A HUGE shake-up of indigenous affairs is under way, with the Abbott government planning to collapse 26 programs worth $2.39 billion a year into five or six broad areas and the rigid application and reporting process abandoned to cut red tape and allow more of a focus on jobs.
Under the previous Labor government, more than 150 indigenous-specific activities and services were being driven by eight departments through 26 programs. Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said too much money was tied up in the application for funding and reporting processes, rather than being spent on Aborigines, and the radical overhaul would end this.
From the Australian PATRICIA KARVELAS Photo The Australian
Senator Scullion said all the money that would be saved through slashing the amount spent on program administration – understood to be tens of millions – would be spent on indigenous affairs and not be consolidated into budget savings.
He said the reform was not about cutting programs; rather it focused on using the savings to address new issues faced by indigenous people, with a focus on jobs and economic development.
Programs subject to the shake-up include the Remote Jobs and Communities Program, Children and Family Centres; Indigenous Parenting Services; Family Safety Programs; petrol-sniffing programs; and the commonwealth scholarship program.
The government has already put almost all indigenous affairs programs into the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Previously, they were spread across eight departments:
Attorney-General’s; Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy;
Education, Employment and Workplace Relations;
Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs;
Health and Ageing; Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education;
Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport;
and Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.
Senator Scullion said this was the most significant reform in indigenous affairs in many years.
He said a Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet review had shown there was no proper evaluation of the 26 programs, driving more than 150 indigenous activities and services.
“What we do know about them is that they are far too complicated,” he said. “Each program has its independent processes completely separate from everything else: its own application, its own evaluation process, such as it is, and its own acquittal processes, its own reporting processes. I would like to see this come down to five or six programs. Basically, the harmonisation of these programs down to that sort of levels can reduce the red tape.”
He said this would lead to clearer outcomes and provide greater flexibility.
“We’ve got to stop the programs driving the agenda,” he said. “We are supposed to be responding to needs, that’s what government does, but instead the government is really responding to the programs … rather than ensuring that we are nurturing the outcomes the community wants.”
Some of the programs were “associated vaguely with employment, but not directly”.
“We want to have more people on the ground actually delivering benefits to the program rather than administration and we think we can do that by reducing the red tape and having a smaller number of programs,” he said.
“We need one employment stream so all things driving employment fit within that stream, not all these mirrored sub programs that sit under them.
“People in communities tell me, ‘We would like to have more people out there on the program doing this, but we are all sitting in the office acquitting the program or exhausted reporting on it’. We know that the reports never get looked at’.”