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Issue #1687      June 3, 2015

Budget 2015-16 – Indigenous Affairs

Pushing disempowerment

While no major cuts to Indigenous Affairs were announced in last month’s Federal Budget, peak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander bodies say Indigenous organisations are still reeling from cuts in the previous Budget.

National Congress co-chair Kirstie Parker speaks at a press conference at Parliament house Canberra after the 2015 Budget announcements.

The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples called on the Abbott government to “lift its game” in the way it engages with Indigenous organisations and communities and to place greater value on community-led solutions.

Congress co-chairs Kirstie Parker and Les Malezer said funding cuts and ongoing uncertainty stemming from last year’s Budget continue to “wreak havoc” on Indigenous communities and organisations.

“Twelve months on from the announcement of $534 million in cuts across Indigenous Affairs over five years, and unveiling of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS), the government has struggled to prosecute its case for change and there’s little cause for optimism at this stage,” they said.

“Heavy price”

“Our communities and organisations continue to pay a heavy price for the past 12 months of funding confusion, backflips and reversals, and ongoing delays. Many remain in limbo; the Indigenous Affairs funding environment remains a trauma zone,” Ms Parker said.

“Skewed funding models and shorter-term funding in many key areas, including legal services, family violence prevention and child and family supports, and a failure to ensure funding keeps pace with rising costs will handicap organisations already struggling to make effective use of scant resources.

“Notwithstanding recent welcome 11th-hour agreements about funding for some within our sphere, the process bas been unnecessarily traumatic, and not the approach of a government willing or able to engage in a meaningful way with our peoples.”

Mr Malezer said one of the most “debilitating and toxic” features of the government’s approach had been its dogged determination to shut down advocacy by peak Indigenous organisations.

“In most cases, our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak bodies have been discouraged and, in some cases, explicitly prohibited through funding conditions from undertaking the vital advocacy on behalf of Aboriginal and Torres Strait people,” he said.

“This holds key organisations to ransom and will inhibit the ability to effect much-needed change and reform. This also applies to Congress – regarded internationally as the central mechanism for national engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples – which had funds committed to its operations pulled by the government soon after its election.

“Uncertainty”

“Nothing in the Budget signals a shift away from the upheaval and uncertainty of the past 12 months. Is this the way a government who cares about the most vulnerable goes about their business?”

Under the Budget, Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion announced that the new Employment Parity Initiative would support some of Australia’s biggest companies to get “20,000 more First Australians into private sector jobs by 2020”.

Under the initiative, financial assistance will be given to “top 200” companies for job placements of Indigenous people for 26 weeks. Ms Parker and Mr Malezer said the employer apparently receives the bulk amount of funding at the end of the placement period and it was unclear how many permanent jobs would be created under the scheme.

“On the face of it, it appears that millions of dollars will be paid to large employers with little or no accountability for outcomes,” they said.

Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) chairperson Sharron Williams said the childcare package in the Budget punishes those children who need support most.

“This package excludes vulnerable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children by mainstreaming Indigenous services and cutting childcare access for families that are struggling,” she said.

“These children are the ones that stand to gain the most from early childhood service supports. Unless we invest in their education, intergenerational cycles of disadvantage will continue.”

The activity test in the childcare package limits access to any childcare subsidy to 12 hours a week, where both parents don’t meet work, training or study requirements, or no hours, where one parent doesn’t work sufficient hours.

“Disadvantage”

“We know that the reasons many of our families aren’t working are linked to intergenerational poverty, disadvantage and disempowerment,” Ms Williams said.

“Excluding these families from childcare will only compound these issues and do little to get Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families into work. It will undermine efforts to prepare children for school.

“The decision to make all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander childcare services operate on mainstream funding from July 2017 will also reverse improvements in access to early learning services for our most vulnerable children.”

The Budget also contained a commitment to implement a revised Tackling Indigenous Smoking Program and the reinstatement of funding for Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention Legal Services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services that were cut in last year’s Budget.

Koori Mail

Next article – Editorial – Iron ore, “free” markets and the US alliance

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