Editorial: Full picture not conveyed on Aboriginal lives

It is an affront to Indigenous Australians that their lives are almost always portrayed in mainstream media through a prism of what the Prime Minister called "despondency and deficit" when releasing the 2017 Closing the Gap report. Descriptions of poverty, domestic violence, drunkenness and homelessness may be well-intentioned attempts to draw attention to ongoing problems, but they do not convey the full picture of Aboriginal lives. 

It is easier to group "Indigenous Australians" under one catch-all category than to make mental accommodation for a population with big differences between individuals and groups, much as exist among non-Indigenous Australians.

Alice Springs town councillor Jacinta Nampijinpa Price drew attention to this obvious fact in a searing Facebook post, lambasting "Aboriginal middle-class activists" who want to change the date of Australia Day. She said they "come from privilege themselves" compared to the country's most marginalised people, and accused them of making "an even bigger deal out of this than actually saving the lives of Aboriginal people who are living among us now". 

The focus should be on the future, not the past, Price wrote, "so that the most marginalised Aboriginal people of this country whose first language is usually not English, who do not have access to media, whose lives are affected at alarming rates by family violence can have the same opportunities as those who claim to feel pain because a country celebrates how lucky we are on a date that marks the arrival of the first fleet".

The idea of a national day of mourning is anathema to Price. "What do we have to benefit from being in a constant state of mourning? Mourning does not give us freedom, it imprisons us and I have had enough. I bury my family far too regularly and that is all the mourning I can handle."

The latest Closing the Gap report card is cause for yet another round of national hand-wringing. Anguish may be genuinely felt, but it's action that counts.

As the 10-year mark for the Closing the Gap strategy approaches, the Council of Australian Governments has agreed to work with Indigenous Australians to refresh the targets, and rightly so. Additional targets should be considered, for example in relation to housing, justice and domestic violence. Any changes should be based on two non-negotiable principles: that they are driven by Indigenous communities, and they are based on evidence as to what works.

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