Indigenous participation key to reform ‘broken’ system

As Australia celebrates NAIDOC week, local governments call for greater indigenous involvement in remote service delivery.

Queensland’s Local Government Association has called on the State Government to recognise that democratically-elected indigenous councils need to be at the centre of decision-making in any reforms of service delivery in remote councils.

Greg Hallam, chief executive of the LGAQ, said a key Queensland Productivity Commission report last year found that despite more than $1.2 billion invested by the State Government each year in these communities, their wellbeing lags far behind other communities in Queensland.

“Ensuring that local councils elected by their own communities and living in their own communities help drive any change is crucial,” Mr Hallam said.

The commission’s report urged for systematic reform of a “fundamentally broken” system after finding that communities with more “governance autonomy” thrived more, and recommended greater indigenous-led decision making.

The report also called for service delivery to be better tailored to remote and discrete indigenous communities. It found that the “bureaucratic maze” of local, state and federal responsibility, rigidity of grant funding and inefficient and poorly targeted service delivery “undermines outcomes and foster[s] passive dependence” in regional indigenous communities.

Reform is inadequate  

Dr Thalia Anthony, a leading expert in indigenous law reform, says that giving indigenous people more power within communities is key.

While the commission’s recommendations were “theoretically desirable” more meaningful reform is needed, involving giving indigenous communities greater sovereignty and having elected local community councils working “for their people and by their people,” says Dr Anthony, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Technology Sydney.

“In reality there is a basic governance clash between indigenous governance and non-indigenous governance and it can’t be overcome through simple marginal reform, it needs to be something more instrumental,” she told Government News.

“Giving greater sovereignty rights to communities and giving communities proper compensation for the taking of their land so they can run communities and survive on communities.”

A host of benefits would come from fostering more decision making and service delivery in indigenous communities, Dr Anthony said.

“The strength of the people working on the ground is their skills, relationships, wellbeing and being able to have a holistic view of needs of community instead of a narrow view of paperwork compliance,” she said.

“Obviously that’s more efficient because you’re properly directing resources to needs rather than having layers of bureaucracy trying to ascertain what their needs are.”

Case study: Boigu Rangers

An indigenous ranger program involving indigenous-led service delivery “on the ground” is one such initiative encouraging greater indigenous involvement in regional communities.

The Boigu Rangers

Patrolling the regional waters of Boigu, monitoring turtle and dugong numbers and surveying the area for environmental concerns or illegal activity are some of the work being undertaken by the Boigu Rangers, a subset of the Torres Strait Regional Authority Compliance Management Unit.

The TSRU ranger program, which is federally funded, was identified in the commission’s report as a valued program for improving indigenous engagement at a regional level.

TSRA chairperson Pedro Stephen said the ranger program offers an important opportunity to foster indigenous-led decision making, whilst also creating social, cultural and economic outcomes.

“The Torres Strait region will benefit greatly through future employment and training opportunities as well as the economic, environmental and cultural benefits the ranger programs bring to our island communities,” he said.

Related GN coverage: Aboriginal ranger jobs a boost for native land conservation

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