Competition in the community: market principles guiding Indigenous funding reform

Stream: Panel 19 - Australian Politics / Media & Politics: Indigenous Rights in Australia
Date: Monday, 26 September 2016
Time: 2.00 pm – 3.30 pm


This paper examines the ideological drivers behind the recent changes to the Australian Commonwealth's funding arrangements for Indigenous-specific programs and services, announced in 2014 by the current Coalition government. The reforms, dubbed the “Indigenous Advancement Strategy” (IAS), were justified as efficiency-enhancing measures and fit the broader federal-policy trend towards organising social services around market principles. The economic logic applied in this case holds that the quality of a service will improve if service providers are forced to compete for the right to provide that service. This principle is reflected in the IAS’s competitive tendering process, which determines the distribution of federal funds to service-provider organisations. The IAS is another example of neoliberal public policy, which Povinelli (2010, 21) characterises as the process of using the market to assess the worth and effectiveness of all “social activities and values”. The IAS reforms have resulted in an increased presence of non-Indigenous organisations in the delivery of Indigenous-specific programs. Combined with a $534 million federal funding cut to Indigenous programs, and the decision to cease funding to several large Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations, the IAS provides further evidence that the federal government is not willing to nurture the Aboriginal community-controlled sector, preferring instead the creation of a market around the delivery of services to Indigenous clients. This paper concludes that the IAS pursues such market logic to the detriment of the services available to Indigenous communities.


David Coombs (Presenter), Macquarie University
David Coombs is focusing his doctoral research project on the practical effects of the Federal government's recent funding changes under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy. He has previously conducted research into Aboriginal employment policy, has taught public policy to undergraduates and has an interest in the relationship between public policy and (in)equality.