Queensland has an opportunity to progress through COAG the restoration of funding taken from the Indigenous Affairs portfolio by the Federal Government in 2014, says Congress Co-Chair Dr Jackie Huggins AM.
Dr Huggins, who is also a patron for RQI, was speaking about the Redfern Statement at the association’s general meeting on April 29, in the North-West Brisbane suburb of Mitchelton.
The Redfern Statement called the $534 million cut to Indigenous Affairs in the 2014 Federal Budget ‘a disaster for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’.
“We’re asking for that to come back,” Dr Huggins said, suggesting the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) might be the appropriate mechanism to pursue this claim.
The principal role of COAG is to promote policy reforms that are of national significance or which require a coordinated response across all Australian governments.
COAG Indigenous Reform Agreement targets not on track
COAG’s most recent report (March 2016) on Indigenous reform found the nation was not on track to close the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a generation, or to halve the gap in employment outcomes within a decade.
COAG also considers reports from other government bodies, such as the Productivity Commission’s Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report.
In November 2016, the Commission reported that the wellbeing of Indigenous Australians had ‘stagnated or worsened’ across a number of outcome areas, including imprisonment rates and hospitalisations for self-harm.
Dr Huggins said the Congress of Australia’s First Peoples was trying hard to work with governments to progress the Redfern Statement.
“We were very frustrated and tired at the lack of action by government for our people,” Dr Huggins said.
“In the last 25 years we have seen eight Federal election cycles come and go, and seven Prime Ministers” she said, “seven Ministers for Indigenous Affairs, countless policies, programs, funding promises and funding cuts – all for the most marginalised people in Australia – and that’s us.”
“And we’ve seen…all the reports that have come and gone,” Dr Huggins said, noting that the Human Rights Commission’s Social Justice Reports had been issued every year over more than twenty years.
“Not once have they [the Federal Government] actioned or implemented that,” she said.
“They haven’t done anything about the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation Report either, which we did way back in the year 2000.
“So those recommendations, of which treaty was one of them, still are held in abeyance,” Dr Huggins said.
Dr Huggins added that the Government had failed to properly implement the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the Bringing Them Home reports.
“So, there’s far in excess of 400 recommendations that have been partially implemented or not implemented, or ignored altogether,” she said.
“That’s why we say, we have the solutions. How about listening to us? How about going through those reports?”
“I understand there’s going to be an audit now, to undertaken about those reports and those recommendations, because you know what? They still apply today. Most of them would still apply today.
“And I often think what a different world it would be if they had implemented some of those right from the outset,” Dr Huggins said.
Since the RQI general meeting was held, the Federal Government handed down its 2017-18 Federal Budget.
Congress responded in a statement, saying that the urgent needs of Indigenous peoples were ‘almost invisible’ in the Budget.
‘We are concerned by the lack of specific measures for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, particularly given six of the seven Closing the Gap targets are not being met,’ the statement read.
‘Insufficient funds have been allocated for frontline services, which will have a negative effect on health, justice, education and other targets, and increase the burden on these services, many of which are already over-stretched,’ it added.