• Warren Mundine says Tony Abbott must do more in the Indigenous Affairs portfolio.
Warren Mundine says Tony Abbott has ignored Indigenous affairs in recent policy speeches, and says the PM needs to address funding issues, constitutional recognition and incarceration rates.
Myles Morgan

6 Feb 2015 - 11:02 AM  UPDATED 11 Mar 2015 - 12:33 PM

The chair of the Prime Minister's Indigenous Advisory Council says Tony Abbott has made two blunders in the last few months regarding Indigenous people.

Earlier this week, Tony Abbott failed to mention Indigenous people in his policy outline for 2015.

"During 2015, our priority will be creating more jobs; easing the pressure on families; building roads; strengthening national security; and promoting more opportunity for all with a new family’s policy and a new small business and jobs policy," he told the National Press Club in Canberra.

In his 2013 election campaign Tony Abbott vowed to become Australia's first Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs, and many Indigenous people were offended he didn't outline policies for them.

"I agree partly with those criticisms. I was a bit disappointed it wasn't part of these changes and priorities for the government this year," Indigenous Advisory Council Chairman Warren Mundine said.

Late last year, the Prime Minister spent a week living on Yolngu country in the remote Northern Territory, and also campaigned heavily for constitutional recognition of Indigenous people.

The Indigenous Advisory Council had its last full meeting with the Prime Minister in December, where the Prime Minister apparently laid out his Indigenous vision for 2015.

"We know from our conversations what has got to be done this year," according to Mr Mundine.

"Top of that is community safety, looking at family and community violence, incarceration rates, looking at those types of areas, as well as the continuation of the education and economic development," he said.

"So, there's a massive backlog at the moment and there's a lot on the agenda, of course the priority's on school attendance and other things as well."

Mr Mundine said he was also disappointed about a Prime Ministerial announcement made during the G20 last November.

Tony Abbott and the French President announced they would form a "joint expert committee to coordinate and determine the processes needed to identify and also to ascertain the origin of the Indigenous Australian human remains conserved in French public collections."

It could lead to Indigenous remains being returned to their homelands in Australia, which Indigenous people see as vital in laying their spirit to rest.

"When he made the announcement with the French President about bringing home the Indigenous remains back to Australia, that was a major campaign that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been doing for decades," said Mr Mundine.

"For that announcement to happen, we felt that those people who campaigned needed to be in the room."

The Indigenous Advisory Council has also identified other key areas the government needs to address in 2015:

Funding uncertainty needs to end

The Prime Minister's Department has taken direct control of the Indigenous Affairs portfolio.

Warren Mundine said it now needs to put to rest the ongoing uncertainty about funding Indigenous organisations.

The federal government recently had to extend the application period for the new round of funding under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy.

Last November, it said over 5,000 applications had been received for funding from Indigenous groups around the country but many were not up to standard.

The government also identified 75 important Indigenous organisations which hadn't applied for more funding; even though theirs was due to expire in December.

Many Indigenous organisations face a nervous wait until March to find out if their funding has been renewed. Some say the ongoing uncertainty is causing apprehension for employees and employers are losing staff.

"That's a correct criticism. We've seen a couple of delays now. Even if you're going to refund those organisations, they've got problems. How do they retain staff? They can't guarantee jobs. They can't delay it again. They have to deal with it and get it done. I agree [these’re] delays people cannot afford."

Constitutional change

Tony Abbott has long campaigned to change the constitution to positively recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

In December, he vowed to sweat blood on the campaign to achieve it.

"Our feeling is we starting to lose a little bit [of momentum], it's starting to wane," said Warren Mundine.

He wants an urgent meeting between the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader to agree on a form of wording which will form the basis of the referendum question to change the Constitution.

"If they don't, it'll fail. They need to sit down and have those serious conversations and come up with the question they can put to the Australian public for change."

Keeping Indigenous people out of jail


Indigenous people have long been over-represented in the country's jails. Even though they only make up about 3 per cent of the population, nearly a third of Australia's prisoners are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

"We need to look at reinvestment in critical areas of the Indigenous budget. Things like looking at incarceration rates and how to get them down, how do we get education and employment opportunities so we don't get recidivism," said Mr Mundine.

It may well be the focus of next week's Close the Gap address, an annual statement delivered by Prime Minister's to Parliament in the first sitting week of the year.

Next week, Prime Minister Tony Abbott will also have his first meeting of the year with the Indigenous Advisory Council in Canberra.