It was the progressive expropriation of land by white settlers to the detriment of Australia’s Aboriginal people that resulted in their decimation.
Our handling of disputes, and the policies we have formulated, have often been harsh and unjust, condescending and paternalistic, not recognizing the harm we were doing to their health and welfare.
We have failed to value and protect their instinctive nomadic subsistence way of life, critically dependent on land access, not ownership. We have not esteemed them for their ability to survive in such a hostile environment, in perfect harmony with their environment.
Increasingly many, particularly those of mixed race, will be able to be fully assimilated into urban living, and compete in our Society at many levels, but when enforced, others will be ill-equipped to adjust to our expectations and standards.
I would suggest that with the dwindling prospects of full paid employment for all Australians, we could well draw on their skills and wisdom in creating alternative lifestyles. Is it time that we enabled out unemployed access to land for farming, and encouraged them to pursue arts and crafts that could through exchange and bartering improve their morale and encourage independence?
I appreciate the initiatives of governments of recent years to formalize regret for our past hostility. I am glad that we are becoming more mindful of their skills and culture. It is appropriate too that we are consulting more with them on those matters that most deeply concern them, and are fostering self-determination.
I applaud the granting of land rights for the indigenous, as the most significant reform in our history. Many problems remain, but I am heartened by the efforts now being made, and ongoing, to improve indigenous welfare.
Minister Scullion: Strengthening engagement with Indigenous leaders
22 September 2016
The Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, and the Co-Chairs of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, Dr Jackie Huggins and Mr Rod Little, today hosted Indigenous leaders at a forum to work through issues raised in the Redfern Statement. The forum with the 18 lead signatories of the Redfern Statement was an opportunity for all participants to engage with each other and the Minister in a spirit of goodwill to discuss ways to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.Today, I have listened closely to the views of a range of Indigenous leaders and acknowledged the significant areas where we share common ground,” Minister Scullion said.
“The forum continues the Turnbull Government’s approach of working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as part of a close engagement with communities to ensure policies and programmes deliver the best outcomes for our First Australians.“I wish to thank the participants and everyone else who was involved in developing the Redfern Statement. I share the aspirations of the statement and look forward to working with today’s forum participants into the future to implement measures that will improve outcomes for our First Australians.
“We are investing $4.9 billion over four years in the Indigenous Affairs portfolio and I reaffirmed today my commitment to ensure every dollar in my portfolio delivers an outcome for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.“We are funding more Indigenous organisations than ever – with 55 per cent of funding under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy now being provided to Indigenous organisations.
“The Coalition Government is deeply committed to working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to bring about the changes necessary to deliver better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”The Redfern Statement was issued by a number of Indigenous organisations during the 2016 election campaign and included a series of recommendations from these organisations in relation to policies and programmes impacting on First Australians.
Minister Scullion has been working with the Co-Chairs of Congress since he was re-appointed as Minister for Indigenous Affairs to organise today’s forum.
Below are snippets from the following government document reviewing Australia’s interaction and policies for our Indigenous Population.
The Initial Impact. Aboriginal people have occupied’ Australia for at least 40 000 years. However, very little is known about the history of human occupation during this enormous length of time, even in outline, and practically nothing of the social, political and cultural changes that must have occurred. Recorded Aboriginal history is a history of contact, with Macassan or Indonesian traders or fishermen, with European, especially British, navigators and with British colonists and settlers. At the time of the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, there was, of course, no single Aboriginal nation. Australia (including Tasmania) contained a large number of groups occupying more or less discrete areas and with considerable diversity in terms of language and culture. Conflicts between settlers and Aborigines, and the devastation caused by introduced diseases and alcohol, reduced the Aboriginal population during the first hundred years of settlement from an estimated 300 000 to 60 000. Most of those who survived had their traditional ways of life destroyed or at least suppressed. In the confined area of Tasmania the effects of white settlement were devastating, bringing Tasmanian Aborigines to the verge of extinction. It has been conservatively estimated that at least 10 000 Aborigines died violently in Queensland between 1824 and 1908.
The policy of assimilation means that all Aborigines and part-Aborigines are expected to attain the same manner of living as other Australians and to live as members of a single Australian community, enjoying the same rights and privileges, accepting the same customs and influenced by the same beliefs as other Australians.
Steps were taken to achieve this result. Expenditure on health, housing, education and training programs began to be increased in the Northern Territory and in the States. The decline in the Aboriginal population in the north and centre was halted and reversed in the 1950s, and in southern and eastern Australia the Aboriginal population was increasing rapidly. In the 1960s a concerted effort was made to review and repeal restrictive and discriminatory legislation, especially by the Commonwealth Government, and the mechanisms of ‘protection’ were phased out. Access to social security benefits for Aborigines came in 1960, Aborigines became entitled to vote at federal elections in 1962, and the wardship system in the Northern Territory was dismantled in 1964. State legislation prohibiting access to alcohol for Aborigines was repealed and in most jurisdictions Aborigines became entitled to full award wages. In 1967 the Constitution was amended by referendum so that Aborigines would in future be counted in the Census, and to authorise the Commonwealth Parliament to pass laws specifically for the benefit of Aboriginal people. An Office of Aboriginal Affairs was established by the Commonwealth Government to instigate and oversee programs of assistance for Aborigines.
Integration. While these developments were taking place, the general notion of assimilation was itself increasingly being questioned. That policy took no account of the value or resilience of Aboriginal culture, nor did it allow that Aborigines might seek to maintain their own languages and traditions. A basic assumption of the policy was that Aborigines would inevitably, and probably willingly, become like white Australians in terms of their ‘manner of living’, ‘customs’ and ‘beliefs’. The paternalism, and arrogance, of such assumptions was discredited. There was also a greater awareness of Aboriginal problems by non-Aboriginal Australians. The language of ‘assimilation’, with the underlying assumption that Aboriginal equality could only be achieved by the loss of Aboriginal identity, was abandoned. The term ‘integration’ was sometimes used by the critics of the assimilation policy to denote a policy that recognised the value of Aboriginal culture and the right of Aboriginals to retain their languages and customs and maintain their own distinctive communities, but there was a deliberate effort on the part of the Commonwealth authorities to avoid one-word descriptions of complex policies, and to focus on developing new approaches to problems rather than on long-term aims. The initial emphasis was on increased funding and improved programs in areas such as health, education and employment, to try to ensure that formal equality was accompanied by real social and economic advances. But measures were also adopted to in crease funding for Aboriginal community development projects, and the first steps were taken towards the granting of land rights. In 1972 a separate federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs was established, and in 1973 the Woodward Commission was appointed to investigate how land rights for Aborigines could be implemented. The Report led eventually to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (Cth).
Self-Management or Self-Determination. In recent years the policy of the Commonwealth has been based on what has been described as ‘the fundamental right of Aboriginals to retain their racial identity and traditional lifestyle or, where desired, to adopt wholly or partially a European lifestyle’, and has encouraged Aboriginal participation or control in local or community government, and in other areas of concern. This approach, variously described as a policy of self-management or self-determination, has been accompanied by government support programs managed by Aboriginal organisations. For example the Aboriginal Development Commission was established in 1980 to help further the economic and social development of Aboriginal people, to promote their development and self-management and to provide a base for Aboriginal economic self-sufficiency. The functions of the Aboriginal Development Commission are to assist Aboriginal people to acquire land, to engage in business enterprises and to obtain finance for housing and other personal needs. Other Aboriginal organisations, both governmental and non-governmental, are proving increasingly important: these include land councils, incorporated community support groups, child care agencies, alcohol rehabilitation services, medical services, hostels, legal services and cultural organisations. Attempts have continued to establish a body which can represent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander opinion on all matters of policy, through giving advice to the Commonwealth and in other ways. The Commonwealth’s policy has been formulated by the Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in the following way:
This Government looks to achieve further progress for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through the two principles of consultation and self-determination, that is, with the involvement of the Aboriginal people in the whole process … All our policies, each of our programs and projects, have been and will continue to be fashioned in discussions with Aboriginal people and their organisations at national and community levels.