Oxfam is throwing its support behind calls for the Australian Government to commit to starting a new relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and agreeing to fund the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples.
The calls were among those made at a breakfast event today at Parliament House, which saw Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak organisations formally present the Redfern Statement to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
It comes as the PM is preparing to give his annual Closing the Gap address to Parliament later today.
Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Helen Szoke said that while improvements had been made in the decade since the community-driven campaign to Close the Gap began, Indigenous Australians continued to experience unacceptable disadvantage on a range of measures.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples still die on average more than 10 to 17 years younger than non-Aboriginal Australians, experience some of the highest suicide rates in the world, and are being locked up in prison at unprecedented rates,” Dr Szoke said.
Oxfam joined a range of Indigenous and non-Indigenous organisations across the country in June last year in support of the launch of the Redfern Statement, which calls for a resetting of the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, their organisations, and the Australian Government.
It calls on the government to provide sustainable, effective funding for Indigenous programs and community-controlled organisations and urges the adoption of policies put forward by Indigenous leaders and organisations.
Dr Szoke said recent Federal Government decisions, including cuts of more than $500 million to Indigenous programs in the 2014 Budget and the defunding of National Congress, showed policy makers were failing to transform words into meaningful action.
“Many Indigenous leaders are calling the current situation a crisis, and simply paying lip service to Closing the Gap targets without proper engagement risks condemning another generation of Aboriginal Australians to acute poverty and injustice,” she said.
Dr Szoke welcomed the refreshed Indigenous Advisory Council announced last week and Mr Turnbull’s ‘ongoing commitment to closer engagement’, but said National Congress was the only nationally representative body, comprising a membership of 185 peak bodies and Indigenous-controlled organisations, and more than 8500 individual members throughout Australia.
“Oxfam echoes the Redfern Statement’s calls for the Australian Government to fund the Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, and reverse the cuts made to Indigenous programs in the 2014 Federal Budget,” Dr Szoke said.
“We want to see the Prime Minister meet with National Congress and establish a framework to work with Indigenous organisations to tackle critical challenges in key areas such as health, justice, education and housing.”
“In his 2016 Close the Gap address, the Prime Minister committed to ‘do things with Aboriginal people, not do things to them’. The Prime Minister must genuinely engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people so they can shape the decisions that directly affect them.”
Oxfam is part of Close the Gap, Australia’s largest campaign to improve Indigenous health.
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