27 March 2015 | General Interest
Uncertainty, frustration and disappointment are the recurring early responses to the Australian Government’s grant funding decisions under its Indigenous Advancement Strategy.
A SNAICC survey of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services has found that many services are still unclear of the details, but understand that their application has been at least partially successful for at least one year.
There are significant concerns across the sector about the capacity to operate effective services on existing short term funding.
It also appears that many services had had their existing funding continued, but were unsuccessful in applying for further funding.
SNAICC so far has spoken to 12 Aboriginal Child and Family Centres that applied for IAS funding: eight were unsuccessful, and the other four partially successful — with some 18 months’ funding for specific programs — but not for the operation of the services.
A few other Aboriginal early years services reached were also unsuccessful in their applications.
Services are also confused about the allocation of $860m in funding — and not the $4.8 billion advertised in the funding invitation in October 2014.
SNAICC is extremely concerned and disappointed with the Government’s decision to defund National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS).
The baffling decision to silence the peak body comes against the backdrop of record incarceration rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and an alarmingly high number of Indigenous young people in juvenile detention.
“We really need our staff to be able to write submissions, gather the evidence, coordinate responses, to make sure that we’re dealing with the same thing in the same way, and we’re providing, where possible, a consistent advice to the Government,” Mr Duffy told NITV News.
“And that’s the challenge. Who is going to provide the expert advice around law and justice to the Federal Government?
“There’ll be a whole vacuum, and I believe the Prime Minister and, particularly, Minister Scullion have missed an ideal opportunity to make sure that our expertise from law and justice is included in their ongoing agenda.”
The North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA), based in Darwin, is one of the frontline organisations that will be affected by millions of dollars in funding cuts to legal aid and community legal centres around Australia.
“We can’t be taking on civil and criminal matters and then six weeks before the end of the financial year saying to clients, ‘Well, sorry, we can’t continue, we don’t have enough staff to continue your matters’,” Ms Collins told ABC News.
CEO of the Northern Territory Council of Social Service (NTCOSS), Wendy Morton, said there was widespread confusion over who the winners and losers in the IAS grants are.
Ms Morton said some organisations had received a portion of the money they asked for while others had lost out altogether.
“What I’m hearing anecdotally is that programs primarily working with young people have been hit,” she said.
“We’ve heard stories like this from Tennant Creek, Alice Springs and Darwin.”
Ms Morton said the social services sector in the Northern Territory was more uncertain than it had been in a decade.
“Certainly it’s pretty frustrating and heartbreaking, particularly when you’re working with people on the frontline,” she said.
“Working with people who are at risk and you know that if those services aren’t delivered we’ll have more children in our detention centres.
“We’ll have more people in our hospitals. We’ll have less children going to school, less people in employment.”
In more positive news, 14 Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (FVPLS) have maintained their current funding levels under the IAS — news that came as “a major relief” to Antoinette Braybrook, National Convenor of the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (NFVPLS).
“Family violence is an epidemic, a national crisis, and I am pleased to see that the (federal) Coalition and Opposition have both stepped up their commitments to action,” Ms Braybrook said.
“It is essential that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victims/survivors — women in particular — are fully recognised in this space and offered a key role in program and policy development. This kind of thinking is long overdue.”
However, Ms Braybrook said NFVPLS was concerned there had been no increase in funding to Family Violence Prevention Legal Services and many were only guaranteed an additional year.
“This maintains many of the stresses of funding uncertainty and brings into question the long-term commitment to the program,” she said.
The Australian Government also announced, separate to the IAS, three-year funding agreements for 112 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations, at a cost of $1.4 billion.
National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) Chairperson Matthew Cooke said the new agreements meant that crucial primary health care services would be sustained and that Aboriginal health services could now provide job security to their doctors, nurses and health workers who have the important role of improving the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal Australians.
“This announcement is great news for Aboriginal health,” Mr Cooke said.
“Our services are delivering the biggest gains against the closing the gap targets.
“Longer-term funding agreements are something we have consistently called for and it is pleasing that Ministers Ley and Nash have recognised the great work being done by our sector in this way.
“Improving the health of Aboriginal people is no quick fix. It is complex and requires a generational commitment.”
While welcoming a new funding agreement worth $100m over three years, the CEOs of Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations in far north Queensland —Apunipima, Gurriny Yealamucka, Mamu, Mookai Rosie, Mulungu and Wuchopperen — warned against misconceptions that the funding was an additional federal investment in health.
The Central Australian Aboriginal Congress in Alice Springs welcomed the health funding but was “very disappointed” it had not been funded for early childhood programs under IAS and would seek an explanation from Government.
“The Congress submission for an Abecedarian Educational Day Care Centre for disadvantaged children was not successful and the award winning Pre-school Readiness Program appears to have been defunded,” Congress CEO Donna Ah Chee said.