Indigenous Australia

Coalition's Indigenous Affairs Budget doesn't even begin to pay the rent

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'Mural after the Aboriginal Flag' designed by Harold Thomas in Redfern, Sydney (photo by Newtown Graffiti via

Its minuscule Indigenous budget continues the Coalition's paternalistic and disparaging policy and doesn't even begin to address 229 years of oppression, writes Indigenous affairs editor Natalie Cromb.

I HAVE MADE my views on the importance of Treaty clear and which model I consider would be best placed to not only serve the interests of the Indigenous community but also slot into the existing framework.

It follows, then, that we need to address the topic of reparation — a topic often met with gasps or horror from mainstream Australia because they’re conditioned to have a certain viewpoint when considering Indigenous people and money.

The debate surrounding Indigenous policy and the issue of reparation is fraught with the racial stereotypes unashamedly used throughout mainstream media and political debate, often with the intent to malign Indigenous people as greedy, or needy and incapable of financial management.

Rhetoric and its effect

The public relations campaign waged against Indigenous people since the invasion has been a successful one for the Crown and, subsequently, for the Australian Government. It has been justification for the atrocities in the decades following invasion and, in more recent history, it has been used to vindicate governments making policies for and on behalf of Indigenous people, with little to no community consultation and notwithstanding the lack of choice for communities, the failures in Indigenous policy have been laid at the feet of the Indigenous community.

Despite the constant disparagement of the Indigenous community, the one unavoidable fact that can be quantified is that on 26 January 1788, the Crown not only contravened its own law but that of prevailing international law, by laying claim and taking 7.692 million square kilometres of land that was already inhabited and cared for by the Indigenous people of this land belonging to over 200 nations with a sophisticated and ecologically focussed system of governance.

The effects of this theft (yes, I said that) of land have been hugely profitable for the Australian Government but utterly devastating for the Indigenous people of Australia, having suffered a devastating 80% population loss and, 229 years later, in the absence of any real measures to address the past and present injustices, the devastation remains and is freely seen by anyone who looks.

We have the highest rates of Indigenous incarceration since the South African apartheid; we have rates of Indigenous deaths in custody at the same level which predicated the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody; our children are being removed from their families at a rate not seen since the stolen generations; children are being tortured in custody and committing suicide at epidemic rates; and community empowerment has given way to a policy of individual wealth accumulation under the Coalition’s Indigenous affairs policy.

We represent 3% of the population, but receive 0.002% of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) for programmes that have no Indigenous community input or apparent benefit. Indigenous policy is paternalistic and further disempowers communities and individuals within communities and – if we are to believe unification rhetoric – this needs to change. Now.

Economy – or false economy

The Australian economy has enjoyed a steady increase in value over the last 229 years. The initial penal colony quickly burgeoned a livestock and pastoral empire at the immediate detriment to the Indigenous people. The economy then expanded to include mineral mining and manufacturing with the effects felt not only by the Indigenous people but the environment, with mass wildlife shortages where ecological sustainability was not a concept considered by the white "settlers". The ensuing technological era saw increases in mining activity, and the service sector and the economy quickly burgeoned in excess of a trillion $U.S. dollars — and has continued to grow in recent years despite world economic troubles.

The success of the Australian economy is not down to economic management as the constant political posturing would have us believe, it is because a benefit has been derived from the Indigenous people and cultural lands without any payment. Only a small portion of the cultural lands have been returned to traditional owners and almost all of that land "returned" is vulnerable to native title extinguishment for mining, if it is not already subject to the 99-year lease provisions. Communities remain vulnerable to governmental whim where water can be turned off, along with electricity and removal of essential services due to the notion that living a cultural life on country is a "lifestyle choice" that the mainstream population shouldn’t have to pay for.

The rhetoric of taxpayer dollars funding welfare and Aboriginal communities is deliberately divisive and paints a picture so far from the truth given that we know that this country – land and people – were taken without recompense, treaty or even the consideration of negotiation. The wealth derived not only from the value of the land but the use of the land for industry, the mining and export of minerals, and the use of slave labour has all been without recompense.

The last Indigenous Affairs budget was $60.7 million to be distributed over four years for targeted programmes, and an additional $10.5 million for foetal alcohol syndrome disorder (FASD) treatment and support programmes, which will largely be directed at Indigenous women and children. The just released 2017 Budget forecasts an additional $30 million. This represents 0.002% of GDP.

The oldest living culture in the world that has sustained 229 years of oppression is relegated to an offensively minuscule amount of funding for programmes that are meant to redress the very oppression caused by colonisation.


There have been disjointed and clumsy attempts at reparations over the last few decades with the "stolen wages" claim and the recent announcement in NSW for compensation to the stolen generations. However, the effect of the money dedicated to these claims does little to redress the trauma occasioned to the Indigenous people within these claim categories.

Accurate assessment of reparation can only come from a thorough and forensic quantification of the damages occasioned upon Indigenous people for the last 229 years — an exercise perhaps far too costly and burdensome for the government to consider given that, ultimately, the economy simply cannot afford to pay the damages owed to the Indigenous people of this country.

The forensic analysis would need to consider the land value, which is currently estimated in the trillions, the wealth derived from the land (multiplied by the amount of years and steady growth, which is also well into the trillions) and then the damages claims for massacres, rapes, child removal, slave labour, transgenerational trauma and environmental damage would point to a number that forms the basis of the government's agenda of denial and rhetoric to denigrate Indigenous people.

We know why the government wants to deny sovereignty and push symbolic acts like the apology and constitutional recognition — because the cost of reparation paints a picture of a country that is broke, but we do not want this. Not by a long shot.

Meaningful reparation can only now be achieved by looking to the future. Indigenous Australians represent 3% of the population and if we were to have access to the equivalent percentage of GDP instead of the 0.002% that is currently budgeted, this would make a significant impact upon our Indigenous people — but only if that funding were assigned to policies and programmes determined by Indigenous people.

Where to now?

The blueprints for a better Australia have been circulating with the growing grassroots Treaty movement, which enunciates the principles of self-determination, culture, land and language. The pursuit of a Treaty and wide support of it and the principles within it is what will be the defining cultural shift in this country to finally overcome an abhorrent history and have a legacy to be proud of. I only hope that the mainstream community of Australia starts to listen to the Indigenous community and work towards this future we can be proud of.

Please show your support for this future and this legacy by listening; by joining Indigenous Australians in the quest against more symbolism and paternalism — join us in righting wrongs and fighting for self-determination.

Natalie Cromb is a proud Gamilaraay woman. You can follow Natalie on Twitter @NatalieCromb.

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