When informing the First Peoples Education Advisory Group that they would no longer receive funding, Indigenous Affairs Minister Mr Scullion said the government was dedicated to improving the lives of indigenous Australians through the empowerment of local people and cited the government’s new indigenous group, headed by Warren Mundine and including Westpac chief executive Gail Kelly and Rio Tinto managing director David Peever.
“Supported by the overarching structure of the Indigenous Advisory Council, the government’s focus will be on engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander expert stakeholders around specific issues,” he said.
So I was somewhat surprised to hear Mr Mundine, in response to the funding cuts to the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, state that his committee was not intended to be a representative body, but was created to provide policy advice to government. Does that imply that policy should not represent what the people want and that the committee will tell the people what they need?
Labor’s spokesman on indigenous affairs, Shayne Neumann, said the move brought into question Tony Abbott’s promise to be a Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs.
Mr Neumann contrasted the treatment of Congress with the government’s decision to provide $1 million to set up an indigenous advisory council chaired by former ALP president Warren Mundine.
”What Tony Abbott is proposing to do is slash funding to a body of elected indigenous representatives while spending $1 million to establish a hand-picked Ministerial Advisory Committee in its place,” he said.
We then have Treasurer, Joe Hockey, confirming that the government will stick to its election pledge to cut 43-point-one million dollars from legal aid services, including those accessed by many Indigenous Australians, as well as plans to cut the position of Co-ordinator-General for Remote Indigenous Services.
The legal aid cuts will be spread across four main areas: legal aid commissions, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services, community legal services and the Family Violence Prevention Legal Services.
Indigenous legal aid will have $13.4 million stripped from its budget, a move that legal groups are warning will entrench Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as second-class citizens.
Aboriginal incarceration has skyrocketed more than 70 per cent since the NT Intervention began in 2007. The CLP leader Terry Mills promised to end paternalistic policies, address the “underlying causes” of disadvantage and put Aboriginal people in control of their communities. After they won the election, he was dumped by phone and Adam Giles took over and ruled out reinstating the Aboriginal councils which used to provide representation and services.
All funding was cut from Larrakia Nations in Darwin for Aboriginal controlled “night patrols” that try to resolve community conflicts and minimise contact between homeless people and the police.
The CLP also axed Larrakia’s “return to country” funding, which provides loans for residents of remote communities to get transport home.
Alice Springs police set up outside every bottle shop in town, using Intervention laws to confiscate alcohol from any black person and breaking up groups with or without grog.
SMART courts, which provided diversionary options for people facing charges who are drug or alcohol dependant, have been abolished. So has Balanu, a successful diversionary program for Aboriginal youth facing time inside.
Strong Aboriginal Families Together, a new Aboriginal controlled organisation set up to address the horrific rates of child removal, has also been cut by 50 per cent.
Money was found however to fund 100 new police positions, despite the fact that spending on police is already at three times the rate of the rest of Australia, and the NT government is building a massive new prison in Darwin, along with promising to criminalise public drunkeness and build internment camps for “mandatory rehabilitation”.
Queensland’s former Aboriginal reserves became formalised communities under Deed of Grant in Trust status in the late 1980s, “for the benefit of Aboriginal inhabitants or for Aboriginal purposes”.
The land was given communally to Aboriginal Community Councils (now Aboriginal Shire Councils), rather than sold or gifted in blocks. Because the land is communally owned, Aboriginal councils don’t collect rates.
The Queensland government subsidised Aboriginal communities through the state government financial assistance program to make up the shortfall, but not anymore. Because they may choose not to live up to the neoliberal dream of home ownership and capitalist productivity, Indigenous Australians are labelled “dysfunctional”.
In addition to jobs and social services, the Newman government is cutting this funding to Aboriginal communities. The reason is to increase self-sufficiency and decrease Aboriginal dependency on handouts, according to local government Minister David Crisafulli.
But the underlying principle is still that Aboriginal people should fit into white society. This was the rationale behind assimilation, behind self-determination in the 1970s and behind the 2007 Northern Territory Intervention. And it is the rationale behind the current Queensland government funding cuts.
Aboriginal communities have different understandings of “self-determination”. For them, it means “freedom from paternalistic and authoritarian structures” (in Tonkinson’s words). It means being able to choose their own path – whether that path heads towards economic independence or not.
The Queensland government’s State Government Financial Assistance gave Aboriginal communities financial autonomy. Although they relied on this “government handout”, it gave communities the option to decide on their future.
Taking the funding away will have severe impacts on Aboriginal communities. They will lose jobs, programs, and services. But they will also lose this opportunity for real autonomy.
In June, Western Australia’s Premier Colin Barnett signalled what is becoming a national trend; the finding of budget saves by cutting spending to initiatives assisting Aboriginal peoples. He refused to sign the Closing the Gap Indigenous health agreement and raised doubt about other programs.
Trachoma, diabetes, renal failure and hearing loss are at horrific levels among Aboriginal peoples, especially among the poorest 200,000 Aboriginal peoples, of whom more than 100,000 thousand live in what have been described as third-world conditions by many, including UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay, Amnesty International Secretary-General Shalil Shetty and world-renowned documentary film maker John Pilger.
WA, alongside the NT, has Aboriginal homelessness, youth suicide and health issues such as trachoma and otitis media at horrific levels and with some at world record levels. Aboriginal incarceration rates in Western Australia are a national tragedy with one in 14 Aboriginal adult males in prison, the worst incarceration rate in the world.
Rather than taxing the superprofits of mining companies and banks, rather than taxing the polluters, rather than reducing tax concession and loopholes for the wealthy, we put our First People last.
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