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Monday, 20 June 1994
Page: 1759


Senator TAMBLING (7.13 p.m.) —I am pleased to take this opportunity to speak during the adjournment debate. The issue that I want to address tonight relates to a document that was distributed last week by the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Howe. It is entitled Towards the development of a north Australia social justice strategy: final report. It is authored by the Office of Northern Development Darwin and dated March 1994 under the auspices of the Commonwealth Department of Housing and Regional Development.

  I have been informed by the minister's office that it was not the intention of the minister to actually table this document in the formal sense in that it had been released formally under Mr Howe's letter that accompanied the document which reached us last week. However, I seek leave—and I have spoken to Senator McMullan in this regard—to table a copy of the final report and I seek leave to incorporate the table of contents and the several pages which set out the 10 recommendations in Hansard.

  Leave granted.

  The document read as follows

TOWARDS THE DEVELOPMENT OF A NORTH AUSTRALIA SOCIAL JUSTICE STRATEGY

FINAL REPORT

OFFICE OF THE NORTHERN DEVELOPMENT

DARWIN

Commonwealth Department of Housing and Regional Development

CONTENTS

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY  5

SECTION 1   9

INTRODUCTION  9

  Interim Report   9

  Office of Northern Development  10

  Consultation Process  11

  Outline of Report  11

SECTION 2  13

NORTH AUSTRALIA: ITS PHYSICAL, DEMOGRAPHIC AND SOCIO-ECONOMIC CHARACTERISTICS   13

  Physical Characteristics of North Australia  13

  The Northern Economy  13

  Demographic Trends and their

   Socio-Economic Implications  16

  Social Indicators  34

  REFERENCES Section 2  35

SECTION 3  39

SERVICE ISSUES AND STRATEGIES  39

  Housing  39

  Health  43

  Education  50

  Training  57

  Transport and Communications  58

  Information and Technology  64

  Law and Order  66

  Local Government  67

SPECIFIC SERVICE ISSUES IN RELATION TO WOMEN,

THE AGED, DISABLED, YOUTH AND ETHNIC PEOPLE  69

  Women   69

  Child Care  71

  Youth  73

  The Aged and People with a Disability   73

  Ethnic People  75

  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People 75

BROAD POLICY ISSUES  78

  Devolution   78

  Funding  79

  Interim Service Standards  81

  Consultation   81

  Coordination  82

  Regionalisation  82

  Boundaries  84

  Linkages between Social and Economic Development  85

  REFERENCES: Section 3  87

SECTION 4  89

  OVERCOMING IMPEDIMENTS TO SERVICE DELIVERY IN NORTHERN AUSTRALIA: TOWARDS IMPROVED INTEGRATION OF PLANNING AND SERVICE DELIVERY  89

INTRODUCTION  89

  A. Impediments to Effective Service Delivery in

  North Australia   90

  B. Innovative Models of Service Delivery   95

  C. Emergence of Regional Planning and Development Bodies  98

  D. Some Policy Implications: Extension of

  Innovative Models of Service Delivery in North Australia   100

  RECOMMENDATIONS  106

APPENDICES  109

  APPENDIX A: Submissions  111

  APPENDIX B: Organisations Consulted Prior to Workshops  113

  APPENDIX C: Workshop Participants   117

  APPENDIX D: Regional Bodies   123

  APPENDIX E: North Australia Social Justice

  Strategy—Task Force Members  127

  APPENDIX F: Charts and Maps  128

TOWARDS THE DEVELOPMENT OF A NORTH AUSTRALIA SOCIAL JUSTICE STRATEGY

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The commitment to develop a North Australia Social Justice Strategy (NASJS) was announced by the Commonwealth Government in August 1991 as part of its overall approach to addressing locational disadvantage.

The Office of Northern Development was requested to coordinate the consultation phase to develop the NASJS following the release of the Interim NASJS Report in September 1992. This latter phase has involved gathering input from Government, non-Government and community representatives involved in service delivery, planning and policy development at selected locations throughout North Australia as well as facilitating a Workshop in each State and Territory.

The final report focuses on two key elements. One is the perceptions of those involved in direct service delivery, principally at the community level, gained during the consultation and Workshop phases and outlined in Section 3. The issues and strategies identified throughout the consultation phase consistently emphasise the inappropriateness of centrally controlled, urban based service delivery models for many areas throughout northern Australia. They also identify a range of specific issues which need to be considered by individual departments.

The second element is the NASJS Task Force's own considerations based on the results of the consultative process and its overall consideration of impediments to service delivery in northern Australia. Section 4 of the report identifies a number of innovative models and approaches that have emerged in order to overcome various impediments to effective service delivery. These models and approaches are particularly adapted to the unique characteristics of North Australia. The report discusses the current role and future potential of these and addresses the policy implications of bringing a greater impetus to reforms that will assist in improving service delivery across North Australia.

The Task Force believes the broader policy changes required by Government to effect improvements in service delivery throughout North Australia should include:

  a more integrated approach to service delivery across all spheres of government;

  a re-assessment of the reliance on per capita based funding formulae;

  the achievement of greater efficiencies through simplifying bureaucratic funding structures and programs;

  pooled funding arrangements;

  the development of more regionally based inter-governmental planning bodies; and

  the increased development of more innovative models of service delivery appropriate to rural/ remote areas.

Consistent with such an approach, the Major Recommendations of the NASJS Report are:

1.The development of a North Australia Social Justice Strategy requires a commitment by the three spheres of government to expedite reforms that ensure the provision of more innovative models of service delivery relevant to the needs of people resident in rural and remote areas. These reforms include the achievement of greater efficiencies by:

  streamlining accountability requirements;

  improving inter-departmental cooperation;

  developing regionally based inter-governmental planning bodies;

  expanding the availability of relevant cost efficient and innovative service delivery models;

  promoting local compliance with access and equity measures; and

  considering the scope for further negotiation of bilateral agreements between the States/Territories and the Commonwealth, specifying consultative, planning, coordination and funding requirements.

2.That pilot projects be established in selected regions of northern Australia for the purpose of progressing the development of a whole of government approach to the regional planning and delivery of services. The projects, to be implemented over a three year period, would involve the full participation of already locally established and representative regional organisations. Such organisations would provide the basis for local participation in the planning of service delivery needs across the region. The projects would commence in July 1995. Individual departments and agencies would have the ability to pool existing program funds, within and across identified functions, for planning and allocative purposes, from the commencement of the 1995/96 financial year. Relevant State, Territory and Local Government participation would be negotiated prior to the final establishment of the projects.

3.That the projects be monitored and evaluated by a group including officers seconded from relevant government agencies, and community representatives, and be chaired by a suitably qualified and eminent independent person with a background in regional planning and development.

4.That the Commonwealth Government calls for a cross portfolio submission to cabinet within the Budget context on the means of expediting and implementing the abovementioned recommendations.

5.That the Commonwealth Government acknowledges the potential inequities that arise in service provision in rural and remote areas from an over reliance on fixed per capita based funding formulae, and agrees that departments will ensure such funding arrangements will in future take into account the increased costs associated with service delivery in these areas.

6.That the Commonwealth Government reaffirms its commitment to the principles of fiscal equalisation, and recognises the need to ensure that appropriate compensatory arrangements are negotiated with relevant States and Territories, in the event of any substantial dilution of locational factors affecting North Australia.

7.The Commonwealth Government notes the issues and strategies raised during the consultations over the NASJS and agrees to refer these to relevant departments and spheres of government for their consideration.

8.The Commonwealth Government acknowledges the need to upgrade the quality and availability of social indicator data on North Australia and supports the current submission before the Australia Research Council to establish a Northern Australia Social Research Institute.

9.The Commonwealth Government supports the need for departments to exercise the necessary flexibility already available that enables incentives to be adopted that assist in the recruitment and retention of key staff in remote areas. It also agrees that future training of departmental and agency staff in North Australia will include an emphasis on cross-cultural communications, strategic planning, and the gaining of a fuller understanding of the historical and socio-economic profiles of the regions in which they work. Such training should be delivered on a cross-portfolio basis.

10.That the Commonwealth Government investigate the establishment of negotiated minimum service and infrastructure standards for remote locations where current funding or quality control criteria prevent the establishment of required services.


Senator TAMBLING —This report is most crucial; it demands our attention urgently. When we turn to the detailed report, look at it and take the time to read it, we see a dichotomy in the way it has been presented. I am going to compliment particular parts of it, some of the authorship and some of the issues that have been canvassed and addressed. My criticism that has to accompany it is the sleight of hand and the cunning process that has been adopted in the manner it has been released and—from the government's point of view—hopefully buried as a skeleton document.

  The report has only 10 specific recommendations—if the government would respond to them formally—seven of which impact on the Commonwealth government; the other three impact on all spheres of government. But when we go to the detail of the report and dig behind it, we see that what it does—that I can identify—is address 246 specific issues, most of them in the form of very trenchant criticism; and develops 172 specific strategies for the development of social justice in northern Australia.

  The government is stepping back and saying it will not present it in a formal sense and will not respond to it in that way. Given this government's priority with social justice, I believe that is an insult to people living in north Australia. We have had other social justice statements made to this parliament; and very properly debated and canvassed.

  I also took a very keen interest in this report and the way it has been developed because its genesis goes back to the creation of the Office of Northern Development, in the then Department of the Prime Minister, in August 1991. There was an interim report in September 1992 which flowed out of that and now, in March 1994, we get this very comprehensive final report, under the title `Final Report', which the government is attempting to camouflage and to hide it from the specific reactions it must get.

  I am also concerned that there is no acknowledgment of the prior work that was so very important in this issue. There was no mention made of the excellent work for over a decade of the North Australian Development Conference that was brought together with the participation of federal, Queensland, Western Australian and Northern Territory agencies. There were hundreds of people participating at all levels of government, from regional and local government, Aboriginal communities.

  There was no mention whatsoever of the country task force of the Prime Minister, which preceded this work for a considerable time and which my Northern Territory colleague Mr Snowdon chaired for a number of years. There was no mention of its previous reports. There was no mention of the special north Australian development unit that was created within the then Department of Social Security prior to the Office of Northern Development; or of all of the fine work, papers and reports it presented on issues that needed to be addressed.

  Personally, I take offence because there were a number of documents that I prepared as shadow minister in 1990 that addressed the same issues. One was `Resource Development—Northern Australia, a summary of mineral and energy issues, committed projects, potential developments identified and areas of prospectivity'. Another one I prepared in 1990 was `Road, rail and sea transport issues—northern Australia'. I prepared another: `Export potential—northern Australia—a summary of primary and resource industries, tourism, horticulture, manufactured products and education/technology services'. There was another called `Social security/welfare issues, a summary of research undertaken by the North Australian Development Unit of the Department of Social Security'. I did another entitled `Poverty in northern Australia, a comprehensive study of the issues and statistics relating to social disadvantage in remote area towns/cities and Aboriginal communities'. I table these documents.

  I made all that information available very early in the piece to the authors of this report. There is no mention of it whatsoever. I suppose that is not surprising, given the riding instructions they must have received from a Labor government. When we look at the fine work of the Northern Territory University, the Australian National University (North Australian Research Unit) and the James Cook University in North Queensland—all of it very specific work—we find scant regard for any of the work that was put together. We have only to look at the issues that flowed from the community discussions that were coordinated by this project across northern Australia and look specifically at the 246 issues and the 172 strategies to see why the government is now attempting to hide and camouflage this document.

  Section 3 of the report breaks into a number of subsections. One is `Service issues and strategies', which covered housing, health, education, training, transport and communications, information and technology, law and order and local government. Some 152 issues were addressed and 111 strategies developed.

  On all the issues relating to women, child care, youth, aged people with disabilities, ethnic people, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people there were 55 issues and 32 strategies and, surprisingly, only 18 issues and 9 strategies relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

  In the broad policy issue area, 41 issues and 29 strategies were put forward. What do we find at the end of the day? This is all drawn into a tight 10 recommendations, three in general terms and seven specific to the Commonwealth. Of course, if the government responded to them, we would end up with a series of pious words—and no action whatsoever. Let me put the government on notice: I am going to test out, through estimates committees and through debates in this place over the next six or 12 months, every one of the 248 issues and 172 strategies. This Labor government had better live up to the words of what it says is important in its `North Australia social justice strategy', because the crafting and authorship of this report—when we get behind the front pages—are quite an incredible indictment of a decade of neglect by Labor.

  Surely it is a blow to Labor's `we know best' attitude. The report goes on to suggest very broad policy changes, a more integrated approach to service delivery, a re-assessment of the reliance on per capita based funding formulae, simplifying bureaucratic funding structures and programs, pooled funding arrangements, the development of more regionally based inter-government planning bodies and more innovative models of service delivery.

  It is interesting to go to the specifics of this report; whether on issues relating to Aboriginal health, population change, Aboriginal CDEP, housing, health, education, employment, communications, training, transport and communications, information and technology, local government, or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander specifics, and look at the pages and pages of criticisms that the government is now trying to hide. It is no wonder that Mr Howe was not game to table this document in the parliament. I have now tabled it tonight: I want the Senate to address it; I want the House of Representatives to address it; I want the government to address every one of those 248 issues and 172 strategies that its own working party has put together.

  Let me also look very carefully at the working party that was put together. Its members are listed on page 127 of the report. There were 22 people from various government departments—no outside help, no bringing in a wider area. These people obviously crafted the report. These were 22 people from the bureaucracy and the public service representing north Australia. There was not one Aborigine. This is a Labor government, imbued with social justice—the entire report is focused on that—and there is not one person listed in that 22 person task force who was an Aborigine or drawn from that area.

  I am insulted on behalf of the people from the Northern Territory. This is a report that the government must address. I hope every journalist in the gallery gets a copy of it and goes through it. There will be article after article to be used in Sunday specials for the next six months.