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Monday, 24 November 2003
Page: 17749


Senator Ridgeway asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, upon notice, on 17 September 2003:

(1) Has the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Service (ATSIS) notified certain Indigenous organisations that funding will be provided on a cyclical basis or will cease completely; if so, how many organisations have had their funding withdrawn or altered since the changeover from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) to ATSIS.

(2) Which organisations, by name, category and location, have: (a) received ATSIC funding in the 2002-03 financial year; and (b) had their funding altered in the changeover to ATSIS.

(3) (a) How many of these organisations have been notified; and (b) how long will these changes be in place.

(4) What reasons for the changes have been provided to the relevant organisations.

(5) Where funding has or will cease, can organisations appeal to the Minister against the ATSIS decision.

(6) Where funding has or will cease, what Government policy objectives will be achieved.

(7) Has ATSIS made any costs savings as a result of the changeover from ATSIC.

(8) (a) What plans does the Government have for any surplus funds; and (b) what programs will be funded using this surplus.

(9) (a) What ATSIC assets, if any, have been transferred to ATSIS and; (b) what is the legal basis for assets transfers.


Senator Vanstone (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) —The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services has provided the following information in response to the honourable senator's question:

(1) All 2002/2003 ATSIC funded organisations were advised of the new Agency arrangements in April 2003. The advice emphasised that ATSIC Commissioners and Regional Councillors would continue to determine policies and priorities for the allocation of program funds, with the new Agency, ATSIS, managing the programs and making individual funding decisions in line with these policies and priorities.

To facilitate this, extensive instructions were provided to ATSIS staff and delegates (see Attachment A).

ATSIS directly funds over 1000 Indigenous organisation in any one year for around 3,000 individual activities. It also indirectly funds numerous other organisations through arrangements with the States/Territories.

It is not an unusual occurrence for funding to particular organisations to change from year to year. This is also not unique to ATSIC. In situations where funds are provided for ongoing operational costs, the amount of funding may vary from year to year, based on a number of factors including changes to identified need, past performance of grantee organisations in managing financial aspects and achievement of outcomes, one-off funding for infrastructure or capital purchase and changes to ATSIC policies and priorities.

Given the range and number of grants, ATSIS is unable to undertake a detailed examination and comparison of funding provided in the financial years 2002/2003 and 2003/2004 and include a comprehensive analysis of reasons for such variations in the timeframe available for response to this question.

With the establishment of ATSIS on 1 July 2003, ATSIS delegates were required to formally make all 2003/2004 funding decisions, including those already taken by ATSIC Regional Councils prior to that date. In a relatively small number of cases, ATSIS made decisions different from those of Regional Councils.

In addition, in an effort to improve the delivery of services to clients by funded organisations, a number of entities were offered funding in 2003/2004 for a limited period in order that a more in-depth assessment of the delivery of those services could be made.

(2) As indicated earlier, there are in excess of 1000 Indigenous organisations funded for over 3000 individual activities in any one year. A full and comprehensive examination and analysis was not possible in the timeframe allowable and would absorb considerable scarce resources. If essential, ATSIS could undertake the work to provide a listing of decisions taken by Regional Councils which were subsequently amened by a Delegate following the establishment of ATSIS.

(3) (a) All organisations that have had their funding altered have been notified, except in a small number of cases where a delegate is still considering submissions.

(b) Currently, the majority of funding decisions are made annually. For the bulk of recipient organisations, the funding level remains unchanged for the financial year. There are, however, a number of cases in any one year where particular funding arrangements are altered for reasons largely relating to performance of organisations and, in some cases, redirection of funding. Procedures have been in place since the commencement of ATSIC and these procedures have been carried over to the operations of ATSIS.

(4) The reasons for the changes to funding levels vary considerably and include:

changes to Board of Commissioner and Regional Council priorities and policies;

changing circumstances of funded organisations;

changing circumstances in relation to needs in a particular region;

overall levels of program funds available;

decisions to introduce contestability and market testing into the delivery of some services; and

a renewed focus on organisational capacity and performance based contracts.

(5) Organisations are free to appeal funding decisions to the Minister if they so desire. Organisations are also at liberty to seek review of funding decisions through the Federal Court.

(6) The policy objective to be achieved, where ongoing funding arrangements have been reviewed, is to ensure effective and efficient use of public moneys and improved outcomes for Indigenous peoples through ensuring value for money in program delivery.

(7) There have been no `costs savings' per se resulting from the introduction of the ATSIS decision-making arrangements.

(8) (a) ATSIS has no surplus funds.

(b) Any reductions in particular program areas have been allocated to meeting other program priorities.

ATSIC had a cash carry forward as at 30 June 2003. The ATSIC Board has determined how those funds should be used to meet program priorities and a Ministerial Estimates Variation has been signed by Minister Ruddock approving the expenditure in 2003/04. These funds are to be transferred to ATSIS, enabling the program delivery to be done via ATSIS.

(9) (a) No. ATSIC assets have been transferred to ATSIS. ATSIS has care, custody and control of ATSIC administrative assets but title/ownership remains with ATSIC. With ATSIC's consent, certain contracts which were due to be renewed by ATSIC after 1 July are being renewed in the name of ATSIS.

(b) An agreement between ATSIC and the Commonwealth represented by ATSIS sets out the administrative arrangements governing the relationship between the two bodies.

ATTACHMENT A

“When exercising delegations in relation to grant decisions, staff must take into account:

ATSIC Board and Regional Council priorities and polices;

Funding decisions, commitments or endorsements made already by Regional Councils in relation to 2003/04 Grants;

Information provided by National Program Managers;

Project eligibility against Program guidelines;

The capacity of the grantee organisation to deliver the services;

Conflict of Interest Directions; and

Any subsequent directions from the Minister.

Where delegates decide they cannot approve a grant previously approved by Regional Council, the Regional Manager should take the following steps:

clearly establish that the project is one which was not previously recommended by staff;

revisit the recommendations and justification and consider the reasons why the Regional Council made its decision;

consider the relevance of the project to the Regional Council Plan and established Council policies and priorities and identify alternative ways of addressing the Regional Council priority;

consider implications and options where an organisation has expectations about the level of ongoing funding, and determine how this may be best managed. (eg 6 monthly grant only, grant controller etc);

negotiate other ways of delivering the service where the difficulty is with the capacity of the grantee to administer the grant or provide the services;

discuss with the relevant Program Manager if the issue is adherence to program guidelines;

use good judgement about the significance of the proposed variation before changing the Regional Council decision; and

seek other views (eg. Program Manager, Field Staff, General Manager Network,) to develop a justifiable statement of reasons for making a decision which varies from that of the Regional Council.

In all cases, every effort is to be made to meet the Regional Council's priorities and required outcomes.

In committing any unallocated funds ATSIS delegates should:

follow the guidelines above;

consider any decisions made by the Regional Council about allocations to programs, use of unallocated funds, or reasons for holding back contingency funds; and

in line with the budget approved by the Minister, alternative projects must stay within the same Program.

All submissions recommended for decline will also need to be reconsidered as part of this process and it may be that some projects declined by Regional Council are subsequently approved, especially if additional allocations become available. A similar process to that above should be followed.”