These are some resonating words from a recent campaign led by GenerationOne. Why should it be more challenging for a person to achieve their goals just because they are an Indigenous Australian?
Whilst the statistics can be depressing we can’t afford to feel hopeless about the situation at hand. With an abundance of resources and infrastructure compared to most of the world, we need to be reminded that we really do have the capacity to make a real change.
Where there is a will there is a way.
GenerationOne was launched under the Rudd government (2010) to make an end to the inequality. By advocating for more sustainable job opportunities for Indigenous Australians, GenerationOne hopes to break the vicious cycle of unemployment, poverty and injustice.
We can all get involved in some way or another. Whether that may be inspiring family or friends to participate, volunteering with a variety of organisations such as GenerationOne, or donating money to campaigns, all of our efforts count. Blogs, news, forums and other online resources are a great and time efficient way to inform ourselves.
Be more proactive, inform yourself, and become a part of the movement.
This month, a record number of 1289 community organised events were held in Australia to celebrate the 8th annual National Close the Gap day.1 Although much more still needs to be done in securing equal health access for all Australians, the fact that more than 150,000 Australians took part in the National Close the Gap day is heartwarming. Clearly this affirms that Indigenous health is a significant priority for the nation as a whole.
The significance of these events cannot be underestimated. They stand as a reminder to the community and our political leaders of the importance of achieving health equality between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians. With proof of support that is widespread, funding towards programs for this cause will hopefully be better protected from budget cuts. Setting ourselves goals as individuals, communities and as an entire population is a crucial step towards this ultimate goal. Having specific targets and timelines to be fulfilled will give us something to aspire to, and work towards.
Co-chair of Close the Gap, Kirstie Parker advocates in particular for the need of greater commitments to social justice targets (see here interview with NITV below). The progress that we hope for the future will depend upon the effort from across the community, and will have the best chance of success if priorities are developed through partnerships with Indigenous Australian communities. As a nation we need to listen to Indigenous Australian ideas, leadership and engage all aspects of community if we are to reach any meaningful targets. As Kirstie Parker underlines, clear targets that give governments responsibilities to commit funding and services will be central.
In 2008, the Council of Australian Governments created a set of 6 specific targets for Closing the Gap. Its latest report card released under prime minister Tony Abbott shows that some progress has been made in each of these 6 goals, but the nation is still failing in some critical areas.
The 6 Targets 2
Goal: Close the life expectancy gap within a generation (by 2030).
Goal: Access to early childhood education for Indigenous four year olds in remote communities within 5 years.
Goal: Halve the gap in reading, writing and numeracy achievements for children within 10 years.
Goal: Halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five within 10 years.
Goal: Halve the gap in Indigenous achievement by 2020.
Goal: Halve the gap in employment outcomes within a decade.
In addition, the Abbott government has added another goal that is ensuring 90 per cent attendance for all schools regardless of the proportion of Indigenous Australian students enrolled. This is aimed at reducing the gap in school attendance within 5 years.
Abbott’s report revealed that almost no progress has been made in improving literacy rates for Indigenous Australians, although to have 95 per cent of remote children enrolled in preschool can be considered on track. Education is a crucial tool for empowerment, as it allows individuals to gain knowledge, access more employment opportunities and make decisions which open up better pathways. There has been little positive movement in efforts to close the gap in life-expectancy, as well as a failure to move towards halving the gap in employment outcomes.
2. Closing the Gap Prime Minister’s Report [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Government the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet; 2014 [cited 2014 April 3]. Available from: http://www.dpmc.gov.au
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.