When it comes to racial equity — the concept of ensuring everyone has the resources they need to be on the same level as everyone else — Australia has a long way to go. The crux of the issue stems from the fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, in particular, don’t have equitable access to participate fully or benefit from many aspects of Australian life.
When governments and policymakers refuse to address the combination of complex, intertwined facets of systemic racism and injustice, Indigenous Australians are not offered what they need to live healthy, safe, robust lives. This, in turn, leads to continued levels of inequality and oppression.
Below, we’ve compiled a list of just a few of the astounding ways disparities in racial equity continue to impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in Australia in 2022.
1. Australia Is the Only Commonwealth Country That Doesn’t Have a Treaty for Its First Nations People
Did you know that Australia remains the only Commonwealth country without a legally binding treaty with its First Nations People? Calls for a treaty — a formal agreement between the government and First Nations Peoples that would have legal consequences — have been made by Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians alike for decades, with activists claiming the agreement would significantly improve relations between First People and the state.
Around the world, in countries such as New Zealand, Canada and in the United States, treaties are used to increase peace between the original custodians of a country and colonisers.
A treaty in Australia would allow the government to officially recognise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples had a prior occupation of the land, while also allowing for increased opportunities for Indigenous Australians to form Indigenous-led legislation and governance.
2. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People Experience Twice the National Average of Online Hate Speech
Among other disproportionate rates of violence, online hate speech is endured by Indigenous Australians at over twice the national average. The issue was reexamined recently when activists criticised the lack of Indigenous input into Australia's Adult Cyber Abuse Scheme, which came into effect on Jan. 23.
Prof. Bronwyn Carlson, the head of the Department of Indigenous Studies at Macquarie University, said the scheme fails to explicitly link cyberbullying to racism and will likely not lead to any further accountability for those spewing racist abuse online.
"Racism is an insidious and violent behaviour which can manifest in many ways, including online posts that are both random and targeted,” Carlson told SBS’s Indigenous content platform NITV. “If I call an Aboriginal person a primate (online), for example, such as what has happened to sports stars being called an ape, it does not register as a form of racism, yet it is.”
Carlson added that the issue stems back to a lack of First Nation inclusion when forming new legislation.
"Who is involved in establishing the law and deciding what powers are needed and how they will be enacted? I am not aware of any Indigenous involvement,” she explained. “I think we need to work with Indigenous people and communities to see what will work for them. There are also equity and literacy issues — some perpetrators have far more of both of those things than many Indigenous people.”
3. The Suicide Rate Among Indigenous Children Is 5 Times That of Non-Indigenous Youth
A lack of equity when addressing poverty among Indigenous Australians and a failing social system is said to have led to an Indigenous Victorian suicide rate double that of the state’s non-Indigenous population. Across the country, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children between the ages of five and 17 die by suicide at five times the rate of non-Indigenous children.
"We know that Aboriginal youth suicide especially is not solely a mental health issue — it is an outcome of complex, interrelated factors that are rooted in intergenerational trauma,” Jill Gallagher, the chief executive of Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations, told SBS.
Gallagher and the organisation previously elaborated on the ways intergenerational trauma affect suicide rates.
"The prevalence of mental health within Victorian Aboriginal communities can be directly related to the loss of land, culture, identity, self-respect, self-worth and the breakdown of traditional roles within communities,” the organisation explained in 2019. “Systemic racism has been a significant factor in ensuring Aboriginal communities remain fragmented and disjointed and has supported the social isolation, trauma and depression of many Aboriginal communities’ members.”
4. Indigenous Australians Employment Rate Sits at 50%, Compared to 75% of Non-Indigenous Australians
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians across almost every age, income and sex bracket have significantly lower employment opportunities and rates compared to their non-Indigenous counterparts. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, lower employment rates go back to lower levels of education and skills, poorer health and living conditions and higher levels of discrimination and interactions with the criminal justice system.
Education resource organisation Creative Spirits explains that English-only teaching materials, inappropriate context, little representation in textbooks and a lack of cultural awareness are significant barriers to Aboriginal education — one of the most critical correlations to higher employment opportunities.
A teenage boy who identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is more likely to go to jail than to university.
Just 0.7% of all teachers in Australia identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders.
5. Australia Day Celebrates the Landing of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove in 1788
Australia Day — which has been held on Jan. 26 every year since 1994 — marks the landing of the First Fleet in Sydney over 230 years ago. As the day marks the beginning of mass death and destruction for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, a vast percentage feel the day’s accompanying celebrations exclude them, with many concluding that those who do celebrate are, in fact, still grounding their identity in colonisation.
Activists like Palaw man Rodney Dillon adds that it is particularly insulting to celebrate on that date when colonisation continues to negatively impact Indigenous Australia to this day, including when it comes to accessing social justice, adequate health care and appropriate education.
"All Indigenous people have badly suffered the consequences of colonisation. We’ve got health issues, substance abuse, too many of our people are being sent to prison… Invasion was the start of these problems.” he wrote for Amnesty Australia. “We can’t celebrate on that day because even now, more than 200 years later, the lessons haven’t been learned, and the same mistakes are still being repeated.”