Closing the appalling life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians has become harder under the Abbott Government with last night’s Federal Budget failing to reverse the cuts made to Indigenous Affairs last year, Oxfam said today.
Oxfam’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Rights Policy Advisor Dr Peter Lewis said it was profoundly disappointing that there was no new funding to close the health gap that saw Indigenous Australians die up to 10 years earlier than non-Indigenous Australians and suffer much higher rates of heart disease, diabetes and other preventable illness.
“The damage wrought by last year’s cut of $534.4 million over five years from Indigenous Affairs has not been reversed in this budget,” he said.
“What we are seeing is the brakes put on the national priority to close the gap – and this from the self-titled Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs.
“If we are going to meet the bipartisan commitment to close the gap on Indigenous health, funding to close the gap initiatives must be maintained and increased, so that the aims of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan can be implemented.”
Dr Lewis welcomed the decision to continue to fund the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, the peak body for the sector, reversing a previous position.
“While Oxfam also welcomes the additional $5m funding for the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and the additional $94.9 m for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment services, in essence there is little new funding,” he said.
Dr Lewis said real engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples was being devalued, given the continued funding cuts to Aboriginal representative bodies such as the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples and the Torres Strait Regional Authority.
He said it was disappointing to see no new direct funding to reducing the incarceration rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, given the past 10 years had seen an
88 per cent increase in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people ending up in prison.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are now 13 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous people,” he said.
“We’re urging the government to invest in early intervention, prevention and diversion strategies that address the root causes of violence and imprisonment; and work in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to develop and implement solutions.”
Oxfam is a member of the Close the Gap coalition on Indigenous health and the Change the Record campaign, which aims to reduce the imprisonment rate of Indigenous people and build stronger and safer communities.
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