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Widening the gap

Our recent prime ministers have at least one thing in common: none of them has lived up to their rhetoric on Indigenous affairs

It was Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who first introduced the annual Closing the Gap report card, in an attempt to chart the “progress” of Australian governments on targets to eliminate Indigenous disadvantage. Over the past nine years, each successive prime minister – Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull – has continued this tradition, and all reports have had this in common: they have shown no real progress. This is fact, regardless of the spin.

Kevin Rudd last night appeared on the ABC’s 7:30, where he talked about the lack of justice targets, and the spiralling rates of Aboriginal incarceration, as well as the fact that, since his apology speech, rates of Aboriginal child removal have gone up exponentially. He said he feared a “second Stolen Generation”. It is obviously a far cry from his 2008 speech, in which he said that sorry means such injustices “never, never happen again”.

Rudd conveniently left out his own government’s failures, and he was let off the hook by interviewer Leigh Sales. Rudd’s continuation of the NT intervention saw child removal rates skyrocket and more money pumped into removing children. His destruction of the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) widened the employment gap, and CDEP have now been completely replaced by a program that is condemning Aboriginal remote workers to life working for welfare. His catastrophic black housing policies held Aboriginal communities to ransom, forcing them to sign over their land in return for government investment that is the right of any other Australian.

On the eve of the apology, Rudd also completely rejected any form of compensation for members of the Stolen Generations, despite it being one of the pillars of reparations claims.

These failures not only continued under Gillard and under Abbott and Turnbull, but have worsened. In 2014, $500 million was ripped out of Indigenous affairs on Minister Nigel Scullion’s watch and programs were streamlined into the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Aboriginal organisations were forced to apply for limited Indigenous Advancement Strategy funding, and many of them lost out to government departments, big non-Indigenous NGOs, and NRL clubs.

So it’s no wonder that the Closing the Gap report card shows limited progress this year, and maybe that is why it has dropped further and further down the parliamentary calendar. This year, rather being than the first piece of business on the first sitting day, it was delivered at midday more than a week later, to a half-empty chamber.

Six of the seven Closing the Gap targets remain unchanged. The life expectancy gap persists – the report puts it at 10.6 years for Indigenous men and 9.5 years for women, although that could be seen as a conservative estimate compared to previous data. Employment, numeracy and literacy and other areas remain mixed, and unlikely to reach targets.

This will come as no surprise to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who live with the fallout of this government’s policies every single day, despite Turnbull’s rhetoric that he is doing things “with” First Nations people, and not “to them”.

If he was doing things with “First Nations” people, he would have at least acknowledged the Redfern Statement, which was launched, and then largely ignored, during last year’s federal election campaign. The statement was signed by more than 50 Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal organisations and is an urgent call for an overhaul of Aboriginal affairs.

Turnbull today pledged his commitment to the Redfern Statement, but whether its goals align with the Coalition’s current focus on Aboriginal affairs is another matter entirely.

Yesterday, Attorney-General George Brandis announced that he will introduce amendments [possible paywall] to the federal Native Title Act after Noongar claimants fighting the WA government over an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) won in the Federal Court. The National Native Title Tribunal has announced a freeze on all new ILUAs following the decision, putting the controversial Adani coal mine in central Queensland in doubt.

What happens next could shine a light on the reality of Turnbull’s rhetoric.

Today’s links

  • For more on the Redfern Statement, see Jackie Huggins, co-chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, in the Australian [possible paywall].
  • Opposition leader Bill Shorten, in his Closing the Gap response today, said that a conversation about full reparations was needed.
  • The Nick Xenophon Team is not supporting the Turnbull government’s changes to childcare and welfare benefits.
  • Industry Minister Arthur Sinodinos claims that One Nation is now “a lot more sophisticated” but a Western Australian One Nation candidate once described fashion as a bit like racial prejudice: “wonderful to indulge in but difficult to define”. [possible paywall]
  • University of Technology Sydney academic Jamila Hussain pens a handy guide on Sharia Law for Senator Jacqui Lambie.
  • Thousands of bats were casualty to the heatwave in New South Wales, as the mercury in some areas hit 46 degrees Celsius.
  • One for the stargazers: astronomers have captured a massive supernova of a star 10,000 times brighter than our own.
  • And after 24 days in the job, Donald Trump’s security adviser, Michael Flynn, resigns.
About the author Amy McQuire

Amy McQuire is a Darumbal and South Sea Islander woman and journalist.

 
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