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Thursday, 27 November 2014
Page: 9612

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (18:27): I rise tonight to speak about the failure of the government and the failure of the self-proclaimed Prime Minister for Aboriginal Affairs to properly address the disadvantage in Aboriginal communities. The government have ripped over half a billion dollars in funding out of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs, they have failed to include justice targets in the Closing the Gap strategy and they stand silent on the proposed closures of remote communities in my home state of Western Australia.

The Indigenous Advancement Strategy started as a complete mess and has continued in that way. I have been extremely concerned about the process of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy ever since it was announced. I have asked many questions in estimates to try and find out how the process would operate, how it was put in place, who was consulted and how the granting process was continuing. The announcement earlier this week that the government needed to extend the period for funding applications for the IAS was an inevitable outcome of the flawed process. Community organisations and service providers have been deeply concerned by the new funding application process implemented under the advancement strategy. The combination of cutting so many programs, the tight time frames and the application process changes has put a lot of pressure on organisations, as has been shown by the large number of applications, the quality of the applications and the fact that many organisations have even not applied. Even more concerning is the unwillingness of some organisations to speak out about the government for fear that their funding would be affected and they would not get their funding application through the process.

Given the flaws in this process that we have seen, it is inevitable that the government would be faced with the choice of either extending the funding application process or seeing vital service providers close their doors. While this extension from the government is important, it is only a last-minute reprieve for a short time in that organisations have no certainty of what happens after that.

Organisations and programs that are relying on this process play an essential role in communities and in people's lives. They deserve to be treated with more respect than this process has shown them. They have staffing and resources allocation that are extremely important where decisions have to be made and these are all under a cloud of uncertainty that this government has created.

The government needs to rethink this process urgently and develop a process that delivers vital community driven services and supports. Nobody disputes the importance of ensuring that funding is linked to outcomes that genuinely help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. But this process has failed. There was no assessment of the effectiveness of the previous programs or what did or did not work. It was simply an efficiency cut, put across the board.

The Prime Minister needs reminding how important it is that we get this right. He need look no further than the Productivity Commission's report Overcoming indigenous disadvantage. The report shows that self-harm, chronic disease, alcohol abuse and disability are all significant areas where the gap has not been closed. Cutting funding from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs will only compound these problems.

There must be an end to the policies that come from the top down and on which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have not had a say in developing. This has been no more clearly illustrated than just today by Dr Howard Bath, the Northern Territory Children's Commissioner, where he talked about school attendance and the need for community ownership and community driven programs.

If we are going to make significant progress in closing the gap we need to invest, not cut programs, as the government has done with this year's budget—for example, cuts to legal aid, the family violence program and the language program. These are all programs that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mr Mick Gooda, has highlighted in his social justice report that has in fact been tabled today. He points out many of the problems that are faced as a result of the government's budget and the problems with the Indigenous Advancement Strategy.

I will leave the last words in this speech to the social justice commissioner, who has articulated in his just released report his concerns over the budget and the lack of community engagement, by quoting what he said:

Overall, this upheaval and lack of clarity is deeply worrying and is causing widespread uncertainty and stress, particularly among our communities.

I could not put it better than that.