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Stop silencing Aboriginal voices: Burney

AAP logoAAP 18/11/2016 Lucy Hughes Jones

Australia's first female Aboriginal MP Linda Burney has slammed the Turnbull government's "paternalistic" approach towards indigenous people and demanded decision-making power be delivered back to the bush.

"Inflicting policy decisions on Aboriginal communities and then arriving later for a photo op and Twitter post is not a substitute for consultation," she said on Friday.

"Command and control policy from Canberra will not help - at best it might make politicians and public servants in Canberra feel better at not having to hear cries for help."

The opposition spokeswoman for human services delivered a scathing assessment on the plight of indigenous people while speaking at the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin.

"For all the talk of "Prime Ministers for Indigenous Affairs" and a bipartisan commitment to closing the gap, we are yet to see the progress we need," she said.

Life expectancy for Aboriginal Australians is almost a decade shorter than the rest of the population, while incarceration and suicide rates are soaring - especially amongst children.

Meanwhile Indigenous birth weights are consistently lower, as are educational outcomes and average earnings.

"It is easy to see how in the face of this despair, governments can turn to lazy policy options and the comfort of the past," Ms Burney said.

She said conservative forces have cut funding to legal services and advocacy groups while ignoring Aboriginal voices.

"Half a billion dollars has been pulled out of the indigenous affairs budget," she said.

Ms Burney said a perfect example was the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre scandal, which received scant political attention until footage of boys being tear gassed was aired nationally, despite previous coverage in Koori media and outrage from local leaders.

"Indeed, we know now that both the federal and state governments were well aware of the issue," she said.

A proud Wiradjuri woman, Ms Burney takes heart from communities supporting their own initiatives which target stable housing, early education and social support.

The Labor frontbencher called on the government to invest in culturally-specific and community-led programs to bring her people out of disadvantage.

"They just require political bravery, and with a record number of first Australians inside our parliament and an increasingly active and determined community outside it, I am confident we can find that will," she said.

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