Budget a mixed bag for reconciliation
This budget poses some serious challenges for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and for the process of national reconciliation.
We acknowledge Australia’s tight fiscal environment and the need to establish sustainable spending programs. But the need for reconciliation and closing the gap has not lessened and the risk is that the extensive cuts to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and programs in this budget will threaten the momentum towards these national priorities and result in greater need and spending in the future.
While the budget provides an investment of $4.8 billion to Indigenous programs, we strongly believe that the $543 million in savings arising from the consolidation of programs must be reinvested in addressing the needs of the most vulnerable First Australians as highlighted in the recent Commission of Audit report.
While we agree that consolidation can deliver greater efficiency and effectiveness any consolidation must be informed by evidence and a proper evaluation of existing programs.
We join many in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community in acknowledging that some programs are not delivering the results we all strive for and believe that vigorous and transparent program logics and evaluation frameworks are essential to break this cycle.
The time for evidence-based decision making and policy development is long overdue.
Programs which are designed and controlled by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have proved to be effective and we repeat the advice given to successive Australian Governments that the voices of First Peoples must be central in decision making and they must be empowered to develop their own solutions, in collaboration with the Government.
In early April, Reconciliation Australia wrote to the Prime Minister nominating health, employment, education and criminal justice as critical to reconciliation and urged the Government to maintain investment in these areas.
We are deeply concerned at the $165 million cut from the Indigenous health budget and wonder what programs will need to be cut to make these savings. What current services to Australia’s most disadvantaged people will end? How will the confidence, goodwill and participation in health systems that has been developing over the past few years be maintained and encouraged to flourish when program funding is cut?
We maintain our consistent support for a strong voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples—a role currently filled by the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples. To build partnerships between non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australians, ongoing Government support is necessary until a representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is well established and self-sustainable.
Cutting funds to long standing Indigenous peak bodies in a range of sectors, including the Torres Strait Regional Authority, will only diminish the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples further disempowering communities.
Coming on top of recent cuts to the peak national Indigenous legal body we note that there appears to be no mention of programs aimed at reducing incarceration rates which continue to remain very high.
In addition, while a focus on employment and education are key drivers to building a strong and prosperous economy we will seek more details of the Government’s plans in addressing the serious challenges facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Details of actual program cuts and consolidations are unclear and as these details become more apparent we look forward to speaking to the Government about the policy objectives and evidence for the budget decisions. It is our intention to continue to work constructively with Australian Governments to ensure the best possible outcomes for reconciliation and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The Government has consistently argued this is a budget to secure the future, however, we question whether the cuts to Indigenous Australia are likely to simply pass on the legacy of entrenched Indigenous disadvantage to future generations of Australians and deny Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people their rightful place in a reconciled, just and equitable Australia.