Indigenous affairs

Budget Review 2016–17 Index

James Haughton

There is little new Indigenous-specific spending in the Budget. This is notable, given the recent Prime Minister’s report indicating that little progress has been made in meeting the Closing the Gap targets.[1] A number of more general measures are likely to have significant impacts on Indigenous people, particularly measures affecting costs of and access to public services.


The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) has been given $40.0 million over four years from 2016–17 to support the ongoing effort to preserve, restore, manage and digitise their collection of cultural and heritage material.[2] Funding for preserving AIATSIS’ collection has previously been on a year-by-year basis, with one-year funding being provided in both the 2014–15 ($3.3 million) and 2015–16 ($5.0 million) budgets to address immediate risks.[3] This spending has been previously supported by the Labor party.[4] This new long-term commitment will be welcomed, particularly in the context of falling budgets for other cultural institutions.

Concessional Loan to the Indigenous Land Corporation

The government is making a concessional loan of up to $65.0 million to the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC) in order to reduce the ‘crippling’ impact of interest on debt incurred when the ILC purchased the Ayers Rock Resort.[5] This will enable the ILC to refocus on its core business activities. The terms of the loan are commercial-in-confidence, so the amount is not included in the Budget.

Rum Jungle rehabilitation project extension

The Budget provides $10.8 million in 2016–17 to extend site study and management of the former Rum Jungle uranium mine in the Northern Territory. Pollution from the Rum Jungle mine has caused ongoing distress to the site’s traditional owners, the Kungarakan and Warai people, who have refused to make a land claim on the site due to its polluted state.[6] Total site rehabilitation costs of Rum Jungle are estimated at $200.0 million.[7] None of the Federal Government, the Northern Territory Government or the site’s former managers Rio Tinto have expressed willingness to assume this cost.

Towards constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

The Budget notes previously announced funding of $14.6 million over two years from 2015–16 for the Referendum Council to support national consultation on constitutional recognition. This includes funding of $5.0 million to Reconciliation Australia for their Recognise campaign.[8]

Indigenous Business Australia business support arrangements

$23.1 million in 2016–17 is being redirected from Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C)’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy. This will then be granted back to IBA, to enable IBA to conduct Indigenous business planning, advice, workshop and training activity that would otherwise be outside IBA’s enabling legislation, with no net change in IBA’s or PM&C’s budget.[9]

Health measures

There are a number of health measures which are particularly relevant for Indigenous Australians.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) are caused by alcohol consumption during pregnancy. They are increasingly recognised as a severe problem in Indigenous communities; the Lililwan Project found that 12 per cent of Aboriginal children born in 2002–03 in the Fitzroy Valley had FASD.[10] The Budget includes $10.5 million over four years to reduce FASD, focussing on prevention in high risk remote and rural communities, including diagnostic clinical support and working with communities. This builds on the National Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Action Plan announced in 2014.[11]

The Budget provides $4.5 million over four years to the Queensland Government to fund healthcare staff and workers to reduce the risk and prevalence of blood borne viruses (BBVs) and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) in the Torres Strait. This is a high risk region due to the prevalence of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and other STIs and BBVs in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the Torres Strait, and the free flow of people between PNG and the Torres Strait.[12] The Budget also notes continuing funding for Torres Strait–Papua New Guinea Cross-Border Health Issues ($19.0 million over four years) and for controlling the Asian Tiger Mosquito, which can spread dengue fever, Ross River virus and chikungunya ($3.0 million over three years).[13]

There is also an additional $0.4 million, on top of $2.7 million announced previously, to extend the National Partnership Agreement on Rheumatic Fever Strategy into 2016­–17.[14]

Other measures

Funding of $32.2 million from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s existing Indigenous Affairs Safety and Wellbeing program budget is being transferred to the Department of Social Security to partially offset new spending in domestic violence.[15] According to the Minister for Social Services, this new spending will ‘provide targeted assistance for Indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse women and their children’.[16] For more details, see the ‘Domestic and family violence’ brief in this Budget Review.[17]

Three Indigenous tertiary programs are being consolidated, and some funding is being transferred from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to the Department of Education for the Bachelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education. These measures are described in more detail in the ‘Tertiary education’ brief elsewhere in this Budget Review.[18]

Measures such as the Try, Test and Learn Fund for the long-term welfare dependent and the Youth Jobs PaTH can be expected to boost Indigenous employment if delivered appropriately.[19] Customised pre-employment training, non-standard recruitment strategies and wage subsidies have been shown to have good results for Indigenous employment in the past, when delivered in culturally appropriate ways.[20] As Indigenous employment is currently not on track to halve the gap by 2016, it is to be hoped that these programs will take Indigenous needs into account.[21]Funding of $5.1 million over four years is provided to fund two trials as part of the Third Action Plan under the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children.[22] The trials to build capacity in parents of vulnerable children ($1.2 million) and assist children in out of home care transition to independent adulthood ($3.9 million) may assist Indigenous parents and Indigenous children in care – there is general agreement that investment in childhood is the most cost effective way to overcome Indigenous disadvantage.[23]

The government has previously announced that the Cashless Debit Card proposed by Andrew Forrest in his review of Indigenous Jobs and Training would be trialled at a third site.[24] This is noted in the Budget, although no money is yet specified as negotiations with commercial service providers are still taking place.[25] It appears likely that the trial site will be Geraldton.[26] Approximately 9.5 per cent of Geraldton’s population are Indigenous.[27]

Indigenous sector reactions

Indigenous sector organisations and stakeholders have generally condemned the Budget as offering little or nothing for Indigenous Australians, although they have noted some positives such as the grant to AIATSIS, and non-Indigenous specific programs such as the Try, Test and Learn program, the trial to build capacity in parents, and the trial to assist children in care transition to independent adulthood.[28] Stakeholders called for the government to reverse the 2014 Budget’s $534 million cut to the Indigenous sector, restore funding to the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, reverse cuts to Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, continue funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Care Centres, and act on Indigenous incarceration rates.[29] Indigenous Health stakeholders stated that the Medicare rebate freeze would place increasing financial pressure on Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services, but welcomed the new FASD package and other health spending.[30]

[1].          Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C), Closing the Gap Prime Minister’s Report 2016, Canberra, 2016, pp. 5–7.

[2].          Australian Government, Budget Measures: Budget Paper No. 2: 2016–17, 2016, p.75.

[3].        Australian Government, Budget Measures: Budget Paper No. 2: 2015–16, 2015, p. 76; Australian Government, Budget Measures: Budget Paper No. 2: 2014–15, 2014, p. 88.

[4].          K Carr (Shadow Minister for Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Industry), Labor welcomes AIATSIS funding, media release, 29 April 2015.

[5].          N Scullion (Minister for Indigenous Affairs), Better outcomes for First Australians, media release, 3 May 2016; Budget Paper No.2 : 2016–17, op. cit., p. 136; Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2016–17: Budget Related Paper No, 1.14: Prime Minister and Cabinet Portfolio, p. 174.

[6].          D Margetts and M Lees, ‘Indigenous Concerns’, in Minority report, Senate Select Committee on Uranium Mining and Milling, The Senate, Canberra, 1997.

[7].          J Crothers, ‘$200m sought to rehabilitate former Rum Jungle uranium mine’, ABC website, 31 October 2014.

[8].          Budget Paper No. 2: 2016–17, op. cit., p. 137.

[9].          Budget Paper No. 2 : 2016–17, op. cit., p. 136; N Scullion, op. cit.; Portfolio budget statements 2016–17,  Prime Minister and Cabinet Portfolio, op. cit., p. 149; 159.

[10].       Australian Medical Association (AMA), 2015 AMA report card on Indigenous health: closing the gap on Indigenous imprisonment rates, AMA, Canberra, 2015, pp. 11–12.

[11].       Budget Paper No. 2, op. cit., p. 119.

[12].       Department of Health, Budget 2016­–17: National Partnership Agreement on specified projects – addressing blood borne viruses and sexually transmissible infections, Public Health fact sheets, Department of Health website,2016.

[13].       Budget Paper No. 2 : 2016–17, op. cit., pp.109-112; S Kim, ‘Asian tiger mosquito: Disease-carrying insect detected in Cairns, far north Qld’, ABC website, 18 August 2015.

[14].       Budget Paper No. 2 : 2016–17, op. cit., p. 111.

[15].       Budget Paper No. 2 : 2016–17, op. cit., p. 141; Portfolio Budget Statements 2016–17, Prime Minister and Cabinet Portfolio, op. cit., p. 23.

[16].       C Porter (Minister for Social Services), Ensuring the Government lives within its means: a targeted welfare safety net , media release, 3 May 2016.

[17].       J Phillips and H Portillo-Castro, ‘Domestic and family violence’, Budget Review 2016–17, Research paper series, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, May 2016.

[18].       J Griffiths and M Harrington, ‘Tertiary education’, Budget Review 2016–17, Research paper series, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, May 2016.

[19].       Budget Paper No. 2 : 2016–17, op. cit., p. 85, 142.

[20].       M Gray, B Hunter and S Lohear, ‘Increasing Indigenous employment rates’, Issues Paper 3, Closing the Gap Clearinghouse, 2012.

[21].       Closing the Gap Prime Minister’s Report 2016, op. cit., pp. 27­–34

[22].       Budget Paper No. 2 : 2016–17, op. cit., p. 144.

[23].       M Sims, Early childhood and education services for Indigenous children prior to starting school, Resource sheet no. 7, Closing the Gap Clearinghouse, 2011.

[24].       A Forrest, ‘The Healthy Welfare Card’, in Australian Government, Creating parity: review of Indigenous jobs and training, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, 2014.

[25].       Budget Paper No. 2 : 2016–17, pp. 139–141.

[26].       R Shine, ‘Cashless welfare trial: Goldfields shires 'desperate for change' plead case’, ABC website, 7 April 2016

[27].       Calculation based upon Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘Geraldton: significant urban area’, 2011 Census QuickStats, 2012.

[28].       Oxfam, Turnbull Government snubs Indigenous affairs, media release, 4 May 2016; National Congress of Australia’s First People (NCAFP), The Pain Continues for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, media release, 4 May 2016; Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues conspicuous by their absence in Federal Budget, media release, 4 May 2016.

[29].       Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR), Indigenous Affairs forgotten in the budget, media release, 4 May 2016; Reconciliation Australia, Consultation, long-term planning critical to Closing the Gap, media release, 4 May 2016; National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (NATSILS), Budget 2016-17 denies many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people access to justice, media release, 3 May 2016; National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services, Action to combat violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women invisible in the Budget, media release, 4 May 2016.

[30].       Statements from Indigenous health peak bodies are collated at M Sweet, ‘Federal budget fails to deliver for Indigenous health (to put it politely)’, Croakey, blog, 5 May 2016.



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