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'Between the rock and a hard place', ACOSS, National Congress 2001, Plaza Ball Room, Melbourne.



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‘Between the Rock and a Hard Place’’ by Geoff Clark, Chairman, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, ACOSS, National Congress 2001, Plaza Ball Room, Melbourne

 

25 October 2001

 

PRIME MINISTER, , THE ACOSS PRESIDENT, DISTINGUISHED GUESTS, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN.

AS IS OUR CUSTOM I’D LIKE TO BEGIN BY ACKNOWLEDGING THE TRADITIONAL OWNERS OF THIS COUNTRY THE WURUNDJERI PEOPLE.

I’D ALSO LIKE TO THANK JOY MURPHY FOR HER WELCOME AND ACOSS FOR THE INVITATION TO SPEAK HERE TODAY.

I’D LIKE TO COMMEND YOU ON YOUR THEME ‘LEAPING THE CHASM - TACKLING POVERTY AND INEQUITY IN AUSTRALIA.’

ATSIC’S ENTIRE POLICY, ADVOCACY AND PROGRAM EFFORT IS DIRECTED AT ASSISTING OUR PEOPLE TO LEAP THAT CHASM.

AS IDENTIFIED IN THE CONGRESS PROGRAM, ATSIC IS CURRENTLY ADDRESSING SOME OF THE IMPORTANT SOCIAL POLICY CHALLENGES FACING OUR PEOPLE, INCLUDING: § WELFARE REFORM AND MUTUAL OBLIGATION § LONG TERM UNEMPLOYMENT § INTERGENERATIONAL EQUITY, AND § THE CHANGING RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN GOVERNMENTS AND THE COMMUNITY

WE ARE MAKING PROGRESS, BUT IT HASN’T BEEN EASY, AND WE HAVE A LONG WAY TO GO.

LET ME GIVE YOU AN EXAMPLE FROM THE GEOGRAPHIC AND SYMBOLIC HEART OF THE COUNTRY.

AS MOST OF YOU WOULD BE AWARE THE MUTITJULU COMMUNITY IS SITUATED WITHIN THE ABORIGINAL OWNED WORLD HERITAGE LISTED ULURU-KATA TJUTA NATIONAL PARK.

THE COMMUNITY LIVES IN THE SHADOW OF THESE NATIONAL ICONS OF ULURU AND KATA JUTA---A WORLD AWAY FROM THE OPULENCE OF THE TOURISM INDUSTRY WHICH DEPENDS UPON THEM.

IN 1983 THE AYERS ROCK RESORT WAS CONSTRUCTED AT YULARA JUST OUTSIDE THE PARK BOUNDARY.

YULARA IS A COMPANY TOWN.

IT EMPLOYS OVER 600 PEOPLE.

NO ABORIGINAL PEOPLE LIVE THERE.

NONE WORK THERE.

AS YOU KNOW THE PARK--WHICH IS LEASED BY THE TRADITIONAL OWNERS TO THE COMMONWEALTH--- IS A MAJOR TOURIST DESTINATION.

MORE THAN 400,000 TOURISTS VISIT EACH YEAR.

MUTITJULU, WHICH IS CLOSED TO TOURISTS, IS HOME TO A POPULATION OF AROUND 380 PITJANTJATJARA AND YANKUNYJATJARA PEOPLE,.

THEY ARE MOST OFTEN REFERRED TO AS ANANGU.

THERE ARE SIGNIFICANT POTENTIAL ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIES ASSOCIATED WITH THE COMMUNITY’S NICHE TOURISM LOCATION AND JOINT MANAGEMENT OF THE PARK.

HOWEVER, ANANGU AT MUTITJULU HAVE REMAINED MARGINAL TO MANY OF THE DEVELOPMENTS TAKING PLACE ON THEIR LANDS.

MANY ADULTS AT MUTITJULU SIMPLY DO NOT HAVE THE EDUCATIONAL AND LIFE SKILLS NEEDED FOR AN ACTIVE ENGAGEMENT IN THE LABOUR FORCE.

SIXTY PER CENT OF THE COMMUNITY’S POPULATION ARE OF WORKING AGE.

OVER 64 PER CENT OF THOSE ARE RELIANT ON WELFARE.

86 PER CENT HAVE NO EDUCATIONAL QUALIFICATIONS.

44 PER CENT DO NOT SPEAK ENGLISH WELL.

PARTICIPATION IN THE LOCAL ECONOMY IS ALSO UNDERMINED BY MULTIPLE HEALTH PROBLEMS.

MANY ADULTS SUFFER CHRONIC ILL HEALTH, PETROL SNIFFING IS A MAJOR PROBLEM, AS ARE ALCOHOL AND DRUG CONSUMPTION.

THERE IS A HIGH INCARCERATION RATE OF YOUNG MALES.

IN COMBINATION, THESE ARE SOCIALLY AND ECONOMICALLY DEBILITATING FACTORS WHICH CONTRIBUTE TO POOR PHYSICAL STAMINA, PSYCHOLOGICAL IMPACTS, FAMILY VIOLENCE AND BREAKDOWN.

MUTITJULU IS A MICROCOSM OF MANY OF THE ISSUES CURRENTLY EFFECTING REMOTE INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES.

RESIDENTS STRUGGLE DAILY TO COME TO TERMS WITH SUBSTANTIAL ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL DIFFICULTIES.

THEY FIND THEIR CULTURALLY BASED FORMS OF SOCIAL AND CULTURAL CAPITAL ARE BEING UNDERMINED BY EXTERNAL FACTORS SEEMINGLY BEYOND THEIR IMMEDIATE CONTROL.

BUT THEY WANT TO TAKE CONTROL OVER THEIR LIVES.

THEY ARE SICK OF LIVING ON THE MARGINS.

THE MUTITJULU COMMUNITY COUNCIL AND RESIDENTS HAVE DECIDED TO DEVELOP THE FIRST COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION AGREEMENT WITH ATSIC AND GOVERNMENT.

AS YOU MAY RECALL THE COMMISSION WAS FUNDED IN THE LAST FEDERAL BUDGET TO DEVELOP SUCH AGREEMENTS OVER THE NEXT FOUR YEARS.

THE MUTIJULU COMMUNITY HAS BEEN WORKING CLOSELY WITH ATSIC TO DEVELOP SUCH AN AGREEMENT.

THEY ARE TIRED OF THE CONTINUING FAILURE OF GOVERNMENTS TO DEVELOP A COMPREHENSIVE APPROACH TO PLANNING AND SERVICE DELIVERY REFLECTED IN WHAT THEY SEE AS A BAND AID APPROACH TO ADDRESSING THEIR DEPENDENCE ON WELFARE.

THEY WANT AN END TO THE DEBILITATING IMPACTS OF INTER-GENERATIONAL WELFARE DEPENDENCE.

THEY WANT AN END TO THE MULTIPLICITY OF GOVERNANCE STRUCTURES WITH ILL-DEFINED ROLES AND OVERLAPPING RESPONSIBILITIES.

NOW I’D LIKE TO REMIND YOU OF THE MOST RECENT POLICY STATEMENT ON INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS FROM THE COUNCIL OF AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENTS.

THE COUNCIL ACKNOWLEDGED THAT GOVERNMENTS CAN MAKE A REAL DIFFERENCE IN THE SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC LIVES OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLE.

WE WERE TOLD IN THE COAG COMMUNIQUE ISSUED LAST NOVEMBER GOVERNMENTS COULD DO SO BY DRAWING ON THE LESSONS OF THE PAST WITH A FOCUS ON PARTNERSHIPS AND SHARED RESPONSBILITY WITH OUR PEOPLE, MORE FLEXIBLE PROGRAM ARRANGMENTS AND IMPROVED COORDINATION. COAG ALSO AGREED THERE NEEDED TO BE ACTION IN THREE PRIORITY AREAS:

INVESTING IN COMMUNITY LEADERSHIP AND CAPACITY BUILDING.

FOCUSING ON PRACTICAL MEASURES THAT SUPPORT FAMILIES, CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE, AND.

FORGING GREATER LINKS BETWEEN THE BUSINESS SECTOR AND INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES TO HELP PROMOTE ECONOMIC INDEPENDENCE.

LET’S TURN BACK TO MUTIJULU.

HERE WE HAVE A COMMUNITY WHICH IS DEMONSTRATING LEADERSHIP AND UNDERSTANDS THE NEED TO BUILD ITS CAPACITY.

A COMMUNITY WHICH WANTS TO DEAL WITH PROBLEMS IMPACTING ON FAMILIES, CHILDREN AND OUR YOUNG PEOPLE.

A COMMUNITY WHICH WANTS TO FORGE GREATER LINKS BETWEEN THE BUSINESS SECTOR TO ULTIMATELY ACHIEVE ECONOMIC INDEPENDENCE.

IT IS, IN ESSENCE, TAKING ACTION IN THE PRIORITY AREAS IDENTIFIED BY COAG.

IT WANTS TO FULLY DEVELOP A COMMUNITY PATICIPATION AND PARTNERSHIP AGREEMENT.

IT WANTS TO DO SO IN PARTNERSHIP WITH GOVERNMENT AND OTHER KEY STAKEHOLDERS AS A POTENTIAL MEANS TO BEGIN ADDRESSING THE DYSFUNCTION AND THE DISADVANTAGE.

BUT MUTIJULU IS STUCK BETWEEN THE ROCK AND A HARD PLACE - AND DEALING WITH THE HARD PLACE IS PROVING DIFFICULT.

WHY?

THE ANSWER, I BELIEVE, IS A SIMPLE ONE.

DESPITE ALL THE EXPRESSIONS OF GOOD INTENT GOVERNMENTS AND THEIR

BUREAUCRACIES ARE STILL NOT PREPARED OR ARE MOVING SLOWLY TO LEAP THE CHASM BETWEEN THEIR RHETORIC AND REALITY.

PROGRAM AND POLICY AGENDAS REMAIN GOVERNMENT DRIVEN AND CONTROLLED WITH LIMITED COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION.

THERE HAS BEEN NO SWITCH IN THE POWER BALANCE.

INDIGENOUS SELF-GOVERNANCE, REGIONAL AUTONOMY AND CONTROL ARE STILL GIVEN NO SERIOUS SUPPORT.

THE COMMUNITY ITSELF HAS ENCOUNTERED SIGNIFICANT FACTORS AT THE COMMUNITY LEVEL WHICH MAY IMPEDE THE ESTABLISHMENT OF SUCH AN AGREEMENT. THEY ARE SEEKING SUPPORT TO ADDRESS THESE ISSUES.

THERE IS ALSO RESISTANCE FROM INSTITUTIONS WITH VESTED PROGRAM AND SERVICE DELIVERY INTERESTS WHO ARGUE AGAINST A PATNERSHIP WHICH REQUIRES THE DEVOLUTION OF GENUINE DECISION MAKING RESPONSIBLITIES TO THE COMMUNITY.

WE CONTINUE TO WORK THROUGH THESE ISSUES AND I HAVE ONLY BEEN ABLE TO PROVIDE YOU WITH A SNAPSHOT TODAY.

BUT ONE THING IS CLEAR.

IT HAS TAKEN MANY DECADES FOR WELFARE DEPENDENCE TO BECOME ENTRENCHED IN INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES.

THERE ARE NO EASY ANSWERS.

TO ACHIEVE REAL PROGRESS WILL REQUIRE A SUSTAINED FIVE TO TEN YEAR COMMITMENT BY ALL OF THE PARTIES.

THE MUTITJULU COMMUNITY COUNCIL, STAFF AND RESIDENTS HAVE BEEN ENGAGED IN DISCUSSIONS WITH ATSIC AND OTHER KEY AGENCIES AND DEPARTMENTS FOR SEVERAL YEARS ON THESE ISSUES.

HOWEVER WE ARE STILL IN THE FORMATIVE STAGES OF THIS NEW APPROACH.

AS THE FIRST EXAMPLE OF ITS KIND A MUTITJULU COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION AND PARTNERSHIP AGREEMENT WILL BE A LITMUS TEST FOR THE COMMONWEALTH GOVERNMENT’S NEW WELFARE POLICY.

THE CHALLENGE FOR ALL OF US IS THE NEED TO BRING THIS PROJECT INTO A WORKABLE REALITY.

IF WE CANNOT DEVELOP AND IMPLEMENT A SUCCESSFUL AGREEMENT WITH MUTITJULU WHAT HOPE FOR THE REST OF OUR COMMUNITIES.

WE MUST TACKLE THE PROBLEMS OF CONTINUED WELFARE DEPENDENCE BY WORKING IN PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN OUR COMMUNITY AND GOVERNMENT.

WE CAN AND MUST LEAP THE CHASM.

THANK YOU.

 

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