Indigenous groups tell Scott Morrison of ‘deep sorrow’ at bushfire devastation

23 January 2020

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AUSTRALIA – The “deep sorrow” caused by the bushfires was the first item of discussion when the prime minister, Scott Morrison, met with the nation’s peak Aboriginal organisations on Thursday to agree on three major reforms to the way the government works with Indigenous communities.

The coalition of more than 50 peak Aboriginal community organisations told Morrison of the “deep sorrow that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people right across the nation feel at the scarring of their country and loss of wildlife”.

The meeting “recognised the significant role that cultural burning, led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, can play in expertly managing the impacts of bushfires in the future”.

Morrison and several senior ministers, including the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, the deputy PM, Michael McCormack, the education minister, Dan Tehan, and the Indigenous Australians minister, Ken Wyatt, attended the meeting. It was the “first time in a long time that we’ve been in the cabinet room to talk about the best way forward for our people,” the convener of peak organisations, Pat Turner, said.

Turner said Morrison was “genuine” in his desire to see “Aboriginal children grow up with the same opportunities as any other child in Australia”.

“It is really important to maintain this relationship and for him to continue his leadership in it. We are very happy to work with them,” she said.

The long-awaited meeting agreed to three “shared priorities” over the next 10 years.

Morrison committed $1.5m for a data project to develop regional profiles of Closing the Gap targets to support evidence-based policy and decision-making by Indigenous communities.

The “priority reforms” are to have greater Aboriginal involvement in decision-making and service delivery at a national, regional and local level. There was also a commitment to making sure “all mainstream government agencies and institutions undertake systemic and structural transformation to contribute to closing the gap”.

“This is not just business as usual,” Turner said. “These are important structural reforms so that our sector can be built up, so it can participate.

“The prime minister is listening to those voices and supports the new national agreement being built.”

Turner said the meeting was a step closer to a place “where decision-making is shared, and the expertise and experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is fully recognised”.

The national native title council, which also attended the meeting, said the commitment to self-determination had been the “missing ingredient”.

“The previous targets saw success in some areas and in other areas we saw little improvement,” its chief executive, Jamie Lowe, said.

“How can you expect policies to improve the lives of communities on the ground to be successful when you don’t know what challenges they’re facing because you haven’t had genuine consultation?

“That’s what this process will overcome. We have a lot of work to do, but we’re on the right track.”

Morrison’s office said negotiations between all governments on the new national agreement based around the priority reforms would begin as quickly as possible.

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