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Indigenous groups and Labor have criticised the Coalition for allocating more than $39m of extra funding to a non-Indigenous sport-based initiative for boys, but failing to adequately fund Aboriginal community-controlled organisations to meet the new Closing the Gap targets in its budget.
The government has set aside only $46.5m over four years to support capacity-building in Aboriginal community-controlled organisations to meet targets set out in the new Closing the Gap agreement.
But a decision to allocate $39.8m of extra funding to a non-Indigenous sports-based initiative for boys has drawn the ire of Labor.
The Clontarf Foundation has been awarded the sum over four years from 2020 to expand and extend its program, “which supports the education, discipline, life skills, self-esteem and employment prospects of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men”, according to last night’s budget papers.
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Labor’s education spokesperson, Tanya Plibersek, criticised the Coalition for not including funding for Indigenous girls.
“Why do Indigenous girls miss out? There are many groups doing terrific work with Indigenous girls that would love extra funding so they can help extra people. I’ve seen this work firsthand and it’s changing lives – more girls finishing year 12, and more going on to Tafe and university,” Plibersek said.
“Given the trillion dollars of debt, I think Australians would have expected the Liberals to do much more to support Indigenous kids – both boys and girls.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Education pointed to lower retention rates for Indigenous boys in years 10 to 12 than Indigenous girls, saying that “additional support from the Australian government for the Clontarf Foundation will help to enhance the school education experience for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander boys and young men, which will contribute positively to engagement and retention to the end of year 12.”
The Clontarf Foundation, launched in 2000, operates 119 academies nationally, using a mix of state and federal government funds, philanthropic donations and powerful corporate partnerships – including Fortescue Metals Group, Wesfarmers, Glencore, AMP, and the Ramsay Foundation.
Clontarf plans camps, excursions and other activities with a focus on wellbeing, life skills and sport. In order to remain in the program, students must stay at school and “embrace the objectives of the foundation”, according to its website.
But questions have arisen over the years about its effectiveness.
A 2016 New South Wales Department of Education evaluation of Clontarf’s performance in the state found the program was having a “modest” impact.
The study found that it had a “positive attendance effect for years seven to nine, but no significant effect for retention, Naplan, long suspensions or reoffending.”
“Clontarf Academies are generating at least some positive outcomes for many of the participating young Aboriginal males in NSW schools,” the study said.
“However, the overall magnitude of the impact to date has been less dramatic than the feedback from stakeholders and participants would otherwise suggest.”
The University of Queensland PhD student Lee Sheppard has spent the past three years researching sports for development programs like the ones offered by Clontarf.
Sheppard, a Djirribal woman from north Queensland, said such programs supposedly set up to benefit Indigenous communities were often more focused on “ticking boxes” and tended to target highly resilient kids, rather than ones who were labelled “hard to reach”.
“Clontarf are not set up to educate through sport, they are an engagement program,” Sheppard said. “They use sport to hook our mob back to school, who are disengaged or on the verge of disengaging from school. But they’re not actually an education program.”
Clontarf competes for funds that could go to Aboriginal community-controlled organisations, Sheppard said.
“[Clontarf] get funding through every state government. They get funding from corporations, they are the largest and most well-funded sports development program in Australia,” Sheppard said.
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Funding non-Indigenous organisations like Clontarf makes a mockery of Closing the Gap targets, she said.
The Clontarf Foundation has been sought for comment.
The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (Naccho) said the government had missed a chance to address historic funding shortfalls in social housing.
The government said it would provide $150m over three years for 360 new housing construction loans in regional Australia, but the Naccho chair, Donnella Mills, called it a “drop in the ocean”.
“The neglect of social housing, particularly in the Northern Territory, is indefensible.
“When you have, on average, 17 people in a small house, how do you expect children to get a good night’s sleep, do their homework, be fed and healthy? What do you think will happen if the Covid-19 virus actually gets into our remote communities when family members are crowded together, five or six in a bedroom?”