Dr John Gardiner-Garden
The 2011–12 Budget initiatives of most potential relevance to Indigenous affairs fall in the portfolio areas of education, training and health. They come in the context of commitments by all governments, as part of a National Indigenous Reform Agreement, to National Partnerships intended to ‘close the gap’ in these areas and to monitor progress towards agreed goals.
There is much hope that monitoring this progress will be made possible by a range of developments:
- the advent of three forward year Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
- the formulation of State and Territory Overarching Bilateral Indigenous Plans (OBIPs)
- the publication of the Council of Australian Governments Reform Council’s National Indigenous Reform Agreement reports (the second due out in May 2011), and
- the inauguration of reporting on Indigenous service expenditure by a newly established Indigenous Expenditure Report Steering Committee (with its secretariat in the Productivity Commission).
However, the detail offered in the Prime Ministerial Closing the Gap reports and in State and Territory OBIPs has to date fallen short of offering the information needed to fully assess progress, and progress in delivering on some earlier commitments (for example to do with Indigenous housing) has been slow. Accordingly the potential value of this year’s Indigenous measures, may best be judged down the track.
It is worth noting that two of the potentially most significant measures, that address two of the most pressing problems, do not seem to have any specifically tailored year-by-year KPIs in the relevant portfolio’s budget statement. The first is the Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Portfolio’s new $50.7 million (over four years) Indigenous Youth Career Pathways Program to help up to 6400 Indigenous students achieve school-based traineeships—though there are specific KPIs for the Indigenous Ranger Cadetship program and overarching KPIs for Indigenous Employment. The second is the Health and Ageing Portfolio’s $113.4 million (over five years) for 15 new or expanded Indigenous health clinics and 40 new renal dialysis chairs over five years from 2011–12—though there are KPIs to do with such quantitative deliverables as additional workforce and increased episodes of care. (Funding for this initiative is to come from the $1.8 billion for regional health infrastructure through the Health and Hospitals Fund Regional Priority Rounds.)
Moreover, it is not clear that whether the funding commitment for the Indigenous Youth Career Pathways Program means more money for Indigenous training as ‘the cost of this measure will be met from within existing resources of the Indigenous Employment Program (IEP) made available by realigning the program. The (IEP) will no longer fund activities that can be funded under mainstream programs.’
In the area of education and training, the Budget also offers:
- an extra $171.3 million to continue until the end of 2013 a raft of programs supporting Indigenous students in schools across the country under the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Act 2000
- $25.5 million over five years to extend the Community Development Employment Program
- $4.1 million over three years to trial the Indigenous Ranger Cadetships initiative in a dozen schools
- $6.1 million over four years for Job Services Australia to pilot culturally appropriate mentoring supports for Indigenous job seekers
- $1 million over two years to allow greater flexibility for employment service providers in remote areas to work more successfully with job seekers, many of whom are Indigenous, and
- $233 million through the Building Australia’s Future Workforcepackage for new measures to help the very long-term unemployed, about 17 percent of whom are Indigenous, move into employment.
In the area of health, the Budget also offers:
- $34.9 million over five years in Indigenous-specific funding to deliver services to around 18 000 Indigenous Australians, as part of the expansion of Access to Allied Psychological Services
- continuation of funds for several existing programs, including for Indigenous health services seeking clinical and organisational accreditation, Bringing Them Home and Expanding Link Up Programs, the Indigenous chronic disease package, expanded primary health care delivery in the Northern Territory, and national smoking and healthy lifestyle teams
- $8.5 million over four years to expand and reform the support available for women experiencing domestic violence
- extra funding of $28.0 million over two years under the Regional Aviation Access Program for safety upgrades at remote and isolated airstrips across Australia, including ones in remote Indigenous communities
- $74.4 million from over four years to trial a new approach to service delivery known as ‘case coordination’ and part of this will assist Indigenous people to access appropriate services
- $208.3 million over five years for an extra 425 community mental health workers to work one on one with an additional 3400 people with severe mental illness, many of whom may be Indigenous.
Among other potentially significant budget measures is the allocation of $16.1 million to extend and expand the Cape York Welfare Reform trial. This trial aims to improve parental responsibility, combat welfare dependence and ensure welfare is spent in the best interests of children.