Government policies that empower local Aboriginal communities and build on traditional knowledge and culture to deliver services generally produce better results and should become the policy norm in Australia, according to a landmark report released today by Oxfam Australia.
The report, In Good Hands, shows how programs that embrace the principle of self-determination have been rolled out extensively in the United States and other countries with similar historical settings, with better outcomes for Indigenous people than those achieved in Australia.
However, the report also demonstrates that successive Australian governments have instead taken a top-down approach and ignored advice from their own experts on how to effectively tackle the systemic disadvantage and poverty that afflicts too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
National Manager for Oxfam’s First Peoples’ Program, Ngarra Murray, said preferencing Aboriginal organisations was essential in working towards a future underpinned by the principles of self-determination, community-control and effective service delivery to the First Peoples of Australia.
“Not only will this give First Peoples a sense of empowerment, control and indeed sovereignty, as the case studies in this report show, this approach will also help to address the systemic disadvantage that is a consequence of Australian history,” Ms Murray said. “Sadly, Australia’s current approach lags well behind similar countries in closing the health and well-being gaps endured by First Peoples around the world.”
The Oxfam report captures numerous case studies that demonstrate why community-based services are best placed to respond to the complex needs of First Peoples. The unique network of more than 140 Aboriginal medical services is a prime example of how trusted organisations that are grounded in community and culture deliver results that improve health outcomes – and at the same time can reduce the demand on the hospital system.
The report cites new data showing an impressive 30 per cent reduction in preventable hospitalisations in the region where Katungul Aboriginal Medical Service operates on New South Wales’ south coast in the six years to 2016-17, compared with a rise of 20 per cent for the entire NSW population.
Acting Chief Executive Jo Grant explained that Katungul staff had a much deeper understanding of the issues facing the Aboriginal people of the region.
“We walk and work in two worlds,” Ms Grant said in the report. “We have a far better grasp of the issues faced by these communities. We shouldn’t be overlooked because we are an Aboriginal medical service.”
In Western Australia, the Ngalla Maya employment service has placed more than 300 ex-prisoners into jobs by taking an approach that is grounded in traditional culture.
Former prisoner and now Chief Executive Mervyn Eades explained: “The cultural stuff, mentoring, that is the heart of our project. We talk a lot about culture. A lot of the young ones don’t have identity in heritage and the self-worth in being part of the oldest culture in the world; they haven’t been taught and told, the stories haven’t been handed down to empower them.”
The report highlights that despite these results, many Aboriginal organisations are forced to navigate a never-ending treadmill of grant applications and changing funding streams to keep their lights on and staff paid.
“Oxfam Australia is calling on State and Federal governments to empower and fund local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations to allow them to build on traditional knowledge and culture when delivering services,” Ms Murray said.
For media interviews with Oxfam’s First Peoples Program National Manager Ngarra Murray, or for more information, please contact Dylan Quinnell on 0450 668 350 or firstname.lastname@example.org