laws will remain intact.
Finishing his speech, Senator Dodson magnetically pulls senators towards him from every direction in the chamber.
Malarndirri McCarthy — Labor’s other Aboriginal senator — is among the first to congratulate him.
Others filter through.
But one stands out.
Her smile is beaming.
Pauline Hanson extends her hand to Senator Dodson.
We do not know what they said, if anything.
But the Queensland senator’s mere presence in the chamber for this Aboriginal champion’s first speech might be a step towards the recognition and reconciliation he wants to see between black and white Australia.
25 years on: Reconciliation a high priority in the 45th Parliament
“Senator Dodson and Ms. Burney have both made extraordinary contributions to our reconciliation journey, in their roles at the Council and beyond. Ms Burney served as an executive member of the Council and Senator Dodson, widely acknowledged as the ‘father’ of reconciliation, served as founding chairman.”
Reconciliation will remain a high priority in the 45th Parliament, In her maiden speech, Ms. Burney emphasised that “fundamentally, reconciliation is about three things: it is about reciprocity; it is about restitution; and it is about truth telling.”
Senator Dodson also reaffirmed the place of reconciliation in building a prosperous future for our nation, stating that “all of us, regardless of race, culture or gender, share a strong identity as Australians wanting to build a common, tolerant and prosperous future together. If we work to find what we have in common rather than what divides us… We can be better people; we can build a better Australia; we can build a better place for the next generation together.”
Guided by the diplomacy of the Council before us, Reconciliation Australia has successfully worked under various governments to ensure reconciliation remains a multi-partisan priority.
“In the 25 years since the Council was established, and with the ongoing work of Reconciliation Australia, our nation has made some remarkable progress towards reconciliation. The Mabo decision in 1992 and the Apology in 2008 were landmark events in our reconciliation journey”, said Mr. Mohamed.
The issues raised in parliament this week, including Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and constitutional recognition of First Australians, demonstrate that the reconciliation process has raised broader questions about our national identity and the place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and rights in our nation’s story.
“The triumph of the last 25 years is that reconciliation is no longer seen as a single issue or agenda, but instead lies at the heart of our nation and our understanding of who we are, and who we want to be”, Mr. Mohamed added.
“If Australia is to achieve true reconciliation, we must first acknowledge the facts of our history. Today’s Report tells us 9 in 10 Australians agree that injustices occurred as a result of European settlement. Yet only half agree that past race-based policies have created today’s disadvantage.
Today’s Report also confirms that too often, First Australians continue to bear the brunt of racism and discrimination.”
Launch of the State of Reconciliation in Australia report Speech notes for Justin Mohamed, CEO, Reconciliation Australia : Please Note Justin was the previous chair of NACCHO
The first of its kind since 2000, the Report highlights what has been achieved under the five dimensions of reconciliation: race relations, equality and equity, institutional integrity, unity, and historical acceptance and makes recommendations on how we can progress reconciliation into the next generation.
Over the last 25 years, Australia has achieved some significant milestones on our reconciliation journey.
These include the establishment of native title, the Apology, the Closing the Gap framework and progress on constitutional recognition of First Australians.
While much goodwill and support for reconciliation is growing across the Australian community, racism, denial of rights, and a lack of willingness to come to terms with our history continue to overshadow the nation’s progress towards reconciliation.
There are still many hard conversations before us.
These conversations are for all Australians to actively commit to and participate in, whether as individuals, or as members of the business, government, education, community or other sectors.
It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to ensure that one day in the near future, we can say that we are truly reconciled.
Until we achieve reconciliation, Australia will fall short of its full potential as a nation.
To also mark this milestone report, a video has been developed to highlight our nation’s history, story, and chapters to come. Watch, share with friends, and lets all join in on the conversation of reconciliation in Australia.
This report comes at a critical time in Australia’s history.
It comes at a period when reconciliation is an increasingly important part of the national conversation.
Today’s Report provides us with a clear framework to measure the progress we’ve made over a generation.
Most importantly, the report outlines clear measures that can move us towards a truly reconciled future.
This Report is the first of its kind since the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation handed its final report to Parliament in 2000—it is fitting that we launch the report here at Parliament House—the setting for some of the most significant reconciliation milestones over the past few decades.
Without further ado I’d like to begin by inviting Ngunnawal Elder Aunty Violet Sherida to the lectern to welcome us to this magnificent Country we are meeting on today.
Thank you Aunty Violet for your warm Welcome to Country. And in doing so, I would like to pay my respects and acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land we are meeting on today and to their Elders both past and present
I would like to pay my respects to elders present here today and thank you for your determination, leadership and vision. And to my Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters for the strength you provide to your members and their Communities
I’d also like to acknowledge our many distinguished guests with us here this morning including:
Hon Nigel Scullion Minister for Indigenous Affairs, representing the Prime Minister
Opposition Leader, the Hon Bill Shorten MP
Australian Greens Leader, the Hon Richard di Natale
Members of Parliament
Reconciliation Australia’s Co-Chairs Melinda Cilento and Tom Calma and Board members present
Ladies and gentlemen, let me acknowledge your presence here this morning.
Today’s event is testament to the importance our nation’s leaders, in all sectors, have placed on reconciliation between non-Indigenous and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
We know that until we achieve true reconciliation, we fall short of reaching our full potential as a nation.
The State of Reconciliation in Australia Report defines reconciliation in five important dimensions:
equality and equity
institutional integrity and
These dimensions, when woven together, will form the fabric of an Australia where race relations are positive.
Where relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians are free of racism, and built on trust and respect.
Where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can participate equally in all areas of life.
Where the unique rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are recognised and upheld.
An Australia where there is widespread acceptance of our nation’s history; where the wrongs of the past are no longer repeated.
And where all Australians, across our political, business and community institutions, actively weave these dimensions together.
Australia has a long history of reconciliation and countless people have dedicated their lives to the movement.
In 1967, we saw nine in ten Australians vote in favour of giving the Commonwealth power to legislate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
In 1991, formal reconciliation began with the establishment of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation.
By 1992, we saw the Mabo decision, that led to native title.
And in 2008, the Apology was given to the Stolen Generations;
These are all remarkable achievements, brought about by generations of countless people fighting for change for the better.
Yet today’s report confirms that we still have a long way to go if we are to stand up and be a nation that is just and equitable for all Australians.
Today we live in a nation where many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people still experience racism, prejudice, and discrimination.
Today Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up over 25% of Australia’s prison population.
And our people face a number of complex social problems resulting from colonisation and a denial of basic human rights.
For me three dimensions really stand out:
race relations; and
If Australia is to achieve true reconciliation, we must first acknowledge the facts of our history.
Today’s Report tells us 9 in 10 Australians agree that injustices occurred as a result of European settlement.
Yet only half agree that past race-based policies have created today’s disadvantage.
This tells us that we have some way to go before our nation fully understands and accepts the wrongs of the past and what these mean for Aboriginal and Torres Strait people today.
And unless we can heal these historical wounds, they will continue to play out in our country’s future.
Today’s Report also confirms that too often, First Australians continue to bear the brunt of racism and discrimination.
We recently saw the booing of Adam Goodes, the availability of an online game which blatantly encouraged the killing of Aboriginal People, and social media trolling on Australia Day.
In order to move forward with reconciliation, it is clear that we must have zero tolerance towards racism and discrimination.
Indeed, relationships are the backbone of reconciliation.
Like all positive relationships, our journey together must be built on respect, honesty, and trust.
Until we truly value the collective rights—the rich diversity, difference and uniqueness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and peoples—we will continue down the long-trodden path of assimilation.
As Noel Pearson recently reminded us, “reconciliation will take careful calibration”.
These are the challenges that lie ahead.
As long as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples do not enjoy the same opportunities as non‑Indigenous Australians, we cannot say we are reconciled.
As long as prejudice and racism exist, we cannot say we are reconciled.
As long as past wrongs are repeated in the present, we cannot say we are reconciled.
It is the responsibility of all of us to understand our history, to engage with the story and actively participate in our nation’s future.
As mentioned we are honoured to have representatives from the three major parties here to speak with us today. On behalf of the Prime Minister the Indigenous Affairs Minister the Hon Nigel Scullion, Opposition Leader Hon Bill Shorten and Representing the Australian Greens, the Hon Rachel Siewert.
We are truly grateful that you all could make it today to show your support for reconciliation in Australia and we look forward to working with you to bring the actions outlined in this Report to life.
Finally, but not least, I’d like to welcome Reconciliation Australia Co-Chairs Professor Tom Calma AO and Ms Melinda Cilento to the stage to say a few words and launch the State of Reconciliation in Australia Report.
As our Co-Chairs have outlined, we have much to do and we must make reconciliation a national priority in the next 25 years to continue our momentum toward a better nation.
Summaries of the State of Reconciliation in Australia report are available inside your bag and a full copy of the Report is available on Reconciliation Australia’s website at reconciliation.org.au
Thank you once again for joining us—we hope you will play your part as we work towards another generation of achievements in reconciliation.
“This is a mighty dream, full of risks, but we should never allow our expectations to lower because that would create two Australia’s – one with high expectations for a child’s future and another with low expectations.
That inequity is wrong. Indigenous Australians should have the same expectations that non-indigenous Australians have: a proper education for their children, a decent job and safety in their home and community.
Everything flows from meeting these three objectives.”
THE NATIONALS’ FEDERAL COUNCILCANBERRA 30TH AUGUST 2014
ADDRESS BYTHE MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS
THE NATIONALS’ SENATE LEADERSENATOR THE HON NIGEL SCULLION
I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet.
Today I will make a few remarks on the state of the Senate and the contributions of my Senate colleagues. Then I will take you on the journey that is Indigenous policy and pay a visit to constitutional recognition
I would now like to take you on a journey into Indigenous affairs. This is important because so much is happening – and the Nationals have always taken a keen interest in Indigenous affairs because they share many of the rural and remote challenges and opportunities.
Like a few in this room I’m sure, I didn’t really think that the Apology we made in 2008 would matter.
I couldn’t see the apology helping at all to close the vast gap on vital issues such as Indigenous life expectancy, remote children’s education, housing, decent work for adults and community safety.
All the symbolic trumpeting was wonderful, but I could not see what difference it could make.
How wrong I was.
The changes to the way Aboriginal people as individuals and as communities saw themselves after that apology were extraordinary. Clearly, those who would diminish the importance of symbolism as something that doesn’t have a role to play in practical outcomes are quite wrong.
Symbolic change must happen if practical changes are to succeed.
They go hand in hand. The government’s response to the Forrest Report will give us the practical policy future while constitutional recognition of our Indigenous peoples will give the matching symbolic change. They are twin engines in a plane that we must bring in to land together.
The case for recognition is very clear. Imagine there is a race and the winner is never acknowledged as having crossed the line first. In fact the second place getter gets all the accolades. The winner doesn’t even get to stand on the podium. That is quite wrong, obviously. And it is quite wrong for our Indigenous peoples to be left off the constitutional podium as well.
We started on the first day we were elected to change the future of Indigenous Affairs in the biggest shake-up of the bureaucracy in decades. One of the first acts of the new government was to bring the administration of more than 150 Indigenous programs and services from eight different government departments into the department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
The Prime Minister effectively became the overall Minister for Indigenous Affairs, as well as having me as a Cabinet Minister dedicated to Indigenous Affairs and a Parliamentary Secretary. As for Labor, they gave the shadow portfolio to Shayne Neumann. The Member for Ipswich also has to shadow the large portfolio of Ageing. Following criticism of Neumann by aboriginal elders, the editor in chief of The Australian described Shayne Neumann as having “no idea what he is talking about”. The picture is of a Shadow Minister who is not across his brief and has lost both the support of elders, communities and the national media.
We faced dealing with 150 different programs and services. We inherited a structural mess. A former community organisation in Yuendumu had 34 separate funding agreements requiring a report on average once a week. There has been far too much waste for far too long in Indigenous Affairs.
Billions have been spent on housing under Labor but overcrowding remains chronic.
We turned those 150 lines of funding into five streamlined areas with total funding of $4.8 billion and named it the Indigenous Advancement Strategy.
The five areas are 1) jobs, land and economy; 2) children and schooling; 3) safety and wellbeing; 4) culture and capability; and 5) remote Australia strategies.
From this we distilled the essence of Coalition action, our mantra, which is: to get children into school – which is our number one priority, adults into work and the creation of safe communities.
They are the core of everything. We are already implementing the $46.5 million Remote School Attendance Strategy across 73 schools in 69 communities. Over 500 local indigenous jobs are also created in terms of School Attendance Supervisors and Officers. A key part of the Forrest Review is effectively already at work via our $45 million Vocational Training and Employment Centres (or VTECs) training for jobs model. These VTECs have guaranteed jobs for the people who undergo the right training. So it’s goodbye to training or training’s sake which has been the problem in many communities. Now we’ve linked up employers, trainers and Indigenous job seekers in a demand driven model. 4,074 jobs have already been created this way with another thousand expected by the end of the year. Indigenous people are entering the workforce in a range of industries – hospitality, tourism, construction, mining and transport.
Safer communities are essential for Indigenous families to be happy and healthy. We will continue to support the efforts of Indigenous communities to combat alcohol fuelled violence so all community members, particularly women, children and the elderly can live peacefully and safely. The government is helping end petrol sniffing by expanding the roll out of low aromatic fuel across Northern Australia and building storage tanks in Darwin. The government is also investing $54.1 million in police infrastructure so there is a 24 hours police presence for the first time in some remote communities. There is also $2.5 million for Community Engagement Police Officers and $3.8 million towards the ongoing Northern Territory’s Child Abuse Taskforce.
Already we are seeing these practical measures make significant inroads. But it’s a long and winding road, this highway to better lives for Indigenous peoples. Many have tried and failed despite major investments. The only way to succeed is to involve the Indigenous people at the decision making level. The Government committed to provide $5 million to support a nine month design phase of the Empowered Communities initiative. Indigenous leaders report encouraging outcomes, particularly in relation to community acceptance of the need to take increased responsibility in key areas such as school attendance and employment. Significant consultation with Indigenous groups across all eight Empowered Communities regions has been occurring. I look forward to receiving the final Empowered Communities proposal from the Indigenous leaders later this year.
Unless Indigenous people own the reforms nothing will change. Engaging Indigenous people in delivering solutions and services is critical to empowering communities and doing business in the new way. So it’s a mindset thing on both sides. And they don’t happen overnight. But I believe that we have started well. We have a Prime Minister who believes passionately in improving the lives of Indigenous people on a practical level – children to school, guaranteed jobs for adults after training and communities where families have decent housing and the option to buy their own home, where substance abuse and domestic violence have disappeared.
This is a mighty dream, full of risks, but we should never allow our expectations to lower because that would create two Australia’s – one with high expectations for a child’s future and another with low expectations. That inequity is wrong. Indigenous Australians should have the same expectations that non-indigenous Australians have: a proper education for their children, a decent job and safety in their home and community. Everything flows from meeting these three objectives.
As The Nationals look to private enterprise as the solution to a healthy economy, so too is it the solution to Indigenous employment. Corporate Australia is offering many opportunities for Indigenous employment. The first example is that of Andrew Forrest who has just completed a report for the government on employment and training. Before this he established the Australian Employment Covenant that attracted over 60,000 job pledges from 338 employers. Over 15,000 of these jobs have been filled. A real breakthrough in pioneering a demand-driven approach where the employer provides the job and the job seeker is trained to do it. The Business Council of Australia membership placed 3,500 Indigenous people in jobs and traineeships in a year. Some of Australia’s best known companies are also engaged in providing real jobs and training, such as Woolworths, Coles, the Commonwealth Bank, Transfield and the CopperChem mine in Cloncurry. Then there are the business opportunities being built up by local Indigenous people. I tell you this because it’s important to get the message out that there are positive stories happening and lessons being learnt on how to make real jobs which is the ultimate solution to welfare dependency.
I’ve outlined what I believe to be a realistic way through the years of mismanagement and waste in Indigenous affairs. The key is relationships with people at the grass roots. The Nationals have always been good at that and naturally understand it because they too have experience in being a long way from decision makers. The Nationals’ seats are generally the poorest seats and contain significant numbers of Indigenous people. If we can stand up and say ‘Yes’ to constitutional recognition then we are saying ‘yes’ to recognising people who we’ve grown up with or worked beside or gone to school with.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are the first inhabitants of this country, and recognising them in our Constitution presents an historic opportunity to acknowledge their unique culture and history, and their enormous contribution to this nation.
The vote of conservatives is of vital importance in the debate on constitutional recognition. It will only succeed with bipartisanship.
Our own former Nationals’ Party Leader John Anderson has been recruited to head a panel to conduct a review into public support for Indigenous constitutional recognition.
The review panel will work with the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to progress the government’s commitment towards a successful referendum.
The joint select committee, chaired by Ken Wyatt, the first Indigenous member of the House of Representatives, was formed to work towards a parliamentary and community consensus on referendum proposals, and report on how to achieve a successful referendum.
The review panel is required to provide a report to me by September 28. When the time is right and informed by these two reports, the government will release a draft amendment. We must get it right because if the referendum fails, it would be a body blow to our fellow Indigenous Australians. Indeed, the whole nation would falter, would be diminished.
When you leave this Council, I would like you to ask yourself this question:- Is it honourable to support Indigenous recognition in Australia’s founding document? If it is, (and I strongly believe it is), then I will do everything possible to see that it succeeds in my local community.
It will quite literally take a ‘National’ sense of honour to see this through.
If we get this right as a nation, we will be able to work together to write a new story for all of us.
Among Indigenous Australians, tobacco use contributes to 80% of all lung cancer deaths, 37% of heart disease, 9% of all strokes and 5% of low birth-weight babies. And in central Australia, rates of pneumonia among children are reported to be the highest in the world, reaching 78.4 cases per 1,000 children every year.
Although we are seeing reductions in smoking rates across Australia, 42% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (TSI) people are daily smokers, compared to 16% in the non-Indigenous population. In some remote communities this estimate is as high as 83%.
Smoking is also higher among vulnerable groups: up to two-thirds of Indigenous women continue to smoke during pregnancy, and around 39% of young people aged 15 to 24 years are smoking daily.
You’d think governments would be redoubling their efforts to address the problem. Not so. In fact, the Australian government has recently announced funding cuts of A$130 million over five years to the Tackling Indigenous Smoking program, which amounts to more than one-third of the program’s annual funding.
Tackling Indigenous Smoking funds teams of six health workers to run tailored anti-smoking programs. Each is designed with input and involvement from each community and employ local quit-smoking role models who help other smokers quit by offering advice and support.
Benefits of quitting
We know that quitting smoking reduces the risks of heart disease, lung cancer and other smoking-related issues.
But there are also significant benefits for the health-care system and Australian longer-term budget’s. A recent South Australian study led by Professor Brian Smith, for instance, helped smokers to quit while in hospital and found a direct saving to the hospital budget of A$6,646 per successful quitter within just 12 months.
Another study estimated that the economic impact from just an 8% reduction in the prevalence of tobacco smoking in Australia would result in 158,000 fewer incident cases of disease, 5000 fewer deaths, 2.2 million fewer lost working days and 3000 fewer early retirements. Overall, an 8% reduction in smoking would reduce health sector costs by AU$491 million.
Assessing and funding what works
One of the complicating factors is that the success of Indigenous anti-smoking programs has been patchy. A review I recently published in the Cochrane Collaboration found significant shortcomings for Indigenous quit smoking and youth tobacco prevention programs.
Only one quit smoking study, which was performed in the Northern Territory by Dr Rowena Ivers, met the quality criteria. Dr Ivers’ study found that free nicotine patches might benefit a small number of Indigenous smokers. But none of the study participants completed the full course of nicotine patches and only seven people from the original total of 111 reported that they had quit smoking at six months.
This study suggests programs using nicotine patches can help Indigenous smokers to quit. But much more evidence is needed to determine what options really are the most effective.
Likewise, another review of tobacco prevention programs among young people found potentially harmful results, with one of the three identified studies showing lower smoking rates in the control population. This means that children who received the tailored tobacco prevention program did worse than the youth in the control group who received nothing at all.
It is important to continue evaluating Tackling Indigenous Smoking programs so we know whether or not they work and can direct funding to programs that make a difference. So it’s concerning that part of the funding that is being cut from the budget relates to reviewing these programs.
A long way to go
Five years into the Tackling Indigenous Smoking project, the government has invested a substantial amount of time and money into developing these culturally-tailored programs. Preliminary data released by the government in April found a 3.6% fall in Indigenous daily smoking rates between 2008 and 2013 and a reduction in smoking during pregnancy of 3%.
But cutting resources will make it impossible to meet the program’s ambitious goal of halving Indigenous smoking rates by 2018.
There is still a long way to go. Research shows many health-care workers and some doctors who treat smokers do not believe they have the skills or ability to offer effective preventive health advice. Worryingly, they also admit to the attitude of “even if I did, it’s not going to work, so why bother”.
This response tells us that much more work and subsequently funding is needed to really address the health gaps that remain between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Tobacco use will remain a problem within our society for as long as we continue to allow it to be one.
“Indigenous Australians should enjoy the same health, education and employment outcomes as other Australians. But, instead there remains a persistent and terrible gap between the two in major areas.
Closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is a priority for all Australian governments. But closing the gap is a long-term challenge—one which requires enduring vigilance and resources”
John Brumby Chair NACCHO reform Council Speaking at the NACCHO SUMMIT
I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we meet today, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. I pay my respects to their Elders both past and present.
It is my pleasure to be with you today to report on national progress in indigenous health.
As you know, the COAG Reform Council was established by COAG in 2006 to report on Australia’s national reform progress.
Our job is to hold all nine Australian governments accountable for implementing national reforms that began rolling out in 2008.
Importantly, we publicly report our findings to the Australian people.
In 2008, COAG agreed to goals on healthcare, education, skills and workforce development, disability, housing and closing the gap on Indigenous disadvantage.
That was six years ago.
Today I will be launching a supplement that focuses on the health outcomes for Indigenous people. The supplement draws on the findings we have made in two reports that we provide to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) each year – the National Healthcare Agreement and the National Indigenous Reform Agreement.
Indigenous Australians should enjoy the same health, education and employment outcomes as other Australians. But, instead there remains a persistent and terrible gap between the two in major areas.
Closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is a priority for all Australian governments. But closing the gap is a long-term challenge—one which requires enduring vigilance and resources.
The Genesis of Closing the Gap
The genesis of the closing the gap campaign was a report in 2005 by Dr Tom Calma, the then Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner.
The report called on the governments of Australia to commit to achieving health equality for Indigenous people within a generation.
This report sparked the National Indigenous Health Equality Campaign in 2006 that culminated in a formal launch of the close the gap campaign in Sydney in April 2007, where NACCHO was a leading voice calling for action.
NACCHO’s very name—National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation—reflects the campaign for self-determination … the wish of Indigenous Australians to have their own representative bodies.
On 20 December 2007, the Council of Australian Governments answered the call of NACCHO, ANTAR, Oxfam Australia and many other organisations and pledged to close the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and other Australians within a generation.
In March 2008, the Indigenous Health Equality Summit released a statement of intent which committed the Australian government, among other things, to achieve equality of health status and life expectancy between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians by 2030.
NACCHO was a signatory to that statement. The parties also agreed to use benchmarks and targets to measure, monitor and report.
COAG & Closing the Gap
In November 2008, our nation’s leaders committed to closing the gap within a generation (25 years) in the National Indigenous Reform Agreement (NIRA).
Importantly, COAG agreed to be accountable for closing these gaps and appointed the COAG Reform Council to monitor progress.
As you well know, COAG has six targets as part of its objective of closing the gap.
To close the life expectancy gap within a generation, by 2031.
To halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five within a decade, by 2018.
To provide access to early childhood education for all Indigenous four-year olds in remote communities within five years, by 2013.
To halve the gap in reading, writing and numeracy within a decade, by 2018.
To halve the gap in the rate of Year 12 or equivalent attainment, by 2020.
And, finally, to halve the gap in employment outcomes within a decade by 2018.
For the past five years, the COAG Reform Council has dissected the data, measured progress and independently reported on whether Australian governments are achieving these targets in both our NIRA report and our report under the National Healthcare Agreement.
Indigenous Supplement to Healthcare in Australia 2012–13
What we have found under the NIRA report, the National Healthcare agreement and the supplement I am releasing today is that the health of Indigenous Australians continues to be poorer than non-Indigenous Australians.
We found that Indigenous life expectancy at birth was 69.1 years for men and 73.7 years for women. This equates to a gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous life expectancy of 10.6 years for men and 9.5 years for women.
Although the national gap in life expectancy did slightly narrow over the last five years, it is extremely unlikely that governments will be able meet the target to close the life expectancy gap within a generation (that is, by 2031).
The life expectancy gap and potentially avoidable death
Closing the gap on life expectancy is complex and requires action on a range of fronts.
We report on a range of indicators and targets about many things that may help to achieve improvements in Indigenous health. These include indicators relating to preventative health, primary care, hospitals and the medical workforce.
I would like to focus today on the results we have found in regards to death from potentially avoidable causes – either through prevention, or through early intervention via primary or community care.
In regards to deaths from potentially avoidable causes – we measure according to whether they could have been potentially prevented or potentially treated.
Deaths from potentially preventable causes are avoidable through primary healthcare (such as the care provided by a GP or community care), health promotion (such as by improving healthy habits and behaviours) and preventative health (such as vaccination against some diseases or help to quit smoking).
Deaths from potentially treatable causes are avoidable through appropriate therapeutic interventions, such as surgery or medication, before a condition worsens. This is often the case where diseases are prevented early, such as through screening programs.
What we found was that Indigenous people were three times as likely to die of an avoidable cause. This means that three-quarters of deaths of Indigenous people aged under 75 were avoidable either through early prevention or treatment.
By way of comparison, two-thirds of all Australians died from avoidable causes.
It is a tragedy to think of all of those taken before their time purely because they did not receive care early enough, or did not make the lifestyle changes to prevent disease.
Early intervention is vital
This finding underlines two things that NACCHO well knows if we are to close this terrible gap in life expectancy:
Good access to primary or community care is vital.
Prevention is better than cure.
There have been large increases in the rates of indigenous people having health checks claimable from Medicare over time, and this was true of all age groups.
The rate of child health checks has more than doubled, from 87.9 per 1000 in 2009-10 to 193.0 per 1000 in 2012-13. This is an average annual increase of 35.7 checks per 1000 children aged 0 to 14 years.
In the 15-54 years age group, the rate of health checks more than doubled from 74.5 per 1000 in 2009-10 to 196.0 per 1000 in 2012-13. This equated to an average annual increase of 40.3 checks per 1000 people.
In the 55 years or over age group, the rate of health checks more than doubled from 137.5 checks per 1000 people in 2009-10 to 304.6 per 1000 indigenous people in 2012-13. This equates to an annual average increase of 54.8 checks per 100 people from 2009-10 to 2012-13.
In child health we have also seen some pleasing improvement.
The rate of Indigenous child deaths decreased by 35% to 164.7 deaths per 100,000 Indigenous children compared to 77.2 per 100,000 for non-Indigenous children, and death rates are falling more quickly.
This means that the gap in the child death rate between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children decreased by 38% from 1998 to 2012, and we are on track to reach the current 2018 target.
This is a resounding achievement and is partly due to increases in immunisation rates and health checks:
In 2012, immunisation rates for Indigenous children aged 2 years and 5 years were the same as for all children. However, rates at 1 year still lag behind.
And, the rate of child (0–14 years) health checks doubled between 2009–10 and 2012–13
These results in access to immunisation and health checks are very positive and reflect the hard work and what can be achieved when governments and community stakeholders, such as NACCHO and others work together.
We should ensure that these gains are not undone.
As you know, the cost of healthcare is very topical at the moment. Australians are being asked to consider what they would pay for access to a primary care physician.
What we found in our results for this report was that one in eight (12%) indigenous people already delayed or did not go to a GP as a result of cost. More than two out of five (43.9%) Indigenous people delayed or did not see a dental professional due to cost. And one-third (34.6%) delayed or did not fill a prescription also due to cost.
When people start to avoid going to their primary or community care provider because of cost or other reasons, they often end up in hospital.
And, what we found was that rates of potentially preventable hospitalisations for Indigenous people were already three to four times higher than rates for other Australians.
These results provide context for governments when they are considering policies around access to primary care. Governments should be careful that they do not put up barriers to healthcare access for Indigenous people as it may undo the good work that has been done in this space over five years and end up creating a different burden on the hospital system.
Prevention is better than cure
The other component that we will need focus on to close the gap in life expectancy is prevention – particularly prevention of circulatory diseases, endocrine disorders (like diabetes) and some cancers.
The results we found this year show significantly more work needs to be done.
The heart attack rate for Indigenous people in 2011 was two and a half times higher than that of other people.
And Indigenous Australians are more than five times more likely to die of endocrine diseases (like diabetes), and one and a half times as likely to die from a circulatory disease or cancer.
One of the primary drivers in rates of heart attacks and endocrine disorders are rates of excess body weight.
Around 70% of adult Indigenous Australians have excess body weight, meaning that they are either overweight or obese. The rate of obesity by itself was 42%.
This compares poorly to the broader Australian population, where 63% of all adults had excess body weight and 27% were obese.
This high rate is extremely concerning. Particularly when you consider the increased risks it poses for chronic diseases and early death.
Finally, I would like to turn to lung cancer. In 2010, the rates of lung cancer for Indigenous Australians was nearly double the rate for non-Indigenous Australians.
What is most tragic about lung cancer is how preventable it is. Lung cancer is very strongly linked with whether or not a person smokes. We found that the Indigenous adult smoking rate is more than double the non-Indigenous rate (41.1% vs 16.0%).
So, that is a brief summary of the health report.
Without a doubt, the results are still not good enough to close the gap in many of the health outcomes for indigenous people.
We continue to have too many Indigenous people dying before their time, of preventable diseases and conditions.
However, there are green shoots; we have seen increases in access to primary care, and most pleasingly we are on track to close the gap in child deaths.
The social determinants of health
I think it is important to recognise that these health outcomes will also be critically determined by non-health factors, what’s referred to as the ‘social determinants of health.’ The recognition of these social determinants has, in the words of the National Rural Health Alliance, become a ‘rejuvenated agenda.’
Our working conditions — whether that be our incomes, job stability, or workplace safety — and factors like education and housing among many others, each make meaningful contributions to our health.
To draw on the words of Dr Margaret Chan, the Director General of the World Health Organisation:
‘…the social conditions in which people are born, live, and work are the single most important determinant of good health or ill health, of a long and productive life, or a short and miserable one.’
So, I would also like to discuss some results from our latest National Indigenous Reform Agreement report with you – particularly the results from education and employment.
We launched our latest NIRA report on government’s achievement against these targets in May.
We found that in literacy, numeracy and year 12 education, outcomes for Indigenous Australians are catching up with those of non-Indigenous Australians.
Between 2008 and 2013, the gap in the proportion of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students who met the national minimum standard narrowed in reading in all years and in Years 3 and 5 in numeracy.
In reading, the gap reduced most, by over 10 percentage points in Years 3 and 5. There were smaller reductions in Years 7 and 9 (1 to 3 percentage points).
In numeracy, the gap narrowed by 2 to 3 percentage points in Years 3 and 5 but widened in Year 9 by 4 percentage points. The gap widened in Year 7 by less than 1%.
The gap in the proportion of Indigenous and non-Indigenous 20–24 year olds who attained Year 12 or equivalent decreased significantly—by 12.2 percentage points .
And, over the past four years, the proportion of Indigenous Australians with or working towards a post school qualification increased from 33.1% to 42.3 %.
More work needed on childhood education, school attendance and employment
While most of this is heartening, our report also found that better results are needed in early childhood education, school attendance and in employment to meet COAG targets.
Early childhood education is a critical time for development as a successful learner. In 2012, 88% of Indigenous children in remote communities were enrolled in a preschool program in the year before school compared to 70% in major cities.
Similarly, 77% of children in remote areas attended a preschool program compared to 67% in major cities.
Another area of real concern we highlight is the falling rate of school attendance by Indigenous students in most year levels.
It’s very disappointing that—over four years—falls in Indigenous students’ attendance have outstripped any improvements made.
The worst drops in attendance were in South Australia the ACT and the Northern Territory, where attendance fell as much as 14 percentage points.
Only New South Wales and Victoria saw attendance rates improve and the gap narrow overall but even so, improvements were small —1 percentage point for most year levels.
Regular school attendance is vital for developing core skills in literacy and numeracy, and for successfully completing secondary education.
A slump in school attendance rates in all jurisdictions in the later years of compulsory schooling is particularly concerning given its potential to impact long-term economic participation.
Which leads me to employment – Australia is not on track to halve the gap in employment outcomes by 2018.
Since 2008, the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous employment outcomes has widened over the past five years by almost seven percentage points.
To give you some examples, we found just over 60% of Indigenous Australians were participating in the labour force, compared to almost 80% of non-Indigenous Australians.
And the overall unemployment rate for Indigenous Australians was four times that of non-Indigenous Australians—almost 22% compared to 5%.
Lower Indigenous employment and workforce participation has an impact right across the reform agenda, and must be prioritised for attention by COAG.
We, at the council, are pleased to see some positive outcomes under the Indigenous Reform Agreement, but are wary that there is still hard work and monitoring to be done in key areas.
Performance reporting matters
As you may be aware, the COAG Reform Council is being wound up on June 30, so we will no longer be reporting on these outcomes in the future.
In response to the news of the COAG Reform Council being abolished, Mick Gooda said:
“If we don’t have decisions made on the basis of the best evidence that we have available to us, we might as well be just making up things on the back of beer coasters again.”
The reports we release on Indigenous outcomes have not only enabled governments to monitor their performance. They have also equipped the public, and organisations such as NACCHO and the other peak bodies that are here today, with the information they need to hold governments to account for promises they have made in regards to Indigenous Australians.
Our reporting has provided the impetus for more focused effort to improve Indigenous health, education and economic participation and has highlighted important progress – reassuring governments and the community that change is indeed possible.
And after five years of reporting on governments’ performance, our reports have shown that we are still only at the beginning of the change required over a generation to close the gap.
I’ve been fortunate in my public life to have served in both federal and state parliaments, in opposition and in government.
And after all these years, I can honestly say that accountability—keeping governments honest—and evidence-based reform are not simply important ingredients – they are absolutely essential to getting results and keeping governments on track.
Although we do not know for sure who will be reporting on the targets to close the gap in the future, it has been suggested that the Prime Minister’s department will report on achievement of targets.
I have a great deal of respect for the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet and I’m sure there are people with the skills to do that in PM&C.
However, what the COAG Reform Council did that was particularly special was hold governments to account on the promises they have made, but did so independently of any one government.
We report independently on the progress of all nine of Australia’s governments—the Commonwealth, the States and the Territories—in closing the gap.
That independence ensured that our reporting was impartial and objective.
Who will do this in the future?
We need to consider how to increase the effectiveness of our independent public reporting on government progress, such as improving the quality of indicators, and accessing better data.
It is important in the future that someone, or some organisation, will be there to properly measure what governments are achieving with the billions of dollars in taxpayers’ money they are spending.
Crucially, it is important that any future design of performance reporting frameworks and targets must involve indigenous stakeholders as equal partners.
Consultation with governments is required under the IGA. It should extend to key Indigenous stakeholders such as the Closing the Gap coalition.
With a tri-lateral coalition of the Commonwealth, State governments, and Indigenous representatives – we truly have a real chance of closing the gap.
So, in my last week as chairman of the COAG Reform Council, allow me to pay tribute to the work of NACCHO and extend my best wishes for the future of Indigenous health reform.
Your voice matters and I know it will shape a better future for Indigenous Australians. Thank you.
The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) has expressed grave concerns that the COAG Reform Council responsible for monitoring progress towards close the gap targets will close next week on 30 June.
At the 2014 NACCHO Health Summit in Melbourne today, Chairman of the COAG Reform Council, John Brumby, presented the findings of the Council’s final work on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health monitoring, Healthcare in Australia 2012-13: Comparing outcomes by Indigenous status.
NACCHO chairperson Justin Mohamed thanked John Brumby and his Council staff for their efforts to ensure government policy to close the gap was translated into on-ground improvements for Australia’s First Peoples and their communities.
“It was six years ago that Australian governments took on the significant challenge of closing the gap on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage in health, education, employment and other social areas,” Mr Mohamed said.”
“In that time Mr Brumby and his team have monitored progress on closing the gap, and reported publicly and free of political influence.”
“Today’s report confirms that for all the significant achievement made, including a decrease in the Aboriginal infant mortality rate by 35%, there remains work to be done to improve outcomes in other areas.”
“We are really worried that the millions of dollars being cut from across Aboriginal affairs at the Federal level, plus the introduction of new arrangements in accessing primary health care and changes to unemployment benefits, could potentially push the closing the gap targets even further from reach.”
“It’s now been more than a year since the National Partnership Agreement has lapsed and we still don‚t have any clear advice on how states, territories and the commonwealth plan to coordinate addressing the closing the gap targets.”
“Now there will be no independent umpire able to evaluate progress ‘or lack of it’ and hold state and territory governments and the Federal Government accountable.”
“The Federal Government must urgently outline how it plans on keeping this priority area of health and social reform on track during the long-term commitment needed to close the gap”, Mr Mohamed said.
Investing in Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services will help address the increasing gap in employment outcomes between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people as revealed in the new report released by the COAG Reform Council.
Justin Mohamed, Chairperson of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) said the COAG Reform Council report showed encouraging gains are being made in areas such as life expectancy, child mortality and immunisation, but unemployment and obesity rates needed greater attention.
“This is yet another report to add to the many before it which demonstrate that massive inequalities still exist between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people,” Mr Mohamed said.
“The take home message is that we can’t shift focus or we risk reversing the gains we have made. There is still a long way to go before Aboriginal people can expect the same levels of health, employment and education as other Australians.
“It’s pleasing to see Aboriginal child mortality rates are decreasing but Aboriginal kids are still twice as likely to die before they are five than non-Aboriginal children. As adults we still have a life expectancy more than ten years less than non-Aboriginal people.
“That’s why we need to keep up the investment in programs and services that are making a difference.
“Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services are making huge contributions towards closing the gap across a range of indicators and demand for our services is growing.
“In addition to these significant health gains, our 150 health services employ more than 3,200 Aboriginal people – one of the largest employers of Aboriginal people in the country.
“Governments at all levels need to look to supporting and expanding the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health sector if they are committed to improving the health and employment outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
Mr Mohamed said NACCHO has concerns that we still do not have any concrete commitment of the future of the Close the Gap “National Partnership Agreement” or an alternative structure. This concern is further heightened by the fact that the COAG Reform Council will be abolished come 30 June.
“We are extremely concerned that the millions of dollars being cut from across Aboriginal affairs at the Federal level, plus the introduction of new arrangements in accessing primary health care and changes to unemployment benefits, could potentially push the closing the gap targets even further from reach.
“Yet at the state and territory level we also see apparent indifference to the challenges at hand.
“It’s now been more than twelve months since the National Partnership Agreement has lapsed and we still don’t have any clear advice how states, territories and the commonwealth plan to coordinate addressing the closing the gap targets. The Nation needs a long term agreement that has full support and buy in from all levels of Government.
“NACCHO also questions what replacement reporting mechanisms will be put in place to continue this specific, detailed state and territory reporting given the abolishment of the COAG Reform Council next month. These reports provide a level of accountability to the actions of the different levels of government which needs to be retained. ”
“Many funding agreements for indigenous health programs were due to expire at the end of June. Extending the funding to June 2015 provides the continuity for these organisations to deliver important services to indigenous people over the next 12 months,” said a spokesman for Mr Dutton.
The spokesman said 90 organisations funded through five specific programs — Primary Health Care, Healthy for Life, Australian Nurse Family Partnership, New Directions: Mothers and Babies and Stronger Indigenous Health Services — would get funding of $98m for another year.
“This government is committed to improving indigenous health,” he said.
“The government examines all funding from time to time as part of the budget process to ensure that it is spent as effectively as possible with improving health outcomes.”
The NACCHO welcomed the 12-month lifeline, but warned a long-term plan was desperately needed.
NACCHO chairman Justin Mohamed said the extension recognised the significant contribution Aboriginal-run health services were making to closing the health gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.
“This means we will be able to continue to provide high quality, culturally appropriate health care to our people for another 12 months,’’ Mr Mohamed said.
“Yet there remains a level of uncertainty about what we will be able to continue to provide after the 2014-15 financial year.”
He said demand for the services was increasing at a rate of more than 6 per cent a year.
You can hear more about Aboriginal health and Close the Gap at the NACCHO SUMMIT
The importance of our NACCHO member Aboriginal community controlled health services (ACCHS) is not fully recognised by governments.
The economic benefits of ACCHS has not been recognised at all.
We provide employment, income and a range of broader community benefits that mainstream health services and mainstream labour markets do not. ACCHS need more financial support from government, to provide not only quality health and wellbeing services to communities, but jobs, income and broader community economic benefits.
A good way of demonstrating how economically valuable ACCHS are is to showcase our success at a national summit.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be exempt from any health co-payments to prevent any backward steps in Aboriginal health, said the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) today.
NACCHO Chair Justin Mohamed said the introduction of co-payments for basic health care such as GP visits and medicines, as recommended by the Commission of Audit, would increase barriers for many Aboriginal people to look after their own health.
“Improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health remains one of Australia’s biggest challenges,” Mr Mohamed said.
“Increasing barriers to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people seeking appropriate health care will only increase this challenge.
“We need initiatives that will encourage Aboriginal people to seek medical attention and seek it early, not make it even harder for them to get the care they need.”
Mr Mohamed said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders often had a range of complex health issues so even a low co-payment charge could make health care unaffordable for many.
“For people who only visit their GP once a year a small co-payment is likely to be manageable,” Mr Mohamed said.
“However for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with more complex health needs even a $5 charge for each visit would add up very quickly.
“A large Aboriginal family could be out of pocket hundreds of dollars after just a few GP visits.
“This would put basic health care out of reach and be detrimental to the health of many Aboriginal people.
“I urge the government to carefully consider the implications before implementing this recommendation and to ensure any decision is not going to mean a backward step for the health of Aboriginal people.”