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Sunday 6 April 2008

Rudd delivers for Aborigines

I, alongside many Aboriginal Australians, was actually quite cynical about the new Labor Australian PM Kevin Rudd and his well-trailed apology to the Stolen Generations earlier this year.

Unlike the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, who said he wept as he watched it on CNN (I didn't weep, been there, done that). But now he's done something which is really, truly significant.

The plight of indigenous Australians will be detailed by the Prime Minister each year in Federal Parliament to measure the success or failure of the Government's pledge to increase Aboriginal living standards.

Announcing this in London of all places, Rudd said that on the first parliamentary day of each year he would report on the progress of his promise to close the 17-year life expectancy gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians by 2030.

The Government plans to guarantee indigenous people will get health services equal to those of the rest of the population within 10 years.
The time has come for the debate to move on from intentions and focus on outcomes, because in this endeavour outcomes are what really matters [too right, mate]. This annual statement will greatly increase pressure on my Government to make progress towards closing the gap.
The other elements of the new annual statement would detail the progress or otherwise on closing gaps in infant mortality, literacy and numeracy.
Australia, a successful developed nation with a modern and prosperous economy, should not accept a 17-year life expectancy gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

There is no reason that indigenous children in Australia should have less opportunity for education or health care than the opportunities provided to non-indigenous kids. This gap has no place in a modern Australia.
The point being that they don't have equal health services at the moment (or sewage or lots of other basic things Aussies take for granted - that's the legacy). Pretty basic, but it has taken years for these facts to become accepted or not blamed on Aborigines themselves. There are millions of Australians who want this shame to end - finally, they seem to have some leadership. (And it is worth noting that Boris Johnson has the spinmeister responsible for continuing this shame running his team).

Rudd has also said that Australia will finally sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples - something which the UK has failed to do. (And we rarely apologise.)

If you read nothing else about this, read (Aboriginal) Professor Larissa Behrendt's feature in the National Indigenous Times on why this is so important.
My father, whose life had been shaped by his experience in a home and his mother’s removal from her family, did not live to hear the apology. He died before he could hear the kind of acknowledgement of his experience that Kevin Rudd offered, that John Howard denied.

This alone can forgive the occasional smugness which accompanies the deep satisfaction in knowing our nation has finally moved on.


  1. I would actually like to see the 'Guarantee that this will not happen again' (i.e. removal of children and other blatantly racist policies) in something more substantive than promises. A Bill of Rights may be?
    Stating the intent is great but what if political fortunes turn to the Liberals? Where would that leave us? There needs to be a more fundamental shift in approach to individual rights in Australia - enshrining them in the constitution in a legally binding way..

  2. Yes, I am an cynic too ;]

    But only yesterday he reiterated that they'll revisit the constitution. And on a UK News Show he had indigenous issues in his top priorities.

    The thing is, once you create an annual report-back-to-be-judged-on that becomes the norm.

    We have been here in the UK with such targets. They can have unintended consequences. So we'll see. But, thus far, he is doing a series of right moves which the election campaign suggested he wouldn't. And that's a good sign, i think.