Urban Aboriginal people face unique challenges in the fight against coronavirus



Shutterstock

Fiona Stanley, Telethon Kids Institute; Daniel McAullay, Edith Cowan University, and Sandra Eades, Curtin University

There seems to be a myth in Australia that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people mostly live in remote communities. But the vast majority (79%) live in urban areas.

The federal government has rightly decided the best policy to protect Indigenous people from COVID-19 is to socially isolate remote communities.

Now the government needs to turn its attention to the risks Indigenous people face in urban and rural areas.




Read more:
Coronavirus will devastate Aboriginal communities if we don’t act now


Greater risk of harm

So far SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, has infected more than 6,600 Australians and killed 75 people. The elderly and those with underlying conditions are most at risk of severe illness and dying from the virus.

Chronic diseases such as respiratory diseases (including asthma), heart and circulatory diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney diseases and some cancers are more common in Indigenous people, and tend to occur at younger ages, than in non-Indigenous people.

These diseases, and the living conditions that contribute to them (such as poor nutrition, poor hygiene and lifestyle factors such as smoking), dramatically increase Indigenous people’s risk of being infected with coronavirus and for having more severe symptoms.

So Elders and those with chronic disease are vulnerable at any age.

We know from past pandemics, such as swine flu (H1N1), Indigenous Australians are more likely to become infected with respiratory viruses, and have more serious disease when they do.




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So far, there have been 44 cases of coronavirus among Indigenous people, mostly in our major cities. We’re likely to see more in coming months.

This suggests the decision to close remote communities has been successful so far. But we also need to now focus on urban centres to prevent and manage further cases.

Current Australian government advice is for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 50 years and over with existing health conditions to self-isolate. General government health advice tells all Australians to maintain good hygiene and seek health care when needed.

But this advice is easier said than done for many urban Indigenous people.

So what unique family and cultural needs and circumstances so we need to consider to reduce their risk of coronavirus?

Large households

Many urban Indigenous households have large groups of people living together. So overcrowding and inadequate accommodation poses a risk to their health and well-being.

This is particularly the case when it comes to infectious diseases, which thrive when too many people live together with poor hygiene (when it’s difficult for personal cleanliness, to keep clean spaces, wash clothes and cook healthy meals) and when people sleep in close contact.

Crowded accommodation also means increased exposure to passive smoking and other shared risky lifestyles.




Read more:
Fix housing and you’ll reduce risks of coronavirus and other disease in remote Indigenous communities


Households are also more likely to be intergenerational, with many children and young people living with older parents and grandparents. This potentially increases the chances of the coronavirus spreading among and between households, infecting vulnerable older members.

Immediate solutions to prevent infection are, with guidance from Aboriginal organisations, to house people in these situations in safe emergency accommodation. But it is also an opportunity to work with Aboriginal organisations in the longer term to improve access to better housing to improve general health and well-being.

Most Indigenous people live in our cities, not in remote Australia.
Shutterstock

Poor health literacy

Indigenous Australians don’t always have access to good information about the coronavirus in formats that are easily understood and culturally appropriate.

The National Indigenous Australians Agency (a federal government agency) has developed some excellent videos in languages and in Aboriginal English, using respected First Nations leaders, as have others in Western Australia.

The challenge is to get these distributed in urban centres urgently. These health messages should also be distributed in Aboriginal Medical Services waiting rooms and on Indigenous television and radio.




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Inadequate access to soap and vaccines

Poverty will limit some families’ ability to buy hand sanitiser, face masks, disinfectant and soap.

Although there are provisions for Indigenous Australians to receive free vaccines against the flu and pneumococcal disease to protect against lung disease, not all age groups are covered.

Scepticism of mainstream health services

Due to policies and racism that have marginalised Indigenous people, many do not use health and other services.

This is why Aboriginal Controlled Health Services are so important and successful in providing culturally sensitive and appropriate care.

However, there is concern these health services are not adequately funded or prepared to manage a coronavirus pandemic in urban centres.

They need more personal protective equipment (including masks). They also need more Aboriginal health workers, community nurses and others for testing and contact tracing.

Not everyone can afford to buy soap and hand sanitiser to limit the spread of the virus.
Shutterstock

What do governments need to do?

Some regions’ responses have been better than others.

In Western Australia, the urban-based Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS) are working with key state government departments to coordinate the COVID-19 response. This includes guidance about how best to prevent and manage cases.

In Southeast Queensland, the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health, which manages 21 ACCHS, is coordinating health and social government services.

It’s time for other governments to set up collaborative arrangements with ACCHS and other Aboriginal controlled service organisations in urban centres to better manage the COVID-19 pandemic.

This should include more staff to:

  • provide care
  • help people self-isolate
  • explain and embed the digital COVID-19 media messages about hand washing, use of sanitisers and social distancing
  • enable accommodation that is acceptable and safe, especially for Elders and homeless people.

These services should also provide free flu and pneumococcal vaccinations.

Getting Indigenous health experts to lead this defence is clearly the way to go. We must listen and respond to these leaders to implement effective strategies immediately. If ever there was an opportunity to demonstrate that giving Indigenous people a voice to manage their own futures is effective, it is this.

Our hope is that, after this pandemic, the value of Aboriginal control will be recognised as the best way to improve Aboriginal health and well-being.




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The answer to Indigenous vulnerability to coronavirus: a more equitable public health agenda


This article was co-authored by Adrian Carson, Institute for Urban Indigenous Health; Donisha Duff, Institute for Urban Indigenous Health; Francine Eades, Derbarl Yerrigan Health Service; and Lesley Nelson, South West Aboriginal Medical Service.The Conversation

Fiona Stanley, Perinatal and pediatric epidemiologist; distinguished professorial fellow, Telethon Kids Institute; Daniel McAullay, Associate Professor, Edith Cowan University, and Sandra Eades, Dean, Medical School, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Fix housing and you’ll reduce risks of coronavirus and other disease in remote Indigenous communities


Nina Lansbury Hall, The University of Queensland; Andrew Redmond, The University of Queensland; Paul Memmott, The University of Queensland, and Samuel Barnes, The University of Queensland

Remote Indigenous communities have taken swift and effective action to quarantine residents against the risks of COVID-19. Under a plan developed by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group, entry to communities is restricted to essential visitors only. This is important, because crowded and malfunctioning housing in remote Indigenous communities heightens the risk of COVID-19 transmission. High rates of chronic disease mean COVID-19 outbreaks in Indigenous communities may cause high death rates.

The “old story” of housing, crowding and health continues to be overlooked. A partnership between the University of Queensland and Anyinginyi Health Aboriginal Corporation, in the Northern Territory’s (NT) Tennant Creek and Barkly region, re-opens this story. A new report from our work together is titled in Warumungu language as Piliyi Papulu Purrukaj-ji – “Good Housing to Prevent Sickness”. It reveals the simplicity of the solution: new housing and budgets for repairs and maintenance can improve human health.




Read more:
Coronavirus will devastate Aboriginal communities if we don’t act now


Infection risks rise in crowded housing

Rates of crowded households are much higher in remote communities (34%) than in urban areas (8%). Our research in the Barkly region, 500km north of Alice Springs, found up to 22 residents in some three-bedroom houses. In one crowded house, a kidney dialysis patient and seven family members had slept in the yard for over a year in order to access clinical care.

Many Indigenous Australians lease social housing because of barriers to individual land ownership in remote Australia. Repairs and maintenance are more expensive in remote areas and our research found waiting periods are long. One resident told us:

Houses [are] inspected two times a year by Department of Housing, but no repairs or maintenance. They inspect and write down faults but don’t fix. They say people will return, but it doesn’t happen.

Better ‘health hardware’ can prevent infections

The growing populations in communities are not matched by increased housing. Crowding is the inevitable result.

Crowded households place extra pressure on “health hardware”, the infrastructure that enables washing of bodies and clothing and other hygiene practices.




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We interviewed residents who told us they lacked functioning bathrooms and washing machines and that toilets were blocked. One resident said:

Scabies has come up a lot this year because of lack of water. We’ve been running out of water in the tanks. There’s no electric pump … [so] we are bathing less …

[Also] sewerage is a problem at this house. It’s blocked … The toilet bubbles up and the water goes black and leaks out. We try to keep the kids away.

A lack of health hardware increases the transmission risk of preventable, hygiene-related infectious diseases like COVID-19. Anyinginyi clinicians report skin infections are more common than in urban areas, respiratory infections affect whole families in crowded houses, and they see daily cases of eye infections.

Data that we accessed from the clinic confirmed this situation. The highest infection diagnoses were skin infections (including boils, scabies and school sores), respiratory infections, and ear, nose and throat infections (especially middle ear infection).

These infections can have long-term consequences. Repeated skin sores and throat infections from Group A streptococcal bacteria can contribute to chronic life-threatening conditions such as kidney disease and rheumatic heart disease (RHD). Indigenous NT residents have among the highest rates of RHD in the world, and
Indigenous children in Central Australia have the highest rates of post-infection kidney disease (APSGN).




Read more:
The answer to Indigenous vulnerability to coronavirus: a more equitable public health agenda


Reviving a vision of healthy housing and people

Crowded and unrepaired housing persists, despite the National Indigenous Reform Agreement stating over ten years ago: “Children need to live in accommodation with adequate infrastructure conducive to good hygiene … and free of overcrowding.”

Indigenous housing programs, such as the National Partnership Agreement for Remote Indigenous Housing, have had varied success and sustainability in overcoming crowding and poor housing quality.

It is calculated about 5,500 new houses are required by 2028 to reduce the health impacts of crowding in remote communities. Earlier models still provide guidance for today’s efforts. For example, Whitlam-era efforts supported culturally appropriate housing design, while the ATSIC period of the 1990s introduced Indigenous-led housing management and culturally-specific adaptation of tenancy agreements.

Our report reasserts the call to action for both new housing and regular repairs and maintenance (with adequate budgets) of existing housing in remote communities. The lack of effective treatment or a vaccine for COVID-19 make hygiene and social distancing critical. Yet crowding and faulty home infrastructure make these measures difficult if not impossible.

Indigenous Australians living on remote country urgently need additional and functional housing. This may begin to provide the long-term gains described to us by an experienced Aboriginal health worker:

When … [decades ago] houses were built, I noticed immediately a drop in the scabies … You could see the mental change, could see the difference in families. Kids are healthier and happier. I’ve seen this repeated in other communities once housing was given – the change.


Trisha Narurla Frank contributed to the writing of this article, and other staff from Anyinginyi Health Aboriginal Corporation provided their input and consent for the sharing of these findings.The Conversation

Nina Lansbury Hall, Senior Lecturer, School of Public Health, The University of Queensland; Andrew Redmond, Senior Lecturer, School of Medicine, The University of Queensland; Paul Memmott, Professor, School of Architecture, and Director, Aboriginal Environments Research Centre (AERC), The University of Queensland, and Samuel Barnes, Research Assistant, School of Public Health, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

1 in 10 children affected by bushfires is Indigenous. We’ve been ignoring them for too long


Bhiamie Williamson, Australian National University; Francis Markham, Australian National University, and Jessica Weir, Western Sydney University

The catastrophic bushfire season is officially over, but governments, agencies and communities have failed to recognise the specific and disproportionate impact the fires have had on Aboriginal peoples.

Addressing this in bushfire response and recovery is part of Unfinished Business: the work needed for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to meet on more just terms.

In our recent study, we found more than one quarter of the Indigenous population in New South Wales and Victoria live in a fire-affected area. That’s more than 84,000 people. What’s more, one in ten infants and children affected by the fires is Indigenous.




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But in past bushfire inquires and royal commissions, Aboriginal people have been mentioned only sparingly. When referenced now, it’s only in relation to cultural burning or cultural heritage. This must change.

Bushfire residents

Indigenous people comprise only 2.3% of the total population of NSW and Victoria. But they make up nearly 5.4% of the 1.55 million people living in fire-affected areas of these states.

And of the total Indigenous population in fire-affected areas, 36% are less than 15 years old. This is a major concern for delivering health services and education after bushfires have struck.

Importantly, where Indigenous people live has a marked spatial pattern.

There are 22 discrete Aboriginal communities in rural fire-affected areas. Of these, 20 are in NSW, often former mission lands where people were forcibly moved or camps established by Aboriginal peoples.

Ten per cent of Indigenous people in fire-affected areas in NSW and Victoria live in these communities.

And those living in larger towns and urban areas aren’t evenly distributed. For example, Indigenous people comprise 10.6% of residents in fire-affected Nowra–Bomaderry, compared with 1.9% of residents in fire-affected Bowral–Mittagong.

These statistics are steeped in histories and geographies that need to directly inform where and how services are delivered.

Indigenous rights and interests

Aboriginal people hold significant legal rights and interests over lands and waters in the fire-affected areas. These are recognised by state, federal or common law. This includes native title, land acquired through the NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act or lands covered by Registered Aboriginal Parties in Victoria.

Even where there’s no formal recognition, all fire-affected lands have Aboriginal ownership held and passed down through songlines, languages and kinship networks.

Areas in NSW and Victoria burnt and affected by fires of 250 ha or more, July 1, 2019 to January 23, 2020, and Aboriginal legal interests in land.
Author provided

The nature of these legal rights and interests means the bushfires have different consequences for Aboriginal rights-holders than for non-Indigenous landowners.

Many non-Indigenous land-owners in the fire-affected areas face the difficult decision of whether to stay and rebuild, or sell and move on. Traditional owners, on the other hand, are in a far more complex and unending situation.

Traditional owners carry inter-generational responsibilities, practices and more that have been formed with the places the know as their Country.

They can leave and live on someone else’s Country, but their Country and any formally recognised communal land and water rights remain in the fire-affected area.

Relegated to the past

Clearly, Aboriginal people have unique experiences with bushfire disasters, but Aboriginal voices have seldom been heard in the recovery processes that follow.




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The McLeod Inquiry, which followed the 2003 Canberra bushfires and the 2009 Black Saturday Royal Commission – were critical processes of reflection and recovery for the nation. Even in these landmark reports, references to Aboriginal people are almost completely absent.

There were only four brief mentions across three volumes of the Black Saturday Royal Commission. Two were cultural heritage protections discussions in relation to pre-bushfire season preparation, and two were historical references to past burning practices.

In other words, Aboriginal people – their cultural practices, ways of life and land management techniques – are relegated to the past.

This approach must change to acknowledge that Aboriginal people are present in contemporary society, and have distinct experiences with bushfire disasters.

More than cultural burning

This year, we’ve seen strong interest in Aboriginal people’s fire management, including in the early months of the federal royal commission, and in NSW and Victoria state inquiries.

Aboriginal voices only in regards to cultural burning is deeply problematic.
Shutterstock

But including Aboriginal voices only in regards to cultural burning is deeply problematic. Yet, it’s an emerging trend – not only in these official responses, but in the media.

This narrowly defined scope precludes the suite of concerns Aboriginal people bring to bushfire risk matters. Their concerns go across the natural hazard sector’s spectrum of preparation, planning, response and recovery.

Aboriginal people need to be part of the broad conversation that bushfire decision-makers, researchers, and the public sector are having.

Amplifying Aboriginal voices

To date, Victoria offers the most substantial effort to include Aboriginal voices by establishing an Aboriginal reference group to work alongside the bushfire recovery agency. But Aboriginal people require a much stronger presence in every facet of these state and national inquiries.

We identify three foundational steps:

  1. acknowledge that Aboriginal people have been erased, made absent and marginalised in previous bushfire recovery efforts, and identify and address why this continues to happen

  2. establish non-negotiable instructions for including Aboriginal people in the terms of reference and membership of post-bushfire inquiries

  3. establish Aboriginal representation on relevant government committees involved in decision-making, planning and implementation of disaster risk management.




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The continued marginalisation of Aboriginal people diminishes all of us – in terms of our values in living within a just society.

It was never acceptable to silence Aboriginal people in responses to major disasters. It’s incumbent upon us all to ensure these colonial practices of erasure and marginalisation are relegated to the past.The Conversation

Bhiamie Williamson, Research Associate & PhD Candidate, Australian National University; Francis Markham, Research Fellow, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University, and Jessica Weir, Senior Research Fellow, Western Sydney University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus: as culture moves online, regional organisations need help bridging the digital divide


Indigo Holcombe-James, RMIT University

Museums, galleries and artist collectives around the world are shutting their doors and moving online in response to coronavirus. But engaging with audiences online requires access, skills and investment.

My research with remote Aboriginal art centres in the Northern Territory and community museums in Victoria shows moving to digital can widen the gap between urban and regional organisations.

Local spaces are vital. They ensure our national story is about more than the metropolitan, allowing artists to create – and audiences to engage with – local art and history. These art centres and museums bring communities together.

This cannot be replicated online.

Australia’s digital divide influences the ability of museums and galleries to move online, and the ability of audiences to find them there.

Cultural organisations that cannot produce digital content risk getting left behind. If we don’t support regional and rural organisations in their move online – or relieve them from this pressure entirely – we run the risk of losing them.

More than metropolitan

Community museums are critical in collecting, preserving and enabling access to local history. Across Victoria, these community organisations hold around 10 million items.

Aboriginal art centres produce some of Australia’s best contemporary art, generating A$53 million in sales between 2008 and 2012.




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Digital platforms can make these contributions to our cultural life more accessible – particularly in these times of physical distancing. But artists in remote Aboriginal art centres and volunteer retirees running community museums are the most likely to experience digital disadvantage and the most likely to be left behind.

A digital divide

Australians are more likely to be digitally excluded when Indigenous, living in remote areas, or over the age of 65.

Community collecting is under-resourced and so regional museums rely on retiree volunteers.

Over 30% of Indigenous artists practising out of art centres are over 55, and are most likely to be earning from their art over 65. These remote centres have poor access to web-capable devices and have low-quality internet connections.




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The digital divide also exists for local audiences with access issues of their own.

Although most art centres and community museums have active websites and social media accounts, these are unlikely to be truly engaging or interactive.

Art centres tend to focus their digital platforms outside the community on commercial sales. Community museums focus on information about opening hours and events. They rarely have the expertise or capacity to create detailed online catalogues for audiences.

Exclusionary consequences

Cultural participation is fragmented along demographic and geographic lines. Cities house the majority of our major institutions, with city dwellers dominating visitation.

Digital inequality ensures barriers remain even for online collections. Regional and rural organisations are unlikely to have the specific skills, resourcing and devices to move fully online.

Under social distancing, cultural organisations that cannot produce digital content risk being left behind. This will disproportionately impact regional and rural organisations.

These organisations are critical for preserving the diversity of Australian stories. Aboriginal art centres and community museums provide spaces where the local is solidified. Communities are formed, documented, responded to and shared.

If these organisations cannot host the same web presence as major metropolitan institutions, even local audiences could divert their attention to the cities. Our local cultural organisations might go the way of our disappearing regional newspapers.

To survive the coming months, these organisations need targeted support to move online. Or a reprieve from the pressure to be completely digitally accessible: not all cultural consumption can happen online.

These physical community spaces will be more important than ever once social isolation rules are lifted.The Conversation

Indigo Holcombe-James, Sessional academic, School of Media and Communications, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Antibiotic resistance is an even greater challenge in remote Indigenous communities


Asha Bowen, Telethon Kids Institute and Steven Tong, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

Antibiotic-resistant infections already cause at least 700,000 deaths globally every year.

Although the phenomenon is most concerning for serious infections people are admitted to hospital with, antibiotic resistance means common bacterial infections could one day be impossible to treat.

Appropriately, the issue has received national and global attention in public health policy making.

But antibiotic resistance in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities has garnered minimal attention. Remote Indigenous communities are not mentioned in the current National Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) Strategy, for example.

It’s in these parts of Australia, however, that antibiotic resistance is arguably having the most significant impact.




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A key example

Antibiotics are medications used to treat bacterial infections. But when bacteria are repeatedly exposed to antibiotics, they can adapt and survive against the antibiotics previously known to kill them.

Using antibiotics unwisely, for example for a viral infection, taking a low dose when a high dose is needed, or stopping a course of antibiotics before an infection has resolved, all contribute to antibiotic resistance.

In northern Australia, the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, (or S. aureus for short, also known as golden staph) causes skin and soft tissue infections. When S. aureus becomes resistant to the antibiotics commonly used to treat these infections, we call it methicillin resistant S. aureus, or MRSA.

The rates of MRSA in northern Australia are significantly higher than elsewhere in the country. Recent government figures show among people with S. aureus infections, the rate of MRSA in remote and very remote areas was double that of major cities (roughly 40% versus 20%).

Australia doesn’t have a national surveillance system for monitoring rates of MRSA. So the figures can vary depending on the location, time period and the population studied.

Some studies have reported MRSA rates close to 60% in parts of central and northern Australia, compared to about 13% elsewhere in Australia.




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Antibiotic shortages are putting Aboriginal kids at risk


What happens when the antibiotics don’t work?

Up to three-quarters of all people in remote Indigenous communities who attend a medical clinic each year present at some stage for treatment of a skin and soft tissue infection such as skin sores, boils or cellulitis.

The prevalence of MRSA in northern Australia means these people can no longer rely on simple, first line antibiotics for treatment.

Treatment failure because of antibiotic resistance means skin and soft tissue infections take longer to get better, and are more likely to spread to other people.

In more serious cases, the infection can invade past the skin and cause a bone, blood or lung infection. If this happens, the patient will likely need to be flown to a hospital thousands of kilometres away.

This issue is compounded when certain antibiotics are unavailable due to shortages.

Skin and soft tissue infections are often caused by the bacteria golden staph, which is increasingly resistant to antibiotics.
From shutterstock.com

Why is antibiotic resistance so much higher in remote Indigenous communities?

The heavy burden of infections such as skin infections (as many as one in two remote living Aboriginal children suffer from a skin infection at any one time), ear infections, pneumonia, and sexually transmitted infections, mean antibiotics need to be prescribed frequently and broadly. This allows antibiotic resistance to spread.

In addition to high levels of infection, underlying social determinants of health like household crowding and poor access to facilities such as working washing machines and showers facilitate the ongoing transmission of bacteria.




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Antibiotic resistance and closing the gap

Health-care workers in remote clinics come from all across Australia and New Zealand, sometimes only for short stints. So it’s important they are educated about local antibiotic resistance rates and local treatment guidelines.

Similarly, doctors in remote clinics need to be able to access real-time local antibiotic resistance rates. Pleasingly, an online atlas for health practitioners of antibiotic resistance rates across northern Australia, called “HOTspots”, is currently being set up.




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Addressing antibiotic resistance in remote Indigenous communities must be part of the ongoing effort to close the gap in health outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Inclusion of remote Indigenous populations as a priority in the National AMR Strategy is essential. These groups are not mentioned in the current strategy (2015-2019) but we are hopeful they will be included in the new strategy, to be released soon.

Implementing the the National AMR Strategy for remote living Indigenous Australians must be a high priority to ensure antibiotics are available to treat infections among this already vulnerable section of our population.

Dr Lorraine Anderson, medical director at Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services in Broome, Western Australia, contributed to this article.The Conversation

Asha Bowen, Head, Skin Health, Telethon Kids Institute and Steven Tong, Associate Professor, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Albanese says Voice must be in the Constitution


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese says an Indigenous “Voice” to parliament must be enshrined in the Constitution.

His position, spelled out in a speech to be given on Saturday to the Garma Festival, makes it difficult to see how he and Prime Minister Scott Morrison will be able to agree on a referendum question.

Albanese says in his address, released ahead of delivery:

With a Voice in place, there can be truth-telling, and there can be Makaratta. […] It is clear to me that enshrining that Voice in the Constitution is what must come first.




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Morrison has been adamant there should be no reference to a Voice in what is inserted in the Constitution to recognise Australia’s First Peoples.

Without bipartisan support, a referendum would not have a chance of success and, indeed, would not be put.

Indigenous leaders in the Uluru Statement from the Heart called for “the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution”.

Albanese says:

I want a Voice and Truth then Treaty to be part of our nation’s journey, part of our national life. It’s not just about respect and redress. It’s about progress and change. It’s about moving out of the darkness

Although there is a gulf between Albanese and Morrison over what should go into the constitution, Albanese says he still hopes for bipartisanship.

“We have not yet had true reconciliation, and a country that is not truly reconciled is not truly whole. And until we are whole, we will never reach our truest potential as a nation – and we have so very much potential,” he says.

But how can we have reconciliation when one side has no voice?

The Voice is the bedrock upon which we must build.

I will take the fight to the government on so many things; never have any doubt about that. But on this we must work together. We must be together. My hope we can have bipartisanship on this remains alive.




Read more:
Politics with Michelle Grattan: Ken Wyatt on constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians


Albanese says he is encouraged by “the tentative moves towards constitutional change” by the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt. “I hope he gets the support he needs and deserves from his colleagues.”

He says he is also encouraged by “the epiphany experienced by Barnaby Joyce.

“After being part of the chorus pushing the myth that a Voice would amount to a third chamber in parliament, Mr Joyce did something unusual. He stopped. He listened. He asked questions from people with knowledge. […]

“Mr Joyce then went on television to own up to his mistake, and to explain why he’d been wrong. And he encouraged others who’d made the same mistake to follow his example.”

At Tuesday’s caucus meeting Pat Dodson, the opposition spokesman on Indigenous recognition, said constitutional recognition had now been decoupled from everything that was in the Uluru statement. Uluru had now shifted to “co-design with select individuals”, he said.

Dodson said there was no structure for formal consultations with First Nations. “Apparently the minister has a plan for consultation with the Coalition backbench and apparently with Pauline Hanson”, he said.

The challenge now was to “assist the minister without walking away with all the fleas and ticks that would undermine a principled position”, Dodson said.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

As the federal government debates an Indigenous Voice, state and territories are pressing ahead



The Queensland treaty process is still in the early stages and negotiations will not begin for several years. But it’s still a historic step forward for Indigenous communities.
Tracey Nearmy/AAP

Harry Hobbs, University of Technology Sydney; Alison Whittaker, University of Technology Sydney, and Lindon Coombes, University of Technology Sydney

Queensland Deputy Premier Jackie Trad has announced that the state will begin a conversation about a pathway to treaty with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

In doing so, Queensland joined Victoria and the Northern Territory in formally commencing treaty processes.

This is a significant development. While the Commonwealth government embarks on another round of important yet time-consuming consultations over a potential First Nations Voice to Parliament, the states and territories are taking the lead on treaties.

Queensland’s ‘track to treaty’

Queensland’s announcement reflects a shift in debate on Indigenous constitutional recognition at the state and territory level. Only a few year ago, the states and territories debated whether to include a reference to Indigenous Australians in their constitutions. Now, they are contemplating negotiating treaties.

Treaties have been accepted globally as the means of reaching a settlement between Indigenous peoples and those who have colonised their lands. They are formal agreements, reached via respectful negotiation in which both sides accept a series of responsibilities.

Treaties acknowledge Indigenous peoples were prior owners and occupiers of the land and, as such, retain a right to self-government. At a minimum, they recognise or establish structures of culturally appropriate governance and means of decision-making and control.

The Queensland treaty process is still in its early stages and negotiations will not begin for several years. This is sensible, because it is important that both the state and First Nations are ready to start negotiations.

For First Nations, this means having a clear sense of what a treaty might mean for their communities, as well as a broad consensus on their negotiating position. Preparing for treaty negotiations can also enable First Nations to engage in nation-(re)building, consistent with their values and aspirations, which is valuable regardless of the content, or even the completion, of a treaty.

For the state, it is equally important that non-Indigenous Queenslanders understand what a treaty is and what it might result in.




Read more:
Will treaties with Indigenous Australians overtake constitutional recognition?


Reflecting these preliminary steps, the government has established a bipartisan eminent panel of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Queenslanders, with Indigenous academic Jackie Huggins and former Attorney-General Michael Lavarch serving as co-chairs.

Their responsibility is to provide leadership and engage with key stakeholders across the state. A treaty working group will also be established soon to lead consultations with First Nations, allowing them to discuss and reach agreement on what a treaty might contain.

Jackie Huggins (left) will take a lead role in the Queensland treaty process.
Alan Porritt/AAP

Others leading the way

These steps follow similar processes in two other states and territories with Labor governments – Victoria and the Northern Territory.

In Victoria, the Andrews government committed to entering treaty negotiations in 2016. An Aboriginal Treaty Working Group was established to lead two rounds of community consultations, which resulted in the creation of a First Peoples’ Assembly. The assembly will not negotiate treaties itself, but will work with the state to develop a treaty framework through which the state and First Nations can negotiate.

At the same time, Victoria also established a Treaty Advancement Commission to maintain momentum for a treaty and keep all Victorians informed.

The process in the Northern Territory is following this pattern. In June 2018, the government signed a memorandum of understanding with representatives of the four Indigenous land councils, committing to exploring a treaty.

Earlier this year, Mick Dodson, the former director of the National Centre for Indigenous Studies at the Australian National University, was appointed NT treaty commissioner. He is currently leading consultations with Aboriginal Territorians.

Why a lack of federal involvement is a problem

These are promising developments, but there are several challenges ahead.

First, treaties are political agreements. As such, they are vulnerable to political fluctuations.

In Queensland, the Liberal National Party opposition wants to look at the government’s announcement in more detail, but has already suggested it would adopt different priorities. If the LNP wins the 2020 state election, it could abandon the process before negotiations even commence.

We have already seen this play out in South Australia. In 2017, the state Labor government formally started treaty negotiations. But within a year, a newly-elected Coalition government stepped away from this commitment.

Second, the federal government’s position is problematic. Ken Wyatt, the new minister for Indigenous Australians, has said the federal government will leave treaty processes to the states and territories.




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Federal government involvement is not legally necessary. Queensland has the legal authority to sign and implement a treaty with Indigenous peoples.

However, the Commonwealth parliament has the power to overrule any state or territory treaty. For this reason, it is preferable that the Commonwealth play a role in these processes. The Uluru Statement from the Heart offers an avenue to do so.

.

In this light, the federal government’s response to the Uluru Statement adds a further complication. The statement calls for

  • A constitutionally enshrined national representative body to advise the federal parliament (known as a “Voice” to parliament); and

  • A Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about Australia’s history.

As constitutional lawyer Megan Davis has explained, these reforms are “deliberately sequenced.” The value of starting with a First Nations Voice and Makarrata Commission is that they can oversee developments across the country. Without these bodies, state and territory treaty processes may diverge and result in wildly different settlement terms.

Ken Wyatt faces intense opposition to his proposal for a referendum on constitutional recognition.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Finally, the support of Indigenous peoples is not assured.

Increasingly, First Nations are resisting agreement-making with governments that act inconsistently with their values and aspirations.

For instance, the Djab Wurrung Embassy, a group of traditional owners protesting VicRoads’ plan to cut down sacred trees, has launched a “No Trees, No Treaty” campaign to highlight the state government’s refusal to listen to their views.

Just last month, the Yorta Yorta Elders Council also rejected a Victorian treaty

as a trip wire and only a pathway to assimilation.

Consensus cannot be assumed, and will become more complex as First Nations articulate their objectives and objections to possible treaties.

What’s next?

Notwithstanding these challenges, Queensland’s announcement is historic.

It confirms that progress on Indigenous constitutional recognition is being led by the states and territories. It also directs more attention to the federal government’s approach to this issue.

It is hoped that the Commonwealth reflects on Queensland’s announcement and commits to establishing a Makarrata Commission. And that commission should be designed by Indigenous representatives serving on a constitutionally enshrined First Nations Voice.The Conversation

Harry Hobbs, Lecturer, University of Technology Sydney; Alison Whittaker, Research Fellow, University of Technology Sydney, and Lindon Coombes, Industry Professor (Indigenous Policy), University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The new Mabo? $190 million stolen wages settlement is unprecedented, but still limited


Thalia Anthony, University of Technology Sydney

The Queensland government’s in-principle agreement to pay A$190 million in compensation for the wages withheld from more than 10,000 Indigenous workers is a watershed moment for the stolen wages movement.

Indigenous people across Australia have been fighting for their denied and withheld wages for decades, both on the streets and in the courts. There have been some victories along the way and many setbacks.

The significance of the Queensland settlement (to settle a class action) is that it marks the first recognition these claims have legal as well as moral and political merit. Its ramifications are potentially limited, however, given the full injustice of how Indigenous wages were stolen.

A significant contribution

Historically Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women found work in farming, mining, roadbuilding, irrigation, fencing, gardening, pearling, sealing, fishing and domestic duties. But they were most concentrated in the cattle industry of northern Australia, from Western Australia to Queensland.

Tens of thousands worked on cattle stations from the 1880s to 1970s. The beef industry could not have survived without them. In 1913, the federal government’s Chief Protector of Aborigines, Baldwin Spencer, noted that “under present conditions, the majority of cattle stations are largely dependent on the work done by black “boys”. In the 1930s, when the rest of the economy floundered in the Great Depression, Indigenous labour helped keep the industry profitable.

Cattlemen at Victoria River Downs Station, Northern Territory, in 1953.
Frank H. Johnston/National Library of Australia

Systemic stealing

Indigenous workers were entitled to be paid two-thirds of other workers, but even then employers often paid them less. Sometimes the low value of their wages was disguised by being paid in food and clothing rations. Sometimes workers were provided “store credit”, which could only be used to buy exorbitantly priced items.




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Station managers may have justified under-payment on the basis they were “caring” for workers through providing scant food, clothing and accommodation.

Governments, meanwhile, “withheld” income – often putting money into trust funds that Indigenous people were unable to access. The Queensland government’s $190 million offer is to settle a class action claim for it misappropriating such trust funds.

The fact Indigenous people were vulnerable to such exploitation for decades was made possible by an intricate legislative regime that gave the state expansive powers over their lives. In all states and territories, Aboriginal Protection Acts gave the government officials the power to control the money earned by Indigenous workers.

In Queensland, historian Rosalind Kidd has estimated that 4,500 to 5,500 Indigenous pastoral workers may have lost wage entitlements worth more than $500 million between 1920 and 1968.

Redress schemes

There have been redress schemes in Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales.

The Queensland government set up the first redress scheme in 2002. It set aside $55.6 million to compensate any individuals who could supply documentary evidence their wages or savings were taken by the Queensland government. If they could do so – and there was a deadline of 2006 on claims – the scheme provided an ex gratia payment of $2,000 to $4,000.

These conditions set a high bar, and $21 million went unclaimed.

Western Australia established its scheme in 2012. It also involved a small ex gratia payment ($2,000) with a limited window to make claims. Claimants called the scheme insulting and mean-spirited. The ABC reported a source that said state treasury officials agreed individuals were owed as much as $78,000, and the government kept the work of its stolen wages taskforce quiet for years, waiting for potential claimants to die.

In distinction to these two schemes, the NSW Trust Funds Repayment Scheme (2006 and 2010) matched the wages withheld in trust funds between 1900 and 1969. It paid $3,521 for every $100 owed, or an $11,000 lump sum where the amount could not be established. This was the closest model to a reparations scheme, though also inhibited by bureaucratic requirements and time limitations.

Due to the limitations of all these state redress schemes, in 2006 a Senate Inquiry into Stolen Wages recommended a national scheme. But no federal government since has acted on this recommendation.

Legal claims

Stolen wages claimants have taken their cases to court in Western Australia, New South Wales and Queensland – but it is only in Queensland that they have had some success.




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One of those is the case of James Stanley Baird, who sued the Queensland government for withheld wages on the basis that paying under-award wages to Indigenous workers was in breach of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. The state government compensated Baird and other plaintiffs the difference owed to them in damages and provided an apology.

Implications

The current settlement is based on a legal claim that the Queensland government breached its duty as a trustee and fiduciary in not paying out wages that were held in trust. The outcome is the most significant repayment for stolen wages plaintiffs in Australian history. Yet the benefits may be confined.

First, in Queensland there is a rich archive of documents (substantially unearthed and analysed by historian Rosalind Kidd) to prove the government misappropriated funds. Such a record may not exist elsewhere.

Second, the settlement only applies to wages placed in “trust accounts”. It has no implications for wages denied to Indigenous workers in other ways, such as by private employers who booked down wages or otherwise refused to pay.

For justice for all wronged Indigenous workers, there needs to be broad-based reparations for stolen wages. This requires truth commissions and a commitment by governments and anyone else that profited from that theft to restore what is owed.The Conversation

Thalia Anthony, Associate Professor in Law, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: When it comes to Indigenous recognition, Ken Wyatt will have to close multiple gaps


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

If the Morrison government manages to get a referendum passed to give Australia’s Indigenous people constitutional recognition, it will be truly remarkable.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has previously taken little interest in this area, at least publicly. And he would have done something that proved beyond Tony Abbott, for whom it was a cause.

Morrison and his minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, would have stared down conservative colleagues, cut a deal with Labor, and persuaded enough Indigenous leaders to get on board.

Finally, the government would have overcome the public’s inherent negativity towards referendums.

It would, one might say, be another miracle.

But miracles are rare and on present indications this one will be extraordinarily hard to land.

We are yet to see how seriously committed Morrison will be to the recognition push. For a chance of success, he’ll need to put his back into it.




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His appointment of Wyatt, a man of Noongar, Wongi, and Yamatji heritage, was a statement in itself. The nomination of recognition for early attention was a surprise – and another indication that we have yet to get a grasp on Morrison as prime minister (as distinct from campaigner).

There has been much talk about his lack of an agenda, but the unveiling of a couple of significant priorities – industrial relations and now Indigenous recognition – suggests there might be more there than we suspected.

It’s important to be clear about what Wyatt – who outlined his proposals in a speech on Wednesday – is saying.

The government’s ambit hope is to put a referendum for recognition during this parliamentary term. But this will only happen if two conditions are met: it can get consensus on the content of what would go into the constitution, and there’s a high probability of a favourable outcome. The latter means winning not just the overall vote but the vote in four of the six states. Both content and potential support will present major problems.

What of the timetable? If the government really wants to give constitutional change a red hot go, there is a case for pushing it hard and quickly. Support doesn’t necessary build as time passes; beyond a certain point, it can erode.

But judging whether and when there would be sufficient likely public backing for a Yes vote would be tricky. Post May 18, everyone has become rather chary of polls. And things could quickly change in the final countdown.

History shows the voters’ penchant to say No. Despite the triumph of the 1967 referendum to give the federal government power to make laws for Aboriginal people and count them in the census (carried overwhelmingly in every state), referendums generally fail. Only eight have been passed – the last in 1977.




Read more:
Listening with ‘our ears and our eyes’: Ken Wyatt’s big promises on Indigenous affairs


Formulating the question will be an extremely challenging hurdle to climb over.

A constitutional change that acknowledged Australia’s First Peoples but didn’t go much beyond that would be easiest to get through government ranks and the popular vote.

It is hard to see either Indigenous leaders or Labor accepting just that.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders in their 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart called for “the establishment of a First Nations voice enshrined in the constitution”.

But the indications are a voice would not be part of the government’s constitutional model. Wyatt does want a voice at the national level, but he is vague about its form, and the official line is that Morrison has “no plans” for the voice.

Labor was committed at the election to putting into the constitution a voice – which would be an input to the political process, not any sort of third chamber of Parliament – and the ALP would come under attack from Indigenous leaders if it walked away from this.

Writing for the Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday, Labor’s Pat Dodson, shadow assistant minister for reconciliation and constitutional recognition (and an Indigenous man dubbed “the father of reconciliation”) declared:

We either deliver the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full or continue down the failed path of soft reconciliation measures.

The shadow minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney (also Indigenous), who is working closely with Wyatt and will do some travelling with him, may be more flexible than Dodson. Nevertheless she said after Wyatt’s speech:

We are at a point in our development, in our history where a voice to the parliament absolutely has to be entrenched in the Australian Constitution.

Morrison has had talks with Anthony Albanese to pursue bipartisanship on Indigenous issues and the Labor leader was optimistic on Thursday that a successful recognition referendum in the next three years was “absolutely realistic and doable”.




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But former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, a member of the review panel Abbott set up to examine possible pathways to constitutional recognition, says that while he’s sympathetic to what Wyatt is undertaking,

finding the necessary national unity to avoid hurt and disappointment will be far from easy.

One huge problem, Anderson believes, will be getting Aboriginal people to come together on an agreed model.

Those in the Coalition party room and in the right wing commentariat who are critical of the move for recognition will use the spectre of the voice as a scare tactic.

The recognition issue will be one test of whether the right, though tamed since Malcolm Turnbull’s overthrow, will seriously arc up within the Liberal party in this term.

But Wyatt has attracted enthusiasm from some colleagues. NSW Liberal John Alexander was quick to declare

I’m with Ken on this, he has my full support for the process he has initiated and I hope it can conclude with a successful referendum vote and form of voice we can all be proud of.

Of particular importance, many big corporations, including mining companies, now have progressive positions on Indigenous affairs and will swing in behind the move. Wyatt has indicated he would be looking to them to help carry the debate, particularly in his home state of Western Australia, where a referendum would potentially be a hard sell.

He’d be encouraged by sentiments such as from Woodside, which said the company was

proud to give our support to this process as we continue to walk together with courage towards a reconciled Australia.




Read more:
Politics with Michelle Grattan: Ken Wyatt on constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians


As with same-sex marriage, indeed probably more so, the corporate world is talking up an important social issue and prodding the politicians to act.

If Morrison has to retreat on Indigenous recognition, it is unlikely to make a great amount of difference to him. It won’t affect the outcome of the next election.

For Wyatt the issue has quite another dimension. This is a fight for his people. The stakes are personal, and must feel frightening high.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Listening with ‘our ears and our eyes’: Ken Wyatt’s big promises on Indigenous affairs



In his first major policy address, Ken Wyatt noted how previous governments have failed Indigenous Australians with a ‘top-down, command and control approach.’
Rohan Thomson/AAP

Eddie Synot, Griffith University

Recently, I wrote that Ken Wyatt’s appointment as the minister for Indigenous Australians was a momentous occasion in Australian history. The appointment showed the government is committed to doing things differently when it comes to its responsibilities and obligations to Indigenous Australians.

It is still incredibly early days, but Wyatt has delivered his first major speech at a significant time – in the middle of National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) week.

For Indigenous communities, the speech held much promise and provided key details on what the Morrison government’s approach to Indigenous affairs will look like over the next three years. This is major turning point that could result in real change after years of little progress.

New language on Indigenous affairs

Perhaps most significant was the rhetoric Wyatt used – it mirrored the language long used by many Indigenous Australians, but notably lacking in previous government addresses on these issues. Wyatt noted how previous governments have failed Indigenous Australians, acknowledging how even the

most well-intentioned modern policies and programs have still tended to take a top-down, command and control approach.

Wyatt echoed legitimate concerns with the way the government approached its Indigenous policies in the past, noting that it had been as

if Aboriginal people didn’t know what they needed or wanted.

He further noted that dominant attitudes toward Indigenous affairs had ignored “proud members of one of the world’s longest-lived civilisations,” pretending as if they

had nothing to say, no wisdom to offer, about what would help their families thrive and their communities flourish.

The significance of a cabinet minister, especially one responsible for Indigenous affairs, highlighting these aspects of Australian history and society is massive. The change in comparison to earlier ministers who ignored or dismissed these truths is remarkable.

The Constitution remains key

Another major shift for the Coalition government: there is no longer a disregard for the Uluru Statement from the Heart and a First Nations voice being entrenched in the Constitution.

While Wyatt demurred on specific details, emphasising a “consensus option,” he did otherwise commit to a referendum within three years. This is another significant step toward implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

It is important to note that the final report of the Referendum Council, as well as the bi-partisan, parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition, both affirmed that a First Nations voice as called for by the Uluru Statement was the most sensible and widely supported option for reform.

Also supporting the conclusions of the Referendum Council and the Joint Select Committee, Wyatt emphasised that “the constitution remains key.” Both found that current representative mechanisms for Indigenous peoples were not working. And both agreed that only a First Nations voice would provide the type of representation required to empower Indigenous peoples and communities.

The Referendum Council advised Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to hold a referendum on establishing a voice to parliament in 2017, but Turnbull rejected the recommendation.
Paul Miller/AAP

A move away from top-down policy

Wyatt touched on many other issues that are important to Indigenous communities and are aimed at bringing more local input to policy-making.

On the issue of truth telling, he poignantly recognised that without truth

there can be no agreement on where and who we are in the present, how we arrived here and where we want to go in the future.

More details were also provided on the role of the new coordinating agency called the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA). The NIAA aims to coordinate efforts across all levels of government and Indigenous communities to allow Indigenous peoples to empower themselves.

Wyatt specifically indicated that he doesn’t intend policy to come from the NIAA or his office. Rather, policy actions are to be supported by all levels of community and the state and territory governments to enable communities to own their own policy actions.

This is continued movement away from what Wyatt described as the history of
“a top-down, command and control approach” that has failed Indigenous Australians.

Wyatt emphasised this by saying that his intention is “to have genuine conversations, not only with Indigenous leaders and peak bodies, but with families, individuals and community organisations so that I can hear their voices.”

This addresses the long history of Indigenous peoples not being listened to and rather being told what will happen. Wyatt noted again that

the most important thing that I and the agency will do is to listen – with our ears and with our eyes.

One area of concern

The speech also raised the priority issues of youth suicide, the revival and maintenance of Indigenous languages (with a pledged A$10 million), and the expansion of programs aimed at supporting Indigenous businesses, such as the Indigenous Procurement Policy, which provides incentives for Indigenous businesses to grow.

Wyatt also reemphasised the creation of the new position of a national suicide prevention adviser to coordinate and advise on already announced funding and increased support service delivery.

It is still early and only time will tell whether these actions will help, but at least one area of the speech raises concern: Wyatt’s commitment to revamp the the Community Development Program aimed at employment, training and development for Indigenous communities. By creating community advisory boards, Wyatt claimed that the

CDP has been reformed to ensure communities have a say in the way the programme is run.

The problem, however, hasn’t just been how the program is run. Many have been advocating for the abolishment of the CDP, rather than its reform.

Too many Indigenous people in the program work significant hours for less than minimum wage and face punitive punishments for non-compliance with regulatory requirements. This includes being fined for failing to show for work, which impacts the participants’ ability to purchase life necessities.

In attempting to force participants into work, the CDP fails to understand the challenges of remote communities and, as such, unfairly discriminates against Indigenous people. The CDP is effectively a “work-for-the-dole” program that punishes poverty rather than empowering communities.

Overall, Wyatt’s speech continued to build on the early optimism surrounding his appointment. His notable change in rhetoric from previous governments and his commitment for early action to build on reforms, such as the Council of Australian Governments’ partnership agreement with peak Indigenous organisations to close the gap in health, education and employment opportunities and the Indigenous Advancement Strategy Evaluation Framework, are welcome.

Most importantly, Wyatt’s recommitment to constitutional reform moves the nation one step closer to achieving those important reforms of voice, treaty and truth from the Uluru Statement from the Heart. As Wyatt noted, this is

too important to get wrong, and too important to rush.

But the crucial thing to remember is how far we have come since the Turnbull government’s response to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, just two short years ago.The Conversation

Eddie Synot, Senior Research Assistant, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.