Administration and review of the first
This chapter covers the administration of the Indigenous Advancement
Strategy (IAS) by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C or
the Department) including:
information and assistance provided to applicants to the 2014 IAS
ad hoc changes to funding arrangements for some service providers
to address potential gaps in services;
finalisation of funding agreements with successful applicants and
the provision of feedback to unsuccessful applicants;
the coordination of funding for Indigenous programs between
the engagement of the external organisations, Mosaic and Ernst
& Young, to provide PM&C with administrative assistance and probity
the internal and external reviews of IAS processes and guidelines
that have been announced by PM&C.
Communication with stakeholders about IAS
The committee received evidence that information provided by the
government to applicants about the IAS lacked clarity and consistency. Many
witnesses considered that communication with stakeholders could be
Information provided to applicants
The Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the Northern Territory
(AMSANT) commented that there was not enough information provided about the
application process, and that it was difficult to get reliable information from
AMSANT was concerned that there was insufficient information
and too few information sessions on the IAS provided during the tendering
period. Attempts to seek clarification from PM&C staff regarding service
scope and outcomes in order to complete applications were largely unsuccessful,
with PM&C staff either unable to supply responses or providing conflicting
details to inquiries. Organisations were left to speculate and swap notes as
best they could, or, where they had the resources, employ consultants to
develop their applications.
The committee received some evidence that suggested the PM&C
helpline offered little assistance to callers on some occasions. For example, Ms
Priscilla Collins, Deputy Chairperson, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Legal Services (NATSILS) and Chief Executive Officer, Aboriginal Peak
Organisations of the Northern Territory (APO NT), reported that different
PM&C officers gave differing information about the timeline for
When we rang PM&C we were told we could apply for only 12
months worth of funding. Then you would have another conversation. Whenever you
picked up the phone to speak to PM&C you never had a dedicated person. It
was just whoever picked up the phone at the time. I was told that it was 12
months worth of funding, and in another conversation I was told that it was
three years worth of funding, and in another conversation I was told that it
was four years of funding. We actually put in an application for five years
worth of funding but got only 12 months.
More broadly, Ms Collins told the committee of other frustrating
experiences she had gone through calling the PM&C helpline, including
inconsistent information provided and the patchy knowledge of staff. She was
particularly concerned when she found out that some staff on the helpline were
not familiar with key elements of the Commonwealth's Indigenous policy:
It was the most disappointing, frustrating process. I was
ringing them and they were saying, 'Yes, from now on you apply for Stronger
Futures,' and you had a conversation for half an hour and, at the end of it,
the person would say, 'Can you explain to me what Stronger Futures is?' You
would ask, 'Are you the Territory representative?' and they would say yes, and
you would say, 'And you don't know about Stronger Futures?' That is when we
started having panic attacks, thinking, 'These people have no idea what they're
Lack of clarity about interaction
with other programs
Ms Collins, NATSILS and APO NT, suggested that the transfer of programs
between departments had led to some confusion about program funding:
So, at the time when we were applying for the Stronger
Futures funding, we were getting conflicting information from PM&C and from
the Attorney-General's Department. Because the Stronger Futures funding was a
10-year commitment, I wanted to confirm whether that money was already locked
in and still funded under the Attorney-General's Department, and they were
saying, 'Oh, we're not too sure.' Then I would ring PM&C and they would
say, 'Yes, you have to apply for the Stronger Futures funding through the IAS.'
So we would go through a number of conversations, and then at the end of the
conversation the PM&C representative would say to me, 'What's Stronger
Futures?' So it was really messy, with a lack of information and a lack of
clarity, and as a result a lot of organisations did not apply for the funding,
because they were told information that was incorrect. We were told, 'No, it's
still under the Attorney-General's Department,' but then we were told, 'No,
it's under IAS,' and people were just totally confused.
Lack of clarity about requirements
for information in applications
Danila Dilba Health Service (Danila Dilba) noted the complexity of the
It is also worth noting here that the process was particularly
complex in view of the requirement to develop only one consolidated application
per organisation. Had there been more time allowed, this could have been a
positive step as it would avoid repetition. In reality though, it was necessary
to reconceptualise existing activity and any new proposals into a totally new
framework with only six weeks to do so, seek partners, examine evidence, decide
on lead agencies and seek relevant approvals across multiple organisations in
Danila Dilba also highlighted that the selection criteria were very
broad and generic and '[n]o specific guidance was provided as to how
applications would be assessed against the criteria and advice so far from
PM&C does not provide any indication of how [Danila Dilba's] funding proposal
was rated against the criteria'.
Ms Collins, NATSILS and APO NT, highlighted the lack of assistance
available to develop applications:
There was one information session that was in Darwin.
Unfortunately, I did not attend that one. I am aware that they had that one,
but that is the only one I am aware of. So the only support you could get when
you were doing the application was to ring the general number and you were just
going to speak to whichever random person picked it up.
Organisations also spoke about the lack of resources available to small
organisations to develop their applications. For example, the National Congress
of Australia's First Peoples submitted that many Indigenous organisations could
not match the resources or expertise of many non-government and private
organisations in applying for funding in competitive tendering processes:
A reoccurring complaint was that the short timeframe unfairly
disadvantaged small organisation[s] with little experience in competitive
tendering, while large non-governmental organisations...profit driven
corporations and government agencies, with dedicated tendering teams, were at
an advantage. Some organisations spent thousands of dollars to hire consultants
to produce professional high-level documentation only to have their
applications rejected. Already cash strapped community organisations should not
have to feel they need to hire consultants to be competitive against large
This view was also expressed by the Victorian Aboriginal Education
Association Incorporated (VAEAI):
VAEAI believes that the application process disadvantaged
small organisations and Aboriginal-controlled organisations, given that all
organisations were applying for a share of the same pool of funding, regardless
of proportion of size, Aboriginal ownership, or percentage of identified
Aboriginal employment positions. Organisations such as government agencies and
departments, private corporations, universities and local councils would have
had more resources to devote towards the application process, and this has been
reflected in the outcomes of the IAS tendering process.
Initial six week application period
The committee heard evidence that the initial six-week application
period between 8 September and 17 October 2014 was not sufficient for
For example, Danila Dilba suggested that six weeks was not enough time for many
organisations to submit adequate applications, as the IAS was a new process
that had substantially changed the way government funds Indigenous programs:
While a timeframe of approximately six weeks may be
considered sufficient in the case of a simple grant application process, it was
not adequate within such a fundamentally changed environment.
Given these challenges, the Combined Aboriginal Organisations of Central
Australia submitted it was aware of organisations that had:
...submitted partially completed applications or who did not
submit applications at all under the IAS due to the complexity of the process
and the insufficient 6-week time-frame for the lodgement of IAS applications.
The committee also heard that the tight timeframe disadvantaged small
organisations, many of whom did not have the expertise or resources to make an
application for IAS funding within the six-week deadline. For example, the
Close the Gap Campaign submitted that some:
...organisations did not have the capacity or resources to
submit an application...Furthermore, the timeframe imposed on the process,
coupled with the lack of funding for administrative functions (e.g. submission
writing) meant that some submissions may not have reflected the quality of the
programmes they provide.
The Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council of NSW (AHMRC)
highlighted the six-week period did not allow for organisations to gain input
from their own boards or consult adequately:
Because of the tight timeframe for submission and the
competitive nature of the process, there was limited opportunity to allow for
input from the Boards of services which needed to be aligned with organisational
strategic plans. The amount of community consultation and stakeholder
consultation was compromised. The need to provide letters of support for the
tender created tension between services.
It was also suggested that the short application period only suited
programs that had already been developed or were already implemented. As Family
Support Newcastle wrote in its submission:
This tendering timeframe was only suitable for those projects
that had been fully thought out and 'spade ready' prior to the opening of the
tender process. As an organisation keen to get funding for innovative projects,
we found this timeframe enormously frustrating. There was little time to
develop up a submission even without the processes that are required for consultation,
collaboration and creativity.
Mr Mick Gooda, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social
Justice Commissioner, also told the committee that he considered that the time
given for applications was not sufficient. Considering the magnitude of the
change to Indigenous funding processes made by the IAS, he reflected:
I think the sheer quantum of that was trying to be achieved
here was immediately unachievable given the numbers and what we knew.
In contrast, some witnesses suggested the timeline for consultation and
submissions was reasonable, even if many stated they were aware many
organisations had found it too short.
For example, Ninti One Limited submitted that the 'timeframe was adequate'.
However, it also commented that their local facilities and staff in Alice
Springs were experienced in applying for grants, which was 'not the case across
most of remote Australia', and that they had assisted some remote organisations
with their applications.
PM&C acknowledged that, with hindsight, it was clear that the
application period was too brief. However, they told the committee that they
had learned from the process and looking at where improvements could be made:
We were aware that the time frame was short, but we did think
that we would be able to move through the process in a way that brought people
with us. I think the non-compliant applications is a good example of where we,
in general, in the department underestimated what was required and the shift
that was needed and the communication and engagement that was required. We did
think it was achievable and doable. But part of the review process is to go
back and look at how we could do things differently in the future. What are the
learnings from this process?
Changes to timeframes and guidelines for funding
The committee heard about ad hoc changes to the process that were made
once the IAS funding round was already underway, which led to confusion among
stakeholders, and perceptions the process was unfair and not transparent. For
example, despite the stipulations of the IAS Guidelines, non-compliant tenders
were included following the closing of the application process.
PM&C told the committee that half of the applications they received
under the IAS funding round were non-compliant,
which suggested that many stakeholders did not sufficiently understand the new
Ms Liza Carroll, Associate Secretary, Indigenous Affairs, PM&C,
spoke about the numbers of non-compliant applications and the decision by the
minister to include them:
We certainly did not anticipate...that our non-compliance rate
would be that high. It was clear to us that we would get the wrong outcome if
we did not include all of those non-compliant applications.
Changes in the process not well communicated
On 24 November 2014 the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator the Hon
Nigel Scullion, announced that more time would be taken to assess funding
applications. At this time PM&C had identified service providers whose
funding was due to expire at the end of December 2014 which appeared not to
have applied for funding. In response the minister announced a six-month
funding extension for organisations that had ongoing service delivery contracts
expiring on 31 December 2014 which allowed them to continue to provide
frontline services while the IAS funding round was finalised.
After the IAS funding round outcomes announcement by Minister Scullion
on 4 March 2015, PM&C undertook gap analysis
and an additional 32 organisations were funded as part of this process.
PM&C tabled a chart at the public hearing showing that $240 million was
provided following this gap analysis by awarding extensions in the length of
funding agreements with particular organisations.
described this gap filling process to the committee, stating that these funding
decisions occurred alongside ongoing negotiations with organisations.
Additionally, the Department explained that there were cases where
organisations approached them for funding to cover gaps in services, without having
been first identified by PM&C:
That, obviously, is a less systematic process. I understand
your concern about that. But, because we had...our regional managers on the
ground, understanding what existed, then it was not just the fact that somebody
approached us; it was: 'Is this actually a real concern?' If they were not part
of the IAS grant process, and we had identified a gap, then we needed to think
about: 'Nobody applied in that grant process. There will be gap in service
provision. What will we do? We couldn't deal with it as part of the IAS
process, but we know we can deal with it over here as part of a separate
process'. So effectively we had triaged it to make sure the focus was on the
outcome but we had the mechanisms as we went through.
Despite this analysis, the committee received evidence that service gaps
still existed. During the Darwin hearing the committee was informed by Ms
Seranie Gamble, Outreach Project Manager, Northern Territory Legal Aid
Commission, that due to funding cuts in the last financial year they had to cut
outreach services to remote communities in the Barkly region and that they
understand there are now no legal services going into those communities. Ms
So there are a number of communities that not only do not
have access to court processes but do not even have access to legal assistance
through outreach lawyers travelling out there to assist in advising and
providing education and information about those issues.
When asked whether the lack of these services had been part of the gap
analysis and Ms Gamble replied:
When we were offered the funding we were offered, we noted
that it was not the amount that we had requested and that it was necessary to
provide these services in those areas. Nothing was done to address that or
change that. It was not negotiable.
Ms Gamble added that they understood PM&C knew about the lack of
services as they were told services were being mapped in those areas.
From our perspective, in our application, we spent time and
effort gaining and providing evidence of the support and demand to deliver
services in those areas. We have not had any feedback in response to that. We
provided as much information as we could to demonstrate that need. As far as we
are aware, it has fallen on deaf ears.
Mr Gooda reflected that many stakeholders in the Indigenous
community had felt these processes had not been explained to them sufficiently,
and he had consistently heard:
There was a change in timing; there was a change in how
guidelines would be interpreted. It is hard for me to make that observation,
but what I can say is that people tell me they heard different stories,
particularly around the application process and time frames. They extended the
time frames. Some people thought that they had missed out and, therefore, did
not bother putting in, but the time frame had been extended. They never got the
message. I know one particular organisation that fell under that category. I
think the communication could have been better.
Consequences of rapid transition for services and service providers
Uncertainty in the sector
The committee heard that the quick transition of Commonwealth Indigenous
funding to the IAS had created some uncertainty and confusion in the sector,
which had had negative effects on many organisations and service providers.
Most significantly, the committee received evidence that delays and ad
hoc continuation of funding was unsettling and worked against future planning
For example, the AHMRC reported losing experienced staff due to funding and job
uncertainty, as well as noting negative effects on the morale and motivation of
Family Support Newcastle also indicated that funding uncertainty had
negative consequences for staff, who would need to be made redundant should
funding applications be unsuccessful. However, its submission also commented
that this uncertainty had also affected their clients – many of whom already
face significant disadvantage – as the organisation had stopped taking new
referrals and had scaled down support services for ongoing clients.
Some organisations reported that, even when they had been awarded
funding, it had been only for a short time, which made it difficult to recruit
and train new staff. For example, the Lyndon Community submitted:
The provision of a 1 year funding agreement will make the
process of recruiting new staff difficult and challenging, as there will be
little enticement for experienced staff to give up more permanent positions or
relocate. This is also particularly relevant for programs like ours which
operate in rural and remote locations. One year funding will also significantly
lessen our ability to achieve positive outcomes due to the need to bring staff
up to speed prior to engaging with the clients/communities.
Ms Carroll, PM&C, told the committee about how the government had
tried to give the sector some security to funding arrangements, despite the
shortness of the 12-month implementation period:
I think the key driver was to really move people into an
outcomes model, to give some security to people that they had longer term
funding agreements. People had funding agreements coming to an end. We were
very cognisant of the fact, as was the Minister, of: how can we move through
this process, removing some of the overlap and duplication, getting towards the
outcomes model and really focusing on delivering into the future, but also giving
funding certainty for organisations as we went forward?
The engagement of external organisations to assist the IAS process
The committee understands that PM&C has spent a considerable sum on
engaging two external organisations: Mosaic; and Ernst & Young, to assist
with administration processes and to provide probity advice on the IAS process.
Expenditure on administrative
In an answer to a question taken on notice at the Senate Additional
Estimates on 27 February 2015, PM&C stated that the cost of undertaking the
IAS administration process was $1,759,622.00, which
...specialist services to support the operation of the grant
funding round; contract staff to
assist with data entry; and advertising costs. As the assessment of
applications for funding is part of the regular business of the Department,
there is no additional impact on internal staffing costs.
According to PM&C, Mosaic provided 'about 12 people...for about four days' to help the Department register
the large number of applications received, which cost $65,346.22.
PM&C stated that Ernst & Young played a 'broader role' and were
engaged to provide support in several areas:
logistics for IAS funding round process, including 'guidance for
individual staff members undertaking the assessment process', and IT
assistance, particularly regarding the database used to register applications;
a 'surge capacity' of 20 to 25 people, who worked alongside
Mosaic staff, to help the Department register the number of applications
probity advice, on an 'as-needs basis'.
At Senate Estimates on 27 February 2015, PM&C stated it had an 'open
contract' with Ernst & Young, valued at $1.5 million, although it 'may
not...use the whole amount' of this contract.
However, in answers to questions on notice, PM&C provided the following
evidence, which appears to indicate that the total Ernst & Young contract
has already cost more than $1.5 million:
As part of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS), to date
the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has spent $1,513,600 on Ernst
& Young. This includes four contracts that ceased in December 2014 valued
at $646,000 for external probity advice, logistics and database development and
two current contracts to the value of $867,600 for specialist services to
support the operation of the grant funding round.
The Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation
(VACCHO) suggested in its submission that the need for a 'surge capacity'
demonstrated how poorly PM&C had planned the application round. In
addition, VACCHO highlighted that this money could have been better spent on
delivering frontline services rather than additional administration:
The cost of contracting these firms was significant, within
the range of $1 million to $1.5 million. This support was described as 'surge
capacity' and appears to be a result of the Department being unprepared for the
volume and number of applications. Given the $2.3 billion funding on offer, it
should have been expected that applications would be high in volume and number.
The administrative cost of the process, and in particular these contractors,
would have made a significant difference if allocated to frontline services. It
is completely unacceptable that this administrative expense was deemed
Probity advice provided by Ernst
PM&C stated in its submission that an external probity adviser from
Ernst & Young had been engaged to provide advice to officers involved in
the IAS open funding round, in addition to an 'internal probity advisor'.
The Department also stated that:
Plan was developed and set out the minimum, mandatory probity requirements for
the round. The plan articulated the following principles to support probity
- Fairness and impartiality.
Consistency and transparency of process.
Security and confidentiality.
Identification and resolution of conflicts of interest.
Compliance with legislative obligations and government policies (as they apply
to grants, including the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability
Act 2013 (PGPA Act).
PM&C advised that the internal probity adviser and Ernst & Young
had provided a 'final sign-off'' for the Department, which meant:
they were satisfied that we had met the requirements of all of our
documentation and all of our governance arrangements were strong along the way.
However, Mr Gooda raised concerns about the probity advice given
to the Department, given the problems that stakeholders had identified, as well
as the shortcomings in the process identified by PM&C itself:
probity auditors do is actually make sure you maintain or keep faith with the
process as you said it would apply. If the processes were pretty flawed at the
beginning, all the probity auditors tell you is that you are stuck by a pretty
flawed process. I have said that to the department many times. If you quote
probity auditors to me about a way we should be confident, I have problems with
the whole process of how we went about this, mainly because of the lack of
Mr Gooda also questioned how much the probity advice from Ernst &
Young had cost the government, when its value was questionable, given the
obvious flaws in the IAS process itself:
cost of this [probity] advice was not provided during Senate Estimates. My
concern is that significant money is spent on probity advice, which is of
limited assistance if there is an unsatisfactory process in place to begin
with. The weaknesses in the tendering process are a likely result of the lack
of engagement of its designers with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Building unrealistic expectations
The letter sent to potential applicants by PM&C on 8 September 2014
announcing the opening of the first IAS funding round stated that innovative
and locally-focussed programs were encouraged:
The IAS provides flexibility to apply for funding for
innovative solutions to improve outcomes for Indigenous people over the long
term on one application form. The IAS focuses spending on services that support
the Government's priority areas of getting children to school, adults into jobs
and improving community safety. The new arrangements provide organisations with
an opportunity to work with communities to develop local solutions with local
Many organisations understood that the IAS encouraged 'thinking big'
about innovative projects and new ways of delivering services for Indigenous
Australians and communities. Given these expectations, there was some
disappointment expressed that the IAS round predominantly maintained funding to
existing providers and programs, and many innovative proposals were
For example, Save the Children submitted that the IAS had not delivered
on the expectations that many stakeholders had:
The narrative of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy set high
expectations for the Tender. The promise was that it would provide 'unprecedented
flexibility' to work with individuals, families and communities to improve
outcomes over the long-term and that it was designed to 'fundamentally reduce
the red tape and reporting burden on providers, freeing them up to deliver
better services rather than more paper work'.
In a bid to promote innovation, organisations were also encouraged
to 'think big' and put forward 'new solutions to old problems'. Collaboration
was promoted as the key and rightly, non-Aboriginal organisations were expected
to work in strong partnership at the local level with Aboriginal-led and
These were welcome sentiments in a resource-constrained
sector where many organisations are seeking to deliver holistic solutions at
the local level to complex and intergenerational issues.
The North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance
considered that the IAS Guidelines and application kit encouraged organisations
applying for innovative programs:
The wording of the guidelines and application kit indicate
that the department is interested in taking a much more innovative approach to
service delivery than they had under previous funding initiatives. However
given the types of funding applications that have been successful, questions
must be raised around the strategic intent of the department.
Evidence provided by PM&C about the amount of funding applied
for by some organisations appears to support the view that many applicants
considered that programs that were innovative and 'thinking big' were more
likely to be funded under the IAS. While the available funding was $2.3 billion
for the first and any subsequent rounds
the funding round was heavily subscribed.
PM&C explained that this amount included some applications asking for very large amounts of
money, with the five largest applications asking for a combined total of $5
billion for programs (all of which were unsuccessful).
Although many organisations put effort into developing applications for
new projects, the committee received evidence many of these were not funded. For
example, Ms Lisa Briggs, Chief Executive Officer, National Aboriginal Community
Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) reported that a survey of members found
...the decision making overwhelmingly favoured continuity of
current services, and did not reward innovation.
NACCHO's survey found that their members applied for 186 programs,
83 of these were for new funding and 103 were for existing programs. Sixty
seven, or 80 per cent, of funding applications for new programs were
Gibson, Assistant Secretary, PM&C, responded to NACCHO's findings by giving
an example of how some applications were over-ambitious and not supported by
The IAS unleashed a lot of ambitions. We had some examples of
organisations that had not received funding before including [Aboriginal
Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs)]. There is one in my mind,
because I remember giving the feedback. They put in their application for $18
million, for example, which was way more than they were already receiving for
their core grant to do primary health care and a range of other things. It is
very difficult when faced with a submission like that. There were some good
ideas in the submission, but it was a major submission about covering a very
large area of the country with a new service type that had not been tested.
There is no real evidence base for what it was they were proposing to do. The
service delivery model was not grounded or tested. I am not saying that all the
83 [programs discussed by NACCHO] fit that picture, but I am giving you an idea
of what came forward amongst those 83 programs that were looking for money.
However, Ninti One Limited described a similar experience with their new
proposals for IAS funding that had been based on extensive research and still
It was our experience that our proposals for innovative
design and delivery were not rewarded in the IAS funding round. Our 8
innovative proposals were all unsuccessful...these proposals were based on
several millions of dollars of CRC research and innovation funding from the
Australian and State and Territory governments and private industry.
At the hearing on 29 June 2015, PM&C confirmed that in assessing
applications they were informed by a need not to leave gaps in existing
...one of our real focuses was on making sure we did not upset
or discontinue existing effective frontline services...
Ms Caroline Edwards, First Assistant Secretary, PM&C, added that in
the Safety and Wellbeing program:
...it is probably true to say that many of our current
providers were re-funded and at similar levels to previously.
Ms Edwards argued that the value of the IAS process should not be
underestimated, as many new providers and activities had been funded, alongside
continuing funding for established organisations with a history of delivering
good outcomes. The example of funding awarded under the IAS' Social and
Emotional Wellbeing Program was given, in which:
We have new activities, we have new providers, we have
maintained a large number and we have also reduced some. We have also
quarantined some funding and we ask, 'Those people did not apply or they no
longer want to do it. How should we do it?' We have looked at those. If you
look at the previous [Social and Emotional Wellbeing Program] the situation is
even more complicated. We have a large number of providers who did not apply or
who did not apply for the sort of activity they were doing before. We had a
good look at those and often there was a good reason for [them not applying] - they
were not the best way.
We have maintained funding for quite a large number, but we
have new providers, expanded providers, we have reduced and ceased providers
and, subsequent to the round, we have been continuing to find ways to do that
sort of funding...But we were unashamedly careful about existing service systems.
I think we have demonstrated care but we have made sure that we do not break
what is working but we do give opportunities for innovation.
At the committee's final hearing on 1 March 2016, Mr Andrew Tongue,
Associate Secretary, Indigenous Affairs, PM&C agreed that the process had
been disruptive for the sector, however, he continued:
[F]or the first time [the committee], the sector and [the
department] are able to see this sweep of funding in Indigenous affairs across
$1.2 billion worth of funding. That throws up a series of policy questions
about 'Why this and not that?' or, in some communities, 'Why six of those
rather than one?' It also begs a series of policy questions about 'So how much
of this money is allocated against evidence and how much is it, what I call,
the geological layers of governments and ministers and bureaucracies over
time?' The significance of that is quite powerful in shaping the Indigenous
affairs agenda, going forward.
The committee received evidence that suggested that some organisations
did not receive sufficient information about successful applications. As
organisations submitted a single application for IAS funding even when they
were proposing multiple programs, some organisations were successful for some
programs but not for others. The committee heard evidence that communications
from PM&C lacked clarity about whether applications had been approved or
rejected. This appears to have been particularly acute where an applicant
sought funding for more than one program or activity, with applicants left uncertain
as to whether applications were fully or partially approved, and which specific
activities had been approved or rejected.
For example, some organisations were sent an email advising they were
successful but not indicating which program/s was successful. They then
received an email saying they were unsuccessful, again not indicating which
program/s was unsuccessful.
Ms Collins, NATSILS and APO NT, explained that trying to find out
information about successful and unsuccessful applications had been difficult:
I had to ring the [helpline] to find out what was going on. I
was told, 'Yes, you have been successful for this.' I said, 'But we applied for
all these different programs', and they said, 'Oh, well, we will have to get
back to you on that.' Then you have to ring again to find out: 'Can somebody
tell me if we were successful on this or unsuccessful on this?' Every single
person I spoke to on the phone gave me a different answer, so we just had to
wait until someone official rang us.
AHMRC also reported that the provision of information remained slow and
inconsistent even after the round has been completed:
Information regarding the IAS has been limited, slow and
inconsistent. To date, the Department has only released a list of services
approved for funding, there is no national picture of the amounts approved, the
length of contracts (some services got three years, some only one), why some
services did not get funded, or why funding was awarded to government
departments and universities. Some services are still awaiting a meeting with
the Department to discuss their funding contract, five weeks following the
announcements. One service has had no notification from the Department since
submitting their application.
Mr David Jan, Manager of Policy Development and Corporate Services,
Local Government Association of the Northern Territory, spoke about the
experience of the MacDonnell Regional Council where, following a successful
application, in negotiations with the Department, the Council were funded for
the same amount they received previously. This was apparently with no reference
to what was contained in their application where they had been asking for more
Mr Jan added that the Council had spent $20,000 on a consultant to assist them
with their application and engaged in extensive consultation with remote
communities in order to capture in their application the program delivery
wanted by the community.
Receiving generic or no feedback on unsuccessful applications appears to
have been particularly frustrating. Mr Owen Cole, Member, Combined Aboriginal
Organisations of Central Australia, described his disappointing experience to
as did Mr Matt Fawkner, Principal Legal Officer, Katherine Women's Information
and Legal Service.
The committee heard evidence that finalising funding agreements was
confusing and time consuming for applicants, with associated delays causing
operational challenges for some services. At the public hearing on 29 June
2015, Ms Collins, NATSILS and APO NT, confirmed that NATSILS' funding
agreement was one of the agreements that was not yet completed, despite her
best efforts to contact PM&C. The committee heard that Ms Collins had
contacted PM&C the week previously, but had not heard back from the
department. Given this, she commented that NATSILS would have to exist on their
financial reserves until the agreement was finalised.
Funding under the IAS was scheduled to commence from 1 July 2015 (noting
that some contracts are not due to expire until 31 December 2015 or beyond). At
the public hearing on 29 June 2015, PM&C stated that 700 - or 72 per cent
agreements - had been executed, leaving a number of funding agreements still unconfirmed.
However, PM&C commented that 90 per cent of the remaining
negotiations over funding agreements had been completed.
Eight months on
Almost eight months elapsed between the committee's June 2015 and
February 2016 hearing and the committee was hopeful that issues raised in early-mid
2015 would have improved over that time. Unfortunately the evidence received
did not ameliorate the committee's concerns regarding issues with
Ms Collins, who is also the Chief Executive Officer of the North
Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency's (NAAJA), and who spoke with the
committee in June 2015 regarding NATSILS' contract, told the committee that NAAJA's
contract runs out on 30 June 2016 and:
Since October last year, I have been chasing Minister
Scullion's office, PM&C and the Attorney-General's Department to find out
what the next stage is, because applications really should have opened around
November if they are going to have funding available commencing 1 July. I have
not received any feedback to date about what stage it is up to. We do not know:
is there an application round? Are we getting an extension of funding? Do we
have to do an application? Is it an automatic grant? No-one is telling us
anything. I have four months left and I have staff contracts that run out at
that time. If I have to let staff go, I will guarantee that we will be cutting
our services and that is going to have a huge impact on the court system. This
is what the Indigenous Advancement Strategy was for. It was to support
Aboriginal people, and we are the ones who are left in the dark. We find the
whole process totally disappointing and unprofessional.
Ms Collins added:
We do have a lot of support from Minister Scullion's office,
but I think the information that has been given to them is not correct. They
have been out trying to find what is actually going on themselves. It is the
same with the Attorney-General's Department: trying to find out what is really
going on. You go to PM&C, and they say, 'Oh, we're talking to people at the
Attorney-General's office.' Who are you talking to in the Attorney-General's
office? No-one is giving you a definite answer of what is going on, so there is
all this communication that is not there. There is no communication from
PM&C to any organisation, and that is just NAAJA, so there are a lot more
Aboriginal organisations out there that are not getting any feedback.
I was in a meeting for another program a couple of weeks ago,
and one of the PM&C staff members who were there said they were looking at
revising the guidelines. I said: 'Why aren't people told this? Why aren't
letters being sent out to organisations? We don't know anything that's going
The future for APO NT also appeared to be unclear as explained by Mr John
Paterson, Chief Executive Officer:
We have an application in with Prime Minister and Cabinet...we
have not had any indication about when we are going to be notified. We have got
staff employed. We have got two programs—the governance and management program;
and the APO NT secretariat positions—and they expire June 30 this year and we
have had no response in terms of our application or about when we can expect a
This was also the case for the Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission,
which since September 2015 has been trying to find out further information
about the process for funding post-June 2016.
Similarly, the Katherine Women's Information and Legal Service were also unaware
of what will happen to their funding after 30 June 2016.
The committee was not reassured by some of the outcomes able to be
achieved to date. Mr Graham Dowling, Interim Chairman, Combined Aboriginal
Organisations of Central Australia, spoke of the impact on Central Australia
based on a survey undertaken by the Alice Springs Chamber of Commerce :
The Alice Springs Chamber of Commerce surveyed local members
about the impacts of the IAS and all feedback received spoke about the negative
impact of reduced funding. Thirty-three members of the chamber responded to the
survey. Some of the findings included 52 per cent of respondents stating that
they have received less funding from ongoing projects and 63 per cent saying
staff would be made redundant as a result of the reduced funding. Further, 82
per cent said between one and 15 staffing positions would be lost—93 per cent
of the positions lost were held by Indigenous staff—with 50 per cent saying
that staff affected are located in remote regions and 43 per cent in major
centres. One hundred per cent of respondents said that the funding decreases
would result in social impacts on their communities, with 84 per cent saying
this would result in a social impact in major centres.
Although the 2015 survey by the Chamber of Commerce has not been updated
Mr Owen Cole, Member, Combined Aboriginal Organisations of Central Australia spoke
about the common experiences and outcomes for several organisations.
Mr Dowling stressed that the outcomes of the IAS process have affected
the relationship between Aboriginal community controlled organisations and the
The [Combined Aboriginal Organisations of Central Australia (CAO)]
has organisations within its membership that have been delivering essential
front line services and programs in the region for 30 to 40 years. These
organisations either were overlooked or received reduced levels of funding for
reasons that neither the department staff nor the minister could explain. Some
funding decisions were reversed by government when the realisation hit home
that antisocial behaviour in major centres like Alice Springs would only
increase as a result of IAS funding cuts. This added to the general level of
confusion and frustration felt by our member organisations, as it created
another level of uncertainty. The high level of reporting and lack of long-term
funding arrangements show the deep level of distrust within the department on
the ability of Aboriginal organisations to deliver the best outcomes for our
Mr Jan stressed that for all the effort put into application process the
funding outcomes for many organisations did not change:
...the contracts that they are on now are the same as what they
were on before. So, as I said, they felt they went to a lot of effort just to
go on with the status quo, whereas they really could have just kept on going.
PM&C reviews of the transition to the IAS and funding rounds
3.72 At the June 2015 hearing the committee was told that
PM&C would be undertaking internal and external reviews of the IAS
At the June 2015 hearing PM&C also stated the department was
undertaking an internal review 'purely on the grant round' that would look at:
The areas that we were looking at [are to]: assess the
efficiency and effectiveness of the IAS funding round with emphasis on planning
and processes; resourcing; the governance of the funding round; our IT and
system infrastructure; our internal communication processes; and other features
of processes and administration as raised.
Ms Carroll, PM&C, described to the committee why these reviews are
being undertaken, as well as the differences between them:
Feedback received directly by the department and through
submissions to the inquiry process has indicated that there was a mixed level
of awareness and understanding of these new arrangements. The department
acknowledges this and...has started a process to review the funding round process
and the guidelines. The reviews are twofold. There is an external review and
there is also an internal departmental review. We have started to write to
people out in the sector and also key leaders in the area to consider what we
will be doing in the post-implementation review of the funding round. The
review will consider processes, administration and communication around the
funding round. The review of the IAS guidelines will include consideration of
matters such as program descriptions, linkages to the outcomes and additional
information that could be included in any guidelines in the future. We will be
consulting widely on these elements.
Ms Carroll explained that consultation would be undertaken as part of
the external review:
The consultation process will begin in July  and we are
currently working through the details, but there will be a range of mechanisms,
not just face-to-face mechanisms, for this process. We have also engaged an
independent consultant to help us with an internal post-implementation review
so we can look at our internal processes and make any changes as we go forward.
Mr Gooda welcomed the external review by PM&C, as it offered a
positive step forward for the government and Indigenous Australians:
I think it is time to move on from pointing out all the
mistakes and concerns that I have to welcome the review [of] the IAS guidelines
and the funding processes announced last week by the Department of the Prime
Minister and Cabinet. I think this is desperately needed so that, together with
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, a way forward can be charted. The
serious concerns of our communities not only need to be heard in processes such
as this committee hearing and the upcoming review process; they need to be
addressed across the whole gamut of programs across government. I hope that
this process is conducted in genuine partnership and good faith with our people
to produce a system that is going to deliver real benefits for Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander communities.
PM&C indicated at the hearing on 29 June 2015 that the internal
review process was already underway and should finish in the next 'three to
PM&C also indicated at this hearing that the external review process was
scheduled to commence around the end of July 2015.
PM&C provided a copy of the executive summary, key findings,
recommendations and conclusion of the independent internal review of IAS as the
answer to a question on notice from the Supplementary Budget Estimates round
held in October 2015.
The internal review covered the following areas: planning, resourcing, governance
and assessment of the funding round, IT/system infrastructure, communication
processes and other features, processes and administration as raised.
In the week prior to the 29 June 2015 hearing, PM&C sent out letters
announcing that there would be an external review of the IAS Guidelines, and
that this would involve some consultation with key stakeholders.
At the public hearing on 1 March 2016, PM&C were able to provide the
committee with further information about the conduct of the external review.
Ms Susan Black, First Assistant Secretary, PM&C, explained that the
process was not a 'formal' external review and there were no documented terms
of reference for the review but that PM&C had 'documented criteria that we
would talk to people about'.
In terms of the input to the review, Ms Black noted:
[W]e had read the 86 submissions that came to [the
committee's] inquiry and we got the feedback through 700-odd bits of input to
the national office after the grant round, so we went out and we talked to
people about that feedback in looking at the guidelines.
The Department also undertook public consultations, which were led by an
During those public consultations PM&C consulted more than 500 people during
17 sessions across the country in order to address the issues raised with them.
Ms Black explained how participants were notified of these sessions:
We had about 3,500 to 3,800 people who have either current
applicants or current funding recipients or people who had registered an
interest in the IAS. An email was sent to all of those organisations notifying
them that we do sessions around the country. We put up a note on our website to
advertise it and we also put advertisements in a number of papers across the country.
In terms of the nature of the discussion at the public consultations, Ms
For the purposes of the presentation that was provided to
people, we worked through each of the segments of the guidelines...That went
through the current guidelines, what they may look like in terms of avenues for
funding, how the selection criteria might be documented, how the program
information might be presented within the guidelines. It is quite a large
document, as I am sure you understand, so we noted in our public notification
of the meetings that it was on the revision of the guidelines, and then we took
people through a structured presentation during the sessions.
Ms Black noted that no formal report has been prepared following the
[W]e had scribes from the department at every one of those
meetings. Their job was to make sure that we caught every bit of feedback that
Mr Tongue, PM&C, indicated that there is no plan for consultation to
occur on a draft version of the revised guidelines, however, there will be a
phase-in period between the current guidelines and the revised guidelines.
At the time of the last hearing in Canberra on 1 March 2016 the revised
guidelines were yet to be released after being due in February 2016.
PM&C stated the revised guidelines would be released 'shortly'.
ANAO has an audit underway to assess whether PM&C has effectively
established and implemented the IAS and the report is due to be tabled in
The committee acknowledges that submitters and witnesses saw the
potential benefit of streamlining 150 programs into five priority areas through
the IAS process. It was seen that this change could offer greater flexibility
and scope to develop on the ground, targeted responses to issues in
communities. It was also seen as an opportunity to cut red tape and reduce
However, the committee heard that the reality was that the timetable to
bed down the policy and administrative changes involved in a shift of this
magnitude was too ambitious. There was little to no consultation or engagement
with communities and organisations on this fundamental change to Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander programs and no input sought at the start of this
process. In addition to implementing a completely new and untested way of doing
business, the process was further complicated by machinery of government
changes and budget cuts.
In addition to challenges associated with machinery of government
changes, many organisations may have been impacted by changes to the Department
of Social Services (DSS) tendering processes. In the 2014-15 Budget the
Government announced a reduction of around a quarter in grants funding provided
by DSS. After this cut the Government was forced to introduce multiple rounds
of emergency funding, to address gaps in frontline services.
The reductions in funding through the IAS were announced in the 2014-15
Budget, at the same time as the cuts and changes to the DSS tendering process.
As reflected in a number of submissions, there are overlapping concerns about
the two processes.
In the view of the committee both processes reflected fundamentally similar
a lack of consultation;
rushed processes with poor transparency;
cutting the number of funding areas created significant
challenges as organisations had to refocus their applications;
uncertainty for providers, and negative impacts on smaller
resulting gaps in service delivery
It is concerning that such fundamentally similar failures were
replicated across multiple areas.
In addition to the lack of consultation at the start of the process and
the short timetable for transition, the committee is concerned about many
elements of the program design. The committee questions the evidence base for
the program design. While PM&C were able to identify the analysis done by
the ANAO and the Department of Finance as the evidence underpinning the case
for policy change to the service delivery of Indigenous programs, it did not
articulate the evidence base for the development of the IAS as the means by
which to address earlier policy failings in this area.
While there was support for streamlining, the five streams do not appear
to clearly or adequately cover the field of programs required to meet the
objectives of this policy shift. In addition, the shift to a competitive
tendering model appeared to disadvantage Indigenous organisations. The IAS
processes disadvantaged smaller Indigenous organisations with less experience
in applying for competitive funding, and who lacked the resources to hire such
expertise, compared with larger non-government organisations. The process also
did not appear to recognise the enhanced outcomes of service delivery by Indigenous
The committee notes that the number of Indigenous organisations funded
increased under the IAS grant funding round from about 30 per cent in December
2014 to about 45 per cent after the funding round.
The committee also notes the evidence from PM&C that there is no
intention to do a further blanket funding round.
The committee understands that future funding rounds will be focussed on
particular issues. The committee is concerned that the analysis and process by
which these issues will be selected is unclear at this stage.
The committee notes the considerable administrative costs, $1,759,622, incurred
by engaging external organisations to assist with administration processes and
probity advice. Despite all this assistance the administration issues were
significant and included: an unreasonable timetable for applications; a lack of
clear and reliable information available to applicants; a lack of clarity
around incorporation requirements; and the advice and feedback to successful
and unsuccessful applicants was often unclear and/or generic.
Changes to the process as it was underway, including the funding
extension and the 'gap filling' processes, made it appear as if the IAS was
being adapted on the run, which to many stakeholders meant the new process lacked
transparency and was not a level playing field.
Communication throughout the process was poor, confused and confusing.
It was clear to the committee that due to the lack of appropriate communication
and information, the process was not well understood as evidenced by almost
half the applications being non-compliant.
The initial communication strategy appears to have given some
stakeholders the impression that the IAS encouraged 'thinking big' and for pushing
innovative solutions. This set expectations in the community that have not
materialised. Combining these high expectations with the poor and confused
process, the committee can understand why people are disappointed and, in some
cases, even angry.
At the same time that aspirations for the programs were growing, funding
was being cut to some programs. For all the upheaval created, the outcome
appears to be that organisations funded previously have, by and large, been
funded to do the same activities with less money. Of particular concern is that
the funding uncertainty across the sector has led to experienced staff being
The committee finds it profoundly disappointing that eight months after
acknowledging shortcomings such as the lack of consultation and information
provided to applicants, the situation does not appear to have improved. Many
organisations are in the same position they were last year of having funding
running out on 30 June 2016 and not knowing what the next steps are. This is despite
the minister's assurances that the new process would result in longer term
funding contracts. In addition the committee notes that the release of the
revised guidelines to apply for funding that will need to start from 1 July has
been delayed which will result again in a compressed period of time to lodge
While some bedding down of processes is to be expected, from talking to
the people affected, the committee has not been reassured that lessons are
being learned. Of particular concern has been the loss of longstanding
relationships between the line departments and the service providers on the
ground. While witnesses spoke well of the PM&C officers in regional
offices, applicants said they too had little information and the advice from
the helpline is conflicting and confusing. The committee is very concerned that
this loss of expertise and relationships has led to a disconnect between the
people on the ground and their local needs and the decision making process
undertaken in Canberra.
While the idea of IAS was welcomed, the committee believes the price
paid by the Indigenous communities for implementing the unreasonable timetable
was too high. This would appear to be a case of goodwill being hard to gain and
easy to lose. The committee agrees with Mr Gooda's assessment that:
[T]o have confidence in the outcomes we have got to have
confidence in the process.
Arising from this, the committee is concerned that the external review
may not adequately address stakeholders' desire for greater involvement in
program design and implementation. The process for the review appears to limit
meaningful engagement for stakeholders; the committee considers a review of
this significance should be supported by clearly articulated terms of reference
and a discussion paper, or other structured guidance to stakeholders about the
scope of the review to assist them in preparing meaningful input. The decision
to issue the revised guidelines in final form rather than as a draft further
compounds these shortcomings.
The committee notes that PM&C acknowledged many of the shortcomings
in the process. While the committee welcomes the PM&C review processes that
have been underway, it notes that the findings of the internal review are very
broad and do not appear to address many of the issues raised through this
inquiry process. For example, the report concludes that 'despite the
challenges, the processes that were in place for the first IAS open funding
round were effective and enabled the round to be completed satisfactorily'. In
relation to communication, a key area of concern throughout this report, the internal
report notes that 'much was in place to support internal and external
communication processes' and the development of a comprehensive external and
internal communication plan was recommended. While the committee supports this
action it is unclear whether this will address the significant communication issues
identified in this report. The committee believes it is essential that the
communication plan ensure that stakeholders are fully informed and have access
to clear and timely information.
As extracts of the internal review released through the estimates
process are very broad, the committee believes the entire review should be made
The committee is hopeful that the review processes undertaken, along
with the revised guidelines will ultimately assist transparency and help the Department
to gain back some of the trust and goodwill lost through this process. The committee
strongly encourages the minister to release the revised guidelines as soon as
The committee notes that the Auditor General has an audit in progress on
the establishment and implementation of the IAS. The committee strongly
supports this audit being conducted to provide the committee and stakeholders
with evidence of improvement and the committee will continue to monitor future IAS
processes through estimates hearings.
The committee recommends that future tender rounds are not blanket
competitive processes and are underpinned by robust service planning and needs
The committee recommends that future tendering processes should be
planned strategically, with a clear sense of service gaps and community need
based on consultation with local services and communities. A tendering or
alternative funding process should be conducted in a manner which enhances the
capacity of organisations to meet community needs.
The committee recommends that future selection criteria and funding
guidelines should give weighting to the contribution and effectiveness of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations to provide to their
community beyond the service they are directly contracted to provide.
The committee recommends that where possible and appropriate, longer
contracts be awarded to ensure stability so that organisations can plan and
deliver sustainable services to their communities.
The committee recommends that the Department of the Prime Minister and
Cabinet improve its overall Indigenous Advancement Strategy communication plan
to ensure that all stakeholders are fully informed and have access to clear and
The committee recommends that the full internal review of the Indigenous
Advancement Strategy process undertaken and facilitated by the Department of the
Prime Minister and Cabinet be made public.
The committee recommends that the Government release the revised funding
guidelines as a draft for consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander communities and their organisations.
The committee recommends that Government prioritise investment in
capacity building and support for smaller community controlled organisations in
future tender processes.
The committee recommends that the Government act immediately to address
the 30 June 2016 funding deadline for organisations.
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