The first Indigenous woman elected to the House of Representatives, Linda Burney, has unloaded on the Prime Minister’s chief Indigenous adviser Warren Mundine, saying many of the setbacks to efforts to tackle domestic violence “have happened on his watch”.
Ms Burney said domestic violence rates in Indigenous communities was a “national disgrace” but government funding cuts had thwarted many programs trying to stop it.
She said federal and State governments needed to re-invest the money that had been pulled out of Aboriginal programs and domestic violence services in the last two years.
“The issue that Warren is not addressing is he is the chairperson of the Indigenous Advisory Council to the Prime Minister and that council has overseen the budget for Aboriginal Affairs services cut by a half a billion dollars,” she told NIT.
“It has overseen the introduction of the Indigenous Advancement strategy which has seen the defunding of all the Brighter Futures programs for Aboriginal children across the country, the defunding of many Aboriginal community services that are there to address social justice issues, the defunding of Aboriginal pre-schools, the defunding of legal services that assist Aboriginal people in these situations with legal advice.
“It’s just a bit rich for him to be outraged when in fact these things have happened on his watch.”
Mr Mundine on Monday launched a searing attack over what he said was silence over domestic violence in Indigenous communities, singling out Labor Senator Pat Dodson.
In a column in The Australian, Mr Mundine, a former national president of the Australian Labor Party, wrote that if Indigenous people remained silent then they deserved to be tarnished.
Mr Mundine pointed to research that had shown Indigenous women in Australia were 34 times more likely to be hospitalised from domestic abuse and to an epidemic of sexual abuse of Indigenous children that largely went unreported.
He also pointed to a study that found Aboriginal mothers in Western Australia were 17.5 times more likely to be murdered.
He told NIT today that the government’s swift action in July on the treatment of youths at the Don Dale detention centre in the NT had prompted his comments. He said if quick action could be taken on youth detention, why not on domestic violence.
He said domestic violence should be the top priority for the Council of Australian Governments. Round table talks involving all sectors of the community, including Indigenous leaders, needed to be held.
“The fact of the matter is we can’t just lock everyone up, we’ve got to have support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, we’ve got to have support for men in this process as well, dealing with alcohol, the drugs, the violence and everything else that happens,” he said.
“We need to have jobs, education programs. A whole range of things need to happen.
“I’d like us to sit down and I’d like us all to be involved to make sure we don’t make the sins of the past the sins of today.”
Mr Mundine said communities could help by not tolerating domestic violence.
“Even with cultural issues, I’d like to see everything on the table,” he said. “Even if people go through manhood ceremonies and then they go around beating women then they should be told to go back through manhood ceremony to learn the proper behaviour towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.
“It’s something that we need to have on the table.”
He told NIT that he would be urging the Prime Minister and the government to act immediately on domestic violence in the same way they had confronted the problems at the Don Dale youth detention centre in the Northern Territory.
But Ms Burney, Labor MP for Barton in NSW and former deputy leader of the NSW Opposition, said Mr Mundine’s comments about Aboriginal leaders, particularly Pat Dodson, were out of line and unfair. She said Indigenous MPs, including herself, had been active on the issue and many communities had also introduced anti-domestic violence programs.
Ms Burney last year revealed her own experience with domestic violence, which occurred a long time before she met her late partner Rick Farley. She fled the relationship after a severe beating left her with a broken nose and eye socket.
“He’s calling on Indigenous MPs as if we’ve done nothing,” Ms Burney said. “And I think he’s particularly focused on Patrick Dodson saying all that Patrick’s banging on about is incarceration.
“I find that unacceptable. I have spent my entire career working in Aboriginal education which, of course, is key to addressing some of the endemic issues in the community.
“I’ve spoken out publicly on many occasions about domestic violence, including my own experience with domestic violence. I’ve established Aboriginal programs that specifically address domestic violence for example the Tackling Violence program in NSW.
“(NT Labor MP) Malarndirri McCarthy is literally in Alice Springs as we speak meeting with town camps about domestic violence. Patrick Dodson has been an advocate for many years as has (WA Liberal MP) Ken Wyatt about these issues.
“I’m glad the issue is being spoken about by Warren, but I’m disappointed that there isn’t the recognition that there needs to be about the work many of us have done over the years.
“We’ve also seen wonderful programs like the Hey Sis program being defunded by the Federal and State governments, which is a key program to support the champions in our community who do address domestic violence.
“They are shutting down all the safe houses in the western district of NSW and I didn’t see Warren out there criticising the Baird government when they shut down the women’s refuges in NSW, criticising the Turnbull-Abbott government for defunding programs that are there to address issues of violence in Aboriginal communities.”
Ms Burney said Mr Mundine should be taking the issue up with the Prime Minister.
“It goes back to education, health and also addressing and looking at the history.,” she said. “You cannot divorce this issue from the history of violence and segregation and racism that Aboriginal people have experienced.
“Warren discounts that, well I’m sorry, the issues of intergenerational violence have that basis in that history.
“I’m glad he’s shown an interest in this area, but let’s talk about real solutions and many of those solutions have been defunded and disregarded by the State and federal Liberal Coalition government, of which he is an advisor to.
“People have been working in this area for a long time. To say nothing is happening and nothing is changing is wrong. I agree resoundedly with Warren that this is a national disgrace and there needs to be enormous focus on it, but to paint it as something that he’s belatedly come to is rather naive I think.
“If he wants to mouth off about stuff like this then he needs to get his facts correct and recognise the work many of us have been doing for a very long time.
“I don’t want to say that I’m cross because I don’t want to play politics in this space, but for heaven’s sake if you are going to go out there and make this your personal crusade then have some skin in the game.”
Asked if funding cuts had contributed to the problem, Mr Mundine said: “I don’t want to get into what’s happened in the past, I want to move forward. If that means extra funding, then it needs extra funding. If money needs to go back into areas, then money needs to go back into areas.”