The weird ritual of federal budget day is over for another year. The journalists are out of the lock up and Josh Frydenberg, Scott Morrison and the Coalition are patting themselves on the back.

In the cooling off period, let’s see how Indigenous Australians fared in the Coalition’s 2019-20 Federal Budget.

 

Health

Indigenous health was the winner for Indigenous funding in the budget, with expenses being budgeted for a range of areas at $962 million, $40 million more than the previous financial year.

The Lowitja Institute was allocated $10 million in funding to be handed out over three years for continued research into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

A new investment of $160 million was announced for ‘Indigenous Health Futures’ – part of the government’s $5 billion ten-year investment plan for health and medical research, the ‘Medical Research Future Fund.’

Several payment measures for initiatives to improve Indigenous health were also announced:

  • Funding for Blood-borne viruses and STIs in the Torres Strait stayed the same as last financial year at $1.1 million.
  • Money for improving trachoma control services increased from $5.1 million to $5.2 million this financial year.
  • The health component of Northern Territory remote Aboriginal investment was increased from $6.4 million to $6.7 million.
  • The Rheumatic Fever Strategy decreased from $5.4 million to $3.2 million.

While it appears the Rheumatic Fever Strategy (RFS) has lost funding, Indigenous Health Minister Ken Wyatt said there has been no overall decrease in funding as unspent funding from 2017-18 was made available in 2018-19.

Minister Wyatt also said this funding is separate to new funding announced for Rheumatic Heart Disease research in late February.

“The ongoing RFS funding is in addition to the newly announced $35 million for the development of a vaccine to combat Rheumatic Heart Disease under the Medical Research Future Fund,” said Minister Wyatt.

Indigenous national partnership payments for state health services were decreased, with this year’s total payment allocated as $16.3 million, down from $18.1 million in the 2018-19 financial year.

This is predicted to drop as low as $7.4 million by the year 2021-22, meaning Indigenous health providers and services like Derbarl Yerrigan will struggle even more to get funding from state governments.

Despite alarming rates of Indigenous suicide, particularly in the Kimberley, the government has allocated just $5 million over a total four years to improve suicide prevention initiatives in Indigenous communities.

The budget report said these programs will be led by young, local Indigenous leaders to guarantee the support given is culturally competent and that the specific needs of each community are met.

This will be additional to the funding under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy.

The government has agreed to fund specialist disability services for people 65 years and over, and 50 years and over for Indigenous Australians.

However, this funding is subject to the roll out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in each state.

Funding will only be distributed under “individual bilateral agreements for the transition to a NDIS.”

On the NDIS—the Federal Government is facing criticism from Labor and groups within the disability sector, who say this year’s surplus is due to an NDIS underspend.

 

Education

Education was next best, with the government allocating $453.1 million over a period of two years to extend the ‘National Partnership in Universal Access to Early Childhood Education.’

Within this funding, $1.4 million is for workshopping and implementing strategies that will increase pre-school attendance rates among Indigenous and disadvantaged children.

While the government made an effort to better fund Indigenous education, the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) is unhappy with the amount allocated for early childhood education.

A statement from SNAICC said the “lacklustre” budget is unlikely to deliver the change needed for Indigenous children.

SNAICC Chair Muriel Bamblett said Indigenous children face barriers that are non-existent for other children.

“This budget shows the absence of a long-term strategy or investment in our children,” Ms Bamblett said.

SNAICC’s statement also said the budget secured no funding for vital early intervention and prevention services.

A refresher on the Close the Gap campaign was also allocated significant funding over a period of five years beginning in the financial year 2018-19.

The $276.5 million in funding will support Indigenous students to study and complete their study in order to close outcome gaps in education between non-Indigenous and Indigenous students.

There will be $200 million over four years from the year 2019-20 to fund extra scholarship placements as well as more mentoring support for Indigenous students.

The budget said these scholarships will support Indigenous students to access both education and mentoring opportunities and help to improve the overall rate of Indigenous students who finish secondary school.

 

Family

There was a large focus on addressing domestic violence against women and children in this year’s Federal Budget.

The Fourth Action Plan of 2019-22 was announced, outlining the $328 million allocated over four years that began in the year 2018-19.

Specific provisions were laid out for Indigenous Australians affected by violence with just over 10% of total funding being allocated to address their specific needs ($35 million).

This $35 million in funding is designed to give Indigenous women and children from remote areas more support. Practical intervention programs are also to be implemented from the funding for Indigenous Australians at risk of experiencing or committing family violence.

In a hierarchy shuffle, Indigenous childcare services will transfer from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to the Department of Education and Training.

 

Welfare

The Cashless Debit Card is set to be extended and expanded in the coming years, with the government providing $128.8 million in funding over four years.

The card will be further trialled in existing areas until June 30th2021 and its supporting technology will also be improved.

Exactly how the government will split this funding is undecided at this point, as negotiations with possible commercial providers are ongoing.

 

Tourism

Funding has been announced for Kakadu National Park, however a date as to when this funding will be made available is yet to be determined.

Up to $216.2 million has been allocated for securing jobs and tourism in Kakadu National Park.

The funding will be allocated in the following areas:

  • $51.2 million for tourism growth in Kakadu
  • $35 million for remediating contaminants in the area
  • up to $70 million for road improvements and tourist accessibility
  • up to $60 million to construct the Kakadu Visitor Centre in Jabiru.

This funding is said to support both economic and employment opportunities for Indigenous communities in the region.

Money from the Indigenous Advancement Strategy has been redirected for the Barkly Regional Deal. The project will receive $45.4 million of the redirected funds and aims to enhance social and economic development in the Barkly area.

 

Legal

The Indigenous Legal Assistance Program (ILAP), a vital service for Indigenous Australians, has been axed in the budget. This comes just days after an independent review into the ILAP recommended the program be retained as a standalone program.

This program funds all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS) and the Review found that in some remote circuits or bush courts, ATSILS are the sole legal service available to Indigenous Australians.

Dropping this program means Indigenous Australians will be losing a culturally competent legal program and the community-control of ATSILS’ strategic direction, priorities and cultural safety of legal services will be dramatically reduced.

Peak body National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS) “categorically rejected” the decision.

“We urge the Attorney-General to retain the Indigenous Legal Assistance Program. Self-determination and community-control is the only way that our legal services can be culturally safe and effective. We go above and beyond for our communities to get true justice,” said NATSILS Co-Chair Cheryl Axleby.

 

Housing

In the ‘National Partnership on Northern Territory Remote Aboriginal investment,’ $550 million over five years is being invested into remote communities to support important reforms in Indigenous housing.

The Northern Territory is of particular focus, with the government hoping to address issues of homelessness, poor housing conditions, housing shortages and overcrowding.

After a lengthy stalemate between the Federal and Northern Territory governments over the funding, the Federal government announced in the budget that the money will be released through this National Partnership Agreement.

Chief Minister of the Northern Territory Michael Gunner said the remote housing crisis of previous decades has led to long-term consequences across the Northern Territory.

“Urgently fixing remote housing is crucial to protecting our most valuable communities and securing a safe and happy future for all Territorians,” Mr Gunner said.

 

Arts

Indigenous Arts were not a high priority in this year’s budget, however $2.7 million of funding was allocated for a new grants program to be created for Indigenous musicians.

 

Summary

Overall, Indigenous Australians were not forgotten in this year’s budget.

The most disappointing result is the disbanding of the Indigenous Legal Assistance Program, a move that will deny Indigenous Australians culturally appropriate legal services.

There are also several questions around how some of the funding will enable culturally competent service delivery, measurable results, and real, long-lasting change.

By Hannah Cross