The five Aboriginal Catholic leaders, who include Melissa Brickell, Vicki Walker Clark and Graeme Mundine (pictured), claimed in a statement at the weekend that the restructuring meant that Caritas' CEO "now has final say on all Aboriginal community development projects in Australia, without reference to any Indigenous advisers".
However, responding to the claim, a Caritas statement said that the changes to its Indigenous program are necessary to keep pace with "improvement in development practice".
Caritas says that the new model will allow dedicated Caritas staff "to spend more time in the field when appraising and supporting project design of potentially new and long-term projects as opposed to appraising projects and potential partner's capacity remotely and on paper."
The former advisory group's role had included the monitoring and evaluation of Caritas' Indigenous program and funding proposals.
According to the statement, Caritas communicated the decision to group members last Wednesday, saying that the Indigenous Reference Group "would cease to exist" but the Catholic agency "would continue to welcome their participation in the program."
Caritas said that it remains "fully committed to Indigenous participation, reflected through the employment of an Indigenous staff member, partnership with Indigenous communities across the country, and the involvement of Indigenous people in a broad number of issues."
The statement also said that the aid agency is planning to increase its commitment by including Indigenous representation officially in the governance structure of Caritas Australia's National Council.
But the organisation "acknowledges and apologises for the hurt and pain that this decision has caused its recent members," its statement said.
"In the end, Caritas Australia has taken this decision to restructure this program to ensure that Indigenous input into the AIP (Indigenous program) will be stronger and more diverse".
The changes will "allow for the development of an even more successful and Indigenous-driven program," the statement concluded.
Our work in Indigenous communities (Caritas Australia, Media Release, 2/4/07)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission
Aboriginal Catholic Ministry - Melbourne
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council
Indigenous leaders blast Caritas "betrayal" (CathNews, 2/4/07)
3 Apr 2007