Implementing indigenous policy can work, says Fred Chaney

The solutions are known, but defensive box-ticking and ignoring past mistakes won’t fix the problems in implementation of indigenous policy, says the former Aboriginal affairs minister.

Australia has already learned how to fix many of the problems that bedevil bureaucratic intervention in indigenous welfare, according to former minister for Aboriginal affairs Fred Chaney. The trouble is that we “seldom, if ever” act in accordance with that knowledge.

Chaney, a former deputy chairman of the Australian Native Title Tribunal, told The Mandarin that normal bureaucratic processes are unlikely to be effective at dealing with “wicked” problems like indigenous disadvantage “because the problems are multi-factoral, and usually the program only authorises acting within a very defined space.”

This, he says, “has been acknowledged and lots of attempts have been made to deal with that”, though they have been largely unsuccessful. He believes the Abbott government’s decision to bring Aboriginal programs into the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is well-intentioned and a move in the right direction, provided it can be pulled off.

“In the same way the notion that administration should be regionalised is a move in the right direction, so the Commonwealth has set itself an extremely ambitious target of major structural reorganisation of programs and major structural reorganisation of the bureaucracy, on what is a reasonably tight timeframe,” he said.

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