The Lawrence Government has released its Aboriginal Affairs policy, emphasising self-determination, improved co-ordination and accountability in the delivery of services to Aboriginal people and promoting economic self-reliance.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Judyth Watson said today the Government's policy was in stark contrast to the Opposition's discredited assimilation policies of the past.
"Their arguments are always simplistic and superficial - that all Western Australians are equal despite cultural differences, and that all services should be mainstreamed," she said.
"The Opposition parties have failed to recognise the multiplicity of issues contributing to the disadvantaged position and special needs of Aboriginal people that have come about due to a history of dispossession and excessive government control.
"The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody has set the agenda in Aboriginal affairs for many years to come and the Government is committed to the implementation of its recommendations.
"This includes the provision of secure land tenure and providing support to independent Aboriginal organisations. The Opposition refuses to address these issues and has refused to give bipartisan support to the process of reconciliation."
Dr Watson said Aboriginal people had a right to be offended by the Opposition which had failed to provide anything new.
"The Opposition lacks suitable policies, has no vision and offers no hope," she said.
"The majority of the commitments that the Opposition has given in the area of Aboriginal affairs and in Aboriginal justice are in line with existing Government programs or are initiatives previously announced by the Government."
The Government's Aboriginal Affairs policy aims to build on the many achievements that have been made over recent years and to involve Aboriginal people in the development and implementation of strategies designed to redress Aboriginal disadvantage.
Dr Watson outlined the Government's commitment to advance the economic, social and cultural situation of Aboriginal people in a way that is targeted to specific needs, co-ordinated across all levels of Government and which is measured against specific performance indicators.
A State Aboriginal Plan has been devised to increase accountability by providing a clear statement of State Government programs in Aboriginal affairs and the financial resources which have been provided to implement them.
"The Aboriginal Plan is not a political document, but a working reference that sets out the strategies and programs across 11 Government agencies," the Minister said.
"A further 10 will be required to produce Aboriginal plans in the coming year."
The broad objectives are:
· to enable Aboriginal people and communities to be economically self-reliant;
· to ensure the health and social well-being of Aboriginal people;
· to enable Aboriginal people to participate in and manage their own affairs; and
· to reconcile relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people by improving understanding of and respect for Aboriginal people, their culture, history, language and social organisation.
The Government also outlined its intention to regionalise both the Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority and the Department of Aboriginal Sites.
"Regionalisation is important in order to better service remote and rural communities and to provide vital support to regional Aboriginal advisory and coordinating bodies."
Other key initiatives include:
· the establishment of a State Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee, supporting secretariat and regional community advisory panels;
· the establishment of an Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Commission to deal with broad Aboriginal heritage matters such as the visual and performing arts, maintenance of language, written and oral histories and community education;
· development of a strategy in consultation with major interests groups in response to the recent High Court decision in the `Mabo Case' which:
- acknowledges the significance of the High Court's decision for Aboriginal people in Western Australia;
- protects and promotes the State and national economic interest;
- avoids confrontation and advances the process of reconciliation;
- minimises uncertainty, litigation and costs; and
- is in keeping with Australia's international reputation and obligations, including those in relation to racial discrimination.
· legislation to provide for Aboriginal ownership with appropriate leaseback arrangements for a number of national parks with which Aboriginal people have traditional affiliations;
· expanded opportunities for Aboriginal people to participate in natural, cultural and tourism resource management;
· increased assistance for Aboriginal enterprises in terms of business planning, capital establishment and marketing;
· increasing the number of Aboriginal women's safe houses;
· ensuring Aboriginal children get the `best start' by improving access to 4 and 5 year-old education programs and linking existing Government programs in child development and nutrition, literacy and numeracy, parent and community education; and
· continued development of programs to confront truancy, improve retention rates in the education system and to improve the level of student outcomes.