Rights and Respect For Australia’s First Peoples
5 June 2017 at 8:28 am
Andrew Meehan is the national director of ANTaR, a national advocacy organisation dedicated to the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. He is this week’s Changemaker.
ANTaR, which stands for Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation, is a small, independent organisation representing a grassroots movement of Australians in support of justice, rights and respect for Australia’s First Peoples.
In 2014 ANTaR appointed Meehan to the role of national director.
Meehan was previously engaged at Oxfam Australia where he lead their Indigenous rights advocacy and policy.
He has played a central role in a number of national campaigns for First Peoples’ rights including Close the Gap, constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and a national campaign to address the high incarceration rates of Aboriginal people.
In this week’s Changemaker he talks about how far reconciliation has come in the last 50 years, what the next steps are and his ultimate goal of a nation which embraces justice, rights and respect for First Peoples of Australia.
What does “a typical day” look like for you as ANTaR national director?
A typical day usually involves reviewing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy developments; keeping our 40,000 supporters informed and engaged in our work; observing significant days on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander calendar; engaging with key stakeholders on the issues we work on around policy, strategy, events and media; and overseeing public engagement events we may be working on.
What are ANTaR’s current priorities?
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health equality – through the Close the Gap campaign; the crisis levels of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander incarceration and experiences of family violence – through the Change the Record Campaign; racism experienced by First Peoples; federal funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services and programs; proper engagement by government with First Peoples across the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sector including taking a holistic approach to addressing disadvantage – through the Redfern Statement group; and educating the broader community about reconciliation through our Sea of Hands program.
Last week marked 50 years since the 1967 referendum, and 25 years since the historic Mabo decision. How far has reconciliation come in that time?
Many things have changed in that time around the level of awareness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture; the rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander university participation and employment in a variety of fields; participation in politics – with five Aboriginal Members of Parliament in our federal Parliament; corporate organisations’ engagement and understanding of their responsibility to progress reconciliation (more than 600 Reconciliation Action Plans in place); a far truer curriculum being taught in schools from what was taught 50 or even 25 years ago; and perhaps less racism than 50 years ago.
There is also so much more to do, and some concerning government failures around working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to address disadvantage. For example only one of the seven Closing the Gap targets was reported by the prime minister this year as being on track.
There are still high levels of racism and discrimination with one in three Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experiencing racial abuse. And some critical foundations for a more just Australia from the Final Council for Reconciliation Report released in 2001 have still not been acted on – including treaty and constitutional recognition.
The theme for NRW 2017 was “let’s take the next steps”. What are the next steps?
The recent historic meeting of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Uluru last week, highlighted some key foundational issues that still need to be addressed including constitutional recognition of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander body to provide a voice in parliament, and moving towards a treaty process.
Addressing disadvantage, discrimination and inequality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should also clearly be a priority for the nation; as should widespread broader education to ensure widespread historical acceptance of our shared history, as well as the enormous contribution of First Peoples.
What are some of the biggest challenges currently facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples?
There are many challenges, but addressing disadvantage by truly working with First Peoples is a big one.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are locked up at 13 times the rate of other Australians; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are hospitalised at 35 times the rate of other Australian women; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can expect to live lives that are 10 years shorter than other Australians. There are many more measures of disadvantage that could be mentioned.
Through your work what is your ultimate goal?
A nation which embraces justice, rights and respect for First Peoples of Australia.
How do you find time for yourself?
There’s always busy periods where that can be difficult, but I try for a work life balance.