Sometimes we take for granted our right to be treated with dignity and respect. When unable to help ourselves, we are comforted by the financial support of the government and our fellow Australians. Is it not too much to ask that we then afford the same dignity, respect and assistance to our indigenous peoples?
$30.3 billion was spent between 2012-13 according to the 2014 Indigenous Expenditure Report. (Source: based on Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision, 2014 Indigenous Expenditure Report).
Gerry Georgatos, a human rights campaigner for prison reform, rights of indigenous Australians and the homeless, in "The Stringer" Independent News on 14thDecember 2014 disputed the $30.3 billion as not being a truly representative figure. He argues a lot of the money is for the basics that are a right and given to every Australian. Precious little though is being done to build the infrastructure for the future prospects of the indigenous people.
Then, coming out of the dire economic "debt and deficit" the Treasurer Joe Hockey once touted, $534 million in the May 2014 Budget was cut from indigenous programs.
What is the truth? I guess it depends on who you are asking, and who is holding the purse strings. What is irrefutable, is that whatever the amount that is being spent, it is not redressing the inequality between indigenous Australians and the rest of the population.
Over $3 billion has been spent on detention and processing of irregular maritime arrivals (IMAs). (Source: Budget Review 2014-15 Index H Spinks, C Barker and D Watt, Australian Government spending on IMAs and counter-people smuggling activity, Research paper series Parliamentary Library, Canberra). No one challenges the spending; indeed the latest Labour Conference has endorsed this "turn back the boats" policy, so costs will still be there under a Labour government. And yet we get picky at the money that is spent on our indigenous people.
Backing the Western Australian government's plan to close 150 remote Aboriginal communities, Mr Abbott our Prime Minister, stated on Alan Jones' 2GB radio program:
If you or I chose to live in a very remote place, to what extent is the taxpayer obliged to subsidise our services and, I think, this is a very real question.
The Prime Minister, who sets himself up as a champion of the Aboriginal cause and reckons he is in touch with them because he has visited remote communities from time to time, does not grasp the concept of their spiritual link to the land in their culture; they can't just pack up and leave. The cynic in me asks whether vast mineral deposits have been quietly detected on this land. No problem if it becomes vacant.
News reports and documentaries show in places like the Kimberley, we have a 3rd world problem on our own soil. How dare we lecture China and North Korea on human rights when we allow our own people to live in such poor conditions? It wouldn't be tolerated if they were white.
We conquered our indigenous people; we took the best land for ourselves, massacred thousands, chopped up bodies for "anthropological reasons" and stole their children so that over a number of generations, we would breed them out of existence. "It happened, we can't keep living in the past," True, but we can make it a better future for them.
Kevin Rudd made an overdue but symbolic gesture by saying "sorry" to our indigenous peoples. "Sorry" isn't good enough now. It is time for action, but action not imposed on them by politicians and bureaucrats.
Let's not fight over who is more deserving of support in our society over someone else. Let's be mature and work out a way how to best spend taxpayers' dollars in general. In this case, how can we fund the improvements to these peoples' way of life? Not our way of life, but having respect for their way of life.
Any planning and allocation of resources should include all stakeholders, from State and Federal governments to people of the likes of Gerry Georgatos, Warren Mundine, Noel Pearson, leading indigenous women as well as the elders and other representatives from the various communities. It needs to have concrete and sustainable outcomes and not another well-meaning talkfest that achieves little.
We as a nation can make changes for the better or worse – it is up to all of us to see that everyone gets a fair shake in this truly lucky country of ours.