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.