The Australian Greens said today that the Federal Budget would jeopardise Closing the Gap outcomes, with cuts to payments, the defunding of programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the GP Co-payment all combining to reduce access to essential supports and services and increase inequality.
"The COAG Reform Council report, released today, shows that unless more work is done to lift outcomes that it is unlikely that COAG's target to close the gap by 2031 will be achieved," Senator Rachel Siewert, Australian Greens spokesperson on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues said today.
"The report shows that the cost of a visit to a doctor or dentist and the filling of a prescription is leading to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people delaying or deferring health care or the purchase of medication. It is clear more needs to be done.
"The Federal budget is set to reduce access to income support, cut indexation and take money from single parents and low income families. There are $534 million in cuts to programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including $165.8 million in health, and the Government is working towards the introduction of a $7 GP co-payment and an increase in the co-payment for medication. All of these measures will adversely affected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
"These measures will make essential health, food and utilities costs even harder to afford, and I am particularly concerned about the impact of this on children.
"We know that exposing kids to disadvantage and poverty, including inadequate healthcare and nutrition has life-long impacts, and affects their ability to engage in school. Improving child health and education opportunities must remain a priority for Government.
"For this reason I am pleased to see the reports that early intervention for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children is included as one of the measures contained in Andrew Forrest's recommendations to the Federal Government.
"It is encouraging to see more people advocating in favour of early intervention to provide the services kids need to grow up happier and healthier and become engaged at school and in their communities. This is something the Greens have strongly advocated for and supported in the past.
"While measures towards early support for children are encouraging, I remain concerned about approaches that could see people denied access to important income support. The Federal Government's ‘earn or learn' measures are expected to lead in a significant spike for emergency relief, underlining how severe the impacts of losing income support can be.
"I encourage the Government to release Mr Forrest's report for public consultation as soon as possible, as it does need to be properly scrutinised, and its programs must ultimately be developed and delivered in consultation and cooperation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities," Senator Siewert concluded.