Megan Krakouer and Gerry Georgatos work extensively in the suicide prevention space. This brings them into contact with many impoverished and incarcerated people and with children in out-of-homecare. Here they share their views on the alleged annual spend of $30 billion to overcome Indigenous disadvantage.
According to the Australian Department of Health, the 2009 Swine Flu took the lives of First Nations Peoples at five times the rate of the rest of the Australian population.
The most vulnerable were children, particularly children living in acute disadvantage. A decade on, the level of disadvantage continues and little has been learned. What lessons will now be learned from COVID-19? We fear, none.
Today, we live in the mess of the nation’s past. Despite affirmative actions that have seen a road to equality built, more than half of Australia’s First Peoples are yet to secure passage on the journey. More than half live below the Henderson Poverty Line, Australia’s benchmark for poverty, with a significant proportion living in crushing poverty, in the lowest 20 percent of income.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, more than a quarter of Australia’s homeless are the descendants of this continent’s First Peoples.
There is impoverishment so acute in much of the remote communities that it is near third world conditions. It is our argument that the permanency of poverty in the majority of remote communities is not made by its residents, but by Governments that have starved them of even the most basic infrastructure, including schools.
At the same time, the impoverished First Nations people living neglected lives in our urban masses—in our capital cities and large regional towns—are lost in translation. Overall, they make up the majority of the impoverished. They live below the Poverty Line, in the poorest circumstances in social housing, living depleted lives.
So where are our Governments? Where are our political leaders on crises of crushing poverty, health and social inequalities?
They make the claim that billions of dollars are spent each year to ‘overcome Indigenous disadvantage’. It is argued that presently over $30 billion is spent overcoming these crushing disadvantages.
In 2012, the annual Indigenous spend was $25.4 billion, according to the Productivity Commission. In 2013, we disaggregated the billions and found that the Productivity Commission had collated expenditure across 86 initiatives.
According to the Productivity Commission, the $25.4 billion represented 5.6 percent of the national budget, for 2.6 percent of the national population. A little over double the spend for First Nations Peoples compared to other Australians.
We contested this claim, arguing that—at best—a billion dollars was hitting the ground.
At the time, the late Tiga Bayles, former Chair of the NSW Aboriginal Lands Council and builder of First Nations media services said, “Where is all this money they talk about? Gerry, we don’t see it. Can someone tell us where to look for it?”
If this spending was real, it would mean a spend of $44,128 for every First Nations individual compared to just less than $20,000 for non-Indigenous Australians.
Firstly, the idea of a $25 billion spend, now at $35 billion, needs to be reduced nearly in half. The conflation of spend for all Australians—basic services—is reprehensible and unrelated with disadvantage.
Among the 86 initiatives was a 2012 spend of $3.2 billion on “public order, safety and corrective services.” What’s that got to do with overcoming disadvantage?
The Productivity Commission’s annual report, Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage, included a distasteful spend on administration and bureaucracy.
Subtracting the normal spend for Australians and the law and order spend from the $25.4 billion, suddenly the $25.4 billion becomes $10 billion.
Then there was a $3 billion spend on education to First Nations students, but compared to the spend per individual on non-Indigenous students, the spend was equivalent to the education spend for all Australian students.
This meant there was no additional spend on First Nations students to deal with the stressors borne of disadvantage.
Just three of the 86 initiatives corrected the Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage spend to less than $7 billion.
Included was a $3.8 billion social security payment spend to First Nations people. Social security entitlements have nothing to do with a First Nations spend. This left us with a little over $3 billion.
It continued in a similar fashion until we were left with a billion dollars at best, in the world’s 12th biggest economy, arguably hitting the ground where there was an attempt to address disadvantages.
What the Productivity Commission’s 2012 report got right, and does every year, was that “Indigenous Australians remain significantly disadvantaged compared with other Australians across a wide range of socioeconomic indicators.”
The report did state, however, that “Governments in Australia spend $25 billion annually on services for Indigenous Australians. While much of this expenditure is on mainstream services used by all Australians, some specifically addresses Indigenous disadvantage.”
For too long Prime Ministers and Ministers have washed and soaked into the Australian psyche that there is a $35 billion annual spend on Indigenous disadvantage alone. This is clearly not the case.
In October 2012, the Productivity Commission released findings in its report, Better Indigenous Policies: The Role of Evaluation.
Then Commission Chair Gary Banks said, “It is said that the greatest tragedy of failures is failing to learn from it. But that seems to be the predominant history of Indigenous policies and programs.”
Very true. But we can’t lie about what’s being done, such as claiming annual spends in the tens of billions to overcome disadvantage.
By Megan Krakouer and Gerry Georgatos
Megan Krakouer is a Mineng woman from Western Australia’s southwest. Presently, Megan is the Director of the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project (NSPTRP) and also works as a lawyer for the National Justice Project.
Gerry Georgatos is a non-Indigenous suicide prevention and poverty researcher with an experiential focus. Among his academic qualifications he has a Masters in Human Rights Education and a Masters in Social Justice Advocacy. He is the National Coordinator of the NSPTRP.