This week is Reconciliation Week, a terrific time to reflect, to celebrate, and to build stronger connections between our ancient and modern histories. It’s also a time to build deeper relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians. Many local councils play a leadership role in this space, hosting events, engaging with local schools, and advancing local engagement as we strive towards a truly reconciled history.
Although it is encouraging to see how far reconciliation has come, we cannot ignore where, as a nation, we have fallen short. It is important to acknowledge that much more needs to be done.
Initiatives aimed at closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in the areas of housing, health, education and economic participation – among other critical areas – are vital if we want to see our communities overcome the economic and social costs of entrenched disadvantage in our Indigenous communities.
At the same time, we should celebrate achievements. We all need heroes, we all need something to aspire to, and this is the case in every culture across our nation. Our Indigenous kids, like any others, are yearning for direction and leadership, and local government can play a key role this week in making sure that local legends, heroes and achievements are rightly recognised and celebrated.
We don’t need Federal funding to do this, it’s well within our remit and I applaud those councils that are doing it well.
Other aspects of improving Indigenous lives do require external assistance. In our budget submission, ALGA called for the renewal of the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing (NPARIH) to continue federal investment of at least $5.5 billion over the next decade to address the needs in Indigenous communities, particularly in the areas of:
- poor housing conditions, and
- a severe shortage of housing in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia.
Overcrowded or insecure housing ruins sleep, disrupts eating patterns, makes it harder to look presentable and challenging to be a reliable student or employee. Secure housing is a foundation stone to full and active participation in society – and too many Australians don’t have it.
This year’s Federal budget committed to a National Partnership Agreement with the Northern Territory of $110 million per year for 4 years from 2018-19, but we would like to see similar agreements finalised with my state of South Australia as well as Queensland and Western Australia. The current agreements cease at the end of June 2018.
There are real consequences, affecting real people, from not having these arrangements in place. For instance, in Queensland, local residents, employers, and employees in these communities are facing an uncertain future after the current funding expires. More than 400 local jobs, including around 100 apprentices, have been placed at risk with only a small proportion able to be diverted to alternative tasks. In these communities, few alternative jobs exist, with most requiring high levels of training only obtainable in distant universities and colleges.
I believe long-term funding arrangements can play a significantly important role in terms of generating meaningful and ongoing employment opportunities for Indigenous communities. For example, a ten-year funding agreement enables apprentices to be indentured, finish their trade, work under someone for a couple of years and then consider going out on their own to maintain the new properties on their own lands.
The dignity and financial security work brings to all of us is compelling. Short-term grants undermine this by removing certainty and the ability to build skills and competency required to compete with others across the respective construction, health, education, municipal services or whichever career options exist within remote Indigenous communities.
It is why so many young people leave for the city, dislocating them from family and connection with the land. They may get a job, but it’s at a significant personal and cultural sacrifice.
Working together, with government partners focused on long-term relationships, we can provide worthwhile career options both remotely and nearby that respond more sensitively to the desire we all share with Indigenous people – that of staying close to our families.
ALGA will continue its advocacy for commitment to the NPARIH, including during the next federal election.
Mayor David O’Loughlin