With the upcoming referendum on the Voice and its main goal of bridging the gap in living standards between Indigenous and non-Indigenous citizens, it's the perfect time to ponder why this gap still exists. We've invested substantial funds, approximately $30 billion annually, for decades, in attempts to close this disparity. Yet, here we are, still facing the same problem. So, what's going on?
Firstly, throwing money at the issue hasn't been the magic solution. The establishment of semi-government bodies with multiple levels of access, such as ATSIC or the current NIAA with its $4 billion budget, hasn't made the difference we hoped for.
As a city-based observer, it's challenging to grasp all the factors contributing to Indigenous disadvantage. However, some things are clear. Geographic isolation plays a significant role. Many remote communities lack essential services, from hospitals to schools and employment opportunities.
But there's more to it. Indigenous representatives have passionately fought for the recognition of their cultural identity. While this is essential, it has led to special treatment by law enforcement, social services, and education providers. Domestic violence, child abuse, and truancy are sometimes more readily accepted, and the strict letter of the law is often relaxed.
Could it be that this acceptance of different cultural norms, combined with the lack of services in remote communities, perpetuates the gap?
Perhaps the solution lies in providing these communities with the same services as those in larger towns and enforcing, rather than relaxing, the laws that apply to all Australian citizens within Indigenous communities.
The Voice referendum, with its bureaucratic approach, would only further separate the treatment of Indigenous Australians from other citizens, and is therefore unlikely to reduce the GAP.
Instead, let's consider something novel: treating all Australians the same.