Outback alchemy: mining royalties to be put to good use in Aboriginal art centres

24 03 2009

 

 

It always makes my cynical heart (yes – there’s an ongoing theme here) swell with joy when a politician actually follows through on a promise.

In very welcome news, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, has announced that $A8 million from the Aboriginal Benefits Account (ABA) will be used to upgrade and maintain twenty-nine community art centres. These centres have been responsible for supporting many of the Aboriginal art community’s luminaries. But they have also become important social hubs for the surrounding communities. They’re much more than simply places the artists can paint and sell their work. And, if things go according to plan, the money will be used to improve facilities and establish art education and research programs.

About flipping time, I say. The money in the ABA has been accumulated by the Australian Government since 1997 from mining royalties, purportedly to benefit Northern Territory Aboriginal communities. But in a 2007 report in the Sydney Morning Herald, Jenny Macklin, who was then Opposition spokesman for Indigenous Affairs, pointed out that almost $A 50 million collected between 1997 and 2007 remained in a reserve. The government minister in charge of Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, was clutching those purse strings like Scrooge: “I’m not simply handing out the funds to anyone who wants them. That practice in indigenous affairs is in the past.” Hmm.

The clearly exasperated director of the Australian National University’s Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Professor Jon Altman, seemed to think there may have been some very valid reasons for spending the cash then and there: “Do you use it for a rainy day or do you use it to address Aboriginal disadvantage today?” Remember the Northern Territory Intervention, former Minister Brough? Perhaps Professor Altman had a point there.

Me? I’m glad to see that all that cash made from tearing up the outback go towards nourishing the stunning creative output blooming in the desert and on far-flung islands. Seems fitting, somehow.

Image: http://www.fremantle.wa.gov.au

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