Dr John Gardiner-Garden
The 2012–13 Budget initiatives in the area of Indigenous affairs might be grouped into those relevant to the new Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory and those of broader relevance. All come in the context of existing commitments through National Partnerships on Remote Indigenous Housing, Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes, Indigenous Early Childhood Development and Indigenous Economic Participation. Most of the expenditure does not, however, represent a higher level funding commitment than in previous years. Most of the Stronger Futures commitments simply pick up where the Northern Territory Intervention funding commitment will end in the middle of this year, and the new remote jobs and community development package essentially reshapes existing services and programs.
With respect to Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory, if the legislation presently before the Parliament is passed and negotiations with the Northern Territory Government proceed as expected, at the end of this financial year the Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory National Partnership will be replaced by a Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory National Partnership. In this context the Budget provides for a cross-portfolio $3.4 billion 10-year package. This total includes considerable money redirected from other programs. It does not represent a funding commitment at higher than recent levels, as in May 2010 Minister Macklin reported the Government had ‘committed $1.2 billion since 2007 to continue the Northern Territory Emergency Response’.
The Stronger Futures package includes:
- $254.4 million over four years ($713.5 million over 10 years) for better primary health care, and better access to allied health services
- $239.6 million over four years ($619.3 million over 10 years) to improve the safety of communities (for example, policing)
- an as yet not-for-publication sum to be provided over 10 years to support measures to tackle alcohol abuse in communities
- $187.3 million over four years ($411.8 million over 10 years) to continue to improve school outcomes for Aboriginal children
- $141.6 million over four years ($326.3 million over 10 years) to support the wellbeing of Aboriginal children, youth and their families and continue eight programs under the Alice Springs Transformation Plan
- $149.2 million over four years ($413.4 million over 10 years) to increase the number of Indigenous Engagement Officers, ensure local services are effective, support governance and leadership and local planning, and continue to support interpreting services
- $54.2 million over four years to improve remote Indigenous housing, including removing asbestos from houses and community buildings and
- $67.8 million over four years ($206.4 million over 10 years) to support the continuation of basic municipal and essential services for up to 9000 Aboriginal people living in outstations and homelands.
Minister’s Macklin’s relevant Budget press release also includes in the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory package $40.9 million over 10 years for food security, and $19.1 million to create 50 extra Aboriginal Working on Country ranger positions in remote Northern Territory communities over the next four years and to offer local traineeships for up to 100 Indigenous traineeships. However, these measures do not attract new funding in the 2012–13 Budget.
The Budget also includes initiatives with more general relevance.
With respect to remote jobs and the former community development employment projects (CDEP), the Budget features a commitment from 1 July 2013 of $1.5 billion for a new cross-portfolio Remote Jobs and Communities Program. As with the Stronger Futures commitment, this is not new money. Indeed, against prior relevant commitments in Budget forward estimates, the establishment of the new program is estimated to cost $9.3 million in 2012–13 but save $79.8 million in 2013–14, $92.1 million in 2014–15 and $41.5 million in 2015–16. The cost of the program to the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations being more than offset by savings to the Department of Family, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, and to the Department of Human Services. The program will include:
- combining Job Services Australia, Disability Employment Services, Community Development Employment Projects to create a new single assistance provider which will work with communities to develop Community Action Plans as well as with individual job-seekers (this element producing savings of $62.0 million over four years)
- $137.5 million over three years to establish a Community Development Fund to support community development projects
- $44.4 million over three years for a Remote Youth Development and Leadership Corps which will provide up to 3000 places by 2015–16 for young people aged under 25. The National Congress of Australia’s First People particularly welcomed this commitment but noted that there will be $22.8 million in savings from ending new enrolments in the Indigenous Youth Leadership Program and
- five more years of CDEP wages to approximately 4000 long-term CDEP participants (budget neutral over six years).
Budget initiatives relating to services and infrastructure include:
- $43.4 million in 2012–13 for remote communities to continue the provision of municipal and essential services to 38 000 Aboriginal people in approximately 350 remote communities across Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania. This measure was announced on 28 March 2012 and is intended to supplement the efforts of State and Territory Governments. With small homelands and outstations communities persisting and their need for better services great, this commitment was well received by most but criticised by some as too little, not involving sufficient Northern Territory Government contribution and not helping to clarify long-term responsibilities and expectations and
- $21.2 million to deliver environmental health infrastructure in the Torres Strait region, including water projects, sewerage infrastructure, roads and serviced housing lots.
There are two small initiatives in the area of Indigenous education:
- $14.3 million over three years to attract and retain high-calibre teachers in remote areas, by expanding the Teach Remote program and
- $4.8 million over three years to expand (through the Clontarf Foundation) the Sporting Chance Program which helps promote school engagement amongst Indigenous boys, and to fund strategies to promote school engagement amongst Indigenous girls.
However, these are more than offset by the redirection to Stronger Futures spending of savings of $56.3 million over four years ($152.9 million over 10 years) by ceasing the Closing the Gap—Intensive Literacy and Numeracy Programs for Underachieving Indigenous Students.
With respect to health and aged care, Budget initiatives include:
- $43.1 million over five years to deliver an extra 200 aged care places for older Indigenous people who have high care needs so that they can stay close to home in culturally appropriate care and
- $475.0 million over six years for new and extended regional and remote health care facilities, including $48.6 million for 10 projects in regional and remote Indigenous communities which will deliver improved health care services.
Other initiatives include:
- $63.0 million over four years for the Special Broadcasting Service Corporation to establish a free-to-air national Indigenous television channel (see the item on broadcasting elsewhere in the Budget Review)
- $55.7 million over four years for the Home Interaction Program for Parents and Youngsters to better prepare children for school through a home-based parenting and early childhood program in 100 sites across Australia. Fifty of these will be targeted towards communities with a high proportion of disadvantaged Indigenous Australians.
- $11.8 million to extend the Cape York Welfare Reform Trial until 31 December 2013 and
- $10.0 million to support activities to build community understanding and support for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians—with the cost being ‘met from within the existing resourcing the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs’.
There has been limited response to the budget announcements regarding Indigenous programs to date, perhaps reflecting that most of these measures had been pre-announced and the net budget impact is low. The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, noting what appear to be extra investments in the Budget, declared that they and their member organisations will ‘monitor the effectiveness of this investment’. The importance of effectiveness of expenditure was highlighted by last year’s Strategic Review of Indigenous Expenditure. Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR) has welcomed ‘the long-term funding for health, education, justice and homeland services in the Northern Territory’, and programs to support governance and leadership, but is disappointed there was no extra funding for native title bodies, and continues to express concern about the Stronger Futures legislation.
. J Gillard (Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations), J Macklin (Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs), N Roxon (Minister for Health and Ageing), R McClelland (Attorney General), Senator M Arbib (Minister for Employment Participation), P Garrett (Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts), and W Snowdon (Minister for Indigenous Health), Closing the Gap—Strengthening Indigenous Communities, media release, 11 May 2010, viewed 15 May 2012.
. J Macklin (Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs), S Conroy (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy), P Garrett (Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth), W Snowdon (Minister for Indigenous Health), K Ellis (Minister for Early Childhood and Childcare), and J Collins (Minister for Indigenous Employment and Economic Development), Investing to close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage, media release, 8 May 2012, viewed 10 May 2012.
. Australian Government, op. cit., p. 118.
. Australian Government, op.cit., pp. 141–2.
. Australian Government, op. cit., pp. 154–155.
. Ibid., pp. 112–113.
. National Congress of Australia’s First People, op. cit.
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