For Indigenous Australians, election time is always a tough call. It’s a time when we find out how important my fellow Aboriginal peoples are to the average Australian.
It is well known and appreciated by Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander peoples that progress has been made in a bi-partisan manner over the last half century. Progress has been slow but it has taken shape.
Who can forget the 1967 referendum granting the vote for Indigenous Australians, the MABO case, and native title rights legislation being made locally and abroad. There’s been the memorable Redfern speech by Paul Keating and the apology to the Stolen Generations by Kevin Rudd.
These steps have been encouraging for Indigenous Australians and in turn have encouraged many Indigenous elders and leaders to step up. Kathy Freeman, David Unaipon, Adam Goodes, Nova Perris, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Pat Dodson, Ken Wyatt, Adam Giles, Leanne Enoch, Charles Perkins, Eddie Mabo, Neville Bonner and Deborah Mailman are just a few of the Indigenous Australians who have made a mark across the nation.
On the issues front, indigenous child mortality rates and year 12 attainment have been improving and new targets on early education have been introduced – but it’s not enough!
Reconciliation progress is slow
Despite successes in leadership and society progress is still minimal, slow, and dragged out at the expense of Indigenous people. This has often led to misunderstandings in policy development and deferred greater progress towards reconciliation.
The average Aussie may see initiatives such as the intervention into many Indigenous communities as a good thing to curb alcoholism, drug abuse, and violence. But in indigenous communities such approaches can be seen as old school styled colonial paternalism. Even with these measures in place an enormous gap between the average Australian and Indigenous persons still exists.
The problem is a lack of understanding about how Aboriginal culture works by many Australians. If any party, politician, candidate or business leader want to truly help Indigenous peoples (who have the longest continuing culture on Earth) with closing the gap they need to sit down and talk with Aboriginal elders and leaders. The act first ask questions later approach does not work for our First Australians.
The Gap is not closing fast enough
According to recent reports, Australia is failing to meet its goals on the issue of tackling Indigenous disadvantaged peoples. There is still a massive gap in Indigenous life expectancy compared to the average person. Employment, reading, writing and school attendance are other areas where the gap exists.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott promised a wave of action and consultations but it never fully eventuated. Consideration of constitutional recognition of Indigenous people by Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten is a good sign. Perhaps further consideration is needed on exploring treaty options with Indigenous nations and their elders.
But more needs to be done to boost funding into closing the gap. Lack of action only creates distrust among our Indigenous peoples.
Locally, the North Stradbroke Island economic transition is a major issue that will have a big impact on closing the gap.
During this Federal election campaign, we need to make sure all our politicians, no matter which Party, take a serious stand on closing the gap, in a meaningful and respectful manner. They need to sit down with Indigenous peoples and their elders and work out real solutions with them and not act against them.
Faster progress is needed, with everyone working together, looking forwards to a brighter tomorrow.
Callen Sorensen – Karklis
Callen is an active member of the Australian Fabians Society, ALP, Crime Stoppers, Meals on Wheels and is a Quandamooka Noonucle Indigenous person with a strong commitment to community. Callen has worked in the retail and market research sectors and is currently a student at Griffith University.