BY AMY MCQUIRE, FEBRUARY 13, 2012
Originally published in Tracker Magazine.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
NATIONAL: Labor has again broken a key promise to Aboriginal Australia, delaying its inaugural report card on progress in Indigenous affairs for the fourth year in a row.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd promised to make the annual statement on the first day of parliament for the year, shortly after winning the 2007 federal election.
The report card was intended to pressure his government to stay on track to fulfill the promise to close the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia.
But so far, neither Rudd nor his successor has stuck to the promise.
In 2009, Prime Minister Rudd delayed his first report card to coincide with the anniversary of Labor’s apology to the Stolen Generations.
That commitment was again delayed by over two weeks, with the Prime Minister’s office claiming it was held up by the Victorian bushfires.
Following media scrutiny, it was revealed the report had not been sent to the printers until at least two weeks after the apology’s anniversary came and went.
In 2010, the Rudd government claimed it was officially moving the date to a day closer to the Stolen Generations anniversary.
The report was delivered on February 11, a week after the first Parliamentary sitting day.
At the time, Mr Rudd was slammed by both the Greens and the Coalition.
Shadow Indigenous affairs minister Nigel Scullion claimed that it was just the latest in “a long list of broken promises” since Labor won office.
“..This government is not fair dinkum about improving conditions for our first Australians,” Senator Scullion said.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard last year also failed to deliver her first report on time.
Ms Gillard tabled the report a week after the first sitting day, and provoked anger from Aboriginal leaders for seeking to shift responsibility back on Aboriginal communities.
This year, the Gillard government has again delayed the report card. It is due to be delivered on Wednesday.
Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) did not respond to questions about the delay and referred Tracker to Indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin’s office.
Ms Macklin’s office said that the report had “not been delayed”.
“It is released in the first sitting session of a New Year and will be delivered this week at a time when it will be given the appropriate attention and respect,” a spokesperson for Ms Macklin said.
But Greens Senator Rachel Siewert says she is disappointed, and that the report card has become a stage-managed event by government.
“This is the fourth year the ALP will have delivered the report card, it is supposed to be delivered on a particular date and I don’t see why plans can’t be put in place to deliver it at the right time,” Senator Siewert told Tracker.
“The ALP has a poor track record in delivering information about the effectiveness of its policies in regards to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, as has been reflected in their approach to the NT intervention, where policies are continuing and being expanded without sufficient evidence as to their effectiveness.”
Senator Siewert says it is important the report card be delivered on the first day.
“ The Closing the Gap report is a way for the Government to be accountable to its obligation to improve the quality of life of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” Senator Siewert said.
“The gap in life expectancy in Australia has been condemned internationally and is a blight on Australia’s human rights record.
“Addressing this must be a top priority for Government and presenting the report on the first day of sitting would send a powerful message about the importance of this issue.”
Shadow Indigenous affairs spokesperson Nigel Scullion says that it was an important symbolic act that Labor had missed every year.
“It’s symbolic. It’s about saying that Australia would be focused on our first people on the first sitting of each year, instead of focusing on who would be leader of the Labor party,” Senator Scullion told Tracker.
“It should have been marked by the statement. It’s not as if they didn’t know when the new year was coming up…
It’s just another on the list of broken promises to our first Australians.”
Senator Scullion said the focus should again be on whether the gaps in life expectancy and other social indicators are closing.
And he says that if the Coalition wins office, it will commit to the promise made by Mr Rudd.
“We would commit to it each year…. That was a commitment, not a maybe one. They haven’t seen it as a real one. It’s a Clayton’s commitment and the government made the promise on behalf of the Coalition, just as the apology was made on behalf of the Parliament and Coalition, and the Coalition honoured it.”
The New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council* also condemned the government, stating it showed a lack of credibility on behalf of government.
“The gap they’re not closing is their credibility gap – the gap between what they say they’re going to do and what they actually do,” NSWALC Chair Stephen Ryan said.
“That gap is widening at about the same rate as the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians, and it’s no less indicative.
“We all hope, of course, this year’s report will show significant progress in the federal government’s efforts to ‘Close the Gap’.
“Australian taxpayers should expect no less, given the amount of public funds being expended on this initiative.
“Unfortunately, all three previous report cards have shown not only a widening of the gap, but also an increasing likelihood that the government will not meet its own self-imposed targets.”
*Tracker is published by the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council.