Many ingredients are in the mix. Many stars are close to alignment. There has never been a more propitious time for us to make a drive forward to close the gap, and to commence the serious journey of moving towards Indigenous parity.
This will likely be a three-generation long journey but now is the time to make the start. Nothing we have done in the past has been calculated to achieve the goal we have in mind. Only now do we have a connection between the goal we seek and our determination to make the journey towards it.
As we have said we have had many pilots and trials, we have had many alterations of policies that have aimed to address certain aspects of our predicament, but now is the time to pull the whole strategy together and Pama Futures represents our best chance to close the gap on disparity.
THE GAP CAN CLOSE THROUGH A COMBINATION OF STRUCTURAL REFORM AND INDIGENOUS AGENCY
We believe that overcoming disparity and closing the gap can occur through a combination of structural reforms and indigenous agency. We know a lot about Indigenous agency and much of our thinking over the past two decades has been directed towards stimulating Indigenous agency. By agency we mean Indigenous people taking charge of their lives, through self-determination and through our right to take responsibility. Indigenous agency is about practical day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month action in our families, in our communities and in our First Nations. This is about black fellas taking first responsibility for their own people.
Our destiny can only be secured by ourselves. Nobody can save us in our stead. So, this whole notion of Indigenous agency has been at the forefront of everything we have tried to do through our pilots and trials over the past 18 years. We know a lot about it. We have a great deal of conviction about it. We have a common language about it now and there is a common leadership that has arisen through the “new season.”
But we have always argued that Indigenous people rising up and taking charge of our problems and seizing our opportunities has got to be accompanied by structural reforms. It is not just a matter of our people taking responsibility. The structures that our people live within and our communities are trapped within have got to be reformed. It’s not just a matter of human agency. There are institutions and laws that need to be reformed. We have always understood this but these reforms have still yet to be made. These reforms require governments to work with us in partnership to change some of these profound structural barriers to change, barriers that keep our people in desperate circumstances of disadvantage and release us to be able to convert our aspirations for a better life into reality.
One example of a discrete but important structural reform is the Family Responsibilities Commission (FRC) under Queensland legislation. The FRC, linked with amendments to the Commonwealth Social Security Law, enables elders from our community to make decisions in relation to income support payments to community members, depending upon whether they are fulfilling some basic social. This is a crucially important linkage and a completely vital reform. This is what we mean by structural change: changes to institutions and laws.
Another example of a structural reform is laws enabling leasing of Aboriginal freehold land for 99 years. Again, this can enable home ownership to occur. This is a structural reform requiring legislative change by the Queensland parliament. Without it, people are trapped in a no-win situation.
Now, there are a number of structural reforms proposed in Pama Futures which are crucial to enable development to take place. It is through the combination of structural reforms and Indigenous agency that will enable us to inexorably, over the next three generations, close the gap of our people’s disparity.