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Community Affairs Legislation Committee
CROSS-PORTFOLIO INDIGENOUS MATTERS
Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
- Committee Name
Community Affairs Legislation Committee
Scullion, Sen Nigel
Siewert, Sen Rachel
Furner, Sen Mark
Boyce, Sen Sue
Feeney, Sen David
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Community Affairs Legislation Committee
(Senate-Friday, 17 February 2012)
CROSS-PORTFOLIO INDIGENOUS MATTERS
Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
Indigenous Business Australia
Department of Health and Ageing
Australian Bureau of Statistics
- Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
- CROSS-PORTFOLIO INDIGENOUS MATTERS
Content WindowCommunity Affairs Legislation Committee - 17/02/2012 - Estimates - CROSS-PORTFOLIO INDIGENOUS MATTERS - Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
CHAIR: The committee will begin today's proceedings with questions relating to closing the gap and will then follow the order as set out in the circulated agenda. I welcome for the first time to our committee Senator the Hon. David Feeney.
Senator Feeney: Thank you very much, Chair.
CHAIR: I also welcome back Mr Pratt—
Mr Pratt : Thank you.
CHAIR: and also all the officers who are in attendance today. Would either Senator Feeney or Mr Pratt like to make an opening statement?
Senator Feeney: No. I thank the committee, but I do not have a statement this morning.
Mr Pratt : No, thank you, Madam Chair.
CHAIR: At this stage, as always, Mr Pratt, I want to put on record my appreciation to the officers of the department who coordinated the efforts of pulling the agenda together so that the day could work as smoothly as possible. It just makes it a more effective process. We are starting with questions on closing the gap. Senator Scullion, where do you wish to start?
Senator SCULLION: I am not sure whether Mr Pratt would have personal knowledge of this, but as a committee we were assured, I think well over a week ago, that the longstanding request for the details and costings of programs provided by the government that would make the committee work so much easier would be provided. It is about five days late, but I thought estimates was coming up and we would be able to be provided with it early in the day. Now would be a terrific time.
Mr Dillon : We have provided an answer to question No. 191 on notice.
Senator SCULLION: No, sorry, Mr Dillon; I am not sure if you are aware. It was an agreement that it would be provided. There was no question on notice; it was actually an offer. It was an offer from the government to provide us with a list of all the Indigenous programs, because they are in all the little different departments and, for the ease of the committee, to be able to have a better understanding about where they all were, there was going to be a spreadsheet. This request comes from the last set of estimates, so it has been around a very long time. I understand that there is perhaps difficulty in collating such a document. We were given an undertaking that we were simply days away. This was only 10 days ago—it was about that, Madam Chair. The whole committee was given an undertaking that this would be ready in two days. Okay, we have slipped it five days. This is not in response to a question on notice; this is just an undertaking of government that they would provide this to the committee, from the request of the committee. I ask again: are you able to provide that?
Mr Dillon : No, I am not able to provide a list at this point. What we have provided is a reference to each of the portfolio budget statements and annual reports, specifically pointing to the Indigenous program. That relates to the publicly available information on Australian government Indigenous expenditure, which is provided—
Senator SCULLION: Mr Dillon, this is—
CHAIR: Senator, before you go any further, I will just remind you about letting the witness finish. I know it is early. I will not intrude. But, Mr Dillon, had you finished your answer? Then we will get back.
Mr Dillon : Thank you, Madam Chair. I was just going to refer Senator Scullion to the fact that the government does provide, in each of the portfolio budget statements and annual reports, references to or descriptions of Indigenous programs. This is a vast exercise. The challenge we face in providing such a list—we are not the whole of government. We oversight it but we are not the relevant agencies. In providing such a list, we effectively warrant that that list is comprehensive, accurate and up to date and you are comparing apples with apples. Effectively, we cannot make that warranty and we do not want to mislead the Senate, so it is a very challenging request that you have made.
Senator SCULLION: You have to be absolutely kidding me—and not only me but the committee. It was only five days ago that they said, 'Look, committee, it's only going to take a couple of days and we'll have that to you.' We have been waiting for this from government since the last set of estimates. It has been quite clear. And now today you say: 'Oh, look, it's all too difficult. We couldn't possibly know where the Indigenous programs are across government. We'd hate to mislead you by providing information.' It is simply a list—the health department and OATSIH, whether it is the dental health issues or the mental health issues, and allocating a sum of money to each program. That was undertaken here some time ago and I can assure you, Minister, that Minister Arbib was here and was encouraged that that would be a much smarter way of approaching it through these portfolio issues.
We have had this undertaking, not from this department in this estimates. We understand that this is a cross-portfolio issue and we as a committee, not me in opposition, were given an absolutely rock solid guarantee. It was at the last meeting we had in preparation for this estimates that they said, 'I'm sorry it's taken a long time; it'll be here in a couple of days,' so I cannot understand, Mr Dillon, why you are now responding by saying, 'I couldn't possibly provide that information,' when you were going to provide it to us a week ago. What has changed in that week from that undertaking that has been around for a very long time—a very sensible suggestion and a commitment from government and a commitment from the minister to provide it?
Mr Dillon : With respect, you talk about undertakings and commitments. The undertaking and commitments were to use our best endeavours to provide the information you have requested, and I have given you an answer as to why we have used our best endeavours and why we have answered the question in the way we have. I understand that there were discussions last week in the planning for these hearings. My understanding is that those discussions are essentially informal, without prejudice. We do not make commitments that are on the public record. If we did, we would have Hansard there.
Senator SCULLION: There is a commitment on the public record, Mr Dillon, from Minister Arbib. He gave an undertaking to this committee—not to me but to this committee—that that task would be done. Literally, as I said, somebody said, 'We've almost got it finished; it's a couple of days away.' So are you able to provide the work that was undertaken to us on behalf of the department? They were only a couple of days away, with a couple of tidying-up issues. Why can't we be provided with that information when it was up to there at that meeting? We talk about an informality of the meeting. The convention has it, certainly where I come from, that my word is my bond. An officer comes from a department and says, 'I'm representing the government with good faith.' I am completely shocked that I arrive here today, the whole committee having had these discussions and these undertakings—and I think the chair will validate that that is the case. We had an undertaking from the minister and from the department that this material would be provided. And, frankly, if you do not know where that is, if you cannot even find the programs in government, what sort of chance have you got of closing the gap, what sort of chance does this government have of actually providing any leadership across portfolios to ensure that there is some coordination, which we always talk about in this place?
Senator Feeney: I think that, if Senator Scullion wants to make these points, he should probably direct them to me as the representative of government rather than lambasting an official.
Senator SCULLION: I do apologise. I am not trying to lambast Mr Dillon.
CHAIR: Minister, I do accept that point but I think it was more a rhetorical point, and in terms of the process I did not think it went too far.
Senator Feeney: I just think that the partisan wrath of Senator Scullion should be directed at me rather than at an officer of the department.
CHAIR: Senator Scullion, if you would care to direct the wrath of the committee to the minister, that would be very useful.
Senator Feeney: I may regret that!
Senator SCULLION: Minister, I will just ask the chair to validate our position. I know you have just come freshly to this position today. Perhaps, Secretary, if you wish to interject at some stage, given that you have been here and are no doubt aware of this process, perhaps you might be able to explain why there has simply been what I consider a pretty disingenuous change of heart, because nothing is being provided. Mr Dillon is left stranded to come and give the bad news to the committee. It must have been a bad morning, given the history of this particular request. Do you have anything to add to that, Mr Pratt? You may have some knowledge of why we are not able to be provided with a list of the programs in Indigenous affairs across the portfolios. This is, after all, a cross-portfolio day allocated to that very issue.
Mr Dillon : Perhaps I should make one further comment—that is, we did undertake some work along the lines of compiling the list. As an aside, I should say that I respect the fact that your word is your word but so too my word is my word in those discussions. We do not mislead or attempt to undermine that informal process; however, we do have to ensure that the material we give is accurate.
Senator SCULLION: How long do you think that will take?
Mr Dillon : One of the issues we face in providing a list is accuracy and getting the sign-off from other agencies. To date, despite our best endeavours, we have not been able to get the complete accord and agreement from all agencies, and that becomes an issue for us.
Senator SCULLION: I understand that. Which agencies have had difficulty validating or providing the information?
Mr Dillon : I would prefer to take that question on notice because I actually do not know.
Senator SCULLION: If you have been asked to compile the list, you are responsible for providing the list. The answer you have given me is that there are people who are not being helpful; they are not providing the information. Surely those people and those departments would be at the top your mind, Mr Dillon.
Mr Dillon : With respect, I did not say that people were not being helpful or were not providing information. What I said was that I was not able to provide a list that they had agreed to and could sign off on in terms of its accuracy, up-to-dateness et cetera.
Senator SCULLION: I think that the Senate would like to know which departments are not able to provide the Indigenous programs and the cost expenditures of those programs. The processes of managing Indigenous Australia are under dire threat if the Department of Health and Ageing and the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations—DEEWR—cannot provide just the basic information of what Indigenous programs lie under their department and have a financial line item that tells you where that is.
Mr Dillon : We do provide that information. It is provided in a different format. It is provided through the Australian government Indigenous expenditure lists. The department of finance totals those up. But it does not, in a sense, give the list you ask for because it is broken down in the form required by the department of finance for the outcomes documentation that this Senate requests.
Senator SCULLION: And the committee acknowledge that, but we also acknowledge the difficulty of trying to put all that together, basically because after those are published they are often redundant because there are changes in the names of programs. The committee felt that it would be useful to have a continued update to at least have, on the one sheet of paper, 'This is the department; these are the Indigenous programs in each department; these are the expenditures; and this is the name of the program,' because we have redundant programs and programs which have changed their names and we reinvent things. That is just what we do here. And so, for the ease of this committee that does the vast majority of the work in Indigenous affairs, the committee felt that that was a very useful tool. You are now telling me, Mr Dillon, that there are some departments which are unable—and obviously, as you say, they are trying their hardest, but they are unable—to either identify the programs or identify the amounts of money. Can you tell me, for an example, what the feedback has been to you?
Mr Dillon : I did not say that they were unable to provide the information. What I said was that we were unable to get their approval for the format. I suspect, but I do not know, that that may relate to the fact that the information that departments work off is in a different format, and so it becomes quite a challenge for them to provide that tick-off.
Senator SCULLION: Often I ask the government, the different departments, questions on notice. We ask, 'How many giraffes have you got in the backyard?' and they will say, 'Eight and a half.' They are pretty helpful about all that and some are quite comprehensive answers. It is not quite as comprehensive across departments as this is, but they are quite comprehensive answers. I would not have thought the process for ticking that off or approving that would have been any different to any other question on notice, frankly, Mr Dillon. I am not asking any one department to do the whole thing; this is a cross-portfolio exercise, and as such each department would only have to know what is in their department and they would only have to approve what is in their department. After all, they provide those numbers and those figures through the department of finance in some other format. We were looking for a very simple format, even alphabetically—we do not have to get that right. We just simply need the name of the program, 'Giraffes in Backyard'—many of the departments would not have more than 10 programs at any one time running; FaHCSIA has a lot, others have quite a small number— and after that the actual cost of the program and where they are up to with the expenditure.
Mr Dillon : With respect, this task is much more challenging than that. It is not as simple as that. For example, 70 per cent of government expenditure that goes to Indigenous people actually goes through mainstream programs. It is not a clear-cut distinction between Indigenous specific programs and mainstream programs. The Australian g over n ment i ndigenous e xpenditure list compiled w ith informa tion from each agency includes mainstream programs with either an explicit Indigenous component or an implicit, or notional, Indigenous component where people have in some cases made an estimate. In other programs it might be too hard to make any estimate at all. So instead of it being two categories with a clear demarcation between them it is actually a spectrum of programs, probably including every government program that exists, and the vast majority of them would have some element of Indigenous expenditure. But that cannot always be identified and this is the problem we face because , if we provided the list that you are asking for, we would have to warrant that that was accurate. It is a much greyer process than—
Senator SCULLION: There are often caveats provided in answers at estimates: for example, 'This is an approximation,' or 'This is a changing thing.' At least we as a committee would know exactly what government knows. That is where we would be up to and if it wa s all a bit vague for government then it would be a bit vague for us too . I understand that some areas are quite tight and that in the middle of a financial year expenditure may have changed. T hat is part of the reason that we wanted this . B ut perhaps you can answer me this question as you were in the room when we had the meeting. One of the officers said : 'Look, I am sorry it has taken so long. We have almost finished. We will be there in a couple of days.' I t was an informal meeting —in fact , it was a meeting of this committee —a nd informal or not an undertaking was given. Why did you not rush to your feet 10 days ago and say, 'Oh, we cannot possibly , this is all too hard,' and give me the story you are trying to give me today ? This was not even a fortnight ago, and an officer in your company, completely in line with what the committee thought was happening, said : 'Oh , we have had a bit of a delay, yes, we are waiting on this material, so it will be in a couple of days. It will definitely be given before estimates.'
Mr Dillon : I agree with you, and it demonstrates that we have been trying in good faith to answer your question. But , at the end of the day, in formal session we have to ensure that the information we provide is accurate and for questions such as this, which span the whole of the Commonwealth government's activities, we have to have the assurance from other agencies that they are happy with that answer and , unfortunately , I do not have that assurance and therefore I cannot provide that information.
Senator SCULLION: Given that is your answer, can you then provide information about which agencies are unable, or not at this stage, to tick off on the information they have provided?
Mr Dillon : I have said I would take that on notice.
CHAIR: The point has been made.
Senator SCULLION: I will have to wrap up. I feel very let down, as does I am sure the committee. Will you provide the documents . Y ou were two days off . O bviously the material exists. You have the material to hand and the only issue that you have responded to me about is some notion of validation or ticking off from the various departments. Perhaps I will ask the m inister : would you be able to provide to the committee an appendix to this that explains the rubber i n ess of the figures or otherwise. We would be quite happy to know simply where all the programs are and you can have a caveat that these numbers may not be exactly accurate and should not be relied upon , or whatever it is, and we would be quite happy to accept that. We have always known that the reason we need this is the potential flexibility. We know the document is to hand because we are only a couple of days off the final details and perhaps it is simply because the departments are unable to sign off on that. I am quite happy for each department to say as a caveat that the particular figures cannot be relied on for whatever reason, and we as a committee would be more than happy to accept that. Minister, would you be able to provide that today?
Senator Feeney: Let me invite the secretary to respond in the first instance.
Mr Pratt : You asked me before whether I wanted to say anything about this. I have nothing to add to Mr D illo n's answers. I think he has been very clear as to the challenges and the difficulties that we have faced in trying in good faith to respond to the undertakings at the previous estimates hearings. In relation to your follow-up question , what I will do is take it up with the minister directly and seek her view on whether or not this department and others will invest what will be an enormous amount of resources in attempting to complete this process. I am not giving any undertakings as to which way that will go, but I am very conscious—
Senator SCULLION: I understand that .
Mr Pratt : of the issues that Mr Dillo n raised about just how much effort has to go into compiling such a list and making sure that it is accurate and is able to be tabled with any confidence. That is what we will do.
Senator SCULLION: Would you be able to undertake to contact the minister today? The understanding with the estimates committee is that we will not have another opportunity until the next set of estimates . We as a committee are now travelling to some pretty remote areas and making significant investments on behalf of taxpayers. Many of the questions we would like to ask may be not only about Stronger Futures but also about other programs being undertaken in these remote communities. If we had this list , it would enable the committee to ask some detailed questions about how these p rograms are going on the ground. T hat would really assist us . I know the minister is very keen to progress these issues. Perhaps I could have an undertaking that you will at least attempt to contact the minister today. It would be very useful if we could have an answer today.
Mr Pratt : Irrespective of when I contact the minister, based on Mr D illo n's advice we would not be able to complete such an exercise in that time frame. I will have an opportunity next week to discuss this with the minister.
Senator SCULLION: I am simply asking that you contact the minister today so that I know that Minister Macklin is aware of the circumstances in estimates today, and she will then have an opportunity to respond to you. If her response is that we are going to have to wait a week or so then so be it. But I would like an undertaking to at least make the minister aware of the circumstances this morning and see what her response is to what has been suggested.
Mr Pratt : I will not speak for the minister and my next opportunity to deal with the minister will be next week. I am sure the minister's office is watching this and is very aware of your understandable concerns here. So to the extent that—I will look at the camera— they may help us out there, that would be gratefully accepted. However, my answer stands.
Senator SCULLION: You may not have to meet with the minister next week. Y ou might be on the tile s having a beer with her, I do n o t know, but you might have an opportunity to have more direct access to the minister. I know we are all flat out at lunchtime, but I on behalf of the committee am asking, perhaps at the next available opportunity , that you at least let the minister know and ask her to seek the swiftest possible response to the suggestion that has been made .
Senator Feeney: Yes, I am happy to do that. I cannot vouch for the fact that I will be speaking to the minister , but obviously I am readily able to talk about these matters with her office.
Senator SIEWERT: I hate to disappoint you but I am still going to be on expenditure for a little while and then I would if we could move on to the actual Closing the Gap report. I have a lot of detailed expenditure questions against remote service delivery which I will put on notice. However , I would like to follow up the recommendation that the Coordinator General for Remote Indigenous Services made in his last report, which was a recommendation calling on the Australian state and territory governments to publish by the end of 2011 an agreed statement of remote service delivery expenditure. Has that report been delivered o r has that recommendation been taken up?
Mr Pratt : I might check with the C o o rdinator G eneral.
Senator SIEWERT: It is actually to government, not to—
Mr Dillon : My understanding is that the Coordinator-General's recommendations in his fourth report are still the subject of consideration. They have to go to all the states and territories. We are planning a meeting of the working group on Indigenous reform—the formal body of the states and territories and the Commonwealth under COAG—which deals with these matters. My understanding is that they will consider the recommendations made by Mr Gleeson.
Senator SIEWERT: We obviously have not met the 2011 deadline. How is the department viewing that particular recommendation?
Mr Palmer : We have been working with the states and territories on the development of a statement of expenditure.
Senator SIEWERT: Will that report against each of the 29 communities? Will it give a more detailed explanation of expenditure for each of those communities?
Mr Palmer : No, it will be against jurisdictions; it will not be against individual communities.
Senator SIEWERT: How do individual communities get an understanding of what and how much has been spent in their communities?
Mr Palmer : There is a range of sources of data that allow communities to consider those, including the baseline mapping exercise that provided a comprehensive list of services and infrastructure available in the communities at the time that the baseline mapping was done. Each of the baseline mapping reports are extensive documents, some hundreds of pages long. They provide a list of the services available in the community.
Senator SIEWERT: When was that done?
Mr Palmer : It was done in 2009-10. My colleague Mr James would be able to give more details about that.
Senator SIEWERT: I am sure that is useful to communities. It is not useful in telling them how much is being spent.
Mr James : As my colleague, Mr Palmer, was mentioning, the baseline mapping reports were compiled from 2009 into some of the early months of 2010. All communities have those reports. They have extensive lists of all the programs. In terms of expenditure, when we were doing those baseline mapping reports, I had discussions with the Commonwealth Grants Commission and others. Data on expenditure at a program level is extremely difficult to get at a community level. However, some spending material is in the baseline mapping reports. Where we could get expenditure on some programs that was included. Since the baseline mapping reports have been compiled—the My School website as just one example—the total spending going to a school in each of the RSD communities is available. There was some expenditure information in those reports. It was just not completely comprehensive. One of the issues is that many programs are run either at a national level or a jurisdiction level, and the program managers do not readily break the program spending down into a community level. When that has been attempted, it has been a particularly difficult to do—though you can do it. We were very conscious of completing the baseline mapping reports as quickly as possible. Had we tried to do that as well, I suspect that we would still be doing them.
Senator SIEWERT: I do not want to go over ground that we have already been over. I have trouble comprehending why you cannot identify funding at community level. If you are funding a particular program, why can't you allocate it against that particular community?Mr Palmer: It depends on the program. You can sometimes make estimates. I will give one example. Many programs are visiting programs. The program operates from a regional centre. It might visit a whole range of communities. I guess you could try to do a notional allocation, depending on how many times a provider visited a community. But you are getting down to very fine details. It comes down to what I said: program data is not generally provided at that level. It can be done, but it is extremely onerous.
Senator SIEWERT: I have quite a list of detailed questions about expenditure that I will put on notice. They will take too long to go through now. I have follow-up questions about APY Lands and expenditure.
CHAIR: It is in the Closing the Gap Prime Minister's Report.
Senator SIEWERT: Can we move on to that report. There has been a call from congress and other Aboriginal organisations to include a justice target in the Closing the Gap targets. Has there been consideration of that issue?
Ms Halbert : That question is best directed to the Attorney-General's Department. I do not think that they are here. There have been discussions about a justice target over time.
Senator SIEWERT: I appreciate that it sits in the Attorney-General's portfolio. Surely, in terms of trying to close the gap, consideration has been given to that by your agency, which is responsible for Indigenous affairs.
Ms Halbert : The Attorney-General's Department has the lead on this. There have been discussions about that over time. I cannot tell you with any accuracy exactly what that is up to at the moment. I have to direct the question to them.
Mr Pratt : Ultimately, it is a matter for government as to whether it chooses to add another target.
CHAIR: We did say that we were going to call Attorney's today.
Senator SIEWERT: I agree. That is why I directed my question and said, 'As the lead agency for indigenous affairs'. I will try again. I am conscious that I am not asking A-G's. Have you, as the lead agency for Indigenous affairs, considered that and provided advice to government about that issue?
Ms Halbert : We have certainly been involved in discussions with Attorney-General's about consideration of a justice target over time. It is quite common knowledge that this has been proposed by people. I do not believe that we would have provided advice to government on that because the Attorney-General's Department has the lead on that. But we have had discussions with them about it.
Senator SIEWERT: The Closing the Gap Prime Minister's Report talks in a more positive tone about the data available. Yet the shadow report was quite critical of some of the data that has been made available. In fact, we have just had a lengthy discussion about the fact that we cannot get some of the data for expenditure. Can you please update us on how you plan to improve the quality and reliability of the data collection, particularly against life expectancy? As you are aware, there has been some criticism about using only the census data.
Mr James : Over the last few days, I have been discussing that issue of use of the census. Strictly speaking, the way the census is used for life expectancy estimates is that there is a census stamp data enhancement project, where there is a linking, matching or a comparison at least, of census data with mortality data. That is why we rely on the census. We have mortality data that we can track each year. In particular, the ABS has been involved in assessing the quality of that data. The Prime Minister's statement mentions some issues identified with mortality data in WA, where there has been an identification of an overstatement for 2007-08-09. The issue identified was that some deaths of non-Indigenous people had been recorded as Indigenous deaths. That issue has now been the subject of detailed consideration. I understand that the ABS is hoping that in about June or July this year they will be in a position to publish revised Western Australian mortality data. That is just one example of some of the data improvement work. I could give many others.
Senator SIEWERT: Perhaps you could take some of the headliner ones on notice for me. This committee did the inquiry into suicides. I am sure you are fully aware of the issues around data. The committee made a number of recommendations around improving data collection and coordination, and around issues that need to be addressed nationally. Have you been involved in any of that, or has FaHCSIA been involved in any of the discussions on improving the reliability of that data?
Mr James : When it comes to suicide data I would defer to my colleagues in the Department of Health and Ageing. I think there is a specific listing of suicide later today. I will leave it to them to speak on that issue.
Senator SIEWERT: I realise that we will be talking about some of the other issues around suicide later. I was specifically asking about the data issue.
Mr James : I have not personally been involved in the suicide data. We tend to focus particularly on the data indicators that are specified in the National Indigenous Reform Agreement, and that is not one of them. I am aware, in a general sense, of the issues with suicide data but I am not directly involved in that. My colleagues at DoHA would be much more closely involved.
Senator SIEWERT: I will chase it up with them, thank you. In terms of early childhood education, it is reported that 90 per cent of Indigenous children were enrolled in a preschool program in the year before attending full-time schooling. Do you collect data about attendance?
Mr James : I should defer to my colleagues at the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, but there is a new national collection, as mentioned in the booklet, being developed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Where possible it will try to measure participation as well. There will be more information and data released from that new collection this year—in the first half of this year, I understand.
Senator SIEWERT: Is that from the ABS data?
Mr James : Yes, from the new collection that is mentioned in the booklet.
Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. But do you have an idea what it is like at the moment?
Mr James : Do you mean what the data is like?
Senator SIEWERT: Yes.
Mr James : There are a number of issues with the Preschool Census which are quoted there. One of them is about comprehensiveness. My understanding is that that does not cover children in a preschool program and a long day care centre. The new collection will add that to the mix.
Senator SIEWERT: Thank you for that. But what about general attendance across the board?
Mr James : Do you mean attendance centres for preschool?
Senator SIEWERT: Yes.
Mr James : I probably should defer to my colleagues at the ABS who have covered this in more detail. I do know, for example, that the attendance data for preschool is available by jurisdiction. The one thing to keep in mind with attendance at preschool is that it is not compulsory. But I should not comment on it; I am not across the detail enough to give a detailed response.
Senator SIEWERT: Who should I be talking to?
Mr James : That would probably be DEEWR in the first instance.
Senator SIEWERT: I am sorry to harp on this—and I appreciate the answer that you have just given on the ABS collecting the data—but is there an intention to report against attendance? I realise it is not compulsory. The reason we have preschool is to start kids off early. I am not advocating therefore that we make sure they are all there, but I would have thought it was a good precursor to improving attendance at school.
Mr James : My understanding is that where it is possible that data will be provided.
Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. The report relies heavily on NAPLAN testing, and I do not propose to enter into a whole lengthy discussion about the adequacy of NAPLAN
CHAIR: That is another department.
Senator SIEWERT: I realise that, and it could take all day. What I am interested in, though, is that there are a lot of criticisms around the usefulness of NAPLAN testing, and I am wondering, as the sole indicator, is there an intention to develop some other indicators beyond NAPLAN testing for educational outcomes in the Closing the Gap report.
Mr James : Not at this stage. NAPLAN is the agreed basis upon the target. It is specified as such in the National Indigenous Reform Agreement. At this point, that is the data we report against.
Senator SIEWERT: That is the end of my bit before I go into APY.
CHAIR: Are they any other senators who wish to ask a question?
Senator SCULLION: I have some quick things in the same sort of area about attendance and those things. I have some stuff on early childhood that I will put on notice. Obviously, though, all the science is telling us that the earlier the engagement the more important it is. The principal concern, given the statistics, is that closing the gap in reading, writing and literacy is an area we can focus on. In the Closing the Gap report I notice that—and I think it is in year 5—in structured literacy and numeracy there is a 50 per cent gap among Indigenous people between their outcomes in remote areas and their outcomes in metropolitan areas. This is not a gap between mainstream and Indigenous; this is a gap between Indigenous people. It is terrific to see that NAPLAN is able to differentiate between metropolitan and remote. Obviously, there is a significant difference. Hopefully Mr Dillon, the secretary or whoever will be able to respond.
There is a whole range of other indicators across the Closing the Gap. NAPLAN is slightly different—it is there, so we use it—but do we have the capacity to give some information about each of the indicators between remote and metropolitan. The motive for that is that when I hear the Prime Minister giving the Closing the Gap speech—and we hear that things are doing a bit better, and we all feel good about that; and that is fantastic—I know anecdotally that in the bush we are going backwards on some of those measures, and it is probably being dampened down in the cities. It is just so important that we are able to differentiate that right across these indicators.
Mr James : In many instances we already can, and in instances where it is not quite possible at the moment we are working to fix that. To give one example, with school attendance data there is a separate exercise to get better consistency of definition for school attendance. As for data by remoteness, the NT already publishes data on school attendance rates by remoteness area. Not every jurisdiction does that. You can look up the data on MySchool, but what we are trying to do is get each jurisdiction to give us school attendance rates by remoteness area. That is one example. With life expectancy we would like to be in a position, when the ABS next produces its life expectancy estimates, to be potentially able to do that by remoteness area as well. Employment we can already do by remoteness. I will not go through all of them, but, generally speaking, for the others we can.
Senator SCULLION: Perhaps you can provide that on notice. It is very heartening to see that is happening. Could you give us an indication of those areas where you are unable to provide that information at the moment and what the mechanisms or jurisdictional issues are? Could you also outline the mechanisms to ameliorate whatever the challenges are?
Mr James : I will have to coordinate with other agencies but, yes, I can do that.
Senator SCULLION: We have apparently had some difficulty with that, but I am quite sure in this case they will be cooperative. In halving the year 12 gap, I glean from the report that we are happy to wait on data from the census in 2012 for an update on the comparison between 2006 and 2011. Everybody leaves school at the end of the year, and each school would be able to tell who left school—who graduated or did not graduate. I am trying to understand why we are relying on the census rather than the actual live data from schools at the end of the year.
Mr James : We do have data on apparent retention to year 12. That data is not perfect. The COAG Reform Council, in a number of its reports, suggested that we should move towards data on, what could loosely be described as, year 12 certification—that is, the percentage of young kids who attained a year 12 or equivalent certificate. There are issues on the comparability of that data across jurisdictions. That is something that is being looked at—to potentially use that as an alternate source to track each year. One of the troubles we face with the year 12 target is that it is focused on 20-24 year olds and we cannot rely on the surveys because the number of Indigenous 20-20 year olds in the surveys is quite low. So we do have to use administrative data in the years between the censuses. But we are looking to improve that. We have got apparent retention rates but we are trying to develop something that is better than that. It would be better to be able to track each year, even though we can already to an extent.
Senator SCULLION: Perhaps the only other area in education that was in the report is that the Commonwealth has provided 200 teachers to the Northern Territory to bring it up. I was not sure whether or not it was the same as with police officers, in that we are providing them for a certain period and then the Northern Territory will take over the policing responsibility. Is that the same agreement?
Mr James : That probably goes beyond my remit. I think that really goes to future policy in terms of the NT.
Senator SCULLION: Certainly. Perhaps you could take that on notice if possible.
Mr Pratt : Certainly. I will just see whether we can answer now.
Ms Halbert : You are talking about the additional police provided through what we call the Northern Territory Closing the Gap national partnership. As Mr James just indicated, the future of that policy is under consideration at the moment, but the intention has always been that the Northern Territory would step up with its own police. I think that transition is already underway.
Senator SCULLION: I understand that about the policing.
Ms Halbert : Sorry, you were asking about teachers.
Senator SCULLION: I was just saying that we have provided 191½ teachers, according to the book, and I could not recall reading anywhere exactly what the status of that was. Perhaps you could take on notice whether there was an intention that at some particular point in time the Northern Territory government would take over the salaries, maintenance or whatever of those or whether they will continue to be Commonwealth employees. If somebody today could come up with a brief explanation it would be useful.
Ms Halbert : Again, that is under consideration as part of Stronger Futures.
Senator SCULLION: Someone here today may be able to help me with that.
Senator SIEWERT: In September last year the federal government reported that it had agreed with the South Australian government to negotiate a regional partnership agreement with the APY executive. Has that been finalised?
Ms Halbert : No, the regional partnership agreement has not been finalised. There is a commitment to consult with communities on that. It is currently out with key stakeholders for comment, and there will be a discussion in Alice Springs next week. I do not expect the regional partnership to be finalised at that point, but the discussions are underway.
Senator SIEWERT: When you say it has been out for discussion, are some of the proposed elements to be included in that or is it more detailed?
Ms Halbert : You would have to call it a well-ish developed draft at the moment. Part of the reason for going out to key stakeholders is to get their input as to what the agreement should contain.
Senator SIEWERT: Who are you talking about when you talk about key stakeholders?
Ms Halbert : Obviously the South Australian government is a partner in this, as is the APY executive, other service providers such as NPY Women's Council, Nanapa Health—all the key services providers on the APY lands—and, as I said, not only the APY executive but key community leaders. The community is being consulted generally.
Senator SIEWERT: You said there was a meeting in Alice next week?
Ms Halbert : We have had many meetings, but there is one to specifically talk about the regional partnership agreement next week.
Senator SIEWERT: Do you have a time line for when you would want that to be finalised?
Ms Halbert : We would like it to be finalised as soon as possible, but we also want it to be something that the community feels they have ownership of. This is a regional partnership that will go some time into the future, and we hope it is a long-term plan. We will not press people to agree too quickly, but we will be moving to get it settled as soon as possible.
Senator SIEWERT: You talk about wanting all stakeholders to be involved. I presume the agreement is between the South Australian government and the federal government and does not include community agreement per se.
Ms Halbert : Actually, it does.
Senator SIEWERT: So they get to sign on the dotted line?
Ms Halbert : I will have to double-check that, but the APY executive at least is a formal partner to it. I believe the service providers are also included, but I will double-check that. It is the APY executive and the councils, yes.
Senator SIEWERT: And the South Australia government?
Ms Halbert : Yes.
Senator SIEWERT: Do you have an indication of how much you expect to invest under that partnership agreement?
Ms Halbert : Not at this stage, no.
Senator SIEWERT: What is the time line for deciding that?
Ms Halbert : Part of the discussions is to see what we think the actual gaps are and what investment is required. Obviously there is considerable government presence on the APY lands already, so we are looking at that. I cannot give you a figure—we have not filled in what investments are required yet, let alone what they will cost.
Senator SIEWERT: So you are still scoping that?
Ms Halbert : Yes.
Senator SIEWERT: I have some more questions in relation to some of the local implementation plans. I am after information on some of the plans on the APY lands. I understand that the Amata and Mimili local implementation plans were due to be reviewed last year.
Mr Palmer : They are both being refreshed at the moment. There were meetings with the community, and this is from memory, but I think it was in June-July with Amata and November with Mimili. We are going through the process of refreshing and updating those local implementation plans and we will going back to both communities in March.
Senator SIEWERT: When you say you are going back to the community in March with the refreshed plans, are they finalised refreshed plans or drafts? In other words, are they going for more consultation or will they be completed?
Mr Palmer : When we met with communities last year and had, I think, two-day meetings with both communities, we got the communities' issues and concerns. We have now been working with a range of government departments both across the Commonwealth and at the state level. That results in finding which are the things we can meet and which are the things that we still have difficulty with. We will go back now and have discussions with the community. So it is a draft, but it is similar to what Ms Halbert was just saying about the regional partnership agreement. Clearly, we want to work through and have an agreed response rather than a pressured response.
Senator SIEWERT: In the review process, did you do an analysis of the implementation of the actions?
Mr Palmer : Yes, there was.
Senator SIEWERT: There were a great many actions included in the plan. How many of those have been implemented?
Mr Palmer : I will just see if I have data on that. The Amata and Mimili plans are the two plans with the most actions out of all 29 local implementation plans. It might be better if I take that on notice and get back to you with how far we have gone in implementing both of those.
Senator SIEWERT: I am after an update for both of them, and how many. I would like to know what is outstanding, as well.
Mr Palmer : We are happy to do that.
Senator SIEWERT: So the refreshed plans are coming out in March, and there will be an ongoing program of consultation updating. When do you expect to finalise that?
Mr Palmer : I am hoping that they will be finalised by 30 June, and then we will update them on our website. At the moment we have the original LIPs on our website.
Senator SIEWERT: Still on Amata, has the youth action plan been finalised?
Mr Palmer : I do not know the answer to that. My understanding is that there was a range of youth action plans in the original local implementation plan. I am not sure whether the community is working on a separate youth action plan or on having youth action plans included in its local implementation plan. I will have to get back. The issue of youth is being discussed and worked through with the community, but as to how the community wants to present that I do not have that detail in front of me.
Senator SIEWERT: I understand that there was going to be a youth action plan. Can you take a notice whether that is in fact the case.
Mr Palmer : There will be a youth action plan, but as to whether it is a separate document or whether it is included in the local implementation plan I just do not have that piece of information.
Senator SIEWERT: It sounds like it has not been finalised, so perhaps you could tell me when it is going to be finalised and when it is going to be released.
Mr Palmer : We are more than happy to do that.
Senator SIEWERT: And if work has in fact started.
Senator FURNER: I have some general questions around education, in particular in Queensland. I was seeking some feedback on the Remote Area Teacher Education program in Queensland. How has that been travelling, and what sort of results are coming out of that?
Ms Halbert : We should defer those questions to DEEWR. I apologise for a slight flaw in our coordination plan here—I do not believe that DEEWR are here yet.
CHAIR: They are coming for Employment and Economics at 10:45.
Senator FURNER: What about any results on SEAM? Is that a matter for them as well?
Ms Halbert : Yes.
Senator SCULLION: I have a couple of questions that do not go anywhere else. Perhaps Mr Dillon may be able to assist. They are in regard to the proposed formation of a new land council in the Northern Territory—the Katherine Regional Land Council or whatever it is going to be called. Can you give us an update on when the land commissioner is going to release the report?
Mr Dillon : My understanding is that the land commissioner's report is due in April this year. He sought an extension, and the minister granted it.
Senator SCULLION: Why was it necessary to extend the time for the process in general terms?
Mr Dillon : My understanding is that the proponents of the proposal have not yet provided him with a submission.
Senator SCULLION: Has there been some funding approved for the Northern Land Council to promote their position?
Mr Dillon : I am not aware that specific funding has been approved to the Northern Land Council to promote their position. I am aware that they have undertaken some activities—though I do not know the extent of them—to promote their position. I assume they may have used their existing funding sources.
Senator SCULLION: I wonder if you would be able to provide that on notice.
Mr Dillon : I would be forwarding that question to the Northern Land Council for them to answer.
Senator SCULLION: As they are a Commonwealth agency, I am very confident that they will give a complete and swift answer. Has there been any funding applied for or approved to the Katherine applicants to promote their position?
Mr Dillon : My understanding is that they have made an application for extra funding.
Senator SCULLION: What is the status of that application?
Ms Halbert : The department is currently considering it.
Senator SCULLION: Minister, perhaps you can focus on this. In the supplementary estimates hearing of October 2009, where this whole thing started, you provided us with exactly what we are doing now. Every department provided the exact breakdown we are asking for today. It will be on someone's computer somewhere. We are asking for an update. We have Attorney-General's law and order, and it is broken down into each measure—who administers it, the budget, what it actually is, the year to date. It is approximate and we all understood that. Then there is the percentage, then the departmental, then the total. It was very useful in those days to try to provide that. I am happy to provide that to you.
Senator Feeney: That would be splendid.
Senator SCULLION: That is what we are looking for, Mr Dillon, given that in the heady days of October 2009 we had the capacity for the approval and ticking-off process from the departments. They had to supply figures and the world did not fall down in 2009. That would be the exact format that the committee would like to receive it in. You also very usefully provided the component of mainstreams, which helps us in discussion to locate them geographically. I will provide that to the minister.
CHAIR: We will now go to the Office of the Coordinator General for Remote Indigenous Services. Senator Scullion, do you have questions here as well?
Senator SCULLION: I recall the last time I talked to you, Mr Gleeson, about a report that I think you had commissioned about the status of your office and some recommendations of your office. I cannot recall the details—whether it was on notice or a dodge-and-weave answer. Are you able to provide that report at this stage?
Mr Gleeson : I am not in the habit of giving dodging-and-weaving responses.
Senator SCULLION: I just cannot recall, because the department often are.
Mr Gleeson : I wanted to make it clear about any suggestions—
Senator SCULLION: There was no personal reflection, Mr Gleeson, I assure you.
CHAIR: I think Mr Pratt needs to put something on record to respond to that comment.
Senator SCULLION: I am happy to withdraw the remark. I was being a bit flippant; I meant no personal disrespect to you, Mr Gleeson.
CHAIR: I know it is withdrawn, but I think it is appropriate that the secretary have a short comment on Hansard.
Mr Pratt : The department also does not think 'duck and weave' or provide responses of that sort, Senator.
Senator SCULLION: Perhaps I was referring to the fullness of the answer. Sometimes, Mr Pratt, we simply get a no as a response to a question. Anyone with any experience in this area knows that the amount of assistance that goes into being helpful to the committee, as we have seen this morning, can vary from fantastic to what most people would regard as dodgy. That is only my opinion—
CHAIR: Senator, I would ask you to withdraw the word 'dodgy' and perhaps replace it with 'unsatisfying'.
Senator SCULLION: If it facilitates the meeting, certainly.
CHAIR: Thank you.
Mr Gleeson : There was a question on notice about the review that was undertaken independently of my office. It looked into the effectiveness of my office. It was commissioned by me, because I thought was appropriate two years into the office's mandate to assess how effective we are in terms of external stakeholders. The review has been finalised by Mr Bill Gray and the report is with me, but at this stage I have not released the report, because it mainly reflects on the operations of my office. It does not get into assessing how the RSD national partnership agreement is going. In short, I am looking at the findings now and I do propose to release the key findings of the report as soon as possible.
Senator SCULLION: Are you in a position to give us an indication of when that might be?
Mr Gleeson : I would hope it would be in the next two to three months at the latest.
Senator SIEWERT: When did you say that you received the report?
Mr Gleeson : I received the report in the last quarter of last year.
Senator SIEWERT: Have you discussed it with the minister yet?
Mr Gleeson : No, I have not discussed it with the minister.
Senator SIEWERT: Do you intend discussing it with the minister before you release it publicly?
Mr Gleeson : I suspect that I should, yes. I have provided an indication to the minister of the broad key findings, but I have not discussed it personally with her at all.
Senator SIEWERT: Do you anticipate that your response will require significant reworking of the way your office operates?
Mr Gleeson : I am in the process of drafting a response to the key findings. There are not recommendations in the report; there are key findings. That is something I will be discussing with the minister. It does go into some of the issues around how we acquit our mandate—or how I acquit my mandate—and how the office is appropriately responding to all the different aspects of the mandate in the legislation. These things will need to be discussed with the minister.
Senator SCULLION: I think we all agree that there is a gap between opportunities in metropolitan Australia and those in regional Australia. It happens across mainstream opportunities. As I was indicating earlier, I was quite surprised that the actual gap in educational outcomes in Indigenous Australia is 50 per cent less. I am not picking out the worst one, although it was one at the lower end of things. It is clearly an issue. You are responsible for the remote-delivery end of things, and invariably the Commonwealth has this vicarious relationship in delivery through state jurisdictions and NGOs. I have spoken often in this place and will speak later about the CHIP program. We beat the Commonwealth up, but it is fundamentally the Northern Territory government that is delivering it. Have you put your mind to things like standards? You can say, 'Well, we have got a school—that's a tick.' If the school is running two years behind, that is an important element of that. So there are issues like the actual standards in education, the way we deliver the employment programs and the differences. Could you make some general comments about the sorts of things you think we may be doing better or any advances you may have in establishing what standards are actually being applied to the services that are delivered? I know we have focused on service delivery, and I commend you very much for your work on being able to map where the services are. But each of the services—certainly in education—appear, for whatever reason, to be delivering at a substantially different standard. I am not saying there is any deliberation in that. I wonder if you could comment about our capacity to measure the standards of delivery in remote areas in comparison with how they are delivered in a mainstream sense.
Mr Gleeson : Thank you, Senator. I think you raise a very important question. First of all, I think it is very difficult, as mentioned by colleagues earlier in response to some of your questions, to always get definitive responses with regard to expenditure on a place based approach. We have now been going through a process, particularly over the last six months, of trying to develop very specific performance indicators—measurable examples of how we are getting progress.
As you mentioned, in my previous reports I have been able to identify different services, building on the baseline mapping that was done by FaHCSIA, and saying, 'Have we got a child and family centre in that location? If not, why not?' But it is beyond that. As you said, it is issues around the quality of education, the quality of employment being delivered on the ground, houses et cetera, leading to safer communities.
So the work we are doing across all of the agencies is trying to look at developing some key indicators. That will lead to an evaluation process, which is done on an annual basis as well as at the end of the partnership agreement, to assess whether the outcomes are being achieved. As an example of that, to move that work forward, I convened a series of roundtables last year around school attendance. I found it very helpful to get the jurisdictions around the table to ask some very hard questions about the issues of teaching, quality of teaching, school attendance. You can measure school attendance, as mentioned by colleagues earlier, in many ways. Those roundtables identified some very key examples of how we can improve issues around quality of teaching, issues around connecting the community with the schools, because that is part of the issue of getting children to school.
Senator SCULLION: I am not sure if this would apply to your office. There is no unique solution to why somebody, at the end of primary school, gets passed and ticked off in some remote community, yet in reality they are two years behind other places. Is it because they did not have entry-level literacy and numeracy and they were always a bit behind? Is it the level of teaching—there are so many inputs. Have you been asked to commission any particular works so that we can have a much better understanding of why we are at where we are at, given that there are probably a handful of inputs that could impact on that? For example, early education centres are being installed—very slowly, I have to say, with six out of 31, but we are doing it. So we have acknowledged that. But as soon as we get into the other jurisdictional issues—for example, the quality of the teaching and why we have somebody—it is a bit like the CHIP house which says, 'Yes, absolutely, you have reached this level.' But when you compare it with mainstream level, the standards are not the same. There are a variety of issues there, but it is such an important area. I certainly have not struck an imperative document that tries to sort out the relative impact of those different issues.
Mr Gleeson : I have not commissioned any work from my office getting into that quantitative/qualitative assessment that you are mentioning. It is done more on a community basis, trying to assess feedback from communities and looking at schools, talking to teachers, talking to community leaders and finding out about issues around school attendance. I do not know whether FaHCSIA want to add anything.
Ms Halbert : Without wanting to appear unhelpful, it probably is a question best answered by DEEWR, but Mr James can give some information about the work of the clearing house.
Mr James : The Closing the Gap clearing house did have a look at the evidence on factors behind school attendance. I guess I would have to be honest and say that part of what it found was that the evidence base was not perhaps as good as it could be. I will give one example that might be interesting. We are doing an evaluation of Cape York welfare reform. As you know, there have been some big improvements in school attendance rates in Aurukun in particular. We were hoping to have that evaluation done by the end of June. The release of that will obviously be a matter for government. That is one example where we are looking at a different approach and where there will seem, at least on the face of it, based on the aggregate data, to have been some improvement.
Senator SIEWERT: Mr James, I have heard you just say that you are not finishing it until later, but what are some of the things that, in your analysis, are coming out over key differences that you just articulated?
Mr James : In terms of school attendance?
Senator SIEWERT: In terms of school attendance. What are they doing differently there that is improving school attendance?
Mr James : I should wait until we have finalised the evaluation. The sorts of things we will be looking at in particular are things like the role of the attendance case managers who work with families and kids so that they can go to school. There is also, importantly, of course, the role of the Families Responsibilities Commission. I would cite those two, but obviously that is the subject of the analysis we are doing.
Senator SIEWERT: When did you say that would be completed?
Mr James : I said we would complete the work by the end of June. Publication, of course, is a matter for government.
Senator SIEWERT: Yet the government is bringing on Stronger Futures legislation that is considering this very issue not having had access to that information. Certainly the senators that are going to be making a decision when we vote on it do not have access to that information.
Mr Dillon : The issue here is that the operations of government do not stop because we are doing an evaluation here or there.
Senator SIEWERT: Yes, we bring in programs that may not be effective and we are not paying attention to the trial that Australia spent a lot of money on. Then we bring in what I consider to be half-baked measures that are not well informed through on-the-ground experience.
Mr James : I should say that there is an implementation review of the Families Responsibilities Commission published. There is also the attendance data for Aurukun and the other Cape communities published. So there is a lot of material already out there. I was just making the point in terms of being specific about what was driving the increase. The increase has occurred in Aurukun; I was just saying that the evaluation will tell us more in terms of the contribution of the different parts of it.
Senator SIEWERT: Surely that is absolutely essential when we are developing policy into the future if we want to see those outcomes delivered elsewhere.
Mr James : I guess though if you are referring to SEAM, there are separate evaluations of SEAM that have been published. But that is an issue for DEEWR.
Senator SIEWERT: I want to ask Mr Gleeson, in his work on looking at attendance, whether he has considered the latest SEAM evaluation reports that have just been released.
Mr Gleeson : I will just go back, if I may. You were asking about examples, and I will come back to your question specifically. I think there were two or three things I might mention that came out of the roundtables which respond to your question. One very big thing was the issue of how schools connect with the community—that is, that the school is not considered to be just over there, nine to three, and seen by the community as, 'You send the children there,' end of story. Where the communities in the RSD sites have pursued a very close connection between the school and communities—there are a range of different activities conducted; they open up the schools—that has resulted in increased attendance.
Senator SIEWERT: Could you highlight where that has occurred?
Mr Gleeson : I can take that on notice, if you do not mind, because when we did the roundtable I had principals from the different schools coming—from various communities—who were giving me specific evidence to highlight that.
Senator SIEWERT: As in numbers and things like that?
Mr Gleeson : No, anecdotal. They talked in broad numbers, but that was a good example. The other issue that has been talked about is the issue of quality of teachers and how important that is. As you mentioned, the whole issue of case management is very important. We found, for example, in Coen—one of the Cape York communities—that they had a particular person just focusing everyday on going around and seeing families and that sort of stuff. The school attendance there was well over 90 per cent. If we had some of those in the Territory and in other places, I think it would be a useful example of how school attendance can be improved.
On your other question, the answer is no. I am aware of this SEAM work—the process and the evaluation—but I have not been able to look into that in depth yet.
Senator SIEWERT: Thank you.
CHAIR: Can I just ask a question on the information about those roundtables. I have read the report you put out recently. There did not seem to be specific discussion about that.
Mr Gleeson : About what?
CHAIR: The roundtable process. It is of particular interest. Have you got any kind of information out of that that you could provide to us or to anyone in terms of the process? I think it is an interesting mechanism, focusing in on community roundtables about this issue and the outcome from what you have found. I will put that on notice.
Mr Gleeson : No, I can respond to you. There is something in my last report.
CHAIR: I read that, but there could be more, from what you have been telling us this morning.
Mr Gleeson : Can I just add as well that on the website there is a specific link to the whole NGO roundtable. There are outcomes, best practices, and even videos. I conducted a video of the whole event so that it is all available for people in a very open and transparent manner, because we think it is a good example of good practice.
Senator BOYCE: Mr James, I would like to follow up on your comments around the Aurukun evaluation and, perhaps, the lack of good data in other areas for evaluation of school attendance. Am I correct in thinking that you had a far better methodological base to start with in the Cape York schools, because it is part of a coherent whole-of-community plan?
Mr James : It would depend on what type of data we are referring to. We can track the school attendance data in Aurukun and we can look at record data and the like, but probably—
Senator BOYCE: Yes.
Mr James : There was school attendance data, of course, in the NT that we can look at. We did in the NTER evaluation. School attendance data is something that you can analyse—
Senator BOYCE: But you evaluated in Aurukun what is working and what is not. Is it easier to do that there than in other communities? What work—if I am correct in that assumption—do you need to do to get to the point of being able to conduct reliable evaluations?
Mr James : It is going to be hard everywhere, really—I have to be honest—because it is challenging with data and small numbers of people and that sort of thing. That is the reality. And there are so many things changing at once. But in the case of the cape, the sorts of things that we will be doing is looking at the school attendance data for individual kids and then seeing whether that attendance pattern changed when, say, the Families Responsibility Commission got involved. Then you can compare that pre and post. That would be the sort of thing you can do. Obviously, they would be the sorts of things that we are looking at. That involves matching up different data. That is always challenging, but we think we can do it in this instance.
Senator BOYCE: That probably segues very nicely into the ANAO's recent performance audit report on capacity development for Indigenous service delivery, which I think covers FaHCSIA, DEEWR and DoHA. Across the board, the figure I have worked out here is that over 45 per cent of the service delivery outcomes for Indigenous services within those three departments were very highly or highly adversely impacted by organisational capacity issues. I would like a response as to why that is happening. As the Auditor-General points out, it has taken us 30 years or so and we still have not really dealt with capacity related issues in Indigenous organisations. So, I would like some comment on what is happening. I know that you have agreed with the Auditor-General that the problems exist and that you will do something about them. I would like to know what is happening, please.
Ms Halbert : Certainly this is an area where we need continuous improvement to balance accountability, versus red tape, versus capacity of organisations and—
Senator BOYCE: But the ANAO has really suggested that there has not been continuous improvement.
Ms Halbert : Yes, there is no doubt there is still work to be done. However, within FaHCSIA, the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations does an enormous amount of work with Indigenous organisations to help build capacity for them to meet their own requirements. I think that the work of the registrar is quite well known.
Also within FaHCSIA, we have undertaken revision of the standard terms and conditions for funding agreements to try to make it easier for organisations to respond to our requirements and also, again, to help them build their own capacity. The FaHCSIA Common Business Model was introduced in 2009 as well, again, to make processes simpler and more readily understandable by organisations, and to have less need for constant interaction with the department.
Specifically in response to the recent audit, the Executive Coordination Forum on Indigenous Affairs, chaired by the secretary, is actually going to take this work responding to those recommendations forward on a whole-of-government basis.
Senator BOYCE: On a whole-of-government basis?
Ms Halbert : On a whole-of-ECFIA basis at least, not the—
Senator BOYCE: Sorry, on the whole of?
Ms Halbert : The Executive Coordination Forum on Indigenous Affairs includes all of the agencies that have a strong interest in Indigenous affairs. That forum will take this work forward.
Senator BOYCE: How will I follow the progress and decisions of that forum, Mr Pratt?
Mr Pratt : In the first instance you may, of course, ask questions in this committee and we will be happy to give you progress reports.
Senator BOYCE: One of the findings of the ANAO was that a lot of organisations are simply bogged down in trying to fill in the reports—to be seen to be accountable. In fact, there were 820 organisations required to submit almost 21,000 performance, financial and acquittal reports. I am perhaps asking for a comment here about the balance between ensuring that money is being used efficiently but the resources required to continue to tell you that.
Mr Pratt : Yes. I think we need to clarify some of the language used there, what is actually happening and provide some of the context.
Ms Halbert : We would say that figure is considerably overstated. One report required may be counted several times in our system. It is just a technicality. But nonetheless, as I have said, the work to try and reduce the burden on organisations—from our own self-interest, we are funding these organisations to deliver and it is not in our interest to burden them with additional work—
Senator BOYCE: With reporting.
Ms Halbert : It takes them away from the service delivery that we want them to do. On a range of fronts, we are trying to tackle this. But the key work will be through the executive forum, as I referred to.
Senator SIEWERT: Mr Gleeson, you were here earlier when I asked that question about access to more detailed expenditure data. Could you tell me: does not having that information impede your work?
Mr Gleeson : I actually made a specific recommendation, as you noted.
Senator SIEWERT: Yes.
Mr Gleeson : The short answer is: yes, it does impede my work. I would not have made the recommendation to seek that expenditure by the end of 2011 unless it were important. It is hard not to be a bit frustrated sometimes in not getting quicker responses. I do understand all the things that Mr Dillon mentioned before about responding to mainstream program expenditure in detail et cetera—it is very complex. But as we are now just over two years into this national partnership agreement I feel that we should be able to have a much more coordinated set of arrangements in place to be able to have expenditure figures by the end of 2011.
My understanding is that the information is being validated now, and hopefully we will get it very soon.
Senator SIEWERT: On the website, is the report against the first and second report recommendations?
Mr Gleeson : Yes.
Senator SIEWERT: The third one is not there and your fourth one has been tabled. Have you had responses to your third one's recommendations?
Mr Gleeson : There were no recommendations in the third one. I did not make any recommendations, I just made some broad findings. I wanted to allow government to catch up with the earlier recommendations.
Senator SIEWERT: So they do not report against the findings, purely the recommendations?
Mr Gleeson : No. They report against the recommendations. The government is responding on an ongoing basis to the issues I raised in the third report.
Senator SIEWERT: I am not sure whether we are playing semantics here. Findings are important too—
Mr Gleeson : Yes.
Senator SIEWERT: and the issues you raise are important, but the point here is that they have reported publicly against the recommendations but not publicly against the findings.
Mr Gleeson : No, I think that is not totally correct—if I may, with due respect.
Senator SIEWERT: Yes, that is fine.
Mr Gleeson : In regard to all of the issues and the findings that I made in my third report, there is a process that is undertaken by whole of government in responding to those. They come back to me and give me a very detailed response to how they acquit that. And how public that is; all of the issues and all of the recommendations are reported in subsequent reports. So the fourth report talks about all of the earlier recommendations and the issues raised.
Senator SIEWERT: Okay, but you do not—
Mr Palmer : Perhaps I can help?
Senator SIEWERT: Yes.
Mr Palmer : There is a working group on Indigenous reform that comprises Commonwealth, state and territory representatives. Mr Gleeson is correct that his third report did not have recommendations but did have a number of issues for consideration by governments. And governments responded to those issues on 23 September 2011, and that response is available on the FaHCSIA website.
Senator SIEWERT: Okay, thank you. I am looking in the wrong place.
CHAIR: Thank you very much. We will now suspend for morning tea and come back at 10.15 with questions around the Northern Territory Emergency Response.
Proceedings suspended from 10:02 to 10 : 18
CHAIR: We are now going into questions around the Northern Territory emergency response. I know that Senators Siewert and Scullion have questions.
Senator SCULLION: When I say 'Stronger Futures' everyone says we do not have one. Just for clarity, when does Stronger Futures take over from the NTER? Does that happen in August or around about then?
Ms Halbert : Yes.
Senator SCULLION: When the NTER legislation lapses in August, what is the status of the government business manager positions?
Mr Dillon : My understanding is that funding was appropriated in relation to the NTER that included GBM positions. Funding has also been appropriated under the RSD national partnership that includes GBM positions. So there will be some funding that terminates and some funding that is ongoing. We are currently in the process of considering next steps.
Senator SCULLION: So can I say with some confidence that, over the year or over forward estimates, you intend to keep the GBMs in place?
Mr Dillon : That is a policy issue for government.
Senator SCULLION: How far forward have you budgeted from both the sources that you indicated to the GBMs?
Mr Dillon : If I mislead you, I hope that someone behind me will tap me on the shoulder but my understanding is—
Senator SCULLION: I am keen on approximate, Mr Dillon, you know that.
Mr Dillon : Yes, I do. My understanding is that the funding that was appropriate under the NTR terminates at the end of this financial year and that the funding that was appropriated under the RSD relates to the term of that National Partnership agreement which is 2014.
Senator SCULLION: Can I take from that that the money that has been appropriated post August takes the GBM positions through to 2014—that is how I have taken your answer. I just want to make sure, so until 2014, after August it will not be from the original appropriation but it would go to other appropriation; it will be taken from other sources?
Mr Dillon : My colleague has just advised me that there are 15 GBM positions that are essentially funded through to 2014. The other positions were funded until the middle of this year and that is an issue—
Senator SCULLION: A decision at that point for those other ones.
Mr Dillon : For the budget.
Senator SCULLION: On notice, could you give me the differential: one falls in A and other falls in B.
Mr Dillon : I am happy to do that.
CHAIR: What is the total number, Mr Dillon, currently, of GBMs?
Mr Chalmers : We are only talking about the Northern Territory when we are talking about GBMs. There are government offices in other jurisdictions. In the Northern Territory, I have up to 56 GBMs funded. Of those, 15 are RSD GBMs.
Senator SIEWERT: So the 15 that are carried through to 2014 are RSD centres. The future for the others remains subject to budget. Can I ask about the Aboriginal liaison—
Mr Chalmers : The Indigenous engagement officers?
Senator SIEWERT: Yes. What is their funding status?
Mr Chalmers : I have 15 Indigenous engagement officers funded through the RSD and then another similar number that are funded through NTR.
Senator SIEWERT: In other words, half that will carry through to 2014 and half will then be subject to further budget announcements—is that correct?
Mr Chalmers : That is my understanding of the situation.
Senator SIEWERT: When we are talking about Stronger Futures and the funding basis for that, is it right to say we are to anticipate an announcement in the budget—and I am not going to get very far there—
CHAIR: You know you can't go there.
Senator SIEWERT: I am just asking: that is where we will get a better understanding of what the funding for Stronger Futures will be?
Mr Chalmers : When the government makes an announcement, you will get a better understanding. But, yes, that is correct.
Senator SIEWERT: The point I am trying to make is that, one, we will not have a good understanding till then. What funding commitments have been made to Stronger Futures to date? I am not trying to be funny; I am just trying to work out if I have missed anything or what is there at the moment? What is the understanding for Stronger Futures at the moment?
Mr Dillon : My understanding is that the MYEFO did some funding commitments that relate to the legislation.
Senator SIEWERT: Is what has been released in MYEFO where we are at at the moment? Anything that is listed under RSD is ongoing to 2014. So the gap between my info and RSD is what we will be looking for potentially in the budget. Is that a correct understanding of the current funding?
Mr Pratt : That is correct subject to a government announcement.
Senator SIEWERT: Point taken.
Senator SCULLION: I am pretty sure you will take these on notice: in regards to some of the NTR legislation provided for higher levels of scrutiny in terms of the trafficking of substances and those sorts of matters, would you be able to provide, since the implementation of the NTR legislation, prosecutions and outcomes with regard to substance abuse, breaches within the prescribed area. I want a person or whatever the Privacy Act allows, so I know that there has been a prosecution, what it was, and a date, that is so I can see—
Mr Dillon : We will endeavourer to find that information for you.
Senator SCULLION: If you can one the framework.
Mr Dillon : If we can't, we will indicate why we can't.
Senator SCULLION: If you can just provide what you can, that would be great. Also, just prosecutions that have been a consequence of an investigation from a sniffer dog—and I know they have been quite widespread—where you are able to provide that or not and how difficult that is I think it would be useful. I suspect you have already done this. If it is available and I hope it would be available to the committee—the amount of recidivist offenders and in each category—for example, somebody has been prosecuted for trafficking substances but they have actually been prosecuted again; looking at the sorts of the levels of compliance and the appropriate levels of—
Mr Dillon : I think that is a bridge too far in the sense that individuals are mobile. Someone might have committed an offence in a prescribed community under the NTR and then gone to Alice Springs or Darwin and committed another offence. It is really for the NT government to provide the sort of information that you seeking.
Senator SCULLION: Perhaps I will do it through them. I was actually only looking for an answer within the prescribed areas. It does not matter about whether they committed it outside—that is, a breach specifically about trafficking in substances that was subject to the NTR legislative—
Mr Dillon : Senator, I am happy to answer the question and seek it but I am signalling that I think it is unlikely that that data will have been collected in that form.
Senator SCULLION: You would in any event have to request that from the Northern Territory government. If you can do that for me, that would be very useful. I will accept whatever outcome.
Mr Pratt : We will do that and see if we can get as much information as we can. I would like to point out though that we will be relying on them and we will provide whatever we can by the due date. Subsequently if further information comes in, we will then pass that on.
Senator SCULLION: I understand. The NTR legislation had a couple of principal planks. One of them was land reform and the land reform process. I understood from the last evidence that was given that we have now moved to land reform and parliament in terms of the leasing arrangements being from the land council's perspective a longer-term goal or a longer-term process. Given that we are now ending one section of legislation that actually lapses and we are starting on the Stronger Futures stuff—and I do not want to get into the detail of that. This committee is having a look at that. We all know that the building blocks of commerce are all about being able to get access to land. If you want to open a mechanic shop , you make those investments. You will require a lease so you can employ a few people. That is how business starts. Given that that response—and it is a long-term goal; not in a policy sense—do you have any views about how this may proceed? Do you think that the current very slow progress—I did not think everyone has acknowledged that and there is no mischief to the process, the land council have said that it has been very difficult. Do you think this will continue to be a significant impediment to the building blocks of commerce in these communities?
Mr Dillon : I will go in a second to Ms Gumley who can give you some detail, but I thought I should just correct one slight issue—and I think this was discussed at the last hearings—when you raised the issue and referred to some commentary about township leasing. You said that we were putting it on the backburner or words to that effect. The answer given at that time, and I will repeat the answer, is that: it has not gone on the backburner. In fact, I think since that hearing, there has been a further township lease signed, but the township lease agenda is in a sense just one plank in what is a complex land reform agenda. Land reform is absolutely central to the government's agenda in the Northern Territory.
Senator SCULLION: Sorry, I should not have verballed you, Mr Dillon. My comment was really in response to the Northern Land Council which said that they were waiting for the traditional owners to contact them rather than being proactive in those issues. I think the term 'longer-term priority' was used. That is not a criticism. I think we all accept that these are difficult things to do. Before you respond, Ms Gumley, I would like to extend the question. We know that in the formulation of the NTER legislation and issues of access, like the permit system, particularly the excision of the airstrip, the hospital, the barge landings and the roads between—I think that was sort of a given; forget about the permit system to those and back—there was some specific attempt to ensure that we would be able to freely flow between those places. You would be aware of some of my conversations with the Northern Land Council, particularly with regard to barge landings, and community concerns over the impost of significant financial levies for the use of what we all assumed to be permit-free barge landings, which is not the case. It is going to put an impost on the stores and the cost of living in these communities, which is high enough anyway. Given that we are coming up to the end of the NTER process, do you have any consideration about legislative change to ensure that these communities can get access to barges in the way that was always intended?
Ms Gumley : In relation to leasing, since the five-year leases have come into effect the practice of leasing itself has certainly become a much more regular habit and now both land councils are certainly processing more section 19 leases. They are dealing with those routinely. They are having some rent payment from that, depending on negotiations between the leaseholder and traditional owners. In relation to leasing, it is a much more regular pattern. In relation to barge landings, I do not have specific details with me. It is probably a matter that you could put in a question on notice to the Northern Land Council about negotiations around the barge landings. Whether there are any matters around legislation is really a matter of government policy.
Senator SCULLION: Perhaps on notice to the minister—I do not expect the minister to have an answer now: given the discussions that I have had with the Northern Land Council as part of the estimates process with this particular Commonwealth agency it appears quite clear that they are pursuing an agenda to levy the small use of the barge landing. A traditional owner obviously owns those barge landings in the same way they do the airstrip. There is no difference in the concept of ownership. There is no levy on the landing of aeroplanes in any of these communities but there is a levy on the landing of barges. This is going to make a considerable impact on the cost of housing or whatever in the communities. Given that it was a bipartisan approach and the intention of government quite specifically to excise these areas, I have no real understanding of the technical details about how this has failed. Perhaps on notice: does the government intend as a matter of policy to ensure that we are not able to further levy the community on access—the use of the airstrip or the barge landing? I wonder whether government can consider that in terms of policy; clearly that is a matter for the minister. If you could take that on notice, I would appreciate it.
Mr Pratt : Yes, Senator.
Ms Moyle : I understand that areas of common use such as airfields and barge landings in other areas are the subject of a conversation between the Northern Territory government and the land councils at present, so that recognises that there is still further work to be done in relation to lease holdings over those assets. I think you are also referring to the permit system and what happens to the permit system at the end of the intervention. As you would be aware, there are some provisions that sunset with the end of the NTER in relation to access by people involved with the intervention. Apart from that, the provisions continue. As you know, a bill was introduced in 2008 but that bill did not pass. That remains the current situation in relation to permits.
In relation to economic development on additional land, you might be interested to know that late last year after the last Senate estimates there was a congress convened by the Northern Territory government that brought together the major banks, TIO, the land councils, the Australian government, the executive director of Township Leasing and a number of other stakeholders to talk about the prospects for home ownership and economic development on Indigenous land. It was a really positive forum and it began a process of working in partnership, considering the use of section 19 leasing to effect homeownership and economic development outcomes. It is complex, and it is an emerging field, no doubt, but as Ms Gumley said there is much more familiarity with leasing and it is becoming much more of a common practice. For usual standard leases a market value is emerging. There is a standard sort of lease that is emerging. The work that we are doing across government to establish common practice as well is helping to make sure that this becomes more of a way of doing business that is usual and common and less problematic.
Senator SCULLION: Thank you. The committee will be going to Hermannsburg and Ntaria. Is there an agreement in terms of the leasing arrangements in Hermannsburg, with regard to the town leasing plan?
Ms Gumley : In relation to Hermannsburg, the Northern Territory government and the Australian government have a 40-year head lease for the housing precinct—that is for all the social housing in the community. That will allow for long-term investment as well as for the property and tenancy management arrangements to be in place.
Senator SCULLION: That is a 40—
Ms Gumley : That is a 40 year lease held by the Australian government, with a 10-year sublease held by the Northern Territory government.
Senator SCULLION: Is the sublease what a layman would call a smaller part of the existing lease because it might be for a Northern Territory amenity? Can I assume that from your answer?
Ms Gumley : No, the sublease covers the full area of the housing precinct in line with the head lease that is held by the executive director of Township Leasing on behalf of the Australian government.
Senator SCULLION: Thank you.
Senator SIEWERT: I want to ask about signs in the communities. I understand that new signs are going up—in fact I have seen one. On what basis are the signs now being put up?
Mr Chalmers : There are two distinct kinds of signs. The first type is what we would colloquially call highway signs and the others other community signs. We are in negotiation with the Northern Territory government on the highway signs and agreeing new wording for those signs and dramatically reducing the number of those signs. Our objective is to make the signs not offensive but at the same time to provide a warning of what is required. As you say, one community sign has been replaced. We are talking to communities to make sure that those signs reflect the messaging that they would like to see, as well as the messaging the government needs to have. Those signs—and the Morris Soak sign is an example of what we would intend to produce in consultation with communities—include artwork and, in the case of Morris Soak, the rules for that town camp that residents have agreed, and include a warning about alcohol.
Senator SIEWERT: If communities do not want a sign, do they have to have a sign?
Mr Chalmers : The legislation does not require a community sign.
Senator SIEWERT: That was my understanding when the changes were made. I am just now double checking that communities will not be required to have a sign if they do not want to sign.
Mr Chalmers : Our intent would be to talk to communities to make sure that what we have is okay. Most communities want a sign that reflects a welcome to community, and reflects that they do have restrictions in place, and generally those restrictions are around alcohol. So our objective would be to have a sign which both reflects the community's desires but also makes sure that people coming to the community understand that there are some things which are either illegal or not culturally appropriate behaviour.
Senator SIEWERT: You may need to take this question on notice: how many communities have taken down the signs that were put up as a result of the intervention?
Mr Chalmers : I would have to take that on notice. There are some.
Senator SIEWERT: I am aware there are some; I just wanted an indication. Did you say that only two communities have the new signs?
Mr Chalmers : Morris Soak is the only community that has a new sign.
Senator SIEWERT: Thank you.
CHAIR: Who makes the decision about the sign? How much do they cost? Who pays for them?
Mr Chalmers : I will have to take that on notice.
CHAIR: We will be asking these questions again. The signage issue has been a big issue for this committee over several years so we would like to really get clear what is happening with signs.
Senator SCULLION: On the sign issue, as I drive around the Territory, as you would be aware from my personal comments to you, it is really quite confusing as to where some of them are. I do not know what happened initially, but we all got over that. There are still some all over the place, basically—on properties, facing the wrong way and all that sort of stuff. For example, if you drive out towards the Katherine, right in the middle of the Stuart Highway it says, 'By the way, you can't go any further than this on the way to Katherine,' and we will look at each other thinking, 'That's all a bit odd,' but, when you turn off the road on to a prescribed area, that seems to be the place to be able to indicate people that these are the rules for this place from this point on. Given the semi-irrationality about where they have been placed in the past—and this is a legitimate criticism of all sides of government about that—have you got a policy that says, 'These are only going to be put here?' or is it simply a replacement of the existing signs?
Mr Chalmers : No. The highway signs are a matter for the Northern Territory Licensing Commissioner, but we have negotiated with them on sensible places for those signs to be. There are currently 227 signs. It is our intent, in conjunction with the Northern Territory government, to reduce that number to less than 50. They would be located in places which give people a general warning that there are restrictions that apply in the Northern Territory, without going to the level of detail and specificity that exists in the current signs.
Senator SIEWERT: Could I quickly go to the evaluation process? I will put some questions on notice. First of all, regarding the evaluation that is being undertaken, what is the time line for completion of the current evaluation process?
Ms Halbert : The main evaluation of the NTER has been completed. The report is public. That is the end of that evaluation process.
Mr James : Are you referring to the evaluation of the area management?
Senator SIEWERT: Okay—that is not—
Mr James : One of my colleagues here might be able to provide more information on that.
Senator SIEWERT: It is okay. Rather than getting them up, will put that on notice. So you do not intend to do any more evaluation of the NTER?
Ms Halbert : Not of the NTER.
Mr James : As you know, there is a process for replacement, but the NTER itself and the national partnership end this year. We will be continuing to publish the Closing the Gap and the NT monitoring reports. We will be producing another one for the last six months of 2011 and another one up to the end of June this year. We will continue with those.
Senator SIEWERT: In terms of the evaluation that was released in November, could you tell me how much new data was used in compiling that report that had not been made available before?
Mr James : There is quite a range of new data that is in that report. I would have to take it on notice to give you a full list, but, to give you some example, there was obviously the data from the two surveys that we had commissioned—the service provider survey and the community survey. In addition to that there was additional—
Senator SIEWERT: I beg your pardon, what was the date of the community survey?
Mr James : That was done in the first half of last year. The report also has a lot more analysis of administrative data than has been published before. For example, there was a detailed analysis of hospital data; some of the police data—the way that was analysed was different to the way we have analysed it before; and there was also some data that was in the evaluation report that was analysed on things like the percentage of young kids in remote Indigenous communities in the NT that had anaemia, were stunted et cetera. Some of that data had not been present in that way before and analysed in that way before. Across the range, there is quite a lot of new data, probably in each of the chapters of the evaluation report.
Senator SIEWERT: In terms of the—
Mr Pratt : Senator, sorry to interrupt, but, just for the record, has Mr James answered that question sufficiently or is there more that you would like on notice?
Senator SIEWERT: I was going to come back to it. Is it possible to provide me with a full list of the new data compared to what had previously been available?
Mr James : I will make a distinction between data that was available and new analysis of data. To give just one example, the way we analysed the hospital data was quite novel. Obviously, the hospital data had been collected; it is just that we analysed it in a particular way. There would be that category as well.
Senator SIEWERT: That would be much appreciated. This question may need to be taken on notice. How actively was the advisory panel in the preparation of the report? How long did they have to review the report?
Mr James : I cannot remember exactly. I would have to take that on notice in terms of the detail. Essentially, their role was to comment on the draft material and chapters as they were prepared. We had a workshop in Sydney in particular where the authors of each chapter presented their findings and discussed their draft chapter, and that there was feedback from each of the advisory group members. They had the possibility of written feedback as well. They had several attempts at being able to provide comments, but there was more than one meeting.
Ms Halbert : I will add to that. They were independent authors. They work for the department.
Mr James : The distinction is that the advisory group provided advice but, at the end of it, it was up to the individual authors to take on board the comments. All of the authors found the interaction with the advisory group members quite productive and useful. They said that on the day. We went through each chapter in detail.
CHAIR: Thank you very much. I thank the officers from the NTER evaluation process.