Indigenous rights chief 'concerned' budget cuts hindering reconciliation

National Reconciliation Week is dedicated to help break down barriers between Indigenous and other Australians Source: AAP

The Indigenous social justice commissioner says he is concerned that the aim of National Reconciliation Week, to bring Indigenous and other non-Indigenous Australians closer together, is being thwarted by budget cuts to Indigenous affairs.

The Indigenous social justice commissioner says he is worried that the aim of National Reconciliation Week to break down barriers between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians has been challenged by 2014 budget cuts to the Indigenous affairs portfolio.

Mr Gooda said he was concerned that last year’s half-a-billion-dollar cuts to Indigenous organisations around the country prevented the multitude of initiatives, such as health and legal services, that are needed to close the gap in inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

"I am concerned about the continued uncertainty and anxiety within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities over last year’s budget cuts,” Mr Gooda said.

And he advised against slashing any more. "I welcome the quarantining of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs from further cuts in the 2015–16 budget."

Indigenous Australians suffer a shorter life expectancy than their non-Indigenous counterparts. According to 2010-2012 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data, life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men is about 11 years lower than non-Indigenous men. Life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is nearly 10 years lower than non-Indigenous women.

 “I am concerned about the continued uncertainty and anxiety within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities over last year’s budget cuts”

First Peoples are incarcerated at a rate 12 times higher than non-Indigenous Australians, even though they comprise a little over 2 per cent of the population, according to the Australian Government’s Institute of Criminology.

“I encourage the government to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to address concerns about the 2014-15 Budget cuts and the implementation of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy [IAS],” Mr Gooda said.

But when NITV asked a spokesperson for Minister Scullion if funding cuts would impact on attempts towards reconciliation, he said the reverse was true.

“This Government is improving the impact of Commonwealth investment in Indigenous affairs by directing effort where it is most needed to best serve our First Australians and by getting rid of the waste and bureaucratic arrangements that have plagued Indigenous affairs funding for too long,” the spokesperson said.

"These have been no cuts to services. The government has been able to realise savings through the reduction of duplication, red tape and inefficiency"

“The Government through this budget has maintained funding of $4.9 billion through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy over the next four years to get better outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

“These have been no cuts to services. The government has been able to realise savings through the reduction of duplication, red tape and inefficiency.”

The Federal Government launched the IAS program in 2014, however it faced criticism after the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, announced funding cuts to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations under the IAS in March. 

The minister said less than half of the 2,345 Indigenous organisations that applied for funding under the strategy were successful.

There are a series of events taking place around the country during National Reconciliation Week, from May 27-June 3, that work to build trusting relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians, and close the gaps in inequality experienced by Australia’s First Peoples.

Source NITV News

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