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Federal funding cuts hurting Aboriginal people and services

The severe adverse effects of 2014-15 Federal Budget cuts on Aboriginal people and services have been highlighted by the federal government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) tender process, VCOSS says in a federal parliamentary submission.

VCOSS’ submission to the inquiry into the IAS tender process highlights the adverse effects of these budget cuts on Aboriginal people and services and recommends that the most vulnerable people should be protected from budget savings measures.

It also reports some of the problems with the IAS tender process experienced by VCOSS members and Victorian Aboriginal Community-controlled organisations (ACCOs). These include:

  • Lack of meaningful engagement about the program design and development of an agreed set of outcomes of the reform.
  • Short timeframes that made it difficult to develop collaborative initiatives, especially between mainstream organisations and ACCOs.
  • Competitive tendering creating an environment of competition that discourages collaboration and information sharing.
  • Impact of funding uncertainty on the workforce, including increased staff turnover.
  • Lack of priority given to community control and cultural safety, demonstrated by the fact only 233 of the 964 organisations offered funding through the IAS were Aboriginal community controlled.
  • Large number of organisations offered short-term, one year contracts, meaning they continue to experience workforce instability, are unable to engage in long-term planning and must repeat the tender and negotiation process in a few months’ time.
  • The complexity and timeframes for the tender application resulted in high levels of non-compliance.
  • The new regulatory burden requiring ACCOs to register under the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006 to receive funding was a substantial financial and administrative burden that discouraged organisations and means resources must be diverted from service delivery.

VCOSS advocates that self-determination should be the basis of policy and system design on Aboriginal issues, empowering communities to take control of their future and decide how to progress. The government could have better embedded self-determination in the IAS tendering process through meaningful engagement with Aboriginal communities and better supporting the growth of the Aboriginal community controlled sector.

The submission is made in response to the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee inquiry into the Commonwealth Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) tendering processes, which opened in March this year.

The terms of reference for the inquiry are broad but include examination of the extent of consultation with the sector, analysis of the organisations that were successful and the potential impacts on service users.

Background to the VCOSS IAS submission

The IAS process streamlined 150 separate funding programs into five. Through the process $860 million will be invested in organisations providing services to Aboriginal people across Australia. Organisations were offered funding in March this year, to commence new contracts on 1 July 2015.

The tendering process came amid a range of 2014-15 Federal Budget measures that will adversely affect Aboriginal people, including:

  • $534 million cut to Aboriginal programs over the forward estimates
  • $160 million of that funding cut from Aboriginal health programs
  • expiration of National Partnership Agreements in Closing the Gap and Indigenous Childhood Development
  • discontinuation of funding for Aboriginal peak and representative bodies including the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples
  • changes to Medicare and income support and funding uncertainty of mainstream organisations that support Aboriginal people.