Rod Little says the IAS has been a failure.
“It should not be labelled as a success,” he said. “It’s the only policy shift that I can recall in history that has had a particular inquiry into it.
“Since the IAS has been implemented, what we certainly have considered is that there have been failings… it certainly was the wrong move.”
Djirra provides critical services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in situations of family violence.
“The Federal Government has identified violence against women as a national crisis,” Ms Braybook said.
“The situation is much worse for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, being 32 times more likely than other Australian women to be hospitalised as a result of family violence and 10 times more likely to be killed from a violent assault,” she said.
“This acknowledgement needs to translate into increased funding for Family Violence Prevention Legal Services to address the high levels of unmet demand and help keep our women and children safe.”
The government said under the IAS, Indigenous affairs would be a ‘significant national priority.’
“We must strive and strive again to ensure that the First Australians never again feel like outcasts in their own country,” Tony Abbott said in 2015.
But four years on since the IAS was implemented, serious doubts still linger.
“It has been an absolute and utter failure,” said Research Professor Jon Altman from the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University.
“But I think you need to put that in the context of the overall approach of Indigenous policy and that’s very much framed around this notion of Closing the Gap, and it's certainly framed around notions of cooperation and collaboration between the Commonwealth and the states and territories,” he told NITV News.
“We do have to keep in mind that the majority of expenditure on Indigenous Australians happens through states and territories expenditure, not the Commonwealth.”
Former Chair of the Indigenous Advisory Council Warren Mundine agrees the states and territories need to step up.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are citizens of the State, they should be getting the same services, but the states and territories get away with a lot of stuff,” he told NITV News.
“Closing the Gap should have state representatives there. This is the missing link in the whole process, we need a lot better coordination and be more accountable to taxpayers,” he said.
Mr Mundine presided over the Council when the IAS was introduced and admits the process needs more work.
“You can’t hold people out waiting for funding, that is not up to scratch,” he said. “First of all it's bad manners, second of all it's not a way to be running a funding program, we need answers to these questions.”
“Overall, the policy is focusing on the right areas; it's heading in the right direction. But we need to be making sure states, territories and the private sector are doing the same thing.”
But Professor Altman believes the time is up for the IAS.
“I think at the very least what we need to consider is a specialist Commonwealth agency to deliver Indigenous programs,” he said.
The IAS is managed from within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Professor John Altman says representative organisations, like the former ATSIC, provided better outcomes compared to what we are seeing today.
“I think we need a fundamental rethink of our policy approach and I think that might come with a change of government. I don’t have heart, I don’t really believe that this government is going to admit the errors of its approach and take a fundamentally different approach,” he said.
Professor Altman himself provided a submission to the senate inquiry into the IAS because Indigenous Australians have heard the same failure for years.
"What had become clear I think with the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, was that we were seeing a centralisation of Indigenous-specific expenditure in one department, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, a department that lacked expertise on Indigenous affairs.”
The Federal Opposition agrees the IAS has had significant failings.
“I think it was an absolute failure in the first two years. The government started to realize that they weren’t hitting the mark,” said Shadow Assistant Indigenous Affairs Minister Pat Dodson.
Mr Dodson says while the Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion has begun to engage in consultation with relative organisations, like National Congress, much of it is ineffectual.
“Because he picks and chooses whether he wants to take any notice of it,” he told NITV News.
Mr Dodson says the IAS has ‘basically folded up Aboriginal controlled organizations’ and set out competitive tenders for people to fight for funding amongst private business and non-government organisations.
“They [the government] didn’t believe the Aboriginal-controlled organizations were delivering on the sort of outcomes that they were expecting,” he said.
“So you had people then, out of Sydney, or Melbourne, or some organization that had no idea what life is like in Palm Island, and implementing a policy that was meant to create the economic opportunities, the job opportunities, the employment prospects and the small business opportunities for people in those communities.”
But Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion says it’s Labor who has failed.
“The IAS replaced Labor’s failed approach to haphazard and badly administered grants that went mostly to non-Indigenous organisations,” he told NITV News in a statement.
“Through the IAS, the Government is increasing the number of Indigenous organisations, introducing outcomes-based grants management and, for the first time, is able to provide information about the whole of government funding for Indigenous Australians,” he said.
But a key concern is that a large proportion of funding still goes to non-Indigenous organisations, with smaller organisations ill-equipped to apply for funding in a competitive field set up under the scheme.
In 2015, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet provided a submission to the senate inquiry confirming that less than half of successful recipients of the IAS’ first-round were non-Indigenous.
It estimated that 45 per cent of all recommended applicants were Indigenous organisations.
Alongside grants of less than $20,000 for playground equipment, preschools and sporting programmes run by Indigenous organisations are multi-million dollar grants to elite private schools for scholarships and private businesses for traineeships.
One school, Presbyterian Ladies College Perth, has received more than $4 million in direct funding from the IAS plus an additional undisclosed sum through another organisation that receives IAS money, the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation, for scholarship placements. According to the school’s website, it hosted 29 Indigenous students last year.
Critics argue the competitive nature of the IAS locks out some organisations that are not geared towards tenders the way private business and large mainstream not for profits are.
Like the Marninwarntikura Fitzroy Women’s Resources Centre, who through the IAS, lost 60 per cent of their funding - a community organisation in place for the past two decades providing essential services to Indigenous women and children.
"The competitive application process which the IAS funding application is based on is dysfunctional because it fails to recognise the interconnected and collaborative nature of local community organisations and initiatives," its submission read.
"The IAS funding model does not recognise the need for a whole of government approach to addressing complex social challenges."
Rod Little says money not going into Indigenous organisations cost Indigenous jobs and business opportunities.
“It doesn't demonstrate engagement of Indigenous businesses and all those kinds of things. Or Indigenous employment” he said.
Despite this, the government says the IAS is driving opportunities for Indigenous businesses.
“Under the Coalition Government, Indigenous organisations receive almost 54 per cent of IAS funding,” Minister Scullion said.
“Remaining funding is directed to non-Indigenous organisations including schools, universities and state and territory government. This is up from 35 per cent before the introduction of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy,” he said.
Mr Scullion says the government is committed to increasing the proportion funding to Indigenous organisations.
“Because we know that using local Indigenous organisations to deliver services ensures better outcomes for communities and will grow Indigenous employment," he says.
But Senator Dodson says there is no real analysis of the nature of those Indigenous businesses.
“There’s a lot of cynicism about it because companies often have one or two Indigenous people employed and present themselves as an Indigenous company,” he said.
Rod Little says there are many cases of what’s known as ‘black-cladding.’
“And that is you make up a business, give it an Indigenous name or have a couple of Indigenous partners or board members, and it’s an Indigenous business,” he said.
“But the question from my perspective is about how many Indigenous people are employed?"
Dr Nicholas Biddle, from ANU's Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, says there are many Indigenous organisations that have benefited from the IAS, but he too says the process isn’t fair.
“There are many Indigenous organisations that are doing fantastically well in engaging with the system. We shouldn’t ignore those,” he said.
“And there are other organisations, like Supply Nation or Indigenous Business Australia, which do provide some of that support, and we shouldn’t discount that. But it’s not necessarily available for all in a way in which all organisations would benefit."