Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia Limited

Dennis Eggington ALSWA CEO on National Apology, One year on.

MEDIA STATEMENT BY THE ABORIGINAL LEGAL SERVICE OF WA, 4 February 2009

MEDIA STATEMENT BY THE ABORIGINAL LEGAL SERVICE OF WA, 4 February 2009

denniseggington“Closing the gap under the current policys and directions for Aboriginal affairs is going to be impossible. Australia has slipped into what is referred to as the “post Apology syndrome” that has resulted from a majority of Australians, and unfortunately many Aboriginal people feeling that the government has done enough in recognising Aboriginal people’s rights in this country.

An example of what I’m talking about can be seen in the intervention into the Northern Territory, where the Racial Discrimination Act to protect Aboriginal people and minorities from discrimination was removed.

There has been no visible improvement in the living conditions and infrastructure for the vast majority of Aboriginal communities around Australia, and Aboriginal people who are living daily lives of disadvantage and marginalisation have not seen any benefits at all. This is especially so for the vast majority of Aboriginal people in this country who live in rural and urban areas, who are currently feeling totally abandoned by government.

If Australia doesn’t abandon its current policys and direction and move back towards a rights based approach to Aboriginal affairs that includes renewing dialogue for such processes as Treaties and issues around sovereignty, then we’ll continue to be second class citizens in this country.

There can’t be improvement unless there is a massive change in the relationship between Aboriginal people and our position in this country. The reality is that we’re still at ‘war’ – it may not be a war where people are using guns and weapons or drawing lines in the sand, but the reality is that when there are so many Aboriginal people dying from deaths that could be prevented, or others who are sick or being locked up, then it must be seen in that light.

There just hasn’t been a settlement, a peace deal done between non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal people and the face of that war is not fought by soldiers, but by police and government instrumentalities, and that’s what needs to change – the ability for Australia to be mature enough to enter into an agreement with Aboriginal people. Sovereignty and a Treaty must be put back on the agenda.

It’s fine to talk about closing the gap and changing infant mortality rates, but non-Aboriginal Australia has not got the ability to do that. It can only be done by our own mob and we have to be given the full authority, resources and instruments of government to be able to do that.

There is now this complacency where everything seems to be resolved. Basically many people believe that Aboriginal people have not been able to do it by ourselves and that the government has had to step in. Unless we get back to a rights based approach which allows us to be fully in control of all aspects of administering our own affairs, the struggle will continue forever which will maintain the status quo. Anything short of the full realisation of our human rights and the rights that are inherent as First Nations people is unacceptable and will not deliver the outcomes that I’m sure all Australians, including us, strive for.

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