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Rolling coverage of the Federal Budget and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ health and wellbeing

This post includes Budget news for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities, and reactions from across the sector.

The Federal Government has highlighted new investments in remote jobs and housing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities, plus funding for suicide prevention and chronic health, as measures in the Budget to “accelerate progress to close the gap” in Indigenous health and wellbeing outcomes.

In a statement, Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney outlined the following:

Tackling housing overcrowding

  • Ten-year $4 billion joint investment between the Australian and NT Governments to support delivery of up to 270 houses each year, and deliver repairs and maintenance to existing housing.
  • $120 million over three years for housing improvements and essential infrastructure upgrades to NT Homelands.
  • A Partnership Agreement, to be established between the Australian and NT Governments, Aboriginal Housing NT, and the four NT Aboriginal Land Councils.
  • $1 million to Aboriginal Housing NT over two years, to support their role in the Partnership Agreement, and support development of a Community-Controlled Housing Model.

Health and wellbeing

  • $12.8 million in suicide prevention, including the Indigenous Youth Connection Culture program (Suicide Prevention) for 12 communities.
    $10 million to the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) to deliver targeted and culturally appropriate mental health supports.
  • $11.1 million over five years from 2023-24 to expand coverage of the Closing the Gap Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) Co-payment Program to all PBS medicines, broadening access to affordable PBS medicines for First Nations people living with, or at risk of, chronic disease.
  • $94.9 million over two years to support management of communicable disease control in First Nations communities.
  • $12.5 million over four years to NACCHO to facilitate community-led distribution of menstrual products in regional and remote First Nations communities where they are expensive and hard to access.

Jobs

  • $777 million Remote Jobs and Economic Development Program (replacing the CDC) is on track to start later this year: all about self-determination through economic opportunity and community development.

Education

$74.8 million over four years to develop a new National First Nations Education Policy, extend a number of First Nations education programs, and provide partnership funding to the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Corporation and SNAICC – National Voice for our Children.

  • $32.8 million over the 2025 school calendar year for the Clontarf Foundation to continue to school engagement programs for First Nations boys and young men.
  • $2.4 million over three years to implement the First Nations Teacher Strategy to increase the number of First Nations teachers in schools.

Justice

  • $76.2 million over five years to establish a new First Nations Prison to Employment Program.
  • $10.7 million to the Justice Policy Partnership, which will focus on reducing the rates of adult and youth incarceration and improving justice outcomes on the ground.
  • $15.4 million for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services and an additional $8.6 million to Family Violence Prevention Legal Services in 2024-25 to provide an urgent funding injection for legal assistance services, as part of the Attorney-General’s $44.1 million funding boost to the legal assistance sector.
  • $4.6 million in one year to ensure service continuity for the Custody Notification Service, while future design of the service is considered in collaboration with First Nations stakeholders.

Stronger families

  • $5.9 million over two years to establish of the National Commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Young People.
  • $11.7 million over two years to extend the First Nations Family Dispute Resolution Pilot.

Read the Minister’s statement here.

Read: National Indigenous Times report: 2024 Federal Budget: Indigenous economic empowerment gets $774m focus

Below are responses from the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council (QAIHC), Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory (AMSANT), Gayaa Dhuwi, Professor Pat Dudgeon, the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO), the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS), SNAICC; Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives (CATSINaM).


Some good news but the main challenge is closing the funding gap

NACCHO

The Commonwealth Budget contains some very welcome measures in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. But structural reform is what is really required and a longer-term commitment to close the funding gap is necessary if we want the health gap to improve.

In Cairns this morning, Donnella Mills, the Chair of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) said, ‘The prelude to this Budget has been dominated by the mainstream and economic concerns. We understand that the Government is concerned with cost-of-living pressures, affordable housing, and domestic violence. We support all efforts in this regard. But we also acknowledge that it contains some important measures that will assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people and bring valuable relief to our sector.’

NACCHO welcomes the $12.8m in suicide prevention, $10m for mental health support, $11.1m to expand coverage of the Closing the Gap Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, $94.9m to combat communicable diseases in our communities, and $12.5m to facilitate community-led distribution of menstrual products in regional and remote First Nations communities. These are all important announcements.

Donnella Mills said, ‘These provide a critical first step after the failed Referendum last year. The Government needs to get a positive dialogue happening in the wake of all the misinformation and hostility that we lived through. The best way of doing that is to invest in our communities and fund the responsibly costed package of proposals that NACCHO puts forward each year.’

‘Why should Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people expect to live lives 8-9 years less than other Australians?’ asked the acting CEO of NACCHO, Dr Dawn Casey.

In Canberra this morning, she said, ‘Despite all the myths you heard in the Referendum about wasted expenditure, the cold hard fact of the matter is that there is a health funding gap of $4.4 billion each year for our people. That equates to about $5,000 per Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person. The Commonwealth’s share of that gap is $2.6 billion. So, we have a simple challenge to work through with the Government: let’s agree on a plan to close the funding gap, if we are ever to close the health gap?.’

NACCHO is also looking forward to bunkering down behind the seminal National Agreement on Closing the Gap. The Productivity Commission’s report showed that most government agencies are fumbling in their efforts to implement it and seem not to understand the necessary structural reform that the Prime Minister and eight premiers and chief ministers signed up to in 2020. We see the Agreement as an important mechanism to help close the gap.

Donnella Mills said, ‘As we have been denied a Voice, it is up to NACCHO and our counterparts to advocate for our sectors. The main message we have for governments, at the moment, is to work with us in closing the funding gap and let’s continue to work together to get the National Agreement firing.’


Bitter disappointment: Commonwealth Budget compounds Voice failure

Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council

The Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council (QAIHC) is bitterly disappointed the Commonwealth Budget did not do more for the health and wellbeing of Indigenous people.

“This budget is a missed opportunity following the failed referendum and the continued underperformance of Close the Gap measures,” QAIHC Chairman Matthew Cooke said.

“The Budget should have provided a watershed moment for the Albanese Government. With a 9-billion-dollar budget surplus, the Government could have made real investments to deliver on the promise to Close the Gap by 2031, a promise which fades further away each day.

“Yes, the Commonwealth has made some investments in Indigenous health, particularly in very remote parts of Australia; but more must be done to improve the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“Our people live in our towns and cities, not just remote communities. Wherever they live, we must invest more in their health and wellbeing. We’ve got to ensure they don’t continue to experience the systemic racism so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face when attending mainstream health services.

“The Federal Budget delivered a $9.3 billion surplus. The Commonwealth must strengthen partnerships with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Community-Controlled Health Organisation (ACCHO) sector to drive better outcomes for our people.

“Let’s be clear, spending on 29 new urgent care clinics is not an investment in comprehensive primary health care, it’s more band aid medicine. They’ve created 29 more opportunities to cut a ribbon, but when will this government get serious about preventative health?

“The government should have made concrete investments to significantly increase funding through the Indigenous Australians’ Health Programme and respond to the findings of the recent Productivity Commission review on progress of Closing the Gap. We need more regional and local place-based investment. While real investment in social and emotional wellbeing is needed, the Government’s approach to investment contributes to the confetti shower of inadequate and piecemeal funding.

“Here in Queensland, it’s time to invest in building and strengthening our ACCHOs, and the structures that empower First Nations communities to provide local, culturally safe, health solutions.

“The ACCHO sector already provides primary health care to the majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Queensland. The sector must be properly funded and resourced.”

Mr Cooke said the Commonwealth needed to:

  1. Invest in health equity. In Queensland, this means committing substantial funding to ACCHOs to implement health equity strategies that address the health disparities faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  2. Invest in Closing the Gap. The Commonwealth must make genuine investments in community-controlled solutions to address the social and health challenges we continue to confront. Empower Indigenous communities to lead the way in shaping their own futures.
  3. Reform funding mechanisms to recognise the role of ACCHOs. ACCHOs currently receive most of their funding through fragmented grant funding arrangements and a flawed MBS system. Our people don’t benefit from the PBS in the way most other Australians do. The Commonwealth needs to reform the MBS, PBS and National Health Reform Agreement so ACCHOs are recognised and acknowledged as an integral part of our health system and new investments made to allow ACCHOs to play a greater role in health service delivery. New funding mechanisms will create opportunities for services to partner with ACCHOs to deliver health services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. They will also create opportunities to improve income through MBS and ensure First Nations people have much better access to prescription medicines.
  4. Act decisively for meaningful reform. The Commonwealth must act decisively to bring about meaningful reform, addressing the structural and systemic inequalities that persist. Meaningful reform is essent