Australian Government, 2010‑11 Budget

Closing the Gap — Building Momentum

Our aspiration is for every Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander baby born today to have the same opportunities, the same safe and healthy start in life, the same right to the best education and the same expectation to aim as high as any other Australian child.

Across the Australian community, many people, groups, companies and communities are working hard to close the gap between Indigenous and non Indigenous Australians, in many different ways.

For the Australian Government in 2010‑11 the focus is on implementation. With the States and Territories, we will be working to implement the commitments made since 2008 through a series of National Partnership Agreements. Some of these are agreements for all Australians and others are specifically for Indigenous Australians. Together these agreements provide a platform for major reform in areas such as Indigenous health, housing, employment, education and early childhood development.

This Budget strengthens and leverages major investments that are already being rolled out and supports existing programs and urgently needed new work.

The Government's commitment to Closing the Gap is driven by three policy imperatives:

  • Addressing decades of under-investment in services, infrastructure and governance — a task for government
  • Fostering community-led solutions and helping to rebuild the positive social norms that underpin daily routines like going to school and work — a task for Indigenous people with support from government and the wider community
  • Changing the relationship between Indigenous and non Indigenous Australians to one based on mutual knowledge and respect — a task for the whole Australian community.

Giving Indigenous children the best possible start in life so they can grow up looking ahead to a bright future is one of our nation's foremost challenges. We are tackling it with renewed vigour through a genuine national collaboration involving all levels of government.

Most importantly, we are working in partnership with Indigenous Australians because they are the ones who are best placed to lead change in their own lives, in their families and in their communities. Governments can help, but closing the gap will not happen without the active participation of Indigenous people.

Since 2008, the Australian Government and the States and Territories have together committed an additional $4.6 billion under the new partnership approach to Closing the Gap agreed through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).

This is in addition to a range of other new partnerships with the States and Territories that establish outcomes to be achieved for Indigenous Australians and that will have a major impact on overcoming Indigenous disadvantage, especially for those living in urban and regional areas.

Improving Indigenous Australians' access to services available to the whole community is essential to help remove entrenched social and economic isolation and inequality.

The National Indigenous Reform Agreement, agreed by COAG in November 2008, provides a framework for the various agreements. It sets out the policy principles, objectives, outcomes, outputs, performance indicators and performance benchmarks underpinning Closing the Gap. It focuses on achieving the agreed Closing the Gap targets:

  • To close the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non Indigenous Australians within a generation
  • To halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five within a decade
  • To ensure access to early childhood education for all Indigenous four year olds in remote communities within 5 years
  • To halve the gap between Indigenous and non Indigenous Australians in reading, writing and numeracy achievements for children within a decade
  • To halve the gap for Indigenous students in Year 12 (or equivalent) attainment rates by 2020
  • To halve the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non Indigenous Australians within a decade.

COAG recognises that overcoming Indigenous disadvantage will require a sustained effort from all levels of government. Governments are now working together to overcome the legacy of decades of under-investment, ad hoc approaches and duplication of effort in Indigenous funding and services.

Our collaborative approaches are directed to seven action areas or building blocks:

  • Early Childhood
  • Schooling
  • Health
  • Healthy Homes
  • Economic Participation
  • Safe Communities
  • Governance and Leadership.

The building blocks are interlinked. Achieving the Closing the Gap targets requires progress in each action area. Measures aimed at improvements in any one area will not work in isolation.

This statement provides an account of how we are supporting each building block through a range of initiatives and programs, underpinned by the extra resources and commitment flowing from the National Partnership Agreements.

Indigenous Specific National Partnerships

National Partnership on Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes

Agreed in November 2008, the National Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes commits $1.6 billion over four years from 2009‑10 to tackle the burden of chronic disease in the Indigenous community. It is targeting risk factors, improving chronic disease management and follow-up and expanding the capacity of the Indigenous health workforce, including 94 project officers. Recruitment is underway for the first 83 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander outreach workers, and recruitment of a network of regional and local tobacco action workers is proceeding

National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing

Agreed in December 2008, the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing committed $5.5 billion over 10 years from 2008‑09 to reform housing and infrastructure arrangements in remote Indigenous communities. The aim is to address overcrowding, homelessness, poor housing conditions and severe housing shortages in these communities. The National Partnership Agreement will deliver up to 4,200 new houses and up to 4,800 refurbishments to existing houses over 10 years.  Targets for 2009‑10 include 320 new houses and 587 refurbishments.  We are on track to achieving these targets with 320 new houses underway across Australia, and 33 completed.  More than 640 refurbishments are also completed or underway. 

Closing the Gap: National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Early Childhood Development

Signed in October 2008, the National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Early Childhood Development commits $564.6 million over six years from 2008‑09 to support Indigenous early childhood development. Thirty six Children and Family Centres are being funded to provide early learning, child care and family services. Access to antenatal, maternal and child health and teenage sexual and reproductive health services is being expanded.

National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Economic Participation

Agreed in December 2008, the National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Economic Participation provides $228.9 million over five years from 2008‑09 to help create sustainable Indigenous employment opportunities in areas of government service delivery that have previously relied on subsidisation through the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) program. As at April 2010, over 3,700 jobs had been created in the delivery of Government services replacing positions formerly funded under CDEP.

National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery

Agreed in December 2008, the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery is providing $291.2 million over five years from 2009‑10 to improve the delivery of services in 29 priority locations across the Northern Territory, Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia. The new statutory position of Coordinator-General for Remote Indigenous Services is monitoring implementation.

Closing the Gap: National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Public Internet Access

Signed in July 2009, the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Public Internet Access is providing $7.0 million over four years from 2009‑10 to expand public internet access, awareness and use in remote communities.

Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory National Partnership Agreement

Agreed between the Australian and Northern Territory Governments in July 2009, this National Partnership Agreement continues the Northern Territory Emergency Response, begun in June 2007, and aims to ensure the benefits are sustainable and driven by community aspirations. Over three years from 2009‑10, the Australian Government is providing $793.3 million for a wide-ranging package of measures covering community safety, support for families, expanded health services, enhanced education, literacy and numeracy, welfare reform, employment and governance and leadership, as well as the on the ground presence of Government Business Managers and Indigenous Engagement Officers.

Accountability, evidence and reporting

COAG has agreed that all governments must be accountable for the Closing the Gap commitments they have made. Across all the National Partnerships, the Australian Government is pursuing an agenda of transparency.

Progress against the six targets is being monitored and reported on at regular intervals, at national level and in each of the States and Territories. The Prime Minister reports to Parliament at the beginning of each year. The COAG Reform Council reports to COAG on progress against the six targets. This year we will receive our first report from the Council. The Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage framework, against which the Productivity Commission reports biennially, has been realigned to reflect the building block approach.

COAG has also committed to report transparently on how much governments spend on Indigenous services. The Indigenous Expenditure Report Steering Committee is developing a national framework for collecting and reporting on government expenditure in this area. A high level overview of the reporting approach was endorsed by COAG in July 2009. The first data report is expected to be delivered to COAG around mid-2010. Identifying the share of government expenditure that relates to Indigenous people is a complex exercise and the quality of the reporting will improve across subsequent annual reports.

Improved statistics relating to Indigenous people will help to build a better evidence base against which to measure progress. COAG has committed to improve data through the National Indigenous Reform Agreement. Last year the Australian Government committed an additional $46.4 million over four years from 2009‑10 to improve the collection and reporting of data by national agencies.

The Closing the Gap Clearinghouse provides public access to research on what works to overcome Indigenous disadvantage. The Clearinghouse is part of a COAG commitment to building the evidence base for achieving the Closing the Gap targets and related Indigenous reforms. The Australian Government provided $1.5 million over three years from 2009‑10. This was in addition to the $1.0 million provided in the 2008‑09 Budget, bringing total funding by the Australian Government to $2.5 million over five years. The Clearinghouse website was launched in October 2009 and currently provides access to evidence based resources, including:

  • A general collection of research, evaluations and reports relevant to the COAG building blocks
  • A quality assessed collection of research and evaluations with individual quality assessments by subject experts

The Coordinator-General for Remote Indigenous Services formally reports twice a year on the development and delivery of services in the 29 priority locations that are the focus of the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery. His first report was released in December 2009. The Coordinator-General will also be providing an annual report to COAG and advises Commonwealth, State and Territory agencies on obstacles within their areas of responsibility and the need for any changes.

New ways of working: Remote Service Delivery

The cross-government commitment to collaborate and present a coordinated single point of contact between government and Indigenous people, is most evident in the implementation of the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery from 1 July last year.

Through this agreement the Australian Government, the relevant States and the Northern Territory have committed to change the way they work with Indigenous Australians in 29 remote priority communities. The broad objectives are:

  • To create the institutions and regulatory structures that will encourage and facilitate community initiatives and participation in economic and community life
  • To improve access for Indigenous families to a range of government services and achieve better coordinated services
  • To raise these services to the standard provided to other Australians living in communities of similar size and location
  • To improve governance and leadership within the communities, including among Indigenous community organisations
  • To promote personal responsibility and positive behaviours.

The position and Office of the Coordinator-General for Remote Indigenous Services was established in July 2009 to monitor the performance of government agencies in meeting their commitments to implement the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery.

Six Regional Operations Centres now serve the 29 priority locations, with a view to coordinating effort across the whole of government. Government is represented on the ground in each priority location by Government Business Managers assisted by Indigenous Engagement Officers (or equivalents).

For each community, data has been collected to provide evidence to identify service gaps and to provide a base from which to measure improvements. The information collected will be shared with the community and will inform the development of Local Implementation Plans. These plans are being developed with, and will be agreed by, local Indigenous people, building on community initiatives and aspirations.

The Local Implementation Plans for each community set out agreed priorities, actions, responsibilities and commitments. An initial iteration is expected to be negotiated this year. Agencies across government will commit to resources and timeframes to implement the changes laid out in the plans, with a particular focus on harnessing investment from the other relevant COAG National Partnerships and Agreements. Commitments have already started flowing to these communities.

In early childhood

  • Nine communities have been selected to receive new Children and Family Centres and 12 communities are benefiting from new maternal and child health services.

In education

  • Seven Remote Service Delivery priority communities will benefit from new or upgraded trade training facilities in local secondary schools and intensive support and assistance will be provided to Remote Service Delivery priority communities that apply for funding under the Trade Training Centres in Schools Program to meet the needs of remote communities. This is consistent with the findings of the first report of the Coordinator-General for Remote Indigenous Services. For example, schools in remote Indigenous communities will now be able to deliver training targeted at the specific needs and education levels in these communities.

In economic participation

  • Under the Indigenous Employment Program, the Government is funding enterprise opportunities to build economic participation in remote communities. For example, in the Northern Territory:
    • Daly Region Cattle Industry Training is receiving $0.18 million in 2010‑11 to deliver pre-employment training and employment in the region
    • $0.07 million is being provided to assist the Gapuwiyak Culture and Arts Aboriginal Corporation in the establishment of a new cultural centre.

In health

  • $64.3 million over 10 years since 2000 in capital works funding has been committed to improved health infrastructure, including primary health care clinics and staff accommodation, in 25 of the 29 communities.

In housing

  • 320 new homes and 687 refurbishments are on track to be completed in the 29 communities by December 2010.

Budget measure: Remote Service Delivery National Partnership Flexible Funding Pool - establishment

In response to the Coordinator-General's first report, this Budget allocates $46.0 million over three years from 1 July 2010 for the Remote Service Delivery Flexible Funding Pool. Over three years, this Flexible Funding Pool will support priority projects identified through Local Implementation Plans that cannot be funded from existing programs. Projects may include environmental health and safety, community information technology equipment and maintenance, and repairs for community facilities.

Through this flexible funding pool, the Government will be able to respond quickly to community needs, reduce red tape and bureaucratic delays, and build community support for the Remote Service Delivery strategy.

Engagement and partnership with Indigenous people

The success of the Remote Service Delivery strategy depends on strong engagement with Indigenous people - a principle that underpins all our Indigenous policies and the implementation of programs.

In February 2008, the Australian Government offered a National Apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and in particular to the Stolen Generations. After years of ignoring the injustices and failures of the past, the nation acknowledged what could not be denied or set aside. We set the course for change and committed to closing the gap between Indigenous and non Indigenous Australians.

This Government's commitment to a relationship based on mutual trust and respect is reflected in the Australian Government's endorsement of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, support for the establishment of the new National Congress of Australia's First Peoples, support for Indigenous people to represent their interests at the United Nations, the encouragement of Indigenous electoral participation and accelerated efforts to secure the return of Indigenous ancestral remains from overseas collecting institutions to their communities of origin. An Indigenous Repatriation Advisory Committee has examined and will advise on new repatriation processes that are more inclusive of Indigenous aspirations.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation, supported in last year's Budget, is now in operation and has announced its first funding round for innovative community-based healing services. The Government is continuing to support Link-Up Services for members of the Stolen Generations, their descendants, families and Indigenous communities affected by past government removal policies and practices. The 2009‑10 Budget provided additional funding of $13.8 million over three years to expand these Link-Up services.

As announced in March 2010, the Government is providing $600,000 over three years for the new National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women's Alliance to provide a forum for Indigenous women to raise issues of concern and develop their own solutions. The new Indigenous women's alliance is one of six National Women's Alliances to be funded by the Australian Government to ensure the issues that concern women are raised with government and publicly debated.

Consultations, led by Indigenous academic Dr Jackie Huggins AM, began in February this year for a feasibility study into a National Indigenous Knowledge Centre. The concept was first raised at the Australia 2020 Summit as a way to support and promote Indigenous cultures and knowledge to the wider community. The study will look at potential roles and models for such a centre. The Government provides ongoing support to Indigenous culture through a range of arts, languages, broadcasting and heritage programs.

We have delivered on our election commitment to establish a new national body to enable Indigenous people to represent and advocate their interests to government. In November 2009, I announced $6.0 million for the six month set up phase of the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples, followed by an additional $23.2 million over four years for the operation of the body.

Once established the National Congress will play a vital role in advocating Indigenous positions and perspectives as part of the cross-community effort on closing the gap. It will be a company limited by guarantee and will have equal representation of men and women across three tiers:

  • A National Executive of eight board members including two full-time co-chairs
  • An Annual Congress of 120 community and organisational representatives
  • An Ethics Council to ensure high standards are upheld by public office holders.

The model was developed through a year-long consultation process with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, which culminated in the development of a comprehensive report on a proposed model, by the then Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mr Tom Calma, and an Indigenous Steering Committee.

Our commitment to an open and collaborative relationship with Indigenous people was also demonstrated in last year's consultations on the future directions of the Northern Territory Emergency Response.

Between June and August more than 500 formal meetings involving thousands of participants were conducted in the 73 Northern Territory Emergency Response communities and several other Aboriginal communities and town camps in the Territory. Workshops were also held with regional leaders and representatives from service delivery organisations.

The Government listened to what people had to say and carefully weighed up the views in the consultations as well as other information. Difficult choices were made and - while some decisions will not please everyone - we have taken decisive action to support the interests of children and strengthen families, in line with our commitment to reform the welfare and family payment system to foster individual responsibility.

The Australian Government is continuing our special investment in the Northern Territory through the Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory National Partnership Agreement. At the same time we want to move our work in the Territory to a sustainable development phase in which Aboriginal people are able to lead change in their communities.

Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory will never achieve robust long-term outcomes if key measures rely on the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (RDA). The Government therefore introduced legislation in November 2009 to reinstate the RDA in relation to the operation of the Northern Territory Emergency Response. The proposed legislation also provides for the redesign of a number of Northern Territory Emergency Response measures to ensure they conform with the RDA.

Income management will be made non-discriminatory. It is proposed that a new income management scheme will commence across the Northern Territory - in urban, regional and remote areas - as a first step in a national roll out of income management in disadvantaged regions.

Since it was introduced in 2007‑08, income management has been a key driver in improving the lives of women, men and children in the Northern Territory's Indigenous communities. Consultations and other research have found that children, the elderly and women are safer, better fed and better clothed and people are getting a better night's sleep. Harassment for money for alcohol, drugs and gambling has declined. More money is being spent on food, clothing and school-related expenses or being saved for larger purchases such as fridges and washing machines.

These benefits are attributed to a combination of Northern Territory Emergency Response measures, in particular income management, alcohol restrictions, community-store licensing and the increased police presence.

New income management measures in the Northern Territory are due to commence in July 2010, with implementation to be completed by 31 December 2010. The RDA suspension in relation to existing income management would be lifted to enable an effective transition from existing to new arrangements. These timeframes are dependent on the passage of the legislation.

Budget measure: Continuation of funding for National Indigenous Television

The Australian Government announced earlier this year that it would continue funding for National Indigenous Television in 2010‑11 at a cost of $15.2 million. This complements a substantial existing investment in Imparja television, Indigenous Community Television, community radio stations, remote Indigenous media organisations and remote Indigenous broadcasting services. In 2010, the Australian Government is reviewing its investment in the Indigenous broadcasting and media sector to ensure that resources allocated to Indigenous broadcasting are delivering the best results for Indigenous people.

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