Politics Opinion

Indigenous Voice vital to Closing the Gap

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(Cartoon by Mark David | @MDavidCartoons)

Two outstanding injustices we face in Australia today involve worsening situations for First Nations people and accelerating inequality and poverty across whole communities.

The incarceration rates of Indigenous people are an international scandal, as is the infant mortality rate, life expectancy, early childhood education, literacy, numeracy, school attendance, Year 12 attainment and employment.

Closing the gap

The National Agreement on Closing the Gap, launched in 2008, has shown disappointing progress.

Results reported in 2022 were condemned by more than 47 peak Aboriginal organisations, who blamed the failure on a lack of input into the policy from Indigenous people.

That failure continues.

As reported by the ABC, PM Albanese, in recognising this lack of progress, announced in February:

'... that $424 million in new money would be allocated to address Indigenous disadvantage across areas such as housing, food, education and water infrastructure.'

The gap is profound.

Kidney dialysis is needed in many outback communities, but lack of clean water means it cannot be made available. 

The opportunity for input from Indigenous people will be addressed by The Voice if the "no campaign" fails and the mineral lobby supported by corporate media – and the conservative Opposition – is defeated.

Growing injustice 

Alongside this racial injustice, there is growing social inequality across the nation, affecting all communities except the elite. Unemployment in Australia is low, but working families are in trouble. Even those earning more than the minimum wage cannot live a healthy lifestyle.

In March, a study by the UNSW Social Policy Research Centre asked how much income is "enough" to allow people to live a minimal healthy lifestyle.

The ABC reported the study's conclusion:

'A single, low-income, full-time worker living in Sydney was deemed to receive $852 in total income, after tax. That's about 20% higher than the minimum wage. But that individual needed $945 for food, clothing, personal and household items, health, housing, transport, and an "austere" level of discretionary spending.' 

Wage increases, in general, have not matched the inflation rate, but corporate profits have surged: Coles Group announced a 17.1 % increase in profit; Woolworths was up by 14.1%.

Meanwhile, according to The Guardian:

'Managing director base salaries across listed companies increased an average of 14% this financial year, while chief executive salaries rose by 15%, the report found.'

This inexcusable exploitation goes alongside the penny-pinching reluctance to support those in need. As well as these vulnerable people facing homelessness, working families also face barriers to securing housing.

Proof in the poverty

A Commonwealth Government study conducted last year titled 'In need of repair: The National Housing and Homelessness Agreement' reports:

'The majority — 66% — of private renters with low incomes spent over 30% of their income on rent in 2019-20, while 20% spent over half their income on rent.'

This is obviously unfair in one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, where multiple homeowners claim tax relief for their properties, forcing up house prices and allowing rents to rise uncontrolled.

A study commissioned by Anglicare in 2018 found that:

'..major tax concessions totalling $135 billion per year were costing the budget more than the four main welfare payments – the aged pension, family assistance payments, disability benefits and Newstart – combined.'

It also found that 'around half the tax concessions flow to the wealthiest 20%, while only $6.1 billion went to the bottom 20%'. The rich are protected in their comfort, while the poor and the Indigenous are left to suffer.

The people of Australia changed the Federal Government to show their distaste for the right-wing indulgence of corporations and racists by throwing out conservatives in all the mainland states and territories.

While the new Federal Government has chalked up many positive achievements, it has a long way to go to overcome past years of neglect.

We must support the Government in its positive reforms but also criticise where it fails to meet community expectations.

Bilal Cleland is a retired secondary teacher and was Secretary of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Chairman of the Muslim Welfare Board Victoria and Secretary of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils. You can follow Bilal on Twitter @BilalCleland.

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