In the Federal Budget, the PM has failed to “walk the talk” of his Closing the Gap speech; instead, the Budget is widely seen as extremely disappointing for the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Below are statements from key organisations, including:
VACCHO: Cuts bad news for health
Change the Record Coalition: Extreme disappointment at lack of action on justice concerns
National Congress: The pain continues for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
Oxfam Australia: Turnbull Government snubs Indigenous affairs
Indigenous Allied Health Australia: Equity not a priority in Budget
National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (NFVPLS): inaction on violence
VACCHO statement: Smokes and mirror budget fails to heal previous health funding cuts
From VACCHO’s perspective there are two related deficiencies in this year’s Federal Budget.
- The lack of funding to implement the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan
- Failure to reverse all the hidden cuts to Aboriginal Primary Health funding caused by the freezing of Medicare rebates and the establishment of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS).
Jill Gallagher AO, VACCHO CEO says “We’re not fooled, the end result of all this is that ongoing, unnecessary slashing of health funding has serious implications for Aboriginal peoples.”
VACCHO as a partner of the National Close the Gap Campaign supports the ask of Government to provide details on resourcing for the Implementation Plan for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013-2023.
There is no allocation of funds in the Budget Portfolio Statement for the Implementation Plan and yet long term, sustainable funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health is what is so desperately needed.
There is no sustainable support for Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services still reeling from $534 million cuts to funding due to the IAS and continued funding deficits resulting from freezes to Medicare rebates introduced in 2014.
For our Member organisations who have a proven track record of improved health outcomes, this limits service provision to their most vulnerable community members. However, $21.3 million has been allocated to trial “medical homes” funding packages for people with chronic and complex conditions.
“The truth is, the vicious budgetary measures of 2014 still remain. You can’t ‘cut’ your way to Closing the Gap” says Jill Gallagher AO.
There is no attempt in the current budget to repair damage caused by the IAS via funding cuts and the poorly targeted distribution of resources, despite severe criticism recently tabled by the Finance and Public Administration References Committee Inquiry.
VACCHO welcomes continued implementation on Palliative Care and National Blood Borne Virus strategies 2014-17 and the addition of new medications on the PBS including Hepatitis B and cancer drugs.
However, we want to see additional implementation measures and call on the Government to take action that:
- Allocates increased tobacco tax revenue to preventative health initiatives.
- Increases hospital investments which are reflective of the amounts cut in the 2014 budget with indexation.
- Expands the new dental scheme for adults and children beyond publicly funded dental services to increase access by vulnerable communities.
- Maintains accessibility of medications through the recommendations of the Medicare Review.
Prime Minister Turnbull has failed on his Close the Gap promise of “it is time for Governments to ‘do things with Aboriginal people, not do things to them’.
“We know all too well that you can’t have jobs and growth if you don’t have fundamental investment in health and education” says Jill Gallagher AO.
Change the Record statement: Federal Budget fails to prioritise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
The Change the Record (CTR) Coalition expressed concern at the 2016 Federal Budget’s overall lack of focus on the Indigenous sector and investment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
CTR Co-Chair Shane Duffy said: “We are extremely disappointed that the Turnbull Government’s Budget fails to prioritise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander justice issues, including the high rates of violence being experienced by Aboriginal women and children, and skyrocketing rates of incarceration of our peoples.”
A high number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prison suffer from a mental or cognitive disability, and so we welcome the Budget’s inclusion of $10.5m to provide more services for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
However, on the whole the 2016 Budget retains previous cuts to vital frontline services, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services. There has also been no additional funding provided to critically under-resourced organisations such as the Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention Legal Services and Aboriginal organisations in the early childhood, child and family support sectors. The peak Indigenous representative body, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, remains unfunded.
“If we are serious about changing the record of violence and imprisonment rates for our people, it is vitally important that the Government commits to long-term investment in Aboriginal community-controlled services and organisations. This includes law reform and advocacy peaks who are best placed to undertake rigorous policy development informed by evidence on the ground.”
“Earlier this year the Prime Minister stated that he wanted to work to enable Aboriginal communities to provide local solutions. Our communities stand ready to work with Government, but they need to be appropriately resourced to support the development of innovative and holistic programmes,” said Mr Duffy.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are currently 34 times more likely to be hospitalised for family violence related assault than non-Indigenous women, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men are more likely to go to jail than university. This is a national crisis, and tackling these issues should be front and centre of our nation’s budget priorities.
“The Federal Budget provides a roadmap of Government priorities, and we are deeply concerned that in this Budget Aboriginal justice issues appear to have been forgotten by the Turnbull Government,” said Mr Duffy.
National Congress statement: The pain continues
For Indigenous Australia the 2016 Budget has delivered more of the same. There are no surprises, the policy thinking, the budgetary levers and programs remain intact.
Co-Chair Mr Rod Little, “Once again the federal government has snubbed the national representative body for Australia’s first peoples and has not provided us with any financial assistance so we can effectively represent our people.”
National Congress still has concerns with the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) and the $500M in funding cuts rolled out in the 2014 Budget are still impacting on our people today. We encourage the government to work positively to limit the damage and devastation which resulted from the chaotic rollout of the IAS.
The continued failure to adequately fund Aboriginal Legal Service’s and Family Violence Prevention Legal Services especially when incarceration rates are escalating is particularly puzzling, as is the lack of any specific response the numbers of Indigenous children going into care.
National Congress applauds initiatives which focus on providing a hand up to Indigenous people, the employment programs being rolled out are commendable, as are the focus on children and safety, the announcements and projections if realised will greatly assist the many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have the opportunity to do so.
The government approach to welfare reform for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people needs innovation. The Try, Test and Learn Program announced in the budget as a new initiative, deserves merit. National Congress considers that this type of innovation needs to apply to the Indigenous Affairs arena. The program is the type of thinking that we need not a continuation of the punitive, coercive, palliative care approach currently in place.
The Close the Gap strategy is not working, the Northern territory Intervention is now nearing its tenth anniversary and is not working, and incarceration and child removal rates are escalating.
We must depart from the combative approach to Indigenous Affairs and create an environment based on respect and trust. We owe this to the many Indigenous people who continue to be unable to take up the opportunities that this country can provide.
The budget includes a specific allocation of $14.6m to the Recognition of Indigenous People in the Constitution which includes another $5M to the Recognise campaign. But while the government fails to recognise the representative voice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the National Congress, this initiative lacks substance. Without a relationship with Indigenous peoples Constitutional Recognition will remain problematic.
Recognition must be predicated on a respectful and harmonious relationship.
“We met Prime Minister Turnbull recently and offered our support to his government in engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, even though this government hasn’t recognised the National Congress in this Budget, the offer is still there so we can help stop the devastation that is occurring on a daily basis to our people,” Mr Little said.
Oxfam Australia statement: Turnbull Government snubs Indigenous affairs
Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Dr Helen Szoke said:
“The Turnbull Government has provided no new money to improve the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians faced with shorter life expectancy and dramatically higher incarceration rates.
“Despite the ongoing crisis in incarceration rates, child removal rates and the overall slow progress towards closing the gap in health and wellbeing outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the Turnbull Government has failed in its first opportunity to restore the cuts made by the Abbott Government in the 2014 Federal Budget to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs funding.
“Remarkably, the Treasurer failed to even mention Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs in his budget speech. It appears that the Prime Minister’s promise in his Closing the Gap speech in February of a closer relationship between government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak bodies and leaders remains a rhetorical flourish rather than a policy and resource commitment.
“While we welcome the previously announced $40 million to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies for cultural preservation and promotion over the next four years – there is little else.”
Other announced spending measures are within the previously announced budget parameters.
Dr Szoke said the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples remains unfunded and the cuts to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services remain.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people still represent a quarter of the prison population and are 10 times more likely to be removed from their families. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have the solutions but they need the funding to implement those solutions,” Dr Szoke said.
Indigenous Allied Health Australia statement: Equity not a priority in Budget
Indigenous Allied Health Australia (IAHA) asserts that a strong and visible commitment by governments to building a culturally safe and responsive health system that provides equitable access for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to allied health services is required in order to really make a difference.
This was not evident in the National Budget 2016-2017, where the focus was unapologetically on ensuring ‘Australia continues to successfully transition from the mining investment boom to a stronger, more diversified, new economy’.
IAHA welcomes the Government’s announcement of the Child and Adult Public Dental Scheme – which aims to provide public dental services to all children and adult concession card holders, as well as the Taking More Action to Prevent Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. The Government has promised the $10.5 million over four years from 2016-2017 to reduce the occurrence of the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), focusing on prevention of FASD in high risk, remote and rural communities. IAHA further welcomes the Government’s commitment to spending $2.9 billion in additional funding to state and territory’s public hospitals.
“Investing in schemes that aim to improve oral health and reduce the occurrence of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is positive, however the impact of these upon the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples must be not be ignored,” said IAHA Chief Executive Officer Ms Donna Murray. “Particular attention to the specific needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must be an essential component of the implementation of such schemes.”
The Government also announced $21.3 million will be allocated to the trial of the Health Care Homes model which was recommended by the Primary Health Care Advisory Group’s Report — Better Outcomes for People with Chronic and Complex Health Conditions.
“Given the proportionately high population of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with chronic conditions and complex care needs, the outcomes of trialling the Health Care Homes model will have implications for their long term care,” said Ms Murray.
“We encourage engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to increase participation and advocate a coordinated interdisciplinary approach to chronic disease management where allied health plays a critical role.”
The Government also announced the intent to increase efficiencies in the Health Flexible Funds, aimed over three years from 2017-2018. The Government plans to achieve this by reducing uncommitted funds and continuing the current pause in indexation of funds for a further two years, among other methods.
“IAHA agrees there is a need to increase efficiencies across the health system as a whole,” said Ms Murray. “However it is essential that these efficiencies are not achieved at the expense of valuable programs and initiatives that build an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workforce and contribute to achieving health equality more broadly.”
Although existing and new health initiatives stated in this years’ budget will indirectly benefit Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, it remains to be seen how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples will access these mainstream services, and how relevant they will be to the unique needs and experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (NFVPLS) statement: inaction on violence
Targeted action to address the specific needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victim/survivors of family violence is invisible in the Federal Budget.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are at the epicentre of the national family violence crisis, yet specific initiatives to confront this crisis and invest in services for safety are invisible in the Budget,” said Antoinette Braybrook, Convenor of the National FVPLS Forum.
“This is yet another missed opportunity for the Government to better resource Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (FVPLS) who provide legal services and supports to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victims/survivors of family violence, with more than 90% of our clients nationally being Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children.”
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised from family violence and 10 times more likely to die of violent assault than other women. The question must be asked why there is no targeted action to address this crisis.
The Budget includes $100 million over three years on initiatives to reduce violence against women and their children. This is inadequate to meet the needs of women fleeing violence for their safety. It is also silent on a specific allocation of funding on programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. Without targeted investment in services like FVPLSs the horrific disproportionate impact of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women will only get worse. The Budget also fails to reverse the cuts to Community Legal Centres and Aboriginal and Torrs Strait Islander Legal Services.
“Violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children is at epidemic levels. It will cost the nation $2.2 billion by 2021-22. Its moral cost – which sees lives lost and communities destroyed – is unquantifiable. Yet tragically a response to this violence is invisible in the Budget Papers.”
“FVPLSs provide essential services for safety of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victims/survivors of family violence and deliver early intervention prevention programs to break the vicious cycle of violence. Further investment is needed to build the capacity of existing services and address service gaps to ensure all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women can access these services for safety.”
“Budgets set out the priorities of Government. Ending the disproportionate impact of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women should have been front and centre of this Budget.”