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Posts from the ‘Campaign: Combined Voices’ Category

We Joined in a Journey

A few short weeks ago (seems much longer ago than that), PeakCare in association with other peak bodies involved with the Combined Voices Campaign – the Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection Peak, Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Human Services Coalition, the CREATE Foundation and Queensland Council of Social Services – came up with an idea to commemorate National Sorry Day.

This idea involved placing a full-page open letter to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Queensland in the Courier Mail.

I am not about to tell you the words that will feature within our open-letter – they will be there for you to read in this Saturday’s Courier Mail.  What I do want to talk with you about now is the journey we took in bringing our idea to fruition.

Some of the thinking underpinning our idea to publish an open-letter in the Courier Mail was as follows:

  • In preference to writing about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues, we wanted to write a letter to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Queensland – a letter containing a personalised and heartfelt message to them.
  • Whilst addressed to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Queensland, we wanted to make a public statement – one that would be accessible to, and potentially read by, all Queenslanders – Indigenous and non-Indigenous
  • We wanted this public statement to be read not only by our Member Agencies and people involved in the delivery of services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families – we wanted it to be accessible to, and read by, Queenslanders from all walks of life so that they could also be informed about the significance of National Sorry Day
  • We are also hoping and confident that our open-letter will attract other mainstream and social media attention so that further attention can be brought to the findings of the Bringing Them Home Report.
  • As most signatories to the open-letter will be non-Indigenous organisations, we wanted the letter to clearly state that we do not presume to speak on behalf of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, nor do we pretend to fully comprehend the pain caused to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples by forced child removal policies of the past or to understand the best paths for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to take in their healing and recovery.  That is for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples themselves to determine.
  • As leaders of Queensland society however, we do claim the right and moral responsibility to speak out about the kinds of values, beliefs and attitudes we bring to our relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and to denounce racism in all its forms.
  • We have an obligation to stand by, and to be seen as standing by, our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander friends, colleagues and clients in addressing injustices of the past and the ongoing impact of these injustices on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, families and communities today.
  • That is what our letter is seeking to achieve.

A little over 3 weeks ago, we sent out our request to you, our Member Agencies and Supporters, to help us raise the funds needed to pay for the full-page open letter.  The letter itself is costing $19,500 but we decided to set a target of $30,000.

It is testament to your generosity and commitment that in such a short period of time, we have raised around $24,000 – a little short of our $30,000 goal but more than sufficient to pay for the full-page letter and leave us enough left over to invest in other future projects and activities of the Combined Voices Campaign.  As we are continuing to receive pledges, it may well be that we eventually end up reaching the $30,000 target.

We appreciate that for some organisations, the tight time frame was insufficient for you to obtain the necessary approvals from your Boards or Management Committees to make a pledge.  We apologise for this and will attempt to give you more notice in the future.  We were aware that the time frame was short, but thought it was nevertheless worth a shot at not letting the opportunity pass us by.

We also appreciate that for some organisations, more time was needed for them to internally discuss and debate whether or not they agreed with the notion of the open-letter and what the letter represents.  If the open-letter has prompted your organisation to enter into these kinds of discussions and debates, then we think that this is a good thing.  They are discussions that all organisations need to have and we wish you well as you pursue them further.

In formulating the wording of our open-letter, we consulted with the National Sorry Day Committee and the National Healing Foundation.

In drawing this post to a close, I would like to draw your attention to the following extract of an email received from the National Healing Foundation:

The Healing Foundation would like to express our thanks to the organisations of Queensland that have elevated this issue and have meaningfully made a contribution to our national debate, keeping the apology alive as we all strive to address the many issues that past government policies have resulted in for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We have a long way to go in healing the many hurts inflicted, but this letter will let many people know that they are not alone in that journey and this is not to be underestimated in its impact.

We are proud to be associated with this project.

Perhaps the most meaningful feedback that we received came to us from a member of the Healing Foundation’s Stolen Generations Reference Group.  This feedback was magnificent in its simplicity.  It stated:

Just say to them – THANK YOU!

I am now passing on that thanks to you.  Thank you for your pledges and of your generous support of this project.  I am hoping that when you read the letter in Saturday’s edition of the Courier Mail that you will feel pleased with, and justifiably proud of the part that you have played, in delivering the very important messages contained within our open-letter to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Queensland.

Lindsay Wegener

Executive Director – PeakCare Queensland

Artwork by Nyree Reynolds, sourced from Aboriginal Art Directory Online

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We Need to Lift Our Game.

As Queensland gears up for a State Election, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander controlled organisations are asking: “Can it get any worse for the safety and well-being of children and families?”

The proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care currently sits at 37% and is continually rising especially in that part of the system where neglect and poverty are the reasons behind out of home care placements.

Of particular concern to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations is the low level of compliance with the Child Placement Principle. As a result, many children are becoming disconnected from their families and their culture and risk losing their identity unique to being the latest generation in the oldest continuous known culture on the planet.

To make matters worse, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations are reporting that some contracts to purchase services of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander controlled organisations by the Department of Communities (Child Safety Services) have been rescinded. Representatives of community controlled organisations involved in the regular PeakCare blogs have pointed out that the existing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Protocol has not been respected especially in the recent purchasing of services for the regional Hubs.

The government action plans aligned to Together keeping our children safe and well: Our Comprehensive Plan  are being undertaken while the non-government response to the report has yet to be rolled out across the regions. This is a major innovation which needs resources to build relationships in order to improve the system and strengthen services. No matter what innovative model the government decides to fund, it has the impact of increasing not decreasing the proportion of the child protection system that is focused on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families.

Currently some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations are raising concerns that money has been removed from the budgets of their Foster and Kinship Care Programs. This is further eroding the capacity of the system to respond culturally to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families. It also further reduces Queensland’s capacity to fulfill its legislated obligation to comply with the Child Placement Principle.  Stringent compliance mechanisms and inflexible contracting arrangements serve to disadvantage these non government organisations working to provide quality services to Queensland’s most disadvantaged cohort of children and their families.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child protection services need security of funding.  Their expertise needs to be recognised and supported by government and non government colleagues.  Enhanced funding and resources are required to ensure that the over representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in our care system can be genuinely addressed.  A combined approach is necessary to ensure appropriate resources, support and advocacy from the wider service system.

Together keeping our children safe and well: Our Comprehensive Plan is just a beginning and should be the focus for improved purchasing decisions by any incoming government. The Blueprint for implementation strategy should begin taking words from these plans and putting strong services on the ground.

We need to lift our game!

Carolyn Ovens

Reconciliation Action Plan Project Worker – PeakCare Queensland

Do you know about this?

Do you know who Pemulwuy and Tedbury were?

Do you know when the first and only treaty was negotiated between British colonists and Aboriginal people and what became of this treaty?

Do you know how many people were killed at Slaughterhouse Creek in 1838?  Or during the Myall Creek Massacre in that same year?  Or at the Cullin-la-Ringo Station near Emerald in 1861?

Do you know when a select committee reported to the British House of Commons that genocide was happening in the colonies?

Do you know when the Queensland laws that appointed the Director of Native Affairs the guardian of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children within this State, were repealed?

Do you know who delivered the “Redfern Speech”?

Do you know when the Torres Strait Islander flag was designed?

Do you know what terra nullus means and when the doctrine of terra nullus was rejected by the High Court of Australia?

Do you know when the Bringing Them Home Report was tabled in Federal Parliament?

Answers to all of these questions are important in gaining at least some level of awareness of the history and legacy of Government policies in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, young people and families.  Without this awareness, it is difficult to comprehend how issues concerning the worsening over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children involved with the child protection system can possibly be addressed.

If you do not know the answers to these questions, find them in this Paper. You may be surprised and alarmed about other historical facts you discover.

Lindsay Wegener

Executive Director – PeakCare

Freedom of Speech or Racist Slander?

In a recent edition of PeakCare’s Enews, “In The Loop”, I commented upon a letter that I had sent to the Editor of the Sunday Mail in response to an article by Mr Andrew Bolt entitled “Very sorry state of affairs indeed”.

After submitting my letter to the Editor, a finding was brought down by Federal Court Justice Mordecai Bromberg that Mr Bolt had breached the Racial Discrimination Act in his authoring of two articles published by the Herald Sun in 2009 – “It’s so hip to be black” and “White fellas in the black”.

Unfortunately, the Sunday Mail elected to not publish my letter to the Editor.  Perhaps it was thought that the story had now moved on.  It would seem that instead of sparking further debate about the racist vilification so often experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, Justice Bromberg’s decision mostly raised the ire of journalists concerned about the implications of this decision in regard to freedom of speech and the rights of columnists (and others) to express an opinion.

So let’s go with the flow and talk about that for a while.

In her Courier Mail article entitled “Bolt decision has a chilling effect”, Ms Madonna King described Mr Bolt as someone who “can be offensive and his comments cruel; the language he uses sometime inflammatory and his arguments often skewed to give evidence to those ideologies his supporters crave and his critics loathe”.  Despite this, Ms King nevertheless argues that there are “dangerous consequences” arising from Justice Bromberg’s decision that “might impact on your right to say what you think and ask legitimate questions about issues of public interest”.

Similar sentiments were expressed by Mr David Penbarthy in his Sunday Mail article, “Poor law makes a martyr of Bolt” in which he vigorously stated his disagreement with “what Andrew Bolt says”, but just as vigorously defended “his right to say it”.

Whilst fully respecting the views of both Ms King and Mr Penbarthy concerning the worth of the opinions often expressed by Mr Bolt and also acknowledging their concerns about and commitment to “freedom of speech”, there must surely be a line drawn that distinguishes between the right to freely question, debate and express opinion and the ability to promote opinion based on an untruthful representation of facts or distortions of the truth.

Is this not what Justice Bromberg did?  In accordance with the law, he clearly drew that line and reached a determination that Mr Bolt had indeed crossed that line.

This appears to also be the opinion formed by Mr Des Houghton in his Courier Mail article, “Even free speech comes at a price” in which he concluded that “freedom of the speech doesn’t give anyone the right to break the law” and “the best defence of free speech is to curb its excesses”.

Notwithstanding the complexity and importance of the debates that must occur from time to time about freedom of speech, it is unfortunate that this debate has, in many ways, served as a distraction from fully debating and addressing the content of Mr Bolt’s articles.

For as long as Mr Bolt chooses to practise his style of journalism and elects to mis-represent facts and distort the truth concerning the injustices that have been, and continue to be, experienced  by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, we must all be prepared to also claim our rights to freedom of speech and publicly state our rejection of his views.

As called for by Mr Bolt himself in his article “Very sorry state of affairs indeed”, let the truth be told.  As evidenced by Justice Bromberg’s findings, these truths are far removed from the opinions Mr Bolt has been seeking to promote.

Lindsay Wegener

Executive Director, PeakCare Queensland

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

“Whiteness in a racist, corporate controlled society is like having the image of an American Express Card. . . . stamped on one’s face: immediately you are “universally accepted.”   — Manning Marable

 A while ago, my good friend and colleague, Di Harvey from the Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection Peak gave me a copy of an essay to read that she thought I would enjoy.  She was right – and like all good things that should be passed forward, I think that I should provide of a copy of this essay to you – but not yet!

The essay is entitled “Unpacking my knapsack of invisible white privilege” and was written by Peggy McIntosh.  Within this essay, Ms McIntosh delves into her “knapsack” to pull out and identify various aspects of her daily life where she enjoys certain “privileges” as a white woman living in America that are not available to indigenous or Black Americans.

Before reading those privileges declared by Ms McIntosh, it may be useful for the non-Indigenous readers of this post to similarly reflect on, identify and list those aspects of our daily lives where we enjoy certain privileges that are not readily accessible to our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues, friends and clients of our services.  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers of this post will, no doubt, also be acutely aware of those privileges enjoyed by members of a dominant white culture that are not readily accessible to them and may also wish to record these from their perspective.

Ms McIntosh has listed 50 items.  Given that this represents the thoughts of one woman only, I would think that together, we should easily be able to identify and record at least 100 “privileges”.

To get the ball rolling, I have listed 5 of the “privileges” identified by Ms McIntosh within her essay.  Your challenge is to add to this list.  This may be as a result of your personal reflection or you may also wish to undertake this exercise as a workgroup within your respective organisations.

If you have not already lodged a pledge in support of the Combined Voices Initiative you may like to commit to undertaking this exercise as a part of your pledge.  Click Here

Periodically, we will re-visit the list that is being generated, provide you with a copy of Ms McIntosh‘s essay and encourage further reflection about any lessons being learned.  Here are the first five “privileges” identified by Ms McIntosh.

1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.

3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.

4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbours in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.

5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

Lindsay Wegener – Executive Director, PeakCare

 

UPDATE – 5th October 2011

So far, 16 statements have been added to the original 5, adding up to a total of 21 in all.  This is still a long way off 100!

The following lists a further 10 statements taken from Ms McIntosh’s essay.  This will raise the count to around 30 and leaves you with the job of identifying a further 70.

  1. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
  2. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my colour made it what it is.
  3. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
  4. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.
  5. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.
  6. I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person’s voice in a group in which s/he is the only member of his/her race.
  7. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.
  8. Whether I use cheques, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin colour not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
  9. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
  10. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.

Please add your reflections and list those aspects of your daily life where you enjoy certain privileges that are not readily accessible to your Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues, friends and clients of your service.

Lindsay Wegener – Executive Director, PeakCare

 

Combined Voices Campaign Continues!

The story of Combined Voices

Combined Voices is the story of a small group of people coming together to express their alarm about the increasingly high rate of over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people within Queensland’s child protection system.

It is the story of a small band of people joining together to share their grave concerns about the poor outcomes that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people within our State continue to experience in relation to their safety, education and health.

It is the story of people joining forces to say, “We can – and must – do better!”

With the formal launch of Combined Voices in August 2009, the small voice of a few people became much larger.  The collective voice of peak bodies – Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Human Services Coalition (QATSIHC), Queensland Council of Social Services (QCOSS), Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection Peak (QATSICPP), CREATE Foundation and PeakCare Queensland – was added to by organisations that formally listed themselves as Supporters of Combined Voices.

Keeping our combined voices strong and resonant!

Now two years on since the formal launch of Combined Voices, the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people within Queensland’s child protection system is continuing.  The poor outcomes being experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in relation to their safety, education and health is continuing.

For as long as these matters continue, so too must Combined Voices.

As a collective and combined voice, we must continue to express our concerns and commit to finding the answers.  If our collective voice is to continue being heard, it must be strong and resonant.

How strong and resonant our voice will be depends on you!

Still sorry!

On 26th May 2011, a post, Are We Truly Sorry,  was entered into PeakCare’s Practice Blogs about National Sorry Day.  Sparked off by racist taunts that appeared on You Tube about a widely acclaimed recording artist and performer – a Torres Strait Islander woman – PeakCare called for our member agencies and others to stand with us in saying that we are sorry and continue to be sorry for the injustices experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the past and that they continue to endure today, as evidenced by the racist diatribes directed towards this famous iconic performer.

What followed was unprecedented!   A massive increase in the numbers of people entering comments in reply to our post – people who were prepared to add their voices to our concerns.  These people included representatives of other peak bodies, academics, private consultants, the chief executive offices, managers and staff of non-government organisations, child protection practitioners as well as individuals expressing their personal views.

Amongst the responses that were posted, comments were made about the need to “truly listen” and being prepared to ask the “real questions” before we can hope to find the answers.

Asking the “real questions” and “truly listening”!

On 9th August 2011, a double-session Combined Voices workshop will be held in conjunction with the 2011 QCOSS Conference.

This is an opportunity for people from across organisations to come together to:

  • update our knowledge of the current over-representation data
  • be informed about the “Together Keeping Our Children Safe and Well” Plan – the five-year comprehensive plan developed for promoting the safety and well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and reducing their over-representation within Queensland’s child protection system, and
  • be inspired by the work that has occurred in Queensland and overseas.

Very importantly, it is about you attending the workshop as an active and visible commitment to:

  • working together at State, regional and local levels in making a difference
  • supporting the peak bodies and others in promoting and maintaining the Combined Voices initiative, and
  • exercising your organisation’s own responsibilities in “asking the real questions” and “truly listening”.

For details of the Combined Voices workshop and a copy of the registration form, you can click HERE!

Lindsay Wegener – PeakCare Executive Director

Still Sorry!

As a part of the PCQ CEO’s Breakfast held last Thursday (26/05/11) on National Sorry Day, Lindsay Wegener gave the opening address, asking whether Australia is doing enough to stop racism. Below please listen to his address and if you would like to read more check out his blog post, ‘National Sorry Day- Are We Truly Sorry’.

The following video addresses the Prime Ministers current initiatives surrounding the inequality among Australians, with particular reference to recognising Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Islander people in the Australian constitution.

National Sorry Day – are we truly sorry?


Thursday 26th May 2011 is National Sorry Day.

Since 1998, this is the day of the year set aside for all Australians to collectively express our regret over the historical treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

This date was chosen in commemoration of the Bringing Them Home Report being handed to the Federal Government on 26th May 1997.

I was recently browsing through YouTube to listen to some music video clips of some of my favourite singers.  One of these singers happened to be a Torres Strait Islander woman – a quite famous, widely acclaimed artist whose music, I think, is pretty cool.

I then did something which I don’t often do – I read some of the comments made by people who elected to review her music.   For some reason, I tend to not be all that interested in what other people think about an artist’s music.  I’m usually happy enough to just appreciate it for myself rather than be concerned about other people’s tastes or preferences – if I like it, I’m not really all that concerned about whether anyone else likes it or not. On this day though, when I read the comments a number of people had made about this particular artist’s music, I became incredibly concerned about what other people were thinking and about what they liked or didn’t liked.

The following are extracts of some of the comments I read –

(Comment) “She’s my cuz! So proud of her!”

(Comment in response) “Yeah OK, whatever, every Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander thinks she is their cousin, sister, aunt or mother.  Unless you’re blood-related, there is NOTHING!”

(Comment) “Go to school mate… Aboriginals are primitive…”

(Comment in response) “You are scum mate. I’m Aboriginal and proud of it. I’m a scholar, I have a diploma in Community Services and a Bachelor of Arts and now studying my Masters.  I feed off your hate.  It makes me stronger and more willing to be the best I can be…”

(Comment) “What race is she?  Reasonable to assume that she is a coon but she doesn’t really look like that.”

(Comment – referring to the artist) “Fuck off whore.”

I often hear non-Indigenous Australians stating a case that we should cease being “sorry” for the injustices meted out to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples decades ago, that it’s time to move on and we should stop being held responsible for the “sins of our forefathers”, that this belongs to the past and not the present, we have no reason to continue being “sorry”.

I am a white man – a non-Indigenous Australian.  As a white man and a non-Indigenous Australian, I read those comments on YouTube and I was filled with shame and sorrow.

I’m not sorry only about what has happened in the past – I continue to be sorry for what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples continue to endure today, as evidenced by the vile, racist and ignorant comments that some Australians apparently have no qualms about entering into a public comment thread such as that provided by You Tube!

After sharing the comments I read with Fiona McColl from PeakCare, Fiona reminisced about a favourite saying her mother often proclaimed – being truly sorry means promising to not do it again.

On this National Sorry Day, can we, as Australians yet claim that we are truly sorry – bearing in mind the definition of being sorry recommended by Fiona’s mother?  Can we say, as a nation claim that we are truly sorry when it is possible to still read the racist diatribes of fellow Australians on YouTube and not speak out against that?

At PeakCare Queensland, we often receive positive verbal and email feedback and comments made by people who read our blog posts, but for some reason, these people seem reluctant to enter their comments into the blog.

To all of you who read this post, here is a challenge for you.

I am a white man – a non-Indigenous Australian – and on Sorry Day 2011, I am inviting you to join me in saying to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that we are sorry.  We are sorry for the injustices experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families in the past and we continue to be sorry for the injustices you continue to experience today.

Make use of this blog post to enter your thoughts about this matter – add your voice to my expression of sincere sorrow.

Lindsay Wegener – Executive Director – Peak Care