As the frenzy of Budget week dies down, NIT has put together a wrap of the Indigenous funding—or lack of—highlighted in the 2020-21 Federal Budget.
The Commonwealth said they would continue their commitment to the $5.4 billion Indigenous Advancement Strategy, with no additional funding for the Strategy announced in this particular budget.
Most Indigenous-related agency branches fall under the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio, and most received a boost in funding.
Indigenous Business Australia received the largest funding increase, receiving $273.1 million for 2020-21 up from $243.1 million in 2019-20.
Aboriginal Hostels Limited funding was bumped up to $58.6 million for 2020-21 from $55.2 million in 2019-20, and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) also received a funding increase, with $33.1 million allocated for 2020-21 up from $28.4 million in 2019-20.
Both the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation (ILSC) and the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) saw a decrease in funding, with the ILSC down to $82.5 million from $120.9 million, and the NIAA down to $3.1 billion from $3.5 billion.
Cashless Debit Card
The Cashless Debit Card (CDC) funding is set to continue on an ongoing basis in its existing locations of Ceduna, SA, the Goldfields and East Kimberley regions of WA, and the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay regions of Queensland.
The Commonwealth will also “provide support” to transition people on Income Management in the Northern Territory and Cape York, Queensland, to the CDC. This funding is unspecified as negotiations with commercial providers are ongoing.
Currently, the CDC freezes 80 per cent of income support payments and allows this money to be spent at approved outlets only.
Many are against the CDC, calling it a discriminatory measure that continues the cycle of poverty. Indigenous groups in the Territory have already opposed the expansion, urging MPs to block the Bill that will see the card enter the Territory’s remote communities.
Closing the Gap
Rehashing the $46.5 million already announced for the new Closing the Gap agreement, the Commonwealth will also provide an additional $10.1 million over four years with an ongoing $2.6 million per year.
While it appears the Commonwealth has funnelled even more money into Closing the Gap, this extra funding is purely for administrative costs of annual progress reports, three-yearly reviews and improved progress measurement.
Part of the COVID-19 Response Package will see $4 million to continue the Remote Point of Care Testing Program in remote and regional Indigenous communities.
The Government will also provide $19.8 million over two years from 2019-20 to support three Commonwealth wholly-owned Indigenous subsidiaries that were severely impacted by COVID-19:
- National Centre of Indigenous Excellence
- Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia
- Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park.
This will ensure business viability, manage financial impacts and secure jobs in the wake of COVID-19.
The Commonwealth is also in negotiations with the Northern Territory, South Australia, Western Australia, and Queensland about providing funding in 2020-21 to support costs of COVID-19 travel restrictions to remote communities. Amounts have not been settled on as yet, but costs will be met from existing Indigenous Advancement Strategy resources.
The Government is also providing $1 billion in 2020-21 to safeguard the country’s research sector against pandemic impacts. This will support investment into research infrastructure, secure research jobs and strengthen industry-university partnerships.
From this $1 billion, $8.9 million over three years till go to increasing the capabilities of Indigenous, Humanities, Social Sciences and Arts e-research platforms.
A major education investment was an additional $39.8 million to non-Indigenous organisation the Clontarf Foundation, a sport for development program dedicated to improving Indigenous boys’ school attendance and completion.
The Commonwealth said this funding will “enable 12,500 students to participate in the program by 2023 and help them complete Year 12 and find employment”.
The investment comes despite new research from the University of Queensland showing the questionable success of such sport for development programs.
The investment also comes at a cost to Indigenous girls and Aboriginal-led education programs and organisations.
The near $40 million comes as part of a $146.3 million package of initiatives to be invested over five years, which will improve the education outcomes of disadvantaged students in particular.
Money has also been funnelled into regional education support, with $17.1 million over four years to ensure remote and regional Indigenous students can access Commonwealth supported places at higher education providers.
The Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) will also receive $7.1 million over four years, and $1.8 million yearly ongoing, to provide further support to Indigenous students, and remote and regional students. This will include supporting more regional projects that encourage students to pursue higher education.
A new fund with money from existing programs will also be lunched from January 1, 2021: the Indigenous Regional and Low SES Attainment Fund. It’s said to encourage universities to improve the attainment of regional, Indigenous and low socioeconomic status students.
The education aspect of the Northern Territory Remote Aboriginal investment has $59.5 million over two years earmarked to improve schooling and increase access to job opportunities and interpreter services.
In terms of early childhood education, the Commonwealth has committed $767.8 million over four years to support increased participation for Indigenous and disadvantaged children as well as ensuring consistent quality and availability across the country.
Healthy waterways were a focus for the government in terms of Indigenous environmental funding.
The Treasurer committed $4.2 million over two years to fund Indigenous River Rangers to increase First Nations access to water for economic and social purposes, as well as to ensure Indigenous participation in the delivery of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
The Federal Government also announced $28.3 million over four years from 2020-21 (and $7.8 million ongoing) to support healthier oceans and enhance the maintenance of the country’s marine park network.
This is set to include increased science and monitoring activities, expanded Indigenous engagement in park management and more proactive enforcement of marine park rules. It’s uncertain how much of this funding will go to Indigenous engagement in park management.
While money was pushed into more immediate waterway management, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land and Sea Future Fund Special Account had less money set aside—$2 million down from $3.9 million.
To better support families, the Commonwealth announced $40.1 million over three years, starting in 2021-22, to continue additional services of the Children and Parenting Support Services on an ongoing basis.
This will include specialised early intervention and prevention to families and at-risk children with complex needs, including Indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) families.
As part of the NT Remote Aboriginal investment, $70.3 million over two years has been set aside for a community safety implementation plan.
National Partnership payments to support state health services remain ongoing, with the following allocated to Indigenous health:
- $16.7 million for 2020-21
- $8.5 million for 2021-22
- $1.1 million for 2022-23
- $1.1 million for 2023-24.
While the National Partnership payment for health in 2020-21 totals $557.3 million, only $16.7 million of that is earmarked for Indigenous health.
Of that $16.7 million:
- $4.5 million over four years goes to addressing blood-borne viruses and sexually transmitted infections in the Torres Strait
- $5.3 million in 2020-21 for trachoma control services
- $14.4 million over two years as part of the health component of the NT Remote Aboriginal investment
- $3.3 million in 2020-21 for the rheumatic fever strategy.
The investment into sexual health in the Torres Strait will also assist in the delivery of a “culturally appropriate sexual health education campaign” and the funding for trachoma control activities will go to “jurisdictions where trachoma … is endemic”.
NT funding will include support for “integrated oral and hearing health services to children in remote communities” and the rheumatic fever strategy will fund programs that “register and control acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease in Indigenous children”.
A year which has seen cultural heritage thrust to the front of the public’s mind, the Federal Government has committed $10.1 million over four years to AIATSIS to assist in the return of cultural heritage.
The cost of this measure, however, will be met from existing NIAA resources.
The Budget outlined AIATSIS had identified over 100,000 cultural heritage items overseas, with the funding to support repatriation, on Country handover ceremonies, and a publicly accessible database of items still held overseas.
While the Federal Government noted in the budget they would be “supporting significant reform in the provision of housing for Indigenous Australians in remote communities”, only one state and one territory were allocated remote housing-specific funding: Queensland and the Northern Territory.
Queensland will receive $100 million for the year 2020-21 as part of a previous agreement with the State Government to assist with remote housing costs.
The Territory was a little luckier, with $432.2 million across three years, including $7.3 million over two years as part of the NT Remote Aboriginal investment to support a “sustainable, professional and accredited Indigenous interpreter service”.
Despite a severe national shortage of social housing, the Commonwealth also chose to invest $150 million over three years into the Indigenous Home Ownership Program.
The funding is said to support new homes in regional Australia and allow flexible loans with concessional interest to improve home ownership nationally—including in remote communities.
The Commonwealth said the program will help with housing accessibility and Closing the Gap targets, as well as generating positive flow-on effects for regional business.
The budget didn’t have much Indigenous-specific infrastructure funding, but did see investments into cultural and economic infrastructure.
To assist with the $1.5 billion Perth City Deal to give the WA capital a facelift, $2 million will support preliminary design development for the Noongar Indigenous Cultural Centre.
To support the potential of new assets, $3.5 million will be allocated over two years to support states in offering advice on establishing “new farm forestry assets, private native forestry and Indigenous forestry areas’ suitability for sustainable harvesting of forest products”.
While there are no specific mentions of extra funding to reduce Indigenous overrepresentation in the justice system, the Government noted its continued commitment to the Indigenous Advancement Strategy which is said to fund and deliver programs in areas including “reducing rates of incarceration”.
Another year another budget over. While this one had to navigate new funding constraints thanks to a global pandemic, there were a number of shortfalls in the Indigenous funding space—particularly in terms of justice.
Despite the new National Agreement on Closing the Gap aiming to reduce incarceration rates, no additional funding was allocated in this year’s budget to cater to better First Nations justice outcomes.
Social and remote housing were also let down, with minimal new funding allocated to support the increasing number of homeless nationally.
Education was well-resourced, despite the choice to resource a non-Indigenous organisation for Indigenous boys’ education outcomes.
Funding for Indigenous health saw investment into important health issues that adversely affect Indigenous communities, such as rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease, ear and eye health, and sexual health.
The Cashless Debit Card remains the most contested aspect of the Federal Budget, with many against its existence let alone its expansion.
By Hannah Cross
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