A recent report from Oxfam Australia has called for more policy focused on empowering and encouraging self-determination for First Australians.

Programs grounded in traditional knowledge and culture are the key to better results for First Nations communities, according to a new report from the organisation.

The In Good Hands report ranked Australia as having one of the poorest commitments to self-determination of First Peoples compared to other colonised nations.

The report noted the ignorance of the Australian government at the advice of experts around overcoming systematic disadvantage and poverty, addressing the ‘top-down’ approach Australian governments have implemented.

This approach ignores advice from experts and perpetuates the systemic disadvantage and poverty that First Australians face.

National Manager for Oxfam’s First Peoples’ Program, Ngarra Murray, said the report draws attention to the unsung heroes empowering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in their self-determination.

“We want to show the extent [to which] our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, when properly supported, are providing the solutions to entrenched poverty and disadvantage that is lived by our people,” Ms Murray said.

“When they have a strong purpose and governance and are underpinned by self-determination, they produce better outcomes for our people.”

The report presented case studies that highlight the power of directly collaborating with First Nations people and communities through the network of 140 Aboriginal medical services.

Grounded in community and culture, these organisations improve health outcomes and release some of the strain on the hospital system.

The report showcased the example of the 30 percent reduction in preventable hospitalisations in NSW South Coast communities because of work done by the Katungul Aboriginal Medical Service.

Acting Chief Executive Jo Grant explained that Katungul staff had a much deeper understanding of the issues facing the Aboriginal people of the region.

“We walk and work in two worlds . . . we have a far better grasp of the issues faced by these communities. We shouldn’t be overlooked because we are an Aboriginal medical service,” Ms Grant wrote in the report.

The report also expands beyond the health system, noting the work of the Ngalla Maya employment services in Western Australia.

Through an approach built on culture and community, Ngalla Maya has provided employment opportunities to over 300 ex-prisoners.

Former prisoner and now Chief Executive Mervyn Eades said the influence of culture is critical.

“The cultural stuff, mentoring, that is the heart of our project. We talk a lot about culture. A lot of the young ones don’t have identity in heritage and the self-worth in being part of the oldest culture in the world; they haven’t been taught and told, the stories haven’t been handed down to empower them,” Mr Eades said.

In Good Hands addressed the pressure on Aboriginal organisations to access sufficient and consistent funding and calls for government to change the narrative.

“Oxfam Australia is calling on State and Federal Governments to empower and fund local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations to allow them to build on traditional knowledge and culture when delivering services,” Ms Murray said.

“We have some of the solutions to our problems, so we are the best place to start with leading the way. Self-determination is key, it’s a principle that we need to have … at the core of what we do, putting the power back in the hands of our communities and our families.”

Access the In Good Hands report here: https://www.oxfam.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/2019-AP-001-IN_GOOD_HANDS_FINAL_FA_WEB.pdf.

By Rachael Knowles