13 February, 2009

Sorry ...

As you are not doubt aware today marks the first anniversary of Australia's apology, through the Federal Parliament, to the indigenous people of this nation who were affected by and involved in the Stolen Generation. I say that you are no doubt aware because it has obviously been at the forefront of media coverage, bushfires not withstanding. The media has been falling, head over heels to report on the numerous ways that we have moved forward as a nation in this new sense of reconciliation. The media has highlighted the stories of individuals from the Stolen Generation who have used the Government's compensation money to turn their lives around. We have seen the massive investment in rural health clinics and support services for indigenous people living in remote locations. You have seen the coverage, haven't you?

Of course you haven't and neither have I. We haven't seen the coverage because there hasn't been any to see. It is not the fault of the bushfires either. There has been no coverage because their is nothing to report. Twelve months ago Kevin Rudd stood up and apologised on behalf of the nation to the indigenous people affected by racist Government policies. He committed the government to tackling the huge social problems facing our indigenous population. Not least to tackling the 17 year life expectancy gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

On this day one year ago we all celebrated a watershed in reconciliation. It was to be as important, if not more important, than Mabo and Wik. The government was implored to back up the symbolic act of an official apology with real action. But there has been no action. Australia's racial discrimination act is still suspended with relation to the quarantining of indigenous Australian's welfare payments. The Community Development Employment Project (CDEP) has been scaled back in outback Northern Territory, meaning many indigenous people have lost that employment and are forced onto the dole. There has been no major spending increase on indigenous health programs or facilities.

Today the Parliament passed the Economic Stimulus package after amendments forced through by the minor parties and the independents in the Senate. Nearly a billion dollars is now to be spent on the Murray-Darling basin, one of Australia's most important water systems, because one elected senator stood up for his constituents. But who stood up and asked for real money to be committed to indigenous Australians? Who wrote to their local member or senator and asked that the stimulus package include housing for remote indigenous communities? Who asked that the job creation measures include the resumption of the CDEP and the employment that it brought for indigenous communities?

To say sorry was an important step. It was a watershed moment for our nation. But if it continues to be let down by a lack of action then as a nation we all suffer. It is time to Close the Gap.


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