The NSW Aboriginal Affairs Department should be playing a crucial role in addressing the socio-economic disparities faced by Indigenous communities in New South Wales but they are falling short, by a lot….
And before you dismiss this as mere opinion, it’s important to note that there are tangible goals set by NSW Aboriginal Affairs themselves to measure progress in closing the disparity gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Closing the Gap in NSW
These goals provide a clear framework for evaluating their effectiveness.
But it’s disheartening to see that despite occasionally adjusting these goals to make them more “achievable,” the department continues to fall short of meeting the desired outcomes.
This raises concerns about the efficacy of their strategies and calls for a critical examination of their approach to addressing the persistent disparities that exist.
Central to their mandate is the allocation and management of funding dedicated to Indigenous programs and initiatives. But questions continue to arise regarding the effectiveness and efficiency of these investments.
Are the funds reaching their intended beneficiaries? Are they making a significant impact on closing the disparity gaps?
NSW Aboriginal Affairs Minister, David Harris
Generally speaking, Aboriginal Affairs under the previous Liberal/Nationals government in NSW left much to be desired, but there was renewed hope with the arrival of the Labor Government.
The new NSW Aboriginal Affairs Minister, David Harris from the Labor Party, initially showed promise. On April 11, 2023, I posted on LinkedIn highlighting the alarming failure rate of Local Aboriginal Land Councils (LALCs) and the increasing number of LALCs placed under administration, which he acknowledged was a significant issue and on his ‘agenda’.
But despite the initial optimism, it seems that after a few weeks, the situation remains unchanged.
And while it’s too early to judge based on results, it’s worth noting that other states with Labor Ministers that have been in charge of Aboriginal Affairs for a long time are still struggling to achieve their goals in relation to closing disparity gaps.
Case in point
An email (and follow-up) was sent to David Harris and I CC’d his department, NSW Aboriginal Affairs, regarding a complaint about a charity fundraiser event booking and highlighting the concern that things may remain unchanged in Gunnedah since 14 December 2022.
For me, it raises the question of whether the current system with non-Indigenous people and their sidekicks, can effectively address the closing-the-gap targets, and suggests that alternative models such as self-governance may yield better results.
Anyway, I received a response that was understandable.
In most cases, complaints or resolution processes require gathering additional information to make an informed decision on the matter.
But what caught me off guard and seemed quite strange was the second email I received from Tina Swan, Manager of Aboriginal Land Rights Act (ALRA) Compliance and Government Aboriginal Affairs at the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet.
What bothered me, and you can read my complete response here, was that Tina appeared to only consider Tim Gumbleton’s opinion and the emails he provided, without thoroughly reviewing the entire correspondence and considering both sides of the issue.
But what struck me was the failure to consider a basic principle of asking “why”. Why did Dean state that email communication was sufficient? Why did he decline to speak with Mr. Gumbleton over the phone?
These are simple questions that should be taken into account in any complaints and resolution process, as they provide valuable insights and a more comprehensive understanding of the situation.
If they had applied some basic reasoning or thoroughly reviewed all the available information, they would have been aware that I had previously spoken to Tim Gumbleton over the phone and felt uncomfortable doing so again. That is why I insisted on relying on email correspondence with him, which I deemed sufficient.
But they failed to do so, and as a result, I have little hope that things will improve for Aboriginal people in NSW under Labor and David Harris.
It seems that the same patterns and status quo will persist, without any significant changes or improvements.
Tim explicitly directed me to contact NSW Aboriginal Affairs, implying that he did not wish to engage in conversation with me.
But upon reaching out to NSW Aboriginal Affairs, I was advised to communicate via phone with the very person I had a complaint about, and who had previously been unhelpful…
Stuck in the Status Quo
The deep-rooted disenfranchisement experienced by many Aboriginal people stems from a longstanding lack of trust in the current system’s ability to address their needs and concerns effectively.
Years of marginalisation, historical injustices, and broken promises have left a profound impact on Aboriginal communities, leading to scepticism and disillusionment.
The failure of the system to deliver meaningful change, coupled with a sense of being unheard and overlooked, has further eroded trust.
To foster real progress and restore faith in the system, it is crucial to engage Aboriginal communities in decision-making processes, empower their voices, and ensure that their unique perspectives and experiences are valued and respected.
Only through genuine collaboration and a commitment to meaningful change can we begin to address the underlying issues and rebuild trust in a system that is meant to serve all Australians.
The low participation and voter turnout among Aboriginal people in the NSW Aboriginal Land Council processes are indicative of a broader sense of disillusionment and disengagement within the community.
With a membership base of approximately 30,000, the fact that only 10-12% of members show up to vote highlights a clear disconnect between the current system and the aspirations of Aboriginal people.
There is a pressing need for meaningful change to address the concerns and priorities of the community… but at this time, the prospects for such change seem uncertain under both the current and new government(s).
It is crucial for leaders and policymakers to acknowledge these challenges and work towards building a system that genuinely represents and uplifts the voices of Aboriginal people in NSW.
Only through inclusive and accountable governance can we hope to overcome the existing disillusionment and foster a future that respects the rights and aspirations of all Aboriginal individuals.