Federal Indigenous Affairs minister Mal Brough’s
emergency summit on Monday was a waste of time and money. Nothing
good came from the process save for yet another crack appearing in
the Howard Government’s never-ending rhetoric on Indigenous issues.

Brough promised $130 million as a one-off commitment to
the states and territories, but it comes with one big string
attached. The states and territories don’t get any cash unless they agree to
remove Aboriginal customary law as a mitigating circumstance in the legal
processes of each jurisdiction.

Currently, Aboriginal people are being treated the same
as all other Australians – they are entitled to have their beliefs and
their cultural backgrounds taken into account when judges hand down a
sentence during a court process. The Howard Government is pushing to ensure Aboriginal
people are treated differently to everyone else. This is, of course, the
absolute reverse of what the Howard Government says it’s all about, but then
no-one should be surprised.

Some of the other proposals from Brough include $2
million to set up two new sniffer dog teams which will target remote Aboriginal
communities. Indigenous communities no
more need money to buy sniffer dogs than Tony Abbott needs lessons in
paternalism.

Brough is also proposing money for community legal
education. So at least homeless Aboriginal people with no jobs will know more
about white law. And he’s calling for more health checks for children, so
we’ll know just how sick kids can really get with no proper access to
housing, health services and education.

No money, unfortunately, to meet the $2.3 billion in unmet
Indigenous housing. And no boost to the half billion dollar annual
shortfall in health funding. In short, Mal Brough made no attempt
to address the real
causes of Aboriginal disadvantage. The summit was designed to shift
blame to the states and territories
(and, admittedly, they should take some) and to continue to distract
media attention away from the Howard Government’s repeated and ongoing
failures in
Indigenous affairs.

On that front, you might call it a roaring success for
Brough. Of course, it’s a bitter failure for Aboriginal people, but then the
summit never involved them ­ and was never about them ­ in the first place.

Peter Fray

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