Michele Madigan Eureka Street 3 April 2015
The Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion seems to be presiding over the destruction of Aboriginal life in Australia.
Last week he faced an angry protest by Indigenous organisations in Alice Springs over funding cuts. In last year's Budget, the Federal Government cut $500 million from Indigenous affairs.
The protesters described the Government's new funding strategy as chaotic, dysfunctional and disastrous for some Indigenous organisations.
The minister had just announced budget allocations under what is now known as the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, which aims to get children to school, adults into work and building safe communities.
But in reality it’s about making remote communities unsustainable. If they don’t fund the communities, it is a given that they will become unsustainable.
In the announcement made in recent days, Aboriginal communities in South Australia have suffered a 90 per cent cut to their funding. APY Lands – including Amata, Pukatja (Ernabella), Indulkana – have received no funding at all. These include big settlements as well as smaller communities and homelands. There is no funding for the Maralinga Lands.
Back in November 2014, the Minister called on the South Australian Government to take responsibility for servicing its Aboriginal residents, just as it does for non-Aboriginal residents.
In a clever media release, he disguised his Government’s own abrogation of duty for funding Aboriginal communities’ essential services, known as MUNS funding, by attempting to switch this, their long held responsibility, to the State Governments. The SA government refused to accept this role.
In contrast, WA had accepted a one off $90 million for their ‘transfer’ grant and consequently announced 150 communities would be closed down. This has received much publicity, and the South Australian situation is much less known.
The SA government, having refused the original one off $10 million ‘transfer’ offer as totally inadequate, continues to call on the Federal Government to re-assume these responsibilities held since 1973.
Some Aboriginal communities in South Australia are large settlements, larger than some small mainstream country towns and with a great deal of infrastructure like schools and health clinics. All are presently facing a ‘future’ with no funding to ensure water supplies, power, sewerage and sanitation, airstrip maintenance where this applies for emergency hospital evacuation – no funding for every possible essential service; services which are taken for granted by other Australians.
Late in March, the revelation came to various communities in South Australia that this desperate situation is not the last word. In 2014 the Minister announced the Abbott Government’s new framework for Aboriginal funding. All organisations and communities would have to apply in a competitive process for funding named (ironically it would now seem) the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS).
Currently, Aboriginal communities and organisations throughout the nation are being informed of their funding – it would seem very much in the form of cuts. These include cuts to health and many other needed community and administrative on the ground services. Aboriginal people in South Australia, at least, have just discovered that Aboriginal communities have received, in the words of one Community leader ‘not even 10 per cent of the funds requested ‘ to run a community.
These are cuts which, as they say, 'in no way will advance these communities into the future.’ What is going to happen to the many residents and resident workers? Among the people, this is incredulous. How can the Federal Government admonish other countries on how to treat their citizens when it does this to its own?
On 24 March, The Australian newspaper reported that Minister Scullion ‘has bowed to pressure’ of Aboriginal leaders, both bewildered and angered by the cuts, to release a full list of organisations that have received grant funding under the IAS. A further shock, as the list reveals that just one third of these organisations are actually Aboriginal organisations and communities. The two-thirds majority includes major organisations, governments, shire councils and large well-funded non-government agencies. Swimming Australia, Rugby Union and AFL national bodies received grants.
The Australian summarised that ‘thousands of organisations which once received small grants will no longer be funded and those funded have received a lesser chunk of money.’ The result? ‘Many Aboriginal community-controlled organisations … driven to the wall…and forced to lay off staff or close their doors.’ Obviously their services will then no longer exist, or at best, be severely curtailed – with predictable results.
It’s puzzling, then, to know how the drastic cuts to both the Aboriginal communities and to the community-controlled organisations is going to enable the fulfilment of the Abbott Government mantra – getting kids to school, adults to work and communities safe.
Similarly puzzling is the response of the Minister when asked to comment on the funding reality as outlined.
Senator Scullion called it a process to ‘deliver the long term, sustainable results Indigenous communities want and deserve.’ HOW? Aboriginal people are asking. How can there possibly be ‘no service delivery gaps’ as claimed? The Minister’s ‘Strategy’ has created them. Just how will the Minister ‘address’ these issues of fixing any funding gaps as promised? Again the explanation is from the people:‘These words [of assurance] aren’t meant for us but for the broader community to believe Aboriginal people are getting what they need.’
Will we believe it? Or will we believe the words of the First Nations peoples lived experience and go the next step to stand in solidarity and protest with them, working, as Pope Francis says in Evangelii Gaudium #188, ‘to eliminate the structural causes of poverty’?
The governments will have you think that people living in the Homelands are lay-about wife bashers and sexual maniacs but the truth is so very different. People on the homelands connect with their culture, nurture the land, and many contribute greatly to the economy of the country.
The Aboriginal Art 'industry' has been thriving for decades and we have to twist the governments arms behind their backs and beg them just to offer some copyright protections to the artists - whereas most other exporters get a lot of attention, protection and support, and they don't even have to ask in some cases.
All of the artists money is spent in Australia, much of it goes towards general utilities and services for their extended families because of inconsistent and lacking government support.
Here is Tjaruwa (Angelina) an artist who lives on the homelands in the Western Desert, South Australia, where her people have barely recovered from being displaced because of the government's Atomic Bombs. The Homelands of her peoples are now in danger of closure
Tjaruwa Woods an internationally recognised artist, lives at Tjuntjuntjara Homeland Community in the Great Victoria Desert with her extended family.
Tjaruwa Woods (Angelina) was born in the Great Victoria Desert at a rockhole called Ilkawitja in 1954. Growing up in the northern portion of the Spinifex area, Tjaruwa travelled mostly within this area with her small family group. When most of the Spinifex People temporarily left their homelands in the 1950s and 60s during a time of British nuclear testing as well as a severe drought, Tjaduwa and her family stayed in their homelands continuing a traditional Western Desert lifestyle until the late 1980s.
It was not until 1986 that Tjaruwa Woods first met white people and was introduced to community style living. Tjaruwa remains a highly skilled Western Desert woman who is able to discuss in detail areas of country which relate to her birthplace and her parent’s birthplaces.