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The end of July, marked the first (now extended) due date for the initial Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Stakeholder Engagement Plan required by the NSW State Government’s contract with community transport service providers.

This engagement plan has proven to be a difficult task for many providers who have not worked with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Communities before.

One wonders whether it’s a matter of providers stepping outside their own comfort zone of medical appointments and social outings, or the lack of specific and culturally-appropriate resources that it can take to get such a plan up and running.

Nationally, over 15 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people do not access health services due to lack of transport and distance. The lack of public transport options in urban fringes, rural and remote areas compounds the transport disadvantaged experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Aboriginal people are the most marginalised, excluded and disadvantaged group of people living in Australia today.  Life expectancy of an Aboriginal person is on average 17 years less than a non-Aboriginal person living in Australia. Aboriginal people are on average ten times more likely to suffer from a chronic health condition such as diabetes, renal failure, heart disease and pulmonary disease.  With all of these factors weighing against a positive outcome for Aboriginal individuals, transport disadvantage is just another problem that we must overcome.

Not only does an individual who is an Aboriginal person contend with these forecasts of poor health outcomes, but any sort of transport disadvantage simply adds to their morass of problems and their capacity to solve them.  We already know, without a doubt, that access to reliable, affordable and safe transport can greatly increase the likelihood of better health, social and educational outcomes.

Take for example a small town in my own service area located in Gumbaynngirr country, which has on the outskirts of town, a former Aboriginal Mission. A town in which there are no health specialists, no hospitals, and limited or no government services, including employment agencies.

Transport disadvantage for Aboriginal people is exacerbated by unacceptably high levels of unemployment.  Now, you tell me, if you’re living in similar conditions to that of the Aboriginal Community in this small town, how are you going to get to the nearest job network agency which happens to be located 34 kilometres away?  Transport disadvantage and unemployment work hand in hand to undermine people caught in that cycle.

Naturally, high unemployment levels lead to low income levels.  And low income doesn’t just affect one individual.  It affects their mothers and their fathers and their aunties and uncles.  It affects their children’s educational opportunities, their psychological wellbeing, and their life experiences as a whole.

In terms of transport, low income of course means less money for cars which in turn means low levels of licencing.

The cycle of transport disadvantage for Aboriginal people where geographical isolation leads to low employment opportunities, which leads to low income levels and therefore low levels of car ownership and  licencing is repeated over and over with no hope of escape unless we  provide accessible, affordable and culturally safe transport.

With all of those factors working against us, how are we to break this cycle of disadvantage and exclusion for Aboriginal people?

The answer is by providing accessible, affordable and culturally safe transport.   Transport transcends cultural, geographical, health and sociological differences, and underpins everything that we as human beings undertake, or want to undertake.  In the spirit of a united and comprehensive system of equal transport provision I challenge you to go out and engage your community to ensure access, inclusion and equality for all people living in our community.

Engaging with people who are not in our own social or cultural group is not rocket-science, but a matter of connecting with others on a truly human level.  Taking that first step to relate to someone else is all it takes to kick off your engagement with groups outside your own.

Asking questions, listening, and above all, designing services together with the community will start the journey to working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to eradicate transport disadvantage.

And to any advocate for Aboriginal transport in Australia – I say, dream big.  Take the lead on the world stage and bring the importance of transport in reducing indigenous disadvantage to the world. There is an opportunity for Australia to host the world’s first International Conference on Indigenous Transport, and I hope to see this taken up by an appropriate visionary and leading organisation.

Working together, human with human, we can make a great difference.

This Blog is the personal opinion of Bethany Simmonds who is the Chief Executive Officer of Coffs Harbour, Bellingen and Nambucca Community Transport, Chair of the Community Transport Organisation (CTO) NSW and Chair of the Australian Community Transport Association (ACTA)

Pictured: Uncle Trevor Wilson, Director/Board Member of Coffs Harbour, Bellingen and Nambucca Community Transport and Gumbaynggirr Elder.

Interview upon request please contact Kylie Cork (Communication Manager) (02) 6568 3250 or 0456 547 292 kyliecork@communitytransport.net.au






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