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Australian Christian leaders say government move to address Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage, including reparations, doesn’t go far enough

Last updated 2:50pm (AEST)
Sydney, Australia

Australian Christian leaders say the Federal Government’s $A1 billion Closing the Gap announcement does not go far enough to address Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage, and acknowledge the past wrongs suffered by the nation’s Indigenous people.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the funding, including $A378.6 million in redress payments for survivors of the Stolen Generation, on Thursday.

Brooke Prentis

Brooke Prentis, CEO of Common Grace. PICTURE: Courtesy of Common Grace.

However, CEO of Christian justice organisation Common Grace, Brooke Prentis, says there is more to the announcement than “just a headline”. Prentis says too many questions remain unanswered about how the money will be spent, while the redress scheme does not deal with deeper issues of pain, loss and suffering for the wider Indigenous population across generations.

“We’ve waited a long time for compensation for the Stolen Generations, so we do welcome that,” Prentis said. However, she said it was not about “looking at the headline, it’s about looking at the detail”.

“The announcement is welcome…but with hesitation.”

The Wakka Wakka woman said First Nations survivors still had to fulfil a lot of requirements and criteria to receive the $A75,000 redress payments and a one-off healing assistance payment of $A7,000.

“This is where we need non-Indigenous people to put themselves in the shoes of Aboriginal people. You’re talking about a lifetime of hurt, and how does $A75,000 cover that? Take away [the fact] that it’s $A75,000 going to an Aboriginal person – imagine that it’s your grandmother who was removed as a 10-year-old and has never been able to find her family, was abused in the institution into which she was placed, and has suffered a lifetime of poverty because of this.”

There also was the question of emotional trauma – “possibly from being sexually abused and any other range of things like stolen wages, so it’s injustice upon injustice”.

Her immediate reaction that the announcement was a “small step” on the path to reconciliation was echoed by Anglican Bishop Chris McLeod, the National Aboriginal Bishop.

“While most Stolen Generations survivors would welcome any acknowledgement and reparations concerning the ongoing trauma experienced by their forced removal from their families, there is still a great deal of ongoing compensation and healing that still needs to take place,” Bishop McLeod said.

“It is a good start, but it should be regarded as just the beginning. Seventy-five thousand dollars (plus $A7,000 for healing services) is a very small sum for those whose lives were turned upside down, and the intergenerational trauma caused through the forced removal from land, family and culture.”

McLeod said many of the original Stolen Generations had now died, without any reparations, and the effects of their removal was still being felt by their descendants.

“Good start, but more work needs to be done,” he said.

Prentis says Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are still waiting for a range of actions to help the healing process, including a National Truth-Telling Commission, and for Treaty and Treaties, two core principles from the (Uluru) Statement from the Heart in May, 2017.

“Until we have a National Truth-telling Commission, all of Australia is not understanding why we are at this place. We want long-lasting change and change that honours us and respectfully compensates for what has happened. Non-indigenous Australians don’t know the length of injustice, the depth of the hurt and pain, and the ongoing trauma.”

The rest of the story, she said, was about the lack of attainment for targets within the Closing the Gap framework, including increasing life expectancy, lowering adult imprisonments and the suicide rate, and reducing out-of-home care for children.

“On the same day you announce compensation for the Stolen Generations, we are having children removed today. [Former Prime Minister] Kevin Rudd said this should never happen again and it is still happening. It really does play with your mind.”

Prentis said Common Grace will continue to invite people to be led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian leaders, “to actually hear our response to things like this instead of just looking at the headlines”.

 Correction: Brooke Prentis’ name has been corrected.

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