Constitutional change a step towards closing the gap

Opinion

BY SHAVONNE HANSELL

The Australian Government will continue to fail in its attempts to ‘close the gap’ without Constitutional reform and the acknowledgement of Indigenous people as a unique, collectivist culture.

There is symbolic recognition in the form of Welcome to Country, memorial services and flying the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags in Canberra. However, without formal recognition of sovereignty before colonisation, it leaves a proud cultures deprived of any autonomy regarding the welfare of their people.

The Australian Human Rights Commission says the inclusion of a preamble to the Constitution could make a positive change in the lives of Indigenous Australians. It has the potential to address a history of exclusion, improve Indigenous peoples’ sense of self-worth and social and emotional well-being and change the context of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander debates.

Although there are laws that specifically benefit Indigenous people, such as ‘green zones’ available only to Indigenous fisherman, there’s a greater need for current systems to be reviewed and better strategies to be put in place to accelerate the closure of the ‘gap’.

The first Closing the Gap Report was released in 2006, comparing Indigenous peoples with non-Indigenous peoples in areas such as education and health. The Government aimed to halve the gap in all areas 2020. However, this year’s school attendance report reveals Indigenous attendance has not changed in the last five years and remains lower than for non‑Indigenous students. Although there are programs that reward attendance such as the Clontarf Foundation, the statistics shows better strategies are needed.

Sydney’s University of Technology professor of Indigenous research Larissa Behrendt says the use of Indigenous resources would provide different perspectives from today’s dominant culture. She says teaching methods need to be more flexible and creative. Elders should be invited to tell stories as a way of teaching morals and more schools should be established that particularly concentrate on indigenous perspectives and world views.

Educational programs providing information on why immunisations are important would improve Indigenous health.

These recommendations could also address the Indigenous health sector – especially immunisation, pre-natal care, diet and mental health.

Australia’s National Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research produced a research document addressing longstanding policy problems. It suggested a need more Indigenous health practitioners present in the decision-making process and the forming of a committee that reported directly to the Minister of Health.

Legislation amendments would and strip away the pluralistic approach to matters important to Indigenous peoples and generate a collectivist perspective that promotes drastic improvement in all areas. Acknowledging a thriving culture that has its own systems of values, practices and rights is a start towards greater inclusivity and unification.

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