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Thursday, 18 June 2009
Page: 6534

Ms MACKLIN (Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs) (12:12 PM) —in reply—I thank the various members from both sides of the parliament for their contributions and their support for the Coordinator-General for Remote Indigenous Services Bill 2009. This important bill creates the position of the Coordinator-General for Remote Indigenous Services to drive the implementation of the Council of Australian Governments reforms across a wide range of areas, including service delivery, employment and housing. Resources will be initially concentrated in priority locations across the country and we will seek to deliver to those communities facilities and services that are comparable with those in non-Indigenous communities of a similar size, location and need in other parts of Australia. I think that will be a very significant step forward.

New locations can be added to the purview of the coordinator-general by the minister specifying the remote community by a notice published in the Gazette. A remote community in a state or territory can only be specified after that state or territory has been consulted. Government investment will be prioritised and coordinated to ensure each priority location has infrastructure and services that support and sustain healthy social norms so that people can reach their potential and communities can thrive. It is intended that the approach will be extended to other remote locations.

Reporting directly to the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, the coordinator-general will work closely with governments to make sure that we have real improvements for Indigenous Australians against the Council of Australian Governments Closing the Gap targets. The position of coordinator-general has been established to address the practical problems—and I really want to emphasise that. It is about addressing the practical problems associated with designing, sequencing and rolling out myriad programs in remote communities. The coordinator-general will make sure that the delivery of all government programs in the specified remote communities is coordinated between governments instead of being planned and delivered in isolation.

It is our aim to remove bureaucratic blockages and ensure commitments by government agencies are delivered on time by monitoring requirements under the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery and other COAG reforms. The coordinator-general will be assessing progress and advising governments where there are gaps or slow progress or where improvements need to be made. The coordinator-general will oversee planning and strategic investment in communities and provide agencies with guidance on good practice. I will certainly expect, as the minister, to receive regular reports on progress and the coordinator-general will make sure that all government agencies are held to account for their implementation responsibilities.

The coordinator-general will also meet regularly with national, state and territory officials, who will be identified as coordinators within relevant government agencies. There will be provision of information by the coordinator-general to agencies on obstacles within the areas of responsibility of those agencies and he or she will have to provide advice both to the minister and to the Council of Australian Governments on the need for systemic changes.

When there is an issue requiring urgent remedy, this legislation will give the coordinator-general the powers to require people to provide information or documents. The coordinator-general will be able to require people to attend meetings and to request assistance from Commonwealth, state and territory agencies. In the case of state or territory governments, the coordinator-general will make his or her request to the state or territory coordinator-general in the first instance. If that request fails, the coordinator-general may make his or her request of the head of the relevant state or territory service agency. If the coordinator-general fails to receive an adequate response from an agency official, this bill allows for the matter to be reported to the head of the relevant agency. If the coordinator-general is not satisfied with the response from the head of the agency, the coordinator-general may report the matter to the minister and also to the Prime Minister, if necessary. I think this emphasises the critical importance we place on this task. The coordinator-general will report to the minister twice each year, or as otherwise required, on the development and delivery of remote services since the last report and on the progress that has been made in achieving the Close the Gap targets within the specified remote locations.

The bill outlines the administrative provisions about the appointment of the coordinator-general including their appointment, acting arrangements, staff, remuneration and leave, and resignation or termination of appointment. The establishment of this office, supported by all Australian governments through the Council of Australian Governments to ensure government commitments in remote Indigenous communities are met, is long overdue. I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.