Australian Government, 2009‑10 Budget

The Policy Challenge

The Prime Minister's February 2009 report to Parliament, Closing the Gap on Indigenous Disadvantage: The Challenge for Australia, outlined the evidence on which the Government's closing the gap commitments are based.

The Prime Minister's report described a population that is young and growing, and therefore facing different demographic challenges to other Australians. It is also a population facing unacceptable levels of disadvantage in living standards, education, health and employment. The continuing large disparity in life expectancy is the most telling statistic.

Indigenous disadvantage has many causes. It is, in part, a legacy of our nation's history, including the historical acts that prompted the National Apology in February 2008.

Entrenched disadvantage is also a product of failed policy. Our Indigenous reform agenda seeks to redress decades of underinvestment, buck-passing, confused responsibilities within our Federal system, and piecemeal and poorly targeted investments.

Chronic underfunding over many years has left remote Indigenous Australia, in particular, with little in the way of an economy, quality services or infrastructure.

Children born in remote communities over the last decade have the worst life prospects of any Australian children. They have a greater risk of being born with foetal alcohol syndrome. Many begin life with poor health due to poor maternal nutrition. They are likely to live in overcrowded housing, and have little education — no early childhood education, erratic schooling and little opportunity to finish secondary education. Limited skills make getting a job difficult. Female children are likely to become mothers at a young age, and children born to these mothers may have similar low life chances.

To turn this around we must restore the personal responsibility that is at the heart of family life and the foundation of strong communities. Jobs and economic development are fundamental to parents taking responsibility for their family's wellbeing and economic security and their children's health, safety and education. That is why this Budget delivers initiatives to enhance the capacity of Indigenous people to participate in the economy, as well as accessing the economic benefits of land-owning. Working together, we must harness a critical mass of support to overcome the complex strands of disadvantage.

A focus of all our strategies is on breaking down the social and economic isolation of Indigenous people, wherever they live, and tackling the inter-generational transfer of disadvantage.

At the same time we must respect and build on Indigenous cultures as a source of social strength and a platform for economic development. Indigenous people must be empowered to find and embrace their own solutions.

Council of Australian Governments — The Way Forward

The Australian Government is working with the States and Territories to remedy the long-term systemic failures that have marginalised Indigenous Australians.

Since the 2008‑09 Budget the Government has worked within COAG to lay the foundations for coordinated efforts to close the gap.

The COAG National Indigenous Reform Agreement, agreed in November 2008:

  • commits all jurisdictions to achieving the Closing the Gap targets;
  • defines responsibilities and promotes accountability among governments;
  • provides a roadmap for future action; and
  • commits significant funding through National Partnership Agreements to assist in meeting the targets.

The Australian Government is providing $3.6 billion in funding and the States and Territories are providing $1.0 billion over ten years to drive these fundamental reforms in remote housing, health, early childhood development, jobs and improvements in remote service delivery.

This represents an unprecedented level of funding, cooperation and commitment to long overdue change.

The five National Partnership Agreements established so far provide the context for many measures in this Budget.

A COAG meeting focused on closing the gap will be held later this year to progress the reform agenda.

In addition, significant investments in universal health, housing and education initiatives, also negotiated within the COAG framework, will flow through to Indigenous people, particularly those living in urban and regional areas. Ensuring increased funding to improve universal services for Indigenous Australians is integral to our strategy.

Improvements in data collection and analysis will be necessary at both a Commonwealth and State level to enable meaningful reporting against Closing the Gap targets. The Government is currently negotiating improved Indigenous data collection and collation at a Commonwealth and State level to support the implementation of a national performance reporting framework. This will enhance public accountability for funding under the new framework for federal financial arrangements agreed through COAG.

National Partnerships to Close the Gap

Five National Partnership Agreements on Indigenous issues were agreed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in 2008. All agreements incorporate detailed performance indicators and benchmarks, so that progress can be monitored and governments held accountable.

Remote Indigenous Housing

The Australian Government has secured a ground breaking agreement with the States and the Northern Territory which will enable desperately needed investment and reform in the supply and management of housing in remote Indigenous Australia. The additional Australian Government investment of $1.9 billion over ten years brings total funding for remote Indigenous housing to $5.5 billion over 10 years. This funding will enable up to 4,200 new houses to be built and around 4,800 to be repaired or upgraded. The new arrangements will require Indigenous houses to be properly managed and maintained by State and Territory housing authorities. Tenants will be required to sign up to and adhere to standard tenancy agreements. The Commonwealth has agreed with jurisdictions to undertake a national audit of municipal and essential services in relevant Indigenous communities in 2009. The audit will inform clearer roles and responsibilities and funding for services and ongoing maintenance, with new arrangements between the Commonwealth, the States and the Northern Territory to be in place from 1 July 2012.

Indigenous Australians living in urban and regional areas will benefit from a dramatic improvement in Australia's social housing stock funded through the Australian Government's $6.4 billion injection into Social Housing as part of our Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan. This is in addition to the $1.2 billion in new housing and homelessness services committed through COAG with the aim of halving homelessness in Australia over the next 12 years. This will enable the repair of around 47,000 houses, and construction of up to 20,000 new houses.

Indigenous Health Outcomes

The Commonwealth will contribute $805.5 million over four years to the COAG $1.6 billion National Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes. This major investment aims to prevent and better manage chronic disease by tackling risk factors; improving chronic disease management in primary care; improving follow-up care; and increasing the capacity of the primary care workforce to deliver effective health care to Indigenous Australians. Over four years, around half of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults will benefit from this package. More than 133,000 additional health checks and 400,000 additional chronic disease management services for Indigenous Australians with a chronic condition will be provided, and more than 54,000 Indigenous people with a chronic disease will also receive support to better manage their health through targeted self-management programs.

Indigenous Early Childhood Development

In July 2008 COAG agreed to an integrated policy framework as a basis for investment and reform by all governments in Indigenous early childhood development. The first vehicle for implementing this policy framework is the Indigenous Early Childhood Development National Partnership Agreement. The National Partnership was agreed at the October 2008 COAG meeting which committed $564.0 million over six years in joint funding of which the Australian Government contribution is $490.0 million. The Commonwealth and States and Territories are collaborating on the National Partnership, with jurisdictions taking the lead role in program implementation.

The National Partnership consists of three elements. Element one will establish a minimum of 35 Children and Family Centres across Australia in areas of high Indigenous population and disadvantage. Element two focuses on increasing access to antenatal care, pre-pregnancy, and teenage sexual and reproductive health programs by Indigenous young people. Element three aims to increase access to, and use of, maternal and child health services by Indigenous families.

Indigenous Economic Participation

The Australian Government is investing $172.7 million over five years and the States and Territories are providing $56.2 million to help up to 13,000 Indigenous Australians find and keep a job, strengthen government procurement policies to maximise Indigenous employment and expand Indigenous employment opportunities in the public sector. Around 2,000 jobs in government service delivery, previously subsidised by the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) program, will be fully funded.

Remote Service Delivery

The Australian Government and the States and Territories will invest $291.2 million over six years to better coordinate and harness the benefits of investment in early childhood, health and welfare services in remote communities. This funding, including a $187.7 million commitment from the Australian Government, will enable governments to establish coordinated service delivery mechanisms in priority locations across remote Australia.

Budget initiative: Closing the Gap Clearinghouse

Our new approach to Indigenous policy delivery also requires a robust evidence base to help measure progress and point the way to innovative solutions.

In April 2007 COAG agreed to establish a clearinghouse to provide a single national repository of reliable evidence (including best practice and success factors) on a broad range of topics related to improving Indigenous outcomes.

The Closing the Gap Clearinghouse will:

  • conduct systematic reviews of the research and evaluation evidence;
  • improve the coordination of research and identify priorities for future research and evaluation;
  • provide public online access to a centralised repository of quality information; and
  • provide policy makers and program managers with an evidence base for achieving the Closing the Gap targets.

The Clearinghouse is being jointly funded by the Australian, State and Territory governments at an estimated joint annual cost of $1.0 million. The 2008—09 Federal Budget provided $1.0 million in Australian Government funding over two years. Supplementary funding of $1.5 million is provided in this Budget for an additional three years.

Jobs and Economic Participation

A major commitment of new funding in this Budget will target economic development for Indigenous people. These measures are part of our ambitious commitment to substantially increase Indigenous people's involvement in Australia's economy, and halve the gap in employment outcomes within a decade.

Economic participation provides a route out of poverty and an important means of meeting the closing the gap employment target. Increasing economic inclusion is the basis for inter-generational wealth transfer and for reducing disproportionately high levels of welfare dependency.

Last year we consulted Indigenous people about the future of two key government programs supporting employment: the CDEP program and the Indigenous Employment Program (IEP). Reforms to both programs, announced on 19 December 2008 to commence on 1 July 2009, will provide better linkages to the new employment services system for all Australians, Job Services Australia, which also commences on 1 July 2009.

Central to these reforms is the conversion of former CDEP positions into jobs in government service delivery and greater private-sector involvement in generating Indigenous employment.

The COAG National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Economic Participation focuses on:

  • creating government employment through the conversion of CDEP positions with the Commonwealth supporting up to 1,280 jobs, to be in place by 1 July 2009, and the States providing support for 720 jobs;
  • strengthening current government procurement policies to maximise Indigenous employment. As major purchasers of goods and services, governments can require contractors to implement Indigenous training and employment programs within projects;
  • incorporating strategies to build Indigenous workforces in all the major COAG reforms. The Commonwealth, States and Territories are investing significantly in capital development, procurement and service delivery in areas such as infrastructure. This investment will be leveraged to drive Indigenous employment outcomes; and
  • expanding Indigenous employment opportunities in the public sector with the aim of increasing Indigenous employment to 2.6 per cent or more by 2015, reflecting Indigenous representation within the broader population.

Indigenous Economic Development Strategy

The Government will soon be releasing a public discussion paper outlining its approach to Indigenous economic development. The Indigenous Economic Development Strategy to be launched later in the year will incorporate feedback received on the discussion paper.

The Government recognises that the barriers to Indigenous economic participation and development have become entrenched over many years. Overcoming these barriers requires a focus on:

  • developing supportive regulatory and institutional arrangements;
  • building the economic base, particularly in remote Australia;
  • developing the capabilities of Indigenous people and communities to get jobs and establish businesses; and
  • creating sustainable opportunities through effective partnerships and genuine engagement.

Our discussion paper will seek input on the actions required in these four areas to overcome barriers and to support economic development.

Budget initiative: Reforms to the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) Program and the Indigenous Employment Program (IEP)

Reforms to CDEP and IEP are key to progressing the target of halving the employment gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a decade. These reforms complement changes to the universal employment services (Job Services Australia) which will provide Indigenous job seekers with more tailored assistance as well as training and work experience.

CDEP is being restructured with a strong focus on both work readiness and community development in remote areas with emerging and limited economies. CDEP will cease in non-remote areas with established economies.

Under the reformed CDEP program the work-readiness stream will give people access to life/foundation skills support, English literacy and numeracy training, basic work skills, mentoring, case management and mobility support as required. It will provide individual assistance for CDEP participants to prepare for and find long-term employment outside CDEP.

The community development stream will build the capacity of Indigenous communities and organisations. It will support projects that are identified as a priority by local people, are aligned with local job opportunities and expand the skills of participants. It will also provide support for community development workers and local engagement officers.

The Government will provide a net increase of $202.4 million to implement these reforms. Savings of $326.7 million over five years from the CDEP reforms will be redirected to fund the creation of more employment and training opportunities for Indigenous people.

$203.1 million over three years will be provided to ensure the sustainability of more than 1,600 jobs supporting the delivery of Australian Government services already created in the Northern Territory and 40 jobs in the four Cape York welfare-reform trial communities that were previously supported by CDEP. This is in addition to jobs being created under the Jobs Package agreed through the National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Economic Participation. This package is funding the creation of around 2,000 properly paid jobs in government service delivery that were previously supported by CDEP. Real jobs provide tangible benefits to Indigenous employees, including access to training and professional development and superannuation.

Four hundred new traineeships across government services sectors and 60 additional land and sea management positions in remote communities will be created as part of the new Indigenous remote workforce strategy, at a cost of $53.6 million over four years.

$190.6 million over five years will be provided for the reformed and expanded IEP. This program will allow government to work with Indigenous communities, organisations and individuals to deliver employment outcomes suited to local circumstances and priorities.

We will equip employees with the skills and knowledge that will support sustainable employment for Indigenous people, with a new focus on assistance to small and medium enterprises. IEP will prepare Indigenous Australians to take up employment opportunities and improve their skills, and will support Indigenous people to start and expand enterprises.

$21.6 million over four years will also be provided for the Workplace English Language Literacy program to support these reforms.

Another significant part of the CDEP/IEP reform package is the creation of a new network of 87 Indigenous Community Support Service providers, at a cost of $60.2 million over four years. The Community Support Service is being established in localities with significant Indigenous populations where CDEP has ceased. These include capital cities, major regional centres and some smaller regional communities.

The new providers will create links and make referrals to a range of mainstream or Indigenous-specific services, in areas such as welfare and social support, early childhood, education, training, employment, financial management, housing, health and legal services. They will also help people deal with issues including family violence and drug and alcohol abuse.

This initiative will enhance social inclusion and community cohesion and assist in closing the gap in access to services. Social inclusion is a basic prerequisite for economic participation.

Budget initiative: Business Action Agenda

A Business Action Agenda has been funded in this Budget recognising the key role of the private sector in creating jobs, investing in local economies, and promoting innovation and capability. The agenda will build on the work already being undertaken by the private sector to increase Indigenous economic participation by:

  • further engaging the corporate, not-for-profit and philanthropic sectors to take action in closing the gap; and
  • establishing a national advisory group to provide strategic advice to government on improving Indigenous economic participation.

The Business Action Agenda will receive funding of $3.0 million over four years. It acknowledges that closing the gap can only be achieved with the initiative and support of the wider Australian community.

Budget initiative: Australian Public Service employment

The Australian Public Service (APS) Indigenous Employment Strategy is being funded for a further three years at a cost of $6.0 million. The Commonwealth will continue to model best-practice employment conditions while promoting employment retention and career opportunities for Indigenous people.

This strategy supports the Australian Government's commitment under the National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Economic Participation to increase APS Indigenous employment from 2.1 per cent to 2.6 per cent or more, reflecting Indigenous representation within the broader population.

Budget initiative: Improvements to the native title system

The native title system has the potential to provide long-term and sustainable benefits for more Indigenous people, but has been hampered by a lack of resources and processes that are too rigid and legalistic.

The Budget provides additional funding to help realise the potential of native title in closing the gap on Indigenous disadvantage. This commitment is part of a wider strategy to make the system less adversarial, working through agreement-making rather than costly and protracted litigation. Agreements also help to forge positive and enduring relationships across the community. It includes $62.1 million over four years in additional funding for the operations of Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRB), the legal representatives of most claimant groups - $16.3 million by diversion of continued lapsing funding from other agencies in the native title system, and $45.8 million in new additional funding.

A further $4.3 million has been allocated to improve claims resolution. This includes initiatives to increase the quality and quantity of anthropologists working in the native title system, and to develop partnerships with State and Territory governments for new approaches to the settlement of claims through negotiated agreements.

The faster and more efficient resolution of native title claims will provide certainty to all stakeholders and remove barriers to investment and the building of infrastructure on Indigenous land.

The additional funding was recommended in a review of the native title system undertaken last year by the Attorney‑General's Department. The review estimated that without additional resources it would take more than 30 years to clear the existing backlog of native title claims.

The under-funding of NTRB has long been recognised as a major impediment to the resolution of claims, as noted by major mining company Rio Tinto in its submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Native Title.

The Government is also considering how to make the outcomes of native title agreements more lasting and comprehensive, providing benefits across the community.

Budget initiative: Indigenous Visual Arts

The Indigenous visual arts sector is a growing area with an annual turnover currently estimated at around $500 million a year.  Annual growth in the value of Indigenous art has been in the order of 40 to 50 per cent over the last decade.

Indigenous art centres are the focus of an industry providing what is, in many cases, the only commercial income generated by communities.  This income is often reinvested locally, enabling flexible community-based solutions to social and health problems.

The Budget provides $9.9 million over four years to increase operational funding for art centres and establish an Indigenous Australian Art Commercial Code of Conduct to guide ethical commerce in the sector.  This delivers on a key Government commitment following the report from the Senate Inquiry into the Indigenous visual arts sector, Indigenous art — Securing the future.

The art centres will be able to boost staffing and staff training and salaries, helping to address staff retention problems.  At least 30 professional development projects will be supported annually.  These will be tailored to local needs, providing business and governance skills as well as exchange, residency and mentoring opportunities.

The development of a Code of Conduct is an important step in helping industry to stamp out exploitation of Indigenous artists and to end unethical practices that affect both artists and art investors. A strong, ethical and sustainable Indigenous visual arts industry is an important driver of economic participation, particularly in remote Australia.

Budget initiative: Torres Strait Major Infrastructure Program

$29.0 million over three years is being provided for the fourth stage of the Torres Strait Major Infrastructure Program, which matches the Queensland Government's contribution. This program has been jointly funded by the Australian and Queensland Governments since 1998. The fourth stage of this program will fund local projects to improve community health and amenity, as well as provide employment and business opportunities for local contractors.

Budget initiative: Expansion of the Sporting Chance Program

$10.0 million over four years from 2008‑09 will be provided to improve the level of school engagement for Indigenous students through an expansion of the Sporting Chance Program. The program uses sport as a vehicle to improve student participation and engagement in schooling. This measure includes $5.0 million to establish up to ten new school-based academies across Australia with the focus on involving girls in sport along with. $5.0 million for the Former Origin Greats, Queensland (FOGs) to establish school-based academies with a rugby league focus in Queensland and New South Wales. In general, the Australian Government contributes approximately one third of annual operating costs of academies with providers sourcing the balance from State and Territory governments, and corporate and other sponsors.

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