Evidence is emerging of how Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander children are falling through the cracks in the government’s policies and programs. Critics of the voice cobble up factoids to further reinforce the bad faith critique of the advisory group.
The curious capacity of the voice of parliament to simultaneously accomplish nothing at all and altogether too much has been the subject of much discussion. What needs to be added to the discussion is an examination of the reality that we are still confronted with and the path toward improvement that we have a long way to go before we reach the finish line.
In stark contrast to the heated debates regarding the perceived pointlessness of such an organization, report after study lays out the sometimes disheartening realities about the difficulties that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are still required to overcome.
The findings of the most recent two reports from the Productivity Commission on bridging the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians illustrate just how far we still have to go to get to where we need to be.
These studies serve as a sobering reminder of how ineffective government policies and programs have been at enhancing the educational opportunities and developmental outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
A devastating figure in its own right, the alarming number of 65.7% of First Nations children who started school in 2021 developmentally fragile is a cause for concern. However, when you consider that this number represents a drop from the levels recorded in 2018, the news becomes even more shocking.
Children of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander descent are increasingly being taken from their families and placed in foster care or other types of group homes. It is not because they are not loved that they are in this situation. The reason for this is that vulnerable families are being held hostage by laws and procedures that were established for them but without their participation.
We are not making significant progress; rather, we are going in the wrong direction.
These statistics are not merely a collection of data, nor are they merely an additional administrative metric. They are an indication of the difficulties and challenges we still face as a nation; they are a reminder of how much more work there remains to be done and how bleak our current reality is.
The study of the Closing the Gap agreement by the Productivity Commission is critical in its assessment of the lack of ambition by governments to act on the pact’s aims.
It was discovered that governments were not sharing power or decision-making as they had stated they would in order to alter the way in which they conduct business with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Permit me to be clear; these are not the shortcomings of our organization. All levels of government are failing to live up to their obligations under the agreement. They are not listening and are instead preoccupied with continuing with business as usual.
They are moving too slowly to remove punishing practices such as the activity test, which still operates as a major barrier preventing children and families from First Nations communities from accessing early learning opportunities.
There have been some improvements, which are excellent, but they are not sufficient. Even though there is research showing that increasing the participation rates in early learning among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities would increase if the constraints imposed by the activity test were removed, such requirements are still in place.
The effects of a child’s early years of education being neglected can last a child’s entire life, yet very little has been done to actually assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in thriving.
When children from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are provided with opportunities for early education of a high standard, they are given a head start on achieving success throughout their lives. They are not only better prepared to succeed in school, but they also enjoy dramatically improved health outcomes as well as have a lower risk of coming into contact with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.
Many people have questioned the usefulness of having a voice in parliament and how it would make the lives of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Australians better. What practical purpose would it serve?
These reports and their conclusions provide a very clear answer: an advisory body, with informed perspectives from our communities, would help ensure that barriers inhibiting improvement in educational and life outcomes for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander children were removed. This would help ensure that an advisory body with informed perspectives from our communities would help ensure that an advisory body.
A voice would be helpful in informing the government about the negative implications and impacts that policies such as the activity test have. It would assist in shining a light on the underinvestment that is being made in children during their early years. Children who are Indigenous to Australia and the Torres Strait Islands need a voice in order to protect their future.
There has never been a time when having a voice was more important. The people of Australia need to be made aware of the significance it carries, as well as how transformative it has the potential to be for our children and the lives they will have. Their voices must be heard, and we must give them consideration.