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It's a Fact

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Media Release


14 September 1998


The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission has today released the + first of a series of fact sheets on its major program areas in a bid to better inform the public debate on issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

ATSIC Chairman, Gatjil Djerrkura, said the Commission was regularly maligned in public debate because its role and functions were totally misunderstood by most public commentators.

The release of the fact sheets was an attempt to provide a solid platform of factual material which “will hopefully underpin future public debate, particularly in the tabloid press and talkback radio”.

Mr Djcrrkura said a glaring example of this misinformation was the constant claim that $16 billion had been spent on Aboriginal and Torres Strait • Islander Affairs over the past 12 years with little or no benefit to Aboriginal people.

“This claim is totally incorrect. There have been many achievements by our people during this time but this myth is perpetuated by many public commentators - who also assume ATSIC has been responsible for the expenditure of this money.

“Unfortunately there’s a $10 billion hole in their rhetoric.

“ATSIC was established in 1990 and has been responsible for the expenditure of $6 billion.

“The fact sheets clearly explain where the money has been spent and why.

“They also show how ATSIC is one of the most accountable agencies in the Commonwealth and how the integration of social and economic development programs for and by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is so important to ensuring we do not remain last among equals.”

The ATSIC fact sheets will be available under “What’s New” on the ATSIC web site; y/wv/

C o n t a c t s :


Martin Freckmann on 018 631 045 Brian Johnstone on 0419 010 687



It is constantly claimed by a number of politicians and elements of the media that 16 billion dollars has been spent on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs in the past 12 years with little improvement in the circumstances of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

it is further suggested that this money has been “wasted” by ATSIC.

This is wrong.

The fa c ts are:

ATSIC was founded in 1990.

Between then and 1997 ATSIC received from the Government, and from internally generated revenue, about $6.9 billion.

Of this, over $262 million went directly to Aboriginal Hostels and the Commercial Development Corporation. ATSIC does not touch this money.

ATSIC distributed most of the remaining $6.7 billion in grants to community-based organisations, or spent it on community housing and the voluntary work-for-the-dole scheme, C om m u nity D evelop m en t E m p loym en t P rojects (CDEP).

CDEP, ATSIC’s largest program, cost over $2.2 billion in that time.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are already entitled to about two-thirds of this amount as unemployment benefits.

A recent independent review found CDEP is superior, in a number of respects, to the compulsory work-for-the-dole scheme recently introduced by the Federal Government and which enjoys widespread community support. (See separate CDEP Fact Sheet.)




Under its C om m u n ity H ou sin g and In frastru ctu re Program (CHIP) ATSIC provides funding to communities to su p p lem en t moneys provided by the State, Territory and local governments that have responsibility for providing these services. In practice, ATSIC funding often substitutes for funding that

should be provided by other levels of government.

CHIP is ATSlC’s second largest program and is needs-based. (See separate CHIP Fact Sheet.)

Since the program started in 1993-94 ATSIC has spent more than $1.049 billion towards the costs of providing essential services such as water supplies, sewerage, power, roads, airstrips as well as building, buying and renovating houses in Indigenous communities.

It is estimated the additional 5000 houses and buildings constructed under our program has reduced the level of homelessness and overcrowding for approximately 20,000 Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders.

The remainder of ATSlC’s budget has been spent on programs such as health and substance abuse, law and justice, community and youth support, land acquisition, broadcasting, art and culture, native title and land rights, sport, heritage protection, the provision of housing and business

loans and ‘everything else”.

Many of these programs are alternatives for services provided to other Australians by mainstream agencies. They don’t involve Aboriginal people getting “special benefits”.

ATSlC’s total running costs have averaged about 14 per cent of its average annual global allocation of $866 million - comparable with other government agencies.

ATSIC does not receive the $1.6-1.8 billion a year constantly claimed by some ill-informed politicians and elements of the media.

4 .


The Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) scheme was introduced by the Coalition Government in 1977.

Few Australians are aware that, under this scheme, 32,000 Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders voluntarily forgo their entitlement to unemployment benefits to work for the benefit of their communities.

It is a scheme that: • was initiated by Indigenous communities in the NT; • is administered locally by Indigenous community organisations and regionally by elected Indigenous representatives; and

• addresses Indigenous problems such as unemployment and the lack of essential services taken for granted by other Australians.

CDEP is a highly successful program run by and for Indigenous communities.

ATSIC administers it effectively and efficiently: • decision-making is decentralised to 35 Regional Councils; • service delivery is highly decentralised to over 270 community organisations;

• audits by the ANAO in 1995-96 and 1996-97 and a review by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs in 1996 point to the success of the scheme under ATSIC’s administration. None have recommended that administration of the

scheme should be moved from ATSIC; • CDEP has unqualified audits for the past four financial years; • the Special Audit ordered by the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs in 1996 classified 94 per cent of CDEP organisations as

‘fit and proper' to expend public moneys.

. . . / 2

5 .


Through CDEP, ATSIC has integrated funding and service delivery. CDEP delivers employment, community development, housing and infrastructure development, training, business development and essential services.

The links between CDEP and AT SIC’s Housing and Infrastructure Program (see separate Fact Sheet) created 3S0 apprenticeships and traineeships for young Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders in 1997-98,

These opportunities could not have been developed successfully if ATSIC did not administer both programs.

An independent review of CDEP was ordered by the Howard Government's Expenditure Review Committee. It was conducted by Mr Ian Spicer, a past Chief Executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Confederation of Australian Industry.

Mr Spicer, in his December 1997 report, found CDEP “has been critical to developing an improved sense of pride in community and culture and has provided the basis for acquiring greater skills, employment and enterprise development resulting in ongoing social and economic growth”.

The Review found: • the scheme’s importance to governments and the 32,000 participants (two-thirds in rural and remote Australia) cannot be overstated; • without CDEP, some remote communities simply would not exist;

« CDEP allows Indigenous communities to decide what is best for Indigenous communities; • CDEP is a unique partnership with Government; • outcomes from the CDEP scheme are overwhelmingly positive; and

• non-workers in CDEP should be returned to the social security system.

The Review found that CDEP has superior outcomes compared to the Government’s compulsory Work for the Dole Scheme - it provides training, stimulates business development and develops Indigenous communities.

As a result, the Review “believes it is important that ATSIC and the Government promote CDEP as a separate and unique program”.

The unemployment rate among indigenous people would exceed 40 per cent - more than five times the national average - if CDEP participants were included in official unemployment statistics,

ATSIC is lobbying the Government to increase the number of places available under CDEP, and to promote a number of other economic initiatives, in order to stimulate jobs growth, particularly for the rapidly expanding young Indigenous population.



This is ATSIC’s second largest program. It was formed in 1993-94 from an amalgamation of previous Commonwealth programs.

ATSIC provides approximately $220 million a year under the CHIP program for capital and recurrent funding for housing and essential services. These essential services include the water supplies, power and sewerage systems that most Australians take for granted.

ATSIC funds supplement those of State and Territory Governments that have primary responsibility for such services. But, in many rural and remote localities, these governments simply fall to deliver and ATSIC is the sole funder.

A national commitment from the Commonwealth, through ATSIC, is vital. The deficit in housing and infrastructure in Indigenous communities has been estimated at about $4 billion.

ATSIC’s program has shown that Indigenous self-management is compatible with best practice.

Since 1993-94 the Commission has achieved a number of major reforms, including: • the first ever national Housing and Community Infrastructure Needs Survey (HINS) in 1992. A further survey is planned in 1999;

• the distribution of national resources for housing and infrastructure on the basis of assessed need, to focus on communities with the highest priority; • the prioritisation of national projects on the basis of expected health

benefits - Health Impact Assessments. This is based on World Health Organisation principles for housing; • the contracting of private sector engineering companies (through open tendering and often in competition with State agencies) to

ensure best program and project management practice is adopted.


1 .


ATSIC has worked pro-actively with State/Territory and local governments, to improve housing and infrastructure delivery.

This has led to significant improvements in coordination of State/Territory and local government services around large-scale projects funded by ATSIC. Where possible, ATSIC has collaborated with State agencies to lower the cost of delivering services, by integrating

delivery at the local level.

In most rural and remote areas, ATSIC is the only agency capable of delivering integrated housing and infrastructure to communities.

ATSIC has negotiated bilateral housing agreements with Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales and the Northern Territory, is finalising negotiations with Victoria, and has been given a commitment on the development of an agreement by the new

Queensland State Government.

These agreements provide for strong ATSIC representation on decision­ making forums in the State. This hard-won feature of the new arrangements has only been possible because of the leverage afforded by ATSlC’s funding base.

ATSIC housing and infrastructure programs are more clearly targeted to housing need than those provided by State Governments. Aboriginal housing funds provided by State Governments under the Commonwealth State Housing Agreement (CSHA) are distributed per

capita, irrespective of the level of housing need in each State/Territory. ATSIC, however, uses needs-based assessments to distribute funds.

Improvements in Aboriginal housing would be achieved more quickly if Commonwealth ARHP funding currently channelled to States through the Department of Social Security ($91m) were transferred to ATSIC. This would create a single point of Commonwealth funding for

Indigenous housing and infrastructure.

ATSlC’s unique ability to integrate management of both housing and infrastructure and Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) provides the basis for sustainable, healthy communities controlled and managed by their own organisations.

ATSlC’s elected arm has helped to drive reforms in this area by: • providing a strong “client perspective” to ensure that program delivery is responsive to local community needs; • leading negotiations with State governments - in many cases ATSIC

has taken the lead; and • providing local leadership to achieve reforms to the Indigenous community housing sector.


The ATSIC Board of Commissioners is committed to good corporate governance.

ATSIC has an accountability framework as stringent as any other budget- funded agency.

It maintains a high degree of accountability through the following mechanisms: • the Office of Evaluation and Audit (OEA) which provides ATSIC and the Minister with independent evaluation and audit services. The Minister

appoints the Director of OEA, who reports directly to him; • regular review of grant processes; • review of major programs such as CDEP, housing and legal services to ensure better service provision to Indigenous people; and

• an internal Fraud Awareness Unit, which carries out preliminary investigations into any allegations of fraud and liaises with the Australian Federal Police.

Like other Commonwealth bodies, ATSIC is subject to close scrutiny by the Commonwealth Ombudsman. Complaints formally referred to ATSIC from the Ombudsman have fallen from a peak of 34 in 1994 to 5 in 1997.

ATSIC is subject to the provisions of the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies (CAC) Act. Broadly the CAC Act provides a set of core reporting and auditing requirements for directors of ‘Commonwealth Authorities’ and sets out standards of conduct for officers.

Pursuant to the CAC Act, ATSIC maintains an Audit Committee that oversees corporate governance within the Commission and its compliance with obligations under this Act.

Three Board members comprise the Audit Committee, along with officers from the Australian National Audit Office and the Office of Evaluation and


The Howard Government appointed a Special Auditor to examine grant funding to Indigenous organisations in 1994-95 and 1995-96 by both ATSIC and the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA).

ATSIC completed this special audit of its own volition after the Federal Court «* found the Government’s direction to be illegal.

Out of 1122 organisations audited, before the Federal Court order, the vast majority - 1062 (95 per cent) - were cleared to receive funding.

The audit found less than 300 needed further work. This figure is constantly quoted in the media. What is n o t reported is that the court ordered the special audit to stop before any of these organisations had a chance to respond to its findings.

As a result of the further work done by ATSIC: • 189 were found to be in full compliance with the terms and conditions of grant; • 18 had a Grant Controller or Administrator appointed;

• 20 had undertaken strategies or initiatives to achieve full compliance with the terms and conditions of grant; and • 62 were not funded by ATSIC in 1996-97.

An independent review (October 1997) of the Commission’s response to the Special Auditor’s report by the Office of Evaluation and Audit concluded that "ATSIC had responded promptly and positively to the recommendations of the Special Auditor”.

Clearly, the mechanisms in place to deal with non complying organisations are working.

The Executive Summary of the Report of the Special Auditor said: "It must be appreciated that the Special Auditor review process was directed towards accountability within ATSIC/TSRA funded organisations. While ATSIC/TSRA can be seen as having a facilitative and developmental role in accountability,

the Special Auditor process was not a review of the operations or performance of ATSIC/TSRA.”

The Audit found the “overriding reason” organisations breached terms and conditions of their grants was lateness in the submission of financial and management information.