‘We need a serious change in approach’: Indigenous strategy comes under fire
19 June 2019 at 5:03 pm
Community leaders have slammed the government’s management of its Indigenous Advancement Strategy, following revelations the program was yet to be properly evaluated five years after rollout.
A report from the auditor-general found there had been major delays evaluating the $5.1 billion strategy, which was introduced by the Abbott government in 2014 to coordinate Indigenous programs within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
The auditor-general found the department was still developing evaluation procedures and had no reliable method for measuring outcomes of the framework.
Pat Turner, CEO of the National Aboriginal Community-Controlled Health Organisation, said the report’s findings raised serious questions about the government’s management of Indigenous affairs.
“The report tells us that five years after the introduction of the IAS, the department is only in the early stages of implementing an evaluation framework and that there has been substantial delays,” Turner said.
“That is not good enough for the department in charge of the Australian public service.”
This is not the first time the IAS has come under auditor-general scrutiny.
In a 2017 IAS review, the Australian National Audit Office found the department’s grant processes “fell short of the standard required to effectively manage a billion dollars of Commonwealth resources”.
Community Council for Australia CEO David Crosbie told Pro Bono News it was unacceptable the program had been so incompetently managed by “what is meant to be the leader of public service practice”.
“To think that some in these departments question the capacity of charities to effectively deliver outcomes when they have millions of dollars to support the development and implementation of basic evaluation measures and fail to deliver,” Crosbie said.
“For far too long the widespread concerns of charities about how the IAS was being managed were ignored or dismissed.
“It is about time some in government descended from their command and control towers and engaged respectfully with charities and the communities they serve.”
Labor and the Greens also slammed the government’s handling of the strategy.
Shadow minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people deserved better.
“The government is establishing a new agency within the existing department to manage Indigenous programs – but it will take much more than a name change to fix the deep-seated problems with the IAS,” Burney said.
“Indigenous policies and programs should be evidence based, transparent, locally driven, co-designed and effective.”
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert called for a significant overhaul of the program.
She said any money spent on First Nations programs must be properly and transparently targeted, with decision making led by Indigenous communities.
“I would like to say that I was surprised by the findings of this report but as I and many people have been saying for years now, the IAS was poorly designed, poorly implemented and poorly overseen with little accountability and transparency,” Siewert said.
“We need a serious change in approach that is better directed, transparent and accountable. As a nation we need to reset and take a new approach.”
But the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has defended the audit report findings.
A departmental spokesperson told Pro Bono News the IAS delivered on the ground funding in partnership with communities, ensuring children were attending school, adults were in employment and communities were safe.
“The ANAO found the IAS evaluation framework has the potential to establish a sound foundation for ensuring [evaluation] is of high quality, ethical, inclusive, and focused on improving the outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians,” they said.
The report made four recommendations, including for the department to develop a comprehensive and easy-to-navigate set of procedures for evaluation.
The department agreed and said work was already underway to achieve this.