Indigenous Affairs: leadership, land, economic development and education

Budget Review 2022–23 Index

James Haughton

The Budget Review articles on Indigenous Affairs summarise and contextualise Indigenous-specific measures across portfolios. This article covers measures related to leadership, land, economic development and education, while a separate Indigenous affairs article covers measures relating to health, culture and language, housing, justice and safety. These categories have been chosen to align with the Budget and elements of the new Closing the Gap Priority Reforms and Targets. Unless otherwise stated, all page references are to Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2022–23.

Overview of budget trends

Graph -  Indigenous-related budget functions

The 2022–23 Budget continues an apparent trend of increasing expenditure on Indigenous-specific Commonwealth programs under the Morrison government, after constant or slowly increasing expenditure levels under the Abbott and Turnbull governments. This is in part driven by the temporary response to COVID-19, but is also due to increased Commonwealth investment under the new Closing the Gap framework, particularly measures announced on 5 August 2021 with the release of the Commonwealth’s Closing the Gap Implementation Plan. The trend in the budget function ‘Assistance for Indigenous Australians nec [not elsewhere classified]’ (Budget Strategy and Outlook: Budget Paper no. 1 2022–23, pp. 154, 158) is shown in Figure 1. This figure includes programs delivered by the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS), expenditure by Indigenous-specific government corporate entities such as Indigenous Business Australia, the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation and the Torres Strait Regional Authority (excluding inter-agency transfers), as well as a number of National Partnership payments. Expenditure against this function has consistently increased over the last 3 budgets, as has the budget function for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health (Budget strategy and outlook: budget paper no. 1: 2022–23, pp. 151, 154). However, these increases are partly offset by the Commonwealth’s withdrawal from funding Indigenous-specific housing (not included in these aggregates).

Source: Prepared by the Parliamentary Library from previous budget papers. Figures are nominal (non-inflation adjusted) dollars reflecting actual spending in that year except for those from 2022–23 onwards, which are projections from current Budget Paper 1.

Expenditure on these Indigenous programs is currently projected to flatten over the forward estimates, reflecting the projected end of the National Partnership on Northern Territory Remote Aboriginal Investment (NTRAI). However, the recent announcement of a 2-year extension of the NTRAI indicated that other investments in remote Northern Territory communities would take its place, suggesting that this flattening may be more apparent than real.

Leadership and governance

The Budget includes several measures intended to strengthen Indigenous leadership, decision-making power and capacity. These are in line with the Closing the Gap Priority Reforms to boost shared decision-making and strengthen community-controlled organisations.

$31.8 million is provided in 2022–23 in the Indigenous Voice – Local and Regional Voice Implementation measure to ‘commence establishment of 35 Local and Regional Voice bodies’ (p. 161) in line with an option presented by the Indigenous Voice Co-design Process Final Report. The Minister’s media release announcing this response states, ‘for the Indigenous Voice to work, it must have a strong foundation from the ground up’, presumably explaining why no funding or framework has yet been announced for a National Voice. Having 35 regions would correspond to the number of former ATSIC regions, which are still the basis for the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Indigenous statistical geography.

$3.0 million will be provided over 2 years from 2021–22 to support Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory (APONT) to work with the Australian Government and Indigenous Australians to develop a strategy for future investment in the Northern Territory (p. 156). This is in line with a NTRAI review recommendation (p. 9) that ‘future arrangements should provide Aboriginal representatives a role as shared decision-maker in the design, delivery and monitoring of policies and programs which are delivered to their communities’. Funding for this measure has already been provided.

$37.5 million is provided over 5 years for the Future of Prescribed Bodies Corporate measure to build the capacity of the Registered Native Title Prescribed Bodies Corporate (RNTBCs) sector (p. 160), of which $6.6 million is new money and the remainder is to be met from the IAS budget. Increased funding and capacity-building for RNTBCs has been frequently called for by the sector, particularly in response to legislative changes affecting RNTBCs such as those proposed for the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006 in a recent review, or those introduced by the Native Title Legislation Amendment Act 2021 (Bills Digest). The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee inquiry into that Bill received numerous submissions about the lack of resources for building governance capacity faced by the sector (Committee report, pp. 46–47).

Also likely related to these calls and reports is the $21.9 million measure Strengthening Indigenous Leadership and Governance (p. 165, see also the Government’s media release) which provides $13.5 million for the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME); $6.7 million for the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations (ORIC) to develop governance training materials for Indigenous organisations; and $1.7 million to the NIAA to provide scholarships for Indigenous Australians to undertake company directors’ courses, and monitoring and evaluation.

The National Native Title Council welcomed the increase in RNTBC capacity building funding, but expressed disappointment that there was no ongoing secure funding for the sector. The native title sector is also likely to be disappointed that the government has not acted further on reforms to the Native Title Act 1993 and RNTBCs suggested by the Australian Law Reform Commission or the Taxation of Native Title and Traditional Owner Benefits and Governance Working Group Report to Government, which would strengthen not only the governance but also the bargaining and financial position of RNTBCs.


The centrepiece of the Indigenous budget is the Indigenous Rangers – Capacity building measure (p. 161), which provides $636.4 million over 6 years (of which $322.4 million is over the current forward estimates) to expand the Indigenous Rangers program. The measure promises to fund up to 1,089 new full-time equivalent (FTE) ranger positions and 88 new ranger groups, expand women and youth rangers programs, and set up an Indigenous Land and Water Management body. The Indigenous Rangers program currently has a budget of $102 million annually (with ongoing funding of this amount announced in March 2020) and employs 898.7 FTE positions (at 9 April 2021) consisting of over 2,100 full-time, part-time and casual rangers. This new funding roughly doubles the existing funding per year, meeting longstanding calls from stakeholder group Country Needs People and matching a commitment by the Australian Labor Party. As well as positive outcomes for employment and the environment, a recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW report) found Indigenous Ranger programs promote Indigenous mental health and reduce suicide risk, a priority of the Morrison government.

Measures to improve the governance of native title-holding Prescribed Bodies Corporate are noted above. As RNTBCs currently hold some form of native title over 3,321,982 square kilometres, or approximately 43.1% of Australia’s land area, their capacity for effective governance is a key element of land management.

The Budget also announces $74.4 million over 9 years, already provided for, for partnerships with Traditional Owners in the Great Barrier Reef (p. 57) and a package of $26.8 million, of which $16.2 million is new money, under the Supporting the Management of Commonwealth National Parks measure (p. 57). Most mainland Commonwealth National Parks are owned by Traditional Owners and rented by Parks Australia. The package includes $10.6 million to increase Traditional Owner engagement, employment and traditional knowledge conservation. This measure was announced on 9 March 2022 in response to a critical report finding that Parks Australia had lost the trust of Traditional Owners.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land and Sea Future Fund (ATSILSFF), which provides funding to the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation to acquire land and water for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, has had another good year. For the year ending 31 December 2021, the ATSILSFF achieved a return of 10.7% against a benchmark of 5.5%. The total capital of the ATSILSFF was valued at $2.2 billion at the end of that year (Budget paper no. 1, p. 331).

Economic development and employment

Aside from the Rangers measure, the major employment-related measure in the Indigenous budget is further supplementary funding of $98 million in 2022–23 for Community Development Program (CDP) providers to meet increased demand (p. 156). CDP participant statistics for the COVID-19 pandemic period have recently been released (see Table 1 and Figure 2 below). These show a significant increase in participant numbers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting changes in Jobseeker payments and CDP penalty regimes. Also notable is the rapid drop in participant numbers when financial penalties for non-participation in CDP activities were re-imposed in early 2021, until penalties were again removed on 12 May 2021.

Table 1         Summary of data on CDP participation and financial penalties

CDP Quarter ending Participants Participants w vulnerability Total Financial Penalties (n)
Sep-18 23,929 1,411 (6%) 43,680
Dec-18 26,058 1,691 (6%) 46,544
Mar-19 24,542 1,852 (8%) 35,282
Jun-19 25,251 2,270 (9%) 31,821
Sep-19 25,431 2,539 (10%) 30,544
Dec-19 28,299 3,030 (11%) 27,181
Mar-20 29,638 3,338 (11%) 22,872
June-20 37,958 3,509 (9%) 266
Sep-20 39,166 3,376 (9%) 0
Dec-20 40,469 3,581 (9%) 6,783
Mar-21 35,718 3,392 (9%) 30,764
June-21 34,681 3,459 (10%) 11,361
Sep-21 34,964 3,477 (10%) np
Dec-21 38,565 3,785 (10%) np

Source: NIAA, Community Development Program Quarterly Compliance Data. Some data is not published (np) but appears to be below 20

Figure 2                CDP participants and financial penalties over time

Graph - CDP participants and financial penalties over time

Source: NIAA, Community Development Program Quarterly Compliance Data. Some data is not published (np) but appears to be below 20.

In a related measure, the Remote Engagement Program measure (p. 164) provides $11.5 million over 5 years from 2021–22, of which $4.7 million is new money and the remainder is from the IAS budget, to continue piloting the Remote Engagement Program (formerly the Remote Jobs Program), which will replace the CDP on 1 July 2024. This measure also provides funding for legal fees and grants agreed by the Commonwealth as a result of the CDP Class Action settlement.

The measure McDonald v Commonwealth class action – discovery costs (p. 162) provides a non-published amount for discovery processes associated with a stolen wages class action brought by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who lived and worked in the Northern Territory between 1 June 1933 and 12 November 1971 and had their wages withheld. Potential Commonwealth responsibility for stolen wages in the Northern Territory was previously raised in the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs 2006 report, Unfinished business: Indigenous stolen wages, which recommended a research and discovery process and compensation scheme. However, this proactive approach was rejected in 2010 by the Rudd government.

$3.2 million is allocated in 2022–23 to extend the Time to Work Employment Services program for 12 months to provide continued in-person pre-employment services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners (p. 74).

Given the relatively high proportion of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population in remote, regional and northern Australia, government investment in regional telecommunications (p. 134), Northern Territory roads (p. 138) and the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (p. 149) may also create economic opportunities and benefits for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.


There are few Indigenous-specific education measures in the Budget. The previous National Partnership for Universal Access to Early Childhood Education, which had Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander preschool children as a particular focus, has been replaced with a new Preschool Reform Agreement with a continued focus on Indigenous and disadvantaged children (Budget paper no. 3, p. 41). The agreement includes performance bonuses for the states and territories for lifting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child enrolment and participation.

Other Indigenous-specific measures focus on education in the Northern Territory. $58.6 million over 2 years will be provided to continue the Children and Schooling component of the NTRAI (Budget paper no. 3, p. 42). In addition, the current policy focus of supporting boarding schools for Indigenous secondary students in the Northern Territory continues under the School Education Support measure (pp. 77–78), with $29.4 million to extend the Indigenous Boarding Schools Grants program for 1 year and establish a Commonwealth Regional Scholarship Program to assist families with the costs of boarding. $6.3 million will also be provided for a new boarding facility in Tennant Creek, under the Barkly Regional Deal. It is not clear whether the Regional Scholarship Program is Indigenous-specific.

The recently released NTRAI end-of-term review found that despite improvement in retaining Year 7 boarding-school students, attendance levels had significantly declined among Aboriginal students (Figure 3 below) — particularly in remote areas (Figure 4 below) — in both government and non-government schools, even before the impact of COVID-19 on school attendance.

Figure 3        NT Aboriginal student attendance rates: target and actual

Graph - Northern Territory Aboriginal student attendance rates: target and actual

Figure 4       Rural and remote NT Aboriginal students attending 4+ days of school per week: target and actual

Graph - Rural and remote NT Aboriginal students attending 4+ days of school per week: target and actual

Source: NIAA, NTRAI End-of-term review, pp. 55-56; separated figures for non-government schools on p. 107

While the Commonwealth and the NTRAI are not primarily responsible for school attendance in the Northern Territory, this downward trend strongly suggests that the policy of supporting boarding school attendance to improve educational outcomes is not achieving its objective, particularly as other studies have directly linked the boarding school-only policy to high levels of school non-attendance and dropout among senior students.

Stakeholder reactions

Despite positive reactions to the increase in Indigenous Rangers and RNTBC funding, analysts and stakeholders have largely criticised the budget for not providing funding sufficient for structural or transformational change towards closing the gaps in health outcomes and housing.



All online articles accessed April 2022

For copyright reasons some linked items are only available to members of Parliament.

© Commonwealth of Australia

Creative commons logo

Creative Commons

With the exception of the Commonwealth Coat of Arms, and to the extent that copyright subsists in a third party, this publication, its logo and front page design are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia licence.

In essence, you are free to copy and communicate this work in its current form for all non-commercial purposes, as long as you attribute the work to the author and abide by the other licence terms. The work cannot be adapted or modified in any way. Content from this publication should be attributed in the following way: Author(s), Title of publication, Series Name and No, Publisher, Date.

To the extent that copyright subsists in third party quotes it remains with the original owner and permission may be required to reuse the material.

Inquiries regarding the licence and any use of the publication are welcome to

This work has been prepared to support the work of the Australian Parliament using information available at the time of production. The views expressed do not reflect an official position of the Parliamentary Library, nor do they constitute professional legal opinion.

Any concerns or complaints should be directed to the Parliamentary Librarian. Parliamentary Library staff are available to discuss the contents of publications with Senators and Members and their staff. To access this service, clients may contact the author or the Library‘s Central Enquiry Point for referral.