"Itching for action one year on from historic apology"

Australian Human Rights Commission Thursday, 12 February 2009

“There is an urgent need for an independent, Indigenous-controlled healing body to address the specific healing needs of members of the Stolen Generations as well as community-wide healing which acknowledges the reality that just about every Indigenous person has been touched by the trauma of these past policies,” Mr Calma said.

Addressing the healing needs of members of the Stolen Generations will go a long way towards healing the nation, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma said today on the eve of the first anniversary of the National Apology.

“This time last year we were all overcome by emotion and filled with hope as we watched the Prime Minister make the long overdue National Apology to the Stolen Generations,” Commissioner Calma said.

“One year on, and we are still feeling hope, but also itching for action to follow those fine words.

“One year on, we must continue to hold that hope high and continue to work with governments around Australia to put ‘flesh on the bones’ of the National Apology to move forward in building sustainable reconciliation and equal life outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

“There is an urgent need for an independent, Indigenous-controlled healing body to address the specific healing needs of members of the Stolen Generations as well as community-wide healing which acknowledges the reality that just about every Indigenous person has been touched by the trauma of these past policies,” Mr Calma said.

Commissioner Calma said the federal government had undertaken some terrific initiatives in the year since the National Apology, including holding a forum on Indigenous healing to recognise the impact of trauma and grieving in the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait lslander families, and the provision of additional funds for a network of counsellors and caseworkers to reunite lost families.

“There have also been tremendous milestones in efforts to close the gap in the 17-year life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, such as the signing in March last year of the Statement of Intent to achieve equality in health status and life expectancy,” Mr Calma said.

“The government’s commitment to establishing a national Indigenous representative body is another example of the practical steps we must continue to take to ensure Indigenous people have a seat at the national table.

“However, there remain areas where we must move swiftly beyond the rhetoric,” he said.

Commissioner Calma highlighted the need to remove the continued suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act from the Northern Territory Intervention measures, along with the need for a comprehensive formal response to the Bringing them home report including recommendation five relating to a Stolen Generations compensation scheme, as areas to be urgently addressed.

He also called on the federal government to register its formal support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a further commitment to partnership with Indigenous people.

“Most concerning of all, however, is the limited adequate engagement and partnership with Indigenous peoples in the development and implementation of government policies, programs and services,” Mr Calma said.

“Engagement and consultation with Indigenous peoples remains the essential tool in this nation’s reconciliation.”