So the PM is going to govern Australia for a week from a ‘defence facility’ on Thursday Island? What’s that? Govern? There’s always time for the great Bwana to try something new.
We thought he was up North for a photo shoot. Doing stuff he loves. Going bush with military blokes, living in barracks, wearing fancy dress. Having locals make a fuss of him. Beef up his sorry status in opinion polls. Give him a few days’ quality time amidst people he can ignore for the rest of the year. Or longer.
Not that we would ever knock his visit. Not only does it get him out of Canberra and a long way from Canning, it’s a great opportunity. Give him time to explain the $534 million his government cut last year from indigenous programs administered by the Prime Minister and Cabinet and Health portfolios. It’s not far north enough to be an operational matter so he can unzip a bit.
It’s not institutionalised racism, the Minister for Aboriginal Australia will explain, it’s savings. We’ve got to find the money for the subsidies we give to mining companies from somewhere. Federal government subsidies to the mining sector have increased by half a billion dollars over the past year, according to the Australia Institute.
But in case you are thinking it’s a simple swap, direct subsidies are only part of our mining welfare payments. Mining companies effectively get a $5 billion handout when you factor in the tax concessions they get from the government according to the institute’s Matt Grudnoff. Yet you can make a case for the true cost to Australian society of the handout being far higher than that in the long run when you see where it is being taken from.
What the government is doing is taking more than $160 million from Aboriginal health and putting it into its own fabulous medical research slush fund. It must be helpful to have the PM on the team, so to speak.
The cuts are being made, a frugal Joe Hockey beams, ‘to eliminate waste.’ He should know more than most politicians what it is to have to stretch every dollar and cent. You start by stopping wastage.
No more frittering of millions on indigenous language support. No squandering funds on redressing disadvantage or looking after the little ones. Without extra funding it is likely that 38 Indigenous childhood development centres across the country will close.
Cutting the luxury of infant health and well-being helps create expensive problems and misery further down the track. These include alienation and contempt for the white man’s law. But, relax. A local copper always puts the stopper back in the bottle. The government did find $54 million for new police stations to be built in seven remote Indigenous communities in Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia over the next four years.
But there is not the faintest hint of apartheid about the coalition’s policies. Abbott will explain how he is ‘sweating blood’ to have indigenous Australians recognised in the constitution. True, he’s done a bit of back flip or two recently but basically it’s all OK now for indigenous people to meet to discuss the issue.
Of course non-indigenous people will be holding their simultaneous series of meetings. What will happen next? We’ll hold a referendum as we have promised, sort of with gay marriage and as history tells us is the ‘go to’ option when you really don’t want any change at all.
All of this and more will be playing softly in the background as the PM shakes hands, lays wreaths and kisses babies.