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Canberra Today 17°/21° | Monday, December 6, 2021 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Voter trust smashed by broken election promises

“Even I felt a tad sorry for the Greens at just how embarrassing, if not humiliating, the decision to abandon the centrepiece of their much flaunted ‘Building Communities not Prisons’ initiative must have been for them,” writes columnist JON STANHOPE.

WE recently passed the quarterway mark in the current ACT election cycle. The passing of that milestone led me to glance through the election manifestos of our governing coalition to see how they are travelling in terms of promises kept.

Jon Stanhope.

I have both an abiding and work-related interest in Aboriginal affairs and so looked firstly at progress in that arena. There has, to be fair, been some progress in relation to one major promise, namely the establishment of an indigenous-specific residential drug and alcohol facility. 

However, such a facility was also promised, and fully funded, in 2008 or in other words 14 years ago, so the scepticism within the Aboriginal community about the promise being honoured on this occasion is understandably sky high. 

It is needless to ask how painful it must be for those Aboriginal families with a family member with a substance-use issue to contemplate the devastating impact the ACT government decision to abandon that earlier undertaking has, without doubt, had on their loved ones.

Aboriginal community cynicism about the bona fides of the ACT government’s commitment to justice for Aboriginal peoples is perfectly understandable. 

The data relevant to indigenous disadvantage in Canberra is scandalous, but it is the inertia and lack of any sense of urgency in the government’s response to the needs of Aboriginal peoples that’s at the heart of the Aboriginal community’s frustration and growing anger.

An example of the government’s almost flippant disregard of community frustration at the lack of action on issues of fundamental importance is the startling revelation, more than three years after the establishment of the Our Booris, Our Way inquiry into the welfare of Aboriginal children, that not one of the 29 recommendations of that inquiry has been fully implemented.

Notably, the Our Booris Committee recommended the establishment of an Aboriginal Children’s Commissioner in late 2018. In forwarding the recommendation to the minister, the review team explicitly urged the government of the need for that recommendation to be implemented as a priority. 

I believe, as I know do a large cohort of the local Aboriginal leadership, that the government’s dragging of the chain on the Our Booris recommendations is a major breach of trust and faith.

HOWEVER, as far as the breaching of trust goes, there is little to match the decision of the government to shelve plans for the construction of the Justice Reintegration Centre, a major extension to the Alexander Maconochie Centre. 

Even I felt a tad sorry for the Greens at just how embarrassing, if not humiliating, the decision to abandon the centrepiece of their much flaunted “Building Communities not Prisons” initiative must have been for them. 

It is almost painful to revisit the Greens 2020 election manifesto “Listening Deeply to First Nations People”. This is what the Greens had to say before the election: “With a Greens Minister for Justice and Corrections, we successfully drove the ‘Building Communities not Prisons’ agenda in government, which included developing a strategy to reduce recidivism by 25 per cent by 2025, enhancing our rehabilitation framework at the Alexander Maconochie Centre and providing more supported housing options for people on bail and exiting detention – a major factor in reoffending – for better justice outcomes.”

In addition to being forced to reveal, in estimates hearings, that the Justice Reintegration Centre and associated enhanced rehabilitation framework had been abandoned, the government was also exposed as having so under-resourced the justice housing program that there was a waiting list of ex-prisoners as long as the number actually accommodated. The justice housing program is clearly a shambles.

Having abandoned the Justice Reintegration Centre and hence lost the catalyst for achieving its promise to reduce the incarceration rate of Aboriginal men and women to the same rate as the non-Aboriginal community by 2030 I, and I am sure many in the Aboriginal community, await with interest advice from the Greens on how they now plan to meet that promise or if it, too, has been abandoned. In any event, as Emmanuel Macron would say: “Bonne chance”.

ANOTHER government announcement that raises the question of trust is what we were not told by the government about the recent Budget increase in funding for mental health – a subject on which I have of late taken a particular interest.

It is true, as the relevant ministers have parroted, that there is in the recent Budget an increase of about $11 million in funding for community mental health services in this financial year. That amount is demonstrably inadequate and goes nowhere near replacing the cuts, in real terms, to the mental health budget over the last five to six years. The Budget papers also, nevertheless, reveal that the increase in funding is almost halved to less than $6 million in 2022-23 and to just on $6 million in the following year.

I’m sure that no one reading Budget-related press releases or who listened to media interviews about the funding of mental health, realised that the touted boost in mental health funding in 2021-22 is cut in half after just one year.

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.

 

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Jon Stanhope

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