The PMMC spokeswoman last night clarified that, in an apparent bureaucratic mistake, the records in fact included “all grants contracted in previous financial years (2013-14 and 2014-15), including grants that do not use IAS funds, including grants through the Aboriginals Benefit Account”.
Yawuru leader Patrick Dodson has joined Cape York leader Noel Pearson in condemning the Abbott government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy, and has called for a new representative body to place control of indigenous funding in indigenous hands.
BY Amos Aikman Northern correspondent-Darwin
Mr Dodson said the existing system deprived Aboriginal people of authority and was, “a recipe for creating dependency”. He blamed bureaucrats and top-down decision-making for wasting indigenous money.
“It’s clear that there’s a need for some national indigenous entity that has a regional empowerment structure, because that’s where the work has to be done,” Mr Dodson said. “Nationally you can formulate policy, but the hard work goes on at a regional level.”
The merging of two of the country’s most powerful indigenous voices will place significant pressure on the government to act, particularly given the pair are also figureheads for the Aboriginal side of the constitutional referendum push.
The move came as a spokeswoman for Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion last night supplied new information about the IAS scheme Senator Scullion introduced, after The Australian published the first comprehensive analysis of where the money was going.
The reports triggered a venting of frustration by many in the indigenous affairs community who had been seeking such information for some time.
The spokeswoman said about $2 billion of IAS funds remained to be committed from the $4.9bn four-year funding pot. The Australian’s analysis concerned $4.1bn worth of grants listed on the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet website as “IAS grant expenditure” and “IAS 2014 grant round expenditure’’.
The spokeswoman last night clarified that, in an apparent bureaucratic mistake, the records in fact included “all grants contracted in previous financial years (2013-14 and 2014-15), including grants that do not use IAS funds, including grants through the Aboriginals Benefit Account”.
The website makes no mention of the inclusion of non-IAS funding and no mention has previously been made in correspondence with Senator Scullion’s office or with representatives for the department. All of the money is indigenous funding regardless.
The spokeswoman said there was no target for the amount of grants to indigenous organisations, but that there had been as “significant increase” proportionally. She declined to release details of organisations that had applied for but not been awarded funding.
Senator Scullion issued a press release on Saturday describing The Australian’s analysis as “fundamentally flawed”. When given an opportunity for the second day running to provide evidence in support of his claims, he again produced none.
Labor yesterday wrote to the Auditor-General asking him to investigate the IAS scheme. In his letter, opposition indigenous affairs spokesman Shayne Neumann referred to more than $14bn worth of applications, half of which he said were non-compliant, and to a mysteriously shrinking $2bn funding pot.
Mr Neumann said he held “serious concerns” about the level of ministerial direction allowed during the application assessment process, and about the lack of transparency surrounding the scheme and absence of proper public information.
Similar concerns have been raised by Mr Dodson, Mr Pearson and other indigenous leaders.
Mr Dodson last night went so far as to say the IAS had been a “step backward”. “It has been a mishmash of attempts to rearrange public spending, removing Aboriginal say out of it,” he said. “How do we expect to see growth, development and independence in the Aboriginal community if they are not part of how resources are being expended?”
The IAS was supposed to begin the Abbott government’s “new engagement” with indigenous people. Senator Scullion promised it would make government “less prescriptive” and no longer wrap organisations in red tape.
Mr Pearson said a big part of passive welfare was “passive service delivery”. “I don’t think the government understands that in social policy there’s a lot of correspondence with economic policy,” he said.
He has previously championed an Empowered Communities model that would see an indigenous “productivity commission” set up alongside “negotiating tables” to structure interactions between communities and government.
The Abbott government has invested $5m to fund design of the project but has not committed to widespread implementation.
Mr Dodson said he was not yet convinced that Empowered Communities was the best way to go, but that it ought to be “part of the discussion’’