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'Closing the Gap' Gillard style

By Michelle Harris - posted Thursday, 17 February 2011

"Closing the Gap" Gillard style

Gillard’s characterisation of the problem is grossly unfair to Aboriginal people and demonstrably inaccurate

by Michele Harris OAM


One must wonder who is responsible for the briefing provided to our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, before she gave her "Closing the Gap" speech last week.

Surely targeting a group of our population in a national address in such a prejudiced way is an extraordinary act by any leader.

And Indigenous people know that when the child starts attending school ... when the drinker stops abusing alcohol ... when the adult takes the job that is there ... then change begins.

The implication of this statement being that it is broadly applicable to Aboriginal people - children don’t attend school, alcohol is abused, and opportunities for work ignored.

Surely such a statement is in itself grossly discriminatory.

What chance is there that such crude stereotyping could lead to the resetting of a relationship based in respect? I wonder if other ethnic groups in this country would tolerate such a disrespectful public attack – Chinese? Scottish? – I doubt it. Such a statement would become a diplomatic outrage.


Beyond this, the statement invites us to believe in a characterisation of the problem that is grossly unfair to Aboriginal people and, also, demonstrably inaccurate. Of course we can accept that individuals have to take some responsibility for improving their situation, and making the best of the opportunities they have. However, the Prime Minister’s statement suggests that Aboriginal people are somehow responsible for the absence of jobs in remote parts of Australia, that Aboriginal people are responsible for inadequate and poor levels of schooling in many remote places, and that Aboriginal people are responsible for solving alcoholism in a way that white Australians cannot.

Did anyone brief our Prime Minister on Northern Territory Aboriginal people and their current precarious situation with their land having been compulsorily removed from their control by her Government? These are people who now live without equity in their own land. The legislation that treats Northern Territory Aboriginal families differently to all other Australians, and which has been roundly condemned by the United Nations (see Concluding Observations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination), was passed in June 2010.

The Prime Minister suggests that her Government’s job is to support good decisions. I support this notion too. Who wouldn’t? These things are easy to say, but what do they really mean on the ground? And who decides what a good decision is?

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About the Author

Michele Harris is a human rights supporter and a former director of torture and trauma services in the ACT.

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All articles by Michelle Harris

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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