‘Unfinished business’: what the parties offer Indigenous voters in the 2019 election | Australia news


Indigenous issues are never high on the list of election promises but there have been some key announcements by the major parties.

What are they, and how do they stack up against what Aboriginal community-controlled organisations want to see on the policy agenda?

What the parties have promised

Labor has committed to enshrine a First Nations voice to parliament in the Constitution, and establish a Makarrata commission for agreement-making and truth-telling. It has promised to work in “genuine partnership” with First Nations peoples and build public support for change.

“We will move quickly following the election to agree on a process with First Nations people – including a clear pathway to a referendum,” the Labor leader, Bill Shorten, said.

Shorten’s other big announcement this week was that, if elected, he would put the Western Australian senator Pat Dodson in charge of Indigenous affairs.

Bill Shorten and Western Australian senator Pat Dodson in the Tiwi Islands on Thursday. If Labor is elected, Australia will have a First Australian as Indigenous affairs minister for the first time



Bill Shorten and Pat Dodson in the Tiwi Islands. If Labor wins, Australia will have a First Australian as Indigenous affairs minister for the first time. Photograph: Stefan Postles/Getty Images

“It is my sincere hope that all things being equal, if we win an election, Pat Dodson will be a minister in a Labor government,” Shorten told a community barbecue in the Tiwi Islands on Thursday.

“For the first time ever in the history of this country, we will have a First Australian in charge of Indigenous affairs in Canberra,” Shorten said.

Labor will abolish the Community Development Program (CDP) work for the dole scheme, which has been heavily criticised by Indigenous communities, welfare groups and by the government’s own review, since it began in 2015.

“This government has totally ripped the guts out of Aboriginal people,” Dodson said in Darwin on Thursday. “It has treated Aboriginal people without any honour and any respect. That’s a big legacy we’re going to have to turn around, and we start with the reform to the CDP.”

Dodson joined Shorten in Darwin on Thursday to announce a $115.1m Indigenous health package.

Northern Territory senator Malarndirri McCarthy and Bill Shorten on the election campaign trail in Darwin. Labor promises to enshrine an Indigenous voice to parliament in the Constitution



Senator Malarndirri McCarthy and Bill Shorten in Darwin. Labor promises to enshrine an Indigenous voice to parliament in the Constitution. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

Labor has promised $29.6m to reduce Indigenous youth suicide, $33m to address rheumatic heart disease and $13m to tackle eye diseases that are “unacceptable in a developed nation like Australia”.

“Labor’s plan will be co-designed with and led by First Nations peoples – driven by the Aboriginal health workforce, to ensure that First Australians experience the most fundamental right of all: the right to grow old,” Shorten said.

The Coalition this week pledged a further $42m on mental health initiatives for young and Indigenous Australians. Of this new funding, $19.6m would be spent on suicide prevention in the Kimberley.

The Coalition remains committed to the $129m expansion of the cashless debit card trial. It says the program has led to “48% of drug takers using fewer drugs, 41% of drinkers drinking less, and 48% of gamblers gambling less”.

Enrol to vote ad in Yolngu-matha, courtesy the AEC.

The national auditor’s report in July said it was hard to tell where social harm had been reduced due to a “lack of robustness in data collection”, but the Coalition campaign statement said “rigorous design and testing of new approaches to welfare is all part of working to get the best outcome we can for the welfare dollars we spend”.

Also in the budget was a commitment of $276.5m for Indigenous youth education.

Scott Morrison at a campaign rally in Tasmania. The Coalition has pledged millions for suicide prevention. It remains committed to the cashless debit card



Scott Morrison at a rally in Tasmania. The Coalition has pledged millions for suicide prevention. It remains committed to the cashless debit card. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

The Coalition also allocated $7.9m to a “co-design of options” for a voice to parliament, a move described by the ALP as “perplexing” in light of the Coalition’s blunt refusal to support the Uluru statement from the heart.

On the campaign trail this week, Scott Morrison said a voice to parliament was “important”, but he was more concerned with addressing Indigenous youth suicide.

The Greens strongly support a voice to parliament as part of “addressing the unfinished business with the Uluru statement from the heart”, but also say treaties are a vital pathway to recognising Indigenous sovereignty and for achieving meaningful reform.

The Greens would abolish the CDP, and – in contrast to Labor and the Coalition – have said they would also abolish the cashless welfare card.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale. The party supports a voice to parliament but also says treaties are vital for achieving meaningful reform



Greens leader Richard Di Natale. The party supports a voice to parliament but also says treaties are vital for reform. Photograph: Scott Barbour/Getty Images

“We must firmly slam the door on punitive controlling measures like the Intervention, the cashless debit card and the CDP which undermine self-determination of First Nations communities and any chance we have at closing the gap,” the Greens senator Rachel Siewert said.

The Greens want Closing the Gap targets to address the high rates of Indigenous incarceration and the disproportionate rates of Indigenous children in out of home care.

They’ve committed to restoring the $500m that was cut from First Nations programs under the Abbott government in 2015, in order to create the Indigenous Advancement Strategy.

They also promise $10m over four years to establish an independent National Centre for Justice Reinvestment, based on the work of Just Reinvest in Bourke, New South Wales.

What Aboriginal community-controlled organisations say is needed

Leading Aboriginal health and legal organisations have called for greater self-determination in Indigenous affairs, post-election.

The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (Naccho), the peak group representing Aboriginal medical services, said it was “encouraged” by Labor’s Indigenous health plan.

“Our communities face a life expectancy gap of 10 years less than non-Indigenous Australians and this gap is only widening,” Naccho’s acting chair, Donnella Mills, said.

The clinic run by Anyinginya Health Aboriginal Corporation in Tennant Creek, Northern Territory



The clinic run by Anyinginya Health Aboriginal Corporation in Tennant Creek, Northern Territory. Photograph: Helen Davidson/The Guardian

“And the death rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children is more than double the rate of non-Indigenous children. How can this be?

“We hope to see a new direction embraced by all parties – one that places Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health at the forefront of national policy and one that has a genuine partnership and shared decision making with community health providers and organisations.”

The Coalition raised its funding promise to address Indigenous youth suicide from $5m in the budget to $19.6m on the campaign this week.

Earlier in the week, Naccho had called for an election commitment of $50m over four years to address the national crisis in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth suicide in vulnerable communities. Multidisciplinary teams made up of paediatricians, child psychologists, social workers, mental health nurses and Aboriginal health practitioners who are culturally safe and respectful are needed.

“The gap won’t close without us acting to close it. Politicians must commit to making it a campaign priority to ensure health policies are inclusive of the Indigenous sector, its representatives and Indigenous people.”

Legal services are also concerned at a potential loss of independence post-election. They are calling on all parties to commit to retaining the Indigenous Legal Assistance Program (ILAP), the dedicated national program addressing Indigenous disadvantage in the justice system.

In March, the Coalition said it would dismantle ILAP and merge funding with mainstream legal services, days after the government’s independent review recommended retaining it.

Earlier this week, the shadow attorney-general, Mark Dreyfus, and the Greens legal spokesman, Nick McKim, both supported ILAP.

“At a time when we are the most incarcerated people in the world, there is clear, demonstrated support for the government to maintain its commitment to self-determined Atsils [Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services] by retaining the Indigenous Legal Assistance Program,” co-chair of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (Natsils), Cheryl Axleby said.

The Human Rights Law Centre director, Ruth Barson, said the Morrison government’s decision to cut out dedicated funding was “short-sighted and senseless”.

“Community controlled services are critical to ending the racial discrimination that is at the heart of mass-imprisonment,” Barson said.



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