Poor service delivery in ‘remote control’ communities

By Angela Dorizas

The second most disadvantaged local government area in New South Wales, Central Darling Shire, has experienced poorly co-ordinated, duplicated and ad-hoc social service delivery, a new study has found.

The study, Remote Control Communities, by Central Darling Shire and Charles Sturt University found that up to 46 different federal, state and non-government agencies were providing services to the Shire’s mostly indigenous population of 2000.

Services in the areas of health, housing, education, domestic violence support and child protection were largely provided by people who lived outside of the Shire, which is the size of Tasmania, and visited infrequently.

The local unemployment figures for the Shire’s townships of Wilcannia, Menindee, Ivanhoe and White Cliff is up to 60 per cent and the average weekly family income is $518 less than the national average.

Central Darling Shire general manager, Tim Hazell, has criticised the flawed ‘fly-in, fly-out’ model of community service delivery and has called for local government to take a greater role in coordinating services in regional Australia.

“The study reveals the need for a stable presence on the ground to coordinate, and in some cases deliver, services in remote areas,” Hazell said.

“There is a strong case for local government to play this role. We are the only permanent presence in many remote areas, we live and work in the towns and we know what they need.”

The study recommended the appointment of a regional human services coordinator to work with service providers; the co-location of service providers to strengthen their physical presence in the area; and the funding of programs over longer cycles, no shorter than three to five years.

The Shire has also called on the primary funding body for community services, the Federal Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) to carry out its own review of service delivery in the region.

“The study raises important issues that deserve further analysis,” Hazell said.

“We now want to work with the Minister, Jenny Macklin, and her department to undertake that analysis and make necessary changes to address the shortcomings.”

Key findings of the report:

  • Services were largely provided by ‘remote control’ from regional centres such as Broken Hill, Dubbo and Griffith
  • Agencies cited lack of housing and staff as a reason for not basing themselves in the Shire
  • There was a lack of coordination between agencies, resulting in duplication, conflict between agencies and confusion among residents
  • A number of services were provided on short-term funding cycles, preventing long-term planning
  • Some services such as vocational rehabilitation and disability employment were not  made available to the Shire’s residents, even though agencies were funded to provide them

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