Saturday, February 12, 2011

Report card on Australia's progress in adressing Aboriginal disadvantage

This week saw the the release of the Federal Government's Third Close the Gap Report on its efforts to address Aboriginal Disadvantage.

Despite important progress in some areas, the Report highlights the continual failure of Federal, State and Local Governments (and now the corporate sector) to "close the gap".

Unsurprisingly the report has quickly disappeared from public discourse and political and media media commentary.

Rather than acknowledge the failure of successive Governments to address Aboriginal disadvantage the Prime Minister pushed the responsibility back on Aboriginal people, demanding that they take greater responsibility for overcoming the problems their communities face.

As Greens Senator Rachel Siewart pointed out it was breathtakingly hypocritical of the Gillard Government to demand that Aboriginal people take greater responsibility, while simultaneously restricting how they spend their income.

Responding to the Report's release Eva Cox questions the evidence base upon which some of the Report's findings are based.

In this piece from the ABC Drum Unleashed Aboriginal leader Bev Manton offers a sustained critique of the Gillard Government Report Card:
So it is with heavy cynicism that I greet the third annual Closing the Gap report.

Rudd made the promise to deliver a statement on the government’s progress on closing the gap shortly after he won the election. The first two statements, both belated and both short of substance were a disappointment.

But Gillard’s latest delivery is even more of a let-down, and a continuation of the failures of Rudd’s unfinished business.

While she touches on “improvements” in many of the six targets federal Labor has set for eliminating Indigenous disadvantage - without providing a shred of evidence to back her claims - a key part of her statement was a call for “individual responsibility”.

“Closing the Gap means change in people’s lives. And Indigenous people know that when the child starts attending school… when the drinker stops abusing alcohol… when the adult takes the job that is there… then change begins,” she said.

“And Indigenous people know these decisions are not made by governments. They are made by people. The job of government, of communities is to support decisions.”

This is an old cliché. A dangerous and outrageous cliché, made even more dangerous and outrageous by the fact it was uttered by our nation’s leader.

It does not reflect the barriers that have been placed on generations upon generations of Indigenous people and undermines the willpower of thousands of Aboriginal Australians who battle against these barriers.

It also does not reflect the reality of life for many Aboriginal people.

The child will start attending school, when the school is built. And when the lessons are relevant, and delivered in a language they understand.

The drinkers will always abuse alcohol, just like white drinkers do. They’ll stop the drinking when they have the support in place to do so, and for the record, Aboriginal people are more likely to be tee-totallers than non Aboriginal people.

And Aboriginal people will take jobs when there are jobs to take. Prime Minister Gillard might like to explain to the nation how her party destroyed the economies of many communities when they pulled apart CDEP.

These barriers - and more - are wholly government-constructed.

A key example of this is the blanket coverage of income management on Aboriginal residents living in prescribed areas under the Northern Territory intervention.

There is scant evidence that this compulsory form of welfare quarantining is working. In fact, there is a growing body of research showing the precise opposite - that it is undermining the Government’s attempts to close the gap. It is having an adverse effect on nutrition and demonises Aboriginal people who largely spend their money wisely.

Yet this Labor Government has committed to rolling out this dog of a policy across the nation. It will be in NSW soon.

Another example is the disastrous Strategic Indigenous Housing Infrastructure Program (SIHIP), which has blown hundreds of millions of dollars on administration and still continues to waste money while communities cry out for more houses.

Many of these communities are not eligible for SIHIP funding. None of my communities in NSW - many of which are desperate for housing - qualify either.

Last year, I visited the remote communities of Irrultja, east of Alice Springs. Despite the billion-dollar NT intervention, the people of Irrultja still live in tin humpies.

They are strong people. They are courageous people. They are people who are proud in their culture and tied to their homelands.

But the Rudd government didn’t commit funds to build houses. Instead, they were given funds for electricity meters, to ensure their humpies are powered. They were denied the opportunity by the government of a first-world nation to lift their conditions from third world.

Should the people of Irrultja take responsibility for the failure of government, like Julia Gillard seems to be suggesting?

And should those affected by income management take responsibility for the failure of an evidence-light policy