Media Release by The Hon Mal Brough MP

Disappointing treatment of social justice reforms

Indigenous Affairs Minister, Mal Brough, today expressed his disappointment with the 2006 Report by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma.

"The report simply doesn’t do justice to what’s being achieved through reforms to Indigenous Affairs since 2004," Mr Brough said.

"It looks at progress from a ‘glass is half empty’ perspective and consequently misses the real outcomes being achieved and the foundations being laid for the future.

The report is also so out-of-date (referring to the 2005-06 financial year) as to be unhelpful, if not misleading, because it fails to consider the extent of reform in Indigenous Affairs since then.

"The 2007-08 Federal Budget shows the Government is putting its money where its mouth is in Indigenous Affairs.

"The Budget included additional three-quarters of a billion dollars to measures focusing on education, early childhood, and economic independence, taking overall Indigenous spending to a record $3.5 billion in 2007-08.

"The Government is also fundamentally overhauling our largest Indigenous-specific programs – those dealing with employment and housing: Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) and the Community Housing and Infrastructure Program (CHIP).

"And we are demanding that mainstream agencies step up to the mark to ensure Indigenous Australians have the same access to services as other Australians.

"Changing the headline indicators of disadvantage is going to take considerable time – something Mr Calma acknowledges in passing.

"But much of his report is a litany of concerns about progress being either non-existent in some areas or, where it is happening, that it’s occurring too quickly or not in the way he would prefer.

"Governments end up being damned if they do and damned if they don’t: it’s a no-win situation.

"No-one disputes that there’s still a long way to go, but cynical critiques of the genuine efforts of governments and Indigenous people to reform failed approaches of the past don’t help anyone – least of all those who are most disadvantaged.

"It would also be more constructive and fair if these reports examined the performance of agencies generally from all levels of government, rather than offering a very partial analysis of one area.

"I was also particularly disappointed that the Social Justice Commissioner did not choose to use his report to give a higher profile to the issue of family violence in Indigenous communities.

"The Australian Government has been leading the way on this issue for the past year but there is minimal discussion of human rights abuses occurring in Indigenous communities, let alone of our work to address this. I would have thought it reasonable to expect that this issue would be a higher priority for a Social Justice Commissioner."