Indigenous affairs have taken some of the most savage budget cuts.
By
Darren Mara

14 May 2014 - 2:32 AM  UPDATED 16 May 2014 - 7:02 AM

 

Before his election last September, Tony Abbott claimed he'd be a Prime Minister for Indigenous affairs.

But in his government's first budget, Indigenous affairs have taken some of the most savage cuts.

The budget will see cuts to Indigenous spending by more than half-a-billion dollars over five years in a significant shake-up.

The chairman of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, Justin Mohamed, says he believes as much as $90 million could come out of Indigenous health services.

"By reducing money out of the bucket, it obviously puts a squeeze on a whole lot of things, so there's going to be a limit on what the Aboriginal health portfolio can do in total. I think, like most things that get chopped during this time, is the preventative side of health, which is what we really need in Aboriginal health."

Mr Mohamed says the cuts jeopardise Tony Abbott's claims of a commitment to Indigenous affairs.

He points to two budget announcements which he says will hit Indigenous Australians particularly hard: the seven-dollars it'll cost to visit a GP, and the eventual lifting of the pension eligibility age to 70.

Mr Mohamed says many Indigenous families simply won't be able to afford the GP co-payment, whilst the gap in Indigenous life expectancy means a disproportionate slice of the Indigenous population don't even reach the existing pension age.

"These decisions, at this moment I think have been made without Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders being featured too highly. Especially when you combine that with the reduction in investment."

The budget will see 150 Indigenous program areas cut down to five: employment and land, education, health and safety, culture and remote strategies.

Funding for Indigenous languages has been cut by almost 10-million dollars over four years.

Indigenous leader and head of the Indigenous Land Corporation, Dawn Casey, says there are no other elected bodies in Australia that could fill the role played by Congress.

"It means that Aboriginal people aren't truly making decisions about what ever area they're dealing in and that should happen. This is the 21st Century. What comes with the decision making comes responsbility and accountability, so don't take that away from people, given that it's well over 200 years since Australia was colonised. We should in fact be growing organisations to take on more of those."

There will be some money going into Indigenous affairs - or perhaps a redirection of funding.

This includes a school truancy officer program in 74 schools at a cost of $18 million; $54 million over four years for extra police in remote communities; and $26 millionfor Indigenous teenage sexual health programs next financial year.

The chair of the Prime Minister's Indigenous Advisory Council, Warren Mundine, says he'd been expecting larger cuts than those unveiled on budget night.

Mr Mundine wouldn't be drawn on the implications for frontline services, but says the changes will cut duplication in the rollout of many Indigenous programs.

"Look there's obviously going to be savings within the system so you don't have so much of this overlap. If you're talking about duplication when you look at those over-150 programs you see a lot of duplication and a lot of overlapping in those areas, and also a lot of parliament in regards to compliance issues for Indigenous organisations, and governments and other people as well. So it's about reducing that and getting it back to those five areas. That will bring cost savings and I believe that will have a better streamlining of the programs that we need to deliver for Indigenous communities."