Funding For Peak Aboriginal Representative Body Gone, Minister Says

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Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion has confirmed that peak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representative body National Congress has been abandoned by the Federal Government.

The organisation was passed over in the budget, leaving it in “crisis mode” as it tries to transition to a more independently funded model.

While the Minister declined to comment yesterday, New Matilda has learnt he has now confirmed there will be no future funding for the organisation.

Scullion made the comment in a yet-to-be broadcast interview with the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association. The interview will go to air later today, it is understood.

Responding to accusations that he would not fund Congress again, Scullion was resolute. “No, I’m not,” he confirmed.

A spokesperson for the Minister confirmed there would be no further funding for Congress, but declined to go into further detail.

Scullion points to larger voter turnouts at state and territory land council elections than at Congress’ own and argues the organisation is not functioning as a representative body. He also argues Congress was expected to transition away from government funding but failed to do so.

What is not mentioned is that the Coalition cut a major portion of that funding in 2014, removing $15 million promised by Labor over the forward estimates.

In the past, Scullion had been equivocal when quizzed about the future of organisation.

It had been hoped some funding might be restored in the 2016 budget but that was not the case, heightening internal angst about Congress’ future.

Rod Little, Co-Chair of Congress, said the organisation had already lowered staff numbers and limited spending, but would only be able to continue on until mid-2017 if more support was not provided. He said the cuts had interrupted the organisation’s transition plans and undermined its ability to connect with First Nations peoples.

While state and territory land councils are run democratically, Congress’ demise would leave a gap in the federal sphere, first opened when the Howard government dumped ATSIC in 2005.

Little said this went against a promise made by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, during his first Closing the Gap speech.

“We find the way the government and the Minister [for Indigenous Affairs] behave at the moment is doing thing to us, including through the budget, and not with us,” Little said.

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Max Chalmers

Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.

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