Call for Aboriginality definition change could strike blow to state’s GST dollars

The Productivity Commission has been asked to prioritise the needs of remote communities in its review of how GST dollars are distributed to the states.

But economist Saul Eslake says Tasmania could lose out if the Yothu Yindi Foundation’s submission is adopted.

The commission was originally to hand down its findings by February, but a self-imposed delay has pushed it back until May, after the federal budget is released.

Horizontal fiscal equalisation sees GST revenue carved up among the states and territories in as equitable a manner as possible.

However, Western Australia has complained that it is disadvantaged by the current system, which prompted the Productivity Commission’s review.

If the system is changed, Tasmania couldlose up to $1 billion over four years.

In its submission, the Yothu Yindi Foundation proposes that the definition of Aboriginality be changed so that increasing numbers of people from the south of the nationidentifying as Aboriginal do not tip the scales against disadvantaged indigenous people in remote parts of the Northern Territory.

Tasmania has 23,572 people who identify as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent–the second lowest number of all states and territories.

Mr Eslake saida change to the definition would“likely cost Tasmania something”.

He added that indigeneity and remoteness were the two biggest drivers of the Northern Territory’s share of GST revenue.

“One of the complaints that the other states make about the GST formula, insofar as it affects the Northern Territory, is that the Northern Territory gets all this money in recognition of it having a very high proportion of its population being indigenous, but they don’t spend much on indigenous services,” Mr Eslake said.

Aboriginal lawyer Michael Mansell said Commonwealth funds were currently“not being distributed properly” to remote Aboriginal communities.

​”It should be based on need rather than someone declaring,‘I am an Aboriginal’,” he said.

“One of the problems is that the government now funds according to the Census outcome.

“So if someone merely claims to be of a particular identity, then the Indigenous Affairs budget is divided up among the statistics of the Census, which doesn’t give those most in need the greatest access to the resources.”

Mr Mansell also addressed the rise in Tasmanians identifying as Aboriginal on their Census forms and the way in which it impacted on the distribution of funds to remote communities.

“I think the people who are ticking the box in the Census have been given information that’s very doubtful as to its authenticity and people don’t know so they just tick it, thinking, ‘Well, I’ve been told this so I better tick it’,” he said.

“I think people have been given misinformation by people who are taking advantage of ‘the more numbers in your area, the more money you get’, which is the point that the [Yothu Yindi Foundation] people are making.”

The Examiner