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Governments should spend taxpayer’s money on Aboriginal development where it is most needed

By Roger Steele and Don Fuller - posted Friday, 4 June 2021

Recently, the Australian Government has been heavily criticized by the Chinese Government for its hypocrisy with respect to human rights and in particular, the manner in which the Federal Government has administered programs relating to Aboriginal people in Australia.

Until the Whitlam government was elected in 1972 remote Aboriginal communities were managed in a number of cases by the Churches in co-operation with the Federal Government. The Catholic, Lutheran, Uniting and Anglican Churches were particularly active and involved in the management and administration of a number of communities throughout the Northern Territory.

While it has been fashionable by the 'woke left' to be critical of the role of Christian churches in managing Aboriginal remote communities and cases of exploitation existed, the descent into hell that has occurred over the last fifty years was largely prevented.


Aboriginal people were gainfully employed in a wide range of occupations and community industries including horticulture, forestry, fishing, administration and trade and technical occupations – for example. Promising students were often sent to top schools in other states or to institutions to learn trades and technical skills. There was little difficulty having children attend school and Aboriginal people understood the value and relevance of education and skills training for the benefit of their communities. Cases of assault and violence were rare.

At the same time remote Aboriginal people continued to practice their traditional skills and customs and this was often encouraged by the Church, who saw the need for a 'two way' rather than 'one way' form of engagement with Aboriginal people. On Bathurst Island for example, the local Catholic Church was complete with large numbers of Tiwi carvings and fabrics, while Tiwi paintings and designs covered the ceilings and walls.

Following the decision by the Whitlam Labor government to significantly reduce the influence of Christian Churches and to introduce the policies of self-management and self-determination, largely as a reaction to the naïve and ill-informed pressure from the left wing of the party, the results have been disastrous.

Widespread cases of the rape of children, severe domestic violence and assault, vicious fights over the distribution of royalties, children that aboriginal parents are unable to control, or get to school – is as far as the Chinese and others are concerned, substantial and on-going evidence of the manner in which Australian governments have attempted to manage Aboriginal issues. Things have been left to drift to disaster. Politicians that should be responsible and accountable have been prepared to 'let things happen', rather than strive to 'make things happen'.

Rather than attempt to take responsibility for the impact of such disastrous government decision making, politicians at the Federal, State and Territory levels have largely refused to be accountable for such decision making. As a result the problems have spiralled out of control and are now spilling over into major Territory urban centres such as Alice Springs. No amount of police resources are likely to be able to control the escalating violence and crime.

Future projections


Before the Whitlam government introduced the ability of Aboriginal people to self-identify and prior to the sharp increase in funding made available in Commonwealth Budgets for Aboriginal people, there had been little incentive for those with some Aboriginal heritage to identify as Aboriginal Australians.

The sudden appearance of a number of important government funding programs directed at Aboriginal people rapidly changed this tendency. Those with some Aboriginal heritage now saw it increasingly relevant to identify with the original Australians.

This tendency has gathered pace and has important implications for more traditional Aboriginal people living within remote communities. In particular, there is an increasing danger that funding will be diverted from areas of real need to those who identify as Aboriginal, living in the relative comfort of urban communities and cities.

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About the Authors

Roger Steele was a founding member of the Country Liberal Party in the Northern Territory. He held a number of key Ministerial portfolios in government in the Territory. He was instrumental in establishing the Gregory National Park in close consultation with station owners and Aboriginal people. Prior to politics Roger managed a number of cattle stations in remote regions of the Territory. He has had extensive experience across a number of tasks and skill areas, working with Aboriginal people in remote regions.

Don Fuller grew up in Darwin. He formed wide relationships while growing up with the Tiwi and Aboriginal people of the Territory. He holds a Doctorate in Economics from the University of Adelaide. Later, Don became Professor and Head of Business and Law at Charles Darwin University with a key research and teaching focus on Aboriginal people living within remote regions of the Northern Territory. He also worked as an economic and policy adviser to Country Liberal Party governments in the Northern Territory.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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