Election 2016: Indigenous Affairs

Election 2016: Indigenous Affairs

Constitutional recognition

All parties have cited a commitment to pursuing a referendum to recognise Indigenous people in the Australian Constitution. Both parties supported, this year, the establishment of a Referendum Council to discuss the proposal and when the referendum should be held, which is currently ongoing. According to the Recognise campaign, the proposals concern the following:

  1. Remove Section 25 – which contemplates States banning people from voting based on their race;
  2. Remove section 51(xxvi) – which can be used to pass laws that discriminate against people based on their race;
  3. Insert a new section 51A – to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and to preserve the Australian Government’s ability to pass laws for the benefit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
  4. Insert a new section 116A, banning racial discrimination by government; and
  5. Insert a new section 127A, recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages were this country’s first tongues, while confirming that English is Australia’s national language.

On Q&A, Bill Shorten suggested that he might also be in favour of a treaty for Indigenous people, to be pursued after constitutional recognition. This was disagreed with by Malcolm Turnbull, who suggested that bringing such an idea to the fore would damage community support for constitutional recognition, and as such has suggested no such policy or support for anything similar.


Other Liberal policies

In addition to ongoing existing policies within the Indigenous Affairs department, the Coalition’s main policy concerning Indigenous people has been the Policy to Develop Indigenous Business Opportunities. This policy has a number of features:

  1. Tax cut to small businesses
  2. The establishment of a $115 million Indigenous Entrepreneurs’’ Package, with $90 million for an Entrepreneurs’’ Fund, $23.1 million for Indigenous Business Australia’s Indigenous Business Development and Assistance Program and $1.9 million for the development of an Indigenous business sector strategy

That’s a lot of jargon, so here’s an explanation:

The tax cut to small businesses applies to all Australian small business who meet the criteria, not just Indigenous ones. It is designed to encourage investment in small businesses, and to encourage them to employ more people.

The Indigenous Entrepreneurs’ Fund will provide one off grants for the establishment of infrastructure by Indigenous owned businesses, with a specific focus being on businesses in remote Australia and on businesses that will generate wealth through employment. These grants are to be complemented by finance from Indigenous Business Australia or from the private sector. The $1.9 million for business sector strategy is said to aim to enable Indigenous Australians to understand the opportunities that are on offer to them through these programs, and will be developed in consultation with Indigenous business groups.

Other policies within this:

Indigenous Procurement Strategy: Malcolm Turnbull has also cited the goal to have 3% of government contracts won by Indigenous owned business, where currently only 0.02% are, as implemented in 2015.

Employment Parity Initiative: Since its establishment throughout the Coalition’s term, many big companies such as Woolworths, St Vincent’s Health and Hutchinson Builders have committed to this initative, which seeks employers to commit to make their employment of Indigenous people within their company at parity with their proportion of the population (3% or more). This target has also been committed to by the Australian Public Service. These ‘Parity Employers’ will also now be encouraged to contract goods and services from Indigenous owned businesses also.

Indigenous Advancement Strategy: This delivers funding to programs targeting Indigenous health, education, jobs, safety and culture. The Coalition proposes to add $4.9 billion of funding to this. More specifically, it seeks to prioritise education of Indigenous children, placing the right conditions in place for Indigenous people to gain employment and making communities safer, in particular combatting domestic violence.

Community Development Programme: A remote employment development service that helps Indigenous people in remote areas to find work and to develop the necessary skills for this work, designed to break ‘welfare dependency’ purported to exist in remote communities. This will be continued under the Coalition.


Other Labor policies

Within Bill Shorten’s “100 Positive Policies”, Indigenous affairs appear six times.

Your child, our future plan: $100 million to support Indigenous students has been proposed, as well as to encourage the employment of Indigenous teachers, targeting programs such as early intervention literacy and numeracy programs, breakfast clubs, programs encouraging school attendance, training for teachers and one on one tutoring. Also provided will be $4.8 million over the forward estimates towards 100 scholarships per year for Indigenous students.

Indigenous eye health help: $9.5 million proposed to close the gap in eye health outcomes for Indigenous people, with funding directed to optometry and ophthalmology services. This policy also has the goal of eliminating the trachoma from Indigenous communities by 2020.

Indigenous rangers: Labor will provide $200 million over 5 years to double the number of Indigenous rangers under the Working on Country Program, which provides opportunities for Indigenous people to conserve the environment and enact their traditional responsibilities for the land.

Empowering Indigenous girls: Investment of $8.4 million in existing programs in the Northern Territory aimed to support young Indigenous girls to participate in their education.

Indigenous justice target: No dollar amount was provided as to the investment here, but Labor proposes to support programs that aim to close the gap in Indigenous outcomes in the criminal justice system.

Supporting Indigenous justice: Investment of $24 million towards the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, with $18.8 million in funding towards the general function of the service, $3.6 million towards dealing with family violence and $2.25 million towards the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service, the peak representative body for these services.


Greens’ policies

The Greens list many policies in relation to Indigenous affairs, which may be found here. They are consistent with major parties on their targets to ‘close the gap’, and consistent with the ALP on their target to amend Indigenous justice outcomes. Their most unique policy proposals as distinct from the two major parties are explained below.

Treaty: The Greens support the writing up of a Treaty between Indigenous and settler Australians, as a means of reconciling for the lack of treaty at contact by the colonists and to recognise the prior occupation and sovereignty of Indigenous people in Australia.

Protection for cultural intellectual property rights of Indigenous people enabling them to continue to enact and protect their cultures into the future, along with heritage protection laws. Further, a proposal to have a fair and accessibly Native Title system consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people.

Equality of outcomes: what the other major parties refer to as ‘closing the gap’; equality of outcomes in education, health, employment and living standards, aiming to fully close the gap in health by 2030. The Greens propose to make these services culturally appropriate, community controlled and adequately resourced, not providing an amount of money that will be invested specifically, only to say that resources to health will be increased. They are mostly consistent with the other two major parties on the intention to close the gap in particular in relation to employment, family violence and health, with proposals to invest in and provide aid to all of these areas.

Culturally appropriate education: incorporating Indigenous languages and culture and supporting Indigenous families’ engagement with the education system. Support is also provided by The Greens for Indigenous people entering higher education.

Availability of interpreters within courts, hospitals and government meetings.

Repealing of Stronger Futures legislation: The Stronger Futures Legislation is what has been predominately known as the NT Intervention, and was an intervention into Northern Territory Indigenous communities in 2007 by John Howard in an effort to prevent abuse detailed in the Little Children are Sacred Report. It implemented policies such as dry zones, banned pornography, prohibited customary law as enacted within some court decisions and reduced rights attached to land through Native Title to the effect of enabling the government to seize control of some areas. This legislation has been widely criticised as being void of consultation with Indigenous communities on what their needs were, and of having been racist in its approach, as it required the temporary suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act to be implemented.  The Coalition and the ALP have been silent on whether or not they will continue support for this policy, it having been extended by Rudd having been implemented by Howard, and continued by Abbott.

Revoking of compulsory income management and other measures that discriminate against Indigenous people: The Greens have not stated what measures that discriminate against Indigenous people specifically are. Compulsory income management was implemented as a part of the NT Intervention, and quarantined up to 70% of welfare provided to be used only for essential goods, where this welfare cannot be used for activities and substances such as alcohol, cigarettes, gambling and pornography. At the end of 2015, the government was trialling the Healthy Welfare Card that quarantines 100% of welfare. It is suggested that 90% of the people whose welfare is quarantined are Indigenous.

The Greens also propose that the recommendations of various government reports that have been undertaken concerning Indigenous people be fully implemented, such as in the Bringing them Home report on the Stolen Generations and the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.