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Senate committee critical of Indigenous Advancement Strategy Process

The flaws in the Commonwealth Government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) tender process have been highlighted by a report of the Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee, released in late March 2016.  In particular the committee found that there was little to no consultation or engagement with Aboriginal communities and organisations, no input sought at the start of the process, and the benefits of Aboriginal-led service delivery were not adequately recognised.

While the idea of IAS was welcomed, the committee believes the price paid by the Indigenous communities for implementing the unreasonable timetable was too high.

VCOSS provided a submission to the committee inquiry. The submission and more information about the IAS tender process is available here.

The committee report supported VCOSS’ recommendation that future tender rounds are not competitive processes, and are underpinned by robust service planning and needs mapping.

Evidence to the committee highlighted two concerns about the shift to a competitive tender model:

  • That such a model disadvantaged Aboriginal corporations;
  • The model used did not recognise the enhanced outcomes of service delivery by Aboriginal organisations.

The report called for longer contracts and improved consultation with local communities and services. The committee heard that the quick transition of Commonwealth Indigenous funding to the IAS had created uncertainty and confusion in the sector, which had negative effects on many organisations and service providers. One of the overarching themes of evidence was that there had been a lack of consultation and engagement by government with Aboriginal communities in the program design and implementation of the IAS.

It recognised the role and value of Aboriginal organisations, and recommended future funding criteria and guidelines give weighting to the contribution and effectiveness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations.

The committee also found that many of the problems of the IAS process reflected fundamentally similar problems in the Department of Social Services (DSS) tender process that occurred at almost the same time, including:

  • A lack of consultation
  • Rushed processes with poor transparency
  • Cutting the number of funding areas created significant challenges as organisations had to refocus their applications
  • Uncertainty for providers, and negative impacts on smaller organisations
  • Resulting gaps in service delivery.

It is concerning that such fundamentally similar failures were replicated across multiple areas.

The IAS process also introduced a new regulatory burden requiring Aboriginal community controlled organisations to register under the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006 to receive funding. Some Aboriginal organisations reported to VCOSS that they felt this was discriminatory, and a substantial financial and administrative burden that discouraged organisations from seeking funding and diverted resources away from service delivery. The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet reported to the committee that, as at 26 June 2015, 54 organisations will be required to transfer their incorporation status.

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 and this report shows we still have some way to go in achieving