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Welcome Budget measures for Indigenous health on cancer, mental health, but more needed for justice, families

Introduction by Croakey: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and community groups have welcomed a number of significant measures in the Federal Budget, particularly a $238 million cancer package which the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) said showed the Government “is listening”.

The Gayaa Dhuwi (Proud Spirit) mental health peak body also welcomed the Budget announcement of $586.9 million to improving social and emotional wellbeing, mental health and suicide prevention services.

Chairperson Professor Helen Milroy said the organisation hoped to work closely with government partners “to ensure this funding leads to better services and supports, and better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and Communities”.

However other groups were more disappointed, including SNAICC (see our earlier Budget response article) which said the Budget was a missed opportunity to deliver funding that supports its commitments to improve life outcomes and safety for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families.

SNAICC CEO Catherine Liddle said the organisation was disappointed not to see Budget-backed efforts to reduce the numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care, saying government action plans were “just words on paper” unless they were backed up by funding.

Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney told the Wiyi Yani U Thangani Summit after the Budget that it would “make a difference to the lives of all Australians”. (see her full speech)

Speaking at the Canberra summit, which brought together more than 800 First Nations women from across Australia on the lands of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, she highlighted a number of initiatives responding to the immediate needs of women and their families:

  • expanding the eligibility for the Parenting Payment to single parents, the majority of whom are women, with a youngest dependent child aged under 14 years of age
  • increasing the maximum payment rate of Commonwealth Rent Assistance by 15 percent for all recipients, with single women making up the majority of recipients
  • increasing support for people receiving working age payments, including JobSeeker.

Burney said the Government was also supporting women’s economic equality and helping to close the gender pay gap by backing a 15 percent increase to the minimum wages for aged care workers, over 85% of which are women.

She said the Budget also built on the Government’s record $1.7 billion investment to end violence against women and children in October 2022, and includes $589.3 million in further investment in the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children to bring the total funding for the National Plan to $2.29 billion.

That funding included $262.6 million to support the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Action Plan to address violence against First Nations women and children, she said.

Burney said the Budget also contained significant investments that will help deliver a better future for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, and highlighted:

  • $424 million for closing the gap priorities
  • $20 million to support regional voices
  • the first phase of the $250 million dollar landmark package for a Better Safer Future for Central Australia.

The Close the Gap Campaign also highlighted a range of welcome measures on health and education of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Independent Victorian Senator Lidia Thorpe, a DjabWurrung Gunnai Gunditjmara woman, was highly critical of the Budget, tweeting that it was “poor in delivering justice”.

She told Treasurer Jim Chalmers:

“The cries of despair you hear are from the hundreds of thousands of First Nations people who now know that their hardships will increase, their incarceration will increase and their suffering will increase.”

“The word justice receives only six mentions in this budget and indeed it is a budget poor in delivering justice,” she said. “This budget fails in delivering First Nations justice, social justice, environmental justice, what you call criminal justice, justice for refugees and housing justice.”

Below are Budget responses from NACCHO, Australian Indigenous Doctors Association (AIDA) and Gayaa Dhuwi. We will continue to update this post with further responses from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups and leaders.

See also this earlier article on concerns about lack of funding for Aboriginal legal services which has seen the suspension of some services in Queensland.


Cancer measures show Government is listening

National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO)

NACCHO said the Budget contains shows welcome measures to help close the gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

“This Budget shows that the Government is listening. It is full of important health measures that will help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the country,” said NACCHO chair Donnella Mills.

“You would have to say that the Government has been bold. Be it in the improvements to Medicare, the cheaper access to pharmaceuticals, the courageous plan to stamp out vaping, or the mental health funding for the referendum on the Voice. All these measures will help,” she said.

NACCHO was particularly pleased to see the $238 million announced to help close the cancer gap.

“Cancer is the number one killer of our people,” she said, noting that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are 1.4 times more likely to die from cancer than other Australians. Cancer outcomes, while improving for other Australians, have been worsening for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

NACCHO acting CEO, Dr Dawn Casey, said: “When we told the Government that the cancer gap was widening and that we needed a national strategy to address this, they listened and supported our proposal. More importantly, they worked with us to co-design a plan.

NACCHO said that, in 2019, the potentially avoidable mortality rate from cancer for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was over three times the rate for other Australians: 323 and 98 per 100,000 respectively.

While mortality rates have been declining for other Australians for at least two decades, there has been an uptrend in cancer mortality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The situation is far worse in regional, remote and very remote areas.

“In a year in which we are moving towards a referendum on a Voice, this Budget measure shows what happens when you listen to Aboriginal people and how genuine partnerships can be formed with governments in which we co-design solutions,” Mills said.

“Nobody knows better than local people what local solutions should be. And it is great to see a government that is prepared to listen.”

‘Of course, there are areas we still need to progress,” NACCHO said.

“For example, the health funding gap ($4.4 billion per year or about $5,000 per Aboriginal person) needs to close. And NACCHO is concerned that palliative care, related to cancer and other health issues, remains unfunded in the ACCHO sector,” it said.

“But today, we want to acknowledge the ambitious cancer package and the positive outcomes that it will undoubtedly deliver for our people. The Albanese Government has listened to us, and we look forward to working with them on the cancer package.”

See the full statement.


More Indigenous doctors supported for specialty training

Australian Indigenous Doctors Association

Watch the video


Much needed commitment on mental health

Gayaa Dhuwi (Proud Spirit)

Gayaa Dhuwi welcomed the Budget announcement of $586.9 million committed to improving social emotional wellbeing, mental health and suicide prevention services across Australia.

“We are glad to see the government investing in and better resourcing much needed mental health and suicide prevention support services,” it said in a statement.

“As the national peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social and emotional wellbeing, mental health, and suicide prevention, we hope to work closely with our government partners to ensure this funding leads to better services and supports, and better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and Communities” said Chairperson Helen Milroy.

The funding is allocated to supporting people with severe mental illness not in the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), children and young people, people with eating disorders, people bereaved by suicide, people and communities impacted by disasters, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, including refugees and migrants who have experienced torture and trauma and First Nations people in the lead up to, during and following the referendum to enshrine an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice in the Constitution.

Gayaa Dhuwi said the Budget includes total new investments of $27.9 billion through Department of Health and Aged Care including $6.1 billion for Strengthening Medicare, $818.5 million for First Nations heath, $1.1 billion for health prevention and protection, $737 million for smoking and vaping cessation, $586.9 million on mental health and $11.3 billion for aged care workforce pay rises.

Gayaa Dhuwi works across the Australian mental health system including both the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Organisation Sector and public health system to improve integration and delivery of culturally appropriate social emotional wellbeing, mental health and suicide prevention services.


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