The truth behind Kamahl’s claim that Indigenous people receive $40 billion a year from the government

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Debate has erupted over singer Kamahl’s claim that Indigenous people receive $40 billion a year from the federal government, as a fact check reveals how much is really spent.

The Malaysian-born Australian entertainer, 88, appeared on Network 10’s The Project to speak about his stance on the Voice to Parliament.

As the hosts questioned him over his view, Kamahl argued that Indigenous people were already receiving $40billion every year from the federal government.

‘All I know is that they’re spending $40 billion,’ he repeated. ‘What is the money going to?’

Host Hamish McDonald questioned the accuracy of his claim and had asked where he got that statistic from, to which the singer said someone had told him.

Kamahl (pictured), 88, argued that Indigenous people were already receiving $40billion every year during his appearance on The Project. The claim was contested by the show's hosts

Kamahl (pictured), 88, argued that Indigenous people were already receiving $40billion every year during his appearance on The Project. The claim was contested by the show’s hosts

Macdonald hit back: ‘That’s been fact checked as false. The government agency says it’s never administered funding of $30 billion a year on Indigenous programs, its total budget for 2022-23 was $4.5 billion.’

Kamahl’s $40billion claim has been repeated in materials and resources by the ‘No’ campaign in their arguments against the Voice. However, it’s worth noting that occasionally, the figure is also reported as $30 billion.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott fuelled the false claim in an interview with 2GB host Ben Fordham in July, which McDonald referred to during his discussion with Kamahl.

Mr Abbott claimed that hundreds of individuals employed by the NIAA are responsible for allocating approximately $30 billion annually.

But the agency’s budget last year, as McDonald pointed out, was $4.5billion.

David Campbell, a senior researcher with RMIT’s FactLab, also weighed into Mr Abbott’s claim in a fact-check article that backed up the $4.5billion figure.

‘Tony Abbott is wrong,’ he stated.

‘The interview (with Fordham in August) has been shared by supporters of the no campaign on public Facebook groups opposing the proposed Voice.’

‘Mr Abbott’s comments echo similar claims on social media.’

‘Social media users are spreading claims similar to the one made by Mr Abbott, with one user claiming that ‘dedicated Indigenous bodies’ such as the NIAA were collectively ‘funded to the tune of 30 BILLION PLUS dollars’.

The Project host Hamish Macdonald (pictured) 'fact checked' Kamahl's $40billion claim

The Project host Hamish Macdonald (pictured) ‘fact checked’ Kamahl’s $40billion claim

‘But FactLab was unable to find any reports or data dealing directly with total spending on ‘dedicated Indigenous bodies’.’

He added that the NIAA has ‘become a lightning rod for misinformation’ throughout the Voice referendum.

However, Sky News host Peta Credlin claimed that Kahahl was not talking about the specific expenses of the NIAA but a ‘budget macro number’.

‘The Project hosts, they did a good job trying to verbal him into thinking that his macro $40billion budget number was somehow related to Canberra’s National Indigenous Agency,’ she said.

‘He didn’t say that, they said that. In fact, he was talking about overall budget numbers, every dollar that governments around the country spend on Aboriginal people.’

‘And the truth is, Kamahl was right. Taxpayers do spend around $40billion a year on Aboriginal Australians.’

Credlin referred to data from the Productivity Commission’s 2017 Indigenous Expenditure Report, which showed that total government expenditure on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was estimated to be $33.4billion.

This was up from $27 billion that was spent between 2008 to 2009.

The Sky News host claimed the 2016 figure adjusted for inflation raised the number to $39.5billion. 

‘Adjusting the 2016 figure in the Productivity Commission’s report for inflation, well, that gives us now a figure of $39.5 billion in Aboriginal spending today. 

‘So Kamahl last night on The Project was actually spot on with his $40billion figure.’

But Mr Campbell pointed out how about $27.4billion of the 2016 Indigenous spend was ‘for the share of the mainstream expenditure’, which includes schools, hospitals, the defence force, public order and safety, welfare and other essential services.

He explained that expenditure directed towards Indigenous people accounted for 1.1 per cent of the total direct expenditure on all Australians.

It means neither Kamahl and Credlin are correct with their assertions.   

The figures in the report is the ‘direct expenditure’ by state, territory and federal governments for First Nations people. 

By contrast, expenditure for all Australians was $556.1billion in the same period. The First Nations component accounts for about six per cent.

Mr Campbell noted that the difference between Indigenous and non-Indigenous government spending is the result of ‘higher levels of disadvantage among First Nations people’.

‘Other reasons included that the population was more likely to use government services due to its younger age profile,’ he added.

‘Demographic differences [also] lead to higher per capita spending on school, university and childcare services…while disadvantage leads to more spending on, for example, hospitals, prisons and social housing.’



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