Daily Bulletin

The Conversation

  • Written by Elizabeth Strakosch, Lecturer in Public Policy and Governance, The University of Queensland
A new inquiry into Indigenous policy must address the root causes of failure

The evidence is increasingly clear – Indigenous policies at the federal level are getting worse. They are becoming less successful and more dysfunctional.

Since the abolition of the Aboriginal self-management agency in 2005, the responsibility for developing policy and managing services for Indigenous peoples has moved to mainstream government agencies.

And this has proven to be a mistake – Indigenous policymaking is now in “a perpetual state of crisis”, according to Ian Anderson, respected Indigenous academic and government official.

Read more: To really close the gap we need more Indigenous university graduates

The main problem with recent government policies, such as the Northern Territory intervention, welfare quarantining and the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, is they all draw on the same problematic way of thinking – that Indigenous communities are dysfunctional and need to be “normalised”.

Concerns that Indigenous programs are failing to help communities have now led to a new Productivity Commission inquiry. But any new strategy will fail unless it addresses the power imbalances and racism that characterises the current approach to Indigenous policymaking as a whole.

How Indigenous policymaking has changed

Indigenous community-controlled organisations, such as our research partner Inala Wangarra and Aboriginal health organisations, emerged in the 1970s and 1980s in response to the failures of mainstream services to improve outcomes for Indigenous communities. They were a core part of the self-determination approach – official policy from the Gough Whitlam to John Howard governments.

But in the decades since, these organisations have been de-funded, heavily scrutinised and marginalised from policy decision-making.

In 2014, the Indigenous Advancement Strategy was created to “simplify” complex funding models and centralise decision-making with the prime minister and cabinet.

This strategy, however, has been problematic from its inception. For instance, funding is allocated through “competitive” grants without clear criteria or evidence, and as a result, there has been a rapid drop in the amount of money going to Indigenous-led organisations.

The heavy administrative burden of competitive tenders favours large corporate charities that provide regional service delivery models typically disconnected from local communities. Indigenous community-controlled organisations are also subjected to specific incorporation requirements and increased scrutiny based on racialised assumptions of their need for “additional support”.

Read more: Closing the Gap is failing and needs a radical overhaul

Those that have survived in the current hostile environment are not only being ignored by government, they are assumed to be rife with dysfunction.

Yet, these Indigenous organisations are the most functional part of the policy system. They are accountable to communities, provide services well beyond their funding and hold a wealth of knowledge about how to improve policy.

Ironically, when non-Indigenous organisations fail to bring about the positive social change they are funded to achieve, it’s almost always blamed on Indigenous peoples and communities. It is never seen as a failure of the government’s fundamental approach to Indigenous policy.

Indeed, racist assumptions about Indigenous people as incapable, unruly and in need of management by white institutions continue to inform most government policies.

But government institutions are the ones that have been shown to be dysfunctional in the past. Recent reports from the Senate and Australian National Audit Office, for example, were incredibly critical of the way IAS handled A$4.8 billion in government funding.

The ANAO report also condemned the government’s failure to properly evaluate itself or its programs.

This level of dysfunction is tolerated in Indigenous policy, but as Anderson says,

it is inconceivable any Australian government would be so politically inept as to inflict this approach to program reform on mainstream services in, for example, education, community services or health.

A chance for greater accountability?

The current Productivity Commission evaluation is an opportunity for change. Evaluation is a central part of the policy cycle. When done well, it allows policymakers to reflect on their initiatives and draw on knowledge from those on the ground implementing their programs.

This knowledge can then be fed back to decision-makers to inform both the way social problems are understood and how they can be solved.

Read more: Governments must stop negatively framing policies aimed at Indigenous Australians

The evaluation strategy can therefore be a pathway for the expertise of Indigenous community organisations, and the voices of Indigenous peoples, to bring real, positive change to the current system of chaotic and hierarchical decision-making.

However, unless the evaluation process examines the government’s shortcomings, as well as the ingrained, racially driven assumptions about the inability of Indigenous peoples to manage their own affairs, it will fail to bring any necessary improvements to Indigenous policymaking.

Our submission to this inquiry, based on academic research and our experience with Indigenous organisations, advises the Productivity Commission to take the following steps:

  • Support, rather than undermine, Indigenous community-controlled policy and service organisations, and challenge the racialised assumptions that Indigenous organisations are deficient.

  • Change the current evaluation approach the government uses to assess the effectiveness of Indigenous policies and programs. Indigenous community organisations should be the primary evaluators of these programs – not government agencies – given their knowledge, legitimacy and decision-making capacity.

  • Provide a mechanism that allows the Indigenous-led sector to draw on its connection to Indigenous communities to evaluate policies in a comprehensive way and provide advice to government on best strategies and solutions.

If the Productivity Commission is serious about its commitment to valuing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge, priorities and values, it should begin by bringing together Indigenous organisations and policymakers to develop a strategy based on their own needs.

Governments are here to serve citizens. Indigenous communities should be evaluating bureaucracies, rather than the other way around.

Authors: Elizabeth Strakosch, Lecturer in Public Policy and Governance, The University of Queensland

Read more http://theconversation.com/a-new-inquiry-into-indigenous-policy-must-address-the-root-causes-of-failure-122389

Writers Wanted

New modelling finds investing in childcare and aged care almost pays for itself


Review: Robert Dessaix on growing older well — a genial journey through a rich inner world


The Conversation


Prime Minister Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

KIERAN GILBERT: Kieran Gilbert here with you and the Prime Minister joins me. Prime Minister, thanks so much for your time.  PRIME MINISTER: G'day Kieran.  GILBERT: An assumption a vaccine is ...

Daily Bulletin - avatar Daily Bulletin

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Scott Morrison: the right man at the right time

Australia is not at war with another nation or ideology in August 2020 but the nation is in conflict. There are serious threats from China and there are many challenges flowing from the pandemic tha...

Greg Rogers - avatar Greg Rogers

Business News

Top 3 Accident Law Firms of Riverside County, CA

Do you live in Riverside County and faced an accident and now looking for a trusted Law firm to present your case? If yes, then you have come to the right place. The purpose of the article is to...

News Co - avatar News Co

3 Ways to Keep Your Business Safe with Roller Shutters

If you operate your business in a neighbourhood or city that is not known for being a safe environment, it is not surprising if you often worry about the safety of your business establishments o...

News Co - avatar News Co

Expert Tips on How to Create a Digital Product to Sell on Your Blog

As the managing director of a growing talent agency, I use the company blog to not only promote my business but as a way to establish ourselves as an authority in our industry. You see, blogs a...

Adam Jacobs - avatar Adam Jacobs

News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion