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A hand up, not handouts

By Kirsten Storry - posted Tuesday, 19 December 2006

At a recent social and economic outlook conference, Treasury Secretary Ken Henry said Australia would not have managed its current prosperity well unless it took the opportunity to do better in areas of chronic policy failure, like indigenous policy.

Henry boldly continued that the "severe capability deprivation" of Indigenous Australians is one problem area that "might demand solutions that are simply too confronting to command widespread community support".

After 30 years of "self-determination" and 10 years of "practical reconciliation", the terrible incarceration, health, education and myriad other statistics are confronting.


But Henry is absolutely right that, after decades of failed policy action, the future of indigenous policy may be even more confronting.

Yet confront the "inconvenient truth" we must.

First, we need to confront the reality that deprivation in remote indigenous communities is far greater than disadvantage in urban communities.

There is no denying that, on average, Indigenous Australians have much lower education and health outcomes than non-Indigenous Australians. But there is also no doubt that aggregated statistics on Indigenous disadvantage under-represent the disadvantage facing the 120,000 Aborigines who live in remote communities.

While literacy and numeracy testing shows that Indigenous school children perform below their non-Indigenous counterparts, the situation is most concerning in remote areas.

A conference on indigenous diabetes this week was told that as many as one out of five Indigenous Australians is estimated to have type 2 diabetes.


But it is much worse in remote communities: In the Torres Strait, it affects 30 per cent of Islanders - including children as young as six-years-old.

Second, we need to accept there are no "magic bullets". For children in remote indigenous communities who want a better future, there is no substitute for at least 10 years of rigorous school education.

It is good that Indigenous children learn their kinship languages. But they also need English literacy and numeracy.

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First published in The Courier-Mail on November 30, 2006.

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About the Author

Kirsten Storry is a Visiting Fellow on the Indigenous Affairs Research Programme at the Centre for Independent Studies.

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