A new report from the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR) says Australia is failing to produce effective Indigenous policy.
It comes on the same day as an audit report which revealed the Indigenous Advancement Strategy’s evaluation framework is only in its “early stages” despite the strategy being introduced five years ago.
“In relation to Indigenous affairs policy, the nation has currently reached a dead end,” Neil Westbury and Michael Dillon, authors of the CAEPR paper, said.
They argue that “continuing systemic social, economic and political exclusion” of Indigenous Australians creates a discontinuity between policy objectives and policy outcomes. Such exclusion from “mainstream institutional frameworks” and the pursuit of prejudiced policies harm national unity and the ability to effectively address issues.
“Over the last 30 years, no Australian Government has developed, resourced and effectively implemented a comprehensive overarching long-term policy reform strategy in Indigenous affairs,” argue Westbury and Dillon, who combine a wealth of experience of Indigenous Australia, both inside and outside the public sector.
“Current policy settings are not fit for purpose, and governments appear bereft of ideas or proposals capable of addressing the deep-seated challenges that exist.”
The CAEPR paper suggests the only way to overcome such deep-seated policy failure is through:
- Structural or systemic reform.
- Ongoing engagement with key actors to minimise the risk of loss of influence and to maximise the scope of influence.
- Comprehensive strategy by Indigenous interests aimed at identifying key institutional barriers and institutional locations of Indigenous exclusion.
- Implementing sustained long-term policy and political campaigns to have such institutions adjusted, reformed or abolished.
- Developing and sustaining alliances with key mainstream interests to increase the likelihood of success in whichever political strategies they choose.
- Governments arguing that the ongoing failures and inability to recognise the legitimacy of Indigenous voices will continue to damage the national interest.
The scathing assessment of Indigenous policy was released on Tuesday, the same day as a new report from the auditor-general, which seems to confirm their argument.
The audit looked at how effectively the IAS evaluation framework ensures high quality, ethical and inclusive evaluation, to improve outcomes for Indigenous Australians.
The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s implementation and management of the framework is only partially effective and faced “substantial delays”, ANAO found.
“As the department is still developing procedures to support the application of the IAS evaluation framework, it is too early to assess whether evaluations are being conducted in accordance with the framework,” ANAO said.
The audit made several recommendations, suggesting PM&C use reliable methodology and develop a comprehensive set of procedures to implement the IAS evaluation framework.
It also suggested the department develop structured criteria for assessing significance, contribution and risk and conduct a strategic analysis of gaps in evaluation coverage.
Shadow Ministers Linda Burney and Warren Snowdon criticised the strategy following the audit’s release.
“Indigenous Australians deserve better,” they said.
“The Government is establishing a new agency within the existing department to manage Indigenous programs – but it will take much more than a name change to fix the deep-seated problems with the IAS.”
The Greens and the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation also voiced their concerns over the findings.