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Finance and Public Administration References Committee
16/02/2016
Commonwealth Indigenous Advancement Strategy tendering processes

COLLINS, Ms Priscilla, Chief Executive Officer, Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory

COOPER, Dr David, Manager, Research Advocacy and Policy, Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory

DALTON, Mr Robert, Policy and Research officer, Northern Land Council

PATERSON, Mr John, Chief Executive Officer, Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory

Committee met at 09:01

CHAIR ( Senator McAllister ): Good morning everyone. I declare open this hearing of the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee for its inquiry into the Commonwealth Indigenous Advancement Strategy tendering processes. This is the committee's second hearing for this inquiry. I start by acknowledging that we meet on the traditional lands of the Larakia people and I pay my respects to their elders, past and present. The committee has decided to use some of its time today to take evidence for its inquiry into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experience of law enforcement and justice services. I welcome you all here today.

This is a public hearing, and a Hansard transcript of the proceedings is being made. We are also streaming live via the web, which can be found at www.aph.gov.au. Before the committee starts taking evidence, I remind all witnesses that in giving evidence to the committee, they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee, and such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee. The committee prefers all evidence to be given in public but, under the Senate's resolutions, witnesses have the right to request to be heard in private session. It is important that witnesses give the committee notice if they intend to ask to give evidence in camera. If a witness objects to answering a question, the witness should state the ground upon which the objection is taken, and the committee will determine whether it will insist on an answer, having regard to the ground on which it is claimed. If the committee determines to insist on an answer, a witness may request that the answer be given in camera. Such a request may also be made at any other time. On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank all witnesses appearing today for their cooperation with this inquiry.

I welcome representatives from Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory, APO NT. APO NT have lodged submission 72 to the Indigenous Advancement Strategy tendering processes inquiry. Do you wish to make any alterations or amendments to that submission? No. Do you have any additional comment to make about the capacities in which you appear today?

Mr Paterson : I am also chief executive for the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory, which is also a member of APO NT.

Ms Collins : I am CEO of NAAJA, which is also a member of APO NT.

Mr Dalton : I am a member of the Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory.

Dr Cooper : I am also part of the APO NT policy officers.

CHAIR: You have heard the information about parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and the process for giving evidence to Senate inquiries. I invite you to make a short opening statement.

Mr Paterson : Let us first acknowledge and thank the traditional owners, the Larakia people, for allowing us to meet on their country today. I think the committee for extending invitation to us, the Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory, to present at this hearing today.

APO NT provided our submission to the committee in May 2015. The submission made 12 recommendations. Very briefly, as you have heard, APO NT comprises AMSANT, the Northern Land Council, the Central Land Council, North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency and the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service. There are five peak Northern Territory Aboriginal organisations that make up APO NT.

All of the APO NT member organisations submitted applications to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet for funding and have also assisted other Aboriginal organisations in preparing and drafting their submissions. These smaller organisations did not have the capacity or, perhaps, the expertise to draft an application on this scale in the time provided by the department. APO NT could not submitting individual application because it is not an incorporated body but auspiced by AMSANT, so APO NT applied for funding under AMSANT's application—it was a joint funding application. APO NT requested funding to continue the employment of an Aboriginal identified APO NT policy officer and provide community forums on significant issues affecting the Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory. APO NT proposed to deliver two forums a year, engaging Aboriginal representatives and organisations from across the Territory on key issues and proposed possible solutions and outlining clear recommendations for the Australian and Northern Territory governments' consideration. APO NT provides a unique Aboriginal controlled mechanism for enabling Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory to come together to consider the issues that are affecting them. APO NT's submission was unsuccessful.

Overall, APO NT and our members found the Indigenous Advancement Strategy application process to be stressful and frustrating, exacerbated by the lack of consultation and clarification of concerns from the department. We were also frustrated by the limited information made publicly available regarding the number of successful organisations that were granted funding and the breakdown of that funding.

We had four primary concerns with the IAS, which were raised in our submission: first, lack of consultation and engagement with Aboriginal people and organisations before, during and after the implementation of the IAS; second, need of consequences for competitive tendering; third, limited time frame to provide submissions; and, fourth, lack of assistance from the staff at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

APO NT welcomed the efforts to reduce compliance burdens on Aboriginal organisations, but the Indigenous Advancement Strategy was fundamentally flawed in its development and implementation, due to insufficient consultation with Aboriginal people. Aboriginal organisations were not involved in the formation of the five priority areas, and we questioned whether in the absence of such engagement that they are relying for the advancement of their people.

We want the strategy to be redesigned to encompass the development approach that enables our input into regional priorities and funding decisions. To achieve success, the government will need to engage with, and empower, communities in determining strategies and policies. The application process of the IAS provided organisations a six-week period to get a grasp of the IAS and develop funding applications against an entirely new process and a new set of criteria. While Aboriginal organisations may have received grant funding in the past, the IAS used a competitive tendering process that would allow mainstream organisations, corporate profit entities and governments to directly compete with Aboriginal organisations for funding. Large NGOs, private sector organisations and government entities have the resources and capacity to draft funding applications at short notice. Yet these organisations often lack community links, cultural knowledge and a long-term commitment and capacity to deliver programs to Aboriginal people and develop and retain an effective Aboriginal workforce. The considerable additional benefits of having Aboriginal organisations employing Aboriginal people to deliver services to their communities are not necessarily factored into an open competitive tendering process.

APO NT has long been aware of the increased presence of mainstream NGOs in service delivery and development work in Aboriginal communities, which has contributed to the fragmentation and loss of service delivery, the lack of coordination with Aboriginal organisations, the lack of genuine capacity development outcomes and, indeed, the gradual erosion, undermining and loss of Aboriginal controlled service organisations. APO NT sought to avoid such counterproductive outcomes with the IAS funding round under its competitive tendering process and conveyed our concerns to the minister and departmental staff.

In service delivery areas like health, legal services and activities based on Aboriginal land, Aboriginal organisations are best at delivering these services. Aboriginal organisations provide the priority outcomes that the government is seeking in sustainable Aboriginal employment, as well as experience and engagement in governance and management, and the development of community self-reliance and responsibility. Government investment should be supporting and funding the further development of these organisations, based on demonstrated outcomes, quality assurance, governance, management and service delivery.

APO NT believes that grassroots Aboriginal organisations should always be regarded as the first priority for delivering services to Aboriginal communities. Where this is not possible, we believe that better outcomes can be achieved through an approach that seeks to leverage government investment to develop additional Aboriginal capacity and new service delivery organisations through partnership approaches such as those outlined in the APO NT NGO partnership principles. The partnership principles were developed by APO NT in consultation with NGOs through forums held in Alice Springs and Darwin. They have since been endorsed by 18 NGOs. We believe that if mainstream organisations want to enter a partnership with an Aboriginal organisation then an MOU embedding the partnership principles is required to ensure: (1) the mainstream organisation recognises existing Aboriginal capacity and the need to build Aboriginal capacity and control with a clear exit strategy, (2) the mainstream organisation supports existing development practice and cultural competency, (3) Aboriginal organisations much must be in control, not just consulted and (4) robust frameworks and processes are in place. The government also has an essential role in ensuring that the principles are adopted through incorporating them in procurement and tendering processes and in assessing applications in the future.

On this, we note our concern about the minister determining applications. This is not appropriate, in our view. Applications that have been through the rigour of a departmental process can, potentially, be overturned at the whim of the minister, who cannot possibly know the intricacies and nuances of every application. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Mr Paterson. Are there any other statements from witnesses?

Ms Collins : I would like to raise something. I am the CEO of the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, and we found the whole process totally confusing and very unprofessional. When the Northern Territory Emergency Response came into the Territory, they had specific funding to provide to organisations under that legislation to ensure that people had the services made available. That funding then became the Stronger Futures funding, and it was quarantined for 10 years. We were then informed, when the Indigenous Advancement Strategy funding bucket was there, that all the Stronger Futures money had been put into that. We found that very confusing, because no-one could tell us what was going on. Originally the money was with the Attorney-General's Department; now it is under IAS under PM&C. So we ring the Attorney-General's Department and say: 'What's going on? Do we have to apply for that funding? Do we continue with the grant funding?' 'Oh, we don't know. You have to ring PM&C.' So you ring PM&C. You are not given a contact person. They have no idea what you are talking about. So I am saying to them: 'Okay, our Stronger Futures money has gone into your bucket. Do we have to apply for that funding, because that money is quarantined for 10 years?' The person I am speaking to is saying, 'Yes, you definitely have to apply for it,' and then asks me, 'What is Stronger Futures?' 'Are you a Territory rep, or what are you? You have no idea what I'm talking about.'

So then, once that happened, every single time I rang PM&C I had to go to a generic number, and I spoke to a completely different person every single time they answered the phone. One time I was told, 'You can only apply for one-year funding.' The next person I spoke to said, 'You can apply for three-year funding.' I ran into a PM&C person in Nhulunbuy who told me I can apply for four-year funding. Then I told her, 'Okay, we're applying for all these different programs,' and she said, 'You do realise you can only do one application?' 'Okay, so how do I do one application? I have five programs, and I've got to put them into one application. How do I do that when your layout is a certain way?' She said, 'Well, you just be creative.' I said, 'You're not providing me with any sort of support whatsoever.'

So then we did the application. There is not one question on that form that says, 'What is the activity you are applying for?' They asked all these other questions: 'How are you going to meet this guideline? How are you going to meet this and that?' Not one question says, 'What is your project?' So that was flawed to start with. The other thing that really worried us was that we were told that all the applications go to a central hub. My concern is that they are all going to a hub. They are coming from organisations in health, education, justice and housing, and you expect everyone in that hub to have that experience. So my application, which is specifically about justice, is going to someone who has no experience in the justice sector, no experience in knowing what my service does and no experience with what any Aboriginal legal service does, and they are assessing my application against someone who is putting in money from a big, flush hotel. So this is the sort of stuff that we have to deal with.

Then your application goes in. You do not get a letter back saying, 'Your application has been received.' You do get notified that if your application is not in by this time on that date then it is not accepted, but we did not get a letter confirming it had been received. So we rang PM&C, and they said, 'Oh, no, the only confirmation you need is the email that you sent us,' which means absolutely nothing. Then, once it goes in, you wait for a letter to come back. We got a letter back saying, 'Your application's been approved.' In our application we applied for five programs. It did not tell us which program got approved or how much had been approved. Half an hour later, I got a letter saying, 'Your application has not been approved.' So you ring up PM&C, and no-one can tell you what was approved or what was not approved.

Then you go through the process that you have signed the contract and you have to provide acquittals. You have no idea where those acquittals have to go. You do not have a contact person. So every time you ring you get told, 'Send it to this lady.' The next period, it is another person. The next period, it is another person. We had to ring PM&C the other day to say, 'Look, can you just give us a name, and we'll meet with that person so we know who that person actually is who we're dealing with and who's assessing our application, because we'd like them to know who our organisation is and what they're actually funding.' So we had our first meeting last week with two members of PM&C on an out patrol. We still really do not know who our Stronger Futures contact person is.

Our contract runs out on 30 June 2016. Since October last year, I have been chasing Minister Scullion's office, PM&C and the Attorney-General's Department to find out what the next stage is, because applications really should have opened around November if they are going to have funding available commencing 1 July. I have not received any feedback to date about what stage it is up to. We do not know: is there an application round? Are we getting an extension of funding? Do we have to do an application? Is it an automatic grant? No-one is telling us anything. I have four months left and I have staff contracts that run out at that time. If I have to let staff go, I will guarantee that we will be cutting our services and that is going to have a huge impact on the court system. This is what the Indigenous Advancement Strategy was for. It was to support Aboriginal people, and we are the ones who are left in the dark. We find the whole process totally disappointing and unprofessional.

CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Collins. Do you have any other remarks?

Ms Collins : No, thank you.

Mr Dalton : From us, through you, Chair, we would like to make two key points on behalf of both APO NT and NLC. The Northern Land Council, and other organisations involved in the field of land management, such as the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance, more colloquially known as NAILSMA, have long retained concerns that IAS funding decisions for technical and specialist-type projects have been removed from the line agencies that actually feature significant expertise in their area. The decision making process that handed power to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet may, in fact, have led to staff making decisions in areas that they may, at best, be inexperienced in and, at worst, unqualified to be making decisions on. A clear example from our sector exists with land and sea ranger related decisions. The NLC and other equally experienced and capable entities had a very difficult time, and some failed entirely, extracting funding from the IAS bucket for programs that, we are of the view, are as worthy as land and sea ranger programs. There is a long-established body of literature about the fantastic work that land and sea rangers have done. The amount of administrative and political difficulty that we ran into in accessing the funding was very disheartening to say the least. It is our view that those difficulties arose entirely from the transfer of decision making from the line agencies, in this case from the now Department of the Environment to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. It has also been our experience through long discussions with our APO NT partners that each of the APO NT partners have had similar experiences where that loss of expertise in the decision making has resulted in adverse outcomes.

I also wish to echo the concerns raised by my colleague Mr Paterson. The Northern Land Council is a APO NT partner. It holds a highly critical view of the situation in which Indigenous organisations are competing directly with government and large non-Indigenous NGOs via IAS funding. There is little doubt that the NLC, in its role as an APO NT partner, and Indigenous people and organisations were utterly disadvantaged. It goes again to the fact that we have formed a view that government do not seem overly interested in ensuring that Indigenous people have the capacity to compete. There appears to be no predilection to level the playing field through the assessment process, which may have been an effective tool to ensure that Indigenous people are better represented in funding decisions. To demonstrate this point, there was an IAS review stakeholder meeting held in Darwin in October 2015, which was run by Prime Minister and Cabinet officials. At that meeting, those officials relayed the total breakdown for IAS funding for the first grant rounds. Only 55 per cent of funding went to Indigenous individuals and other entities. This is just over half. In a time when we have report after report, showing the community-controlled programs and projects have far better outcomes, that number seems alarmingly low to us and would suggest that government address not only that figure but also the type of thinking and planning that that figure arose from should be addressed immediately. More telling still on the point were further revelations by Prime Minister and Cabinet staff at that meeting that this figure of 55 per cent was only able to be calculated post distribution of the funding, which suggests to us that there was no specific target or strategy built-in around where government wanted to head in terms of its distribution model.

In summary, we do not think the IAS distribution model was well planned, and we do not think that the grant was free entirely from the loss of knowledge and expertise represented by the line agencies, some of which we had built very long relationships with over many years.

CHAIR: Are there any other remarks? Dr Cooper, did you wish to add anything?

Dr Cooper : I would like to add one thing in relation to the issue of the expertise of Prime Minister and Cabinet in relation to specific areas. In our services, Aboriginal community controlled health services, we found difficulty with the transfer of alcohol and other drugs, social and emotional wellbeing and mental health money to Prime Minister and Cabinet away from the health department. These were funding sources that went to our services and were considered part of the core services delivered by Aboriginal primary healthcare services in the Northern Territory and elsewhere. We have argued quite strongly that those areas should be transferred back to the health department and that they should be distributed along with other core funding to Aboriginal primary healthcare community-controlled health services.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Dr Cooper. I apologise for referring to you as Mr Cooper before. It was my mistake.

Dr Cooper : That is alright.

Senator PERIS: I want to thank everyone for their very detailed submissions. Mr Paterson, APO NT is responsible for five peak Aboriginal organisations. You said earlier that you assisted other smaller organisations. How many did you assist?

Mr Paterson : I cannot remember the number. There were quite a number who we contacted both through our own member services and other Aboriginal organisations. I cannot give you an exact figure on that but there were a number of them.

Senator PERIS: Are you aware of how many have been successful and how many have not been successful?

Mr Dalton : I have those figures in front of me from the meeting that I referred to in my earlier evidence.

Senator PERIS: I am happy if you can put them on notice a bit later on, if that is okay.

Mr Dalton : I have them here, if you would like to hear them.

Senator PERIS: Yes, okay.

Mr Dalton : According to the meeting on 5 November, in evidence given by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet staff—is it appropriate that I name those staff?

Senator PERIS: Yes.

Mr Dalton : Geoff Richardson, Brenda Campe and Peter Kaye, who I believe is a Northern Territory based Prime Minister and Cabinet staffer, indicated that the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet received—the specific number of grants is not actually offered in these notes. My apologies. It does indicate that the organisations that applied amounted to 46 per cent of all organisations.

Senator PERIS: Is that in the Northern Territory?

Mr Dalton : I think that might be a national figure, but I will take that on notice.

Senator PERIS: This is an open question: what is APO NT's view of Aboriginal programs and services, funded by governments, being put out to open tender. There is so much evidence that says that if we are going to truly enhance the lives of Aboriginal people and have an impact it needs to be in the hands of community control. If you could elaborate on that.

Ms Collins : I suppose I can say something about that. Previously, anything to do with Aboriginal money was in different parts of different departments, so that is whether it was education or justice et cetera. That money was quarantined within those departments. You dealt with project officers who knew your organisation and knew what you did. Now the money has been moved from there into a big bucket. That to us looked just like a big money grab. If you look at the people who received that money: there were hotels, supermarkets, rugby teams and all of these people. That money was specifically there before for specific things. Now it has become a big slush fund for anyone to grab, and that is what we have found. It is very disappointing because we are not providing luxury services. We are providing essential services for people and that is what that funding is for. But all of a sudden, it was out there and every man and his dog was putting in an application.

Senator PERIS: There has been a lot of commentary around big NGOs that received funding under the IAS, and then they were contacting peak Aboriginal organisations saying, 'Help us out here.' Can you also elaborate on that?

Ms Collins : I can agree with that. Because they said, 'You've got to have an Aboriginal partnership'—I will not name any of the organisations who contacted me—there were a lot of big non-Aboriginal NGOs that came and said, 'Can you support our application.'

I read those applications and I tell you they were deadly. They were good applications. If I were someone assessing that application, I would have went, 'That's a great application; let's fund it.' In reality, I know that does not happen. We know that organisation. We know what they do. Our organisations, not those organisations, are the ones delivering those services, but we do not have those experts in our organisations who can pump out applications. We have limited resources, whereas these people have specialists who write these applications. When I looked at that, I said, 'That's really scary because that's what we're faced with.'

Senator PERIS: I read in your application here that you wrote to Minister Scullion and tried to engage with his department. What is the level of feedback that you have received? APO NT is a vital organisation here in the NT. I have been to a number of the conferences that you put out there. What has it been?

Ms Collins : We do have a lot of support from Minister Scullion's office, but I think the information that has been given to them is not correct. They have been out trying to find what is actually going on themselves. It is the same with the Attorney-General's Department: trying to find out what is really going on. You go to PM&C, and they say, 'Oh, we're talking to people at the Attorney-General's office.' Who are you talking to in the Attorney-General's office? No-one is giving you a definite answer of what is going on, so there is all this communication that is not there. There is no communication from PM&C to any organisation, and that is just NAAJA, so there are a lot more Aboriginal organisations out there that are not getting any feedback.

I was in a meeting for another program a couple of weeks ago, and one of the PM&C staff members who were there said they were looking at revising the guidelines. I said: 'Why aren't people told this? Why aren't letters being sent out to organisations? We don't know anything that's going on.'

Senator PERIS: Not long ago it was also revealed in The Australian that here in the Northern Territory 25 per cent of the IAS funding was going to government organisations. Is this an efficient way to distribute this money? Have you had much consultation with the Northern Territory government and services here that did receive that money for Aboriginal service delivery?

Ms Collins : If it has anything to do with justice, we do not know what those programs are, because we have not been in contact with regard to that.

Senator PERIS: How about in health and the alcohol and other drugs area?

Mr Paterson : We have had no engagement in that process. Whether or not, they have been agreed to and signed off by the national partnership agreements, we are totally locked out of those processes. We find out when government comes knocking on our door like the NGO sector wanting to engage us and have a partnership with our service providing organisations to assist them in delivering those servicing programs. The other disadvantage of going through state governments is they obviously take their admin or overhead costs. By the time it gets to the community to be implemented at the community level, as we have previously heard at similar hearings, just 20c out of the dollar might be getting to those communities to help implement programs and deliver services.

I want to go back to your comment around competitive tendering. I think this flies in the face of the closing the gap report, which we heard the Prime Minister announce just recently. The bottom line is there has just been no improvement over the last couple of years.

I believe that this competitive tendering process is linked. I think that, if you have got main non-Aboriginal organisations and big corporates competing with the Aboriginal communities and the Aboriginal organisations that are bidding for those same funds, if they miss out then there is no capacity for those Aboriginal organisations and communities to offer, engage or build capacity of families, individuals and communities as they should have done and should have been given preference for. Big corporates, as my colleague Priscilla here has said, when they have granted the contracts and entered into those agreements with governments have, we have observed, a real lack of planning. There is no coordinated approach and no consultation with communities. If there is, there is only one consultation with communities where external providers come in and speak with communities. There is no follow up and no exit plan like we have outlined in our APO NT principles.

I believe it is linked. If Aboriginal organisations and communities are offered those funding agreements to deliver those very important servicing programs to their own communities and population, I believe you will see a significant turnaround. This will empower Aboriginal people. At the moment, they are disempowered. There is a sense of not being valued by anybody, particularly those service providers that are just FIFOs or come in once or twice during the period of delivery of those services to those communities.

I believe this is a critical point. If we are going to have any chance of closing the gap then we need to look seriously at how these programs and services are being offered, delivered and rolled out in communities. I think there is enough international evidence now, as my colleague Robbie from the land council has said, that you have much better success if those services and programs are being rolled out by Aboriginal community controlled organisations.

Senator PERIS: I go back to the competitive tendering. In your submission you are critical of the area where the IAS tender for services for the Aboriginal communities in the five areas—social, emotional, mental health, alcohol and other drugs—which are all being delivered by the Aboriginal community controlled services. Funds were actually appropriated around the response to Bringing them home: report of the national inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families. You were critical of that, saying the IAS process has undone this commitment. Can you please elaborate on that?

Mr Paterson : I think you will find all those reports are shelves. From our point of view, it seems like none of those recommendations have been considered by governments for many a year. In those reports you will find very similar recommendations and findings. Governments seriously need to consider trusting and assisting Aboriginal organisations to build their capacity to deliver those services and programs. I think that for far too long we have seen servicing programs not getting the expected outcomes and results that we wish for. I think the whole thing needs to change.

Mr Dalton : I understand there are possibly 150 Indigenous-specific programs that have moved into five. In the context of the complexities of the systems and processes that government use, I think it is almost impossible to escape the conclusion that something would have fallen off the table. I am not suggesting that that is a deliberate intention from the government, but the amount of administrative work that would have had to go into that collapsing of 150 programs would suggest that it was inevitable that something would have fallen off.

Senator SIEWERT: Considering they took so much funding out as well.

Mr Dalton : That does not go to the quantum, of course.

Dr Cooper : To add to that: really, we have gone from a situation where, even though we were critical of a lot of siloed funding and the way that was rolled out, there was at least a sort of policy objective around each of those 150 areas that were developed over time with some kind of process involved to a situation now where we have just got these guidelines but there is no coherent policy or program strategy behind them. What mix are we ending up with in terms of the services delivered for all of that investment? All of our Aboriginal organisations are really concerned that the key services provided by our organisations are at risk and that there is a problem around this lack of coherence. This is just writ large over the whole of the IAS funding program. Now they say we have moved into a demand driven phase of applications to the IAS, but all we have got are guidelines. There is really no coherence about what we will end up with and who will end up with that money, delivering those services, and what they will be. I think that is a really large concern.

CHAIR: Have any of you ever seen a program management framework that lays out that broad vision?

Dr Cooper : No.

Mr Dalton : It is my understanding that the government has got five programs and three priorities. Each of those have very broad subsets. For instance, the five programs are jobs, land and economy, children and schooling, safety and wellbeing et cetera, none of which sends a clear message to an Aboriginal person in a remote community whether or not their idea is compatible with any of that. At least in the first funding rounds, you were allowed one application that was not supposed to span more than one of those programs. That is an additional layer of complexity for something that would have already been quite difficult for that cohort to participate in.

Senator SIEWERT: You put your submissions in a while ago. We are also interested in looking at what the impact on the ground has been, what services are running and what has been essentially cobbled together. You all represent different organisations; are you all able to give us a little bit of a run-down of where you see things at now as a result of this process now we are down the track a bit?

Mr Paterson : I am not sure whether it stemmed from this process, but we are now starting to observe in the health sector that a lot of the programs and services are being directed to state and territory governments or the new Primary Health Networks. We have been invited to meet in a couple of weeks with the Primary Health Networks to have a discussion about how we are going to plan the implementation of rolling out mental health services for Aboriginal Territorians. Why couldn't the government just engage with the Aboriginal community controls? We have AMSANT ready, willing and able. We have the capacity to take on those funds and engage with our member services—at minimal cost, I might add. We just cannot comprehend why government is bypassing them. This seems to be a deliberate strategy on behalf of government to bypass Aboriginal, reputable, community based organisations in delivering those services. If we are committed, passionate and serious about closing the gap then it should be engagement of the Aboriginal community controlled sector so that we can get on with the employment of Aboriginal people, train up the young ones who are coming through, look at the education system, housing—the list goes on. I have repeated myself a number of times at these sorts of inquiries.

Ms Collins : With regard to the legal services, both NAAJA and CAALAS had applied under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy for Stronger Futures. We had received funding up until 30 June 2016, so we are still waiting to find out what is happening past that. We did not get an increase. For us it was quite disappointing because we had to go through this big, long, drawn-out application process, and all they really did—I think it was that confusing for them—was say, 'Oh, we'll just give you the exact same amount you had last year.'

Senator SIEWERT: I want to come back to Stronger Futures in the next question.

Mr Dalton : I wish to make a general point. In communities that we admin ister, there is an enormous level of confusion about how government delivers services, how funding flows through government processes, what steps need to be taken and whether people have the capacity to be able to engage. I am not necessarily convinced—this is more of a personal view rather than necessarily representing each of the programs—that there has been any type of clarity attained for communities engaging with either the IAS or other funding sources. The churn between different government approaches towards funding has done enormous damage over the last few decades in terms of how Aboriginal people access services and how they understand that they should engage with government.

Senator SIEWERT: I go back to the issue of Stronger Futures. I know there was much support—in fact I could go so far as to say joy—when there was talk of the 10-year funding block. One of the few things that I felt we could support through Stronger Futures was that commitment. Where are we at now in terms of your understanding of that process? You only got 12 months funding?

Ms Collins : Yes. The information that we have received is that the Stronger Futures money was moved from the Attorney-General's Department and put into the PM&C IAS funding round. I have raised it with a number of different people within PM&C and no one can give me an answer, except for a conversation I had with another PM&C staff member, who said that that money is quarantined. But you are getting conflicting stories, so you do not actually know what the go is. There is nothing in writing and there is no confirmation of anything. It is only hearsay when you speak to different staff members. There really should just be clear communication; just send us a letter to tell us what is going on.

Senator SIEWERT: So you got 12 months funding out of the IAS. What was the reasoning for that? What did they tell you?

Ms Collins : There was no reason at all. You can call all the different people in PM&C, and the problem is that you do not have a contact person, so you do not have a program officer for your project. You do not actually have someone you can talk to about your program.

Senator SIEWERT: Did they say, at the time, in your letter, what the process would be? It is February now.

Ms Collins : We received one letter after the application had been sent in saying, 'Your application has been approved.' That is the only communication I have. It did not say what program got approved, how much got approved, who our program officer is and what the next step is. That is the only communication we have received.

Senator SIEWERT: You outline in your submission the different program areas that you work in. Is it then up to you to work out how you allocate the funding money you got?

Ms Collins : No, it was specific for that Stronger Futures program. They now call it 'supplementary legal assistance'.

Senator SIEWERT: What about your other areas of funding?

Ms Collins : We had applied for other programs, mainly to do with justice reinvestment programs and community legal education. We did not get the funding for that. We did get funding for our night patrol community legal education; we got a three-year funding agreement for that. But the other programs did not get funded and we never received any feedback as to why they did not.

Senator SIEWERT: Have any of you now applied for either the gap funding process or the demand-driven process?

Ms Collins : Yes, we have. We put in an application and we have been ringing them. We did that application last year and we probably ring once a month and speak to a different person. No-one can tell us what stage our application is at.

Senator SIEWERT: I know I am going to have to put some questions on notice. In terms of the partnership principles, are you aware of whether any of the organisations—let's just focus on the NT—that got funding through the IAS signed up to the partnership principles?

Dr Cooper : No, we are not really aware. We do not know all of the organisations that have funding, but there is certainly a number of them who have not signed up to the partnership principles.

Senator SIEWERT: Maybe I will ask the department that question.

Dr Cooper : Yes, that would be good to know.

Senator SIEWERT: In terms of the partnership agreements, what is your understanding of the support from the Commonwealth for those principles?

Dr Cooper : They have indicated broad support for them. The NT government has provided some degree of support for them.

Ms Collins : We work closely with the Department of the Chief Minister. They have been briefed on what our principles are. Their staff members are going to be coming to our meetings so that they can meet with the members to discuss that and look at what recommendations we can provide to them and how they can implement those principles within the NT government. When it comes to the Commonwealth, we have discussed that we have the APO principles with Minister Scullion's office, so they are fully aware of those principles. But, yes, it is really just a matter of looking at what organisations that had signed up to the principles did get funded, because we do not know whether they received funding or not.

Dr Cooper : There is also quite an issue around operationalising the principles, and it is one thing to sign up to them and another thing to be able to commit to them in practice. We have recognised that there is an essential role for government there. Government is the third partner here. If it is not helping to ensure that there is an environment that supports those principles and attaches some accountability around procurement, tendering and assessment processes then they will not work. Some NGOs will follow them, but if NGOs are not compelled to or there is not an environment that makes it advantageous to do that then we are concerned that they will not be embedded. That is the task we have: trying to get government engaged.

Senator SIEWERT: That is where I was going with my questioning. You have been through a process. You have 18 organisations that operate here, and I know that some of the national organisations have signed up.

Dr Cooper : Some big organisations, yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Hence my question: how many of those that have signed up are then operationalising them? For those that have not, what is the engagement of the Commonwealth to ensure the implementation of the principles, because they are trying to say the right words but it does not seem to me that we are seeing the operationalisation of that?

Mr Dalton : It might also be a useful point to put on record that the situation that led to the development of the partnership principles was actually one that in part arose from the decisions of government collectively over a number of years, so the rollout of local government apparatus at the territory level and the Northern Territory intervention, directly or indirectly through the Commonwealth, both did enormous damage to the organisations, in which they found themselves almost feeling they had to do some work in that space. The government did not appear to be either conscious of the problem or willing to address it, but notwithstanding that some work has occurred. This is an opportunity for the government to do something, and I hope they take it.

Dr Cooper : It is interesting that there has been a very strong response to the principles and that includes from some very major NGOs: World Vision, Oxfam, Anglicare, CatholicCare and Save the Children—really significant NGOs. We found that there is an appetite there within the NGO sector to be prepared to move towards those kinds of partnership approaches that are building Aboriginal capacity and, over time, allowing service delivery to be taken over by Aboriginal organisations and have an exit strategy. But again I have heard a comment from one NGO who was taking on the principles very seriously but was concerned that some of the competitor NGOs do not do that, so they can just come in and scoop out contracts and there is no comeback on them. This is something that has a huge potential to drive and make government investment a lot more productive in terms of its outcomes for increasing Aboriginal capacity and employment outcomes, but the government has to be serious about making sure that the environment is conducive to that through the contracts processes and procurement and tendering processes and ensure that it is not a situation where the lowest bidder with a flashy application comes in and scoops it up and does a big service delivery but in a very poor fashion that actually does not deliver properly for Aboriginal communities.

Senator SIEWERT: In terms of the number of Aboriginal organisations—I think it was Mr Paterson who might have touched on it—that may have lost funding because a bigger organisation has in fact got the grants: (a) do you have an idea of how many did lose funding? And (b) we have heard some evidence of where Aboriginal organisations were then subsequently recontracted for the same work by the bigger entity that was successful in the application. Do you have any comments on anything you have seen in the NT?

Dr Cooper : It certainly happened. We do not have figures on the number of organisations involved, and it is quite complex as well because organisations have multiple funding streams, and IAS might be just one and might not even be their major funding stream. It is an incredibly complex funding environment for organisations and, as Robbie said, there is a lot of churn in programs and the way that funding is delivered. It is a very complex picture. We get a lot of anecdotal examples that are provided to us, but we have not been able to put all of that together.

Senator MOORE: I am very keen to get down to the process stuff so that we can actually put recommendations to the government about how this process was clearly difficult and has had a great impact, exactly what went wrong and how we can make sure they know that it should not happen again. We had a complementary process in the wider grants process at exactly the same time, and the pain from that continues to impact across communities. We have put a number of recommendations to government. They have not been quick to respond, but nonetheless we have a response now that says, 'Yeah, it needs some work'. I am paraphrasing it.

I am surprised by how consistently in your evidence you said you do not know the organisation who has the money, which is a real flaw because it should all be on public record. When you had your meeting with the government in October, were they not able to give you a clear indication of exactly who was funded for what and where?

Mr Dalton : The meeting in question was a public information session, in which certain facts were delivered by PM&C officials. It was not the context in which specific questions could be asked around exactly—

Senator MOORE: So that was that consultation—

Mr Dalton : That is right, so while questions were taken from the floor, it was a very broad process and I think, as a general rule, senior government staff were very careful in the answers they gave.

Senator MOORE: But in terms of each of you, you know the system—all of you are very experienced over many governments and many grants processes—but there has been no effort by the government to tell you exactly who has got what, where and why?

Mr Dalton : I can confirm that; there has not been a great deal of effort from our end at least.

Senator MOORE: The officers who you mentioned in your evidence, Mr Dalton, are extremely experienced. These are not new people in the field either. Ms Collins, I take your point absolutely: the frustration of contacting and not getting a single person who knows even vaguely what is going on. The officers you named are not new to the field; they have been around for a while. It is particularly frustrating in that way.

You mentioned in your evidence and in your recommendations the very short time that organisations had to put their applications together from the time you were advised of this major change, and it is an extraordinarily large change—you have already talked about the number of streams of funding beforehand folding down to five key areas. What information did the government provided in that period, from the time the decision was made to the time that people had to make applications? What process was put in place, to the best of your knowledge, by the department to provide support or to provide information?

Ms Collins : There was one information session that was in Darwin. Unfortunately, I did not attend that one. I am aware that they had that one, but that is the only one I am aware of. So the only support you could get when you were doing the application was to ring the general number and you were just going to speak to whichever random person picked it up.

Senator MOORE: And they had a call centre approach there.

Ms Collins : It was a call centre, and most of the time when you rang up you could not get an answer and no-one would call you back to actually give you that answer. All we were really told was to just be creative.

Senator MOORE: That is offensive.

Mr Dalton : One of the approaches, in terms of the public meetings, the emails out, the website approach—

Senator MOORE: They had a detailed website; I was going to get to that, yes.

Mr Dalton : I believe so. That notwithstanding, what we were actually missing there was what I have previously referred to whereby most of the APO NT partner organisations had an established relationship with their funding bodies prior to the decision making move to PM&C. A lot of the time that relationship facilitated a lot of the excellent work that the partners had been able to do. That relationship missing, we revert back to what you might call a planned administrative application process, which is never optimal for some of the difficult and technical work that the partners undertake.

Senator MOORE: One of the things we found in the other exercise was the breakdown of any kind of trust and personal relationship which had been developed over many years. The North Territory does have a number of Commonwealth offices of various departments. From your experience, was there any shared knowledge with the people at the local level in the various departments—Environment, Health, Community Affairs, DSS and PM&C, all of whom have some staff here—to work through this process?

Dr Cooper : They seemed to be as much in the dark as we were most of the time, in fact. I think one of the problems is that this was a massive change that departments had to deal with and they had to get through it. They were obviously struggling. We had a great deal of difficulty.

Senator MOORE: That was from the Health point of view?

Dr Cooper : From the Health point of view, but also from PM&C staff.

Senator MOORE: From APO NT you got information across the board?

Dr Cooper : Yes.

Senator MOORE: I will follow up in the individual processes, Chair, later. I have two specific questions about the application. One is about the legal stuff, Ms Collins, and that would probably be yours. The PSP, from the Commissioner of Corrections, which was about people going through the parole process. The application says that there is some money available for the Top End in this program from now on, but CAALAS in the central area have nothing. I am interested—and it may be on notice—to know why or how someone was funded for this program in the northern part of the Territory but not in the central part. There is the north-south divide; the north-central divide is absolutely real. The other question goes to information in the submission from the Central Land Council which talks about the importance of the ranger program. What I could not get from that was who was funding what did not get funded. There was a clear indication of the importance of the ranger program for employment, for culture and for land across the four areas—I think that is what the Land Council said they had submitted for—and they seem to have ended up with only partial funding for one. There is nothing that indicates why. It probably means nobody has it, but I am just checking to see whether this is information that CAALAS did not get it and others may have. I want to see whether the whole thing had fallen over as a result of this funding round. In terms of time, that is all I have.

Ms Collins : I can provide a quick response to the PSP. We call it the Indigenous Prisoner ThroughCare program. We had been provided a three-year contract through the Attorney-General's Department and that funding was running out—

Senator MOORE: The federal Attorney-General's Department?

Ms Collins : Yes, the federal Attorney. We do not get Territory funding. That funding was running out on 30 June 2016, so I had a question for the Attorney-General's Department and to PM&C. That through-care money was then moved from the Attorney-General's Department again into Stronger Futures. So I rang them up saying, 'We're only funded up to 30 June 2016, so should I be putting in an application under IAS to continue that funding commencing 1 July 2016 onwards?' and they said—

Senator MOORE: That is part of a Stronger Futures program?

Ms Collins : Yes. And they said, 'We don't know.' I said, 'I'm concerned because if I don't put in an application now, does the IAS funding round open so that we can apply for funding past 30 June?' No-one can say whether IAS money is going to be available every year or whether it was only going to be available every three years. We have our funding running out at 30 June 2016, so I am not sure. We are working with the Attorney-General's Department to get funding past that. And CAALAS did not get it, because there was all the confusion. That money used to be from the Attorney-General's; it has now gone to PM&C. We are only funded to 30 June 2016. What happens past that date if our money has been moved from there to there?

Senator MOORE: And they are in an even worse situation because they do not know. As you went through with Senator Siewert, it is all part of the Stronger Futures confusion.

Senator PERIS: I want to get a greater understanding of where APO NT sits at the moment—the organisation that you represent. Is your funding past 30 June this year non-existent at the moment?

Mr Paterson : We have an application in with Prime Minister and Cabinet. No, as Priscilla has flagged, we have not had any indication about when we are going to be notified. We have got staff employed. We have got two programs—the governance and management program; and the APO NT secretariat positions—and they expire June 30 this year and we have had no response in terms of our application or about when we can expect a decision.

Senator PERIS: So that is for the leadership—the business improvement and APO NT; is that right?

Mr Cooper : No, we did not get any of that money—

Senator PERIS: You did not get any?

Mr Cooper : through IAS.

Senator PERIS: I just want to go back a step: how long has APO NT existed here in the Territory?

Mr Cooper : Since the end of 2010.

Senator PERIS: And the response and the outcomes that you have been able to achieve—the organisation would have to be quite significant.

Mr Paterson : Absolutely. Presentations to both Senate and House of Reps committees—

Senator PERIS: Many.

Mr Paterson : at the federal, and state and territory level. We have provided a large amount of policy papers to a number of agencies both government and non-government organisations, because government we get a consistent message back from government that Aboriginal organisations—we are struggling with their governance programs. We took their leadership and the initiative through APO NT to apply to PM&C—and this is the funding that we are waiting on. It is this governance and management program that we have a couple of staff who work with Aboriginal organisations and communities—those that we recognise and those that request assistance to get out there with assistance with directorship and their governance structures—to build that capacity make sure that in the long-term they are going to be viable, sustainable and effective organisations. That is what is at risk at the moment. We are getting some really good runs on the board at the moment. Aboriginal organisations are starting to really respond, take seriously and acknowledge that they need to get these good processes and systems in place to enable them to secure funding from the federal or Territory level of government.

Mr Dalton : Can I add one thing: it is important to note that we do not just engage with government and undertake projects; we also act as a very effective advocate body for Aboriginal people on the ground to have a voice through issues like housing and alcohol—the key examples. We have run two forums for each in the northern and southern regions of the Territory. Those recommendations, with APO NT acting as the secretariat, have been delivered to government, and we feel that they have been listened to in a way that they may not otherwise have been, were there not an entity that could coordinate those forums and provide such a holistic set of disciplines to drive that.

Mr Paterson : And APO NT supports that. Each of us give day in, day out in terms of advocating and representing Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory for their issues and concerns to be conveyed to governments and anybody else—it is enormous. We do not get paid for this sort of stuff, so it is all voluntary and in-kind support that we give.

Senator PERIS: Lastly, I think your recommendations are quite clear when it comes to the needs and how governments should be funding peak Aboriginal organisations. If things do not change and the next lot of funding is going to fall on deaf ears again, do you believe that we are going to be here next year and the year after talking about the same things over and over again?

Mr Paterson : Absolutely. I believe we will not improve the overcrowding issues. We will have more incarceration of Aboriginal people in prisons and jails. Thankfully, we have got some good measures in place now for education. We are starting to see some really good outcomes but we just cannot sit on our hands and hope that that is going to continue without the ongoing investment of governments.

We are starting to see a decline in health expectancy rates, particularly for Aboriginal women. They have actually dropped, so they are dying—it is closing in a year earlier—whereas we were getting some really good outcomes and runs on the board with the investment the Commonwealth gave us since the intervention. That is all at risk. We are hearing the commentary that is coming out of Canberra that all of those important portfolio areas are at risk of severe cuts to try and balance the federal budget. That is a major concern for us.

If we cannot convince government that the existing investment that is coming into the Territory must remain, and even get an increase so that we can get on top of these underlying issues and these issues that Aboriginal Territorians are facing, then I think we are going to be back here. I can recall echoing and expressing these comments and views on a number of occasions to many government committees. We really need to be serious about whether there is government commitment in wanting to close that gap and in starting to have an effective relationship with Aboriginal organisations and people if we are going to make any inroads, otherwise I believe it will be a sad state of affairs in the future.

CHAIR: One of the terms of reference for this committee is to consider the evidence base and analysis that underlined the program design. I asked you previously whether you had seen a program design set out in a coherent way that is credible to you. We will pursue that particular question with departmental officers at hearings later in this inquiry.

Can I ask Mr Dalton about the significance of land management and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people involvement in land management. When I look at the five program streams for this program, it is unclear to me how, for example, a ranger program would fit in. Having no regard to the program, could you set out the actual significance of involvement in land management for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and any recommendations you might have about how that relationship to country might be incorporated in program design in future.

Mr Dalton : There are three key points that I would raise in terms of laying out why a ranger program is a valuable one. Firstly, Australia is an extremely large and very lightly populated landscape. To continue to drive the immensely valuable environmental management, biodiversity, pest and weed control, and, to an extent, some border control activities and Customs activity, rangers are often effectively your front-line public servants in that sort of thing in the lightly populated landscape. I am happy to expand on these matters further out of session, of course—because I could talk all day!

The second element is that the ranger program is a vital avenue to employment in remote areas. I should make clear the ranger program is not confined to just the Northern Territory; it is across most of northern Australia. The ranger groups work together in establishing best practice and they stand as a really important example of how traditional knowledge can meet government's requirements and result in really effective employment outcomes. There are not many avenues for remote employment in a lot of our truly remote communities. Rangers are one of them. They have the beauty of not only delivering on government's objectives but meeting the community's aspirations in terms of maintaining their cultural integrity as well. In effect, that is what land councils do: we maintain cultural integrity, we maintain connection to country and we assist communities to carry out both of those functions.

CHAIR: I am interested in what you would say about program design so that that function is recognised not just as an end in itself but as a critical component of Closing the Gap framework that is broadly accepted at the moment as a framework for addressing injustice.

Mr Dalton : The way this could be truly encapsulated is that the work of rangers is very well understood and very highly valued within the Department of the Environment and within biodiversity related agencies. How that translates through, of course, is that a healthy country in terms of healthy biodiversity picture is good for everybody. It controls the spread of feral weeds and animals; it pays off, as I said, in a number of other areas. Where this sits in the bigger picture of closing the gap—this is somewhat of a personal opinion, Madam Chair, of course—is that, in addition to the great outcomes in employment, and the associated health, justice and family violence outcomes that arise from being fully employed, what we tend to see is that rangers are increasingly accessing new opportunities around economic development in areas where that previously has not existed, like carbon farming. So traditional burning activity is now starting to move into the area where that could be a really viable economic opportunity for remote communities, and, increasingly, on a fee-for-service model. So I think the work of rangers, effectively, is going to transform into one of the jewels in our crown of remote economic activity, in places where there may not necessarily be other opportunities.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Dalton. As you can tell, all of our senators have found your evidence most interesting. We are conscious of the roles you play in advocating for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here, and we are very grateful for you spending time with the committee today, but that is all we have time for. Thank you very much.