Winnipeg: The Frontier Centre for Public Policy today released Aboriginal Policy in Australia and Canada: From Handout to Hand-Up, by Frontier policy analyst Tahlia Maslin. The study compares the experience of and policy regarding indigenous populations in Australia and Canada. It also summarizes recent developments in policy in Australia and whether there might be a lesson for Canadian policymakers.
The Australian referendum of 1967 approved amendments to the Australian Constitution which allowed the Federal Government to make special laws that applied to Aboriginal Australians. As a result, since 1967, Australian governments have put in place policies and programs with the aim of achieving positive social and economic outcomes for Aboriginal people. However, over four decades later, the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians is still unacceptably wide. In fact, some studies suggest the gap is actually widening.
Canada faces similar issues in closing the gap between their indigenous and non-indigenous citizens. While Canada and Australia both enjoy a high ranking on the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI)—8th and 4th respectively—their indigenous people are considerably worse off, comparatively sitting at 32nd and 103rd.
“This situation of Aboriginal people living in Third World conditions highlights the need for urgent
action in both countries,” notes the study’s author Tahlia Maslin. “Some of the negative experiences in Australia can also serve as a warning to governments in Canada, whereby if some of the problems faced in Canadian Aboriginal communities are not addressed soon, drastic interventions may be needed.”
On welfare:Rather than acting as a welfare trap, as it currently does, welfare payments
should instead be structured to support education and learning to help people move towards employment.
On education: Australia is in the process of drafting an Indigenous Education Action Plan. This plan identifies national, jurisdictional and local action across six domains that evidence shows will contribute to improved outcomes in indigenous education. Canada should consider developing a similar Aboriginal education policy and action plan.
Other: Genuine engagement with communities in talking about, developing and implementing policies is necessary, including:
• Active and well-supported indigenous-led decision making in program design;
• Bottom-up approaches that incorporate local knowledge within a national framework;
• Programs and policy approaches that are geared towards long-term achievements;
• Regular and independent public evaluation of government programs and policies to make sure we learn from mistakes and successes.
Frontier policy analyst and specialist in Aboriginal issues, Joseph Quesnel, notes that closing the gap between Aboriginal populations and other Canadians will require more than just ‘throwing more money’ at the problem as successive governments have done.
Quesnel notes the example of Australia’s spending on indigenous health programs in Australia which has increased by 328 per cent over the past twelve years (from $115 million to $492 million), yet there have been no significant improvements in health outcomes. “Improvements in indigenous outcomes will only occur once greater accountability is achieved.”
Download a copy of Aboriginal Policy in Australia and Canada: From Handout to Hand-Up here.
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