Chapter 5 - Mainstreaming of service delivery
In April 2004, the Australian Government announced the
transfer of Indigenous programs from ATSIC/ATSIS to existing mainstream
Australian Government departments and agencies. On 1 July 2004, this policy was put into effect with the
transfer of the programs and some 1,300 ATSIS staff to the various line
These include the CDEP; municipal services; the housing
program; smaller programs associated with community participation, capacity
development and return of remains; funding for arts centres, the sports program
and the broadcasting program. They all go from 1 July to mainstream agencies.
The Government has also stated that despite the new
arrangements, all Indigenous specific programs and services will continue, as
will all 'agreed funding for Indigenous service-delivery organisations in
2004-05.' In addition, all
departments in receipt of previous ATSIC/ATSIS funding 'are required to
quarantine and track funds transferred ... to ensure that funding levels for
Indigenous-specific initiatives are maintained.'
It was claimed that these new arrangements would usher
... a fundamentally different approach across the Australian Government
... a collaborative model across agencies ... to ensure that things are done very
differently, the necessity for flexibility to recognise the diversity of
circumstances in which Indigenous Australians live, and the sort of services
that will be most effective for them.
The 'mainstreaming' policy was widely criticised by
many submissions to this inquiry. Considering that mainstreaming was a
retrograde step in Indigenous affairs, one witness considered that:
... splitting up ATSIC and sending the different matters that
ATSIC used to handle into the mainstream... is very detrimental to the Indigenous
population. ... We see the splitting up and mainstreaming of the various
different programs as a huge step backwards. 
witness explained the need for 'separate' service delivery:
We want to be different
not because we would get different service provision but because it means
bottom of the pack in service delivery. That is what it means, and turning up
in an advisory capacity is just that: you are just advising people. There is no
impetus for them to take your advice and go with it. It is nothing more than
that. Once you are caught in that political nexus with governance models you
are never in control of self-determining and self-managing.
This chapter explores the new service delivery policy
of 'mainstreaming', and analyses some strengths and weaknesses.
problems – the need for a new approach
As chapter 2 concluded, while there were problems with
ATSIC and its program delivery, ATSIC cannot be held solely responsible for the
results of programs – often delivered from the outset by mainstream agencies –
that have failed to improve the levels of Indigenous disadvantage over the past
past approaches have simply not been making acceptable headway. The fact that
Indigenous Australians have a lower standard of living to that of
non-Indigenous Australians is well documented. This
has been further acknowledged by the Council of Australian Governments by its
formation of the Key Indicators to
Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage. In
areas as diverse as school retention, life expectancy, imprisonment rates, home
ownership and labour force participation, Indigenous Australians are at a
distinct disadvantage to non-Indigenous Australians, and often dramatically so.
The lack of accessible, effective and comprehensive
service delivery to Indigenous Australians both compounds the problems and
renders their solution more difficult, as cycles of poverty and
disconnectedness become entrenched over time and generations. These problems
were acknowledged and enumerated by the 2003 ATSIC Review,
which in its analysis of the Commonwealth Grants Commission Report on Indigenous Funding 2001,
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Australians in all regions and across all function areas experience entrenched
levels of disadvantage compared to other Australians.
- Needs are greater in remote areas.
- Supplementary funds provided through ATSIC and
other agencies are forced to do too much work, due to barriers to access to
- Australia's federal system obscures
responsibilities between various levels of government and creates opportunities
for cost shifting, both between governments and between agencies at the same
level of government.
- The Australian Government has a limited capacity
to direct the States and Territories in the use of funds notionally supplied
for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advancement.
- The Australian Government's funding is generally
not allocated on the basis of need, except in the area of housing and
- The link between funding and outcomes is not
necessarily a direct one, but hedged around by many complexities.
The ATSIC Review panel went on to list the key areas
for action devised by the Commonwealth Grants Commission in addressing the
problems in service delivery. These included:
- The full and effective participation of
Indigenous people in decisions affecting funding distribution and service
A focus on outcomes.
Ensuring a long term perspective to the design
and implementation of programs and services, thus providing a secure context
for setting goals.
Ensuring genuine collaborative processes with
the involvement of government and non-government funders and service
deliverers, to maximise opportunities for pooling of funds, as well as
multi-jurisdictional and cross-functional approaches to service delivery.
Recognition of the crucial importance of
effective access to mainstream programs and services, and clear actions to
identify and address barriers to access.
Improving the collection and availability of
data to support informed decision making, monitoring of achievements and
Recognising the importance of capacity building
within Indigenous communities.
Others expressed the problem in terms of a lack of
effective partnership between jurisdictions and service providers. NACCHO said
Throughout our sector,
we have a lot of valuable experience that we feel is not going to be heard at
the national level. There is no national partnership. We do not have a
partnership with the Commonwealth, as there are in the states and territories.
Partnership arrangements are very important to us, because at the table you can
plan for broad resource allocation. If you are not doing that, the resources do
not hit the ground, so we need to get the resources to the service delivery
The Productivity Commission Report 2003
Commissioned by COAG from the Productivity Commission,
the report Overcoming Indigenous
Disadvantage – Key Indicators 2003 Summary, is an attempt to identify and
document the root causes of Indigenous disadvantage. The first report provides
policy makers with a broad snapshot and benchmark of the state of Indigenous
disadvantage in 2003.
The report identified three interlinked, priority
outcomes for Indigenous people:
- safe, healthy and supportive family environments
with strong communities and cultural identity;
- positive child development and prevention of
violence, crime and self-harm; and
- improved wealth creation and economic
sustainability for individuals, families and communities.
The report sets out a series of indicators of
Indigenous disadvantage, measuring the main social and economic factors to be
- life expectancy at birth
- rates of disability and/or core activity
- Years 10 and 12 retention and attainment
- post-secondary education participation and
- labour force participation and unemployment
- household and individual income
- home ownership
- suicide and self-harm
- substantiated child protection notifications
- deaths from homicide and hospitalisations for
- victim rates for crime
- imprisonment and juvenile detention rates
These are the end result of a chain of other factors,
some long-standing, and are not amenable to direct policy intervention. A
series of areas for policy strategy and intervention is therefore identified.
Strategic Areas for
Seven areas were identified as having the potential to
have significant and lasting effect:
- early childhood development and growth (prenatal
to age 3)
- early school engagement and performance
(preschool to year 3)
- positive childhood and transition to adulthood
- substance use and misuse
- functional and resilient families and
- effective environmental health systems
- economic participation and development
The report was compiled from census, survey and
administrative data. The report also identified deficiencies in the data
available; there are limitations in this data due to the differences in the
ways 'Indigenous' is defined. This was elaborated on at the public hearing for
the benefit of the Committee:
...in some places they will ask people to fill in a box ... In some
cases they do it by self-identification ... that is by the person recording the
data looking at the person and saying, 'I think that you are Aboriginal,' and
ticking a box. Those sorts of identification systems tend to give rise to
questions about the reliability of the data.
From the data, 'key messages' were concluded under each
Headline Indicator. For example, under 'Life expectancy at birth', the key message
was that life expectancy for Indigenous people is 20 years lower than that of
the general Australian population.
Several priorities for improvement in the collection
and development of data for Indigenous people were identified as required for
In explaining the new direction for service delivery,
and the meaning of mainstreaming, government officials stressed the difference
between 'old' and 'new' mainstreaming. The bulk of respondents based their
comments on an interpretation of mainstreaming based on departments delivering
the same undifferentiated services to all consumers, regardless of differences
in locality, ethnicity or levels of disadvantage.
the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, described
this approach as 'an enormous failure'.
'Old' mainstreaming was characterised by four main ingredients:
The first is that you do not have indigenous specific programs.
The second is that each department makes its own decisions in a non-coordinated
way. The third is that you do not have an Indigenous specific agency. The
fourth is that you have national programs that are delivered in the same way no
matter where they are delivered.
distinguishes this with the current proposal which he claimed is completely at
odds with each of those four criteria.
The new arrangements are part of a whole of government approach across the
Australian Public Service, as outlined in the Connecting Government – whole of government responses to Australia's
priority challenges policy document. The report defines whole of government
in the APS as:
public service agencies working across portfolio boundaries to
achieve a shared goal and an integrated government response to particular
issues. Approaches can be formal and informal. They can focus on policy
development, program management and service delivery.
The approach recognises that most complex social issues
cannot be tackled from any one perspective, since success in rectifying one
problem will often be undermined by failure in another. As Dr
Shergold told the Committee:
I learnt when I was secretary of the education department that I
could not improve the standard of education in schools if I was not also
dealing with the hearing problems that the kids suffered. I knew that I could
not get good results in schools if, when children returned home at night, they
were subject to family violence. In other words, we have to link the whole
together ... 
Five principles of new approach
5.24 According to the Office of Indigenous Policy
Coordination (OIPC), the whole of government approach within Indigenous affairs
incorporates five basic principles:
- collaboration: All key government agencies are
required to work together within a framework of cooperative structures – from
the Ministerial Taskforce and Secretaries Group in Canberra, to the network of
need: Indigenous Coordination
Centres (ICCs) 'will work with regional networks of representative Indigenous
organisations to ensure that local needs and priorities are understood. ATSIC
Regional Councils will [until 1 July 2005] be consulted and, over time, ICCs
will work in partnership with a cross-section of representative structures that
local Indigenous people decide to put in place.'
- flexibility: Previously rigid program guidelines will
give way to a more flexible approach, eventually enabling funds to be 'moved
between agencies and programs, to support good local strategies and whole-of-government
objectives.' Ministers will be advised
by regional Indigenous networks and the National Indigenous Council (NIC) in
formulating a single Budget submission for Indigenous-specific funding, which
will supplement the delivery of mainstream programs.
- accountability: 'Improved accountability, performance
monitoring and reporting are built into the new arrangements. ... OIPC will have
a strong performance monitoring and evaluation role relating to the new
- leadership: All stakeholders recognise that
'strong leadership is required to make the new arrangements work, both within
government and from the regional networks of representative Indigenous
organisations. ... Where leadership capacity needs to be strengthened, the
Australian Government will provide support'.
An important model for the mainstreaming of Indigenous
service delivery are the COAG trial sites. These are ten sites across Australia
where the Government is trialling working together with state and territory governments
and Indigenous communities to provide more flexible programs and services based
on priorities agreed with those communities.
These arose out of a November 2000 decision of the
Council of Australian Governments (COAG) that 'all governments would work
together to improve the social and economic well being of Indigenous people and
communities.' This was in
recognition that greater coordination of Commonwealth and state/territory
governments' commitment to Indigenous issues would result in better outcomes.
In April 2002, COAG agreed to trials implementing more
flexible programs and services based on local community needs. Communities in
ten areas were selected as pilot sites:
- Australian Capital Territory
- New South Wales – Murdi Paaki
- Victoria – Greater Shepparton
- Queensland – Cape York
- South Australia – the Anangu Pitjantjara (AP)
- Northern Territory – Wadeye/Thamarrurr
- Western Australia – the Tjurabalan region
In the same month, COAG also developed a set of key
indicators of Indigenous disadvantage against which to measure outcomes,
commissioning a regular report against these indicators.
In November 2003, the Productivity Commission's
released its first report against these key indicators; Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage – Key indicators 2003. This
report provided a means 'not only to tackle the root causes of Indigenous
disadvantage, but also monitor the outcomes in a cross jurisdictional and
portfolio boundaries.' Noting that
fragmented 'silo' approaches to address Indigenous disadvantage had not worked
in the past, Mr Gary
Banks, Chairman of the Productivity
Commission, stated that:
... more coordination is needed. The COAG trials are an important
attempt to achieve more coordinated action. It is essential that we learn from
and build on this national initiative.
In June 2004, COAG agreed to a National Framework of
Principles for Government Service Delivery to Indigenous Australians. These
principles recognise the need for services to be flexible during negotiation
and consultation with local communities.
Government policy for the new administrative
To implement the new policy, the Government has created
a number of new structural elements that will collaborate to provide the whole
of government approach.
A centrepiece of the new program is an emphasis on
high-level leadership and responsibility to drive the process. A Ministerial
Task Force has been established which will be responsible for driving the
delivery of improved services and outcomes for Indigenous Australians, will
coordinate the Government's Indigenous policies and report to cabinet on
directions and priorities.
The Task Force will be supported by a Secretaries Group
chaired by the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. The group
will issue a public report annually. The Task Force will be advised by the
National Indigenous Council (NIC), an appointed body of Indigenous experts.
of Indigenous Policy Coordination
The Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination (OIPC) has
been established by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and
Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) as the primary advisory body to the Minister on
Indigenous issues. Its role is to drive and coordinate the whole of government
approach to Indigenous policy development and consequential service delivery.
It is also expected to monitor and report on the performance of government
programs and services.
OIPC's work will be supported through the national
network of Indigenous Coordination Centres.
An integral part of the new whole of government
arrangements are the Indigenous Coordination Centres (ICCs), which replace
ATSIC offices nationally. Following concerns expressed by the ATSIC Yilli
Rreung Regional Council, among others,
the number of ICCs was increased from twenty-two to thirty, with the inclusion
of a centre for Darwin.
The ICC managers will have staff from multiple federal
and state/territory agencies; their role will be to engage with stakeholders
and coordinate dealings between all agencies and their clients on a whole of government
basis. However, the ICCs are not intended to be direct service delivery
shopfronts. ICCs will coordinate the design and delivery of services with local
Indigenous communities, utilising lessons learned from this approach during the
COAG trials, details of which appear later in this chapter.
In the process of designing services to meet local
needs, Regional Partnership Agreements (RPAs) will be negotiated with local
Indigenous communities. These agreements will guide future planning, monitoring
the funding going into the region, while also providing a mechanism for
resolving conflicting priorities for the region. Evidence presented to the
Committee has not clarified how these agreements will be negotiated, nor with
whom. A pre-requisite for this process will be the existence of legitimate
representative bodies with which the Government can negotiate – a matter which
was dealt with in Chapter 4. Perhaps unsurprisingly in the circumstances, the
regional agreements have been given a lower priority by the Government.
In contrast to the RPAs, Shared Responsibility
Agreements (SRAs) will be negotiated with individual communities and family
groups. SRAs will guide responsibilities at this level and services to be
delivered by agencies from the Australian Government and State/Territory
governments, within the community served by the ICC. Dr
Shergold considered that 'the shared
responsibility agreement expresses the negotiated will of the community.'
The Government has given priority to establishing
between fifty and sixty SRAs by June 2005.
Rationale for mainstreaming
Departments were optimistic that the new mainstreaming
arrangements would improve their capacity to deliver results, through better
coordination, more flexible programs, and improved accountability.
The Attorney-General's Department sees some significant
advantages in the transfer of this new responsibility:
Shifting responsibilities for Indigenous programs to mainstream
agencies will remove duplication and reduce expenditure on bureaucracy and
structures in the management and implementation of government programs and
services. Access for Indigenous Australians to non-Indigenous specific programs
will be enhanced with a concomitant greater awareness of other options for
The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations
(DEWR) referred back to the COAG Trials:
The practical potential for utilising mainstream services
alongside Indigenous specific services and working in collaboration in a
whole-of-government framework to maximise linkages and outcomes, is clearly
demonstrated in the development of solution brokerage capabilities within the
Department, and DEWR's role in the COAG whole-of-government trials.
DEWR was optimistic of the opportunities for
cooperation that the new arrangements offered:
DEWR see much advantage in the new formal collaboration
mechanisms being put into place, including ICCs, and believes they will have an
important role to play in promoting strong and sustainable co-ordination and
collaboration arrangements between agencies. They should foster flexible and
innovative approaches to meet community needs.
Similarly, the Department of Communications,
Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA) stated that:
... For the first time, there will be DCITA staff on the ground in
– building the department's capacity to establish working relationships with
communities and to advise on effective responses to specific priorities and
OIPC took the view that, because ATSIC provided
services on a limited scale, to effect a collaborative approach, mainstream
departments would be best placed to deliver all services to Indigenous people.
Their submission pointed out the difficulties ATSIC faced as a small service
ATSIC was responsible for less than half of the Australian
Government's spending on Indigenous programmes, with other programmes being
delivered by mainstream agencies. There was a tendency for ATSIC and other
agencies to operate as individual service providers without necessary
collaboration to achieve positive change with Indigenous communities. The focus
on individual agency programmes also meant that there was a lack of strategic
attention to the role of State and Territory Governments which predominantly
deliver essential basic services such as health and education.
Departments also emphasised the importance placed on
effective and improved accountability mechanisms, in relation to their delivery
of services. The Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST) were
typical in this regard:
DEST is committed to robust performance monitoring to gauge the
effect of its programs ... [T]he Department has a culture of evaluation,
recognising the importance to the Australian public that the policies and
programs deliver important social outcomes.
Departments including the Department of Family and
Community Services (FaCS) and DEWR further reported that they are working with
the Productivity Commission to better develop measures of effectiveness. FaCS
will use the Key Indicators generated for the COAG trial as the basis upon
which their programs are assessed.
The principles of leadership accountability have been
enforced by including in the performance agreements of Senior Executive Service
staff in relevant Departments, provisions related to Indigenous outcomes. Dr
Shergold stated that:
In terms of the relevant secretaries, who are the secretaries
who serve on the secretaries group, part of the performance criteria that now
exists by which their performance is assessed includes the extent to which a
secretary works in a collegiate fashion to deliver services to Indigenous
communities in a coordinated and flexible way. That is built into the range of
measures against which performance is assessed.
Flexibility to tailor services
The Government argues that mainstreamed services will
foster more flexibility, and will actually help to ensure that appropriate
services are delivered to regions based on their individual needs.
DEST submitted that:
DEST is supportive of the concept of flexible funding
arrangements to meet emerging needs and priorities and to achieve
However, DEST went on to admit that achieving the true
flexibility offered by pooled funding would have its problems:
There are some challenges associated with improving flexibility
and the transportability of funding between agencies and possibly tiers of
government. ... The management and accountability complexities arising from the
need to be more flexible are being explored and will take time to work through
in the context of shared responsibility agreements.
A number of departments, including DCITA, were able to
point to specific initiatives in individual communities and regions which
exemplified the development of capacity to tailor responses to individual
needs. FaCS was the most expansive
in this regard, and elaborated on a number of multi-facetted trials operating
in Flinders Island,
Cape York, and Shepparton. In each case, arrangements
have been tailored to suit local needs and requirements, and
inter-jurisdictional liaison and support mechanisms were established.
Notwithstanding the above assertions, the Committee has
not been presented with any actual evidence to show that mainstreaming will
bring about improvements in service delivery. However, the Committee is mindful
of the Government's distinction between the traditional concept of
mainstreaming, and what it claims are fundamental differences in the 'new'
system. The negative experiences many witnesses had with traditional
mainstreaming, combined with the lack of experience with the new system, leaves
the Committee with little persuasive evidence in support of the new
However, alarmingly, the Committee received evidence
from a number of witnesses going directly to the recent failure of mainstreamed
programs to deliver adequate services. A select few examples follow. Chairperson Ella-Duncan, of the Sydney Regional Council, spoke of a
mainstream Department which required an exceedingly high rate of rent
collection before it would carry out maintenance on housing:
About six weeks ago the Department of Family and Community Services,
which holds National Aboriginal Health Strategy funding, wrote to the community
and said that in order to receive this funding [to carry out repairs] they had
to achieve 100 per cent rent collection – the industry standard is 80 per cent;
that they had to outsource the housing management, although community control
and self-determination is one of the key principles that we have all agreed to
adhere to; and that unless they met the conditions they would not get funding.
They said there would be no staged roll-out and they had six months to achieve
it. It was absolutely impossible, and totally outside the agreed framework. It
was through the community’s approach to me that I was able to highlight the
issues to the ICC coordinator, who immediately began negotiations with Family
and Community Services ... [T]hat is a community in crisis. There is raw sewage
going into people’s homes. And this is happening in Sydney,
the capital city of New South Wales!
There is raw sewage going into homes. The homes are built with asbestos materials
and they have not been repaired or repainted since they were built, which would
have been about 30 years ago. There are serious problems with pest control.
Because La Perouse is right on the beach, some of the homes are sinking into
the sand. It really is a critical situation.
highlighted the plight of Indigenous Australians in relation to hearing loss,
and the treatment they receive under mainstreamed systems:
A key example is the failure of accountability for the provision of
hearing services to Indigenous Australians under the Commonwealth Hearing
Services Program. A recent review found that only 100 Indigenous Australians
were accessing the $132 million/annum Voucher scheme despite having higher
rates of hearing loss than other Australians. Despite this report, concerns
raised through Senate Estimates and a recent national Hearing Seminar, no
reforms to the Voucher scheme have been announced.
Manager of CDEP for the Laramba community in the Northern
Territory told that Committee
...[T]he way the government has gone about dismantling ATSIS to begin with
has left communities not knowing where they are. It has left the management of
the communities not knowing where they are. We have had some correspondence
from DEWR regarding CDEP and how that is going to be run, but there has been
very little communication from any of the other departments taking up the other
areas that affect the community – such as sport and rec [and] community
management and all these other issues. I think not informing the community is
not the correct way to go about business. It is their community.
Committee heard corroborating evidence from a Commonwealth agency that
indicated implementing the new arrangements was going to be a challenge:
Until 1 July
2004, DCITA was a
relatively small Canberra-based policy department without a regional presence.
While DCITA managed some important programmes, the primary focus was the
provision of advice to ministers ... As a result of the new administrative
arrangements, DCITA has now assumed responsibility for programme budgets
amounting to approximately $42 million per annum and is integrating
approximately 100 new staff into the Department. Most of these staff will be
located in regional areas, and, consistent with the whole-of-government
approach, will work in newly-established Indigenous Coordination Centres. This
will be a challenge, particularly given the lack of an existing departmental
state or regional network and the relatively junior profile of the staff mapped
in the context of these 'on the ground' examples that the Committee now
explores a number of issues which need to be addressed if mainstreaming is to
improve the situation, let alone overcome the formidable levels of disadvantage
outlined earlier in this chapter.
premature adoption of the COAG trials
The Government made it clear that the COAG trials have
formed the basis for the new policy on service provision:
Lessons emerging from the COAG trials have shaped the new
arrangements. The trials are demonstrating the need for effective
implementation of shared responsibility principles; the importance of building
capacity and effective governance in communities; the need to strike a balance
between driving change and allowing change to happen at its own pace; and that
sustainable change takes time.
The Committee is concerned that the COAG trials are
being used as a model for wider service delivery arrangements before there is
any clear idea of whether these trial sites have succeeded or not. In point of
fact, the COAG trials are yet to be assessed in any authoritative manner; until
such time as that occurs, the likelihood of success of the new arrangements is
difficult to gauge, and as such, represents a risk in terms of public policy.
Early signs look positive. The ACTU noted in its
submission some of the positive steps taken in establishing the trials to date:
These new arrangements have enabled a platform for priority
setting, negotiation, resource allocation and the embedding of accountabilities
into the performance agreements of Departmental Heads.
commented that one of the most 'pleasing aspects' of the COAG trials was the
level of cooperation and goodwill exhibited in negotiations between state and
territory governments. The Convenor
of the ATSIC Review Panel gave evidence that the review panel acknowledged
... things that were happening at COAG and at the coordination
level were certainly having success.
However, a number of witnesses questioned the wisdom of
widespread implementation of the model used in the COAG trials, given that
claims of early successes from the trials were unsubstantiated. In their
submission, the ACTU commented that:
As the trials are in their early inception, it is difficult
to measure their successes or otherwise.
reported to the Committee that:
I am not aware of any evaluation that has been done of the seven
or eight trial sites by government or indeed independently. I should say that
CAEPR [Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research] is certainly involved in
a fair bit of research [at Wadeye] ... But most of our research has really
focussed on ... getting some baseline data on where these communities or regions
were at the time the COAG trials started.
This concern was expressed by Reconciliation Australia:
Politics has determined the timing of the current re-shaping of
Indigenous affairs at national level. This being the case, there is great
danger in applying as a model for universal change approaches such as the COAG
trials, which are still highly experimental and have not yielded any
quantifiable outcomes, let alone positive outcomes.
Other concerns exist, too. There was a view that the
extent of dedicated support that the COAG trials were currently receiving to
ensure their success was unsustainable. Mr
Hannaford elaborated on this:
We [the ATSIC Review Panel] as a committee could not accept ...
that in the long term a COAG concept of coordination of services was going to
be able to be sustained right across the country in all areas where
coordination is needed.
Although the shared responsibility and cooperation
principles underpinning the COAG trials have received broad bi-partisan and
cross-jurisdictional support, some Commonwealth/State/Territory
cross-jurisdictional issues have emerged as the trials have rolled out, which
have caused some delays to signing of agreements and subsequent programs.
However this new collaborative approach has been generally welcomed as a
positive step forward by participating communities.
Effective evaluation of results is critical, especially
where new or modified approaches are being used to tackle entrenched problems.
This was a key recommendation of the ATSIC Review, which stated:
Performance evaluations should be undertaken of all
organisations that are expending Australian Government funding for Indigenous
In the Committee's view, two issues arise in relation
to evaluating results.
The first is the issue of methodology: collecting the
right information to accurately measure progress (or lack of) and to compare
results. There is wide agreement that there is a lack of statistics and
consistent benchmarking relating to the measurement of Indigenous disadvantage,
making comparison studies following the implementation of COAG trials difficult
As noted above, the first of a government-commissioned
report series, Overcoming Indigenous
Disadvantage – Key Indicators 2003, identified the key outcomes to measure
improvement in Indigenous disadvantage, and outlined key areas for action and
strategic change indicators. It has provided a benchmark against which future
reports can be measured, plus a reporting framework relevant to government and
Indigenous stakeholders. This will allow individual agencies at every level of
government to determine their capacity to address the areas of Indigenous
disadvantage within their control. The second report is due to be released in
However, the ACTU submission expressed concern
regarding the Terms of Reference to the Commonwealth Grants Commission (2001) Indigenous Funding Inquiry.
... the area of relativities (outlined in the Government's Terms
of Reference to the Commonwealth Grants Commission) to determine [Indigenous]
disadvantage and those to determine outcomes are not equivalent. How can the
Government measure Indigenous disadvantage by comparing Indigenous region to
Indigenous region, and yet measure outcomes by the closing of the 'gap' between
Indigenous and mainstream Australia?
The Committee applauds the inter-jurisdictional
evaluation framework that the Overcoming
Indigenous Disadvantage report provides, and recognises the important role
that the evaluation of the trials will play in the evaluation of the Government's
The Committee urges a thorough and impartial assessment
of the mainstreaming arrangements as they are implemented, with a full public
release of the results.
The Committee recommends that the Government
immediately establishes a mechanism to thoroughly and impartially assess the
new mainstreaming arrangements as they are implemented, including those already
in place. The Committee also recommends that the resultant report is made
The second issue in evaluating results is 'who'. As
discussed above, both line departments and specialist agencies such as the
Office of Evaluation and Audit and the Productivity Commission will assess
program delivery. However, both the PC and OEA are tasked by the Government,
and the results of their inquiries may or may not be published, and the
Committee received a powerful message from Indigenous people pushing for agency
programs to be accountable to the communities they serve.
In their submission the Whitehorse Friends for
Reconciliation argued this point when they stated that:
departments and agencies must be publicly accountable for the provision of
services to Indigenous people and such accountability should include rigorous
monitoring frameworks and the ability of Indigenous people to exercise such
A stronger view point was expressed by the
recommendation within the submission from the ATSIC Board of Commissioners,
The retention of an
Indigenous specific agency with powers similar to that of a Senate Estimates
Committee to ensure an independent evaluation of the implementation of the new
administrative arrangements and that mainstream agencies are accountable for
improved outcomes for Indigenous people.
Commissioner Williams in Brisbane spoke about his frustration with obtaining
effective service delivery, and argued for an Indigenous body that could
function like a Senate estimates committee.
The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) is well positioned to play such a role.
Professor Dodson stated that:
...[I]n relation to
research, we argue that the Institute has a key role to play in the proposed
whole of government coordinated approach to service delivery, particularly in
our capacity to provide research and policy advice on the development of
governance structures and the design and delivery of services by mainstream
agencies, including, we argue, a role for longitudinal and independent
Committee strongly agrees that Indigenous feedback must form an integral part
of the evaluation of services and outcomes reported on, regardless of the
evaluation mechanism. This will add to a sense of ownership and control by
Indigenous people over their own services, and help to ensure relevant and
appropriate services are delivered.
argument for independent, objective, ongoing evaluation was also taken up in a
submission by the Acting-CEO of the New South Wales Aboriginal Land
Corporation. He noted that although there is 'potential for some positive
outcomes', there must be a mechanism to ensure there is evaluation of any
changes. He comments that:
... [W]e are all responsible for monitoring the progress of these measures
[SRAs] and the changes they will bring, I would suggest a Standing Committee on
Indigenous Affairs will be the only objective and credible process by which
such scrutiny could be effectively brought to bear once the Howard Government
assume control of the Senate in August this year .
thoughts were echoed quite separately in evidence given before the Committee in
Sydney by Mr Calma. The
Social Justice Commissioner was commenting on the fact that his role was in
'monitoring' rather than a 'programmatic' role and as such the Commission has
no influence over government action on their recommendations.
It relates back to our concerns that reports ... appear and the
recommendations are not readily picked up. ... unless there is a champion body
within parliament to be able to push through some of those issues then they are
not going to be picked up.
a concern to the Social Justice Commission that, even in the new government
arrangements, there was no mechanism to ensure that issues, identified in
reports commissioned by the Government, were actually addressed by government
departments. Mr Calma
suggested a possible remedy to this concern:
I would particularly like to see this committee become a standing
committee to continually monitor what is happening in Indigenous affairs as a
bipartisan committee and report back to the Senate and to government. At this
stage, unless the [Senate Select] committee's recommendations are picked up by
the secretaries group or the ministerial council, there is no guarantee that
they will be addressed by government at all. ...
believed that a Standing Committee would be seen by Indigenous and
non-Indigenous people as a mechanism with the required impartiality and ongoing
accountability that the new arrangements require, and which would facilitate
government action on those issues.
I see the role of this committee [would be to] look objectively [with]
some independence in being able to feed back to government precisely what
Indigenous people have to say. So it is about the credibility that the standing
committee brings within the parliamentary forum.
operation of the ICCs
The Committee's concerns in relation to ICCs cover two
main areas. First, the considerable challenges involved in managing the
complexities of ICC's internally, and second, the extent of an ICC's authority
to operate autonomously at the local level.
Breaking down the silos
Given the Government's undertakings on the whole of
government policy, it might seem self-evident that government agencies will
need to work together effectively to achieve outcomes. Dr
Shergold clearly stated the Government's
intentions in this regard.
However, such effective cooperation requires time to
develop and should not be assumed. Traditionally, government agencies have not
worked well together in the delivery of services, yet in the ICCs, staff from
multiple Commonwealth agencies with different pay and conditions and
responsible for different programs and under different criteria, will have to
work together. It is possible that they will be joined by staff from state or
territory agencies, or even non-government organisations.
Ideally, this policy will see the emergence of
innovative and flexible centres around the country, operating like a business
'enterprise hub', and limited only by the imagination of their managers.
In practice, this may be somewhat difficult to achieve.
It is clear that succeeding will require great
effort on the part of agencies, not to mention the will of the relevant
Ministers at both State/Territory, and Commonwealth level. Dr Will Sanders elaborated on the issue of staff from different departments working
together, and the coordination which was necessary to make that work. He spoke
of his impressions of an ICC he had recently visited:
[I]t actually felt
quite different in the sense that it was quite clear that there were a number
of organisations operating in that space. They were just coming to grips with
some issues about who needed to be there and whether they could all be there.
For some of the organisations ... Indigenous issues ... are among their largest issues,
but they also have non-Indigenous issues to deal with. So there was a question
about ... who would work in that office space ...
second area of concern with respect to the ICCs is the level and nature of
delegations which are held by the staff who run them. If the ICCs are to be
outcome-focussed and effective in coordinating the delivery of services to
their clients in a timely manner, staff in the relevant offices must have the
authority to make appropriate decisions without having to consult multiple
senior managers in departmental headquarters in Canberra or elsewhere. The most obvious example of
the need for a degree of autonomy by ICC staff is in relation to the
negotiation of SRAs and RPAs.
respect, the Committee is not encouraged by the responses of the OIPC to
Questions on Notice. When asked to detail the financial and other delegations
each manager in the ICCs would hold, the Committee was informed that managers
would 'have all delegations necessary to manage their office [for example] to
approve leave for their staff, and to approve expenditure on items required to
run the ICC'.
public hearing in Moree, the Committee heard evidence supporting this concern
from the Kamillaroi Regional Council, who reported:
What we have found, though, since the funding has left ATSIC and
gone to DEWR is that our field officers have not been able to come out and
visit. We have found in the Kamilaroi region that what used to be the ATSI
office in Tamworth - it is now the ICC - has lost its
delegate and does not have the ability to make decisions with respect to
variations in funding that have been applied for. Now we are talking to someone
in Orange or Sydney
- the state delegate. We are not confident that that person is aware of what
the needs of the people here in Moree are.
response goes only to the internal administration of the ICC, and does not
provide any information on delegations pertaining to the actual role and
purpose of the ICC; that is, to provide a 'one-stop-shop', whole of government
response to clients. As a result, it remains unclear to the Committee exactly
what decisions will and can be made by ICC staff on the ground, in relation to
matters as critical as the formation of an SRA or an RPA. The Committee
considers the issue of appropriate program-related delegations to be pivotal to
the success of this model of service coordination.
Committee recommends that ICC Managers have the delegated authority necessary
to make direct funding decisions, within their agreed budget, on local
There are similar question marks over aspects of the
implementation of the Shared Responsibility Agreements (SRA) process. Four
issues are particularly significant:
- The focus on SRAs ahead of regional agreements.
- The operation of the SRA approach.
- Power relationships in the SRA partnership.
- Consideration of community capacity in
SRAs in a regional
Firstly, according to the OIPC, SRAs
will be negotiated between family or community groups, and will set out the
respective responsibilities of the family/group and the Government, and outline
the community's undertakings in exchange for 'discretionary benefits' to the
In contrast, Regional Partnership Agreements will be
negotiated between regional representative groups and government to provide a
mechanism to map both the nature and extent of funding going into the region.
RPAs will outline the strategies for stakeholder engagement, guiding priorities
for the region to be addressed by the SRAs. As noted though, the Government's
priority is the negotiation of between fifty and sixty SRAs by June 2005. The
regional agreements will necessarily take the backseat.
The difficulties in establishing representative groups
in regions across Australia, and
ensuring they have a true mandate from the people they claim to represent, were
discussed in the previous chapter.
The Committee's more immediate concern though, is that
the process is running in the wrong order. In prior reports such as the ATSIC
Review, it was concluded that to gain maximum effectiveness from government
spending, individual programs need to be set within a structure of integrated
regional planning. Thus, the RPAs should be established first to enable
prioritising of regional needs and advise the Ministerial Taskforce on regional
funding requirements. Only then should the SRAs be negotiated with communities
The Committee believes that to focus on the SRAs before
the RPAs may see a return to ad-hoc funding, with all the inefficiencies and
duplications that this has lead to in the past. It also has the markings of
grant-based funding, which these administrative arrangements are claiming to
There is the further concern that a program of rolling
SRA-based projects must not result in a loss of focus on the need for longer
term funding arrangements.
In Cairns, the Committee heard from Dr Paul Ryan, who argued that funding timelines, such as
three year funding agreements, are often unsuitable for achieving outcomes in
Indigenous communities. Worse still was funding on an annual basis that did not
allow for processes such as capacity building within communities. His
experience is worth quoting at length.
One program that we have
at the moment from FaCS runs for nearly three years and it is sufficiently
funded, we hope, to allow us to do some sustainable work within the
communities. But that is rare. That is probably the experience of a lot of
organisations other than ours – that you get funded for 12-month or two-year
programs. Sometimes it takes you two years to get things going. Then all of a
sudden the money stops and you say to the people, ‘See you later.’ – We work on
a different timescale than Canberra, Brisbane or even Cairns. We work in a different cultural context,
so we have to allow people to build their own capacity, to own things and to
understand things within that culture. One-year programs virtually never allow
you to do that. A two-year program gets you a little bit further. With a
three-year program, you are still not really there.
The fact that there are no RPAs in place, coupled with
the haste with which the first fifty to sixty SRAs will be developed, also
raises the question of whether this just a case of the Government wanting to
demonstrate some 'quick wins' to 'prove' and justify their new approach.
The Committee suggests that, at the least, attention
needs to be given to developing RPAs in parallel to – if not ahead of – the
negotiation of individual SRAs.
The operation of the
A third issue arose in relation how elements of 'shared
responsibility' will be applied in practice.
As described above, SRAs will reflect a type of
contract between members of a community to carry out certain agreed actions in
return for an additional government benefit. Thus, 'shared responsibility' is
the community level version of the policy of 'mutual obligation' that is now
applied to many aspects of government support. Thus for example, under 'Newstart',
the Government was obliged to pay benefits to a person who was mutually obliged
to look for work. Dr Shergold
agreed that the two concepts are closely related, and explained that shared
embraces the notion of mutual obligation, [but] shared
responsibility in Indigenous affairs means it is an agreement negotiated
between government and community for the purpose of provision of discretionary
SRAs therefore represent a 'carrot and stick' approach
to improve outcomes in areas of Indigenous disadvantage. Dr Shergold
reluctantly agreed with the analogy, explaining that:
The carrot would be the discretionary benefit. The stick would be
a requirement to meet those obligations, with further benefit flowing on that
further explained that 'further benefits' would result if the mutual obligation
was fulfilled by the community.
This policy has obvious advantages, but the devil is
always in the detail, and in this respect, the Committee has failed to find any
evidence of how mutual obligations are to be measured to determine that they
have been fulfilled.
What happens, for example, if either party fail to meet
their obligation? Who would determine whether a failure has occurred and what
penalty, if any, will apply? Indeed, who should be held responsible for an SRA
with a community for the failure – the entire community, which will include
penalising those who did meet the obligation, or just the person who signed the
SRA? What if the Government and its agencies fail to meet their obligations –
how does a remote Indigenous community penalise the Government?
The Committee is concerned that these scenarios are
readily foreseeable, and could lead to significant inequities, yet it is
apparent that the Government has yet to turn its mind to even beginning to
Balance of power and
This raises the third concern, relating to the extent
of the power inequality between the negotiating parties. Professor Altman
if one party holds the purse strings and the other party has to
sign off to get what would be regarded ... as a fairly basic facility, ... then I
can see the Commonwealth signing off on a fairly small cheque on their
agreed that maintaining a partnership arrangement between government and
Indigenous people will not be easy, stating that 'it is one of the great
challenges.' He continued with the rather remarkable statement that 'in any
relationship there is an unequal power relationship.'
Where this unequal power balance becomes critical is in
remote communities, whose level of disadvantage is such that they have little
real choice but to agree. The Committee is concerned that in some cases, what
government regards as 'discretionary benefits' are basic infrastructure items
that are lacking in many remote communities. These remote communities hence may
be more inclined than an urban
Indigenous community, to negotiate their rights for basic needs.
Government officials strongly denied that this could
between the entitlements that members of an Aboriginal community receive by
law, and discretionary, additional benefits that the Government can attach
conditions to. For example, when asked by the Committee whether discretionary
benefits would ever involve payment of benefits, Dr Shergold went
on to say that shared agreements are in terms of the additional benefits. The
... is not a requirement in order to access the benefits that are
available to all Australians. ... Each community decides what discretionary
benefit they want ...
further explained the distinction the Government makes between discretionary
benefits and entitlements, referring to the routine repairs on Aboriginal
It depends how that housing repair is done. If there is an
existing program to do it, then it probably is not appropriate [as a
discretionary benefit]. But if a community says, 'We want to have a program
provided for us ... to train our people to be able to do house repairs; we would
require additional money to do this and if you provide it for us we will be
able to fix the doors and windows,' that would be entirely appropriate for a
shared responsibility agreement.
This distinction between entitlements and additional
discretionary benefits works well enough in relation to individuals whose
rights are clearly defined. However, it tends to become a little murky when
related to a community level. How are the 'entitlements' of a community
distinguished from 'discretionary benefits'? To what extent is core infrastructure
like health centres, schools, or medical equipment, such as dialysis machines,
entitlements or benefits?
The issue was raised by ANTaR, who suggested that SRAs:
introduce coercive and inappropriate elements to the provision of
- placing indigenous
communities in a position where they must bargain for certain rights to which
they are entitled as of right both as citizens and as Indigenous peoples, and;
under-resourced and effectively powerless local communities against the Federal
Government via mainstream agencies.
In commenting on the Mulan agreement,
ANTaR said that a number of their concerns had been realised:
A major criticism of the [Mulan] agreement is that it breaches
human rights obligations in making government responsibilities for the
provision of health measures conditional. Criticism also points to the
inappropriateness of linking petrol bowsers with child health. A further
discriminatory impact is that the agreement focuses attention on Indigenous
behaviour as 'the problem' ... and deflects scrutiny from government neglect and
The Committee is not entirely convinced that clear
distinction has been made between what is a fundamental right and a
discretionary benefit. It remains a nebulous issue, subject very much to
individual government officer/agency judgements, and with the subsequent
potential for variance in interpretations.
The Committee believes this issue will need to be
monitored closely as part of ongoing evaluation of SRAs.
community capacity in negotiating SRAs
The final matter stems from the difficulties of
negotiating SRAs with individual groups in an equitable way.
The Committee has seen first hand the differences in
the capacity of various communities to organise themselves and effectively
negotiate with departments and organisations. There is a clear danger in the
proposed arrangements that communities who are the best organised and most
vocal will tend to be the most successful in gaining the attention and resources
of the local ICC's. Conversely, communities with less capacity, and who are by
definition often those suffering the greatest levels of disadvantage, may be
and corporate knowledge
The Committee is greatly concerned at reports of the
number of Indigenous staff choosing not to make the transition to mainstream
agencies and ceasing employment in the Indigenous affairs sector. Such a
prospect augers very poorly for the retention of corporate knowledge and
cultural awareness, both of which are critical to the successful delivery of
services to Indigenous Australians. The Committee heard a range of evidence in
relation to this issue, and noted that the empirical data appears to confirm a
downward trend in Indigenous employment in the APS.
In Cairns, the Committee heard evidence from the
Principle Legal Officer with the North Queensland Land Council regarding the
loss of staff since 1 July 2004; Mr Dore expressed the concerns of many about
the whole way the change was implemented, noting that: 'a lot of the previous
ATSIC staff either have taken redundancies and are looking for work elsewhere
or are being shifted to Canberra.'
... in relation to mainstreaming the programs, ... you will quickly
lose a pool of expertise and people who understand the difficulties faced by
our Indigenous colleagues, and they will slowly but surely be replaced by
well-meaning bureaucrats who have no understanding of the unique difficulties
facing our clients.
At the Darwin
hearing, Mr Hunter
from the Yilli Rreung Regional Council commented on how the poor implementation
of the 1 July 2004 change
has had a detrimental flow-on effect, which was felt throughout the ATSIS
The reality is that there are very committed people in ATSIC,
and the sad thing is that the morale has taken a bit of a battering and that
commitment to ensuring that they deliver services is no longer there.
Other members of the Yilli Rreung Regional Council
compared how staff were operating before and after the change on 1 July 2004:
... with the divvying up of staff of the previous ATSIS/ATSIC
office, where staff have now gone to some seven program areas, we have staff
currently sitting around twiddling their thumbs. Their linkages to their
departments appear very flimsy. ... it is causing a lot of stress.
...[before the change] they were pretty flat out doing lots of
things and that has now dried up. They probably have a very minor role.
In addition to it being 'unworkable and cumbersome',
the ATSIC NSW Eastern Zone Commissioner and Chairpersons observed that the 'one
stop shop' model would encourage split loyalties within single (ICC) offices,
and would encourage the loss of Indigenous staff and corporate knowledge.
...[T]here are certain things happening as a result of these new
arrangements that I think are potentially disastrous – for example, the massive
loss of Indigenous corporate knowledge from the Australian Public Service. The
reasons escape me why any organisation would not want to keep that knowledge.
The Committee examined the number of Indigenous
employees within the APS in some detail and notes the concerns expressed by the
Public Service Commissioner in the latest State
of the Service report:
The decrease in Indigenous employment in both absolute and
proportional terms in 2003-04 is of concern. Falls in recruitment of trainees
in 2003-04 have added to the ongoing problems of declining low-level job
opportunities and higher than average separation rates. A declining trend in Indigenous
employment is now emerging since the peak in 1998-99 and the need for targeted
recruitment and retention strategies is clear, particularly given the transfer
of many Indigenous employees from ATSIS to mainstream agencies at the beginning
However, Dr Shergold took a different view of the
facts, arguing that over the past decade, the proportion of Indigenous public
servants has been relatively stable, but that the overall decline percentage
reflects the changing nature of the public service and the decline in the
number of APS Level 1-2s: 'Therefore, we have seen a very significant decrease
in the number of Indigenous people at APS1 and APS2.'
Shergold's argument, a decrease has occurred
in both number and proportion. Such observations are deeply concerning to the
Committee, as the ramifications for quality of service delivery are profound.
The Committee notes and applauds the initiatives being undertaken by the Public
Service Commission in relation to arresting this trend, and strongly believes that ongoing
scrutiny of these figures is important in the long term.
Commenting on another aspect of the decline in
Indigenous employment within the APS, ANTaR drew attention to the rate at which
Indigenous people are leaving the APS:
Disturbingly, the percentage of people leaving the APS who are
Indigenous is ... at 4.9% indicating a worsening trend. Worse still, the report
covers the period up to June 30 2004
and so does not take into the account changes as a result of the transfer of
staff from ATSIC and ATSIS to mainstream government departments.
In a separate observation, Mr
Hunter also criticised the manner in which
some Indigenous staff were being treated in their new departments.
People have been asked to question their values. They have a
history of considering Indigenous views and issues involved in the delivery of
service. They have been told that they need to rethink their values and that
they need to fit into [ the department's] tracks ... [O]r leave. ...
ATSIS-ATSIC was a major employer of Indigenous people across the
country. That corporate value, that corporate knowledge and all that have
certainly been filtered onto a lot of other agencies and it is of concern. I
guess it is all about the capacity of the agency to retain those Indigenous
people. ... it could have been done a hell of a lot better than it has been.
Hill had this to say:
I understand that some
people have gone to a particular department and lost up to $15,000 in
entitlements. I am concerned about the staff. Those people not only supported
me, gave me a lot of information, did my papers and so forth but they are
ordinary people who want to make a difference in Aboriginal affairs. From
talking to a lot of them here in the Northern Territory, I know that they are disheartened by what
'new' mainstreaming fix the problems of the 'old'?
Earlier in this chapter, the problems of the old
mainstreaming were examined. The Committee raises two further factors that will
need to be watched closely if the new policy is to be ultimately successful.
Firstly, and to repeat a fact raised in earlier
chapters, policy planners should not lose sight of the fact that for many
indigenous communities, the threshold issue is one of adequacy of funding. In
many key areas, such as health, education and housing, individuals are not
accessing – or able to access – services at the same rates as their urban
non-Indigenous counterparts. So shuffling around program arrangements and
policies are unlikely to solve problems if they do not succeed in increasing
the per capita resources on the
Several submissions referred to the Commonwealth Grants
Commission Report which pointed to the greater need and lesser access to
services by Indigenous Australians.
Mainstream services are intended to support access by all
Australians to a wide range of services. Given the entrenched levels of
disadvantage experienced by Indigenous people in all functional areas addressed
by our Inquiry, it should be expected that their use of mainstream services
would be at levels greater than those of non-Indigenous Australians. This is
not the case. Indigenous Australians in all regions access mainstream services
at very much lower rates than non-Indigenous people.
The ATSIC Board elaborated on this, saying:
The mainstream [comprising the dominant ideas and practices of a
society which are accepted the norm, even though [they] may discriminate
against a section of that society] has generally failed Indigenous people.
Decision-making institutions and systems – government agencies at all levels –
have not been sufficiently sensitive to Indigenous needs, concerns and
experiences ... Indigenous needs, concerns and experiences differ from the
Central Land Council (CLC) echoed this sentiment when discussing their concerns
regarding mainstreaming in relation to the outstation movement, which
represents the aspirations of Aboriginal people to live on their land:
A key example of the
failure of mainstream service providers to meet the needs of remote Aboriginal
people is the lack of funding available to outstations (otherwise termed
homelands). Many Aboriginal people attempt to live on outstations that have
little infrastructure and no essential services.
in the mainstream?
The second question mark relates to whether,
notwithstanding the Government rhetoric, mainstream agencies are actually
capable of the degree of flexibility required to meet the regional and cultural
diversity necessary to deliver individualised Indigenous programs.
The Government has recognised the limitations of the
'one size fits all' approach, and Minister Vanstone
has stated that:
In a nutshell, we will produce better results by stripping away
the layers of bureaucracy, by listening to local communities, responding to
their requirements and sharing responsibility for outcomes with them.
These are accurate and laudable policies. However, many
witnesses were sceptical about the likelihood that mainstreamed services would
be genuinely and effectively flexible. Reconciliation Australia
Just as it is dangerous to make assumptions about lack of
capacity within Indigenous communities, it is potentially even more dangerous
to assume capacity within government agencies to deliver this level of change.
It appears that government policy is well ahead of government agencies'
capacity to manage implementation or deal with its consequences.
of the Northern Land Council pointed out that:
and agencies are inexperienced in dealing with Aboriginal people and have only
limited understanding of aspects of Aboriginal history and culture. Their staff
are unfamiliar with the dynamics of Aboriginal communities and rarely have much
local knowledge. ... The plethora of Aboriginal agencies and organisations ... have
all come about because of the failure of mainstream services for the very
reasons highlighted and brought out by the Commonwealth Grants Commission’s own
report. It is a historical, systemic problem in mainstream governance models in
went on to suggest that:
- The natural tendency of mainstream agencies is
to cater for the mainstream [and that] without strong and consistent political
and administrative leadership, agencies generally fail indigenous communities;
- Mainstream service delivery which is not
delivered in culturally appropriate ways in unlikely to succeed; and
- Indigenous organisations which are culturally
appropriate and have authority in the community are essential to obtaining engagement
of those communities.
Even acknowledging the best intentions of government
agencies, the reality is the problem is exacerbated by the fact that many
Indigenous people are not comfortable interacting with bureaucracy and will
avoid accessing services because of this. Centralising services away from
Indigenous people would further isolate them from those services. The Principal
Lawyer with Katherine Regional Aboriginal Legal Aid Service stated:
There is evidence which suggests that Aboriginal people do not
access mainstream services as easily or as readily as they might access
dedicated [Indigenous] services.
Professor Altman drew the Committee's attention to the very basic issue of whether
Aboriginal people felt comfortable liaising with an ICC comprised of
bureaucrats from a number of government departments:
Under the new
mainstreaming and the new whole of government approach, for many Indigenous
community organisations even working through an ICC and a number of officers at
an ICC is probably more difficult than was working through an ATSIC regional
office. [Previous funding] was coming from a common cultural base ... now those
organisations are going to have to deal with three different departments.
It is also that there can be intra-cultural sensitivities. Giving evidence in Cairns,
elaborated on examples of Torres Strait Islander people, living both in the Torres
Strait and elsewhere:
We speak with all the
members of our organisation across Australia and with Torres Strait Islander people
across Australia as well. They are all struggling in terms
of providing services to their communities. It all comes back to providing
culturally appropriate services to Torres Strait Islanders. Aboriginal people
cannot deliver services to Torres Strait Islanders ... [W]e certainly have
distinct cultures and we want to try and maintain that.
gave evidence that mainstream departments, such as Health, failed to grasp the
barriers, which living in a remote community created, to undertake what urban
communities took for granted. He explained that:
[Health] are saying to
us that we need to transport people to town for hospitalisation or treatment.
The community does not have the money to do that. We do not have the resources
to do that. We do not have the money to maintain the vehicles to do that.
At the Darwin hearing, Commissioner Hill was able to
provide an example of the disconnectedness and lack of efficiency which is part
of the mainstreaming process:
My biggest concern at
the moment ... is the lack of understanding, especially from Canberra. We have got a couple of officers, I
understand, who have been transferred to AG’s, and one officer at Nhulunbuy has
been transferred to Heritage and the Environment. Canberra did not know that there was an airstrip at
Nhulunbuy – to my surprise. Then again I am not surprised at all.
These sentiments were perhaps best expressed by Hon.
The concept of centralisation of control, centralisation of
direction – whilst it may be bureaucratically efficient and effective and
provide appropriate levels of publicly accountable governance – does not
necessarily meet the aspirations of the people that we are meant to serve,
certainly is not going to provide the levels of respect ... and is not going to
result in long-term effective change. ...
We [the ATSIC Review Panel] felt that by sustaining the approach
of a centrally directed delivery of services, no matter how well-meaning it may
be in the initial phase, it is only as good as the will of the minister, the will
of the government or, more importantly, the will of the bureaucrats at the time
who are administering discretionary programs.
The focus on remote areas
The obverse observation on the inequity with respect to
service provision is the concentration on remote areas at the expense of urban
and rural localities. The Committee in no way denigrates the specialised needs
that remote living creates. However, given that the majority of Indigenous
people now live in urban Australia, it is uncertain whether the new
arrangements will adequately cater for the very different needs of urban
The Sydney Regional Council noted that:
the majority of
Aboriginal people live in metropolitan settings, making up 2/3s of the
population base. And from a Sydney Region perspective, 10% of the total Indigenous population of Australia live within the [Sydney] Regional Council boundary.
Professor Behrendt expressed a similar view:
It has certainly been the case with funding arrangements now that there
is a focus on remote and rural areas. Nobody would argue against the need in
those communities, but it is being done at the expense of some very important
organisations within the urban areas ... [T]hat is a huge concern for us,
particularly here in Sydney in our Redfern and Mount Druitt communities. We see
enormous socioeconomic problems within our communities, enormous issues that
are of concern in every other community across the country in terms of service
delivery, the health and wellbeing of our children, substance abuse, cyclical
poverty, sexual abuse.
A different view was put by Mr Howsen, who cited the Productivity
Commission's 2004 report, which found that as remoteness increased, so did the
degree of disadvantage, demonstrating that the funding differential is
justified with reference to relative need.
The Government's move to shift all delivery of services
for Indigenous Australians to the mainstream departments is a momentous one. It
comes at a time of great change in the broader political situation for
Indigenous Australians, but has greater potential to affect the everyday lives
of a greater number of people than any other single Indigenous-related policy. If
the Government promptly and effectively addresses the critical issues discussed
in this chapter, the Committee believes that mainstreaming has the potential to
improve the delivery of services to Indigenous people.
Realising this potential depends on whether the policy
of 'new' mainstreaming lives up to its rhetoric and really amounts to a major
change in the way things are done. 'Old' mainstreaming has already been shown
to fail and the Government's own review of ATSIC in 2003 explicitly rejected
mainstreaming as an option. 'New'
mainstreaming has great potential to be different, with its focus on bringing
the expertise and resources of line agencies to bear on the problem through
flexible, coordinated and differentiated programs that respond to the needs of
These possibilities were recognised by some respondents
to the inquiry. In his submission, Commissioner Hill said that:
There are aspects of the changes that are welcomed, such as the
whole of government approach to service delivery and emphasis on partnership
approaches with Indigenous communities.
The changes also offer a promising method to link
government and communities in partnership – a task that Mr
Yates from ATSIS, sees as a fundamental
But the problems of the 'old' mainstreaming still lurk,
and as the discussion above demonstrates, the success of line agencies
overcoming these problems and transitioning to this new and quite different way
of doing things is far from a foregone conclusion. There are a great many
details still to be sorted out before any real judgements can be made on the
policy, including, the functioning of the new ICC's, how the Shared
Responsibility Agreements will work in practice, and the ways of evaluating the
results. In addition, there is much work yet to be done to achieve effective
cooperation and collaboration between Commonwealth, state/territory and local
government to prevent duplication, build partnerships and ensure the continual
From the Committee's perspective, the inquiry has
raised as many questions as it has answered. For this reason, the Committee is
a little wary of the Government's somewhat triumphalist rhetoric, which papers
over a wealth of unresolved detail. The Committee considers there is potential
in the new arrangements, but there remains the need to independently monitor
how the policy is put into practice.
already been noted in discussion earlier in this chapter that the
"new" mainstreaming arrangements for programs for Indigenous people
will present a serious challenge for the Parliament in monitoring and
evaluation of the Government's performance. Transparency is potentially reduced
and, with it, public accountability. For this reason alone, new arrangements to
enable public scrutiny to be effective need to be considered. There is no
Senate Committee charged specifically with examining policy and administration
in Indigenous Affairs.
the existing Parliamentary Joint Committee on Native Title has a sunset clause imposed
by the Native Title Act 1993; Section
207 provides that Part 12 of the Act ceases to be in force after 23 March
ceasing the operation of the Native Title Joint Committee. This Committee, in
any case is charged with dealing with only one aspect of Indigenous Affairs
policy - native title. While there exists in the House of Representatives the
Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, this Committee,
like all those established in the House, can only take up issues with the
approval of the relevant minister. For these reasons, the Committee considers
that a new, specialist Senate Standing Committee, with powers of a references
committee, should be established.
The Committee recommends the establishment of a Senate
Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs, tasked with examination of:
- the implementation of the mainstreaming policy;
- the coordination of Commonwealth, state and
- the formation of representative arrangements;
- the equity of Shared Responsibility Agreements.
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