• 'The Australian Parliament should have united today in a coordinated effort to tackle the emergency that is the deeply deplorable rates of Indigenous suicide'. (AAP)Source: AAP
COMMENT | NITV’s senior reporter Malarndirri McCarthy says to Indigenous organisations: 'Don't give up on Closing the Gap, just maintain the rage for equality.' Here's her open letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.
By
Malarndirri McCarthy

Source:
NITV News
10 Feb 2016 - 4:58 PM  UPDATED 10 Feb 2016 - 7:45 PM

Dear Prime Minister and Opposition Leader,

Closing the Gap day is really the one day of the year that the Australian Parliament notice paper is totally immersed in Indigenous issues.

It's when political leaders must drive home the urgency that #blacklivesmatter in this country.

We needed to hear Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbulls' vision for our country, one that inspires and ignites the population to act.

We needed to hear it echoed on the Opposition benches by Bill Shorten.

Yes Prime Minister, it was a respectful start in speaking in the Ngunnawul language, even better that AIATSIS has been endorsed with a further $20 million dollars to be the keeper of cultural knowledge.

But Prime Minister, half a billion dollar in cuts have wounded, in some cases fatally, many front line services across the country. Re-instating that funding would have separated you from your predecessor.

The Opposition's focus on including justice targets and trachoma eradication,  are practical steps on what is a very long and winding road for Indigenous Australians.

But you can both do more. Right now. You could introduce bi-partisan bills and pass those bills, together.

Instead, you are only going to hear a cacophany of discontented voices, getting louder. They're growing incredibly resentful. Disillusioned. Despairing.

"Indigenous people are a very patient people' says Jackie Huggins, co-chair of The National Congress of Australia's First Peoples.

Jackie Huggins knows all about patience. This incredible woman began her advocacy for Indigenous people back in the 1980's, by pushing for the establishment of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

Horrendously the imprisonment rates are higher now than when that Royal Commission began.

But there are others who are very impatient.

Just talk to the organisers of the #SOSBlakAustralia campaign. They've run out of patience as thousands of Australians across the country, protest the closure of Aboriginal communities. 

The town campers in Alice Springs have also run out of patience, as they protest the removal of housing funding from an Aboriginal organisation, and where one community is taking unprecedented legal action over long delays in urgent housing repairs. 

Forget Recognition when respect is totally removed.

Especially with Parliament receiving demerits for disrespectful engagement with Australia's First Peoples on this day in particular. 

The House of Representatives chamber was half empty as you Mr Prime Minister delivered your first report on Indigenous affairs. Such a matter of national importance, was ignored by the people who should be leading the way.

In answer to a journalists' question about frustration in slow improvements to Closing the Gap figures, Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda replied, "yes, Aboriginal Affairs is frustrating".  

Yes frustrating for many reasons.

For such a smart country, our Parliament seems to make the same errors in not enabling Indigenous people to empower ourselves. 

Close the Gap is meant to be bi-partisan, a time when political parties put aside differences to work in the best interests of advancing the lives of Australia's First nations people. 

The Australian Parliament should have united today in a coordinated effort to tackle the emergency that is the deeply deplorable rates of Indigenous suicide.

Where children as young as nine take their own life.

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The Australian Parliament should have united in a coordinated effort to reduce the high imprisonment rates in this country. We know the statistics. We hear them all the time.

Bring forward a bi-partisan bill to the House, now, that will coordinate legislative change in every state and territory, that will assist all people mentally unfit to plead. There are estimates of around 30 cases in the Northern Territory and WA of Indigenous people with disabilities, unfairly treated. Even the United Nations knows this, but where is the political will to act?

Bring forward a bi-partisan bill to eradicate trachoma, now.

And a bill that will increase the number of seats for Indigenous people in both the Senate and the House of Representatives - now.

Michael Mansell has already proposed one that is very achievable. All it needs is a political champion to fight for it in the Westminster maze that is the Australian parliament.

"If you get 13 Aborigines in the Senate, and even if you got one in the Lower House at least it sounds more representative," said Mr Mansell. Even SA Independent Senator, Nick Xenophon agrees with it.

It's an election year.

Who will have the courage and determination to introduce any of these bills now, and act now?

Mr Turnbull and Mr Shorten, the ball is on your court.

Malarndirri McCarthy is NITV's Senior Reporter.

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