NACCHO Aboriginal health : Mundine “Racial vilification legislation is not about freedom but about how we think about race “


In the coming months, Australia will have a polarising debate on the federal government’s decision to amend section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, one that will test the government’s working relationship with indigenous people and other minority groups.

Nyunggai Warren Mundine  Opinion article Sydney Morning Herald 18 December

Pictured above  Justin Mohamed and Matthew Cooke with Warren Mundine (centre)  at the recent Garma Festival

The government believes the law goes too far in limiting free expression. Its decision was triggered by the censure of Andrew Bolt for articles suggesting ”fair-skinned” people of mixed indigenous and non-indigenous descent could not genuinely identify as indigenous, should not take part in indigenous arts and cultural awards and chose to identify as indigenous for personal gain. Bolt described these individuals as ”the white face of a new black race – the political Aborigine”.

All political traditions limit free speech; conservatives support censorship on moral and national security grounds, for example. The government’s job is to balance individual freedoms with legitimate restrictions to protect people from harm. Balance is achieved through consistent, principled reasoning, not reacting to single events. I’m concerned this is not happening here and I question whether the government would take similar action over other groups.

Take, for example, British National Party chairman Nick Griffin’s statements that black people cannot be British. Griffin believes British people of African or Asian descent are ”racial foreigners”; that British-born people of Pakistani descent are not British but remain of ”Pakistani stock”. Griffin has been convicted of inciting racial hatred. In 1998, the Howard government denied him entry to Australia.

Griffin imagines a continuing, authentic Briton and believes the absorption of non-white people into Britain and mixed marriages is leading to ”bloodless genocide” of the British race. This is obviously nonsense. Foreigners have been settling in the British Isles for thousands of years, through bloodless and bloody means alike.  British identity is defined by national laws and based on descent and citizenship, not genetic purity.

Indigenous people are also from tribal nations, with membership based on kinship and descent. Traditional laws are complex, highly developed and unique to each nation. Traditionally, these laws defined the nation’s members and regulated how people could interact. They also regulated how outsiders fit into the community.

I’m not part of a ”black race”. I’m from the Bundjalung nation and a descendant of the Bundjalung, Gumbaynggirr, Yuin and Irish peoples. My children and grandchildren are also Bundjalung, including those with ”fair skin”. For me, it’s just as offensive to say any of us aren’t Bundjalung as it is to say a black person cannot be British.

Bolt clearly does not see this parallel. He dismissed Mick Dodson’s call for a treaty because Dodson’s father is Irish. ”Sign a treaty with yourself, Mick,” he wrote. Yet I’m sure Bolt would not describe Britain as signing a treaty with itself when it agreed the Treaty of Versailles with Germany, even though Britain’s King George V was ethnically German and Danish. Likewise, a treaty in Australia would not be between black people and white people. It would be between the Commonwealth and indigenous tribal nations.

Bolt’s articles actually adopted the same logic as Griffin’s. The difference is Britain is a sovereign nation able to define its people through its laws. Indigenous nations were invaded and colonised and their traditional laws are not recognised. This difference is not relevant when it comes to defining racial vilification.

Jewish people are a nation of people originating from a common geography, genealogy, language and religion. They were also dispossessed of land and sovereignty and dispersed over thousands of years, yet they maintain their identity as a people and nation. Judaism is not just a religion; there are many secular Jews. Traditionally, Judaism is defined primarily by matrilineal descent: a person is Jewish if born to a Jewish mother. Israel’s law of return allows any Jewish person to migrate there.

Imagine if Bolt wrote that people with Jewish matrilineal lineage were not authentically Jewish and disputed their right to migrate to Israel because they did not resemble the Israelites Moses led out of the desert. Undoubtedly, he would warrant censure under section 18C. But I doubt this would prompt  a repeal of those laws.

It’s legitimate to question if people who are not disadvantaged are receiving benefits at the expense of those who are, but ”indigenous” is not synonymous with ”disadvantage”. Bundjalung law does not require that I have been discriminated against to be recognised.

Skin colour makes people a target of bigotry. However, bigotry is not always based on skin colour. I know ”fair-skinned” people who have hidden their indigenous ancestry to avoid discrimination. Indigenous people of mixed descent do not necessarily escape disadvantage or its consequences through their families. Some have suffered more.

Initiatives for indigenous arts, culture and language are not welfare. Their purpose should be to foster indigenous cultures and maintain them as they evolve. Skin colour and disadvantage are irrelevant for an award open to people of indigenous descent. Likewise, if the purpose is to break disadvantage, the question is whether the recipient meets the relevant disadvantage test. Being of indigenous descent is not, of itself, enough.

I doubt the government would repeal section 18C to protect the right to describe black Britons as ”the black face of a new white race” or to call people ”political Jews” because they do not have the same skin colour as Abraham. The problem is Attorney-General George Brandis does not regard Bolt’s articles as being in the same league.

This debate is not really about individual freedoms; it’s about perceptions of race and racism. The problem is not section 18C; it’s ignorance of the sophistication of indigenous laws and cultures.

I am pleased the Attorney-General has promised to consult before introducing legislation. I hope the federal government will listen and keep an open mind. Amending section 18C would send a dangerous signal. I believe it would be a mistake.

Nyunggai Warren Mundine is an aboriginal activist and former Federal President of the ALP.

NACCHO Aboriginal health news: Closing the Gap in NT Aboriginal health outcomes


“An Aboriginal community controlled comprehensive primary health care service?

A bloody mouthful of a description, but nonetheless a symbol and practical evidence of what Aboriginal people and their supporters have achieved—and continue to achieve.”

Chips Mackinolty NT Aboriginal health legend (Ex AMSANT)

Photograph by Therese Ritchie

This is a guest post by Chips Mackinolty that was first published, in edited form, in the NT News on 7 September 2013

NACCHO would also like to acknowledge a pay tribute to the support Chips has given NACCHO over the years

Intro Bob Gosford Crickey

After more than 30 years in the Territory, Chips Mackinolty is taking a year off: for “a pre-pension gap year” as he describes it. After all, he says, “gap years are wasted on the young”.

Across most of that time he has worked for organisations which haven’t allowed him to have a public personal opinion. This has included working for Aboriginal organisations, writing as an interstate journalist for both Fairfax and Murdoch, designing for private enterprise clients, and even a stint as a Labor Party ministerial appointee. For the last four years he has worked for the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory [AMSANT].

Apart from an irreverent political approach in his artwork, which has occasionally been touted by the NT News, Mackinolty has pretty much stayed out of the world of public opinion.

A day after quitting AMSANT, he writes an opinion piece for the NT News on an ongoing commitment: Aboriginal health. It is published on the day of the Federal election, but with no intent to influence votes. In his words, “that’s deliberate: whoever wins the election today must commit to the most successful bipartisan strategy in recent Territory history, closing the gap in Aboriginal health outcomes”. He tells a story that suggests that the Territory is hitting well above its weight.

But it’s not as simple as that, as he tells us.

Four or five years ago I made the decision to pretty much stop going to funerals. Of course since then I have been to many—too many. There came a time when it had got too much, with the vast majority of funerals for Aboriginal people. And the people were dying younger.

It was a difficult decision, for many were from the Katherine region. It might sound peculiar to readers, but Katherine was where I “grew up”. I got there in the early ’80s in my late 20s. An evening of fireworks for the third celebration of Self Government in Darwin then, bizarrely a day or so later for the final shoot in Mataranka of We of the never never with Aboriginal artists I then spent the next four years with.

But nevertheless it was a town, at that age, in which I “grew up”. Whatever I thought I had learnt on the streets of inner city Sydney were, frankly, SFA when it came to the Territory.

Most of that learning was with Aboriginal people across an area greater than Victoria: from Borroloola to Elliot; to Lajamanu and Kalkarindji and west to the Kimberley: Halls Creek, Kununurra and Wyndham. And then across via Timber Creek to Bulman, Numbulwar and Angurugu, south through Numbulwar to Ngukurr and back up through Jilkminggan, Barunga, Manyallaluk and Wugularr. It was an astonishing education in land, language and law. But it was a period I spent far too much time learning about death: the death of the artists I worked with, their families, and their children.

But I also learnt from whitefellas in Katherine: from the legendary Judy King and John Fletcher; from Francesca Merlan, Paul Josif, Mick Dodson and Toni Bauman, to Anne and John Shepherd and John O’Brien.

In different ways they, and many others, all taught me about living in the Territory.

In the late 1990s the CEO of the Jawoyn Association, the late Bangardi Lee, recruited me, Jawoyn woman Irene Fisher and Dr Ben Bartlett to put together a seemingly endless series of submissions that resulted—some years later—in the establishment of the Sunrise Health Service: an Aboriginal community controlled comprehensive primary health care service.

An Aboriginal community controlled comprehensive primary health care service? A bloody mouthful of a description, but nonetheless a symbol and practical evidence of what Aboriginal people and their supporters have achieved—and continue to achieve.

Across the NT, from remote clinics such as that run by the Pintupi Homelands Health Service to Danila Dilba in Darwin, the Aboriginal community controlled primary health sector serves roughly half our Aboriginal population, the rest through NT Government health services.

Over time, the process of privatising into the community controlled health sector will increase as services are devolved from government. It’s not been an easy process—and slower than many of us want. Nevertheless, it has had bipartisan support federally and locally for more than a decade. Famously, former CLP health minister Steve Dunham “rescued” the Sunrise Health Service in its early development stage when it met resistance from some health bureaucrats. His intervention saved what is now one of the NT’s great success stories.

The evidence, internationally, nationally and locally is that community controlled primary health care is more efficient and effective in delivering the goods.

According to recent data produced by COAG, the Northern Territory is the only jurisdiction in Australia on track to meet the closing the gap target of reducing the difference in life expectancy between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. This is a good news story that has been barely reported in the NT outside the pages of this newspaper.

There are a number of reasons for this success. The last decade has seen a dramatic rise in hospital spending; more importantly greater resources have been distributed more equitably to the bush. The increased resources to primary health care through the Intervention, now known as Stronger Futures, has been a prime reason this has been possible.

But we are also doing it better—and in many instances better than anywhere else in the nation. For example, childhood immunisation rates in the community controlled sector is better than in many affluent suburbs down South.

And we are doing it smarter: led by the Aboriginal community controlled health sector, there has been an increased use of electronic data collection and analysis. Clinical Information Systems are used at the individual patient level to keep up-to-date, easily accessible health histories, as well as to alert clinicians to possible allergies, and efficiently prompt clinics to recall patients for regular checks as well as follow ups.

The data analysed can be tailored by individual health services, but all clinics in the NT now contribute the to Northern Territory Aboriginal Health Key Performance Indicators, which have a commonly shared set of clinical measures. Access to this data is strongly protected through privacy protocols.

The big picture of this is the capacity for these systems to allow for public health data to be analysed at a community and regional level, and for subsequent follow up. For example, a regular system of patient interaction through Child and Adult Health Checks has the capacity to identify “spikes” in particular conditions such as childhood and maternal anemia or otitis media in children.

This not only keeps an individual clinic alert to changes in local health, but also in ways to respond. This is achieved through a process called Continuous Quality Improvement [CQI], and is carried out by all clinicians at a service and the data collected is a key part of this process. For example, with otitis media it will guide individual treatment (are we always checking following the national guidelines? what evidence-based treatments are we giving? are we referring the patients to specialist diagnosis and care?), but also to the community as a whole (are we working with the council, school and families? what sort of other public health campaigns might we undertake?)

At regional level this data can be very powerful. As well as the regional Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services we already have, such as Katherine West Health Board and the Sunrise Health Service, other regions are now working together through Clinical and Public Health Advisory Groups [CPHAGs]. The CPAHGS meet regularly and work cooperatively to share experiences and data, and ways to do things better. Some have identified particular regional health problems which would otherwise might be “lost” in large scale data bases.

The Northern Territory is the first jurisdiction in Australia in which all remote clinics now have electronic health records for their patients.

Further to this, our sector, along with government clinics, has pioneered the idea of a “shared electronic health record”. Over half the Aboriginal people in the NT have signed up to such a record, and we are in the process of readying the system so as to be part of a national network. This allows, with full permission from the patient or carer at every consultation to update their health record to a data base that can then be accessed by other clinics and hospitals. For example, a patient at Ngukurr may fall ill at another community, and get the appropriate treatment through their shared electronic health record. A hospitalisation will allow the clinicians to see someone’s record, know what medications they are on, and past conditions. After discharge from hospital, the health records are updated, and an electronic discharge summary is available to the home clinic.

These and many other innovations are behind the improved statistics—but there is a long way to go. It’s a welcome trend—but the good results will flatten out and perhaps reverse if we do not tackle the other social determinants of health. These include housing, education, early childhood development, substance abuse, food security, incarceration rates and social exclusion. It is reckoned that health services alone will only be able to deal with about 25 per cent of “the gap”: the rest is down to the other social determinants.

And that’s where governments of all stripes come in, and where the need for truly bipartisan approaches must prevail. Whatever the result of today’s election, Aboriginal health remains the Territory’s major challenge. Aboriginal children yet to be born will benefit if only our politicians are working, in the words of the AMSANT slogan, “together for our health”.

Justice reinvestment for Aboriginal young people revolutionary policy and campaign


Tom Calma pictured above, the ‘grandfather of Justice Reinvestment’ as the first to champion the concept in Australia, is co-presenting the Justice Reinvestment policy position to Government

Clever economic modelling may tip NSW Government’s thinking on how to deal with high rates of youth incarceration

 Backed by Adam Goodes, Mick Gooda, Michael  Kirby, Tom Calma, Mick Dodson, Ted Wilkes, Malcolm Fraser, Marie Bashir, Bob Debus, Nicholas Cowdery, and other prominent identities and organisations, the Justice Reinvestment for Aboriginal Young People Campaign is addressing the shameful over-representation of Aboriginal young people in custody.

It costs over $652 per day (or $237,980 annually) to imprison one young person.

Justice Reinvestment Campaign Champions Mick Gooda, Tom Calma, and Marcia Ella-Duncan are having a alndmak meeting with the NSW Attorney-General Greg Smith SC MP and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Victor Dominello MP on Wednesday 17 October (today) to present the NSW Government with a revolutionary new policy approach to Aboriginal overrepresentation in youth incarceration.

Mick Gooda, Social Justice Commissioner for the Human Rights Commission, is co-presenting the Justice Reinvestment policy position to Government tomorrow.

He says Justice Reinvestment is about taking dollars out of prisons and putting them back into communities. “When implemented, justice reinvestment programs benefit entire communities, not just Aboriginal young people.”

“What is required is a whole of government approach that ensures justice and human service agencies work toward that same goal.

This can be accomplished by adopting a policy of Justice Reinvestment,” says Mr Gooda.

Justice Reinvestment is about diverting funds away from prison into programs to address the causes of crime in communities.

Tom Calma, the ‘grandfather of Justice Reinvestment’ as the first to champion the concept in Australia, is co-presenting the Justice Reinvestment policy position to Government.

He says the best way to deal with crime is to prevent it. “Justice Reinvestment involves smarter spending not increasing spending,” says Mr Calma. “This means shifting spending away from detention to prevention.”

There are currently a number of NSW government initiatives relating to young people – including the Connected Communities strategy. Co-presenter Marcia Ella-Duncan, Chairperson of the La Perouse Local Aboriginal Lands Council, says these are positive developments. “In this context we have an opportunity to change the story of how corrections and the criminal justice system work in NSW,” says Ms Ella-Duncan. “By implementing a policy and framework of Justice Reinvestment, we can increase community safety while decreasing the costs to government of incarcerating people at the rate we’re currently doing.”

Sarah Hopkins, one of the initiators of the Justice Reinvestment for Aboriginal Young People Campaign and a senior solicitor with Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT), is also meeting with the Ministers on Wednesday.

She says it has been difficult as a lawyer to watch adults and then their children facing the same problems and ending up in prison. “It sets them up for a life inside and does nothing to break the cycle. Why do we need Justice Reinvestment in NSW?

If this overrepresentation is not addressed, NSW will lose an entire generation of Aboriginal Australians.”

Justice Reinvestment is a good investment, both socially and economically

The Justice Reinvestment policy presentation was methodically developed by a team of policy experts, academics, and practice technicians using an evidence base from overseas and in Australia.

It reviews overseas experiences where there is demonstrably massive decreases in incarceration rates and costs in communities. It then models the application of Justice Reinvestment within a hypothetical NSW community to demonstrate social and economic benefits.

“We think the economic modelling is the educative instrument we need to help tip this argument,” says Mr Gooda.

“At a fraction of the cost of putting one young person inside, a Justice Reinvestment framework holds that the same young person could be provided with access to mental health services, case workers, youth development programs, employment and training programs, or with rehabilitation programs in local communities.”

The Campaign team is asking the NSW Government to commit to trailing and evaluating justice reinvestment in an agreed number of metropolitan and regional communities.

“The population of Aboriginal young people in detention is an alarming 50%, while Aboriginal people in NSW make up just 2.2% of the total population.

“The trend is a continual increase in admissions and in terms of Aboriginal over-representation there is a real risk of the situation getting worse, and costs continually increasing.

“A framework of Justice Reinvestment for NSW will have exponential benefits not just on the bottom dollar, but also on community safety.”


Media Contact:             Emily Barker Human Rights Commission 0419 258 597

 Kate Finlayson Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) 0418 254 237

Justice Reinvestment for Aboriginal Young People Campaign