The Guardian May 30, 2001


A mixed bag for Indigenous people

ATSIC Chairman, Geoff Clark has given a lukewarm welcome to some 
additional expenditure on the needs of Indigenous Australians in the recent 
Budget. He described them as "modest in the short term and disappointing 
for the long term".

The housing, educational and job prospects for many Aboriginal communities 
remain grim. ATSIC was only belatedly briefed by government representatives 
about its welfare reform proposals and did not have sufficient time to 
provide its proposals to overcome the long-standing deprivation suffered by 
many communities.

The Federal Government has allocated $75 million over four years to be 
spent on new housing or renovation of existing houses. Geoff Clark welcomed 
the $75 million allocated, "but it will make little dent in the $3 billion 
deficit" in housing needs, he said.

There are around 19,000 community-managed houses in rural and remote 
communities with around 30 per cent of the stock in need of replacement or 
major upgrades.

The real and fundamental need of Aboriginal communities is work and that 
means programs to provide local economic development. The Government's 
plans go little further than Work for the Dole schemes.

As with the seven per cent of the total population now out of work and the 
millions of workers on part-time or in casual employment, the real need is 
full-time jobs  not temporary work for the dole. Aboriginal unemployment 
is much higher than the Australia-wide average.

It is lack of work, poor housing, lack of education and poor social 
circumstances that are the main causes of Aboriginal ill-health and 
widespread social problems, particularly in outback and regional centres.

While some funds are granted for the "Bringing Them Home" scheme as a 
response to the report on the Stolen Generations and for other ATSIC 
provided services, these programs are directed at meeting the consequences 
rather than the causes of existing problems.

ATSIC has called for long-term planning and the greater involvement of the 
Indigenous people in deciding how best to provide services, rather than 
expenditures which are largely motivated by election considerations.

To provide the necessary economic base for worthwhile jobs in outback and 
regional communities, the settlement of land rights claims has to be 
speeded up and decided in favour of Aboriginal communities.

Furthermore, the mere allocation of sums of money will not solve the 
fundamental need for recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island 
rights in a Treaty passed into law by Federal and State Governments.

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