The Impact of Institutional Racism

There are many issues that cause disadvantage in society, such as domestic violence, homelessness, poverty, drug and alcohol addiction and unequal access to services such as healthcare and counselling, to name a few.

Many of these issues are disproportionately suffered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Australia’s history of disempowering and disenfranchising our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders people led to many atrocities occurring, including, but not limited to, loss of country, loss of culture, loss of language and the horror of the Stolen Generations.

In her 2017 report, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Ms Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, said that ‘Stark disparities and social disadvantage persist between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians across all quality of life indicators. Indigenous Australians generally experience significantly lower standards of health, education, employment and housing, and are drastically overrepresented compared with non-indigenous people in the criminal justice system, among children in out-of-home care and among victims of family violence.’

Ms Tauli-Corpuz observed that ‘Government policies have failed to reach targets in the key areas of health, education and employment and have led to a growing number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders being jailed, and have resulted in an escalation of children being removed from their homes.’

‘It is woefully inadequate that, despite having enjoyed over two decades of economic growth, Australia has not been able to improve the social disadvantage of its Indigenous population. The existing measures are clearly insufficient as evidenced by the lack of progress in achieving the Close the Gap targets’ she stated.

Institutionalised racism is still rampant in Australia. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are adversely affected by racial discrimination, vilification and social exclusion, and for some people this can be a constant feature of their daily lives. Renowned, award-winning actor Uncle Jack Charles has been refused service by taxi drivers simply because he is Indigenous.

The statistics are very shocking and completely inexcusable. According to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2011, there were 669,900 people, representing 3% of the total Australian population who identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. However, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people made up 27% of the total Australian prison population in 2016, something Ms Tauli-Corpuz described as a ‘major human rights concern’ and stated that urgent measures should be taken as a national priority.

As of 2015, 35% of all children placed in out of home care were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders. At that time, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders children numbered just 5.5% of all children 0-17 years old in Australia. As Ms Tauli-Corpuz stated in her report ‘In 1997, the year in which the report entitled ‘Bringing Them Home’ was published, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children constituted 20 per cent of children in out-of-home care. By 2016, that figure had increased to 36 per cent, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children being 10 times more likely than non-indigenous children to be in out-of-home care.’

Recent estimates show that an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander male born in 2010-2012 is likely to live to 69 years, approximately 10 years less than a non-Indigenous male. An Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander female born in 2010-2012 is likely to live to 74 years, whereas a non-Indigenous female is likely to live to 83 years. Babies born to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are almost twice as likely to die in their first year as those born to non-Indigenous women are.

The leading causes of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in NSW, Qld, WA, SA and the NT in 2015 were coronary heart disease, diabetes, chronic lower respiratory disease, and lung and related cancers. Tuberculosis notifications were 11 times higher for Indigenous people than for Australian born non-Indigenous people in 2009-2013. In 2015, hepatitis C notifications were five times higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people than for non-Indigenous people.

Ms Tauli-Corpuz recognised that institutional racism in the Australian health system contributed to the poor outcomes for Indigenous people, and she urged the Australian government to back Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander managed medical services. She observed that these were ‘indispensable for improving health indicators and overcoming disadvantage.’

The Special Rapporteur’s report clearly outlines where current policies are failing Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Humanist Society of South Australia strongly urges the Government to consider thoroughly the recommendations outlined in the report. The entire report can be accessed here.