NACCHO Aboriginal Health News: Warren Mundine responds to $25.4 billion spent on Aboriginal disadvantage lie

Abbott and the Mandine

Warren Mundine responds to “$25.4 billion lie”

On October 26, The Stringer published Gerry Georgatos’ article – $25.4 billion spent on Aboriginal disadvantage is a lie. On October 30, another version of Georgatos’ article was published as the front page story of The National Indigenous TimesA $25.4 billion lie!

As published in the  The Stringer

Dr Warren Mundine’s response:

Last week’s front page of the National Indigenous Times was intended to debunk one of the common myths about Indigenous Affairs funding – that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are personally receiving around $25 billion of special government funding.

NIT points out that this $25 billion figure includes Indigenous people’s share of funding that is provided to all Australians equally (such as social security, education and health). Based on its analysis of the latest Productivity Commission report NIT estimates that, of the funding allotted specifically to Indigenous Australians, a majority is spent on bureaucrats, advisers, contractors and the like, many of whom are non-Indigenous.

These figures are no surprise to me. On the ABC’s Q&A last month I said that Senator Scullion and I had estimated during a quick review that around a third of Government funding for Indigenous programs doesn’t even make it past the front doors of office buildings in Canberra and other cities. It’s like an inverted pyramid – funding passes through several layers of bureacracy and other administration before reaching the people it’s intended to help, by which time it’s substantially depleted.

This is why one of the first acts of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council will be to get a precise understanding of where funding is actually landing. Administrative and auxillary functions will be just as much a focus of the review as anything else.

However, the NIT article also created some new myths.

The first is that the Council has been set up to find savings or improve the budget bottom line. This is incorrect. The Council has not been established because of concern that too much money is being spent. It’s been established because the lives of Indigenous people are not improving enough. I certainly don’t believe that there are “billions to be saved by cutting into Indigenous programs” as the article stated.

The second myth is that the problems could all be solved simply by redirecting funding away from bureacracy and administration and directly to Indigenous people. This is a false hope. Poverty isn’t solved by giving communities money. Poverty is solved by economic development, by communities making money.

This year The Economist reported the extraordinary figure that between 1990 and 2010 the number of people living in extreme poverty globally halved – reducing from 43% to 21% as a percentage of the total population of developing countries. This equates to 1 billion people lifting out of extreme poverty over a 20 year period.

According to The Economist, two-thirds of a country’s poverty reduction comes from economic growth. In the 3 decades after China began to implement economic reform, for example, its extreme-poverty rate fell from 84% to 10%. The remaining third of poverty reduction is mainly through greater equality. This could include things like democracy, reduced corruption and equal access to education for girls, for example.

Indigenous communities will be no different. The only way we’ll see poverty and disadvantage reduce, and ultimately eliminated, is through commercial activity and economic development. Maintaining good community and organisational governance is of course a given.

I think Indigenous media and opinion is misreading the mood in Australia. There is genuine goodwill amongst the Australian public towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and a strong desire to see a closing of the gap, particularly the business community. People don’t quote the $25 billion figure to disparage Indigenous people or because of concern about the money. When people quote the $25 billion they are are expressing exasperation that the gap isn’t closing despite Government efforts and despair that if such large amounts invested aren’t making a difference then what will?

The $25 billion figure symbolises the failure of a 40 year strategy to bring Indigenous people to an equal standing with other Australians – even that the part of the funding which is for services and benefits available to all Australians. This is because Indigenous people disproportionately rely on government services and benefits such as public housing, social security and health services. The size of that figure reflects the fact that Indigenous people are far more likely to be poor, unemployed or suffering from chronic illness.

I would like nothing more than for the $25 billion figure to go down – not through cutting services and benefits, but through Indigenous people needing fewer of these services and benefits in the first place. I would like to see fewer Indigenous people receiving welfare and more Indigenous people in real jobs. I would like to see fewer Indigenous people in need of medical treatment for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and kidney disease and more Indigenous people fit, healthy and smoke-free. I would like to see fewer Indigenous children needing intervention or specialist health care and improved maternal health. I would like to see all Indigenous children going to school every day.

We need to stop being defensive about funding and start working with government to identify and implement real change for Indigenous people. We need to stop being fixated on programs and start focussing on results in education, jobs, commercial activity and economic development.

The Indigenous Advisory Council is not a razor gang but it will only endorse a strategy of spending and service delivery that achieves demonstrated outcomes for Indigenous people. We should all demand this.

Nyunggai Warren Mundine is Chair of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council.

NACCHO health news:There is a way forward if government would only listen to NACCHO

There is a way forward if government would only listen to NACCHO

Two reports released last week, one relating to health delivery services and the other on Justice reinvestment program to cut the appalling rate of imprisonment of Indigenous Australians are perfect examples of how government at all levels can deliver meaningful outcomes in addressing the disparity facing our First Nations people.


First health ,The National Indigenous Times has long supported the National Community Controlled Health Organisation or NACCHO as it is more commonly known.

The reason we have long acknowledged the incredible work this organisation performs and the strong fearless leadership with Chair, Justin Mohamed at the front is because what NACCHO has been calling for to improve the standard of health delivery services to Indigenous Australians makes absolute sense.

Even more so because what Mr Mohamed and NACCHO have demonstrated is a way to deliver health service without the terrible waste in funds and therefore outcomes we have all witnessed in the methods used currently.

NACCHO’s approach can be simplified to this : Let Aboriginal Health delivery services control and manage the service to Aboriginal communities and we will all see improvements in outcomes.

Billions have been spent by all levels of government claiming it has evidence of their genuine attempts to address the health issues communities have faced for generations. Despite the enormous sums of money spent there has been little improvement in outcomes.

The myriad of programs launched have largely been driven by governments handing out money to public service bureaucrats to administer the disbursement of funds. There has generally been little interaction with the communities affected and worse still, no acknowledgment or meaningful attempts to provide what the Indigenous communities themselves say is required.

Like so many of the processes government adopts when it comes to Indigenous affairs the outcome ends up with the communities watching on as these government initiatives fail.

Some believe the approach by government is just” the government way” of doing things. Others believe it is a deliberate policy position of government designed to ensure communities are not empowered to achieve the desired outcome. The National Indigenous Times leans toward the latter rather than the former.

But NACCHO has resisted this policy approach and has continued to fight for an approach which empowers community based Indigenous health organisations to take responsibility for delivery of the program.

As Mr Mohamed said last week this is all about delivery of health services “by Aboriginal People for the Aboriginal people”. He is absolutely on the money. We couldn’t agree more with him. We believe the more empowerment given to the reputable and responsible Aboriginal organisations, the more we will see improvements in the Closing the Gap targets.

NACCHO’s position has been further strengthened now with the release of a report by the Institute of Health and Welfare which has found significant improvement in the quality and outcomes of health delivery services when those services are delivered by Aboriginal community based organisations.

This is the salient lesson for all governments if government genuinely wants to see improvements for Indigenous Australians then the best way, the most effective way, the “biggest bang for the buck” way is to empower Indigenous organisations to take responsibility and let them make it happen.

What NACCHO has demonstrated can be achieved also tells us if it can work for NACCHO it can work across the entire spectrum of health services and also for education, housing, employment, and the list goes on.

What NACCHO has said is the way forward and which has been endorsed by this Institute of Health and Welfare report now emerge as the true test of Federal State and Territory governments. NACCHO has shown us all a way forward and how it can work. All it requires is a commitment from government to change its approach on how funding is controlled and delivered across all Indigenous programs.

The report by the Senate committee inquiring into the benefits of Justice Reinvestment is another example. This committee has found the system of jailing Indigenous Australians at an ever increasing rate simply does not work.

All governments are spending billions locking up Indigenous Australians only to find they are more than likely to re-offend after they have been released. It should not take a Rhodes scholar to work out his was always a recipe for the outcomes we are now seeing. Indigenous Australians are more likely to be jailed than any other race of people anywhere in the world. And as the rate keeps increasing so does the rate of re-offending. It is a vicious cycle with no end.

What the Senate committee has found is it would be far more effective to invest in the communities and end the poverty. If that was done then the number of people ending up in jail would decrease.

Justice Re-investment has been shown to work in various countries around the world including of all places in the United States. If it can work there you would have to think it could work anywhere, including Australia.

But Justice Re-investment is what the name implies. It requires a re-investment by government into the communities, a willingness to empower the communities, a desire to provide meaningful outcomes on core issues such as housing, employment and education. If government committed to this there would be genuine and meaningful savings in the cost currently borne to lock these people up.

The reason is simple. If people are provided meaningful employment. If they can see they can own their own home and their children provided with a decent education then less will have any desire to commit a crime.

As it stands today many communities are being left to rot and die because of government inaction. If there are no jobs, no houses, no education, what is there ?. Well one alternative is crime and little wonder under those circumstances.

Both these initiatives, NACCHO’s demand for empowerment in the delivery of health services and re-direction of focus toward building and supporting communities so people are not left drifting aimlessly through life and crime are real outcomes. They are meaningful and they can make a difference to what faces so many Indigenous Australians today.

All it requires is government to commit to this change in approach. It seems crazy to even have to contemplate why government wouldn’t change. If delivery of health services can be more effective, therefore saving on the money wasted to date and if we can cut the number of people being jailed, again saving a great deal of money why wouldn’t you ?.

NACCHO good news:Aboriginal health initiative proves to be one real success story


“Governments need to step back a bit, they do need to facilitate it, there is a role for government funding and government services but it’s about decision-making and its about the control the communities take and NACCHO (National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation) is a good example of that because it is community controlled.” Jody Broun, Co-Chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples and Co-Chair of the National Health Leadership Forum (NHLF),

One of the most successful of the Aboriginal community-controlled sectors in the country over recent decades has been the health sector and recently 30 Indigenous high school students from across the country converged on the nation’s capital to take one further step on their own paths to a career in health.

Out thanks to  National Indigenous Times reporter Geoff Bagnall for this report and picture below



Murra Mullangari, an initiative of the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association (AIDA) and their partners in the Indigenous health field, brought the year 10, 11 and 12 students together for a week in Canberra that aimed to inspire Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to pursue a career in health and to support them in their transition from secondary school to the health workforce.

Jilpia Napparljari was there at the very beginning of Aboriginal community-controlled health having been involved in the founding of the very first Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS), Redfern.

“I was involved in the Aboriginal Medical Service when it first started and worked with Fred Hollows at the National Trachoma and eye Health,” Ms Nappaljari said.

She sees programs like Murra Mullangari opening options for the young participants that Indigenous people had to fight much harder for previously.

“As I told some of the young people who came up and spoke to me ‘ just remember, the world is your oyster.”

Ms Nappaljari believes this and similar programs will secure the future of Aboriginal Self-determination.

“Its good as an old person we ‘re not going to live very long and its good to see it’s been taken on, ‘ she said.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda agrees saying events like this are “succession planning” and the inspiring thing is there were over 200 applicants for only 30 places available.

“This is part of succession planning and what we ‘re seeing now is our kids, you can see it here, leaving school and going straight into university whereas in the past a lot of our students have been mature age students, ‘ Mr gooda said.

“That’s an evolution that’s happening now and that’s an indication of the increase of achievement in the education field, so I think it’s pretty exciting. I think for this conference the thing that gets me is more than 200 kids applied for 30 places.

“How great is that to come down to talk about working as doctors working in the allied health areas, so I just think it’s so just deadly to see these kids here, and they will take over, “Mr gooda said.

Pat Anderson, one of the co-authors of the ‘Little Children are Sacred report and Chairperson of the Lowitja Institute Board, agrees with Mr Gooda the event is inspiring but said it showed the unevenness of Aboriginal Opportunity around the country.

“It’s a wonderful initiative by AIDA and they’re t be heartily congratulated on such a program and project and the fact they had more than 200 applicants is just amazing but also I think, a bit more controversially, it demonstrates very tellingly the unevenness of what’s happening in education for Aboriginal people, ‘Ms Anderson said.

“I’m from the Northern territory and its wonderful but there aren’t any kids from the Northern Territory here who are participants, I’ve checked the list.

‘In a lot of the more isolated communities we’re not doing so well but maybe some of these young people might take that on as one of their leadership tasks to try to tackle that unevenness there, she said.

Jody Broun, Co-Chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples and Co-Chair of the National Health Leadership Forum (NHLF), sees events like this as a crucial part of the Closing the Gap strategy, a strategy few non-Indigenous people realise was actually started by Aboriginal community-controlled organisations before being taken over by the Council of Australian Governments.

“The issue with the Close the Gap, the actual Close the Gap was it came from the ground, it came from the communities, it’s really about us and our communities, taking the lead and taking control, Ms Broun said.

“This is great because you’ve got young people who want these jobs in communities and too often you go to an Aboriginal community and all the health providers are white fellas from outside the communities.

“Whether it’s teachers or health workers, we need to take control of that ourselves and see that these jobs in these communities are for our young people”, she said.

“There are people out there who want these skills and my view, and the Congress’ view, is the communities need the opportunity to take that control back and not be disempowered.

“Governments need to step back a bit, they do need to facilitate it, there is a role for government funding and government services but it’s about decision-making and its about the control the communities take and NACCHO (National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation) is a good example of that because it is community controlled. They decide the services they deliver.

“These are young people who will be a part of that, you can see how much confidence they have got and some additional skills and having some belief in themselves is really important and the support they will get through this program and hopefully where will be development of that as well,” Ms Broun said.