"Report highlights need for things to be done differently"

Australian Human Rights Commission Thursday, 2 July 2009

Today’s Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage Report shows little progress has been made in closing the gap for Indigenous people but provides the strongest argument yet for the need for a new way of working with Indigenous people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma has said.

“Despite the report showing some absolute gains have been made, things have dramatically worsened in some areas,” Commissioner Calma said.

“The failure of the past 10 years to put a dent in the social and economic inequality that exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples highlights that while an increase in resourcing is necessary, it is not in itself enough.

“We need fresh approaches which acknowledge and work from the basis that the answers to many of the long-term problems facing Aboriginal and Torres Trait Islander communities will not come from Canberra, but from those communities themselves,” he said. “National planning that involves Indigenous people, their representative bodies and peak organisations is the only way forward in truly overcoming Indigenous disadvantage.”

Commissioner Calma said he was particularly concerned by the increasing incarceration rates for Indigenous adults and called for alternative measures to be a top priority.

“I am particularly alarmed by the fact that nearly 10 years into the 21st century, Indigenous adults are 13 times more likely than non-Indigenous adults to be imprisoned in 2008, compared to 10 times in 2000.

“But it is not surprising considering that the 27 per cent increase of Indigenous people in juvenile detention between 2001 and 2007 has not been met with an increase in diversionary programs,” Mr Calma said.

“These statistics should provide the stimulus we need to get Australian governments implementing alternatives such as the justice reinvestment model from the United States where a proportion of the money spent on imprisoning offenders is instead diverted to local communities with high rates of offending,” he said.

Commissioner Calma said the report also highlighted that data collection continued to frustrate efforts in many areas and called for urgent action to address the quality of data across many areas, particularly in relation to life expectancy.

While welcoming the report’s recognition that partnership was the crucial ‘success factor’ in Indigenous policy, Mr Calma said he was particularly pleased the report highlighted the need for cooperative approaches between Indigenous peoples and governments and emphasised the need for a ‘bottom up’ approach from communities in decision-making and good governance.

“While the Report brings disappointing news on many fronts, when considered along with other recent government activity, such as commitment to the Statement of Intent signed last year to work in genuine partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to achieve equality in health status and life expectancy by the year 2030, it is clear that we have never before had such a firm foundation for taking fresh approaches to overcoming Indigenous disadvantage and to achieving Indigenous health equality,” he said.

Mr Calma acknowledged the Productivity Commission for again producing another high quality and rigorous analysis of Indigenous disadvantage.