Indigenous Australia

Recognise and the Government agenda

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A national summit on Constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians meets in Sydney today, however Natalie Cromb says First Australians have grave reservations about this Abbott Government initiative.

On 2 June 2015, the Aboriginal Medical Service of Western Sydney (AMSWS) broke the news on the ABC Lateline program that a key performance indicator of funding through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) was demonstrable support for Recognise.

A month later comes the news that all Federal funding is ceasing and the AMSWS will be forced to close its doors to the 11,000 patients to whom it provides healthcare.

Coincidence? I don’t think so.

AMSWS has released the following statement [IA emphasis]:

The Aboriginal Medical Service Western Sydney (AMSWS), an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service based in Mt Druitt, is being forced to shut down operations after the Federal Government decided to stop its funding from the 1 July 2015.

Let it be known that all funds allocated to AMSWS have been used on the delivery of health services to the Aboriginal Community of Western Sydney.

The decision to cease all Federal funding effectively means that the services will have to wind down, and will leave many thousands of community members without access to essential services and put pressure on local hospital services and systems.

AMSWS services the largest Aboriginal population in Australia, and has over 11,000 active patients from greater Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains.

The official decision regarding funding is allegedly due to a tax bill, however Patricia Delaney from AMSWS told Crikey a different story:

The service’s debts reflect many factors that were outside of the board’s control. One major contributor was a change of policy with the change of government in NSW.  The previous state government had committed (2011) to allowing the service to use grant savings for capital works, which were undertaken in order to house programs including mums and bubs and mental health services. The new State Government, however, reneged on this commitment, and recouped these funds from other payments, leaving us out of pocket and unable to meet our taxation liabilities.

Despite the clearly sinister motives of funding decisions and the Federal Government’s known assimilation agenda, more concerning is the Constitutional recognition campaign itself.

Recognise is a campaign initiated by the Abbott Government for Constitutional recognition.

There is a national summit on today, Monday 6 July 2015, in Sydney for invitees of the Government and, thus far, only Recognise supporters have been invited. Indeed, the Australian Greens have had their request to attend and engage in the conversation declined. This speaks volumes.

It is obvious that this campaign is being pushed to succeed regardless of any reservations from the very community it affects.

There is a massive amount of confusion and debate within the Indigenous community regarding whether to be for or against Constitutional recognition and, more specifically, the Recognise movement.

The major issue I have with Recognise is that the campaign started to garner support before the substantive wording and legal ramifications were put to Indigenous communities for consultative discussions. The fact that this is a campaign championed by Abbott himself gives us even more cause to be suspicious; we need only look to the bread crumbs he has already left us.

The Liberal policy document says:

... the ordinary law of the land is observed – in indigenous communities no less than in the general community ...

... The key objective of a referendum will be to achieve a unifying moment for the nation, similar to that achieved by the 1967 constitutional referendum.

He plans to recreate the "unity" of the 1967 referendum?

This statement unmistakably demonstrates that the intent of the campaign is not to right wrongs, but to offer a token of symbolism to assuage the public that they care about Indigenous Australians. It will not result in an improvement in social justice or welfare indicators for Indigenous people.

Perhaps more important than what is said is what is not said in the policy documents and media releases by Recognise.

There is no mention of sovereignty, no mention of addressing social and cultural injustice, no mention of reparation for historical injustice and genocide.

The intent of the Government is clear. If the above breadcrumbs were not clear enough, let us consider the conduct of the government with respect to Indigenous affairs since being elected.

The Abbott Government has cut $600 million from Indigenous grassroots funding and replaced it with the IAS, which has an emphasis on services that support Recognise.

The more disappointing outcome of this debate is perhaps the underhanded behaviour of many of those involved with Recognise, including Aboriginal supporters of the Recognise campaign.

Community social media and blogging account, IndigenousX recognised a theme on social media among the Indigenous community, and the theme was that there was large pockets of opposition to Recognise or suspicion of its motives, given there has not been any official wording provided for community consideration. A community based survey then did the rounds and the findings were analysed by Indigenous writer Celeste Liddle, who demonstrated that the majority of those surveyed were against Constitutional recognition as it stands.

Rather than recognising (pun intended) that the Indigenous community affected by the proposed changes were, in large part, opposed or undecided, and informing the community and allowing consultation, Recognise came out and attempted to undermine the credibility of the community run and analysed survey.

Let me be clear: this government and Recognise do not want dissent and continue to assert that the Aboriginal community supports the campaign. This is false for a large majority.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will tell you that we have the benefit of hindsight and know that Constitutional recognition will not change the mortality or incarceration rates of our people. It will not stop the removal of children, or turn the water back on in remote communities.

For this reason, we need commitment from the government for action, not symbolism.

The mere fact that the Government is seeking a vote from Australia on the futures of Indigenous Australians (a mere 3 per cent of Australia’s population) demonstrates that Indigenous Australia is not at the forefront of this campaign.

If Indigenous Australia were consulted first, if the drafting of the proposal was transparent and had community consultation, and if, after community consultation and drafting, the proposal was passed by majority in Indigenous communities initially, then it would be appropriate for non-Indigenous Australians to engage in debate.

It is for this reason that I ask all non-Indigenous Australians not to vote on behalf of Indigenous Australians, but rather to consider Indigenous Australian viewpoints on this issue so that when the time comes, casting your vote will be conscionable.

You can follow Natalie on Twitter @NatalieCromb.

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