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Health warning after cuts to SA Aboriginal drug and alcohol services

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The head of South Australia’s drug and alcohol services network says federal funding cuts to some of the state’s Aboriginal-run drug and alcohol organisations will place imminent strain on the health sector.

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South Australian Network of Drug and Alcohol Services (SANDAS) executive officer Michael White told InDaily several of the state’s Aboriginal-run drug and alcohol organisations were informed during National Reconciliation Week last week that their funding from the Federal Government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy would be either cut or reduced from June 30.

White said it was unclear how many South Australian services would be impacted by the funding changes as the Federal Government has not made information publicly available. He said some organisations had told him they will be forced to shut down from as early as September this year.

SANDAS released a statement yesterday calling on the Federal Government to make public its reasons for reducing or defunding services.

The network said the reduction in funding to Aboriginal services is likely to have a “significant impact” on mainstream treatment services in South Australia and will increase demand on the state’s mental health and homelessness support sectors.

“It is a disappointing outcome to come to light during National Reconciliation Week, a time when the government should be evaluating its Closing the Gap and Aboriginal engagement strategies and ensuring that individuals, families and communities are appropriately supported to address issues with alcohol and other drugs with effective, localised and adequately resourced strategies,” the statement said.

“SANDAS calls on the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to make public its reasons for reducing or defunding services. We also call on the Department to indicate how those clients who have been supported by defunded or reduced services will be supported into the future.”

White said the sector had not been consulted before the funding changes were announced and many organisations were now scrambling to assess their future viability following the “tight turnaround” funding window provided by the government.

“It’s very unclear what the new landscape will look like because the government has not actually discussed it with the sector,” he said.

“Some (organisations) will be defunded, there are rumours that the funding will be passed to other organisations but there is no clear plan about how that might happen.

“Services that see people clinically that are being defunded will need to stop the intake of clients with about a three-month window until the end of their contract so some services will stop taking clients in September this year.

“If the government is going to recommission those services, recommissioning between now and September is going to be a very tight turnaround.”

According to White, some of the organisations impacted by the changes are nearly fully funded by the Federal Government and others rely on the Federal Government for about 40 to 60 per cent of their funding. The State Government also provides funding to some Aboriginal drug and alcohol services.

White said state Health Minister Stephen Wade should be “very concerned” as the federal funding cuts will likely place increased demand on state-funded services.

“Many of these organisations would get both state and federal funding and their viability is based on the fact they’ve got those two income streams,” he said.

“If they lose one income stream then they have to head back to the other income because they can’t sustain their organisational model.

“There is a potential for a knock-on effect that will impact on state-funded services.”

White said the state’s mainstream services in the field do not have the capacity to “pick up a sudden glut of clients as a result of services being decommissioned”.

He said there could be gaps between existing services finishing and other services picking up the demand.

“When people work with a drug and alcohol service they develop a relationship with that service and there’s no guarantee that people will naturally transfer to another service just on the basis that it got the funding that it used to get with someone else.

“The mainstream system is not necessarily geared to Aboriginal communities. It’s not culturally safe for them to be seen by the mainstream sector.”

White said Aboriginal people experiencing homelessness would be particularly impacted by the funding cuts.

“Lots of those people would have a co-occurring drug and alcohol issue so they would be serviced by the mobile assistance patrols,” he said.

“Those people just wouldn’t be getting services – it would compromise their access to health services (as) often it’s the outreach services and mobile assistance patrols that stabilise these people for long enough to engage them with other services that transitions them out of homelessness.

“It’ like a jigsaw puzzle – if you take away a couple of pieces you can’t finish the picture.”

Aboriginal Drug and Alcohol Council SA CEO Scott Wilson took to Twitter over the weekend to announce the council’s rehabilitation centre in Port Augusta and diversionary programs in Adelaide would no longer be funded from next year.

Wilson said 57 staff would be made redundant and 30,000 client contracts would end.

“They (Aboriginal Drug and Alcohol Council) seem to be losing a very significant chunk of funding after 25 years of being funded – the question then becomes, at what point in the 25 years did they (the Federal Government) decide that they didn’t want to continue funding them?” White said.

“Being told during Reconciliation Week shows a fundamental lack of respect, it flies in the face of any government rhetoric of closing the gap or negotiating with Aboriginal services about how they deliver services.”

In a statement, SA Minister for Health and Wellbeing Stephen Wade expressed his concern at the discontinuation of the funding.

He said he would write to the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion urging him to provide ongoing funding for Aboriginal health services. 

Nigel Scullion’s office has been contacted for comment.

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