Reconciliation Australia acknowledges the Federal Government’s continued investment in services and programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. However, we are concerned that a crucial opportunity to reset the Closing the Gap strategy will be lost, given the absence of substantial needs-based measures to realise the strategy in the 2018-19 budget.
The budget includes spending on measures that will have a modest impact on areas relevant to improving life outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
However, the budget papers delivered this evening do not outline a coherent and comprehensive funding plan to deliver the Federal Government’s overhaul of the strategy, due in October 2018.
In February, the Close the Gap campaign’s 10-year review said the Closing the Gap strategy had been “effectively abandoned” after $534 million in funding was cut from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs in 2014-15.
Despite a decade of consistent advice, key recommendations to address the increasing disparity between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians are yet to be funded.
For example, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan Implementation Plan has not been funded. Also, the complementary National Strategic Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ Mental Health and Social and Emotional Wellbeing 2017-2023 needs an implementation plan and funding as appropriate.
Additionally, there is no funding support to tackle the increasing rate of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, despite recommendations from the Australian Law Reform Commission and the Change the Record campaign.
Reconciliation Australia CEO Karen Mundine said closing the gap was an agreed national priority, yet the budget failed to allocate the funds necessary to realise this commitment.
“Closing the gap is a national priority. Now is the time to invest in outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – to set this strategy up to make real progress,” she said.
“To get this right, we need a commitment to ongoing funding that is commensurate with the substantially greater and more complex needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and is allocated in a way that allows Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to design and develop our own solutions. Yet that’s not what’s been delivered.”
In addition to needs-based funding, Ms Mundine said an effective approach to closing the gap requires partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to develop comprehensive, preventative, long-term approaches to address the issues affecting their communities.
“We welcome the $33.4 million commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health professional organisations to grow the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workforce, as recommended by the Close the Gap campaign,” she said.
“It’s promising that the government has previously indicated its intention to use a strengths-based approach in its Closing the Gap refresh, in order to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to make key decisions.”
“However, this intention can’t be realised unless it is backed up with a strong commitment to provide adequate ongoing funding.”