Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney
Linda Burney is a leading advocate for the voice to parliament. Image by Darren England/AAP PHOTOS

Fanciful figures used to discredit Indigenous minister

Kate Atkinson September 13, 2023

Linda Burney has been in charge of spending on Indigenous affairs for nearly two decades.


False. Linda Burney has been Minister for Indigenous Australians since June 2022.

It’s claimed Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney has been in charge of government spending on Indigenous people for almost 20 years.

This is false. Ms Burney has been the federal government minister responsible for Indigenous affairs since June 2022.

The claim is made in a viral image (screenshot here) being shared across Facebook and Instagram.

The image – examples here, here, here, here and here – is being posted by people opposing the proposed Indigenous voice to parliament, for which Ms Burney has been a leading advocate.

“Linda Burney Has Been In Charge Of Indigenous Affairs For Nearly 2 Decades,” the posts state.

“In The Last 14 Years, $490 Billion Has Been Spent On Her Watch.

“Where Has All The Money Gone?”

It includes a photograph of Ms Burney on a chartered flight to the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands in South Australia, taken for a profile piece published by The Australian in November 2022.

A screenshot of the viral image.
 The post is spreading disinformation about Linda Burney. 

Ms Burney was appointed to federal cabinet on May 31, 2022, after the election of a Labor government and was sworn in as Minister for Indigenous Australians on June 1.

Since being elected to federal parliament in 2016, she served as a shadow minister in many areas including human services and Indigenous Australians.

Prior to joining federal politics, Ms Burney was a state MP in the NSW Legislative Council from 2003 to 2016. From 2007 to 2011, she held a variety of ministerial roles, including fair trading and community services.

Before becoming an MP she held positions including director general of the NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs and president of the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group.

A representative for Ms Burney confirmed to AAP FactCheck she had been the federal minister for “just over a year”.

“She was appointed to the cabinet in May 2022,” they said.

Linda Burney being sworn-in as a federal minister (file image)
 Linda Burney was sworn in as Minister for Indigenous Australians in June 2022. 

There is no source provided for the $490 billion figure mentioned in the post.

Michael Dillon, an Indigenous affairs researcher at the Australian National University, told AAP FactCheck the figure was likely based on an estimate derived from the Productivity Commission‘s 2017 Indigenous Expenditure Report.

The report provides estimates for state, territory and federal government expenditure on services relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (page 1).

It found $33.4 billion was spent in 2015/16 (page 6).

However, $6 billion funded specific services which relate exclusively to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, such as ABSTUDY and Indigenous Ranger Programs (page 6).

The remaining $27.4 billion was the share of mainstream spending, which refers to expenditure provided for all people such as Medicare and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (page 6).

The Productivity Commission calculated expenditure on Indigenous people was $44,886 per person compared to $22,356 for non-Indigenous people (page 14).

This was due to higher intensity of service use, funding of Indigenous-specific services that complement mainstream services and the higher cost of providing services in rural and remote areas.

Indigenous Expenditure Reports were also released in 2010, 2012 and 2014. These reports estimated total direct Indigenous expenditure to be $21.9 billion, $25.4 billion and $30.3 billion, respectively.

Aboriginal children read books at a bush library (file image)
 Providing services in rural and remote areas incurs higher costs, the report states. 

A Productivity Commission representative told AAP FactCheck the 2017 report was the best estimate for spending on Indigenous affairs.

They said no future Indigenous Expenditure Reports had been scheduled.

But Mr Dillon said there were problems with reducing Indigenous expenditure over time to a single figure.

“The bottom line is that it is probably conceptually impossible to derive a single figure that accurately and unequivocally represents expenditure on Indigenous affairs,” he said. 

“If a figure is used, it should include some of the major caveats. Having said that $490 billion divided by 14 is $35 billion, which is probably equivalent to $30 billion in 2017 dollars.

“Its use is misleading, but there is no widely accepted alternative figure available.”

The Verdict

The claim Linda Burney has been in charge of Indigenous affairs for almost two decades is false.

She was sworn in as Minister for Indigenous Australians in June 2022.

An Indigenous affairs expert told AAP FactCheck the $490 billion figure cited in the post was likely calculated from estimates in the 2017 Indigenous Expenditure Report, which found direct annual Indigenous expenditure was $33.4 billion. 

False – The claim is inaccurate.

AAP FactCheck is an accredited member of the International Fact-Checking Network. To keep up with our latest fact checks, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

All information, text and images included on the AAP Websites is for personal use only and may not be re-written, copied, re-sold or re-distributed, framed, linked, shared onto social media or otherwise used whether for compensation of any kind or not, unless you have the prior written permission of AAP. For more information, please refer to our standard terms and conditions.