The Australian Greens said today that the COAG Reform Council's final report on the nation's Closing the Gap targets highlights the serious threat posed by the Abbott Government's budget cuts to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs.
"Today's COAG Reform Council's report on the Closing the Gap agenda shows encouraging progress in areas such as child mortality, literacy and some progress in closing of the gap in life expectancy," Senator Rachel Siewert, Australian Greens spokesperson on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues said today.
"It is encouraging that outcomes in a number of areas are improving, however employment remains a concern. The Council has noted the need to increase the rate at which the life expectancy gap is closing if we are to reach our target by 2030.
"To continue and more importantly improve progress, we need long term funding and cooperation between the Commonwealth, states and territories, but the Government's budget has cut funding and has scaled up conflict with the states.
"Tony Abbott has cast serious doubt across a range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs as a result of budget cuts, with over half a billion dollars being axed, including $165.8 million in health funding.
"The fact that the Government plans to cut programs such as those tackling smoking, one of the areas where progress has been made, clearly shows that these cuts are not just 'red-tape' and 'duplication' cuts. They are cutting effective programs.
"Health outcomes will be seriously affected by cuts to anti-smoking and preventative health initiatives, and the introduction of a $7 GP co-payment and increase in the cost of PBS medications will affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will compound these cuts.
"With so much funding coming out of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs, there is a great deal of uncertainty as to who will be affected. I know a number of providers have serious concerns about the impact cuts will have, with many unsure about their funding past the end of June. This will directly affect the planning and delivery of services and the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and undermine Closing the Gap.
"It is disappointing that this is the COAG Reform Council's final report on our progress towards closing the gap targets, with the council to be abolished at the end of June.
"This is a significant loss that undermines efforts to monitor and report on Close the Gap objectives. Transparency and accountability must be cornerstones of policy making, and yet the Government's actions are making monitoring, reporting and advocacy harder to deliver," Senator Siewert concluded.