Aboriginal Health and Children in detention #NTCOSS2017 Speech @NTRoyalComm Mick Gooda reports ” What children have told us “

 

” There is a strong perception that that the system of detention in the Northern Territory is failing. It is failing our young people, it is failing those who work in the system and it is also failing the people of the Northern Territory who are entitled to live in safer communities.

We have heard that where detention systems are effective they are smaller centres with a therapeutic focus.

An approach that is appropriately child centred for children and young people, who at this critical time of their development, including their brain development, are not mini adults and should not be treated as such.

If a child must be removed then they must be provided with the care, support and stability that any child is undeniably entitled. “

Speech to the NT Council of Social Service 26 September 2017 Commissioner Mick Gooda see in full Part 2 Below

Read over 48 NACCHO articles NT Royal Commission #Dondale

 ” Yesterday we published a booklet which gives voice to the children who have experienced the child protection system – they have told us their stories either in evidence or by way of recorded story.

When we asked one boy  about what he had experienced and we asked him if there was any place out there that would be suitable for you to be placed into care?

He simply told us I only want to be with my Mother “

Download ” What children told us -Child protection  It’s time our children’s voices were properly heard.”

voices-what-children-have-told-us

Part 1 SNAICC calls for a response to the voices of children in the Northern Territory

SNAICC welcomes the recent report from the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory for its ability to promote the voices of children and young people affected by a child protection system that is in crisis, which, vitally, provides an insight into the real impact of ongoing failures of government to appropriately respond to children in need.

The report, Voices: What children have told us – Child Protection, captures what is often lost in discussions about the best interests of our children – the voices of our children.

What these powerful stories demonstrate is a pattern of denial of basic rights, ongoing policy and practice failures from successive NT governments, and – bluntly – an uncaring approach to caring for our most vulnerable children.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children make up 89.1 per cent of all children in out-of-home care in the Northern Territory. This is completely unacceptable.

The experiences courageously shared by children and young people interviewed by the Royal Commission further evidence the extensive reform that is required in the NT child protection system, echoing recommendations from SNAICC’s submission to the Royal Commission submitted in February 2017.

This is the time for genuine partnership between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the Federal and Northern Territory Governments.

We are hopeful that the voices captured in this report go someway to inspire an authentic response to the calls of children to create a new system that enables them to thrive, replacing the current system that perpetuates harm.

Part 2 Speech to the NT Council of Social Service 26 September 2017 Commissioner Mick Gooda

Thanks for that nice introduction Wendy and really thanks for making time for us to come along today and talk to NTCOSS about the Royal Commission.

We are now entering the phase leading into the handover of the report when a lot of work is coming together and gelling towards a set of recommendations that we hope will change the whole nature of how we treat children in the Northern Territory and hopefully like Wendy said show the way for the rest of Australia.

I acknowledge the Larrakia people the traditional owners of this place we now call Darwin, both personally as a Gangulu fella from Central Queensland and on behalf of the Royal Commission for making us welcome to base our work on your country.

I wasn’t here for the Welcome to Country but I saw the young ladies outside and isn’t it great to see the young people do a Welcome to Country.

It is a handing over of that particular ceremony, and I was reminded of a tweet the other day about the only thing we do in Australia that represents any cultural aspect of Australian culture is the Welcome to Country.

And I thought about that and again it shows that if we pay respects to Aboriginal people we pay respects to everyone in Australia.

I’d like to think of Australian culture as being a bit more than football, meat pies and Holden cars.

Like I said we are about eight weeks away from our reporting date of the 17th November and it is time for us to bring people together to talk about how we have done our work as a Royal Commission.

The first thing we found is that our Royal Commission isn’t remarkable.

There have been more than 50 inquiries, reports and reviews on issues of child protection and detention that go to the things we’re looking at.

Commissioner White and I understand that people are cynical and fatigued.

They told us that in pretty clear and unambiguous terms.

Once again another Inquiry had arrived to look at issues of long standing when the overwhelming experience of other inquiries had only seen the situation worsen.

Yet this community has continued to provide us with information, to attend community consultations, community forums and meetings.

During our time we have witnessed a tremendous desire of people not only to ensure that there is reform, but also as communities to accept responsibility for ensuring the safety of our children.

Commissioner White and I were taken aback when we had a meeting with the full Councils of the Northern Land Council and the Central Land Council where half of our time was taken up by communities getting up and saying we’ve got to stop blaming government, we’ve got to start taking responsibility for what we have contributed to as parents.

And that tells me that there is a great appetite within the Aboriginal community for change and to take responsibility.

As we head to that 17th November deadline we are focused on presenting a pathway for children, families and communities across the Northern Territory.

A plan – with a big caveat – if implemented, that will deliver the necessary widespread reform and change for which Territorians have waited for so long.

Since the Commission was established we have:

  • held three months of public hearings in Darwin and Alice Springs covering both youth detention and child protection
  • heard from over 210 witnesses
  • received more than 480 witness statements and more than 430 personal stories
  • received over 250 submissions
  • taken site visits to detention centres
  • visited and engaged with communities including via our community engagement team
  • held open and private forums and meetings including with victims of crime, youth justice officers, police officers, foster carers, care and protection workers, organisations and peak bodies.
  • heard hundreds of stories from children, families and communities who have had firsthand experience of child protection and detention in the Northern Territory.

Commissioner White and I thank everyone who has provided information to us because without this we would not have been able to fully investigate and ultimately to formulate our recommendations.

We have to make particular mention of those children and young people who have had experiences of the youth detention and child protection systems who have courageously shared their experiences with us.

Their evidence, and that of their families, frontline workers and worker and others involved in the system, has at times been very confronting.

I think this Commission has changed all of us.

I was talking to Tony McEvoy our first Aboriginal QC the other day and he told me of a recent experience where just the issue of child protection in another jurisdiction just made him tear up at the memories of what we went through up here, people like us, imagine the young people inside that system.

So we’re committed to ensuring that their voices are heard throughout our report.

Earlier this year we published a booklet which set out what we were told by communities when we met with them last year.

Yesterday we published a booklet which gives voice to the children who have experienced the child protection system – they have told us their stories either in evidence or by way of recorded story.

This booklet is available on the ( NACCHO )  website.

Please feel free to distribute it far and wide.

It’s time our children’s voices were properly heard.

It comes as no surprise that one of the first things we say is that the detention and child protection systems appear to be broken

    • Chief Minister Gunner has publicly acknowledged that the systems are broken
    • Those in the frontline – current and former youth justice, case workers, foster carers, lawyers, judiciary, representatives and agencies and government past and present – as well as the children, families and communities impacted, have told us detention and child protection in the NT is failing.
    • In our Interim Report in March we said –

“There is a strong perception that that the system of detention in the Northern Territory is failing. It is failing our young people, it is failing those who work in the system and it is also failing the people of the Northern Territory who are entitled to live in safer communities”

All the evidence we have received indicates that locking children up in Don Dale like conditions does not lead to good outcomes.

It doesn’t rehabilitate young people, it doesn’t reduce recidivism and it does not make our community safer.

What we have seen is that if you pursue a punitive based approach, these goals of rehabilitation, of reducing recidivism and safer communities, are likely to be unattainable.

What we have also found is that we cannot fix the problems within detention centres if we don’t fix the pathways into those places.

What we have heard is that many young people can be diverted from this ‘inevitable path’ through changes to legal processes, early intervention and more young people going into diversion programs when they first encounter the youth justice system.

Not surprisingly the first contact a young person has with the justice system is generally with the police and is one of the first opportunities to set them on the right path.

We have heard that if their initial contact with police is handled appropriately, the young person can be guided towards rehabilitation rather than towards a detention centre.

That doesn’t mean a go easy approach – what it does mean though is recognising that the chance is there at an early stage to change the course of a young person’s life for good.

For the small number of children who will need to be kept in secure detention, we have heard about very different models to those which currently operate in the NT.

Experts here in Australia and overseas have told the Commission that purely punitive approaches are no longer effective nor successful in managing young offenders.

Further, we have heard that where detention systems are effective they are smaller centres with a therapeutic focus.

An approach that is appropriately child centred for children and young people, who at this critical time of their development, including their brain development, are not mini adults and should not be treated as such.

Commissioner White and I have said before that we will not be recommending to the Northern Territory Government that they build another big detention centre.

For the small number of children who require secure detention a different approach is needed – with education and training at its core, that provides well-resourced health and wellbeing programs for the children, so that when they do re-enter the community they are more likely not to reoffend.

Just as a new approach is needed for youth justice and detention what we have heard during the Commission about the child protection system in the Northern Territory also signals the need for a paradigm change.

The Commission has heard much evidence from those with experience of the child protection or welfare system – both personally and professionally.

From the children and families we have heard about the impacts of separation from culture, family and kin, resulting from the placement of children into care.

DF – one of our Vulnerable Witnesses – as a matter of fact the last witness to this Royal Commission – told us in out last public hearing he and his siblings were placed into care when he was the age of 10.

At the time he was removed he understood he would be placed into respite care for just two weeks – he was told it would be just enough time for his Mum to get a house and make some arrangements.

He described the heartbreak at the prospect of being separated from his Mum for two weeks. He didn’t know at the time but it would be much longer.

DF told us that some months after going into respite he found a ‘care order’ in his foster carer’s house. He said he took it into his room and read it.

It was the first time that he understood that he wouldn’t be going back to his mum any time soon. The order placed him into protection until the age of 18.

He told us that no one had bothered to speak to him, not his carer, not his case worker, not anyone. He found out about this life changing decision accidentally.

Not surprisingly, he absconded from care many times, he was reported to police just a many times.

So the system that was set up to protect him actually facilitated his entry into the youth justice system.

When we spoke to him about what he had experienced and we asked him if there was any place out there that would be suitable for you to be placed into care?

He simply told us I only want to be with my Mother.

Challenges in communication, with multiple placements, changes in foster and respite care arrangements, separation from families, interruption to education and a lack of continuity of case management are just some of the issues we have heard.

We have heard also of experiences which suggest that the placement into care has delivered poorer outcomes than if a child had remained within their community and within their family.

We also heard of cases where we were told that a child, in the care of the CEO, was in need of care.

If a child must be removed then they must be provided with the care, support and stability that any child is undeniably entitled.

We know that those who enter the child protection system have a higher chance of ending in the detention system – we call them the ‘Cross Over’ kids.

This speaks to the need for early intervention and to seek to close off that seemingly inevitable pathway.

Our goal should be to help prevent children entering protection by having greater capacity to identify the triggers that indicate a family is in need, that needs support early and well before the statutory system intervenes.

It is the early actions which will have the greatest impact for them and their communities.

For example, it has been found that pathways into juvenile justice can often stem from childhood trauma that remains unaddressed.

There are huge demands on child protection systems across Australia and too often children end up languishing in such systems and any assistance is provided too late.

And successive inquiries have repeatedly found that child protection systems are based on out of date assumptions yet we have failed to see reform efforts that are based on an understanding of the scale of child abuse and neglect.

We have had experts analyse the Niland Report Inquiry and they tell us the kids that were screened out for intervention in that State mostly me the benchmark for intervention.

We are also told that it is easy to translate those figures to the Northern Territory.

From our perspective that means that there is this great wave of children out there and families out there in dire need of support.

And the statutory child protection system, no matter how good you make it, won’t be able to cope.

The emphasis on early intervention and early support will be the cornerstone of our recommendations.

The goal for us all must be a system that is child focused, community involved, evidence based, locally tailored and providing support for children and families as early possible.

It is fitting I close with what a couple of stories from children and I’ll go to the second one first.

And they are positive stories and I think we have to be positive.

Commissioner White and I decided early in this Commission that if we can’t think positively about the future of children we should resign and let someone else do this job.

Because we have got to remain positive because if we don’t remain positive then I think it is all lost.

In all the negative stories we got told about child protection one young woman described her case worker taker her out to lunch and talking with her for about an hour.

This was apparently such an unusual occurrence for this young woman that it stuck in her mind for years.

Commissioner White and I made a habit of ensuring that we ask every vulnerable witness who came before us, particularly in the youth detention system, were there any good guards?

Were there any good youth workers?

Because we had heard plenty abut the negative youth workers.

And every one of those children said of course there were good youth justice workers and they were in the majority.

And then we asked a follow up question – what made a good youth justice worker?

And every one said the same thing.

They spoke to us, they treated us like humans.

And what does that tell us about the needs and wants of young people?

They just want people to talk to them and treat them like humans.

I have to end by acknowledging the work of the hundreds of people and organisations – many represented here today – who have contributed to the work we are undertaking.

Like I said we received more than 320 submissions from individuals, community organisations, peak bodies, academics, government, non-government and other organisations.

In the face of the challenges that children and young people confront in the NT, this is so encouraging and shows Commissioner White and I that there are so many people willing to work towards change and improvements in the system.

And indeed put the kids of the Northern Territory in the centre of all of our considerations.

Thank you Ladies and Gentlemen

NACCHO Healthy Welfare Card debate : Government’s Healthy Welfare Card no solution to alcohol abuse

Grog

“Our people do not need a compulsory blanket approach to tackling these issues. We want to work with government to develop long-term, effective solutions to the challenges we face.

I agree with Mr Tudge when he says, “collectively we have to get control of the alcohol abuse that destroys communities and threatens the next generation”, but I disagree that the card is “the solution”. Serious addiction requires thoughtful treatment options rather than punitive measures and silver bullets.”

Mick Gooda the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner responding to Alan Tudge is the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Assistant Minister for Social Services

Read here or below Alan Tudge article

Photo: Empty beer cans in Binjari make up the shapes of bodies for 10 people who died from alcohol-related causes. (Clare Rawlinson: ABC)

In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across the country, old wounds are being reopened. Many of our people are being forced to revisit the past trauma of income management and stolen wages.

The federal government’s Healthy Welfare Card has created great concern and contention, as the measure will disproport­ionately affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and claw back our hard-won rights and freedoms.

The government, with the support of the opposition, has passed legislation, without any amendments and with very little consultation, to control the finances of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in three trial sites, beginning with the South Aust­ralian town of Ceduna next month. The third proposed site, of Halls Creek in the Kimberley, rejected the idea out of hand, with the shire president Malcolm Edwards saying it had adopted the position of its Aboriginal advisory committee to reject the plan.

“At the last meeting, they voted against having the card. They thought it was a bit unfair because it targeted everyone,” Mr Edwards said.

All welfare recipients in the trial areas will have 80 per cent of their welfare quarantined to a bank card. Only 20 per cent of their welfare payment would be available in cash, which the Assistant Minister for Social Services, Alan Tudge, has himself admitted could leave some welfare recipients with as little as $60 in their pocket each week.

It is deeply troubling that the government is “contemplating how to proceed should the trials prove successful” before any trials have even begun.

It begs the question — have the trials been structured in such a way the results have already been predetermined?

What is most perplexing is the government’s apparent fascination with controlling the finances of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Our mob are once again the guinea pigs in a trial program lacking any evidence base.

As I outlined in my 2015 Social Justice and Native Title Report, where people have experienced benefits as a result of income management, the results have been modest when compared to their stated objectives. For many, income management results in few or no benefits, and a “sense of loss of control, shame and unfairness”.

Any possible benefit of the card must be weighed against the sense of disempowerment our people ­already face. It must be weighed against the stigma our people continue to face, and the restrictions placed on our basic rights and freedoms we fought so hard for.

We are told by the government that the measure will tackle the ­serious issue of alcohol and drug abuse within our communities.

There is no doubt that alcohol and drug abuse are contributing factors to creating dangerous and disruptive communities; and all children have the right to grow up in safe, nurturing environments — Aboriginal and Torres Strait ­Islander children are no exception.

We have no evidence to support the prediction that a restriction on cash payments will curb an individual’s addiction or their ability to provide a safe environment for their children.

According to Mr Tudge, restricting supply is an effective measure to address these problems. But in the same way that people with serious addiction can circumvent restrictions on supply, they will undoubtedly find innovative ways to circumvent limits on their capacity to purchase.

The role of government is to provide effective policy, based on the best available evidence. In the case of the Healthy Welfare Card, there is no conclusive evidence that it will effectively address issues of alcohol and drug abuse, and encourage good parenting.

Our people do not need a compulsory blanket approach to tackling these issues. We want to work with government to develop long-term, effective solutions to the challenges we face.

I agree with Mr Tudge when he says, “collectively we have to get control of the alcohol abuse that destroys communities and threatens the next generation”, but I disagree that the card is “the solution”. Serious addiction requires thoughtful treatment options rather than punitive measures and silver bullets.

The hardest part of this proposal to accept is that yet again the treatment of our people will be ­different to mainstream Australia, and it is this differentiation of treatment that we have fought so hard to bring into the open.

Mick Gooda is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner.

Alan Tudge Article

Having agreed with East Kimberley leaders to implement the cashless welfare debit card, the government is now receiving ­requests across Western Australia for its introduction. In most cases the requests are from council or community leaders who are desperate about the situation of their community and hope the card will provide a breakthrough. In Leonora in the Goldfields, for example, a further tragic suicide, this time of a 15-year-old girl, ­was the catalyst for the call out.”

Alan Tudge is the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Assistant Minister for Social Services.

Alcohol is always the target. It is the poison that destroys lives and makes many of our remote communities unsafe. In the Northern Territory, for example, two-thirds of the catastrophic rates of violence are related to ­alcohol, according to the territory’s children’s commissioner. Parties at night keep children awake and make homes unsafe. Extraordinary rates of child ­neglect occur.

When a community is drowning in grog, other initiatives ­become so much harder to ­implement. Restricting the supply of ­alcohol has been the most effective measure to date. In ­places like Groote Eylandt and Bickerton ­Island, alcohol manage­ment plans have led to a 67 per cent ­reduction in aggravated assaults. But restricting supply is difficult in larger mainstream towns. Further, residents can travel outside the restricted area and grog-runners have been innovative in ­finding ways to bring in the prohibited products.

The welfare debit card has the same objective as a supply restriction but tackles the problem from the demand side: the welfare cash that pays for the grog and funds the destruction. Without the cash, systemic abuse becomes more difficult.

The card itself has been ­designed to look and operate like an ordinary debit card, but it has been programmed to restrict cash withdrawals and be inoperable at every bottle shop and gambling house in the country.

Ceduna in South Australia and the East Kimberley will be the first two trial locations for the card. Every working age income support recipient will have 80 per cent of their payments placed onto it while the remaining 20 per cent will continue to go into their savings account.

Whenever the card is used for purchases above $10, a text mes­sage will be sent to the recipient’s phone informing them of their new account balance. If a person leaves the community, the card will travel with them.

Of course, you cannot simply stop a person’s addiction overnight. In each location, extra drug and alcohol services are being added to help people reduce their dependencies. Other com­plementary reform initiatives have also been negotiated. In the East Kimberley, for example, there is a strong employment focus to leverage the existing economic base. This includes training into guaranteed jobs, fulltime work for the dole and employment brokers. These initiatives are nothing short of a full-scale ­assault on alcohol abuse.

While the design of the card and the content of the reform plan is critical, equally important is the manner in which they have been developed in partnership with local community leaders at the trial locations.

The initiatives have not been foisted upon the communities but have been co-designed with the most important indigenous and non-indigenous leaders in the ­region, along with the respective state governments.

They have set the priorities, determined the settings of the card and consulted with the broader community. The imple­mentation of the card and its complementary reforms will continue in a similar manner.

This approach to reform will not guarantee the success of the trials but will significantly boost its chances. It is also aligned with the core philosophy advocated by Noel Pearson, Sean Gordon and other senior indigenous ­leaders in their Empowered Communities ­report.

However, working in this way is not straightforward. Many elements have to come together: ­devolved authority within the public service; a single senior public servant on the ground who can earn the trust of local residents and be a problem solver; a reform-minded local leadership group; and political backing, knowing the approach carries risk. These require cultural as much as structural change.

So where to from here? The trials in Ceduna and East Kimberley will begin in the next few months. We have legislative authority for a third trial site and consultations have commenced in a couple of locations.

Naturally we are starting to contemplate how to proceed should the trials prove successful. Offering the card to other regions would be a logical next step, ­beginning with those West ­Australian locations that have ­already shown initial support. Others have suggested that the card could have wider application.

It is early days, but one thing is clear: collectively we have to get control of the alcohol abuse that destroys communities and threatens the next generation with up to a quarter of babies being born brain damaged from foetal alcohol spectrum disorder in some places.

The cashless welfare debit card may be the solution.

Alan Tudge is the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Assistant Minister for Social Services.

NACCHO #justjustice Prison Health News :Conference aims to improve the health of Aboriginal prisoners and former prisoners

photo3

 Geraldton Aboriginal Medical Service [GAMS] conference being held this week aims at developing strategies to improve the health of Aboriginal prisoners and former prisoners

Reports by Sarah Taillier ABC

Follow on Twitter #justjustice

GAMS chairman Sandy Davies (pictured below) said Aboriginal prisoners were at greater risk of chronic illness, mental illness and substance abuse.

photo1

“We aim to solve these problems by looking at alternatives to prison for minor offences, reducing the rate of ex-prisoners returning to prison, and paving the way for ex-offenders to better integrate back into society,” he said.

Mr Davies said prison should be treated as a last resort.

“Prison’s there for a purpose, it’s to protect the community,” he said.

“I don’t want people to misconstrue that we’re wanting to get prisoners out of prison – it’s just that there’s so many people in there that could be doing other things.”

Mr Gooda said if Aboriginal people were represented in jail at the same rate as the general population, it would save the country about $800 million a year in incarceration costs.

“Here’s a way governments can actually save a bit of money; by not locking people up who shouldn’t be locked up,” he said.

Mr Gooda said practical changes within the judicial and policing system could reduce Indigenous incarceration rates.

“Really practical day to day things that we can go to government with, that doesn’t involve overturning the whole justice system,” he said.

“Things like notifying people of court appearances, people with cognitive disabilities – let’s not put them in jail, let’s put them in an appropriate facility.

“Those are the sort of things I think we should be starting to look at, because every one person we save one night in jail, we’re heading towards reducing this awful rate.”

The conference was supported by NACCHO chair Matthew Cooke and CEO Lisa Briggs

photo2

Aboriginal incarceration rates at crisis point, says social justice commissioner Mick Gooda

Aboriginal incarceration rates have reached crisis point and communities need to unite to address the problem, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner Mick Gooda says.

Figures from the Productivity Commission show a 57 per cent rise in incarceration rates among Indigenous men, women and children over the past 15 years.

Speaking ahead of a Geraldton Aboriginal Medical Service [GAMS] conference aimed at developing strategies to improve the health of Aboriginal prisoners and former prisoners, Mr Gooda said high Aboriginal incarceration rates and poor Aboriginal health were intrinsically entwined.

“If you think putting people in jail creates safe communities, we’re kidding ourselves,” he said.

“Stopping people offending creates safe communities.

“So that’s what we’re looking at now, how can we create safe communities.”

Mr Gooda said urgent action was needed to reduce incarceration rates.

“I’ve run out of adjectives, from emergency to urgent, to a catastrophe in the making, because the figures just keep climbing,” he said.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults are 15 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous Australians.

Mr Gooda said it was vital Indigenous communities were united on the issue.

“If you don’t have a unified voice, the government will do whatever they want because they’ve got permission to do it because people aren’t coming together,” he said.

“So it’s really important that communities sit down and start talking together

Inside Out: Indigenous imprisonment in Australia – documentary video

 

photo4

Filmed on the plains of north-western New South Wales, this documentary looks at one man’s fight against the scourge of Indigenous imprisonment in his community.

VIEW DOCUMENTARY HERE

Inside Out tells the story of a pastor and former prison guard, Uncle Isaac Gordon, whose dream is to see the numbers of Aboriginal youths heading to jail slashed. Gordon wants to build a ‘healing centre’ for troubled Aboriginal young people at risk of jail time, built on his family’s ancestral land near the towns of Brewarrina and Walgett. But will government bodies get on board?

NACCHO National News: Indigenous issues address by Minister Nigel Scullion to Nationals Federal Council

untitled

“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 COUNCIL CANBERRA 30TH AUGUST 2014

ADDRESS BY THE MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS

THE NATIONALS’ SENATE LEADER SENATOR 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

For Senate text see LINK

Indigenous Affairs

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.

Thank you.

NACCHO political alert: ‘Cut the cash and we won’t close the gap’ says Dr Ngiare Brown

NGI

“I know that it has been said within the Coalition that health and education will have to take some funding hits,” Dr Brown said. “We cannot possibly progress this nation unless we are investing more in health and education, public health and education, so that we all have an equal opportunity at what that represents. I will absolutely be pushing the health bandwagon.”

Dr Ngiare Brown, Warren Mundine’s deputy on the government’s indigenous council, says ‘it’s often the layers of red tape and bureaucracy that suck up the resourcing’. Source: News Corp Australia Exclusive: Patricia Karvelas Photo: Ray Strange

ABORIGINAL doctor Ngiare Brown and  NACCHO  Executive Research Manager has vowed to use her new role as deputy head of Tony Abbott’s indigenous council to argue that cuts to indigenous health or education would be detrimental to efforts to close the disadvantage gap.

Dr Brown, who was in one of the first groups of Aboriginal medical graduates in Australia and previously an indigenous health adviser to the Australian Medical Association, was yesterday appointed as Warren Mundine’s deputy after receiving the backing of council members and the Prime Minister.

In an interview with The Australian, Dr Brown said she supported the priorities of the new council to boost school attendance and enhance economic independence. Given her background in health, she would also articulate the need for better health for indigenous people.

Mr Mundine said Dr Brown was a fantastic choice for deputy.

“I’m glad that all the council members and the PM support this move,” he said. “She’s very well experienced and she’s a great asset as deputy chair.”

In January, Mr Mundine said it was unrealistic to expect indigenous affairs spending to be immune from expected budget cuts and that, despite being the head of Mr Abbott’s indigenous advisory council, he could not cast a “force field” to exempt Aborigines from the broader budget agenda.

Dr Brown said she believed existing funding could be better spent, with less on bureaucracy, but urged that there be no net reduction in health and education.

“It is about school attendance but also performance and successful completion, pathways into opportunities into employment and further education,” she said.

“Being economically stable, too, all of those things we can’t do unless we are healthy. And the best model that we have for health service delivery in this country and comprehensive primary care are the Aboriginal community control health services.”

She said she was “absolutely” worried about cuts.

“I know that it has been said within the Coalition that health and education will have to take some funding hits,” Dr Brown said. “We cannot possibly progress this nation unless we are investing more in health and education, public health and education, so that we all have an equal opportunity at what that represents. I will absolutely be pushing the health bandwagon.”

She said if targets were to be achieved, cuts should not come from indigenous affairs.

“They should not be coming from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health,” she said. “They should not be coming from the public health system in particular nor the public education system. Because every child, every individual, every citizen has a right to those systems and they should be supported by government.”

She said waste on bureaucracy was concerning. “I am all about effectiveness and efficient spend,” she said. “But I am also about investment and if you look at community-based services they are extraordinary exemplars of how we can do it well and, in many instances, it’s often the layers of red tape and bureaucracy that suck up the resourcing.”

You can hear Dr Ngiare Brown speak at the NACCHO SUMMIT

summit-2014-banner

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.

SUMMIT WEBSITE FOR MORE INFO

abstract-blocks

NACCHO Aboriginal Health NEWS : Dr Mark Wenitong urges health action to Close the Gap

Dr Mark

Dr Mark Wenitong, a Kabi Kabi man and a leading Indigenous doctor from Cape York and advisor to NACCHO, urged governments to support community controlled indigenous health.

“My mother’s work inspired me to see what health services can do for our communities and the need that exists, as well as the privilege to work with our people in health, which has been passed on to all of my children,”

“I can only do so much as a an individual doctor in a clinic, and this is why we need structures that can empower local communities.”

Dr Mark Wenitong, with his daughter Naomi  pictured outside NACCHO member service Apunipima Cape York Health Council  in Cairns: Picture Juliana Doupe

Activists urge indigenous health action 

Report by: PATRICIA KARVELAS  From: The Australian

THE Close the Gap Campaign will demand the Abbott government prioritise indigenous health, warning that the goal of ending the health equality gap by 2030 will not be met unless urgent action is taken.

On the day Prime Minister Tony Abbott delivers his first annual closing the gap statement to the federal parliament, Close the Gap co-chairs Mick Gooda and Kirstie Parker will release their report on progress and priorities, which says the issue of health must be given higher priority.

The report warns that a “false economy” of short-term savings would hurt the effort to improve indigenous health and cost more in the long run.

“A dollar saved today may result in the need to spend many more in years to come. In particular, the national effort to close the gap requires a shift from expenditure on hospitals to that on primary healthcare, with its preventive emphasis.”

The pair call for the Coalition government to forge an agreement through COAG on a new national partnership for indigenous health and early childhood development.

“We’re just starting to see reductions in smoking rates and improvements in maternal and childhood health. We need to build on these successes,” said Mr Gooda, who is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission.

“This is a national effort that can achieve generational change. It is critical that Close the Gap continues as a national priority. We need to stay on track.”

Ms Parker, who is also co-chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, said health services provided economic benefits for indigenous people.

“We know that empowering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services has broader benefits. Health services are the single biggest employer of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” she said.

Mark Wenitong, a Kabi Kabi man and a leading indigenous doctor from Cape York, urged governments to support community controlled indigenous health.

Dr Wenitong’s mother, Lealon Wenitong, was one of Queensland’s first Aboriginal health workers, and both his children will work in medicine.

His son Joel is a fourth-year medical student at the University of Newcastle and his daughter Naomi works in social and emotional wellbeing with young people promoting pride, self-respect and identity.

“My mother’s work inspired me to see what health services can do for our communities and the need that exists, as well as the privilege to work with our people in health, which has been passed on to all of my children,” Dr Wenitong said.

“I can only do so much as a an individual doctor in a clinic, and this is why we need structures that can empower local communities.”

NACCHO Aboriginal Health News alert :Billions $$$ to be reaped in closing the gap

NACCHO0024-1280x1024

AUSTRALIA’S economy would grow by $24 billion and governments would be almost $12bn better off if key gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous people were closed by 2031, according to new modelling released today.

from Rick Morton The Australian

Reconciliation Australia commissioned Deloitte Access Economics to update its 2008 modelling of the economic impacts of social and health equity for Aborigines.

DOWNLOAD THE REPORT HERE

BOOK FOR NACCHO at the NATIONAL PRESS CLUB APRIL 2

Investing in Aboriginal community controlled health makes economic sense”

The new research shows Australia’s GDP would grow by 1.15 per cent, more than the 0.95 per cent predicted in 2008, because there are more indigenous people and, in recent times, employment gaps have widened.

The report comes as Reconciliation Australia co-chair Tom Calma threw his support behind the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council and the Coalition’s Commission of Audit, which he said must find and cut “administrative red tape”.

“We have to have confidence that the council and the commission will look closely at what has gone on in the past, what is working and what is not working,” he told The Australian.

“We need to have a strategic approach to closing the gap, not this bloody whimsical approach we see so often.”

Mr Calma said the approach that had clearly been working started with the Council of Australian Governments commitment in 2007 to the ambitious targets and an increasing interest from the business community in driving indigenous engagement.

989431-140210-n-gsp-graphs

The Deloitte report says the Northern Territory economy would grow by 10 per cent if gaps were closed by 2031, although the biggest gain in absolute terms would be in NSW where the economy would grow by $7.4bn. Governments would save $4.6bn in expenditure — almost $3bn on social security alone — and would earn another $7.2bn from the GST and income and corporate tax revenues.

Closing the gap in education would be associated with an 18 per cent boost to the number of indigenous people with a job, about 26,000 extra in today’s terms.

Similarly for health indicators, 13,000 jobs — 9 per cent more — would be created if equity was achieved.

The report notes some factors which contribute to unemployment include racial discrimination and incarceration rates, which are not easily alleviated.

Indigenous employment was strongest in the health, public administration, retail and education sectors and there was a weak appearance in higher paid jobs.

The vast majority of economic gains — $16.5bn — would be made in regional and remote areas, the report finds.

“Given the variation in circumstances between metropolitan, regional and remote areas of Australia, tailored strategies will be necessary to close the gap in Indigenous outcomes in these different regions,” it says.

To analyse these metropolitan, regional and remote trends Deloitte chose three case study areas from around Australia — Blacktown in Sydney’s west, Fitzroy in North Queensland and Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.

Less than one-third of indigenous people in Alice Springs are employed, compared to about 40 and 50 per cent respectively in Blacktown and Fitzroy.

“It is interesting to note that non-indigenous employment and labour force participation is higher in Alice Springs than the other areas,” the report says.

“This shows that jobs in Alice Springs are less likely to be filled by Indigenous people and points to the complexity of understanding the causes for regional disparities in Indigenous employment.”

Mr Calma said there had long been a “Canberra-centric” view of indigenous policy and that this needed to change to effectively close gaps

NACCHO political alert : Aboriginal ‘industry’ muddies the waters as January 26 approaches.

Aust

A hallmark ideology of the Aboriginal industry is its insistence on blaming colonisation and “white” governments for the problems facing Aboriginal people today.

We are sure to be reminded about this by the Aboriginal industry as January 26 approaches.”

View article re image above ALDI and Big W

Anthony Dillon is a researcher at the University of Western Sydney and co-editor of In Black and White: Australians All at the Crossroads. As published in The Australian (views are not endorsed by NACCHO)

IN the past week, two high-achieving Aboriginal men have written for this newspaper on Aboriginal issues. Both Warren Mundine and Ben Wyatt talk about the need for diversionary programs that can be used to prevent juvenile offenders from going to jail, and hopefully into jobs and education or training.

Mundine argued: “Legal aid is vital, but it deals with the problem at the tail end.” I believe Mundine is correct and that too much of the energy invested in Aboriginal affairs focuses at the tail end.

This is fine, but I think we should be focusing on preventing Aboriginal people of all ages from engaging in antisocial behaviour and crime in the first place, something on which I think both Mundine and Wyatt would agree.

I want to focus on an approach that deals with the underlying causes and contributors to the high incarceration rates. Such an approach will be useful to dealing with many other problems that plague Aboriginal people, such as unemployment and homelessness. As an analogy to the problems facing Aborigines, imagine a river that is dirty and polluted.

You can try all sorts of clean-up strategies downstream, but you will be forever performing the same strategies unless you identify the source of the problem upstream and clean that up.

There are many problems upstream, but clearly the major one is a factory upstream that is dumping waste into the river. Common sense dictates that efforts should be directed upstream if it is clean water downstream that is desired. I would argue that the “Aboriginal industry” is the factory. By Aboriginal industry, I mean the collective mindset produced by those promoting the view that Aboriginal people are totally distinct from the general population, requiring separate services and separate solutions to the problems they face.

Some of these people work in positions specific to addressing Aboriginal issues while others are contributors, in one form or another, whether they be commentators, journalists or activists.

Obviously, to clean up the water downstream – which in this analogy means addressing poverty, crime, unemployment and sickness – means closing down the Aboriginal industry or at least giving it a major overhaul, which will mean removing the incomes and pedestals of many.

This is not likely to happen any time soon. The words of American writer and activist Upton Sinclair resonate here: “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

I am not suggesting that all players in the Aboriginal industry are less than helpful, as I have met some amazing people (both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal) who work tirelessly to close the gap.

Speaking of the gap, while there may be some evidence of it closing slowly, such as the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people as a whole catching up with the health and wellbeing of non-Aboriginal people, I suspect there is a broadening of the internal gap.

That is, among those who identify as Aboriginal, much of the improvement has been with those who were already relatively advantaged. For many of those Aboriginal people living in extreme poverty, the gains have not been as substantial as for their more advantaged cousins.

This problem of an internalised gap is recognised by Tony Abbott. Nicolas Rothwell reported in this newspaper that there was a need to highlight the distinction between remote and urban Aboriginal societies, their circumstances and their needs. It is in remote communities that there is the most need, and it is in these communities that the actions and ideologies of the Aboriginal industry impact the most.

While some consideration of Aboriginality should be given, the focus should be on need, and those in most need are more likely to live in remote areas, where they lack access to opportunities and services that most of us take for granted.

A hallmark ideology of the Aboriginal industry is its insistence on blaming colonisation and “white” governments for the problems facing Aboriginal people today. We are sure to be reminded about this by the Aboriginal industry as January 26 approaches.

Demonising government with words such as “genocide”, “assimilation” and the like simply makes it less likely that those Aboriginal people most in need will embrace any opportunity or service provided by the government.

Another pillar of the industry is its strident insistence that culture, often a romanticised version bearing little resemblance to authentic Aboriginal culture, be given absolute priority. Matters of culture are fine, but not at the expense of child safety and family wellbeing. The hearts of thousands of Australians break whenever we read how a child’s safety has been compromised, sometimes with fatal outcomes – all because placing a child with Aboriginal carers was considered more important than safety. We read daily of fears of another “Stolen Generation”.

When considering how best to close the gap on unemployment, ill-health and dysfunction, it is surely education and jobs that must be priorities, not culture. Individuals can decide for themselves what role culture plays in their lives, and I am all for people embracing and expressing their culture in a way that suits them, but this must not be focused on at the expense of jobs and education.

Let’s focus upstream so that we get better results downstream. If this means overhauling the Aboriginal industry, or at the very least giving it a major shake-up and wake-up, so be it. Surely what really matters is the lives and the potential of Aboriginal people.

Anthony Dillon is a researcher at the University of Western Sydney and co-editor of In Black and White: Australians All at the Crossroads.

NACCHO AGM Perth 2013 health news: Aboriginal life expectancy increases to Close the Gap

C

Life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men increased by around one and a half years over the last five years, compared to about one year for non-Indigenous men. Life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women increased by about half a year over the period, roughly the same increase as non-Indigenous women.

Life expectancy at birth for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in 2010-2012 was 69.1 years for men and 73.7 years for women, according to figures released November 15 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

Download ABS life tables report 2013

Download ABS life expectancy FACT SHEET 2013

DOWNLOAD THE DATA in Xcel

healthy-futures-great

Justin Mohamed Chair of NACCHO is reporting to the NACCHO AGM in Perth this week that the NACCHO recently  commissioned Healthy for Life report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare  gave a great overview of the success of ACCHOs and delivered the evidence of just how big a contribution NACCHO ‘s 150 members are making to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal people.

Follow the NACCHO chair Justin Mohamed in Perth this week on TWITTER #NACCHOAGM13

DOWNLOAD THE AIHW NACCHO Healthy for LIFE Report Card

“The comprehensive report showed that Aboriginal Community Controlled services provided culturally appropriate primary health care to over 310,000 Aboriginal people each year, around half the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, and we are credited with three quarters of the health gains made against the Close the Gap targets.” Mr Mohamed said.

ABS Director of Demography, Bjorn Jarvis, said “Life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men increased by around one and a half years over the last five years, compared to about one year for non-Indigenous men. Life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women increased by about half a year over the period, roughly the same increase as non-Indigenous women,”

“The figures show that the gap in life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people compared to non-Indigenous people has narrowed,  but only slightly,” said Mr Jarvis.

The new figures for 2010-2012 show that life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men is estimated to be 10.6 years lower than non-Indigenous men, while life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is 9.5 years lower than non-Indigenous women. The gap has reduced by 0.8 years for men and 0.1 years for women over the period.

Response from the Close the Gap  Campaign

Life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples still lags behind that of non-Indigenous Australians, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data released today.

Close the Gap campaign co-chair, Mick Gooda, said the small improvement disclosed in the data covers a five-year period during which Closing the Gap policies were implemented.

“The ABS data shows a small but very welcome improvement in Aboriginal and Torre Strait Islander life expectancy. However, a significant gap remains,” Mr Gooda said.

Mr Gooda, who is also the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples don’t want to the health of Australia’s First Peoples to continue to lag behind the broader community.

“When we started the Close the Gap campaign we knew this was a generational effort. We knew that reducing the life expectancy gap was achievable but would take a concerted effort. That’s why we set the 2030 target and are working with the Government and the Opposition to ensure health equality for all Australians.”

Kirstie Parker, co-chair of the Close the Gap campaign and of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, acknowledged the strong support for closing the gap from all political parties and from the wider Australian community.

“It’s heartening to see Government, Opposition and Greens support for the Close the Gap campaign, and almost 200,000 Australians have pledged their support.  Closing the gap is a national priority and an area of bipartisan support that the Government can build on,” Ms Parker said.

In August, the Close the Gap campaign articulated a platform for the first 100 days of the new Government. With that anniversary fast-approaching, Ms Parker said Close the Gap will work with Government so that it:

  • reports back to Parliament on the first parliamentary day of each year;
  • forges an agreement through COAG for a new National Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap in Health Outcomes; and
  • establishes a clear process to implement the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013-2023.

NACCHO NATSIHP News:What a report about Aboriginal health can teach journalism

Gi

The document portrays racism as being institutionalised within health care — rather than being an aberrant behaviour by a minority. Journalism that has learned this lesson might end up with much more powerful and instructive stories.

Lessons from a report on Aboriginal health issues can be transferred to journalism.

from Melissa Sweet Croakey

Journalism has a lot to learn from the health sector, I’ve often thought. Many of healthcare’s challenges — reducing errors, becoming more responsive to the community, avoiding capture by powerful interests — are relevant for journalism as well. So when the new National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013-2023 was released last week, I read it looking for what journalists might learn.

Although a federal government publication, it involved extensive consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the health sector. These are some points I took away …

The report makes it clear that racism is a huge health issue. Lately there has been some self-reflection by the media about our role in entrenching gender inequality (including on the front pages of The New York Times). We could also reflect on our own role in entrenching rather than confronting racism.

The document calls for culturally supportive and culturally safe environments in health care. A large part of the media industry has not grappled with what this might look like in journalism, whether for members of our industry, or for communities and people interacting with us.

The document portrays racism as being institutionalised within health care — rather than being an aberrant behaviour by a minority. Journalism that has learned this lesson might end up with much more powerful and instructive stories. As the ABC presenter Waleed Aly wrote earlier this year, in the wake of yet another publicised incident of abuse, “our real problem is the subterranean racism that goes largely unremarked upon and that we seem unable even to detect”.

Nareen Young, CEO of the Diversity Council of Australia (and a tweeter on these issues), says the media could help by spending less time arguing about what constitutes racism, as this unending debate is exacerbating the hurt. “We need to say that if something hurts someone deeply, it is racist,” she said. The council would like to work with the media to identify areas for improvement.

The plan’s holistic approach to health is something we all could learn from. Indeed, GP Dr Tim Senior has argued for a wider adoption of the Aboriginal definition of health. Much media reporting reinforces a narrow biomedical focus, and neglects the wider determinants of health — like the importance of an equitable education system, an inclusive society and a healthy environment. If journalists incorporated the plan’s broad understanding of health into our work, we might see more useful reporting — whether on health or wider policy issues.

The document stresses the importance of culture, language and cultural identity to the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Yet so often, media reports portrays culture as a negative. If reporting such concerns, then at the least this broader context needs to be included. Beyond that, how might journalism contribute to wider acknowledgement of culture? Through use of language, for example?

The plan also stresses the importance of acknowledging and understanding the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The fact that different people hold different views does not automatically mean conflict and division. Is journalism capable of respect for diversity?

The plan emphasises the importance of strengths-based approaches to Aboriginal health, rather than a focus on the deficit model that is so common amongst both the media and health sectors. Journalism can be overly focused on the deficit model — telling us about problems we often already know about — rather than investigating potential solutions. This is not an argument for “soft” journalism — it is actually easier to describe problems, whether in Aboriginal health, climate change or obesity, than to do the hard yards of solutions-focused journalism.

The plan also underlines the impact of the past upon contemporary health and wellbeing, referring to the legacy of intergenerational trauma. Most of the recent media coverage celebrating the 200th anniversary of European explorers crossing the Blue Mountains did not even canvass the implications for the area’s Aboriginal peoples. Surely this type of coverage — that privileges one historical experience and account over another — exacerbates the intergenerational trauma identified by the new plan.

No doubt some hackles will rise about the idea that we in the media have a responsibility for our work’s impact. But the industry’s engagement with mental health initiatives suggests there is a wider awareness and willingness to evolve our practices.

This piece is written from my perspective as a non-indigenous journalist. I wish I’d had the chance to reflect on these issues earlier in my career. There are many journalists and organisations, particularly in the community sector, whose work reflects the principles underlying the new national health plan.

And the digital era is enabling initiatives like the Cherbourg MoJo project in Queensland which is equipping young people with the skills to tell their community’s stories. You can see this as a digital media project or as a health intervention, given that it aims to improve self-esteem, confidence, literacy, and to “present a less marginalised view of the community”.

So while journalism can learn plenty from the health sector, it works both ways. The Cherbourg project suggests the skills of journalism can be harnessed for improving a community’s wellbeing. Mind you, the ancient art of telling stories was around long before the modern concept of journalism was invented.

*Melissa Sweet is a PhD candidate at Canberra University, and is researching journalism and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health