The Northern Territory Government has been accused by the organisers of Australia's largest Indigenous gathering Garma of siphoning hundreds of millions of dollars meant to address Aboriginal disadvantage to urban projects
Denise Bowden, the chief executive of the Yothu Yindi Foundation, made the comments in a speech at what has been a politically charged Garma festival.P
The goodwill generated by Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt announcing he wanted a referendum on recognition in the constitution for Aboriginal people is being replaced by some anger that Prime Minister Minister Scott Morrison won't support a permanent voice to parliament.
Ms Bowden, an influential indigenous figure in the NT, said while a voice was needed "we cannot lose sight of the urgent need to change a system .. that is impoverishing Aboriginal people by clipping the ticket of Aboriginal disadvantage."
The avoidable death of an Aboriginal Yolngu woman, Mrs Gurruwiwi, who pleaded with public servants for an aged care home in Nhulunbuy but "died in a hovel" not fit for humans had focused her anger and grief, Ms Bowden said.P
Since 2006 the NT Government had spent over $300 million "presumably from its untied GST payments" creating a Darwin waterfront precinct which had been turned over to property developers and business, Ms Bowden said at Garma.P
The NT Government also granted up to $20 million to the Darwin Waterfront Corporation to run it, she said.P
"That's an annual payment equivalent to 40 remote houses a year so local Darwinians and people visiting Darwin can enjoy themselves," Ms Bowden said.P
The Commonwealth had "happily wiped its hands of the mess" after creating that system, she said.P
Ms Bowden and Professor Marcia Langton will present a decade-long analysis of government spending patterns and formulas intended to address Aboriginal disadvantage at Garma.P
The NT receives the largest relative share of GST but the growth in its public service to 21,500 from about 14,500 in 2003 swallowed up much of that.
Ms Bowden cited the recent Langoulant report showing the NT was in structural deficit and headed for a a $2 billion a year interest bill by 2029 as evidence of decades of overspending and maladministration with no external scrutiny.
"This work confirms everything we see in front of us and explains why many Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory continue to live impoverished lives," she said.
"The data shows time and time again that hundreds of millions of dollars of untied GST funds sent to State and Territory governments to address Aboriginal issues diverted to other urban priorities, or are spent on administration in Darwin or other urban centres.
"Meanwhile in the bush the housing crisis continues, the housing deficit grows, indigenous people are living lives characterised by poverty and neglect and despair.
The NT's Aboriginal Affairs Selena Uibo rejected Ms Bowden's comments as very unhelpful and "blanket statements" given without context.
The NT's education system, for instance, was moving towards a needs-based model that supported vulnerable Indigenous students.
Australian Associated Press