Prime Minister and Cabinet: Supporting Regional Recovery and Growth

The Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) Portfolio improves the lives of Australians by providing high quality advice and support to the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, portfolio ministers and assistant ministers. It takes a coordinated and innovative approach to the development and implementation of Australian Government policies, including those that impact on regional and remote communities. The Portfolio coordinates and develops policy across the Australian Government on issues pertaining to women including economic security, safety and leadership; Indigenous affairs; economic, domestic and international issues; and public service stewardship.

As at 31 December 2020, the Portfolio employed 4,224 staff under the Public Service Act 1999. Of this total, 3,112 staff (74 per cent) are employed in Canberra, central Melbourne and central Sydney, 432 staff (10 per cent) in other capital cities and 680 staff (16 per cent) in regional areas.

The Portfolio’s footprint includes office locations in, Alice Springs, Bega, Bendigo, Ceduna, Dubbo, Junee, Kalgoorlie and Kununurra, Newcastle, Orange, Port Augusta, Thursday Island, Top End and Tiwi Islands, Townsville, Wagga Wagga and Wollongong.

The Portfolio is responsible for setting the direction of Indigenous Affairs policy across the Australian Government as well as delivering a number of specific funding programs. It includes programs aimed at ensuring Indigenous Australians are able to take up the full range of opportunities our nation has to offer. Measures encouraging workforce participation, economic development, educational success and safety at home the foundations of successful communities, are some of these.

The Portfolio works closely with local service providers and communities to design and deliver services to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians across metropolitan, regional and remote locations. Regionally based staff are critical to service delivery as 63 per cent of Indigenous Australians live outside the major cities and more than 18 per cent live in remote and very remote locations.

The Portfolio supports disaster and drought affected communities and leads national efforts to reduce disaster risk and limit the impact of future natural disasters through the new National Recovery and Resilience Agency. It will continue to work hand-in-hand with communities, all levels of government, not for profit organisations and other sectors to support Australians impacted by disasters, including the 2019 North Queensland floods, the 2019-20 bushfires, and the 2021 Eastern Australia storms and floods. Recovery Support Officers are based across Australia to advise communities on support available and how to access it.

The Portfolio supports regional Australia through new and ongoing initiatives, as outlined below.

New Initiatives

National Strategy to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse

The Australian Government will provide $143.1 million over four years from 2021-22 for initiatives to prevent child sexual abuse. These initiatives will contribute to the First Commonwealth Action Plan (2021-2025) under the National Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Child Sexual Abuse 2021-2031.

The Commonwealth Action Plan will deliver positive impacts to regional Australians through new and enhanced services across Australia focussed on preventing and responding to child sexual abuse in all settings. Initiatives will also specifically focus on delivery to rural and remote communities. The Commonwealth Action Plan includes funding to:

  • Prevent child sexual abuse through building child safe capability in sporting organisations and delivering online safety education programs to prevent online harm and promote safe online practices for children and young people.
  • Enhance support to victims of child sexual abuse including expanding the national specialist trauma informed legal service, establishing a specialist national legal online chat service dedicated to young people experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, harm and sexual abuse, coordinating access to support services, resources and information, and developing trauma-informed and culturally appropriate resources and approaches for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  • Bolster Commonwealth law enforcement efforts to prevent, disrupt, investigate and combat child sexual abuse, including establishing new, and enhancing existing, intelligence, enforcement and criminal research efforts dedicated to preventing, detecting, disrupting and prosecuting perpetrators of child sexual abuse.
  • Prosecute child sexual abuse perpetrators, including ensuring prosecutions are not delayed due to lack of representation; managing the parole of convicted offenders; and facilitating the international exchange of information to support prosecutions.
  • Enhance the Government’s strategic partnerships in Australia and internationally, particularly with industry, to address the use of online platforms to commit child sexual abuse, and strengthen legal, policy and justice capacity in the Indo-Pacific region to enhance regional efforts to combat child sexual abuse.
  • Improve the evidence base on the prevalence, nature, causes and impacts of all forms of child maltreatment in Australia.

New National Recovery and Resilience Agency

On 5 May 2021, the Australian Government established the National Recovery and Resilience Agency (NRRA) in response to the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements.

The NRRA initially consolidates and builds on the success of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency and the National Drought and North Queensland Flood Response and Recovery Agency, and from 1 July 2021 will incorporate disaster risk reduction, preparedness and recovery functions from the Department of Home Affairs, and the Rural Financial Counselling Service programs from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

The NRRA has a strong on-the-ground presence and a focus on guiding and empowering locally-led recovery of communities impacted by disaster events and drought. Locally-led approaches are underpinned by a national network of Recovery Support Officers, who come from, live and work in the communities they support across Australia.

The NRRA also provides national leadership and strategic coordination for strengthened natural disaster resilience, risk reduction and preparedness for future disasters, across all levels of government.

In addition to funding associated with the transfer of existing functions, the Australian Government will provide $61.1 million in departmental funding over four years from 2021-22 to support communities to better prepare for and recover from natural disasters. The NRRA will receive $4.5 million in 2021‑22 to 2022‑23, for a new regional recovery exercise program and pilot two new resilience hubs.

The NRRA will deliver:

  • A new $616 million Preparing Australia program, targeting public and private disaster risk mitigation.
  • A new $280 million Black Summer Bushfire Recovery Grants program over three years to support the medium-term recovery needs of communities impacted by the 2019-20 bushfires, funded from unspent funds from demand driven programs under the National Bushfire Recovery Fund.

The work of the NRRA, including the new programs, will be critical in supporting all hazards recovery, and reducing the risk and impact of future natural disasters, throughout rural and regional Australia.

Jobs and Wealth Creation Package – Advancing Indigenous outcomes

The Jobs and Wealth Creation package will contribute to economic recovery and growth for Indigenous Australians following the COVID-19 pandemic through building a robust and resilient economy, improving food security in remote Australia, and supporting Indigenous job seekers in remote areas into jobs through skill development and educational attainment. The package encompasses the following initiatives: 

  • $36.7 million investment from 2021-22 to 2024-25 to expand the support provided to Prescribed Bodies Corporate (PBC) that hold and protect native title rights and interests. This will ensure PBCs can operate more effectively and allow traditional owners to take advantage of opportunities for economic development or engage in transactions involving land subject to native title (much of which exists over land in regional and remote Australia).
  • $42.8 million per year from 1 July 2022 for the Indigenous Skills and Employment Program (ISEP) which will be rolled out across Australia, including in regional areas to support Indigenous Australians in gaining employment and upskilling for in-demand jobs. It will also support businesses to realise the potential of the Indigenous Australian workforce and provide tailored, placed-based investment to better suit local labour markets and respond swiftly to emerging employment opportunities. Consultations (including with regional Australia) over the second half of 2021 will inform the implementation of ISEP in 2022.
  • A $5 million grant program targeting the continuous and sustainable supply of food and essential items in remote community stores, which have low resilience to interruption in the supply-chain. The investment to purchase forklifts, electrical upgrades, satellite communications and ability to improve warehouse infrastructure for stock and merchandise will improve the performance and financial viability of remote stores most of which are small businesses operating in a very high cost environment to provide food security for remote Australians. It will reduce the need for future government emergency response coordination of the remote supply-chain (as was required during the COVID-19 pandemic), and government intervention to provide food assistance if natural disasters or abnormal seasonal weather impacts the supply chain.
  • A $10 million grant program over two years targeted to activate economic opportunities on Indigenous held land by providing increased access for Indigenous enterprises and community organisations in remote Australia to reliable and affordable infrastructure, such as off-grid solar power systems, and plant and equipment to support improved water security. The program will build local capacity, support Indigenous enterprises and help create jobs for Indigenous Australians in primary industry and land management.
  • A $63.3 million investment over four years from 2020-21 to increase support for Indigenous Australian girls and young women to participate in girls’ academies to achieve Year 12 attainment, which improves their long term employment opportunities and promotes social participation. The investment maintains 9,895 existing places, in addition to providing 2,700 new places by December 2023. Girls’ academies are located in a variety of school locations nationally, with a large proportion of the academies located in regional Australia. The expansion will increase participant numbers at existing girls’ academies located in regional areas and create new girls’ academies in regional schools in Western Australia, Northern Territory, South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

New Remote Jobs Program

A new remote jobs program, designed in partnership with remote communities is planned to replace the Community Development Program to better meet the current challenges and the changing job market.

The new program will start rolling out in 2023 and be piloted in select sites across remote Australia to address long-term unemployment by providing the assistance job seekers need to transition to sustainable employment as the economy recovers.

Pilots will be developed in consultation with local communities and will comprise a wage scheme, services for recently unemployed or under-employed job seekers, training and non-vocational support.

The current Community Development Program will modify Mutual Obligation Requirements to make Work for the Dole and other activities voluntary for job seekers, but still require job seekers to accept suitable work, and to connect with their Community Development Program service provider.

The Australian Government will also provide $84.9 million in 2021-22 to meet the costs associated with the increased number of job seekers being referred to the Community Development Program as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This additional funding for the Community Development Program will ensure that unemployed people in remote Australia are properly supported to build skills, address barriers, and find employment.

COVID-19 Response Package – Support for Indigenous and Remote Communities – continuation

The Australian Government provided the Indigenous Advancement Strategy with $19.7 million at Mid-year Economic and Fiscal Outlook in 2020-21 to support Commonwealth wholly-owned Indigenous subsidiaries that have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding provided support for the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence in Redfern, New South Wales, and Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia Pty Ltd (operator of the Ayers Rock Resort in Yulara, Northern Territory, ensuring continued business viability and securing jobs. A significant proportion of the revenue of these businesses relates to tourism and hospitality and has therefore been impacted by the significant reduction in visitor numbers.

This funding built on the $19.8 million provided at the 2020-21 Budget for the measure titled COVID-19 Response Package – Support for Indigenous and Remote Communities.

myGov Enhancements

The myGov platform is the Australian Government’s largest digital platform, allowing users to securely access government services online through a central portal. myGov supports over 20 million accounts to connect to 14 government services and is the primary entry point to government services for many people, including people in regional and remote areas.

The Australian Government will provide $200.1 million over two years from 2021-22 for myGov enhancements which will deliver a modern platform, providing a more responsive, secure, and personalised experience of government services for all Australians. It will allow a seamless, linked-up experience designed around the key events in peoples’ lives rather than how government is structured.

myGov enhancements will be more digitally inclusive by allowing those in regional and remote areas to easily access the essential services which they rely on online. It will reduce their need to travel extended distances to visit a regional service centre and allow people to find information and services through their channel of choice. Many more regional and remote Australians will be enabled to discover, access and manage services online quickly and safely, at a time and in a way that is convenient to them.

People in regional and remote areas will also benefit from personalisation and proactive engagement. myGov also offers a digital inbox to allow connected services to send electronic mail to users, which is a convenient way for regional and remote users to receive information securely from the Government. Through myGov enhancements, the Australian Government can send proactive near real-time information to people based on their home location including information about disaster recovery payments and services, or financial support for regional areas affected by drought.

Current Initiatives

Women@Work Plan: Supporting Women’s Workforce Participation

In the 2021-22 Budget, the Australian Government provided an additional $27.6 million to expand the Women@Work measure to build on the 2020 Women’s Economic Security Statement. This additional funding takes the total funding available under the Women’s Leadership and Development Program (WLDP) to $75.5 million over five years from 2020-21 to 2024-25. The objectives of the WLDP is to improve outcomes for Australian women. The expansion of WLDP has already allowed:

  • creation of a new Women’s Job Creation priority under the WLDP to increase employment opportunities for women
  • boosting of existing priority areas, including women’s safety by supporting women experiencing family, domestic and sexual violence to return to and retain work
  • expansion of proven projects such as the Academy for Enterprising Girls and Women Building Australia programs. Further expansion will allow additional projects to be supported, noting the open grant round in December 2020 was significantly over-subscribed.

Return of Cultural Heritage

In July 2020, the Australian Government announced a commitment of $10.1 million over four years to support the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) to deliver the Return of Cultural Heritage (RoCH) initiative. 

Preliminary research has identified over 200 overseas collecting institutions with Indigenous Australian cultural heritage collections. Over 100,000 Indigenous Australian objects have been identified in these overseas collections.

To date, some RoCH program highlights include:

  • the unconditional return of 42 objects from the United States of America to their traditional owners space – the Aranda, and Bardi Jawi peoples
  • the unconditional return of 43 objects from the United Kingdom to their traditional owners – the Gangalidda and Garawa, Nyamal and Yawuru peoples
  • the unconditional return of a large collection (1,848 items) of stone artefacts from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The collection will be temporarily housed at AIATSIS while it is sorted into discrete sub-collections and further research is undertaken.

The initiative provides all Australians with the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of our nation’s history and promotes learning, healing and reconciliation. Through the return of the culturally significant materials, the initiative will directly and indirectly contribute to the improvement of regional and remote Indigenous Australian’s health and wellbeing.

Indigenous Protected Areas Program

The Australian Government has supported Indigenous Australians over two decades to voluntarily dedicate and manage their land and sea country as Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs). In 2021-22, the Australian Government will provide funding of $17.7 million through 78 IPA projects. IPAs cover more than 74 million hectares, or 9.62 per cent, of Australia. The IPAs are exclusively in regional and remote areas where they assist Indigenous Australians to deliver sustainable environmental, cultural, social, economic and employment outcomes for Indigenous Australians, their families, and communities through the effective and sustainable management of their land and sea country. The IPAs contribute to the expansion and increased resilience of Australia’s National Reserve System for the benefit of all Australians, and assists Australia in meeting its international obligations under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

Community Development Program

The Community Development Program supports job seekers in remote Australia to build skills, address barriers and contribute to their communities through a range of flexible activities. The CDP covers 75 percent of Australia’s land mass, comprising of 46 providers operating across 60 regions and over 1,000 communities.

The CDP is supporting over 43,000 job seekers, of whom approximately 80 per cent identify as Indigenous Australians. The CDP is designed around the unique social and labour market conditions in remote Australia and is an essential part of the Australian Government’s agenda for increasing employment and breaking the cycle of welfare dependency.

The CDP is making steady progress to reduce welfare dependency in remote communities by enabling people to participate in meaningful activities that prepare them for work and improve community living standards. From 1 July 2015 to 31 December 2020, the CDP supported over 27,323 job seekers into work, with 13,837 jobs filled continuously for at least six months.

A new remote jobs program, designed in partnership with the community, is planned to replace the CDP to better meet the current challenges and the changing job market.  The new program will start rolling out in 2023 and be piloted in select sites across remote Australia.

Indigenous Business Australia – Regional Construction Stimulus

The Australian Government provided Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) with $75 million in 2020-21 as part of a $150 million equity injection over three years for new construction home loans in regional Australia. The Australian Government continues to be committed to stimulating economic activity in regional Australia and helping local economies thrive by assisting 360 Indigenous Australians to construct new homes through the Indigenous Home Ownership Program.

While current market conditions may continue to create opportunities and challenges in the path to home ownership, this investment will also support over 1,000 jobs by unlocking financing for pre-approved, shovel-ready construction projects in regional locations. The stimulus initiative complements existing initiatives such as Home Builder.

Closing the Gap – Partnering for Delivery

The National Agreement on Closing the Gap came into effect on 27 July 2020, which commits to building the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled sector, recognising that services delivered by this sector can achieve better results, employ more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and are often preferred over mainstream services.

As part of the next phase of Closing the Gap, the Australian Government contributed $46.5 million over four years from 2020-21 from the Indigenous Advancement Strategy  to complement co-contributions from State and Territory governments. The funds will be used to build the capability and capacity of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled sector to deliver services to support Closing the Gap, some of which will be located in regional Australia.

A Strategic Plan has been developed and agreed in partnership with parties to the National Agreement to govern the funding. The Strategic Plan sets out investment priorities for each of the priority sectors identified in the National Agreement, including early childhood care and development, housing, health and disability. The priorities identify where funding would be most usefully directed, including national and cross‑jurisdictional projects, with jurisdictions to retain administrative control of their own funding. Projects identified for funding under the Strategic Plan will be aligned with the investment priorities for each sector.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living in regional Australia will benefit from high quality services delivered by stronger community-controlled organisations. There may also be indirect benefits from additional employment opportunities, skills improvement and culturally competent service provision.

Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies

The Australian Government provides annual funding of around $19.4 million per year to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) to preserve and strengthen Australia’s Indigenous culture and heritage much of which is held by, or on behalf of, regional communities. The national Indigenous collection is vital to research across a range of important areas for regional Australia, including native title, traditional ownership, land and water management, tourism, mining, agriculture, environment and higher education. In addition through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, AIATSIS is able to continue the Return of Cultural Heritage Initiative which enables Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to exercise decision-making over their cultural heritage and assists with the promotion and resurgence of their cultures, societies, language and knowledge both at regional and national level.

Aboriginal Hostels Limited

Aboriginal Hostels Limited (AHL) is a Commonwealth company that facilitates safe, culturally appropriate and affordable accommodation for people who must live away from home to access services and economic opportunities.

As at 21 March 2021, AHL operates 45 accommodation facilities providing 1,725 beds Australia wide. 96 per cent of these beds are located in regional and remote areas (738 beds per night in regional areas, 912 beds per night in remote areas and 75 beds per night in capital areas). The Australian Government will provide funding of $35.9 million in 2021‑22 to continue to deliver these services in remote and regional Australia.

Torres Strait Regional Authority

The Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) is the peak representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living in the Torres Strait Region. The role of the TSRA is to work to close the gap and empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living in the region to determine their own affairs based on the Ailan Kastom (island custom) of the Torres Strait. The TSRA does this by formulating, implementing and monitoring programs for Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal peoples living in the Torres Strait.

The TSRA also performs separate functions under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) as the Native Title Representative Body for the Torres Strait region.

Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation

The Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation (ILSC) assists Indigenous Australians to realise economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits that ownership and management of land and water can bring. This includes economic independence (in particular, employment for Indigenous people); the delivery of social benefits; cultural identity and connection; and environmental sustainability.

The ILSC tabled its inaugural Regional Indigenous Land and Sea Strategies for four bio‑regions: Northern Australia; Desert; South West Australia and South-East Australia and are continuing to address these in the future period and corporations. In 2021‑22, the ILSC will support the implementation of more than 100 discrete projects through investment, advice, training, mentoring and other assistance.

Key sectors of the economy where Indigenous Australians may be able to secure a competitive advantage include: agribusiness, urban investment, niche Indigenous products, and tourism. The ILSC will assist Indigenous Australians to realise these opportunities through the beneficial ownership and management of land and fresh and salt water and associated rights.

Expanding Digital Identity

The Australian Government provided $256.6 million over two years, including $130.2 million in 2021-22, in the 2020‑21 Budget as part of the JobMaker Plan — Digital Business Plan to expand Digital Identity.

Digital Identity is the Australian Government’s single secure, trusted and consistent way to verify identity online, like a digital equivalent of a 100-point identity check. Once verified, people are able to transact as individuals and on behalf of businesses securely online across many services.

The measure is transforming how people and businesses access services in Australia, improving the user experience for all Australians who transact with government online, including those in regional and remote areas. Fourteen additional government services will be connected to Digital Identity by 30 June 2022.

As of 4 May 2021, almost 2.4 million Digital Identities have been created. This means individuals and almost 1.3 million businesses can use Digital Identity to simply and securely access 75 government services online. Digital Identity successfully integrated with the myGov platform on 5 December 2020. Over 185,000 Digital Identities have already been linked to myGov accounts, further extending the use of Digital Identity.

Residents in regional and remote areas particularly benefit from Digital Identity, through the removal of the need to visit a shopfront to prove their identity. This means regional and remote Australians and businesses can access government services online easier than ever before, at a time which they choose.