Tuesday, 2 December 2014
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Scullion. I refer to the minister's oversubscribed and behind schedule Indigenous Advancement Strategy, which has resulted in more than 75 critical Indigenous service providers left out of the funding round, forcing the minister to grant a last-minute extension of funding. Does the minister agree with the Prime Minister's chief Indigenous adviser, Mr Warren Mundine, that his funding process for Indigenous services and programs is 'deeply flawed'?
In regard to Warren Mundine's view that was put in the paper, I have had a discussion on that. I am not sure you can take it as read. We have certainly had that discussion and, as read, yes, I disagree. There is a case in point here. You have to learn—in this place I certainly have, and luckily I have some terrific people to learn from on the other side of the chamber. We need to ensure that a significant change, with the motivation of making it better, actually delivers that.
With regard to the Remote Jobs and Communities Program, somebody on the other side—not through mischief; I suspect through political expediency—just before the last election made a decision, 'No, no, we've got to roll it out.' Some organisations had four or five days to employ staff, get vehicles, put everything in place, which is why 60 per cent of the Aboriginal people going from CDEP to RJCP disconnected. And now we are having to put them back. So I am hardly likely to repeat the sins of those on the other side. There was no mischief, but it is a learning, and we have taken that on board. We just need to ensure that those small businesses who are Aboriginal businesses who may not have had the capacity to put in quite a sophisticated application—but they are very capable of providing a service; I want them to be able to do the job—are in place to do that.
When it came to my attention—and I have said in this place there is not going to be any change to front-line services—why would I march on, when I knew that 75 of those providers had not actually applied in their own name or had thought, 'This is too daunting,' or were in fact organisations that decided they could not employ Aboriginal people? So we have gone back. To ensure that there is no impact on front-line services, we have taken it out for six months. We as a government, unsurprisingly, are determined to get it right.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer to a report in The Australian that said:
The Australian has spoken to indigenous groups who would not speak on the record because they feared their funding would be compromised, but said the new criteria in the first round of the $4.8 billion Indigenous Advancement Strategy was not clear.
Has the minister responded to those concerns?
I actually have not had any of those concerns. I am very close to many, many organisations that we consulted widely with as we embarked on the Indigenous Advancement Strategy. Newspapers—despite The Australian being an excellent newspaper—from time to time say, 'Look, we can't tell you the reason or our source, but they are all too terrified to speak.' But they are not too terrified to talk to me, so I just do not accept the premise that somehow people are concerned about this.
What I can say is that in this particular place we have made a promise. You have questioned me, Senator McLucas, and will question me in the future about my promise to ensure that there is not a negative impact on front-line services. So, true to that, I am going to make sure that the process is absolutely right. We need to take more time. We need to ensure that those people who should be applying have the time to apply. So I refute the premise of your question.
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. What assurances has the minister provided to Indigenous education providers who are affected by the March extension, given they commence their programs at the start of each calendar year? Will they be guaranteed funding for the full calendar year 2015?
There are a number of categories that fall within the education year, from providing nutrition programs all the way to providing tuition at the university level, and there are a huge spectrum of services in between. Not all of them will be extended by 12 months; for some of them, it will be six months. But, where the continuity of their work will be impacted, they will be extended for 12 months. Where the continuity of their work will not be impacted, they still need to be subject to the competitive rigor that will ensure that the delivery of services is the very best delivery of services. That is a very wide question, but, generally, the application has been that, if they are a service whose continuity of work is going to be affected over the calendar year, which is the education year, they have been extended by 12 months; and, if they are a service whose continuity is not going to be impacted, then they have been extended by six months.