Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Aboriginal Issues: Australia - The next step is ours - again!

By: Luke Pearson - Guest Blogger

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The next step is ours - again!

Aboriginal Australians across the country are being discussed by many non-Aboriginal people in terms of "Mutual Obligation, "Intervention", "Closing The Gap" and so on. Many Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, in Australia and Internationally, from Elders academics, lawyers to activists and ordinary community members are using terms like "Discrimination", "Victim Blaming" and "Human Rights Violations".

There are countless calls to stop such practices, but there are also many calls from the wider community for Aboriginal people to "take responsibility' and as this year's NAIDOC theme proclaims: The Next Step Is Ours!

Many people will read that slogan as a positive reinforcement for an optimistic future...

For many others it reads as a slap in the face.

There are several reasons why.

Every step that has been taken so far has come through years of hard work, resilience and commitment of Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal supporters fighting against the Government of the day. This is true of the Mabo Decision; The Wave Hill Walk Off, The 1967 Referendum; The Freedom Rides; The Apology and every other major (and symbolic) achievement for Aboriginal people.

The Government at best only ever takes the third step, after Aboriginal people and the wider Australian community have taken the first two.

I would like NAIDOCs 2011 theme a lot more more if it was "The Next Step Is Ours!... Again"

This is being seen again right now with the Lake Tyers Blockade. Aboriginal people not 'taking the next step', but instead repeating the immortal chant of the oppressed "We shall not be moved".

They, along with many other Australians, are saying "NO MORE! We are tired of not only taking EVERY step but also dragging the Government kicking and screaming along the way".

PM Paul Keating challenged non-Aboriginal Australians to take the First Step in 1992 in his famous 1992 Redfern Address: "However intractable the problems may seem, we cannot resign ourselves to failure... the starting point might be to recognise that the problem starts with us non-Aboriginal Australians.... Imagine if we had suffered the injustice and then were blamed for it. It seems to me that if we can imagine the injustice then we can imagine its opposite. And we can have justice."

This is a recognition that has been undertaken by many Australians and it is becoming less of a national debate and more of a logical reflection of the reality that Aboriginal people in Australia have not, and do not, receive 'A Fair Go'.

Yet, despite the Government's acknowledgement and apology for the past, it is continuing to engage in negligent and oppressive practices which are almost universally acknowledged by academics, Elders, community members and professionals as incapable of doing anything more than extend the existing Gap.

We do not need more governing rules, incentives and punishments.

We need to ensure that Government fulfil the responsibilities of being in Government.

We need effective partnerships.

We need to end the Intervention.

We need say over activities on traditional lands.

We need to eradicate trachoma.

We need economic opportunity.

We need to create sustainable jobs, schools, hospitals and housing.

We need to provide all Australians, Aboriginal or not, with the basic support and opportunity that is guaranteed under Australian laws and expected by 21st Century, 1st World community standards and expectations.

That we have Australian communities with no trash collection, no access to schools, housing, health care, police protection, transport or communication is a national disgrace.

At the moment Aboriginal life-expectancy is still below the retirement age. Effectively meaning that even those Aboriginal people who are lucky enough to find meaningful long-term employment, are unlikely to be able to enjoy their retirement for very long - if they even get to it.

This is not an issue of funding. We currently spend far more on employing non-Aboriginal people to research Aboriginal communities, manage their affairs and to incarcerate them, than it could ever possibly cost to create suitable infrastructure, service provision and economic opportunities for those same communities. Funding which would quickly see a return on its investment not only through increased independance and quality of life for Aboriginal people and the obvious and inevitable benefits to community life for all but also through less spending on gaols, police, research, unemployment etc.

Aboriginal activist Lilla Watson is often attributed with saying "If you are help to help me you are wasting your time, but if you are here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."

At the moment few believe that the government is even there to help, let alone 'work together' with Aboriginal people.

There can be no reconcilitation without justice.

If the Government continues to ignore Australian demands for equitable treatment then we will continue to see more actions like the Lake Tyre Blockade and continued and increasing support locally, nationally and internationally.

Gandhi once said "First the ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win".

Aboriginal people have long been ignored, laughed at and fought by Australian Governments. It is now finally time for us to win.

I would like to acknowledge all those fighting in Lake Tyre, those fighting to End the NT Intervention and all those fighting for Justice in Australia - and offer my respect, my admiration and my support.

To the Government I would simply like to say: Don't worry about us taking the Next Step! We have been taking the necessary steps to survive for millenia and will continue to do so.

The author is a teacher, researcher, CA trainer, provocateur, social commentator and would-be author. Luke is currently working to complete his PhD on Aboriginal Identity Development & Education