Monday, November 30, 2009

Racist theft in Australia

Australia has some of the worst racial disparities in the developed world. The average household income of indigenous Australians is only 60% of the average. The proportion with high-school or higher educations is only half that of the average (a fifth for university qualifications), while their unemployment rate is triple that of non-indigenous Australians. Their health statistics are equally appalling, with complication and disease rates at least double the average, with a consequent effect on life expectancy. The average indigenous Australian dies a decade earlier as a result of poverty, disease, poor access to health services and institutionalised racism.

The Australian Federal Government spends billions trying to correct these disparities, with apparently little effect. But that's because most of the money never actually reaches its target, instead being diverted to buy votes in marginal seats:

THE Northern Territory Labor government has for the past five years diverted $2 billion earmarked for indigenous disadvantage and other key services to mainstream spending in marginal Darwin seats.

Detailed figures obtained by The Weekend Australian reveal that hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars provided by the commonwealth and intended for indigenous health, homelessness, delivery of services and families have been used to service debt and bolster superannuation payments.

The figures come as the Territory government continues to defend its handling of the $672 million Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Project, which has so far failed to result in one new house being built, despite $45m being spent in the first 15 months of the project.

This is not a new story; the National Indigenous Times highlighted it back in 2006, the Sydney Morning Herald in 2005. But still it goes on - and indigenous Australians suffer as a result.

It is time to end this organised racist theft, and for state governments to spend the money they are allocated for indigenous peoples for its proper purpose, rather than misappropriating it. But that would require Australians to accept that indigenous people matter, that they are human beings equally deserving of government attention. And looking across the Tasman, even after Rudd's historic apology, that acceptance is still a long way away.