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  • Funding cut signals the destruction of Aboriginal life in Australia

Funding cut signals the destruction of Aboriginal life in Australia


APY lands kids

The Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion seems to be presiding over the destruction of Aboriginal life in Australia

Aboriginal Communities have very recently been informed about the annual  allocations to enable the running of Aboriginal Communities given under what is now known as the Indigenous Advancement Strategy. The stated aims of the IAS is named by the Coalition Government in the terms of get ting children to school, adults into work and building safe communities.

But in reality – as one of the Aboriginal administrators of a well established regional Aboriginal community in SA explained to me the day after the shock of receiving the IAS funding news, the policy and practice can only be assumed to be about making both regional and remote communities unsustainable. ‘If they don’t fund the communities, it is a given that they will become unsustainable.’

In SA the situation is made even more precarious by the unresolved situation of the water, power and other essential services known as MUNS funding.  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?

Many of the Aboriginal communities in South Australia have suffered a 90 per cent cut to their requested funding under the IAS. The exceptions to this are reportedly, the APY Lands – Amata, Pukatja (Ernabella), Indulkana – which will receive no funding at all. These Lands in the north west of the state include these large settlements as well as smaller communities and homelands. There will be no funding for the Maralinga Lands.

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.

Yalata is a substantial Community in the Far West of SA. Pitjatantjara Elder Mima Smart OAM from Yalata was in Port Augusta on March 28 at the Crisis Summit called for SA leaders in Aboriginal Communities. Mima is worried people will be forced to move. "I want the people, the community people, to stay in the country," she said

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’?

Michele MadiganMichele Madigan is a Sister of St Joseph who has spent the past 38 years working with Aboriginal people in remote areas of South Australia and in Adelaide. Her work has included advocacy and support for senior Aboriginal women of Coober Pedy in their campaign against the proposed national radioactive dump.

APY lands image from sbs.com.au



Topic tags: Michele Madigan, Indigenous funding, social welfare, Federal Budget



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Existing comments

Over at the Guardian, in the comments on the article http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/03/its-not-just-indigenous-australians-v-adani-over-a-coal-mine-we-should-all-join-this-fight, someone made the sadly believable point that for the Aboriginal communities in WA, this is payback time because of the successful challenge to the James Price Point gas project.

Margaret | 04 April 2015  

Thank you and well said Michele. The church needs to engage more constantly in these issues. This is a complete abrogation of Federal Government responsibility and shows the depth of lack of understanding or commitment that our Australian Government has to our Nation's First Peoples. A&TSI wellbeing is intricately connected to their their lands for which they have a deep respect of and responsibility to what many term 'mother' earth. Indeed they have cared fore these-their lands- since time immemorial. They never ceeded their lands. Who are we (neo-colonisers) to impose such inhumane actions on the owners and custodians of these lands? WHO? Then ,on the other hand, we are also aware of current SA drives to support the nuclear industry e.g. see http://www.nuclearaustralia.org.au/category/sa-royal-commission/ or http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-23/nuclear-royal-commission-terms-of-reference-jay-weatherill/6224192
Our Government/s perhaps are setting up remote Aboriginal communities to fail. These are grossly irresponsible actions which will cause a crisis of mammoth proportions (in more ways than one). These polices exclude Aboriginal peoples concerns in the decision making, from the outset of policy formation.
These policies will fail our First peoples, cause further dispossession, trauma and destruction; we hear people speak of cultural genocide.

How to engage more and our church more constantly in this?
This Government decision must be reversed.
There is more we can do e.g., join peaceful protests - bring family,friends and church members along on April 10th and or also join national rallys against remote aboriginal closures on May 1st https://www.facebook.com/sosblakaustralia?fref=ts
There is immediate action e.g.http://www.concernedaustralians.com.au/media/Outstation-closures-Letter-requesting-help.pdf

George | 06 April 2015  

How easy it is to cut the lifeline of funding to remote communities when much of indigenous affairs commentary is about constitutional recognition. Meanwhile the allocation of two thirds of IAS funding to non-indigenous organisations, many of them already financially secure, demonstrates continuation of the "Aboriginal industry" which has continued to draw much of indigenous affairs funding away from Indigenous communities even since the reforms of 1973. South Australia is right to refuse the $10 million transfer payout offered by the Federal Government which unilaterally in their 2014 budget severely cut allocations to the States, while fully aware that the States have limited opportunity to make up the funding shortfall through State taxation. The predictable outcome for remote Indigenous communities has now been demonstrated in Western Australia. I would welcome a 50% increase in the GST rate if such increase would be directed to enabling real Indigenous advancement together with due constitutional recognition.

Ian Fraser | 07 April 2015  

Sorry, Sister, but you sound just as you would if you were advocating the maintenance of a zoo or a museum. Should not people in remote communities in some way "earn" their funding, or are you advocating that they have some right to immense government funding simply because they are aboriginal?
The national debate has to move beyond this - we all, black and white, need to answer the one crucial question that is never asked - what actual place in society, in fundamental, practical, down-to-earth terms does Australia want for its aboriginal citizens? If this is to be different from that for the rest of us, then for precisely whom and how different?

John R. Sabine | 07 April 2015  

Aboriginal life in Australia was essentially destroyed over 200 years ago by the defeat of Pemulwuy, the Rainbow Warrior, and over subsequent years by white free-settler and military massacre of whole communities. In the culture of guilt that Christian Victorian missionary zeal brought to the quest for civilisation of the "savages" which of necessity in that view demanded the destruction of the Dreamtime and the Jesus-less culture of the Aboriginal people, white conscience was soothed by pouring money into the aboriginal communities. Such largesse
produced dependency and finally destroyed any prospect of true sustainability of genuine Aboriginal culture. It is now too late. The horse has well and truly bolted. Perhaps if the largesse is curtailed the Aboriginal people might well be able to rescue their traditional culture. Our Aboriginal people are remarkably resourceful in the face of limited availability, something they had developed and lived with for thousands of years before the superior Englishmen brought what was in their opinion God's only option - the cult of the superior white Anglo-Saxon!

john frawley | 07 April 2015  

The whole attitude of our Government is a sad indictment of this invaded country.
We as the late comers to this ancient land of deep culture and Spirituality, and must learn to live the Truth.
thanks Michele for your love and Mission .

Patricia Adams | 07 April 2015  

This is dreadful news for the remote communities, it appears the Abbott Government has no respect or understanding of our Aboriginal people. People power is necessary to turn this decision around with strong support by the Churches of all denominations.

Gene Trim | 07 April 2015  

Surely, there must be some differentiation at least between communities that are viable, that can produce a quality and productive lifestyle with proper jobs, and in which people and especially children are safe and where they can thrive, ....and those that cannot, and/or which have demonstrably failed. The "campaign" against nuclear storage sounds rather suspiciously like greenie-leftie political correctness, rather than for well-paying jobs and technical training for local Aboriginals doing something that Australia and the world needs.

Eugene | 07 April 2015  

Remote aboriginal communities are artificial structures created by Western ideologists. Excepting the fact that they exist on traditional lands, they have nothing to do with the traditional aboriginal lifestyle. No traditional “sustainable” aboriginal community ever lived off the wealth created by outsiders: they lived off the land, with great wisdom and energy. For the good of the aborigines, federal and state governments should bite the bullet and shut down all support of these state-created artificial nodes of meaninglessness, despair and great violence to women and children. After profoundly apologising to the aboriginal community for inflicting bizarre Western leftist theories on their peoples, they should honour their words by managing an integration with the mainstream Australian community, in which the vast bulk of aborigines flourish today. For any adults (aboriginal, part aboriginal or otherwise) who wish to pursue the authentic, traditional, unsubsidized aboriginal way of life on their ancestral lands: you have our best wishes, and should you change your minds at any stage, we welcome you into the mainstream Australian community, no strings attached. P.S. Consistent with what Michele rightly points out, government funding should also be cut from Swimming Australia, Rugby Union, the AFL, etc.

HH | 07 April 2015  

Michele Madigan,
#! I want to find a reference to a media note about Mundine / Pearson and a "group of 8" aboriginal people considering the whole topic.#2 if Lloyd Walker is a recipient of a grant for rugby union it is 100% koori kids.
looking forward to more chat.
Jon, turramurra, Sydney, 0433177082

Jonathan Horan | 07 April 2015  

Thanks very much for this important article. Maybe Sr Madigan would have liked to simply post a photo of tears, such is the enormity of what she is saying. How strange: this government -- led by the PM, himself minister for women and self declared PM for indigenous affairs-- is effectively demanding ‘advancement’ which clearly means completely becoming westernised in language, in thought, in spirit: transform your economic identity or you have no safety nets for your community. Where do people go if the communities collapse: Territorians know they come to the town centres, most without the skills to survive. Senator Scullion certainly knows: he has had to build a high fence around his Darwin office: he is next to a pub. Look at the NT jail statistics to find where the lost go.
Dedicated westerners have worked very hard in communities to find the best means to integrate Aboriginal and western culture. This task is very complex, no easy answers. But no government, no legislation can force anyone to change the cultural essence of who they are. And that is what is being demanded of people clinging to their land. Most importantly, the government is abandoning the wonderful older people, mainly women, in the communities -- they sacrifice, sometimes heroically, to hold things together.

Jane Moore | 07 April 2015  

This is an excellent article - insightful and compelling. I for one will be circulating it, working on a petition, writing letters and standing in solidarity with Michele and other like minded people to see justice prevail. This is a shocking situation and we can only hope the SA government can work a fair result from Minister Scullion and/ or provide the urgent support itself to communities ASAP! Thanks Michels for this informative article.

Deirdre Tedmandon | 07 April 2015  

If big, affluent organisations got funding they should refuse to take it, or give it to Aboriginal communities or organisations. We need to make this known and put pressure on them.

Christine | 08 April 2015  

Minister Scullion = a PM Abbott lapdog. How can the PM attack overseas countries when his government so treats its own indigenous citizens & when many indigenous communities in SA have suffered a 90% cut in requested IAS funds, as Sr Michele says. The PM obviously attends his church service weekly, but more obviously fails to realise what belonging to the Church (Body of Christ) means.

John Cronin, Toowoomba Q | 08 April 2015  

Thanks Michele for your life's work and for highlighting this return to last century Aboriginal Policy - Soothing the dying pillow. Shame job.

Fiona | 08 April 2015  

I live in Port Macquarie NSW , here we have government funded schools,Hospitals,garbage collection,water maintenance, roads maintenance, aged care facilities, police,ambulance ,fire fighters ,life savers,council maintenance, a multi billion dollar highway upgrade,and many other local services , some are paid with council rates but others are government funded , I am just wondering why these services are available to me and everybody else here but are suddenly not available to the Aboriginal people ? What makes me more important than somebody in remote areas of Australia, Governments have paid for these services for over a hundred years to keep these communities together and to protect the Aboriginal heritage. So why suddenly stop funding these communities all of a sudden ? I can only think of one answer, GREED, there must be something under these people lands that some greedy miner wants. Please do not think you are not cared about , the general population of this great country are behind you. Stay strong friends with enough public outcry you will win this one and i will do whatever i can

jason | 09 April 2015  

Typical conservative attitude that these "people" don't count in our society.
When will they realise that these people are Australian -- or are they?

John Campbell | 10 April 2015  

I really don’t like the suggestion of some mature worldly people on this forum that give Aboriginal Australians one of two choices: either revert to the nomadic hunter-gatherer past traditionally but not always correctly attributed to life before white settlement, or abandon the existing way of life and integrate into the rest of society – take it or leave it. Simplistic and unsympathetic. Surely it is not up to outsiders to make ultimatums. Hasn’t that approach failed in the past, despite the best intentions of the decision-makers of the day? A more reasoned approach would work with individual communities to see what is in their best interests and take it from there. The Intervention had some successes in repairing communities, but also some failures, as should be expected with what was basically a “one size fits all” approach. Let’s not make the same mistake with remote communities.

Brett | 10 April 2015  

Jason: if Port Macquarie were to 1.) irreparably lose its connections with local primary, secondary and (most) tertiary industry, such that unemployment for able-bodied adults escalated to levels well over 80% and government handouts were the only means of sustenance, 2.) become suddenly very remote and thus expensive to service, and - largely as a result of 1. and 2., - 3.) become a dysfunctional community where alcoholism, petrol sniffing, violence and sexual abuse of women and children were rife, then I’d suggest the best thing for its citizens (especially the women and children) would be for the government to withdraw its support for the community and enable the citizens therein to move to viable economic centres where the able-bodied could find meaningful employment and a much better chance of living a flourishing life. This type of adjustment is a perfectly normal process in the history of mankind. There are hundred of ghost towns all across inland Australia (and the rest of the world) – more than 200 in WA alone - where, for example, mining communities sprang up, prospered for a few or many years, and then died when the mine ran out or became unprofitable. No-one ever suggested that governments continue prop up these communities with infrastructure and services well past the time when they were substantially contributing via their enterprise (and taxes) to the common good. Moreover, even were a benevolent billionaire to fund the remote communities out of his own pocket, replacing all government services and welfare payments including unemployment benefits with his own money, this would still be a deeply unsatisfactory solution, as it would fail to address the most important issue. As Pope John Paul II reminded us in Laborem Exercens, humans need for their psychological and spiritual welfare to work with each other in productive employment. From this point of view, where the money artificially propping up the remote aboriginal communities comes from – taxes or voluntary donations – is irrelevant. Cheers.

HH | 10 April 2015  

None of this would be happening if such communities were not dysfunctional and destructive. We are likely to see in generations to come, people lawsuits from those children damaged by the maintenance of these communities. Anyone who supports maintaining such places of misery is dooming the future of those who live in them.

Roslyn Ross | 10 April 2015  

Why wasn't the public outcry against the cuts to funding for remote Indigenous homes/communities louder and larger that the absurd granting of a knighthood to Phillip Windsor? The colonial racist mindset of the Libs is appalling,- not surprisingly appalling.

Vacy Vlazna | 10 April 2015  

Considering that the resources that this white australia steals from their true owners, and that we are not aboriginal people but settlers, how arrogant are we to be talking about aboriginal people "earning" their "funding" fro their communities. Their ability sustain what was a totally sustainable culture before we stole it is sorely prejudiced. We are shamed australia in many ways !! Roger Keyes.

Roger Keyes | 11 April 2015  

Michele, After all these years, it's great to hear of your continued work 'on the margins'. Francis, and lots of us are proud of you! Keep up the good work. Never will I forget your scats singing with my jazz band on York Peninsula circa 1976 - 77. Is the photo really you??? If so, you're certainly looking better than me! Michael Herry

Michael Herry | 11 April 2015  

Thanks Michelle for your article. The persecution of Aboriginal people in this country goes on unabated! Occasional signs of hope in terms of positive political decisions are too often reversed, and it is the most isolated and disadvantaged people who suffer most. These current decisions amount to a politicisation of genocide and cultural destruction in my estimation. Let's continue to resist!

Margaret Armstrong | 12 April 2015  

Thank you for printing this excellent article from Michele. Who will speak if we don't? How can our politicians turn a deaf ear to the needs of our indigenous Australians? Liz

Elizabeth Morris | 12 April 2015  

Correct, Roslyn Ross. Every day we wring our hands, debate about “consultation” and refuse to act is another day of sexual abuse and violence for women and children in these artificial remote communities. But that's OK because "they're only abos", they are indeed very remote, and on top of that, removing the children from harm's way and enabling them to grow up and flourish in mainstream Australian society is "stealing", so let's not go there - just leave them be, throw them a few more dollars, hook them up to the NBN, and give ourselves a pat on the back.

HH | 13 April 2015  

Is the next step to close down remote towns that aren’t turning a profit? That’s the laissez faire survival of the fittest approach but I can’t see the same criteria applying. And what about Tassie? How much longer will we North Islanders have to pay for their lifestyle choices? I can see where this is going.

Brett | 14 April 2015  

Aboriginal culture by its very nature needs no funding. To preserve it actually requires cutting all funding, only then can traditional ways return. This should be obvious to all.

Michael | 14 April 2015  

Yes a very good article. Let us be clear. This is not about understanding or respect. The Government understands full well what it is doing. It is deliberately setting out to destroy Aboriginal communities. This is purely ideological. It has nothing to do with funding, viability, getting kids to school etc. This has been going on for some years, especially in the Northern Territory. It is important to understand the beast. This is not a policy based on ignorance, rather it is very deliberate. It must be defeated.

George Makofski | 14 April 2015  

I had the pleasure of being a student of Michelle many years ago in Port Lincoln. It is no suprise that she has found herself in such important work giving intelligent opinions such as this. Im glad there are still people like Michelle in Australia. I also have the pleasure to work at a very remote community in WA so I have some insight into the problems. Thanks Michelle

Paul Rice | 20 April 2015  

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