THE ACT Liberal Party recently released its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy as an apparent step in its preparations for the next election.
The policy is in fact quite good. James Milligan, opposition indigenous affairs spokesperson, consulted with the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community including, most importantly, with Aboriginal community controlled service providers and has developed a comprehensive package of policies that address the major gaps in services identified over recent years by the Aboriginal community.
The package is not only comprehensive but the Liberal Party has made a clear promise to fund and implement the proposals if elected. The policy has been warmly received by the Aboriginal community.
In tandem with the release by the Liberals of the policy, the ACT government has released the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Agreement 2019-2028. The agreement is accompanied by a number of subject-specific “action plans”.
Unfortunately, the agreement is little more than a collection of platitudes while the “action plans” don’t actually contain any “actions” and, unlike the Liberal Party, the government has not committed any funding or resources to address the scandalous levels of Aboriginal poverty and disadvantage in Canberra.
By way of comparison of the two sets of documents, the following is an illustration of the approach of the government and the opposition on the issue, namely the lack of a specialist indigenous drug and alcohol residential rehabilitation facility.
Labor and the Greens have committed to: “partnerships for the development of culturally appropriate rehabilitation and detox options in Canberra for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
The Liberals have committed to: “establish a dedicated residential indigenous drug and alcohol rehabilitation program for the ACT community following the failure of the Ngunnawal Bush Healing Farm project. The solution must encompass a model of care that is developed and approved by the indigenous community.”
In other words, Labor and the Greens are happy to talk about the matter but are not prepared to promise to do anything about it while the Liberal Party has given an explicit promise to establish and fund an indigenous-specific drug rehabilitation facility. If you are Aboriginal who would you vote for?
I also find it interesting that the Liberal Party has launched an election policy this far out from the next election. Having launched one policy, I assume they have other policies in the pipeline or ready to go. If that is the case, it suggests that opposition leader Alistair Coe has adopted a very different election strategy than his predecessors and is prepared to take the fight up to Labor and the Greens on policy.
I assume the Liberal Party might have expected, and I think deserved, more media interest than it attracted for its Aboriginal policy launch. If it does have more launches planned, it will inevitably attract more attention. It certainly has some fertile ground in which to hoe.
Barely a week passes when there is not a report from some expert group or a consultant or statutory officer that is not deeply critical of the government and its management failings. In just the last few weeks we have had excoriating reports about the culture within ACT Health, the management of the AMC, violence in ACT public schools, rapacious changes to the land tax regime and to commercial rates, the wrongful removal of Aboriginal children from their mother and the management of maternity services at TCH.
The nature and regularity of these failings suggest a government beginning to feel the strain, ministers struggling to get on top of their portfolios and a budget stretched to breaking point. In light of this it would probably have been wise of the Chief Minister to have shuffled his Ministry before now.
In particular, the management of ACT Health is looking increasingly problematic and the constantly negative press it is receiving is almost certainly now seriously damaging the reputation and standing of the Minister, Meegan Fitzharris.
She is clearly the government’s best asset and most capable minister and frankly she should have been rotated out of Health before it got to the stage where the AMA is effectively demanding a Royal Commission into her management of the hospital.
Chief Minister and Treasurer Andrew Barr has cut the Health budget to the bone and it is almost certainly the case that all of the flash fires that Ms Fitzharris has been asked to manage are a consequence of a deeply inadequate budget.
While it’s reasonable to expect any minister in a government to take the occasional blow for the team, Fitzharris, as Minister for Health, is seeing her reputation being slowly but surely trashed as a result of funding restrictions in her portfolio that she could not possibly have supported.
Barr, having taken the decision to effectively deny the hospital any growth funding thereby guaranteeing the stream of negative publicity that has eventuated, really should have stumped up and taken on the Health portfolio himself rather than throw his best minister, and only credible alternative chief minister, to the sharks.
Jon Stanhope was chief minister from 2001 to 2011 and represented Ginninderra for the Labor Party from 1998. He is the only chief minister to have governed with a majority in the Assembly.