Could Indigenous pain from Hockey’s budget spark new waves of protest?
by Stephen Hagan 22 April 2014
ver the Easter long weekend First Nations Telegraph covered stories of Canberra’s Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Services CEO expressing concern about the future funding of her award winning service and the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) CEO who made a desperate appeal to the government not to make changes to the Disability Support Pension (DSP) when Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey hands down his first budget. Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Services CEO, Julie Tongs said there were 150 Aboriginal community health
When the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people learned of the announcement that Brisbane was to be the host city to the 1982 Commonwealth Games, it was seen as a platform to highlight their struggle on not only a national, but an international level. Australia’s Indigenous peoples saw an opportunity to direct international attention to The Act and other issues of concern such as land rights. Image: SLQ
services nationally and “none of us are guaranteed (funding) after June 30”. ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said at present there were more than 600,000 people with a disability who are living below the poverty line and “42% of people on the DSP are already living in poverty”. “This is unacceptable and it would be unconscionable for us to make the plight of those who rely on the DSP worse,” Ms Goldie said. Clearly changes to both the Aboriginal Health Services nationally and those on the Disability Support Pension will feel some pain from cuts made to their programs by Hockey to find
his aspirational savings of more than $60 billion a year to reach his government’s surplus target by 2023-24. It would appear the plight of Indigenous Australians and those needy Australians who also occupy the bottom rung of the low socioeconomic ladder – the pecking order barometer that discerns one’s success in Australia’s affluent society today - have deteriorated considerably since the early 1990s. When the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) came into effect in March 1990 it was widely hailed as something of a revolution in Aboriginal Affairs. I worked
mob that will never be narrowed with mainstream society. Wind the clock forward to the present and what does the economic landscape look like for Indigenous Australians and those with a disability? Tony Abbott, the PM for Indigenous Australians, did nothing when he learnt that the 260 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander bureaucrats, brought into the Prime Minister and Cabinet Aboriginal land rights protest in 1982. Aboriginal land rights drew large crowds of black department from the old FaHCSIA and white demonstrators alike who made their case publicly. Image: NT News department, earned $19,000 less for ATSIC’s predecessor, the and their families was a reality just than their new white colleagues Department of Aboriginal Affairs waiting to be grasped and savoured. doing the same jobs. (DAA), and was conscious, despite But despondently the 14-year For people with a disability the fact that our charismatic experiment of Indigenous selfworking in the public service, 6% leader Charles Perkins was DAA government came to a grounding were employed in the early 1990s Secretary, that the vast majority halt when Prime Minister John and that figure had dwindled to a of Charlie’s deputies and major Howard announced the abolition of pitiful 2.9% today. decision makers were nonATSIC in April 2004. Clearly the government in the Indigenous executives. Those When making his announcement area they have the greatest control executives did all the hiring and in April 16, Howard said his over, Australian Public Service firing and didn’t exactly have an government would not replace recruitment, they don’t seem to Indigenous slant in the recruitment ATSIC with an alternative have Indigenous people and those program. body. “We believe very with a disability identified as a Whilst working for ATSIC, strongly that the experiment in priority. And based on the abject after the amalgamation of DAA separate representation, elected statistics above, they have neither and the Aboriginal Development representation, for Indigenous the desire or empathy to do so. Commission, I was delighted to see people has been a failure,” Howard The heady days of the 1990s that Regional Managers who ran the said in a gloating tone that, with are but a faint memory for baby day to day administration around the stroke of his pen, inadvertently boomer public servants like myself. the nation were predominantly created an economic chasm for our And you don’t have to be a Rhode Indigenous. scholar to know the pain of The upside of the Hockey’s imminent budget proliferation of Indigenous will be far reaching and decision makers in ATSIC had catastrophic. the causal effect of increased Exactly how much pain will occupancy rate of office seats the 150 Aboriginal community nation-wide taken up by health services nationally – not Indigenous workers. With more to mention the legal, housing, Indigenous people holding full native title, education and time jobs in ATSIC there was the myriad other essential a sense of economic optimism Indigenous organisations for our mob. Indigenous currently reliant on government workers, with permanent funding – as well as those work and a higher than usual disability organisations feel? disposable income, suddenly Only time will tell. found themselves enjoying a Could the collective pain level of employment stability shared from Hockey’s May that was previously missing Placard holders Tom Thompson, Clancy Roberts and budget unite our fractured Davis Daniels protest against a Northern Territory Bill in their lives. The notion of movement into rolling protests which would grant Aboriginal Territorians the right to wealth creation for thousands lease and later sell Aboriginal Reserve land, and in the once again? of Indigenous public servants process lose it. Image NT News.