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14 Feb 2017 at 12:00AM

William Tilmouth: You won't Close the Gap by trying to "fix" people

The right for Aboriginal people to be Aboriginal people was a key to ‘Closing the Gap’, senior Arrernte elder William Tilmouth said.

“You won’t ‘close the gap’ in quality of life by trying to ‘fix’ Aboriginal people,” he said. “You need instead to fix the system of solutions which are repeatedly imposed on all our people.”

Mr Tilmouth said the 9th Closing the Gap report tabled  in Federal Parliament – showing a set of measures including child mortality, employment and life expectancy were stalled or only improving slowly  - was an annual opportunity to change the conversation – to include Aboriginal people in policy-making and its direction.

“With the advent of colonisation, there has always been a contest of space  - space to live, space to be Aboriginal, space to have agency over our lives , and space to maintain our true identity – but this space is diminished due to successive governments claiming ownership and responsibility over our lives: without ever consulting us, without ever talking to us,” he said.

“We do have answers. We know that more of the same will only lead to the same results, of more failure.”

“Children’s Ground is outside of the realms of maintaining the status quo,” Mr Tilmouth, Children’s Ground’s chairman said.

“It is about governments stepping back, relinquishing agency and decision-making back to the community in order for them to have the chance to decide what they want to do with their lives, and what is best for them.

Mr Tilmouth said his view – quoted by Australian Human Rights Commissioner Sir Ronald Wilson in the Bringing Them Home Report in 1997 – had not changed in the past 20 years.

“The mindset that created the policies of the stolen generation is still amongst us. There is a little heartbeat of assimilation in opposition to everything we try or aspire to achieve."

Key findings from the 2017 Closing the Gap Report:

  • Aboriginal people still have a life expectancy 10 years below that of non-Aboriginal people.
  • Child mortality has not improved - in fact, the mortality rate of Aboriginal children under the age of 5 has increased.
  • The number of Aboriginal people finding employment has not improved.
  • Aboriginal 15 year olds are still on average more than 2 years behind their non-Aboriginal peers in reading and maths.
  • School attendance rates have not improved - in the NT, school attendance for Aboriginal children decreased.
  • Only 87% of Aboriginal children are enrolled in early childhood learning compared to 98% of non-Aboriginal children.
  • Year 12 attainment for Aboriginal young people has improved - this is the only Government measure that is on track.  

"The right to be an Aboriginal person ,and be empowered to run your own life with dignity, is what will make a difference in our lives and maybe then we will see the change we need in these appalling statistics", Mr Tilmouth said.

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