Budget Review 2020–21 Index
This brief provides information on the economic position of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, summarises Indigenous-specific
components of this Budget and provides some assessment of the Indigenous impact
of general budget measures. Unless otherwise stated, all page references are to
Measures: Budget Paper No. 2: 2020–21.
Overall economic position and
Closing the Gap
Before the onset of COVID-19, analysis
of census data up to 2016 (Markham and Biddle, 2016) showed increasing
divergence of economic outcomes between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
people in urban and regional areas (81%
of the Indigenous population) and those in remote and very remote areas
of Remoteness Areas). Indigenous income levels were rising and poverty
levels decreasing in urban and inner regional areas, while in remote and very
remote areas incomes stagnated or fell and poverty rates increased. In 2016, less
than a quarter (24.4%) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in urban
areas, but more than half (53.4%) of those in very remote areas were living in
poverty (defined as income below 50% of the median average) (p. 16). Even in
urban areas, in 2016 average Indigenous household incomes were only
three-quarters (77.0%) of average non-Indigenous household incomes (p. 21).
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (NATSIHS) found
that, in 2018–19, 42.9% of very remote Indigenous households experienced
hunger (at some point ran out of food and could not afford to buy more), (p. 5)
and over one half (51.7%) ran out of money for basic living necessities
(Parliamentary Library analysis of NATSIHS data: see Figures 1 and 2 below).
Even in major cities there are significant levels of income stress and hunger.
Figure 1. Household went without $ for basics for a day or more in 2018-19, by
Figure 2. Household went without
food for a day or more in 2018-19, by Remoteness
Source: Parliamentary Library analysis of 2018–19 NATSIHS data.
Conversely, according to the 2018–19 NATSIHS, 9.7% of the
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, (15.8% of the population in
major cities) are in the top
three income deciles that it has been claimed will gain the greatest
benefit from the Budget’s tax cuts (Parliamentary Library analysis of NATSIHS
poverty in remote areas (Markham and Biddle, 2016) is frequently attributed
to such factors as
- the abolition of the former Community Development Employment
Projects (CDEP) programme (p. 14)
- the inadequate
rate of social security payments (Senate Standing Committee on Community
Affairs, pp. 126–136)
- the high level of disengagement from government support systems
leading to a
large proportion of the population having no income (Senate Standing
Committee on Community Affairs, pp. 133–6) (in 2018–19 NATSIHS data, more than
half of working age Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in very remote
areas were neither working, studying, nor receiving Jobseeker payments), and
- the very
high levels of payment suspensions and penalties (Fowkes, 2016, p. 1) applied
to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Community Development
Program (CDP) through which Jobseeker is delivered in remote areas.
Reforms in CDP
administration since 2019 have since seen a
slow increase in engagement levels and a decrease in penalties—between
September 2018 and December 2019, the number of CDP participants increased from
23,929 to 28,299 and the number of financial penalties levied decreased from 43,860
per quarter to 27,181 per quarter (Parliamentary Library analysis of CDP data).
The Government’s response to COVID-19 saw the JobSeeker
payment increased by $550 a fortnight and all activity participation
requirements, suspensions and penalties for CDP participants were removed. (For
more information on the Indigenous-specific components of the COVID-19
response, see COVID-19
and Indigenous Australians: A Chronology). As over
a third (38.0%) of Indigenous working-aged people in very remote areas were
eligible for the Coronavirus supplement (Markham et al, 2020, p. 6), this
may have resulted in a significant short-term reduction in poverty. However,
reduction (as of 25 September) and projected end of
the supplement (as of 31 December) may mean that poverty in remote areas
again increases. Furthermore, because Indigenous
people are disproportionately employed in casual roles (Markham et al,
2020, pp. 2–4) as unskilled or semi-skilled labourers and as service workers,
they are likely to have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19
In this context of significant economic crisis and expanded
government spending, and coming after the Commonwealth, states/territories and
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak bodies signed a new National
Agreement on Closing the Gap (NACG) in July, many Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander commentators
bodies have condemned the Budget for missing the opportunity to invest in a
substantial Closing the Gap package, or to address Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander incarceration and deaths in custody. The Budget allocates $10.1
million over four years to the Productivity Commission (PC) to produce an
improved Closing the Gap progress dashboard and report, and states that $46.5
million will be granted from the existing National Indigenous Australians
Agency (NIAA) budget to building the capacity of peak and community-controlled
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations (Priority 2 of the NACG,
The NACG calls for governments and member organisations to
spend up to 12 months devising implementation plans for the NACG’s targets,
which may explain the lack of immediate funding in the Budget. Also, the PC is
expected to release two significant reports in the near future: the Overcoming
Indigenous Disadvantage report (3 December 2020) and the Indigenous
Evaluation Strategy report (October 2020) which may influence Government
spending plans. However, the Government has not flagged that any further
investment will follow from these implementation plans or PC reports.
Budget measures by Building Block
For consistency with other reporting frameworks, such as the
Indigenous Disadvantage report and the Indigenous
Expenditure Report, this brief categorises budget measures according to
the former Council of Australian Governments (COAG) ‘building
Many budget measures state that they will be met from the
existing resources of the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA). This may
mean that correspondingly less money will be available for the regular NIAA
programs and grants.
Education, school attendance and early
As part of the Students Support Package (p. 81), $39.8
million over four years is being provided to the Clontarf Foundation to expand
their sports-oriented school attendance and engagement program for Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander boys and young men. Evaluations of the Clontarf
Academy and similar
programs have been consistently positive (although many have mentioned a
lack of equivalent female programs), but the Clontarf Academy has been criticised
for cultural inappropriateness and not sufficiently targeting at-risk students.
Also as part of this package, $5.8 million over four years
is being provided to Good to Great Schools Australia to develop a pilot program
for Direct Instruction (DI)-oriented delivery of numeracy and science in up to 10
remote and very remote schools in Australia. Evaluations of the Flexible
Literacy in Remote Primary Schools Program, which delivers DI in remote,
predominantly Indigenous-student schools, range from cautiously positive to strongly
Funding for both these programs was criticised in the
bipartisan House of Representatives Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs
report The Power
of Education: From Surviving to Thriving (2017). The Committee
recommended that no funding beyond 30 June 2018 be provided for DI oriented
programs due to lack of evidence for their effectiveness and reported negative
cultural and attendance outcomes (recommendation 12), and funding for boys’
sports programs should not continue without equivalent support for programs for
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls and young women (recommendation 9)
or non-sport oriented programs (recommendation 10). In its response,
delivered in August 2020, the Government ‘noted’ the relevant recommendations.
Easier access to the independent rate of ABSTUDY is
addressed in the Social
Security and Welfare brief.
As part of its higher education reforms (see Budget
Review 2020–21 ‘Higher education research and teaching’), the Government
previously committed to all Indigenous students from regional and remote areas meeting
admission standards receiving a Commonwealth-funded university place (Budget
Paper No. 2, p. 232). In the past Indigenous students have been more likely
to study in the areas of Society and Culture and the Creative Arts, and less
likely to study the Sciences, Information Technology or Engineering, than non-Indigenous
domestic students; therefore, the government’s changes in university fees may
have different effects on the Indigenous student cohort (see Table 1 below).
Table 1: Indigenous and all
domestic students by field of higher education, 2019
|Field of Higher Education
||All Indigenous students, 2019
||All domestic students, 2019
|Natural and Physical Sciences
|Engineering and Related Technologies
|Architecture and Building
|Agriculture, Environmental and Related Studies
|Management and Commerce
|Society and Culture
|Food, Hospitality and Personal Services
|Mixed Field Programs
Source: Department of Education, Skills and Employment,
Selected Higher Education Statistics – 2019 student
data, released 14 July 2020.
The Jobmaker Plan Research
Package includes ‘$8.9 million over three years from 2020–21 to increase
the capabilities of the Humanities, Arts, Social Sciences and Indigenous e‑research
platforms’ (p. 79).
Employment and Economic
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are on average
younger than non-Indigenous Australians, with over two thirds (67.8%) of
the population being under 35 in the 2018–19 NATSIHS (Parliamentary Library
analysis of NATSIHS data). This large Indigenous youth cohort may benefit from
Hiring Credit measure (see Budget
Review 2020–21 ‘Employment services measures’). However, there are
already wage subsidy
programs for Indigenous Australians and the requirement that a Hiring
Credit beneficiary previously have received a JobSeeker, Parenting or Youth
Allowance payment may inadvertently exclude many of the more than 40% of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of working age who were ‘not in
the labour force’ (Parliamentary Library analysis of NATSIHS data). Researchers
from CAEPR have criticised
the budget’s lack of Indigenous-specific employment measures.
The JobMaker Plan (investment in new energy technologies
measure) includes $67.1 million over six years from 2020–21 to
expand the Regional and Remote Communities Reliability Fund to support
pilot studies for electricity microgrids in regional and remote areas (p. 118).
According to Budget Paper 3: Federal Financial Relations, this includes extending an existing Western Australia-based
program for remote Indigenous communities (p. 66).
Minister Wyatt’s Budget
press release states that, as part of the Digital Business Plan measure (p.
64), the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations (ORIC) will receive
$5.4 million over four years to implement a Director Identification Number
system, enabling greater transparency. It is not clear whether this is new
money or comes from the NIAA budget.
$3.9 million is provided in 2021–22 to
extend the Time to Work Employment Service
program by one year to provide in‑prison pre-release employment services
for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (p. 75). This program was
part of the Commonwealth response to the COAG Prison to Work report.
The Budget proposes that the Cashless Debit Card will transition
from a ‘trial’ to a permanent measure (p. 150). This measure requires legislation,
which was introduced in the House of Representatives on 8 October 2020
Review 2020–21 ‘Social
security and welfare’). The measure has been criticised
by peak Aboriginal organisations in the Northern Territory. The Budget also
provides $44.4 million over three years for the Extension of Financial
Wellbeing and Capability Measures (pp. 153–4) including financial
counselling and budgeting skills to people in Income Management and Cashless
Debit Card locations.
$40.1 million is being provided over three years for the Extension
of Child and Parenting Support Services (p. 153), which provides
specialised early intervention and prevention support to at-risk children and
families with complex needs, including Indigenous families. What percentage of
this funding will be available for Indigenous services is unknown.
The Change the Record Coalition and Aboriginal Legal
Services have criticised
the Budget for not providing adequate funding for Indigenous legal aid or
addressing high incarceration rates.
Governance, Leadership and Culture
[including Land and environmental measures]
$46.5 million is provided for capacity building of
Aboriginal community controlled organisations, discussed above. This measure is
being funded from the NIAA budget (p. 146).
$10.1 million over four years is provided to the Australian
Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) to
facilitate the return of cultural heritage from overseas collections (p. 149).
This is being funded from the NIAA budget.
$2.2 million over four years from 2020–21 is provided to
speed up application processing under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 (p. 51). Commonwealth heritage protection
law has been widely
since the destruction of the Juukan Gorge heritage site, so this measure may
foreshadow reform in this area.
$2.0 million as part of the Perth City Deal is provided for
design work on the Noongar Indigenous Cultural Centre (p. 142).
over two years from 2020–21 is provided for Indigenous River Rangers in the
Murray-Darling Basin Plan (p. 52) (see Budget
Review 2020–21 ‘Murray-Darling Basin’).
The Supporting Healthy Oceans
measure (p. 54) includes $28.3 million over four years from 2020–21 for
Australia’s marine park network, including increased science and monitoring
activities, expanded Indigenous park management and pro-active enforcement of
marine park rules (which is performed by specialised Indigenous Rangers with enforcement powers), and $14.8 million over four years to remove ghost nets,
which the Economic Recovery Plan Overview (p. 35) states
will be done by Indigenous rangers.
The Government will provide $233.4 million over three years
from 2020–21 to improve infrastructure in Commonwealth national parks (p. 289),
the Uluru, Kakadu, Christmas Island and the Booderee National Parks. Uluru,
Kakadu and Booderee are all owned and co-managed by Aboriginal Traditional
Owners under leaseback arrangements to the Director of National Parks, who may
benefit from both the work opportunities on country and the potentially
increased tourism and visitor numbers. This funding also includes $51.4 million
to renew and replace essential services infrastructure, including water,
electricity and sewage in the Mutitjulu Community in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta
National Park. There is also $12.0 million over two years to maintain service
levels and meet commitments to Traditional Owners in jointly-managed parks,
owing to the decision to waive entry and permit fees for these parks to promote
local tourism (p. 215), and $3.5 million over two years
from 2020–21 to continue land management at the former Rum Jungle uranium mine
site in the NT (p. 123); see the 2016–17 Indigenous affairs Budget Review brief for a
short overview of Rum Jungle.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Land and Sea Future Fund (which was created by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land and Sea Future Fund Act
2018, and is under the management of the
Future Fund Board with instructions to achieve a long term real return of 2–3
per cent per annum) has performed poorly in the current economic conditions,
with a return of -1.3 per cent since 1 October 2019 (Budget
Paper No. 1, p. 10-44). The Future Fund also had a negative return of
-0.9 per cent (p. 10-43).
Paper No. 1 (p. 6-19) predicts increased Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander health expenditure of $973 million to $975 million from 2019–20 to
2020–21, then a decrease of $8 million in Aboriginal health expenditure to
$967 million, from 2020–21 to 2021–22. This decrease is because the Budget forward estimates do not currently make any provision for renewing or extending the National Partnership Agreements on trachoma control and rheumatic fever beyond 30 June 2021 (see below).
Under the COVID-19 response measure (p. 96), there is $4.0
million to continue the Remote
Point-of-Care Testing Program in regional and remote Indigenous
communities. A number of other measures in response to COVID-19 were announced
in the July Economic and Fiscal Update (reprinted in Appendix
A of Budget Paper No. 2), which are not further discussed here.
The Preventive Health measure (p. 101) includes $21.2 million
over four years from 2020–21 to support delivery of a number of initiatives
under the Roadmap
for Hearing Health. This includes improving access to hearing services for
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. The
Power of Education report recognised hearing loss as a major barrier to
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s education (Recommendation 3,
Two National Partnership Agreements on Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander health, on trachoma
control and rheumatic
fever are currently scheduled to expire on 30 June 2021 (Budget
Paper No. 3, pp. 25–26). In the most recent report, Trachoma
eradication appeared to be stalling (2018
report, p. 14) and eradication of rheumatic fever will require significant
et al, pp. 292–3, 313–315 estimates full eradication costs are $2.9 billion
for new housing and $890 million over ten years in other capital and ongoing
The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health
Organisation (NACCHO) has welcomed
increased funding for health in a number of areas but expressed
disappointment that there was no significant investment in clinical
Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) will benefit from a $150
million equity injection over 3 years to enable it to provide more home loans
to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in regional Australia. This
appears in Budget Paper No. 2 as a receipt measure (p. 12) as equity
transfers are off-budget, and the loans will generate a repayment stream.
Minister Wyatt states
this will enable 360 home loans and over 1,000 related jobs. The measure has
by the IBA.
The government will provide $100 million to assist with the
provision of remote Indigenous housing in Queensland (p. 147). This funding has
already been provided for. Budget Paper No. 2 states that this is part
of an agreement with the Queensland Government to assume full responsibility
for housing in remote communities in Queensland. Similar agreements were made
with other state and territory governments in the 2019–20
Housing Review (2017) by the Department of the Prime Minister and
Cabinet estimated that 1,100 new houses would be needed in Indigenous
communities in Queensland by 2028 to address overcrowding and estimated future
demand (p. 24). Under the former National Partnership on Remote Housing, houses
in Queensland cost an estimated $486,484 to construct (p. 30). On this basis
the $100 million provided by the Commonwealth in this Budget could build
approximately 205 houses, less than one-fifth of the estimated need.
This brief was updated on 9 November 2020 to include additional information
All online articles accessed October 2020
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