Rebutting the Myths

 

What follows are extracts from the book titled "Rebutting the Myths"

Here is an online link to the website where it is still available LINK HERE

 

REBUTTING THE MYTHS - FOREWORD

Rebutting the Myths, produced by office for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs using the most up-to-date statistical data available, seeks to banish some of the shocking and absurd prejudices which exist about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Passing judgement about a person because of the colour of their skin makes a mockery of the Australian idiom of "a fair go for all".

However, in the 1990s many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to experience discrimination and prejudice on a daily basis. This discrimination impacts dramatically on all aspects of their lives, including education, employment, self esteem and personal happiness.

I reject absolutely the view that Australians are inherently prejudiced. However, many are products of an education system which perpetuated discrimination through policy and textbooks. This will be addressed in schools as Governments give effect to the National Reconciliation and Schooling Strategy.

Tackling prejudice and discrimination in the wider community is a key aspect of the work of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, which was established in 1991 with the unanimous support of the Federal Parliament.

I urge all who read this booklet to copy it and distribute it freely, to do all that they can to combat prejudice against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and to make their own personal commitment to the process of reconciliation.

Robert Tickner

Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs

Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Aboriginal Reconciliation

REBUTTING THE MYTHS - MYTH: ABORIGINAL PEOPLE AND ALCOHOL

· By comparison with non-Aboriginal people, a large proportion of Aboriginal people do not drink alcohol at all and, in some Aboriginal communities, alcohol consumption has been banned by the residents.

· Up to 35% of Aboriginal men do not drink alcohol compared with 12% of non-Aboriginal men.

· 40% to 80% of Aboriginal women do not drink alcohol compared with 19% to 25% of non-Aboriginal women.

In the Northern Territory, it has been estimated that 75% of Aboriginal people do not drink alcohol at all.

Research published in 1991 by Associate Professor Wayne Hall and Dr Randolph Spargo found no evidence of truth in the "fire water theory" which maintains that Aboriginal people are biologically less able to handle alcohol.

This is not to deny the obvious problems caused by the abuse of alcohol by the comparatively higher proportion of Aboriginal problem drinkers.

Source:

Aboriginal Alcohol Use. and Related Problems, Expert Working Group Report to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in

Custody (1991).

REBUTTING THE MYTHS - MYTH: ABORIGINAL PEOPLE DON'T WANT TO WORK

Aboriginal unemployment rates vary from community to community. Overall, unemployment among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is approximately four times the national average. The more remote an Aboriginal community, the higher its unemployment rate is likely to be. This reflects low labour market opportunities. Other factors contributing to this high level of unemployment are past limited educational opportunities and lingering prejudice among non-Aboriginal employers.

Unemployed Aboriginal people, like other unemployed Australians, are entitled to Job Search or New Start Allowances, at the same rates as other Australians.

Yet, a huge number of them prefer to work for that entitlement. In more than 185 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across the country, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have chosen to forego those entitlements in order to work part-time on Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) programs for which they receive the equivalent of Job Search/New Start. Approximately 20,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are presently involved in CDEP projects. Almost 40 per cent are women. CDEP communities undertake a range of community development projects including building maintenance, construction and repair of community infrastructure and management of projects which generate community income.

An estimated 11,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are on waiting lists to join the CDEP Scheme.

Over the next three years, it is planned that 60 new communities will join the CDEP scheme, thereby creating places for approximately 4,000 of those presently on waiting lists.

Sources:

ATSIC Annual Report 1990-91, pp 20-25.

1992-93 Budget Related Paper No 7: Social Justice for Indigenous Australians 1992-93. AGPS, Canberra 1992, pp 35, 36, 37.

REBUTTING THE MYTHS - MYTH: ABORIGINAL AFFAIRS IS AWASH WITH MONEY

The annual Commonwealth budget for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) in 1992-93 was approximately $788 million.

Expenditure on the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) scheme and on Aboriginal housing and essential infrastructure programs accounts for approximately 60% of this budget. It should be noted that CDEP is largely offset against Job Search and New Start allowances which would otherwise be payable by the Department of Social Security.

· From its budget, ATSIC provides an enormous range of services including:

· support for medical services;

· water supply, electricity supply, sewerage, road funding, airstrip construction and maintenance, and other major capital works in Aboriginal communities;

· provision of housing;

· support for Aboriginal economic development initiatives;

· support for broadcasting;

· management training for Aboriginal organisations;

· support for recreation initiatives;

· substance abuse programs and other health initiatives;

· and initiatives for young people.

ATSIC's involvement in many policy areas arises out of concerns which have not been addressed in the past by the responsible Commonwealth, State and local government authorities. In addition, Aboriginal people are entitled to receive assistance from Government equity programs as are all other disadvantaged Australians.

Source:

ATSIC Annual Report 1990-91.

REBUTTING THE MYTHS - MYTH: THERE IS NO ACCOUNTABILITY IN ABORIGINAL AFFAIRS

There are few, if any, areas of public administration which are subject to more stringent accountability requirements than Aboriginal affairs.

In addition to the usual processes of public accountability which apply to all public sector spending -- Senate Estimates, scrutiny by the Auditor-General and relevant Parliamentary Committees, and public scrutiny through the media -- spending by ATSIC is also subject to scrutiny by an Office of Evaluation and Audit (OEA). The OEA reports to the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs and the Chairperson of ATSIC on all accountability issues relevant to the Commission's operations.

The Senate Estimates Committee, conducting a detailed examination of expenditure by ATSIC in 1992, commended the Commission on its performance.

One of the first decisions of ATSIC's Commissioners was that Aboriginal organisations which failed to acquit g rants satisfactorily would not receive further funding except in exceptional circumstances.

Some 3000 grants are acquitted each year. ATSIC now produces a budget related paper each August which is circulated by the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. It provides detail of every dollar of Commonwealth expenditure in Aboriginal Affairs.

Sources:

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Act 1989, Division 8 and especially Sections 75-78, ATSIC Annual Report 1990-91,

1992-93 Budget Related Paper No 7: Social Justice for Indigenous Australians 1992-93. AGPS, Canberra 1992.

REBUTTING THE MYTHS - MYTH: ABORIGINAL PEOPLE GET SPECIAL TREATMENT

Aboriginal people are the most marginalised, economically and socially disadvantaged group in Australian society.

They do not receive higher social security benefits than other Australians.

In relation to special entitlements as individuals, there are only two areas in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have access to special benefits.

In the area of education , only 30% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 16 to 17 years and only 7% of young people aged 18 to 20 years, are participating in education or formal training. This compares with national rates of 75%, and 40% respectively. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have access to ABSTUDY allowances from DEET. This has made a major contribution to improving the extent and quality of education for Aboriginal youth.

Other figures show only 50% of Aboriginal children have access to pre-school education compared with more than 90% of children in the wider community.

ABSTUDY is means-tested. Students on the full rate of ABSTUDY receive the same as students on full AUSTUDY (some 52,000 students were assisted in 1991-92). Special tutorial assistance is available to Aboriginal tertiary and secondary students under the Aboriginal Tutorial Assistance Scheme (ATAS) (some 30,000 students were assisted in 1991-92).

The availability of ABSTUDY and ATAS recognises the continuing effects on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of the denial of educational opportunities throughout much of Australia's history. These programs also reflect government concern about continuing disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in their access to education. These special initiatives are supported by both the Federal Government and Opposition.

In the area of housing, only 26% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander families own their own home compared with 70% of all Australian families.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on low incomes have access to strictly means-tested concessional home loans from ATSIC. 'Interest on these loans starts at between 5% and 10% p.a. and increases by 0.5% p.a. until it reaches 1% below the Commonwealth Savings Bank housing loan interest rate. These rates are comparable with interest rates currently offered by public lending institutions.

However, the number of such loans is very limited and only about 359 Aboriginal families Australia-wide, assessed against strict eligibility criteria, took out such loans in 1991-92. All loan recipients pay between 20% and 30% of their gross income in loan repayments. Some 97 per cent of borrowers meet their monthly repayments.

There are also two cases where Aboriginal people had access to specialist services, ie Aboriginal legal and medical services. A separate section of this booklet deals with these services (pp. 10-11).

Sources:

ATSIC Annual Report 1990-91, pp 29-32.

1992-93 Budget Related Paper No 7: Social Justice for Indigenous Australians 1992-93. AGPS, Canberra 1992, pp44, 45.

REBUTTING THE MYTHS - MYTH: SEPARATE ABORIGINAL SERVICES PROVIDE SPECIAL PRIVILEGES

Specialised medical and legal service organisations provide the most accessible and appropriate services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander in two areas of chronic disadvantage. These organisations provide services which are, in the main, taken for granted by non-Aboriginal Australians.

Aboriginal Medical Services

· Life expectancy among Aboriginal women is up to 15 years less than for Australian women generally; life expectancy for Aboriginal men is up to 22 years less than for Australian men generally.

· More than one in ten Aboriginal people suffer from diabetes.

· Aboriginal infant mortality is still more than 2 times higher than that for other Australian children.

· The incidence of trachoma among Aboriginal children, although decreasing, is still around 20 times higher than for other Australians.

While the situation in some of these areas continues to worsen, improvements in other areas are often attributable to the work of Aboriginal medical services.

· Between 1968 and 1986, the Aboriginal infant mortality rate in the Northern Territory fell from 88 per 1000 live births to 34 per 1000.

· Between 1971 and 1984, the Aboriginal infant mortality rate in Western Australia fell by 66%.

· Hospital attendance rates fell by 50% in Western Australia between 1974 and 1984.

Aboriginal Legal Services

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody found massive over-representation of Aboriginal people at every stage of the criminal justice process, an over-representation which cannot be explained by any innate "criminality' among Aboriginal people.

· During the month of August 1988, 28.6 % of all detentions in police cells across Australia were Aboriginal people.

· The rate at which Aboriginal people are imprisoned is presently 29 times higher than that of other Australians.

· In Western Australia, the imprisonment rate for young Aboriginal men is more than 60 times the rate for non-Aboriginal men.

Aboriginal Legal Services enable Aboriginal people to obtain access to appropriate legal advice and representation -- a right expected by other Australians.

Sources:

A National Aboriginal Health Strategy, Report of the National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party (March

1989).

Report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, April 1991),

REBUTTING THE MYTHS - MYTH: ABORIGINAL PEOPLE ARE INVOLVED IN A LAND GRAB

In the Northern Territory , the majority of the land owned by Aboriginal people is economically marginal and consists of former Aboriginal reserves or desert and semi-desert country.

Former reserves account for most of the land held by Aboriginal people under New South Wales land rights legislation. The only land available for claim in New South Wales is unalienated Crown land which is not required for an "essential public purpose".

Under Queensland legislation, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people obtain freehold title to existing reserves held previously under deeds of grant in trust. Claimable land will be set out in schedules to the legislation from time to time and claims to this land will be strictly limited and restricted.

In South Australia , the two major areas of land returned to Aboriginal ownership--the Pitjantjatjara lands and the Maralinga lands-- are in remote arid/ desert regions.

In Western Australia , Aboriginal people hold land, predominantly in more remote areas of the State, under 99 or 50 year leases.

Efforts by the previous Labor Government of Tasmania and by the Labor Government of Victoria to introduce land rights legislation were frustrated by those States' Upper Houses.

As is the case with any private land, Aboriginal landowners are generally entitled to refuse entry or to specify the conditions upon which entry will be permitted.

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody recognised that the dispossession of Aboriginal people has continued to very recent times and made strong recommendations for addressing the land needs of Aboriginal people. These recommendations have been accepted by all mainland State and Territory Governments, both Labor and non-Labor.

Sources:

Relevant Commonwealth and State legislation.

Response by Governments to the Report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Volume 3, March 1992.

REBUTTING THE MYTHS - MYTH: ABORIGINAL SACRED SITES AND DEVELOPMENT

Any major development proposal must satisfy certain criteria under State and/or Commonwealth legislation. Depending on the individual proposal, these criteria may include assessment on Aboriginal heritage, environmental and/or national heritage grounds.

Since 1984 when legislation was passed by the Federal Parliament to protect Aboriginal heritage:

· 94 applications have been lodged under the Commonwealth's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984;

· there have been two declarations under the Act relating to the protection of objects of significance to Aboriginal people;

· there have been three temporary declarations relating to Aboriginal sites;

· there has been one declaration for the protection of a site for a period of 20 years; and

· the legislation has never been used to stop a mining project.

Aboriginal law restricts detailed knowledge of sacred sites to particular people who are responsible for particular sites. Knowledge of sacred sites is, by definition, not public knowledge.

Aboriginal people's spiritual and religious beliefs should be accorded the same respect as the beliefs of any other Australians.

The spiritual beliefs of Aboriginal people are often subject to public ridicule in a manner which would never be tolerated if it were directed at the spiritual beliefs of non-Aboriginal Australians.

Sources:

Central Land Council Annual Report 1990-91.

Our Land, Our Life: Aboriginal land rights in the Northern Territory, Central and Northern Land Councils, 1991. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 (Cwth).

REBUTTING THE MYTHS - MYTH: THE FREE CAR

One of the silliest yet most persistent myths about the entitlements of Aboriginal people is that they can purchase a motor vehicle and the government will meet the costs. There are many variations on this theme.

In some cases, it is said that Aboriginal families receive a car without the need for any contribution at all toward its cost. False .

In other cases, it is said that Aboriginal people need only pay the first one or two payments under a hire purchase agreement and that "the government" will meet the remaining costs. False .

In yet another variation, Aboriginal children are alleged to receive a free bicycle each -- usually described as "shiny" or "new" -- at government expense. Wrong again!

If an Aboriginal person has a car or an Aboriginal child has a bicycle, the chances are it was bought with cash or on credit.

Aboriginal people are subject to the same laws and entitled to no more (and no less) credit than any other Australian. There is no government program or policy which involves the distribution of motor vehicles or bicycles (or any other comparable consumer good) free of charge to Aboriginal people.

The continued currency of this myth owes much to continued ignorance, prejudice and ill-will toward Aboriginal people. It certainly owes nothing to a respect for the truth.

 

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