Another lost opportunity for true reconciliation

Another lost opportunity for true reconciliation

The Rev. Alistair Macrae, President of the Uniting Church, has released a Presidential Statement in response to the passing of the Stronger Futures Legislation.

Mr Macrae said:

Over the last few months, thousands of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians have raised their voices in opposition to the discriminatory aspects of the ‘Stronger Futures’ legislation.

During this time the Uniting Church in Australia has worked closely with our Indigenous brothers and sisters and their supporters, particularly in the Northern Territory. We have supported the work of our Northern Synod and the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress who have consistently called for a genuine partnership between government and Indigenous peoples. We have supported the calls of retired Uniting Church minister the Rev. Dr Djiniyni Gondarra and the Yolngu Nations Assembly for a change in direction.

Despite our best efforts the Stronger Futures bills passed the Senate in the early hours of this morning. The new laws perpetuate the policies of the Northern Territory Intervention for up to ten years. They also extend them to other marginalised communities.

Our contention that this policy had no basis in evidence was ignored. Our protests that there had been no meaningful consultation with Indigenous leaders in Territory communities fell on deaf ears. In a week in which MPs made much of attempting to garner support across the Chamber in the name of a human rights emergency (asylum seekers), bipartisan support was no problem when it came to ignoring the human rights of Australia’s First Peoples.

Stronger Futures employs punitive, top-down measures that have done little to improve the lives or outcomes for Indigenous groups. Indigenous communities have experienced few perceivable benefits from the governmental policies of the last five years.

Suicide rates, particularly amongst young people, have dramatically increased since the Intervention. In New South Wales, which has the largest Indigenous population, the youth suicide rate is one young person in every 100,000. In the Northern Territory, however, it is now more than 30 in 100,000.[i] The official unemployment rate is at least four times higher for Indigenous Australians than for the rest of the population, with this rate rising even higher in remote communities.

Around 30% of Indigenous children don’t attend school on a regular basis, while the housing crisis facing Indigenous people has been described as ‘alarming’ by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Since 2007, Indigenous incarceration rates have risen by 41%.[ii] These figures were investigated by a research team at the University of Queensland, who found that the increase can largely be explained by a jump in prosecutions for minor motor vehicle offences such as unlicensed driving.[iii]

These facts are shocking but they should not be surprising considering how current policy is being implemented. It is well understood, but conveniently ignored in much public debate and alarmingly ignored in the Stronger Futures legislation, that the most effective policy reforms are those developed in partnership with Indigenous communities. Many of the answers we seek as a community are contained in well-written and evidence-led reports that the Government’s own departments have produced. It is almost incomprehensible that the Government and the Opposition fail to pay attention to what they know is necessary for positive and long-lasting change.

The Uniting Church in Australia has been calling for a paradigm shift. Our political leaders must rise above the election cycle and commit funds and resources to practical programs that are evidence-based with accountable and transparent processes. The programs need to be developed and implemented in partnership with Indigenous communities rather than imposed upon them.

The Uniting Church, through our social justice arm UnitingJustice, has called for high quality teachers and more Indigenous teacher-training programs and the reinstatement of Indigenous languages to create learning environments that attract and retain students. We have called for increased and targeted funding in Territory schools after discovering that an additional $79 million per year would be required to expand the number of teachers.

We have called for $295 million in infrastructure including teacher housing. We have called for the reinstatement of customary law in bail and sentencing decisions in accordance with Article 34 of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We have called for the replacement of ‘fly-in/fly-out’ consultations so that people on homelands have sufficient time to travel to meetings or hearings.

We have called for the full reintroduction and adequate funding of the former Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) program to ensure that training and meaningful work is available to Indigenous people in remote communities. We have called for the establishment of a floor price on alcohol in the Territory, to be introduced in conjunction with alcohol management programs that are developed by each community to address the differing contexts. We have called for housing and infrastructure investment to be made not solely in designated growth towns, but also in homeland centres.

These are not just our calls. Many other advocacy groups engaging in this field have been pleading for practical and specific changes such as these. All of these recommendations have been detailed in government reports spanning the last ten years. Most have been ignored in the Stronger Futures legislation.

Unlike the Government, we worked in partnership with our Indigenous brothers and sisters and we listened. The Government has not. Self-determination for the First Peoples must be more than rhetoric.

And so today we join Indigenous Australians in mourning another lost opportunity for true reconciliation.

By the time these laws are wound back, I fear a future Government will have to make another Apology.

It will take much prayer, apology and compassion to heal the damage of what has been a disastrous week in Australian politics.

The Rev. Alistair Macrae
President of the Uniting Church in Australia Assembly
June 29 2012


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3 thoughts on “Another lost opportunity for true reconciliation”

  1. The minority of women who want the basics card should have it. Those who are specifically known to cope badly because of drug & alcohol problems and may not want it, should probably have it, but only if real counselling by a real person is provided at the same time. Nobody else should be demeaned in this way.

    This is the same culture-blind policy that has caused the situation in which Aboriginal people find themselves today. Behaviourist coercion methods applied in this bureaucratic way destroy freedom and dignity and in general are destructive of selfhood and good autonomous mental health. I paste below my submission to the Senate Inquiry on the Intervention.

    “I’m interested to see the gap closed, but I don’t see this happening as long as the proven path to failure – white, patronising authoritarianism – is continued under Jenny Macklin and Julia Gillard. The option to be a culturally unique and evolving Aboriginal citizen (and Australian sub-culture) has never been, and still is not, open to Aboriginal people in general. The ‘Gap’ is the totally predictable result. Why do we continue with such a proven track to failure?

    ” This concern of mine means Aboriginal people of autonomous opinion – ie., those potentially key citizens who’ve grown up with a modicum of gumption left in them – must have the option not to be afflicted further with the dehumanising , disrespectful policies of the past, if that’s how they judge them. There will be a need to SPEND on skilled counselling staff, people with the personal qualities to both support and confront citizens who’ve ended up with with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and defective life skills as a result.

    ” My submission to the Senate Inquiry (below) was done at short notice. The bills are desperately and alienatingly bureaucratic! – hopelessly destructive.]

    I believe the issues of concern are arising because of the post-traumatic transgenerational stresses that affect all Aboriginal people, and because the coherence and social control exercised by functioning tribes has been destroyed. No help whatsoever has been given so far to the task of rebuilding a coherent Aboriginal culture and society from which alone coherent persons and effective social organisation could emerge. Until that happens, our help cannot be made use of.

    The problems I’m concerned about apply equally to the current ‘close the gap’ health appeal, whose motives are fine except that again they express what I feel are unsuitable, white, mainstream misunderstandings of the process required. I believe these health problems continue because Aboriginal culture has been destroyed and as a result individual Aboriginal people continue as destroyed persons. Funds spent in vast amounts, based on our culture-blindness, have never hit the spot in the past and will not be made use of until the culture we have destroyed is rebuilt. This is something only they can do, but up to now we have never provided the sanction, let alone the help they now require in order to do that. So I do not support ‘redoubled efforts’ that I am sure will continue to fail as in the past. They are on the wrong track.

    Most mainstream Australians, including eminent well-meaning people such as Roger Corbett – and of course Jenny Macklin – lack understanding of their own cultural blindness. The whole governmental and societal focus of concern about the Aboriginal situation is sadly defined only in terms of mainstream cultural values and ideas of ‘success’. This has been a bipartisan failure: both sides of politics have consistently misunderstood.

    “Aboriginal people have always been in the same situation as we mainstreamers would have been had we ended up occupied by Japan after the last war. The invaders would have seen the situation in purely Japanese terms : ie., “Australians will all have to learn to speak (only) Japanese. They must face the reality that our Japanese culture must prevail. They must all adopt a Japanese lifestyle and Japanese religious beliefs. They must learn to do business like we do. Their culture is obviously inferior. We must prohibit their normal cultural practices and they must adopt ours. We must be in charge.. Only we can know what is best for them, ” etc. “and we must make sure their health will stand up to international standards, so we’re not embarrassed.”

    We ‘mainstreamers’ have applied this same approach to Aboriginal Australians ever since we got here, including ethnic cleansing wherever they were in our way. (When I worked up in Central Australia, I was upset to hear about ethnic cleansing that was occurring there right up until the 1930s, when I was born. Living Aboriginal people have those memories.) Lack of trust, and a certainty that we don’t see things from their side, continue to today.

    What do I recommend?

    Accept that our unchanging, self-centred culture-blindness has directly caused the problem that persists to this day.

    Decide to help the people construct together their own modern, post-tribal culture that represents their choice as to what they will find best for them at this point. If youth on outstations want to move in to town for the excitement of our degenerate culture, we must offer help to them to explain our ways and help them fit those aspects that they want, into their own redesigned but newly integrated and coherent social system. They originally had their own very strong traditions of tribal integration and social control, which in our total ignorance we have undermined and destroyed.

    Acknowledge that, as with the mainstream culture of gambling and alcoholism, we have allowed our own people to market gambling, alcohol and drugs to Aboriginal people and develop a parallel class of Aborigines who also, like we do, exploit their own, ie., exploiting their weak people for the benefit of their own pockets, just as we do in the mainstream. We do force people to wear seat-belts, but we continue to allow full-scale exploitation of gamblers, and those with alcohol and drug problems.

    I feel we must devote resources to assist the rebuilding of cohesive Aboriginal communities linked by their own cohesive community culture. We must offer them the genuine space they need; and we must persevere with offering a genuinely respectful but authentic style of personal relationship, within which we can encourage them to feel they are free to re-establish rules for their own social cohesion and effective group functioning. We have to enable them to build a level of trust in us that is currently non-existent. [After all, we allow every other immigrant group from Anglos to Vietnamese to maintain significant elements of their culture of origin, within the requirements for overall national Australian cohesion. What is our problem?]
    Detribalised Aboriginal people today are riven by conflicts over how best to cope with our blindness and non-relationship. The contagion of our own virulent adversarialism has undermined them. They will need help to work through those conflicts within themselves and develop genuine leadership, with decision-making power that their community can support..

    5. I feel certain that this work can be done only by helpers who have the correct (ie., deeply unconscious and authentic) respect and personal authenticity required. Unfortunately we lack a sufficiency of persons who can play this interpersonal role, even within our own over-bureaucratised mainstream culture, so a real effort to build up our skills in that area will be required, both for work with Aboriginal people and with our own. There are well-established methods for building these skills.

    I believe the current Bill needs to be redesigned to focus on what I’m suggesting.
    I will be happy to discuss these matters further.

    Ned Iceton,
    President, Nurturing Evolutionary Development Foundation, Inc.

  2. Thank you. I am working in wyndham wa with young Aboriginal people. Can I speak with you in person. there is much I need to communicate and recieve guidance with.

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