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Indigenous organisations say the federal budget is a “mixed bag”, while independent senator Lidia Thorpe says the government has spent money on a “toothless” voice to parliament at the expense of legal services.

The Albanese government says it is investing $1.9bn in Aboriginal and Islander initiatives including $424m for closing the gap, $364m over two years for the voice referendum and $263m to address violence against First Nations women and children.

Other initiatives include phase one of the $250m package to address crime and social unrest in Alice Springs, $141.2m to tackle Indigenous smoking and $238.5m to improve cancer outcomes.

The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, the peak body for Indigenous controlled health organisations, said the budget showed the government was “listening” to calls to close the gap in health.

“In the improvements to Medicare, the cheaper access to pharmaceuticals, the courageous plan to stamp out vaping, or the mental health funding for the referendum on the voice. All these measures will help. But I am particularly pleased to see the $238m announced to help close the cancer gap. Cancer is the number one killer of our people,” Naccho chair Donnella Mills said in a statement.

But some groups have missed out, causing frustration in the sector.

Aboriginal legal services warned they would be forced to freeze or suspend some services in 17 locations across New South Wales and Queensland due to a $250m funding shortfall. Northern Territory legal services said they were also at a high risk of closure. But there is no specific funding set aside for them in the budget.

Top End Women’s Legal Service chief executive, Catherine Weatherby-Fell, said the sector is in desperate need and rquires a long-term funding commitment.

“The vital legal support for women, and particularly women experiencing domestic family sexual violence, was missing,” Weatherby-Fell said.

“It’s looking very short term, instead of what we are continuously calling for, which is long-term meaningful investment.”

Lidia Thorpe, an independent senator for Victoria, said the budget does little to “meet the needs of those at the sharp end” of the cost-of-living crisis.

“But there’s plenty of cash for the voice to parliament. $364.6m over three years for a toothless advisory body that is already dividing our communities,” Thorpe, a Djab Wurrung Gunnai Gunditjmara woman, said in a statement.

Independent senator Lidia Thorpe.
Independent senator Lidia Thorpe. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

Thorpe said she was pleased to see significant investment in central Australia but it left her wondering how the government “will explain the absolute lack of funding to other First Nations communities around the nation”.

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“The word ‘justice’ receives only six mentions in this budget and indeed it is a budget poor in delivering justice. This budget fails in delivering First Nations justice, social justice, environmental justice, what you call criminal justice, justice for refugees and even housing justice,” she said.

SNAICC, the national organisation for Aboriginal children and families, said the budget was a “mixed bag”. The CEO, Catherine Liddle, welcomed commitments to cheaper childcare but said she was “disappointed” not to see budget-backed efforts to reduce the numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care.

The federal government has also pledged $10.5m for mental health supports during the referendum.

Dr Tracy Westerman, a Njamal woman and clinical psychologist who runs Indigenous psychology scholarship programs without any federal funding, said targeted and evidence-based funding of programs and services was critical and lacking.

“You can throw figures around but it’s about whether the funds are being directed to the greatest needs and that means complex prevention services,” Westerman said.

Westerman said there had been no consultations with Indigenous mental health experts about where the funding is best directed.

“It’s more that we’re funding something based on little evidence that it’s our greatest mental health priority over other issues-like child suicide prevention, or getting more Indigenous psychologists into high risk regions,” she said.

“If you’re funding based on anecdotal evidence, I don’t know what that’s going to achieve after the referendum is over.”

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