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The Governance and Capacity Gap

Strong governance and strong leadership in remote Indigenous communities are preconditions for the normalisation of relations, improved service provision and closing the gap in life outcomes. It encompasses how governments organise what they do and how they relate to communities, how communities manage themselves and relate to government and the exercise of personal responsibility and leadership.

It is already apparent there is a clear delineation between communities in which government is present and positively engaged and where communities have a means of coming together and individuals are exercising leadership, and those where any or all of these elements are weak or absent.

The National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery is designed to empower the 29 priority communities to work in partnership with governments to improve the availability, quality and efficiency of services. Commonwealth and State and Territory governments, through the National Partnership Agreement, have recognised the critical role of governance in these communities by:

  • committing to a new way of working which includes integrated service planning and delivery as well as a single Commonwealth and State and Territory government interface at the community level;
  • mapping the community networks and decision making processes as the basis for establishing links with Indigenous community leadership and decision-making processes; and
  • implementing initiatives which develop the capacity of community members to organise and exercise leadership.

This commitment of COAG is progressing well with the establishment of joint government offices (a Single Government Interface) in all 29 communities and seven Regional Operations Centres. About 70% of staff are currently in place, with full staffing on track for the end of 2009.

However, pre-existing institutional arrangements can be an impediment to the smooth rollout of this new set of arrangements in remote Australia. While there is generally a significant high level commitment to righting the wrongs of the past, I have encountered a 'business as usual' attitude from some public servants. This is compounded by a culture where delays in the roll out of new services is accepted and justified by a familiar set of factors including the remoteness of communities, the annual wet season, unresolved land tenure, the complexity of Indigenous policy and communities themselves. While each of these issues can be a real constraint, all are well known and need to be managed by experienced and motivated officials. Ministers, senior public servants and communities need to challenge the use of these factors as excuses wherever and whenever they are encountered.

The task of translating national and jurisdictional policies into local programs can be challenging, particularly in remote communities. Thought needs to be given to how single issue programs might be joined to deliver meaningful local services, generate economies of scale, and allow for the recruitment and accommodation of a skilled workforce. In this regard, Regional Operations Centres, Government Business Managers and Indigenous Engagement Officers are a vital new local resource. To be effective, all government departments need to equip these officers with the knowledge, tools and support to guide effective implementation of programs in communities.

In the case of Commonwealth and State and Territory agencies that have not directly provided officers to staff the new Regional Operations Centres, there is a particular need to close the gap between their generic programs and the needs of remote communities for joined up and relevant services.

Government capacity

It is critical for governments to recognise that there is a capacity gap with respect to the new ways of working required under the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery which goes well beyond basic cultural competency training for staff. Agencies need to communicate to their staff at all levels that they are authorised to implement the new approach, and to assist them with acquiring the skills and knowledge required for working in a whole-of-government way and to increase their understanding of service delivery in a remote community context. Agencies need to ensure there are strong and streamlined working connections between their officers and the Single Government Interface.

I have made a submission to the Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration making a number of recommendations to improve the long term capacity of the Australian Public Service to work with remote Indigenous communities and will also be pursuing these issues with the State and Territory Coordinators General.

Local Government

The COAG National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery includes the Commonwealth and the Governments of the Northern Territory, Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales.

However, the unique position of local government as a significant service provider and the dominant elected governance structure in many of the 29 priority communities is not adequately reflected in the National Partnership. Compounding this is the impact of reforms in jurisdictions which have seen the amalgamation or consolidation of local government areas. In the Northern Territory in particular, this has meant that where previously an elected council conformed to the boundaries of a priority community; these are now much larger areas. The Northern Territory Local Government Act 2008, states that Local Area Boards may be established in each community to involve local communities more closely in issues related to local government; to ensure that local communities are given an opportunity to express their opinions on questions affecting local government; and to allow local communities a voice in the formulation of policies for the locality as well as policies for the area and the region. Their success, however, is mixed at best, with some functioning ineffectively or yet to be established. This has left a community governance vacuum in some cases.

Without support from Shires, local government workers may lack the necessary skills to assist in the establishment and functioning of Local Area Boards, enabling communities to report to council and be involved in matters of local government. Notable exceptions in the Northern Territory are the MacDonnell Shire and Roper Gulf Shire which appear determined to put institutional and governance arrangements in place to ensure local communities have an active voice in Shire decision making.

In my initial visits to communities, the quality of local government services is also the source of considerable community complaint. The scope of local government services is sometimes unclear from a community perspective, with confusion being expressed over justification of the scope of servicing, sometimes veiled in undisclosed 'core' or 'non core' activities. Concerns have also been raised about a preference for outside contractors ahead of employing local Indigenous people.

Some of the concern could be addressed by ensuring that Local Implementation Planning with communities involves local government and seeks to document their responsibilities within communities.

It is important to note that local government reform, which has been undertaken in most jurisdictions, is a positive development. These reforms are aimed at producing a more robust, effective and accountable tier of governance. Governments need to focus instead on what reformed local government arrangements mean for remote communities and ensure that appropriate supports
are in place.

Recommendation 1: Recognising the role of Local Government

1.1 By mid-2010, COAG should ensure the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery clearly states the role of local government.

1.2 Local Implementation Plans developed under the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery should be multilateral agreements between all three levels of government and communities.

1.3 Local government in each of the priority locations should, by the end of February 2010, nominate a liaison officer to streamline coordination with Regional Operations Centres and assist in the development of Local Implementation Plans.


Government presence in communities

The roll out of the Remote Service Delivery strategy provides a unique opportunity to build an ongoing and responsive government presence in Indigenous communities.

While the positive impact of Government Business Managers, Indigenous Engagement Officers and Regional Operations Centres is already being felt, there is a critical need to build on this core government presence to ensure success.

One of the key messages emerging from my visits is the under servicing of remote communities by many sectors. This includes basic law enforcement; postal services; banking facilities; housing; education; infrastructure; essential services; and sporting and other recreational facilities. These services are important features of what might be considered a viable community. The remoteness of governments, with limited local presence, encourages the under servicing of communities.

A further consequence of the remoteness of governments from communities can be seen in poorly designed or coordinated services which do not fit local circumstances. Put simply, accountable government and the provision of coordinated, basic services are prerequisites for viable, resilient communities.


As commented previously, I am concerned about the generally low level of policing services in the 29 communities. The Australian Crime Commission has advised that many policy initiatives, including alcohol reforms and community safety programs, are most effective where there is a permanent police presence. During my community visits, I heard of a number of instances where policing does not involve sufficient days in the community, or there is a lack of visible and active patrolling and long response times to emergencies.

Whilst I acknowledge that policing in remote locations is multifaceted and carries unique challenges, that is the case for all service delivery in such locations and should be able to be managed by experienced and motivated officers. Governments need to respond to the perception within communities that policing is not visible and responsive. In this regard, State and Territory governments need to consider making public within communities the policing strength, the number and nature of daily patrols being provided and average response times.

There is also considerable variation in policing levels between jurisdictions and communities. For example, Doomadgee has nine police stationed in the community while the similarly sized Gapuwiyak has only three. Wadeye, with twice the population of Doomadgee has just seven police officers stationed in the community. I acknowledge that account needs to be taken of the differences between communities such as the level of need and the distances to other communities. However, the opportunity exists for the five jurisdictions involved in the remote service delivery initiative to work together to determine what is an effective level of policing is and to ensure this presence is quickly implemented and maintained.

The Commonwealth and Northern Territory Governments have announced a review of policing in remote communities and this will consider overall policing strength. In Western Australia, the Government has confirmed it will fund an extra 500 police personnel. I am hopeful that both initiatives will result in additional permanent policing and better servicing of priority communities.

Case study: Policing

Many Indigenous communities experience comparatively high levels of crime and violence. Community safety in remote communities relies on an effective police presence and community policing is regarded by many as part of the solution. This includes a visible police presence, proactive and positive relationships between police and communities, and working collaboratively with service providers. A good example of this is the work being done by police in Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek to support the alcohol restrictions, and the move from response to proactive crime prevention. During my visits to communities there was widespread support for a police presence.

In recent years significant investments have been made by the States and Commonwealth in policing infrastructure including police stations, multi function police facilities, and staff housing in selected remote communities. Remote Service Delivery locations that will benefit from increased facilities include Amata and Mimili in South Australia, Galiwin'ku, Gunbalanya, Lajamanu, Maningrida, Nguiu, Ngukurr, Wadeye, Yuendumu, Gapuwiyak, Numbulwar, Angurugu, Milingimbi, Umbakumba in the Northern Territory, Doomadgee and Mornington Island in Queensland. However, typical of service expansion in remote communities, construction is expensive, lead times are long, and once construction is complete, staffing is a challenge.


Transaction-based services

The provision of basic transaction services is fundamental to the normalisation of Remote Service Delivery communities.

During my visits I heard of widespread concern about a lack of basic services in communities including limitations of current postal services, banking and other government and service transaction functions such as driver licensing. Where these services do exist, the levels of support do not always match individual needs. For example, community members have raised concerns that local Centrelink representatives do not have sufficient authority to make decisions on the ground and of reduced Australia Post servicing during the wet season.

Recommendation 2: Government presence in communities

2.1 Local Implementation Plans should reflect Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments and agencies with community service obligations to remote locations plans to increase their footprint over time to ensure that the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery communities have access to adequate financial transactional capacity, postal services, licensing and bill paying facilities to support the objective of increasing economic and social participation.

2.2 State and Territory Governments should commit to providing more visible and responsive policing in National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery communities including regular publicly available reporting to communities of:

• minimum local policing levels;

• the number and nature of daily community patrols; and

• average response times.

2.3 The Department of Human Services should by early 2010, examine ways to improve Centrelink transactional and case management services in National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery communities.


Implementation of the new remote service delivery model

There is cause for optimism in the new configuration of government arrangements which will see a single interface with remote communities and a priority on 'getting things right' in the designated 29 locations before identifying the next tranche of communities.

For every government agency – Commonwealth, State and Territory – the challenge is to translate programs which are devised within individual policy domains into services which make sense and knit together at a spatial or community level. The means by which this should be achieved is through a high functioning Regional Operations Centre and Government Business Manager and Indigenous Engagement Officer Network with strong governance by State and Territory Boards of Management.

Agencies which have not directly contributed personnel to the single government interface currently rely on a combination of head office and regional staff to support remote service delivery. In some cases, head office personnel from these agencies do not share the enthusiasm or feel a similar level of responsibility for the whole of government commitment made to remote communities by first ministers. As a result they have been less responsive to requests for action. Regional office staff, while more attuned to the local realities, sometimes lack the authority to be as responsive as they would like to be.

Given the critical importance of improving services in local communities across all the COAG building blocks, the Single Government Interface needs to be invested in by all agencies, not just those with a direct staffing investment in Regional Operations Centres.

I will be actively monitoring the adherence of government agencies to the requirement to coordinate their activities through the Single Government Interface, including:

  • the involvement of Commonwealth, State and Territory health, education, child protection, justice and environment departments in Local Implementation Planning; and
  • adherence to the requirement that visits to communities are planned and coordinated with the relevant Regional Operations Centre.

Governments have decided that priority should be given to the locations identified in the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery when implementing COAG National Partnerships, when extending or redesigning existing programs and when developing new programs. However, this decision is not being consistently applied and in the absence of a clearly stated decision by COAG that the identified locations are to have priority across all national partnerships (whether negotiated prior to the Remote Service Delivery partnership or not), some agencies will resist any change to business as usual.

The complexity of some of the National Partnership commitments agreed through COAG will require the allocation of dedicated resources from governments to communities to support Government Business Managers in areas where they do not have specialised skills. This 'surge' capacity support should be available to each of the 29 priority locations.

The early identification of the need for surge teams across the policy building blocks should already be being contemplated by government agencies.

Education is the most critical area where Commonwealth, State and Territory policies need to be properly translated into coordinated services through the deployment of additional resources.

There is currently significant activity in the educational and training arena with the roll out of Building the Education Revolution projects in all schools, Trades Training Centres, early childhood centres, maternal and child health services, the conversion of CDEP places to real jobs, new Jobs Services Australia contracts, implementation of the Schooling National Partnerships and through the Digital Education Revolution.

In the Northern Territory, the Commonwealth Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations has appointed a liaison officer to streamline interactions with the Regional Operations Centres in Darwin and Alice Springs. Similarly, in the Kimberley in Western Australia, the Department has deployed a senior executive Regional Facilitator to action and deliver on the Closing the Gap and productivity agendas in the region. The Northern Territory Department of Education and Training has an outposted officer in the Northern Regional Operations Centre in Darwin.

These efforts are recognised. However, there is a risk that without assertive and timely action across all jurisdictions and priority locations, the large investments currently being rolled out from head offices will not be properly coordinated to maximise the benefits to communities. For example, I have observed that:

  • in rolling out new primary school facilities under the Building the Education Revolution initiative which have an early childhood focus, immediate consideration needs to be given to future provisioning to allow for the future co-location of early learning facilities with créches and planned child and family centres where appropriate;
  • individual government services including créches, health clinics, council offices and schools, can provide vocational education and training opportunities for local people, and it would beneficial for this training to be built into the implementation of local service provision and for the total places available to a community to be known so that secondary school students can see what local career opportunities lie beyond school;
  • youth recreation and adult education services could be enhanced if they are able to utilise school facilities such as classrooms, trades training facilities and computers outside school hours; and
  • strategies to address student attendance appear to be based more on the individual drive and creativity of principals rather than informed by 'what works' across communities and jurisdictions.

It is vital that Commonwealth, State and Territory education departments, through the use of surge teams, outposting or other arrangements, and are actively involved in the Local Implementation Planning process currently being managed through Regional Operations Centres and Government Business Managers. The end goal should be to create robust education and training pathway plans for each remote community that link existing resources to provide opportunities from early childhood through to adulthood for young Indigenous people.

Rethinking one size fits all approaches

In rolling out the Remote Service Delivery strategy, governments are seeking to balance local responsiveness with national consistency.

In some cases, head office products and policy advice is not sufficiently tailored to meet the needs of individual communities.
Over time, the interface between departments, Regional Operations Centres and Government Business Managers needs to shift from the provision of standardised one size fits all template products and training to one in which assistance is tailored to meet local circumstances. This could include:

  • the development of a consultancy approach to customised governance and leadership training whereby a head office professional or independent expert would partner a Government Business Manager working with community leaders to devise governance development strategies, best-practice interventions and/or training that can be delivered in individual communities;
  • the provision of tailored community development support and training to assist Regional Operations Centres and Government Business Managers meet the particular needs of a local community; and
  • the bringing together of school principals and employment services providers from the priority communities to share their views on 'what works' in improving attendance at school, engagement with adult education and employment.

Cutting red tape

Representatives of service providers in almost every remote community visited pointed to deficiencies in government programs which hindered their implementation at the local level.

The most critical of these include:

  • the myriad of contracts, reporting requirements and funding periods and the inability to tailor national, State and Territory programs to suit local circumstances;
  • the failure to build into funding agreements, appropriate salary and housing considerations to attract and retain high quality staff; and
  • fragmented and one off leadership and governance training and support which envisages program rather community accountability and ignores the multiple roles individuals may have in a remote community.

The Commonwealth Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs has achieved considerable efficiencies through its 'red tape reduction' activities in mainstream and Indigenous communities, reducing the complexity of funding agreements and standardising the period of contracts. These gains both need to be fully applied to the priority communities and could be an undertaking of governments as part of the Local Implementation Planning process. Consideration should also be given to assisting community organisations to pool administration and human resource functions to avoid duplication of back office functions.

This might be achieved through a whole of community head contract which aggregates funding by location rather than program. Accountability could be maintained by tying down outputs and outcomes rather than specifying inputs. As a first step this approach could aggregate Commonwealth funding in one schedule and state or territory funding in another. However the community contract should include single allocation that forms a percentage of all funding for:

  • sustained governance training including for managers and board members of local services and broader measures that support effective community governance; and
  • worker housing that details plans for accommodation growth over time, maximises the integration of staff housing in communities and avoids the creation of 'compounds' and ensures that social housing and worker housing development occur in parallel.

Recommendation 3: Implementation of remote service delivery

3.1 By mid-2010, the Commonwealth State and Territory governments should each examine the use of more flexible funding approaches which aggregate departmental funding into a master contract with each National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery community to:

• align service delivery and provide some flexibility to modify inputs to help achieve the Closing the Gap outcomes; and

• streamline reporting and reduce red tape.

3.2 In conjunction with Local Implementation Planning and by no later than mid-2010, Commonwealth, State and Territory governments should ensure that funding arrangements under the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery provide each community with adequate support for ongoing governance and leadership training. These arrangements should recognise the different circumstances of individual communities and provide for flexibility in prioritising funding for governance and training across the Remote Service Delivery communities.

3.3 The arrangements under recommendation 3.2 should also include providing Regional Operations Centres and Government Business Managers with specialist support in developing tailored governance and leadership training packages for communities.

3.4 Local Implementation Plans should include agreement of all parties to community governance and leadership improvements, and the ongoing funding and support that will be required to meet these outcomes.

3.5 That COAG restate its commitment that priority should be given to the locations identified in the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery when implementing all relevant COAG National Partnerships.

3.6 Commonwealth, State and Territory government education departments should consider creating liaison officer positions, establishing surge teams or out-posting officers to Regional Operations Centres to assist Government Business Managers to assist with Local Implementation Planning and coordinate investments to develop successful education pathways from early childhood through to post school training and employment tailored to the needs of individual communities.


Construction of facilities in remote communities

Much attention has focused on the implementation of the Strategic Indigenous Housing Infrastructure Program (SIHIP), particularly the slow lead times in moving through the contracting, consultation and design specification phases to construction. The lessons learnt from the early phase of SIHIP are the importance of having absolute clarity of purpose and responsibilities.

These issues, which are now being corrected, should not detract from the intent of using larger contractors to drive timeliness, value for money through economies of scale and meet the broader government policy objective of providing employment and training opportunities for Indigenous Australians.

From my early visits there is evidence that smaller, but no less important, capital projects might be delivered in a more efficient and timely way if project management was centralised and coordinated with other government activity in remote communities.

Case Study: Delays in small scale infrastructure projects

In the course of visiting communities and compiling this report, numerous examples of significant delays in small scale infrastructure projects were brought to my attention. This includes the School Boarding Facilities initiative in the Northern Territory, the Wadeye Children's Services Centre and Safe House, the Lajamanu Health Clinic, housing repairs in Walgett and the Amata early childhood facilities. The infrastructure projects, whilst individually relatively small, are directly related to Closing the Gap activities in communities and the delays have an impact on the quality of life in those communities.

In questioning responsible departments on the lack of progress against the various projects, explanations have included land tenure issues, delays in agreeing the ongoing governance and maintenance of a facility, protracted community consultations and budget constraints and blow outs caused by remoteness and a lack of contractors.

On further examination, the announcement of projects without detailed prior consultation has created problems with subsequent project and budget definition, scoping, and planning, delaying construction. This appears to be the case with the announcement of both the School Boarding Facilities initiative and the Wadeye Children's Services Centre and Safe House.

In relation to one of the School Boarding Facilities which has been proposed for the Warlpiri Triangle, community stakeholders contend that the consultations have lacked clarity about what is proposed or feasible. While the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations contends that the project remains on schedule, it is likely that thorough and focused consultation with the Warlpiri people in coming months and a feasibility study will result in delayed construction.

In the case of the Lajamanu Health Clinic, an original scoping study suggested the need for a capital investment of $8 million for refurbishments to a very substandard facility to meet the current and future health needs of the community. A funding agreement for $2.6 million is currently being negotiated with the Katherine West Health Board and the Department of Health and Ageing to extend and upgrade the health clinic. I am concerned that this more limited refurbishment will not meet future community needs. Additionally, the contractor selected by the Department of Health and Ageing to complete works, found themselves unable to undertake the task. Their withdrawal has delayed the project.

The shortfall in funding for construction can also be compounded by a failure to agree ongoing service governance and funding required to operate services. This has been the case in the construction of early childhood facilities in Amata.

In the case of house repairs in Walgett, a poorly written funding agreement, between the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and the service provider, lacking in adequately identified project milestones and deliverables, has exacerbated poor project management and an inability to leverage progress.

Small infrastructure projects are also impacted by their one off conception and implementation in communities. This requires separate oversighting, project management and associated departmental resources. Given the costs of single projects in a remote location, it would be better to identify groups of works that can be undertaken concurrently or sequentially within a community by a single contractor, who provides intensive work or ongoing employment and training for local people.

My Office is continuing to negotiate with the relevant departments around each of these projects.


Individual agencies point to the challenges of the annual wet season, community consultation, budget strictures, land tenure difficulties and contract negotiation delays. Yet many of these issues are known quantities that are capable of being managed. It is apparent that these challenges are often symptoms of a lack of robust contract management, project management or a sense of urgency and skill in executing projects.

The recent stimulus program which has encompassed both education and housing projects has demonstrated that it is possible for both levels of government to work together and with contractors to urgently execute the construction of social infrastructure. The modifications announced to the SIHIP program also provide a path for the efficient and timely construction of remote housing, including clearly defined roles and responsibilities and closer management of program tasks.

Governments should consider whether there are efficiencies to be gained from centralising and coordinating the process to deliver smaller infrastructure projects in remote Australia. A new approach could be piloted in the 29 Remote Service Delivery communities.

One approach would be to replicate the process used in the Department of Defence where a panel of managing contractors is selected for the delivery of infrastructure in remote communities with a value of more than $1 million and less than $30 million.

The panel would comprise contractors with a demonstrated capacity to deliver community infrastructure projects in remote locations.

Appointing a managing contractor would deliver identified projects in accordance with COAG policy objectives. They would also manage all Local and State and Territory government regulatory requirements, obtain all building certifications and manage the hand over of the property to the operator.

The key benefits of this approach include:

  • the policy objective can be documented in the contract and reported against at desired intervals;
  • it allows for the 'building in' of economic development elements such as Indigenous training and employment, the use of local materials and other requirements;
  • timelines for delivery are enshrined in the contract with a risk, reward and penalty elements to drive the project; and
  • administration and project management costs can be fixed in accordance with the value of the managing contractor payment schedule.

Centralising the contract management function would concentrate expertise in a single area, achieve greater efficiency in the management of remote infrastructure roll out and over time, reduce the impact of the challenges described earlier.

The ability to develop a register or roster of projects over a forward period would enable contractors to undertake multiple projects in one community, reducing costs; and identify a stream of ongoing work, allowing for the recruitment of Indigenous people into training, apprenticeships and jobs.

A new entity could be based in the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (adjoining the new SIHIP administration function) or within the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. It would be important that such an entity draws on the expertise from the key Commonwealth, State and Territory agencies which currently deliver projects of this type.

To achieve scale over time, COAG would need to agree to channel planned capital funding for projects already notionally allocated under the National Partnership Agreements through such an entity.

Recommendation 4: Construction of Infrastructure

4.1 That the Commonwealth Departments of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government; and Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, in consultation with relevant State and Territory departments, investigate the feasibility of a single, whole of government contracting entity to plan and manage construction of community facilities in remote locations, with a scoping paper be presented for consideration by COAG in the second half of 2010.


Evidence base

I am pleased that there is a strong emphasis on developing and maintaining an evidence base in the National Partnership, although detailed baseline mapping information will only be available for inclusion in my next report.

While efforts to compile government data are progressing, where services are provided by third parties, including non-government organisations, there are gaps.

Inadequate information sharing between agencies is a significant impediment to developing a clear picture of the nature and extent of issues in the priority communities. In some cases it also illustrates a gap in safety.

For example, before mandatory reporting of domestic violence legislation was introduced in the Northern Territory, of 602 presentations at the Alice Springs hospital over 3 months in 2006 for domestic violence, only 258 official complaints were made to police. The Australian Crime Commission has found that information sharing between police and health providers, and some non-government organisations, often does not occur, in large part due to (sometimes misguided) privacy and client confidentiality considerations and to ensure the clients continue seeking assistance from the service providers.

While the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs has negotiated agreement on information sharing in relation to child protection and safety, under the National Child Protection Framework, this only covers one aspect of the information gap.

Given the critical role data will play in formulating effective strategies to close the Indigenous life expectancy gap over time, non government providers need to participate fully in information sharing.

The recent Indigenous Community Safety Roundtable on 6 November 2009 agreed to provide leadership at all levels on the need for information sharing, particularly in relation to family violence and child abuse or neglect cases. This is an issue that has been consistently raised with me from a number of sources, not just across health and police information, but a broad range of areas, so I propose to work with Australian Government agencies, information providers and through State and Territory Coordinators General to develop information sharing protocols to trial in the 29 communities to ensure that all parties have a clear understanding of the nature and extent of issues covered in the Local Implementation Plan.

Jurisdictional issues of significance

If the Remote Service Delivery approach is to be successful, Commonwealth and State and Territory Governments will need to adjust to respond to challenges that emerge and threaten delivery of improved services to the priority communities.

In the short time I have been in place it is clear there significant threats and opportunities in each of the five jurisdictions which require the close attention of each level of government. These issues would benefit from the attention of political leaders.

South Australia

There are a number of impediments to effective service delivery in the APY Lands including lack of clarity regarding powers and functions and uncertainty of tenure and access to the Lands to deliver services. These issues must be resolved by all parties to ensure delivery of vital services if outcomes for Anagu are to improve. It will be essential for governments to work together, with the APY Executive and with service delivery providers to ensure the land tenure and administrative arrangements provide for an effective platform, including certainty of access, for government funded providers, to enable delivery of services to Anangu.

Recommendation 5: APY Lands

5.1 That the South Australian Government leads immediate action to develop an effective platform, including certainty of access to government-funded service providers to ensure the delivery of services to Anangu.


Western Australia

The resolution of land tenure issues is a major barrier to achieving timely delivery of the remote housing package in Western Australia.

The land tenure arrangements upon which remote Aboriginal communities are located in Western Australia are complex, with arrangements including crown land managed by the Aboriginal Land Trust; crown land leased to Indigenous corporations; pastoral leases; and freehold owned by Indigenous organisations or other third parties. It is also a state where native title issues are prominent and many still unresolved in relation to remote communities.

Meeting the land tenure requirements of the National Partnership on Remote Indigenous Housing – including long term secure tenure, capacity to implement tenancy management reforms and compliance with native title processes – in Western Australia is critical and the approach will differ depending on the land arrangements applicable at each community.

Case study: Addressing structural impediments to program delivery

The Commonwealth, State and Territory governments have agreed in the National Partnership on Remote Indigenous Housing that substantial investment in Indigenous housing must be supported by secure tenure arrangements and that there be compliance with the procedural requirements of the Native Title Act 1993.

At present, State governments have indicated there is uncertainty as to the appropriate procedure to apply and that the arrangements can contribute to considerable delay to the construction of public housing and public infrastructure such as health, education and emergency services facilities, as well as essential services.

In October the Commonwealth Government introduced a Bill to include a new process into the Native Title Act which will allow for a streamlined and targeted process in relation to construction of public housing and public infrastructure in and for the benefit of the residents of remote Indigenous communities, including some of the priority communities which attract native title processes.

The new process would invoke the non-extinguishment principle and would attract compensation for any impairment of native title. In addition, projects could only proceed following genuine consultation with native title parties on the nature and location of the proposed project.


Some issues facing Western Australia are being pursued through the introduction of legislation into the Western Australian Parliament with the aim of enabling the Western Australia Housing Office to effect robust tenancy management reform. In addition, legislation has been introduced into the Commonwealth Parliament to amend the Native Title Act 1993 to expedite the construction of public housing and infrastructure in Indigenous communities. However, these legislative reforms in themselves are simply tools – they must be combined with intense and tailored engagement with the community in order to implement sufficient appropriate land tenure arrangements in each desired location, including where necessary long term leases.

While the Western Australian Government has demonstrated a political will to meet these challenges in a manner which will deliver major improvement in remote housing quickly, there is little evidence of action on the ground to put this commitment into operation. Considerable, coordinated effort is needed by Western Australian agencies to drive these initiatives. While current year targets can and should be achieved by 'cherry-picking' sites where tenure requirements can be met, this does not give confidence that the housing program can be delivered in future years across locations where secure tenure is not in place and where the need is great.

Recommendation 6: Land tenure in Western Australia

6.1 That the Western Australian Government recommits to the resolution of tenure issues as a priority and provides a timeframe for action to ensure new housing is delivered to communities in the greatest need.



In Queensland significant inroads have been made in the area of school attendance in Cape York, but clearly more needs to be done to permanently cement change. I note that Queensland has recently launched its Indigenous Education Closing the Gap Strategy which calls for new ways of doing business to achieve improved and sustainable outcomes in attendance, attainment and retention. This includes a culture of high expectations and more holistic approaches that are customised to match the needs of the many and diverse range of localities in Queensland.

In this regard, the Cape York Institute has presented both the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments with a proposal for a Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy. In substance the Academy proposal would mean a longer school day for students concentrating on: the basics of literacy and numeracy; language instruction and traditional knowledge outside of regular school hours; and music, sport and literature.

The proposal would be expanded over time, initially servicing two priority communities – Aurukun and Coen.

In my view the substance of the proposal represents an opportunity to build on the work done under the Welfare Reform Trail banner and to accelerate the gains made for the current generation of Cape school students.

Recommendation 7: Education in Queensland

7.1 That the Queensland and Commonwealth Governments commit to urgently examine the Cape York Institute's Academy proposal and what elements of the proposal might be adopted immediately to build on existing efforts to lift educational outcomes in Queensland priority locations.


Northern Territory and New South Wales

In the Northern Territory and in New South Wales, the existence of many organisations and cultural groupings with existing governance roles in the priority communities means that reaching a 'whole of community' view on how to tackle problems such as alcohol; housing repair and school attendance is a particular challenge. It is also difficult to achieve whole of community input to issues and facilitate community-led initiatives. Given the extensive local planning that is to occur in support of the COAG Remote Service Delivery approach the Northern Territory Government's Territory 2030 Strategic Plan, and the New South Wales Government's Partnership Community Governance Framework intensive efforts must be made to support the development of shared visions among all stakeholders in remote communities.

In my view the current resources deployed through local government to support governance; Commonwealth governance and leadership funding; and existing New South Wales Government or Northern Territory Government funds; should be brought together to support intensive and sustained governance and leadership training in the Remote Service Delivery communities. This will not only assist the development of whole-of-community Local Implementation Plans, but should also assist the continuous improvement of decision-making within local government; local service providers; non-government Aboriginal organisations;
and other local enterprises.

Recommendation 8: Governance in the Northern Territory and New South Wales

8.1 That the Northern Territory and New South Wales Governments ensure that in implementing recommendations 3.2-3.4, care is taken to align these activities with jurisdictional activity:

  • in the Northern Territory, this should include the government working with local shires to accelerate the roll out of Local Area Boards in the priority communities and ensuring they are properly resourced, informed and effective in advising on decisions associated with local government matters in these communities; and
  • in New South Wales, that assistance is consistent with its own Partnership Community Governance Framework and the Regional Partnership Agreement for the Murdi Paaki region.

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