predictably gives the PM a tick for his discussions with indigenous
leaders and community members “to gain a better understanding of the
needs of people living and working in those areas”.
Though reading Gabrielle Chan’s
diary of daily events paints a rather different picture of very
contrived photo ops, limited access, and local people either told not to
speak or too scared or disengaged to bother – they have seen it all
before – the FiFo Ministerial hoopla.
Tony had an awkward cup of tea with Galarrwuy Yunupingu and then
visited four businesses owned by the Gumatj Corporation, which is headed
by Galarrwuy, to have his photo taken in various settings wearing
safety goggles. The media were told exactly what to film and when, and
no questions were allowed.
On one of the rare occasions where the press were allowed to ask questions, one intrepid NITV news
reporter deviated from the script by asking Tony Abbott whether it was
appropriate for New South Wales Police in riot gear to forcibly remove
multiple Aboriginal children from a family home in January.
“Prime Minister I need to take you back to January in Mooree when NSW
police in riot gear raided a home to remove eight Aboriginal children,”
Mr Morgan said. “Is that an appropriate use of force?”
The prime minister began his response by stating he had been on the
Truancy Team in Arukune in 2009, where he was told his presence was
helpful because he “looked a bit like a police officer.”
“I think that it is important to get the kids to school,” Mr Abbott
continued. “It is important to get the kids to school and I think all
reasonable measures should be considered to get the kids to school
because there’s no way they’re going to get a decent education if they
don’t go to school and a decent education is the foundation of a good
Okay okay we get it – you want to get school attendance rates up, though I’m not sure that’s what you were asked.
In fact, Tony is so devoted to getting kids to school, the budget
includes a school truancy officer program in 74 schools at a cost of $18
million; $54 million over four years for extra police in remote
communities; and $26 million for Indigenous teenage sexual health
programs next financial year.
But there ends Abbott’s commitment to Indigenous education.
The Aboriginal Early Childhood Support and Learning Incorporated
(AECSL) is a NSW organisation which has been funded by the federal
government for over two decades. It is a peak body that provides policy
work, advocacy, training and professional development for the network of
Aboriginal controlled preschools across NSW.
A week before Christmas, the Federal Government gave AECSL’s
president two weeks’ notice by email that it would no longer be
receiving the 500-thousand dollars in funding it had been getting
annually. Similar agencies in other states have also been cut.
Also in December last year, the chairman of the First Peoples
Education Advisory Group, Emeritus Professor Paul Hughes, received a
letter advising him that the group, formed two years ago and comprising a
number of indigenous academics, principals and other education experts,
would no longer receive funding.
The letter from Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said that
while he appreciated the expertise of members of the group, the fiscal
environment meant the government had to consider any expenditure “very
“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. “This is in line with our policy of reducing bureaucracy and
Professor Hughes said the members of the group, which was established
by former education minister Peter Garrett, had a year left on their
He said he was surprised and disappointed by the move, especially the
notion that the government would now seek to engage with “expert
“One would have thought experts would mean an advisory group such as ours, which was set up for that purpose,” he said.
“I particularly worry the quality of advice they’re now going to receive from experts will be diminished.”
Federal funding for 38 Aboriginal Children and Family Centres has
been discontinued. These new centres were created under a COAG national
partnership agreement to provide integrated education, family support,
child care and health services in 38 disadvantaged localities across the
country to children and families in desperate need. After a $296m
investment in their establishment, some centres are only just opening
their doors, and now only two state governments have indicated an
intention to support their future operation.
Over the next five years $534 million will be cut from Indigenous
programs administered by the Prime Minister and Cabinet and Health
More than $160 million of the cuts will come out of Indigenous health
programs. The health savings will be redirected to the Medical Research
The cuts include a $3.5 million cut to the Torres Strait Regional Authority.
On top of the program cuts the Government has confirmed the National
Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, a democratically elected agency
that is in the best position to represent the diverse needs of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and play a pivotal linking
role between governments and our communities, will not get $15 million
earmarked for the representative body over the next three years.
Funding for Indigenous language support announced in the last budget will also be cut by $9.5 million over five years.
The Australian Government has also announced a $3.7m cut to the
Budget Based Funding program, under which the vast majority of
Indigenous community-controlled early childhood services are funded. The
cuts will affect staff who are working with the most disadvantaged,
high-needs children — often in rural or remote areas where finding
experienced staff is a constant challenge.
One cut that has received some publicity is the $3.6m withdrawn from
Indigenous Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (IFVPLS), part of a
broader $13m cut to Aboriginal legal aid. IFVPL are often the “go-to”
office for Indigenous women in regional towns for a myriad of problems,
not just family violence, due to their compassionate, culturally
Other cuts include:
- $450m from Outside School Hours care, which provide vital services
and are often the only programs available for children after school and
- axing the Universal Access to Preschool ($500m per annum), which
will disadvantage Indigenous children in the critical year before formal
schooling starts; and
- $14.7m from Early Learning Projects — this will mean
community-driven programs such as iti ninti tjuta in the APY Lands will
no longer be funded despite showing positive results.
Far from improving services and results, we read that
“Senior leaders in the Prime Minister and Cabinet department’s
Indigenous Affairs Group have based themselves in Canberra’s dress
circle, nearly 10 kilometres away from their rank-and-file workers, who
are still reeling after repeated restructures to their workplaces.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s takeover of indigenous affairs is in
“disarray”, public service insiders allege, with hundreds of specialist
public servants retrenched, funding and programs stalled and staff
morale in the “doldrums”.
Remember when Mr Abbott’s director of policy Mark Roberts allegedly
said to Andrew Penfold, a former investment banker who is now chief
executive of the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation, that he
would “cut his throat” if the Coalition won the election?
Tony tells us that he means what he says and wants to be judged by his actions.
Here is a reminder of what he has said recently:
“The First Fleet was the defining moment in the history of this
continent. Let me repeat that, it was the defining moment in the history
of this continent. It was the moment this continent became part of the
modern world.” – August 29, National Museum Defining Moments Project
“I guess our country owes its existence to a form of foreign
investment by the British government in the then unsettled, or scarcely
settled, Great South Land.” – July 3, conference in Melbourne
“The first lot of Australians were chosen by the finest judges in
England, not always for good reasons, and from that rather inauspicious
beginning we have become a rich, a free and a fair society which has
contributed so much to the wider world in good times and in not so good
times.” – Holdfast Bay Australia Day Awards and Citizenship Ceremony in Adelaide 2013
“”There may not be a great job for them but whatever there is, they
just have to do it, and if it’s picking up rubbish around the community,
it just has to be done” – June 30, Australia Unlimited 2010 Summit
‘Now, I know that there are some Aboriginal people who aren’t happy
with Australia Day. For them it remains Invasion Day. I think a better
view is the view of Noel Pearson, who has said that Aboriginal people
have much to celebrate in this country’s British Heritage’ – April 5, 2010, Q&A
I will let you be the judge of how important our Prime Minister considers the well-being of our First People.