Monday 26 November 2007
Brisbane’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission has welcomed newly-elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s commitment to be a “Prime Minister for Indigenous Australians” and urged him to forge new partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to end gross Indigenous disadvantage.
The Commission’s Executive Officer, Peter Arndt, said that it is heartening that both the former Coalition Government and the new Labor Government have placed a high priority on addressing Indigenous poverty and disadvantage.
“This country can no longer tolerate a situation in which many are enjoying the benefits of unprecedented economic prosperity while most of our country’s Indigenous people languish in poverty and disadvantage which is as bad or even worse than what people in some developing countries experience,” Mr. Arndt said.
“We cannot challenge the human rights records of other countries with any credibility until we ensure that the basic human rights of Indigenous Australians are upheld,” he said.
But Mr Arndt urged Mr Rudd to ensure that his commitment to achieve outcomes on health and education standards for Indigenous Australians is accompanied by a commitment to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ cultural identity is protected.
“We welcome a commitment to ‘close the gap’ in health standards between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians as quickly as possible,” Mr Arndt said.
“It is scandalous that Aboriginal Australians live seventeen years less on average than other Australians,” he said.
“But bringing Indigenous people’s health standards into line with those for non-Indigenous Australians should not also mean eliminating the cultural differences between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians,” he said.
“Any attempt to assimilate Indigenous people and to effectively eliminate their cultural heritage should be strongly resisted,” he said.
“Aboriginal people should not be forced to be like non-Indigenous Australians in order to enjoy the same health, education and economic standards as they do,” he said.
“While John Howard’s commitment of significant, long-term resources to overcoming Aboriginal disadvantage in the Northern Territory was widely welcomed by Indigenous people, his talk of “mainstreaming”, with its overtones of cultural assimilation, were not,” he said.
“Mr Rudd made a commitment to sign on to the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and he should make this as much a priority as ratifying the Kyoto Protocol,” he said.
Mr Arndt said that new partnerships between Government and Indigenous people needed to be forged if Mr Rudd is to achieve his desired outcomes.
“Mr Rudd needs to develop relationships with the broadest range of Indigenous leaders around the country if we are to see an end to Indigenous disadvantage,” Mr Arndt said.
“If Mr Rudd truly wants to end the divisions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Australia, he needs to develop genuine partnerships with the broadest representation of Indigenous people,” he said.
“If he works with Aboriginal people and commits adequate resources, I believe he will have bi-partisan political support and the goodwill of the Australian people,” he said.
“Things have to change for the better and quickly,” he added.
For further information, please contact Peter Arndt on (07) 3336 9173 or 0409 265 476.
This release is issued with the approval of the Commission or its Executive under the provision of its Charter which enables it to speak in its own right.The views expressed in it do not necessarily represent the views of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane.