The Australian Government has launched a new website to highlight the advocacy by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over 50 years for equal access to government services.
‘Reflection: experiences of First Nations people with social security and services from 1947 to 1997’ (Reflection) steps through the lived experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with government payments and services since the 1930s.
Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten said the 100 letters, reports, book excerpts and videos in Reflection show the challenges First Nations peoples have faced to be heard – and how they incited change.
“Reflection documents how courageous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, communities and organisations – and some government officials – questioned authority and stood up for the rights of First Nations peoples to access social services,” Mr Shorten said.
“The intention of Reflection is to contribute to historical acceptance – a key theme of reconciliation efforts between all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous people in Australia.”
Reflection provides a deep understanding of the impacts of social security legislation and policy on the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“Many Australians may find it difficult to believe that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were excluded from accessing social security when the Commonwealth Government took responsibility in the 1940s,” Minister Shorten said.
“Slowly, decade by decade, Reflection shows how this changed, and how services came to reach the lives of many First Nations peoples through direct payments and targeted programs like ABSTUDY.”
Reflection: experiences of First Nations people with social security and services from 1947 to 1997is available at reflection.servicesaustralia.gov.au
The experiences of Moira Bligh, Joe Flick and Sharon Blaney
Moira Bligh is a former Department of Social Security (DSS) employee, and her mother, Ruth Hegarty, wrote numerous books about her experience growing up in settlement run by the Queensland Government.
“Over the years mum’s tried to write everyone’s story, so our family, our people, and the community understand what they all went through,” Ms Bligh said.
“There’s been a lot of suffering, these issues still exist, and services from government are still lacking. That message we were trying to get through all those years ago, that it’s all about respect and recognition, it’s still relevant, it’s still current today.”
Joe Flick is a former DSS Aboriginal Liaison Officer who worked in Darwin in the 1980s, featured in a training video for DSS staff and led an influential report to government.
“I’ve always tried to walk between those two worlds of bureaucracy and community,” Mr Flick said.
“In the 1980s we benefited from having a Minister and senior people in the Department who were genuinely interested in moving things in the right direction. I was able to take them up to country, and they could see the issues people were facing for themselves.
“When I look back at my first days in social security to where I am now – there’s been a lot of positives. But there’s still a long way to go.”
Sharon Blaney is a DSS Aboriginal and Islander Liaison Officer (AILO) who was involved in a pilot program in the 1990s to help increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander customers who were accessing the appeals process.
“I loved my job, it gave me an opportunity to help the people who needed it most,” Ms Blaney said.
“The data was showing that Aboriginal people just weren’t going through the appeals system, meaning they might not have been getting what they were entitled to.
“Our role as an AILO was to help people navigate the system. When they announced the pilot program I put my hand up. I moved around to different areas, and the knowledge and experience I gained helped me help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”