The legacy of the Abbott Government’s Aboriginal policy, the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, has been labelled deeply flawed and the government urged not to repeat its logic.
The Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee tabled its final report into the Indigenous Advancement Strategy following a marathon week of debate.
The committee delivered nine recommendations to the government, including to avoid repeating “blanket competitive process”, awarding longer contracts to indigenous organisations to “ensure stability” and prioritising investment in smaller Indigenous organisations.
It also recommended a full internal review of the IAS be undertaken by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Unveiled in the 2014 Budget, the IAS effectively put much of the Indigenous affairs portfolio out to tender and forced many organisations to apply for funding in a competitive application process.
“The committee heard that the reality was that the timetable to bed down the policy and administrative changes involved in a shift of this magnitude was too ambitious,” the report said.
“In addition to implementing a completely new and untested way of doing business, the process was further complicated by machinery of government changes and budget cuts.”
The committee also criticised the five streams into which the IAS attempted to consolidate government funding. The streams were: jobs, land and economy; children and schooling; safety and well being; culture and capability; and remote Australia strategies.
“The five streams do not appear to clearly or adequately cover the field of programs required to meet the objectives of this policy shift,” the report said.
Minister to consider report, but defends IAS
The Indigenous Affairs Minister said he would “carefully consider” the report’s recommendations.
“While accepting we can always do better, it’s clear the IAS has already delivered significant benefits,” Senator Nigel Scullion said in a statement to NITV.
Labor’s Indigenous Affairs spokesman told NITV that the IAS had set back Aboriginal policy by a generation.
“I think the IAS needs major changes and I hope if I am a minister in a Shorten Labor Government … that indeed we will listen closely and follow carefully these recommendations which I think will put Indigenous affairs back on track,” Shayne Neumann said.
There were nearly 100 submissions to the Finance and Public Administration Committee’s inquiry and it held hearings in Parliament House and Darwin.
Greens senator Rachel Siewert instigated the inquiry. Liberal Senators Cory Bernardi, Jo Lindgren and Dean Smith were part of the committee.
The critical submissions should be put into perspective, according to Minister Scullion.
“It should be noted that of the almost 1000 organisations funded under the IAS grant round, fewer than eight per cent lodged negative submissions to the Senate inquiry.”