6 October, 2020

Aboriginal health funding boosted, but infrastructure overlooked

The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) welcomes the increase in funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

The Chair of NACCHO, Donnella Mills, said ‘I am heartened by the additional investment in the Indigenous Australians Health Program with $33m for our hard-working services over the next three years. I am also pleased to hear of the regional-and-remote health funding that will assist many of our clinics and the communities they serve as well as assistance for training and workforce development. These are all very welcome.’

NACCHO congratulates the Government on the additional funding as well as measures for increased medical research, maternal health, additional aged care places and mental health. The Telehealth measures announced in the Budget will also be critical for our sector beyond the pandemic. The increase to Medicare and PBS funding is also welcome news for all Australians.

While these measures are significant, NACCHO will continue to press the Government for targeted infrastructure investment in our clinics. If stimulus is the main objective of the Budget, we believe that there is no better way to do so than to invest in local communities. There was a valuable opportunity here to invest in our 550 local clinics across the country where our 410,000 clients reside. This was an opportunity missed.

Collectively, we are the second largest employer of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the country. Investment in infrastructure will helps us generate even more local jobs. NACCHO estimates that $900m is needed to bring our national network of clinics up to scratch. We will keep talking to the Government about how to fund this shortfall.

NACCHO also believes that the Commonwealth could strengthen its commitment to the new National Agreement on Closing the Gap. Further investment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs would have been a clear demonstration of the Commonwealth’s commitment to the new arrangements. Although the Government announced in early August $46.5 million over four years to build the capacity of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled service delivery sector, this was just to steady the ship. Now is the time for the Commonwealth and State Governments to commit to specific measures related to the new 16 targets for Closing the Gap.

The Chair of NACCHO, Donnella Mills, said ‘While it is good to see large stimulus measures helping industry and workers via tax cuts, that is just part of the story. If you invest in communities, then we rebuild the economy together. At the same time, you can also address a range of lingering social issues.’

In its pre-budget submission to Treasury, NACCHO outlined a package squarely aimed at improving the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. ‘We were not being over-ambitious. We were asking for a targeted package of measures to help support our national network of community-controlled health organisations’ said Ms Mills.

‘In many communities our clinics are the main infrastructure. If you invest in them, you generate local jobs and stimulate local economies while at the same time improving the health outcomes of our people.’

An opportunity to address historic funding shortfalls in social housing has been missed. Funding 360 home-loans through IBA is a drop in the ocean. Donnella Mills said in Cairns ‘The neglect of social housing, particularly in the Northern Territory, is indefensible. When you have, on average, 17 people in a small house, how do you expect children to get a good night’s sleep, do their homework, be fed and healthy? What do you think will happen if the COVID-19 virus actually gets into our remote communities when family members are crowded together, 5 or 6 in a bedroom?’

The network of Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations across Australia has shown what happens if you empower local people to take local action. Donnella Mills said ‘We have dodged a bullet with COVID-19, so far. If the virus had got into our communities, with our higher levels of comorbidity, the death rate would have been on a par with the aged care sector. Yet, not one Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person has died during the pandemic. The increased funding goes some of the way, but we need to address the neglect in our infrastructure.’