Earlier in the year, before the pandemic was an apparent problem in Australia, the main health issue in discussion was Indigenous health. With the anniversary of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations on February 13, came the annual revision of the Closing the Gap report.
The end result was that Closing the Gap has been a huge failure. But if there was one silver lining, it was the Prime Minister’s admission that “over decades, our top-down, government-knows-best approach, has not delivered the improvements we all yearn for”. Morrison goes on to apparently express some cognisance of the racism we face, especially in regards to the law – saying that “communities should have the same expectation of the rule of law, where they can go about their own lives unviolated, as any other Australian, in any other part of the country.” The Prime Minister also conceded that for over two centuries “we thought we knew better than our Indigenous peoples, we don’t. That we understood their problems better than they did. We don’t. They live them.”
As much as I hate when people use the word “our” when speaking of about us, the speech gave me hope. But I also feel that his words may be hollow, so that hope quickly dissipated. The admission that Aboriginal people should be the one’s dealing with Aboriginal problems hasn’t been repeated since, that I can see, so I may be right.
Granted, shortly afterwards, the pandemic was obvious, and all of a sudden, the government had bigger fish to fry. But the pandemic does not mean that everything else stops, and that Aboriginal people can’t still be a part of providing solutions to their own problems.
One example is that of Mailman Law. A 100%, Indigenous owned law firm in Melbourne, who were just assigned as administrators for the Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association (ATLA), which was recently placed into special administration.
ATLA has been reported as a controversially run organisation by Port Augusta’s The Transcontinental reporter Greg Mayfield, and Richard Baker also reported for The Age, that ATLA members were frustrated by how the organisation was run, and that a group of members, were pushing for the books to be opened.
One thing is for certain, with royalties coming in from at least 2 mines, and income from several investments, such as the Wilpena Pound Resort, in the Flinders Ranges, it is no small outfit. According the Annual Report of 2017/2018, the investment in Wilpena Pound has been astoundingly positive, providing up to 72% employment for Adnyamathanha people, and providing successful training programs as well, it was also featured on Ernie Dingo’s ‘Going Places’.
But that particular investment is not without concern from community members, with Adnyamathanha woman, and experienced accountant, Sally Marsh saying, “a lot of our families don’t agree with how ATLA has been run in the past”. Marsh also says that “Members don’t understand how we ended up investing in the Wilpena Pound Resort with IBA, that’s a pretty big investment that’s been made on our behalf, and I think that’s something we need to fully understand. We need to fully understand our financial situation.”
But the appointment of Aboriginal lawyers, in Bevan Mailman and Brian Bero as administrators, gives Marsh, who is concerned about the minimal level of transparency between ATLA and community members, hope. She says “I think that’s [Mailman and Bero’s appointment] a pretty positive step. And now that ATLA has been put into administration is a positive step. It can only lead to increased transparency about what has been going on”. Marsh says that, “by ORIC (Office of Registrar of Indigenous Corporations) placing an Aboriginal legal firm as administrators I think is very good because it now gives all of our Aboriginal people the opportunity to be talking to another Aboriginal person about what the problem is, rather than have to talk a non-Aboriginal person because that’s a lot harder, and the results are different.”
While Marsh has not stated any wrong-doing has occurred, she has spoken to Mr. Mailman, saying “this is an opportunity to really open things up and have a look at what’s been happening in terms of the financial management and depending on the amount of money that is involved, maybe more can be done.”
Although the negative connotations are there in discussions about Aboriginal organisations, this is a huge opportunity to show the country that any real or perceived ‘problems’ in our organisations, can be dealt with by Aboriginal people, which is exactly how Scott Morrison said it should be done, on February 13, 2020.
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