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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
Office of Township Leasing

Office of Township Leasing


CHAIR: We are next moving on to the Office of Township Leasing. I welcome Mr Greg Roche, the Executive Director of the Office of Township Leasing. Do you wish to make a brief opening statement?

Mr Roche : I do, but mindful of the time, I will keep it short. Apologies in advanced for being slightly disjunctive, I will just take the nuggets of it, if you like. Thank you for the opportunity to provide an update on the work conducted by my office and I since my last appearance. I have spoken to the committee previously about the opportunities provided by the township leasing model, which equally affords individual property rights, security of tenure and investment in remote NT Aboriginal communities, without compromising underlying status to the Aboriginal land or meaningful input into development decisions by landowners. It provides a means to facilitate business investment and economic growth, and opportunities for individual homeownership.

In relation to private ownership, I am pleased to report that last week we concluded an agreement with the Northern Territory Department of Housing, which now sets out a process for the sale and transfer of public housing into private hands. This is, of course, dependent upon the individuals concerned satisfying ABA and the Northern Territory government of their capacity to pay and undergoing appropriate training. On the housing front we are also looking at assisting our local traditional owner corporations, both on the Tiwi Islands and Groote, in their efforts to build homes, bid for repairs and maintenance tenders, and investigate alternative ways of managing housing stock.

On Thursday and Friday next week, we will be having a workshop in Darwin involving ourselves, the traditional owner corporations from the township leases and a range of housing companies, which have managed housing both in the territory and interstate, to assist the traditional owner corporations to develop their capability—particularly in relation to managing staff housing and other housing opportunities that will hopefully arise in those communities in the next few years.

As you would be aware, the mechanism that is relied upon in relation to the township leases is that there is an advance from the Aboriginals Benefit Account to the traditional owner corporation, and it is then the responsibility of myself and my office to repay that advance to the ABA. The leases usually allow 15 years in which this advance can be repaid. I think it is no secret that when they were entered into, that a number of my colleagues in the bureaucracy were doubtful that those amounts would ever be repaid. I am pleased to announce that, in relation to the first township lease—that is, Wurrumiyanga—at some stage this calendar year, and possibly even this financial year, the advance of $4.4 million will be repaid. That will then give the traditional owners an opportunity to start investing their rent money into local enterprises.

Turning to a slightly more sombre issue, one area of recent concern for me has been the Alice Springs community living areas, better known as the Alice Springs town camps. Recent protests regarding the awarding of tenancy management services in the town camps highlight the sense of disempowerment being felt there. It is a worrying development and it is at odds with the outcomes that all the parties had anticipated when those arrangements were entered into back in 2009, notwithstanding the significant investment, particularly by the Commonwealth. In saying that, I am not reflecting on the Northern Territory government's process or the outcomes, but the sense of disempowerment and anger is real. I met with the presidents of the housing associations last week, and they are very concerned about this action by the Northern Territory government.

The issues in the Alice Springs town camps are not simple, and there are a limited number of things that governments can do. But one of the things that can be done is to address the issue of the underlying legislation, particularly the Northern Territory's Special Purposes Leases Act, which does not currently allow for subdivision. Now, as you would know, it is a basic prerequisite of development in homeownership that one can subdivide, and this cannot be facilitated in relation to the town camps while the legislation remains unchanged. Again, it would require consent by the housing associations and, of course, by the individuals concerned. But, like other Australians, it is my view—and, in fact, I am committed to support it—that, under the terms of the lease, they should be provided with this opportunity.

My office and I continue to provide ongoing technical information to the landowners at Pirlangimpi, and we have made our expertise available to landowners at Yarralin, where we visited late last year, Gunyangara and Gumbalunya. Negotiations are a matter for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, but we remain ready, willing and able to contribute on the technical and information side.

Finally, could I just mentioned the vibrancy of our consultative forums. We had the most recent one in Wurrumiyanga last Wednesday. They continue to be an excellent mechanism for traditional owners to provide input to me in relation to developments in each community. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you Mr Roche. I have just a couple of questions, mostly around the agreement you have reached with the Giles government in the Northern Territory. You mentioned—and from what I have picked up—it is to do with the transfer of public housing into private ownership. Is that correct?

Mr Roche : That is correct.

CHAIR: What communities is it going to be active in?

Mr Roche : This only applies to the township leases. That is because on the Tiwi Islands they are 99 years and on Groote Eylandt they are 80 years. With that sort of length of time it is much more of a commercial proposition for lending organisations to be able to lend against the security. Other leases are of shorter duration, so, therefore, it is more difficult to get a return for the lending organisations for that period. So this MOU only covers the township lease communities.

CHAIR: I am not making a partisan point here, but, when you say that the leases that were signed up by the previous government a 'shorter duration', were they 40 years?

Mr Roche : They were 40 years.

CHAIR: You were saying the lenders will not participate in that, even though that is more than the general term of a mortgage. Is it a lending issue rather than an access issue?

Mr Roche : There are a number of issues with banks and commercial institutions generally about lending on Aboriginal land. I am satisfied they are not legal. To some extent, they are institutional—banks are not used to it. But also, obviously, banks desire as long a repayment period as possible. So it was a decision, really, of the Northern Territory government to go to the township leases first.

CHAIR: That applies in the two that you mentioned: the Tiwi Islands and—

Mr Roche : The two regions, yes—six communities.

CHAIR: What is the ambition for the public ownership to private ownership? What is the content? You know you will be damned with whatever figure you give me unless you exceed it.

Mr Roche : Yes. There have also been some delays. The initial indications of interest were from about 22 families. However, because there were various delays, those expressions of interest have lapsed, so they need to go back again and check with those 22 and also any other families or individuals who may indicate interest. I am reasonably confident that something around that figure will emerge; but, of course, they do have to satisfy IBA. They have to go through iHomes training and money management training. It is a complex process before they actually sign.

CHAIR: Sure. In the process, whether it be the transition from public to private ownership or the develop of township leases and stuff like that, what is the extent of the consultation that you undertake? Who do you discuss it with?

Mr Roche : We discuss with the community. We discuss with the consultative forum because it is a change in the tenure. We discuss with any affected parties.

CHAIR: All right.

Senator PERIS: Can you advise where things are up to with Gunbalanya and Pirlangimpi?

Mr Roche : Gunbalanya is a matter for the department.

Senator PERIS: Okay. Minister?

Senator Scullion: Gunbalanya has been a long process. I am very disappointed about the outcome. We will have officers who will lead you through the process. I was invited to Gunbalanya personally. The traditional owners wrote to me through their lawyers and said they would like me to attend upon Gunbalanya. They had some interest in a township lease, so I attended upon that place. They wanted to know how it worked and all those sorts of things. The executive director has attended there on a number of occasions to explain that. We were working in a number of areas similar to Gunbalanya. The traditional owner group asked me to provide them with assistance, which we do from time to time. It is legal assistance independent from the land council.

The last time that I visited there, they were cranky in a way that I had not been proceeding with it as fast as I could. I explained that there was a process and the process is that the land council was responsible. You had to meet with the land council. The land council then met. It was a meeting from which I have had some anecdotal stories back, but certainly the fact that the legal adviser for the traditional owners was not allowed in the meeting was one significant one. I was pretty annoyed because I had to pay the bill. In any event, I had a letter back from the land council, saying that not only did they reject it—which I thought was pretty odd given that they had invited me to the start—but also that we were never to mention it again. I am also very concerned, of course, that since then I now have another invitation from the traditional owners, saying it was all a mistake, some significant people were not there and they want to do it all again. I have declined. I cannot keep going back and forward. It is a matter for them. There is a process there. I have paid the last of their bills for the legal assistance which is available to everyone. It was a very frustrating process.

I am working with other communities that are well advanced. There are a number of other communities that have shown interest. I am not actually sure what the challenge is. I understand the numbers and I have spoken to all the traditional owners, and I think it is reasonable to describe the spectrum as a few traditional owners who are still unsure and very conservative about that—I have always respected that—and a far greater number of those who are keen to proceed. It is a difficult challenge, but my position remains the same as it always has been: this is a matter for traditional owners. But the process has been very difficult and frustrating for me. It has been a very expensive and time consuming, as one would imagine, in the consultative process, but we have had probably the most consultation and levels of education. I have attended a great deal of meetings and seen to myself the very high level of support it had when all traditional owners were there. I was quite surprised to see the response from the final meeting. I am unable to find out what happened at the final meeting. I am unable to find out what information was provided.

Senator PERIS: You were not at that final meeting?

Senator Scullion: I was not invited to the final meeting. That is a matter for the Northern Land Council, who have attended other meetings, and the traditional owners. The matter of whether or not their legal advisers were allowed to attend the meeting is anecdotal and has no real bearing on it. All I am saying is that it was all a bit of an odd process and I am still surprised that they have taken this view. I have responded to the traditional owners because they have now said, 'What are we doing?' I said: 'You have gone through this process. You're the representatives of the trust. The land council have quite properly reported to me that, no, they don't want this to go ahead and, not only do they not want it go to ahead, they do not ever want me to talk about it again.' Within two weeks I received another letter from the traditional owners, saying, 'Listen, it's all been a bit of an error, and we'd really love you to come again.' I have said, 'Really I am not inclined to.' The land council have had a properly constituted meeting, I am assuming. If that is the case, I am disinclined unless somebody has been able to demonstrate that there has been some substantive change and we should pursue that.

Senator PERIS: Was that letter you had from the traditional owners collective—all the traditional owner groups—or just a select—

Senator Scullion: I would have to take that on notice. Invariably it is from traditional owners. It was certainly from their legal representatives, and I know I have received letters under that which also include all their individual signatures, so I do know that, yes, it is in the entirety of the traditional owner group. Whether that traditional owner group missed one or two signatures or not is not a matter of such great importance in that the act provides for the majority of traditional owners. I do not think that was germane to it but I will take that on notice.

Senator PERIS: Okay. I go back to the Tiwi lease with Pirlangimpi. Is that you, Mr Roche? I want to know where things are with that.

Mr Roche : Pirl is also a matter for the department.

Senator PERIS: Okay. I wanted to know where things were progressing. Is that still on the table? Are discussions continuing?

Mr Owen : Yes, it is still very much on the table. Negotiations have continued through the Munupi Family Trust. There has been a meeting out at Pirlangimpi since Christmas. I think it was when the minister was going to go there. His office did attend that meeting to go through some further detail. Subsequently there has been an exchange of letters building on the original agreement to negotiate, so it is actually progressing well.

Senator PERIS: That is all I wanted to know about that. I go back to the Tiwi plantation. Is that in your area?

Mr Roche : No, I do not have tenure in relation to the forestry rules. The Tiwi Land Council would be the people.

Senator PERIS: Leases that have already been done then rest with the land council? You do not have anything to do with that?

Mr Roche : No. If it is outside our township lease boundaries, there is no relationship at all.

Senator PERIS: So the plantation is outside of those boundaries.

Mr Roche : That is right. If subsequently there is a township lease executed over that land, I am obliged to comply with the terms of that lease.

Senator PERIS: Okay. They are the only questions I had.

Senator SIEWERT: I have one. One of the issues around the Alice town camps that has been raised with me is that before the changes in the past the community could ask people to leave, and now they understand that they cannot. Has that issue been raised with you? I see you are smiling, so I suspect it has.

Mr Roche : Many, many times.

Senator SIEWERT: What has been the response? What action has been taken to address that?

Mr Roche : Since 2013 I have been in correspondence with the Northern Territory government about this. I have raised it a number of times in meetings at a senior level. I have been assured that a response is imminent and that a solution is imminent.

Senator SIEWERT: Well, last time I was there, which was towards the end of last year, it had not been addressed. So, has it in the past couple of months?

Mr Roche : Not to my knowledge.

Senator SIEWERT: Still imminent.

Mr Roche : Still imminent.

Senator SIEWERT: It is a really serious issue.

Mr Roche : I agree. I have taken advice as to whether I have any powers. I have been told that I do not, that they are completely in the jurisdiction of the Northern Territory government.

Senator SIEWERT: Here is a supposed thing that was put in place to solve the issue, yet it has got far worse. Things have been taken out of the hands of communities.

Mr Roche : I am not in a position to say that the situation has got worse.

Senator SIEWERT: Well, that is what people are suggesting to me in terms of the community being able to take action.

Mr Roche : The mechanism used to be that the housing association, usually via Tangentyere Council, could have someone issue a trespass order. I gather that there are internal issues inside the Northern Territory government about who exactly has carriage of the issue and who can issue the order. But I am waiting on a response.

Senator Scullion: I have to say that my personal view is that as long as it remains with the Northern Territory government there is going to be an awful lot of reluctance, because the community is saying, 'We want you to leave', but they want someone else to say it. It is always going to be an issue. We always say, 'Let's leave it to the community', and this is one of those areas where I think the community actually needs to step up, the housing associations need to step up and be responsible for actually saying, 'You need to—

Senator SIEWERT: But what has been said to me is that they actually do not have the power to do that. It is not legal.

Senator Scullion: Indeed, but also in my conversations when I have said, 'Well, you'll be identified as the person and the organisation doing it' they are saying, 'We want to identify them but we want to remain anonymous', which is okay, and I understand that there are cultural circumstances where that is probably a good idea. But I think the best solution is to have a better working relationship between the Northern Territory government and the housing associations. It is all right to say, 'We want the responsibility to do this but we want somebody else to take all the pain.' I suspect that is probably why the NT government is reluctant to start issuing trespass orders, because everybody will be out there, including the housing association, yelling at the Northern Territory government, which invariably happens. And I think this difficulty has been beyond politics. This has gone on for a very long time.

Senator SIEWERT: Has there been an attempt to have a process, whether it is a round table or whatever is the most effective process, to actually get everybody to start talking about this and addressing it?

Senator Scullion: I know this has been the subject of round tables, and there are some fora that meet from time to time, and I suspect that it would not be many of those where that has not been brought up. But as for a specific round table to talk about and deal with this matter, I am not sure. I am unaware of one.

Mr Roche : We have a consultative forum for the town camps, as we do for the township leases. I think it is fair to say that trespass orders is virtually a standing item that comes up at every meeting.

Senator PERIS: I have some questions about annual reports being tabled. The IBA, AHL and Indigenous Land Corp annual reports: have they been tabled?

Ms Marie Taylor : I do not have that information, but I will endeavour to give you an answer.

Senator Scullion: I am pretty sure the ILC report has been tabled, only because I had some correspondence last Friday. Somebody made an inquiry in my office or something. I am not sure, but it has been tabled, I think.

Senator PERIS: Perhaps it can be taken on notice. I will just read these questions on notice. If they have been tabled, when were they? If not, was an extension granted to either one of those three organisations—

Senator Scullion: To my knowledge no extension has been granted and it is not my normal practice.

Senator MOORE: Isn't it the rule?

Senator Scullion: Well, it has been in the past, but I have been talking a harder line about not granting extensions, because people get in the habit of saying—

Senator MOORE: I understand, but if they—

Senator Scullion: I have been saying really you have to have an extraordinary reason to have an extension. We should have it done at the time. So I am trying to take that convention back too.

Senator SIEWERT: Could we also find out why they were not tabled by their due date?

Senator Scullion: I am not sure that they have not been, first of all. So, we will just find out when they were tabled.

Ms Marie Taylor : We think we have an officer in the waiting room who will know the answer to these questions, so we will get the answer to you. As the minister has said, we are not sure what the answer is, but we will find that for you.

CHAIR: Rather than bring the officers back, perhaps just after the break the minister can report on behalf of that and we can get the information.

Senator MOORE: Minister, I just want to say congratulations on your reappointment as Leader of the Senate. You are going to be the Leader of the Senate for us?

Senator Scullion: Apparently so, I was told last night.

Senator MOORE: Thank you. I just wanted to put that on record.

CHAIR: With that, I thank the agencies for their appearance today. Mr Roche, thank you.

Proceedings suspended from 10 : 51 to 11 : 07

CHAIR: We will resume the hearing of the Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee. I welcome officers of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. I particularly draw the attention of witnesses to an order of the Senate of 13 May 2009 specifying the process by which a claim of public interest immunity should be raised. Witnesses are specifically reminded that a statement that information or a document is confidential or consistent with advice to government is not a statement that meets the requirements of the 2009 order. Instead, witnesses are required to provide some specific indication of the harm to public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or the document. The committee has fixed 1 April 2016 as the date for the return of answers to questions taken on notice. Mr Tongue, do wish to make an opening statement?

Mr Tongue : I do not, Chair.

CHAIR: Excellent.

Senator Scullion: Mr Chair, could I make a brief opening statement? I thank the committee for the opportunity to make an opening statement. This week we tabled the Closing the gap report in the House of Representatives. As always, it is a frank assessment of our progress. It also acknowledges achievements and identifies areas where we need to accelerate our efforts. There have been some encouraging improvements over the longer term. The target to halve the gap in child mortality by 2018 is on track. Closing the gap in reading and numeracy targets have mixed results. However, the fact that the year 3 reading target was so close to being achieved gives us hope that the gap could be closed. We need another 640 students to get over that mark. We are seeing more young people staying in school, placing the target to halve the gap in year 12 attainment by 2020 on track.

The Remote School Attendance Strategy is working to close the gap on school attendance. For example, in Northern Territory and Queensland schools, the number of students attending was nine per cent higher in term 2 in 2015 than at the same time in 2013. This improvement is great. Obviously, we have a long way to go. Importantly, the Closing the gap report outlines other challenges ahead. Although there have been long-term improvements in Indigenous mortality rates, the life expectancy gap of around 10 years remains unacceptably wide. We continue to see a suicide rate around twice that of non-Indigenous Australians. Tragically, for 15- to 24-year-olds the suicide rate is four times as high as the non-Indigenous rate. There is a need to accelerate progress against the target to halve the gap in unemployment by 2018. I am optimistic that the significant reforms we have made through our community development program in remote Australia and our other job programs will help halve the jobs gap.

I acknowledge the involvement of others in this place across the party divide in the development of these reforms and thank them for the cooperative approach we are taking. I am confident that they will be an enduring solution to complex problems. Already the indicative data from the Indigenous Procurement Policy shows the government have awarded 116 contracts to 52 Indigenous businesses, with a total value of around $36 million. This is nearly six times more than the government's procurement commitment to Indigenous businesses in 2012-13, which totalled $6.2 million. We are seeing similar results in our efforts to increase the number of job opportunities for Indigenous people. The employment initiatives under the Jobs, Land and Economy program have supported placement in just over 36,650 jobs over the past 2½ years. Already in the VTEC program 3,639 people have commenced jobs as we continue to aim for 5,000 jobs in the employment parity initiative. We have already signed 10 contracts for the 6,815 jobs, and there will be more in the coming weeks. At the start of this year almost 75 per cent of job seekers required to attend Work for the Dole activities were in fact placed in activities. This is an increase of nearly 60 per cent on the RJCP achievements after two years of operation.

In relation to the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, we are continuing to work closely with communities to make sure that the services the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people receive are of the highest standard and are targeted to each individual community's needs. We continue to work alongside providers to ensure that the best possible outcomes are achieved for the services' funding, including for services that are funding through the IAS round. As you are aware, my department has been through a process of looking at the IAS guidelines, receiving feedback from the round directly from organisations and from submissions to the Senate inquiry. The department also conducted a series of forums around the country with over 500 people attending these forums. As a result, we are finalising revisions to the guidelines. These revisions I am confident will make clearer for applicants the methods of applying for funding and the selection criteria by which applications are assessed. Additionally, they will reduce red tape for providers, all of which will result in better, more targeted service delivery for individuals and communities.

Being held to account through reports like Closing the Gap is necessary for good governance. We are committed to maintaining these important processes. This government is also committed to developing responsive solutions, underpinned by effective engagement with Indigenous Australians. I thank the committee for their time.

Senator SIEWERT: A number of national partnership agreements expire—one of them has expired—in June this year. There is universal access to early childhood education, the rheumatic fever strategy in Queensland, WA, NT and South Australia; management of Torres Strait Islander-PNG border health issues; and the national partnership on remote Indigenous public internet access, training and maintenance. What is the process for addressing those particular partnership agreements? There is another set that expire next year.

Mr Tongue : All of those national agreements and arrangements are under the umbrella of our fiscal arrangements with the states and territories. Some of the initiatives you have described are embodied in various initiatives now under the IAS. Some have terminated because the states or territories that we have agreement with have delivered what they were given money to deliver. With some of the agreements we are seeking to negotiate alternative arrangements with the states and territories, and they will be matters for the minister and the government. I will let Ms Hefren-Webb take you through some of the details.

Ms Hefren-Webb : The one on universal access to early childhood education is actually the responsibility of the Department of Education and Training, so we do not have policy responsibility for that one here.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. How do you engage with that, though?

Ms Hefren-Webb : We have quite frequent meetings with the Department of Education and Training. Obviously Indigenous children's access to preschool is of vital interest to us and it is one of our Closing the Gap targets, so we closely engage with the policy development work around that national partnership. Like any other piece of policy, it goes through the budget and cabinet processes, and we engage with it from that perspective.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay, I will follow that up with the department.

Ms Marie Taylor : Senator, I can give you some information on the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Public Internet Access. In last year's budget there was a new measure which replaced that NPA. It is the remote Indigenous internet training activity: $6.7 million was provided over three years, and that funding is being rolled out under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you.

Ms Hefren-Webb : Were there other specific ones that you wanted us to cover?

Senator SIEWERT: There are the rheumatic fever ones.

Mr Tongue : I think we would need to cover that this afternoon with Health.

Senator SIEWERT: We can do that in Health—okay.

Senator MOORE: It would be very useful for me to have a full list of the national partnerships.

Mr Tongue : Absolutely.

Senator MOORE: It would just be useful for my records to have a full list of all those partnership agreements, just so we can ask you questions about them next time.

Mr Tongue : That is fine. We will take that on notice and provide you with those.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay, we will deal with that there. So, as an overall unit, you are not tracking all of the partnership agreements. That is done under each of the programs. Is that a correct understanding?

Ms Hefren-Webb : I would say that, as overarching Indigenous affairs policy, we do keep track of where the various partnership agreements are at, when they are coming up for renewal and what is happening with the policy process. We do own the housing one, obviously—remote housing. We also have responsibility for the National Partnership Agreement with the Northern Territory, the former Stronger Futures national partnership agreement, which is being renegotiated. So, yes, we do keep a broad watching view, because obviously it is a significant component of the funding.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes. Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory is the one you said is being renegotiated?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes. In last year's budget, the renegotiation and restructuring of that national partnership agreement were announced, and the detailed implementation plans are now under detailed negotiation. One of them has been agreed—the schooling one—but the others, I believe, are under detailed negotiation. If Robert Ryan were here, he could answer in more detail.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. Which of those other partnership agreements are under current negotiation?

Ms Marie Taylor : I can answer that in relation to the housing. The NPARIH is certainly under negotiation with the states at the moment.

Senator SIEWERT: Are there any others that you are aware of?

Ms Hefren-Webb : There was a National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Early Childhood Development that expired last year, but the component of that for which we had responsibility was the construction of the child and family centres, and that has concluded. I am not aware of any others that spring to mind, but we will do as Andrew has committed and provide you with a full list.

Senator SIEWERT: Just on the centres, do you have any overview of those now, and are you able to give us an update now—since they have been constructed and the initial funding has run out—on who, from across the states and territories, has taken on responsibility for funding some of those and what those arrangements are?

Ms Hefren-Webb : We can give you an update. It is different in each state and territory, but we can—

Senator SIEWERT: Yes. I am after the overall view, because there are different arrangements. Are you able to take that on notice to give us a run-down on all of them and your current understanding of the status of those?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Absolutely.

Senator Scullion: That would have to involve the different services that are being provided, which was always the intention. So in each of the family-and-children centres we will have a different organisation running different things. Some run child care; there will be an organisation that runs child care. Is that the sort of breakdown you are looking for?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes.

Senator Scullion: As best as we can, we will certainly provide that on notice.

Senator SIEWERT: Because I am aware there have been some changes in some of them; some services have been downgraded.

Ms Hefren-Webb : We can give you a full update.

Senator SIEWERT: That would be really appreciated.

Senator Scullion: In terms of the downgrading of services, whilst we will be as helpful as we can, as always, that would be a matter for the states and territories; as part of the national partnership agreement the fundamental thing was that they were to take over the actual running of the centres. Our responsibility ended at the construction.

Senator SIEWERT: I am aware of that. It is not about having a shot at the Commonwealth—necessarily—but the fact is that there is some concern in some communities about what is happening with those centres, about the loss of services and the potential for loss of services. You have these lovely facilities out there now—

Ms Hefren-Webb : All of the facilities are still operational, but we can give you more detail of the current status of each of them.

Senator SIEWERT: That would be really appreciated.

Ms Hefren-Webb : No worries. Mr Ryan, of the stronger futures national partnership, is now here.

Mr Ryan : Sorry, Senator, I missed the question.

Senator SIEWERT: I was asking about the current state of negotiations for some of the national partnership agreements?

Mr Ryan : We are very well advanced. We are close to agreeing on words for the national partnership agreement. And we are fairly well progressed on the various implementation plans that hang off that agreement. So we have not yet got agreement with the Northern Territory government, but we are very close.

Senator SIEWERT: So is part of—

Senator MOORE: 'Imminent', Mr Ryan?

Senator Scullion: You do not have to answer that.

Senator MOORE: I am just checking in terms of the timing.

Mr Ryan : I think it will be a few months.

Senator SIEWERT: One of the few things that we agreed with as part of that was the commitment to funding of NGOs. Does the renegotiation involve that commitment?

Mr Ryan : I would have to have a look at it in terms of what the various implementation plans specify. I would probably need to take that on notice and look whether there are specific words in either the NPA or the IPs.

Senator SIEWERT: I am sure you remember the commitment for long-term funding for community controlled organisations delivery of services; there were a lot of strong, good words around that component of stronger futures. So could you provide in particular an update on that process and whether they have been engaged in any of the negotiations or discussions?

Mr Ryan : The negotiations at this stage are government to government.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. That is what I thought you were going to say, and that is what I am concerned about.

Mr Ryan : But in terms of the Northern Territory government—who are actually providing the funding through to the NGOs—they had an ongoing relationship with those NGOs.

Ms Hefren-Webb : Senator, are you referring just to the 'stronger communities for children' component?

Senator SIEWERT: No.

Ms Hefren-Webb : More broadly?

Senator SIEWERT: There was a broader component of that, where there was a commitment for long-term funding to address that issue—with reviews—of community owned and driven organisations, for a start; but also stability and certainty for the organisations providing the services.

Senator Scullion: I can just say that there are two fundamentals. I share those concerns about not having to stagger year by year and get those processes. But the fundamental thing is that the only concern NGOs need to have is about whether they are delivering a very high standard and quality—to the contracted standards. If they do that, then they will continue to be funded. If they do not, we will be looking very carefully at alternative providers and we will be looking very carefully at ensuring they are as close to what the community wants as possible. And hopefully we can have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations delivering that. But I think it is not the right signal to send to those people who are delivering services now as NGOs, particularly non-Indigenous NGOs, or to say, 'This is Senator Siewert batting for our continued existence'. And I know you are not doing that—

Senator SIEWERT: Minister, you know very well my position on this issue—

Senator Scullion: This is really important. The only way that organisations can say they are going to receive continued funding is if they are delivering the very high standard of service that is expected and reflected in our contract.

Senator SIEWERT: And that is not the point I am making. There was a review process built in. The commitment was that, where services are doing that, there would be that long-term commitment. I have not seen the update from this process, but certainly organisations that were driving this in 2012 were largely Aboriginal controlled and owned, particularly Aboriginal controlled health organisations. That is why I am seeking that commitment. Obviously, if the service is not providing is not meeting the requirements, I do not want to see them funded any more than anybody else does. But I do want to see that commitment for long-term ongoing funding and I do want to ensure that is not lost in the renegotiation of that agreement—the commitment was given when that legislation came in.

Senator Scullion: Perhaps I should have prefaced my comments by using the health sector as an exemplar. For example, the NACCHO health sector now enjoy pretty much permanent funding into the future because they do deliver very high quality services. They are completely engaged with the community. And they are invariably community controlled organisations, by definition. So, for any NGOs, that would be, I think, the high water mark by which we would judge them. I was not reflecting on the health sector—in fact, they would be the area that would be judged well. My reflection was simply more generally about NGOs. The quality of services has to come first.

Senator SIEWERT: So, Mr Ryan, could you please take that on notice?

Mr Ryan : I will take that on notice. What I can say is that the agreement will secure the funding for that long period of time. As with the previous agreement, there will be certainty of funding—subject to conditions and deliverables. It is still in the same position where that is sort of commitment going forward can be a greater degree than it normally is. Also, regarding Indigenous employment, we are looking to get as much as—stronger guarantees—we can around Indigenous employment through the program.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. The other agreements I want to ask about, particularly the rheumatic fever strategy, are in Health. Is that correct?

Mr Ryan : That is correct.

Senator SIEWERT: I have a few other questions, but I will put them on notice—given the time.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Senator MOORE: I have some questions on housing.

CHAIR: Anything else in general?

Senator PERIS: Is my stuff on Conrec—

CHAIR: Why don't you try, Senator Peris?

Senator MOORE: Constitutional recognition is quite a general issue.

Senator PERIS: In additional estimates statements, it shows a measure relating to Constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Is this new money? If so, where it has been redirected from?

Mr Eccles : Yes, it is new money.

Senator PERIS: Is this a spend from the Indigenous Advancement Strategy?

Mr Eccles : No. The best way to characterise it is: the funding has been provided to the Indigenous affairs appropriation on the basis that it is the team within the department that is looking after supporting the referendum council. So the funding has come there. So it is not part of the IAS, if you like. It is a separate new bucket of money for the specific purpose of progressing towards Constitutional recognition.

Senator PERIS: Exactly what you just said: the funding is for Constitutional recognition?

Mr Eccles : That is right.

Senator PERIS: Is PM&C the head department on Constitutional recognition?

Mr Eccles : Yes, we are playing a very strong coordinating role. We are obviously working closely with the Attorney-General's Department.

Senator PERIS: You just answered my next question. I was going to ask: what role does the Attorney-General's Department play in this?

Mr Eccles : Clearly, the Attorney-General's Department is the repository of all the expertise around technical issues to do with the Constitution. We are playing a significant role in the engagement side of things. So we work very closely with them. We actually have staff seconded from the Attorney-General's Department into our Constitutional recognition task force that has been established.

Senator PERIS: That section is responsible to the minister or to the Prime Minister?

Mr Eccles : They are responsible to the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet or through me to the secretary. We provide updates. It is kind of like our job. We report on a day-to-day basis to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs but we also report to the Prime Minister.

Senator PERIS: This is to the minister: recently you were asked about the questions that Mr Shorten had on the Closing the gap report in parliament the other day, and you said:

What if we're not ready by then? Are we just going to go anyway? Look, I think that's just a little bit of political sort of mucking about.

Do you stand by that, Minister? What is your view on constitutional recognition?

Senator Scullion: I do not know. You are a member of his party, Senator. You would be in a better place to understand what he said, but I understood what he said is that, hell or high water, on that day we will have a referendum. So we are not not having a referendum, and I understood that the Referendum Council were the ones who were making the decision on the date, not the Labor Party, which was a bit of a concern to me. Also, the words were going to be settled by them. This has taken some time, I am not sure whether or not we will be ready by then, and my reflection was simply a reflection on why it was that the Labor Party were now having an alternative view from what had been agreed before, in that we were leaving the decisions about the timing and the words to the Referendum Council. That was why the response to that question was the way it was.

Senator PERIS: That is fine. Thank you for the clarification of that. That is all I had around the con rec stuff.

Senator SIEWERT: In terms of the task force, could you tell us—just take it on notice—the details of who is on the task force.

Senator MOORE: Yes, and if there are any defined responsibilities in terms of what A-G's is responsible for. I know you are the lead agency, but I just ask whether there are defined responsibilities within the task force.

Mr Eccles : I can quickly answer that. It is a task force, and the guys all muck in on different things. Obviously the people with A-G's bring a different perspective.

Senator MOORE: So how many are mucking in there, Mr Eccles?

Mr Story : We have 7.2 FTE.

Senator MOORE: 7.2 muckers—okay.

Mr Story : That includes one secondee from the Attorney-General's Department

Senator MOORE: Includes? Okay.

Senator SIEWERT: Have you got terms of reference?

Mr Eccles : For the task force?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes.

Mr Eccles : I do not think it was constructed with terms of reference, but we can give you an overview of what its role is.

Senator SIEWERT: You have obviously been given a 'this is what we want you to'—

Mr Eccles : A charter?

Senator SIEWERT: A charter—that is the word I am looking for.

Mr Eccles : We will be able to provide some words on that.

Senator SIEWERT: That would be much appreciated. Was there any additional funding allocation beyond the funding for the council?

Mr Eccles : No, the funding that is reflected in the budget documents is the funding that is assigned to the task force.

Senator SIEWERT: And that is it?

Mr Eccles : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. We should move on.

Senator MOORE: Chair, I have a lot of questions on housing, so I would appreciate you, when you think the allocation is up, just giving me the nod, because I am just going to work my way through.

CHAIR: Sure. Let's work with your colleagues there. They will—

Senator MOORE: What I do not get to we will stick on notice. For the housing officers, I know my friend Senator Jan McLucas has been putting a lot of work into this area, and there are lots of questions on notice that she has asked. I will work my way through the questions.

Senator SIEWERT: Do you just want to do that thing you said you were going to about the CDP?

Senator MOORE: Yes, I am going to do that thing I was going to do about the CDP. We had a number of questions about the Community Development Program, but because we have the full inquiry next week we have decided not to take time of the committee today.

Senator SIEWERT: I am the same.

Senator MOORE: I just let officers know that we have not dozed off on that issue.

Mr Eccles : Can we release them back to work, Senator?

Senator MOORE: From the CDP, yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, I am the same: I have a lot of questions, but we have the whole inquiry on Friday. It makes more sense.

Mr Eccles : Fantastic.

Senator MOORE: You can go away and get ready for the inquiry.

Mr Eccles : Excellent.

Senator MOORE: The first question is just a follow-up question. It is on the national partnership. The NPARIH program consistently met its national targets between 2009 and 2013.

Ms Marie Taylor : Your question is: is it continuing to meet its COAG targets?

Senator MOORE: Yes, the targets that were set in terms of the partnership agreement.

Ms Belinda Campbell : The COAG target for new houses were 4,200, and the 10-year COAG target for refurbishments was 4,876. As at 31 October, there are 2,957 completed, and refurbishments are 7,207.

Senator MOORE: The review of progress 2008-13, released in June 2013, announced that the refurbishment target for 2014 had been increased to 6,696. The answer to question on notice No. 150, asked by Senator McLucas following the additional estimates hearing on 28 February 2014, identified the original target for the refurbishments nationally as 4,876 and not the revised target of 6,696 announced following the review of progress in 2013. What was the background to that variation?

Ms Belinda Campbell : I am not sure on the variation that was in the review. I am not sure that it was revised. We will have to take that question on notice and get back to you.

Senator MOORE: We are interested—if you do find, as our question asked, that it was changed—in why it was changed and who approved that change. What jurisdictions are currently on track or not on track to meet their targets under the current arrangements?

Ms Belinda Campbell : I can give you the numbers of houses delivered by state.

Senator MOORE: Can we get that data on notice, but can you just tell me for the record today who is meeting the target and who is not, state by state?

Ms Belinda Campbell : Within the national partnership agreement, every two years we run a competitive bid process where we set the capital works targets for the next two years, and we are part-way through one of those two-year periods. All states are delivering against those targets that are agreed within the two-year period.

Senator MOORE: When you say they are delivering, does that mean they are on track to meet the target in the sense of the department or that they are all exceeding? You would have milestones in your process for what you would expect to have been completed by this time if they are on track to meet their full target. So you are saying every state is reaching their milestones at this stage?

Ms Belinda Campbell : Yes, and we can give you a breakdown of the targets and what they have delivered.

Senator MOORE: That would be great if we can get on notice what the breakdown is, for the sake of the question.

Mr Tongue : If I could interject there, our colleagues in the states sometimes—if it is a particularly bad wet or cyclone season or something like that, there are times between one financial year and another where—

Senator MOORE: There are limitations of course. But you would have a little asterisk beside that to say, 'Because of what has happened in Northern Queensland over the last three months, there could be a difference'?

Mr Tongue : That is right.

Senator MOORE: If we can just get an indicative picture and if there is a variation that needs that addressed, that would be good.

Mr Tongue : You shall.

Senator MOORE: Can you explain to me the rationale for changing the program from NPARIH to the Remote Indigenous Housing Strategy?

Ms Marie Taylor : The rationale was really to refocus the partnership agreement to one much more focused on achieving outcomes. The key change in our current negotiations is to focus a portion of the funding, the remaining funding in the agreement, to actually pay upon delivery of the outcomes. Previously, for example, in property and tenancy management, we might have paid milestones against the delivery of a property and tenancy management agreement.

Senator MOORE: I am sorry; I am just missing that last bit. This room is not good.

Ms Marie Taylor : Under NPARIH, the current agreement, in terms of property and tenancy management—just to give you a bit of an understanding of where we are currently at and where we are moving to—we might pay funding to states based on the delivery of an agreement around property and tenancy management with the tenants. What we want to move to is actual evidence that there are improved outcomes, so if houses are actually in good order, rent is being paid, those sorts of things. That is where we want to move to.

Senator Scullion: There is also a slight change. The other outcome is always around Indigenous employment, so we need to make it part of the new arrangements, because they certainly were not delivering in that regard, and I am still disappointed about that. So we are using this opportunity to ensure the outcomes that we assumed are actually now outcomes that we get paid on.

Senator MOORE: So it is rather than encouragement, which was always in the program as actually showing you have done it.

Senator Scullion: We actually wanted to—

Senator MOORE: Have the new arrangements been finalised with the states and territories? Have they all signed up?

Ms Marie Taylor : No.

Senator MOORE: Can you tell us which have and which have not? Is that able to be made public?

Mr Marie Taylor : We are still in negotiations with all the states.

Senator MOORE: No-one has actually signed?

Ms Marie Taylor : Not at this stage.

Senator MOORE: When is the proposed new strategy expected to commence? What is your date for when you want them all signed up?

Ms Marie Taylor : We have been negotiating closely with the states—

Senator MOORE: Over what period? How long—

Ms Marie Taylor : We started negotiating around budget last year.

Senator MOORE: The middle of the year, okay.

Ms Marie Taylor : We had hoped that we would have had the negotiations finalised by Christmas, but we still are negotiating. As the minister has said, we are trying to lift outcomes quite substantially compared to what was delivered under NPARIH, particularly in relation to PTM—property and tenancy management—and employment. Those negotiations are ongoing. We are still in conversations with the states.

Senator MOORE: At this stage of the negotiation, has there been any state or territory that has openly said, 'We are not signing'?

Ms Marie Taylor : No.

Senator MOORE: Are those employment expectations—which, I think, are extraordinarily valuable in terms of looking at Indigenous employment—going to be quantified by numbers actually in employment? Is that the expectation?

Ms Marie Taylor : At the moment what we are thinking is that we would put targets in terms of percentages of Indigenous employment, and that would then translate into actual numbers.

Senator MOORE: Does that include apprenticeships?

Ms Marie Taylor : Those things are still in negotiation, so that is still under consideration.

Mr Tongue : As we negotiate with the states, one of the things that the more sophisticated states are talking to us about is how they coordinate their other infrastructure spend such that we could build and sustain meaningful apprenticeships, so that a young person could go from the start of their apprenticeship all the way through to complete it—

Senator MOORE: With maintaining employment across—

Mr Tongue : Maintaining employment all the way across. That is just an added complexity as we do these negotiations. To be fair to some of the jurisdictions, they are quite sophisticated now in how they are doing this infrastructure programming, so we are trying to dovetail in with that. We are also trying to dovetail in with CDP so that, where it is appropriate, CDP work is linked to work on housing, so that where we can we are building career pathways for people. That is also something we have to negotiate with the states because they own the assets.

Senator Scullion: That is in areas like the maintenance and the low-level maintenance. It is probably the only opportunity in the community to be able to have the experiential learning that will assist people into a traineeship or an apprenticeship, which we would hope would come from the CDP starting that out. Many communities have said: 'This is what we used to do. We were responsible for this. How can we go back to it?' It was part of the CDP arrangements—obviously you will hear more about those on Friday. It is about linking the CDP and the opportunities and support it provides with almost anything that happens in those communities rather than trying to provide an artificial environment for training. There are houses that need maintaining. In the past certainly that seemed to have been successful. It is what the communities have requested we consider.

Senator MOORE: So it is not only the local employment but also the expectation of a transferable qualification so that people can work.

Senator Scullion: Yes, that is right. There is an expectation—which I have to say that we might not meet immediately—from the communities that these will turn into businesses where those people can work and have a business which we are finding. We still have not finalised that, because it is all different in different places, but that is the intention of the community and we intend to honour that.

Senator MOORE: The negotiations include awareness of variations from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so as long as you get the right outcome there can be ability for variation in activity?

Ms Marie Taylor : That is right.

Mr Tongue : But one of the outcomes that is not negotiable is this outcome about Indigenous employment. That is the most substantive change and it is not something that is subject to negotiation. I think it is a fundamental change. As far as I am concerned, those are not the instructions I have given to the department—for it to be softened in terms of the negotiations. It should have been delivered in the past. I think we all had expectations that there would have been far more employment outcomes from this whole process. This is an opportunity to renegotiate a NPARIH to focus on those outcomes.

Senator MOORE: In terms of the cut from NPARIH in the 2014 budget, which I am led to believe was $95 million, were jurisdictions advised of the reduction?

Ms Marie Taylor : Yes.

Senator MOORE: Were they advised in writing?

Ms Marie Taylor : They were certainly advised verbally and, yes, they were advised in writing.

Senator MOORE: If they were advised in writing, could we get a copy of the letter.

Ms Marie Taylor : Yes.

Senator MOORE: If there is a variation in the letter between states and territories, we would like it, but if it is a standard letter then there can be just one that is across the top.

Senator Scullion: It is possibly important to note the context of that change. It was not a cut that went somewhere else. That money was hypothecated to CDP to allow that transfer of skills, to ensure that we were using that to facilitate labour that was local labour to actually do the maintenance on those houses as part of NPARIH. So it should not be contextualised as a cut. We just simply shifted the money from there to an employment program, and that is why we are trying to now lock in the states and territories to ensuring that we use the CDP workers in that.

Senator MOORE: I am aware of the rationale that was given by the government. I am just wanting to home in on what the impact was to the housing element of that change. Can you give me an indication of the breakdown by jurisdiction of where the reductions were made by the change in process of the $95 million?

Ms Belinda Campbell : To be clear, the reduction came from the property and tenancy management element of the national partnership. The capital works funding remained the same. For New South Wales, there was a reduction of $3.4 million; for Queensland, it was $26.8 million; for South Australia, it was $3.2 million; for Western Australia, it was $21.8 million; and, for the Northern Territory, it was $25.2 million.

Ms Marie Taylor : I add that that was a flat 6.6 per cent reduction applied to all the jurisdictions in the partnership.

Senator MOORE: So it was a flat 6.6 per cent quarantine to the property and tenancy management element of the expenditure. That was how it was. At a later time I will ask about how that works in terms of the significant variation in what 6.6 per cent is per jurisdiction and their agreements, but we have not got time today. Being a little bit parochial I am just wondering why it was $26.8 million for Queensland and $2.4 million for New South Wales, but I will take that up at another time. Was any modelling done on the impact of the $95 million on the number of new homes and refurbishments?

Ms Belinda Campbell : It was not taken from capital works.

Senator MOORE: That is what I wanted to get reaffirmed—an absolute guarantee of no impact on capital works. And did the jurisdictions sign up to that?

Ms Marie Taylor : The jurisdictions were informed of the reduction in the budget.

Senator MOORE: From the jurisdictions' point of view, in terms of their information about the reduction of funding, it was very clear to them that this was not to come out of capital works?

Ms Marie Taylor : That is exactly right. And the reduction is actually in the last year of the partnership, 2017-18.

Senator MOORE: Something for them to look forward to! So that is it. So, realistically, no-one can make the case from a jurisdictional point of view that it would have an impact now—it is for 2017-18?

Ms Marie Taylor : Correct, and the existing NPARIH agreement remains on foot while we are negotiating the new arrangements, and we have continued to make milestone payments against the existing agreement.

Senator MOORE: The website actually has a statement on NPARIH which says, 'All communities are different, which means we need flexible approaches for how governments and communities work together. Investing more in remote housing and creating tailored solutions for local community needs will achieve real results for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.' In terms of the reduction in funding into the program, how can the department continue to say that there is no impact on remote housing from the change in the funding model?

Ms Marie Taylor : As I think my colleague has said, that funding reduction has gone into the property and tenancy management area, which is the area where we are intending to lift outcomes. And the funding has been redirected into the CDP program, which we anticipate housing works will actually work closely with and benefit from.

Senator MOORE: Can I get, on notice, a more fulsome explanation of that? The impact on remote housing is not just on construction; it is on the overall operations of the program, including all elements. The first part of your answer was that you are going to invest more money into capital and tenancy management; you are going to look at outcomes there, which is where the cuts are. On notice, can I get more about what that justification is? I actually already know the justification around employment. I can see where it was, but I just think we could debate that all day, and I do not think that would be valuable for either of us really.

Ms Marie Taylor : Certainly.

Senator MOORE: Under the NPARIH, states and territories committed to building 4,200 new houses by 2018. Is the government maintaining this commitment under the new strategy?

Ms Marie Taylor : Under the new arrangements, we are focused on trying to get as many outcomes for Indigenous housing as we can. As we have already indicated, the capital funding remains the same. So, in terms of the actual new builds, those numbers should stay the same. The impacts are going to be in the PTM and the outcomes area.

Senator MOORE: The 4,200 capital works is retained in the new strategy?

Ms Marie Taylor : We are hopeful that that will remain the same.

Senator MOORE: That is the intent.

Senator SCULLION: Not the new housing component. Each state and Territory are saying as part of the negotiations, 'Look, I know we are strict on this, but at the moment this is the circumstance: I think we would be better off if we moved this into this because of the particular need.' That is part of the negotiations. But in relation to the new housing component, you cannot deal with overcrowding by fixing houses; you need more houses, and we acknowledge that.

Senator MOORE: So allowing that that negotiation is on now, you cannot give me clear targets for refurbishments and Indigenous employment?

Ms Marie Taylor : Not at this stage. All of those things are under negotiation.

Ms Belinda Campbell : I can add that, as at 31 October, taking into account completed and underway new houses, there are 3,200 houses against the target of 4,200.

Senator MOORE: That is the target now, and that is by 2018. If you were looking at a milestone that would be quite positive, wouldn't it? If, under the existing strategy—before the new one—we have now got to 3,200 then to get to 4,200 by 2018 should not seem to be a major impost.

Ms Marie Taylor : The states have overachieved in terms of refurbishments.

Senator MOORE: Can I get details of that as well on notice.

Ms Marie Taylor : Sure.

Senator MOORE: Senator McLucas asked what constitutes an outcome in question on notice 335. Is there any definition of outcome? Is that in terms of new houses completed? What do they say in the industry—key ready? Does that mean a house is ready for a tenancy?

Ms Marie Taylor : In our context, the way we are thinking about outcomes is achieving particular employment levels, for instance. That might be, at the moment, under capital works in NPARIH. The employment rate is 20 per cent. So we would be setting those targets under the outcomes. That is how we are thinking about outcomes.

Senator SCULLION: Currently, the definition of any outcome is really well defined: to make a payment, you have got to do these things. With things like 20 per cent—which we have all been concerned about it; we all talk about it—it is where those 20 per cent come from and how you measure them. One of the challenges is that it always seems to be measured retrospectively. We finish the job and then we say, 'How many Aboriginal people do we employ?' We also say, 'The best effort is that we only got five per cent.' But there does not seem to be a sanction in terms of a commercial sanction in the same way that there is if you hadn't put a roof on the house. We are trying to move Indigenous employment to the same status as a roof in terms of the contractual arrangements, which is part of the negotiations.

Senator MOORE: One of the things we are looking at is the expectation of the jurisdictions and the funding so that it matches up in terms of the states and territories knowing exactly what they are expected to do with what. From the department or the government's perspective, are we expecting similar results to what they had already said, with less money?

Ms Marie Taylor : I think absolutely we are trying to lift outcomes, and we have a small funding cut. We do not apologise for trying to deliver better outcomes under the program.

Senator MOORE: That is actually part of the negotiations. You understand that when you go into the negotiations.

Ms Marie Taylor : Absolutely.

Mr Tongue : I think in the Federation that the states and territory are responsible for the provision of public housing, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are citizens of the various jurisdictions.

Senator MOORE: Community members, yes.

Mr Tongue : One of the things that we are conscious of—I will call it 'maintenance of effort' by states and territories—is that about 30 per cent of public housing in Australia is occupied by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, so they are big users of that system. We are seeking to work with the states and territories to maintain their effort as well as an expectation that the Commonwealth passes up new money all the time.

Senator MOORE: So it is augmentation of state effort.

Mr Tongue : Yes.

Senator SCULLION: I was motivated in this entire thing to say that we have got $1.3 billion left in a system and that, with everyone's great best efforts, it did not provide some of the outcomes that we wanted, so the negotiations are basically to change those outcomes and to get more outcomes for what remains. This program is ceasing. NPARIH is one of those programs that ends in 2018. It was to assist the states and territories in their responsibilities of lifting the number of houses and all those things as a one-off program. I will always fight for those things, whoever is in government in 2018. Again, this was the last chance to rejig what happened and I am determined—to the extent that if the states and territories eventually are not happy to play in some of these areas, I will have to go through a process within government to directly go to organisations who can do this. I do not want to fiddle with Federation—this is the way we do business—but if it is the case that any jurisdiction is not happy or unwilling to provide the outcomes, particularly in terms of Indigenous employment, then I am determined to directly source those services.

Senator MOORE: The original arrangement was looking at ensuring that you got the best outcomes for Aboriginal people, drawing resources from across the whole nation to do that. That was the plan. It was not a contest; it was a plan using all available facilities we have. I have a number of questions about penalties and incentives for performance in capital works—whether people have been penalised, competitive processing, and rewards and penalties for performance. Do you have any information about how, under NPARIH arrangements, there is provision for competitive bids processes which allow jurisdictions to be rewarded or penalised based on their performance? I well remember the extensive questioning about how that worked, in this particular committee, five years ago.

Mr Tongue : So do I.

Senator MOORE: When was the last time this process was used?

Ms Marie Taylor : I am not sure we have that on hand. I would really like to take that on notice, if that is all right with you?

Senator MOORE: That is fine. I will put on notice these questions about how tenancy management operates. Are jurisdictions required to participate in the Community Development Program as host organisations?

Ms Marie Taylor : Our expectation would be that they would work with the CDP providers. We think that housing works provides a great opportunity for both CDP jobs and also useful activities, so our expectation is that our housing works will actually be closely working with the CDP providers.

Senator MOORE: Is it identified in the agreements?

Ms Marie Taylor : It is certainly one of the issues that we have under negotiation.

Senator MOORE: The minister seemed to indicate in his comments earlier that it is a non-negotiable engagement—so if there is not engagement with the CDP in the agreement there will not be an agreement. I am not wanting to verbal you, Minister, but that was the impression I got from your intervention.

Senator Scullion: Perhaps I can clarify that briefly. Obviously, I am putting a very high weighting on that particular element. Otherwise it would not be a negotiation; it would be an offer.

Senator MOORE: I want to return to the time frame for these negotiations.

Ms Marie Taylor : As I said, I am hopeful that we will reach conclusions over the coming months. We were intending to try to finish this by the end of last year, and so we are hopeful that—

Senator MOORE: When do you need to have them finished?

Ms Marie Taylor : At the moment the existing agreement remains on foot. There is not a date where we have to have the new agreement in place, but the earlier the better, obviously, because we are really trying to drive better outcomes. So we are pushing hard to get—

Senator MOORE: So the current agreement ends at July 2018?

Ms Marie Taylor : That is right. From the Commonwealth perspective, the earlier the better.

Senator Scullion: Senator, you make a good point—an obvious point. I am a little behind the eight ball, in the sense that the states believe: 'We want to leave the job as normal; we will just keep negotiating until 20 July 2018.' That is not going to happen, and I need to assure the committee that I am determined to make the remainder of this investment a proper investment. There are a number of ways. Simply by delaying the negotiations the current issues remain the same. I am examining ways we can depart from that, if we are departing from a view on how we should deliver these services.

CHAIR: I will be as brief as I can—if you do not mind. What I was interested in is: what is the quantum of government procurement in goods and services annually, so that I can establish what your ambition is?

Mr Eccles : The total procurement spend of all government agencies?

CHAIR: There must be an ambition. Yours is three per cent, I think—the IPP.

Ms Stuart-Fox : Yes, that is right. It is actually a number based target. So it is three per cent of Commonwealth contracts by 2020, with an increase in the number of contracts starting from 2015-16. It was quite important, we felt, to have a number based target, because that gives agencies some flexibility. It means that they are not driving for value; they are really gearing their contracts to what the Indigenous business can deliver and to what they are looking for. That is why it is a target that is based on the number of contracts rather than a dollar value.

CHAIR: Okay. So, if you have 100 contracts, three per cent of them would go to Indigenous corporations.

Ms Stuart-Fox : That is exactly right.

CHAIR: Okay. What are the results? This was introduced on 1 July last year?

Ms Stuart-Fox : Yes, 1 July last year.

CHAIR: What are the results to date?

Ms Stuart-Fox : There have now been $36 million worth of Commonwealth contracts committed. That is 116 contracts with 52 different businesses—a number of businesses have multiple Commonwealth contracts.

CHAIR: Are the contracts that are quoted on AusTender all the contracts that have been awarded under this policy?

Ms Stuart-Fox : No. That is right. So it is likely to be much higher than that. These are just contracts that are registered with AusTender. In addition, what we count towards our target and what agencies are currently negotiating are contracts below $10,000, which are not registered on AusTender. Also, subcontracts can count. That is very important. Where we have head contracts and we work with the head contractor to get them to subcontract some of the work to Indigenous businesses, those contracts are not registered on AusTender.

So it is likely that that $36 million, which is the current figure that we have, is a significant underestimate of the value of Commonwealth business with Indigenous businesses.

Senator Scullion: I would be very confident, Chair, looking at this lag time and how it catches these, that it would be a lot closer to $50 million, and that is still about $10 million more conservative than other conservative estimates. So we are doing a fair bit better than that. Whilst it is remarkable figure, I think the real numbers by the time this lag comes off would put us at $50 million—I am very confident about that—and perhaps more.

Mr Tongue : Chair, we as a Commonwealth did $6 million worth of business with Indigenous firms last financial year.

CHAIR: Six million?

Mr Tongue : Six million. And we are at $36 million by our—

Senator Scullion: Probably closer to 50.

CHAIR: Herein lies the question. The Commonwealth has to balance these sorts of policy decisions versus value for money and things like that.

Senator Scullion: We are getting both.

CHAIR: How do you make a determination?

Mr Eccles : Value for money is still the overriding imperative. All procurement officers must have that as their main objective. So the Indigenous procurement policy is based on this: if there is an Indigenous business that offers the value for money and excellence in service, then the requirement in such instances is to look to those businesses.

CHAIR: Okay.

Mr Eccles : And there is no lessening of the overriding criteria.

CHAIR: The criteria, the rigour or the accountability or any of those things you go with.

Mr Eccles : Absolutely.

CHAIR: Tell me then: why was this policy required? Because under that circumstance you could say any Indigenous business could put their thing up and they could compete on an equal level.

Mr Eccles : One of the key things around this is that we know that Indigenous businesses are much more likely to employ Indigenous people, and one of the biggest challenges that we are facing is Indigenous employment opportunities. So the decision was made. Indeed, it is actually a tried and tested approach in other nations. The US, for example, has a minority business development target as well. The Australian government had always had the potential to do this; regulations existed for Indigenous procurement actions. It just was not really pushed and then acted on.

Senator Scullion: One of the signals we are sending, Chair, is that you might only have to be an Indigenous business, but, if you want to do business with the Commonwealth and you are not in a joint venture, then you are not a very good businessperson. We are in the business now of looking for Indigenous businesses, because we are proactively seeking to improve the lot of first Australians. This is also leadership for corporate Australia. It is happening quite swiftly that corporations are actively looking for joint venture partners—how they can assist and whether they purchase from Indigenous businesses. That is why we have set up and registered the Supply Nation as an Indigenous business. This is a comprehensive approach, of which the procurement policy is just a part.

CHAIR: This is not a pioneering effort; it is just a change in policy approach.

Mr Eccles : It is pioneering in that every portfolio has been given a target that they must report on. The targets are staggered, and the intention of the government is that portfolios will be held to account for their activities in this regard. That has not been a feature of the landscape before.

Senator Scullion: When I say 'publicly held to account', the outcomes will be published annually and publicly on my website. This is a KPI in the same way that business run something that they want to change—this is a KPI for every secretary of every department that will be publicly available.

CHAIR: When I say it is not a pioneering approach, we have had training programs before—they have existed for the last decade or more. In respect of contracting business to Indigenous employment, training programs and all that sort of stuff, how do you account for the $6 million last year versus the $36 million plus this year? What is the change in approach?

Mr Eccles : It is a number of things. The Public Service and the ministerial team are aware of the role that they must play in achieving the government's broader objectives through Indigenous affairs in procurement, but also in other areas. Procurement is a lever that every government department has. They have not only been reminded of that and alerted to it but also been set targets and they will be held to account.

Another significant feature is that we are trying to make it easier for the procurement officers to be able to identify fair dinkum businesses which are accredited and which are ready to go. That is one of the contracts that we have with Supply Nation, for example. They are not the only source of truth but they are a source of truth. If a procurement clerk is looking to procure some accounting services or conference organisations, they can go to the Supply Nation website and find Indigenous run and Indigenous owned businesses.

CHAIR: Anyone dealing with government complains about the red tape and bureaucracy. This is one of the key things. A repeated theme of this committee, and particularly this estimates, is that Indigenous businesses find it so difficult to comply with all the demands of government to get a look in. They have to employ full-time people in order to deal with all the requirements. Am I to presume that you have made some changes there?

Mr Eccles : Yes, that is right.

Senator Scullion: We have particularly targeted red tape in accessing government procurement. Part of the challenge was that 'you did not know what you did not know' and, hopefully, Supply Nation is dealing with that matter—we have got not only a website, but we have got a network. As soon as someone either has a joint venture with an Indigenous organisation or is an Indigenous organisation, they can go to that and say. 'That is repaired to some extent.' But procurement, because of the transparency required, over the years has become quite difficult thing to deal with. We are also assisting organisations, where we can, through that process and we are removing, where we can, the red tape as part of our red tape removal process.

Senator PERIS: I have a question about Indigenous staffing in PM&C. Can you advise me of the current levels? Have any Indigenous staff taken any voluntary redundancies?

Mr Eccles : We have that information on this, but I would need my colleague, Ben Neal, to help.

Mr Tongue : Very briefly, in the housing sector I note the passing of Mr Paul Pholeros, who was an architect and an advocate for Indigenous housing and who appeared before the committee on many occasions. He was a critic of ours, but one could not deny his passion and commitment to better housing outcomes in remote Australia. I would like to acknowledge him on behalf of the department.

Mr Neal : In response to your question on voluntary redundancies, we have done 79 in the department this year, of which 59 were from the Indigenous affairs group and 13 were given to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander employees.

Senator PERIS: Can we get the breakdown for the national office and also for network offices across the country?

Mr Neal : Yes, I should be able to provide that for you on notice.

Senator PERIS: Was that 79 in 2016?

Mr Neal : In 2015-16, in this most recent round which was announced at the end of last year. Since we commenced that round there have been 79 formal offers accepted by our staff, and 59 of them were in Indigenous affairs and 13 were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander employees.

Senator PERIS: That is the figure for voluntary redundancies but what is the current level of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment in the department?

Mr Neal : It is 15.1 per cent in the department and that rises significantly in the Indigenous affairs group and in the network, where it is, I think, 34 per cent.

Senator PERIS: Can you break them down by jurisdiction? You can take that on notice if you like.

Mr Neal : Yes, that is quite straightforward. I am told it is 37 per cent for networks, but we will get back to you with more formal figures.


CHAIR: Are we now happy to move on to Outcome 2.2, Children and Schooling?

Senator SIEWERT: I will put lots of questions on notice, but I particularly want to follow up the Remote School Attendance Strategy. Obviously, the figures have been updated on the website but I am interested in any evaluation that you have done on academic performance in those schools.

Ms Hefren-Webb : The purpose of the Remote School Attendance Strategy was on improving attendance.

Senator SIEWERT: Why were we improving attendance?

Ms Hefren-Webb : It is a long-term strategy to gain attainment.

Senator Scullion: To motivate and to improve educational outcomes.

Ms Hefren-Webb : We are doing work on attainment separately, but our evaluation focuses on whether the Remote School Attendance Strategy has been effective in improving attendance. Once the kids are attending, obviously, attainment is a key issue, which we measure through a number of other sources, like NAPLAN results. Mr James can talk about the nature of the evaluation we have done on attendance.

Mr James : In the next couple of weeks we will be releasing an interim progress report on RSAS, which includes some regression analysis. What we have done is to look to see if the improvements in the Remote School Attendance Strategy schools are part of a broader trend or whether they are unique. That should be out in the next couple of weeks.

Senator SIEWERT: The most recent data that I have shows that there has been a rise in attendance in some of the schools, but there has been a decrease in some and in three there has been no change.

Mr James : This regression analysis focused particularly on the first year of RSAS—that is the change between 2013 and 2014. What we are looking at is the overall pattern and whether it is different to comparable schools. We did a whole lot of comparisons with different groups of schools, which is explained in the report. What we found was that in the NT and Queensland in particular it was not part of the broader trend.

Senator SIEWERT: It wasn't?

Mr James : It wasn't. We saw a significant effect in those two jurisdictions, and that is consistent with the raw data. The latest data we have is consistent with that: you see a bit of a pattern in the NT and Queensland.

Senator SIEWERT: In the NT and Queensland, you are saying that you have seen—

Mr James : An upward trend.

Senator SIEWERT: By what percentage? Is it statistically significant?

Mr James : Yes, it is significant. It is all explained. It depends what control group you use, but in all cases it is statistically significant. Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: And in other states?

Mr James : We did not find that in the other jurisdictions. It is partly to do with the fact that there are fewer schools in those other jurisdictions, but, in the modelling we did, we found a significant effect in the NT and Queensland.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. Obviously I will have more questions once I have had an opportunity to look at the report. What I am particularly interested in, though, is the educational attainment. Could you take me through what type of analysis, following up the point that you made earlier, and whether that is showing anything yet.

Ms Hefren-Webb : As the Prime Minister outlined in the Closing the gap report, we have had some improvements in academic attainment across the board for Indigenous children. We have not yet done an analysis that compares whether RSAS schools have performed better than non-RSAS schools in terms of their NAPLAN results. That is something we can certainly look at. I would point out that there are a whole lot of other factors that impact on academic attainment. Obviously we are operating direct instruction in some of the schools in the NT, Western Australia and Queensland, so that would also be potentially bearing on academic achievement for Indigenous kids. We fund a number of other services and projects that operate in remote schools. We fund the Stronger Smarter Institute to work with principals and schools. So disentangling causal factors on academic attainment is complex, but that is a piece of work that we have ongoing.

Mr James : I can add on that. We commissioned CAEPR at ANU to do some work, and we refer to this in the PM's report, and that was particularly by Nicholas Biddle. He found that around 20 per cent of the achievement gap in terms of NAPLAN results—it was actually similar to NAPLAN, because it was based on the Longitudinal Survey of Indigenous Children—is explained by relatively poor attendance among Indigenous children. There was also a study undertaken by the department of education with WA data in particular called Student attendance and educational outcomes: every day counts, which was completed in 2013. It shows a strong link between NAPLAN performance and attendance for Indigenous students and other students. It is not a particularly surprising result, I guess, but the value of the work that we commissioned CAEPR to do was to put a quantum on it, so about 20 per cent of that gap is to do with attendance. It is not all of the gap, but it is a fair share of the gap.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. The point is: is the attendance, the current approach, starting to show better outcomes?

Mr James : It is too early to say. I think that part of the challenge we have is that in a sense in the short run, when you are getting children going to school who were not attending before, it may not necessarily make the results look good. What you have to do, I guess, is follow children who—some children do not sit the NAPLAN assessment because they are not at school, so if you have children who are attending school for the first time\, having not been there for some time, their results may not be as good as the other children's, so you have to disentangle that effect as well. But eventually what we could do, because of the NAPLAN data, is follow the same kids through time. You can look at them at year 3 and 5. You could try to isolate the independent effect as attendance improves. That is possible in future, definitely. It is a bit early yet to do that. By the way, the next NAPLAN data for individual schools is scheduled to be released next week, I think.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay, so you can use that as another way of looking at those—

Mr James : Yes, it is another lens to look through, but I think to do it really well you would have to actually get data for individual students and follow it through.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay.

Senator Scullion: One of the elements of the data that I think is really significant is that it is one part of the demographic. We now know, through some research in the Northern Territory, that at any school day 20 per cent of children attending that school are not available for school because they are not in that community. So that is a structural issue. We need to ensure that we are now talking to the Northern Territory government and other states and territories to ensure this process of enrolment, because of the accelerated mobility. The mobility is there as a matter of course, unlike in the mainstream—you move house; you enrol. The frequency of this is such that we do need to streamline that, to make it as easy as possible to have children re-enrol. I think that is one of the challenges—it is a small but significant part of that.

The data is telling us about a lot of trends and we are learning a lot more about why people are particularly absent. In the Northern Territory, for example, you are deemed to be absent until the moment you re-enrol in another school. So there are some issues about whether they are enrolled and are at the school not. There are some technical issues.

Senator SIEWERT: You are damn right—

Senator Scullion: I am not saying that this will improve it so that we do not have so many doubts about it; I just think that there are some areas where we can for the mobility issues. Clearly, constant tweaking at RSAS is not part of the reforms. Every day an element of the RSAS team will be chasing those people who are not in the community, to ring them and to say, 'Look, we've got someone at school. It's a different school. They're not sure if they really want to go.' We can have an amicus role in selecting another student—that sort of thing. So we are making efforts more practically in that area.

Senator SIEWERT: I did note some of the improvements that were articulated in the Closing the Gap report—we are doing much better in the issues around literacy and numeracy there. That is my understanding—is that correct?

Ms Hefren-Webb : We have had improvements in years 3, 5 and 7 in reading and in years 5 and 9 in numeracy from 2008 to 2015.

Senator SIEWERT: So we have an issue with reading through some of that older group—

Ms Hefren-Webb : We have not seen an improvement in reading in year 9, and then for numeracy in years 3 and 7 we have not seen an improvement from 2008.

Senator SIEWERT: I presume that some of the work you are going to be doing will look at what the factors are there?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Absolutely. As I said, the Department of Education and Training is funding direct instruction in a number of remote schools. We will be very eager to see the impact of that. We fund a range of support projects aimed at improving children's literacy and numeracy as part of the IAS. We will assess and build the evidence base around that.

The issue Mr James raised is a valid one, that if children coming back to school have not been regular attenders they often have substantial ground to catch up. So it is not just about kids who are going through and who attend regularly it is also what tools can help those kids to make up ground.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes. I do have other questions but I am conscious that we are running out of time, so I will put the rest of mine on notice.

Senator PERIS: I guess this is a question for the minister. Minister, are you aware of the extraordinary and positive educational results being achieved in Jabiru through the Djidbidjidi Residential College?

Senator Scullion: I have had discussions with some principals of that college. They have indicated to me that they are doing very well—yes.

Senator PERIS: Are you also aware that the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation is undertaking the work of running and maintaining the college entirely through private resources, having already expended over $10 million of its own resources to the building and operation of the college?

Senator Scullion: It is a private college run in that way so, yes, I am aware of that, and that should not be a surprise to me or to you.

Senator PERIS: No, that is very true. I am aware that they had their first-ever year 12 graduates—a number of young girls—from there a couple of years ago.

Are you aware that the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation was unsuccessful in its application for federal assistance under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy to operate the facility?

Senator Scullion: I am.

Senator PERIS: I guess my question to you is that given the proven track record of the college in terms of delivering these very successful educational and community results, would you commit to liaising with the Mirarr through the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation to identify ways to ensure the continuation of this vital investment and community resource?

Senator Scullion: Both those organisations and the Mirarr more generally are aware of the application process for this matter. As I have said before, this is a privately-run organisation which does its thing. We have assisted in slightly different ways, but they are aware of the process. I am certainly not using the estimates process to commit to one thing or the other. But I would commend very much, if they are interested in some particular area or have a proposal, for them to write to me or to the department in that regard and we will deal with that process in the normal way.

Senator PERIS: Yes. I guess the question there is the success of it. We always talk about Aboriginal communities being empowered, and it is an organisation where mining royalties are being used appropriately. That is fantastic—using that $10 million investment to build the college, and the success of it.

You talk about Indigenous kids coming to school. At this school, in 2014 the Aboriginal student attendance rate was 36 per cent. It now sits on an average of 72 five per cent, which is an extraordinary job given the circumstances. They have applied for funding. You, as a minister, often talk about the attainment of kids getting to school.

Senator Scullion: Whilst I support everything you said, the funding of schools is run by a completely different department from mine. Private schools have their own funding process and those organisations you just spoke of have already accessed that. For those matters that are not covered normally by the Department of Education, whether they are private or public schools, I am more and more than happy to deal with under the IAS.

But certainly Indigenous people are still Australians. So if it is education, they deserve to be educated in the same way and have the same provisions. My portfolio is there to fill the gaps. My portfolio deals with some seven per cent in terms of the funding that is spent by other portfolios. I am very reluctant, without making it clear, to do it. But there really is a portfolio in a department that has that particular responsibility. The Department of Indigenous Affairs in my portfolio under the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is here to specifically deal with matters that are not dealt with or cannot be dealt with by other departments.

Gundjeihmi have done a fantastic thing. They have started their own school, as other people do around the place, and they are eligible to get funding from the Commonwealth government. I just indicated I am more than happy to provide you with some details of what those funding arrangements are. I can provide them directly to Gundjeihmi. But that is a matter entirely for the Department of Education. That is where they usually get their funds from. I am saying, if it is something outside of the normal process of funding of schools, if that is the case then they can make an application to me through the IAS.

Senator PERIS: What I am putting to you is that they have submitted an application and they have not been successful so that is something you can look at.

Senator Scullion: If it has not been successful, it is because it was not meritorious or it would have said in response that this is a matter for the Department of Education. But in almost all circumstances, we would not just say, 'Sorry, this is a matter for the Department of Education.' We try to be helpful—certainly that is my instruction to the department—so we would have sent that application to the Department of Education to try process it that way. I will familiarise myself with that application again. But as I said, this portfolio deals with these portfolio matters. The Department of Education deals primarily with the funding of the schools that you described.

Senator SIEWERT: I do have one more question in this area. Is HIPPY here?

Ms Hefren-Webb : No, HIPPY is with the Department of Social Services.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay so I will have to put it on notice.

CHAIR: We are going to program 2.3 now, safety and wellbeing.

Mr Tongue : Just as we are swapping over, we have some of that staffing information that Senator Peris asked about.

CHAIR: Are you in a position to table it? It might be easier from a time aspect. Would you be happy to do that?

Mr Tongue : Yes.


CHAIR: We now move to program 2.3, safety and wellbeing.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to ask a clarifying question about the Custody Notification Service in New South Wales. There was an announcement made last year about the funding. I know, Minister, you had a lot to do with that. Can you confirm for me whether the funding is through to 2019 or, if not, what period of time the funding is for?

Mr Matthews : The commitment was that we would secure some long-term funding for the service. At this stage, funding is now through to 30 June 2016 while we look to work out the longer term funding stream the minister committed to.

Senator SIEWERT: Does that mean they do have that funding or am I going to be in the chamber in June, doing what we did the last two times, looking at the future of this service?

Mr Matthews : I guess the government has made a commitment to the service for that period of time. At the moment, the funding is in place to 30 June. So we have between now and June pretty much to work out that longer term arrangement.

Senator SIEWERT: So the longer term arrangement is there and committed to. Are you telling me it is just a process of working out how it is going to happen?

Mr Matthews : Yes.

Senator Scullion: Proper long-term funding arrangements should be that New South Wales should take up its responsibility in this regard. One of the reasons that I am not always happy to say 'I will fund it' is because that is what they want me to do. They want to walk away from their responsibilities and I am determined not to allow it. I have, as you would be aware, a good working relationship with the provider so privately we can provide the provider with some assurances, which are genuine assurances. But I do not want to let New South Wales off the hook. I think New South Wales's behaviour has been absolutely outrageous in this regard. This is a program that has been proven time and time again to be successful in this regard. I am now in negotiations and discussions—very positive ones, I have to say—with other jurisdictions around Australia. So I cannot understand, frankly, how New South Wales have been able to get away with simply walking away from it saying they are not interested.

Senator SIEWERT: I know that many people share your sentiments as do I. The point is here is a service that is delivering a damn good service that is getting caught the middle time and time again, and you know of the issues that go with uncertainty.

Mr Matthews : The legislation is actually New South Wales legislation that requires the notification though.

Senator SIEWERT: I understand that. It is the pointy end, where people are getting stuck in the middle and uncertainty has a very significant impact on them.

Senator Scullion: I will make the assurances that we will ensure that they are funded but not necessarily by us. The assurance is there that this is an excellent service and needs to be continued. But I think everybody needs to join in the fight to highlight the reluctance of New South Wales to do what is quite clearly their responsibility.

Senator SIEWERT: I will go to the issue of funding for some of the longer term family violence programs and some of the family violence legal centres. Are you considering putting that funding in with the general AIS funding? There is some suggestion that that is what is being mooted and there is some concern about that.

Mr Matthews : I am not aware of any moves to do that at this stage.

Senator SIEWERT: Minister, are you considering that?

Senator Scullion: Not only am I not aware but it is not our intention to change that. When we went through the IAS last time, we made some clarification with everybody that, yes, this is a pooled thing but we would see you as a separate and essential frontline service. As I said, there will be no adjustment to that. In fact, I think they did a bit better out of the last thing. We are not contemplating that. I am certainly not aware of any. I am not sure where you are getting that information from but if there are concerns, I am more than happy, perhaps privately to—

Senator SIEWERT: Knock them on the head—the concerns I mean.

Senator Scullion: That is right, indeed.

Mr Matthews : All 14 services were funded again through the IAS round for either two or three years and there was a small overall expansion of funding, particularly for one of the Northern Territory services to pick up extra communities.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, I am aware of the initial concerns were then dealt with and that funding was there. Subsequently there has been talk about the longer term but that is not what is being considered?

Mr Matthews : No.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you for that reassurance.

Senator PERIS: The Prime Minister stated during his Closing the Gap address on Wednesday that you, Minister, and Senator Cash were working across jurisdictions and portfolios with Indigenous communities to develop a blueprint for transitioning people from prison to work. When did the department begin work on this blueprint?

Senator Scullion: We have been working on this area for some time. It is partly about: how do we engage CDP—that being people, community and working—and some modest funds around that.

As you have heard today, we are currently employing around 47 people every day in full-time work. The general process that we are working on, and we have been for some time, is that our recruitment catchment is simply for people who are disconnected and unemployed. It is about: how do we ensure that part of our catchment is actually those people who are generally in the three months of prerelease? The evidence says that they need to be working in a post-release job placement to have the most successful outcome.

We have also been looking carefully at the Northern Territory government's Sentenced to a Job. This has been, as you would be aware, internationally acclaimed. It has worked extremely well. We are looking at connecting our employment programs with that process. It is also about working with the state and territory jurisdictions. The prerelease of each of these individuals is in fact their responsibility, and we have to have a very close working relationship with those states and territories because all the evidence shows we have to be working with those individuals for some time prerelease.

So most of our work has been around how we can extend our catchment from the notional, ordinary catchment that we have to ensure that the catchment for consideration is everything from VTECs to equity employers. All of the pool that delivers about 47 jobs every day, we want to extend. But the most important element is to ensure that we are working with the states and territories to develop this process to deal with the recidivist issue. It is not dealing with all the issues; it is not dealing with entering the justice system. It is only dealing with the element of recidivism within the justice system.

Senator PERIS: Which Aboriginal communities and organisations or peak bodies have you been consulting with on this?

Senator Scullion: We have not necessarily been consulting with any body. We have been talking to the states and territories. Certainly at my level I have been talking to the states and territories about the issue of incarceration more generally. We are looking at our own programs. The first thing we do is to look at our own programs to see where we can adjust our programs to meet this particular challenge. Thus far we have not seen the need, given that it is our program, and so it is a jurisdiction to jurisdiction process. Certainly over the coming months, as we move into this area, we will be talking to a number of the Indigenous organisations and NGOs, particularly in the area of incarceration. The prisoner throughcare programs are invariably run by those organisations, so they would have a reasonable insight into some of the changes of policy that we are contemplating.

Mr Matthews : It is obviously an area that has been highlighted for quite a period of time, so we do tend to meet reasonably regularly and have Amnesty come and talk to us about perspectives. We meet with organisations as part of the Change the Record coalition, which has been around for awhile, and we do fund and run about 10 specific services that look at the issue of prisoner throughput to reduce recidivism rates and who have quite a bit of experience in this area. We talk to them reasonably regularly as well.

Senator PERIS: You mentioned the throughcare programs. There has been talk previously about the defunding of these. Are these programs that you would be looking at immuning to ensure that you continue with their funding, that they are supported?

Mr Matthews : As the minister said, I do not think we would categorically say in any area that we would immune any organisation. All organisations have to keep performing and delivering to secure future funding, but obviously it is a fairly critical area.

Senator Scullion: We only have nine areas of prisoner throughcare, so our contribution in this area is very small, unsurprisingly, compared with that of the states and territories, for whom this is their full responsibility. Because we have overview of and insight into these programs, they are in a position to better inform us. We have been talking and consulting about this matter for some time. It goes back to the Forrest report, as part of the consultations that happened across the board with the Forrest report, and we have been taking input into it since that time.

Senator PERIS: You are going to be progressing these consultations. Is that correct?

Mr Eccles : Yes.

Senator PERIS: Will the NATSILSs be included in that?

Mr Eccles : We are still working out exactly how we can move forward on it. The importance of this issue was fundamental. We heard this from communities that we visited through the Forrest review and the Indigenous Advisory Council has highlighted it as an area of priority. We are now engaging with a bit more vigour with the states and territories and the Department of Employment, which is going to be a critical partner in the employment side of things. We will work out a plan, but it will absolutely involve talking with peak bodies and with Indigenous communities as a key part of when we get to, if you like, the design phase of what we are going to do.

Senator PERIS: Is that into the near future? How long are you talking?

Mr Eccles : I think that the minister's expectation is that we get cracking on it very soon.

Senator PERIS: Minister, with regard to your view on justice targets, can you explain why you will not commit to a justice target.

Senator Scullion: You are asking me why the Commonwealth will not commit?

Senator PERIS: Yes.

Senator Scullion: The COAG targets are COAG targets. I think there is a very valid reason for having a target in the justice area, and it is exemplified by the excellent work that the Northern Territory is doing. The Northern Territory government has a justice target—an incarceration justice target. It also has a victim target. I think it is quite a sophisticated way of having the approach. Why should it have that and not us? We have absolutely no control. We are not a part of the justice system. The courts are controlled at that level. All of those things are controlled at that level. We can have activities in that area.

Under COAG, I think the Northern Territory government's having the target is the place where those targets should be. It is foolish to say, 'Well, the Commonwealth should adopt a target. Let's have another target.' And then we would all have a bit of a lunch break. That is it. Everyone is happy. They have called for a target. We have said we will have a target. But it is a nonsense if we are saying, 'We're going to go and do that,' yet we have absolutely no responsibility. We have no legislative process; we have nothing. That is not to say that we cannot do what we are doing now and have a much better working relationship with the states and territories to do whatever we can within our purview, such as ensure we are moving our employment processes towards the jails, and to ensure that we are using world-best practice, that franchised approach to what the states and territories are doing.

Certainly, through this COAG in the next round, as the Prime Minister indicates, we need to ensure that those people have the levers have the targets, but we need to be working very closely with them to ensure that whatever the Commonwealth can contribute in this regard we will. It is not about targets being a problem; it is about who owns the targets. We have no levers. The states and territories have them all. The Northern Territory government is an exemplar in this area, and we should ensure that the remainder of the jurisdictions who have these levers adopt the targets in the same way as their partner in COAG the Northern Territory has done.

Senator PERIS: What I was alluding to is that the justice targets are not going down. You make reference to that area being the state and territories' department.

Senator Scullion: It is.

Senator PERIS: But we talk about education situations, that we want to close the gap in education. You are a huge advocate of wanting to get Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids to school. We have child and maternal health; health falls in this area. We have targets in that area. If you look at current government policies, in particular those of the Northern Territory government, which has paperless arrests, it has all this legislation around everything that targets Aboriginal people and it increases the justice system. Our mob are getting incarcerated more now than they ever have been. In Western Australia, one-third of the incarcerations of Aboriginal women are due to unpaid fines. Is there anything you will be doing to put pressure on these governments?

Senator Scullion: I think you have made my argument very well for me. You have given some very good examples of how the Northern Territory government does things. We were all pleased to see some finalisation in the High Court in regard to that matter that settled in favour of the Northern Territory. In terms of the Western Australian government, that is entirely a matter for the Western Australian government. Where I can influence these matters I have been. Without going into detail, I have spoken to them and continue to negotiate. I have spoken to the Premier about these matters and I will continue to speak to them. On the issue of fine defaulters ending up in jail, I am working very closely with the Western Australian government to attempt to resolve that matter. Wherever the Commonwealth government can assist, we will. But it is silly to start saying we will give ourselves a target. That undermines the credibility of Closing the Gap. It undermines the credibility of proper targets that we should be held to account for. Of course we will continue to work with the various jurisdictions to provide the very best outcomes in all areas of outcomes for our first Australians.

Senator MOORE: I have a few questions around the Empowered Communities Project. Has the Prime Minister approved trials for the Empowered Communities model?

Mr Tongue : Yes.

Senator MOORE: When was that done?

Mr Tongue : On 7 December.

Senator MOORE: How many trial sites were approved? I have a notice with all eight current sites.

Mr Tongue : Yes, all eight current sites. However, the approval was framed so that we can also work with communities at a regional level who embody the values, if you like, of the empowered communities. It has given us a bit of flexibility to engage in an empowered communities way wherever a community wants to engage in that way.

Senator MOORE: The formal trial sites have been approved for continuation, is that right?

Mr Tongue : We have continued to provide money for those sites.

Senator MOORE: How much money?

Mr Ryan : At the moment, we are continuing the regional coordinators we were funding during the development of them. I would have to get the exact figures.

Senator MOORE: Can I get that on notice.

Mr Ryan : Yes, I will take it on notice.

Senator MOORE: There are eight coordinators?

Mr Ryan : No. There is one region that does not have a coordinator, but funding is provided for that. There is also some national coordination.

Senator Scullion: The reason is that that is what the region asked for.

Senator MOORE: What did it ask for? No coordinator?

Senator Scullion: They said they needed to consider whether a coordinator was what they actually needed. They have a very close group of individuals who can decide very swiftly. They did not feel that a coordinator was what they need, and consistent with what this is about—

Senator MOORE: They did not need that hierarchy.

Senator Scullion: and consistent with what this is about they asked, and we said, 'Okay, we'll talk about some flexibility there.'

Senator MOORE: Over what period is the funding that has been received?

Mr Ryan : At the moment, the funding has been extended until 31 March while we are negotiating what funding will happen going forward. We hope we can have that done in time for the new funding arrangements to come into place, but if not we will have to look at further extensions.

Senator MOORE: To be clear: until 31 March, there has been funding for regional coordination and national coordination to oversee the whole project, and you are going to provide me with the details of that money.

Mr Ryan : Yes.

Senator MOORE: On the funding for the extension of the trials and also this variation of the trial so it will not necessarily be limited to the eight sites that are already using it, when will that be determined? How much money is involved?

Mr Ryan : What we are negotiating now is actually the implementation of the arrangements. Previously the funding has been around developing the model and then continuing that work while government considered the model. What we are talking about now is negotiating implementation of the Empowered Communities arrangements in those eight sites.

Senator MOORE: So nothing has actually happened in the eight sites yet except—

Mr Eccles : No, that is not correct.

Senator MOORE: That is what I am trying to work out from the answers I am getting.

Senator Scullion: Each of the sites has identified—this is all about prioritising funding, so can I just start off by saying that we are not the only funders, and this was always intended to capture state and local government funding. I sent letters because I thought this needed to be progressed to try to bring on board the various other jurisdictions to ensure that each of these community site areas is actually talking to both local government and state or territory jurisdictions to achieve the same outcome.

For example, these are sorts of things that people have said and identified—and in each area we have a number of them that have been identified. In inner Sydney, the La Perouse school-of-excellence program, the Aboriginal aid facility and the restoration of La Perouse Mission Church were what the community said. They said, 'These are our priorities.'

On the Central Coast, ice prevention and rehabilitation activities were their priority, and also improving access to community based housing. So, with those housing organisations and with my organisation and the New South Wales government, obviously they are going to improve access to community based housing. We are the ones who need to sit down, and they can prioritise how that happens. They are talking about their Work for the Dole program, which they think is very important for the synergies of connection and opportunities for partners with local employers.

The West Kimberley have said that they think that child protection and family support through family networks are the most important, as well as youth leadership and a suicide prevention initiative, which unsurprisingly coincides with our investment in the Kimberley in regard to the suicide prevention initiatives.

I know you are not suggesting that nothing is happening, and perhaps we do not talk about this enough, but in each of those we are quite well progressed. I have to say that it is delightful to see the level of ownership from the communities, which is growing, because in any community you get a group of people. There is always deep suspicion about who these self-elected people are; they are from the community. Over time, they have done very well in growing in communities as diverse as from inner Sydney and places like Shepparton to very remote places like the Kimberley and East Kimberley.

Senator MOORE: I have read what the background to the program is. I still do not know what defines a community, how you actually say, 'Hey, I'm a community for this purpose.' I do not get that. I know eight have already been identified. I do not know by whom and how.

Senator Scullion: They were self-identified. They put their hands up and said, 'We'd like to be part of the Empowered Communities'—

Senator MOORE: Am I a community? I am just wondering how you actually determine it.

Senator Scullion: It was not a matter of what we determined. We now have a new way of doing business, so it is how the communities determine that. The Empowered Communities process actually came to us. Leaders of eight communities came to government and said: 'Look, this is the process of Empowered Communities. We'd like to have a crack at it. It's about empowering communities. It's about ensuring that the new way of doing business is with communities and not to communities.'

Senator MOORE: I just want to know where in the Constitution a community fits in terms of the way you actively put this process.

Senator Scullion: Things like communities are words—

Senator MOORE: Yes.

Senator Scullion: They are the only words we have. Perhaps they poorly describe those processes, but Aboriginal and Islander people know well their community—

Senator MOORE: They know that—

Senator Scullion: which is why it is important to talk to them.

Senator MOORE: and, if it were Indigenous groups by their traditional space, I would understand. Anyway, that is fine; I will keep reading about that. What I want to know is who they are, and I want to know how much money has been committed up till now for what and exactly what has been committed now from the Prime Minister's statement from 31 March.

Mr Tongue : We could do up a little table on notice.

Senator MOORE: That would be great so I can get that. And also, for the funding approved from 31 March, what period is that going to be for? What will the funding be used for? Is there a plan—the same way we talked at length earlier about committing money to states? What is the commitment there going to be? And outcomes—all that kind of thing which I believe, Mr Ryan, you are saying is being negotiated now.

Mr Ryan : At the moment we are negotiating the funding with the various Indigenous leaders. As the minister has said about the outcomes, the communities have already progressed—

Senator MOORE: They have said what they want?

Mr Ryan : in terms of what they want, and there will be discussion with government, both us and the state governments, about that.

Senator MOORE: The way I read it, state, federal and local governments will be involved in terms of the kinds of services—

Mr Ryan : That is our intention.

Senator MOORE: that the communities identified they wanted, in how you do that?

Mr Ryan : Yes, and we are in discussion with stakeholders.

Senator Scullion: As I have indicated, I have written to them, and hopefully that will be the trigger to bring them on board. They are well aware of the program, and I know that at each of these regional/community levels that is what they have done.

Mr Tongue : I will just dive in there, noting that the difference this time around is that we are cautiously approaching this because we do not want to do what we have done in the past and turn this into a program where we smother it with the love that the 900-pound Commonwealth gorilla gives things. So we are very respectful about responding to what the communities are saying they want to work with us on.

Senator MOORE: Mr Tongue, I am not actually doubting the fact that we need to respect. I also know that in the evidence we have heard so far this morning there has been a lot of discussion about accountability of Commonwealth funding.

Mr Tongue : Yes.

Senator MOORE: So, if this is a way of ensuring that the money is being spent the way people want it to be spent—certainly the other thing in this is like the Ceduna trial. How many of Ceduna really want that? How do you actually determine in a community that everybody wants to play the same game? I do not need to say this, because you understand it. But, every time I hear that 'the community wants' something, I am asking how much and how many and all those things. That would be all part of the process—

Mr Tongue : Absolutely, and we rely heavily on our staff out working in these regions every day—

Senator MOORE: Good.

Mr Tongue : to guide us and advise us on those very issues.

Senator MOORE: I certainly do not want anyone to think that the Labor Party wants to have a 900-pound gorilla overcoming any kind of community activity. We just want to ensure that it fits the same kinds of accountabilities that Senator Bernardi was talking at length about earlier in the day.

Mr Tongue : Yes.

CHAIR: I have been called a 900-pound gorilla myself, Senator Moore!

Senator MOORE: No, I do not think you are anywhere near 900 pounds, Senator Bernardi! Does the money include approval for the Indigenous Policy Productivity Council?

Mr Tongue : No.

Senator MOORE: That is not part of that? Okay. This says:

A new body, the Indigenous Policy Productivity Council … , would support both governments and Indigenous leadership, facilitating agreements and holding both to their commitments "in a fearless and impartial way".

Mr Tongue : There were some elements of the Empowered Communities model about which, in responding to the Empowered Communities report, the government said, effectively, 'We might look at those models at a future time; right now we want to engage at a regional level.' Some of the elements of that Empowered Communities model are now caught up in wider issues such as constitutional recognition and so on. So, for the moment, we are going to play the game that is in front of us to try to engage at a regional level and do exactly as you are describing: try to work out what this community engagement, respectful engagement, looks like; reflect the priorities that communities have told us; provide to communities the information we have provided to the committee on all of the money that is going into the IIS, as for the first time we are actually able to provide that information in detail to communities; and work with state and local government. Out of that, over around three years, we are hopeful and communities are hopeful that a new way of working will emerge.

Senator MOORE: So it is over around three years?

Mr Tongue : Yes.

Senator MOORE: I want to know when the government will respond to the Empowered communities: empowered peoples report, which I believe was one of the things that stimulated the ongoing aspects in this area. The government got that almost a year ago, and I am just wondering. That is what I have been told.

Mr Tongue : The Prime Minister has written back to the authors of the report, and Minister Scullion has written to the eight communities involved as well as to states and territories. I have written to my counterparts—

Senator MOORE: Can we be written to? Can we find out what is going on around that?

Mr Tongue : Certainly. Would you like me to provide copies of the letters?

Senator MOORE: That would be really good. It is just that this is being talked about. We know it is still being negotiated, but there does not seem to be a process on the website or anything so that I can go along and say, 'Hey what's happening in this community?'

Mr Tongue : Certainly.

Senator MOORE: That would be great. If we can get a copy of the letters, that would be lovely, thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you, officers, for your attention. We will resume with the Department of Health after the break.

Proceedings suspended from 13:00 to 13:46