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Finance and Public Administration References Committee - 29/06/2015 - Commonwealth Indigenous Advancement Strategy tendering processes

COLLINS, Ms Priscilla, Deputy Chairperson, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services; and Chief Executive Officer, Aboriginal Peak Organisations of the Northern Territory

Evidence was taken via videoconference—

[12:06]

CHAIR: I welcome Ms Priscilla Collins, Deputy Chairperson of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses in giving evidence to Senate committees has been provided to you. I invite you to make a short opening statement and, at the end of those remarks, I will invite committee members to ask questions. Over to you, Ms Collins.

Ms Collins : Thank you for inviting me to participate today. I am here in my capacity as CEO of the Aboriginal Peak Organisations of the Northern Territory. We were formed in 2010 and we are an alliance of Aboriginal legal services, land councils and medical services. Our alliance seeks to provide a representative voice for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory and shares the aim of protecting and advancing the wellbeing and rights of Aboriginal people.

I am also here in my capacity as the deputy chair of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services. We are the peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services in Australia. Our members include ATSILS Queensland, ALRM in Adelaide, the Aboriginal Legal Service New South Wales/ACT, the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia, the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service, the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency and the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service Co-operative.

A lot of our members have found tendering under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy to be a very stressful and frustrating process. It was clouded by a lack of consultation and clarification from the department. Our organisations were also frustrated by the limited information made publicly available regarding the number of successful organisations that were granted funding. The main concerns about the strategy that I would like to raise are the lack of consultation and engagement with Aboriginal people before, during and after the implementation of the IAS; the consequences of the competitive tendering; the limited time frame to provide the submissions; and the lack of assistance from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

In our submission, we have put together a number of recommendations, as follows. The department should provide flexibility on the briefings and consultations for the Indigenous Advancement Strategy to ensure that all organisations have a clear understanding of the processes involved. The tendering process should consider adopting the Aboriginal Peak Organisations of the Northern Territory non-government organisations principle in the assessment of applications to ensure that non-Aboriginal NGOs and other institutions reflect on the principle when developing their application and are fully aware of the context in which they intend to work and ensure, in the long term, that Aboriginal organisations are the predominant service providers and funding recipients. The Indigenous Advancement Strategy fund should be primarily directed to Aboriginal service providers and organisations, with a reduction in the amount of funding to non-Indigenous NGOs, governments and universities. Funding for ranger programs should be returned to the Department of the Environment to ensure strong links are maintained with the natural resource management sector and Indigenous protected areas, which are funded through the Department of the Environment. Funding for health programs, such as mental health and drugs and alcohol, should be returned to the Department of Health. The department should hold independent roundtable discussions with Aboriginal organisations so that they have the opportunity to provide feedback on the strategy and its processes. The IAS should include an overarching theme that focuses on governance and empowerment of Aboriginal communities and regions. This area needs to be properly resourced by governments, recognising that governance and development work is complex and long term.

We would like this inquiry also to ensure that the department is committed to providing information on those that were successful and unsuccessful in the Indigenous Advancement Strategy in future funding rounds, and we would also like more information to be provided by the department on their decision making and contract negotiation processes. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Collins.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you for your opening statement. I want to clarify something. Since you put in your submission, where you were talking about the lack of funding for NATSILS, I understand you have received some funding.

Ms Collins : Yes, that is correct. We originally were having a funding cut of $42 million. That was reduced to $13 million, commencing on 1 July 2015. About a month ago, I think, we then got feedback that that funding cut was reversed. The operational funding for the NATSILS is now provided through the Attorney-General's Department.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay, but it is not coming through the IAS process.

Ms Collins : No, it is not.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you for that. But you are getting the same amount now as previously?

Ms Collins : Yes, that is correct.

Senator SIEWERT: Is it indexed?

Ms Collins : I do not have the exact figures for the NATSILS, the peak body. I just have the information for my own organisation, and it has been indexed very slightly.

Senator BERNARDI: Ms Collins, were you always funded under the Attorney-General's agreement, or was it from Indigenous Affairs?

Ms Collins : It is a very confusing sort of way they did it. ATSILS were funded under the Attorney-General's Department. We were originally funded under two buckets: one was for operational and one was for advocacy. Then, over the last three-year contract, they combined the two buckets of money together, so the advocacy and the operational bucket came under the one funding agreement. Within the Northern Territory, we were then funded when they put the intervention in place in the Territory, so we were funded under the Northern Territory National Emergency Response, which they now call Stronger Futures. Those funds were originally managed by the Attorney-General's Department. We were then informed that the Stronger Futures funding was now being moved to PM&C, and we had to apply for the funding through the IAS. 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.

Senator BERNARDI: I am confused, but I will get my thoughts together and ask some more questions in a moment.

CHAIR: In relation to the $42 million, that cut no longer exists?

Ms Collins : That is correct. That is for the operational funding. Just to make it really clear: for the Aboriginal legal services and also for NATSILS, the peak body, that operational funding comes from the Attorney-General's Department. What is funded under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy is for other programs outside of the operational contract, such as Stronger Futures.

Senator SIEWERT: Just to add to the confusion, perhaps: you did not get any money under the old Stronger Futures process; is that correct?

Ms Collins : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: So is it all now with A-G's?

Ms Collins : No.

Senator SIEWERT: My head is hurting!

Ms Collins : The Attorney-General's Department now only funds the operational contract, and they put the funding for the peak body, for NATSILS. Stronger Futures is now funded under the IAS, from which we received one-year funding—NAAJA, which is part of NATSILS. I am also the CEO of NAAJA. We received 12 months of funding for Stronger Futures under IAS.

Senator SIEWERT: Not the 10 years that was supposed to be in Stronger Futures.

Ms Collins : No. We received only 12 months worth of funding for Stronger Futures.

Senator SIEWERT: What was that money for, for NAAJA?

Ms Collins : When they had that intervention that was put in place—

Senator SIEWERT: I understand that; I mean this year's round. Sorry.

Ms Collins : The funding is for lawyers to go out to the remote communities to provide family, civil and criminal law services.

Senator SIEWERT: Did you apply for more than 12 months?

Ms Collins : Yes. That is the other confusion. 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.

Senator SIEWERT: What do you understand that the process is from here for that funding? Do you apply again next year?

Ms Collins : We have to apply again, but we do not have clarification of when that funding round would open, whether you can apply for another 12 months or two years or five years and how much money is in that bucket. When we spoke to PM&C after we were informed that we would get only 12 months worth of funding, I asked what would happen past that, and they said they did not know.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to go to the principles of the partnership process. A number of organisations have raised that concept. You are advocating that it should be for any mainstream organisation. Are you suggesting that those principles should be part of any of those contracts?

Ms Collins : Yes. When the intervention came about, we found in the Northern Territory that there were a lot of non-Aboriginal NGOs that came into the Territory, and they were given huge amounts of funding by the Commonwealth government. We were finding out in the remote communities that the services were not being provided. They were fly-in fly-out. They were not employing local Aboriginal people who were not culturally trained, and most of the time they were not delivering on the ground. The Aboriginal organisations were picking up the pieces at the other end, and we were not funded to do it. So, two years ago we met with those large organisations, including Red Cross, Amnesty, Anglicare et cetera, and said, 'These are the issues we are finding out in the communities—that your organisations are being funded big amounts of money but you are not delivering culturally appropriate services and you are not partnering with Aboriginal organisations et cetera.'

We all came together and put together a set of principles under Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory. When a non-Aboriginal NGO either is given money by the Commonwealth or is applying for a tender or anything like that, they look within that community and have to abide by these principles that have been set up. A majority of these organisations—the non-Aboriginal ones—have signed on to these principles. To date about 25 of those organisations are signed on. That is just in the Northern Territory. The aim of it is that when they either are offered money by the Commonwealth or are applying for a tender they go to those communities and look at what Aboriginal organisations are currently there. Then either (1) they get that organisation to deliver that service or (2) they work in partnership with organisations. The aim is long-term Aboriginal employment and culturally appropriate services being delivered by people who are culturally trained and are working with the elders in the community. That is what we have developed over the past two years. We work closely with Amnesty, Anglicare and Red Cross, who are currently signed on to the partnerships, and that works successfully. ACOSS in Australia is also trying to adopt those principles nationally.

Senator SIEWERT: I have a couple of follow-up questions. Are the organisations that have signed on for the NT also carrying through those principles where they are operating in other states? Are you aware of that?

Ms Collins : I am not aware of that at the moment. ACOSS is in the process of setting that up. I am not sure whether they are adopting that in the other states yet, but that is the long-term aim.

Senator SIEWERT: I would have thought that if the Red Cross, for example—and I do not mean to pick on them, but just as an example—are working in the other states then they should be doing the same thing in the other states, surely.

Ms Collins : We are hoping they are. We have really just focused on the Territory. They had a workshop earlier in the year, and APONT is still following up to see whether they are adopting that in the other states.

Senator SIEWERT: In your submission you have that table where you talk about funding applications for IAS and the funding status. This came in before the government announced the gap-filling process. Are you able to take it on notice to update that from what you know about who now has funding?

Ms Collins : Yes. We can do that.

Senator SIEWERT: That would be great. My last question goes to the point you make in 6.11 and another couple of paragraphs about the CATSI Act and the discriminatory approach which requires Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations to sign up if they are over $½ million. It has been raised in a number of the submissions. Can you please take us through your concerns there?

Ms Collins : There are a number of Aboriginal organisations registered under different acts. Here they are asking that organisations that receive funding under IAS then move across to ORIC. They need to realise that IAS is not the only organisation that funds them. For example, at NAAJA we are registered under ASIC. In our funding agreement with IAS it says, 'You must be registered under ORIC, or, if you are registered under ASIC, you may be required to move across to ORIC.' We were asking, why? We have great governance structures. We are low risk. So why is it essential for people to move across to ORIC? They are forcing people to move across to another organisation, which is a huge ask. You have to change your constitution, you have to change your structures, you have to change a lot of things—when these organisations are running effectively. I could understand it if some organisations were not running at a good governance level. I understand that. But what they have done here is really dictate who Aboriginal organisations need to be registered under. That is an issue—Aboriginal organisations being forced to change who they are registered under. That then conflicts with a lot of other things, because under IAS our funding agreement says, 'You must be registered under ORIC, or, if you are registered under ASIC, we can request that you transfer to ORIC.' Then, under my operational contract with the Attorney-General's Department, they are saying that you can be registered under ASIC. IAS is not just one bucket; I have a number of buckets of money, so it makes it very confusing for Aboriginal organisations, because one minute you are being dictated to do this, and another agreement says that you can be doing that. It is very muddy. Are organisations like Woolworths and these big chain hotels that got funding under IAS being forced to register under ORIC?

Senator McLUCAS: I am going to follow Senator Bernardi and try and unpick some of these funding arrangements. I think you are telling us that all of the Aboriginal legal services—in your submission, at 1.1, there is a list of them—continue to be funded under Attorney-General's?

Ms Collins : That is correct. Our operational funding is under the Attorney-General's Department. What they have done is like the one-off funding or, for example, Stronger Futures in the Territory. Any other sort of Indigenous program outside of the operational is where we have applied under the IAS.

Senator McLUCAS: And the cut to your operational funding is in the vicinity of $13 million over the forward estimates—is that correct?

Ms Collins : That is correct. That has now been reversed.

Senator McLUCAS: Pardon me; what was the last sentence you said?

Ms Collins : It has been reversed, so that is not happening any more.

Senator McLUCAS: So there is no cut at all to your operational funding for the legal services themselves?

Ms Collins : No. We have now received five-year funding under the Attorney-General's Department for the delivery of Aboriginal legal services. All of the Aboriginal legal services in Australia—except for Tasmania, which has been put out to tender, and except for CAALAS, who only received a 12-month funding—have got a five-year agreement, commencing 1 July. None of those organisations received a cut. We got very small increases. Some of them got like a $16,000 or $100,000 increase, so very small increases. So we have got that five years worth of funding, except in the 2017-18 financial year, where there is a significant cut to the organisations.

Senator McLUCAS: In the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, in the department's own words there are a range of items that would be funded under the Safety and Wellbeing Program, including night patrols, youth diversion, adult diversion, legal support systems for victims of violence, and victim support. They are the ones that I can identify as being legal in nature. What former funding arrangements for those types of activities existed prior to the machinery-of-government changes or even that may not have been associated with machinery-of-government changes? What funds were available for your organisations to do those types of activities? It may not necessarily be legal services. It may be elders groups. A whole range of organisations may have been applying for that sort of funding prior to either the MOG changes or the IAS.

Ms Collins : Previous to the IAS, those programs—which were considered as one-off funding or, under Stronger Futures, had 10 years locked in—were managed by the Attorney-General's Department. The Attorney-General's Department had a number of buckets. They had one which was the operational funding. Secondly, they had the Strong Futures funding, which was a 10-year agreement. Then you could apply for them for night patrol, community legal education, plus you could apply to the Attorney-General's Department for Indigenous prisoner through-care programs.

Senator McLUCAS: Have those moneys been transferred to Prime Minister and Cabinet?

Ms Collins : Yes. All the funding for night patrols, community legal education, Indigenous prisoner through-care and Stronger Futures—those buckets—has been moved across to IAS.

Senator McLUCAS: Did that happen with machinery of government or did it happen with IAS?

Ms Collins : Only IAS.

Senator McLUCAS: Do you know the quantum of moneys in those three programs prior to their moving through to PM&C?

Ms Collins : Unfortunately, no.

Senator McLUCAS: That is fine. I can ask the department that. Is that making it clearer for us?

Senator BERNARDI: Yes. I just want to ask some questions. I want to go back to your submission, Ms Collins. The submission was to the IAS inquiry, might I say. It basically suggested that, unless you were getting advance funding through IAS, you would have to be closed by tomorrow. Today, I learn that you are actually funded through the A-G's Department. How long have you been funded by the A-G's Department for your operational costs?

Ms Collins : There are two separate things. One is the peak body, which is NATSILS, which I think they were referring to in the submission. NATSILS have previously been funded by the Attorney-General's Department. We were then informed late last year, by the Attorney-General's Department, that they would not be funding the peak body, NATSILS, past 30 June 2015. So NATSILS applied for funding under the IAS. They were then informed that they were unsuccessful. That is when we had said the doors would close on 30 June. But a month ago Scullion came back to us and said the Attorney-General was now going to fund NATSILS.

Senator BERNARDI: Which it always had done.

Ms Collins : Yes, which it always had done.

Senator BERNARDI: What about ATSILS—do they get funded by A-G's as well?

Ms Collins : The operational funding, yes, will continue to come under the Attorney-General's Department—operational only.

Senator BERNARDI: But they have always been funded through the Attorney-General's Department?

Ms Collins : That is correct.

CHAIR: Was there some confusion about that as well, in relation to ATSILS versus NATSILS, in terms of where the funding was coming from?

Ms Collins : With ATSILS that was a huge concern, because we were told that there would be a $13 million cut commencing on 1 July. From 1 July 2015-16 there was going to be a $6 million cut, then the following financial year another $6 million cut. ATSILS had to apply for funding through the IAS for that shortfall so that they could continue going out to the communities to deliver the essential services.

Senator BERNARDI: Who told you that?

Ms Collins : That is when we had to apply for funding or else a lot of the organisations would have reduced their services.

Senator BERNARDI: But who told you that there was going to be a cut from their regular funding—which department?

Ms Collins : The Attorney-General's Department.

Senator BERNARDI: What I am trying to get my head around here is that Attorney-General's funds the operational side and then there is a range of additional services that ATSILS—and I am not sure whether NATSILS does it as well—seek to provide in addition to their core role. Is that correct?

Ms Collins : That is correct.

Senator BERNARDI: They then apply, like every other organisation, to continue those programs, in this instance through the IAS. Yes?

Ms Collins : That is correct.

Senator BERNARDI: If they apply through the IAS and they are not successful—it is like every other organisation. An additional or supplementary service might not be provided by you but may be provided by someone else, but ATSILS and NATSILS would still exist?

Ms Collins : Yes.

Senator BERNARDI: In the table that you put forward of ATSILS that applied for various programs and were rejected or only got some funding, were they programs that they were already implementing or were they additional programs that they were seeking funding for?

Ms Collins : Both. Some of them had applied for funding for the programs they are currently being funded for through the Attorney-General's Department. They were informed that that money had been moved to IAS, so they had to apply under that. Then there were new programs that they had applied for as well.

Senator BERNARDI: To summarise that—and I do not want to put words in your mouth—ATSILS will still be able to provide the core legal services to Indigenous people but there are some extra services that they have historically had responsibility for that may be provided through alterative measures or provided in a different way?

Ms Collins : That is correct.

Senator BERNARDI: So ATSILS might be missing out but Indigenous services may not be?

Ms Collins : Yes. And it has changed a lot. A month ago we were losing $30 million and then that decision was reversed, so things have changed significantly since the submission went in.

CHAIR: Ms Collins, you said you would update that table for the committee—is that right?

Ms Collins : That is correct.

Senator McLUCAS: I have a question about the table as well. It goes to where an organisation had previously been funded to provide a specific service—a custody notification service, for example. Have you been able to identify whether, where an ATSILS was previously providing a service—a support legal service, not a direct legal service—that funding has gone to another organisation in every circumstance?

Ms Collins : No. Under the New South Wales model, they were receiving operational funding but receiving additional funding for that service. That funding ceased, so now they are out lobbying to try and get money to continue it. The funding did not go to another service.

Senator McLUCAS: The funding did not go to another service?

Ms Collins : That is correct.

Senator McLUCAS: The minister has said on many occasions that there will be no change to front-line services. It would be really helpful—I know I am asking a really big question here—where there are circumstances where services were previously provided by one of your members and they have been not funded, if you could identify whether or not another organisation has taken up that activity. You may or may not know that answer, but, if you do, that would be really helpful.

Ms Collins : I can follow that up and send that information through.

Senator McLUCAS: Thank you very much for that. If that is too hard a job, just tell us. I do not want to put you to work—

Ms Collins : No, that should be fine.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to return to the line of questioning around funding and follow up your thinking on going to the IAS. Was it a natural consequence of the process to think, given that the funding stopped there and a whole lot of other funding has been transferred to the IAS, that that was the obvious place to apply for ongoing funding?

Ms Collins : Yes. What we were told is that any bucket of money from any department around Australia that was an Indigenous bucket would be given to IAS, so for any funding that you want for an Indigenous program you had to apply to the IAS.

Senator SIEWERT: And that is for operational as well as the Stronger Futures funding?

Ms Collins : Yes, we were told definitely about the Stronger Futures; with regard to the operational, because we were informed late last year that we would get a $30 million cut, that is where the organisations had to go to try to get the supplementary funding to cover that.

Senator SIEWERT: On the Stronger Futures funding, what broadbanded stream of the 12 months of funding is that being funded under?

Ms Collins : I do not know because to date I have not seen a funding agreement.

Senator SIEWERT: That was going to be my next question. You have not seen the funding agreement?

Ms Collins : Not the Stronger Futures agreement.

Senator SIEWERT: Why is that?

Ms Collins : I have no idea. I have been chasing the department for a long time now. We had a meeting initially, possibly about six weeks ago, to go through the content of the agreement. What we had applied for is different to what we received, so we had to revise the communities et cetera. That information has been sent to the department, but to date I still do not have that contract.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to drill down a little here. We have heard, both from the submissions and also out there talking to people, that organisations applied for funding and applied for a specific project, and that is not necessarily what they then got approved for. They got approved for less or the same as they have had before or for different communities—you name it, basically I have heard it when it comes to what has happened with the applications. Would you take us through your process. Did you make an application for funding that you had been receiving previously under Stronger Futures?

Ms Collins : Yes. In this current financial year, we received funding for Stronger Futures. I cannot give you the exact amount, but it was roughly $1 million. In that, we went to this many communities, we provided this many services and we employed this many staff. That is what we currently receive. What we had applied for was to go to more communities with more staff and provide more services. They funded us on exactly what we were receiving this current financial year, and so, when we had the meeting with PM&C, we said, 'We cannot deliver what we applied for because you didn't fund us at that level,' so we changed what we would be delivering next financial year to be what we are currently delivering. So it is not what we had applied for but what we received. I sent that through about six weeks ago and, to date, I have not seen the contract.

Senator SIEWERT: When were you first notified that you had been successful in the funding?

Ms Collins : I cannot give you an exact date, but it was done not long after the minister had come out publicly saying that they had been through the process. We received an email saying we were successful and then, probably about two minutes later, we received another email saying we were unsuccessful. So I had to ring the 1800 number 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.

Senator SIEWERT: You had put in more than one application to IAS?

Ms Collins : That was confusing as well. What normally happens is, when you apply for funding, you apply for separate applications specific to that program. What we were told by PM&C was: 'No, you're only allowed to do one application. You have to put in all your programs in that one application.' But they did not design the application to do it like that, so you had to be as they said: 'Just be creative.' We had to be creative in our application. We had to do only one application but apply for Stronger Futures, night patrol, community legal education, Indigenous prisoner through-care. You had to be creative because you could only do it in so many pages. When you got the letter back from the IAS, it did not say: 'You are successful for Stronger Futures, but unsuccessful for this.' You were just sent a generic letter, so you did not know what you were successful for. It was just a generic letter saying, 'You are successful', and then the next one came, 'You are unsuccessful', so we were going: 'Yes, well what was I successful for and what was I unsuccessful for?' When you rang the 1800 number, they could only tell you which program you were successful for, but they could not tell you all the programs, even though you just did one application.

Senator McLUCAS: Sorry, can I just stop you there. When you say you rang the 1800 number and said, 'Which one were we successful for', would they say something like, 'Safety and wellbeing program', or would they say a subelement of that?

Ms Collins : Just what the program was that you had applied for.

Senator McLUCAS: A high-level program.

Senator SIEWERT: The broadband area.

Ms Collins : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Did they tell you how much you were successful for in that initial letter?

Ms Collins : Yes. We were told one amount, which was for the Stronger Futures, which was the exact amount of funding that we are currently receiving. But for other programs they did not know and they said: 'We'll get back to you.'

Senator SIEWERT: In terms of the funding that you are currently receiving for Stronger Futures, has that been year-by-year funding in the past?

Ms Collins : No. Previously we were getting it for about two years. They were doing it in two-year rounds.

Senator SIEWERT: But that was under an overarching 'We are going to guarantee you 10 years worth of funding', which is something that came in with Stronger Futures?

Ms Collins : Yes. When they did the Stronger Futures, they said: 'This amount is locked in for 10 years.' Then the Attorney-General's Department, because that is where it is administered, contacted us. What they did was the Stronger Futures agreement, which locked into our operational contract, so all our operational contracts finished on 30 June 2015—and that is how they locked it in.

Senator SIEWERT: From last time? Sorry, I do not think I quite follow.

Ms Collins : From last year.

Senator SIEWERT: They basically brought it up so all your funding was at the same time.

Ms Collins : That is correct.

Senator SIEWERT: Can I ask you about the family law violence prevention program. Have you had any involvement in that program?

Ms Collins : No. That is managed by the peak body, which is chaired by Antoinette Braybrook, so they had done their own application. We were not involved in that.

Senator SIEWERT: You were not involved in that at all. I just wanted to check that.

CHAIR: Just a final question. In terms of the contract or the funding agreement that you have not yet seen in its final form, is that due to commence from 1 July this year?

Ms Collins : Yes. The funding is to commence from 1 July, but we have not seen anything yet. I contacted them last week to find out when we are going to receive it, and we have not heard anything back yet.

Senator SIEWERT: Have you received an extension? Have they said what they are going to do in the meantime, or do you have to exist on your reserves?

Ms Collins : Just exist on our reserves, by the look of it. We have had no discussion.

Senator MOORE: Your submission raised the issue of the helpline—that, when you and other people in your network rang up, there was no help. We will definitely be following that up with the department this afternoon, but can you just put a little bit on the record about that?

Ms Collins : Yes. It was a mess, to be honest. What we were saying was that, when you get funding in relation to justice, the Attorney-General's Department looks after that—or, if you get health funding, it is the health department. So, at least, if I rang someone from the Attorney-General's Department, they knew our organisation, they knew our program, they knew all the details. But what was happening, for example, with Stronger Futures, was that I would go back to the Attorney-General's Department and say, 'I need some information on how many years funding we can apply for, or is that funding under IAS,' and they would say, 'From now on, I'm sorry, you have to go to PM&C,' but you were never given a contact officer at PM&C who knew your organisation or knew anything about you. Every time you rang that number, it was a completely different person who gave you a completely different answer. I would say, 'Hang on, I need to speak to the same person,' but I would never speak to the same person again.

Senator MOORE: And sometimes there was no-one there at all, according to your submission. People would ring the helpline and there was just no answer at all.

Ms Collins : Yes. There was no answer. And they did not actually know what they were talking about. 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 doing.'

Senator MOORE: Thank you.

CHAIR: Ms Collins, thank you very much for your willingness to appear today and for the evidence and the submission you have provided to the committee.

Ms Collins : Thank you.

Proceedings suspended from 12:47 to 13:29