Reconciliation Australia has described the Federal Budget as “a disappointing missed opportunity to present a cohesive national narrative around closing the gap in social outcomes for First Nations people and addressing the unfinished business of reconciliation.”
Chief Executive, Karen Mundine, said the Prime Minister’s recent Closing the Gap report outlined the urgent need for further investment.
“Governmental support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services has not met the level of need of First Nations’ peoples,” said Ms Mundine.
“The frustration felt by First Nations people and other Australians with the results of the Closing the Gap framework has been compounded with the lack of any national narrative in this Federal Budget,” she said.
Ms Mundine said this was illustrated by two significant funding decisions outlined in the Budget: an insufficient $15 million investment into suicide prevention, despite the ongoing crisis facing young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young peoples, and the decision to end the national stand-alone Indigenous Legal Assistance Program and roll funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services into mainstream legal aid programs.
“The high level of suicide in First Nations communities and the growing rates of incarceration of First Nations women, men and children are two clear indicators of the need for greater investment but instead this budget has fallen short.”
“We urge the Government to reconsider, and increase investments in these two critical areas.”
Ms Mundine also said there was little in the Budget to address the unfinished business of reconciliation and some of the foundational issues that require settlement.
“I also note this morning’s comments from the peak body representing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector decrying the lack of funding in the budget for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services and the Aboriginal community-controlled health sector.”
“The connection between the material and cultural wellbeing of First Nations people and our national progress towards reconciliation are clear; and we are concerned that the stalling of progress towards equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will not be remedied by this Budget,” said Ms Mundine.
“The lack of investment in services, further exacerbated by cuts to legal services, means that funding levels will not meet the clear needs of First Nations peoples.”
Ms Mundine said concerns about the budget were intensified by the optimism generated by last week’s signing of a partnership agreement between the Government and a coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak organisations (Coalition of Peaks) to progress the Closing the Gap framework.
“Sadly, this optimism has not been supported by the Budget with its lesson that ambitions for a surplus trump the needs of Australia’s First Nations peoples.”
Ms Mundine said Australia is at a critical juncture in the reconciliation journey with constitutional reform and agreement-making stalled in parliament notwithstanding strong public support.
“Despite our disappointment, Reconciliation Australia hopes for greater bipartisan support for truth-telling initiatives, constitutional reform and meeting the goals of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as expressed in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
“These hopes are buoyed by the strong support for such initiatives shown by the Australian public,” Ms Mundine said.
“The results of our most recent Australian Reconciliation Barometer survey found that 95 per cent of Australians believe that it is important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to have a say in matters that affect them; and 80 per cent who believe it is important to undertake formal truth-telling processes.
“The imminent election provides an opportunity for Government and Opposition to clearly spell out their respective visions for how the nation can improve the lives of First Nations people and bring us closer to a just, equitable and reconciled Australia,” Ms Mundine said.