The Northern Territory Emergency Response
This Chapter focuses on the committee's first term of reference: the
effectiveness of Australian Government policies following the Northern
Territory Emergency Response (NTER), specifically on the state of health,
welfare, education and law and order in regional and remote Indigenous
While the previous Commonwealth government introduced the NTER measures,
the current Commonwealth government has continued these measures. In its first
report of September 2008, the committee reported its decision not to
comprehensively inquire into and report on the NTER. This was because at the
time, the NTER was under review by an independent review team led by Mr Peter
The report of this independent review will be referred to in this chapter as
the NTER Review.
As the report findings of the NTER Review and the Commonwealth
government's response have now been made publicly available the committee has
been able to substantially inquire into the impact of the NTER. The committee's
research and the evidence presented to it during this period of its inquiry is
Summary of Northern Territory Emergency Response and measures
As the committee detailed in Chapter 3 of its first report, on 21 June
2007 the previous Commonwealth government announced a set of measures known as
the Northern Territory Emergency Response. These measures were stated to be in
response to Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle "Little Children are
Sacred", the Report of the Northern Territory Board of Inquiry into
the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse.
This inquiry was co-chaired by Ms Patricia Anderson and Rex Wild QC and was
conducted in order to find better ways of protecting Aboriginal children in the
Northern Territory from sexual abuse. The report was publicly released by the
Northern Territory government on 15 June 2007.
The NTER is a complex set of measures that apply across the Northern
Territory. As the committee noted in its previous report, the announcement of
the NTER was met with significant controversy. The committee considers that
there is still a considerable amount of controversy surrounding the NTER and
its implementation however there is also substantial support for a number of
Given the controversy and the fact that the NTER imposed sudden and
significant changes on Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, a
number of reviews and monitoring reports have been conducted and publicly
released. These reports are discussed in the context of the committee's
The legislative package to provide the legal basis for implementation of
the NTER comprised of five acts. Provisions of the NTER were excluded from the Racial
Discrimination Act 1975 (RDA). The legislative package that comprised the
NTER was discussed in detail in the committee's first report.
A key plank of the NTER legislation was the creation of 'prescribed
This definition is also referred to in other accompanying legislation. Prescribed
areas include all freehold land held by a Land Trust under the Aboriginal
Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, other Aboriginal communities
described as Northern Territory Community Living Areas,
town camps declared by the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services
and Indigenous Affairs under the Northern Territory National Emergency
Response Act 2007 and any other area declared by the Minister to be a
There is frequent reference to '73 prescribed communities'. This is
because 73 larger settlements in the Northern Territory were targeted for the
application of NTER measures. However the measures in fact apply to over 500 communities
with over 70 per cent of Aboriginal people within the Northern Territory living
in prescribed areas, with approximately 45 500 Indigenous people affected by
Management and Administration
The Northern Territory Emergency Response involves six Commonwealth
government agencies working with the Northern Territory government. The
measures and the responsible Commonwealth government agency is set out in the
Improving child and family
- Child health checks and follow up services
- Child special services
- Alcohol and other drugs response
- Expanding Health Service Delivery Initiative (EHSDI)
Department of Health and
- extra teachers
- extra classrooms
- expansion of literacy programs
- Quality Teaching Package
- school breakfast and lunch program
Department of Education,
Employment and Workplace Relations
- programs to expand children’s services and family support
- new and improved safe houses for families experiencing violence
- additional child-protection workers and Aboriginal family and
- diversionary activities for young people.
Department of Families,
Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
Department of Education,
Employment and Workplace Relations
Promoting law and order
- more police in remote communities
- bans on alcohol and pornography in prescribed areas
- expanded night patrol services
- additional legal services and interpreter services
- child abuse intelligence desk
Housing and land reform
- Fixing up existing houses and cleaning up communities
- five-year leases on Aboriginal townships
Department of Families,
Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
Welfare reform and
- income management of half of people’s welfare payments to
ensure children’s needs are met
- licensing of community stores
- Creating real jobs in communities outside Community Development
Employment Projects (CDEP)
- increased participation in remote areas including
- work for the Dole activities
Community Employment Brokers in communities
Department of Families,
Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
Department of Human
Department of Education,
Employment and Workplace Relations
- Northern Territory Emergency Response Taskforce
- Government Business Managers to live in and work with
- Logistical support from Defence
- Community engagement
- Ombudsman support to the Northern Territory Emergency Response.
Department of Families,
Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
The Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous
Affairs (FaHCSIA) is the lead coordination agency. FaHCSIA convenes a
cross-agency project management board which oversees coordination of the NTER.
NTER Operations Centre
The NTER Operations Centre located in Darwin is responsible for the
implementation of the measures.
During the first 12 months the NTER was led by a Taskforce chaired by Dr Sue
Gordon AM. Major General David Chalmers was appointed as the full-time
operational commander of the NTER Operations Centre and continued in this role
until February 2009. Mr Michael Zissler was appointed in February 2009 to
continue in this role.
In July 2008, the Taskforce was disbanded, with responsibility for the
emergency response coordinated through the NTER Operations Centre and State
Office of FaHCSIA in Darwin. Initially the Operations Centre planned and
managed all levels of implementation of the NTER however the committee
understands that the management of Government Business Managers has been
transferred to the Northern Territory Office of FaHCSIA and is now the
responsibility of FaHCSIA's Northern Territory Manager. Staff in Indigenous
Coordination Centres (ICCs) in the Northern Territory are to assist in the
delivery of services.
The committee would like to clarify the role of ICC staff in the implementation
of the NTER and will write to the Commander of the NTER Operations Centre
seeking more information.
Reviews and reports on the progress of the NTER
The NTER Taskforce chaired by Dr Sue Gordon AM was set up to monitor the
implementation of the NTER, provide advice to government, and promote public
awareness of the NTER and its objectives. This Taskforce was in operation for
one year and presented its report to the government in June 2008.
The report from the Taskforce was generally supportive of the NTER measures and
their implementation. However it made recommendations in several areas.
The Taskforce noted that at some point income management should become voluntary
and recommended that additional rehabilitation centres be established in
regional and remote areas and that consideration be given to making these
accessible for families where a family member is seeking to recover from
The Taskforce also recommended that the number of police in communities
should continue to be increased so that every community is adequately serviced
It also recommended that governments give consideration to which communities
were going to be sustainable into the future and provide a minimum standard of
services in these communities. An additional recommendation was that
communities be provided with greater access to mediation services to help
people deal with often crippling disputes within communities.
NTER One year on report
At around the same time as the Taskforce reported to the Commonwealth
government, a report on the NTER's progress was released by FaHCSIA. This
report was released on 20 June 2008 and was titled The Northern Territory
Emergency Response One Year On.
The report described and reported what was occurring under each budgeted
Independent review of the Northern
Territory Emergency Response
On 6 June 2008 the Commonwealth government announced a three member
independent review board to review the effectiveness and impact of the measures
contained in the NTER. The NTER Review Board consisted of Mr Peter Yu as Chair,
Ms Marcia Ella Duncan and Mr Bill Gray AM. The Review Board was supported by an
independent expert group with secretariat support provided by FaHCSIA.
The terms of reference for the independent review were to:
examine evidence and assess the overall progress of the NTER in
improving the safety and wellbeing of children and laying the basis for a
sustainable and better future for residents of remote communities in the NT,
and in particular, in improving the education, health, community safety and
employment outcomes for citizens, and particularly women and children, resident
in remote communities and town camps in the NT;
consider what is and isn’t working and whether the current suite
of NTER measures will deliver the intended results, whether any unintended
consequences have emerged and whether other measures should be developed or
ways of working applied to better address circumstances facing remote
communities in the NT; and
in relation to each NTER measure, make an assessment of its
effects to date, and recommend any required changes to improve each measure and
The NTER Review Board Report was signed off on 30 September 2008 and was
released by the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and
Indigenous Affairs on 13 October 2008.
In its introduction, the Review Board reported on the seriousness of the
lack of trust between Indigenous people and the Commonwealth government:
One thing is very clear to the Review Board: the way forward
from the Intervention can not be based on a return to ‘business as usual’. Both
Aboriginal people and the Australian Government want a new relationship. The
most fundamental quality defining that relationship must be trust. And for that
to occur at the community level in the Northern Territory there must be an
active re-engagement with the community by government. As we report, one of the
impacts of the NTER was to fracture an already tenuous relationship with
In summary the NTER Review found that the situation in Indigenous
communities, described as a crisis when the NTER was announced in June 2007,
was real and that it should remain as a priority for sustained attention and
investment. 'The situation in remote communities and town camps was—and
remains—sufficiently acute to be described as a national emergency. The NTER
The NTER Review found that the fact that the measures were based on race
and that the Racial Discrimination Act 1976 (RDA) was suspended from
application of the NTER has been one of the most divisive elements. The
committee notes that the Review Board felt that experiences of racial
discrimination and humiliation as a result of the NTER were told with such
passion that it was compelled to advise the Minister for Indigenous Affairs
during the course of the Review that such widespread hostility to the Commonwealth
government’s actions should be regarded as a matter for serious concern.
There is intense hurt and anger at being isolated on the
basis of race and subjected to collective measures that would never be applied
to other Australians. The Intervention was received with a sense of betrayal
and disbelief. Resistance to its imposition undercut the potential
effectiveness of its substantive measures.
It also found that support for the measures was dampened by the way in
which they were imposed, with the NTER diminishing its own effectiveness
'through its failure to engage constructively with the Aboriginal people it was
intended to help'.
However, the NTER Review also found widespread support for many of the
measures and gains made in addressing the disadvantage experienced by
Indigenous people in the Northern Territory. Support for police stations in communities
previously dependent on periodic patrols was high, as were measures focused on
reducing alcohol related violence, increasing the amount and quality of
housing, and increasing access to early childhood learning and education.
Support for these programs was described by the NTER Review as being
The NTER Review also found that the benefits of income management were
being experienced but there was resistance to its blanket and compulsory
nature. The NTER Review recommended that this measure be made voluntary and
imposed only in situations related to specific child protection measures and
then made the subject of independent review.
Recommendations of the Review
There were three overarching recommendations from the NTER Review that
were accepted by the Commonwealth government:
the Australian and Northern Territory governments recognise as a
matter of urgent national significance the continuing need to address the
unacceptably high level of disadvantage and social dislocation being
experienced by Aboriginal Australians living in remote communities throughout
the Northern Territory;
in addressing these needs both governments acknowledge the
requirement to reset their relationship with Aboriginal people based on genuine
consultation, engagement and partnership; and
government actions affecting Aboriginal communities respect
Australia’s human rights obligations and conform with the RDA.
The NTER Review also made some other broad recommendations that the
committee considers worthy of outlining here. Other recommendations of the NTER
Review will be discussed in the context of the committee's findings on the
operation of the NTER to follow.
Adequate housing was considered by the NTER Review to be so fundamental
to environmental health and safety that it recommended sustained, substantial
investment of public funds in community housing. They found that this was
dependent on security of tenure and where land was being compulsorily acquired,
it should be subject to a 'just terms' payment.
The committee notes that the NTER Review found that the success of the
measures of the NTER was not just about improving the individual measures but
developing an integrated approach across all initiatives and all agencies
Just as housing issues underpin community health, so policing
issues intermesh with family support which, in turn, is intimately connected
with child and family health.
Support for night patrols falls under the Law and Order
measure. Safe houses fall within a separate measure: Supporting Families. This
kind of artificial division reflects divided government agency responsibilities
and funding sources. It is a chronic problem in establishing effective
integrated services in Aboriginal communities.
If the various NTER measures are to operate as a genuine
suite of measures there needs to be adjustments in the machinery of government enabling
better coordination of services, greater responsiveness to the unique
characteristics of each community and higher levels of community participation
in the design and delivery of services.
The protection of children was the reason given for the emergency
introduction of the NTER. The NTER Review recommended development of community
safety plans in each community to link police, child protection officers, teachers,
health staff, Government Business Managers and other key service providers with
community night patrols, safe houses and women’s groups.
The lack of evidentiary material was cited by the NTER Review as a major
problem. While it was found that there was considerable quantitative and
qualitative data available in the key areas of health, housing, education, policing
and employment it was clear that little or no baseline data existed to
specifically evaluate the impacts of the NTER. It also found that at the time
of the NTER Review a number of measures, such as education initiatives, safe
houses, policing, night patrols and child services, were yet to be implemented
in many communities.
Apart from some initial scoping data, there was little evidence of
baseline data being gathered in any formal or organised format to permit an
assessment of the impact and progress of the NTER upon communities. The NTER
Review recommended the development of a single integrated information system to
allow for regular measurement of outcomes of all government agency programs and
services for Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.
The committee is very supportive of better data collection and use
although cautions against agencies developing their own administrative data
sets without having regard to good data management principles. The committee's
views on data collection and management have already been explored in Chapter
Monitoring Reports on the progress of the NTER were released by FaHCSIA for
the periods August 2007–30 June 2008 and July 2008–December
These reports provide departmental progress against the NTER initiatives
and are discussed further in this chapter.
Response to the NTER Review
On 21 May 2009 the Commonwealth government issued a final joint
statement with the Northern Territory government responding to the NTER Review.
A majority of the recommendations were supported and will be discussed below.
On the same day the Commonwealth government also released a discussion paper
titled Future Directions for the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER
Discussion Paper). This discussion paper outlines some of the actions the
government will progress to amend elements of the NTER. However the committee
notes that the Commonwealth government has made it clear that it is committed
to continuing the NTER.
The Commonwealth government has also made it clear that it is committed
to bringing forward legislation to repeal the provisions that exclude the
operation of the RDA and the Northern Territory anti-discrimination laws.
Further proposals contained in the Discussion Paper include:
individuals being able to apply for an exemption from income
management based on their family situation, financial abilities or record of
new licensing assessments for community stores;
amended legislation in relation to the five-year leases over
Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory to clarify the purpose and
operation of the leases; and
allowing for community input and individual requests to be
assessed in determining whether bans on alcohol and pornography should continue
(as opposed to blanket bans).
Northern Territory Emergency Response Measures
The Commonwealth government has committed to continuing the NTER, albeit
with amendments. The committee has heard strong views from people and
organisations opposed to the NTER in principle. Most of this criticism centres
on the displacement of the RDA and the lack of consultation and engagement with
people the measures are designed to assist. Some measures, such as five year
lease arrangements and income management remain controversial. However, the
committee considers that there is a general level of support for measures that
are designed to deliver improved services to communities and that these are
services that do not necessarily rely on the legislative basis of the NTER.
It is now two years since the commencement of the NTER. The committee
has had the opportunity to consider a range of evidence presented to it in the
form of submissions, oral evidence in public hearings, through meetings and
from a review of available material and research. This evidence and the
committee's findings are presented below.
The committee cannot emphasise enough how strongly people feel about
having the opportunity to be genuinely consulted and heard. The committee has
repeatedly heard how aggrieved and disempowered people have felt through the
NTER when changes and decisions have been made without involving people in the
decision making or communicating effectively about these changes.
The committee considers that explicit communication strategies need to be built
in to all programs, and that governments need to support service providers to
be able to communicate effectively and regularly with the people they are being
funded to assist.
A detailed consideration of the NTER measures is provided below.
Improving child and family health
The health components of the Northern Territory Emergency Response
Child health checks and follow up services;
Child special services;
Alcohol and other drugs response; and
Expanding Health Service Delivery Initiative (EHSDI).
Child health checks and follow up services, child special services and
the alcohol and other drugs response commenced in July 2007 while the EHSDI
commenced in July 2008.
Child health checks
Child health checks involved medical teams visiting communities from
July 2007 to deliver access to voluntary health checks for children up to the
age of 16 years. The child health checks are based on the existing Medicare
Benefits Schedule (MBS) Child Health Check Item and assess a child’s overall
health and wellbeing.
By 30 June 2008 the committee notes that the NTER had arranged
comprehensive health checks for 9 428 children (55 per cent of the eligible
children). Based on analysis of 8 324 child health checks, 88.2 per cent of children
had one or more health conditions identified. The proportion of children with
various conditions showed that 43.6 per cent had oral health problems such as
untreated tooth decay, 10.2 per cent had four or more skin sores, 29.8 per cent
had ear disease and 15.8 per cent had anaemia.
The committee notes that in the Central Land Council's recent report, Reviewing
the Northern Territory Emergency Response: Perspectives from six communities,
Most people reported that after initial concern, most
children in Titjikala, Papunya, Kintore, Hermannsburg and Yuendumu, and a large
number of adults, completed health checks. In general, people interviewed
seemed positive about the health checks. For example, people in Yuendumu and Kintore
It was right yeah. I felt good about them visiting. They
were checking children and that was right. Health checks good. People supported
them here. The doctors explained what was going on. Did the checks through the
clinic. People not afraid to bring their kids in to the clinic... Child doctor
[paediatrician] has come out.
The NTER Review found that remote communities in the Northern Territory already
had specific child health programs involving regular health checks. This was
called the Growth Assessment and Action program and the Healthy School-Age Kids
program. The Review also found that local health services regarded many of the
health checks to be a duplication of services already offered and that the
process entailed a high degree of administrative preparation and reporting, the
burden of which was largely borne by local providers:
When CHCs were completed, all documentation was left for the
local service to enter electronically; many local services were required to
arrange transport for families to attend CHC clinics. All follow-up referrals
and subsequent clinical, accommodation and transport arrangements remained with
the local provider. In an already under-resourced sector this impact was
Evidence presented to the committee confirmed this experience. As
Associate Professor Dennis McDermott told the committee in Adelaide:
A number of our staff on the ground, academics and
clinicians, said that very thing. They said child health checks were
duplicating the processes already in place and sometimes people were referred
to specialists, on too cautious a basis, for conditions that were already known
Sunrise Health Service in Katherine in the Northern Territory also noted
similar issues with the Child Health Checks in their submission:
First, the collective experience of practitioners in the
field was largely ignored, and the checks resulted in data about health
conditions that were already well known—and have been for decades.
Second, the great majority of practitioners that were brought
in from outside the Territory—despite all the best intentions—were
inexperienced in detecting conditions that are largely unknown in the
urban/suburban environments from which they were largely drawn.
The Central Land Council's review also identified concerns over
duplication of services, noting that:
In some communities clinic staff reported that the NTER
health checks were an unnecessary duplication of resources. For example, the
health clinic in Titjikala reported that a month prior to the health checks the
clinic had undertaken its own health checks of each child in Titjikala. Clinic
staff in Papunya also raised the issue of duplication of health checks, stating
that in Papunya children’s health checks were up to date and the resources used
to complete the health checks would be better directed in other areas.
The referral phase following health checks was found to be 'sporadic'
and dependent on the availability of funding and specialists rather than the
needs of the child being referred. While the Commonwealth provided funding to
the Northern Territory government and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health
Organisations (ACCHOs) to conduct follow up treatment, the NTER Review found
that at September 2008, approximately 60 per cent of children still required
The Laynhapuy Homelands Association Inc noted that the Child Health
Checks in the homelands were provided by the Laynhapuy Health Service and were
beneficial as it enabled the health to service to bring forward the completion
of an existing child health program. The main concern now 'is the capacity of
follow up services by NT Health to capitalise on this screening process.'
The NTER Review recommended urgent prioritisation of ongoing treatment
for children with identified issues under the child health checks with a
particular focus on dental treatment.
The Monitoring Report released by the Commonwealth in June 2009 which
reports on NTER activities up to December 2008 (Monitoring Report) reported
that the main focus of the Child Health Check Initiative during the period 1
July to 31 December 2008 was the provision of follow-up care to children who
had referrals from checks previously conducted. While preliminary data suggests
that follow-up in primary health care has reached over 80 per cent of children,
follow-up in more specialised areas, which requires the deployment of special
facilities and staff, are progressing more slowly.
Information provided to the committee indicates that at 28 February 2009,
an estimated total of 13 286 valid Child Health Checks have been performed
through the NTER and Medicare Benefits Scheme (MBS) Item 708 since 1 July 2007.
The estimated Child Health Check coverage as at 31 December 2008 is 60 per cent.
Data published by the Department of Health and Ageing and AIHW shows
that referrals have been addressed in the following way:
78% of the 2 409 children referred to Primary Health Care Clinic;
44% of the 794 children referred to a Paediatrician;
37% of the 616 children referred to an ENT (ear, nose and throat)
50% of the 637 children referred for tympanometry and audiometry;
22% of the 2 377 children referred for dental follow-up.
The committee notes that the Monitoring Report acknowledges that while
progress to refer children for specialist care has been made, it is slow and
the figures indicate the high level of need for specialist services. The fact
that many of the children who have received some follow-up care require further
action is due to the chronic nature of many of the conditions being treated and
real progress can only be made if the poor living conditions of many children
Child special services
Child special services refer to the establishment of a service for
children experiencing trauma as a result of child abuse. The central element of
this is the establishment of a Sexual Assault Referral Centre Mobile Outreach
Service (MOS) which commenced in April 2008.
It is intended to provide information, support, assessment and therapeutic
services to victims or suspected victims of sexual abuse, and education and training
on preventing, responding and supporting victims of child sexual assault.
The Review Board documented its concern about the capacity of such a
small service with five staff to deliver direct and indirect services for the
entire Northern Territory. It also found that there was little understanding of
the service and its role in communities, with one example of a victim using the
service who had been visited once but had no follow-up. Her family was unaware
of why this was the case and seemed to indicate a lack of appropriate
communication about the service and what it could provide.
The committee also heard evidence that there was little understanding in
communities amongst child care workers as to what support services were
available. Speaking about research with child care workers undertaken by
Batchelor Institute Dr Lyn Fasoli said:
Virtually all the childcare workers that we worked with said
they had never been directly spoken to by any of the staff from the
intervention to say, ‘This is why we are here. This is how you might address
child abuse issues that you detect in your children’s service. These are the
proper procedures for addressing a concern or an issue.’ We found that the most
surprising. I would have thought that children’s services workers would have
been the first port of call for people wanting to stop child abuse.
The Monitoring Report states that teams of sexual assault counsellors
and Aboriginal sexual assault workers are now operational in all Northern Territory
regions and provide casework services, community education and professional
development. In the period from 1 July to 31 December 2008 the MOS made a total
of 38 visits to 11 communities and town camps and provided casework to children
and families, as well as professional development and community education to
service providers and community members.
Alcohol and other drug response
The alcohol and other drug response was intended to increase access to
alcohol and other drug detoxification, treatment and rehabilitation services
across the Northern Territory. This was in recognition of the health impacts of
the NTER alcohol bans in prescribed communities.
The NTER Review found that there was broad support for increasing
services related to alcohol and other drug treatment, and while it was too
early to tell whether the additional resources had a significant impact, early
results were promising.
Increased demand for withdrawal, treatment and rehabilitation services
was anticipated and a target of 28 Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) outreach workers
was set to be located at selected primary care and substance use services. As
at July 2008, 20 AOD staff were employed in primary health care services, largely
through Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services throughout the five
regional centres of Katherine, Nhulunbuy, Darwin, Tennant Creek and Alice
Springs. Four rehabilitation services were funded to increase the bed capacity
and staff within their services and the Central Australian Alcohol Program Unit
received funding to complete a women’s residential facility at Alice Springs.
The Monitoring Report indicated that two dedicated hospital beds for
detoxification at both Katherine District and Tennant Creek Hospitals from
September 2007 were made available and that 28 outreach workers in primary care
and substance use services had been deployed. The committee noted at the
hearing in Canberra that the information provided in the Monitoring Report on
rehabilitation facilities was not sufficiently detailed. FaHCSIA officers
Mr James—Yes. There is some information provided there on the
measures that have been implemented. They do not go down to the detail that you
are looking for.
Senator CROSSIN—No. That is not detailed enough for what I am
after. When you talk about ‘commenced provision of two dedicated hospital beds
for detox’—two beds in Katherine and Tennant Creek—is that four beds altogether
or one in each place?
Mr Yates—I cannot provide the answer on that, but our Health
colleagues, I am sure, will be able to.
Senator CROSSIN—It is not in here, is it?
Senator ADAMS—I think it is—
Mr James—It says at both Katherine and Tennant Creek, so I
think it is two in each, I think.
Senator CROSSIN—It says, ‘... to support these beds for an
initial six weeks.’ What does that mean? If you are someone who is trying to be
detoxed, you can sit in the bed for six weeks but after that you get moved on;
is that what that means?
Mr Yates—The detailed operation of those arrangements is
probably best directed to the health department.
Mr James—Yes. They provided this text.
Senator CROSSIN—It is not very clear, is it? It does not
answer a lot of questions, does it?
Key elements of the Alcohol and other Drugs Response introduced in
2007-08 are being continued in 2008-09 under the Closing the Gap in the
Northern Territory measure. This includes increasing the AOD workforce in the
primary health care setting, increasing the capacity for substance use
treatment and rehabilitation, workforce development and
evaluating the program.
The committee received evidence that reinforced the importance of having
an effective and well resourced strategy to reduce the harmful levels of
alcohol and other drugs. The National Centre for Education and Training
informed the committee about the evidenced links between levels of education
and risky alcohol and drug use.
Clearly, education and literacy levels are important for a
range of important reasons for a young person; not least of which is future
life prospects. But, there is also an important link between education level
and overall health status and the crucial link between education level and the
use of alcohol and other drugs.
The committee is concerned about the lack of available beds for alcohol
treatment programs. Given that the manner and place in which people in
prescribed areas can drink has been restricted, the committee considers that
more places need to be made available not just for immediate treatment, but for
follow-up support and ongoing treatment. As the Central Australian Aboriginal
Legal Aid Service and the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency state in
their submission, while immediate legislative alcohol restrictions may have had
'a visible initial effect, without the services to support people, such
legislative changes can exacerbate problems'.
The committee was advised that the Commonwealth government, through the
Office for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health (OATSIH) provides
funding to support a range of different service types including residential,
non-residential, stand alone substance use services, sobering-up shelters and
Aboriginal Medical Services. The total number of residential rehabilitation
services in the Northern Territory is eight and as of 30 June 2008, there were
234 bed places in residential rehabilitation facilities.
At its hearing in Canberra on 9 June 2009 the Department of Health and
Ageing (DoHA) acknowledged that past models of treatment where people attended
a facility for a short term did not work, and that a more sophisticated
therapeutic model was required. Ms Lesley Podesta advised the committee that
the Department was looking at other models.
We have also been trying to focus on some family settings and
some women-only settings because we have high numbers of women with alcohol
problems. A lot of the resi services tended to be full of men, which was not
always the most appropriate setting. It is a bit more sophisticated. The other
thing we have been investing in increasingly—and we will give you the capital
works investment that we have put into the territory—is really improving the
stock and the safety and security of some of those buildings. Some of them were
That the Commonwealth government increase access to alcohol and other
drug detoxification, treatment and rehabilitation services across the Northern
Territory, ensuring that there is ongoing support for individuals after they
have accessed programs and services.
Expanding Health Service Delivery
The Expanding Health Service Delivery Initiative is intended to provide
$99.7 million across the 2008-09 and 2009-10 years with the aim of increasing
primary health care services and recruitment of more health professionals
through the Remote Area Health Corp. The Remote Area Health
Corp was established in order to strengthen primary health care services in
remote communities in the Northern Territory through engaging health
professionals. The committee understands that the Remote Area Health Corp is
operated by a private company, Aspen Medical, the successful tenderer to operate
the Remote Area Health Corp. On 4 December 2008 the
first deployment to the Northern Territory occurred with two registered nurses
being deployed to Ampilatwatja. By 31 December 2008 the Remote Area Health Corp
had deployed seven health professionals and all were registered nurses.
The committee understands that the EHSDI is the subject of a memorandum of
understanding between the Commonwealth and Northern Territory governments and
the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the Northern Territory (AMSANT)
over two years and attempts to build the capacity of primary health care
services based on a model of regional service delivery.
DoHA has undertaken planning for the implementation of the EHSDI with
the Northern Territory Department of Health and Families and AMSANT under the Northern
Territory Aboriginal Health Framework Agreement. The committee notes that the
Monitoring Report states that consultations on the reform agenda are underway
and funding for increased staff and primary health care services have been
The measure involves:
programs to expand children’s services and family support;
new and improved safe houses for families experiencing violence;
additional child-protection workers and Aboriginal family and community
diversionary activities for young people.
Expanding children’s services and
The NTER measures provided $859 000 for five playgroups and $400 000 to
expand current and early childhood programs. Around $4.2 million was allocated
to funding for 10 new
crèches in communities that had no learning and child care services for
children under five years. Funding was also directed towards upgrades for up to
16 existing crèches with identified urgent health and safety concerns.
The committee understands that four new crèche facilities have been
completed at Areyonga, Papunya, Lajamanu and Kaltukatjara and six upgrades to
existing crèche facilities have been completed at Maningrida, Gunbalanya,
Borroloola, Ntaria, Santa Teresa and Nyirripi.
FaHCSIA has provided funding for 13 Remote Aboriginal Family and Community
Workers (RAFCWs). The stated aim of this program is to assist communities and
families to access appropriate services, provide support to services regarding
child safety concerns and to support Northern Territory child services workers
in local Indigenous communities. The committee notes that between September
2008 and 31 January 2009, the Northern Territory government recruited eight
RAFCWs. One team leader, one project officer and one acting manager have also
The NTER Review found that it was difficult to get accurate figures on
the provision of pre-school services in communities. Although a number of
government schools are registered to provide pre-school services, delivery
appeared to be ad hoc or at best an early childhood class tacked on to the
school. Most communities visited by the NTER Review expressed a desperate need
for early childhood services and family support programs, such as parenting
programs, particularly to support young women, pre-schools, nutrition programs,
childcare services, playgroups and crèches.
The NTER included funding for five new facilitated playgroups and an
expansion of Indigenous Children Program (ICP) and Invest to Grow (ItG)
services in the Northern Territory. The playgroup funding is for two mobile
Intensive Support Playgroups (ISPs) based in Tennant Creek and Katherine and
for three Locational Supported Playgroups in Numbulwar, Milingimbi and
NTER funding was also provided for the expansion of three ‘Invest to
Grow’ projects which were to include child nutrition prevention and
intervention sessions with families with children at risk delivered by the NPY
Women’s Council; 'Core of Life', a health education program providing
information about pregnancy, breastfeeding and early parenting delivered by
Menzies Inc. and the 'Let’s Start', a project to develop a preschool program in
communities to support parents; enhance parenting practices; strengthen family
units; develop children’s social skills and reduce problematic behaviour to be
delivered by Charles Darwin University.
The Monitoring Report states that funding agreements have been signed
with service providers for the Tennant Creek and Katherine playgroups and that
in the six months to 31 December 2008, 264 children and 92 parents and
caregivers in the Tennant Creek and Katherine regions have participated in
these playgroups. The Monitoring Report also states that at 20 May 2009, three
of the five new playgroups were operational.
In addition, the Monitoring Report notes that funding agreements have also been
signed with service providers for all three Locational Supported Playgroups. Yuendumu
commenced operations in May 2009. The Milingimbi and Numbulwar services are
still conducting consultations so these services have not yet commenced.
The Indigenous Children Program (ISP) was formed in 2006 by a merger of
previously funded programs providing support to families. Between February and
30 June 2008, 21 children 0-8 yrs and 15 parents and caregivers used this
program. Between July and December 2008, 19 children 0-8 yrs, 3 children 9-12,
and 11 parents and caregivers used this program.
Progress detailed in the latest Monitoring Report under the Invest to
Grow projects includes:
Child Nutrition Program at NPY Women’s Council: From June 2008 to
December 2008, the nutrition team delivered 37 prevention and intervention
sessions to 307 participants for children at risk and provided 65 children and
their families with essential food and health requirements in emergencies. From
June 2008 to December 2008, 122 parents and caregivers participated in the ItG Child
Nutrition Program, compared to 75 parents and caregivers who participated in 18
nutrition education sessions in the period January 2008 to June 2008.
Core of Life run by Menzies Inc: This program provides
information about pregnancy, breastfeeding and early parenting. In the period January
2008 to June 2008 five community forums were conducted in Wadeye, Groote
Eylandt, Darwin, Alice Springs and Tiwi Islands, and facilitator training was
conducted for twelve participants.
Let’s Start run by Charles Darwin University: This project aims
to develop a preschool program in communities to support parents, enhance
parenting practices, strengthen family units, develop children’s social skills
and reduce problematic behaviour. Let’s Start has not yet commenced delivering
The committee looks forward to reporting on the progress of these
important services in its next report. The committee has found that there is a
large amount of community support for improving access to these services and if
provided in ways that take account of local circumstances, people will use
them. The committee agrees that supporting children in the early years is
critical to their long term life chances and wellbeing. As the National Rural
Health Alliance Inc states:
In child health, the broader issue is for Australia to
develop world’s best-practice programs for supporting pregnant women and their
babies in the first few years of life. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
women and children, especially those living in rural and remote communities,
should be the highest priority for government programs relating to maternal and
child health. Access to maternal and child health nurses during a child’s early
years is vital in helping to prevent many of the aspects of non-healthy
lifestyles that are linked to chronic disease. 
The Monitoring Report identified attracting experienced and qualified
workers as the key barrier to this type of service delivery and stated that funding
models for children and family services that include provision for competitive
wages, high quality professional support and formal training, mentoring and
professional development for local workers would go some way to addressing this
The committee is pleased that additional funding to continue these
services to 2012 has been announced but questions what plans are in place to
support workforce capacity, recruitment and housing for staff in early
childhood and parenting services in regional and remote Indigenous
The Family Support package was allocated $11.83 million in 2007–08 with
the intent of establishing or expanding 22 safe houses and cooling off houses
in 16 communities as well as increasing the capacity of safe houses in Darwin
and Alice Springs. The committee notes that FaHCSIA has been allocated an additional
$9.5 million in 2008–09 to contribute to the project. The Monitoring Report
stated that as at 20 May 2009, 17 out of 22 Safe Houses were operational.
At its hearing in Canberra the committee sought information from FaHCSIA on the
detail of what being operational actually meant. FaHCSIA provided the committee
with updated details and advised that there were now 19 'safe places' that were
operational. A safe place was operational according to the following
A safe house is defined as operational when the doors are
open and it is accepting clients.
The Women’s safe houses each have an adult worker and a children’s
The Men’s Cooling-off Places each have an adult worker and a youth
Wherever possible a pool of casual workers is also employed to work
after hours in the safe houses.
Safe Places are staffed between 10 am and 6 pm. Outside of
these hours Safe Place staff can be contacted (usually by the Night Patrol or
Police) to open the Safe Place if needed.
While the committee regards the operation of more safe places as
positive, it is concerned that the operating hours of 10 am to 6 pm may not be
the times when the safe places are needed most, and that having to call upon
staff to open the facility in late evenings and early mornings may place a
great deal of pressure on these staff. The committee also notes that in an
answer to a question on notice in relation to night patrols, FaHCSIA advised
that activities undertaken by a night patrol service may include relocating a
person to a safe environment such as a 'recognised safe house'.
Given that this will occur at night or early in the morning, the committee
considers it highly likely that there will be demand to staff safe places
The committee will monitor the operation of safe houses and publish its
findings when it tables its next report in November 2009.
The Review Board visited communities with newly installed women’s safe
houses and men’s cooling off places. The NTER Review reported that facilities
in most locations consisted of steel shipping containers arranged to form a
quadrangle where meetings and gatherings could be held. The facilities included
office space, accommodation spaces and amenities. None were operational during
the NTER Review period.
Feedback from communities to the NTER Review indicated that few people
were consulted on either the design or location of the facility. Many women
told the NTER Review that they would not use the safe houses as they were ‘more
like detention centres’.
One community rejected the container-style accommodation and secured commitment
for a house to be designated and fitted out as a safe house. Some communities already
had their own facilities.
At its hearing in Alice Springs the committee heard that the lack of
consultation on the safe houses was impacting on their utility.
Women have been calling for safe houses in their communities
for a very long time. There have been several houses operational in a couple of
communities in Central Australia for a long period of time. However, it is my
understanding that...an internal audit undertaken by the government in 2004 shows
that none of those safe houses were operating in the way that they were funded
to. There has never been any formal review or research into the effectiveness
of the model. Once it was a priority for the federal government to build safe
houses in communities, and they spent lots of money in doing that however,
there was no research or experience to show how that might work or look on a
remote community. Also, the federal government gave a very tight time frame for
that money to be spent.
From the Northern Territory’s perspective, the program was
rolled out but there was absolutely no consultation with the services on the
ground about how those services might look or be developed. For example, the
person who was responsible for rolling out that program was invited to the Central
Australian Family Violence and Sexual Assault Network, which includes every
service that provides for that group of women and men. We invited them on many
occasions over nine months to come and talk to us about how that might work,
and we did not get one visit from that group. That has now been rectified.
There are new people in that job, and I think the NT has gone a long way
towards rectifying that problem. However, the safe houses are already built in communities,
and I have never been able to find out why the particular communities that have
a safe house actually got them...
The more concerning thing is that there is no practice model
attached to these buildings. Providing that type of service in a remote
community is extremely difficult and nuanced. If you are hiring local women to
work in that service, those women are going to need ongoing support. If you are
working in a community where people’s kinships and cultural relationships are
pivotal and central to their daily lives, obviously that is going to impact on
their ability to run a safe house. People need access not only to training but
to ongoing support to talk through decisions and to manage a crisis, because it
will be quite dangerous for those workers in those small communities.
The committee notes that the reasons given in the Monitoring Report for
using shipping containers as the preferred option to deliver the safe houses was
because they were deemed to be the most efficient and effective way of
addressing an immediate need in communities. It was also stated that the containers
offered a higher level of building security than demountables, were cyclone
coded, quick to construct and less expensive to retrofit.
The committee understands that safe houses or cooling off places will
often be used by people with a high level of distress and who possibly present
with a risk of self harm and that providing adequate training for staff is a
serious issue. The NTER Review noted that adequate staff training had not been
addressed in the design of either the facility or the management of the
program. In addition, little of the information that was supplied to the NTER
Review was about either the role of safe house staff or, more importantly, how
all these initiatives were to be coordinated to form part of an integrated plan
for the community.
The committee regards having sufficient support in place for workers and
the community as critical to the success of safe houses, as well as to the
health and safety of workers. As Dale Wakefield, Coordinator of the Alice
Springs Women's Shelter told the committee:
The more concerning thing is that there is no practice model
attached to these buildings. Providing that type of service in a remote
community is extremely difficult and nuanced. If you are hiring local women to
work in that service, those women are going to need ongoing support. If you are
working in a community where people’s kinships and cultural relationships are
pivotal and central to their daily lives, obviously that is going to impact on
their ability to run a safe house. People need access not only to training but
to ongoing support to talk through decisions and to manage a crisis, because it
will be quite dangerous for those workers in those small communities.
The committee agrees with the NTER Review's recommendation that where
safe houses have been installed, the Northern Territory government, the
relevant service provider and each community should agree about their
management, duty of care, liability and integration with associated services
before they become operational, and as further safe houses are installed there
be consultation with the relevant community on these issues.
The committee notes that this recommendation was accepted by both the
Commonwealth and Northern Territory governments and the committee will monitor
whether the construction of future safe houses follows this procedure.
Additional child-protection workers
and Aboriginal family and community workers
The committee understands that the Northern Territory government was
already in the process of reforming its child protection system including
expanding child protection services and legislative reform at the time of the
introduction of the NTER. Thus the NTER funding built on this process and
contributed to the establishment of a mobile child protection team (MCPT). Based
in Darwin the MCPT's intended role is to investigate child protection reports
in remote communities in order to try and address the backlog of investigations
and to support local offices with increased workloads. The MCPT was intended to
provide 10 child protection workers, a coordinator and an administrative
The Monitoring Report states that fifty communities have been visited by
the Mobile Child Protection Team and 459 cases investigated. At 31 December
2008, two child protection workers and one administration assistant had been
recruited. The committee notes that the levels of staffing on this team have
been fluctuating and there has been a high turnover of staff. The committee
understands that the positions have been difficult to keep filled due to the
high level of qualifications sought, the remoteness of the work and the
short-term nature of the contracts. A recruitment round occurred recently with
four new workers employed and two to be contracted shortly.
The committee questions why workers are being offered short term
contracts if there is committed longer term funding available. The committee
considers that providing effective services in remote locations is so important
that this should be addressed as a matter of priority.
The NTER Review recommended that the Northern Territory government
engage immediately with Aboriginal communities to strengthen child protection
arrangements and deal with reported cases of abuse, and that funding priority
be given to enable Aboriginal communities to build community integration and
ownership of a child and family safety system that has the capacity to
interface effectively with government agencies.
The NTER Review stated that this should be implemented through community
safety plans which link police, child protection, teachers, health staff, GBMs
and other key service providers, with relevant community organisations such as
night patrols, safe houses and women’s groups the community safety plans should
ensure that programs and services directed at child safety and wellbeing are
appropriate and relevant to the community and have a high level of visibility
The committee notes that the Commonwealth and Northern Territory
governments accepted these recommendations.
Diversionary activities for young
This measure aimed to address the high levels of alcohol and drug abuse
among young Aboriginal people living in remote communities and is largely a
capital and infrastructure investment program with some funding directed to
local youth activities. A three part youth alcohol diversionary implementation
strategy was developed and FaHCSIA reported that $8.5 million was funded across
Due to insufficient capacity, the planned Alice Springs Town Camp Youth
Diversion Project did not go ahead so the Commonwealth government funding for
this component was reallocated to the Indigenous Youth Flexible Funding
Component. The committee notes that non-capital projects funded under this
measure included the establishment of a Youth Development Network, the conducting
of 20 youth-specific activities across 15 non government providers, as well as
school holiday programs across 10 communities.
The NTER Review found that while a number of communities mentioned the
benefits of upgrades to existing facilities there was also widespread comment
about the persistent lack of ongoing youth services. This was especially so for
communities that only received youth activities as part of a holiday program.
Also, some communities, while benefiting from better sporting or recreational facilities,
did not have the benefit of a youth worker.
The committee notes that in its submission CAYLUS provided a list of
ongoing youth service requirements across both the NTER prescribed communities
and all other remote communities in the Northern Territory central desert
region. CAYLUS' estimate was that $7.2 million over three years is required for
wages and $11.15 million is required for capital.
The committee agrees with the NTER Review's recommendation that a
comprehensive strategy needs to be developed and implemented for youth
development services to address both capital infrastructure and recurrent
funding, linked to a wider community development framework. This recommendation
was accepted by the Commonwealth and Northern Territory governments and the committee
will follow any progress made towards developing such a strategy.
In 2007-08 a total of $8.5 million was allocated to establish the
Northern Territory Regional Youth Development Network in the West Arnhem and
Daly River regions (auspiced by Red Cross Australia). This network was intended
to provide a flexible funding pool for youth diversion projects and provide
holiday programs in central Australia.
In 2008-09 a total of $8.8 million was allocated to one youth diversion
program, comprising two components. Component one consisted of $2.1 million for
the intended continuation of the Northern Territory Youth Development Network
aimed at improving the quantity, quality and cohesion of its youth activities.
The committee notes that funding for the Northern Territory Youth Development
Network was released to Red Cross Australia on 29 October 2008.
The Monitoring Report states that Red Cross Australia had consulted with
a wide range of stakeholders and communities to develop a network of youth
services and it employs local coordinators in 13 communities who work part time
to assist service providers with the implementation of their programs. The
committee notes that delays in implementation were impacted by recruitment of
key Red Cross Australia project staff, the close down over Christmas and
selection negotiations with providers.
Component two of the program consisted of $6.7 million intended for
infrastructure and youth programs in Central Australia. Payments began in
November 2008 after funding agreements were negotiated in the first part of the
2008-09 financial year. These projects target young people 12 to 18 years of
age to build the youth services infrastructure, offer culturally appropriate
social and recreational activities and provide local employment and training
opportunities. A key priority for services this year is to work in partnership
with the Northern Territory Department of Education and Training to support better
attendance at school.
The committee notes that Mission Australia was funded $7.97 million to
provide youth services over three years in just four communities, those of Aputula
(Finke), Imanpa, Mutitjulu and Kaltukatjara (Docker River) through the Northern
Territory Integrated Youth Services Project (NTIYS). Mission Australia noted in
their submission that:
The level of funding of the NTIYS acknowledges the true cost
of providing sustainable services in remote communities. Mission Australia’s
experience in providing the NTIYS has demonstrated that a high level of
financial resources is required in order to properly fund the provision of
services that will have a sustainable impact on the lives of young people in
the remote communities of Central Australia. Mission Australia’s experience
with this initiative also highlights that contractual arrangements for many of
the programs delivered in the NT and other remote communities should be 5 to 10
years, rather than annual or even three year funding. The timeframes required
for change, coupled with the necessary investment in staff and infrastructure
requires such an approach.
Central Australian Youth Link Up Service (CAYLUS) noted the importance
of youth services, stating that increasing the facilities and resources would:
...be very positive for the current safety and future potential
of the at-risk group and for the wider society in which they live. The group
would have access to safe, educational, socialising activities. Our experience
gained in addressing inhalant abuse in this population has shown us that the
majority of people will take other options if they are available in their
communities. The existing models demonstrate this, especially the Mount Theo
project, which has been going for 13 years and has made substantial improvements
to the quality of life of young Walpiri people.
The committee does not consider that it is able to form a view on the
success or otherwise of youth program funding at this stage as the services
appear to be in their infancy. The committee regards youth services as
essential for community wellbeing and will report on progress in their next
The enhancing education initiatives were intended to be carried out
mainly through an MOU between the Commonwealth and Northern Territory
governments which committed them to working collaboratively. Enhancing education
is intended to deliver:
expansion of literacy programs;
Quality Teaching Package; and
school breakfast and lunch program.
The Review was advised that in June 2007 approximately 8 000 children
were enrolled in 69 schools in the 73 NTER communities. At least 2 500 of these
children were not attending school regularly. As many as 2 000 children of
school age were not enrolled in education at all.
The committee notes that planned measures to quarantine 100 per cent of
welfare payments of parents whose children were not attending school did not go
However a program called the Improving School Enrolment and Attendance through
Welfare Reform Measure (SEAM) is currently being trialled in six communities in
the Northern Territory: Katherine, Katherine Town Camps, Tiwi Islands, Ntaria (Hermannsburg),
Wadeye and Wallace Rockhole. The SEAM program attaches conditions to income
support payments, and if parents on income support are not sending their
children to school, it is possible their payments could be suspended.
While visiting the Ntaria School the committee heard how cumbersome the
administrative process surrounding SEAM appeared to be. It also heard that many
of the children in the community who weren't attending school did not appear on
the list provided to the principal because their parents were not on income
The NTER Review found that there was a great degree of despair in
communities at the low levels of educational outcomes experienced by many
children in Indigenous communities. They concluded that the Northern Territory
education system was in crisis.
The committee has also heard during this inquiry that staff in schools and
community members are frustrated by the lack of progress being made.. The
committee discusses this issue in greater detail below.
Extra teachers and classrooms
The NTER provided funding for an additional 200 teachers in the Northern
Territory. The Northern Territory government has advised the committee that the
Commonwealth government committed $98.8 million over five years to provide an
additional 200 teachers to work in remote community schools, with around 50
teachers recruited and deployed in Northern Territory government and Catholic
They also advised that the Northern Territory is expected to receive $196.6
million over three years, of which at least $7 million will specifically be
used for new classrooms in NTER communities. With the intention of helping to
attract and retain teachers, the Commonwealth government has committed to
providing the Northern Territory with a further $11.2 million in 2009-10 for
the construction of up to 22 additional houses for teachers in the remote NTER
communities. This is in addition to the ten teacher houses that will be built
in Wadeye, announced by the Australian Government in October 2008.
The committee will report any progress made towards increasing teacher
numbers with these additional resources in its next report.
The additional classrooms measure was aimed at providing additional
classrooms in schools where increased enrolment and attendance may have placed
pressure on existing infrastructure. As detailed in Chapter 5, the need for
sufficient infrastructure to be able to accommodate students is critical to be
able to attract and retain students. The committee observed this directly in
Ntaria where there has been a dramatic increase in secondary enrolments without
sufficient classrooms and equipment to teach secondary programs and more
importantly without sufficient ablution facilities to cope with the increased
volume of students.
Expansion of literacy programs and Quality
The committee notes that the Commonwealth government's rationale for the
accelerated literacy program measure was to give additional funding support to
Northern Territory education providers to help them manage the anticipated
increases in school enrolment and attendance as a result of the NTER. The
objective was to put in place a number of regionally based specialist teams to
provide professional development training to improve literacy and numeracy for
Indigenous students in remote communities.
The objective of the quality teaching package is to 'provide training,
mentoring, in-classroom support and the acquisition of additional teaching
skills through professional learning and training incentives'.
While the committee is supportive of initiatives that develop and
support better learning outcomes for students they were concerned to hear about
the apparent lack of uniformity between programs being taught in different
We are also concerned about the lack of uniformity in the
educational system. There are three communities where students travel a lot. At
one school they are doing AL, accelerated literacy; at another school they are
doing First Steps, which is a Western Australian literacy program; and then at
another school the teachers are writing their own literacy programs. We know
that the kids are travelling. We know that they move between the communities,
and every time they change they go into a different literacy program. It is
similar for maths as well.
The committee also repeatedly heard about how important it was for
schools to have sufficient teachers who are trained to work with students whose
first language is not English (ESL).
The committee is concerned that the Northern Territory government staffing
formula for remote schools does not take into account students' ESL needs but
is encouraged that the government is currently preparing a submission for
Cabinet to increase staffing based on ESL numbers.
School breakfast and lunch program
The school nutrition program, which provides breakfast and lunch, is
designed to increase attendance at schools. According to the Commonwealth government,
the rationale was drawn from the Little Children are Sacred report which
recommended that a school nutrition program be established. The Monitoring
Report stated that as at December 2008, 71 schools across the 73 prescribed
communities have a school nutrition program. This is up from the June 2008
figures where there were school nutrition programs established in 55
communities and 8 town camp areas.
The committee will follow up on the number of schools that are in the
prescribed areas that do not yet have a nutrition program and what the
percentage increases are with each subsequent monitoring report.
The committee received evidence that as of 20 May school nutrition programs
were in place in 69 communities, and that a total of 185 positions have been
created in these communities. Of these, 149 Indigenous people have been
employed which equates to an Indigenous take-up rate of 81 per cent. Thirty-six
people are employed as supervisors or coordinators and of these, 12 people or
33 per cent are local Indigenous people. The school nutrition program prepares
3 477 breakfasts and 4 560 lunches each school day; a total of 8 037 meals. At
1 May, of the 3 655 income managed Centrelink customers in the Northern Territory
with school aged children, 2 999 or 82.1 per cent were making a voluntary
contribution to the school nutrition program.
The NTER Review found that on the information available to them, there
was no evidence that linked the program with increased attendance. The Review
compared 17 schools that had a school nutritional program for more than six months
with 19 schools that had only just received it or where school nutrition was
yet to be established. The NTER Review found that attendance had declined or
was unchanged in two thirds of the long exposure schools while in two thirds of
the short exposure schools it had increased. The NTER Review concluded that school
attendance is related to factors other than the availability of the school
The Monitoring Report indicates that there has been little change in
attendance rates from December 2007 to December 2008. The combined attendance
rate for Primary and Secondary School students was 63% in December 2007compared
to 61% for December 2008.
Even though there may not be any evidence to link the provision of meals
at school with increased school attendance the committee considers that
providing regular, healthy meals to children and having the engagement of their
parents and other members of the community facilitated through this program can
only be beneficial. This was also supported by anecdotal evidence the committee
heard from teachers and parents in the communities of Milingimbi and Ntaria.
The fact that many parents were making voluntary payments to the program
through their Centrelink arrangements is also to be commended.
Community meeting in
The committee also heard from many witnesses that the school nutrition
programs had been received as a positive development and was an aspect of the
NTER that was welcomed. The Victoria Daly Shire, responsible for communities
within the vicinity of Katherine, noted that:
...the school nutrition programs are very positive. Some more
work could be done around those in terms of getting better facilities and the
like. But that again has been a very positive thing.
When the committee asked Sunrise Health Service about the school
nutrition programs they noted that it is reaching a lot of children but
confirmation of its effectiveness is not yet possible:
We know that we have good engagement and that good numbers of
people turn up. In terms of...evaluation, at the moment we are trying to get our
anaemia rates down. We have quite a sustained program around that. Probably in
another six months time I will be able to more accurately answer that because
anaemia is one of those instant, key performance indicators as to whether
things have changed for the good or not.
Promoting law and order
more police in remote communities;
bans on alcohol and pornography in prescribed areas;
expanded night patrol services;
additional legal services and interpreter services; and
child abuse intelligence desk.
A primary objective of the NTER was to provide for more police and
police stations, and to give police additional powers. The Australian Federal
Police (AFP) and state police forces have provided additional police officers
to work with Northern Territory police and are under their command. The
committee notes that before the NTER, 38 police stations serviced remote
communities in the Northern Territory. Between July 2007 and February 2008, 18
additional temporary police stations were built under Taskforce THEMIS in the
NTER communities. Sixty three additional police have been deployed since the
NTER was announced in June 2007; 45 AFP and interstate police and 18 Northern Territory
police. Four existing police stations have also been upgraded.
The Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
provided the committee with an update on the number of police in each
community, and where there is no police presence in the community, which
station the community is serviced by and the distance to the nearest police
station. This information is provided at Appendix 7.
There was clear evidence to the NTER Review that more police were
welcome, and that communities without a police presence should be provided with
them. The NTER Review expressed concern that even in communities that did have
police, the current numbers were not adequate. For example many communities
only have two police who are expected to provide 24-hour, 7-day-a-week service.
The committee also heard that in Milingimbi there is still no permanent police
presence in this community and that if there is an incident police have to
attend from Ramingining by which time the incident is over.
The committee notes that even though the NTER Review received
information about the criteria used to determine the locations of the new
THEMIS police stations, which included issues such as the existing picture of
criminality, any prior needs assessment and the strategic importance of the
location, it found that there appeared to be significant inconsistencies
regarding the allocation of police. They gave the following example:
Tennant Creek, a town with a population of about 33007, has
39 police officers (one police officer to 85 people), compared to Wadeye with a
population of approx 22208 which has seven police (one police officer to 317
people) and Maningrida, with a population of approx 30009, which has two police
officers (one police to 1500 people).
Expert advice sought by the NTER Review indicated that it was too early
to tell whether the additional police presence was preventing crime in the
prescribed areas, with the only empirical conclusion to be drawn from available
data being that a police station is now operating and that crime is being
reported. It does not allow for the actual crime to have been measured before
and after the establishment of the station. 
The committee notes that one factor identified by the additional police
presence has been the increase of reported incidents. While not all of these
may proceed to prosecution, additional police means that a higher level of
incidents are being reported and investigated.
There was a small increase in the number of alcohol related incidents
reported to the police across the NTER region from 1 994 in the last six months
of 2007 to 2 180 in the last six months of 2008. The Monitoring Report notes
that more than 100 per cent of the increase was accounted for by the THEMIS
stations which means that non-THEMIS stations must have had some decreases in
incidents during the period. The number of substance abuse incidents also rose
from 177 in the last six months of 2007 to 224 in the last six months of 2008.
The level of domestic violence reported to police across the NTER area
remains high. The number of domestic violence related incidents reported to
police rose from 902 in the last six months or 2007 to 1163 in the last six
months of 2008. In the 18 THEMIS communities, the level of reported domestic
violence incidents increased significantly, from 120 in the last six months of
2007 to 266 in the last six months of 2008. The THEMIS communities accounted
for 55 per cent of the increase in the total number of domestic violence
incidents from the last six months of 2007 to the second six months of 2008.
This is discussed further in Chapter 5.
There is a high level of assault (relative to population size) across
the NTER communities but the committee notes there is little evidence of any
increase in the number of cases lodged in court or convictions since the
introduction of the NTER. The Monitoring Report concludes that more time is
required to form a view about on this issue.
The committee notes and is concerned that child protection data is not
available at the NTER community level. However data is available for Indigenous
children across the whole Northern Territory. In 2007-08, Indigenous children
in the Northern Territory were six times as likely as other children to be the
subject of a substantiation of a notification of abuse and neglect. The rate of
substantiation of a notification for Indigenous children aged 0-16 in the Northern
Territory rose from 16.8 per 1 000 children in 2006-07 to 23.7 per 1 000
children in 2007-08. Substantiations for Indigenous children were most likely
to reflect neglect (36.5%), followed by emotional (27.1%) and physical abuse
(21.8). Sexual abuse accounted for 14.5 per cent of substantiations for
Indigenous children in the Northern Territory in 2007-08, which is an increase
of 4.6 percentage points from 2006-07. Some of this data is presented and
discussed further in Chapter 3.
The Northern Territory Department of Justice holds data on lodgements in
court for sexual assault and convictions for sexual assault across the NTER
communities on a consistent basis back to the 2005-06. This allows a comparison
to be made for first 18 months of the NTER until the end of December 2008 with
the 18 month period to the end of December 2006. However it is important to
note that most convictions in the Northern Territory relate to offences
committed outside the NTER communities.
The number of sexual assault cases lodged in court relating to offences
committed in the NTER communities rose from 39 in the 18 months to the end of December
2006 to 45 in the 18 months to the end of December 2008. The number of
convictions for child sexual assaults committed in the NTER communities for the
first 18 months of the NTER stands at 17. This compares to 8 convictions in the
18 months ended December 2006. There were 7 convictions for child sexual
assault committed in the NTER communities in the six months to the end of
December 2008 compared to 8 convictions in the six months to the end of December
2007. The committee notes that not all convictions for child sexual abuse in
the NTER communities relate to offences committed by Indigenous people.
This was also noted by the Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission at
the committee's Darwin hearing:
I will also make the point, just for your interest, that we
have an increased number of children abused not just in the Indigenous
community; most of our cases recently are non-Indigenous and to do with sexual
abuse in the community. It should not be just targeted in the Indigenous
community. It is a real problem across-the-board.
Notification of child neglect is far more common than sexual assault in
the NTER communities. The data below should be treated with some caution as it
is based on reports to police that may be unconfirmed. There has been a significant
increase in the number of reports collectively referred to as ‘child abuse’
made to police from across the NTER communities however this may be explained
by an increased police presence, not necessarily that greater levels of neglect
or abuse are occurring.
There has been a significant increase in the reported number of incidents
of abuse relating to child welfare in from the last six months of 2007 to the last
six months of 2008. The category 'child welfare' relates to issues that would generally
be considered to be child neglect. The total number of incidents of child abuse
in the NTER communities rose, from 74 in the last six months of 2007 to 124 in
the last six months of 2008. The 18 THEMIS communities accounted for around 36
per cent of the increase in the number of child abuse reports made to police
from 2006-07 to 2007-08.
One of the issues associated with a greater police presence is obviously
an increased capacity for police to apprehend offenders and also for people to
make reports. The committee considered evidence that indicated that
incarceration rates imposed on individuals for relatively minor offences were
increasing. The Northern Territory already has a very high Indigenous
incarceration rate and the committee is concerned that people may be receiving
custodial sentences unnecessarily. This is discussed in greater detail in
The committee believes that consideration should be given by the
Northern Territory government to a review of custodial sentences to ensure that
they are being used appropriately, and that magistrates and judges have
sufficient non-custodial options available to them when sentencing.
Bans on alcohol and pornography in
Pornography and alcohol were restricted in prescribed areas by the NTER.
Pornography is classified under two levels of 'prohibited material' and
offences were created for possessing and supplying prohibited material in
prescribed areas. The Little Children are Sacred report found that there was a strong
association between substance abuse, particularly alcohol, and the sexual abuse
of children. Before the NTER, legislation and other initiatives such as dry
areas and alcohol management plans were already in place in many communities.
The committee notes that submissions to the NTER Review indicated that large
numbers of people have continued to drink outside the prescribed areas and some
people from remote communities have travelled into larger regional towns to
escape the restrictions on drinking, bringing their families with them. This
has resulted in increased demand on shelters and community organisations to care
for women and children if they can not get back to communities. Other issues
considered by the NTER Review were increased safety concerns for children when
parents are moving further away to drink and leaving their children for longer
periods, or taking children to drinking areas, and an increase in illicit drug
use especially cannabis, because alcohol was no longer available.
The committee also heard evidence that the NTER had led to pressure on
carers who were being affected by people leaving their children in the
community while they left to drink. These carers are usually '...grandmothers and
they already had quite a heavy caring role, looking after multiple care
recipients; but now they are also looking after many others—it is usually
grandchildren—because the parents have drifted into town.'
Despite these issues the NTER Review considered that arrangements restricting
the supply of alcohol in prescribed areas and within the Northern Territory
should remain in place.
The committee agrees with this finding and also the NTER Review's
recommendation that alcohol supply, demand and harm reduction strategies be
implemented urgently to ensure the sustainability and long-term success of the
alcohol restriction measures and also that comprehensive alcohol management
plans be finalised in all relevant communities.
The committee also notes that these recommendations were supported by the
Commonwealth and Northern Territory governments.
The Monitoring Report states that alcohol management plans based on a principle
of harm minimisation are now being implemented in Alice Springs, Tennant Creek,
Palmerston and Katherine with Alcohol Management Plans in progress for Jabiru,
West Arnhem, Darwin, Borroloola, Timber Creek, Maningrida and Elliot.
The committee heard evidence that restricting drinking has led to
drinking areas being established outside the prescribed communities. Often
these areas are near highways which put people at risk of being hit by
Mr Barry Robinson from Barunga community told the committee of incidences where
people fall asleep on the road, putting themselves in great danger. Mr Robinson
advocated moving drinking areas away from roads.
I am worried about my countrymen in Beswick, Barunga and Eva
Valley. They lie on the road and there is no-one to help them or bring them
back to the community. I tried the night patrol but nothing has happened. I am
flat out running from Barunga with my little car and picking people up when
they are finished with their grog and taking them back—sometimes three or four
times, even eight times. I cart them back in my car till daybreak to bring my
countrymen home to safety...If we could get a safe house there, the night patrol
could go out to the Roper Highway to pick people up and take them back to the
safe house and leave them there for the night. That way we would not have to
worry; we would know our countrymen were being picked up and taken back to the
community. They can be let out in the morning to have tea and they can be sent
home...At the moment, they are lying everywhere on the road. In Roper Creek
during the wet season it is an unsafe area. People get drowned and float down
the river...I am asking at this hearing today: I need that drinking place to be
moved back to Four Mile Creek. It is closer to walk from there back to Barunga.
The committee notes that the Monitoring Report states that it is
difficult to obtain data on the actual level of alcohol consumption across the
NTER communities. This is because it is not possible to simply observe changes
in sales data by location given takeaway sales outside the NTER communities. The
NTER only restricts alcohol consumption in prescribed areas so there is nothing
preventing people from leaving the prescribed areas to consume alcohol. The Northern
Territory Department of Justice holds data on the volume of alcohol sales (pure
alcohol in litres) for twelve outlets for both 2007 and 2008. Eight of these twelve
premises saw the volume of alcohol sales drop from 2007 to 2008.
The committee regards this as promising however it considers that if the
intention is to reduce alcohol consumption for harm minimisation purposes then
governments have to tackle the supply problem. As CAYLUS states: 'the solution
is simple: if you want people to drink less alcohol, sell them less'.
The Northern Territory Police and Northern Territory government reported
to the NTER Review that the legislative changes in relation to pornography
offences introduced were difficult to enforce. As at May 2008 five offences were
referred from the Northern Territory Police and only one matter had gone to
In addition, the committee notes that during the NTER Review the alcohol
and pornography signs placed at the perimeter of prescribed communities stating
that alcohol and pornography were prohibited attracted a lot of criticism. It
was suggested to the NTER Review that while the signs may have deterred
visitors from bringing alcohol and pornography into communities, they did not
deter locals and had the perceived effect of labelling Aboriginal people as alcoholics
The committee notes that the NTER Review heard that information on the
signs was regarded as complex and made little sense to people for whom English is
a second or third language.
The committee agrees with the NTER Review's recommendation that the
Commonwealth government should consult with communities to replace the signs to
make them more effective. The Commonwealth government has agreed to this
recommendation and the committee understands that progress has been made in
altering the signs.
Expanded night patrol services
Additional funds for night patrol services to be extended to all 73 communities
under the NTER were provided. The aim of Northern Territory night patrol
services was to help communities deal with violence and people at risk of harm.
The committee notes that many communities already had night patrol services in
operation although the NTER Review stated that an extra 50 were required.
By 15 August 2008, 46 night patrols were operating in communities with
27 more in the process of being set up. Local shire councils have been tasked
with managing the night patrol services. Like all service providers in remote
Indigenous communities, recruiting staff to fulfil key roles is a serious
problem and this issue, along with delays getting vehicles had contributed to
the delay in establishing night patrols. 
As many of the night patrols were not operational at the time, the NTER
Review made no comment on their impact. However the Monitoring Report provides
updated data on the operation of night patrols and states that at 20 May 2009
there were night patrols operating in 70 communities, with three communities still
in the consultation phase. The committee notes that from July to December 2008
the night patrols transported 36 220 people.
FaHCSIA has provided updated information to the committee which states
that there are currently 71 active night patrol services in the NTER
communities. Two communities, Mount Liebig and Wallace Rockhole remain in
The committee has heard that there is in general, a high level of
support for night patrols. Mr Gregory Arnott from the Victoria Daly Shire told
the committee: 'I think the positives to come out of the intervention include
the funding of the night patrol. I think that is very positive. It has had a
really good impact.'
Additional legal services and
It was anticipated that the implementation of law and justice measures
under the NTER would lead to higher demand on the existing resources of
Northern Territory Aboriginal Interpreter Services. The aim of this measure was
to respond to this increased demand. The Northern Territory Aboriginal
Interpreter Service is a Northern Territory government service jointly funded
by the Commonwealth and Northern Territory governments, with the aim of
providing Indigenous people and relevant service providers with access to
interpreters for legal assistance within the judicial system.
The committee notes that additional staff have been recruited to the
service and the service itself has reported a significant increase in the use of
interpreters, and additional funding of $800 000 allocated for 2008–09 in
recognition of the continued growing demand for interpreters as a result of the
NTER. The NTER Review found that the additional workload has primarily been as
a result of income management.
In the period 1 July 2008 to 31 December 2008, 2 518 people sought access to an
interpreter, an increase (39.7%) from the same period in 2007.
Additional legal services were funded in anticipation of an increase in
the legal assistance needs arising from the NTER. The NTER Review found that the
NTER, especially the increased police presence, appeared to have had a flow-on
effect to the justice and corrections systems. In 2007–08 criminal listings in
the Magistrates Court rose by 12 per cent throughout the Territory over the previous
year. There was also a 15 per cent increase in listings in the Alice Springs
The NTER Review considered that it was not really possible to estimate
what proportion of the increase in court activity is attributable to the NTER
as implementation of alcohol and drug diversionary programs would have also
contributed to the increase in court listings as well. Uncertainty of the
source of the increases in court listings is also discussed in Chapter 5.
The committee notes that alcohol management issues have also demanded
substantial extra resourcing from legal services, especially in relation to
explaining how the laws on alcohol management have changed and the additional
police powers. Services reported increasing demand for legal assistance for
welfare rights issues as a result of the new income management arrangements.
They also report that the anticipated increase in prosecution of child sex
offences has not occurred, but there have been increases in prosecutions of
teenagers for under-age consensual sex, and for traffic offence matters, many
of which are leading to terms of imprisonment due to unpaid fines.
This is discussed further in Chapter 5. The Monitoring Report states that
between 1 July 2008 and 31 December 2008 legal service providers handled 398
NTER related matters, including 81 advices, 83 duty lawyer services and 234
The committee notes that demand for legal assistance in the area of
welfare rights issues as a result of the new income management arrangements is also
increasing. Some services report that many of their clients are feeling
overwhelmed by the child welfare system and the nature of the bureaucracy.
The committee also notes that—like all service providers—recruitment of
new staff has been a consistent problem. The uncertainty of the continuation of
funding from one year to the next has meant that services have only been able
to offer one year contracts, which decreases the attractiveness of the position
to potential applicants. A significant period of time was required at the beginning
of the NTER to find staff for these legal service positions, and to build up new
networks and relationships of trust in the communities.
Child abuse intelligence desk
The NTER provided funding to the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) to
explore the establishment of a national Child Abuse Desk to be part of the
Australian Criminal Intelligence Database which was to be accessible to all law
enforcement agencies. The NTER Review was advised that funding has not been
provided for this initiative for 2008–09 and that the ACC was seeking
alternative funding to renew the project.
Housing and land reform
Measures under this initiative include:
Compulsory acquisition and five
The NTER Review found that the primary objective of this measure was for
the Commonwealth government to take possession and control of the larger Indigenous
communities through the compulsory acquisition of the land area by the grant of
an exclusive five year lease to the Commonwealth of Australia.
The committee notes that the NTER provides for the compulsory acquisition of
leases over 64 specified communities and allows the government to acquire further
leases by regulation.
All leases expire on 18 August 2012 regardless of when they began. The
terms and conditions of the leases give the Commonwealth government exclusive
possession of the leasehold area. The NTER permits the Minister to determine
additional terms and conditions, an example of which were approved in August
2007 giving wide ranging control of the land to the Commonwealth.
The underlying freehold title to the land remains unaffected by the five
year leases and pre-existing interests in the land are preserved.
The NTER Review found that there was considerable confusion about the five year
The finding of the NTER Review was supported by the committee's own
experience during visits to communities, especially in Ntaria. The committee
subsequently asked the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and
Indigenous Affairs in writing what FaHCSIA's communication strategy was for
ensuring that people are informed about the leasing arrangements in
Communities. The Minister responded:
the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, Land Councils have a statutory
role in the grant of any lease on Aboriginal land. Land Councils ensure that
traditional owners have been identified, consulted and given consent, that
other Aboriginal people affected have also been consulted, that the terms and
conditions of the lease are reasonable and that legal requirements are fully
Northern Territory (NT) Chief Minister wrote to the Central Land Council (CLC)
on 30 July 2008 requesting housing precinct leases over Hermannsburg, Yuendumu
and Lajamanu. To ensure traditional owners were apprised of the full range of options
at consultations, the Secretary of FaHCSlA wrote to the CLC on 18 September
2008 setting out the basis on which it would be prepared to enter into a
whole-of-township lease for Hermannsburg. These letters each set out the key
lease terms for the CLC to use in consultations with traditional owners and
respect that it is primarily the role of Land Councils to communicate with land
owners about leasing so do not negotiate directly with Aboriginal land owners.
However the requirement for secure tenure to underpin government investment in
new housing and infrastructure is outlined in the broader Strategic Indigenous
Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP) communications strategy.
The committee is concerned that this process is not providing effective
or sufficient communication to communities as a whole and as the leases are
initiated by the Commonwealth government the committee believes it should take
a more active role in communicating its policies within communities.
The NTER Review concluded that the original intention of the compulsory
five year leases was to enable urgent maintenance and upgrading of existing
housing and infrastructure with a longer term objective to make future funds
for Aboriginal housing dependent on the grant of a long-term lease by the
Aboriginal owners to the Commonwealth, thereby securing control over the housing
and infrastructure assets.
This is also the committee's understanding of the intent of the leases.
The committee notes that when first introduced the NTER removed the
permit system that required permits to enter Aboriginal land within prescribed
areas. Last year the Commonwealth government moved to reinstate the requirement
for permits in prescribed areas that was removed previously by the NTER laws. This
legislation was defeated in the Senate.
Homeland communities and outstations are not included in the NTER for
the purposes of five year lease arrangements, although other measures such as
income management apply. The NTER Review found that excluding homelands and
outstations from the five year lease arrangements left these communities in a
vacuum, and urged the Commonwealth and Northern Territory governments to
clarify their position.
As the Laynhapuy Homelands Association Inc says in their submission: 'In short,
homelands are subjected to many of the more controlling measures under the
NTER, but are unlikely to benefit from any increased government investment.'
The committee discusses homelands and outstations in more detail in Chapter 5.
Fixing up houses and cleaning up
This measure consisted of the repair and upgrade of a range of
infrastructure that required urgent attention. It was a response to the much
reported poor state of infrastructure in communities. Community clean up was an
intense short term activity to make communities safer and healthier. It
targeted the 73 prescribed communities but excluded outstations. It enabled the
repair of immediately dangerous conditions, general minor repairs, painting,
rubbish removal and a summary report of works. The NTER Review was advised that
3 046 properties had been surveyed to assess the need for repairs and that
repairs had been carried out. Minor repairs were done to 2 995 properties. The
Monitoring Report provides updated data that indicates that a total of 3 274
buildings were surveyed. 'Make safe' repairs were carried out on 2 801 buildings
and minor repairs were carried out on 2 814 buildings. The committee notes that
all repair work has now been completed.
The NTER Review considered many instances put to them where repairs to
houses were unnecessary as they were 'on the contractor's list'. There were
also concerns that due to the large volume of work being given to contractors
external to the community this had grossly inflated prices, making it poor
value for money.
This was also substantiated by evidence provided to the committee. Mr William
South told the committee of an instance where a tap that had been replaced a
few weeks earlier was replaced again:
We were thinking, ‘What is going on here?’ This is serious
stuff. A brass garden tap which I replaced six weeks earlier they replaced
again. They charged $30 for the tap and $52.50 for the labour. It cost me, or
the community, $6.13 and it took me about three minutes to put it on. That is
Ms Lesley Podesta, from the Commonwealth Department of Health agreed:
...reality if there is a capital works project that is funded
by the Australian government, the prices go crazy. We try to keep the market
honest and reasonable about this. We try not to put billions of dollars into it
because it just increases the prices everywhere. We try to be very realistic
and pragmatic about building, keeping the costs within a contained environment,
so that we just do not do this kind of: let us spend this much money here and
have a Taj Mahal and the next one will be a Taj Mahal, and the tradies know
that we are funding it so they increase the prices. We do try to be very tough
about containing those costs and we get a good deal now. We have really ironed
out some of the people who used to make a lot of money out of individual
services because they were in a remote community. That is part of the reason we
do the investment plan, doing as much as possible, contracting a number of service
builds, and having contracts that are very tough on deliverables so that we get
good value for that money.
The committee is encouraged that DoHA has a process in place to manage
this and urges all government agencies to do the same.
The NTER Review recommended that payment of just terms compensation to
Aboriginal landowners for the acquisition and use of their property without
consent from the date of the original acquisition be made, and that rent be
paid to the Aboriginal landowners. The Commonwealth government has accepted
this recommendation and asked the Northern Territory Valuer-General to
determine a reasonable amount of rent which the Commonwealth will pay.
As previously mentioned, the NTER Review found that overcrowding and the
appalling state of housing in most communities was impacting upon the life
chances of children and the wellbeing of communities generally. Funding for new
housing was not part of the NTER however the Commonwealth government's Strategic
Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP) announced after the NTER
is relevant to the success of many of the measures under the NTER as it
provides funding for a new housing program.
The committee notes that SIHIP is a partnership between the Commonwealth
government and the Northern Territory government and is intended to deliver
around 750 new houses including new subdivisions, demolition of 230
uninhabitable houses, 500 housing upgrades, essential infrastructure to support
new houses and improvements to living conditions in town camps.
The Commonwealth government has stated that appropriate land tenure
arrangements must be in place before construction can commence. Leases are
already in place at Nguiu, the Tennant Creek Town Camps, and the three Groote
Eylandt region communities of Angurugu, Umbakumba and Milyakburra. Housing
precinct leases have also been agreed for Maningrida, Galiwinku, Gunbalanya and
Wadeye. The Monitoring Report states that as leases have been agreed in many
communities design and community consultation activities are now proceeding in
48 communities across the Northern Territory.
In the Commonwealth government’s response to the NTER Review, it
committed to a staged transition from compulsory five year leases over
communities to voluntary lease arrangements. Current long term lease
negotiations focus on the 15 communities identified for major SIHIP capital
investment. However, voluntary leases will also be progressively offered to
The committee notes that negotiations at Ngukurr and Numbulwar are in
early stages and it is anticipated the Northern Land Council will commence
consultations with the three remaining priority communities (Gapuwiyak,
Milingimbi, Yirrkala) in mid 2009. The Central Land Council is continuing to
work with traditional owners and community members of the three central
communities, Hermannsburg, Lajamanu and Yuendumu, where major SIHIP works have
been allocated. A sublease with Tennant Creek Town Camps was signed by
Julalikari Council Aboriginal Corporation on 20 October 2008 and additional
housing funding of $6.5 million announced on 28 October 2008.
The committee also observed a high level of confusion surrounding the
SIHIP program. People questioned why 26 large communities around Australia were
earmarked for resources,
15 of these in the Northern Territory, and on what basis this decision was
made. The committee asked the Minister for Families, Housing, Community
Services and Indigenous Affairs this question. The Minister responded:
COAG has already agreed priority remote service delivery
locations 15 of which are in the NT...These were identified between the
Commonwealth and the relevant State/NT government. The locations will also be
locations for initial housing investment.
In identifying further priority locations for housing
investment the Government will take into account the national principles for
investment in remote locations agreed to as part of the National Partnership
Agreement on Remote Service Delivery. These principles take into account:
significant concentrations of population;
anticipated demographic trends and pressures;
the potential for economic development and employment; and
extent of pre-existing shortfalls in government investment in infrastructure
In the NT the priority communities are larger communities
with high housing needs and where the greatest impact can be made with the
available funds. The intention is to maximise the role of priority communities
as service hubs. These communities will receive new houses, major housing upgrades
and improved housing related infrastructure through the SIHIP.
In addition to those communities which will receive major
capital works in the NT a further 57 communities in the NT will receive housing
Advice provided to the committee indicates that other communities and
townships (beyond the Remote Service Delivery sites) will continue to receive
government support and services.
The committee notes that this response still does not provide details on how
COAG decided on the priority communities and whether the criteria outlined for
identifying future priority locations may have also informed the decision. The
committee will pursue this issue further throughout its inquiry.
The committee also notes that the Minister advised that the decision on
the priority communities had already been made by the time the data from the
detailed assessment of individual buildings that occurred under the Community
Clean Up program was compiled and so it was not a factor in the decision.
The committee heard that there is also a high degree of suspicion that
the promised number of houses would not be built, and that they would be built
under such inefficient administrative and contractual arrangements that they
would cost an exorbitant amount per house.
The Monitoring Report states that 'work is continuing toward reaching
lease agreement for Alice Springs Town Camps'
however in late May 2009 negotiations between the Commonwealth and Tangentyere
Council, responsible for managing the town camps, in relation to a $125 million
housing funding program broke down. It was a condition of the funding that the
Tangentyere agree to a 40 year lease with tenancy management to be conducted by
the Northern Territory government. Tangentyere had agreed to the lease but not
the management of tenancy arrangements by the Northern Territory government.
Instead they proposed that tenancy be managed through the Central Australian
Affordable Housing Company, a company that in the process of being established
with Commonwealth government assistance. The Commonwealth government did not
Tangentyere has until 29 June 2009 to make submissions to the
Commonwealth otherwise the Minister has announced that she will use provisions
under the NTER legislation to compulsorily acquire the land permanently.
Some commentators have suggested that this action contradicts the
Commonwealth's announcement to reinstate the RDA.
'Special measures', initiatives targeting certain racial or ethnic groups
facing persistent disadvantage and which treat certain racial or ethic groups
differently on the basis that this will be of benefit to them, are permitted
under the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
Discrimination to which Australia is a signatory. The Convention is given force
in domestic law through the RDA. Under the Convention, State parties are
obliged to get the informed consent of Indigenous peoples in making decisions
that affect them and special measures must be deemed necessary and temporary.
The committee heard evidence that there was a high degree of confusion
over leasing arrangements and people question why they need to agree to change
landholding arrangements to get housing.
Some people regard this as coercive and it reinforces a sense of distrust with
what the Commonwealth government is proposing.
The committee considers that the state of housing and environmental
health in communities should rightly be described as an emergency. As one
clinician noted in a submission to the inquiry:
I think it is vital that we work to insist on the supply of
more housing and infrastructure as a meaningful and practical step for resolving
the problems in the bush. If you are any parent white or black living in a household
of 20 other people with limited sanitation facilities and income then your ability
to protect your child from the ravages of recurrent strep infections, rheumatic
fever, kidney disease, ear infections, trachoma, intestinal parasites, dental
caries, anaemia, malnutrition or sexual predators is severely compromised whether
you are drug and alcohol affected or not. If you have no where else to go and
no one to offer reliable long-term assistance or protection what choice do you have
but to continue to put up with it? As important as we doctors like to think we are,
most of the major health advantages in our dominant culture have actually been
achieved by plumbers, carpenters, civil engineers and teachers.
4.204 The committee
recommends that the Commonwealth government review its overall communication
strategy for regional and remote Indigenous communities with the view to making
information available to communities on an ongoing and regular basis and in an accessible way. In the instance of the
SIHIP program the communication strategy should provide information on how the
decision to fund housing in the priority communities was made, as well as
regular information on how the construction of this new housing is progressing.
Welfare reform and employment
Licensing of community stores;
Creating real jobs in communities outside Community Development
Employment Projects (CDEP);
Increased participation in remote areas including work for the
Dole activities; and
Community Employment Brokers in communities.
People receiving Centrelink payments who live in prescribed areas became
subject to compulsory income management of half their Centrelink payments and
all of most advances, lump sum payments and the Baby Bonus. This measure was
imposed universally within the prescribed areas. As noted by the Review, there
were no opportunities:
...extended to those living in the affected communities to
negotiate their way out of the imposed regulation of their income, if they
could demonstrate their ability to responsibly manage their income. The only
determinant was whether an individual lived in a prescribed area on 21 June
The committee notes that many problems with store cards and the
BasicsCard have been reported. The BasicsCard is issued by Centrelink and
allows people who are subject to income management to access their quarantined
money at approved stores and merchants. It cannot be used to purchase alcohol,
tobacco, pornography, gambling products or gift vouchers. It cannot be used to
get cash out, lay-by goods or for 'book up'.
The NTER Review found that as cards don't carry any security provisions
which would limit their use to the authorised welfare recipient, they can be
misused and exchanged for cash which undermines the income management scheme.
They also heard examples of how in some instances, cards were not being redeemed
for their full amount and many customers, through lack of understanding, did
not take advantage of their full entitlement.
This is consistent with evidence put to the committee during this inquiry.
The committee notes that BasicsCards had not been implemented at the
time of the NTER Review though evidence provided to it has confirmed similar
issues. However many witnesses have noted that there is growing acceptance of
the BasicsCard as people become more familiar with it.
It is working really well. I see a lot of food getting back
to the houses, and that is really good to see. They are getting used to it as
time goes on, whereas before they were really worried about the money and all
that access, but give them time and they will make use of it. It is used better
now and is getting the food back to the kids.
A report detailing the perspectives of six communities affected by the
NTER and commissioned by the Central Land Council found that amongst survey
participants, there was almost equal support for and against income management
with 51 per cent of survey participants in favour of it and 46 per cent opposed
This report also found that income source was a factor influencing
people’s level of support for income management with people on wages most supportive
of income management.
Advantages associated with quarantining arrangements included:
increased household expenditure on food and children;
reduction in drinking;
young men are contributing to family food;
reduction in gambling; and
facilitates saving money (including through the use of store
Disadvantages associated with quarantining arrangements included:
not enough discretionary cash;
blanket reform is discriminatory;
problems with accessing quarantined money;
incompatibility with population mobility;
lack of choice;
administrative restrictions on the use of quarantined money; and
cost shifting to Aboriginal people and community staff to deal
with the new arrangements.
Evidence gathered for the report also indicated that if income
management was better directed towards people with alcohol, gambling or substance
misuse problems, there is some evidence to suggest that Aboriginal people would
be more supportive of it.
The NTER Review found that even though there was considerable criticism
of this measure many people believed that it provided an opportunity to manage
their income and the family budget in a way that was beneficial. Anecdotal
evidence indicated that more food was being purchased and that tobacco sales
had decreased at community stores.
The NTER Review recommended that the blanket application of compulsory income
management cease and that it be available on a voluntary basis to community
members who choose to have some of their income quarantined for specific
purposes, as determined by them. It was also recommended that compulsory income
management should only be applied on the basis of child protection, school
enrolment and attendance.
This recommendation was not supported by the Commonwealth. Instead the
Commonwealth has announced that it will consider options to allow people to
apply for an exemption from income management.
The Monitoring Report stated that at 2 January 2009, a total of $124.5
million had been income managed. Of this, $119.9 million was allocated to
priority goods and services with the assertion that most money was allocated to
food (62%), rent (10%), store cards (9%) and clothing and footwear (5%).
One of the issues of concern to the committee is that there is no real
way of knowing how much income managed money is being spent on food or other
items. At its hearing in Canberra Centrelink advised the committee that most of
the income managed money was being spent on food. However, the committee has
formed the view that this is not actually the case. This is referred to in
detail in Chapter 2.
At 15 May, 36 102 BasicsCards have been issued overall, with a total of
17 335 customers issued with a card and 18 767 being replacement cards.
Licensing of community stores
The NTER legislation provides for the licensing of community stores. The
licensing regime attempts to address a long history of problems with stores,
focused mainly on the quality of services provided by many community stores and
the integrity of their financial management. 'Poor quality food, limited ranges
and exorbitant prices have characterised many stores in many communities.'
The NTER Review found that standards between stores varied and that even
in some licensed stores prices were high and food quality was low. Many people
believed that they were seriously disadvantaged by the poor standards of their
local stores. The NTER Review expressed the strong view that where people have
no option but to spend a major portion of their income at specific outlets,
there is a heavy responsibility upon the government to ensure that those
outlets operate in accordance with high standards. The NTER Review recommended
that the system for licensing community stores be continued with a requirement
for there to be an audit of each licensed store every six months to ensure that
high standards of governance were being applied, there was a range of good
quality products, appropriate health standards were being applied and local
employment strategies were pursued. It also recommended that the Commonwealth
government examine ways to address the unacceptably high prices in stores.
Both of these recommendations were supported by the Commonwealth and
Northern Territory governments in their joint response to the NTER Review.
The committee understands that licences are issued to community store
operators who have a reasonable quality, quantity and range of groceries and
consumer items, including healthy food and drinks available and promoted at the
store; can demonstrate the capacity to participate in the requirements of the
income management regime; and have sound financial structures, retail and
At its Darwin hearing the committee heard evidence that some
communities, while having access to a store, do not have access to a licensed
store. This means that to use their income managed funds they have to travel
out of the community. For very remote and isolated communities, this places a
large cost burden on people whose income is being managed. The committee was
provided with the example of Mapuru where people have to charter a flight to
Elcho Island in order to use their income managed funds.
At Mapuru there is a shop that is willing to operate the
BasicsCard facilities but somehow they will not let it. So people have to fly
in and it costs $500 return on a charter flight. There is no regular passenger
transport or RPT run: they have to pay $250 to fly in and $250 to fly back.
Then they probably buy $150 worth of food and stuff.
The committee has asked FaHCSIA if information is collected on the
number of people and communities who do not have direct access to a licensed
store. FaHCSIA has advised that 13 NTER communities do not have a licensed
store and that is because there is no store within their particular community
When asked about the situation in Mapuru and whether temporary
arrangements could be made for residents whose income was being managed to
access these funds at their local store, FaHCSIA provided the following
There are currently only a small
number of the (approximate) 60 residents of Mapuru who are being income
Access to food, and the cost of
bringing in food or getting to a food source, is not new for the Mapuru
homeland residents. The residents have previously advised FaHCSIA (prior to the
commencement of income management) that they shop fortnightly at the stores in
Galiwinku and Gapuwiyak and hunt for their fresh food locally. The dry food
sold at the Mapuru Co-op (when it was trading) supplemented this.
Centrelink has worked with income
managed customers in Mapuru to ensure access to food that meets each
individual’s circumstances. This includes, for example, assisting customers to
access income managed funds to travel to Galiwinku, Elcho Island and Gapuwiyak
(where the BasicCard can be used) to purchase a wider variety and range of
fresh, dry and perishable foods than is available at the Mapuru Co-op (as some
residents have always done). Customers may also use the BasicsCard when they
travel to other areas of the Northern Territory.
FaHCSIA also advised that the on-site licensing assessment of the Mapuru
Co-op will be conducted in late June 2009, and it is expected that the assessment
will not be completed until mid July 2009. The committee was also advised that
it was 'FaHCSIA’s policy that generally, unless a store in a prescribed area
meets FaHCSIA’s licensing requirements, then stores are not able to participate
in the income management regime.'
The committee considers that it is unfair for people who live in a
community with a store not to be able to access their income managed funds at
that store, and that prior to income management, people would have been able to
spend their money in the store if they chose to do so. Income management has
meant that this choice has been removed from them. The committee looks forward
to learning of the outcome of the licensing process at Mapuru.
That in communities without access to a local store licensed to accept
the BasicsCard, alternative arrangements should be made so that people are able
to access income managed funds at their local store. This could be in the form
of a temporary arrangement with the store until the licensing process can be
The committee understands that it is possible for roadhouses to
participate in the licensing scheme but that they are generally only licensed
to sell fuel. The committee sought information at its hearing in Canberra on 9
June 2009 about whether roadhouses that do not sell Opal fuel, a non-sniffable
alternative fuel, are licensed.
The committee understands that Laramba Store is licensed and has been advised
that Ti Tree Roadhouse
is currently approved to accept the BasicsCard for the purchase of fuel
and motor vehicle expenses.
The committee is concerned that sniffable fuel can be purchased at licensed
stores using the BasicsCard in the Petrol Sniffing Strategy Zone, especially
given the concerted effort to have all retailers selling non-sniffable fuel in
Central Australia and the destructive effect sniffing can have in Indigenous
communities. The committee also heard that regular unleaded sniffable fuel is
not an excluded item under the income management policy.
The Department of Health has advised the committee that there are ten
known sites in and around the designated Petrol Sniffing Strategy Central
Desert Region that continue to refuse to supply Opal fuel. This includes four
sites in the designated Central Desert Region and six sites that are located in
areas that could be considered as feeder sites to the Central Desert Region. These
It should be noted that the Outback Store located in Ti Tree community
commenced supplying Opal fuel on 1 June 2009. Ti Tree Roadhouse continues to
refuse the supply of Opal fuel.
The committee recommends that in order to be licensed as a merchant for
the BasicsCard, FaHCSIA make it a condition of license that roadhouses within
the Petrol Sniffing Strategy Central Desert Region and feeder sites to this
region sell Opal fuel.
Creating real jobs in communities
outside Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP)
The previous government policy decision was to phase out CDEP (as provided
for in amendments made by the Social Security and Other Legislation
Amendment (Welfare Payment Reform) Act 2007) and to progressively replace
it with other employment services such as real jobs, training or Work for the
Dole. Remote area exemptions were also lifted from job seekers from July to
December 2007. In December 2007 the current government placed a moratorium on
the phasing out of CDEP and in April 2008 announced the reintroduction of CDEP
as an interim measure, pending reform of the program.
These reforms have now been announced. CDEP will continue only in remote
locations with two streams to be used to support people to increase their
chances of employment: 'Work Readiness Services' are to help job seekers
develop skills and move away from CDEP while 'Community Development' is to
support communities and organisations.
The NTER Review found that changes to CDEP caused a great deal of
confusion and that while policy makers and social researchers engage in a
debate about the place and value of CDEP, it considered that that 'for many
Aboriginal people, CDEP currently represents the only opportunity to obtain
work in which they can achieve a sense of satisfaction in contributing to the
wellbeing of their communities'.
They also considered that as with any program, the quality of the CDEP outcomes
will depend on the competence of those responsible for implementing it and the
effectiveness of the mechanisms put in place to monitor its administration.
The NTER Review recommended that CDEP should incorporate relevant
training components to address the minimal literacy and numeracy levels of most
participants, which diminish their job readiness. This recommendation was only
partially supported by the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory governments.
They have stated that literacy or numeracy training is not necessarily
compulsory but should be supported for those who need it.
This issue is discussed further in
The Review also found that the decision by the Commonwealth and Northern
Territory governments and new shire councils in the Northern Territory to
discontinue subsidising their services with CDEP and paying full wages with
full entitlements to their employees was a very significant step to deliver
real jobs. The committee heard evidence of this when it met with the McDonnell
Shire Council. Eighty percent of the Shire's workforce are locally engaged
Evidence to the committee indicated that conversion of CDEP places to
permanent jobs had a beneficial effect, especially through jobs for rangers
under the Working for Country program. Mr Ric Norton from Laynhapuy Homelands
Association Inc told the committee:
the...area where we have done very well out of the intervention
is the expansion of our ranger program. We have been quite successful in picking
up the converted CDEP jobs under the Working for Country program. We already
had some in train prior to the intervention and then we have picked up some of
the expanded positions since the intervention, so we now have quite a
substantial ranger program. We see that as a very strong asset of our
The committee also observed this when meeting with the Tjuwanpa Rangers
in Ntaria (Hermannsburg). The committee heard that the Working for Country
program funded by the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts,
has led to two full time and eight part time jobs for rangers. The committee
considers the Tjuwanpa Rangers to be a very successful program providing an
important role in the community and good skills development for young men in
Members of the committee
with the Tjuwanpa Rangers at Ntaria
The Monitoring Report indicates that a total of 1 907 jobs were created
up to December 2008 with almost 79 per cent (1 498) of these in Commonwealth government
service delivery. The remainder (409) have been in local government service
delivery. All of these positions have been filled by former CDEP participants.
Increased participation in remote
areas including Work for the Dole activities
Work for the Dole is designed to assist people improve their chances of employment
by providing work experience. NTER ‘Work for the Dole’ participants are
required to attend continually during their period of unemployment rather than
six months out of 12 months for non-NTER job seekers. Since 1 August 2007, a
total of 134 Work for the Dole activities have been undertaken across the NTER prescribed
communities. 70 per cent of all activities have occurred across 53 communities;
27 per cent in town camps and the remainder in outstations. Between June and
December 2008, 11 activities were completed and 56 are still in operation and 2
066 people commenced on the program.
The committee notes that the Monitoring Report states that a lack of
participation has been an ongoing issue. Attendance rates are around 30 per
cent and of those who commence in an activity approximately only a third attend
at least once per fortnight. This compares to a national attendance rate of 60
per cent. There is anecdotal evidence to indicate that compliance action continues
to have little impact as an incentive to ongoing participation in employment
Community Employment Brokers in
The role of Community Employment Brokers (CEBs) has been to coordinate
the delivery of employment related services and to help find people jobs. The
NTER Review was highly critical of this measure, finding that there was little
evidence that their roles were being used effectively. At 15 September 2008
there were 30 CEBs servicing 55 communities and associated outstations and two
town camp regions. The Review concluded that the high degree of scepticism
within communities it visited about the role of CEBs meant that resourcing
these positions should be reconsidered.
The NTER Review recommended that Community Employment Brokers should
focus on mentoring and case management, especially with CDEP participants as
well as on coordinating activities between education and training providers and Job Network providers.
The committee notes that this recommendation was not supported as CEBs will
cease on 1 July 2009.
This measure involved the establishment of the following:
Northern Territory Emergency Response Taskforce;
Government Business Managers to live in and work with communities;
Logistical support for the NTER;
Community engagement; and
Ombudsman support to the Northern Territory Emergency Response.
Northern Territory Emergency
The Taskforce operated for one year and reported to the government. The
Taskforce's report is discussed earlier in this Chapter.
Logistical support for NTER.
The primary objective of the coordination measure was to provide
administrative, logistical and other procedural support for the implementation
of the other NTER measures. This was done through the establishment of an NTER
Operations Centre. The Review found that there was no doubt that the Operations
Centre was a very effective mechanism for cutting through the many logistical
and administrative impediments associated with the roll-out of the major
programs such as child health checks and income management. However this left
very little room for consultation and engagement with communities.
As discussed above, administrative arrangements have changed slightly so
that the Operations Centre is now delivering most of the NTER measures but GBMs
are managed by the Northern Territory State Office.
The NTER Review, as well as this committee, heard many examples of how
the 'siloed' operation of government departments and the inability of agencies
to communicate and coordinate effectively.
We found that communities continue to struggle under an ever increasing
demand for meetings with unfamiliar faces representing government and NGO
providers seeking ‘consultations’ on complex and unfamiliar programs, who fly
in and fly out on a daily basis and give no sense of a coordinated or planned engagement
with the communities.
The NTER Review recommended that the Operations Centre continue under
civilian management with the necessary authority and delegation from the Prime
Minister and Chief Minister to drive and coordinate implementation across both
Australian and Northern Territory government agencies delivery of services to
Aboriginal communities. This has been done.
The committee has been overwhelmed by the scale of complaints it has
received about the level of bureaucracy involved in delivering and accessing
services. The committee notes that this issue does not just apply to the NTER
but has application across the country. This issue has caused a great deal of
frustration in relation to the NTER, especially as people struggled to
comprehend the changes in the early stages of the NTER. Laynhapuy Homelands Association
Inc put it this way:
Funding uncertainty due to policy changes, interim measures,
shifting responsibility between Commonwealth, Territory, and Shires means the
organisation cannot plan effectively for 12 months ahead, and the uncertainty
about job security and viability of programs and work effort is demoralising.
This impacts on staff turnover and hence program delivery and expenditure on
This was further reinforced to the committee when it visited Waltja
Tjutangku Palyapayi, an organisation delivering a range of services to support
families, children and young people in Central Australia. The committee heard
that organisations like Waltja were being crippled by short term funding, the
lack of funding certainty and the short term nature of programs. Waltja advised
the committee that organisations like theirs need 5-10 years to really embed
and make programs effective. It takes time to build relationships, put support
in place in remote communities, train and support staff. The committee heard
that for Waltja, the administrative cost of programs is expanding without any
corresponding increase in funding. Every year funding bodies ask Waltja for
feedback – what's working well, what's not working well. Each year Waltja tells
funding bodies that the administrative burden is too onerous but nothing
These experiences are supported by the findings of the Australian
National Audit Office review of whole of government Indigenous service
delivery. The review found that where a number of departments were involved in
funding organisations and projects, suitable administrative arrangements had
yet to be developed to deliver coordinated and efficient funding and monitoring
While a ‘header’ agreement is available for jointly funded projects, each department which is a
signatory has its own schedule including accountability, reporting and acquittal requirements. These individual
departmental accountability requirements detract from the ICC/whole of government
focus, and the level of duplication involved adds to the administrative demands
on Indigenous communities. The development of suitable funding models with
Indigenous communities has the potential to improve the effectiveness of ICC
operations and reduce the administrative demands on Indigenous communities.
The committee also heard evidence of a lack of coordination and
follow-through with new resources and infrastructure the NTER provided to
communities. For example CAYLUS outlined a situation in Papunya where:
The GBM found that there was a room full of computers at the
NTEETA building—the Northern Territory education, employment and training
building—...that the intervention had donated to Papunya. They just sat there;
they literally had not been used because there was no-one to use them. The
shire service manager is completely overloaded and is not going to take on the
technical intricacy of setting up an internet cafe situation...The potential
legal implication of running that sort of thing is enough to make them say no,
so we hired some people with lots of IT experience...we have hired him and his
company to run IT training programs in that facility. The GBM made that
possible. He sourced the place and has been really supportive of it. I have to
speak highly of his efforts to make this happen to address that adult education
It is working really well. They have all of the computers
going. Before this, they literally had not been turned on since they had been
dropped in there; the instruction manuals were still in plastic bags...He is now
running an internet café...and it was exactly the demographic that we are trying
to get. One of the issues we were talking about is that that demographic is now
bringing along their little kids and so he has a movie running in one corner to
amuse the kids while their parents learn how to type, how to use the internet
and how to engage with the wider world. It has been really successful.
The committee considers that given how hard it is for organisations to
attract and retain staff, discussed throughout this consideration of the NTER
and acknowledged by governments themselves, barriers to effective recruitment
should be addressed and a reduction in the administrative burden place on
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth commit to longer term
program funding so that organisations can enjoy greater funding certainty and
offer staff greater job security. This is especially the case in relation to
organisations who have established relationships with funding bodies and good
risk management strategies in place.
Government Business Managers (GBMs)
There are currently 60 GBMs servicing 73 prescribed communities,
Borroloola and town camps in Darwin, Tennant Creek, Katherine and Alice Springs.
GBMs are responsible for the coordination of Commonwealth government services
provided in Indigenous communities and support the implementation of the NTER.
GBMs are intended to develop a detailed understanding of the community in which
they work, the service delivery and funding arrangements. Information provided
to the committee from the NTER Operations Centre indicates that GBMs are
intended to be the ' face of the Australian Government intervention in the
Northern Territory at the community level.'
Responsibilities of GBMs include:
Working with relevant agencies, including ICC staff, to
coordinate Commonwealth government services and to maximise the benefits of all
Commonwealth funding provided to the community;
Advising the Regional Director and Operational Centre on the
revision of service delivery or replacement of service providers where current
provision is not functional;
Working with Northern Territory government and local government
services to ensure co-ordinated service delivery;
Providing the key liaison and consultation point in communities,
including communicating the NTER measures at the local level and working
collaboratively with other Australian and Northern Territory government agency
representatives on the ground;
Providing regular reports to the Regional Director and key
stakeholders on the progress of initiatives and advising where further measures
might be required in the community; and
Where appropriate, working with key stakeholders to support the
implementation of transition strategies, including in relation to local
government reforms in the Northern Territory.
Members of the committee
meeting with Mr Rob Hathaway, the GBM in Milingimbi
Information provided to the committee indicates that the GBMs also have
trouble shooting role. In their coordination role across all Commonwealth
government agencies they are expected ensure that Commonwealth agency staff
work under their guidance and 'optimise
timing, sequencing and connections with other initiatives being pursued by the
Australian Government to achieve maximum leverage; and ensure effective and
orderly engagement with the community'.
The NTER Review found that GBMs were having varying degrees of impact,
this was also corroborated by evidence the committee heard. While some were
engaging the community in meaningful ways, some remained distant from the
people they were supposed to be supporting. The NTER Review recommended
providing community development training to GBMs and renaming them as Community
Development Managers. This recommendation has not been supported on the basis
that their role is to coordinate whole of government service delivery.
The NTER Review also recommended that the senior government officials
based in a community report directly to the Operations Centre. While the
Commonwealth and Northern Territory government's response states that this is
supported this does not seem to have occurred as the committee understands that
GBMs continue to report to the Northern Territory State Office of FaHCSIA.
The Community Engagement measure provided funding for the employment of
up to 20 Indigenous Engagement Officer (IEO) positions throughout the Northern Territory.
As at 31 December 2008 there were 19 IEOs in 19 communities.
Charles Darwin University has been contracted to design and deliver a targeted Indigenous
community engagement training program for the IEOs.
Ombudsman support to the Northern
Territory Emergency Response.
The Ombudsman’s Office was provided funding in 2007 to investigate complaints
arising from the NTER and to provide an oversight role in relation to the
implementation and administration of the NTER measures. The Monitoring Report states
that from June 2007 to 26 March 2009, the Ombudsman’s Office received
approximately 700 complaints relating to the NTER or other Indigenous programs.
The most common theme was the issue of communication, consultation and general
provision of information.
The complaints received by the Ombudsman’s Office include:
confusion about what people can and cannot purchase using their BasicsCard;
confusion about where people can use their cards;
the difficulties people face with accessing account balances on
their cards and transferring money onto their BasicsCards;
confusion surrounding what people can use their income managed funds
ongoing concerns that everyone who lives in a prescribed
community is subject to income management despite their personal or individual
general communication issues surrounding income management and
people’s individual accounts, allocations and circumstances;
concerns that people have difficulty in accessing Centrelink and
managing their affairs including income management allocations, balances,
concerns about interpreters not being available when either using
the telephone service or when people visit the Centrelink offices;
concerns that information is not in the appropriate languages;
wait times on the hotline, cost of these calls when using
mobiles, the difficulty some people have in understanding how to use the phones;
concerns about overcrowding in houses;
discrepancies, inconsistencies and unreasonable rent amounts;
delay with repairs and maintenance issues;
people not knowing about leasing arrangements and how they will personally
be affected by the new measures;
concerns that community residents are not consulted on the
running of the school nutrition program; and
lack of employment opportunities for local Indigenous people.
The committee considers that it is important that people affected by
government decisions have an outlet to complain about these decisions and that
the Ombudsman provides an important service. The committee also supports the
introduction of legislation to allow people affected by decisions made in
relation to income management to appeal these decisions. This legislation is
currently before the parliament.
Commonwealth policy issues not addressed under NTER measures
The committee heard considerable and compelling evidence about the needs
for increased aged care and disability services as well as additional support
for carers. Carers Australia presented evidence on how much unpaid support
carers, particularly young people and older people, were providing in
communities and how their needs appeared to have been overlooked during the
Carers Australia also asserted that many people who should be eligible
for carers payments did not have access to them. The committee raised this with
the Department of Human Services and Centrelink at their hearing in Canberra.
It was acknowledged that there was likely to people who were eligible for
carer's payment who were not accessing it and that this was an issue being
...for a variety of reasons our Indigenous customers have
accessed the Newstart payment in the past rather than disability or carer’s and
that that changed once the remote area exemptions were lifted in remote areas
and people had to comply with the participation regime, and we saw Indigenous
people starting to apply for other payments. I think—and I am sure my
colleagues in FaHCSIA would agree with me—that together we have identified a
number of barriers in the way the policy is formulated as well as the way the
form is put together and service delivery occurs that makes it harder for some
Indigenous people to access carer and disability. It has to do with not having
access to doctors or shared care. Many of the Indigenous languages do not have
a term for ‘disability’ or ‘carer’, because it is part of the family cultural
network. We have been doing some work with our colleagues in FaHCSIA around
ways to make those payments more accessible to our Indigenous customers. I
would be happy to get you some more information on that and answer your
specific questions. It is certainly an issue that in general we have been
The committee is pleased to note that Centrelink and FAHCSIA are aware
of this issue and have a process in place to address it. The committee will
further consider progress made on this issue in its next report.
While visiting Waltja Tjutangku Palyapayi the committee heard about the brokerage
service run by Waltja to buy things that people with disabilities need—such as
clothes, mattresses, tarps and shade, billycans, blankets and firewood which are
the main items that people ask for. Workers at Waltja told the committee that
they would like to move away from providing such basic things and instead
provide therapeutic items such as ramps and other equipment but because people are
desperate for even the most basic of items, this is what the money is spent on.
Waltja expressed great concern that old people are not being cared for
properly. In many cases, carers are very old or disabled themselves and some
elderly and disabled people are still living in tin sheds without plumbing,
shade, toilets, windbreaks, heating or cooling, fridges or stoves.
The committee shares this concern and considers that the needs of
carers, people with disabilities and older people require focused attention.
The committee will report further on available services in its next report.
Members of the committee
with staff and members of Waltja Tjutangku Palyapayi
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