Dr John Gardiner-Garden
The 2014–15 Budget included a significant reorganisation of Indigenous affairs and an overall funding reduction while not offering a lot of detail about either, or about the Government’s intentions with respect to some relevant National Partnerships.
The Budget foreshadowed more than 150 Indigenous programs, grants and activities being consolidated into five broad-based programs (jobs, land and the economy; children and schooling; safety and wellbeing; culture and capability; and remote Australia strategies) and funding being reduced by $534.4 million over five years. This is in line with the National Commission of Audit (NCoA) finding ‘too many disparate and fragmented Commonwealth Indigenous programmes’ and seeing ‘significant scope for consolidation and rationalisation.’
There is no detail regarding the consolidation and how savings will be achieved in the Budget papers, but the split across agencies is:
- $409.2 million less for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
- $121.8 million less for the Department of Health (reduction of $165.8 over the first four years then increase of $44.0 million in the fifth year)—with savings to be invested in the Medical Research Future Fund, and
- $3.5 million less for the Torres Strait Regional Authority.
Responses to these measures have included Reconciliation Australia’s call for the consolidation to ‘be informed by evidence and a proper evaluation of existing programs’ and for savings arising from the consolidation to ‘be reinvested in addressing the needs of the most vulnerable First Australians’. Reconciliation Australia has expressed particular concern about the cut to the Indigenous health budget, and questioned which programs would be affected.
Other Indigenous affairs related budget measures include:
- cessation of funding for the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples resulting in savings of $15.0 million over the next three years (Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet). This is in line with a recommendation by the NCoA that reasoned ‘it duplicates existing Indigenous representative advisory bodies’. Reconciliation Australia believes the Congress had been ‘a strong voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ and that ‘ongoing Government support is necessary until a representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is well established and self-sustainable’.
- reducing by $9.5 million over the next three years the allocation for Indigenous languages support (Attorney-General’s Department)—discussed further in Arts and Culture.
New expenditures in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio include:
- $54.1 million over the next four years for police stations to be built in seven remote Indigenous communities in Queensland, Western Australia (WA) and South Australia
- $18.1 million (to be met from within existing resources) for the continuation and extension of the Remote School Attendance Strategy
- $13.4 million dollars over the next four years to provide 3,000 additional places for Indigenous boys in the Clontarf Foundation Academy sports program
- $10.6 million over four years to service up to 250 existing renewable energy systems in remote Indigenous communities in Queensland, WA and the Northern Territory (NT) and
- $2.5 million over four year to engage Community Engagement Police Officers in the NT.
Additional funding in the Department of Education portfolio includes:
- $6.8 million in 2014–15 for non-government schools with more than 50 Indigenous boarding students from remote or very remote areas or where 50 per cent of boarding students are Indigenous students from remote or very remote areas and
- $3.3 million in 2014–15 to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies to continue digitisation of Indigenous cultural resources.
The Health portfolio includes funding of $25.9 million in 2014–15 to states and territories for programs addressing teenage sexual and reproductive health, continuing activities currently funded under the National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Early Childhood Development.
With respect the National Partnership Agreements (NPAs):
- further funding for the NPA for Indigenous Early Childhood Development, due to expire on 30 June 2014, is not provided for, save as noted above
- the NPA on Remote Indigenous Housing and the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory NPA both have allocations until 2017–18
- the NPA on Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes that expired in June 2013, is not mentioned (neither are meeting the goals of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013–23) and
- the NPA on Remote Service Delivery is, when it expires in June 2014, to be replaced with a new Remote Community Advancement Network in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and bilateral arrangements with each state and territory. The Government has not yet explained how the new arrangements would work. However further changes would seem to contradict the advice of Brian Gleeson, the Coordinator General for Remote Indigenous Services, in his last biannual report, January 2014:
If there is one message I want Governments to hear from this report it is: Do not press the reset button! … If we continue to start over again the foundations previously laid will be pulled up time and again, never allowing enough time or energy to build the structure required to close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage.
The Budget did not directly address the future of Indigenous Business Australia and the Indigenous Land Council, the subject of a February 2014 review, or of Indigenous employment and training programs, the subject of a current review.
In addition to direct measures, many of the Budget’s wider health and social security changes could be expected to have a disproportionate impact on Indigenous people, given higher rates of chronic disease and lower levels of employment.
. National Commission of Audit, phase one, op.cit., p. 175, accessed 16 May 2014.
. Reconciliation Australia, op. cit.
. Coordinator General for Remote Indigenous Services, Final Biannual Report, January 2014, p. 4, accessed 16 May 2014.
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