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Friday, 24 November 2006

Urgent re-think needed on aboriginal policy


The Uniting Church has called for an urgent re-think of Aboriginal policy in Australia by all Governments including the recent trend toward mainstreaming services after a church delegation spent three days in Port Augusta this week.

Uniting Church President, the Rev. Gregor Henderson, who led the five person delegation to Port Augusta, said the visit was a stark reminder that on the whole, the policies of various Governments continued to fail Aboriginal people.

The delegation was invited to Port Augusta by the Uniting Aboriginal Islander and Christian Congress (UAICC) to investigate conditions at the State Government run Lakeview Transient Accommodation Centre, where Aboriginal people travelling to the area in summer are offered accommodation in wiltjas (tents).

While in Port Augusta, the delegation met with representatives of the local Davenport Aboriginal Community, representatives of the UAICC, the mayor and senior council staff, the SA Department of Housing, representatives of the SA Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, the Federal Government’s Indigenous Coordination Centre and local Aboriginal people.

“Although our site visit to Lakeview allayed some of my concerns, it is still troubling that in this day and age, any Government would respond to the accommodation needs of Australian citizens of any circumstance by erecting tents inside a wire fenced enclosure.

“While there are mixed opinions about the Lakeview facility in the local community it’s difficult to avoid the sense that Lakeview, which is located well out of town, was built as a quick fix which gets the issue of Aboriginal transients out of sight and out of mind.” “What was even more disturbing was the unavoidable sense that this issue is the result of a far larger set of issues that are simply not being adequately addressed. While we saw the excellent work and commitment of many agencies, there is still a lack of funding, resources and suitable policies that address the issues of health care, homelessness, employment and alcohol and drug addiction.”

Rev. Henderson said the delegation was also deeply concerned at recent moves by the State and Federal Governments to bring specialised Aboriginal services within mainstream services and policies.

“We heard first hand about the effects of the closure of the Indigenous Housing Department in South Australia and the imminent withdrawal by the Federal Government of the Community Development Employment Program and the cessation of funding of municipal services in Aboriginal communities like Davenport.

“By mainstreaming services and support for Aboriginal people in this way we run the risk of further marginalising their voices and making it harder for Governments to provide appropriate and effective support on the ground. I urge all Governments to slow down and consult with Aboriginal people to see if these policies are really going to improve services and ensure their voices are heard when decisions are made which affect them. Otherwise, I fear the result will be a further set-back to the possibility of reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians."

A report on the trip, including recommendations for both Governments and the Uniting Church will now be prepared.


Media Contact: Gavin Melvin, Manager, National Media and Communication – 0417 416 674