Billions of government waste not closing the gap
Nobody likes to look incompetent or inept. So it’s no wonder the Federal Government fought to keep secret a report that revealed the $3.5 billion it spends each year on indigenous programs has generated “dismally poor returns”.
Close to two years after a 470-page Finance Department report slammed the Government’s management of indigenous programs and expenditure there’s been no radical movement, no overhaul of the Departments responsible, and none of the 115 recommendations adopted.
The report may never have even been made public save for a long-running freedom of information case brought by Channel 7.
Crucially, the report does not suggest that indigenous expenditure should be cut, or that the focus of Government spending, primarily the Closing the Gap targets, is not a good investment. What it does say is to date that investment has been poorly managed and failed to produce results.
Reading it, you can see what the Canberra big wigs were worried about. It says amongst other things “policy outcomes are disappointing at best and appalling at worst.”
Apparently, the Government thought it was not in the national interest for us to know how ineffective it is in delivering indigenous programs.
For indigenous Australia the report revealed what we already knew.
“The current set of indigenous-specific programs across the Commonwealth is unduly complex and confusing.” At least now we know some white people think the same.
To be fair to Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin, the rot set in well before she turned up. The report says it’s been going on for 10 years and she has only been around for five of them. So technically she has only blown $17.5 billion.
However, what really takes my breath away is that nobody seems to be held accountable. What happened to the good old days when heads would roll, or an unsuspecting public servant told to walk the plank to another department?
If the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) was an indigenous community organisation, they’d sack the bosses and appoint an administrator to dam the river of cash flowing down the gurgler.
To blow $3.5 billion per annum you’ve got to be really trying. Every week you have to dream up ways to squander $70 million - week in week out. You’d need an army of bureaucrats delivering programs that they know don’t work. You’d need highly skilled spindoctors to create the illusion that the Government is closing the gap.
And most important of all, you’d need an apathetic Australian public who has such low expectations of indigenous affairs to simply shrug and say: “we’re not surprised, carry on”.
However, with $35 billion now scattered like sand in a central desert dust storm the wasteful horse appears to have bolted. I’m more interested in what the Minister and her legions of bureaucrats are planning to do about it.
You see the report says “the key challenge from this point lays not so much in further policy development as in effective implementation and delivery”. More bluntly, the Government needs to start turning its words into actions.
Helpful, the report has pointed out how to do this. Firstly, consolidating 51 separate programs into 18 programs could save $1.5 million in a full year. Next, not renewing 25 identified programs which are failing to produce results could save up to $9 million on the out-years. Finally, transferring responsibility for 15 programs to the States and Territories will free up Commonwealth funds.
However, given the Australian Government didn’t want to release the report they are hardly going to set the trail ablaze implementing its recommendations.
And that’s the bit that really stinks because things won’t get better. Twenty-five deadbeat programs that don’t work will continue and it will remain a battle of words and not action.
It was silly to try and keep the report secret. However, it would be even sillier to ignore its findings and not seek to improve.
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