NEWS CENTRE

Indigenous health and inequality

During the last two years, thousands of people have pledged their support to address the issue of Indigenous health and related inequality issues. A significant development towards this goal is the government’s recent establishment of the National Indigenous Health Equality Council. The Institute’s Specific Issues Committee, Indigenous Concerns is highlighting this initiative as well as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma’s speech, “Caring for Culture, Caring for Country”.

The Close the Gap campaign was launched as a result of the Social Justice Report 2005. More than 75,000 Australians pledged their support to this campaign. A significant development towards this goal is the government’s establishment of the National Indigenous Health Equality Council.

“The launch of the National Indigenous Health Equality Council shows that people are again starting to believe that health equality for Indigenous people is not only a basic right, it’s also achievable,” said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma.

Read more: National Indigenous Health Equality Council will help close the gap.

Graphic source: Close the Gap

Essentials for Social Justice: Land and Culture – Economic Development
This month Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma presented the fifth speech in the Essentials for Social Justice series, “Caring for Culture, Caring for Country”. A number of issues were raised by Tom Calma including:

  • The Indigenous art industry contributes $100 million annually to the Australian economy with very little of this actually being returned to the artists or their communities and no protection to ensure that it does. The social, cultural and economic benefits that are derived from the Indigenous art centres are undeniable.
  • Climate change impacts are already being experienced in Australia by island and coastal communities and Indigenous groups living in the Murray Darling Basin. The impacts include environmental refugees, and dispossession from their lands, leading to environmental, cultural and spiritual impacts.

Readers are encouraged to read Tom Calma’s entire speech:
Essentials for Social Justice: Land and Culture – Economic Development

The following are excerpts from Commissioner Tom Calma’s speech.

Caring for country is a phrase that those of you working in the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts should be familiar with. However, the phrase ‘caring for country’, which the government has now branded their policy platform as ‘caring for our country’, must be based in the full understanding of what this means to Indigenous people. ‘Caring for country’ is not just the title of a policy, it is Aboriginal law.

The importance of culture and its relevance to Indigenous people’s relationship to our lands, is not completely understood and acknowledged by all Australians.

This is evidenced by the fact that governments continue to develop Indigenous land policy in isolation to other social and economic areas of policy.

With the government purporting a changing attitude towards improving the lives of Indigenous people, there are a number of critical steps that are required to ensure that this aspiration is fully achieved. These steps include:

  1. A full understanding, recognition and respect for Indigenous peoples rights to our culture and our country.
  2. Developing policy that deals with Indigenous disadvantage from a holistic perspective.
  3. Engaging Indigenous people as major stakeholders in policies and programs that affect us.
  4. Increasing the cross cultural competence of bureaucracy.

These steps are very broad and apply to all areas of Indigenous policy including land management, cultural heritage and native title.
 
The support we require from government is not in the form of mainstreaming, or complete regulation of our affairs. It will be in the form of collaborative partnerships where both indigenous people and governments work together as equal partners, to achieve sustainable outcomes that address the development aspirations of Indigenous peoples.

Only once we have successfully implemented these steps can we pride ourselves as a mature nation, one that embraces Indigenous peoples, our unique culture and traditions and recognises and respects us as the First Peoples of Australia. From self respect comes dignity, and from dignity comes hope.

From: Specific Issues Committee, Indigenous Concerns (Anne McGuire, Sisters Rose Glennen and Moira Truelson). The Committee warmly invites your response to the article or the issue.
Email: indigenous.concerns@mercy.org.au

Contact: Carmel Heagerty RSM, Institute Justice Co-ordinator
Email: Institute.Justice@mercy.org.au