The headlines after COAG focused on health and education and the overall size of the money handed out (with the usual uncertainty about how much was ‘new’ money and how much had already been promised or committed). Jon Altman from ANU has written a good rundown on the various COAG agreements which relate to Indigenous Australians (or at least those in discrete remote communities, who seem to have been singled out from other Indigenous people).
While there are still uncertainties and shortcomings, he does suggest there is a lot to feel positive about.
For a start, nearly $2 billion, 13% of the $15 billion committed by the Australian government over the next five years, is earmarked specifically to four new (out of 15) Indigenous-specific National Partnership (NP) payments in the areas of remote service delivery, health, remote housing and economic participation.
Overall, it is hard to know to what extent this is the fiscal response to the COAG-agreed ambitious targets for closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians across the continent; or whether it is an attempt by the Rudd government to equitably include Indigenous Australians in the pump priming of the Australian economy that has followed the global financial meltdown.
It certainly indicates an increased awareness of relative Indigenous disadvantage that was absent during the Howard years as massive budget surpluses were distributed more on the basis of voter loyalty than absolute or relative need. Deciphering just what is actually going on though is far from straightforward as we enter a new policy approach with a new lexicon, new acronyms and much lack of clarity about what is actually being committed by the Australian government versus the States and Territories.
The housing outcomes from COAG also got less attention than they deserved. I’ve written a short piece on that, which you can read here.