Australians Confront Poor Treatment of Aborigines
Ron Scherer, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
A RECENT Royal Commission looking into the jail deaths of 99 Aborigines over a nine-year period has called into question Australia's treatment of Aboriginal people.
Earlier this year, a delegation from the World Council of Churches described Australian attitudes toward Aborigines as "not just horrific, but genocidal."
The 11-volume report issued May 9 is becoming a catalyst for a self-examination by the country. The report, says Robert Tickner, minister for Aboriginal Affairs, lays open "the harshness and oppression experienced by so many contemporary Aboriginal Australians."
The Royal Commission, which worked on the report for four years at a cost of A$30 million (US$23 million), made 339 recommendations to eliminate racist attitudes and practices.
Although Australia prides itself on its multiculturalism, many Australians agree that the country has an unhappy history in its treatment of Aborigines. Aborigines did not become part of the national census until 1967.
The white conscience was pricked in the 1970s when Prime Minister Gough Whitlam declared, "Australia's treatment of her Aboriginal people will be something upon which the rest of the world will judge Australia and Australians - not just now, but in the greater perspective of history."
Although government spending on Aboriginal affairs has increased dramatically since Mr. Whitlam's day, the government today recognizes that Aborigines remain the most disadvantaged group in society.
To the Aborigine, the biggest reminder of this disadvantage is incarceration. According to the Royal Commission report, Aborigines are 29 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-Aborigines. Frequently they are jailed for minor offenses. …