• Clontarf Foundation Logo 2015 (Facebook)Source: Facebook
OPINION: There are questions to be asked over the government's allocation of money to the Clontarf Foundation in the 2020 Budget announcement last week, writes Lee Sheppard, Jon Willis and Steven Rynne.
By
Lee Sheppard, Jon Willis, Steven Rynne

Source:
NITV News
13 Oct 2020 - 12:25 PM  UPDATED 13 Oct 2020 - 12:25 PM

It is extraordinary that the Clontarf Foundation was gifted such an enormous amount of funding for Indigenous education in last week’s federal budget when they are not an education provider.  According to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the Clontarf Foundation has achieved a lot with very little in terms of past investment from governments, but what is actually extraordinary, to use the PM’s hyperbole, is that $39 million allocation in the 2020 Budget is just shy of the Closing the Gap capacity building budget for the entire Aboriginal community-controlled sector at $46.5m.  

Clontarf Foundation is only an ‘engagement’ program that uses sport to ‘hook’ young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men back to school and keep them there. To do so it uses the carrot and stick model – i.e., reward or punishment - a method ‘named after two possible uses to train a Donkey.’  

Tellingly, their language is paternalistic, assimilationist, and ultimately demeaning.

Of course, the Clontarf Foundation views what they do entirely differently. Their website states that they exist “to improve the education, discipline, life skills, self-esteem, and employment prospects of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and by doing so equips them to participate more meaningfully in society.”  

Tellingly, their language is paternalistic, assimilationist, and ultimately demeaning.  

We say ‘demeaning’ because the Clontarf Foundation enrols all of the male Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students into their Academy program, regardless of their current attendance rate or interest in the program. This gives the impression that ‘all’ of our young males were ‘at-risk’ when this is not the case.  

Of greatest concern is that those most at-risk – those who are Clontarf’s supposed bread and butter - are given few chances to ‘get with the program’.

We have found that many of the students did not need Clontarf’s sporting intervention program. Nor would we categorise them as the ‘at-risk’ group Clontarf purportedly targets. On the contrary. Clontarf highly values these students as they are more likely to succeed and help Clontarf achieve their stated aims (e.g., complete year 12) and ensure ongoing funding.  

Of greatest concern is that those most at-risk _– those who are Clontarf’s supposed bread and butter - are given few chances to ‘get with the program’.  

During their often temporary membership with the Clontarf Academy, their failure to conform is visibly reflected on a ‘stars board’– an instrument designed to show their lack of progress to Academy staff, peers, and visitors. Interventions by staff seek to ‘turn’ these youths ‘in crisis’ so that they begin to conform to Clontarf’s assimilationist model of becoming a more meaningful participant of society and contributing to the common wealth.  

Their available carrots and sticks – participation in sport, camping trips, excursions, meet-and-greets with Indigenous sports stars – do not address the range of social, cultural, and economic disadvantages that underpin these young men’s everyday experiences. The result is that these young men spend less time in the school classrooms that Clontarf purports to ‘hook’ them into attending.  

Overall, those most in need of support are more likely to slip through the cracks of such programs – ending in dismissal from the Academy and effectively finding themselves in the ‘too hard’ basket again.  

If you follow the money over the last three years, Clontarf could hardly be considered modestly funded either. The federal government allocated $40 million to assist with the foundation’s expansion in 2017. In 2018 alone, the Clontarf Foundation self-reported receiving $47,434,785 from state and federal governments, corporate organisations (e.g., extractives industry), philanthropic avenues, non-government partner schools, as well as through interest and miscellaneous revenue.  

Their 2019 annual report actually reads more like a prospectus for philanthropic donors, highlighting activity at the expense of detail about outcomes.

In 2019, Clontarf Foundation received $2.5 million federal funding for their ‘health program’ – that included training for a percentage of staff in first aid mental health. The federal government also invested a further $50 million in their Academies in 2019. However, underreporting revenue from government, including grants’ to the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profit Commission (20172019), is evident in the foundation’s Annual Information Statements.  

Despite being the largest, most well-funded, politically, corporate, philanthropic connected and supported sport-for-development program in the country, there is a surprising lack of transparency regarding Clontarf’s outcomes and operations. Their 2019 annual report actually reads more like a prospectus for philanthropic donors, highlighting activity at the expense of detail about outcomes.  

Of the boys enrolled in the program, in 2019 40 per cent of students had an attendance rate of less than 80 per cent - low enough to get them ‘kicked’ from the program.

The results are not great when reading between the lines. Of the nearly 8,000 participants in 116 academies operating nationally, only 613 boys completed year 12. The program’s average ‘unit cost per participant’ was $6,560. If completion of year 12 is the program’s ultimate aim, then the unit cost per successful participant is closer to $83,000 for each of the 613 boys who finished Year 12.  

Of the boys enrolled in the program, in 2019 40 per cent of students had an attendance rate of less than 80 per cent - low enough to get them ‘kicked’ from the program. The boys – approximately 3,200 of them – are not accounted for in the glowing annual report. Nor do they appear in the Roll of Honour of successful academy participants at the end of the annual report.   

Getting information about the failures of the program has proved difficult. Consent to participate in our research project was not forthcoming from senior or junior staff involved in the program, who stated they needed approval from the head office.  

Our research has examined the Clontarf Foundation based on its lack of transparency and modest achievements.

One Clontarf staff member attributed the organisation’s reluctance to engage in external scrutiny to the fact that “the program speaks for itself”.  However, without rigorous evaluation, the only information that governments, donors, and other interested parties seem to be able to use in informing decision-making about this sport for development program is the rather ‘happy’ online stories, self-produced annual reports, and government-sponsored pieces.  

Our research has examined the Clontarf Foundation based on its lack of transparency and modest achievements. We have asked whether an expanded footy training program for our young men was really the best our government could offer to solve Indigenous education’s ongoing crisis.  

We found Clontarf’s model to be entirely based upon Eurocentric and paternalistic values that ignore or override community cultural protocols essential to consulting and negotiating with our mob. Clontarf’s SfD program is top-down and provides minimal opportunity to adjust to local needs or parent’s aspirations for their children in our diverse communities.  

Sport is not a panacea. No amount of footy training will ever make a lasting difference to the prospects for youths in crisis who bear intergenerational burdens that comprise significant social, cultural, and economic barriers to successful and happy lives.  

-Lee Sheppard is a proud Djirribal woman and anthropologist who is currently completing her PhD titled ‘Sport-for-development: Privatised aid and Aboriginal sport in Australia’ at The University of Queensland.  

-Jon Willis is a medical anthropologist and social epidemiologist who has worked for and alongside Indigenous people for more than 30 years. His interests are young men’s mental health and Indigenous university access and success. 

-Steven Rynne is an Associate Professor of Sports Coaching at The University of Queensland. His interests are in the areas of high performance coach learning and Indigenous sport.