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Issue #1737      June 29, 2016

“Our people deserve much, much better”

Redfern Statement demands a more just approach

We will not be ignored any longer. That was the message dozens of peak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations delivered in Sydney this month.

Indigenous Leaders with the signed Redfern Statement. (Photo: NITV News)

The Redfern Statement sets out a series of demands to all political parties, calling for a “more just approach” to Indigenous Affairs.

National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples co-chair Jackie Huggins said Indigenous Affairs had barely rated a mention in the current federal election campaign and politicians needed to be reminded that First Nations people continue to experience isolation and disadvantage, because successive governments have failed to grasp opportunities for major change.

“We are tired of being marginalised, tired of being ignored, and we have come here today to present a united front in terms of all our very present issues that will not be denied,” she said. “Our people deserve much, much better than what we are seeing at the moment and what is being delivered to us at present.”

Dr Huggins said Indigenous organisations had taken the unprecedented step of standing together and lobbying during the election because they were frustrated at years of being ignored by government.

“Ignore us at your peril because we vote too and it is our people who are the most severely disadvantaged people in this country,” she said.

The Redfern Statement was compiled by Congress, and peak Indigenous health, legal, disability and children’s organisations, including the First People’s Disability Network, the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), National Aboriginal and Islander Legal Services (NATSILS) and the Secretariat for National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC).

It calls on the next federal government to commit to restore $534 million funding to Indigenous Affairs that was cut in the 2014 Budget; commit to working with Indigenous leaders to establish a stand-alone Department of Indigenous Affairs that is managed and run by Indigenous public servants; fund Congress and other peak bodies and meet regularly with them; reform the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) and secure national funding agreements that emphasise accountability to Indigenous people and drive national strategies and support a treaty-making framework.

Coalition Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion released a statement that highlighted exactly the issues and problems the Redfern Statement set out.

Senator Scullion repeated the federal government’s Indigenous Affairs mantra – “jobs, education and safe communities” – and, in direct contradiction to the experience of grassroots Indigenous organisations, said the Turnbull government had a “track record” of working with Indigenous people and organisations.

“The 2014-15 Indigenous Affairs budget did not contain savings of $534 million,” he said. “After money was redirected to new priorities, the amount of money saved was less than half that – out of a Budget of $4.9 billion. Since then, additional funds have been put into the Indigenous Affairs budget, including $48 million to support land tenure measures through the Developing Northern Australia White Paper and $14.6 million for constitutional recognition.”

The Developing Northern Australia White Paper has been widely criticised by Indigenous organisations from the Top End, for being developed with little to no input from them. Labor’s Indigenous Affairs spokesman Shayne Neumann’s response supported almost all of the Redfern Statement – but stopped short of supporting a treaty.

“The Liberal government has sidelined the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” he said. “They have been excluded from the biggest changes and decisions this government have made and the devastating impact of that is demonstrated no more clearly than in the disastrous Indigenous Advancement Strategy.

“Labor has supported the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples as the national representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and denounced the cruel and unnecessary funding cut inflicted by the Liberal government.”

Greens spokesperson on Indigenous Affairs Rachel Siewert pointed out that most of the Redfern Statement was already supported by long-standing Greens policy.

“The Greens support National Congress and 55 Aboriginal organisations in their calls to address the unfinished business of reconciliation that includes both treaty and constitutional reform,” she said.

“It has long been Greens party policy to ensure a move towards meaningful reconciliation that encompasses substantive constitutional recognition as well as sovereignty and treaties.”

Healing Foundation (an organisation that helps Stolen Generations members and their families) chief executive Richard Weston said the continual sidelining of Indigenous solutions by government had real and tragic effects.

“Many of our people are dying in despair and we can’t allow that to keep happening,” he said.

NACCHO chief executive Pat Turner pointed out that, as well as direct funding cuts to Indigenous organisations, some policies – like the Medicare rebate freeze announced by the Coalition – had harsh consequences for Indigenous people.

“Our Aboriginal Medical Services are being squeezed to an unacceptable level,” she said. “We need new thinking and a clear national strategy that looks at health in a holistic manner and considers redress of the social determinants of health.”

Antoinette Braybrook, chief executive of the Victorian Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service, called for action on domestic violence and its effects.

She said more than 90% of Aboriginal women in prison were family violence victims. “Aboriginal women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised because of family violence and 10 times more likely to die from a violent assault,” Braybrook said.

“Our women’s lives are being lost and our children are being taken and our government needs to work with us to make this right.”

First People’s Disability Network chief executive Damian Griffis said there was a lot of “we hear you” but not enough action, while Victorian Aboriginal Legal Services chief executive Wayne Muir said the gathering was evidence of the frustration Indigenous people feel about not being heard.

“Aboriginal people in this country are getting organised and we will stand together and we will stand united – we won’t be divided and we will make a difference to election processes,” Muir said. “It’s time the politicians of this country learn the lesson.”

Congress co-chair Rod Little said that while the Redfern Statement was born from a lengthy period of frustration, it also represented how powerful Indigenous organisations could be when they speak as one voice.

“We are calling on government to develop a relationship with us based on meaningful respect and to start developing policy with us, rather than doing things to us,” he said.

“Congress is already set up for us to be the conduit – the government needs to let us.”

The Redfern Statement calls on the next Federal Government to:

  • Commit to resource Indigenous-led solutions, by restoring the $534 million cut from Indigenous Affairs in the 2014 Budget;
  • Reform the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS);
  • Commit to better engagement with Indigenous people by funding the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples and other peak bodies and regularly meeting with them;
  • Recommit to Closing the Gap in this generation and add targets for justice, family violence, disability and out-of-home care;
  • Secure national funding agreements that emphasise accountability to Indigenous people and drive national strategies;
  • Commit to working with Indigenous leaders to establish a stand-alone Department of Indigenous Affairs that is managed and run by Indigenous public servants; and
  • Address and implement the recommendations of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, which includes an agreement making framework (treaty) and constitutional reform in consultation with Indigenous communities.

Koori Mail

Next article – Treaty ... the way forward

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