Is Anyone Talking About Indigenous Affairs?

Whatever happens in this election, there is little likelihood of any benefit for those Indigenous Australians who do not meet the Gillard formula of hardworking, compliant income earners, writes Eva Cox

Lowitja O’Donoghue asked the PM on Q and A this week about the silence on giving Indigenous people a fair go and was politely rebuffed with a comment about education initiatives.

The low priority of Indigenous issues this campaign was further emphasised by a comment from Tony Abbott at a Redfern meeting yesterday – he stated there had been political agreement on the issue for years! Together with other welfare dependent Australians, Indigenous Australians will get bipartisan rough treatment, whoever wins.

The one positive announcement has been a commitment by both parties to a referendum on recognising the first Australians in the Constitution. The ALP will set up a consultation process and expert group, the Coalition has committed on a time line, the next election. However, there is no detail about whether this will just be words in the preamble or a clause that can be used to assert rights.

There are, however, some policy proposals that will unduly affect Indigenous people. The ALP has mentioned Indigenous school retention as a factor in their proposal for excluding school avoiders from sporting participation. The logic of this proposal is hard to find as participation in sports may be the only hook that would give these children a rationale for returning to education. Excluding them is more likely to encourage more disordered and unlawful involvements rather than encouraging them to return to schools that have failed to engage them.

Where is the funding to increase Indigenous trained teachers? Where is the funding for training so schools can meet the cultural and social needs of Indigenous communities? Where is the commitment to promoting the value of Indigenous knowledge and its contribution to Australia?

Clampdowns on the unemployed and pressure to move to where jobs are available will also be problematic for those in rural and isolated areas. The loss of CDEP jobs in many such communities has raised the unemployment levels. Being pressed to move creates more problems as if the job fails, they lose 12 weeks payment, if they leave, which will discourage those trying to shift into a new place and new occupation.

The extension of income management to the whole of the NT and the prospect of it becoming national in 2011 (Coalition) or 2012 (ALP) is another serious problem for ‘working age’ welfare recipients. It’s not just the unemployed in this case but also sole parents and many refugees on special benefits that are targeted. This extension is despite a singular lack of evidence that the Income Management has benefited the 73 communities it has already operated in for some time and the expensive administration ($80 per week per person). The potential ill effects on social well being make this risky, particularly in Indigenous communities where lack of self confidence and respect are major problems.