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WA Government allocates $281.5m for First Nations issues in state budget

The Western Australian government hopes $281.5 million of initiatives committed in the 2023-24 state budget will improve the lives of First Nations peoples across the state.

WA Premier Mark McGowan said significant new funding allocations would strengthen services to "support empowerment, self-determination, and wellbeing for Aboriginal people".

This included funding to support the Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCO) sector and the delivery of culturally-responsive services.

The government has allocated $6m to establish WA's ACCO peak body and continue support for the Aboriginal Health Council of WA.

A total of $27.5m has been set aside to develop a Truth-telling and Ceremony Strategy for WA's Wadjemup (Rottnest Island), the site of mass incarceration of Aboriginal people in the early days of colonisation.

The funding will drive state-wide consultation and development of the future use strategy and business case for the local Quod building, including repairs and the memorialisation of burial grounds on the tourist island.

The McGowan Government has also allocated funds to build WA's Aboriginal community-controlled sector, targeted at priority reform areas that align with the Closing the Gap Implementation Plan, formal partnerships, shared decision making, building the ACCO sector and transforming government organisations.

This includes $31.1m over four years to continue the Aboriginal Community Connectors Program, $8.3m to cover operational costs and lifecycle maintenance for the Geraldton Aboriginal Short Stay Accommodation, and $18.3m to match Commonwealth funding to support the construction of a new South West Aboriginal Health Hub in Bunbury.

Millions of dollars will also support an Aboriginal cultural heritage system, with $300,000 allocated to each local Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Service aimed at bolstering cultural heritage management and supporting repatrian of ancestral remains, in a package worth $77m.

WA Premier and Treasurer Mark McGowan said the significant budget investments were part of his government's commitment to the national agreement on Closing the Gap, First Nations empowerment and supporting its cultures and wellbeing.

"We continue to invest in a range of initiatives to make tangible improvements to the lives of Aboriginal people across WA," he said.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Tony Buti said the budget reflected a whole-of-government approach to First Nations issues.

"We continue our commitment (with this budget) to working in partnership with Aboriginal Western Australians," Mr Buti.

Other First Nations investments were focused on improving social and economic outcomes, including $5.4m to continue psychiatric services in the East Kimberley that support the well-being of First Nations youth, and $5.8m for an additional 10 mental health workers to help First Nations children and families access and engage with infant, child and adolescent mental health services.

The 2023-24 budget surplus prediction of $3.3 billion is the WA government's sixth in a row, with the major funding allocations including:

- $1.3 billion to help improve the lives of people living with disability

- $346 million to protect vulnerable children, families and individuals

- $47 million to strengthen response and recovery from natural disasters

- $440 million to fight crime and enhance community safety

- $24.3 million to continue supporting programs for at-risk young people

The budget includes an extra $11.7m to continue the Operation Regional Shield program, which sends extra police into regions to combat issues such as youth crime.

An additional $55m has also been allocated to boost the government's efforts to divert children away from the criminal justice system, on top of more than $100m in youth detention funding it previously announced.

Recent floods and other issues have disrupted work on an on-Country facility in the Kimberley, while Corrective Services minister Bill Johnston said repairing damage from Wednesday's Banksia Hill riot will slow down other improvements planned there, as mental health advocates called for renewed focus on the welfare and rehabilitation of children in detention.

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