This audit assessed the effectiveness of the Indigenous Land Corporation’s administration of the Land Acquisition Program.
Overall conclusion: Increasing Indigenous people’s access to land has been recognised by successive Australian Governments as an important mechanism to increase economic participation and to deliver social, cultural and environmental benefits for Indigenous people. The ILC has administered the Land Acquisition Program (LAP) since 1995 and has been active in acquiring land for, and subsequently divesting it to, Indigenous organisations representing Indigenous Australians. Since 2008, 22 properties have been acquired and 43 divested. LAP projects funded between 2008 and 2013, for example, ranged from $280 000 for protection of cultural and environmental values in western Victoria to the $8.6 million purchase of an Indigenous aged care facility in Perth, Western Australia.
Acquisition and divestment results are lower than the targets, including revised targets, set by the ILC over the period since 2008. Nonetheless, ILC has managed the LAP program to acquire a diverse range of properties. The timely and successful divestment of properties is recognised by the ILC as a recurring issue. More broadly, the ILC has reported that, since its inception, it has acquired a total of 246 properties, of which 170 have been divested, and made a contribution of over 5.8 million hectares to increasing Australia’s Indigenous estate. Since 1996, 12 properties have been disposed of by the ILC because the Indigenous benefits identified were not achieved or unable to be sustained.
In the 18 years that it has administered the LAP, the ILC has built up a detailed set of processes and practices to support program implementation in line with key requirements of the ATSI Act. These processes provide clear guidance in terms of decision making responsibilities and the required steps for the acquisition and divestment processes. ILC board proposals examined by the ANAO indicated that the required administrative steps were generally undertaken. In some cases, deeper and broader analysis of risks could be undertaken and provided to the board. Project monitoring and evaluation could also be strengthened in terms of analysing more robustly whether expected benefits have been achieved at a reasonable cost. This would better position the ILC to make more informed decisions about the cost effectiveness of LAP, and strategic projects, going forward.
The ILC’s evaluation activities for the LAP occur primarily at individual project level and are mostly undertaken just prior to divestment. Project level evaluations assessed by the ANAO were generally limited in their analysis of the achievement of benefits, however, the ILC has periodically undertaken more detailed and larger evaluations of acquisitions which have given greater consideration to assessing the achievement of benefits. An overall evaluation of the performance of properties acquired between 1995 and 2001 was completed in 2002, although a similar program-wide evaluation has not been undertaken since then. The wide variety and scale of projects funded and the different benefits expected from each project do not allow for ready comparison or aggregation of benefits, as these are specific to each project and generally have localised impact however strengthening current project evaluation approaches, at least for the more costly acquisitions, is important. The ILC could also consider undertaking a similar evaluation exercise to that completed in 2002 to obtain a program-wide assessment of the performance of acquisitions, using the findings of the 2002 evaluation as a baseline.
The ANAO has made two recommendations to improve the ILC’s administration of the LAP. The first is aimed at strengthening the effectiveness of the ILC’s current risk management approaches. The second is aimed at the ILC introducing activities into its project appraisal steps to assist in comparative assessments of potential projects and corresponding Indigenous benefits.