Granting injustice

Perhaps the worst part is that they didn’t even ask for it. The euphemism in the documents calls the grants “departmental approaches”.

Everywhere else in Indigenous affairs, the money has to be begged; here, it is given freely. Possibly because here it can be used to fight Indigenous interests.

By Nigel Scullion’s own admission, the money was for “legal fees, effectively … to put forward a case of detriment to the land commissioner”. That is, to object to native title claims.

Grants of almost $460,000 were signed off by Scullion, to fishing and cattle grazier groups. The money was originally intended to address Indigenous disadvantage – to “improve the way the government does business with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to ensure funding actually achieves outcomes”.

The Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association hasn’t decided exactly how it will spend the money. Some of it will be spent fighting native title claims.

The Amateur Fishermen’s Association NT – which got $155,000 – will also use some of it to fight land claims. “Collecting evidence of detriment is easier with a lawyer.”

The NT Seafood Council got another $150,000, but says it will not use it on legal fees. Before entering politics, Scullion ran the council.

“Our funding is approved but we are yet to finalise the agreement with the government,” says Katherine Winchester, the council’s chief executive. “We absolutely deny we applied for funding for fighting land claims. Our grant will go to education and cultural awareness.”

Jak Ah Kit, a former Indigenous affairs minister in the Northern Territory, says the payments are “totally immoral”.

“I think the decisions that the minister’s taken over the last 12 to 18 months need to be reviewed. There needs to be an investigation into what he’s been doing,” he told Guardian Australia. “This is not acceptable, and I think the prime minister should step in.”

Nigel Scullion is the Indigenous affairs minister who abandoned the Uluru statement, whose party slashed funding for his portfolio. He sees no problem with how money from the Indigenous Advancement Strategy is being allocated.

“I stand by every dollar and every cent of the IAS funding that I have approved, and every IAS grant has been made in accordance with IAS guidelines,” he told the senate on Thursday.

“I’m actively transitioning IAS funds to the Indigenous organisations that deliver outcomes, and the number is significantly increasing. When I got the portfolio, 35 per cent of the IAS was given to Indigenous organisations. It’s now 55 per cent. So we’re doing pretty well. Over that period of time, there have been some remarkable outcomes. But from time to time there is a capacity for organisations like the Red Cross – I give them $2 million and they deliver to Indigenous people. CatholicCare, to whom we give $18 million, deliver to youth and the unemployed. We give $1.1 million to World Vision because they’re delivering in the area of early childhood. So, if you’re suggesting that we cut all these funds – really, I’m not sure that’s what they’re suggesting.”

Here is the minister for Indigenous affairs, playing dumb or being so.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 17, 2018 as "Granting injustice".

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