Senator MOORE (Queensland) (16:18): I will try to keep my contribution on this report short, even though, with the amount of anger I have in me, it could take me a while. One of the frustrations is that we are here today talking about this grant process and five months ago we were in the same place talking about the DSS grant process and covering nearly all the same allegations about poor planning, lack of communication, lack of knowledge of client group and lack of care for either the community or the people they are serving. All those recommendations and statements we made in our Senate Community Affairs inquiry into DSS grants were replicated in our inquiry on the Indigenous Advancement Strategy.
The actual aim of the program was positive and there was no confusion, concern or distress in the community about what the overall aim of the program was, which was to contract the large number of grants that are in a certain area into a smaller number and allow for competitive tendering-an issue which I know is very worrying-to ensure that there was the best possible service for the community while respecting the professionalism of the providers. That is all well and good, but the process that was put in place-as Senator Peris and Senator Siewert have both identified-not only did not provide a result that met those requirement; it did worse than that. It took us back and it caused immediate-and I am hoping not permanent-damage to the relationship of trust, which is absolutely essential, between the government and the people who provide services on the ground to the community.
That lack of trust was identified earlier in a Productivity Commission report about service delivery in areas, and there was a clear understanding about the program and the process that should be in place when you are doing government service delivery. Key to that is an effective communication model. Again, one of the core aspects of this particular program was that there was no effective communication model. Community organisations that had been working in the field for many years were completely unclear of the expectations that were upon them to provide submissions to government, what sort of program availability there was and what kind of money was available in the program. People did not know what they were applying for. They were used to the circumstances under which they were operating and they were used to their own geographic areas, but the terms of the contracts did not match anything. In fact, there was a strategy to make sure that everybody applied. I can remember that, in the processes we heard about, particularly in these grants, there was an encouragement for everyone to apply-to be innovative, to be creative. What no-one was told was that the actual pot of money at the end of this great creativity exercise had been significantly reduced.
We have spoken to the minister in this place time and time again and have asked him to identify exactly the available funding and what cuts had been made, and he stood here in the chamber and told all of us that there would be no cuts to on-the-ground services. Senator Peris asked questions and Senator Siewert questions. We asked him to identify to us what the cuts were going to be to on-the-ground services, and the minister told us that there were going to be none. Unfortunately, he also said that to the community, and that was exposed consistently to be untrue. As we have heard, key services in areas such as domestic violence, child care, and alcohol and drug support have remained underfunded or non-funded as a result of this round of 'innovative', 'creative' government programs.
This is the kind of program which damages communities, and that was never the intent of the department nor of the minister. I put that on record. There was no intent to cause harm, but they should now identify that it has caused harm. Our inquiry has identified evidence of places and people who have put on record the impact this round of grants has had on their local communities, and now that information is publicly available to the department, to the minister and also to the Audit Office. I am going to end very quickly because there is a queue, but when we get the government response to this report-and I hope that sometime between now and death we will get it. We got a response to the report from community affairs about the DSS grants. One of our core recommendations from that inquiry was that there needed to be an independent audit of what had gone on so that we could see where these programs had failed and where they could be improved.
We now have the basis of a model for future funding rounds. We know what has gone wrong. We need to know what can work and what can work into the future. When we received the government response to that particular recommendation about the need for an independent audit inquiry, that response was: 'We will work with an audit.' That was it. It did not say, 'We identify that there is a need for an audit,' and at no stage did it give an apology to the people who had been damaged. I would hope that maybe PM&C; could go a step further and actually say that-acknowledge that pain was caused. But we would like to see more than 'we will work with an audit' because if there is an audit then the department has no option to say they will work with it or not, because it is part of their job to work with it.
I applaud the people who came to talk to us. Some of them were still scarred; some of them were worried that if they came to see us they might not get any funding into the future; some of them were concerned about their client groups, which may or may not get the services they deserve into the future either; but they did have the integrity and the courage to come and see us. We have now put forward the report. This report is now available for the minister, who told us there was no problem. We can now tell him: 'Minister, there were problems.' Now it is up to the minister to make sure that that is looked at and not completed in the future. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.