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Finance and Public Administration References Committee
Commonwealth funding of Indigenous Tasmanians

BULMAN, Mr Ryan, Assistant Secretary, Cross Government Policy Branch, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

DENLEY, Ms Kathleen, Assistant Secretary, Legal Assistance Branch, Attorney-General's Department

HILL, Mr Leonard, Assistant Secretary, Indigenous Culture Branch, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

LANNEN, Ms Rebecca, Regional Manager for Victoria and Tasmania, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

NOTT, Mr Adam, Director, Indigenous Legal Services, Legal Assistance Branch, Attorney-General's Department

SLOAN, Mr Troy, First Assistant Secretary, Policy, Analysis and Evaluation Division, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

TAYLOR, Mrs Marie, First Assistant Secretary, Housing, Land and Culture Division, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

TURNBULL, Mr Stuart, Assistant Secretary, Performance, Compliance and Capability Branch, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet


Evidence was taken via teleconference—

CHAIR: Welcome. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and giving evidence to Senate committees has been provided to you all as witnesses. Can I invite each of the departments to make a short opening statement, if you wish to do so. At the conclusion of your remarks, I will invite members of the committee to ask questions.

Mr Sloan : PM&C does not have an opening statement, apart from thanking the committee for allowing us to dial in. It is much appreciated.

CHAIR: Thank you. We appreciate your cooperation also. Did the Attorney-General's Department wish to say anything?

Ms Denley : No, the department does not have an opening statement.

CHAIR: Okay. We had some discussion this morning about the different mechanisms by which individuals are identified as Indigenous for the purpose of receiving services or perhaps participating in an electoral process. Is this an issue that comes up for Commonwealth departments, and how do you approach that question of identification?

Mrs Taylor : As we outlined in our submission, the Commonwealth government applies a three-part definition to determine indigeneity. A person is considered Indigenous if he or she is of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, identifies as an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person and is accepted as such by the Indigenous community which he or she identifies in. This definition is not applied rigidly and does not require archival or historical records. In many cases, the identification is accepted. That said, many of the programs and services that we, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, provide in relation to the Indigenous Advancement Strategy do not actually rely on a person's indigeneity. This is because the department is required to provide services to Indigenous people on the basis of need, and our guidelines are around achieving value for money.

CHAIR: You indicated in your evidence that the test is not applied rigidly. In fact, in your written submission you say that the test must not be applied rigidly and does not require archival or other historical records. What is the policy background for taking that approach to compliance?

Mr Hill : The Commonwealth three-part test has been applied over a significant period of time—for in excess of 25 years the Commonwealth has applied this test. The question of whether Indigenous racial or ethnic identity can be determined, including the issue of genetic testing, was considered in an inquiry by the Australian Law Reform Commission in 2003. That culminated in the report Essentially Yours: The Protection of Human Genetic Information in Australia. The ALRC heard in consultations that the three-part definition works well enough in most circumstances and made no recommendations for change.

The ALRC also looked into the legal definitions of aboriginality both here in Australia and overseas and concluded that none of the other tests used internationally resulted in more just, scientific or effective outcomes in respect of this issue. The ALRC also suggested that, if any change was to take place in respect to this issue, with the sensitivity around it this matter would be best determined by Indigenous people themselves working through their own communities, institutions and consultative processes.

The other point that I would make in respect of the Commonwealth test is that an individual can identify as being either Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, but the confirmation of Aboriginality is a separate process that is undertaken by Aboriginal people themselves within their own communities and by Aboriginal community organisations.

CHAIR: Are you able to tell us the date of the ALRC report? It may be that there is information there that can be usefully considered by the committee as we come to our findings.

Mr Hill : The report Essentially Yours: The Protection of Human Genetic Information in Australia was provided in 2003.

Senator LAMBIE: There is an issue going on in Tasmania. You have been paying them a considerable amount of money for a lot of people down there. I think there are about 22,000 that are supposed to be recognised in Tasmania. But we now find out—we do not know whether it is 6,000 or 3,000 who have been receiving a benefit out of that money.

Mr Sloan : Sorry, I am not sure quite what the question is.

Senator LAMBIE: When the government hands out money for Indigenous Tasmanians—you have been handing out money to cover about 20,000 or 22,000, yet in recent years we have found out that only between 3,000 and 6,000 people have been benefiting from the money that you have been sending down there.

Mr Sloan : I think I can answer that. We need to break the Australian government funding into different streams. As we noted in our submission to the committee, there is mainstream funding that is available to everyone on the basis of need—Newstart, hospital funding and so forth. If you meet the criteria, if you turn up to a hospital and you are sick, you get service. If you do not have a job, you get Newstart—and so forth. That is a stream of money. Another stream is things like GST distributions. That is funded using the ABS number, which, as you have noted, is over 20,000. And I think it is projected to be about 27,000 in June 2016. And then there is a specific Indigenous funding, which several departments do. But most of that money is now sitting in PM&C under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy. That is the funding that is specifically targeting Indigenous people outside of mainstream programs. Mrs Taylor talked of how we then looked at that money and what circumstances to invest in around need and so forth. I might see if either Mr Turnbull or Mrs Taylor wants to add anything around that, because it is really targeting need, not the number of people per se.

Mrs Taylor : I might just elaborate on Troy's point. I think the relevant thing to focus on here is total Commonwealth funding for Tasmania for the benefit of Indigenous Australians. When you look at that number—when you look at the total Commonwealth funding—Tasmania received $499 million of total Commonwealth expenditure for the benefit of Indigenous Tasmanians, which works out to be $19,744 per person, and that compares with a nation figure of $20,241 per person. As you can see, those numbers are very similar, and the discrepancy can be explained by socioeconomic and remoteness factors. So the total aggregates of the person are roughly the same in Tasmania versus national averages.

Mr Sloan : It is important to note that those numbers are based on that higher number—it depends on what year you are looking at—of 22,000, 24,000 or 27,000 Indigenous people in Tasmania.

Senator LAMBIE: Yes, I understand that. How do you come up with the figure then? How do you work out how much you are going to give the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre? You give them a phenomenal amount of money every year—in the millions. How do you work it out? Does that go per head, or do you just wait for them to say, 'Hey, we need more money,' and you just give them a cheque? How does that work?

Mr Turnbull : The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre is like all organisations: they need to apply for grants under our guidelines. They are assessed in the same way other organisations are assessed, and it is based on their being able to meet need in the specific program areas. At the moment, in terms of our current grants, that organisation has eight current grants, which are valued at around $8 million.

Senator LAMBIE: How do you justify giving them nearly $34 million since 2013-14 to service about 3,000 or 4,000 Indigenous Tasmanians. That is what I am asking. Does this not sound absurd to you?

Mr Sloan : Are you saying we gave them $33 million last year?

Senator LAMBIE: No. In the last three years, since 2013-14, you have handed out $33 million to them for what we believe are about 3,000 to 4,000 Indigenous Tasmanians. It sure as hell has not serviced the 24,000 or 25,000 Indigenous Tasmanians down there, because they do not identify 20,000 of us.

Mr Sloan : Senator, we certainly do not agree with that figure. As I said, they are getting eight grants at present valued at around $8 million. That is certainly well less than the $33 million.

Senator LAMBIE: I have the table in front of me. That is what it says your federal funding—your grants—has been since 2012-13.

CHAIR: If I can assist, Senator Lambie and officers, I think Senator Lambie's concern is that the Commonwealth funding is provided on the basis of the ABS and census information. Senator Lambie's concern is that a tighter test is being applied by the bodies which are receiving funding, not so much in the legal services area, I think, but more in the community services and social services areas. I think Senator Lambie's concern, which you might be able to answer or respond to, is that the funding is provided on the basis of a broader and more inclusive definition, but a narrower definition is applied when services are actually being delivered by the funded organisations.

Senator LAMBIE: So a lot of that money that you are giving away to Indigenous Tasmanians is targeted at one body, which is the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, and the rest have been missing out for a very, very long time. When was the last time you guys did a forensic audit on Indigenous affairs in Tasmania?

Mrs Taylor : I do not think we have done a forensic audit. That said, we do monitor the performance of our organisations very carefully and set key performance indicators. I can probably go back to the point that we do not fund organisations on the basis that they represent all Aboriginal people living in Tasmania, or in any particular area, for that matter. We fund on the basis of specific need. An organisation might come to us and say: 'We've got a proposal to put in a preschool for this particular community. It will cost this amount.' We will then assess that application and make a decision based on that specific proposal. So we fully expect that the funding is going to be geographically focused, quite often, and funded to specifically local identified need, and the purpose of it is not necessarily meant to be provided to everybody living in that place, because of course everyone living in that place may not need the funding.

Mr Sloan : That is in the context of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy. As we said earlier, things such as GST will be provided to all states, and Tasmania, in this example, will be looking at the ABS numbers of Indigenous people.

Senator LAMBIE: No. I want you to have a look at the amount of money over the last 10 years that you have put into the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre compared to every other group that is down there that is Indigenous. That is what am asking you. They are only servicing about 3,000 or 4,000 people, and their needs, according to the amount of money you are paying out, are absolutely excessive. That is the problem.

Mr Sloan : We can certainly take on notice how much money we have paid in the last 10 years and see what we can get you.

Senator LAMBIE: Okay, because obviously there is a concern, because the legal aid funding has now been taken out of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, which had a large impact on that, and has now been moved over to the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service. Obviously there have been some massive problems there. You have removed that money and given that to Victoria so Victoria can dish it out back for Tasmanian Indigenous legal aid. Maybe it is about time we had look at a massive forensic audit into the Tasmanian Indigenous funding for the last 10 years. Otherwise we are never going to get to the bottom of this.

Mr Sloan : Ms Lannen may want to add a bit about what work we have done with providers in ensuring things are being delivered on the ground in Tasmania.

Senator LAMBIE: You can answer this then: why was the Indigenous legal aid funding removed from Tasmania and put into Victoria's Indigenous legal aid, for them to distribute that money? Why did that happen?

Mr Sloan : I think that might be one best for our AGD colleagues.

Ms Denley : We did move the funding. There was an open grants round that was held in 2015, and agencies were able to apply through that round. TAC was one of those agencies. But the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community Legal Service, running through VALS, were the successful party and they now deliver the services for Tasmania.

Senator LAMBIE: From Victoria?

Ms Denley : No; in Tasmania.

Senator LAMBIE: I thought the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service—

Ms Denley : They run through the auspices of VALS; however, they are services that are delivered in Tasmania.

Senator LAMBIE: So that legal aid money originally was being run from Tasmania?

Ms Denley : It has always been run from Tasmania. It was operating through TAC—

Senator LAMBIE: So you removed it from the TAC and basically the oversight has now been given to the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service. They are oversighting that. Is that correct?

Ms Denley : It is the one organisation, but all the staff are based in Tasmania and it is fully run from Tasmania.

Senator LAMBIE: You must have had concerns with TAC not doing the right thing in the first place if they did not continue with that contract.

Ms Denley : It was not a matter of continuing with the contract; it was an open grants round that was held and it was found that VALS and the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community Legal Service was the successful party, not TAC, in that process.

Senator LAMBIE: So you took it off the Tasmanian Aboriginal—what was it?

Ms Denley : The Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation had been operating the service up to that point. Their funding expired and the decision was made to go to an open grants round, and through that open grants round the successful party was the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community Legal Service, which is run under the auspices of VALS. They had some strong overarching administrative history, and they put forward a tender and they were the successful party. But all the services are run out of Tasmania.

Senator LAMBIE: Do you know if before that handover there was any forensic audit done on the previous work that come out of the TAC overseeing that funding previously?

Ms Denley : There is regular performance management of all of the programs that are run and there were several audits that were done.

Senator LAMBIE: What were the audits done on?

Ms Denley : The audits are done into the operation of the organisation, and I believe the TAC actually referred to one of the audits in their submission. The most recent one was in 2015, by McGrathNicol, which the TAC made a reference to.

Senator LAMBIE: Who picks the auditors?

Mr Nott : My understanding is that [inaudible].

CHAIR: Mr Nott, I am sorry to interrupt you. We are having technical problems here. If you could speak quite directly into your handset, I think that might improve it.

Mr Nott : My understanding is that the department selected McGrathNicol to conduct a range of audits and organisational health check type work. They, on behalf of the department, looked at all of the Indigenous services providers that we fund, and the TAC was one of those organisations.

Senator LAMBIE: Would I be able to receive a copy of that audit? Where can I get it from with recommendations, remarks or whatever is in there?

Ms Denley : It is commercial-in-confidence. We would need to look into that and get back to you.

Senator PATERSON: I have a question generally to the department, so whoever feels best placed to answer it please jump in. I think it might be helpful to senators for you to clarify—in a broad way, not with the exact numbers—exactly what the department funds around services for Indigenous Australians, what other federal agencies fund and then what state government funds in this area.

Mr Sloan : I will repeat the structure and then throw to my colleagues. I suppose, again, we sort of see three streams of funding. The first one is mainstream—as I said, Newstart is available to everyone. DSS, employment through wage subsidies and so forth all have interactions through that. Then, through other departments beyond PM&C, we have Indigenous specific programs, and we would say that each department, such as AGD's, would be best placed to talk about them. Then we have our Indigenous Advancement Strategy, which we are more than happy to talk about, and I will throw to one of the team here to talk in a bit more detail about that.

Senator PATERSON: That would be good, but also perhaps provide on notice a breakdown in an easily digestible format of who funds what, just so we are clear on responsibility, because I think it is getting a little blurred.

Mr Sloan : Certainly. I think we took a question on notice at Senate estimates on that that we are working through, and we can see if we can draw something from that.

Senator PATERSON: Perfect.

Mr Sloan : We were asked one at Senate estimates along the same lines.

Mrs Taylor : We would be happy to take on notice information in relation to the programs that Prime Minister and Cabinet have, but we are not in a position to speak for other Commonwealth agencies or the states and territories.

Senator PATERSON: Sure.

Mrs Taylor : Just building on Troy's point about funding provided under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, currently under the IAS we provide a total of $29.6 billion to Tasmania across 54 different activities. In the broad, though, activities under the five program streams are related to jobs and economic development, children and schools—so education and early childhood type services—services based on the health and wellbeing of people and communities, services in relation to culture and capability and remote area strategies. If you would like us to take you through all of the individual funded activities in Tasmania, I think we have included that in our submission, but we are happy to talk to that.

Senator PATERSON: No, that is fine. Thank you. You may need to take this on notice, but could you just categories for us generally how the majority of federal government funds to the benefit of Indigenous Australians delivered? For example, how much is through Indigenous specific programs compared to other forms of funding?

Mr Sloan : That is actually in our submission but, if you wish, we are quite happy to pull it out into a table and provide it to the committee.

Mr Bulman : The expenditure report showed that in 2012-13—this is the latest consolidated data across the Commonwealth—there was $499 million in direct Commonwealth expenditure on Indigenous people in Tasmania. Eighty-nine per cent of that was delivered through programs and services that are available to all Tasmanians. So they are mainstream services, which might be Medicare services, access to social security payments, housing et cetera. The remainder are services and programs that are specific to Indigenous people, like our Indigenous Advancement Strategy, which Mrs Taylor was explaining earlier.

Senator PATERSON: I have two final questions. One, which I think I know the answer to. Is there anything different about how the Commonwealth funds Indigenous services in Tasmania compared to other parts of the country, or is the way that we fund it in Tasmania the same as the rest of Australia?

Mrs Taylor : It is the same.

Senator PATERSON: I thought that might be the case. Finally, we asked the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre why they have only recently started reporting the details of, for example, the number of Indigenous Australians their services support. It seems a bit strange to me that they had not already been keeping those records. It seems to me, anyway, that that is a fairly important piece of data for our purposes.

Mr Turnbull : In terms of what we ask our providers, they have to do a six-monthly performance report and they report against a series of KPIs every six months. There are a couple of mandatory KPIs around Indigenous employment and their compliance with project terms and conditions. But there are also specific KPIs related to that particular project that they report against, which can include things like participation rates, satisfaction with the services et cetera. So we do ask for some of that information on a six-monthly basis.

Senator PATERSON: Presumably, that is the aggregate number of people and services—those kinds of figures?

Mr Turnbull : That is right; it is in aggregate.

Senator PATERSON: The TAC indicated to us that the reporting requirements they have were more related to, for example, an individual story of someone who had benefited from the services that they were required to provide. It was almost like a vox pop of someone who had used their services rather than aggregate data.

Mr Turnbull : In the performance reports, we start by asking for any success stories, and they can tell whatever story they want. We also ask for details of any challenges they are facing with the project, and then we will get into that reporting against the individual KPIs for each project.

Senator PATERSON: Good. It certainly would be interesting to hear about individual stories, but, when we are trying to account for the effectiveness of spending of Commonwealth money, surely there is actual data of the whole program, not just an individual powerful story.

Mr Turnbull : That is right, and that is why we have a series of KPIs for each project. That is really the focus in understanding value for money and the effectiveness of the service.

Senator SIEWERT: In your PM&C submission, you make a comment at the beginning:

The Commonwealth welcomes the Tasmanian government's recent changes to its approach for determining eligibility for its Indigenous programmes and services and acknowledges the new approach is more consistent …

Could you quickly outline what that is, how it changed to be more in line with your approach, and what you mean by that comment.

Mr Hill : Earlier this year the Tasmanian government made an announcement with respect to the way in which they would approach determining Indigeneity, and their change was one in which they moved more in line with the Commonwealth three-part test, which is recognised by all other jurisdictions. So the Tasmanian government then became a jurisdiction that was consistent with all others.

From 1 July 2016, the Tasmanian government adopted an approach to determining eligibility which was more consistent with the Australian government's approach. Under the changed approach to determining eligibility, Tasmanian government Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs and services which only require self-identification continue to only require self-identification, but other Tasmanian government Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs and services were requiring applicants to complete an eligibility form. That form includes a stat dec, for instance, that the applicant meets the three-part test, and also provides a statement of communal recognition from an Aboriginal organisation. Some of those organisations include the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Child Care Association, the Flinders Island Aboriginal Association, the Cape Barren Island Aboriginal Association and other Aboriginal organisations incorporated under the Commonwealth Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006. It was a move away from where they had previously adopted a stance where they applied a more rigid alignment of the Commonwealth three-part test prior to 1 July 2016.

Senator SIEWERT: What do you mean by 'a more rigid alignment'? Do you mean the stat dec and those sorts of things?

Mr Hill : In terms of more details, you should probably ask the Tasmanian government, as they are the ones that obviously adopted that approach. The Commonwealth approach is one, obviously, that we have applied and most other jurisdictions have also applied as a consistent means of Indigeneity.

Mrs Taylor : I might add to Mr Hill's evidence by saying that, effectively, the department recognises that the issue of Indigeneity is a deeply personal issue and can be very emotional for individual people, and Tasmania adopting the Commonwealth approach, as Leonard Hill said, means that we now have a nationally consistent approach for this issue which we think is much better.

Senator SIEWERT: I will ask that the question to be put on notice to the Tasmanian government to explain that a little bit more. In terms of your approach, did you have negotiations or discussions with them about changing the way they apply that identification process, or did they do it anyway?

Mr Hill : We were just advised.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. Can I go, then, to the tables. Thank you for the breakdown of the specific program expenditure in your submission, but is it possible to get an extra column put in there which says who the organisations that are funded are?

Mr Turnbull : Yes, we can do that.

Senator SIEWERT: Who are the grant recipients? That would be useful. Then, before we get that information, just so I have a ballpark idea, I appreciate the answer that you gave Senator Paterson, but my more detailed question there is: of those organisations, how many are Aboriginal controlled organisations, and how many are broader organisations?

Mr Turnbull : There are 27 funded organisations on that list and, of those, 10 are Indigenous organisations.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. And they are applying the broader tests that the Commonwealth uses for Aboriginal identification—is that correct?

Mr Turnbull : Are you talking about the organisations?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes.

Mr Turnbull : The way we define an Indigenous organisation relates to the membership.

Senator SIEWERT: No, sorry. I do not mean that. I beg your pardon; I was not clear. I mean in terms of people that are seeking services.

Mrs Taylor : I do not think we have specific information on each one of those organisations and whether they apply a specific test or not. As I outlined earlier, the way we provide our services is to provide funding to address specific needs. I do not think we have information on specific criteria that an individual funded organisation might itself apply. What the Commonwealth does is to try to provide it on the basis of need.

The other point I would make is that the IAS remains open to any organisation in Tasmania that would like to submit an application. If there is a concern that there is a group of Indigenous Tasmanians that are not receiving services and feel that there is a need for those services to be provided, the IAS remains open.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay—that is that grants process.

CHAIR: Senator Siewert, are you close to concluding?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, I have one last question. I just wanted to make sure it is absolutely clear that the way the Commonwealth is allocating Aboriginal funding for Tasmania is based on those figures that you have in your submission—the 2011 figures of 24,165 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that are resident in Tasmania. That is the figure you are using to determine allocation?

Mr Sloan : Broadly, yes. I do not want to waste the committee's time, but again, in those streams that I talked about there are slightly different ways. For GST we use the ABS number. For IAS we go to need. But, broadly, yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you.

CHAIR: If there are no further questions, we are going to come to the end. I should indicate that the committee is working on quite a tight time frame. If senators have any follow-up questions that you would like to put to any of our witnesses, we will need to get those to the secretariat quite quickly—probably by close of business tomorrow afternoon. I would ask witnesses if they could provide answers by midday on 21 November. That would then allow us to complete a draft report to a timetable that will work for the final reporting process.

I would like to thank the witnesses who have given evidence to the committee today.

Committee adjourned at 10:15