Indigenous Groups Question Budget Strategy
13 May 2015 at 11:51 am
The Federal Government says Indigenous Australians will be the beneficiaries of fresh Budget shakeups in housing and jobs, but Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives have criticised the Government’s approach.
The 2015 Federal Budget includes $4.9 billion for the Government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy, including the negotiation of a new Remote Indigenous Housing Strategy to replace the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing.
According to the Government, the change will provide greater flexibility to respond to the housing needs of remote Indigenous communities and ensure that Government investment improves the condition of housing in those communities.
“The Government is reforming Indigenous Affairs to get adults into work, children to school and make communities safer,” Budget papers said.
“Under new arrangements, housing works will drive Indigenous training and employment and the states and the Northern Territory will be required to deliver positive outcomes in property and tenancy management, home ownership and land tenure.”
“These reforms will put in place practical change on the ground, supported by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet regional network of staff who are located in the communities they serve and deliver on this Government’s priorities to provide better outcomes for First Australians.”
However, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples (‘Congress’) said priorities identified in the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) guidelines were too limited to address disadvantage in a holistic way.
“Additionally, the delivery of the IAS is devoid of decision-making procedures for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, and appropriate definition for community wellbeing,” the organisation said.
“The current policy of overcoming disadvantage is limited in its application and does not take account of significant disadvantage faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, e.g. rates of incarceration and detention.“
A jobs package in the Budget will also aim to boost Indigenous economic participation, with the Government promising that “clear and accountable targets will significantly increase the number of Indigenous employees in the Australian public sector”.
“The Government is focused on achieving positive results and a number of key reforms which will improve employment outcomes for First Australians are set to commence,” according to Budget papers.
“From 1 July 2015, reforms to remote employment services will start to transform the economic life of remote communities. The majority of remote job seekers will be active and engaged in meaningful work-like activities that contribute to communities and build real-life work skills and experience. A key aim will be to provide each individual with a real pathway to employment.”
“Through the Employment Parity Initiative, the largest companies in Australia will be supported to increase the number of Indigenous Australians in their workforce to levels which reflect the size of the Indigenous population, approximately three per cent. This initiative will see 20,000 more Indigenous job seekers into work by 2020.”
Congress said the package was too focused on subsidies for business.
“A major portion of the Budget for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples is delivered to the private sector as jobs providers and trainers. However, the huge subsidies to major businesses are not providing real jobs and have not been successful in avoiding sustained high unemployment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples,” Congress said.
“Grants should not be available to subsidise temporary employment in industries. The employment programs should be linked to job creation through effective recruitment procedures and skills training provided whilst in permanent employment.”
Congress said the almost half a billion dollars worth of cuts from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs in the last Budget (2014-15) could still not be accounted for.
“The there is no evidence that significant savings were made and at the same time a number of community-based organisations were rejected in their applications under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS), on the basis that there were insufficient funds available.
“The cuts made in the last Budget should be restored until evidence of savings in the delivery of programs is available.”
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights advocacy organisation ANTaR said the Budget “failed the test of addressing the uncertainty, upheaval and cuts in Indigenous Affairs from the past 12 months.”
National Director Andrew Meehan said that last year’s Budget cut of $534 million to Indigenous Affairs, followed by an open competitive tendering process as part of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS), had left Indigenous Affairs in disarray.
“This last year has been one of real anxiety for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and communities , and the Budget missed the opportunity to put that right,” he said.
The Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Shayne Neumann, said the “unfairness” of last year’s Budget continued, given “massive” cuts gutting Indigenous programs and frontline services.
“The Budget confirms that more than $145 million will be cut from Indigenous programs and services in 2015-16, including $46 million from Indigenous health.
“This Budget provides no relief for the hundreds of Indigenous organisations still reeling from the massive cuts delivered through the Government’s disastrous Indigenous Advancement Strategy in the last Budget.
“This year’s Budget rips $95 million from the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing, in spite of serious overcrowding.
“We still don’t know where the cuts will fall, with many services facing an uncertain future.”
Congress said Indigenous engagement with the entire Budget process remained a concern.
“Since the demise of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have little or no capacity to monitor the Budget announcements, or to assess or innovate and improve as part of the Budget cycle.
“Expenditure in the Budget cycle on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples is difficult to gauge, as related Budget information is dispersed throughout portfolios and difficult to overview, including comparisons to previous reports on expenditures. This complexity effectively prevents transparency and accountability and generates misinformation and controversy.”
Andrew Meehan agreed that it was time to elevate the importance of Indigenous Affairs in putting together the Budget.
“Across almost every social and economic measure, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the most disadvantaged and are far more likely to experience poverty than other Australians,” he said.
“A Budget that doesn’t put addressing this front and centre is not a fair budget. Nor does it demonstrate that Indigenous Affairs is at the heart of this government, as the Prime Minister has previously proclaimed.”
Download Budget Papers 2015 HERE