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

A 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 actually spent.

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

As the hosts questioned him about his opinions, Kamahl argued that Indigenous people already receive $40 billion annually from the federal government.

“All I know is they’re spending $40 billion,” he repeated. ‘Where does the money go?’

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

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

Macdonald hit back: “That has been fact-checked as untrue. The government agency says it has never allocated $30 billion a year to Indigenous programs; the total budget for 2022-2023 was $4.5 billion.”

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

Prime Minister Tony Abbott fueled this false claim in an interview with 2GB host Ben Fordham in July, which McDonald referenced during his conversation with Kamahl.

Mr. Abbott claimed that hundreds of individuals working at the NIAA are responsible for its annual allocation of approximately $30 billion.

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

David Campbell, a senior researcher at RMIT’s FactLab, also scrutinized Abbott’s claim in a fact-check article supporting the $4.5 billion figure.

“Tony Abbott is wrong,” he said.

“The interview (with Fordham in August) was shared by supporters of the No campaign on public Facebook groups opposed to the proposed Voice.”

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

“Social media users are spreading claims similar to those of Mr. Abbott, with one user claiming that “dedicated Indigenous agencies” such as the NIAA were collectively “funded to the tune of 30 BILLION PLUS dollars.”

Project presenter Hamish Macdonald (pictured) fact-checked Kamahl's $40 billion claim

Project presenter Hamish Macdonald (pictured) fact-checked Kamahl’s $40 billion claim

“But FactLab could find no reports or data directly addressing total spending on ‘specific Indigenous bodies.’

He added that the NIAA “has become a lightning rod for disinformation” during the Voice referendum.

However, Sky News presenter Peta Credlin claimed Kahahl was not talking about the NIAA’s specific expenditure, but a ‘budget macro figure’.

“The Project presenters did a good job of making him think his $40 billion macro budget was somehow linked to Canberra’s National Indigenous Agency,” she said.

‘He didn’t say that, they said that. In fact, he was talking about the total budget figures, every dollar that governments across the country spend on Aboriginal people.”

“And the truth is, Kamahl was right. Taxpayers spend approximately $40 billion a year on Aboriginal Australians.”

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

This was an increase from the $27 billion spent between 2008 and 2009.

The Sky News presenter claimed the 2016 figure, adjusted for inflation, took the figure to $39.5 billion.

“If we adjust the 2016 figure in the Productivity Commission report for inflation, we now arrive at $39.5 billion in Aboriginal expenditure today.

“So Kamahl last night on The Project was spot on with his $40 billion figure.”

But Campbell pointed out that about $27.4 billion of Indigenous spending in 2016 was earmarked “for the portion of regular expenditure,” including schools, hospitals, defence, public order and safety, welfare and other essential services.

He explained that expenditure targeted at Indigenous people made up 1.1 per cent of total direct expenditure on all Australians.

It means that neither Kamahl nor Credlin are correct in their claims.

The figures in the report are ‘direct expenditures’ by state, territory and federal governments on First Nations people.

In contrast, spending for all Australians in the same period was $556.1 billion. The First Nations component accounts for about six percent.

Mr Campbell noted that the disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous government spending is the result of “greater disadvantage among First Nations people.”

“Other reasons included the population being more likely to use government services due to the younger age profile,” he added.

‘Demographic differences (also) lead to higher per capita expenditure on schools, universities and childcare…while disadvantages lead to more expenditure on hospitals, prisons and social housing, for example.’