While the federal Budget 2021-22 invested money in some significant reforms in Indigenous health across a range of settings, National Aboriginal Community-Controlled Health Organisation Chair Donella Mills says the Budget lacked what it always does – detail and longevity.

“We welcome that there’s been specific mentions but what we didn’t see is the detail, so we need to work through that implementation in detail with the community,” Mills told NIT.

“But we really don’t know what that’s going to look like and what the involvement will look like on the ground.”

Mills says while the big announcements look great, they won’t do much without effective implementation.

“It all looks really good up in lights, but when you claw that back and start to unpack it, then we see in that lack of detail that what we’re receiving isn’t going to do very much.”

The Government’s big-ticket health item was the $17.7 billion allocated to reforming the aged care sector, and $630.2 million of that is going toward improving access to services in regional, rural and remote areas, including “those with Indigenous backgrounds”.

Mills says this accessibility for Indigenous people needs to be designed with Indigenous involvement.

“They need to tailor it with us, need to acknowledge that our expertise in this space is going to help co-design and make sure that what is then on the ground meets the needs of the community by using the expertise of [the Indigenous health care] sector.”

While Treasurer Josh Frydenberg specifically mentioned that some of the aged care funding is also earmarked for a new Indigenous workforce, Mills says this is a long overdue measure.

“There’s an endless amount of evidence that says when we care for our mob we do a much better job and do it more effectively,” she said.

Mills anticipates a new Indigenous workforce will “cause some discomfort” due to having to share power but says the sector will have to get ready regardless.

“We make no apologies that we are best placed to care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders.”

Although Aboriginal Community-Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) had huge success in preventing COVID-19 from entering Indigenous communities — not one Indigenous person was lost to the virus — Mills says this feat has not received the celebration it deserves and was not reflected in the Budget’s funding measures.

“This speaks to our expertise … We know our mob, we know how to protect our communities, we’re best placed to protect our communities,” she said.

“We’re wanting to really understand the capacity of what our ACCHOs can do … When we’re given the power to lead, look at the outcome.”

Mills hopes this is better acknowledged and results in the funding the Indigenous health care sector needs to remain viable into the future.

“What we want is sustainable change,” Mills said.

“We really want to see a commitment to make sure our ACCHOs are sustainable into the future, to make sure community-control is in the future.”

By Hannah Cross