An Aboriginal-controlled health research institute has said it is alarmed by “misleading” claims about Aboriginal funding that have been circulating in the run-up to the Voice to Parliament national referendum.
Earlier this month, singer Kamahl suggested $40 billion a year was being paid to indigenous people during an interview with Channel 10’s The Project.
It’s a figure that appears on the website of the No campaign’s Fair Australia organization, which describes it as “direct government funding for Aboriginal Australians.”
RMIT ABC Fact Check has discovered the estimate is based on a similar claim by former prime minister Tony Abbott, who said $30 billion was going directly to “various indigenous programs”.
His analysis found that figure likely came from a 2017 Productivity Commission review, which found about $33 billion in 2015-16 was spent on First Nations people – but that the large The majority (around $27 billion) of that was general spending for things like schools, hospitals, welfare and defense.
For comparison, around $556 billion was spent on non-Indigenous Australians using the same criteria.
On average, the Productivity Commission noted, direct spending per person was around twice as high for Indigenous Australians as for non-Indigenous Australians – largely due to higher levels of disadvantage among First Nations people. .
In writing in conversation Regarding a related claim in 2016, Professor Nicholas Biddle of the ANU also noted that “around one in five Indigenous Australians live in remote areas, where the cost of providing many services is significantly higher” .
“So a lot of the spending is to achieve the same level of services that others are accustomed to,” he said.
Lowitja Institute president Selwyn Button said he was troubled by the $40 billion funding request, which he said was being used “deliberately to mislead the community”.
“Because what they wanted to do was make sure there was continual misinformation and mistrust and continually paint the picture that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were given billions of dollars to improve results, but they haven’t been able to do that,’ Mr Button said.
“The public dialogue around this particular piece has focused on the fact that this money is in the hands of indigenous people and that is certainly not the case at all.”
Fair Australia sticks to the numbers
When contacted to address Mr Button’s concerns, Fair Australia accused him of “talking divisive nonsense”.
“But Australians expect nothing less from the Yes campaign spokespeople,” a spokesperson said.
“He knows very well that the $40 billion is correct and his report confirms it.”
He said Fair Australia had never claimed funding was exclusive to Indigenous people and that figure included individual welfare grants, government programs and other grants to Indigenous groups.
Voice could help identify better solutions to close the gap, health group says
A Lowitja Institute policy paper released this week outlines the economic opportunities it says would result from a constitutionally entrenched Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice in Parliament.
Mr Button said Voice could save Australia up to $10 billion a year in health costs.
“If you look at the overall spending on public hospitals across the country, it’s about $82 billion,” he said.
“One of the most important factors, one of the leading causes of illness among Indigenous people, is what we call avoidable admissions.
“So these are complications related to chronic diseases, diabetes, heart disease, etc., all of these can be addressed in the local community controlled health clinic, in a primary care setting away from the hospital setting.
“If we reduced that and closed the gap between avoidable admission rates for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, because Indigenous people are three and a half times the rate of non-Indigenous people, if we closed that gap it would be a $10 billion saving to the Australian economy.
Mr Button highlighted the Birthing in Our Community (BiOC) program developed and led by Indigenous Queenslanders, which he said has delivered significant health and financial benefits.
“We need to be able to take these stories and then take them nationally and the only way to do that is to deliver them through a national voice.”
Earlier this month, more than 50 health groups gathered in Melbourne to show their support for The Voice, which they said would improve health outcomes for First Nations people.
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