Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Report on Indigenous progress

The Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, today welcomed the release of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma’s final Social Justice Report.

In his time as Commissioner, Mr Calma has been a strong advocate of Indigenous human rights and the need to close the gap in Indigenous disadvantage.

I want to acknowledge the substantial contribution he has made in his role as Commissioner over the last five and a half years.

The Social Justice Report 2009 focuses on solutions to reduce the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system; the protection of Indigenous languages; and sustaining Aboriginal homeland communities.

It acknowledges the unprecedented investment being made by the Australian, State and Territory Governments to turn around Indigenous disadvantage through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).

The report also recognises the Government’s commitment to strengthen our relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through Australia’s formal support for the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, support for the establishment of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples and the development of a social inclusion framework.

After detailed consultation with Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, the Australian Government has introduced legislation into the Parliament to reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act and to introduce new non-discriminatory welfare reforms.

We recognise there is a lot more work to be done. Closing the gap will require a continued and concerted effort by all Australians over the long term.

Indigenous disadvantage exists across Australia. In many remote communities decades of neglect and failed policies have left many Indigenous people living in overcrowded houses without even the most basic services.

Through the National Partnership on Remote Service Delivery, work is underway in 29 communities across remote Australia to provide residents with same level of services found in other Australian towns of a similar size.

While this work is underway, Australian governments have also committed to maintaining current funding levels for the maintenance of occupied outstations, as well as ensuring outstation residents continue to have access to health, education and other essential services.

The Social Justice Report also emphasises the importance of cultural healing programs – both in their effectiveness in diverting young people from the criminal justice system and their capacity to help rehabilitate people affected by substance and alcohol abuse.

To expand healing programs, the Australian Government has provided $26 million towards the establishment of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation.

And recognising the critical need to protect endangered Indigenous languages across Australia, we are working hard to implement the National Indigenous Languages Strategy announced last year.