Thursday, 12 November 2020
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021; Consideration in Detail
Before the onset of COVID-19, in 2016 more than 53.4 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in very remote areas were living in poverty. Even in urban areas in 2016, average Indigenous household incomes were approximately three-quarters—77 per cent—of average non-Indigenous household incomes. In 2018-19, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey found that in 2018-19 over one-third—38.6 per cent—of very remote Indigenous households experienced hunger. In addition, over half—51.7 per cent—ran out of money for basic living necessities.
University studies have attributed the increasing poverty in remote areas to at least four factors. First, the abolition of the former Community Development Employment Projects scheme, CDEP. Second, the inadequate rate of social security payments. Third, the higher level of disengagement from government systems—for example, from 2018-19 NATSIS data, more than half of working-age Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in very remote areas were neither working, studying nor receiving JobSeeker payments. Fourth, the very high level of payment suspensions and penalties applied to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Community Development Program, through which JobSeeker is delivered in remote areas.
The reforms so far to the current CDP program have been nowhere near sufficient to change the current level of poverty. The temporary increase in social security payments as a result of COVID will also not change the ongoing level of poverty and will indeed have an impact because they're going to be reduced. Furthermore, because Indigenous people are disproportionately employed in casual roles as unskilled or semiskilled labourers and as service workers, they are likely to have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 recession. Minister, how will this budget address the endemic poverty and disadvantage particularly in remote Aboriginal communities?
Secondly, I want to go to issue of housing, which was referred to by the shadow minister. In 2017, the government's own remote housing review recommended that across Australia an investment of an additional 5,500 houses by 2028 was needed. It also pointed out that overcrowding still exists and the population is growing. In fact, on a graph, the population curve is going up and housing is staying flat, so the gap is widening. Bear in mind that overcrowding would still only be reduced by about one-quarter as a result of the government's proposed expenditure. This means that, for a house that has 16 people living in it, the overcrowding is reduced to 12 effectively.
In the NT, the NT government and the federal government are currently spending over $1.6 billion over 10 years. The current spending in Queensland will bring the total to over $1.8 billion. Add to that the total of $121 million provided by the federal government to WA in the 2018 agreement plus an amount to South Australia, and the total funds provided by the government is only around $2 billion, far short of the $3.3 billion that is required. Minister, how will this budget address the chronic housing shortages in remote Indigenous communities?
I also want to raise very briefly two other matters. Firstly, NACCHO has pointed out that building much-needed new Indigenous health clinics is an effective way to stimulate the economy. They estimate that $900 million is needed to bring our national network of clinics up to scratch—and there are over 550 of them across the country, as you would be aware, Minister. What resources are being made available, or are required, to bring the national network of clinics up to scratch?
Lastly, I want to raise the issue of Juukan Gorge. In the 2020 budget, there is $2.2 million over four years from 2020-21 to speed up application processes of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984. The Commonwealth heritage protection law has been widely criticised, as we know, since the destruction of the Juukan caves at the Juukan Gorge heritage site. With that tragedy in mind, this measure is hugely inadequate and invites further and similar horrors. Minister, what changes is the government proposing to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act to ensure that there is no repeat of the Juukan caves disaster?