Return to tender; Abbott’s indigenous strategy at breaking point  

Former PM Tony Abbott’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy is at breaking point after a Senate inquiry urged sweeping changes to a policy despised by many indigenous organisations across the country.

The nine recommendations from the wide-ranging Senate report into the IAS’s tendering processes called for a total rethink of the way the system works.

The findings sparked a scathing attack by Labor’s indigenous affairs spokesman Shayne Neumann who told NIT it was obvious that the process was flawed, that it had caused chaos and confusion in indigenous communities and organisations, and that it had been obvious for some time that the policy did not work.

“The whole process has been flawed since its inception. It’s a damning critique of the Liberal-National approach to this issue. So much for Tony Abbott being the PM for Indigenous Affairs,” he said.

But a spokesman for Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said that while “accepting we can always do better, it’s clear the IAS has already delivered significant benefits.’

“For the first time ever, the Government has a clear picture about where taxpayers’ money in the Indigenous Affairs portfolio is being spent – and what outcomes we are expecting from this investment.”

He said the government would carefully consider the Senate recommendations and respond “in due course”.

The report’s recommendations urged the Turnbull Government to go back to the drawing board and reintroduce a more needs-based funding and tendering system, instead of a blanket competitive process that exposed struggling organisations with limited resources and capabilities.

Even the PM’s office admitted to the inquiry that half of the applications it received under the new funding arrangements were non-compliant, a clear indication that most indigenous stakeholders did not understand the new arrangements.

The recommendations also demanded that the PM’s office release the revised funding guidelines as a draft for consultation with indigenous Australia, and carry out a full internal review of the policy.

They also urged a better communications strategy from the office of PM & C so organisations could be kept properly informed of decisions that dramatically affect the lives of members and supporters.

The IAS was put in place to eliminate waste and duplication, with 150 programs nationwide being funneled into five funding streams in Joe Hockey’s 2014/15 budget; jobs, land and economy; children and schooling; safety and wellbeing; Culture and Capability, and; remote Australia Strategies.

In its submission, the Aboriginal Medical Service of Western Sydney said the entire IAS process was undertaken without proper consultation and stands “in stark contradiction to Australia’s international obligations under the UN declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People which the Federal government endorsed in 2009.”

The Central Land Council came up with 15 recommendations in its submissions, urging governments to target funding towards Aboriginal organisations on the ground and away from NGO’s, government agencies and universities.

It also urged native title bodies and service providers to be excluded from the IAS framework, ranger funding increased and those bodies that were not successful in their funding applications be given priority when it came to feedback and explaining why they missed out.

In his submission to the inquiry, Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda wrote that his concern was that “significant money is spent on probity advice, which is of limited assistance if there is an unsatisfactory process in place to begin with”.

“The weaknesses in the tendering process are a likely result of the lack of engagement of its designers with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. In addition, the decision making process has not been explained in detail: who made the preliminary and final recommendations and decisions, and against which criteria the applications were assessed and rated.

“At this stage it is not clear the amount of funding allocated to successful organisations, how this compared with the amount requested, the period of funding granted, how many organisations have been defunded and as a result will have to shut their doors (some after many years of service). “

He added that the resulting gap in services would lead to even more social disadvantage for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“Adding to the confusion is the lack of clarity around whether another round will be held. The total IAS funding allocation to June 2018 was $2.3b, reduced to $2b, but only $860m was announced in the recent funding round. If Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are to have confidence in these outcomes, we must be able to understand the process.”

The Kimberley Institute, made up of Aboriginal organisations across the region, believed that “the net effect of the IAS in Broome and the Kimberley has been to disempower Aboriginal organisations, reduce their capacity and leaves many severe social, economic and cultural problems to worsen. This will result in enormous costs for the taxpayer and for the Australian governments in the years ahead.”

Tony Barrass



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