IN Australia, if the government requires your land and/or home for infrastructure, under the land law it can proceed with a process of resumption whereby the ‘owner’ is compensated for the land. If you own a property in Australia and someone comes and starts living in your home, you are protected by the law to remove them and seek compensation for any damage occasioned to your home.
This is not the Indigenous experience, however. Australia was declared by English settlers to be ‘terra nullius’ (land belonging to no one). This is a declaration that was proven to be not only factually incorrect but contrary to the prevailing English law of the time. As the original owners of the land, Indigenous people were not afforded the opportunity to survey the land value and seek appropriate compensatory relief for the forced occupation and displacement.
I question how anyone can form the view that Tony Abbott or the LNP Government have hearts ‘in the right place’ when it comes to Indigenous Affairs.
Indigenous people were instead dispossessed of their land and identities, they experienced massacres and sexual violence and when there remained Indigenous peoples, policies were enacted which enslaved and sought to ‘breed out’ the inferior race. For those not aware of this history, I urge you to read the ‘Bringing them Home report’.
There has never been a treaty, constitutional recognition, compensation or even culturally appropriate negotiations for any reparatory policies. The landmark Mabo decision for land rights of the High Court of Australia has been embarrassingly watered down by legislation so it is virtually impossible for Indigenous people to have their rights recognised.
Fast forward to 2014 and Indigenous Affairs remain troubling. Indigenous people statistically live a decade less than their non-Indigenous counterparts, experience numerous health issues and have sustained systemic social problems within communities as a result of the brutal policies of the past (and arguably as a result of remaining policies which continue to target Indigenous people with negative effect).
We have a government that has appointed Warren Mundine as its key advisor on issues affecting the Indigenous community notwithstanding that it appears that a large proportion (if not a majority) of the Indigenous community are unhappy with the ‘leadership’ of Mundine.
So it is in this context that $600 million in cuts to the Indigenous Affairs portfolio is entirely unpalatable.
This government has declared its intent to make a difference in Indigenous Affairs but the direction of that difference is unclear with some commentators suggesting that the goal is a return to the assimilationist policies of the 1960s. While the government has policies of ‘individual Indigenous wealth accumulation’ and individual empowerment, it has cut policies and programs that are for community based collective empowerment which suggests that this government is completely disconnected from the Indigenous community and the very essence of Indigenous culture.
The government is providing more police in remote Indigenous communities but not the legal funding needed to ensure that Indigenous people receive natural justice as the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (ATSILS) will receive a funding cut of $42 million.
The government has a ‘policy’ to empower Indigenous people but has cut the funding to the national awards program recognising Indigenous people’s contributions, which was the legacy of the recently deceased Indigenous trailblazer, Gavin Jones. So no more Deadly Awards.
Gavin recognised that there was a disparity between mainstream media and what the Indigenous community needed and set about to effect change by creating the Deadly Awards. These were aptly named for Indigenous people who so needed an outlet to feel pride as opposed to isolation, and Gavin set out to provide that outlet.
The Indigenous community is still in mourning for Gavin, so it was a double blow for Indigenous Australians not only to lose Gavin but also to have effectively lost his legacy without regard for the importance of this program.
The National Indigenous Representative Body, National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, will no longer receive the $15 million funding which was earmarked for them in the 2013 Budget by the former Labor Government. This is a huge blow given that this body represents all Indigenous Australians.
The government has a policy to ‘close the gap‘, yet they are cutting over $160 million in funding from Indigenous health and a further $9.5 million from Indigenous education programs aimed at keeping Indigenous languages alive.
The true nature of this government’s opinion of Indigenous people was made clear when the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott (the self-proclaimed “Prime Minister for Aboriginal Affairs”), delivered the keynote address at the Australian-Melbourne Institute conference last month. Whilst he advocated for foreign investment, he also shed some light on his take on history, crediting British people with the first “foreign investment” in “the then unsettled or, um, scarcely settled, Great South Land”.
Warren Mundine did not reprimand Mr Abbott, rather he downplayed Abbott’s latest insensitive comments as “silly” but stated that Mr Abbott’s “heart is in the right place”.
I question how anyone can form the view that Tony Abbott or the LNP Government have hearts ‘in the right place’ when it comes to Indigenous Affairs. This government has systematically cut funding to areas where Indigenous people could gain momentum to effect change in order to meaningfully seek reparation for the past and legal recognition of ownership of this country.
Australia’s Indigenous community is facing demoralising cuts to funding for key programs and policies as a result of the 2014 LNP Government budget, the consequences of which will ripple through the community for many years to come.
The loss of the Deadly Awards is an obvious example that will affect the community spirit and morale. The loss of the funding for the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples will significantly inhibit their ability either to implement their programs and representative functions on a national scale or to expand upon the amazing work they are currently doing for the national Indigenous community.
The loss of substantial amounts of funding for health and education will, for obvious reasons, have a tremendous effect on a community already facing significant health and education challenges. The cut to legal funding is a tremendous issue for the community given the over-representation of Indigenous people in custodial facilities.
There are turbulent times ahead for the Indigenous people of Australia.