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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 307


Senator PATERSON (Victoria) (15:09): I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to this very important debate. No government, and no side of politics, can claim to have found policy nirvana in the area of Indigenous affairs as long as Indigenous Australians continue to experience a life which is nowhere near in line with that of their fellow Australians. There is work that we all need to do to get closer to better policy outcomes for Indigenous Australians, but this government is making a real effort to get closer to that situation, and I commend the minister's efforts, including through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, to make those gains and those improvements.

The Indigenous Advancement Strategy has greatly improved the transparency and accountability of Indigenous affairs funding. As a result of the coalition government's IAS reforms, we now know, for the first time, how much money is being spent across the Indigenous Affairs portfolio and what outcomes we can expect for the investment of taxpayers' money. That sounds like an extraordinary thing to say in 2017—that it is only now that we know how much money is being spent on Indigenous advancement—but that is an important reform achieved by this government.

The IAS introduced reforms that were long overdue and essential to ensure that our investment in Indigenous affairs was getting to where it would be the most effective. Importantly, frontline service delivery was maintained and outcomes were improved through the introduction of the IAS. Through the 2014 grant funding round, the percentage of Indigenous organisations funded increased from 30 per cent to 45 per cent.

But, as I said, we can always do better. That is why—and I think this is very crucial—the government plans to allocate $10 million a year over the next four years to strengthen the evaluation of the IAS programs. That is one of the key pieces of feedback we have had in recent years, and I note particularly the excellent work done by Sara Hudson at the Centre for Independent Studies and the importance that she and other scholars in this area place on the evaluation of the effectiveness of programs, because we need to ensure that money being spent in this area is actually improving the lives of Indigenous Australians. This evaluation will ensure that we know what works and, importantly, why.

The IAS has three key priorities. The first is getting children to school, the second is getting adults to work, and the third is making communities safer. These are three objectives that I am sure all senators share. The IAS is focused on these priorities because that is what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have said they want the government to deliver. We have listened, we are learning, and that is the feedback we have received. These are fundamental to improving the outcomes for First Australians.

Already the Indigenous Advancement Strategy is making a difference. Around 60 First Australians are being placed into jobs every single day. The Remote School Attendance Strategy is helping approximately 14,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children get to school. Through our Indigenous Procurement Policy, millions of dollars in Commonwealth contracts are going to Indigenous businesses every year. This is a really important strategy to help encourage Indigenous entrepreneurship and allow them to start businesses that will help lift them out of poverty.

The government's IAS brought together 150 programs and activities into five broad streams. It consolidated some of the 1,800 staff from across eight different departments and agencies into the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and created a regional network which is now working in partnership with Indigenous communities across urban, regional and remote Australia. These reforms have enabled a far more strategic and flexible approach to the government's investment in Indigenous affairs to achieve better outcomes on the ground while also relieving the administrative burden and red tape from organisations servicing Indigenous communities. The IAS has delivered on this government's commitment to doing things with Indigenous Australians, including by increasing the percentage of Indigenous organisations funded, as I said earlier, from 30 per cent to 45 per cent under the grant funding round.

As I said at the beginning of my contribution to this discussion, no government can claim to have found the perfect solution to any of the problems that the Indigenous community faces, but this government is making a very good effort to get closer to that situation, and we are seeing very real gains from this government's Indigenous affairs policies. I hope to see that continue over the coming years.