• Indigenous affairs minister Nigel Scullion. (AAP)Source: AAP
Indigenous groups around the country have been left frustrated by the Federal Government’s competitive Indigenous Advancement Strategy, as the results of the first funding round are released.
Myles Morgan

10 Mar 2015 - 1:06 PM  UPDATED 25 Jun 2015 - 4:38 PM

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has announced 964 organisations selected to share over $860 million and deliver 1,297 projects in the Indigenous sector. Nearly 5,000 initial applications for funding were made to the Department of Indigenous Affairs.

It is the first round of results released under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy – the Federal Government’s radical new funding model for Indigenous organisations that leaves Indigenous community groups and not-for-profit organisations competing for funds.

The funding excludes health groups, which are funded through the Health Department.

“There was a lot of uncertainty”

Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA) CEO Michael Robertson says, “I suspect the government was totally inundated with applications and they really didn't have the processing and resources to get all those applications through and assess them.

“I think the anger that's come out from the community has come about through mismanagement of expectation.”

Competitive streams

The Strategy was announced in last year’s Budget to “achieve net savings of $534.4 million over five years,” according to Budget papers.

It merged over 100 Indigenous programmes into five competitive streams:

  • Jobs, Land the Economy;
  • Children and Schooling;
  • Safety and Wellbeing;
  • Culture and Capability; and
  • Remote Australia Strategies

Groups were required to apply for federal funding within one or more of these streams, citing how they would deliver for that stream in line with the Government’s priorities.

Aiming high

Some groups that were successful in gaining funding have questioned why they went to the effort after they received a similar amount under previous funding arrangements.

Michael Robertson says that CAAMA spent somewhere between 100 to 150 hours on its application for funding to deliver 28 projects, which it said would provide immediate employment and benefits for Aboriginal people in the area.

It learned earlier this month that although the application was successful, it would not receive any extra funding for projects but that its current funding would be maintained.

According to Mr Robertson, the organisation’s time could have been better spent.

“Essentially, we're maintaining our triennial funding. We've received no additional funding through the IAS submission,” he said.

The Healing Foundation, a national Indigenous organisation that supports survivors of the Stolen Generation, was also successful in its application.

CEO Richard Weston says that the organisation made submissions for 12 projects and was successful in nine of them. “We’re currently funded to $6.6 million per annum and we’re expecting in that ball park,” he said.

But, Mr Weston also acknowledges that the application process was demanding in terms of time and resources, and he questions how smaller organisations would have managed to cope.

“It was labour intensive. We put our submission together over a period of about six weeks and put a lot of effort into it,” he says.

“If we struggled, we were sympathetic and wondering how smaller organisations were coping with that process.”

NITV News has spoken to a number of grassroots organisations that are critical of the process and say it was beyond their capabilities to complete. 

NITV News has spoken to a number of grassroots organisations that are critical of the process and say it was beyond their capabilities to complete. They have been reluctant to go on the record for fear of losing future funding.

Rocky start

Since it was announced almost one year ago, the Indigenous Advancement Strategy has had a troubled start. The Government was forced to extend the application period after it said it received a number of incorrect or poor quality applications, as well as identifying 75 organisations that did not apply.

In Senate Estimates hearings earlier this year, the Government revealed that applications for funding came to more than $10 billion, half of which came from just five organisations.

The Government said there were 4,948 initial applications for funding with some organisations making multiple applications for different streams of the Strategy. Regardless, the success rate appears to be low.

According to the Government, it has released $2.3 billion to be spent on the Strategy over the next four years, leaving just over $1.5 billion left in the scheme.

Lifeline outside of IAS

Despite the frustrations, a lifeline does exist for Indigenous organisations seeking funding. Groups can apply for “demand-driven” funding through the Government which is offered outside of the IAS funding rounds.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion told NITV News earlier this month that his department was helping unsuccessful organisations to transition.

He said there would be no gaps in frontline service delivery.