Indigenous budget drivers
Over the last decade, the Productivity Commission’s Indigenous
Expenditure Reports (IER) have consistently shown that total
Commonwealth, state and territory government per capita expenditure on
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is approximately double the per
capita expenditure on non-Indigenous Australians. The Australian Government
directly spends around 1.5 times as much on Indigenous people on a per-capita
basis, or 1.64 times as much if indirect spending (via transfers to the states
and territories) is included (calculation based on IER
2017 supplementary data tables). In 2015–16, the Australian Government directly
spent $14.7 billion on Indigenous people, of which 77 per cent ($11.3 billion)
was through mainstream programs such as Medicare, social security payments,
child care benefits and support for university places accessed by Indigenous
people. Around 23 per cent ($3.3 billion) was on Indigenous-specific programs
such as ABSTUDY, Indigenous-specific health programs, or Indigenous rangers
programs. When state and territory government spending is included, mainstream
spending climbs to over 80 per cent of the total expenditure on Indigenous
The main driver of Indigenous expenditure is thus not Indigenous-specific
programs, but higher use of all government programs. Some of this higher
use is due to demographic differences—for example, Indigenous people are on average
younger and have higher fertility rates than non-Indigenous Australians,
leading to more per-capita demand for pre-school, school and university places,
and child care services (IER
2017, p. xii). However, much of it is caused by Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander people’s higher
levels of disadvantage, leading to higher use of hospitals, social
security, and social housing, as well as higher rates of child protection
interventions and imprisonment. These circumstances give rise to demand for
Indigenous-specific programs, such as those detailed below, to divert people
from these undesirable outcomes. Government per capita spending on Indigenous
people and programs can be expected to remain above the per capita average in
future budgets until there is real progress on closing the gaps.
In this context, there is currently no provision in the
budget to continue the following National Partnerships
over the forward estimates period:
- National Partnership Agreement on Universal Access to Early
- national partnerships on cross border issues in the Torres Strait,
including health issues, mosquito control, and blood borne viruses and sexually
- National Partnership on Northern Territory remote Aboriginal
investment (formerly the National Partnership on Stronger Futures in the NT)
- national partnerships on improving trachoma control and the rheumatic
Furthermore, no support will be provided beyond 2018–19 for remote
housing outside the Northern Territory. With the possible
exception of trachoma, the issues addressed by these National Partnerships are
unlikely to radically improve in the near future.
Indigenous-specific and related budget
As with previous budgets, the 2019–20 Budget includes both
Indigenous-specific measures, listed here, and many mainstream measures that
are likely to disproportionately affect Indigenous people, positively or
negatively, due to Indigenous people’s level of disadvantage (including higher
rates of disability,
illness) and relative geographical concentration in remote and very remote
areas. The extent to which mainstream services have a positive effect depends in large measure
on whether their design and delivery is culturally
safe and appropriate. For consistency with other reporting frameworks, such
as the Overcoming
Indigenous Disadvantage report and the Indigenous
Expenditure Report, measures are categorised according to the Council
of Australian Governments’ (COAG)
‘building blocks’, commencing with those areas the Government regards as
key priorities (Portfolio
Budget Statements 2019–20: Budget Related Paper No. 1.14: Prime Minister and
Cabinet, p. 30).
Since the Mid-Year
Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2018–19 (MYEFO)
the Government has announced a number of other Indigenous measures which are probably
funded from grants programs, departmental funds, or the MYEFO’s ‘decisions
taken but not yet announced’ allocation. They are not listed in this brief
unless they are directly relevant to a Budget measure.
Unless otherwise stated all page references are to Budget Paper No.
2: Budget Measures 2019–20.
Education and early childhood
- Closing the Gap refresh—Indigenous
Youth Education Package. Announced in the Prime Minister’s Closing
the Gap statement, this provides $200.0 million for scholarships and
mentoring for Indigenous students, $70.6 million to freeze or waive Higher Education
Loan Program debts for teachers in very remote schools, and $5.0 million to
promote school attendance. Only $86.7 million is new money, with the remainder
being found from ‘existing resources of the Department of the Prime Minister
and Cabinet’, possibly referring to the Indigenous Advancement Strategy grant
program (p. 153).
- Extending Family Tax Benefit to ABSTUDY recipients aged 16 or
over who study away from home: $36.4 million over five years (p. 159).
- As well as enabling Indigenous children to access preschool (a
Closing the Gap target), the one-year
$453.1 million extension of the National Partnership Agreement on Universal Access
to Early Childhood Education includes $1.4 million specifically to increase
preschool attendance among Indigenous children, 41 per cent of whom do not make
full use of the available 15 hours a week (pp. 67–8).
- An unspecified portion of $62.4 million allocated to the Skills
Package—Delivering Skills for Today and Tomorrow measure will go to pilot four
Indigenous ‘second chance’ language, literacy, numeracy and digital skills
education services in remote communities (p. 69).
- $15.0 million under the Community Development Grants Programme
measure to fund the William Cooper Centre at Punt Road, an
educational hub for Indigenous students run by the Richmond Football Club
Employment and economic participation
Tourism and Jobs in Kakadu: $216.2 million over ten years on several
programs to boost tourism and upgrade and develop facilities in the Jabiru
township. Funding has ‘already been provided for’, possibly in the 2018–19
MYEFO (p. 77). After criticism
from the Northern Territory (NT) Government over lack of information on the
timing of funding, Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion has
stated that $150.0 million will be spent over four years, including $20.0
million from the Indigenous Affairs portfolio.
- The Support for the Australian Music Industry measure includes
$2.7 million for a grant program for Indigenous musicians (p. 60).
- The Barkly Regional Deal ‘redirects’ $8.5 million in funding from
the Indigenous Advancement Strategy to support economic development projects in
the Barkly region of the NT (p. 125).
The Northern Territory Infrastructure Investment Program includes
$60.0 million for road upgrades on the Tiwi Islands (p. 133). Other road
projects under this program and the Queensland (pp. 134–5) and Western
Australia (p. 143) Infrastructure Investment Programs also include roads in
remote areas with high Indigenous populations, which may increase economic
opportunities, particularly if Indigenous employment and procurement targets
Indigenous Procurement Policy will be extended to introduce a three per
cent value target alongside the three per cent number of contracts target.
- $128.8 million to extend the Cashless Debit Card trials and
transition people on Income Management to the Cashless Debit Card (pp. 157–8).
This measure includes:
to extend the trials in the current sites until 30 June 2021
to the payments system that will enable merchants to automatically decline
transactions that involve restricted items, such as alcohol or gambling
people who currently use the BasicsCard under income management onto the
cashless debit card.
Most people subject to these income
quarantining measures are Indigenous. This measure will require legislation,
and will be covered in more detail in a separate Parliamentary Library
Governance, leadership and culture
- The Lowitja Institute receives $10.0 million over three years for
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and medical research (p. 98). The
Institute has welcomed
- $160.0 million has been committed over ten years from the Medical
Research Future Fund to support research on Indigenous Health Futures (p. 100).
announced funding will support research on avoidable blindness, avoidable
deafness, and a vaccine for rheumatic heart disease. The Medical Research
Future Fund will also provide $260.4 million for progressing research into preventive
and public health from the lab to the clinic (p. 100).
- $5.0 million over four years in new funding for Indigenous
Suicide Prevention Initiatives led by local youth Indigenous leaders (p. 155).
An additional $10.0
million has been allocated by the Department of Health for Indigenous youth
suicide prevention, including a previously announced $1.2
million for the Red Dust program in the NT. Minister for Indigenous Health
Ken Wyatt had also previously
announced $4.3 million for Indigenous youth suicide prevention initiatives
in January 2019, the bulk of which was for Indigenous-focused programs
delivered by Beyond Blue and headspace. It is not clear whether this total additional
$14.3 million is from new MYEFO allocations or from existing government
resources. The Budget also includes $15.0 million to the Australian Institute
of Health and Welfare (AIHW) for improved research and data on suicide, which may
assist combating Indigenous suicide given the paucity
of information on effective programs. Since the election was announced the Prime
Minister has committed an additional $19.6 million from the Indigenous
Advancement Strategy to combat Indigenous youth suicide, focussing on the
Kimberley region, and an additional $22.5 million to general and Indigenous
youth mental health and suicide prevention.
- $40.4 million over three years, of which $20.2 million is new
money, to implement the five National
Blood Borne Viruses (BBV) and Sexually Transmissible Infections (STI)
Strategies 2018–22 (p. 91). These include the Fifth
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Blood Borne Viruses and Sexually
Transmissible Infections Strategy 2018–2022, which will guide the Australian
Government’s response to the ongoing syphilis epidemic among Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander communities in northern Australia.
Since the 2018–19 MYEFO the Government
has also announced $12.4 million in additional funding to combat this
epidemic. The source of this additional funding, and whether it is included in
the $40.4 million, is not clear.
- $3.0 million over three years from 2022–23 to HeartKids Australia
to support the Childhood
Heart Disease National Action Plan (p. 90) which includes combating
Indigenous childhood rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease as a key
- $25.7 million for an Ambulatory Care Centre at the Alice Springs
Hospital (p. 108). This may assist Aboriginal health in central Australia given
rates of ambulatory care sensitive conditions (also known as potentially preventable
hospital admissions) among Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.
The Department of the Prime Minister
and Cabinet’s (PM&C) Review
of Remote Housing estimates that South Australian remote Aboriginal
communities need an additional 300 houses by 2028 to address existing
overcrowding and accommodate population growth. The review found that in South
Australia (which achieved the highest value for money in remote housing
construction) it cost approximately $480,500 to build new houses, plus 6.9 per
cent ancillary costs. On these figures, $37.5 million will build approximately
73 new houses, so will not meet the identified demand, although as noted, this
item is only ‘part of transition arrangements’. No information is yet available
on any longer term programs.
The croakey health blog provides a summary of
pre-budget submissions on Indigenous issues from the health and community
National Indigenous Television summarised Indigenous
peak body reactions to the Budget as ‘lacklustre’ and ‘too little, too
late’ despite some ‘glimmers of hope’, such as increased funding for ATSILS and
Indigenous health research, although many stakeholders expressed concern at the
rolling of the Indigenous Legal Assistance Program into a mainstream funding
that the Budget only allocated $5.0 million in new Budget allocations to
preventing Indigenous youth suicide. The Centre
of Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention noted
$10.0 million announced by the Minister for Indigenous Health (see above) but
suggested that if funding were to be in proportion to demand, then
Indigenous-specific measures should have been about nine per cent of the total
mental health package, or about $70.0 million.
National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health
Organisations (NACCHO) provides
a round-up and summary of Indigenous peak body responses to the Budget.
Paper No. 3: Federal Financial Relations or the Federal Financial Relations
website for more information on the National Partnerships.
The Budget extends this National Partnership by one calendar year, but
it still ends within the forward estimates. See the Parliamentary Library’s Education
and training budget brief for more details.
Whether this strategy continues or replaces the National Partnership
on addressing blood-borne viruses and sexually transmissible infections in the
Torres Strait, which has a cross-border focus, is not clear.
All online articles accessed April 2019
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