This paper is an outcome of a survey of access for Torres Strait Islanders living on the mainland of Australia to government programs and services, commissioned by the Office of Torres Strait Islander Affairs. The survey found that there were no data or statistics on access for Islanders to government programs and services, nor were there any specific government programs and services for mainland Islanders. The survey questionnaires did not reveal evidence that Islanders experience great difficulties accessing mainstream programs and services.
The survey did, however, reveal some perceptions about programs and services. For instance, some service providers and Islanders appear to believe that Islanders are supposed to access Indigenous programs and services rather than mainstream programs and services. This is contrary to the generally held policy view that Indigenous programs and services are intended to supplement rather than replace those in the mainstream. Governments believe that Islanders do not experience access problems and that in any event there are too few Islanders to warrant any special forms of access for them.
Islanders meanwhile perceive that, within the system of Indigenous programs and services, and especially within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), they are marginalised with respect to Aboriginal people. It is argued that this largely stems from the fact that Islanders are a numerical and cultural minority within the mainland Indigenous system.
Two approaches to improve the situation are discussed. One is to strengthen the position of Islanders within the present Indigenous system. It is felt that such an approach would have a limited impact unless resources were reserved for Islanders. The other approach is to establish an Islander system outside ATSIC. However, this approach has little government support because, as already discussed, there are relatively few Islanders on the mainland and a separate system for Islanders would be costly.
ISBN: 0 7315 2586 8