Indigenous affairs

Budget Review 2015–16 Index

Dr John Gardiner-Garden

After a year of structural rearrangement in the administration of indigenous affairs programs, the Budget has provided $4.9 billion for the continuation of the Government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS).[1] It also provides for the indexation of IAS funding in 2018–19 and anticipates the cost of administering the IAS falling from $311.1 million in 2014–15 to $279.0 million in 2015–16.[2]

The Budget has retained most of the $534.0 million in funding reductions from the 2014–15 Budget, disappointing the co-chairs of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples who assert that the funding cuts and uncertainty arising from last year’s Budget, together with the new IAS procedures, continue to ‘wreak havoc’ on indigenous communities and organisations.[3] The 2015–16 Budget also left in place the mandatory work-for-the-dole in remote communities that was introduced in December 2014 and which has been challenged by some as impractical.[4] The Budget also disappointed Close the Gap campaigners because it has no new funding for indigenous health.[5]

Municipal and essential services

The Budget provides for further transitioning to the states and territories of full responsibility for delivering municipal and essential services to remote indigenous communities. The Australian Government officially ended its Municipal and Essential Services program on 30 June 2014. This was followed by the redirection (originally announced in the 2014–15 Budget and confirmed in the Mid-year Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2014–15) of $120.9 million from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) to assist the governments of Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia (WA) with the transition.[6]

Despite concerns that that this process might lead to the closure of many communities, the 2015–16 Budget continues the process, confirming $15.0 million in 2014–15 for South Australia and providing $154.8 million in 2015–16 to the Northern Territory (NT).[7] With respect to South Australia, the measure gives effect to a recently reached transition agreement over services outside Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands.[8] An agreement with the NT has yet to be announced—the Chief Minister Adam Giles has said he would ‘like to sit down with Cabinet and see if we're willing to accept and what it actually means’ while Opposition Leader Michael Gunner said it looked like an ‘upfront sweetener’ before making the NT Government pick up the bill forever after.[9]

National Partnership Agreements

The Budget replaces several National Partnership Agreements (NPAs):

  • The existing NPA on Remote Indigenous Housing will be replaced with a new Remote Indigenous Housing Strategy—$1.1 billion will be provided over three years for the New South Wales, WA, South Australian, Queensland and NT governments to build new houses and refurbish existing houses in remote Indigenous communities. This latest recasting is represented by the Government as putting a new focus on increasing indigenous home ownership and, controversially, supports the building of accommodation in urban and regional areas for Indigenous Australians who relocate from remote communities for work or training. The 2015–16 allocation is down on 2014–15 funding—$95.0 million was redirected mid-financial year for the ‘Reform of the Remote Jobs and Communities Programme’ measure, which included the introduction of mandatory work-for-the-dole in remote communities.[10]
  • Funding of $988.2 million over eight years will be redirected from the NPA on Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory to establish in its place, with an additional $61.3 million over four years, an NPA on Northern Territory Remote Aboriginal Investment. The Stronger Futures NPA was agreed in 2012, supported by Commonwealth legislation and accompanied by ten years of funding commitments.[11] The new NPA is represented by the Government as prioritising schooling, community safety and employment, and includes the above-mentioned funding to transition responsibility for municipal and essential services. Australian Government administered funding of $1.4 billion, currently part of the NPA on Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory, will not be included in the new NPA, but will continue outside the NPA framework administered by the departments of PM&C and Social Services.
  • Funding of $6.7 million over three years will be redirected from the Department of the Treasury, where it was supporting the NPA on Remote Indigenous Public Internet Access, to PM&C to provide remote indigenous internet infrastructure and training under the IAS.

Employment and education outside remote communities

The Budget includes measures intended to support the seeking of employment and education outside remote communities:

  • $10.0 million over five years will be provided to extend the ABSTUDY Under-16 Boarding Supplement to approved hostels
  • $5.4 million over two years will be provided to continue to support specific non-government schools for the additional costs associated with boarding and educating indigenous students from remote communities[12] and
  • home loans and financial support will be made portable for Indigenous Australians living in remote communities who choose to move to another location to take up a job or undertake education. It will support Indigenous Australians in the transition from renting to home ownership by extending financial support grants to cover start-up and ongoing home ownership expenses. The cost will be met from within the existing resources of the Indigenous Business Australia’s Indigenous Home Ownership Programme.

As part of the Government’s smaller government reforms, another budget measure ends the operations of a number of trusts and combines their trust accounts into a single Indigenous Real Estate Investment Trust.



[1].          N Scullion (Minister for Indigenous Affairs), Government continues significant reforms in Indigenous Affairs, media release, 12 May 2015; S Martin, ‘Indigenous strategy intact’, The Australian, 13 May 2015, p. 10.

[2].          The budget information in this article has been taken from the following document unless otherwise sourced: Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2015–16. Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2015–16: budget related paper no. 1.14: Prime Minister and Cabinet Portfolio, p. 45.

[3].          National Congress of Australia's First Peoples, Indigenous affairs environment remains a trauma zone, media release, 13 May 2015.

[4].          Australian Government, Mid-year economic and fiscal outlook 2014–15, p.191; N Scullion (Minister for Indigenous Affairs), More opportunities for job seekers in remote communities, media release, 6 December 2014; J Altman, ‘Workfare in Australia: indigenous Work for the Dole policies’, Power to Persuade website, 30 March 2015.

[5].          Human Rights Commission, Funding quarantined but uncertainty remains, media release, 13 May 2015; D Mara, ‘Budget 2015: indigenous groups call for more funding certainty’, SBS news, (online), 13 May 2015; Oxfam Australia, Brakes put on closing the gap in Indigenous health in Federal Budget, media release, 13 May 2015.

[6].          Mid-year economic and fiscal outlook 2014–15, op. cit., p. 190.

[7].          C Dunlop, ‘Budget 2015: Call for remote towns to stay’, Northern Territory News, 19 May 2015.

[8].          N Scullion (Minister for Indigenous Affairs) and K Maher (South Australian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation), Funding certainty for remote SA Indigenous communities, media release, 13 April 2015.

[9].         A Betts,’ Budget 2015: concerns raised over federal plans to hand funding of Indigenous outstations to NT, in deal similar to WA’, ABC News, (online), 13 May 2015.

[10].       Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2014–15, op. cit., p. 191; and Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2015–16: budget related paper no. 1.16: Treasury Portfolio, p. 49.

[11].       Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Act 2012; Council of Australian Government (COAG), National Partnership Agreement on Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory, COAG, 2012.

[12].       C Pyne (Minister for Education and Training), $5.4 million to help Indigenous boarding school students, media release, 29 April 2015.

 

All online articles accessed May 2015. 

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