Aboriginal people fighting system failure

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Aboriginal services workers and community members from across the Illawarra and Shoalhaven regions held a "community issues workshop" on March 17.

More than 40 people attended and shared harrowing stories of the real and everyday challenges faced by Aboriginal people in areas such as health, employment, education and law.

The day-long consultation was held as part of a plan to invite NSW Premier Kristina Keneally to witness the chronic system failure and discrimination experienced by Aboriginal people in the region.

Tina McGhie, an organiser of the event, said the government used statistics and reports to claim it was helping Aboriginal people. But the true situation for the community was as bad as ever.

"They've produced they're own reports saying they've 'closed the gap'. But we need to produce documents, we need to produce our own reports with all this evidence from today and say 'how is the gap closing?'"

McGhie said all Aboriginal people had stories and the issues needed to be known and visible. But ultimately the purpose of the meeting was to "come together and fight this as a whole".

Indigenous access to health care was a big concern. Medical centres and hospitals have repeatedly failed Aboriginal people. Countless cases were told of Aboriginal people sent home from hospital with serious medical conditions left untreated.

There were cases noted in which people died as a result of hospital neglect. In other cases, patients were forced to pursue medical attention after being turned away repeatedly.

Aboriginal medical services in the region were chronically underfunded. Appeals to government departments and bureaucrats had repeatedly yielded no response — leaving many very frustrated.

The education system and support for younger Aboriginal people was also high on the list of concerns. Many said that while scholarships and programs were available, support wasn't getting to where it was most needed.

Again, there was no shortage of appalling stories of children suffering bullying and neglect across all schools in the Illawarra. There were also many cases of teachers and schools failing to relate to the Aboriginal community and provide culturally appropriate language, literacy and numeracy courses for Koori children.

Higher education and access to jobs and training cannot be solved until Aboriginal children at the primary school level are given real support, attendees said.

There was also a workshop focusing on the institutionalised racism faced by Aboriginal people in the legal system — including police brutality and discriminatory courts.

Attendees argued for more Koori medical professionals, more educators who understand the issues that are going on in the community, and more legal aid assistance from qualified Aboriginal law professionals.

Despite this strong need, Indigenous unemployment in the region remains unacceptably high. But this didn't stop the government from scrapping the local Community Development and Employment Program in 2008.

The meeting addressed many general issues of the constant racism and abuse suffered by the community. But the focus was the failure of services and government policies that were supposed to be for Aboriginal people. Government intervention, it was said, was failing to achieve better circumstances for the community.

McGhie proposed that the more than 3000 words of initial discussion and complaints be compiled into a comprehensive report.

"We would then work to get as many Aboriginal people from our community behind it as possible", she said.

Wollongong Resistance member Jess Moore told Green Left Weekly that "many non-Aboriginal people do believe more needs to be done, but don't know just how bad it is".

"Community groups and unions need to come behind the Aboriginal community and really support them in these campaigns."