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Indigenous early learning budgets cuts are cruel and inexplicable


May is finishing up 2014 as the beginning of Reconciliation Week – a time to reflect on significant on significant political milestones for Indigenous Australians, as well as increasing support for the Recognise campaign to include First Australians in our constitution.

This is ironic given that an earlier event in May, the handing down of the Federal Budget, saw widespread cuts to a number of programs, policies and agreements in Indigenous health, legal services and early childhood areas.

Well, the Government would prefer we don’t use the term “cuts”, but the far cuddlier “consolidations”.

Now is as good a time as any to remember that Tony Abbott once promised to be “a prime minister of Indigenous affairs”.

Now these “consolidations” don’t necessarily rule that out. After all, it was the man who described his political party as “the best friend Medicare has ever had” that has put in place the $7 co-payment that essentially ends Medicare as it was designed.

Being the focus of positive attention of Tony Abbott and the Coalition may not be the best place for anyone or anything right now.

As Reconciliation Australia has pointed out, there is a staggeringly small amount of detail on what these consolidations will actually mean for Indigenous people. But one of the few certainties is that early childhood programs in particular will suffer.

It’s at this point that I will have to lose some of my sarcastic tone, and descend immediately into deep anger.

The decision to cease funding of all 38 Aboriginal Children and Family Centres and slashing spending on the Budget Based Funding program is appalling, and will have an immediate and deleterious impact on Indigenous children and their families according to the Secretariat for National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care.

We know that addressing structural disadvantage and vulnerability must start in the early years. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has a significant amount of research demonstrating the necessity of early childhood being a critical part of the Closing the Gap strategy.

Finding short-term savings through the closure of programs such as these is not only cruel and short-sighted, it’s monumentally stupid (NOTE: previous versions of this blog had a number of different words instead of monumentally).

If Australia has any hope of meeting the current Closing the Gap targets, investment in the early years is critical. Cutting investment in this area is inexplicable.

But this is also an utterly bizarre and seemingly capricious set of budget cuts given that early childhood education and care was largely spared the budget axe. The Abbott Government has stated that any significant changes to the sector will occur after they have received the recommendations from the current Productivity Commission inquiry.

So in a Federal Budget that (with a few exceptions) leaves childcare alone, the Government has chosen to specifically and decisively destroy a proven and necessary early years strategy to address Indigenous disadvantage in our country.

People of Australia, I give you Australia’s first prime minister of Indigenous affairs.

I state clearly here that I do not and would not presume to speak for Indigenous people. I am a white, middle-class, Anglo-Saxon male and as such am representative of many of the past and continuing struggles that face the First Australians on this land that was, is and shall always be Aboriginal Land.

For the perspectives of Indigenous people regarding these issues, I recommend visiting the websites of SNAICC and Reconciliation Australia.

By Liam McNicholas

I am an experienced early childhood teacher, writer and advocate. As well as managing community not-for-profit early childhood operations in a variety of roles, I have advocated for children's human rights; the need for investment in early childhood education; and for professional recognition and wages for those working in early childhood education and care.

I am available to be commissioned for freelance writing, editing, event speaking and consulting work.

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