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The Independent Weekly
June 4 - 10, 2010 spectrum
Reconciliation Week is over
for another year. As with
every year, I used the occasion
to take stock. Australia s record
regarding its Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Island people has
improved little if at all over the
In just one of the frightening
statistics, the mortality rates for
indigenous infants and young
children remain two to three times
higher than those for all infants and
Despite our best intentions,
statistics for mortality, education,
health and employment look like
monuments to policy failure,
resulting in poor quality of life for
so many Aboriginal people. But
are we right to blame successive
Reconciliation Week prompts me
to ask myself two questions: what
do Aboriginal people want and am
I listening? And secondly, who are
the partners in achieving change
in our community and what are my
In answering these questions,
I find it timely to remember such
fundamental statements as the
UN Declaration of Fundamental
Its 30 articles provoke thought.
Consider the following excerpts:
Article 1: All human beings are
born free and equal in dignity and
The gap between indigenous and
non-indigenous life expectancy at
birth is 12 years for males and 10
years for females. Can we say that
people who at birth are condemned
to living shorter and poorer-quality
lives are born free and equal in
dignity and rights?
Article 23: Everyone has the right
to work, to free choice of employment,
to just and favourable conditions
of work, and to protection against
Aboriginal people s unemploy-
ment record is known to us
all. Extremely high levels of
unemployment, poor education,
poor health and homelessness span
Article 25: Everyone has the right
to a standard of living adequate for
the health and well-being of himself
and of his family.
The right to human rights is not a
relative concept. What is the entitle-
ment of some is the entitlement of
all -- non-Aboriginal Australians
and Aboriginal Australians.
My second question -- Who are the
partners responsible for change and
what are my own responsibilities?
-- raised the issue of what should
be expected of governments and of
non-government agencies, as well
as of each of us as individuals.
I am not being defensive when I
say that, having been on both sides
of the equation, it is not right to
blame governments on their own.
Governments are more often
reactive -- that is to say, they more
often follow the pulse of community
thinking rather than setting an
agenda of prophetic leadership.
In the area of Aboriginal affairs,
there have, over the years, been
some stand-out exceptions -- such as
the great leadership precedent of
Don Dunstan in asserting the rights
of Aborigines to their land and
participation in community.
But if government leadership
is not going to stride ahead of the
community pulse, then we should
be seeking to change that pulse.
So what are we doing, and what
can we do?
Wherever possible, I try to take
part in the events of Reconciliation
Week. This past week has provided
me with the opportunity to walk
and talk with Aboriginal people, to
hear from them what they want to
In an age where we may have
less overt racism but we still face
occasional racist comments, I
can speak out each time I hear
such things. By letting racism go
unchecked it is easy to imply that I
After listening to Aboriginal
people, I can seek to be invited to
be a partner in changing the things
that they need to have changed.
In the spaces and places where
their voice may not be heard, but
where I have a seat, I can be a means
of communicating what I have
I can support one or more of
the highly effective not-for-profit
groups that struggle for funds but
are effective in their assistance
because they work with and not for
I can put demands to government
for the development of public poli-
cies that Aboriginal people believe
will help them to live fulfilling lives.
As an employer, I can work
to provide opportunities for
employing Aboriginal people. The
Australian Employment Covenant
a gift to all employers who wish to
take action and make a difference.
These and so many other things
can achieve positive change for
Aboriginal people, as long as I do it
If I act alone, I can make little
difference. If we all act together, we
can fix the situation.
The goal of fundamental human
rights for all Australians is in our
Let s move on from
Reconciliation Week with a re-
energised determination to accept
our personal responsibilities and
encourage others to do the same.
Dr Lynn Arnold AO is the chief
executive of Anglicare SA and
the new trustees chair of the Don
Dunstan Foundation, based at
the University of Adelaide. The
Don Dunstan Foundation aims to
promote visionary and progressive
leadership and thinking within
government and the private sector in
Aboriginal children face enormous obstacles from birth, including shorter life expectancy and higher unemployment later in life.
to fall short of
UN standards in
its treatment of
Dr Lynn Arnold
If I act alone, I can make little difference. If
we all act together, we can fix the situation.
Help the thousands that do.
Donate now to the Vinnies Winter Appeal.
Call 13 18 12 or visit vinnies.org.au
NO ONE SHOULD
HAVE TO KNOW
'Stash food. You don't know when you're going to get it again, so... hide it so
you have something close by, just in case. Canned food. Noodles. Tea and coffee...
you put it away for the times he won't let you have anything.'
Helen, 38. Survivor of domestic violence
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