Dr Ngiare Brown, a prominent member of the Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s handpicked Indigenous Advisory Council

Dr Ngiare Brown, a prominent member of the Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s handpicked Indigenous Advisory Council

Dr Ngiare Brown, a prominent member of the Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s handpicked Indigenous Advisory Council, has confirmed the Abbott Government has ignored advice from the Advisory Council and spoken of her “frustration” with the failure of the Abbott Government’s policies affecting First Nations People.

Dr Brown, who is the Deputy Chair of the Advisory Council, was horrified at the suggestion the Advisory Council may have recommended the decision to implement a work for the dole scheme which would require First Peoples to work five days a week for 52 weeks of the year to Mr Abbott.

Dr Brown said the Prime Minister’s intention to force First Peoples to work five days a week, 52 weeks of the year to qualify for the dole was a “ridiculous expectation”. The scheme, if implemented, has been strongly criticised by the legitimate leaders of First Peoples as racist because the policy would only apply to First Peoples.

Dr Brown was speaking after the latest report on progress on the Close the Gap programme last week revealed most of the initiatives were failing.

She said Mr Abbott and his government “would struggle to be able to demonstrate where their policies had actually been effective” and as a result Mr Abbott “would struggle” to justify his self-appointed title as a “Prime Minister for Aboriginal affairs”.

However, Dr Brown said she did not intend to resign from the Advisory Council because she still hoped she could achieve some outcomes for First Peoples.

When asked if she would resign given the lack of progress and the seeming lack of positive action on IAC advice, Dr Brown said that action would not address the problems confronting First Peoples.

“Unless each of us on Advisory Council were asking the same question I think it would be glossing over the problem,” Dr Brown said.

Dr Brown said the Indigenous Advisory Council members had “had some small wins”.

“Have we achieved anything so far? I think we’ve had some small wins around recommendations we’ve made about certain welfare reform recommendations and suggestions they cannot be based solely on race: that it must be one-in all-in,” she said.

Dr Brown stressed the Advisory Council had told the Abbott Government any reforms, punitive or not, cannot be aimed solely at First Nations Peoples.

“If you want welfare reform for welfare recipients, whether that is based on school attendance or whether or not you turn up at Centrelink for your job interview, it cannot just be aimed at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. It must be aimed at everyone,” she said.

Dr Brown admitted her position on implementation of reforms was totally at odds with the Prime Minister’s statement in his Close The Gap speech to the House of Representatives last week when he declared “we will end sit-down money with continuous work for the dole”.

Continuous Work for the Dole means five days per week, 52 weeks per year; a system no other Australian is subject to and Dr Brown confirmed that was not a recommendation from the Indigenous Advisory Council.

“We didn’t recommend that, that’s not from us. Don’t think that suggestion is from us,” Dr Brown said.

When the National Indigenous Times pointed out the Prime Minister’s stated intention on a work for the dole scheme for First Peoples was a real illustration how the Indigenous Advisory Council was not being heard, Dr Brown said the plan proposed by Mr Abbott was a “ridiculous expectation”.

“It’s a punitive approach where our Peoples will be forced into circumstances the Federal Government would not expect or ask of any other Australian, only of us, so I’m often frustrated and I’m finding it difficult,” she said.

Dr Brown was asked if the members of the Indigenous Advisory Council were not being listened to by the Abbott Government, why stick around and give the government even a veneer of consultation?

“We only have another 12 months anyway before we move back into the election process,” Dr Brown said. “Whether or not we’ll survive beyond then I don’t know but I know I really want to use that window of opportunity to try to get as much as possible done.

“The other thing is we are an advisory committee and that is always the great caveat for an advisory committee, we provide advice and they may or may not take that.

“I really think it would be in their best interests if they did take the advice of the Indigenous Advisory Council but at the end of the day, to me, it does seem a bit arbitrary,” Dr Brown said.

“I would hope any government should have a relationship with not only our democratically elected representative body like National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples but also with our other peak bodies like in health, education, higher education, employment, Native Title, all those groups and not just with a single advisory council.

“I can only speak for myself, but I’m really trying to move that agenda forward and stop this random decision-making that really is frustrating,” Dr Brown said.

“We didn’t recommend that, that’s not from us. Don’t think that suggestion is from us,” Dr Brown said.

When the National Indigenous Times pointed out the Prime Minister’s stated intention on a work for the dole scheme for First Peoples was a real illustration how the Indigenous Advisory Council was not being heard, Dr Brown said the plan proposed by Mr Abbott was a “ridiculous expectation”.

“It’s a punitive approach where our Peoples will be forced into circumstances the Federal Government would not expect or ask of any other Australian, only of us, so I’m often frustrated and I’m finding it difficult,” she said.

Dr Brown was asked if the members of the Indigenous Advisory Council were not being listened to by the Abbott Government, why stick around and give the government even a veneer of consultation?

“We only have another 12 months anyway before we move back into the election process,” Dr Brown said. “Whether or not we’ll survive beyond then I don’t know but I know I really want to use that window of opportunity to try to get as much as possible done.

“The other thing is we are an advisory committee and that is always the great caveat for an advisory committee, we provide advice and they may or may not take that.

“I really think it would be in their best interests if they did take the advice of the Indigenous Advisory Council but at the end of the day, to me, it does seem a bit arbitrary,” Dr Brown said.

“I would hope any government should have a relationship with not only our democratically elected representative body like National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples but also with our other peak bodies like in health, education, higher education, employment, Native Title, all those groups and not just with a single advisory council.

“I can only speak for myself, but I’m really trying to move that agenda forward and stop this random decision-making that really is frustrating,” Dr Brown said.

 

This article was published in Wednesday February 18 edition of The National Indigenous Times.