• Nigel Scullion declined to make comment on reports the Government was rejecting the Voice to parliament recommendation. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Indigenous activists are hopeful that a multi-million dollar funding boost towards the evaluation of Indigenous programs will lead to more effective results on the ground, but researchers remain sceptical.
Rachael Hocking

3 Feb 2017 - 3:56 PM  UPDATED 6 Feb 2017 - 2:01 PM

The government announced that $40 million over four years will be allocated to evaluating its Indigenous affairs programs.

The announcement pre-empted an Australian National Audit Office review, which gave a damning assessment of the way the Indigenous Advancement Strategy was implemented and evaluated in subsequent years, including a failure to meet key deadlines in its early stages and a grants administration process which was “below standard.”

The report is critical of the government’s evaluation strategy, pointing out that it “has not planned its evaluation approach [of IAS projects] after 2016–17.”

And that, “the current framework does not provide sufficient information about the extent to which program objectives and outcomes are being achieved.”

Senate inquiry blasts Indigenous Advancement Strategy for multiple failures
The final report from a tri-party inquiry into the IAS recommends a full internal review, as the Minister leaps to the policy’s defence.

In a Senate Inquiry last year the IAS was labelled deeply flawed, and the government urged not to repeat it.

In addition to the scathing inquiry, a 2016 Centre for Independent Studies report found evaluation of Indigenous programs across the board was scarce.

It exposed almost $6 billion dollars a year has been spent on 1,082 Indigenous-specific programs across the country, and that more than 90 per cent haven’t been evaluated for effectiveness.

Speaking to NITV the author of that report, Sara Hudson, said today’s review of the IAS does not come as a surprise.

“I think everyone knew it was going to be quite a damning report. The fact that they actually did an audit after the parliamentary inquiry into the IAS was a sign that it wasn’t going to favourable.”

She said the government’s announcement of $40 million dollars over four years to improve evaluation of programs might not be enough.

“I did call for more evaluation and it’s good to see the government’s taken that on board.”

“My main thing is you actually have to learn as you go. It has to be an iterative process, it can’t just be an evaluation at the end of a program,” she said.

“ And it needs to be co-accountability, so it can’t just be putting the onus on the organisations delivering the programs… because I think that’s what the audit report found: was that the program administration was diabolical basically. They didn’t do anything that they should do.”

" ... because I think that’s what the audit report found: was that the program administration was diabolical basically. They didn’t do anything that they should do.”

In a press release on Friday afternoon, Mr Scullion said the ANAO review’s findings weren’t entirely fair, and that his office was ‘a step ahead of ANAO audit recommendations.’

“By focusing its audit on the grants round, the ANAO has paid insufficient regard to the state Indigenous Affairs was in when the Coalition Government came to office in 2013 – and hence the need for the Government to implement its reforms,” it reads.

The audit report gave four recommendations, all of which the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet have agreed to.


Community ‘hopeful’ new funding will deliver results

Indigenous Human Rights Award Recipient and Black Rainbow founder, Dameyon Bonson, says the government’s funding announcement is a positive step in the right direction.

“I think it’s really encouraging that there’s an investment in projects and programs that are either being delivered with, for, or by the Indigenous community.”

“In the prevention of suicide it is often noted that the greatest obstacle is the lack of evaluation research,” he said.

Mr Bonson was on the federally funded Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP) advisory council, and says the resulting report should be used as a guide for the government’s IAS evaluation framework.   

That report included an evaluation tool for programs which target suicide prevention, and can be applied retroactively.

He says he is hopeful the government’s commitment to evaluation will lead to more effective results on the ground.

“Otherwise we just keep spending money on programs, which we don’t know actually work,” he said.