Patrick Dodson, Chairman of the Lingiari Foundation, is the 2008 Sydney Peace Prize recipient. This is an extract from his speech last night at the Sydney Opera House.
The revue into the Commonwealth Intervention in the Northern Territory is but the most recent report which has highlighted the need for consultation, negotiation and partnership in dealing with any sector of the Australian Community on whatever the issue.
In the case of the Intervention the pre-emptive, non negotiated nature of the Commonwealth intervention into the lives of Aboriginal people was crude, racist and poorly considered public policy, initiated, on the admission of at least one former Federal Minister, for purely political electoral gain.
The legislative response to allow for the Intervention was, in my view some of the worst legislation ever passed in any Australian Parliament and the racist and discriminatory elements of that legislation should be reviewed and removed from the statutes
No one denies the need to address the issues confronting the Aboriginal people all over Australia. But the failure by the Government to enter into a dialogue and negotiation over the nature of the engagement with the Aboriginal society of the Northern Territory will be seen by Australians in the future as a model for worst practice imposition of public policy and a further addition to the litany of administrative disasters that gave us the Stolen Generations.
Closing the Gap strategies in the health and education fields are being negotiated between the Commonwealth and the States but the Aboriginal Community must be incorporated not only into planning and implementation of the proposed strategies but in the new form of governance delivery. Our Community Organisations and the families and individuals within our community know the issues. They are committed to the successful outcomes and are prepared and willing to participate in finding and delivering on the solutions.
I would encourage young Aboriginal people to look to where they might maximise their participation in the strategies being put together by Industry and Government for bringing more Aboriginal people into the nation’s workforce.
Employment and participation in the broader economy may lead to better health and education outcomes for you and your families. The opportunity is there for you to enter the workforce but you should look to the possibilities in other fields apart from the traditional industries and aim to become creators as well as wealth consumers.
The notion that the Social Indicators might come closer together can only be premised on the recognition that the nation, it’s Governments and its Agencies, have to deal with resolving causes that have created the gap and are now sustaining its reality in the social indicators.
Aboriginal people must be allowed play their role in determining solutions and be resourced to do so.
We must begin to deal with the prevalence of illicit drugs and unrestrained abuse of alcohol within our communities where the impact of these scourges has now become intergenerational with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and schizophrenia competing with diabetes, coronary and renal disease as our greatest medical problems.
These are not medical conditions exclusive to Aboriginal society but their prevalence will extinguish culture, language and social cohesion.
We need enlightened policies to contain these diseases. They cannot focus on the priorities of the mainstream — a balance must be negotiated not dictated.
Governments and our own communities cannot hide behind the façade of allocating the causes of these problems solely to the individual responsibility of the people and families who are the excessive imbibers of alcohol, tobacco, drugs and rely on poor nutrition.
They are primarily outcomes of the exclusion of many Aboriginal people from access to services and resources related to health, education and substance abuse programmes over many years and several generations. Our education and health services have been ill equipped and resourced to deal with the scale of these issues.
The outcomes are obvious, as with all marginalised communities wherever they are in the world, the Aboriginal people of this Lucky Country have the worst education outcomes, the worst health outcomes, the worst imprisonment figures and the worst employment outcomes of any group within the nation.
The same outcome applies whether we live in the bush or the towns, in the regional centres or the suburbs of our cities. Closing the Gap has not only to deal with the physical manifestations of this but spiritual and the psychological.
We do not have to travel to Africa or so called Third World countries to be concerned with peace and justice. The challenges are right here on our doorstep to confront us and demand resolution. We should never get lost in an argument about degrees of suffering; poverty and exclusion are as painful for Aboriginal children as they are for the children of Eritrea or Darfur.
At heart of much that confronts the Nation and all our societies is the nature of recognition, love and respect.
We must recognise that the relationship between the Settler Society and the First peoples to date has been dramatically and fatally flawed and that a new relationship between our two societies must be constructed through negotiation and dialogue.
The Aboriginal Community must come to terms with the reality of our contemporary situation and deal with whatever the causes of our alcohol and substance abuse issues, whatever the denial that has resulted in our dispossession, whatever the outcomes of poor Government policies on our communities the results are ours to confront.
Like the victims of a hit and run accident there is no point in bemoaning our fate we must contribute to our own healing and rehabilitation. It is discriminatory that there is no special framework to deal with compensation It is the health and well being of our Aboriginal society that is at stake and we must all contribute to the healing process.
It is incumbent upon all leaders of our people to work for the recognition, love and respect of people in this time of crisis within some of our communities.