On 13 February 2008, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd gave an apology in the Federal Parliament to the Indigenous people of Australia. It was a day to remember. Putting the federal government’s money where its mouth was, Kevin Rudd also made some explicit promises about what would be done to close the gap between Aboriginal people and the rest of Australia, in the usual statistics – life span, education, housing – all the indicators of comparative wealth. The general idea is to create the conditions to enable Aboriginal people, who live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, to live in the first world, not the third.
Here’s one of those promises.
Let us resolve over the next five years to have every Indigenous four-year-old in a remote Aboriginal community enrolled in and attending a proper early childhood education centre or opportunity and engaged in proper preliteracy and prenumeracy programs.
Hugely expensive, you might think. One hell of a commitment.
Not really. Hidden away in the middle of a story in The Australian, there’s this little nugget.
the federal Government faces a cost of at least $12 million to meet its sorry day commitment.
That’s right. We are talking about a mere $12 million, out of a federal budget that has a surplus of $10.6 billion – 68kb pdf. That’s a whopping 0.1% of the surplus.
As for how they get to this figure – it’s simple. It turns out that about one in two indigenous four year olds are not in preschool. That’s about 5,500 children. The average cost of preschool per child across Australia is about $2,256, and in the Northern Territory, about $6,370. The Australian is conservative in its cost estimate, so it has taken the Australia wide average cost, and multiplied it by 5,500, to get to its minimum cost of $12 million. But, let’s be reckless, and assume that the Northern Territory average might be be more accurate one to use, because this is going to be a tricky program to roll out. So 5,500 multiplied by $6,370 gives us a total cost of $35 million. That’s 0.3% of the surplus. Just to be on the safe side, to be sure that we really are covering the potential costs of this promise, we could double even that Northern Territory cost. And then we’re up to $12,740 per child, a total cost of $70 million, and suddenly we are using up 0.66% of the federal government’s budget surplus.
It’s chicken feed in a country as wealthy as Australia. It’s a miserly sum of money. Remember that we are not even talking about the total federal budget here, just what’s left over after everything else has been paid for.
This is what has been so shameful about the conditions the Aboriginal people live in in this lucky country. There is enormous wealth here, and so little of it has been used to ensure that the first Australians have the same chances, the same opportunities, as white Australia.
No doubt the other programs Kevin Rudd suggested – healthcare, housing, employment, and so on – will cost a fair amount too. But it’s hard to believe that they will take up all that much of the wealth produced in this country.