A lack of Commonwealth Government support towards Closing the Gap targets was the major omission in last night’s federal Budget, according to Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) CEO Jill Gallagher AO.
While tax cuts would provide some hip pocket relief and an emphasis on new job opportunities for young people was welcome, Ms Gallagher said it was disappointing the Budget delivered nothing of substance for Victorian Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander communities.
Ms Gallagher said Treasurer Josh Frydenberg mentioned Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islanders just once in his speech and the lack of money for new Closing the Gap measures was dispiriting.
“In July we saw all tiers of Government and the Coalition of Peaks come together to outline their commitment to Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander communities by addressing the underlying causes of disadvantage through the national 10-year Closing the Gap agreement,” she said.
“There are a number of targets which all levels of Government have committed too but where is the investment?
“We know this pandemic will take years to recover from so we can’t be thinking in six or 12-month cycles anymore. We have a 10-year agreement. We need long-term investment in Aboriginal affairs.
“Victoria is also not out of COVID-19 yet but is still expected to adhere to the same national Closing the Gap timelines as every other state.”
Ms Gallagher said the new national agreement committed governments to provide more mainstream funding through the community-controlled sectors to ensure our people could benefit.
“We know that our people are more likely to access the services they need when they are delivered by our organisations,” she said.
“This commitment from all governments is set out at Clause 55.b) of the national agreement.
“While this commitment can be implemented progressively, it is an opportunity for the Commonwealth to demonstrate leadership and its full commitment to the national agreement and implement these arrangements now.”
Ms Gallagher said Victoria’s 32 Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) have learnt so much during COVID-19 by being resourceful and getting more done for less.
“One plus point this pandemic has shown us is that we can do things differently and COVID-19 has unlocked doors in terms of our Communities being more innovative and agile,” she said.
“We just need Governments of all persuasion to be more agile in their thinking when dealing with Aboriginal affairs.”
Ms Gallagher said it was pleasing that the Commonwealth Government had provided 10 additional Medicare subsidised psychological therapy sessions for people subjected to further restrictions in areas impacted by the second wave of COVID-19.
Through a GP referral, people in Victoria can now receive up to 20 sessions of psychological care through Medicare, as opposed to just 10.
“During the COVID-19 response, and even as it begins to ease, we know first-hand how tough our Communities have done it. Many are still struggling with the basics like food and paying bills, many are becoming more anxious, stressed, and depressed about their future,” she said.
“Many are still grieving the loss of loved ones who took their own lives during this crisis.
“We know that mental health is more complex than that, it is not just about going and receiving treatment, it’s about access, choice, and having a culturally safe and holistic approach.
“There was also little to no investment in social housing in last night’s Budget, and we know that good homes equal good health.
“There was also nothing in the Budget for childcare and a healthy economy is one where parents are able to go back to work with ease.”
Ms Gallagher understands there will be a sharp rise of more than 5,000 unemployed Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islanders in Victoria so it was pleasing that the Federal Government’s JobKeeper scheme had been extended by a further six months to March 2021.
“As Josh Frydenberg stated last night, there is no economic recovery without a jobs recovery,” she said.
“VACCHO appreciates it is a difficult Budget as Australia faces a global pandemic, and while we are excited that this Budget had a focus on young people, where are the jobs for Aboriginal people in Victoria?
“As the most affected state with the highest rates of unemployment, it there’s one thing we needed most was more jobs and training opportunities for young Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander people here in Victoria.”
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VACCHO is the leading advocate for the health of Aboriginal peoples in Victoria and a peak organisation to its membership of 32 ACCOs. VACCHO also works closely with partner organisations, Government, non-Government community sector organisations across Victoria and nationally.