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Budget allocates millions to support First Nations mental health during Voice campaign

David Prestipino -

Millions of dollars have been allocated in Tuesday night's federal budget to support Indigenous mental health through the Voice campaign after concerns about potential racism and misinformation during the debate.

Budget papers reveal the Department of Health and Aged care will be given an extra $10.5 million to increase mental health support for First Nations people during the referendum, which is expected to be held in October.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers also promised $492 million for the Closing The Gap plan and $250 million for programs to tackle antisocial behaviour in Alice Springs as part of $1.9 billion in funding for First Nations health, housing, education, employment and Voice initiatives.

Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney said the major commitments would make a "practical difference" for First Nations Australians.

"The Albanese Government is working together with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to make a practical difference, help close the gap and deliver a better future," she said.

"This is the government's commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians – the beginning of a new chapter that will make our nation proud."

The Voice to parliament referendum will be facilitated through $336.6 million funding to the AEC, with the official information pamphlet - which the federal government had initially planned to abolish - costing $10.6 million.

Budget papers also confirmed $10.5m would be allocated to mental health programs "for First Nations people during the period of the referendum" after the eSafety Commission last week told a Senate hearing it had seen an uptick in racial vilification of First Nations people in response to the referendum, which it expected to increase.

A "neutral public civics campaign" will be funded through $12 million to the National Indigenous Australians Agency and the Museum of Australian Democracy.

The budget also contains $20 million to "progress regional Voice arrangements", which would be expected to feed into a national body if the referendum produced a 'yes' outcome.

"This will ensure that voices in remote and regional communities are heard," Ms Burney said.

The Coalition has called for further development of local and regional voices.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton last month ­announced the Liberals would ­actively campaign against the Voice, claiming the model would only add another layer of bureaucracy and not achieve practical results.

Mr Dutton supported symbolic recognition of First Nations people in the Constitution, but rejected a national voice being enshrined in the founding document, calling instead for "local and ­regional" voices to only by legislated, rather than written into the Constitution. Legislated bodies without constitutional protection can be abolished through the ordinary parliamentary process.

The Coalition's new legal affairs spokeswoman, Michaelia Cash, said on Wednesday a Voice to parliament will "destroy equality of citizenship ... and embed division based on race in the Constitution".

Senator Cash defended her party's decision to not have a free vote for its frontbench on the Voice, insisting constitutional change needed a "united position" from the executive.


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