We don’t need to look far to see an example of poverty and injustice.
Australia is listed as one of the most wealthy and developed nations of the world and is recognized for high standards of living, education, health and protection of political rights.1 However, this is hardly represented equally by all Australian communities, and comparison of the statistics between non-Indigenous and Indigenous communities reveals a stark and confronting disparity in living standards. The average income for Indigenous households is only just overhalf of that of an ‘average’ Australian household. 2 Stemming from historical factors including colonization and various political interventions, Indigenous Australians still face the repercussions today. Loss of land (essential to spiritual, economic and cultural wellbeing), racism and discrimination has contributed to the current situation. Indigenous Australian populations collectively makeup only 2.5% population currently, and are severely disadvantaged. 3
Poverty, racism, harmful stereotypes generated from the wider society are reinforced by negative media, and ultimately contribute to the gap that exists between non-Indigenous and Indigenous populations. The average life expectancy of Indigenous Australians is 17 years less than that of the non-Indigenous population.2 Unequal access for Indigenous communities to social resources (education, employment, housing, health services) needed for wellbeing are directly related to the poor health outcomes that we see today. Higher unemployment rates are interrelated to poverty, and a lack of fully adequate education and job opportunities. These factors perpetuate a vicious cycle.
‘The average life expectancy of Indigenous Australians is 17 years less than that of the non-Indigenous population.2 ‘
Campaigns and efforts to promote reconciliation in the past decade have had some positive impact on improving the situation. The government’s apology to the Stolen Generations and Indigenous Australians, and the push for the declaration of the rights of Indigenous people have been applauded as progressive steps to equality. However the remaining disparities that still persist highlight the need for better tailored approaches, which are founded upon mutual respect and acknowledgment of Indigenous Australian culture.
‘These factors perpetuate a vicious cycle.’
Past efforts by the government such as the intervention in the Northern territory (Howard legislation NTER, 2007) have been highly controversial- and have been seen as authoritarian acts which have subverted Indigenous Australian rights by excluding them from decision making. Many people saw the legislation in the intervention and stronger futures policy as blunt and not effectively implemented. Legislation which included income management and sending army figures into communities, were heavy handed and offensive. It is clear that the lack of real concern and respect for the autonomy of Indigenous communities, and the lack of emphasis on the empowerment of Indigenous Australians to choose how they want to use the resources that are available is hindering the government’s efforts to make a real change.
1. World Economic Outlook Database. October 2013, International Monetary Fund. Accessed on 20th March 2014.
2. Estimates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, June 2011, Australian Bureau of Statistics. Accessed on 23rd March 2014.
3. “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Population”. Year Book Australia, 2008. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 7 February 2008. Accessed on 21st March 2014.