By Pamela Nathan
I commend The Age for this editorial on justice for Aboriginal people.
The editors noted at the outset that the newspaper was “unsettled” that Prime Minister Abbott had said Australia was “unsettled” before the British arrived, and then rather quickly changed his words to “scarcely settled”. These words, The Age said, “hark back to terra nullius, which was discredited by the High Court in 1992 when it ruled in the Mabo case that native title existed”. The Age editorial said they “would be loath to think any portion of the community might seize on Mr Abbott’s comment to undermine efforts to increase fairness in our society for indigenous Australians”. I think it is extraordinary, if not disgraceful, that the PM, as leader of this nation, makes such a slippage. As The Age said, “there might be many who feel our Prime Minister was stooping to the dog-whistle politics he has used to demonise asylum seekers, some of the most desperate, vulnerable and marginalised people on our planet”.
The Age continued, saying they believe the Prime Minister “deserves the benefit of the doubt on this one, as we have no doubt about his personal commitment to improving the lives of Indigenous Australians – the people who were settled throughout this land for tens of thousands of years before the British colonised it”.
I was in Canberra last Friday for the Healing Foundation’s ‘Cultural Solutions for Suicide Prevention’ Public Forum. Senior Aboriginal leaders spoke to the topic. I heard disbelief and despair at the enormity of impending funding cuts – $600 million – and how every Aboriginal service – legal, health etc – was under review. I know of two mental health workers – one community psychiatric nurse and an Aboriginal mental health practitioner and ngangkari,who have worked together for 6 years in the western desert – who have had their funding cut and their positions end in July. It is not just the fact of huge funding cuts that is devastating, but the deep hurt it causes as the cuts represent an invalidation and non-recognition of trauma and haemorrhaging need.
The Age calls for support on constitutional change and urges the parliamentary committee due to report in a few weeks to champion the panel’s suggestions.
CASSE supports The Age in their call for this support. Further, CASSE calls for Aboriginal people to be supported financially to develop culturally appropriate solutions for cultural intergenerational wounds of trauma and loss and for the many Aboriginal people who have been attempting to “settle down on country” and heal by connecting with the past and committing to their future.
Australia’s ancient and proud continuing culture depends upon this support.