Improving outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people requires a reform of governance and accountabilities — new ways of working — to ensure that our expenditure is targeted, effective and accountable.
The key elements of this approach include:
- a new partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people — working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people rather than imposing solutions on them (see 'A new partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people' above);
- a new partnership with other governments — framed around collaborative rather than coercive working relationships;
- highly collaborative working relationships between ministers and between agencies within the Australian Government;
- a commitment to transparency, accountability and an improvement in the quality of engagement by government with Indigenous people, especially in remote areas; and
- an enhanced focus on improving the performance of mainstream programs and services in meeting Indigenous needs.
Given that delivery of basic services is the responsibility of the States and Territories, partnership with this level of government is critical to the success of our strategies.
COAG is the key forum through which reforms will be advanced.
COAG has adopted the Australian Government's targets, and agreed on a new model of cooperation to meet our 'closing the gap' commitments. A COAG Working Group on Indigenous Reform will progress work to reach our targets.
The Government is also working to ensure that local government meets its obligation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, especially in the Northern Territory which is bringing in major local government reforms from 1 July 2008.
The Australian Government has to continue breaking down its own silos, achieving high-level coordination and a common purpose around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policies and programs.
We are leading from the top. An Indigenous Affairs Committee of Cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister, is setting directions. The Committee is assisted by the Secretaries' Group on Indigenous Affairs which ensures coherent direction across government agencies in policy development and program implementation.
From 2009‑10, the Single Indigenous Budget process will determine strategic investment, directed by the Committee and focusing on the 'building blocks' endorsed by COAG. All new investment will be targeted at measures to close the gap.
The Government will be accountable for outcomes for Indigenous Australians, hence our commitment to measurable targets and milestones and to regular reporting.
On the first working day of each parliamentary year the Prime Minister will report to Parliament on progress on our specific targets.
The necessary corollary is transparent monitoring to measure progress across government. Through the COAG Working Group on Indigenous Reform we will be progressing arrangements for independent national monitoring and reporting of progress against agreed targets.
On 20 March 2008 the Prime Minister announced the establishment of a new National Indigenous Health Equality Council to assist in the development and monitoring of targets relating to life expectancy and child mortality.
These arrangements will complement, and not duplicate, other accountability arrangements including the Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage reporting framework, program performance reporting, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework, and new arrangements being established to monitor performance through Specific Purpose Payments. They will complement the framework being developed by Commonwealth and State Treasurers to report on overall expenditure on Indigenous services funded from mainstream and Indigenous‑specific sources.
Building the evidence base — closing the evidence gap
The Government's commitment to evidence-based policy is supported in this Budget with funding of $1.7 million over two years for two initiatives:
- the expansion of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) — to be conducted (for the third time) by the Australian Bureau of Statistics later in 2008 — so that it can obtain more detailed information about the situation of Indigenous children; and
- the establishment of a national clearinghouse on best practice and successful Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs. The clearinghouse will provide a single point for gathering and disseminating reliable information to underpin policy development in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs.
In urban and regional locations, the emphasis will be on improving the performance of mainstream programs, making them more responsive and accessible to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. If we are to close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage across the country and meet our targets, mainstream services must perform better for Indigenous Australians.
Improved outcomes for disadvantaged and other vulnerable groups are being built into the reforms of Specific Purpose Payments. These reforms will occur through the new frameworks for Australian-State funding agreements with an emphasis on delivering improved outcomes for disadvantaged and other vulnerable groups.
A key aspect of reforms to Australian-State funding agreements will be to clarify roles and responsibilities, reduce duplication and waste and enhance accountability to the community. Agreed objectives and outcomes for each of the new agreements will replace input controls in current agreements. The new agreements will provide greater flexibility for jurisdictions to allocate resources to areas where they will produce the best outcomes for the community. However, this flexibility will be accompanied by enhanced reporting arrangements on progress towards meeting the objectives and outcomes.
A concerted effort across government to identify and remove barriers to access to mainstream services is also underway. This will improve engagement with and outcomes for Indigenous people, including through ensuring that Indigenous-specific and mainstream services in urban and regional centres are complementary and together deliver the best possible mix of services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The onus is on all levels of government to do better in the delivery of mainstream services, including greater efforts to reduce bureaucratic red tape, increase the flexibility of funding, and develop more cost-effective means of service provision.
Improved outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are being included in the terms of reference of key COAG working groups.
In March 2008 COAG agreed on a series of specific actions across health, education, affordable housing and water supply that will begin to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. They will provide at least 48,000 dental services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over four years under the new Australian Dental Health Program, and target the needs of Indigenous Australians through the Transition Care initiative, the elective surgery waiting list reduction plan and the Place to Call Home program for homeless people.
These initiatives demonstrate that we are leveraging programs to ensure that Indigenous Australians have effective access to universal services.
In the Education, Employment and Workplace Relations portfolio alone, a range of mainstream measures in this Budget will have a significant impact on closing the gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people:
- the Computers in Schools program will contribute to the Government's strategy to lift retention rates;
- Trade Training Centres in Schools will prioritise supporting secondary school communities with Indigenous students;
- continued Indigenous participation in vocational education and training will be encouraged and monitored under the plan for 450,000 additional training places. The Job Network and Disability Employment Network will be monitored in relation to their ability to support Indigenous Australians in accessing pre‑employment training;
- barriers to addressing quality early childhood education for Indigenous families, particularly in remote areas, will be addressed; and
- the national curriculum will provide a world class curriculum for Indigenous students.
In January the Government announced the development of a Homelessness White Paper, which will include a comprehensive national action plan for reducing homelessness over the next 10 years. A homelessness Green Paper will be released in May 2008 for public consultation prior to the White Paper being finalised and delivered in September 2008.
The issue of homelessness is of particular concern to the Indigenous population, as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are 10 times more likely to access homelessness services and close to one third of all people with unmet requests for supported accommodation in 2005‑06 were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Indigenous Australians are 13 times more likely to be imprisoned and therefore at a higher risk of experiencing homelessness. Upon release, ex-prisoners tend to lack accommodation and employment options, which inhibits their ability to obtain secure long-term housing and reconnect with their families, friends and community. Furthermore, Indigenous households experience higher levels of housing stress, as some 80 per cent of Indigenous households are in the lowest 40 per cent of household incomes.
Our work on homelessness across the Australian community is another example of a major mainstream activity that will have significant benefits for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and where there will be a particular focus on Indigenous needs.
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