• Aboriginal flag outside Parliament House in Canberra (AAP)Source: AAP
The federal government's latest budget has made commitments to remote housing in the Northern Territory, increased health spending and plans to reform the controversial Community Development Programme (CDP), however feeling on the ground has been mixed.
Rachael Hocking

9 May 2018 - 11:24 AM  UPDATED 9 May 2018 - 2:56 PM

The National Congress of Australia's First Peoples has slammed the Turnbull government's 2018 budget, claiming it has not paid attention to dialogue with the community.

In a statement, it said CDP reforms do not go far enough, and that funding for NT remote housing does not adequately replace the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing, which expires this year. 

New reforms to the CDP will see 6000 additional jobs created in remote communities, and access to entitlements like superannuation and leave for participants, and the penalty system has been changed. 

But Congress said the program still has major issues.

"The harsh and discriminatory penalty system is largely intact. In fact, penalties have worryingly been strengthened in cases involving participants who need the greatest amount of support," it said in a statement.

"For this reason alone we renew our call for the CDP to be replaced with a wage-based program which provides meaningful employment and training for our peoples."

BUDGET 2018: Controversial work-for-dole scheme to undergo major reform
The Federal Government’s controversial work-for-the-dole scheme will see 6000 new jobs in remote communities.

This year marks the end of the ten-year remote housing strategy after the Commonwealth provided a one-off $5.4 billion over a decade to the states and the Northern Territory for remote housing. The federal government has only promised to continue funding for the NT after the current agreement ends, with $550 million over five years to be matched by the Territory. 

While negotiations continue with Queensland, WA and SA over their remote housing stategies, Labor Senator Patrick Dodson is not confident the government will deliver. 

"Remote housing to the State (of WA) is not being supported by the Federal Government’s budget which means over the next couple of years there will be at least 1.5 billion dollars slashed to remote housing. The Western Australian portion of that is annually is around $100 million dollars," Mr Dodson told ABC radio. 

"This means serious impacts for people in the regions in relation to housing."

WA Treasurer Ben Wyatt was also bitterly disappointed, saying there had been "a belligerent refusal" to engage with the state government about renewing the agreement for WA.

Mr Wyatt said it was the single biggest issue facing regional and remote WA, and transitional funding should at least be provided.

"I'm worried that the Commonwealth government has now adopted a stance around our remote communities that it no longer has a role unless it can be cajoled with a state bucket of money," he said

The government will continue funding Indigenous health programs at almost $4 billion over four years, including specific spending to address eye and ear health and scabies, but news that it will change the funding model for Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services has caught some in the sector off-guard. 

In a Facebook live video last night at parliament house, National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) Chair John Singer said it was 'a bit of a surprise'. 

"In terms of some of the new parts of the funding model where they say that they wanna abolish the seven inconsistent KPIs... that's something we've lobbied for and asked for, so that's good," he said. 

"Moving towards five-year contracts, I think our members will really welcome that in terms of being able to have longer-term strategic planning." 

But Mr Singer said there's still a lot of questions to be asked of the new model.

Meanwhile, Labor Senators Malarndirri McCarthy and Warren Snowdon have called out the government's plans to upgrade the Central Arnhem road, saying the $180 million earmarked for the project won't come close to what is needed. 

"Estimated costs to completely seal the Central Arnhem road range from $500 million to $1 billion," a statement read.

"The Central Arnhem Road is a 663km highway – clearly the Federal Government can’t add up."

Indigenous Rangers funded for another three years

Funding for the successful Indigenous ranger network, who tackle environment threats and care for endangered species, has been extended to 2021 in what the rangers are calling a 'last-minute reprieve'.

But the funding does not match the previous arrangement, which was a five-year contract, and falls short of the figure the Country Needs People campaign said it needs to adequately look after more than 67 million hectares of land.