ANTaR National Meeting prepares for a busy year in 2016
Aboriginal rights activists from across Australia gathered in Melbourne at the end of November 2015 for the ANTaR National Meeting. There are many important anniversaries in 2016 – such as 40 years of Aboriginal Land Rights in the Northern Territory and the earlier Wave Hill Walk Off that led to the Land Rights campaign; 25th Anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody; and in December it’s 20 years since the Wik case decision. These are important milestones and campaign opportunities. With some critical goals for all our campaigns it looks like a busy year ahead.
The meeting opened with Eddie Cubillo, Executive Officer at the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service. He gave a rather bleak account of the last year, highlighting in particular the negative impact of the policy turbulence and new federal funding arrangements (the so-called Indigenous Advancement Strategy) on Aboriginal organisations supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people.
However, Eddie was upbeat about the launch of the new Change the Record campaign (https://changetherecord.org.au/) that ANTaR has played an important role in developing. The campaign brings together Aboriginal legal groups, human rights organisations, and others in a wide coalition to change the record on soaring Aboriginal imprisonment rates and high levels of violence. It urges a whole of government strategy, the setting of justice targets, and a commitment to work in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, their organisations and representatives to drive solutions. The justice targets should aim to close the gap by 2040 both in the rates of imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and in the disproportionate rates of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and other Australians.
Nicole Cassar, Director of Sustainability at the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, spoke about sustaining the Close the Gap health campaign, noting that a new National Plan had recently been agreed with Government, but that what is needed now is adequate financing of the plan to turn it into a reality. She reminded us that the Close The Gap health campaign is a 25-year program and we are only half way through it, so governments need to sustain their commitment and funding to it.
Finally, Tim Goodwin, former ANU student and Yuin man from the south coast, who is now a constitutional law expert practising as a barrister in Melbourne, spoke passionately about the Constitutional Recognition campaign. He argued strongly for a bar on racial discrimination in the Constitution and removal of the two racially-discriminatory clauses (sections 25 and 51(xxvi)). Shannon Dodson, one of ANTaR’s newer Board members, who also works for the Recognise Campaign (www.recognise.org.au/) made valuable contributions to this session and noted that the Journey to Recognition is travelling through New South Wales in 2016.
Following our meeting, in early December the Government announced the new Referendum Council whose role is to carry out further community consultations as the proposed changes to the Constitution are finalised. Look out for the upcoming conventions! The date for the referendum has still not been set and the exact changes to the Constitution which will be proposed in the referendum have not yet been agreed.