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Issue #1641      June 4, 2014

Budget 2014-15

Groups left angry, upset

Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey’s first Budget has been slammed by Indigenous, health, welfare and children’s groups as being disproportionately harsh towards those who can least afford it. National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples co-chair Kirstie Parker said the Budget was causing considerable anxiety for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“One of the most disturbing targets of this Budget are our young people,” says Cassandra Goldie.

“Our people are amongst the sickest, poorest and most marginalised Australians, so the pain of some measures will be felt especially hard by us,” she said. “These include the introduction of GP co-payments and raising of the pension age, coupled with a cut of more than half a billion dollars to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs over the next five years.

“Yet another major overhaul of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs, no long-term funding certainty for our health and legal services or clarity around measures to Close the Gap, and undermining of Congress as the only national independent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representative body.”

The Budget includes a new “Indigenous Advancement Strategy”, which consolidates more than 150 Indigenous programs into five streams: jobs, land and economy; children and schooling; safety and wellbeing; Culture and capability; and remote Australia strategies.

It cuts $9.5 million from Indigenous language programs and includes no funding for Congress (which was promised $15 million by the former Labor government).

On the positive side of the ledger, the Budget allocates $4.8 billion towards Indigenous programs, including $18 million for the continuation of the Remote School Attendance Strategy, $13 million for the Clontarf Foundation Academy to provide an additional 3,000 places for students to participate in the Sporting Chance program, and $54 million for new police infrastructure in remote communities.

Concerns have been raised about effects on Indigenous people of some of the changes to health and welfare, including a new $7 charge to see a doctor (for the first 10 visits) and harsh restrictions on people aged under 30 receiving welfare benefits.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion defended the Budget, telling the Koori Mail the new structure would provide more flexibility between programs and be less burdened by excessive red tape.

“It starts off from the position of why fix what ain’t broke,” he said. “But there are a lot of programs that the Aboriginal community doesn’t think work and that organisations tell us are not working.

“I’ve been writing letters to 1,300 service providers, who have some 4,000 contracts – it’s just a goanna’s guts of bureaucracy, and we’ve just got to be able to streamline that.”

The Budget also raises the pension age to 70 – above the average life expectancy of Indigenous men (69) and only just below that of Indigenous women – by 2035.

“Look, that’s a point,” Senator Scullion said. “It’s very difficult to take into consideration all the age demographics of people from different backgrounds.

“It’s certainly a vexed issue. Let’s just hope by 2035 that there are an awful lot more Aboriginal people living a lot longer.”

Australian Council of Social Service chief executive Cassandra Goldie said she was deeply concerned that those who will carry the greatest burden from spending cuts are those who can least afford it.

“The Budget divides rather than mends,” she said. “It entrenches divisions between those with decent incomes, housing and health care and those without them. It undermines the fabric of our social safety net with severe cuts to health, disability support, income support, community services and housing programs.

“The real pain of this Budget – crushing and permanent – will be felt by people on low incomes, young people, single parents, those with illness or disability, and those struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

“One of the most disturbing targets of this Budget are our young people.”

Budget at a glance

  • 150 Indigenous programs consolidated into five streams – jobs, land and economy; children and schooling; safety and wellbeing; Culture and capability; and remote Australia strategies
  • National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples loses $15 million previously promised by Labor
  • $9.5 million cut from Indigenous languages programs
  • $18 million for the continuation of the Remote School Attendance Strategy, which is targeting 74 schools in remote communities
  • $13 million for the Clontarf Foundation Academy to provide an additional 3,000 places for students to participate in the Sporting Chance program
  • $54 million for new police infrastructure to improve policing in remote communities

Koori Mail

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