• The findings of an 18-month inquiry into the deaths of 13 Aboriginal youths in Western Australia’s Kimberley region were delivered last week. (AAP)Source: AAP
We often hear the claim that there are scores of services, many duplicated, in remote and regional Aboriginal communities. I beg to differ. This reinforces the myth that some communities are ‘over-funded’.
Gerry Georgatos

8 Dec 2016 - 7:48 AM  UPDATED 8 Dec 2016 - 7:49 AM

According to Sara Hudson’s research from the Centre of Independent Studies, Roebourne in Western Australia’s Pilbara has 67 service providers with over 400 programs for less than 1,200 residents,


However, I know Roebourne inside out and I do not know where these 67 services are located. Certainly, they aren’t on Scholl Street.


Yes, there are some services that provide similar programs and this is often suggested as duplication. However, Roebourne is predominately impoverished. It lacks significant health services and quality education.


Truth be told, Roebourne and surrounding towns don’t have the same infrastructure and social assets as predominately non-Aboriginal towns.


It is wrong to describe a single staff operation as a ‘service’. It is stretching the imagination to count some casual, irregular, pro-rata ‘program’ or workshop as a fully-fledged program.


I once coordinated a project with 100 ‘programs’, but like the majority of the so-called programs were not fulltime. They were limited to prescribed numbers of participants and contingent on staffing levels.


Roebourne does not receive the funding commitments that it should be entitled to and this is why the majority of its residents remain impoverished. Yes, there is misspending and ill-directed funding and there are the soft monies too, the unjustifiable consultation and contractor hits.


Roebourne is not alone, the problem persists across the nation. Voilà! All of a sudden you understand that the $30 billion ‘Indigenous spend’, well the majority of it, does not reach the people, does not hit the ground. Yet many Australians still believe the nonsense that billions of dollars reach communities.


According to the United Nations Development Program Human Development Index, Australia ranks second in the world for public and social health, but if we disaggregate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, we would rank 132nd.

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More and more Australians living in cities are proudly ticking the box stating they have Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander heritage, which subsequently skews the data.  Still, despite this, 40 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are living below the poverty line. This 40 per cent was once 90 per cent of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, some five decades ago.


Now, more than 90 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicides are from within the 40 per cent living below the poverty line. Similarly, more than 90 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who are in gaol are from within the 40 per cent living below the poverty line. These statistics call for a triage based approach, with the majority of available funding targeted to and reaching that 40 per cent.


The Black revolution that is believed to comprise those living above the poverty line is mostly made up of Australians ticking the box as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, but whose families have lived mainstream, generation after generation.


Yes, there are many who have risen from abject poverty, but the majority who have always ‘lived black’, whose families were on the missions and reserves, segregated, corralled in pastoral estates, still remain living half-lives below the poverty line.


Collectivised data discriminates, and without data disaggregation, we are in danger of leaving people behind. We are making them invisible.


Gerry Georgatos is a suicide prevention researcher, prison reform advocate and Humanitarian Projects Coordinator with the Institute of Social Justice and Human Rights.


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