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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

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Labor’s first budget in a decade

Paul Wright
Last edited: November 8, 2022

The six month old Federal Labor government brought their first effort forward to affirm their agenda for the coming Parliament, in what are particularly volatile economic times. Of course, the times – good or bad – rarely favour First Nations Peoples when it comes to funding from the Federal government. 

It has been said before that the Budget is fundamentally a statement of values, there are intrinsic choices made at every line and item of the budget – it is the values, pulled and strained by political expediency, that inform the choices of the Treasurer and the government. As Treasurer Jim Charmers said on the night:

this is a time of great challenge and change.

However, on balance considering the straightening times we face globally and domestically, the Albanese Government has allocated some reasonable (first downpayment) dollars to the big policies on the radar in this space. 

There were some encouraging investments in cultural heritage protection (a big priority for ANTAR as a partner of the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance) with $14.7 million allocated to a number of solid programs to protect our First Nations cultural treasurers. The Co-Chair of FNHPA, Ngalia Cultural and Community Leader and Chair of National Native Title Council, Kado Muir said: 

This budget helps respond to the destruction of Juukan Gorge by Rio Tinto and we welcome the allocation of funding to these important First Nation cultural heritage projects.

There were also monies allocated to ready the Australian Electoral Commission for the referendum on a First Nations Voice enshrined in the constitution ($50 million) and a modest initial $5 million in funding for the Makarata Commission called for in the Uluru Statement to drive Treaty and Truth-Telling at a national level. 

Justice Reinvestment is finally getting the backing it deserves from the Federal Government and it was pleasing to see over $80 million allocated to help support a further 30 communities pursue justice reinvestment programs in the near future. Geoffrey Winters, CEO Just Reinvest NSW has said:

Just Reinvest NSW welcomes new funding commitments made by the Albanese Government as an important first step in supporting justice reinvestment, which aims to reduce the over imprisonment of Aboriginal people. Despite these welcomed financial commitments, there is no agreed understanding of what ‘reinvestment’ means in this context or how it can be done. Through the actions of Aboriginal communities in NSW, they are initiating and in some important respects redefining the concept of justice reinvestment, focussing on community-led processes that address drivers of incarceration and reinforce self-determination and culture, including through local Aboriginal-led governance and data sovereignty.

While still a long way short of what is actually needed, First Nations health got some good news with over $300 million promised to a range of important activities including much needed support for community controlled services and supports.

We’ll be watching closely in the lead up to the May 2023 budget to see how the Labor government builds on this start. It seems that a fair chunk of the allocated funding is for the out years and won’t be delivered any time soon which is frustrating. 

The decades of underfunding (or defunding) of programs and services that First Nations communities have been calling for change on will take a few budgets to address. 

To understand more about how the budget relates to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, check out:

Paul Wright
ANTAR National Director

Paul is ANTAR’s National Director and has experience working in both Government and non-government sectors – covering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs, health, immigration and social services. Paul studied politics and international relations at the University of Canberra and has a Masters of Strategic Studies from the Australian National University. Prior to his role with ANTAR, Paul was the Executive Officer for the Close the Gap Campaign Secretariat and the National Health Leadership Forum at the Australian Human Rights Commission.