Government departments need to recognise the crucial link between sport and the overall health of Aboriginal communities and stop “passing the buck”, a parliamentary inquiry has been told.
The House Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs is inquiring into the contribution of sport to Indigenous wellbeing.
ANU visiting fellow Professor Colin Tatz has told the inquiry at a recent public hearing in Sydney that when it comes to the delivery of services by departments to Indigenous communities, sports programs are not seen as a priority.
He told the inquiry that the contribution of sport in Indigenous communities is seen as unrelated to other issues such as housing and health.
“There’s a whole long history in Australia of sport being shuffled off as an afterthought,” he said.
“Government departments are obstinate in refusing to see a correlation between the two things.
“Physical activity is a must by any medical wisdom, so why is it that health departments in particular and the medical profession - although they talk about it do nothing to implement that by saying, ‘you need some exercise’?”
“I've never seen a gym in an Aboriginal community. I've actually never seen boxing ring.”
Professor Tatz has spent many years researching the link between the levels of participation in sport and rates of suicide and juvenile delinquency in Aboriginal communities.
While he says sport is not a cure for suicide, it does provide people with something to look forward to, whether it is as competitors, referees or fans.
“It is a future oriented activity,” he said.
“I’ve talked to hundreds of kids who have attempted suicide. Their lives are absolutely cemented into the past and their immediate present.”
Professor Tatz repeated his call for a comprehensive study into communities which are active in sport compared to those who aren’t and says it would not be difficult or expensive to implement.
“In turn you measure, the suicide rates, the delinquency rates, the assault and physical harm rates when the competition is on and the competition is off,” he said.
“It’s not rocket science to work out and find that where there is sport, harm goes down. Off season rates go skyrocketing.
“It’ll be very clear cut to police and welfare services what is happening on season and what is happening off season.”
The inquiry continues.