Priorities aren’t so black and white

2 Nov 2018

My hope is that when we have a recognised Voice to Parliament, and Treaties in place in all jurisdictions, we will finally have a say and control over the decision that affect us, our families and our communities.

 

The first line on the website of the Federal Government’s Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet makes a big statement.

“The Australian Government has made Indigenous Affairs a significant national priority.”

Which is true if the priority is to disempower, defund and undermine Indigenous Affairs and First Nations Australians.

This hopeless Coalition Government ignores our aspirations for a Voice to Parliament, runs scared from talk of Treaty, starves our communities under CDP and cuts $500 million from Indigenous spending.

And now we find out Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has given his mates in the pastoral and fishing industries nearly $500,000 in Indigenous Advancement Strategy funding to run legal arguments about how they will be negatively affected by land claims.

To make it clear, this is money that is mean to “contribute to the maintenance and strengthening of Indigenous cultural expression and conservation” to again quote the Government’s own website.

We are still waiting to hear from Minister Scullion how his decision to give $150,000 to the NT seafood council, $170,000 to the NT amateur fishermen’s association, and $165,000 to the NT Cattlemen’s Association advances Indigenous cultural expression and conservation.

This hopeless Coalition Government ignores our aspirations for a Voice to Parliament, runs scared from talk of Treaty, starves our communities under CDP and cuts $500 million from Indigenous spending.

To rub salt into the wound, the organisations have told the media they aren’t actually sure how they will spend all the money. Some of it might go on legal argument, some of it might be spent on cultural awareness training or employment programs, who knows.

I’m not arguing that organisations impacted by Land Rights claims shouldn’t be able to access funding to assist in running their legal arguments regarding detriment.

Usually this funding is sought through the Federal Attorney-General as assistance to meet the costs of legal representation in Land Rights hearings.

What is astounding and is rightly being questioned is why IAS money is going to non-Indigenous organisations to fund legal arguments. These organisations can access other funding buckets to assist in running their legal cases, money that is not earmarked to support Indigenous people and organisations.

The objectives of the Culture and Capability Program, the IAS stream used to fund the pastoral and fishing organisations has clear guidelines.

It is meant to:

  • Support the expression, engagement and conservation of Indigenous culture.
  • Increase Indigenous Australians’ participation in the social and economic life of Australia through healing, and strengthening the capability, governance and leadership of Indigenous Australians, organisations and communities.
  • Promote broader understanding and acceptance of the unique place of Indigenous cultures in Australian society.

Minister Scullion has given no answer to how his decision does any of this.

My hope is that when we have a recognised Voice to Parliament, and Treaties in place in all jurisdictions, we will finally have a say and control over the decision that affect us, our families and our communities.

I’m astounded and, to be honest, enraged there is so little accountability here. As a former board member of many Indigenous organisations I know how difficult it is to access this funding in the first place, and the hoops we need to jump through to account for the spending.

As a former Chair of the Institute for Aboriginal Development, I know first hard it is. After our IAS funding was refused, we had to travel to Canberra from Alice Springs to argue our case and exert enormous pressure just to get the funds to make sure the Institute survived.

I’m aware of many Indigenous organisations that have had their funding cut, like the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, family violence organisations, educational support programs, employment support programs – examples of the loss of programs and capacity in our communities and organisations.

It will take an enormous amount of time and effort to rebuild from these cuts and chaos. Personally, I advocate for Indigenous Affairs to be removed from Prime Minister and Cabinet and to have its own, autonomous identity and power in Government.

The current bureaucracy, set up by the self-professed Prime Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, now the envoy we never asked for, Tony Abbott, is a failure. It is Canberra-controlled, despite the false rhetoric around regionalisation, and decisions are imposed from above instead of coming from the community level.

My hope is that when we have a recognised Voice to Parliament, and Treaties in place in all jurisdictions, we will finally have a say and control over the decision that affect us, our families and our communities.

But I don’t want to wait that long for change. We can start right now by calling out Minister Scullion on his outrageous decisions, to listen to us, not just talk at us. And open his doors to our mob, as well as his ears. But after more than 5 years I think I might be dreaming.

While Indigenous community controlled organisations have to fight for grants of less than $20,000 for playground equipment, preschools and sporting programs, elite private schools get millions of dollars from the IAS for scholarships and private businesses get funding for traineeships.

And I think it’s worth noting information from Senator Scullion’s Parliamentary website: Chair, Northern Territory Seafood Council 1994-2001.

It seems it is Ok to be white when it comes to getting Indigenous Advancement Strategy funding.

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