Government has lost its way in Indigenous Affairs

The Indigenous affairs portfolio covers many areas, but it is obvious that this is an area that is in complete turmoil. With major problems arising in Child and Youth protection services, Education, employment, the list goes on. And I am beginning to see why the government have lost their way.

Madam Speaker, in this chamber, on the seventh of August last year, Chris Bourke presented the 2015 ACT closing the gap report, only the third for the ACT in its then 8-year history. The report was intended to bring together information on programs, initiatives as well as key performance data on the ACT's progress in improving life outcomes for Canberra’s indigenous communities. With that report – already 12 months behind on key information, he announced that it would be the last one.

No longer would the government report using the national targets set by the COAG agreement. Instead they would use the seven key focus areas of the new ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Agreement. But this Agreement does not include any outcomes or targets, it is just very nice words – or as members of the indigenous community tell us “just a bunch of meaningless words – and we are tired of words.”

It emerged, during the Estimates hearings, that future reports would use an outcomes framework, to be developed alongside of the new Agreement. But this framework does not exist. What we heard, during the estimates hearings, from the Office of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, was that the outcomes framework, which would set the targets, was ‘under way’.

This is two years after the launch of the Agreement, a year after it was announced that this would drive future action. So, for the last two to three years, the Directorates have had no real targets to aim for – to improve the outcomes of indigenous Canberrans.

This clearly explains why there is such a dismal failure of this government in the important area of Indigenous affairs. It is easy to miss targets, if none have been set up. To me though, it begs the question, why remove the COAG targets, if you have nothing to replace it with? If this is of the “highest priority”, as was mentioned by the Director in the estimates hearings, why has it still not been developed?

In reviewing the budget papers for this year, I cannot discover that extra funding was set aside for the development of the Outcomes Framework, or that is a strategic objective listed for 2017-18, or that it has an accountability Indicator.

I note there is an accountability indicator for the development of the next Agreement, yet it would seem the current Agreement was not completed – the outcomes framework is missing, leaving the directorates with little strategic direction for making a difference, for moving forward.

Yet, Indigenous Affairs is an area that needs a greater level of clarity. The Canberra community, indigenous and non-indigenous, deserve to know what efforts are being made to improve the outcomes of indigenous members of the community. They deserve to know what programs are in place, and what actual money is being spent. And how well that money that is meeting its target.

We agree with the Estimates Committee – that to continue to move forward, the government needs to examine how other jurisdictions manage funding and reporting, to ensure Cross-Portfolio outcomes. This would ensure that all matters pertaining to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are responded to appropriately and with transparency.

We agree with the committee recommendation, that for all future budgets and annual reports, that the ACT Government should provide a separate annexe, which details indigenous spending, progress made against targets, and outcomes reached. And to do this for relevant output classes and accountability indicators.

I want to turn now to another of the budget for this Directorate. I spoke recently in the Assembly about this important area. Of particular concern is the large and growing numbers of indigenous children receiving the support of Child and Youth protection services?  This has jumped from 520 to 730 in the last 12 months.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare annual report on child protection for 2015-16, shows that the rate-ratio for Indigenous children receiving child protection services in the ACT was nearly 12 times that of non-indigenous. This is the highest in Australia.  I asked then, and continue to question, are we here in the ACT heading towards a second stolen generation?

What concerns me even more, is that this government has not yet understood that to make a difference, the indigenous community needs to be involved. I draw the Minister’s attention to a recent report released by the ABS based on the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey, which states that to make a difference in the educational, employment and training outcomes, and to lower engagement with high risk and antisocial behaviours, indigenous children need to be connected to their community, culture and local language.

The NATSIS survey showed that an important part of building connections to community, culture and family for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children was spending time with community leaders and Elders.

Particularly in the early years, investment in culture was critically important, which provided social and emotional benefits not only for the children, but also for their families and communities. There was evidence that this investment strengthened communities, bridged cultural divides, fostered resilience, and contributed to reconciliation – all the things that lead to closing the gap and improving outcomes for indigenous communities.

This government has promised to spend half a million dollars on the Growing Healthy Kids’ program – in the brochure this appears to be for the indigenous community, but is an initiative which does not involve the indigenous community, and is actually for the whole Canberran community.

And although during Estimates hearings, the Director reported that Gugan Gulwan was involved in Growing Healthy Kids’ strategy in Gungahlin, we have been advised by Gugan that this is not the case. And as a side note – there is yet again no additional funding in this year’s budget to meet the growing needs of this organisation and to support them in the wonderful work they do in the indigenous community!

We do applaud the recent announcements of the pilot for a Family Group Conferencing intervention program. We would like to know what money is being spend on this. Where in the budget is this initiative covered?

We wish to know what outcomes are being sought for the family group conferencing initiative, how this will reduce the number of children in care. What was the list of other tenders received for the pilot? What were the criteria used which contributed to the decision that the organisation chosen was the best placed organisation to deliver the pilot program?

We also applaud the establishment of an enquiry into the high numbers of indigenous children in care. But again, we want to know what specific money is being spent on the enquiry, when it will start, and who will head the enquiry. We call on the government to release the terms of the enquiry forthwith, prioritising this as a matter of some urgency.

We call on the Minister to table in the Assembly the cost involved for both projects.

We agree with the committee comment that it is important for the Assembly and the community to be fully aware of outcomes and trends moving forward in this important area, and we would add, especially for Indigenous children receiving child protection services and indigenous children in out-of-home care.

We therefore agree with the Committee recommendations that the ACT government report quarterly to the ACT legislative assembly on the progress made in reducing the need for out-of-home care places, and we would add, with particular attention to the reporting of indigenous numbers.

Furthermore, that the ACT government report on how the 2017-18 funding for the child protection system will be expended, as well as required reporting and accountability targets, with particular reference to the plight of indigenous children.