It is a fact that on average indigenous Australians have been disadvantaged in the delivery of health care needs; social reformists have offered a better means of health care delivery through forming a treaty with the aborigines. However, a treaty may not be something that all Australians would aspire for because of the implications it might bring. This paper provides a background to the state of aboriginal Australians and why a treaty is important and why it is opposed.
Australians have long been the subject of criticisms due to its non-existent and ill-fated legislations and projects for its indigenous people. When the rest of the world was working towards recognizing and honoring the indigenous people of their own countries and paying tribute to them by passing laws that would preserve their survival and culture, Australia had lagged behind (Langton, 1999, p. 23). In fact, not until 1992 did Australia revoked their assumption that when settlers and colonizers came to the new land, there was no one to conquer and hence the land was naturally theirs to cultivate and own.
This has been the ruling principle for the justification of non-indigenous Australians right to govern the land. As such, the earlier attitude towards aborigines was non-existence, colonization, segregation, integration and the present term is reconciliation and mainstreaming (Gascoigne, 2002, p. 167). At present, the delivery of basic services such as health care is under the mutual responsibility clause.
It means that all Australians, aborigines and non-aborigines have to be responsible for their own immediate health needs, as such the need for hospitalization, treatment and care can be provided by the government granting that the citizen will seek government aid. It is not the responsibility of the government to go out and look for those who need health care. The Australian government had experimented with a number of delivery methods and none had been effective in closing the inequality or in eradicating the wide margin between what is being spent from non-aborigines and aborigines (Morrissey, 2006, p. 49).
A proposal for a treaty had been suggested as an answer to the ever pressing need of the aborigines for better health services. The problem at the moment is that popular sentiment is not amicable to a treaty and this sentiment is brought about by the century-old assumption of divine right to the lands of Australia. Along the course of history, the Australian government had tried to draw up laws and implement programs that would acculturate the aborigines to the non-aboriginal Australians way of life.
The intention was to convince the aborigines to embrace the culture, the laws, the traditions and the way of life of the white Australians rather than to answer the needs of aboriginal Australians for basic human rights and health care. The underlying assumption for this objective was that the aborigines are of a lesser race, is lowly, dumb and uncivilized (Gascoigne, 2002, p. 157). They believed that aborigines was in no position to govern themselves and that they were devoid of any morals and do not respect the state.
As the non-indigenous Australians explored, expanded, cultivated the lands, they built cities and structures from the land that aborigines existed upon. In the 19th century, during the enlightenment period, the state was forced to deal with the aborigine problem and sought to use missionaries to convert the aborigines, but all efforts failed due to the lack of support and the lack of sincerity in the part of the state to help the aborigines. After some years, the state ordered another measure to ease the concern of moralists over the plight of the aborigines through segregation and reserves.
This had been a sad part in the history of the aboriginal Australians, their children was forcibly removed from their own homes; some were imprisoned in reservation communities and was forced to live in despicable conditions and substandard housing (Brennan, et. al. , 2005, p. 59). The goal of the government was to rid the aborigines of their ways. As such, the program if not short of racial cleansing was inhuman and was a complete disregard of the richness of the culture of the aborigines.
Instead of giving the aborigines access to the services of the government, the government denied the aborigines equal rights to basic services and liberties by forcing the aborigines to stay in the reservation areas and the segregation of aborigines. There were establishments, schools and institutions that denied access or services to aborigines. After the high incidence of frontier violence, the government realized that the aborigines were revolting against the governments move to subdue them.
Hence, with the influence of the academic scholars in anthropology and the studies of aboriginal culture, and the pressure from the international community about the states responsibility to provide for the needs of the indigenous people (Brennan, et. al. , 2005, p. 64), the Australian state created a body to specifically represent the aboriginal people and through which various services and programmes were managed. The rest of the world was mandated by the United Nations to provide measures to eradicate the incidence of racial discriminatory practices, and Australia was a signatory and complied with the creation of ATSIC (Sanders, 2002, p. ).
With the existence of the ATSIC, better services were given to the aborigines, and improved recognition of their rights to the land that they occupy and civil society became more aware of the plight of the aborigines. Some form of recognition was given the aboriginal people in terms of promoting their culture, music and arts through indigenous culture projects. The ATSIC also represented the aboriginal people in all bodies that directly decided on the welfare of the aboriginal people (Sanders, 2002, p. 9). The ATSIC provided the vehicle with which the government could reach out to the aborigines and where funding was channeled.
Recently, there was a move to dismantle the body and to be replaced by a new agency. However, with the new administration, the ATSIC has been abolished and it said that no replacement was in the offing. Instead, the government disposed of the delivery of services through the departments concerned with that service. It is the goal of the government to mainstream the aborigine services. By mainstreaming, it meant returning the delivery of health services to the official agencies and that aborigines had to coordinate with that agency (Rowse, 2006, p. 170).
Many have expressed their concerns over the present move because it was understood to be a return to the old ways of denying aborigines basic services. Even with the ATSIC the aboriginal Australians had been disadvantaged in the provisions of quality healthcare compared to the non-aboriginal Australians. Health economists have reported that on average aboriginal Australians have lesser health expenditures but have greater health care needs (Mooney, 2003, p. 11). With the move to localize and departmentalize the delivery of services to the aborigines, the concern over its efficacy is expected to move from bad to worse.
If the health services given to the aborigines had been insufficient and lacking with the ATSIC in place, then it would become non-existent if it is to be mainstreamed. Although in some parts of the country, a similar agency the Torres Strait Regional Authority have been retained and is effectively fulfilling its role as the deliverer of basic services (Rowse, 2006, p. 168), which means that the success of the group may be used as a model by the government. What remains to be seen is how the government plans to make use of the information from the Torres Strait group and incorporating it into the delivery of services.
At the moment, this seems to be the least priority because there has been no move to generalize the functions of the Torres Strait Regional Authority to the other aboriginal groups. The difficulty is that Australia is made up of states and a number of different tribes who may also have different cultural traditions than the Torres Strait aborigines, thus, the possibility of making the agency national are not plausible. It is important to note that Australia is composed of several aboriginal groups all of which lay claim to their ancestral lands.
Each group have different rules and way of living, some have retained their traditional nomadic life, some have settled into lands and set up communities, others have been integrated into the modern life and continue to work towards a better life for their people. In the past, the aborigines have refused to be prosecuted under the law of the government saying that they have not entered into a treaty with the present settlers and hence have no jurisdiction over their behavior since no white Australian was involved (Hollinsworth, 2006, p. 1 ).
The Australian government had recognized the claim of the aborigines to ownership of the land that enables them to exist and that it is not governed by the declaration of the Australian government as part of statehood. Laws were passed to enable the aborigines have their own lands titled but since some were already occupied by the white Australians, the government ruled that the improvements in the land compensates for the use of the land (Gascoigne, 2002, p. 167).
In modern times, the aborigines have not even contested the legitimacy of the settlers occupation of their land but have submitted to the will of the present Australian government, the aborigines have sought equitable treatment from the state and although this has been the battle cry of reformists, it is without doubt that aboriginal concerns are laced with racist overtones. Institutional racism is evident in Australian institutions, it is simply a matter of an ours versus theirs mentality (Henry, Houston & Mooney, 2004, p. 517).
Even Prime Minister Howard sternly expressed his belief that Australia does not owe anything to the aborigines that they do not have to feel guilty about how they have behaved in the past and their actions in terms of meeting the needs of the aboriginal Australians. He also said that whatever they owe to the aborigines they have made reparations for it and it is time to stop treating them as special and different in terms of government services and welfare (Morrissey, 2006, p. 351). If aborigines need health care, then they must go to the same institutions that non-aborigines go to.
But since, institutional racism is prevalent in all aspects of Australian government and society; it is not surprising to note that aborigines are doomed to inequality and unfair practices. This is not only from the basic provisions of civil liberties but also to how they are treated by non-aboriginal Australians. After the failed attempts of the Australian government to provide for the needs of the aborigines, some social reformers and scientists have called for the drawing up of a treaty between present day Australians and the aborigines (Brennan, 2004, p. ).
The treaty would answer the question of legitimacy of Australian settlers use of the land and it would enable the aborigines to be legally recognized as the owners of the old Australia and one that had been disadvantaged by the encroachment of white Australians. Those who fear the treaty are concerned that it would only put into bad light the inability of the non-aborigine Australians to respect the aboriginal people, to eradicate all forms of racial discrimination and to provide equitable services (Brennan, et. al. , 2005, p. 65).
Besides, as the minister have stated, the aborigines were in no way disadvantaged because the Australians have brought progress and prosperity to an otherwise barren land. There is also the issue of whether it is too late for a treaty after a hundred of years of occupation. The fears and concerns given by those who oppose the drawing up of a treaty is based on the racist idea that the aborigines should not be given the right and the means to humiliate the Australian people because they have done their part and it is the aborigines who have failed.
However, these fears are beside the point, since a treaty is a declaration of cooperation and communication. Basically, a treaty is an agreement between independent groups and it is a meeting of minds, composed of compromises, contracts and guidelines of equal rights and authority and to submit to set conditions for the greater good (Brennan, 2004, p. 3). Since a treaty is a good thing, why is it that many Australians view it negatively, is it due to the implications that a treaty would bring such as the guilt and admission of negligence and racial discrimination by the non-aborigine Australians.
Although the fear that a treaty would only bring greater criticism than actually solve the problem of aborigines is true to some extent, the issue here is the effectiveness of the government to provide basic services such as health care. If the treaty would give the aborigines self-governance, then they are in a better position to deliver the health care services to their fellow aborigines.
If the aborigines are recognized and given the opportunity to govern their own tribe since they are actually capable and have had their own form of government and laws that are in accordance with their culture and way of life, then they have the means of implementing and providing health services to their own people (Heywood, 2002, p. 89). It is due to the myopic view that aborigines are uncivilized that we refuse to acknowledge the fact that this people have existed for hundreds of years because they have a culture that is commensurate to their own beliefs and it is not for us to judge if it is backward or not.
Whether the government accepts it or not, the aborigines are here to stay and with a more active and concerned international agency who protects human rights of indigenous people, it has to face the problem of aborigines. It seemed that with the numerous initiatives and programs that the non-aboriginal Australians have done nothing so far had worked and have given the aborigines their rightful place in the history of Australia.
The approaches of the Australian state to its aborigines are quite different from that of Canada who had given the aborigines dignity and respect by forming an agreement with all the aboriginal people and seek to live in justice and peace (Brennan, et. al. , 2005, p. 55). Australia has yet to make the move for such an agreement. And the forming of a treaty would signify the sincerity of the government to really deliver basic services and protect the welfare of its people, aborigine or not.
There was a time when a revision of the preamble was drafted to include the aborigines but it was denied in a referendum belying the popular sentiment that aborigines are in no way endowed with the same intellect and rights as white Australians which is in fact a very racist opinion (ODonoghue, 1997, p. 7 ). Another side to the argument is that there is no way of knowing whether aborigines would be able to carry out self-governance and would the provision of basic services be successful in this condition.
What few researches there has been of aboriginal communities, has been unduly influenced by the popular notion that aborigines are uncultured and refuse to be integrated into the modern way of life (Langton, 1999, p. 31). Moreover, the aborigines themselves are wary of the governments programs that have not been beneficial or sufficient to enable them to live a dignified life. Thus, in effect there is no objective and scientific account of what the aborigines life are save for the colored and racist judgments on these groups, whether they are prepared for a treaty or not is beyond that of what we currently know.
But there is no hope in not doing something because we are not sure of its outcome, Mooney (2003, p. 12) was right when he said that what we desperately need at this present time is compassion. Compassion for the people who had been displaced to allow us to flourish and enjoy the life that we have, compassion for the plight of the poor, the abandoned, the oppressed and those who seek shelter and safety in this country. The Australian people if not the government should strive to be more compassionate and to think of the greater good than just for the good of white Australians.
Whether the conditions for the aborigines of Australia will improve or not will depend on how willing the white Australians are to genuinely own and be responsible for all the citizens of their country black or white. Equality between the aborigines and non-aborigines will be hard to come due to the tumultuous past that each group has experienced in its efforts to coexist, but the most important thing is for the government to think what is better for everyone, what is beneficial for the greater good without sacrificing the least and the small in number.