Originally published in the National Indigenous Times, February 22 2007.
By Amy McQuire
THE Howard Government has not spent any of the $4.467 million allocated to improving law and violence services in Indigenous communities, eight months after it was promised in a law and order summit called by Minister for Indigenous Affairs Mal Brough.
Howard government officials made the admission when questioned as to how the money was being spent to a Senate Estimates committee this month.
Mr Brough called the law and order summit last year after widespread media coverage depicted shocking instances of violence and abuse in Indigenous communities.
The summit was held three years after a similar meeting in which Indigenous leaders and researchers including Alison Anderson, Lowitja O’Donohue and Jackie Huggins, presented a report detailing the state and territory authorities’ failure to address the issue of child abuse and domestic violence.
Despite Prime Minister John Howard reacting by nominating violence was the number one issue affecting Indigenous communities, they were left waiting until 2006 for Mr Brough’s summit, which offered a one-off payment of $130 million to be used over five years and spread over all the states and territories to boost policing and restore law and order.
Mr Brough told parliament in May last year that the violence and abuse in Indigenous communities needed to be addressed now.
“But let us recognise that, if we do not deal with the two fundamentals of law and order and faith in our criminal justice system, we will condemn ourselves and that community to being in the same position in 10, 20 and 30 years time.
“I think that is unacceptable. It is something that we should all accept as our grave responsibility and deal with it now.”
But eight months after the money was allocated, Mr Brough and his Indigenous Affairs department are still failing to “deal with it now.”
The unused funding has prompted shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Reconciliation, Jenny Macklin to label Brough “all bluster” with “no action on Indigenous violence.”
“For all of his bluster and talking tough, Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough has failed to deliver,” Ms Macklin said in a statement.
“Family violence is a national disgrace and it’s Mal Brough’s responsibility to see that Commonwealth money is spent where it’s desperately needed. It’s completely irresponsible to blame his inaction on anyone else.
“Mal Brough accepted his responsibility to act last year, but so far this has failed to deliver any money on the ground to prevent violence in Indigenous communities.”
Mr Brough responded by saying the federal government has had “a strong record of achievement” in addressing Indigenous violence and said that policing was not a federal responsibility.
“Doesn’t Ms Macklin understand that policing is in fact a state issue,” Mr Brough said. “The $130 million, five year package I secured last year will assist states and the NT meet their responsibilities. But getting police on the ground requires further information from them before we can proceed.”
Mr Brough also told The Australian that Ms Macklin should focus her attention on her Labor colleagues in the state governments.
“If Ms Macklin has a complaint about progress on policing in remote communities, I’d encourage her to talk to her state Labor colleagues, particularly in Queensland,” Mr Brough said.
“It was the Police Minister there, Ms (Judy) Spence, who initially refused to participate in our review of policing before she was elbowed by Premier Beattie.”
But Ms Spence also hit back, telling The Australian that the Howard government was unable to deliver services to areas they view as high priorities and had not backed the Queensland government’s move to help policing in the Torres Strait.
“…We have been informed that the Commonwealth government did not want to spend money in the Torres Strait, that it only wants to spend money in Aboriginal communities,” Ms Spence told The Australian.
The Howard government is now refusing to release the allocated funds until the Northern Territory’s deputy police commissioner John Valentin concludes his audit of policing in Indigenous communities.