“We won’t solve Indigenous crime and justice problems with isolated decisions or with ideology. We need considered strategy based on facts and consistent, committed implementation. With governments working together and focused on outcomes and what works, we can deal with this problem and save governments a lot of money. That’s pragmatism.”
From “When ideology trumps pragmatism, everybody pays” Warren Mundine opinion piece (see full article below )
Welcome to NACCHO News Alerts for 2014 .
Warren Mundine warns of budget pain for Aboriginal funding
WARREN Mundine has declared it unrealistic to expect indigenous affairs spending to be immune from budget cuts and that, despite his new role as head of Tony Abbott’s indigenous advisory council, he can’t cast a “force field” to exempt Aborigines from the broader budget agenda.
In an exclusive interview and writing in The Australian today, the indigenous leader said that, although he actively opposed the cuts to Aboriginal legal aid announced last month, his opposition was not ideological and he wanted spending to be subjected to an audit to examine if it was delivering the outcomes promised.
Mr Mundine also revealed he would spend this year pushing for state and territory governments to have “mandatory diversionary programs” to push juvenile offenders into jobs and education.
Indigenous academic and leader Marcia Langton, who is heading the Abbott government’s indigenous jobs review with Fortescue Metals Group chairman Andrew Forrest, said yesterday she backed auditing programs to ensure they made a real difference to the lives of indigenous people.
“I support social-investment approaches, especially for children and youth,” Professor Langton said.
“The legal aid approach by itself will do little to lower indigenous prison incarceration and juvenile detention rates. Early childhood health and education programs should be top priority.”
Mr Mundine said that, if a diversionary program succeeded and a young person went on to stable employment, “this means a lifetime of paying taxes rather than a life in and out of detention and welfare at taxpayers’ expense”.
“Yet governments shy away from effective diversionary programs because they fear being labelled weak on crime,” he said. “Another example of ideology trumping pragmatism.”
The government announced in its mid-year economic and fiscal update last month that $13.4 million would be taken out of indigenous legal aid over the next four years. The cut was reduced from $42m, after the government decided to spread the pain to non-indigenous legal aid in the wake of a strong campaign by indigenous activists and Mr Mundine. Labor has sought to personalise the cuts and claim that Mr Mundine, a former Labor Party president, was not a strong enough advocate for stopping the cuts.
Mr Mundine’s comments today are aimed at critics who he says are wrong if they expect he can insulate indigenous affairs from the budget razor gang.
Annual public spending on indigenous Australia jumped to $25.4 billion in 2012, according to the Productivity Commission. Mr Mundine said he believed that funding should be effective and not defended for the sake of it.
“Legal aid is vital, but it deals with the problem at the tail end,” he said. “We need to tackle this problem right at the beginning, with swift and early intervention for first offenders through diversionary programs, even if they are minor offences. We also need to look at how we make communities stable and safe so they don’t become breeding grounds for anti-social behaviour. Education and the jobs are the key.”
Mr Mundine said many young Aborigines’ problems started well before they engaged in criminal behaviour.
“When you meet kids who tell you the only time they’ve attended school is in detention and that they prefer detention to being at home, then that tells you their home and family environment is completely dysfunctional,” he said.
“If parents aren’t sending their kids to school or giving them a safe and stable home life, that sends off loud warning bells that we need to act.”
He said the federal government played a secondary role in the area, as crime and punishment were the responsibility of state and territory governments.
“I want to see state and territory governments introduce mandatory diversionary programs into jobs and education for juvenile offenders,” he said. “This is something we should look at for all juvenile offenders, not just indigenous people.”
Mr Mundine said he was not proposing “letting offenders off with warnings or community service”.
“We need to actively divert offenders on to a … path that requires them to work hard and take personal responsibility.”
He said a lot of the criticism of the decision to cut legal aid funding was based on the presumption that reducing funding would lead to increased indigenous incarceration. “That was the ideological principle through which the decision was judged.
“There was a lot of anger and indignation but not much discussion of the actual outcomes the defunded services have achieved and how those services correlate to incarceration rates. Some critics appeared more interested in opposing a budgetary decision of a government they don’t like based on political opinions.”
He said he objected to the cuts because he wanted his new council to review indigenous legal services as part of the broader review. “I engaged in a public battle with Treasury over the proposal,” he said.
“Ultimately, Treasury spared a substantial amount of legal services from defunding but identified others to make up the budget saving figure, including to some family violence programs.”
Professor Langton said the focus this year must be on what worked, not ideology. She said results from the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) showed education gaps.
“Place-based approaches that involve the community are needed,” she said. “The Family Responsibilities Commission in Cape York has demonstrated a highly effective approach that other communities are requesting. The truancy officers program instituted by (Indigenous Affairs) Minister (Nigel) Scullion will help with attendance rates but more is needed. The Cape York Agenda programs are working at Aurukun and it is important to note that success and replicate these successful measures in other low socioeconomic areas.”
Mr Mundine said there were thousands of initiatives across the country aimed at eliminating indigenous disadvantage. “Yet the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous people isn’t closing,” he said.
He said indigenous people had Mr Abbott’s ear and a seat at his table and warned it should not be wasted or scoffed at.
When ideology trumps pragmatism, everybody pays
IN debates on social issues there are usually two sides: one based on ideology and the other on pragmatism.
Ideologues focus on principle and theory. Their ideas are based on their ideals. If something doesn’t work, they often blame poor application or resourcing.
Pragmatists accept reality and that compromise and setbacks are unavoidable. They care about results over theory. They support things that work. Too often, vocal activism on indigenous issues is dominated by ideologues.
Before the federal election, the Coalition announced spending cuts to indigenous legal services. I engaged in a public battle with Treasury over the proposal.
Ultimately, Treasury spared a substantial amount of legal services from defunding but identified others to make up the budget saving figure, including to some family violence programs.
I remain unhappy with the final decision. But, practically, once the line item had been included in pre-election figures it was going to be extremely difficult to get it reversed. The reality is that Australia’s budgetary position is unsustainable. Government is spending more than it raises in revenue, forecasts have been consistently wrong and there are structural budget deficiencies.
Initiatives for indigenous people aren’t immune from this problem. It’s unrealistic to expect me, or the Indigenous Advisory Council, to cast some sort of force-field over indigenous spending to exempt it from the broader budget agenda. Pragmatists understand that we must work within this reality. Ideologues don’t.
A lot of the criticism of the decision on legal aid funding was based on the presumption defunding undoubtedly will lead to increased indigenous incarceration. That was the ideological principle through which the decision was judged. There was a lot of anger and indignation but not much discussion of the actual outcomes the defunded services have achieved and how those services correlate to incarceration rates.
Some critics appeared more interested in opposing a budgetary decision of a government they didn’t like based on their political opinions.
Treasury wasn’t focused on the functions being cut or the outcomes they delivered; it was focused on the dollars.
But ideologues fell into the same trap; they, too, were focused on the dollars.
I objected to the decision because I want the IAC to review indigenous legal services as part of the broader review, identify what is delivering outcomes, develop a strategy on how services should be structured to address crime, incarceration rates and the needs of victims, and work with state and territory governments to implement.
A strategy that works will deliver savings far greater than hasty tactical cuts will ever deliver. We can deliver both outcomes and spending reductions. In fact, we must.
There are thousands of initiatives across the country aimed at eliminating indigenous disadvantage. Yet the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous people isn’t closing. If the present framework for addressing indigenous disadvantage were working, there would be less need for special services and therefore progressively less funding required to address the problems.
We also know there’s inefficiency in indigenous programs and that a lot of the money is spent on bureaucracy and administration. I meet indigenous people nearly every week who complain about it.
Removing inefficiency, duplication, bureaucracy and red tape will also mean lower spending.
That’s why money isn’t the main issue. The No 1 issue is the outcomes achieved for indigenous people; outcomes such as real jobs, school attendance and closing the gaps in health, education and incarceration.
Here’s an example. About 10 years ago, I sat on the NSW attorney-general’s juvenile crime prevention committee. Research presented to the committee pointed to a common conclusion – send a juvenile offender to detention and in most cases you have them for life; they’ll invariably be in and out of the system forever. However, put them into a diversionary program (where they instead go into a job or education that they must complete instead of jail) and in most cases you never see them again.
If a diversionary program succeeds and a young person goes on to stable employment, this means a lifetime of paying taxes rather than a life in and out of detention and welfare at taxpayer expense. Yet governments shy away from effective diversionary programs because they fear being labelled weak on crime. Another example of ideology trumping pragmatism.
There’s a mountain of research on indigenous incarceration, its causes and effects, and many ideas for solving the problem. Some have been tried and tested. Ironically, much of the work and expertise in this area that has informed me in recent months originates from National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services – one of the bodies that Treasury is defunding.
We won’t solve indigenous crime and justice problems with isolated decisions or with ideology. We need considered strategy based on facts and consistent, committed implementation. With governments working together and focused on outcomes and what works, we can deal with this problem and save governments a lot of money. That’s pragmatism.
Nyunggai Warren Mundine is the chairman of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council and executive chairman of the Australian Indigenous Chamber of Commerce.