PART TWO by ROGER STEELE and DON FULLER
Most Indigenous government programs continue to treat Indigenous people as one, very similar group and fail to take into account the fundamental differences between Indigenous peoples, according to level of need, as we reported in Part One.
Despite this many Indigenous people living with cities in major urban centres attempt to speak on behalf of, and represent the political interests, of those living in remote regions.
However, many urban Aboriginal activists have had little or no experience of the severe privations, poverty, violence and associated social problems existing within remote communities of Australia.
As a result, despite increasing resources being directed towards Indigenous Australians, there has been very little improvement in outcomes, and the gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians have not narrowed and in some cases, increased – particularly in remote regions.
In the 2016 Census, the latest figures available, there were nearly 650,000 people across Australia who identified as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin.
The majority (81%) lived in non-remote areas of Australia.
In the Northern Territory, just under 25% of the population identified as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin in the 2016 Census. In all other States and Territories, 5% or less of the population were of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin. Victoria had the lowest proportion at 0.8% of the State total.
In the 2016 Census, over one-third (35%) of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population lived in capital city areas. States with relatively high proportions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in capital cities include South Australia (54%) and Victoria (50%). In NSW, 32% of the population identifying as Indigenous lived within Greater Sydney.
In contrast, 78% of the population who identified as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin in the Northern Territory lived outside the Capital City area. Likewise, in Queensland, 71% of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population lived outside of the capital city area.
Prof Don Fuller and Roger “Stainless” Steele
Looking at the distribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across remote areas in 2016 compared to 2011, we can see how the proportion of those identifying as Indigenous changed between regions.
In 2016, there was an increase in the number of people identifying as Indigenous living in major cities and inner regional areas and an associated reduction in the proportion of Aboriginal people living in outer regional and remote areas. It is unlikely that many remote Aboriginal people could be expected to move to major urban centres to live.
In New South Wales and Queensland, where most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live, most people lived in major cities or regional areas. While a quarter of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Western Australia lived in very remote areas, most (40%) lived in major cities.
Federal State and Territory taxpayer spending on Indigenous Australians increased from $21.9 billion in 2008-09, to $25.4 billion in 2010-11, $30.3 billion in 2012-13 and $33.4 billion in 2019-20. At first glance these figures are startling.
However, these expenditure figures include amounts spent on mainstream services, such as education and health that all Australians receive. It is important to note that Indigenous specific expenditure, covering programs, services and payments targeted at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, is a far smaller component, estimated to be around $6 billion a year.
This is made up of Federal Government expenditure of $3.3 billion, State and Territory Government expenditure of $2.4 billion and Indigenous Own Source Income of $224m.
Importantly, very little State and Territory funding was spent on programs and services to increase Indigenous people’s economic participation ($17m) with ACT, SA, TAS and QLD allocating none.
Given this relatively low amount it is not surprising that little progress has been made in the key area of Indigenous economic development, which many commentators see as fundamental to the human and social development of Indigenous Australians living in remote regions.
Unfortunately, the Centre for Independent Studies also found that misuse of funds for Indigenous programs is extensive.
Currently, a number of organisations delivering Indigenous programs are under investigation for fraud. Duplication and waste is also very common.
For example, Roebourne in Western Australia, with a population of 1,150, was found to have 67 local service providers and more than 400 programs funded by both Federal and state government. This is a common situation in many remote communities throughout Australia.
To be continued.
AT TOP: Artwork by Alice Springs painter and writer ROD MOSS. He writes: “Destructive drinking dominated many campers’ lives.”