Work with Aborigines, bishops say

Recognising the urgency of addressing problems in Australia's Indigenous communities but rejecting a "law and order approach", Australia's bishops say that a long-term partnership approach is needed that respects Aboriginal culture and identity.

In their statement yesterday, the bishops welcomed "the high priority the Federal Government has now accorded to addressing the appalling problems facing people in remote Northern Territory Aboriginal communities".

The bishops said that the high incidence in remote Aboriginal communities of child sexual abuse has been a matter of growing public concern.

They said that their 2006 Social Justice Sunday Statement on Aboriginal disadvantage had already noted some of the alarming statistics regarding the poor health, low life expectancy and high incarceration rates of Indigenous Australians.

"We argued that political will and relatively moderate resources could prevent such disadvantage, and called for positive and decisive action to eliminate these dire circumstances from the everyday experience of many Indigenous people," the statement continues.

Refusing to allocate blame, the bishops nevertheless insisted that "all Australians should accept some collective responsibility for redressing the current shameful state of affairs, and recognise that past wrongs are reflected in present legacies".

But the bishops also expressed "significant concerns" about the Federal Government's "emergency response" measures.

Long-term and comprehensive responses are needed to child abuse and child poverty, they said.

Key causative factors as inadequate social services and infrastructure (including housing), inadequate numeracy and literacy, poor employment opportunities, substance abuse, and community breakdown need to be tackled.

Children who have been abused and vulnerable families need sympathetic and skilled carers, teachers, medical practitioners and social service practitioners, the bishops say.

Community response also needs to be ""respectful of Indigenous culture and identity", and "must be undertaken in full and genuine partnership with Aboriginal communities themselves".

"History clearly demonstrates that effective solutions cannot simply be imposed from above," the bishops conclude.

A Statement from the Catholic Bishops of Australia on dignity and justice for Indigenous Australians (ACBC, Media Release, 5/7/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference
Australian Catholic Social Justice Council
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council
Bishops' Committee for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples

Aboriginal elder tells Catholics to challenge Indigenous injustices (CathNews, 15/9/06)
Bishops' social justice statement focuses on Indigenous disadvantage (CathNews, 14/9/06)
Pope calls for an apology to Indigenous Australians (CathNews 23/5/06)
Catholic call for proper ATSIC replacement (1/6/04)

Bishops, lawyers slam land seizure (The Australian, 6/7/07)
Bishops lash black welfare bans (Sydney Morning Herald, 6/7/07)
Bishop slams Aboriginal reforms (News.com.au, 6/7/0)
Government softens stance on child health checks (The Age, 6/7/07)

6 Jul 2007