Municipal & Essential Services Program

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (14:39): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question on the topic of the National Close the Gap Day and the future funding of municipal and essential services to Aboriginal communities and homelands to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation.

Leave granted.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: As the minister and, indeed, this council are no doubt aware, since 1973, the federal government has been responsible for funding municipal and essential services in remote Aboriginal communities and homelands. In September last year the federal government struck deals with four states (Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia), which meant that responsibility for funding these services was transferred to those states. In WA, Premier Barnett has indicated that 150 remote communities will now be closed or potentially closed.

South Australia did not enter into such a deal with the federal government and at this stage, it is my understanding, still does not have such a deal, yet the federal funding cuts are supposed to start from 1 July 2015, in just over three months' time. People's health and wellbeing will be affected in the absence of rubbish being collected and infection being more likely to spread and, in the absence of a safe supply of water, dehydration and an increase in waterborne disease is likely. In the absence of properly maintained aerodromes, the planes for the flying doctor or emergency evacuations will not be able to land or take off. This is just a taste of what the impact of the loss of this funding will do. My questions to the minister are:

1. Can he update this council, and indeed communities that will be affected in South Australia, as to the progress of any negotiations between himself as the minister and his federal counterpart?

2. Does he agree that closing communities will widen the gap?

 

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Manufacturing and Innovation, Minister for Automotive Transformation, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation) (14:41): I thank the honourable member for her question and her longstanding and obvious interest and passion in this area. In terms of municipal and emergency services funding, I have appreciated over the last couple of weeks having discussions with my federal counterpart, Senator Scullion, the federal Aboriginal affairs minister, on these issues. I have appreciated his openness and willingness to discuss and negotiate around MUNS funding.

The Municipal and Essential Services (MUNS) program was funded to the tune of about $9.6 million in 2013-14. As the honourable member pointed out in her question, for the last half a century the commonwealth government has provided this sort of funding, I understand, direct to communities. I agree with most of what the honourable member said in her question: that if the commonwealth ceases to fund these services these services will be potentially under threat. It is not a desirable outcome to have all communities that receive MUNS funding closed down. The withdrawal of MUNS funding will have far-reaching and quite dire consequences in Aboriginal communities across the state.

It is estimated that there are more than 4,000 Aboriginal residents in approximately 60 locations, from the Coorong to places west of Ceduna, right up to the Northern Territory border, who in some way or another rely in some part on this municipal services funding. I acknowledge and understand the unease this is causing in Aboriginal communities. I have visited a number of remote and regional communities that may be affected through the removal of MUNS funding from the west of Ceduna down to the Coorong over the last few weeks.

I understand that some MUNS funding goes to basic services that the rest of South Australia can reasonably expect, including roads, rubbish collection, dust and dog management. Again, I understand the unease and anxiety this is causing and I have undertaken to the communities I have visited, from community councils and CEOs who have contacted me and who I have talked to personally about this, that if there is anything further, as soon as it happens in negotiations with the commonwealth, I will let them know as soon as possible.

The honourable member touched on closing the gap. It is, of course, National Close the Gap Day today, which is a good time to reflect upon some of the wide gaps that still remain between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. I attended an event today and I am pleased to note that, in many communities across South Australia, Aboriginal health centres in particular are holding events to highlight some of the gaps that still remain between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

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