Once again the United Nations has ranked Australia second behind Norway in its annual Human Development Index – for public health, social wealth, education, even happiness. But if Aboriginal peoples go stand-alone they would not be part of that 2nd rating – they would be 122nd.
The United Nations Human Development Index is a measure of the quality of life across 187 nations.
Aboriginal peoples in various parts of Australia continue to languish in third-world conditions despite Australia powering on as the world’s thirteenth largest economy. The Northern Territory is the worst for Aboriginal peoples but Western Australia’s Kimberley, Western Deserts and the Goldfields and South Australia’s APY Lands are not far behind – and similar with a number of regions in Queensland and NSW.
The Northern Territory township of Utopia, 350 km northeast of Alice Springs, is an example of Government neglect – it is third-world and most of its 1,200 Alyawarra and Anmatjirra peoples languish in dilapidated homes and without the suite of public services that most other Australians enjoy. The United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay condemned the deplorable conditions and described the neglect as racism. Amnesty International’s Shalil Shetty described Utopia as third-world.
Last week the Australian Government finally meted out $4 million to Utopia for housing refurbishments and facilities – this is peanuts and let us hope that most of the $4 million is not eaten up by bureaucracy and contractor payments.
The money was secured by NT Lingiari Senator Warren Snowdon from Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs Jenny Macklin’s $3.4 billion Stronger Futures.
“Vital community infrastructure will be upgraded in the Utopia homelands in the Northern Territory thanks to a $4.36 million investment from the Australian Government,” said Mr Snowdon.
Ms Macklin naively stands by Stronger Futures despite no evidence to prove the Intervention has improved living conditions – in fact most evidence, anecdotal and research, points to the opposite.
“Stronger Futures has a firm focus on improving living standards for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory – in the bigger communities and also in remote homelands,” Ms Macklin said.
“The Government is providing $4 million for the Centre for Appropriate Technology to deliver a range of projects to help families in Utopia live more sustainably.”
“These will include critical work to make housing safer, helping residents to reduce their energy consumption and improving the safety and reliability of the local water supply.”
The work to improve housing in Utopia will focus on electrical and fire safety, water and waste management, and washing, cooking and food storage facilities.
Mr Snowdon said the Government will also provide funding of $360,000 over three years for a coordinator position at the Urapuntja Aboriginal Corporation so it can better represent the interests of the Utopia homelands.
“The new coordinator will play an important role in negotiating and implementing a plan with the Government to address the key areas of disadvantage in Utopia,” Mr Snowdon said.
“We will also employ two Indigenous Engagement Officers to be based in the Utopia homelands. They will be locals who understand the culture and can speak the local language.
“I’ve seen how effective Indigenous Engagement Officers can be in linking residents to important services and strengthening relationships between Government and remote communities, and I’m confident we will see the same happen in Utopia,” he said.
Despite Stronger Futures, Northern Territory Aboriginal peoples – 30 per cent of the population – do not enjoy the standard of living that the United Nations Human Development Index report lauded on Australians.
The report stated Australians have the world’s fourth highest life expectancy in the world – 82 years. But this is not so for Aboriginal peoples – subtract 20 years from the Australian life expectancy average for Aboriginal peoples, and in some regions of Australia make that 30 years less off the average.
With education – in terms of number of years of schooling achieved and the standard of school performance – Australians are ranked second highest but that would not be the case for Aboriginal peoples who do not enjoy quality schooling in many semi-remote and remote communities.
Australia has the lowest suicide rate of the world’s top ten nations but Aboriginal peoples have the world’s highest youth suicide rates.
Nothing has improved since the 2011 United Nations State of the Indigenous Peoples report, “In Australia, an Indigenous child can expect to die 20 years earlier than his non-native compatriot.”
Last year a Northern Territory Select Committee on Youth Suicides reported, “The suicide rate for Indigenous Territorians is particularly disturbing, with 75 per cent of suicides of children from 2007 to 2011 in the Territory being Aboriginal.”
“For too many of our youth there is not enough hope to protect them from the impulse to end their lives.”
The suicide rate doubled for youth between ages 10 and 17 – up from 18.8 percent to 30.1 percent per 100,000 – in contrast to non-Aboriginal youth suicides which dropped from 4.1 percent to 2.6 percent.
It was only a few years ago that the West Australian town of Derby and nearby communities, such as Mowanjum, experienced nearly 30 Aboriginal youth suicides in the one year.
Mowanjum’s Community Director Eddie Bear said every loss is felt right throughout the community. “Everybody feels hurt, we all go through it.”
In NSW, with Australia’s largest Indigenous population, the youth suicide rate is one in 100,000. In the Northern Territory, the rate is 30 deaths in 100,000. In the Kimberley, with an Indigenous population at 15,000, the rate is at a rate of 1 death in 1,200, over 80 per 100,000.
And then there is homelessness – In the Northern Territory nearly 8 per cent of Aboriginal peoples are homeless. The 2012 ABS reported that one of the key three groups of homelessness in Australia remains Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and little has improved. The ABS reported that in 2011 alone there was a rise in the total number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – rising by 3 percent.
Seven percent of the Kimberley’s Aboriginal peoples are homeless – the region’s homelessness rate is at least ten times the national average. The State Government cannot even keep a promise to build a $12 million hostel in Broome and instead people sleep rough at One Mile Community, Kennedy Hill and on Broome’s sand dunes.
The United Nations Human Development Index report got this right – that there had been a global improvement in human development led by nations such as Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, East Timor, but Australia’s Aboriginal peoples in the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia remain forgotten.