Labor had promised to keep the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples funded with $15 million for another three years in this year’s May budget.
Since the election, the congress has hoped the Coalition would honour Labor’s pledge.
But Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said he had met the group’s co-chairs yesterday to warn them that was highly unlikely and they must look beyond the government for means of survival.
The edict came as Tony Abbott said last night that the referendum to acknowledge first Australians must surpass the apology and the 1967 referendum as a unifying moment for the nation.
In a speech to mark the 60th anniversary of law firm Arnold Block Leibler, the Prime Minister said “symbols” were important to reconciling with Aborigines.
He said too many had “felt like strangers” in the only land they had known. “The best thing we could do for Aboriginal Australia right now is push on as quickly as we can with constitutional recognition,” he said. “We have it in our hearts to do this.”
Senator Scullion told the congress’s co-chairs that while the final outcome would be determined by the Commission of Audit and be revealed at budget time, there was no appetite to keep them funded and they must use the next six months to plan for a future without federal funds.
“The circumstances are that the funding is unlikely, so I met with them and advised them that our priorities are frontline services and indicated that the principle reason that I don’t think they will keep getting funded was . . . we never committed to it during the election and our priorities are with our election commitments,” he said.
“I told them I wanted to tell them early to allow them to make financial plans. I told them I would lift restrictions on their current funds if I could.”
Senator Scullion said the co-chairs had asked whether the government would contract them for roles on a fee-for-service basis, and that he would consider it.
“I told them they had a role to represent the nation’s first people and they needed to grow their membership,” he said.
“I am very doubtful that a positive decision will be made on their funding and I think they need to start preparing for that.”
With its four-year federal funding deal to expire this year, the congress had written in a submission to the Abbott government that its Commission of Audit needed to recognise “the need for a sustainable independent national body” to ensure a voice for indigenous people.
“We’re bringing the functions of a whole range of Indigenous specific functions across to Prime Minister and Cabinet. Health will stay with Health, education will stay with Education, but there are a whole range of functions we’re taking out of the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, and the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and out of other departments, functions that are either remote or Indigenous specific”
Nigel Scullion will today be sworn in as Indigenous Affairs Minister, in a series of interviews yesterday with ABC radio and the Alice Springs news he spelt out his plans for Indigenous Affairs within the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet
Nigel Scullion has been appointed Indigenous Affairs Minister, giving the NT its first Federal Cabinet Minister since the Country Liberals were formed.
Tony Abbott has announced that Senator Scullion is keeping the portfolio that he was spokesman on in the last parliamentary term, and it will sit within the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Senator Scullion said his Government was giving Australia’s indigenous communities a new commitment to listen to their solutions to challenging problems.
“To work with communities, not make decisions and impose them on communities,” Senator Scullion said.
“Communities best know how to get their kids to school.
“Communities know the very best way to move some of their participants from welfare into work.
“Communities know how to make their own communities safe.”
The Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister-elect said he’d asked the Government’s Indigenous advisory committee to look at how to tackle reliance on welfare.
Senator Scullion said the Government planned to toughen the requirement for people to take available jobs in urban areas.
He said, in remote communities, the Government would consider if it was appropriate to expect people to stay on Newstart welfare payments if there were no jobs for them to do.
“Given that Newstart has an implication that this is a transitionary time from where they are to a job, well, if there are no jobs – and in the many communities there are no jobs, it’s simply a welfare community – I think that’s an unacceptable situation that we should pretend there are jobs there.”
Secondly he spoke this morning with Alice Springs News Online editor ERWIN CHLANDA.
NEWS: Is there a case for expanding the principle of stopping the dole for people rejecting offers of work, for expecting that people who have assets use them for projects that create work? Aborigines in The Centre own half a million square kilometres.
SCULLION: Receiving Newstart payments in an area that has no economy and no jobs is inappropriate. In these conditions governments have been taking the view that the dole is unconditional.
We know that is not acceptable in the long term. Newstart is for people between jobs, searching for jobs. We need to look at that more broadly.
The development of an economy such as tourism, broad-acre or pastoral industries, manufacturing – these are very important elements of the future and the government plays an important role.
NEWS: Is there a case for Aboriginal land trusts and land councils to look for joint ventures with job creation as a main focus?
SCULLION: I’ve had long conversations with land owners about a range of issues, from tenure to development. As areas are developed and jobs become available, and we move to an economy, then clearly we would have a reasonable expectation to involve people currently disconnected.
If they are able to work then they should be working. I’ve not heard anyone saying no, we don’t need economic development and we want to continue to receive welfare. Nobody’s told me that. We’ll be working closely with the land councils.
In the area you’re speaking off, places like Ali Curung, it has been disappointing that a melon farm is six kilometers up the road from able bodied men and women and they find it very difficult to get employment. That’s an issue. It’s a complex one.
Who’s currently making the decisions? This is an area where they are adjacent to an economy, and adjacent to jobs. If there is a job there, and you’re simply saying, I’m just not going to take that job, well, there’s no unconditional welfare.
The leverage of moving people away from the horrors of welfare into employment – it’s good enough for people in the mainstream. These opportunities should also be available to Aboriginal people.
NEWS: Is there a reluctance by the land trusts and land councils to enter into joint ventures that could create jobs?
SCULLION: The use of broad-acre land such as in other states is one of the low hanging fruits of economic development. Look over the fence! Whatever they’ve been doing there for the last 30, 40 years is probably a good indicator of how to use the land. As to the land councils, I’m always interested in hearing submissions. They should be assisting the land owners where they can.
Separate services: Congress gets big tick
NEWS: What’s the future of the big Aboriginal organisations in Alice Springs? Tangentyere and Congress, for example?
SCULLION: We don’t need duplication of services. We need very good services. If you talk about the application of municipal services in some of the town camps by Tangentyere, I have had a number of people telling me that they don’t believe the service they are getting is particularly good.
If you live in some areas of Alice Springs you shouldn’t be delivered a different service, you should be getting exactly the same service. And equally you should be expected to pay for it. For example, normalcy for the town council would be, who’s going to pay rates?
NEWS: What about Congress?
SCULLION: Congress in Alice Springs is probably one of the best health organisations in Australia, full stop. They have moved to a very good business model that has been picked up in other parts of Australia.
They’re fundamentally welded to Medicare, they ensure all of their clients have a Medicare card. It’s the same sort of [positive] index you get across Australia, particularly in demographics with larger areas of need.
NEWS: What’s on top of your agenda as the new Minister?
SCULLION: Talking with my partners in the other jurisdictions, discussions about structural changes in the departments, moving many of the instruments of government into Prime Minister and Cabinet, the formation of a new role.
NEWS: Which functions of Indigenous Affairs will be moved?
SCULLION: We’re bringing the functions of a whole range of Indigenous specific functions across to Prime Minister and Cabinet. Health will stay with Health, education will stay with Education, but there are a whole range of functions we’re taking out of the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, and the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and out of other departments, functions that are either remote or Indigenous specific