KASAMA Vol. 22 No. 1 / January-February-March 2008 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Urgent reform to Indigenous policy and service delivery needed

Australia has reached a ‘crossroads’ in Indigenous policy and service delivery, according to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma, who said today that modifying the existing system must be an urgent priority for reform.


20 February 2008 — Brisbane

Delivering his ‘Reform’ speech at the Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR) Queensland’s Annual General Meeting, Mr Calma said the new federal government had been left with a system limited in its capacity to meet commitments to Indigenous affairs and reconciliation.

“At some point, as a nation we stopped believing that equality of opportunity for Indigenous peoples was a realistic goal. And so we stopped trying to achieve it,” Commissioner Calma said.

He added that the commitment of the previous government to make a real difference could not be questioned, but they had made the mistake of not learning from their past, and not appreciating the importance of undertaking action in partnership with Indigenous communities.

“The new Australian Government should harness the urgent desire of the previous government to reform Indigenous affairs. Reform is necessary to ensure standards of accountability are upheld and that a clear, consistent vision is applied with a guaranteed capacity to deliver,” he said.

“There are some essential elements to this reform. First and foremost, Indigenous peoples must fully participate in policy making processes.

“Secondly, it is not good enough to rely on ‘record levels of expenditure’ as the measure of progress. We should instead be setting ambitious targets that have bipartisan support and form the basis of inter-governmental cooperation.” Mr Calma said the recently announced Joint Commission on Indigenous Policy provided the vehicle for this to occur. He added that this could be enhanced with support from business leaders, academics, community workers and others, to ensure that its work is evidence-based and informed.

“Once goals and targets have been set, government processes must be reformed and re-engineered to ensure that they are capable of meeting these challenges,” Mr Calma said.

“It is also essential for Indigenous policy making to be based on a commitment to human rights and human dignity. This requires a focus on gender equality, the rights of children and a focus on the best interests of the child, as well as providing recognition and protection for cultural diversity.

“The first step on this road to reform is mutual respect and partnerships,” he said.

This was the second in a series of six speeches outlining an agenda for change across all areas in Indigenous Affairs. The “Essentials for Social Justice” series is being presented between February and April 2008, with speeches available online at: