Josh Butler, The Guardian, October 25, 2022
The government’s preparations for an Indigenous voice to parliament will be supported with $75m to start setting up the referendum, as well as extending tax deductibility to donations to a leading constitutional recognition group backing the change.
The Albanese government’s first federal budget also contains millions for Indigenous birthing practices, to set up a Makarrata truth-telling commission, and to mark the anniversary of Kevin Rudd’s apology to the stolen generations.
In his budget speech the treasurer, Jim Chalmers, trumpeted a $1.2bn spend “in practical measures to close the gap for First Nations people and communities”, and to begin preparations for the voice.
The budget papers also state the government will explore a mechanism for the real-time reporting of Indigenous deaths in custody.
The government has not set a firm date for the referendum on Indigenous constitutional recognition and the voice to parliament, but Anthony Albanese has said it would be in the 2023-24 financial year. The budget allocated $52.6m over two years for the Australian Electoral Commission, the National Indigenous Australians Agency and the Attorney-General’s Department to begin preparatory work for the national vote.
Finance department officials said this would fund logistical exercises such as entering contracts for ballot papers and booking advertising spaces. A further $16.1m will go to the AEC to increase First Nations people’s enrolment, and $6.5m to the Niaa to establish a governance structure to support groups giving advice to the government.
The $75.1m in funding comes in addition to $160m set aside for the referendum in the government’s contingency reserve. It does not include potential funding for the respective campaigns on either side of the referendum.
The campaign group Australians for Indigenous Constitutional Recognition will be listed as a deductible gift recipient, allowing donors to claim an income tax deduction for donations over $2 made from July 2022 until June 2025 – the window in which a referendum is expected.
The Greens senator Lidia Thorpe this month appeared to make her support for the voice conditional on the government advancing the other segments of the Uluru statement – treaty and truth. The budget is also providing $5.8m to commence work on setting up a Makarrata commission, which would “oversee processes for agreement making and truth telling”.
The government had in the election pledged more than $27m in total to establish the Makarrata commission.
Outside of the voice referendum, a further $99m will go to First Nations justice projects, including $69m for local community initiatives to address the causes of incarceration, $13.5m for culturally appropriate legal assistance, and $3m for family violence legal services.
“The government will also explore options for consolidated real-time reporting of First Nations deaths in custody,” the budget papers state.
A $315m health investment over five years will fund modern health clinics in areas with large First Nations communities ($164m), 500 traineeships in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander primary healthcare ($54.3m), 30 new or upgraded kidney dialysis units ($45m), and millions for treatment of heart disease and CareFlight services in the Northern Territory.
A “Birthing on Country” centre of excellence, promoting culturally sensitive birthing practices and maternal services, will be set up in Nowra, New South Wales, with a $22.5m investment.
The government will also set up a benefits fund for victims of the Youpla Group funeral program, with $7.2m allocated over two years to help families meet unpaid claims from policies held with the insurer since 1 April 2020.
Over two years $100m will go to housing and infrastructure projects in Indigenous homelands areas in the Northern Territory, as part of a new federal agreement with the territory government.
The budget also makes provision for $50.5m in a court settlement, in the matter of Eileen Cummings v Commonwealth of Australia, which will go to the estates of deceased stolen generations members and kinship group members.
Additionally the government will provide $1.5m this financial year to the Niaa for “commemoration activities” to acknowledge the 15th anniversary of Rudd’s 2007 apology to the stolen generations.
Nearly $15m will go to measures to preserve Indigenous culture, including pursuing Unesco world heritage listings for the Flinders Ranges and Murujuga cultural landscape, and looking to add First Nations heritage values to existing world heritage sites.