Close The Gap
Another year; another Closing the Gap Prime Minister’s report. More statistical improvements at the margins but the core issues evaded and unaddressed. For the next ten years we could deliver the same speeches with little material change on the ground.
That’s because three things remain unaddressed. Australia fails to apply activity requirements for work in remote Australia like we do everywhere else. We also fail to apply state law and prosecute parents who refuse to send their children to school. Last, our welfare reforms have hobbled into the third wave of ‘trials and pilots’ because Canberra prefers talking tough over being tough on welfare.
Australia has struggled for decades with Aboriginal exceptionalism; the argument finessed by John Altman which casts any move to stimulate a real economy as a western assault on the romanticised traditional life. This view insists on an impossible world of welfare without work, on the grounds that First Australians are fundamentally different to the rest of us.
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When my parents arrived in the 1950s as ’10 pound Poms’, Australia was a brave new world. Their street in Melbourne’s Glen Waverley bustled with fellow European migrants eager to create a life for their families.
But while our neighbourhood was a snapshot of multicultural Europe there wasn’t a lot of mixing. My parents socialised with others from the old country while their Italian and Greek neighbours went to their own churches and started their own small businesses.
The ‘poms’ and ‘wogs’ in the street lived together quite happily, but separately.
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Australia’s reconciliation situation is worse than that of post-apartheid South Africa.
As we celebrate National Close the Gap day, it is time we focus on the real gap that needs to be closed - the gap in trust between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. For this is one gap that we can all take responsibility for closing once and for all.
When we hear the Close the Gap catch cry we immediately think of the shocking news headline statistics:
- An Aboriginal man is expected to live 11.5 years less than the Australian average.
- An Aboriginal baby is twice as likely to die before their first birthday.
- An Aboriginal girl is 32 per cent less likely to finish her high school education.
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It took courage back in 2007 for then Prime Minister John Howard and Indigenous Minister Mal Brough to announce what was known as the intervention in Aboriginal communities across the Northern Territory. It was a rapid response to the Little Children are Sacred report, which revealed the terrifying reality of child abuse, health and social degradation within remote indigenous communities.
The intervention was necessarily swift, as large numbers of police and army personnel moved in to communities in crisis.
Alcohol restrictions were put in place, medical examinations were carried out on indigenous children and school attendance was enforced, while 50 per cent of individuals’ financial welfare payments were quarantined for food and life essentials. While controversial at the time, the intervention had dramatic results, improving the health and welfare of children and reduced alcohol abuse in many indigenous communities.
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When the good ship Generation One stormed home to victory on Sydney Harbour in the Australia Day Ferrython it was a quietly dignified affair.
A bunch of Aboriginal boys to my left banged on the hull and cheered uncontrollably, I gave the black power salute while wearing a T-shirt on my head and to my right the former Upper House President Meredith Burgmann gave the second place-getters the finger.
And just to add to the solemn gravitas the whole boat was fitted out to look like a giant purple whale.
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