the headline “Manna from heaven”, Paul Kelly probably best described
last night’s budget for whitefellas on the front page of The Australian
today: “This is a budget of hefty giveaways, prudent reform and a
clever spread of benefits that should consolidate the Howard-Costello
Government for a 2007 election.”

Seven pages into The Oz,
Justine Ferrari explained the government’s largesse to the group of
people who will have no impact on votes at the next election. Under the
headline “Turn up or lose allowance, indigenous students told”, Ferrari
writes: “Indigenous students under the age of 16 will have to turn up
to classes on 85 per cent of school days to receive the term allowance
under a tightening of eligibility requirements. But the government does
not expect the measure to substantially increase school attendance,
forecasting a saving of $1.8 million over the next four years in unpaid

So whitefellas get tax cuts, boosts to childcare
and superannuation – and blackfellas get a tightening of Abstudy
allowances. Government spending on Indigenous affairs increased by
about $200 million in this budget ­ basically, a lift in line with the
CPI ­ to about $3.3 billion.

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This modus operandi has been the
case since Howard came to power in 1996 (with the exception of the 1997
budget, when spending was reduced). It’s about spending less than the
bare minimum, safe in the knowledge that it won¹t affect you at
election time. So what of the annual half billion dollar shortfall in
Indigenous health funding, as identified by the Australian Medical
Association and Access Economics last year? Nothing.

And what of
the $2.3 billion in unmet need identified in Indigenous public housing
in 1999 by ATSIC? Sorry, there’s an election in 2007. Rather than spend
money on black public housing (which won’t win a single vote), the
government has decided to throw $54 million at promoting private home
ownership on communally-owned Aboriginal land.

This is akin to
Howard flying to Indonesia after the tsunami and offering homeless,
dirt-poor survivors a low-interest loan to build a new humpy.
Just exactly who is going to build it? And how is Billy Swimfast going to service the loan with no job?

Howard government’s budget is yet another indicator that the mire and
misery in Aboriginal Australia will never be taken seriously by this

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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