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Abbott Government lays the groundwork to punish First Nations People

Let's be clear about the Federal Government's Commission of Audit. It is a document which delivers a range of options to reduce the cost of government. All the commentary post the delivery of the report last week has been stating much of what has been proposed is so unpalatable politically no government would contemplate implementation. That was always going to be the case and in that sense the whole process has been a waste of time.

But what we all need to understand is this report has been delivered as an entrée to the real deal – the Federal Budget to be handed down by Treasurer, Joe Hockey next week.

The Commission of Audit report is the Abbott Government's "shock and awe" assault, designed to "soften up" the nation for what Mr Hockey has in store for us all.

But no-one should be in any doubt about the underlying message of the Commission of Audit report. In essence the Commission of Audit recommendations would impact most upon those who can least afford it and this applies especially to First Nations Peoples and it is in that sense this report should be seen for what it is - a platform for the Abbott government to attack important Indigenous-specific funding initiatives.

This "softening up" process has been in play almost from the first day the Abbott government came to power. Think about the cuts implemented almost immediately to legal aid services and the continuing delay in any commitment to health funding and education.

Think also about the string of comments over recent months by the Chairman of Mr Abbott's Indigenous Advisory Council, Warren Mundine flagging Indigenous-specific programs were going to be cut. Like the Commission of Audit, Mr Mundine has been the Abbott Government's message boy to prepare the ground for what is to come.

So the groundwork has now been prepared and we can now expect to see the fruits of that work as the "Prime Minister for Aboriginal affairs" Tony Abbott leads this government on a new course with the delivery of next week's Budget and be assured it will be very different to the course Mr Abbott spruiked to Indigenous Australians when campaigning for election last year.

The Commission of Audit has left no doubt what it thinks about most Indigenous-specific programs. The Commission's Chairman, Tony Shepherd was castigating in his assessment highlighting the waste of money with many of the programs.

On that score the National Indigenous Times couldn't agree more with him. We have highlighted time and time again much of the money spent on Indigenous programs never sees the light of day at the community grass roots level. Instead it is sucked up by bureaucrats and contractors.

But the Commission of Audit's solution is almost worse than the disease. Its recommendations relating to Indigenous-specific funding do not address the problem. Sure, the Commission identifies waste but its solution is to simply cut and/or amalgamate organisations to deliver those very programs.

The Commission of Audit has said 150 programs should be folded into seven programs and this would save the money but without actually saying how. In fact the Commission of Audit probably couldn't say how to achieve the savings because there was no-one, absolutely no-one among this group with any understanding or knowledge about the issues and the failures of many government programs when it comes to our First Nations Peoples.

The members of the Commission of Audit are independently wealthy individuals; they represent the top end of town and they have little or no understanding of the travails faced by First Nations Peoples who remain among the poorest most disadvantaged people in Australia.

The Commission's report contained an interesting section which highlights just how out of touch the report and its recommendations on Indigenous programs really are.

The Commission surprised no-one with its recommendation the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples should cease but its logic for that recommendation bears no resemblance to reality.

The Commission has recommended funding to the Congress cease because the role of the Congress was duplicated by the Prime Minister's Indigenous Advisory Council!

There may well be issues confronting the Congress in terms of its effectiveness in communicating with and working for the communities but it remains an elected, representative body. The Prime Minister's Indigenous Advisory Council is not representative. It was appointed by the Prime Minister without any consultation with First Nations leaders and to say the justification to end funding to the Congress was because of duplication with the Indigenous Advisory Council is simply not true.

We can now expected the Federal Government to point to the Commission of Audit report as the justification for the funding cuts we now await in next week's Budget and it appears clear as crystal Indigenous programs are going to be severely affected.

Yet, if Mr Abbott's government was genuinely fair dinkum about delivering a more effective range of Indigenous-specific programs which achieved two fundamental goals – more effective outcomes and lower cost to deliver those outcomes then we believe Mr Abbott would form another Commission of Audit but this time one which focuses on Indigenous programs only and comprising exclusively First Nations leaders charged with restructuring the entire range of programs.

If this were to happen we have no doubt this Indigenous Commission of Audit would quickly deliver the solutions. They would say cost effective programs can only be delivered by putting control of the programs in the hands of First Nations People and First Nations organisations and not white bureaucrats and contractors.

Sadly, the Abbott Government will not adopt this suggestion. The Abbott Government clearly believes wealthy white bureaucrats and businessmen know what is best for First Nations People and that remains the core problem.

The Federal Government solution continues to be to punish the weak, the poor, the disadvantaged and let the wealthy continue largely unaffected in a process that actually widens the gap between the haves and the have-nots of this country.

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