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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 305

Senator DODSON (Western Australia) (15:03): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Indigenous Affairs (Senator Scullion) and the Minister for Communications (Senator Fifield) to questions without notice asked by Senators Dodson and McCarthy today relating to the Indigenous Advancement Strategy and to the shortwave radio service provided by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

I have listened carefully to the answers from the ministers, particularly Senator Scullion, and I am disappointed, I must say, because when I look at page 15 of the audit report, at point 1.2 he would see that the report refers to the 2014-15 budget report that reported that the Australian government, by the adoption of the IAS, would save $534.4 million over five years by rationalising Indigenous programs, grants and activities. The five per cent he referred to was a five per cent cut over the programs in order to sustain them in the shemozzle that was going on in the implementation. I am disappointed, and in relation to some of the other matters he raised I would also turn him to page 23 of the audit report to see what is said there.

I am disappointed that he is not taking the findings of the ANAO report to heart in a thoughtful and considered way. Senator Scullion said that the findings should be viewed as historical in nature, but Professor Langton said:

One would think there'd be a policy response instead of lame denials.

I agree with Professor Langton on this issue. His answers did not articulate to me a way forward beyond the current policy settings that have led to the problems that the audit office has shone light upon. The minister has focused his grand hopes for a new world order on a proposed multi-year program of evidence and evaluation activities in a contracted program at outcomes level. This new program will take, as I am informed, $10 million a year from the IAS—the Indigenous Advancement Strategy—over five years to evaluate the program. I am informed this is not new money. This is money that has been taken from addressing the issues on the ground and diverted, probably to the consultancy industry, to do the evaluations. It is patching up some of the failings by the minister's department in failing to have appropriate evaluation processes in place in the first instance.

The minister argued in his press release on 3 February:

Evaluation at the contract, program and outcome level will ensure we not only know where the money is being spent, but we will know what works and why.

The Audit Office clearly shows that you, Minister, have not had any real sense of the answer to these questions. You are now putting funds into finding answers to some of the questions you should already have known the answers to—that is, where the money is being spent, what works and why.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and their organisations have many answers as to what works, and they have a collective resource of knowledge as to why it works. That comes through again and again in the views expressed by the informed academics, by community organisations and by the people whose lives are grounded in the reality in which they live.

The answer is to engage the community and their organisations on the grounds of a genuine partnership. This is the rhetoric of the IAS, the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, coming out of the department, and I have heard it. In your answer, it is not the reality. It is not the lived reality of our people, who have suffered through the IAS fiasco. It is not the case today, and it was not the case in the period of the audit review. I agree wholeheartedly with the minister that it is important for the government and the taxpayers but more important for the communities in whose name the money is being spent. (Time expired)