Western Australia’s Premier Colin Barnett has signalled what may become a national trend; the finding of budget saves by cutting spending to initiatives assisting Aboriginal peoples. The Closing the Gap targets are being touted by some as having been reached, while others claim otherwise, may begin to spiral out of control once again in the decade ahead with less funding to be made available by Governments.
WA’s Premier Colin Barnett is refusing to sign the Closing the Gap Indigenous health agreement until after his Government’s August Budget. Premier Barnett will only commit to Aboriginal health, and obviously to other areas affecting Aboriginal peoples, after the State Budget and obviously he will commit only what his Budget will arguably allow him.
The National Partnership Agreement (NPA) on Indigenous health targets was signed by all States, Territories and the Federal Government in 2008. $1.57 billion was arguably invested over four years on Aboriginal health – to treat chronic disease in particular but also to better develop Aboriginal health systems.
But trachoma, diabetes, renal failure and hearing loss are at horrific levels among Aboriginal peoples, especially among the poorest 200,000 Aboriginal peoples, of whom more than 100,000 thousand live in what have been described as third-world conditions by many, including UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay, Amnesty International Secretary-General Shalil Shetty and world-renowned documentary film maker John Pilger.
The NPA agreement is up on June 30, and a new one needs to be signed but there is no way that WA, Australia’s richest State, will sign it before then.
Despite the WA Government stating that it will interim fund the initiative for another three months past June 30, it will not commit to the spending on Aboriginal health initiatives that is being asked of WA at this time, not till after the August State Budget.
Federal Aboriginal Health Minister Warren Snowdon wrote to Premier Barnett to try and secure his signature on the NPA agreement.
“Under the NPA, all Australian Governments have implemented, or are currently implementing, an extensive range of activities to improve Indigenous health outcomes and contribute to closing the gap in life expectancy,” wrote Mr Snowdon to Premier Barnett.
Insiders have told The Stringer that Premier Barnett intends “less will be spent on Aboriginal health but it will be spent more effectively.”
Coalition leader Tony Abbott earlier in the year told the National Indigenous Times that if he became Prime Minister he would take direct control of Aboriginal Affairs, adding it as portfolio – Prime Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, and that he will work alongside Northern Territorian Nigel Scullion in addressing Aboriginal Affairs – the closing of the gap, health, education and housing.
The Stringer has been told by sources close to Mr Abbott that he too, like his fellow Liberal, Premier Barnett, will take control of how much is to be spent on Aboriginal initiatives. He is bent on making financial saves. The Stringer has been told that Mr Abbott, if and when Prime Minister, will engage a powerful troika to “better executive spending” and from the “bottom end up”. Mr Abbott wants to do away with spending on the heavy bureaucracy and the numerous consultants of Aboriginal Affairs.
“He wants to spend funds directly on addressing alcoholism, on getting kids into schools, on providing services, on getting people into jobs.”
“Some can call this assimilation but in the end it’s about changing lives that everyone and everything else tried has failed to do.”
The powerful troika that is being touted behind the scenes but yet to be announced is Warren Mundine, Professor Marcia Langton and Noel Pearson.
These three are well credentialed but also highly controversial figures who have polarised Aboriginal peoples. Mr Pearson is probably the most controversial of the three with hundreds of millions of Government funding that his Cape York Institute has received yet to show any real advances for the people of the York peninsula. Aurukun is an embarrassment for Mr Pearson.
The Stringer posed the question of the troika to Mr Abbott’s office. For the first time they have decided to not respond to the National Indigenous Times. In other words they will neither confirm or deny the troika – but our sources are on the money.
It is a huge gamble to take, at the expense of impoverished Aboriginal peoples, to reduce expenditure on Aboriginal health, education and housing when clearly many targets are still not being met. Ideally it would have been wiser to maintain at least current spending but reduce bureaucracy and the number of consultants.
The Federal Government in its May Budget committed more spending on Aboriginal programs but this does not mean this spending will be met past September 14.
In WA it looks like Aboriginal spending will take a huge hit, one that the mining rich State’s Aboriginal peoples cannot afford. WA, alongside the NT, has Aboriginal homelessness, youth suicide and health issues such as trachoma and otitis media at horrific levels and with some at world record levels. Aboriginal incarceration rates in Western Australia are a national tragedy with one in 14 Aboriginal adult males in prison, the worst incarceration rate in the world.
Premier Barnett is bracing WA for austerity measures, not dissimilar to Queensland where Premier Campbell Newman will do away with 66,000 public service positions over the next five years.
Already Premier Barnett has confirmed that 1,000 public service jobs will go. Therefore more direct control from ministerial offices will be needed in many areas, for instance Aboriginal Affairs, which will see Premier Barnett and the State’s Aboriginal Affairs Minister Peter Collier more involved – and in making and acquitting the decisions of where and how any funding to Aboriginal programs should be spent.
The Stringer will cover a number of issues in the weeks ahead – the troika of Mundine, Langton and Pearson, and their own track records, and the burden they will be carrying for Aboriginal peoples. The Stringer is also aware of looming changes to the Native Title Act and processes which yes will expedite determinations and future acts and compensation payouts before ‘people die waiting’ but which will be peddled with the express intention to speed up Indigenous Land Access Agreements and tenement tenure for extractive industry miners and developers – it will not be about the Native Title Holders and their rights, it will be about encouraging mining projects.