Indigenous affairs: education, employment, and community safety

Budget Review 2018–19 Index

James Haughton

This article covers budget measures relating to Indigenous education, employment, and community safety and the rule of law, the government’s key priority areas for Indigenous affairs.[1] Where relevant it also notes measures which were in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2017–18 (MYEFO). Measures relating to Indigenous health, housing and other issues are in a separate article.[2]


There are two measures relating to Indigenous education in the Budget:

  • the extension of the National Partnership Agreement on Universal Access to Early Childhood Education. The original version of this National Partnership began under the Rudd Government in order to implement the Closing the Gap target of universal access to preschool education for Indigenous children, and maintains a strong focus on Indigenous enrolment and attendance (see the separate article, ‘School education and early learning’) and
  • increased support for Indigenous secondary students through the ‘50 Years of ABSTUDY—strengthening ABSTUDY for secondary students’ measure (see the ‘Student payments’ article).

There are no Budget measures relating to the Closing the Gap targets of improving school attendance and literacy and numeracy, which are not on track to be met.[3] However, the MYEFO contained two Indigenous education measures:

  • the School Enrolment and Attendance Measure (SEAM), which imposed social security payment penalties on parents in remote areas in Queensland and the Northern Territory (NT) whose children were not enrolled or did not attend school, was ceased, for a net saving to the government of $29.6 million[4] and
  • the provision of $4.1 million to extend Flexible Literacy in Remote Primary Schools until the end of 2018.[5]


The major measure in this area is the ‘Community Development Program— reform’ measure. The Community Development Program (CDP) covers 35,000 welfare recipients in remote Australia, 83 per cent of whom are Indigenous. It requires up to 25 hours a week of ‘worklike activities’ from participants for the whole year, significantly higher than work requirements of work-for-the-dole programs in non-remote Australia. The current CDP has been criticised for extremely high rates of social security penalties, which some researchers have blamed for rising rates of poverty in remote Australia.[6]

The reform measure will ‘redirect’ CDP funding of $1.1 billion into a new scheme including:

  • reducing the necessity of people with low (0–14 hours) work requirements to contact Centrelink
  • ensuring job seekers are not required to participate beyond their capacity through an improved assessment process that will clearly identify any barriers to employment they have
  • reducing required participation from up to 25 hours per week, to up to 20 hours per week; this would still apply to the full year, rather than for six months as is the case for non-remote work-for-the-dole programs
  • creating 6,000 subsidised employment positions. Significantly (given concerns raised about the previous proposed CDP scheme) these will be ‘real jobs’ including minimum wage requirements, superannuation and workplace health and safety regulations[7]
  • establishing a fund for CDP providers (particularly Indigenous community organisations) and
  • making CDP recipients subject to the mainstream Jobseeker Compliance Framework (JCF), the more stringent ‘demerit point’ system for welfare recipients introduced in last year’s budget and enabled by the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Act 2018 (Welfare Reform Act).[8]

A previous attempt to create a new legislative scheme for the CDP lapsed with the prorogation of Parliament, after receiving sustained criticism from stakeholders.[9] With the exception of the inclusion of recipients in the JCF, these proposed reforms are in line with those the Government proposed in a recent discussion paper on remote employment and participation, which received support from some significant stakeholders.[10] Most negative stakeholder reactions to the proposed changes have focussed upon the new proposal to bring CDP recipients under the JCF.[11] The Government had previously expressed the intention to exempt CDP participants from the JCF, drug and alcohol measures, and other changes introduced under the Welfare Reform Act, and it is unclear what parts of the JCF are now intended to apply to CDP participants.[12] This measure’s results may depend on how the ‘improved assessment process’ works and how treatment of people with ‘barriers to employment’ interacts with the JCF’s more stringent attitude to no-shows and those with drug and alcohol problems.[13]

The Cashless Debit Card trial, which applies to welfare recipients in the East Kimberley and Ceduna, who are over 80 per cent Aboriginal, will be extended until 30 June 2019. The cost was not published.[14]

Community safety and rule of law

The ‘Encouraging Lawful Behaviour of Income Support Recipients’ measure will compulsorily deduct fines from the welfare payments of people with outstanding court-imposed fines and suspend or cancel welfare payments to people with indictable offence arrest warrants from state or territory courts. Indigenous stakeholders have warned that the measure could significantly increase Indigenous poverty.[15] The scheme is detailed in the separate ‘Extending mutual obligation—court-ordered fines and arrest warrants’ article.

Other measures in this space include:

  • $18.2 million to support domestic violence prevention and protection programs for women and girls, including maintaining the current DV-Alert service and 1800RESPECT trauma counselling service. The Minister for Indigenous Affairs has noted that this is a measure that will benefit Indigenous people.[16] It is not an Indigenous-specific measure but both DV-Alert and 1800RESPECT have Indigenous-specific components[17]
  • $8.4 million for a National Apology, records retention, and Commonwealth implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Of the 7,981 survivors interviewed by the Royal Commission, 14.9 per cent were Indigenous, reflecting Indigenous children’s historical and current over-institutionalisation and their higher vulnerability to abuse and[18]
  • $1.2 million over four years to implement the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), providing for the Commonwealth Ombudsman to conduct independent inspections of places of detention. Ratification of OPCAT was part of the Commonwealth’s response to the revelations of torture and abuse of predominantly Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory’s juvenile detention system by Four Corners on 25 July 2016.[19]


[1].          The key priorities are described in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Strategic Direction Statement and Outcome 2 as increased participation in education (school attendance), work, and ‘making communities safer where the ordinary rule of law applies’: Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2018–19: budget related paper no. 1.14: Prime Minister and Cabinet Portfolio, pp. 21, 33.

[2].          The budget measures and figures in this brief have been taken from the following document unless otherwise sourced: Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2018–19, pp. 76–7, 165–73.

[3].          Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C), Closing the Gap Prime Minister’s report 2018, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2018, pp. 8–9.

[4].          S Morrison (Treasurer) and M Cormann (Minister for Finance), Mid-year economic and fiscal outlook 2017–18, p. 176.

[5].          Ibid., pp. 142–3; S Birmingham (Minister for Education and Training), Flexible literacy pilot funding boost, media release, 28 October 2017. The ‘flexible literacy’ program provides education based upon Direct Instruction and Explicit Direct Instruction methodologies in remote, predominantly Indigenous schools in Western Australia (WA) and the NT.

[6].          D Conifer, ‘Indigenous work for the dole scheme slaps thousands with serious failures’, ABC News, 7 March 2018. Between 2011 and 2016 the median household income of Indigenous households in very remote Australia fell by $24 a fortnight (from $802 to $778), and the proportion of Indigenous households in poverty in very remote Australia rose by 7.6 per cent to 53.4 per cent: F Markham and N Biddle, Income, poverty and inequality, CAEPR 2016 Census Paper, 2, 2018.

[7].          J Haughton, Social Security Legislation Amendment (Community Development Program) Bill 2015, Bills digest, 93, 2015–16, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 29 February 2016, pp. 7–10. Wage subsidies have strong evidence showing they are effective boosters of Indigenous employment: M Gray, B Hunter and S Lohear, Increasing Indigenous employment rates, Issues Paper, 3, Closing the Gap Clearinghouse, 2012.

[8].          M Thomas, ‘Job seeker compliance and workforce participation’, Budget Review 2017–18, Research paper, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, May 2017.

[9].          J Haughton, Social Security Legislation Amendment (Community Development Program) Bill 2015, op. cit.

[10].       PM&C, Discussion Paper: Remote employment and participation, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, December 2017; Torres Strait Regional Authority, Submission to PM&C, Community Development Programme paper, 5 February 2018; Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory, Submission to PM&C, Community Development Programme paper, 23 February 2018; Northern Territory Government, Submission to PM&C, Community Development Programme paper, 19 February 2018.

[11].       National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, First peoples sacrificed in the name of budget surplus, media release, 9 May 2018; H Davidson and C Knaus, ‘"Blatantly discriminatory": changes to remote work-for-dole scheme criticised’, The Guardian, 11 May 2018; Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory and Human Rights Law Centre, Discriminatory remote work scheme improved but onerous work hours and harsh penalties will drive poverty, media release, 10 May 2018.

[12].       The Government previously expressed the intent to exclude CDP participants from components of the JCF: Explanatory Memorandum, Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017, pp. 57, 62, 81, 88, 92, 144, 158.

[13].       M Thomas, ‘Job seeker compliance and workforce participation’, op. cit.

[14].       For discussion of the Cashless Debit Card trial see: D Arthur and J Haughton, Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017, Bills digest, 58, 2017–18, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2017. FOI requests have previously revealed that the cost of operating the Trial for its first two years was $18.9 million.

[15].       National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, Federal Budget measures will create more legal need for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people but no solutions, media release, 9 May 2018; National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, First peoples sacrificed in the name of budget surplus, media release, 9 May 2018.

[16].       N Scullion (Minister for Indigenous Affairs), 2018–19 Budget to strengthen economic, employment and health opportunities for First Australians, media release, 9 May 2018.

[17].       DV-Alert, ‘Indigenous Workshops’, DV-Alert website, n.d.; 1800RESPECT, ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experiences of violence’, 1800RESPECT website, n.d.

[18].       Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Final Information Update, November 2017, p. 3.

[19].       M White and M Gooda, Report of the Royal Commission and Board of Inquiry into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory, vol.1, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, November 2017, p. 204.


All online articles accessed May 2018 

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