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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 5 Hansard (5 May) . . Page.. 1425 ..

MR STANHOPE (continuing):

In order to promote this vision the council has established eight key reconciliation issues and these are reconciliation issues that I invite this Assembly to keep foremost in its actions. The issues are: Understanding country; improving relationships; valuing cultures; sharing history; addressing disadvantage; custody levels; destiny; and formal document. Mr Temporary Deputy Speaker, I am sure that all members are aware that there is much to be done in relation to each of those issues.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are as a group the poorest, unhealthiest, least employed, worst housed and most imprisoned Australians. In the ACT alone they have a grossly lower life expectancy - 28 years less than that of non-indigenous ACT residents - and are far worse off in almost all morbidity comparisons, including a much higher risk of diabetes and mental health problems. I am sure that the disparity in life expectancy between white Canberrans and their Aboriginal neighbours is something that, if most Canberrans were aware of it, would be truly shocking to them.

Data also shows that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families earn a much lower weekly income and, because Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families are often quite large, the income must be stretched much further. ACT indigenous peoples spend less time at school than our non-indigenous population and have much higher unemployment levels and lower labour force participation rates. I am speaking there, of course, of Aboriginal people as a group.

Despite recommendations following the deaths in custody report, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are still being gaoled at incredibly high rates, and that includes the ACT. Recent ACT indigenous incarceration statistics show that, while Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders constitute just one per cent of our population, they represent 10 per cent of total arrests. The imprisonment rate of indigenous males is drastically higher than that of non-indigenous ACT residents, and juvenile Aboriginal males constitute almost 30 per cent of all juvenile arrests in Canberra. It is notable that 70 per cent of the indigenous detainees at the Belconnen Remand Centre have substance abuse problems.

I will just move on quickly, Mr Temporary Deputy Speaker. There is much more that I would like to say on this important subject. At the root of these issues, of course, is the need for adequate resourcing for the provision of sufficient services which will go some way to addressing the many disadvantages faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. But advancing the process of reconciliation is not simply about funding. It also includes a commitment to acknowledging past wrongs, to valuing cultural diversity, to sharing history and to improving relationships.

The key elements of the Journey of Healing revolve around recognition, commitment and unity. In the spirit of the lead-up to National Reconciliation Week in a few weeks' time, communities around the nation are being asked to explore the local impact of assimilation policies. I urge all Canberrans to do that and to involve themselves in local events and activities during National Reconciliation Week, which commences on 26 May. In making a commitment to participate as individuals and to acknowledge and accept indigenous accounts of history, we are laying the foundations for our journey towards healing and reconciliation.

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