Thursday, 9 February 2017
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Scullion. Yesterday in question time, the minister claimed the Audit Office audit of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy 'makes very little commentary or evaluation of the success of the programs on the ground'. How does the minister reconcile his statement with the audit report, which specifically refers to failures to focus on and 'prioritise the needs of Indigenous communities'?
I thank the senator for the question. The audit report is of course referring to the process of evaluation when somebody actually puts in an application for funds and how that is evaluated in terms of what actually happens on the ground. The audit report also indicated that they were not sure about how all this additional information appears. I went yesterday some way to explaining the new network that we had on the ground. We move people from the cities into the regions to assist with the evaluation of those programs.
This is a program that was absolutely essential. It was essential because when we got to the treasury bench, when we opened up the Indigenous Affairs desk, we said, 'Where is the plan?' It was as we had suspected, because we had asked in estimates time and time again for a single line item that said: 'This is what we are trying to do and this is the money.' I thought there was some mischief. Time and time again, the government of the day, the Labor Party, refused. They refused.
So when I got to government I said, 'Where is the plan, and how do we actually invest our funds?' There were none. There were 150 different programs, and that is why we had to bring in the IAS. The IAS was something that, instead of the government telling people what programs it wanted, invited communities to apply. We invited communities and individuals and families to apply on the basis of their needs, not on government needs. Yes, I acknowledge it was a fundamental change, and I stand by it. It was an absolutely essential change, because when we got there no plan existed.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given the Audit Office found that 'administration processes fell short of the standard required to effectively manage $1 billion of Commonwealth resources', does the minister really expect the Senate to accept that the audit is just 'a bureaucratic report about what boxes were ticked and what boxes were not ticked' rather it being evidence of his comprehensive mismanagement of his portfolio? (Time expired)
(—) (): I reject entirely the last line in the senator's question, that this is somehow emblematic of something else. This was about 2½ years ago and about a purchasing policy. There was an evaluation of that purchasing policy, and much was made of the process under which those purchases were made—no more. It is no more than that. The others are trying to somehow connect this with an outcome. I make no mistake about it. This is an outcome-driven policy, driven by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, from communities for communities. As I indicated earlier, this had to replace an absolute desert of policy. There was absolutely nothing there at all. It is of course important that we do look at other measures in the ANAO report and the benefits of more consolidated programs— (Time expired)
Given the audit points to failures in the planning, the design, the implementation, the assessment of the strategy and the consultations, when will the minister accept that the strategy is flawed and take responsibility for its failures?
Any report about a point in time that tries to suddenly say it is going to have an impact on the process or the proceedings when none of them had started at the time, how can you possibly say this is somehow an evaluation? It does not pretend to be and it is not. If you are going to start looking at those programs, perhaps you should also speak about some of the other matters with the ANAO. It congratulates the government. It talks about the benefit of a more consolidated program. It talks about greater flexibility by which organisations can receive the funding. It talks about the greater reduction in red tape for the service providers and the ability, most importantly, for the first time, to develop local responses to local issues. (Time expired).