Research Paper no. 10 2008–09
Commonwealth Indigenous-specific expenditure
Gardiner-Garden, Social Policy Section
Statistics and Mapping Section
26 September 2008
This paper attempts to identify Commonwealth
expenditure in the area of Indigenous affairs over the 40 years
from 1968 to 2008 and to plot that expenditure by agency.
The paper analyses trends in both the nominal
and real expenditure, in the expenditure as a percentage of total
Commonwealth outlays and Gross Domestic Product, and in the
per-capita expenditure. In nominal and real terms Commonwealth
Indigenous-specific expenditure has trended up, but as a percentage
of total outlays or Gross Domestic Product it has plateaued in more
recent years. The per capita trend is found to be too problematic
to characterise simply.
This paper presents graphs, tables and
commentary on the subject of identifiable Commonwealth expenditure
in the area of Indigenous Affairs. This means expenditure in any
portfolio through programs or program components specifically
intended to address Indigenous issues or needs that is,
indigenous-specific expenditure. For the sake of brevity this is
sometimes referred to in this paper as identifiable Indigenous
In the pdf version of this paper, the tables
referred to are appended at the end of the document.
In the html version of this paper, links to
tables will open the relevant table in an Excel spreadsheet. All of
the tables and charts referred to are in this one spreadsheet and
they can be accessed via the tabs along the bottom of the screen in
Excel. There is no need, therefore, to return to this page to
access another table.
Identifiable Commonwealth expenditure in the
area of Indigenous affairs began with the establishment of the
Office of Aboriginal Affairs soon after the landmark referendum in
expenditure was relatively low in the first few years but increased
significantly with the creation of the Department of Aboriginal
Affairs soon after the Whitlam Government came to office in
December 1972, and continued to grow through the 1980s.
In 1990 the Department of Aboriginal Affairs
was replaced by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Commission (ATSIC) and, except for a slight dip in 1993 94,
identifiable Indigenous expenditure continued to rise throughout
the 1990s. ATSIC expenditure as a proportion of total Indigenous
expenditure started, however, to fall in the mid 1990s. This was a
result of areas such as health and land acquisition being shifted
out of ATSIC and some areas that remained within ATSIC receiving a
funding cut following the 1996 Budget.
Although overall expenditure continued to rise
from the late 1990s onward, it is difficult to compare earlier
figures with those from later years because in 1998 there was a
move from cash to accrual accounting and from 2000 01 the annual
Ministerial statements on Identifiable Commonwealth Expenditure on
Indigenous Affairs used different categories for representing
expenditure. Tracking expenditure becomes even more complicated
from 2002, as the successive administrative rearrangements
associated with the gradual demise of ATSIC led to the staged
transfer of its funding and responsibilities through, and to, a
range of other agencies.
In 2005 06 the Commonwealth introduced the
reporting in the Portfolio Budget Statements of Australian
Government Indigenous Expenditure figures and it is these that are
used in this paper to plot expenditure over the years that
At the end of 2007 the new Rudd Labor
government introduced the words partnerships , closing the gap and
sorry into the official language of Indigenous policy. The new
Government promoted its 2008 Budget as making Indigenous
expenditure commitments far in excess of the previous government,
giving its new and redirected funding following the 2007 election
as $580 million and Indigenous relevant 2008 09 Budget Measures as
costing $425.3 million giving a total of $1.2 billion. The period
covered by individual commitments varying from one to five years. A
full break down with forward estimates can be found in the Whole
of Government section of Budget Paper No.2, pp. 299
320 and a summary can be found on the Department of Family,
Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs web-page
Indigenous Budget at a Glance. With respect to the Northern Territory these new
and redirected funds totalled $666.1 million, with respect to
Australia as a whole, $554 million.
Although the rhetorical context was very
different from that surrounding the Howard Government budgets, the
programs and level of funding supported by the new Rudd Government
are not very different from those of the previous government. This
is borne out by comparing three figures expenditure commitments
just prior to the Northern Territory Intervention, after that
intervention but before the Rudd Government s May 2008 budget, and
after the Rudd Government s May 2008 Budget.
The total of the 2007 08 Budget Portfolio
Budget Statement (PBS) Australian Government Indigenous Expenditure
(AGIE) figures for 2007 08 (that is, pre the Northern Territory
Intervention) was $3.2 billion.
The total of the 2008 09 Budget PBS AGIE
actual figures for 2007 08 (that is, post the Howard Government s
Northern Territory Intervention commitments but pre-Rudd May budget
commitments) was $3.85 billion.
The total of the 2008 09 Budget PBS AGIE
estimated figures for 2008 09 was $3.86 billion.
The main factor in the rise in committed
expenditure between 2007 and the 2008 by both the Howard and Rudd
Governments was the advent of the Northern Territory Intervention.
The 2008 Budget by and large simply continued the previous
government s focus on improving the situation in the Northern
Territory with a scale of expenditure envisaged by the previous
Table 1: Identifiable
Commonwealth Expenditure on Indigenous Affairs,
1968 69 to 2007 08, Nominal and real dollars; percentages; per
Converting nominal expenditure to real
terms shows a
rising trend over the period, which means that increases in
expenditure have been more than increases in inflation (see Table 1
and Chart 1). In real terms, identifiable Commonwealth expenditure
in the area of Indigenous affairs saw a dramatic rise and fall in
the early to mid 1970s falling from $947 million in 1975 76 to $596
million in 1978 79 and it did not then pass the 1975 76 level until
1983 84 ($960 million). The mid 1980s onwards has seen an almost
uninterrupted rise in real expenditure, apart from small and
quickly recovered declines in the mid 1990s and 2005 06. The trend
can look a little different, however, when this expenditure is
plotted against total government expenditure and Gross Domestic
Product (GDP) and considered against total government revenue.
When expressed as a percentage of total
Commonwealth expenditure, identifiable Indigenous expenditure shows
the same sharp increase and fall in the mid 1970s, followed by
almost continuous growth to 1992 93 (see Table 1 and Chart 2). The
mid 1990s saw fluctuations with the percentage rising and falling
year to year but still trending upwards. Since 1997 98, however, it
has remained relatively stable around 1.35 per cent, fluctuating
between a high of 1.43 per cent in 1999 2000 and a low of 1.24 per
cent in 2001 02. In 1968 69 identifiable Indigenous expenditure
accounted for only 0.18 per cent of total Commonwealth expenditure
while in 2007 08 it accounts for an estimated 1.37 per cent.
When plotted as a percentage of GDP,
Commonwealth Indigenous-specific expenditure shows a pattern
broadly similar to when it is plotted as a percentage of total
Commonwealth expenditure. Growth is fairly constant up until the
early 1990s with a very clear stabilisation at around one third of
one percentage point since then. Therefore, when measured against
the economy as a whole, as measured by GDP, there has been no real
growth in Indigenous-specific expenditure since the early 1990s
(see Table 1 and Chart 2).
Some commentators have
also considered identifiable Indigenous expenditure in the light of
the total government revenue. They have drawn attention to the fact
that the plateauing of Indigenous expenditure relative to total
expenditure and GDP from the late 1990s onwards, has happened in a
period when the federal government has been generally presenting
surplus budgets, so could theoretically (leaving all fiscal
considerations and competing needs aside) have increased Indigenous
There are two possible sets of Indigenous
population data that per capita expenditure figures can be derived
from, and both are problematic.
Five yearly census data covers the whole of
the period of Aboriginal affairs expenditure. Census counts,
however, are not considered a reliable indicator of the true size
of the Indigenous population over this period. The data show
periods of low and high population growth which cannot be accounted
for by births and deaths only and which may be due in part to
variations in the propensity to identify as Indigenous. As such,
the per capita expenditure figures which are derived from these
data and presented in Table 1 should be used with caution. In
particular it is strongly advised that these figures not be used
for an analysis of trends over the period.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has
used data from the 2001 Census to produce estimates and projections
of the Indigenous population which are considered more reliable
than the Census figures, but which only cover the period 1991 2009.
Furthermore, because of the difficulty in predicting the Indigenous
population, both high and low projections were produced from 2002.
Regardless of whether high or low projections are used, these data
show a rising trend over the period in per capita identifiable
Indigenous expenditure, though yearly fluctuations are quite
volatile (see Table 2 and Chart 3).
Table 2: Experimental
estimated and projected Indigenous population and real
Commonwealth expenditure on Indigenous Affairs per capita, 1991 92
to 2007 08
Further complicating the task of estimating
per capita expenditure is the fact that a lot of
Indigenous-specific expenditure has not been simply on top of that
which Indigenous Australians might benefit from by being
Australians. A large proportion of it has substituted for
expenditure that would normally be provided via mainstream
assistance programs (for example, Community Development Employment
Projects for Newstart, Community Housing for housing under the
Commonwealth-State Housing agreement, Aboriginal Legal Aid for
general legal aid, Aboriginal Medical Services for Medicare
supported services). A further amount has been for services which
are generally the responsibility of other levels of government (for
example, state or local). At the same time, Indigenous Australians
have often utilised mainstream services and benefits at a lower
rate than other Australians (for example, Pharmaceutical Benefits
and Aged Care).
To produce meaningful per capita expenditure
figures, detailed consideration-filled studies of single-portfolio
areas need to be conducted. An example of such a study is that
cited in footnote 5.
The following tables provide the most detailed
expenditure data available. The data are drawn from various
sources, but most notably those discussed in the sources listed
Table 3: Identifiable
Commonwealth Expenditure on Indigenous Affairs, 1968 69 to 1989 90
($ millions cash basis)
Table 4: Identifiable
Commonwealth Expenditure on Indigenous Affairs, 1990 91 to 1999
2000 ($ millions cash then accrual basis)
Table 5: Identifiable
Commonwealth Expenditure on Indigenous Affairs, 2000 01 to 2004 05
Table 6: Australian
Government Indigenous Expenditure - portfolio level, 2005 06 to
2007 08 ($ 000)
Table 7: Australian
Government Indigenous Expenditure (AGIE portfolio level, 2007 08 to
2008 09 ($ 000)
Expenditure data for the late 1960s to the
late 1980s can be found in Appendix 15 of the Aboriginal Affairs
Department, 1988 89 Annual Report, and in J.C.Altman and W.Sanders,
From exclusion to dependence: Aborigines and the welfare state
in Australia, Discussion Paper No. 1/1991, Centre for
Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, The Australian National
In 1991 and 1992 expenditure tables were
included in the Budget Related Paper No.7, Social Justice For
Indigenous Australians, circulated by the then Minister for
Aboriginal Affairs, Robert Tickner.
From 1993 and 1995 expenditure tables were
included in an annual, but no longer officially Budget Related,
Social Justice For Indigenous Australians, circulated by
the then Minister Robert Tickner.
There was no equivalent compilation released
in 1996 or 1997, but in 1998, the then Minister for Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander Affairs Senator Herron released
Commonwealth Programs For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Peoples 1995 1996, and Addressing Priorities in Indigenous
Affairs an expenditure compilation that also included actual
expenditures for 1995 96 and 96 97 and estimates for 97 98 and 98
From 1999 to 2002 the Government released at
budget time expenditure compilations in the form of a series of
A Better Future for Indigenous
Australians, Statement by Senator the Honourable John Herron
Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, 11 May
The Future Together, Indigenous-Specific
Measures in the 2000 01 Budget, Statement by Senator the
Honourable John Herron Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Affairs, 9 May 2000.
Our Path Together, Statement by the
Honourable Philip Ruddock, MP Minister for Immigration and
Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, 22 May 2001.
accessed on 23 September 2008.
Indigenous Affairs 2002 03, Statement
by the Honourable Philip Ruddock, MP Minister for Immigration and
Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Minister Assisting the Prime
Minister for Reconciliation, 14 May 2002.
In 2003 the then Minister for Indigenous
Affairs, Amanda Vanstone, simply included Indigenous-specific
expenditure in a Budget time press release kit. Her 2003 release
only included overall expenditure, but the 2004 and 2005
expenditure included more of the detail of the kind that had been
in earlier Ministerial statements.
From 2006 there has been no single
cross-portfolio compilation of Indigenous-specific Commonwealth
expenditures. Instead portfolio specific summaries of Australian
Government Indigenous Expenditure (AGIE) have been included in
nearly all the annual Portfolio Budget Statements.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS),
Australian Historical Population Statistics 2006
(3105.0.65.001), Table 9,
accessed on 23 September 2008.
accessed 23 on September 2008.
Experimental Estimates and Projections, Indigenous Australians,
1991 to 2009 (3238.0),
%20to%202009?OpenDocument, accessed on 23 September 2008.
GDP and Implicit Price Deflator
National Income, Expenditure and Product, March 2008
accessed on 23 September 2008.
Australian Government, Budget
Strategy and Outlook 2008 09: Budget Paper No. 1, 13 May
accessed on 23 September 2008.
Total Commonwealth expenditure
Australian Government, Budget Strategy and
Outlook: Budget Paper No. 1, 1999 2000 and 2008 09 editions -
Historical Australian Government Data,
on 23 September 2008.
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available to members of Parliament.