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Wednesday, 9 July 2014
Page: 4535


Senator PERIS (Northern Territory) (15:02): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Indigenous Affairs (Senator Scullion) and the Minister for Finance (Senator Cormann) to questions without notice asked by Senators Peris, McLucas and Dastyari today relating to funding for Indigenous programs and to the regulation of financial services.

Before I speak, I seek leave to table page 185 of Budget Paper No. 2, which confirms a cut to Indigenous programs of over half a billion dollars.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Is leave granted?

Senator Abetz: Not at this stage.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Leave is not granted at this point in time, Senator Peris. You have been invited to resubmit that request at a later time.

Senator PERIS: Thank you. I rise to take note of answers to questions asked today in relation to the Abbott government's cuts to Indigenous programs. I have spoken previously about how the budget adversely affects Indigenous Australians right across the board. I have spoken about how the GP co-payment will undermine this nation's attempt to close the gap. I have spoken about how $80 billion in cuts to education and health will affect Indigenous Australians the most, given the gap in education and health outcomes.

I have spoken about the lack of essential infrastructure in the bush and how the Northern Territory is getting less than half of one percent of the nation's infrastructure budget over the next seven years. I have spoken about how the cuts to the local government financial assistance grants will hurt most in the bush, in councils and shires. I have spoken about Wadeye, the largest Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory, where petrol is currently over $3 a litre and how any further increase in the petrol price through the new fuel tax will hit people in the Territory the hardest.   

I have spoken about how the cuts to Aboriginal legal services will lead to an increase in the already appalling rate of Indigenous incarceration in this nation. Programs that have been proven to reduce repeat offending are being hit. I have spoken about how the Prime Minister—who talks about being the Prime Minister for Aboriginal Australians—has not backed his words with his deeds. But it is not just me and other members of the Labor Party who have criticised this budget for the effect it will have on Indigenous Australians. There are many, many others.

Dr Lesley Russell, an associate professor from the Menzies Centre for Health Policy at the University of Sydney, has prepared a comprehensive analysis in a paper titled Impact of the 2014-15 federal budget on Indigenous programs and services. I recommend that all members interested in improving the lives of Indigenous Australians read this paper. I will read briefly from the introduction:

Indigenous Australians will be hit hard by the 2014‐15 Budget. Already among the poorest, sickest and most marginalised, Indigenous Australians are hit twice: by cuts to specific programs totalling $603.0 million/5 years and cuts and changes to a wide swathe of general programs in health, education, welfare and legal services. Together these will exacerbate Indigenous disadvantage and set back the already difficult task of Closing the Gap.

The paper points out that $165 million is being cut from Indigenous health. How will that possibly help close the gap in life expectancy for Indigenous Australians?

In February this year the Prime Minister said, in relation to this nation's attempts to close the gap, that 'people's lives are not improving or not improving fast enough.' This budget does nothing to address his words. Unlike under the previous government, there is no specific budget paper on closing the gap. There has been absolutely no assessment—I repeat: no assessment—undertaken of the potential effects on the Closing the Gap targets as a result of this budget. And it is wrong.

There is also a great deal of uncertainty over the future of Aboriginal Australians as the government merges 150 programs into just five programs. Everything is up in the air. No Indigenous programs have a guarantee to continue beyond the next six to 12 months. This means that, without any guarantee of ongoing funding, front-line organisations will lose valuable and often irreplaceable professional staff. It is also disturbing that it appears that this is just the start. The Prime Minister's adviser on Indigenous affairs, Mr Warren Mundine, has called for further cuts. He wants another $600 million cut. It is extraordinary that his job is to advise the Prime Minister on Indigenous affairs but instead he is doing the government's bidding. Warren Mundine is the chair of the Prime Minister's Indigenous Advisory Council. But there are 12 members of this council, and I urge the Prime Minister to take advice from all members of the council, because I can guarantee—and I know for a fact—that Warren Mundine does not speak on behalf of the council. The deputy chair, Dr Ngaire Brown, has already publicly spoken out against the cuts. She says it will hit front-line services hard.

I know for a fact that many other members of the council do not support the cuts in this year's budget. They do not support further cuts, and they are horrified by the prospect of another $600 million in cuts. When Warren Mundine is providing advice that is not the view of the advisory council, he needs to be very careful of using his position as chair of the advisory council when he advocates policy that is not supported by the council. He is advocating policy that is not the endorsed policy of the council he chairs. The Prime Minister and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs—indeed, the entire cabinet—should take their advice from the whole council, not just the chair. I urge all members to read this report, which I have here. I condemn the government's budget and the effect it will have on Indigenous Australians.