by Helen Hughes and Mark Hughes

Barnaby Joyce’s heart is, as always, in the right place. His head, unfortunately, is not. The suggestion that Aborigines should not have to pay tax on earnings up to $80,000, meant to encourage them to get jobs, is not only unworkable but would also damage them further by treating them differently from other Australians.

More than 60% of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders are already working at jobs ranging from truck drivers to doctors and lawyers and paying their taxes.

Who, moreover, are Aborigines? All those descended from Australia’s first immigrants? Given intermarriage since early convict days, many more Australians than the 500,000 or so who identify in Censuses have Aboriginal ancestry. With tax holidays, several million Australians would put their hands up for Aboriginal ancestry.

Joblessness has been created by appalling Indigenous schools that deny their students literacy and numeracy. Although NAPLAN has clearly shown that 150 Indigenous schools are at the bottom of the literacy and numeracy of Australia’s 9,500 schools, education departments are not introducing mainstream curriculums and the teaching methods that would enable students in these schools to meet national standards. Excessive welfare and the absence of private property rights are additional barriers to employment. Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders on “Newstart” unemployment allowances are not subject to the same rules as other unemployed Australians and CDEP (Community Development Employment Projects) and other pretend jobs are still being used to supplement welfare.

While returning lands to Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders is widely supported, making land rights communal has handed them a poisoned chalice. This not the first time that tax holidays have been suggested as yet another “quick fix”. Since the 1970s reverse racism, intended to favour Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, has done them enormous damage.

Like most Australians, Barnaby Joyce has the decency to be offended by shameful conditions in welfare dependent Aboriginal communities. He should direct his ire and political skills at the core of the problem – education departments that refuse to fix failing Indigenous schools.