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Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories - 09/04/2015 - Governance in the Indian Ocean Territories

BECKER, Mr Daniel, General Manager, Indian Ocean Group Training Association

SU, Mr Chris, Chairperson, Indian Ocean Group Training Association


CHAIR: I welcome the witnesses from the Indian Ocean Group Training Association.

Mr Becker : Welcome to the island and thank you for the opportunity to address the joint standing committee. The Indian Ocean Group Training Association is a not-for-profit organisation that was established in 1995 by community stakeholders to provide cost-effective training services and vocational education to the Indian Ocean Territories communities of Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands. IOGTA has a well-represented and engaged management committee comprising key business and community stakeholders from both Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands. They include education leaders from both Christmas Island District High School and Cocos Islands District High School, with the principals; local government representatives from the Shire of Christmas Island and the Shire of Cocos (Keeling) Islands; business community representatives from Christmas Island Phosphate Resources and Cocos Islands Cooperative; and workers representatives from the Union of Christmas Island Workers.

As IOGTA's general manager, I and my staff engage extensively with all sectors of the economy and communities of the IOTs to inform and decide where best to use our limited resources to provide quality education, group training and employment services to the IOTs. IOGTA's operations and the objectives of the association align strongly with point 4 in the terms of reference for this inquiry:

opportunities to strengthen and diversify the economy, whilst maintaining and celebrating the unique cultural identity of the Indian Ocean Territories.

Some of IOGTA's key objectives are to encourage, promote and undertake the training of apprentices and trainees on Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands; to assist with and advise on the training of apprentices, trainees and other residents of Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands; to participate in other activities that promote employment, economic and community development on Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. IOGTA is passionate about strengthening and diversifying the economy of both Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands through upskilling local residents to make the most of the opportunities available now and those that will become available in the future. IOGTA wishes to see a stronger commitment from the federal government and appointed governance of the IOTs to investing in these services. During the past three years, IOGTA's funding for adult education and group training services has been cut by $150,000 annually, without any consultation by the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development in the Perth office. Meanwhile, demand for these services over the same period has increased substantially, with IOGTA expected to double its annual contracted KPI for 2014-15, with no additional funding provided.

Education is a critical component of any economy, and investing further in these services will assist greatly in strengthening and diversifying the economies of the IOTs through: reducing the reliance on FIFO workers and creating a greater opportunity for small business establishment and locally sourced employment; reducing underemployment, which is particularly relevant on Cocos (Keeling) Islands; the ability for local residents to better take advantage of the digital economy that will become available to the IOTs through the implementation of the NBN program in 2016; creating a highly skilled local workforce ready for investor opportunities in the IOTs, such as the casino and northern flight opportunities. I will now pass to Chris.

Mr Su : In the context of that background about what IOGTA does and some of the programs we are involved with and how we are funded by the Commonwealth government, I will address some of the terms of reference.

With the first item, about the role of the administrator, IOGTA does not think that moving decision-making from bureaucracy on the mainland to a bureaucrat on the island is necessarily going to improve any of the outcomes in the IOTs. We refer to recommendation 11 of the JSC 2006 report:

The Committee recommends that section 8 of both the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act 1955 and the Christmas Island Act 1958 be amended to include a framework for consultation with the Indian Ocean Territories communities in relation to service delivery arrangements with the State of Western Australia, and in the review of Western Australian legislation which is applied in the territories as Commonwealth law.

To quote this committee's 2006 report:

The Committee observes that … effective governance is an important component of economic sustainability, for … poor … decision making within the context of an inadequate governance framework can undermine economic development.

The committee again have quite a prescient and almost clairvoyant prediction in 2006 in its concluding statement:

The Committee is of the view that this summary of economic potential and departmental activity provides a limited and flawed perspective. There is no sense of dynamism or direction. Even the strategic plan for the economic development of the Territories prepared by the Administrator has the feel of ‘top-down’ planning. Addressing development on Christmas Island, there is no response to the impending demise of the phosphate mine and undue emphasis is placed on the economic potential of the IRPC—

that is the detention centre—

an institution whose use is wholly dependent on the shifting requirements of government policy, and the APSC—

which was a space station—

a project which now appears defunct.

The power to make decisions that affect the lives of IOT residents should be vested in the people of the IOTs and guaranteed by statute that the Territory's bureaucracy has to liaise meaningfully with the people before decisions are made. A move to have unilateral, unaccounted-for decision-making is not good governance. I would use as an example that we lost $150,000 worth of funding, which equates to 40,000 hours of training lost a year. We are not training for training's sake. I have heard that other RTOs, or registered training organisations, on the mainland train for training's sake. All of our stakeholders on the board—the mine, the co-op, the shires, the schools—input to the general manager on what our training needs will be for the year. For example, 'CIP needs this many forklift guys up and running, we need first aid courses here, we need guys who run the barge,' so the training is quite relevant and is not wasted. We had the cut of $150,000 and we are reducing staff numbers and losing out on the upskilling that is required in the territories for the future.

On the point of making sure that decisions are made without residents, I will go to the second point talking about the terms of reference:

… existing consultation mechanisms undertaken by government representatives, including the IOT Regional Development Organisation …

The CCC, the Community Consultative Committee, was the body that was supposed to liaise with the department on SDA management in the review and creation of new SDAs. It was established in 1992 and has operated continuously since then. It was funded by $60,000 from the Commonwealth for the purposes it was chartered for under its constitution, and we will give you a copy of its charter in our submissions. It meets with every visiting SDA body on CI. For example, the Constitutional Affairs guys come through and they tell us about new programs, initiatives and what new laws apply that we have got to know about. It used to meet with the department once a year to review the SDA performance and to provide feedback on the performance of the state agencies over their contracted period. The last two times that DIRD—the infrastructure department—did this was in February 2012 and April 2013; so the last time SDAs were reviewed was 24 months ago this month—24 months ago this month! Almost every one of the 41 SDAs expired in 2010 or 2011 and have been unilaterally renewed by DIRD without community feedback since then. Sometimes we use an SDA and it does not seem to quite apply because it refers to something that does not apply so much to CI.

The RDO was constituted in 2013. I was a founding member of the IOT RDO. It has the following two objects of association: "one, to promote and support the policies, strategic plans and priorities that facilitate sustainable development in the region; and, two, to provide services and undertake projects that facilitate outcomes that are consistent with the policies, plans and priorities of the region." It was not constituted to be a consultative mechanism on SDA feedback. No minutes that the IOT RDO produced during my time as a founding member have ever mentioned SDA feedback as being the role of the IOT RDO. The IOT RDO was formed to promote economic development and was the evolution of two other groups. The Cocos Island and Christmas Island economic development consultation groups came together into one body, incorporated as an association under the WA act. Accordingly, not having a consultative mechanism within its objects of association, the IOT RDO members have never met for that purpose, from inception until today. Meanwhile, the CCC has been doing consultative works and studies too, and are still meeting on this matter.

CHAIR: I am afraid we are out of time now. I am sure that you have covered this in written notes anyway, so thank you very much. The SDA is a very consistent area of concern. I want to assure you and everyone else who has concerns in this area that it will be something that we will be focusing on and seeking more information on from the WA government and, of course, from the federal agencies as well. What is your annual budget?

Mr Becker : We have a contract with the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, which at the moment is worth about $700,000. We have a contract with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet where we run the Remote Jobs and Communities Program. Also, during peak immigration time, we run a profitable labour hire service. During peak operational time with immigration, our annual operating budget was probably around $2½ million. Now that would be down to around $1.3 million.

CHAIR: How many trainees are currently on the books?

Mr Becker : Across both islands, we have around 60 apprentices and trainees.

CHAIR: How many per island?

Mr Becker : On Cocos Island there would be around 14. The remainder would be on Christmas Island.

CHAIR: What are the trades?

Mr Becker : The trades are very mixed. We have representation across electrical, mechanical, plumbing and carpentry. I would have to put the rest in my submission.

CHAIR: So they are quite practical.

Mr Becker : They are very broad and very practical trades. Traineeship-wise, it is right across the board—everything from dental assisting and hospitality. The traineeship base is very broad and it includes local government.

CHAIR: Hairdressers?

Mr Becker : There are no hairdressers on Christmas Island, unfortunately. There are no bricklayers. There are very multiskilled trades up here. The builders would probably do a lot of the carpentry and bricklaying work, all in the one trade.

CHAIR: How many staff per island?

Mr Becker : We have five staff, including myself, on Christmas Island and three staff on Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

Senator BACK: The figure of 150,000 translates to 40,000 hours, I think you said.

Mr Becker : Yes.

Senator BACK: Then you went on to mention the mine, the co-op, the shire and the schools. To what extent does the management of those entities make a contribution to the training process and the apprenticeship process?

Mr Becker : The funding that we receive pretty well pays for the operations of training facilities on both islands. It pays for staff and it pays for flights and accommodation for trainers coming to the island. With the training requirements being so would, we are more or less like a TAFE on the island, but we need to outsource a lot of that skill because we cannot possibly have the trainers to cover all the different qualifications. A lot of different trainers are flown up to the region and some of our apprentices go down for block release.

Mr Su : In terms of support, there is in-kind support from people who let us use their plant and equipment.

Mr Becker : I was just going to go on to say that they do make a financial contribution to the training. For example, something like a forklift licence would probably cost the mine about $700 per person. They are making a financial contribution to that as well.

Mr Su : One thing I wanted to pass to Mrs Natasha Griggs is that there are five Australian flags flown at Christmas Island every day. You drove by three of them on the way to the hearing today—the one at the airport, the one in the shire and the one in administration. The other two flags are flown at the CI mosque every day and the school. I was the flag boy in year 8, so I was taking that one up and down. If you think there should be a flag flown at the courthouse, I will pass that on to the—

Mrs GRIGGS: I am happy to provide you with a flag. It was not just me that observed there were no flags. We obviously missed those. Thank you very much for pointing them out.

Mr Su : The flying ducks must have got in the way!

Mrs GRIGGS: Possibly!