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Reaction to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander justice, health, disability funding

Croakey readers can download the Department of Health Budget Briefing Pack here.

This post wraps reaction to the Federal Budget on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, justice and disability issues, with comments from Change the Record, NATSILS, National Family Violence Prevention and Legal Services, First Peoples Disability Services,  SNAICC, Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association, the Coalition of Peaks, the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, the Lowitja Institute, and Labor Shadow Ministers Linda Burney, Warren Snowdon, and Senator Patrick Dodson. It also includes reaction via Twitter.


Fails to commit to closing the gap

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander justice organisations have condemned the 2021-22 Budget as “failing to live up to the Government’s talk of ‘closing the gap’”, with the Change the Record coalition saying it “instead entrenches more of the same”.

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS) also said they had been “excluded” from the Federal Budget Lock-Up, “along with many other Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisations and legal sector peaks”.

Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) Chief Executive Alison Verhoeven also criticised the Budget for providing “only a minior increase in expenditure” for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health programs, “which is disappointing given the significant disparities in health outcomes experienced”.

In a joint statement, the Change the Record alliance slammed:

  • Inadequate funding to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal and family violence prevention services.
  • Failure to invest in real measures to address the crisis of Black deaths in custody.
  • Failure to extend the Disability Royal Commission and address the huge barriers First Nations peoples with disability face when seeking support.
  • Failure to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families have access to the support and services we need.

Change the Record Co-Chair Cheryl Axleby: 

“It is shameful that after seven deaths of our people in less than two months there has been no plan from the Commonwealth Government to address the crisis of Black deaths in custody.

There is no funding in the Budget to address the mass-incarceration of First Nations peoples by establishing a National Justice Reinvestment Body (despite this being a key recommendation) and no funding to support states and territories to Raise the Age to keep primary school aged children out of police and prison cells.

This is not a budget for the future, this is a Budget that entrenches the inequalities and injustice of the past.”

NATSILS Chair Priscilla Atkins: 

“Given the alarming rates of over-incarceration and Aboriginal deaths in custody, it is more important than ever for (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services) ATSILS to be properly resourced and accessible across Australia. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services are already suffering from a demand we cannot meet due to substantial delays and understaffing.

More funding and job-creation for ATSILS means that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can access culturally safe legal support when and where they need it, which supports our communities and reduces the over-incarceration of our people.”

Change the Record Co-Chair and Chair of the National Family Violence Prevention and Legal Services Antoinette Braybrook: 

“We are facing a national crisis of family violence against First nations women, but today the Federal Government has again failed to meet this crisis with the funding we need to keep Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women safe. We have been clear, to provide the crucial front-line services our women need, our 14 family violence legal prevention services require an additional investment of at least $28 million per year. The 2021 Budget delivers less than a quarter of that vitally needed funding, and contains no dedicated funding for our National Family Violence Prevention and Legal Services Forum, denying First Nations women a voice shaping the policy decisions that affect our lives.”

First Peoples Disability Network CEO Damian Griffis: 

The First Peoples Disability Network will be looking closely at tonight’s Budget to see dedicated funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability.

We won’t see change until governments make significant investments in the wellbeing of our community. We have been calling for an urgent extension to the Disability Royal Commission to ensure our peoples’ experiences are heard, and we are disappointed not to see confirmation of that tonight.

We need real funding commitments to make the National Disability Strategy and the National Disability Employment Strategy a reality that actually deliver economic equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability.

SNAICC CEO Catherine Liddle: 

“The Budget includes important new measures for children and families, including increased investment in early education and care and to prevent family violence.

But, much more is needed to achieve the ambitious targets for our children in the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.

The Government must invest more in quality early education and care, scrap the ‘activity test’ and remove barriers to ensure access to 30 hours of free or heavily subsidised care for our children each week.

In line with the National Agreement, funding must go to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled early childhood and family support services that are best placed to provide quality and culturally safe services for our families.”


Lack of investment to address national crisis

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (NATSILS)

In a separate statement, NATSILS said it is concerned that no additional funding for legal assistance services will set back Close the Gap efforts and “further see our people disproportionately over-represented in the criminal legal system”.

NATSILS chair Priscilla Atkins said the organisation was disappointed at the lack of investment to address the national crisis that has seen seven Black deaths in custody this year alone, bringing the total number of lives lost to over 475 since the Royal Commission into Aborignal Deaths in Custody 30 years ago.

“The lack of resourcing and funding for the ATSILS has severe implications for the many coronial inquests they are involved with, as well the many which, most unfortunately, will arise in the future. This is having a devastating effect for our communities and families left behind,” she said.

Atkins said that, given the alarming rates of over-incarceration and Aboriginal deaths in custody, it is more important than ever for ATSILS to be properly resourced and accessible across Australia, but they are already “suffering from a demand we cannot meet due to substantial delays and understaffing”.

“More funding and job-creation for ATSILS means that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can access culturally safe legal support when and where they need it, which supports our communities and reduces the over-incarceration of our people,” she said.

NATSILS welcomed the creation of a new National Justice Policy Partnership, but noted that funding to enable this Partnership was not announced in the Budget.

“We also note disappointment at being excluded from the Federal Budget Lock-Up, along with many other Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisations and legal sector peaks,” it said.


Positive start but where is promised Closing the Gap investment?

Coalition of Peaks

Significant Budget measures announced by the Commonwealth Government provide a foundation for investing in the National Agreement on Closing the Gap. As expected, detailed funding relating to Closing the Gap was not announced in the Budget last night, so the full scope of funding commitments remains to be seen.

“I’m pleased to see the funding laid out in this Budget contains promising investments in crucial areas that affect our people,” said Patricia Turner AM, Lead Convener of the Coalition of Peaks.

“We are encouraged to see significant funding in areas of aged care, Indigenous skills and jobs, mental health and women’s safety; but this is very much a ‘wait and see’ budget as the majority of funding directed towards Closing the Gap won’t be announced until later in the year,” she said.

The Federal Government will announce more specific funding on Closing the Gap after Cabinet considers the Commonwealth’s Jurisdictional Implementation Plan mid-year.

“Our main concern with every Commonwealth Budget is how the funding will trickle down and benefit our people on the ground. Too often, our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations, which are responsible for delivering many of the services in our communities, have been left with inadequate funding to service our people. My hope is that our community-controlled organisations are not just left with the crumbs from the Budget table.”

“Given the massive new investments seen in this Budget, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a legitimate expectation that there will be a significant boost in funding in all areas of Closing the Gap — including implementation of the Priority Reforms in the National Agreement that we believe will accelerate the closing of gaps,” Ms Turner said.

“We look forward to an announcement of funding in the Closing the Gap measures to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in the Justice Policy Partnership in particular and all policy and place-based partnerships to be established under the National Agreement”.

“It is also vital that meaningful proportions of the new funding initiatives in the Budget for the broader population that are critical for closing the gaps, such as in childcare and preschool, are allocated to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, particularly community-controlled organisations”.

“This is a commitment made by the Commonwealth in the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, but it is still uncertain and risky whether our community-controlled sector will receive the funding it needs to deliver much better services to our people,” Ms Turner said.

Finally, the Government’s new investment into our Family Violence Prevention Legal Services to address the severe problem of family violence is welcomed but more funding is needed to keep our women and children safe.

2021-2022 Federal Budget Highlights

Improving health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

The Government is investing more than $700 million in this Budget to improve health and ageing outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This includes better mental health services including culturally appropriate after care and 24/7 crisis support, strengthened primary health care for Indigenous Australians and improved access to quality aged care services.

Safety for women and children

Funding of $507 million over 4 years from 21-22 for initiatives to reduce and support victims of Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence (FDSV) against women and children (transitional strategy ahead of a new National Plan) including:

  • $26 million over 4 years to better support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children who have experienced or experiencing family violence (At least $17 mil of this to go to Family Violence Prevention Legal Services).
  • Funding of $80.6 million over 5 years for improved data collection and research capability on FDSV.
  • $31.6 million over 5 years from 21-22 for a dedicated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander survey on safety and violence.

Strengthening remote communities

The Government is providing $99.3 million over four years for face-to-face remote servicing. This will provide people in remote Australia with access to payments and government services. The Budget contains a $10 million investment to support Indigenous organisations to improve their access to off-grid solar power systems, stockyards, greenhouses, and water security equipment.

Improving food security

The Government is investing $5 million to improve food security in remote Indigenous communities.

Aged Care

Total of $17.7 billion whole of government response to the Royal Commission over the forward estimates including $630.2 million over 5 years from 2020-21 to improve access to quality aged care services for consumers in regional, rural, and remote areas including those with Indigenous backgrounds and special needs groups.

The Government will expand the Indigenous workforce by recruiting staff with aged care skills and qualifications to provide face to face support assisting First Nations people to better navigate and access aged care services.

Cashless Debit Card (CDC)

The Government will provide funding to support the continuation of the CDC on an ongoing basis including for a Jobs Fund to create job opportunities in sites, long term date collection and evaluation and operating CDC and income management concurrently in the NT and Cape York.

COVID 19 Response Package (Health)

The Government will provide $879 million for 2 years from 2020-21 to continue the response including $11.2 million to continue to support regional and remote Indigenous communities.

Indigenous Skills and Job Advancement

The Government will provide $243 million over 5 years from 2020-21 to improve economic, social and education outcomes including:

  • $128 million over 3 years for a new Indigenous Skills and Employment Program which will replace existing programs.
  • $63.5 mil over 4 years from 20-21 to support an additional 2700 places in Indigenous Girls Academies.
  • $36 million over 4 years from 20-21 to supplement funding for Native Title Prescribed Body Corporates to support recent reforms to the Native Title Act.

Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Innovation and Growth Funding Package

The Government will provide $28.1 million over 5 years from 2020-21 (and $6 mil ongoing) to deliver the Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Action Plan, to provide extra funding for the Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Program and to support Indigenous Arts centres and fairs.

Mental Health

The Government will provide $2 billion over 4 years from 2021-22 for the National Health and Suicide Prevention Plan including a new national agreement and funding includes:

  • $79 million over 4 years from 21-22 to implement initiatives under the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy providing crisis and support services.
  • $58.8 million over 2 years to fund initiatives to attract, upskill and re-distribute mental health professionals and increase the number of Aboriginal mental health workers.

National strategy to Prevent and respond to Child Sexual Abuse

The Government will provide $146 million over 4 years from 2021-22 including:

  • Enhanced support to victims and culturally appropriate approaches for Indigenous people.

New Remote Jobs Program

The Government will provide $111 million over 5 years from 2020-21 to provide quality servicing to Community Development Program (CDP) participants who have lost their jobs because of COVID and develop a new Remote Jobs Program pilot in selected regions.

The new program will replace CDP and be co-designed with Indigenous communities and as part of the measure, the government will also pause certain mutual obligation requirements for CDP job seekers while the new program is being developed.

Ngurra Cultural Precinct – National Resting Place

The Government will provide $4.7 million to fund the development of a detailed business case for establishment of this facility which will include a resting place for repatriated ancestral remains.

Rheumatic Fever and Improving trachoma control (Closing the Gap)

The Government will provide $31.1 million over 4 years from 2021-22 to extend its agreements with the NT, Qld, WA, and SA for detection, monitoring and management of these diseases.

Schools and Youth

$16.6 million in 2020-21 to assist boarding providers with a high proportion of Indigenous students to remain financially sustainable during the COVID recovery.


Plenty of good news – and  plenty of questions

National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation

The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) welcomes the Budget initiatives targeting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

These include funding for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, point-of-care testing, rheumatic fever strategy, bowel cancer screening, workplace training packages for health professionals in rural and remote areas, changes to the Midwife Professional Indemnity Scheme and changes to the Practice Incentives Program (Indigenous Health Incentive).

These all seem to be very positive announcements. Also pleasing is the focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the substantial aged care and mental health packages.

While these announcements are most welcome, there needs to be more clarity concerning implementation. It is important that Aboriginal community-controlled organisations are closely involved in the new initiatives to ensure success.

In Cairns this morning, Donnella Mills, the NACCHO Chair, said, “These Budget measures are very welcome, but we will need to work through the detail before we can be sure that what is proposed will work.

“It is pleasing to see that the NACCHO members are referred to in the Budget Papers in relation to a new role in the aged care sector and other areas. Certainly, the measures announced in the Budget won’t work unless Aboriginal people and organisations are fully involved in the design and delivery.”

The pandemic has proved the success of the model. The network of Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations in combatting COVID-19 shows what happens when local people are empowered to take local action.

Ms Mills said, “We have shown the world what can be done to keep First Nations peoples safe during a global pandemic. In the USA, the Navajo had the highest death rate of any ethnic population. In Australia, not one Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person has died.”

NACCHO welcomes the aged care package. The identification of $630m to improve aged care access largely for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is a significant investment (about 3.6 per cent of the overall package). However, more will need to follow for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to receive their fair share of aged care (estimated at 7 per cent on population and eligibility).

Ms Mills said, “All Australians welcome the overdue investment in aged care. We all want our elders to be loved and cared for with dignity and respect. But Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders would like to see the specific details about how the measures will be tailored to our people and our communities and what role our services can play in all of this. We are keen to work with governments to ensure that the new funding is effectively invested. Governments need to start talking to us now, so that these good intentions deliver solid results on the ground for our elders.”

NACCHO also welcomes the increased mental health funding, particularly in suicide prevention. The critical factor for success for the programs for Aboriginal people is if the delivery is through Aboriginal community-controlled organisations, who are trusted by their clients. NACCHO members deliver culturally safe, services in communities dealing with extreme social and economic disadvantage, compounded by intergenerational trauma.

As the auspicing member of the Coalition of Peaks, NACCHO will also closely monitor the promise in the Budget that a genuine Closing the Gap package will be held back until the PM tables the Commonwealth implementation plan in mid-2021. Again, the early signs are positive, but NACCHO will need to see the detail before it can be confident that the measures will succeed.


Some welcome measures but more investment is needed

The Lowitja Institute

The Lowitja Institute has welcomed several important spending measures in the 2021-22 Federal Budget but has called for more work and commitment to support comprehensive Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-driven solutions across much-needed areas.

Lowitja Institute CEO Dr Janine Mohamed said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and organisations had wanted to see significant investment in the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, although it is hoped that spending will be announced in the Implementation Plans due to be released mid-year.

“The Budget could have been a significant and important opportunity to comprehensively invest in historical truth-telling as called for through the Uluru Statement from the Heart,” Dr Mohamed said.

Lowitja Institute welcomed several important measures, particularly a focus on building the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander aged care workforce, supporting COVID-19 responses by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations, and important funding for suicide prevention.

Dr Mohamed said the $10 million five-year NHMRC grant allocated to the National First Nations Research Network was a significant initiative. The network is a newly formed cohort of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers, led by four experienced First Nations Australian leaders including Pat Anderson AO, Chair of Lowitja Institute.

“The National First Nations Research Network will build on Lowitja Institute’s outstanding legacy work in creating pathways to build workforce capabilities for the sustained health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. This grant provides an opportunity for future funding and government policy to directly support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lead investigators,” she said.

However, Lowitja Institute shares the concerns of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander justice organisations at the Federal Government’s missed opportunity to support the national crisis of Indigenous over-incarceration and deaths in custody.

“This Budget could have been a landmark document that reflected the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic response, in that supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations to lead will bring about much better outcomes,” Dr Mohamed said.

“Specifically, we need to see a targeted investment in research led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers and organisations and a prioritisation of our workforce across all areas, including prioritising STEM scholarships for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

We will not be able to deliver the outcomes required to close the gap without supporting the leadership of community-led Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander initiatives.”


Joint Statement by Labor MPs

Linda Burney, Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians; Warren Snowdon, Shadow Assistant Minister for Indigenous Australians; Senator Patrick Dodson, Shadow Assistant Minister for Reconciliation and for Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians

In an extraordinary omission, no new funding for Closing the Gap has been included in the Morrison Government’s budget.

The Prime Minister described Closing the Gap as “the ultimate test of our efforts”.

As the Federal Budget is the nation’s primary financial document, so it is just perplexing that funding for Closing the Gap would be omitted.

The Government cannot use the refresh of the targets as a pretext for a non-commitment on funding.

The Government has a track record of not delivering.

Four of the seven now expired targets were not met.

The Prime Minister said of Closing the Gap that his government was “making that commitment real”.

Australians are right to ask – just what is this government’s commitment to Closing the Gap?

And why has it been omitted from the nation’s primary financial document?

If we want to see real progress on this critical national effort, we need to see it backed by a genuine commitment and adequate funding from this government.


Via Twitter


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