WIDENING THE GULF

A study, published by the Guardian and reported on in the National Indigenous Times, (14/12/11), found that in Australia ‘Black’ offenders where 44% more likely to be imprisoned for driving offences than white offenders, 38% more likely for public disorder and possession of weapons, and 27% more likely for drug possession.

In the same article Natalie Flower, spokeswomen for Human Rights Alliance, says, ‘Racism explains why Australia has the highest incarceration rates of a peoples, Aboriginal people, of any culture in the world.’ 26% of the total Australian prison population is made up of Aboriginal people, (and Aboriginal people only make up 2% of the Australian population).

The same concerns were expressed by Indigenous leaders after the release of the latest Closing the Gap Report by the PM Julia Gillard in Parliament on the 15th of February, (available at FaHCSIA) that there has been no progress in closing the gap in the area of Justice. National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples co-chair Jody Broun, says, ‘Justice was an area of concern as things have gotten worse over the last twenty years in terms of incarceration rates and representation in the criminal justice system.’ she went on to say, ‘Aboriginal people are 28 times more likely than non-Aboriginal juveniles to be incarcerated, (50 times more likely in WA),’ (Koori Mail, 15/2/12).

In the Closing the Gap Report only two out of the six areas are considered on track to meet targeted goals by 2018, access to early childhood education and infant mortality rates, the rest are couched in spin but little action when it comes to building local culture. Richard Trudgen, author of ‘Why Warriors Lie Down and Die’, www.whywarriors.com.au/index.php., believes that western models of development demand denial of culture (assimilation) . In response to the NT Government’s plan to build a $500 million dollar jail to cater for increasing Indigenous inmates, he said, ‘The Government should be sponsoring language centres with fully qualified translators that can do effective translation and dictionary development combined together with media services, (radio, print, internet), that actually provide education rather than spinning discs.’ he went on to say, ‘If we are going to have an informed group of citizens here who don’t end up in jail, they’re got to have a full understanding of their rights and responsibilities, (National Indigenous Times, 14/12/11,/p18).

Culture and language go hand in hand, you can’t support a culture and deny its language. No where in the PM’s Closing the Gap Report was there any initiative to put local Indigenous languages on an equal footing with English in their own communities and schools. Without support of local language and culture the rift that exist between the two cultures will only widen.

Colin Lyte

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