Councils seek formal role in Closing the Gap

By Angela Dorizas

West Australian councils have called on Federal and State Government to work with them to close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage.

The Local Government Managers Australia WA Division has criticised the Commonwealth and WA Government for failing to consult with local councils and Indigenous communities on strategies to lift economic development, health and remote service delivery.

Speaking at the Local Government and Indigenous Communities Conference in Perth, LGMA chief executive officer Steve Cole called on federal and state representatives to work with local councils to service remote Indigenous communities.

“What we’re saying is talk to local government about providing the services,” Cole told GovernmentNews.

“Federal and state governments should also talk to the communities and find out from them what they want and what they need.

“At the moment it’s just a two-way discussion between Commonwealth and State and both local government and the communities themselves have been left out of discussions.”

Cole called for the normalisation of local government’s role in servicing Indigenous communities, along with additional state and federal funding.

“They’re the people who are on the ground. They most often have the equipment and personnel to provide a range of local government services,” he said.

“If local government can’t do that, the federal and state governments need to recognise there’s a funding requirement.

“Most of these communities are very remote and expensive to service, which those governments would know because if they have contactors doing it there’s a very high cost.”

He said councils were “anxious” to find out what progress, if any, had been made through National Indigenous Reform Agreement, signed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in December last year.

The COAG agreement superseded previous bilateral arrangements between the Federal Government and states and territories on service delivery to Indigenous communities.

Under the agreement, governments have committed to closing the life-expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a generation; halve the mortality gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children within a decade; have the literacy and numeracy gap within a decade; halve the gap in employment outcomes within a decade; at least halve the gap in Year 12 graduation rates bu 2020; and provide preschool programs to all Indigenous children in remote communities within the next five years.

The Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA) president, Cr Bill Mitchell, told GovernmentNews that “nothing had changed” since the previous Local Government and Indigenous Communities Conference held in November 2007.

“There is a real sense of frustration that things are taking so long to put in place in terms of the state and Commonwealth agreement,” Cr Mitchell said.

“The length of time that’s been taken to get another agreement in place between the states and Commonwealth, once the bilateral agreement was superseded, has just been ridiculous.”

The Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development and Northern Australia, Gary Gray, said the Federal Government was taking a “more vigorous and rigorous approach” to Indigenous disadvantage and directing policies at “measurable and time specific goals”.

“We acknowledge that closing the gap will be no easy task,” Gray told conference delegates.

“It is going to take hard work and commitment from local government, from state and territory governments, from volunteer groups, from big business, from communities and from individuals and families if we are to break the cycle and meet our goals.”

Gray said the involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in developing policies and programs was “critical”.

Comment below to have your say on this story.

If you have a news story or tip-off, get in touch at  

Sign up to the Government News newsletter

Leave a comment:

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required