The Healing Foundation CEO Fiona Cornforth with Adam Shirley, ABC Radio Canberra Mornings
Tuesday 11 May 2021
Federal Budget; Stolen Generations; Intergenerational Trauma, Truth Telling; Self-Determination; Uluru Statement from the Heart; First Nations Memorial; Redress; Records
ADAM SHIRLEY: Understandably, you might have your eyes on the budget to see if there’s dollars and cents that are going to support you flowing from the Federal Government. I mean, it’s always an interesting question – what’s in it for me? And sometimes, people look at it – what’s in it for people in our society to make us all a bit better?
There hasn’t been a whole lot of discussion directly about what money’s being provided for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs and organisations, to assist them further beyond, and help them with the things they need. The Healing Foundation is one of those organisations that knows exactly, and works on exactly what is best, and what programs will work.
Its CEO is Fiona Cornforth, and she’s with us on ABC Radio Canberra.
Fiona Cornforth, thank you so much for coming in on ABC Radio Canberra today.
FIONA CORNFORTH: Thank you for inviting me.
ADAM SHIRLEY: On this budget day, I mean, you must look at some of the programs that exist and see the areas that need improvement, that would make tangible benefits for people. What are those?
FIONA CORNFORTH: Yeah. We absolutely do. What we know is that a lot of money flows to addressing symptoms of trauma. We’re trying to encourage governments to invest in healing and looking at the origins of trauma, and addressing trauma, tackling trauma head on.
ADAM SHIRLEY: How’s that being done to this point, as far as truth telling and self-determination where Aboriginal run organisations have the direct say on how that money should be spent?
FIONA CORNFORTH: Yeah. Look, it, it’s never- it hasn’t been done in the way we’ve wanted it to. There have been glimmers of hope lately, especially our national agreement with the Coalition of Peaks – of which we are grateful to be a member. But, more than- you know, there’s never enough money, but more than the money is, as you say, us, us being at the table, codesigning how that money’s spent.
And we know now, after 12 years of operating as The Healing Foundation, we’ve got this body of evidence to suggest that it’s time we resolved that unresolved trauma.
ADAM SHIRLEY: Are there glimmers of hope from Government for being led by those who know? Those who are in community and understand what is required, do you think?
FIONA CORNFORTH: Yeah. Look, I’ve had to travel a lot in this job. I’ve visited far north Queensland recently, I’ve visited the Kimberley, and for those on the ground, the answers are there, the solutions are there. They’re just not- no one walks alongside them, no one with the purse strings works alongside them to … because healing done well, it does take time, effort, and investment
ADAM SHIRLEY: And is it beyond, say, the latest headline? Or maybe budget cycle? Is that partly why the answers are there? Those who have the power to fund or control aren’t necessarily working alongside communities, as you say?
FIONA CORNFORTH: No, that’s right. And I mean, you could look at it with a bit of common sense and say, why does someone without the lived experience think they know how to solve a lot of these issues than, you know, better than the person with the lived experience?
So, you know, there are glimmers. Like, we, we know that there are listening ministers, we know that there’s been some really good engagement, particularly because of the Coalition of Peaks signing a national agreement with governments. What we need to see now is a commitment – a better, better investment.
And it’s been too long. You know, we had the Bringing Them Home report, the inquiry, so long ago now. But everything that was forewarned in that report has eventuated. And so, we can’t say we didn’t see this coming – the contemporary traumas our communities face. And so, it’d be really wonderful if, if governments have a look at what they committed to back then, what’s remaining, and this unmet need.
ADAM SHIRLEY: Is one of the key things remaining the Uluru Statement from the Heart? And the Federal Government to take that on board as a direct, or part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders having a direct say in policy? I’ve spoken to, amongst others, Professor Megan Davis…
FIONA CORNFORTH: Yes.
ADAM SHIRLEY: … on the process of speaking to so many different communities, unifying in the Uluru statement. To this point, the Federal Government resists taking it on in its full form. Should they change their position on that?
FIONA CORNFORTH: Yeah. Look, if you speak to the survivors we work alongside, there is- they wholeheartedly support the Uluru Statement, and all that it stands for. The, the process was thorough, it was robust – and we had some wonderful people leading that, like, like Professor Megan Davis. And look, it’s just common sense. I encourage those who haven’t read the statement just to have a look at it, read it-
ADAM SHIRLEY: [Interrupts] It’s been translated into many different languages, too.
FIONA CORNFORTH: It has.
ADAM SHIRLEY: … which makes it very accessible.
FIONA CORNFORTH: Absolutely. And one of the things that we focus on, what we know to be quite true, is that we are not innately bad people – and it says that in there. Like, how could we be on the wrong end of statistics as we are with incarceration, the justice system, with out-of-home care. It’s not us as a people, it never was. So, it’s the trauma we’re experiencing in a lot of cases. So, The Healing Foundation has a lot of stats to say this is how many people it affects. It’s a third of people up and down the East Coast, it’s 55 per cent of people in WA who’ve either been removed or had a parent who was removed. So, if you can imagine the pain, the burden that people are carrying-
ADAM SHIRLEY: [Interrupts] Well, I can’t, and I’ll be very honest about that.
FIONA CORNFORTH: No. Yeah.
ADAM SHIRLEY: It’s impossible for me to understand how that must feel.
FIONA CORNFORTH: Yeah. And they never had a choice in carrying it, and from safe and loving families as well. So, these are the people- these are the stories that we get to hear and should inform some really good investment decisions …
ADAM SHIRLEY: Twenty-five past nine. You’re hearing from Fiona Cornforth, she’s the CEO of The Healing Foundation. My name is Adam Shirley and it’s good to have your company on Mornings. So, to take it from those glimmers of hope we’ve talked about, what tonight would give you genuine cause for hope that action is being taken in the interests of, and driven by, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people?
FIONA CORNFORTH: You don’t get a lot of announcements on budget around how things will happen, but we do want to see increased levels of funding – there’s never enough. As I said, I travel all over the country to our regions, everybody’s burnt out. We’ve got workforces really trying their best, but then you have their clients interacting with other systems that aren’t trauma- aware, healing-informed. And so, the problem just keeps reoccurring.
Our idea – The Healing Foundation – and part of our pre-budget submission was to say, look, every system, sector by sector, workforce by workforce, needs to understand their role in healing every day. We’re looking for an investment in us carrying out that work and our survivors leading intergenerational healing in this country.
ADAM SHIRLEY: Yes. How much better could you, and how much bigger a positive impact could The Healing Foundation have if it had targeted funding to support those who are part of your organisation? And given the links you have to many other community organisations across the country?
FIONA CORNFORTH: I’ve been in the CEO role just on a year now, and there’s so many people out there relying on us. And I think they don’t realise that we haven’t had an increase in funding. We’ve operated on the same level, the same core grant since 12 years ago.
ADAM SHIRLEY: Which is being outstripped, I presume, by CPI, by other rising rates and charges – which usually is acknowledged by Government in terms of increased funding – just to cover that cost, I presume.
FIONA CORNFORTH: Yeah, that’s right.
ADAM SHIRLEY: So how much money will make a difference for the forthcoming years? Is there a broad amount that you know could really lift the amount of programs you support and the lives you can change?
FIONA CORNFORTH: Yeah look, at this point we’re just asking for double – which is only about 13 million – because we know that we can start driving some of these things that are needed, like the intergenerational healing strategy, like a workforce by workforce plan, and that codesign, Adam, of the redress and reparations for these people who- for the survivors and their families who’ve continued to suffer.
ADAM SHIRLEY: We’ll see if government is forthcoming on this and whether there is meaningful support for the change that can happen. Really appreciate you coming by on what is a busy day, I know, Fiona. Thank you for your time today.
FIONA CORNFORTH: Thank you, Adam
ADAM SHIRLEY: Fiona Cornforth is the CEO of The Healing Foundation.
The Healing Foundation CEO Fiona Cornforth will be addressing the National Press Club of Australia on 2 June. Details are available here: https://www.npc.org.au/speaker/2021/836-fiona-cornforth
The Healing Foundation Pre-Budget Submission 2021-22 is available here: https://healingfoundation.org.au/app/uploads/2021/02/The-Healing-Foundation-Pre-Budget-Submission-2021-22.pdf
To raise awareness about intergenerational trauma, The Healing Foundation produced this animation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlqx8EYvRbQ&t
The Healing Foundation is a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation that partners with communities to heal trauma caused by the widespread and deliberate disruption of populations, cultures and languages over 230 years. This includes specific actions like the forced removal of children from their families.