Line in the sand
Redfern Statement handed to leaders
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders have delivered their blueprint for the future – the Redfern Statement – to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at Parliament House. The historic manifesto, calling for a new relationship with Indigenous people, was presented in the lead-up to the ninth annual Closing the Gap report (see last week’s report by the Koori Mail).
The Redfern Statement has been signed by peak Indigenous organisations covering health, justice, children and families, disability and family violence prevention, as well as major mainstream bodies. It outlines solutions to closing the disadvantage gap and calls for more engagement with Indigenous people.
National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples co-chairs Rod Little and Jackie Huggins presented the statement to Turnbull in a coolamon.
“After 25 years, eight federal election cycles, seven Prime Ministers, eight Ministers for Indigenous Affairs, 400 recommendations, and countless policies, policy changes, reports, funding promises and funding cuts, it’s time to draw a line in the sand,” Little said.
“We need a new relationship that respects and harnesses our expertise, and guarantees us a seat at the table as equal partners when governments are making decisions about our lives.”
Dr Huggins said Indigenous organisations are seeking a new relationship, a genuine partnership and a commitment to ongoing structural engagement.
“Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations deliver 2.5 million episodes of care a year in their local communities – and are the only health and leadership models making inroads on Closing the Gap targets,” she said.
“Our teachers, education professionals and family violence experts are delivering real results on the ground in their communities every single day – despite chronic under-funding and an ad-hoc policy approach based on three-year election cycles.”
National advocacy organisation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights ANTaR national director Andrew Meehan said handing the statement to the Prime Minister was a historic moment that should be embraced by the government.
“The Redfern Statement represents a united, considered and comprehensive approach to addressing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage,” he said.
“The only way we’ll see this change is for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to have a seat at the table as equal partners when decisions are being made about their lives.
“We’ve seen report after report, inquiry after inquiry, all making important recommendations, few of which have been implemented.”
More than 30 mainstream organisations have supported the Redfern Statement, including Oxfam. Chief executive Helen Szoke said Oxfam has been echoing the Redfern Statement’s calls to fund the National Congress and reverse funding cuts made to Indigenous programs in the 2014 federal budget.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples still die on average more than 10 to 17 years younger than non-Aboriginal Australians, experience some of the highest suicide rates in the world, and are being locked up in prison at unprecedented rates,” she said.
“Many Indigenous leaders are calling the current situation a crisis, and simply paying lip service to Closing the Gap targets without proper engagement risks condemning another generation of Aboriginal Australians to acute poverty and injustice.
“In his 2016 Close the Gap address, the Prime Minister committed to ‘do things with Aboriginal people, not do things to them’.
“The Prime Minister must genuinely engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people so they can shape the decisions that directly affect them.”
The Greens also backed the Redfern Statement with Senator Rachel Siewert saying the government should implement the recommendation that the $534 million cut from the Aboriginal sector be reinstated.
“That money could go towards pursuing the priority areas outlined in the statement and would serve as a solid foundation for resetting the efforts to close the gap. I welcome the Redfern Statement’s calls for reconciliation, including a discussion around treaties, and look forward to these discussions”.
A blueprint for the future
The Redfern Statement, released for last year’s federal election campaign, urges “a more just approach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs”. The document proposes changes across a wide range of areas, including education, justice, health and family violence. It calls for:
- policies to be made with communities – rather than to communities;
- more than $500 million cut from Indigenous Affairs in the 2014 Budget to be restored;
- a new Closing the Gap target focused on driving down the number of Indigenous Australians in jail;
- support for justice reinvestment – where money is redirected to address underlying causes of crime; and
- creating a stand-alone department for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. (Indigenous Affairs is currently within the Prime Minister’s Department.)
Led by the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, 17 other Indigenous groups have signed it. They include the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation and First People’s Disability Network.
Mainstream organisations supporting the Redfern Statement include the Australian Council of Social Service, Australian Medical Association, Amnesty International, the Law Council of Australia and Oxfam Australia.