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"Ill-informed and insulting": Victoria's peak Indigenous health body criticises Jacinta Price's comments on colonialism

Dechlan Brennan -

Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) has become the latest Aboriginal organisation to call out Jacinta Nampijinpa Price's view that there are no ongoing negative impacts of colonisation.

VACCHO - the peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing in Victoria, "vehemently" rejected Senator Price's comments, saying her comments were not factual.

"VACCHO firmly maintains that the ongoing negative impacts of colonisation on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are undeniable and deeply rooted in our country's colonial history," the organisation said in a statement.

"The gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians remains a well-documented and stark reality.

"Poorer health outcomes and compounding trauma experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are directly linked to government policies implemented and societal stigmatisation, marginalisation and discrimination that developed following colonisation."

VACCHO's statement comes only days after the Central Land Council, who represents the Aboriginal peoples of the southern half of the Northern Territory, slammed Price's comment, labelling them "disgraceful."

"Her remarks are hurting the families of the stolen generation, those who lost their land, their wages and their opportunities," a statement said.

Senator Price, a Warlpiri/Celtic woman and opposition spokesperson for Indigenous Australians, told the National Press Club (NPC) earlier this month "There's no ongoing negative impacts of colonisation".

A victim of domestic violence, Senator Price opposes the Voice referendum. She has previously argued that issues around domestic and sexual violence - shaped by her personal experiences, and those experienced by her mother and remote communities - are of a pressing concern that will not be dealt with by an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

At her NPC address, she countered talks of the negative impacts of colonisation, instead arguing that the arrival of British colonisers in 1788 was a "positive," and Indigenous people now "have the same opportunities as all other Australians in this country".

"If we keep telling Aboriginal people that they are victims, we are effectively removing their agency and then giving them the expectation that someone else is responsible for their life," Senator Price said.

Kokatha woman and head of engagement and communications at the First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria, Amy Rust, wrote in Women's Agenda that Senator Price's claims colonisation has a positive impact were "absolute rot".

"To have anyone say Aboriginal people don't suffer negative impacts from colonisation is offensive. It is gaslighting. It is a dangerous erasure of this country's true history," she said.

"Senator Price would do well to read Yoorrook's first major report. In that report, the Yoorrook detailed there was an 'unbroken line' between colonisation and the over-representation of First Peoples in our prisons and child protection system today."

VACCHO said Senator Price's statements were not rooted in fact, pointing to peer-reviewed studies and evidence-based reports which contradicted her claims.

"VACCHO stands by numerous peer-reviewed studies and evidence-based reports that confirm the enduring harmful impacts of colonisation on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples," the organisation said.

"The loss of language and cultural displacement due to colonisation is a painful and ongoing consequence. Many Aboriginal communities are actively engaged in decolonising systems, including the health system, to create more culturally safe and responsive ways of life that embed Aboriginal self-determination at their core."

In a 2022 Federal Government report, titled "Determinants of health for Indigenous Australians", the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare said that colonisation was one of the determining factors behind the difference in outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, including higher rates of suicide, diabetes, and heart disease.

"Colonisation has had a devastating impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and culture. Violence and epidemic disease caused an immediate loss of life, and the occupation of land by settlers and the restriction of Aboriginal people to 'reserves' disrupted their ability to support themselves," the report states.

"Together with the forcible removal of Indigenous children from their families and communities, Indigenous Australians have suffered ongoing inter-generational trauma. These factors are recognised as having a fundamental impact on the disadvantage and poor physical and mental health of Indigenous peoples worldwide, through social systems that maintain disparities."

VAACHO said they hoped Senator Price would reconsider her position on the subject by "actively listen to the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' diverse experiences of the ongoing impacts of colonisation, trauma and intergenerational trauma."

VACCHO Clinical Advisor and Psychologist, Wurundjeri woman Karen McAlear, said she was concerned about Senator Price's comments, especially regarding the impact it will have on community.

"The comments made by Senator Price are ill-informed and insulting, "Ms McAlear said.

"The intergenerational trauma experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is real and ongoing. We see it every day through the work we do at the Balit Durn Durn Centre and throughout my years of practice with Aboriginal communities."

VACCHO said the Balit Durn Durn Centre works to "decolonise" systems for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. This helps communities "heal" from the trauma associated with actions such as historical government policies, historical and cultural oppression, as well as the "numerous forms of racism that impact every aspect of health and wellbeing today."

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