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Church communities urged to push for better rights for Indigenous Australians

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Indigenous unity: Natalie Linder D’Hullier, Fr Bruce Boase, Uncle David Miller, Aunty Rose Elu, Fr Gerry Hefernan, Ravina Waldren, and Cynthia Rowan. Photo: Tony Roberston.

CHURCH communities have been urged to join a nationwide push to improve rights and conditions for indigenous Australians.

“It means standing together for justice,” a young indigenous Christian and Waka Waka descendant Brooke Prentis told an ecumenical service at Brisbane’s St Joseph’s Church in Bracken Ridge, during National Reconciliation Week.

“Our people are still dying too young, our children are still going to prison too young and too long, and we have so many systems that are broken.”

Australian leaders and key organisations, including the powerful doctors lobby – the Australian Medical Association – spoke out during Reconciliation Week (May 29-June 3) about “closing the gap” by backing the Uluru Statement, signed by hundreds of indigenous leaders last year and calling for a permanent indigenous advisory body to be enshrined in the constitution.

The AMA declared it would get on the “front foot” during any referendum campaign, raising the prospect of “yes” materials appearing in GPs’ surgeries across the nation.

“They’re fairly fundamental aspirations that are part of the Uluru Statement,” AMA president Tony Bartone said.

“We can’t really seek to close the gap when it comes to health outcomes until we address the fundamental building blocks.”

Mr Bartone said the Uluru plan could improve “the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age”, leading to better health outcomes.

Ms Prentis said she believed Australian Christians could contribute to true reconciliation and change by praying together.

Brooke Prentis

Seeking reconciliation: Brooke Prentis.

“Imagine every church congregation in this country praying for Aboriginal people, and together with us for change, because Australia needs to change,” she said during the ecumenical service at St Joseph’s.

“It means sitting together with us in our pain, the pain that starts right there at January 26… But right throughout this year there will be pain – individual pain, community pain, historical pain – and we have to sit together in that.

“… We think about poverty, we think about racism, and we have to stand together against these injustices.

“For me as I reflect on my journey with Jesus and Creator God, and Holy Spirit, as I walk this land every day that over two thousand generations of Aboriginal peoples have left their footprints upon, I think about ‘Where do I need to grow?’, ‘What do I need to do?’

Melbourne-based GP, Dr Bartone, who was elected to lead the AMA last month, said doctors would use “all avenues open to us” to advocate for change, including to “the wider community (and) patients who come to our surgeries”.

More than 40,000 medical professionals and students are members of the AMA.

Only three of seven targets in the government’s Close-the-Gap program, to improve indigenous welfare, are on track to being met.

The Federal Government has rejected the inclusion of an indigenous advisory body in the constitution, while the Opposition supports the idea.

The Government has not ruled out other proposals discussed at the Uluru summit which drew more than 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates and followed six months of discussions in communities across Australia.

A former provincial of the Passionist Fathers, Fr Kevin Dance, who has represented his congregation on indigenous issues at the United Nations said there was “a long way to go” to achieving justice for indigenous Australians, but the Uluru statement was an important step.

“The statement was the fruit of deep listening, and it was a call for a new relationship between indigenous peoples and their non-indigenous sisters and brothers,” Fr Dance said, during North Stradbroke Island’s 175th anniversary celebration of the first Catholic mission to Aboriginal people.

“But those in power, again, did not listen, but we can’t afford to lose heart.”

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