Government set to invest $424 million on Closing the Gap
In a historic moment for closing the gap on access to water and other essential services for Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander communities in Australia, the Federal Government has released its second Closing the Gap Implementation Plan, including $424 million in additional funding.
The 2023 Commonwealth Closing the Gap Implementation Plan was released alongside the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations’ annual Implementation Plan.
Coalition of Peaks convenor Pat Turner AM, who spoke at the AWA/WSAA Voices for the Bush Conference in August 2022 on the challenges facing Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander communities due to the inadequate provision of essential services, said the new funding is welcome – and urgently needed.
“We have decades of underinvestment in our communities and organisations to be addressed, and this funding will go some way to overturning that,” she said.
The Commonwealth’s plan aims to provide direction on transforming government in line with the National Agreement on Closing the Gap’s four priority reforms, including formal partnerships between government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities on policies and programs that have a significant impact on them.
“It is critical that the new investment is delivered in line with the priority reforms and through formal partnerships between government and communities and organisations on the ground,” Turner said.
“The Coalition of Peaks welcome the Commonwealth’s commitments to accelerate the implementation of the four priority reforms in the National Agreement [on Closing the Gap].
“Full implementation of the priority reforms is what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people said is needed by governments if we are to improve our life outcomes and close the gap.”
What’s the plan?
The Commonwealth’s 2023 Implementation Plan includes a raft of new measures backed by investment to support Indigenous-led delivery of essential water, food, housing, family support and education initiatives.
$150 million will be invested over four years to support First Nations’ water infrastructure, and provide safe and reliable water for remote and regional Indigenous communities through the National Water Grid Fund, with the measure set to prioritise communities that currently do not have access to clean drinking water.
A further $111.7 million will be invested in a new one-year partnership with the Northern Territory government to accelerate building of new remote housing, targeted at addressing over-crowding, and $11.8 million will be invested over two years to boost food security.
Continued funding of $68.6 million over two years has been allocated for the delivery of legal and non-legal support to women and children experiencing family, domestic and sexual violence, and $21.9 million over five years to support families impacted by family violence.
Focusing on education, $38.4 million will be invested over four years to boost on-Country education for remote First Nations students, and $21.6 million to support quality boarding for rural and remote students for an additional year.
Assistant Minister for Indigenous Australians Senator Malarndirri McCarthy said the 2023 Implementation Plan will help turn the tide towards more Indigenous Australians living longer, healthier and happier lives.
“The substantial investment in clean drinking water, remote housing and food security will be a game-changer for so many Indigenous Australians who live out in bush communities,” she said.
“Together, this comprehensive support will help build stronger families and communities today, and ensure future generations can get the best start to life and achieve their full potential.
“Indigenous Australians know the challenges and opportunities facing them more than anyone else and it is so important that decision-making and ownership is taken over the policies affecting their communities.”
The 2023 Implementation Plan details each party’s responsibilities in the next steps towards achieving the priority reforms to support progress against the socio-economic targets, and embraces a whole-of-government approach.
Access to water
Minister for Water Tanya Plibersek said the $150 million investment in water infrastructure was made possible due to the Federal Government’s amendment to the the Investment Framework of the National Water Grid in 2022, to allow investment in town water supply projects.
“We are targeting $150 million from the National Water Grid Fund to support critical water infrastructure for remote First Nations communities,” she said.
“In a country like Australia it is shocking that there are still communities who don’t have a clean and reliable source of drinking water. Many of these communities are remote First Nations communities.
“There are towns that are unable to run dialysis machines as there is not enough clean and safe water. There are communities where the heavy metals and minerals in the water are at such concentrations that the water cannot be consumed safely.
“We want to start to change that with this investment.”
Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney said the 2023 Implementation Plan has been informed by foundational work completed in the past two years, but the focus now is action.
“We saw the outcomes in the 2022 Closing the Gap Annual Report and know that we need to be doing more as a government,” she said.
“This additional funding is a concrete commitment … to prioritise Closing the Gap and see sustained progress over the life of the National Agreement.
“Our measures are going to be more specific and more targeted, making real impacts that complement work underway in states and territories, and back in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations to lead work in their communities.
“Every day, we get better at working together with our jurisdictional partners and with First Nations communities and this Implementation Plan is our commitment to improve life outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”