Over many years, issues of Indigenous disadvantage and dispossession have been brought to the community’s attention.
Paul Keating posed the question “how would I feel if this were done to me?”
Former footballer Michael Long walked from Melbourne to Canberra to meet with John Howard and asked “where is the love for my people?”
Kevin Rudd apologised to the stolen generations, acknowledging the suffering of Australia’s Indigenous peoples.
However, the lessons of the past do not appear to have been learnt. This is evident in the fact Indigenous incarceration rates have doubled since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody; there remains a life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians; and dispossession continues to this day.
Why does this disadvantage still exist?
Firstly, it is because Australia’s policy makers have been unable to answer Keating’s question – “how would I feel if this were done to me?” Secondly, it is because Indigenous Australians have not had the voice, space or status to engage in our system of Government or influence policy makers.
That is why the Edmund Rice Centre, in partnership with the Lingiari Foundation, has established a program to create this voice and space. The program will raise awareness and understanding of the causes of Indigenous marginalisation. The program will focus on Indigenous incarceration rates (which are higher now than at any time since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody) because the high rate of incarceration is symptomatic of the disempowerment of Indigenous people and their place in our society.
The program works to:
- Raise public awareness around contributing factors to incarceration;
- Examine and advocate alternate solutions to incarceration, by bridging the gap between policy makers and people at the coal face of the justice system (particularly Indigenous people);
- Examine and advocate measures to prevent Indigenous people entering the criminal justice system, including a focus on preventing violence and improving educational and employment outcomes;
- Empower Indigenous voices to develop solutions that are driven by them rather than by policy makers who are removed from local communities;
- Develop relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians because there is a link between Reconciliation and reducing incarceration; and
- Build partnerships with organisations and Indigenous service providers.
The program promotes dialogue between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, utilising ERC’s nationally award winning immersion and ‘Let’s Talk Reconciliation’ programs. The ‘Let’s Talk Reconciliation’ program began in 1998 and has involved Australian and International dialogue amongst young people from Indigenous and non-Indigenous backgrounds around peace and reconciliation.