Indigenous affairs: health, culture, land and housing

Budget Review 2021–22 Index

Sally McNicol and James Haughton

These Indigenous Affairs budget briefs summarise Indigenous-specific measures across portfolios, and provide some assessment of the likely effects of relevant general measures on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. For consistency with previous budget briefs and with reporting frameworks such as the Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage reports, measures are grouped into the (former) Council of Australian Governments (COAG) ‘Building Blocks’. This brief covers measures relating to health, governance and culture (including land and environmental measures) and housing, while another Indigenous affairs brief covers measures related to education, employment, and community safety. All page references are to Budget Measures: Budget Paper No. 2 2021–22 unless otherwise specified.


A number of Indigenous-specific measures were announced in the Health and Aged Care portfolios,  including $96 million across forward estimates for various mental health measures, prioritisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders in the $630 million package for aged care in regional and remote areas, and extensions across the forward estimates of the National Partnership Agreements on Trachoma Control and the Rheumatic Fever Strategy which were to expire this year (Federal Financial Relations: Budget Paper No. 3 2021–22, pp. 31–33). However net Indigenous health funding rises by only $5 million in 2021­­–22 (from $975 million to $980 million) then by $31 million in 2022–23, to $1.01 billion, rising further in subsequent years (Budget Strategy and Outlook: Budget Paper No. 1 2021–22, p. 198).

Perhaps the largest new measure is the Commonwealth’s commitment, after many years of study and limited remediation, to full rehabilitation of the Rum Jungle former uranium mine site (p. 143). While a figure is not published for commercial reasons, cleanup costs have been estimated at $200 million.


Of the $2.3 billion Mental Health measure (over four years) for the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan, $79.0 million is earmarked to implement initiatives under the renewed National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy (p. 119). This includes: $23.8 million to establish regional suicide prevention networks; $27.3 million for regionally-based, culturally-sensitive, co-designed aftercare; and $16.6 million to develop and evaluate a culturally appropriate 24/7 crisis line (Health Portfolio Budget Statements 2021–22, p. 24).

The Mental Health measure also includes $9.2 million to quantify the prevalence of mental health problems in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, and $8.3 million to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health workers through 40 additional mental health-specific scholarships, and train health care workers to provide culturally appropriate treatment (Health Portfolio Budget Statements 2021–22, p. 25).

The ‘Aged Care – Government response to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety – governance and regional access’ measure allocates $630.2 million to improve access to quality aged care services for consumers in regional, rural and remote areas, including those with Indigenous backgrounds and special needs groups (p. 99). For a definition of ‘special needs groups’ see the Parliamentary Library’s quick guide to Aged Care, and for further details on this measure, see the Library Budget brief ‘Aged care – access; and care and support in the home’. Indigenous-specific recommendations in the Final Report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety were focussed on ensuring that Aboriginal and Torres Strait people receive ‘culturally respectful and safe, high quality, trauma‐informed, needs‐based and flexible aged care services regardless of where they live’ and developing a workforce that can support this (Vol 3A, chapter 7, pp. 237–270). These recommendations (47–55) have been accepted by the Australian Government.

The Government has confirmed that the Closing the Gap National Partnership Agreements on Rheumatic Fever Strategy and Improving Trachoma Control will be extended, totalling $31.1 million over four years from 2021–22. This is not new money (p. 105). Australia is the only OECD country with endemic trachoma, and one of an increasingly short list of countries not to have eliminated the disease. In Australia, researchers say progress has been made, but the elimination target is now 2022 (previously 2020). Aboriginal Health Services say that Rheumatic Heart Disease continues to take a high toll on remote Aboriginal communities. Full eradication of rheumatic fever will require significant investment as it requires addressing overcrowding (Wyber et al, pp. 292–3, 313–315 estimates full eradication costs at approximately $4.3 billion over ten years, including $2.9 billion for new housing, $514.3 million in setup and infrastructure costs, and $890 million in other ongoing costs).

Other Indigenous health measures include:

  • $11.2 million under the COVID-19 Response Package — guaranteeing Medicare and access to medicines — extension measure (p. 105) to continue the remote response to COVID-19 to support regional and remote Indigenous communities, initiated on 25 March 2020
  • $7.5 million in 2021–22 (and $1.5 million per year ongoing) under the Preventative Health measure to support the continued operation of the National Cancer Screening Register, including alternative delivery pathways for bowel cancer screening kits to Indigenous populations (p. 121)
  • $22.6 million under the Primary Care measure to redesign the Practice Incentives Program — Indigenous Health Incentive (p. 122)
  • The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Grant Opportunity Outcomes (see Health Portfolio Budget 2021–22 Stakeholder Pack) include $10 million awarded to the Menzies School of Health Research for a National First Nations Research Network. The Network will be led by Indigenous people for Indigenous people, nurture culturally safe environments, connect expertise, and is intended to ‘catalyse research methods, training and development’.
  • The Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) Grant Opportunity Outcomes measure (see Health Portfolio Budget 2021–22 Stakeholder Pack) will provide:
    • $1.2 million to the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute Limited for research on Improving the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men in South Australia under Primary Health Care Research Grant Opportunity
    • $1.4 million to Monash University for benchmarking for healthy stores in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities under Maternal Health and the First 2000 Days; Exercise and Nutrition; Early Childhood Grant Opportunity and
    • a new funding round for $15 million over 4 years from 2021–22 for Indigenous-led research that translates existing knowledge to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers and babies have access to culturally-safe care during pregnancy, birthing and the post-natal period.

Basketball Australia will use some of the $5 million provided to deliver the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022 to encourage more Indigenous women to get involved in the sport.

Governance, leadership and culture (including land and environmental measures)

The Budget provides $28.1 million over five years from 2020–21—$23 million of which is new money over the forward estimates period—and $6.0 million per year ongoing under the ‘Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Innovation & Growth Funding Package’ measure (p. 150). The measure delivers the Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Action Plan announced in September last year, and provides additional funding for the Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support program, as well as supporting Indigenous arts centres and fairs through the impacts of COVID-19. Partial funding for this measure was provided in 2020–21.

Under the ‘COVID-19 Response Package – additional arts sector support’ measure, part of the $11.4 million provided in 2021–22 to support tourism in regional areas (pp. 148–9) will be directed to the Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support program. Other recipients include the Regional Arts Fund, Festivals Australia program and community museums, galleries and historical societies through the Australian Museums and Galleries Association.

One of the recommendations of the Final Report of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples (2018) was to ‘consider the establishment, in Canberra, of a National Resting Place, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander remains which could be a place of commemoration, healing and reflection’ (p. xviii). In 2021–22, $4.7 million of Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) funding will be used to prepare a business case for the establishment of the Ngurra Cultural Precinct in Canberra (p. 176). The precinct will include a National Resting Place for the respectful holding of repatriated ancestral remains.

The Oceans Leadership Package (p. 59) includes $11.6 million over four years from 2021–22 to incorporate Sea Country into Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) in nine locations and for more Indigenous Ranger jobs. The funding is split between the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA, $0.8 million (p. 59)) and the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment (DAWE, $10.8 million (DAWE Portfolio Budget Statements 2021–22, p. 34)). This measure builds on the 2020–21 Budget measure Supporting Healthy Oceans. The expansion of IPAs to include Sea Country aligns with the recognition of traditional owner rights over Sea Country in the Blue Mud Bay High Court case and the subsequent extension of the remit of the Indigenous Land Corporation in 2018 to become the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation.

Funding of $0.5 million is being provided over two years from 2021–22 for to support better Indigenous involvement in Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) processes (p. 58). This funding is part of the $29.3 million initial response to the Independent Review of the EPBC Act 1999. The Review was required to consider Indigenous peoples' knowledge and role in the management of the environment and heritage. Four of the 38 recommendations of the Final Report relate specifically to Indigenous culture and heritage, with three of these for immediate implementation. The measure builds on the 2020–21 Budget measure titled Maintaining the Timeliness of the Environmental Assessment Process.

After making a loss in its last reporting period during the COVID-19 recession, in this period the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land and Sea Future Fund has significantly exceeded its performance targets, returning 11.7% against a benchmark of 3.1% (Budget Paper No. 1, p. 349).

Other land and environmental management measures include:


No new money has been announced for Indigenous-specific housing in the 2021–22 Budget. The five-year National Partnership for Remote Housing Northern Territory is due to expire on 30 June 2023.

The new Family Home Guarantee initiative is designed to support single parents with dependants to enter or re-enter the housing market with a deposit of as little as 2 per cent. The Government estimates that around 125,000 families would be eligible for this measure (Budget 2021–22: Women’s Budget Statement, p. 62). Indigenous family households may benefit from this measure, because they are 2.5 times more likely to be lone-parent families than non-Indigenous family households (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2016 Census data) and up to 78% of one-parent Indigenous households have yearly incomes below the $125,000 cut-off level for the initiative (Parliamentary Library calculation based upon ABS 2016 Census data). However, many may not be able to take advantage of the measure, due to lack of savings and/or income to service the loan. There will be 10,000 guarantees available over the four years of the initiative.