COMMENT | Decisions on how and where money is to be spent to better the lives of Indigenous people needs to have their voices involved at all levels, writes Larissa Behrendt.
Larissa Behrendt

2 May 2016 - 6:44 PM  UPDATED 2 May 2016 - 6:44 PM

If I was setting a budget on Indigenous issues, I would be guided by the evidence of what works in reducing Indigenous disadvantage and have a clear agenda of what I wanted to achieve – and allocate the budget accordingly.

To that end, I would have a focus on the principle that Indigenous people need to be central to the development of policies that affect them and instrumental in the delivery of services and programs into their communities.

In addition, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people need to have the flexibility in policy and service delivery that ensures that accommodation can be made to the specific needs of their regional area. In other words, there is a need to ensure that there is no ‘one size fits all approach’.

I would also want to step away from the emphasis on reacting to crisis and instead invest in prevention, and early intervention measures as well.


I would invest in the capacity building of the Indigenous community health sector. I would support the training of more Indigenous doctors, nurses and health workers. I would ensure that family violence programs are adequately funded to protect victims. I would also invest in programs that address violent behaviour. I would also invest in programs that address issues around suicide prevention, especially for young people. I would also increase support for mental illness and for drug and alcohol addiction. Nutrition programs and information campaigns would be another area I would invest in.


In education, I would implement the Gonski reforms that would benefit all children from disadvantaged backgrounds. I would focus on literacy, numeracy and science programs for young Indigenous children. I would also encourage universities to contribute more to the development of pathways and aspiration, particularly with younger school aged children.

The tertiary sector can also assist in providing improved teacher education by adopting graduate attributes so that all teachers who graduate are cognisant of the issues facing their Indigenous students so better able to teach them in the classroom.


I would look at housing reform by firstly no longer requiring Indigenous communities to lease back their land in order to get money for housing. Instead, Indigenous housing providers would be held to the same standards as non-Indigenous social housing providers. This has been a difficult policy area and I would look to undertake some pilot projects that would explore options for low cost, high quality housing, in designs that fit Indigenous cultural and family practices.


Welfare reform would be on my agenda. I would save the enormous money it costs to administer income quarantining and replace it with compulsory financial literacy programs to build individual capability around household management. I would retain a ‘opt-in’ income management arrangement for people who prefer it. I would also explore ways to decrease the cost of fresh food in remote communities.


Indigenous entrepreneurship would be rewarded with support for the establishment of Indigenous businesses and programs that assist in building capacity amongst Indigenous men and women who are running their own enterprises.

Legal services

I would restore appropriate funding levels to the Aboriginal Legal Services including women’s legal services. I would undertake an assessment of legal needs and work towards funding the system accordingly.

Cultural heritage

Although this covers most of the socio-economic issues, I would also allocate resources to cultural and heritage protection. In particular, I would fund programs that see the employment of Indigenous people on their own country such as ranger programs. I would increase the money to protect and preserve Indigenous cultural heritage, particularly rock art, and would invest in Indigenous language preservation and regeneration.

National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples

Finally, I would fund the national representative body – the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples – to ensure that there is a national voice on Indigenous issues. I would also support regional areas that have their own successful regional governance structures – such as the Torres Strait Islander Regional Authority.

How are we going to pay for all of this? I have four strategies.

Firstly, in many areas there is wastage of funds so in some instances it would not necessarily be a matter of more money but of spending that money more wisely.

Secondly, I would redirect funding, where appropriate, away from non-Indigenous NGO’s and back to Indigenous community controlled or run organisations.

Thirdly, I would stop buying expensive things that don’t seem really necessary. For example, I am going to value improved education and health outcomes above French-made submarines.

And finally, I would increase income from taxation through increased taxes on super profits and on cutting down tax evasion and avoidance by overseas corporations and high worth individuals.

Larissa Behrendt is Chair of Indigenous Research at the University of Technology Sydney. The views expressed here are her own and not reflective of any institution she is associated with.