Fred Chaney: what is fairness for Indigenous Australians?

Radically new fixes for Indigenous disadvantage have not had the impact hoped, and in some cases have measurable harm. An iterate approach may be more effective in sharing with Indigenous Australians the fairness, opportunity and security enjoyed by the majority, writes former Aboriginal Affairs minister Fred Chaney.

It is unlikely that at any time since 1788 a sample of Indigenous Australians would agree they have enjoyed fairness, opportunity and security.

It is similarly unlikely that any minister responsible for Indigenous Affairs, past or present, would claim as much progress in achieving those objectives as hoped for. The now obligatory annual report card delivered in parliament by the prime minister of the day confirms the slow and irregular progress in closing the gaps in economic and social circumstances.

Any snapshot of the circumstances of Indigenous Australians at any time post settlement will reveal our failures. But a longer view, a 50 year perspective, suggests dramatic changes and progress. Post 1788 saw dispossession and dispersal, denial of property and other rights, attitudes and policies forged in an age of overt racial discrimination, effective exclusion from citizenship and participation in social and economic life.

The history is well known enough not to need repeating here. What is relevant to this series is the direction of travel over the last 50 years or so and the efficacy or potential efficacy of current policy settings.

FREE membership to The Mandarin

Receive unlimited access, get all the latest public sector news and features, plus The Juice, our daily news update sent direct to your inbox.

The Mandarin is where Australia's public sector leaders discuss their work and the issues faced within modern bureaucracy. Join today to discover the latest in public administration thinking and news from our dedicated reporters, current and former agency heads and senior executives.