This audit assessed the effectiveness of FaHCSIA‘s performance of its lead agency role in coordinating whole-of-government commitments to closing the gap in Indigenous disadvantage.
Addressing the deeply entrenched nature of disadvantage faced by Australia’s Indigenous people compared to Australia’s non‐Indigenous people is a key priority of the Australian Government. Achieving sustainable improvements in the lives of Indigenous people has been slow; while some progress has been made in employment, educational attainment, child mortality and home ownership for Indigenous Australians, most measures of Indigenous disadvantage have shown limited improvements or have deteriorated since systematic measurements began in 2002. The Government has acknowledged that previous, business‐as‐usual approaches to addressing Indigenous disadvantage have not worked and new approaches that address the particular circumstances of Indigenous people are needed.
Indigenous disadvantage occurs across a range of different policy areas, such as health, early childhood development and housing, and requires action to be taken, often in concert, by line agencies responsible for implementing government policy in different areas. It is also the case that governments at both the federal level and the state and territory level have Indigenous policy and program responsibilities. In practice, therefore, Indigenous service provision occurs through multiple layers of government, with services being delivered by a complex network of implementation partners that include Australian Government agencies, state and territory government agencies, local governments and non‐government service provider organisations. Working effectively across organisational and jurisdictional boundaries is currently one the most significant issues in public administration, and is recognised in the overarching reform agenda of the Australian public service and also by the Commonwealth’s Financial Accountability Review.
Because multiple agencies are involved in program policy and delivery in Indigenous affairs, a well‐defined lead agency role is important to ensure information is shared across agencies, to coordinate service delivery on the ground, to provide consolidated advice to the Government and to address any systemic performance issues in a timely manner. In the Australian Government, a lead agency may have various roles, but a broad oversight role to assess whether implementation progress and results are meeting the Government’s objectives for Indigenous programs is central to informing both policies and delivery models. Being able to maintain a strategic focus and line of sight between individual programs and expected outcomes for Indigenous people is a key feature of such a role. Creating structured, workable arrangements, with sufficient authority and clarity of purpose for the lead agency to undertake its role without diluting the accountabilities of other agencies involved, is a challenging but important element of effectiveness.