Indigenous affairs


Budget Review 2009-10 Index

Budget 2009 10: Indigenous affairs

John Gardiner-Garden, Coral Dow and Michael Klapdor

This year’s budget measures continue the Government’s commitment to ‘closing the gap’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians through targeted funding of $1.3 billion over four years. A significant proportion—$807.4 million—is directed to initiatives under the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER), now named Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory.

This is in addition to the Federal Government’s $3.6 billion contribution to the Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) National Indigenous Reform Agenda which is committed to achieving ‘closing the gap’ targets in all jurisdictions. Specifically, the COAG National Partnership Agreements are focussed on remote housing, health outcomes, early childhood development, economic participation and remote service delivery.[1]

The Rudd Government continues the previous Government’s focus on achieving outcomes through ‘practical measures’. However, the Government has significantly shifted the policy agenda to include a more rights based context beginning with the National Apology in February 2008; the statement of support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in April 2009; a commitment to introduce legislation in the Spring sittings of Parliament to lift the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975; and a commitment to establishing a National Indigenous Representative Body.[2]

Budget measures

The $1.3 billion in budget measures funded from all portfolios are classed in four broad categories: economic participation, a focus on remote Australia, Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory and resetting the relationship with Indigenous Australians.[3]

Economic participation

The budget measures include a total of $310 million to support Indigenous employment; including $202.4 million in expenditure over five years funded from savings in Community Development Employment Projects program (CDEP) changes. This measure includes the abolition of CDEP in non-remote areas with established economies from July 1 2009. In communities with limited and emerging economies, CDEP will be restructured into a ‘Work Readiness Service’ stream that will provide a personal development pathway for jobseekers and offer employers wage subsidies to take them on, and a ‘Community Development’ stream funding projects to help people develop skills and communities build local capacity.

Savings from the CDEP program reform will also provide $203.1 million over three years to ensure the sustainability of more than 1600 jobs created in the Northern Territory; $190.6 million over five years to reform and expand the Indigenous Employment Program (IEP); $53.6 million over four years for a new Indigenous remote workforce strategy; and, $21.6 million over four years for the Workplace English Language Literacy program to support reforms of the IEP.

A focus on remote Australia

This category includes a total expenditure of $89.1 million, mostly in health measures, including:

  • $58.3 million over four years to improve eye and ear health services for Indigenous Australians, particularly in rural and remote areas, intended to help the 20 000 Indigenous children who suffer from middle-ear infections severe enough to cause hearing loss. The funding will provide at least 1000 extra operations to correct eye and ear problems, and allow more than 10 regional teams to help prevent cases of middle-ear infection in the Northern Territory
  • $11 million over four years to improve access to dental care services in priority areas. The Government says this is to address the ‘significantly worse’ oral health of Indigenous people. Mobile dental facilities will be tested in a trial program to deliver dental services to rural Indigenous communities. Indigenous people are generally 20 per cent less likely to visit a dentist and this gap widens if people are living outside capital cities and
  • $3.8 million over four years to improve pathology services for Indigenous patients.[4]

Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory

As noted above, a total of $807.4 million over three years has been committed to continue Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory measures.[5] This includes a commitment of $34.6 million over three years to facilitate greater engagement with Indigenous leadership, increased communications with communities, and consultation prior to lifting the suspension of the operation of the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA).[6]

The Government has released a discussion paper outlining its proposals for changing or improving the initiatives introduced under the NTER so that they conform with the RDA.[7] Consultation on these proposals will inform new legislation to be introduced in October 2009. The discussion paper suggests a number of options for change including:

  • individuals being able to apply for an exemption from income management based on their family situation, financial abilities or record of behaviour
  • new licensing assessments for community stores
  • amended legislation in relation to the five-year leases over Indigenous communities in the NT to clarify the purpose and operation of the leases, and
  • allowing for community input and individual requests to be assessed in determining whether bans on alcohol and pornography should continue (as opposed to blanket bans).

Budget expenditure on Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory measures includes:

  • $156.6 million over three years to continue law and order activities, such as funding 60 Northern Territory police officers to replace Federal Police officers deployed under the initial NTER, five permanent and ten temporary police stations, as well as activities supporting alcohol and pornography restrictions
  • $131 million over three years to improve primary care services in remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. The funding provides for follow-up treatments of children for ear, nose and throat conditions and dental problems identified through NTER; for the continuation of the Remote Area Health Corps which provides doctors, nurses and other health workers in remote areas; and the expansion of the existing outreach service that sends teams to treat children injured in abuse-related circumstances
  • $105.9 million, primarily in 2009–10, to continue income management and financial advice to income support recipients
  • $84.1 million to continue field operations, especially the presence of Government Business Managers and interpreter services
  • $80.2 million over three years to continue 81 night patrol services
  • $45.7 million over three years to continue and expand education initiatives
  • $37.5 million over three years towards the continuation of the School Nutrition Program
  • $32.9 million over three years to continue family support services that include a mobile child protection team and the operation of safe houses
  • $28.4 million over three years for youth diversionary services
  • $18.3 million over three years to continue maintaining and improving community stores
  • $11.2 million towards additional houses for teachers in Indigenous communities
  • $11 million over three years to continue whole-of-government co-ordination and program management and evaluation
  • $10 million for a Local Priorities fund and
  • $9.1 million over three years to fund eight new crèches.[8]

Resetting the relationship with Indigenous Australians

This category includes $64.2 million in expenditure aimed at advancing what the Government describes as its ‘determination to forge a new relationship with Indigenous Australians based on trust and respect’.[9] This includes:

  • $26.6 million over four year for an Indigenous Healing Foundation to help members of the Stolen Generation suffering trauma
  • $13.8 million over four years to help members of the Stolen Generation find families and communities
  • $13 million over four years for the Indigenous Electoral Education Program to improve Indigenous participation in the electoral system and
  • $10.8 million to Reconciliation Australia for education and awareness programs.

Commentary

The Budget has won praise from stakeholders and commentators for its record level of funding commitments in Indigenous affairs with criticism focused primarily on the targeting of different measures and remaining funding shortfalls.[10] A key focus of responses to the Budget related to the continuing need for more funding to address Indigenous health issues. Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma, stated that the ‘sheer amount of resources needed by the NT alone highlights the fact that significant investment in Indigenous health across the country is still needed if health equality is to be achieved by 2030’.[11] Budget responses also called for greater participation by Indigenous community leaders in the design and implementation of programs.[12]



[1].    Australian Government, Budget statements 2009–10: closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2009, pp. 7–10 and Appendix B, pp. 41–42, viewed 19 May 2009,
http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/about/publicationsarticles / corp/BudgetPAES/budget09_10/ indigenous/Documents/ClosingTheGap/closingthegap.pdf
For a listing of measures by portfolio see Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA), ‘2009–10 Indigenous budget at a glance’, FaHCSIA website, viewed 20 May 2009,
http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/about/publicationsarticles/corp/BudgetPAES/
budget09_10/indigenous/Pages/IndigenousBudgetataGlance.aspx

[2].    J Macklin (Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs), Re-setting the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, media release, Canberra, 12 May 2009, viewed 20 May 2009,
http://www.jennymacklin.fahcsia.gov.au/internet/jennymacklin.nsf/
content/reset_relationship_12may2009.htm
and Australian Government, pp. 29–32.

[3].    Australian Government, pp. 35–40.

[4].    N Roxon (Minister for Health and Ageing) and J Macklin (Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs), Over $200 million for closing the gap in Indigenous health, media release, 12 May 2009, viewed 16 May 2009,
http://www.health.gov.au/internet/budget/ publishing.nsf/Content/budget2009-hmedia10.htm

[5].    J Macklin, (Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs), Closing the gap in the Northern Territory, media release, 12 May 2009, viewed 16 May 2009, 
http://www.jennymacklin.fahcsia.gov.au/internet/ jennymacklin.nsf/ content/closing_gap_nt_12may2009.htm

[6].    Australian Government, p.  32.

[7].    Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA), Future directions for the Northern Territory Emergency Response—discussion paper, FaHCSIA, Canberra, 2009, viewed 21 May 2009,
http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/sa/indigenous/progserv/ ntresponse/ future_directions/Documents/discussion_paper_5.pdf

[8].    J Macklin, Closing the gap in the Northern Territory.

[9].    J Macklin, Re-setting the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

[10]. See, for example, C Graham, ‘A gap stalling budget’, National Indigenous Times, 13 May 2009, viewed 20 May 2009,
http://www.nit.com.au/news/story.aspx?id=17769

[11]. Australian Human Rights Commission, Budget initiatives welcomed but real engagement crucial, media release, 13 May 2009, viewed 20 May 2009,
http://www.humanrights.gov.au/ about/media/media_releases/2009/35_09.html 

[12]. Reconciliation Australia, Good budget but more indigenous participation needed, media release, 12 May 2009, viewed 20 May 2009,
http://www.reconciliation.org.au/home/media/media-releases 


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