There’s been a federal commitment of more than $5 billion for Indigenous programs over the past five years but a cloud of doubt still hangs over where it’s all really going, and if – in fact – it works.
An audit released by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has found the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) is still coming up short in terms of outcomes and evaluating the effectiveness of the programs it funds.
The report goes on to say the department has not developed a reliable methodology for measuring outcomes of the framework and its evaluation procedures are still being developed, five years after its roll out.
Despite these findings, the newly appointed Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt told NITV News in a written statement that he remained positive about the IAS.
“The IAS plays an important role complementing mainstream funding by delivering on the ground funding in partnership with communities, ensuring children are attending school, adults are in employment and communities are safe,” he said in a statement.
“The Government acknowledges the frustration we all share that we are not seeing quick enough progress on closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.”
In terms of addressing the report's assessment regarding oversight and clear communication of funding outcomes, Mr Wyatt said the Department has already published a number of evaluations to help inform policy and program design.
“The Department monitors all grants awarded under the IAS by ensuring they are acquitted against grant requirements or payments are made in arrears based on outcomes,” he said.
The $5.1 billion IAS was introduced in 2014 by the Abbott-led Coalition government to centralise funding streams for programs aimed to benefit Indigenous Australians.
Yesterday’s ANAO report says the IAS provides limited detail of how the framework will help Closing the Gap, or whether the Government’s policy objectives for the IAS are being achieved at all.
Strategy under fire
The IAS was meant to offer flexibility and more clearly link funding to outcomes.
However, only two years ago, the national audit office released another report that found the department did not effectively implement the IAS, and the grant process fell short of the standard required to effectively administrate billions of dollars of Commonwealth resources.
The report found that the department did not meet its guidelines, keep records of key decisions or set performance targets for all projects.
Both the Greens and the Nationals have slammed the findings of the latest report, calling on the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to justify the use of billions of dollars in tax payer funding.
Labor MP Linda Burney has labelled the findings yet another failure of the IAS.
“Indigenous Australians deserve better,” Minister Burney said in a statement.
“The Government is establishing a new agency within the existing department to manage Indigenous programs – but it will take much more than a name change to fix the deep-seated problems with the IAS.”
Australian Greens spokesperson on First Nations issues Senator Rachel Siewert said in a statement that she is horrified and outraged by the latest findings from the ANAO audit.
“I would like to say that I was surprised by the findings of this report but as I and many people have been saying for years now, the IAS was poorly designed, poorly implemented and poorly overseen with little accountability and transparency.
“Because there is no evaluation of the IAS, the Government isn’t able to say with certainty what has worked and what hasn’t.