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Albanese government announces $424 million to narrow a gap that is not closing fast enough

The Albanese government has unveiled a new implementation plan for Closing the Gap with $424 million over several years in additional money for “practical action”.

“The gap is not closing fast enough and on some measures it is going backwards,” the government said in a statement from several ministers and also including the lead convenor of the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations, Pat Turner.

The initiatives come amid a spate of publicity about the problems in Alice Springs and elsewhere in the Northern Territory that, while they have been worsened by alcohol, also reflect shortages of housing, a lack of jobs, and other long-standing issues.

New measures in the implementation plan – the second such plan, with the first coming under the former government are -

  • $150 million over four years for water infrastructure, especially targeting communities that at present do not have access to clean drinking water. The money comes from the National Water Grid Fund

  • $111.7 million federal contribution to a new one-year partnership with the Northern Territory government to build remote housing

  • $11.8 million over two years to make food more affordable and accessible in remote communities

  • continued funding of $68.6 million over two years for family violence and prevention legal service providers to deliver legal and non-legal support to women and children

  • $21.9 million over five years to support families affected by family violence and at risk of separation, through the provision of seven “place-based, trauma-aware and culturally responsive healing programs” to intervene early and keep families together

  • $38.4 million over four years to boost on-country education for remote students, including greater access to junior rangers and more choice for families of culturally appropriate distance learning

  • $21.6 million to support quality boarding for rural and remote students for an additional year.

The measures will be delivered in partnership with Indigenous organisations.

Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney said: “We saw the outcomes in the 2022 Closing the Gap Annual Report and know that we need to be doing more as a government.

"This additional funding is a concrete commitment from the Albanese government to prioritise Closing the Gap and see sustained progress.

"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.”

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said it was shocking that some communities did not have reliable 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.

"We are targeting $150 million from the National Water Grid Fund to support critical water infrastructure for remote First Nations communities.

"This is only possible because last year we changed the Investment Framework of the National Water Grid to allow investment in town water supply projects.”

Meanwhile Burney has sent a sharp message to Peter Dutton on the Voice, in calling attention to his boycott of the 2008 apology by Kevin Rudd to the stolen generations (something Dutton more recently said he regretting doing).

In a speech on Sunday marking the 15th anniversary of the apology Burney (without naming Dutton) said: “I know that some people who boycotted that historic day in 2008 have since expressed their regret. They now admit that it was a mistake. And I say to those people – don’t make the same mistake again.”

Dutton and the Liberals have yet to say what attitude the party will adopt to the Voice referendum. He is planning to attend another meeting of the referendum working group and says his questions on the Voice have not been adequately answered by the government.

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