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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Few would dispute that Australia is in urgent need of a radioactive waste management facility. Over 50 years, some 4000 cubic metres of accumulated radioactive waste from hospitals and medical research facilities has stored up in hundreds lock-up sheds around the country. It is clearly an inadequate situation.
To make matters more pressing, Australia has an obligation to take back nuclear fuel from Sydney’s Lucas Heights research reactor, which was sent to Scotland and France for reprocessing and is due to return to Australia in 2015-16.
It makes sense to secure radioactive waste in one central, safe location. But because no one wants the thing in their backyard, the Northern Territory – which lacks the powers states have to fight off the federal government – is going to get it.
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