Which political party will best champion Indigenous Australia?
Election wrap 2019: what each major party will do for Indigenous Australians
Still not sure who to vote for this coming Saturday? With the federal election fast approaching, NIT has been working hard to identify where each of the major parties stand on various issues relevant to Indigenous Australia. What are the key policies that will affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people?
NIT has found that funding for suicide prevention is a common priority, as is remote housing and general housing affordability.
We bring you our wrap below, covering the policies of the Liberal Party, the Labor Party, the Australian Greens and The National Party of Australia. While not exhaustive, we’ve aimed to pinpoint the big issues.
Voice to Parliament
After the Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2017 there have been mounting talks about enshrining an Indigenous Voice to Parliament within the Australian Constitution.
Labor has promised to support the call for a Voice to Parliament should they win the election.
A process agreed upon between the Government and First Nations people will lead to a constitutionally enshrined First Nations Voice to Parliament.
On top of this, Labor plans to establish Regional Assemblies to facilitate more regional engagement in policy issues.
The Greens have also said they will pursue a Voice to Parliament, adding they are in full support of 2017’s Uluru Statement from the Heart.
They have committed to providing $50 million to establish a body to enable agreement making and to facilitate processes of justice and truth telling, such as the Makarrata Commission.
Liberal and the Nationals
Establishing a Voice to Parliament is not as visible in either the Liberal’s or the Nationals’ policies, however the Coalition did mention some support for the idea in this year’s Federal Budget.
If the Coalition is re-elected, the process for Voice to Parliament is likely to be a lengthy one.
The National Aboriginal and Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) has called for all candidates to prioritise Indigenous health during their campaigns.
“The health of Indigenous people is not a partisan political issue and it cannot be sidelined any longer,” NACCHO Acting Chair Donnella Mills said.
NACCHO flagged the funding of Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs), Rheumatic Heart Disease, and Indigenous youth suicide rates as major issues all parties should have policies on.
The Liberal Party has an election policy dedicated specifically to youth mental health and suicide, with one of its main focuses being Indigenous suicide prevention.
The party pledged a $34.1 million investment into Indigenous youth suicide prevention to allow for Indigenous leadership support so that care is culturally appropriate.
This also includes $19.6 million for Indigenous youth suicide prevention in the Kimberley region in particular.
Programs like the Yarn Safe Campaign, Young Indigenous Ambassadors and the Be You program have been allocated $4.2 million. The Be You program will be a fast-tracked and rolled out across the Kimberley region should the Liberals win the election.
As mentioned in this year’s Federal Budget, the Liberals are putting $22.5 million into youth and Indigenous health research projects as part of their Million Minds Mission mental health research.
The party has also pledged $35 million for Rheumatic Heart Disease research, treatment and prevention.
A Liberal government would continue the Indigenous Australians Health Program with $4.1 billion in funding over the next four years.
Concerning the NDIS, the Liberal Party will provide $20 million to expand the scheme’s Community Connectors Program, a program designed to assist rural and remote communities in connecting with and navigating the NDIS.
This comes after criticism of the Coalition’s decision to underspend on the NDIS in this year’s budget by slowing its roll-out to deliver their ‘Back in Black’ surplus.
Labor has said they will ensure ACCHOs have the principal role in delivering culturally competent health care to Indigenous Australians and that they will work in collaboration with ACCHOs and Indigenous Australians to implement the third iterationof the Implementation Plan for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013-23.
Rheumatic Heart Disease has been receiving a lot of attention in the Indigenous public health sphere recently, and Labor has hopped on the bandwagon by promising to invest $33 million across 25 Indigenous communities to help eradicate the disease.
Labor has also pledged a $13 million investment into closing the gap in vision loss. Funding to the tune of $8.5 million will enable the instalment of regional eye health coordinators across the country.
The Fred Hollows Foundation has welcomed this decision but said both sides of politics must take decisive action on Indigenous health and eye health.
“Labor’s commitment is a promising start, but we will continue to call for more funding for Indigenous eye health programs,” said Foundation CEO Ian Wishart.
The Labor Party has also promised to directly address Indigenous youth suicide rates by providing $30 million to help ACCHOs further develop their mental health services.
Labor has said they will work with ACCHOs to implement best-practice in at-risk communities and provide $2 million annually to regions in north west WA, far north Queensland, and the Northern Territory.
The party has said it will also ensure equitable access to the NDIS for Indigenous Australians with disability.
While the Greens take a more universal approach to their policies, they are not without benefit to the Indigenous community.
The Greens believe everyone should have access to free health and they are big on transforming social services to make them more accessible to Australians.
The Greens want to expand the premise of Medicare and fund a universal public health system.
They have promised to design interventions on diseases like Rheumatic Heart Disease, which are more prevalent in Indigenous communities.
The Greens have also pledged to invest in suicide prevention by investing $500 million into community-based outreach programs.
While their election policy says there will be dedicated funding for First Nations peoples, there is no specific amount of funding allocated to Indigenous suicide prevention itself.
Within their election promises, the Greens are also guaranteeing cheaper access to essentials such as mental health and disability services as well as supporting a fully funded NDIS.
The Party also wants to invest in Indigenous-led and controlled medical research, however no specific numbers have been established as yet.
Most of the Nationals’ election policies match the Liberal Party’s, including funding for the Million Minds Mission, Rheumatic Heart Disease, the NDIS, and the Indigenous Australians Health Program.
However, their main mental health and suicide prevention policy document does highlight a focus on Indigenous suicide prevention.
The Nationals’ policy mentions the $503.1 million Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan from the Coalition as well as the $19.6 million that is planned to support Indigenous youth suicide prevention measures.
The Nationals also pledged to invest $15 million into a national information system that will increase communication and response speeds in areas that have higher frequencies of self-harm and suicide.
It’s unclear as to what form this system will take.
The party has also said they are focused on bolstering the Indigenous health workforce to allow local community residents to provide health services to their peers.
Indigenous Australians looking to study Early Childhood Education at TAFE are in luck if Labor wins the election, as the party has promised 200 fee-free places for Indigenous Australians to study the course at TAFE.
Labor has also pledged an extra $14 billion into public schools nationally to ensure Indigenous students get the best start in life with a good education and another $19.5 million to create nearly 8,000 new spots in the Stars Foundation’s programs that work to improve disadvantage faced by First Nations girls and young women.
The party is aiming to cover all bases when it comes to Indigenous education, pledging to help double the number of First Nations students at the University of Technology Sydney by promising $20 million toward building a new Indigenous Residential College.
In partnership with the Poche Centre, the party plans to invest $2 million over four years to increase numbers of PhD and postdoctoral students in health.
For those seeking an apprenticeship, Labor has said they will waive upfront fees for 100,000 TAFE students.
Labor also wants to invest in First Nations teachers and restore the More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teachers initiative which was axed by the Liberals. Labor has pledged $8 million over four years to increase and retain numbers of Indigenous teachers as well as bolster their professional and leadership capacities.
The Liberal Party has also pledged a $200 million investment into the Indigenous Youth Education Package. This deal will fund extra scholarship placements to give First Nations students additional mentoring and support.
The Connected Beginnings program will continue to be rolled out, with a $12 million per year funding investment. This program aims to integrate family support services and maternal and child health with high-need and high-vulnerability schools. Overall, the purpose is to reduce the education gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children.
The Liberals have also pledged to start a Commonwealth Scholarship Program for Young Australians, where 400 scholarships will be open to students in regions around new industry training hubs.
Preference will be given to some groups of eligible applicants, including young Indigenous Australians.
Four skill-support programs will also be set up in remote Indigenous communities in collaboration with Indigenous community members to advance literacy, numeracy, language and digital skills.
On top of this, $5.2 billion has been pledged to support over 223,000 Indigenous students as part of the Liberals’ plan to back regional and rural students.
Although the Liberals plan to invest in Indigenous regional and rural students, another Liberal promise was announced prior to the election to wipe the HELP debts of 3,100 teachers should they pursue teaching in remote communities.
This prompted criticism around whether this has neglected the capacity building and upskilling of Indigenous people and remote community residents.
The Greens have pledged to invest more than $24 billion in the next 10 years to fully fund public schools and expand infrastructure funding to meet every student’s needs.
The party has also promised to deliver on unlimited free TAFE and undergraduate university for all. They also plan to increase university funding by 10% should they win the election.
While the promise of free education looks good, there are no clear policies outlined by the Greens on how they might support Indigenous students in achieving their desired education outcomes.
Like the Greens, the Nationals are lacking specifics when it comes to Indigenous education policy, rather choosing to take a broader approach.
Again, in combination with the Liberals’ policies on education, the Nationals mention the preference given to Indigenous students in the proposed Commonwealth Scholarship Program for Young Australians.
The party has also promised to boost the skills of the workforce by trialling 10 industry training hubs and creating a $585 million skills package.
Liberal and the Nationals
The Coalition said in this year’s Federal Budget they would continue to roll out the Cashless Debit Card across Australia by investing $128.8 million over four years to expand and extend it.
The Coalition has also chosen to steer away from addressing Newstart, which has seen no increase in recipients’ payments in real terms for approximately 25 years.
Instead, the Coalition is pressing to trial drug tests for new Youth Allowance and Newstart recipients.
Labor has not said whether they will keep the Cashless Debit Card.
The party has also been unclear with voters on their stance toward Newstart.
Although they have acknowledged the welfare payment is too low, Labor has only committed to reviewing Newstart and related welfare support should they win the election.
The Greens have said upfront they will end the Cashless Debit Card initiative as they believe it is a punitive measure that prevents people from accessing income support with respect and dignity.
Instead, they want to raise both Newstart and Youth Allowance by $75 a week.
The Greens also want to stop compulsory income management, Work for the Dole, the Community Development Program and youth employment programs like Youth Jobs PaTH which they believe are exploitative.
After the Indigenous Legal Assistance Program (ILAP) was axed in this year’s Federal Budget, there has been considerable backlash and calls for the program to be reinstated.
More than 100 organisations have banded together to protest the program’s abolition through an open letter to the Attorney General’s Office, calling the dismissal of the ILAP a “surprising and disappointing move.”
An independent report prior to the Budget’s release emphasised the effectiveness of the ILAP and that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services(ATSILS) are the preferred legal service provider of Indigenous communities.
“ATSILS provide specialised and culturally appropriate legal services for some of the most marginalised people in our community. They need to maintain independence to effectively continue their vital work,” said Law Council of Australia President Arthur Moses SC.
This makes the ILAP an important player in election policy in view of the strong responses to the program’s dismissal.
A Labor Government has promised the independence of the ILAP as well as $4 million over four years to the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS) peak body.
The party has also pledged $40 million over four years for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS) and $21.75 million over four years for Justice Reinvestment.
The Greens have said they are committed to retaining the ILAP as a standalone program and that over the next four years, they will invest $97 million into ATSILS.
The Party has also supported a Justice Reinvestment approach to address high numbers of incarcerated Indigenous Australians and have committed $10 million over four years to set up a National Centre for Justice Reinvestment.
Over four years, another $50 million will be invested in a Justice Reinvestment Grants Program.
The Greens have said this approach will prioritise services that are known to keep people out of prison.
Change the Record has praised the commitments from both the Greens and Labor.
“We welcome this national leadership from The Greens and Australian Labor Party on Justice Reinvestment,” said Change the Record Co-Chair Cheryl Axleby.
“We know that when Justice Reinvestment is Aboriginal-led and investment is going into strengthening community rather than building prisons, it works.”
Liberal and the Nationals
Considering the Coalition disbanded the ILAP in the Budget in the first place, the Program is absent from both parties’ election policies.
The Labor Party has pledged a 10-year investment of $1.5 billion that will address issues of overcrowding and create jobs for residents in remote Indigenous communities.
The Western Australian State Government welcomed the decision with open arms, as at least $120 million of the money would head to WA in the next financial year.
This is double the money offered to the WA Government by the Coalition, which was rejected after Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion refused to negotiate a better deal for remote housing.
“This is not something the state can do, or indeed should do, on its own – it requires a working, collaborative, sustainable and enduring partnership with the Commonwealth,” WA Housing Minister Peter Tinley said.
“It is gratifying to see that a Federal Labor Government will recognise and honour that responsibility – something the Morrison Government has flatly refused,” WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt said.
Liberals and the Nationals
As announced in the Federal Budget, the Coalition is investing $550 million over five years to sustain Indigenous housing reforms as part of the National Partnership on Northern Territory Remote Aboriginal Investment.
The Liberals have also announced $15.9 million to increase housing availability in the Barkly region as part of its Barkly Regional Deal, which aims to improve the region’s economy and community.
Believers in affordable housing for all, the Greens plan to invest in a community and social housing sector to make renting and buying easier for Australians.
The party has pledged to build 500,000 rent-controlled public and community homes as well as increasing funding to temporary accommodation to lessen the numbers sleeping on the streets.
This housing is not specifically earmarked in remote Indigenous communities.
The Labor Party has committed to doubling funding over the next five years for Indigenous Protected Areas. This new commitment is alongside a five-year commitment to double Indigenous ranger jobs.
Country Needs People spokesperson Sophia Walter said the Labor commitment would see Indigenous Protected Areas responsible for over half of all Australia’s protected areas within five years if implemented.
“This is a visionary commitment that means the places we as Australians are so proud of – the rainforests, coastlines, deserts – will be better protected by Traditional Owners. This is work that benefits every Australian,” Ms Walter said.
Labor has also said they will establish a research hub that taps into the ecological knowledge and traditional land management skills of First Nations peoples to improve understanding and possible application of such knowledge across various programs. Thirty million will be allocated over five years to this research centre.
The party has also promised an additional $50 million for the access and management of cultural water, building on the $40 million agreement for cultural water in the Murray Darling Basin.
The Greens have a hard stance on climate change and have promised to move to 100% renewables should they win the election.
They want to protect the Murray Darling Basin, save the Great Barrier Reef and completely overhaul the country’s environment laws.
The Greens have pledged to increase funding for Indigenous Protected Areas by $20 million a year and expand the Area network itself by investing a further $15 million.
The Party has also committed to supporting Indigenous ranger groups by investing an extra $347 million over five years.
The Liberal Party’s stance on the environment is that we need to work with businesses, experts and Indigenous communities to protect and restore it.
Similar to Labor, the Liberals are investing into Indigenous rangers and Indigenous Protected Areas. Currently $830 million is being invested over a 10-year plan that ends in 2023.
Apart from this, the Liberal commitment to Indigenous-specific environmental policies is negligible.
The Nationals’ environment policy describes the current climate emergency as a matter of making the environment ‘cleaner.’
The party is aiming to deliver on better waste management through more recycling, creating greener communities, cleaning up waterways to protect marine life, and the general protection of threatened species.
While these commitments are a step in the right direction, there are questions around whether this action is drastic and transformative enough, especially since the recent United Nations’ report warning the world that 1 million species are facing extinction.
Funding for Indigenous Rangers and Indigenous Protected Areas do not appear to be mentioned, however if the Coalition stays, these areas should receive the promised funding from the Liberal Party.
Again, Indigenous-specific environmental policy is lacking from the Nationals’ election policies.
As the election edges closer, it is important to be informed on the policies that affect you.
Indigenous Australians can be assured that Indigenous youth suicide prevention is a high priority for all parties.
A Voice to Parliament is also on parties’ radars, however depending on who wins the election, the process could take some time.
The fate of the Indigenous Legal Assistance Program hangs in the balance, as do increases to Newstart and provisions for housing affordability.
NIT will publish updates on any major policy announcements to ensure our reader base is well-informed come election day.
Vote consciously and don’t forget the democracy sausage – a true election staple.
By Hannah Cross
Editor’s note: This article was updated on Wednesday 15th May to include several of the Greens policies that were omitted in the earlier version.
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