Senate Calls for Funding for Indigenous Peak Body
8 November 2016 at 9:59 am
The Senate has passed a motion by the Australian Greens calling on the federal government to fund Indigenous peak body, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples for the next three years for $15 million, with a sinking fund of a further $100 million.
The cash-strapped organisation warned last week that it was likely to be forced to close its operations in 2017 as federal funds dried up.
The board of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples said it had set a budget for the 2016/17 financial year along with a financial forecast which would likely “see operations cease in December 2017 unless there is serious further investments”.
The Greens told the Senate that “the National Congress was an incredibly valuable peak body and must be supported”.
“In 2014, the Coalition broke away from a multi-party approach and cut funding for National Congress as part of the broader Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples funding cuts and the chaotic rollout of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy,” Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said.
“This funding cut has severely limited the work of National Congress.
“National Congress is doing important work, most recently on the Redfern Statement, amongst many other issues for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It must not be stopped in its tracks.”
The co-chair of the National Congress Rod Little told Pro Bono Australia News last week that the organisation would have to increase its public fundraising efforts to continue its advocacy work.
“We have passed a shoestring budget in order to continue our operations. As a board we operate under severe constraints and have demonstrated due diligence in our operations. [But] we will be forced to run a virtual office with no staff,” Little said.
“We have always had our DGR status and we have had donations over time. Once we realised that the funding wasn’t forthcoming it has allowed us to continue on our strategy to really ramp up the fundraising and look for philanthropic support.
“We will continue to pursue philanthropic donors over the coming months and we are relying on volunteer support to be able to do that because we don’t have the organisational structure and resources to be able to do that so we are relying on the goodwill of people.”
However, the assistant minister to the prime minister, Senator James McGrath, opposed the Greens motion but said other funding sources were being considered.
“Congress is an important stakeholder and the government acknowledges its role as an advocacy body for some Indigenous Australians,” he told the Senate.
“The government does not support this motion as congress has already received $30 million to establish itself, independent of government, and it is inappropriate to divert over $100 million from front-line services for an independent advocacy group.
“However, in recognition of the important role of congress, I can advise that the government is working with congress to establish other funding sources, including through fee-for-service and philanthropic arrangements.”
National Congress co-chair Dr Jackie Huggins said: “Whilst social indicators continue to deteriorate, congress has operated with a declining budget and little to no response from government, with the exception of a meeting with Senator Scullion two weeks ago.
“Senator Scullion has commenced meeting with us to renew the relationship between his office and congress.
“It’s about time we are recognised as the peak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander body in Australia.”
She said the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples had a strong heartbeat and was “not going without a fight”.