Indigenous bodies are overlooked by Govt: Oxfam

There was a “worrying lack of transparency” around the Federal Government’s funding model for programs targeting Indigenous Australia, aid agency Oxfam said in a report released this month.

Oxfam Australia said under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, the Federal Government was increasingly looking to mainstream services and programs to meet Indigenous Australians’ needs.

It said the move was at the expense of Indigenous-specific organisations.

Among its key findings, Oxfam said:

  • Only 55 percent of IAS funding went to Indigenous organisations.
  • Mainstream services from federal, state and territory governments accounted for 81.4 percent of all direct Indigenous expenditure in 2012-13.
  • Between 2008 and 2009 and 2012 and 2013, funding to mainstream services rose 26 percent, while Indigenous-specific funding dropped 1.2 percent.
  • In 2014-15, Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander community controlled health organisations suffered a reduction of $1.2 million overall to frontline services, including alcohol and drugs, social and emotional wellbeing and youth.

The report said the failure of successive Australian governments to listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples was condemning many Indigenous Australians to inequality and disadvantage.

Oxfam Australia chief executive Dr Helen Szoke said the report found much of the funding for Indigenous services was inadequate, misdirected, uncertain and lacking in transparency.

She said new economic analysis by Oxfam had found more than one in five Indigenous households were in Australia’s poorest 10 per cent of households – more than twice the rest of Australia.

“Half a century on from the historic 1967 referendum, far too many Indigenous Australians live in circumstances akin to those in developing countries,” Dr Szoke said.

“Many of the fundamental rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have not progressed – at the heart of this injustice is the failure to genuinely include Indigenous people in decision-making.

“At a time when we should be celebrating, our Constitution still fails to recognise our First Peoples, Indigenous children are sent to detention in greater numbers than ever and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples still die 10 to 17 years younger than non-Indigenous Australians.”

The report put forward 10 steps for change. These included legislating human rights standards, funding an independent national representative body, increasing and prioritising funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and reforming the Australian Constitution.

Kimberley Land Council chief executive Nolan Hunter said the nation’s land rights laws in particular needed to be overhauled.

“A big issue for our people is that it can take 15 or more years to resolve a native title claim,” Mr Hunter said.

“There’s got to be something else to try and improve that because there are complications, especially when senior elders pass away in that process.

“Indigenous people have looked after country for thousands of years — they need land rights that allow them to care for their country, to practise their culture and to secure their future.”

Respected human rights campaigner and former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Professor Tom Calma, called on the government to implement the report’s recommendations.

“The report highlights that the complexities of Indigenous affairs are not intractable.

“There is a clear way forward for Indigenous rights and the solutions lie with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people ourselves, and not with policy and funding structured around the whim of a minister or life of a government,” Professor Calma said.

“I call on all Australian governments to implement these recommendations in full and as a matter of urgency. Partner with us and we will realise equality.”

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