It has been touted that $25.4 billion annually is invested in Aboriginal peoples – in order to raise those among them out of abject poverty –“through 86 initiatives”. This claim has dangerously washed through the Australian consciousness as ‘fact’ but it is instead a crock of shit. It is claimed this $25.4 billion spend represents 5.6 per cent of the national budget – for 2.6 per cent of the population.
A more honest figure on Government spending to address Indigenous disadvantage is $4.2 billion per annum, but even this is contestable when redressing impoverishment and disadvantage are measured against accumulated equity and not against spending of which the majority every Australian is entitled to – the fact is, our Governments spend much less than $1 billion each year.
In the former Government’s last budget an additional $1.6 billion was supposedly allocated for the current financial year – $127.5 million to extend employment programs, $12 million for additional support for special Indigenous legal services, $15 million over three years to continue funding the National Congress from mid-2014, $6.2 million for upgrades to nine hostels in Queensland and the Northern Territory, $1.3 million over two years for a development study of Indigenous children. Most of these promises will be ditched by the current Government.
The previous Government did not budget anything for the out-of-control Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicides, nor did they commit anything to addressing endemic homelessness in the Kimberley, in the Goldfields, in the Central and Western Deserts, nor did they commit any funds to Justice Reinvestment, and the list goes on. The majority of the bottom 100,000 ATSI peoples live in third-world-akin conditions, and they continue to be forever neglected.
So what is this $25.4 billion spend on Aboriginal Australia that many believe to be the case but which many of us know that if it were true that it does not reach Aboriginal disadvantage? Black Power legend and chairman of The National Indigenous Radio Service, Tiga Bayles, said, “Where is all this money they talk about? Gerry, we don’t see it, can someone tell us where to look for it?”
When Tiga Bayles is shocked by the claim that $25 billion is being spent each year on Aboriginal disadvantage, you have to ask the same questions he has. Mr Bayles is in the know, and has been around all the traps, so he’d know. He started with Radio Redfern in the early 1980s, and had a huge hand in driving the setting up of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander media. He was prominent in the Black Power movement, in the push for Aboriginal land rights, a key figure in the establishment of Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 1972, he served as the chair of the New South Wales Land Council and is currently the chair of the National Indigenous Radio Service. Mr Bayles has his finger on the Aboriginal pulse.
“Some of these Treasury people who are telling us how much is being spent on us need to come and show us where?”
The conservative media has lapped it up and both federal governments, outgoing and current, have touted the spend as the equivalent of $44,128 for every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person, nearly $25,000 more than the average spend for each Australian. Any reasonably-minded person who examines the claim of a $25 billion spend will realise that it is just not true. But many have been done in by the $25.4 billion claim and have fallen for the unexamined stereotypes doing the rounds of “we’re throwing money at Aboriginal people”. If only, but we are not. Indeed we do not spend anywhere near what we should to redress Indigenous disadvantage and end third-world conditions. If only $40,000 plus had reached each ATSI person, or even better if triple that amount had reached the bottom third of ATSI peoples who are believed to live under the Henderson Poverty Line – now that would have made a difference to their lot. Or even better this so-called huge annual spend could have reached their communities with roads, sewerage, better housing, real services and community infrastructure and grafted into their social equity quality education and jobs while at the same time allowing for them to enjoy their cultures.
In the Northern Territory, overcrowded housing is beyond a joke, it is a national disgrace.
Of the so-called $25.2 billion spend on Indigenous disadvantage, the arrogance of this claim included a $3.2 billion spend on “public order, safety and corrective services.” If such a spend existed exclusive for building Aboriginal communities to the equivalency of non-Aboriginal communities then that would have done away with much of the $3.2 billion annual spends on law and order. It is a bottom-of-the-barrel disgrace for law and order expenditure to be included in a figure bandied around as redressing Indigenous disadvantage. Subtracting the $3.2 billion leaves $22.2 billion.
The Productivity Commission’s 300 page report arrived from the loose collation of 86 categories in adding up this controversial spend. These areas include a lot of bureaucratic administrative expenditure.
Firstly, the $25.2 billion inherits the normal spends for any Australian – and therefore at least $12 billion can be subtracted from the $25.2 billion; 2.6 per cent (the ATSI population) of the 5.6 per cent attributed as allocated from the national budget to ATSI peoples must be subtracted, leaving $13.2 billion to be examined. The math can be done in two ways, we can subtract the normal spend for all Australians of the alleged ATSI spend, and then work our way through the remaining attributed spends, or we can firstly subtract questionable spends and then from what is left subtract the normal spending entitled to any Australian by the divisor rate of 2.25, which is the rate of difference between ATSI and Australian attributed spends.
If the per person spend is $44,000 for ATSI peoples and $19,000 for Australians then the variance is $25,000. Let us not forget that for all Australians the total spending is in the hundreds of billions each year, that is if we to buy into these dangerous arguments of per spending as per citizen.
The area of education is supposed to deliver $3.1 billion annually to Aboriginal students but for far too long Aboriginal schools, especially the remote have been grossly neglected. However the variance on a per student basis is minimal between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, and still behind non-Aboriginal students when the historical neglect is taken into account. Education is a right to all Australians, and most Australians argue that “education is key” to positive outcomes. Most of this spending does not go to resources allocations and capital but to teachers and support personnel. However across the board ATSI students, in the remote particularly, are deprived of the quality of education provided to the rest of Australia. If we subtract the $3.1 billion we are left with $19.1 billion.
It was a sham treatment of the accounts to include $3.8 billion in social security payments to ATSI peoples, where the average amount is about $6,300 per person per annum. This is a rightful entitlement for any Australian individual or family so as to survive. Social security entitlements have nothing to do with any Aboriginal spend. Therefore if we subtract the $3.8 billion from the running balance that leaves $15.3 billion.
Including $1.1 billion of expenditure on job creation programs for ATSI people is fair enough, but this equates to only $1910 per ATSI person and which is five times the rate spent on non-Aboriginal peoples. However nearly half the billion dollars-plus is spent on administrating the programs, but if we start subtracting these types of programs we would be left with next to nothing spent on Aboriginal peoples each year!
The supposed spending on ATSI peoples rose by 16 per cent in the one year from $21 billion to $25 billion and this is due to indexation, inflation, median wage rises and administrative and contractor fee hikes, and therefore this goes to the heart of where the majority of the supposed Aboriginal spend lies within. The conflated $25.4 billion spend is split between the federal government – $11.5 billion – and the States and Territories – $13.9 billion.
The Productivity Commission’s 300 page report’s 2nd chapter by Robert Fitzgerald, is pretty much on the mark, “…Indigenous Australians remain significantly disadvantaged compared with other Australians across a wide range of socio-economic indicators. Some outcomes for Indigenous Australians are improving, particularly in education and economic participation, but other outcomes are stagnating or even deteriorating.”
But Mr Fitzgerald goes on to state, “Governments in Australia spend $25 billion annually on services for Indigenous Australians. While much of this expenditure is on mainstream services used by all Australians, some specifically addresses Indigenous disadvantage…”
Mr Fitzgerald stated that there is an additional cost to providing services to ATSI peoples which is consumed by effectively the middle person or layers of bureaucracy and service delivery.
“Estimated expenditure per head of population was $44,128 for Indigenous Australians, compared with $19,589 for other Australians (a ratio of 2.25 to 1).” The $24,538 per person difference therefore incorporates not only the intention to address distinct disadvantage but also an $8,429 hit per person to deliver services to ATSI peoples, which equates to 34 per cent of the $24,538 variance.
If we subtract the $8,429 per person – or $5.7 billion, this not only brings the $25.4 billion down to $19.4 billion, but more importantly from the $15.3 billion running balance to $9.6 billion.
The Productivity Report agreed that desired outcomes are not being achieved and that many health and social indicators for ATSI peoples are in fact “deteriorating.” The Northern Territory ATSI peoples fared worse than the rest of the nation ATSI peoples, despite them numbering only 80,000. The Territory’s Aboriginal males have a life expectancy of 52 years, a statistic now worse than most of the third-world.
We could have proportionally subtracted from the alleged ATSI spend the normal spend for Australians at the start of this treatment, at least $12 billion, which is the 2.6 per cent of the 5.6 per cent national budget that is supposed to be for ATSI peoples, and all there would be left at this point would be less than $4 billion but it was best to challenge some of the 86 categories such as law and order and social security entitlements. However, we only looked at some of the categories and therefore $5.4 billion, of what would be the remaining normal spends entitled to all Australians, need to be subtracted from the running balance so as to arrive to a legitimate spend on Indigenous disadvantage – therefore we are now left with $4.2 billion. If Governments and Treasury had argued an annual $4.2 billion spend then that would be closer to the truth – but we can legitimately whittle down further the $4.2 billion annual spend that remains
If we go across the 86 categories and treat them in reference to addressing Indigenous disadvantage and also bin any carpetbagger payments or largesse then we are left with much less than $1 billion spent each year on Aboriginal disadvantage. Governments and the productivity commission would be better served to produce annual statements of capital works and separately of specific services and programs funded, and list them – even if they are in the hundreds, or in the thousands (which they are not). Otherwise, people will continue to buy the hogwash that some serious spending is happening to end ATSI disadvantage – which is definitely not true.
In October 2012, the Productivity Commission released its finding from its roundtable ‘Better Indigenous Policies: The Role of Evaluation’. Participants included the National Congress’ Les Malezer and Jody Broun, and a number of Government officials, and academics and representatives of non-government organisations. Chairman of the Commission, Gary Banks said, “It is said that the greatest tragedy of failures is failing to learn from it. But that seems to be the predominant history of Indigenous policies and programs.” Mr Banks may well be right, but we must also get the record straight that $25 billion has not been spent, nor is it being spent, absolutely no way. If Australia spent $25 billion on Indigenous disadvantage it would certainly go the longest way yet to not only reducing Indigenous disadvantage but to also ending this disadvantage.