Submission to the Parliament of NSW, Legislative Council Standing Committee on Social Issues, regarding: INQUIRY INTO OVERCOMING INDIGENOUS DISADVANTAGE

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This submission provides recommendations for improvements to NSW services to overcome Indigenous disadvantage and close the large life expectancy gap. These recommendations are mainly based on research performed by two of the authors of this paper, Sue Green and Dr Eileen Baldry and their peers. This research was largely focused on human services, housing and incarceration and encompasses both analysis of the issues and evidence-based recommendations to improve services. Despite many previous reports outlining past policy failures and the consequent current Indigenous disadvantage, current policy continues to make the same mistakes. The federal intervention in the Northern Territory is a prime example of what not to do. The way forward in closing the gap is to strengthen Indigenous communities, not weaken them as this policy does. Part of the problem is that Australian human services and social work are dominated by Euro-Western theories and practices and consequently have poor records in Indigenous outcomes. This submission proposes commonly agreed elements for an Indigenous social framework. In addition, several vicious cycles are in motion and underpin the life expectancy gap. One of these is the unrelenting criminalisation of and systemic discrimination against Indigenous peoples in, and lack of appropriate support through, the NSW criminal justice and prison systems. This compounds Indigenous disadvantage in NSW. A government framework for social, agency and family support is needed to avoid the cycle of incarceration. Another vicious cycle is that of homelessness and disadvantage. Many suggestions to improve support for the homelessness and stop the cycle are attached in the findings from a related research project. Reference is also made to mental health problems facing Indigenous Australians and the scarcity of policy and resources to address the issue. International research supports national findings that sovereignty matters. ‘When Native nations make their own decisions about what development approaches to take, they consistently out-perform external decision makers…’ on a wide range of policy areas (Harvard University 2003-2004). A Commonwealth analysis of ‘things that work’ supports this view by including the following in their list of ‘success factors’: ‘a bottom-up rather than top-down approach’ (Commonwealth Government of Australia 2007, p.11). There is no mystery to overcoming Indigenous disadvantage. The answers have been well-documented. With a booming economy, Australia, and NSW in particular has an exceptional opportunity to make this a reality. NSW can provide the power, respect and resources to its Indigenous communities to close the gap.
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Baldry, Eileen
Green, Sue
Freeman, Heidi
Langan, Sheila
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