Independent assessment of government funding still in future


PART TWO of a series.
As the nation is reeling from the failure of governments, and of the Aboriginal people, to Close The Gap in six out of seven target areas, the question “where have all the dollars gone” is screaming for an answer.
There isn’t one that’s in any way convincing. However, distributors of mountains of cash from the public purse now agree there must be more accountability – by departments and recipients alike.  What is all the spending achieving?
In the first part of this series we reported that the Territory government spends, per head of its population, 3.3 times as much when compared to the national average.
But there is more: NGOs are also getting hundreds of millions of dollars, mostly from Canberra.
It is fair to add those amounts to calculate how much in total the taxpayer coughs up to have the Territory ticking over.
In Central Australia, the two behemoth NGOs are the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress (CAAC) and Tangentyere, both of which provide services to Aboriginal people.
In 2015/16 CAAC had a budget of $41.2m and 312 employees. Tangentyere had a budget of $21.8m and about 200 employees, according to ORIC.
By comparison, the Alice Springs Town Council has a budget of $36.7m.
We asked CAAC and Tangentyere what external performance reviews (independent from their service and their funders) are being conducted.
CAAC politely declined to answer our questions, and Tangentyere didn’t even bother to reply.
We have of course looked at their annual reports, but unsurprisingly, they offer no independent assessment of their respective performances. Tangentyere’s most recent annual report on the web is 2012/13.
So here we have $63m a year for state government-style functions in additional to what the NT Government spends.
By their own definition CAAC and Tangentyere are Aboriginal organisations in the service of Aboriginal people.
The estimated share of Indigenous people in the population of Alice Springs is 18.6%, that amounts to 5291 people.
CAAC is also active in Amoonguna, Mutitjulu, Santa Teresa, Areyonga, Ntaria (Hermannsburg) and Wallace Rockhole, a combined population 2080.
That means taking into account CAAC and Tangentyere alone, we have $63m a year being spent for the benefit of 7371 people, which is $8547 per person – men, women and children.
This may have a place in the back of our minds when we hear, in connection with closing gaps, the multitude of complaints over cost cutting.
As we reported in the Part One of this series, per capita Territorians, Aborigines included, get $21,959 worth of services from the NT Government. (This is not to imply equal distribution.)
Aborigines in Central Australia, courtesy CAAC and Tangentyere, are allocated more than an additional $8500. What does that additional amount achieve?
p2409 CAAC 2We wanted to know the same from the principal Federal funding bodies, asking: What external performance reviews, carried out by people independent from you and the NGOs you are funding, are being conducted?
In a nutshell, none, the departments told us, but they’re working on it.
The Department of Social Services replied: “[We work] closely with the NT Government to ensure Commonwealth and Territory funded services complement each other.
“The Department regularly engages with funded providers to ensure compliance with the terms of funding arrangements.
“This is undertaken in accordance with standard business practice and is not considered a formal performance review.”
The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) says it “closely monitors and reviews the performance of all organisations funded.
“This oversight will be strengthened by the Government’s decision to allocate $10m a year over four years to strengthen the evaluation of Indigenous Affairs programmes.
“PM&C has not funded any external reviews of the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress and Tangentyere Council.
“Questions about external reviews should be directed to the two organisations.”
The Department of Education and Training is a minor funder of both Tangentyere and CAAC. Tangentyere is funded to support the operation of an outside school hours and vacation care service, in 2016/17 amounting to $203,031. CAAC gets $630,443 for a multifunctional Aboriginal children’s service.
Major changes are afoot in the Commonwealth’s funding of these services.
The Department of Health says funded services “contribute information on 24 national Key Performance Indicators (KPI) which … support quality improvement for primary health care organisations.”
The department says data are available on a website. Visit it and you’re told: “To preserve confidentiality, information about specific individual primary health care is not available in these reports.”
Says a spokesperson for the NT Department of Health, which manages the NT Aboriginal Health KPI Information System on behalf of the Commonwealth:
“There is no benchmarking of KPIs. The sole purpose of the KPIs is continuous quality improvement.
“As there is no benchmarking there is no ranking system.
“As for reports, the first public release report has been completed and contains data from 2014. However it is going through an approval process for release at present and will not be uploaded to the website until this process is completed.”
Amazingly, not only are KPIs of publicly funded bodies not made public, they clearly are not taken into account when funds are allocated.
The future, the Commonwealth Health department makes it clear, is bright: “The department is currently developing the terms of reference for a wide ranging evaluation of the Indigenous Australians’ health program.
“This will involve a series of evaluation projects that take a macro, whole-of-investment and system focus to examine cross cutting themes and issues such as primary health care system effectiveness.
“The approach is intended as a highly fit for purpose, flexible and cumulative way of evidence building that will enable improved measurement of outcomes so we can direct future health investments to where they will be most effective for Indigenous people.”
IMAGES from the CAAC 2014/15 financial report.


  1. Thanks for your continued unravelling of this situation, Erwin.
    In what ways do the the two major local Aboriginal organisations mentioned work together with each other to provide services?
    Given that safe, adequate housing is a major determinant for health and education parameters, what programs to the two organisations co-operatively deliver so that the input of each supports the input from the other? How is the funding shared across both agencies?
    What are the salary levels of the respective CEOs and senior management of the organisations mentioned?
    I’m left to ponder as to why neither organisation is prepared to answer your questions about external performance reviews that would provide some answers on the levels of success they are achieving?
    Why is the Federal government throwing another $10 million over four years (how did they arrive at that figure BTW?) for yet another review?
    Surely, one could expect, that program evaluations would be conducted as part of any program delivery as part of that process so relevant data could be captured in real time.
    Why is it that every time there are questions raised about why services are not achieving targets around KPIs (when we get to know what those are), we get a response like “we’re working on it” or “let’s have a review and report” or “let’s have a Royal Commission” where whatever recommendations that are suggested seldom get actioned?
    I believe that there are many good people working in NGO, government and private sector agencies who aim to deliver better outcomes.
    They are, however, stuck in bureaucratic systems that are not really designed to deliver better outcomes at all.
    They merely reinforce the dysfunction of the system to retain their highly paid employment. It’s the models that are broken, not the good will of the people trying to effect positive change.
    Some people earning six figure salaries in fact perpetuate the dysfunction because, if they did their jobs properly, dysfunction would lessen, the issues would resolve and they would no longer be required.
    Some in the upper echelons of these power silos are keen to maintain the status quo because it keeps them in highly paid roles while achieving little positive outcomes for the people they are charged with delivering services to. So the system rolls on.
    Good luck with your further, on-going investigations.

  2. It would be interesting to know where Congress got the money from to purchase the Memo Club. If it is through Centrecorp, isn’t that a conflict somewhere?
    Centrecorp own the building, Congress is on the Board of Centrecorp. What money has Congress saved to get this amount of money, or is Centrecorp selling it off cheaper than what they paid for it?

  3. Phil: Tangentyere and Congress never have and never will work together. Another question to ponder is the salary of the board of directors. Congress directors are now paid an annual salary.

  4. Economics is not my area of expertise, but a case for stimulus based on the budgetary allocations of Aboriginal NGOs towards the Alice Springs economy might be made.
    In other words, without it, the town would be almost entirely dependent on the six-monthly tourist season and fare accordingly.
    It would revert to the small, arid land town of the 50s, faced with creating employment opportunities for the largely welfare-dependent workforce.
    Whilst this stimulus nurtures many other aspects of the town’s economy, it still leaves toxic social problems such as alcohol-induced dysfunction. Many flagon castles have been built on it.
    The imminent change of approach in Federal Government Indigenous Policy, that of working with, rather than doing things to, factors, at least on paper, more accountability, despite the non-redundancy issues you identify.
    Translating that stimulus into employment opportunities in the complex social situation of present-day Alice Springs would have to be where the money is, or should be.
    Manufacturing, rather than drawing down on taxpayer revenue, is one way of ending welfare dependency.
    It would need to be capable of generating more than a handful of jobs and factory product could be identified and pursued by government and/or Chamber of Commerce.
    With the so-called sunrise industries of renewable energy and digital electronics, perhaps visionaries might see a way of training for satellite technology used in bore management, for example, or research into invention that can sustain lives in this region.
    Whilst this may be considered fanciful, it would be a better bet than maintaining welfare dependency.
    I remember how Nikola Tesla, whilst walking in the bush, obtained the diagram-schematics that produced alternating current from observing a leaf caught in an eddy that suggested the rudiments for turbine-driven power.

  5. Thanks, Anonymous.
    I’m left to ponder why that is so? Got any history as to why two significantly publically funded organisations (in excess of $60 million taxpayer dollars each year) don’t work together when it’s patently obvious that they should?
    Funding should be tied to them doing so.
    Board of Directors being paid? How much? I sit on several boards and don’t get paid for any of them.
    ‘Whatever happened to “giving back to community” for the benefit of the whole?

  6. Hi Phil, the chair of Congress board is the previous director of Tangentyere and I’m pretty sure the current director of Tangentyere presents as a problem too.
    From what I’ve heard on the grapevine is that he doesn’t work with any other organisations, people might even wonder how on earth he’s even qualified to hold the position (perhaps because the executive is full of his family members).
    Unsure of the salary of board members but I’m sure the department of health would be interested to know too!

  7. Thanks again, Anonymous … curiouser and curiouser!
    When will the secret silos be made transparent and accountable?
    Time to change the system structure!


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