National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples Media Release

announcement

MEDIA RELEASE

Congress urges caution on Commission of Audit

The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples is deeply concerned at what it considers to be flawed and shallow recommendations by the National Commission of Audit in relation to Indigenous expenditure, and urges the Abbott Government to proceed with caution in its response.

“This is solely an accounting exercise. This process counts dollars and ignores the people. It’s about cutting expenditure. And there appears little rigour or evidence to justify the recommendations,” said Co-Chairs Les Malezer and Kirstie Parker.

Congress notes the Government is not obliged to implement the Commission’s recommendations and calls for talks between the Government and Congress, as the national representative body of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

“The Commission report quoted a Department of Finance’s Strategic Review of Indigenous Expenditure in 2010 observation that ‘The history of Commonwealth policy for Indigenous Australians over the past 40 years is largely a story of good intentions, flawed policies, unrealistic assumptions, poor implementation, unintended consequences and dashed hopes’,” Mr Malezer said.

“We couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, the Commission’s recommendations look to perpetuate that sorry tale. “Ill-considered amalgamation of about 150 Indigenous programs into just six or seven, as recommended, would lead to a confused and indefinite policy environment, ultimately resulting in cuts or losses by community-based organisations of their basic funding and services.

“Given the high levels of ongoing disadvantage experienced by our Peoples, compounded by historical neglect by successive governments of all persuasions, there should be no reduction in levels of Commonwealth expenditure on Indigenous affairs.” Ms Parker said it was clear that some of the Commission’s general recommendations, if implemented, would impact disproportionately on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

“For example, the raising of the age pension age to 70 by 2053 when our Peoples have an average life expectancy of at least ten years less than other Australiansi, and the introduction of a Medicare co-payment given that our Peoples experience a much higher burden of ill-healthii and lower median incomesiii,” she said.

“Congress strongly supports greater efficiency, accountability and reduction of red tape in the administration of Indigenous affairs. However, there must be transparency around criteria upon which any programs are evaluated and, potentially, determined as ‘less effective’. And our Peoples must be fully engaged in that process to ensure that adverse outcomes do not result from changes.”

The Commission has recommended the amalgamation of the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC) and Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) and the review of a raft of other Indigenous bodies including the Torres Strait Regional Authority, Northern Territory land councils, Aboriginal Hostels Ltd, and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS).

“Congress cannot support merger, abolition or transfer of any Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander body administered by the Government without more information and clarity on the intended outcomes,” Mr Malezer said. Congress unequivocally rejects the Commission’s recommendation on Congress itself, which is the only national representative voice for Australia’s First Peoples. Owned and controlled by its membership, Congress’ Co-Chairs and Board are elected, not appointed.

“The Commission’s recommendation to overturn the 2013 Budget commitments to Congress can only be interpreted as a decision to oppose the rights of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to self-determination,” Mr Malezer said. “Ministers, bureaucrats, and Indigenous peoples working separately do not have all the answers required to improve the lives of Australia’s First Peoples. But working together, without blame and prejudice, we may have a chance. This chance should be given support and not be negated.”

Ms Parker said the Congress approach had been to deal with the Government with respect and goodwill and ‘we would ask that this approach be reciprocated and form the basis of a fresh and necessarily robust relationship based on goodwill and good faith’.

“In its statement to the Commission late last year, Congress recommended that government improve its accountability and transparency, support our Peoples’ self-determination, respect and properly resource our community controlled organisations, ensure no diminution of funding for Indigenous programs, and support a sustainable Congress.

“We would like to see government change the way it does business so that nothing is decided about us without us.”

To read the Congress Statement to the National Commission of Audit in full, please go to:
http://www.nationalcongress.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/CongressNational-Commission-of-AuditSubmission.pdf

 

SUMMARY OF COMMISSION RECOMMENDATIONS IN RELATION TO INDIGENOUS EXPENDITURE

The Commission recommended:
· Collapsing about 150 Indigenous programs and activities into six or seven;
· Cutting ‘less effective’ Indigenous programs to fund a means-tested and needsbased education ‘voucher program’ for Indigenous children;
· Establishment over the next two to three years of a new, separate agency for Indigenous Affairs reporting to the Prime Minister;
· The Government work with the States on new bilateral agreements that avoid duplication, clearly designate responsibility and are outcomes based and
measurable;
· The configuration of mainstream services to ensure they’re designed and delivered in collaboration with Indigenous peoples;
· That $15 million in funding announced in last year’s Budget and included in this years’ Budget Forward Estimates for Congress from 2014-17 be discontinued; and
· The merger of the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC) with Indigenous Business Australia (IBA); and review – with a view to merge, abolish or transfer – of Aboriginal Hostels Ltd, four Northern Territory land councils, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) and the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council.

CONGRESS POSITION ON SPECIFIC RECOMMENDATIONS

Collapsing about 150 Indigenous programs and activities into six or seven.
CONGRESS: Cutting red tape seems to be a noble objective but the Commission has presented no argument or costings to demonstrate their model program rationalisation will be more effective than the current model. Congress believes that implementation of this recommendation in an ill-considered way would lead to a confused and indefinite policy environment, ultimately resulting in cuts or losses to community-based organisations of their
basic funding and services. The number of programs should not be reduced artificially to fit a narrow political agenda limited to a handful of identified priorities, and any rationalisation needs to be respectful of the diverse social structure of Aboriginal communities. We have seen ‘one size fits all’ approaches and policies waste resources in the past. Radical reengineering of programs risks undermining the considerable momentum in efforts to Close
the Gap in Indigenous inequity that has been building over the past years. The preferred approach would be the development of a nuanced understanding of the policy issues and a balanced response focusing on the gaps and areas. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and their organisations are best equipped to provide this guidance.

Cutting ‘less effective’ Indigenous programs to fund a means-tested and needs-based education ‘voucher program’ for Indigenous children
CONGRESS: Congress calls upon government to rationalise policies at the same time programs are revised. There must be transparency around criteria upon which any programs are evaluated and, potentially, determined as ‘less effective’.

Education and employment, for example, are key to addressing the long-term disadvantage and inequality experienced by our Peoples but funding of either or both to the exclusion or detriment of other important areas/priorities – health services, legal services, family violence prevention, law reform advocacy, and a national representative voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to name just a few – would be blinkered, opportunistic and shortsighted.

Our Peoples must be fully engaged in the development of new programs to ensure that they respond to identified needs and adverse outcomes do not result from changes.

Establishment over the next two to three years of a new, separate agency for Indigenous Affairs reporting to the Prime Minister
CONGRESS: Indigenous Affairs has been subjected to multiple restructures in the Government Agencies responsible for service delivery, periodically lurching from one extreme of centralisation to the extreme of de-centralisation in search of more effective programs – both with little discernable practical effect or benefit to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. There are two consistent failings in the structuring of the Public Service agencies that have been repeated by successive Governments: first, the sustained historical incapacity of Commonwealth and State and Territory Governments to effectively co-ordinate program strategy and delivery within a federated Government structure; and, secondly, insufficient expertise within Government and the Public Service Agencies to manage the process of engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, frequently exacerbated by a reduction in the number of skilled Indigenous public servants.

The structures of Government are a matter for the governments of Australia, and they alone are accountable for their own failed structures. The consequences of these failings should not be foisted upon Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples by way of cuts to programs and services to those most in need.

The Government (should) work with the States on new bilateral agreements that avoid duplication, clearly designate responsibility and are outcomes based and measurable.
CONGRESS:
While Congress agrees that all government programs should avoid duplication, clearly designate responsibility and be outcomes based and measurable, it disagrees that responsibility for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples should be shared equally with or divested to States and Territories. Australia’s support or endorsement of various human rights treaties means that the national government should ensure States and Territories acknowledge and respect the rights of the Indigenous Peoples. The legislative and administrative responsibilities of the States and Territories are to conform to national standards, and Congress expects that greater control and accountability will apply to existing grants to States and Territories for services to our Peoples.

The configuration of mainstream services to ensure they’re designed and delivered in collaboration with Indigenous peoples.
CONGRESS: Supported in tandem with respect for the expertise of community-controlled services in health, legal and other areas, and adequate funding and resourcing of them.

That $15 million in funding announced in last year’s Budget and included in this years’ Budget Forward Estimates for Congress from 2014-17 be discontinued;
CONGRESS: Congress unequivocally rejects the Commission’s finding on Congress. At no time did the Commission discuss its ultimate conclusions with Congress to avoid errors and omissions. The Commission is wrong in its assumption that Congress ‘duplicates existing
Indigenous representative bodies’. ‘What are the other existing Indigenous representative bodies, especially any that are self-determining?’ we ask. If the Commission was referring to the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Committee, it could take a lesson from that committee’s own Chairman Warren Mundine, who told SBS’s Living Black program on 12 April 2014: “We’re not a representative body. I don’t pretend to represent Aboriginal people, I don’t pretend to represent anyone, I don’t even represent the Prime Minister even though it’s his Indigenous Advisory Council. I represent Warren Mundine.”

Congress is a growing community-owned and operated organisation that has a national role to defend the human rights of the Indigenous Peoples and to deliver self-determination – a role acknowledged internationally by the Australian Government. The Commission’s recommendation to rescind on the 2013 Budget commitments to it can only be interpreted as a decision to oppose the rights of the Indigenous Peoples to self-determination.

The merger of the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC) with Indigenous Business Australia (IBA); and review – with a view to merge, abolish or transfer – of Aboriginal Hostels Ltd, four Northern Territory land councils, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) and the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council.
CONGRESS: Congress cannot support merger, abolition or transfer of any Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander body administered by the Government without more information and clarity on the intended outcomes. We also note that the ILC and IBA have already been reviewed, and merger of them was rejected in favour of their ‘reconfiguration’ as stand-alone entities as the best means of driving Indigenous economic development (IED). AIATSIS, too, has recently undergone a review although this review has yet to report.

i In 2013, the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare (AIHW) determined the average life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men to be 69.1 years (compared to 79.7yrs for non-Indigenous men) and average life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to be 73.7 (compared to 83.1yrs for non-Indigenous women)

ii Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are six times more likely to be hospitalised for preventable chronic conditions than other Australians (ABS, 2010).

iii The Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage Report 2011 reported that the personal median weekly income of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in 2008 was $400 compared with $608 for non-Indigenous Australians. Home ownership was also lower with 29% compared with 65.2 %. Further, the ABS in 2008 found that 47.2% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander households experience financial stress, more than four times that of other Australians.

2 comments on “National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples Media Release

  1. Hi it julie Was wondering if you can take my mobile number off your press release. Our policy here is that its included for media, but chamber 1, 2 7 3 its taken off with only landline included.

    Many thanks

  2. without more information and clarity on the intended outcomes.

    Congress needs to be fully advised to commission before relies of formal decision so proper rebut can be addressed before internal mis-communication is detected to retain smooth inter-governmental relationships can reflect its expenditures. Clarity of Information Control can avoid drag in ebb and flow of resources allocated to appropriate entities requiring day to day expense revenue from those requiring monthly or quarterly expense allocations.

    The process leading toward Self Determination of Aboriginal First Nations should be one that flows from One Source and spills onto others much like a Stream feeding other tributaries as it flows from South to North or Visa/Versa. These yearly cycles of Money Infusions from Congress as Government into the Hands of Indigenous Australian First Nations Peoples to administer based on there own criteria developed to maintain all the codes and conduct implemented during it’s in-act-mint process or processes.

    Criteria should reflect Trust built over years of consultation to Mint what was already written into Law at its corrination of Budgetary Expression of Support in 2013 and from this created the structure to create what it should have been underway.

    Build on this confusion to build a system of communication so that it does not happen within the Community Level as these resources are designed to meet.