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We need a seismic shift in attitude

By Stephen Hagan - posted Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Once again Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has unequivocally stepped up to the dais and delivered for Indigenous Australians. This time, while on the London leg of his world tour, he made an impromptu, but critically important, commitment to report annually on the results of his government’s efforts in “closing the gap”.
Mr Rudd said that in a modern and prosperous Australia there should be no reason for these gaps to exist.

“Each year we must, as a government and as a people and a country, know ... what progress has been made in closing this gap,” he said. “We should not underestimate in our country the size of this challenge.”

“Each year in the Australian Federal Parliament, on the first working day, we will mark that with a prime ministerial statement reporting progress on closing the gap in life expectancy, closing the gap in terms of infant mortality and closing the gap on literacy and numeracy outcomes,” he said.


During my time as an avid follower of federal politics I’ve heard a lot of grandiose promises by Indigenous Affairs Ministers of all political persuasions on how they propose to improve the livelihood of Indigenous Australians. Many start with the best of intentions and commence their campaign at breakneck speed, seeking to impress and gain praise from their colleagues as the “can do” man, or woman.

Despondently, but inevitably, the party’s apparatchik’s long tentacles of influence slowly but surely reign in their ambitious parliamentarian and in so doing offer up a sobering reminder that their aspirations were not attainable.

But finally we’ve got a commitment on Indigenous issues higher up than ministerial level. This time we have a politician who is not concerned about holding his inner cabinet position on the front bench.

Having gained an emphatic mandate from the November election and overwhelming support from his National Apology I believe Kevin Rudd’s London statement will deliver him positive outcomes that no other Prime Minister has come close to achieving in the volatile arena of Indigenous affairs.

I make this ambitious forecast because I finally believe public servants charged with enacting Indigenous policies of the government will be held accountable by the Prime Minister if incremental advancements are not forthcoming. This feisty politician does not want to be embarrassed by his over exuberant call on closing the gap.

Indigenous affairs - the poison chalice for Ministers - has been placed in the too hard basket for decades and the resultant ABS figures of severe disadvantage speaks volumes of the ineptness of past administration’s handling of this sensitive portfolio.


Now public servants - many whom I believe are totally out of touch with their clients and grossly over paid - will have to deliver. I hope those who don’t perform are identified and moved on from Indigenous affairs.

Personally, I hope the high level of Indigenous employment in the federal public service before the abolition of ATSIC in 2004 is re-established. At present you can count the number of senior Indigenous bureaucrats - who wield any real influence - on one hand.

The Prime Minister ought to insist on Indigenous employment equity (2 per cent of total employment numbers) from secretarial support up to managerial level within his myriad of departments that service Indigenous people.

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About the Author

Stephen Hagan is Editor of the National Indigenous Times, award winning author, film maker and 2006 NAIDOC Person of the Year.

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