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Community Affairs Legislation Committee
(Senate-Friday, 15 February 2013)
CROSS-PORTFOLIO INDIGENOUS MATTERS
Indigenous Land Corporation
Indigenous Business Australia
Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations
- Indigenous Land Corporation
- CROSS-PORTFOLIO INDIGENOUS MATTERS
Content WindowCommunity Affairs Legislation Committee
CROSS-PORTFOLIO INDIGENOUS MATTERS
CROSS-PORTFOLIO INDIGENOUS MATTERS
Senator Farrell, Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water
Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
Mr Finn Pratt, Secretary
Ms Liza Carroll, Deputy Secretary
Mr Michael Dillon, Deputy Secretary
Ms Felicity Hand, Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer
Ms Serena Wilson, Deputy Secretary
Ms Julia Burns, Group Manager, Corporate Support
Ms Caroline Edwards, Group Manager, Strategic Priorities and Remote Housing
Mr Anthony Field, Group Manager, NDIS Legislation
Ms Kate Gumley, Group Manager, Land and Economic Development
Mr Steve Jennaway, Group Manager and Chief Finance Officer, Business and Financial Services
Ms Cate McKenzie, Group Manager, Women, Children, Communities and Mental Health
Ms Donna Moody, Group Manager, Operations Strategy and Performance
Ms Janean Richards. Group Manager, Legal and Compliance
Mr Brian Stacey, Group Manager, Indigenous Engagement and Remote Delivery
Ms Kari Ahmer, Branch Manager, Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory
Ms Sharon Bailey, Branch Manager, Ministerial, Parliamentary and Executive Support
Ms Helen Bedford, Branch Manager, Children's Policy
Ms Tracey Bell, Branch Manager, Communication and Media
Mr Phil Brown, Branch Manager, Stronger Communities
Ms Belinda Campbell, Branch Manager, Indigenous Housing Delivery
Ms Joanna Carey, Branch Manager, Public Law
Ms Lisa Croft, Branch Manager, Remote Service Delivery
Mr Andrew Davitt, Branch Manager, Community Development and Purchasing
Ms Mandy Doherty, Branch Manager, Reconciliation and Relationships
Ms Lee Emerson, Branch Manager, Land Programs
Ms Jill Farrelly, Branch Manager, Mental Health
Ms Liz Hefren-Webb, Branch Manager, Welfare Payments Reform
Mr Matthew James, Branch Manager, Performance and Evaluation
Ms Michelle Kinnane, Branch Manager, Indigenous Commonwealth State Relations Support
Mr Andrew Lander, Branch Manager, Assurance and Compliance
Ms Jan Lawless, Branch Manager, Cross Portfolio and Information
Ms Diana Lindenmayer, Acting Branch Manager, CDEP
Ms Lynette MacLean, Branch Manager, People
Mr Gavin Matthews, Indigenous Housing Programs
Mr James McDonald, Branch Manager, Stakeholder Engagement and Capacity Building
Ms Marian Moss, Branch Manager, Commercial and Indigenous Law
Ms Sally Moyle, Branch Manager, Indigenous Hosing and Land Policy
Ms Susan Parker, Deputy Branch Manager, Communication and Media
Mr Robert Ryan, Branch Manager, Remote Priorities
Mr Pat Sowry, Executive Director, Remote Housing NT
Ms Fiona Smart, Branch Manager, Women's Safety and Family Violence
Ms Janet Stodulka, Branch Manager, Family Support Program
Ms Eliza Strapp, Acting Branch Manager, Family Support Program
Ms Kim Vella, Branch Manager, Leadership and Governance
Coordinator General for Remote Indigenous Services
Mr Brian Gleeson, Coordinator General for Remote Indigenous Services
Dr Timothy Reddel, Deputy Coordinator General for Remote Indigenous Services
Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations
Mr Anthony Beven, Registrar, Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations
Indigenous Land Corporation
Mr Bruce Gemmell, Acting Chief Executive Officer
Ms Jodie Lindsay, Chief Operating Officer
Mr Bob Harvey, Director, Major Employment Projects
Indigenous Business Australia
Mr Leo Bator, Acting Chief Executive Officer
Mr Satish Kumar, Chief Financial Officer
Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations
Ms Jennifer Taylor, Deputy Secretary, Early Childhood, Working age and Indigenous Participation
Ms Jo Wood, Group Manager, Indigenous Economic Strategy
Ms Brenda Love, Branch Manager, Indigenous Economic Strategy
Ms Lynne Stevenson, Branch Manager, Indigenous Economic Strategy
Ms Tania Rishniw, Branch Manager, Indigenous Economic Strategy
Ms Marsha Milliken, Group Manager, Income Support and Remote Service Implementation
Mr Derek Stiller, Branch Manager, Job Services Australia
Ms Ingrid Kemp, Branch Manager, Remote Services Implementation
Mr Tony Zanderigo, Group Manager (Acting), School Performance and Improvement
Department of Health and Ageing
Whole of Portfolio
Mr David Learmonth, Deputy Secretary
Mr Adam Davey, Acting First Assistant Secretary, People, Capability and Communication Division
Ms Michelle Howe, Acting Assistant Secretary, Health Campaigns Branch
Mrs Samantha Palmer, First Assistant Secretary, Office of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health
Dr Jenean Spencer, Assistant Secretary, Operational Policy Branch
Ms Tarja Saastamoinen, Assistant Secretary, Strategic Policy Branch
Mr Garry Fisk, Assistant Secretary, Capacity Development Branch
Ms Alison Killen, Assistant Secretary, Program Management and Evaluation Branch
Dr Masha Somi, Assistant Secretary, OATSIH Support Branch
Ms Linda Young, State Manager, NT State Office
Ms Sue Campion, First Assistant Secretary, Mental Health and Drug Treatment Division
Mr John Shevlin, Assistant Secretary, Substance Misuse and Indigenous Wellbeing Programs Branch
Ms Penny Shakespeare, First Assistant Secretary, Health Workforce Division
Ms Gay Santiago, Assistant Secretary, Health Workforce Capacity Branch
Mr Nathan Smyth, First Assistant Secretary, Population Health Division
Ms Colleen Krestensen, Assistant Secretary, Drug Strategy Branch
Ms Janet Anderson, First Assistant Secretary, Acute Care Division
Mr Charles Maskell-Knight, Principal Adviser
Ms Ann Smith, Assistant Secretary, Hospital Development Branch
Ms Gillian Shaw, Assistant Secretary, National Partnership Agreements branch
Mr Mark Booth, First Assistant Secretary, Primary and Ambulatory Care Division
Ms Meredeth Taylor, National Manager, Rural and Regional Health Australia Branch
Mr Iain Scott, First Assistant Secretary, Office of Aged Care Quality and Compliance
Ms Lyn Murphy, Assistant Secretary, Quality and Monitoring Branch
Ms Tracey Duffy, Assistant Secretary, Office of Hearing Services Branch, Regulation Policy and Governance Division
Ms Cheryl Wilson, Executive Director, Office of Hearing Services Branch
Committee met at 08:23
CHAIR ( Senator Moore ): Welcome. I declare open this Senate Community Affairs Legislation committee hearing on the cross-portfolio Indigenous matters. The committee is considering additional estimates on Indigenous matters across several portfolios. These have been grouped on the program into themes and issues, and relate to the portfolios of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs; Education, Employment and Workplace Relations; and Health and Ageing. The committee must report to the Senate on 19 March and has set Friday, 5 April, as the date for return of answers to questions taken on notice. The senators are reminded that any written questions on notice should be provided to the committee secretariat by close of business Friday, 22 February. Officers and senators are familiar with the rules of the Senate. If you have any questions, the secretariat are here to help.
I particularly draw attention to the Senate order of 13 May 2009 specifying the process by which a claim of public interest immunity should be raised.
The extract read as follows—
Public interest immunity claims
That the Senate—
(a) notes that ministers and officers have continued to refuse to provide information to Senate committees without properly raising claims of public interest immunity as required by past resolutions of the Senate;
(b) reaffirms the principles of past resolutions of the Senate by this order, to provide ministers and officers with guidance as to the proper process for raising public interest immunity claims and to consolidate those past resolutions of the Senate;
(c) orders that the following operate as an order of continuing effect:
(a) a Senate committee, or a senator in the course of proceedings of a committee, requests information or a document from a Commonwealth department or agency; and
(b) an officer of the department or agency to whom the request is directed believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the officer shall state to the committee the ground on which the officer believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, and specify the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.
(2) If, after receiving the officer’s statement under paragraph (1), the committee or the senator requests the officer to refer the question of the disclosure of the information or document to a responsible minister, the officer shall refer that question to the minister.
(3) If a minister, on a reference by an officer under paragraph (2), concludes that it would not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the minister shall provide to the committee a statement of the ground for that conclusion, specifying the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.
(4) A minister, in a statement under paragraph (3), shall indicate whether the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee could result only from the publication of the information or document by the committee, or could result, equally or in part, from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee as in camera evidence.
(5) If, after considering a statement by a minister provided under paragraph (3), the committee concludes that the statement does not sufficiently justify the withholding of the information or document from the committee, the committee shall report the matter to the Senate.
(6) A decision by a committee not to report a matter to the Senate under paragraph (5) does not prevent a senator from raising the matter in the Senate in accordance with other procedures of the Senate.
(7) A statement that information or a document is not published, or is confidential, or consists of advice to, or internal deliberations of, government, in the absence of specification of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document, is not a statement that meets the requirements of paragraph (1) or (4).
(8) If a minister concludes that a statement under paragraph (3) should more appropriately be made by the head of an agency, by reason of the independence of that agency from ministerial direction or control, the minister shall inform the committee of that conclusion and the reason for that conclusion, and shall refer the matter to the head of the agency, who shall then be required to provide a statement in accordance with paragraph (3).
(Extract, Senate Standing Orders, pp 124-125)
I welcome Senator Don Farrell, who was at the last estimates, and Mr Pratt, and officers of the portfolios that you are looking after today. Mr Pratt, I want to put on the record our appreciation to the officers for coming together and holding the pre-planning meeting for today. It makes it much easier. Mr Dillon has been able to coordinate that. The committee wishes to record its appreciation of that on the record. Senator, do you have an opening statement?
Senator Farrell: I like the hearings so much, I have come back, as you say, but I have no formal statement at this point.
CHAIR: The committee wishes to register our disappointment—no. Thank you, Senator Farrell. Mr Pratt, do you have an opening statement.
Mr Pratt : No, thank you.
CHAIR: We will start with the general matters, as per the agenda.
Senator SCULLION: Good morning, Mr Pratt, Senator Farrell, Mr Dillon. Last night we have received the final FaHCSIA responses to questions on notice from the last estimates. Thank you for providing them. Clearly, you also spoke to the Northern Land Council and I am also grateful for that. I know these are difficult things. Sometimes, there are quite a number of questions on notice and I know the administrative issues there. However, I make the plea that many of the answers are predicated upon other questions—some are more helpful than others, you may not have quite got the gist of some of the questions and some further information may be available but only know that when we get the answer. It is very difficult the night before estimates to receive those answers and move ahead on those things. The Senate does require them quite a considerable period of time before now, but I do thank you for providing the answers.
In terms of the answers to the questions on notice, Mr Pratt, you can actually send the answers to questions earlier than the due date. I think that is a useful reminder—a bit like the speed limit. I know you are busy with the business of government and I appreciate that. But it makes it very difficult to do the research that is necessary when we do not have those answers.
CHAIR: Mr Pratt, can I put on the record this is a standard process in our committee and we understand the difficulty, particularly with the wide range of issues and a number of questions. We have asked this before. If there is going to be a delay with particular answers because of the complexity or because you need to get in contact with other people, we need to be advised of that. It would just be an easier process for us down the track. If we have an expectation that some questions will be late—and of course that is understandable with the volume—and if there are particular questions that have issues that will affect their delivery, it would be useful if we had that interim acknowledgement.
Senator SCULLION: I would like them to be provided when you have them and I insist on that, as would the committee. You would understand that the Senate would insist on having them provided by the due date as provided in the Senate orders and that has not happened.
Mr Pratt : I apologise to the committee for the late responses. There is no adequate excuse for that other than of course the fact that we often have to get material from other sources and so forth, and I agree we should provide what we can by the due date. In our defence, however, from the last estimates we got nearly 500 questions on notice. We had probably over 90 per cent of those answered around Christmas or early in the new year. We of course put our best efforts in to getting as many done as possible. I apologise for the lateness of the remaining few, but I think our record is actually not too bad in terms of getting the vast bulk through. We will continue to try to do better though.
CHAIR: I would put on record our disappointment with the answers from the Northern Land Council and Senator Scullion particularly raised this last week. I know it was followed up by the secretariat. It took the secretariat a number of contacts with the Northern Land Council to get responses and the last of those came through last night. I do not know whether Senator Scullion is going to follow-up on those. However, I particularly wanted it put on the record that numerous contacts were made. I know that is not your particular area. But questions were put on notice by this committee at the last estimates. Senator Scullion followed this up twice to see whether they were back and yet they were still only received at the very last minute.
Mr Dillon : In relation to the Northern Land Council, I also put on record that we have recorded on file 26 follow-ups from the department to the Northern Land Council between November 2012 and last night.
CHAIR: I was very pleased you put that on record, Mr Dillon.
Senator SCULLION: I do appreciate that, and perhaps we should remind ourselves that the Northern Land Council get $10 million a year. They are a Commonwealth statutory authority. I am not really sure, apart from putting it on the record and next time I have a chat to them I will perhaps remark on it to them personally, that we should support conventions that are basically outside of the standing orders.
To facilitate today, we have some arrangements in terms of timing with the chair and the committee. Items appear through the day which involve numbers and so on. I thought I would expedite the process and I have provided those questions of that type. If you can answer them, and I know how helpful you can be, Mr Pratt, fine. If not, you got them early and they are questions on notice, as you will see; they are details of numbers and those sorts of things.
Mr Pratt : To clarify, Senator, do we have those?
Senator SCULLION: I will pass them to you now, Mr Pratt. By way of explanation, you will be a bit miffed to know why I am asking the Indigenous cross-portfolio, some issues about income management, again some administrative numbers. We did attempt to ask the questions in the right portfolio but I understand somebody said no. Anyway, there was some confusion there, but I have included the question on notice in here in that regard.
In terms of some of the general items, I would like to ask about the availability of a report. No doubt you can recall certain allegations about the chair of the IBA that surfaced in the estimates I think around May last year. I understood a review was then commissioned by the minister. In August last year the minister revoked a misbehaviour determination that was introduced by the Howard government under the ATSIC Act. Is there a link between those two events?
Mr Dillon : I am not aware that there is any link whatsoever, but I would happily be corrected by colleagues behind me.
Senator SCULLION: No-one is leaping up. The explanatory memorandum for the instrument that revoked this determination says that it was revoked on the basis of a report that claimed that as a result of the abolition of ATSIC the regulation was redundant. The original determination was not in fact redundant as the misbehaviour determination applied not only to ATSIC but to officeholders of TSRA, IBA and ILC, for example. So the ATSIC Act was not repealed, it was simply amended and renamed the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act. The determination would have applied to it under that as well. Could I have a copy of that report the minister relied upon that said the determination was redundant?
Mr Dillon : We will have to take that on notice. It will be useful if you could put on the record the actual title of the instrument the minister signed.
Senator SCULLION: There was a revocation of the misbehaviour determination. I am not sure exactly what that would be but I am more than happy to assist you on notice in that regard.
CHAIR: What was the date?
Senator SCULLION: It was in August last year but I do not have the exact date. If I had a copy of the report I would not need to ask questions.
Mr Dillon : That will help us. Thank you, Senator.
Mr Pratt : Just to be clear, I think Mr Dillon has indicated that he has absolutely no knowledge of any link between the two and I certainly have no knowledge of any link between the two.
Senator SCULLION: I appreciate that. I have a reply to a question on notice to the minister asking about the distribution of royalty equivalents under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act. The question number was 2567. I do not have it and the answer in front of me but if my memory serves me well it was part (d) the question.
I think it related to how traditional owners are kept informed about the investments made on their behalf by royalty associations. Again, it is one of those times when someone may have misread the question and meant no mischief, but the answer was given in the context of circumstances where the land council holds that money in trust when recipients have not been clearly determined. I appreciated that answer, but what I was referring to was the normal processes where those funds are distributed through royalty associations to the traditional owners. How exactly are they informed? Is there a requirement to inform them in the same way that, say investors in superannuation funds get regular updates about what is their portfolio, how much it is worth and how it is going? Many Aboriginal people would see this as their superannuation. I have plenty of questions about this issue from my constituents. Would you be able to assist me in how that works? What is the frequency and the nature of the advice provided to those traditional owners about those investments through the royalty associations?
Mr Dillon : This is a matter for the Northern Land Council who has administrative and legal responsibility for those investments. Ms Edwards might wish to make a further comment, but I think this is a matter that we ought to put to the Northern Land Council, or the land councils generally.
Senator SCULLION: I have put this question to the land councils before. It is not that the question was unsatisfactory, but they tell me, 'It is the royalty associations, and we know nothing of it.' Basically, that all disappears and nobody knows anything more than the land council. It is not their job, it is the royalty associations. It is fundamentally still the act that we manage. I am genuinely trying to find this out because I will be sneaking around in this area, trying to get a bit more information and trying to find out exactly how I can provide my constituents with some real information about their investments.
Ms Edwards : I would only add to the comments of Mr Dillon to note that it is actually question 459 of those you were referring to earlier, provided by the NLC on Wednesday night, in this instance. I really want to clarify this is the information you are talking about. The third part of the question is:
What information do royalty associations provide to the NLC?
Can you explain what reporting processes or arrangements are in place between the NLC and the royalty associations?
And you have their answer there. Is this the information that you are—
Senator SCULLION: It is in that area. Was that a question to the NLC, or to the minister?
Ms Edwards : Correct. To the NLC.
Senator SCULLION: You can see by the answer that I did not really get one. I wrote another question which was taken on notice by the minister, and that was number 2567. It was quite useful. The answer given to part (d) of that question was in the context of there being circumstances where the land council holds the money in trust. The answer effectively said that the money is held in trust and the details of that trust are provided in the annual report. I am saying that is a very tiny percentage of the circumstances. Most of the time it comes to the land council then goes to a royalty association, the royalty association then deals with those investments of behalf of Aboriginal people. This is all done under a Commonwealth act. I am very concerned that many of the constituents have absolutely no idea how much, where it is, what the investments are made for. They have tried through royalty associations to find out these things. I am also very interested to find out how these are distributed, what sort of information is provided to them informing them that we now have new royalties, this is where it is being invested, is there a choice. I am interested in all of these sorts of processes. I have been trying for a couple of years to find out. While it has not been a really significant issue, it is becoming more and more significant to me because I cannot seem to find out any information. The Northern Land Council has not been helpful in my view. Perhaps it is the case that the process is that the money simply goes out the door of the land council and none of us can ever find out about it again. But, if that is the case, let us have a look at that.
Mr Pratt : Are you asking the department the question: how does the Northern Land Council provide information to traditional owners about royalties they may get? Is that the question?
Senator SCULLION: It is, but I understand also that the Northern Land Council, as you have indicated, Ms Edwards, has the view: 'That's not our problem. That's the royalty association. You can't ask us about them. We are nothing to do with them.' Although they share an office, they are nothing to do with them and they know nothing about it. That is why I have just come back to the minister. I am not asking about exactly what happens but about what should be the process? This is taxpayers' money that has been paid through royalty equivalents. A third or so of it ends up as investments in royalty associations or disbursements for royalty associations. What I am looking for is some transparency about exactly how that works, particularly how individuals are informed of their investment. I was looking for information about the process, not particular details, that I thought you, as the department, would be aware of.
Mr Dillon : The high-level process is as follows: the land rights act provides a statutory function to the Land Council to oversee the statutory royalties that are paid to royalty associations. Under that legislation those associations must be incorporated under the CATSI legislation. So there is a regulator—the registrar—who ensures that CATSI corporations hold AGMs and do all those things that a corporation should normally do, including being responsive to its members. However, I would characterise that as high-level oversight. It is quite possible that the NLC does not have a line of sight to the investments, for example, inside a separate corporation. It is a separate legal entity and once those royalties are transferred, legal ownership of the royalties transfers with them. They have a statutory oversight function but they—
Senator SCULLION: They just cannot see it.
Mr Dillon : They do not have a responsibility for knowing which investments they are investing in: bonds, shares or whatever. But the corporations themselves—the royalty corporations—have a responsibility to their members, and it would certainly be good public policy for those corporations to be held to account in terms of their responsiveness to their members, and that is one of the tasks of the regulator, the registrar.
Senator SCULLION: I understand it, Mr Dillon. Thanks for explaining that to me. That is very useful. The challenge is that whilst it is Commonwealth funding that is going through there is this point under which there is no more scrutiny from us. I can call the Northern Land Council here, because they are a Commonwealth statutory authority, but, as I understand it, there is no scrutiny I am aware of that is allowed by the Commonwealth, through estimates, for example, to bring those royalty associations before us to ask all of these questions. I understand we have some comfort because these, in fact, have to be incorporated under the CATSI act.
Obviously, I cannot get any more information, but would you be able to provide a brief to the committee about, for example, the names of those organisations under the act that are currently distributing royalties? We have got four land council areas, so they will have different arrangements. I will not say that the Land Council were reluctant, but they were particularly unhelpful. Would it be possible for you to seek that information and provide a brief? Perhaps you could make a suggestion whether, under the CATSI act, there is somebody else who could come and say, 'This is the oversight we provide to these corporations.' There are anecdotal circumstances that have been put to me. People say: 'I just don't know. I just came along to this meeting. There are all sorts of horrible stories about people saying, "Take it or leave it," or "I'm going on the plane, and you will all get nothing."' All this sort of stuff. There must be a process of oversight. There are significant sums of money involved, so we need a brief of some form. I am not really sure about how to pursue it, but it would seem that is the responsibility of the Land Council, when they are passing this over, to have some security that there is some probity around the allocation of the funds, and that the people whose funds that that organisation invests on their behalf are, in fact, informed in much the same way as any other Australian would want to be informed about their investments.
Mr Dillon : We would be happy to take your request on notice and try and produce an explanation for you. I make the point that this is a complex space. Your comments and my answers have been about the statutory royalties. There are also privately negotiated royalties which go through a different set of mechanisms.
Senator SCULLION: I am only interested in those royalties that are the royalty equivalent under the act.
Mr Dillon : In this space there is always a lot of argument on the ground as to entitlement and access to funds. That is the normal course of business in this area, so it is not an easy area to administer. There are always going to be disaffected or unhappy individuals.
Senator SCULLION: And many of them ask me simple questions. One said: 'I don't know how much, it would be in the hundreds of thousands. All I want is a deposit for a house, but they won't give it to me. I can't access it.' These are people I know to be senior traditional owners. Through this process I have hit a wall on these issues. I would appreciate it if you could get a brief on this. If it is the case that it is beyond the purview and we simply cannot get it, we may have to start thinking about changing the act. I am not sure what we will have to do, but it is quite reasonable that we have more transparency around those processes. I would appreciate it if you would get back to me in that regard.
Senator SIEWERT: I have Closing the Gap questions on health that I will ask under DOHA. I also have questions that will be across the portfolios of the Coordinator General and FaHCSIA.
Mr Pratt : I have seen the Coordinator General here, so we can cover those off in the next session.
Senator SIEWERT: I also have questions about a report FaHCSIA commissioned about homelessness and young people in Kununurra. Where will we deal with that?
Ms Gumley : Is it about mainstream housing services or general homelessness? If you give me the source of the report I can make sure we have that information.
Senator SIEWERT: It is a report about at-risk young people which includes homelessness. It is based on Save the Children research undertaken in 2010 funded by FaHCSIA.
Ms Gumley : Could you give us the name of the report?
Senator SIEWERT: It is about the public place dwelling of Aboriginal young people in Kununurra. It is called 'Research to inform the development of the youth diversion communication strategy in the East Kimberly and Central Desert Region (CDR)'.
Mr Pratt : Understanding the nature of the report, we will do some research and try and cover it off this afternoon during the housing session.
Senator SIEWERT: Thank you.
Senator SMITH: I would like an update on the Aboriginal Benefit Account and any decision with regard to the 1 August to 31 August application period. What is the time frame around decisions for applications that closed on 8 February?
Mr Dillon : I have a brief which I cannot find. Lee Emerson might help us.
Ms Emerson : To clarify your question, you wanted to know what the status of the account was? What recent decisions—
Senator SMITH: Yes. What recent decisions have been taken in regards to the projects that had been submitted in the 1 August to 31 August 2012 application period? What might be the future time line for those applications that have been submitted for the period that closed on 8 February?
Ms Emerson : I would probably have to take some of those on notice just for the actual time lines themselves. I understand, though, that the minister has approved three projects this year from recent recommendations and I think the other current recommendations are still being considered.
Senator SMITH: Considered by the department still?
Ms Emerson : I think so. I think advice is being prepared.
Senator SMITH: Right. If you could provide me with that information about the decisions that have been taken that would be good. The ABA, Aboriginals Benefit Account program, had previously funded the protective behaviours program Safe4Kidscreating safer communities in the Northern Territory. I just want to make sure that the department was aware of the positive report that that program got in the New South Wales Ombudsman's December 2012 report responding to child sexual assault in Aboriginal communities. Are you familiar with the Ombudsman's report?
Ms Emerson : I am not. The children's services area would be familiar with that.
Senator SMITH: You can take these on notice.
Ms Emerson : Yes, that might be best.
Senator SMITH: I just want to be sure that the department is aware of the New South Wales Ombudsman's report and the positive reflection that has been given to the Safe4Kids creating safer communities in the Northern Territory program, which was funded by the Aboriginals Benefits Account.
Ms Emerson : Thank you. That its excellent feedback.
Mr Pratt : I can almost certainly guarantee we are across the report. We will make sure we have had a look at that part.
Senator SMITH: Thank you very much.
Mr Dillon : I could add that the ABA guidelines are really based on one-off grants. It is not an ongoing funder of programs.
Senator SMITH: Does that mean that successful programs have to look for funding elsewhere?
Mr Dillon : In short, yes.
Senator SMITH: I may quote from the New South Wales Ombudsman's report, which talks about a significant positive benefit that this particular program is having in Indigenous communities. Page 63 of the report states:
Most importantly, Safe4Kids provides children with an opportunity to participate in decision making about their own safety and wellbeing. In recognition of the high quality of the Safe4Kids program, Absec has recently engaged Ms Martin to provide protective behaviours training to Aboriginal out-of-home care service providers across NSW.
Then it goes on to report the very significant benefits of the program. What funding opportunities exist for successful programs that are delivering a benefit, that are protecting young people from life destroying behaviours in Indigenous communities if they are first developed and implemented through the ABA? Where does a successful program go after that?
Mr Dillon : In the Northern Territory, one obvious answer will be the significant funding that will flow through the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory program, which from memory is $3.4 billion over 10 years. We are in the process of finalising the negotiation of the implementation plans. The national partnership agreement has been signed by the two governments.
Senator SMITH: So there could be a gap in the period in which—Mr Dillon are you referring to another colleague or—
Mr Dillon : I think Ms McKenzie may have more information for you.
Ms Mckenzie : One of the things in terms of Indigenous children and both sexual assault and abuse and neglect is that they are part of the considerations of the National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children. This is something that the Commonwealth is working on with all states and territories. That is a 12-year initiative that is split into four three-year action plans. Each action plan is focusing, amongst other things, on the needs of Indigenous children. Part of that is the sharing of information about programs that work and initiatives that can be useful.
In this second action plan, this three-year period, one of the things that we are really looking at is culturally appropriate practices in terms of protecting children and increasing the protection of children and safe practices.
These are the issues that are discussed by states and territories and the non-government sector. The way that the national framework works is that all governments, Commonwealth state and territory governments, and non-government organisations manage the framework jointly. On that body SNAICC, the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, represents the Indigenous children. They work to spread that knowledge amongst other groups and we get other people involved. That is the way that the process and the knowledge are being shared. These projects are reported on in the national framework and they are up on the FaHCSIA website. We provide regular reports. Ministers report to COAG annually on these projects.
I just wanted to provide you some background to assure you that these things are not slipping through the net. They are being worked on and they are being given a very strong focus by all governments.
Senator SMITH: When the New South Wales Ombudsman releases a report that speaks very favourably about a particular program that goes to the heart of empowering young people to protect themselves, my interest is in making sure that those opportunities continue, that it is has been rolled out successfully in communities and ensuring that those opportunities are extended beyond those initial communities is a strong interest of mine.
Ms McKenzie : Can I just assure you that passing on knowledge about programs that work is a key feature of the national framework. That is what people are interested in doing. There are a range of programs that are working in Australia at the moment, and passing on that knowledge from one jurisdiction to another and understanding what makes a program and what stops a program from working, is exactly the focus of the national framework. I will certainly ensure that at the next meeting of the group, which is meeting next Monday, this is brought to their attention.
CHAIR: As there are no further questions on that, we will move on to the Closing the Gap group.
Senator SCULLION: I thought I would start with some questions on some of the indicators in the Closing the gap report. Indigenous mortality rates have declined from 2006 to 2011 and the Closing the gapreport shows no significant change in the life expectancy gap and this is as a result of the non-Indigenous mortality rates having also got better. So it is a sort of a parallel. Would you say that we are on track to meet this target? Basically we are flowing parallel; we are not trending anywhere. It seems to be a function of the decline in mortality rates across the board and the Indigenous demographic seems to be a part of that. Would you be able to make a comment on that? What would be the assessment? I am not asking whether you are satisfied with that. Obviously that is a bit leading. When you look at these issues when they come around, sometimes the statistics are difficult to work out. My take on this is that we are not on track to meet that target. Is that right, Mr Dillon?
Mr Dillon : Senator, I think Matthew James might be able to inform you much better than I.
Mr James : In the Prime Minister's report itself, I think the words used are that if the target is going to be met progress has to accelerate—which is another way of saying that we have to do better than current trends if that target is going to be met. So it has to accelerate from now on.
Senator SCULLION: Given that that is the case, what measures are being put in place by the government to ensure that that is accelerated? What programs are you putting in place to deal with that particular gap measure?
Mr Dillon : I think the answer would be that everything that we are doing is focused on closing the gap. That is the overarching framework that the government is applying. The building blocks underpin the Closing the Gap framework. The housing efforts, our health efforts and our employment efforts are all ultimately targeted at closing the gap. As you know, there have been substantial new investments over the past five years across virtually all of those Indigenous specific and, indeed, our mainstream national partnerships, which all have, in a sense, a substantial impact on closing the gap.
Senator SCULLION: Mr Dillon, as you know I commend a variety of governments for actually having a specific program. For example, if there are not enough houses, obviously part of that would be programs to build housing. Whilst we do not have time to discuss it here today, obviously with respect to life expectancy, there are a number of indicators about the area and there has been much written about why Aboriginal people are not living as long as other Australians. I just want confirmation. So there is no particular program or measure that deals with some of those specific reasons? With some of them it is obviously difficult to have that sort of a program, and I acknowledge that across the board having high levels of amenity and service can assist in that headline figure. There has been a lot of work done on why Aboriginal people are not living as long as white people. Therefore, has there been a corresponding program to try to specifically deal with that as a closing the gap measure?
Mr Dillon : As I said, this is a multipronged program. I will turn to Mr James in a second, but I would make the point that our colleagues in Health would have a whole range of very focused and targeted initiatives. For example, I know they are doing a lot of work on reducing smoking, which is a killer of not just Indigenous Australians but all Australians. But Indigenous Australians tend to smoke more than non-Indigenous Australians. So there are very focused programs there. I would also make the point that our housing programs and education programs feed into healthier lifestyles and better health outcomes and therefore into better lifespans for Indigenous citizens.
Mr James : I would add that there is a report that was done in, I think, 2003—the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander burden of disease report—which highlighted quite a number of the contributions of different factors to the gap, if you like, including smoking, diabetes and the like. Another thing I would point to in the Prime Minister's report is figure 5, which looks at access to Medicare benefit health assessments, and it shows that that picked up in around 2009. There is the chronic disease package as well. Chronic disease is a big contributor to that gap. That is one of the initiatives in recent years. That is outlined a little bit in the PM's report but, as Mr Dillon said, DoHA would be able to give more detail in terms of the policies. Some of the policies are coming through at different times. If you look at the Medicare benefit health assessments, you can see quite a pick-up around the third quarter of 2009. So some of these things take a while to go through.
Senator SCULLION: I acknowledge that it is one of the more difficult indicators to manage. I would now like to move to the issue of halving the gap in infant mortality. It appears that this is an indicator that we can definitely say is on track. As I recall, it has probably been on track since about 1998.
It is a very important indicator. Have there been any downward trends at any time since 1998, that you can recall, or is this simply a pretty steady trend line that we can have a lot of confidence in?
Mr James : In terms of 1998, I cannot remember every single number, although there is a chart that does that—figure 6 in the PM's report. It shows the historical data and it shows the trend in that data. What that shows is that since 2008, when the baseline was established, it has been consistent with the required trajectory.
The chart gives you the figures right back to 1998, and it does show, that from year to year there are some blips in the numbers. But that is probably more by way of noise. The trend is downward.
Senator SCULLION: The trend is that way.
Mr James : Yes.
Senator SCULLION: That is excellent. It looks as if we can have a great deal of faith that that one is going to be met. One of the other measures is ensuring that all four-year-old Indigenous children in remote communities have access to childhood education by 2013. I want to clarify some of the terms here. What is the difference between a preschool program and childhood education? Are there terms within government where that means one thing and something else would mean another?
Mr James : DEEWR might be a bit more expert on this than me. I think that sometimes that language is used because you can have a preschool program in a long-day-care centre. So you might have a preschool but if you just looked at the preschools per se, you would be missing out on the preschool programs in long-day-care centres. We are trying to measure both. So I think sometimes the term 'early childhood education' may be more associated with preschools but you do have preschool programs in long-day-care centres.
Senator SCULLION: Again, this may be outside your particular skill set, Mr James, but you seem to be doing pretty well. Can you tell me the sort of range of activities that would fall within the definition of a preschool program? Are they set? Will someone say, 'Look, this is what we're trying to do. We're ensuring all four-year-old Indigenous children have access to childhood education.' My question is around this preschool program. I am really not an expert at these things but we need to ensure that every time Australians look at this data they can see exactly what this means. So could you just tell me what range of activities fall within a preschool program.
Mr James : There is an Australian Bureau of Statistics collection that brings all the data together. All the definitions are in that. I probably should not hazard a description of that without the detail in front of me. Perhaps DEEWR could give you that in more detail.
Senator SCULLION: Here is one of the things you might be able to provide to me. When I think of a preschool I think that there is probably a building that keeps the rain off your head. It is not a program that is in amongst other things: it is something that is there. I know there has been the provision of infrastructure in that way, and the Prime Minister referred to the preschool program. If there is a preschool there and we have provided a preschool, is that ticking off the measure—so by 2013, we see that this is where everybody lives and we are going to make sure there is a preschool there? If a preschool is built and they have access to the preschool therefore we have met the benchmark and can we give it a tick? Or is it something a bit more complex?
Mr James : It is based on enrolment. So kids are enrolled in an actual preschool or program. That is how it is measured.
Senator SCULLION: So a preschool program could be a tree rather than a building?
Mr James : No, it would either be in a preschool—a standard education department preschool—or a preschool program in a long-day-care centre.
Senator SCULLION: They would be the only two circumstances?
Mr James : That is my understanding, yes.
Ms Gumley : My understanding of the preschools programs—this is perhaps best referred to DEEWR later in the day—is that it is a structured curriculum that is delivered. So it would be either in a long-day-care centre with qualified staff or in a preschool program as part of the state education system.
Senator SCULLION: Senator Boyce has a couple of other questions in this area. You say that there are enrolment programs. Can you provide attendance figures for the preschool programs, on notice? Are you able to? Is someone able to? Do you measure them? Does the Commonwealth say, 'We've got to meet our target.' Obviously it is great having programs and enrolment but I would have thought it was fundamental to ask, 'Is anybody attending?'
Mr James : There is some data on that available already.
Again, it is more for DEEWR than for me. We are working with the states and territories to get consistent attendance data. We are measuring enrolment but we are moving towards measuring attendance as well. There already are some data available on attendance at preschool, as well.
Senator SCULLION: If you have any further information perhaps you could provide that on notice.
Senator SIEWERT: I have noticed in the Coordinator General's report the first recommendation is around this issue. Is it appropriate, since we are here now, that we talk about that now, or would you rather wait and go on?
Senator SCULLION: I am happy. I am just going through the measures and trying to get a finer—
Senator SIEWERT: That is one of the measures that I particularly wanted to follow up. I noticed that there is not a lot of data in here. As the Coordinator General has specifically made a recommendation around that it seems to me it would suggest there are ongoing issues.
Senator SCULLION: I think we are dealing with them one at a time. The committee can agree with that.
Mr James : One point I should make about preschool attendance is that unlike school attendance it is not compulsory—hence the focus on enrolment as well as attendance. So it is a little bit different, obviously, to school attendance.
Senator SIEWERT: I understand that, but it is no use having this in there unless we are actually going to measure it. You can put the infrastructure there but if we are not getting kids in and through—
Mr James : That is true, except of course that you cannot attend if there is no access. So the first thing is obviously access, and then attendance as well.
Senator SIEWERT: It is a broader issue that we started touching on yesterday—and that is actual real, measurable progress. Those that were around yesterday afternoon would know that we were talking about income management and what is a genuine measure of progress. I still do not think we are there yet, which is why I was really interested in this particular outcome, because just measuring enrolments does not mean you are getting the kids in. And we do not know what the quality of it is. And there are issues around hearing, which I will come to later in the health area.
Mr James : There are already some data available on attendance. There has been a new national collection established. We are reporting for the first time, for that collection for 2011. So there has been a lot of work to improve the data. There were issues with the previous preschool census. It had good data in it but this new data is a lot better. This is one of those areas where you are trying to measure something but you also realise that you have to make a big effort to improve the data as well. That obviously sometimes makes the historical comparisons a bit trickier but you have a choice because at some point you have to improve the data.
Senator SIEWERT: Could we perhaps ask Mr Gleeson.
CHAIR: It is going to flow on to the Coordinator General's report. We could get Mr Gleeson up to the table as well and then we will take it issue by issue if senators have particular questions on this one. It seems they do. As it is a recommendation from the Coordinator General's report we will spend some time on this issue now.
Senator SIEWERT: Mr Gleeson, your first recommendation in your report that came out in November last year was:
That by 30 June 2013 the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations - in collaboration with Boards of Management (or similar) and where required State or Northern Territory education agencies - publish data measuring the number and estimated percentage of Indigenous children in the Remote Service Delivery communities who are accessing 15 hours of preschool 40 weeks per year, delivered by a degree qualified early childhood teacher …
Could you go through why you made that recommendation and what other concerns you have in terms of lack of access to data or the lack of data on that particular issue.
Mr Gleeson : Good morning. I would make a general comment that the issue of data and information continues to be a problem, certainly in terms of agencies at the state and territory levels, and also at the federal level. We continue to try to inform the quality of our decision making, inform policy planning and the like, and the data needs to inform that. My experience, from being in this position over three years, is that we still strive to improve both the access and the quality of the data. The further you go down, particularly in terms of a place based approach, the more difficult it becomes. There may be systems in place to provide information on mainstream programs that cover mainstream arrangements across jurisdictions et cetera, but when you get into a place based situation it becomes more complex. A quick example is that I was out in Maningrida in the Northern Territory late last year and I asked the principal about attendance rates and about enrolments. He has his own system. He feeds that into the Northern Territory Department of Education and they try to do something across the region. But it is not very sophisticated, not systematic; sometimes you will find that people use different criteria to capture the information. You may have a situation where, again, during the wet season, there are different issues in terms of the transient nature of schooling and attendance. So I have a general issue of concern about the quality of data and information.
With regard to recommendation 1, that particular measurement—15 hours of pre-school, 40 weeks a year—is one of the measurement targets. So I felt that, if you want to try and assess progress, it is not just the access, as Mr James and others have talked about; it is the issue, again, of what comes after the access in terms of quality and different educational outcomes. So I put in both recommendations; there are two—
Senator SIEWERT: Yes, I was going to go onto the second one about longitudinal data.
Mr Gleeson : Yes. So, if we are serious about looking at closing the gap, we have to have the tools in place to be able to assess that in a long-term journey. It is not easy—I appreciate that. But, again, 3 is in the National Partnership Agreement. We should have these things in place before.
Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. Can I just explore that a little bit further. We had a discussion yesterday about measurable outcomes, and it was based around the income-management measures and the fact that we still seem to be surveying and working on perceptions rather than measuring real outcomes. We have been at the intervention—I know that is just focused on the NT—and Stronger Futures for 5½ years now and we still do not seem to have really proper progress indicators measuring genuine outcomes. I understand—and we had a long discussion about—how hard it is; but just measuring access, to me, does not show that we are improving things. How do we achieve that?
Mr Gleeson : One of the things required in the National Partnership Agreement is the development of service standards for our 29 communities. That body of work is still in progress. The Commonwealth agencies have been working very hard with my office with regard to developing those service standards, and we are just in the process now of engaging the states and the Territory in negotiating those standards with them. Because it is a partnership, again, you have to have everybody on board. I believe those service standards will help a lot in addressing my concerns. I know it is something that is supported by the government in terms of being able to measure in different ways. So, one of my priorities, certainly in the first half of this year, will be to get those service standards across the line. From a recent discussion with Minister Macklin I know she is very much on board with that as a priority.
Senator SIEWERT: Can you give a bit of an outline of what the service standards are going to look like?
Mr Gleeson : We have standards across all the building blocks, so sometimes it could be a basic thing about infrastructure; but a lot of times it is about the quality. So we are talking about these basic things—it could be NAPLAN in terms of participation and results; it could be attendance; it could be response rates with regard to police, where there are no police in the communities. So it goes right across the whole spectrum of the building blocks to try to, again, look at access but also quality.
Senator SIEWERT: I am not critical of that per se, but it still does not then say whether kids are attending, whether they are coming out prepared for their first year of school, whether their hearing difficulties have been addressed—those sorts of things. Is that included in that quality of service?
Mr Gleeson : Yes. I am quite happy to provide the committee with a summary of those standards at some stage, because they do go into that level of detail—in terms of both the health side of things but also education.
Senator SIEWERT: It would be appreciated if you could table those.
Mr James : I was just going to mention a couple of things. Even at the community level you can get outcome data. For the NTER, in the last monitoring report, we reported data on the incidence of things like malnutrition and wasting—so there are outcome data around. In terms of outcome data at the community level, sometimes you have to be a bit careful with the numbers but you can obtain the Australian Early Development Index data as a baseline. That AEDI score will be repeated. At the school level, on My School every school in Australia up to minimum requirements publishes school attendance data and enrolment data.
In our evaluations we also obtain a lot of unpublished data, with the cooperation of each state and territory. There are different issues with the data. Some states and territories have more consistent data than others, and there are differences in their IT systems and the like. So there is data around. Often it is not the easiest thing to get, but it is not the case that there is no outcome data. In the last monitoring report, again, we also looked at data for the NT communities from the census in terms of outcomes and how they are changing. So it is not all just perceptions—there are the NAPLAN scores for each school, which are published. So there is quite a degree of data around. There are some gaps in the data—don't get me wrong—but it is not that there is no outcome data, even at the community level.
Senator SIEWERT: Okay. So, when I asked yesterday about where the measureable outcomes from the progress or not of income management were, the data that is used there obviously does not then match to looking at the outcomes from income management, because you cannot link income management back to any of that.
Mr James : I am not an expert on income management. I do know a bit about it. My colleague will answer this as well, but one of the challenges is, for example, there is historical data on school attendance, so you can measure that but for something like income management one of the things you might want to measure is the effect on people's expenditure patterns—and so, unless you had the data for their expenditure patterns before they were on income management, it is going to be a bit harder to see the change. So there are data challenges in some areas, but they are specific to the particular program involved. On the other hand, say with the Cape York welfare reform, if we wanted to look at the impact of the Family Responsibilities Commission on school attendance, we can match the Family Responsibilities Commission data and ask, 'Okay, did school attendance get better or not for that student after the Family Responsibilities Commission got involved?' So it is not a general thing; data issues are always specific to the particular policy and program you are talking about. But I will pass to my colleague.
Ms Hefren-Webb : I think the only additional comment I have is that, when we were discussing this yesterday, one of the issues we raised was there may have been an improvement in child health in the NT over the last five years but the question of attribution to a particular intervention is where we have had a lot of difficulty, because so many different programs and measures were put in place around 2007 and subsequently some additional ones around the Closing the Gap National Partnership 2009 and now Stronger Futures. At the same time income management entered many people's lives, as did a big series of health checks, a school nutrition program, a stores licensing regime, alcohol restrictions et cetera. So I guess what I was talking about yesterday was not the question that there is no measureable data on outcomes for children but how do you attribute them to a particular program in the context of a very complex policy environment.
Ms Croft : The service delivery standards will assist going forward in terms of reporting data, and they will be set against the building blocks. In relation to what Mr Gleeson said about making them available, we would not be able to do that until it had been agreed with states and territories, because there will be a joint Commonwealth-state-territory government document.
Senator BOYCE: One thing I was looking at was the fact that incarceration rates for Indigenous people is not a measurement that is covered by Closing the Gap. Clearly, like all the other Closing the Gap targets, it is a really complex, complicated issue. Do we have the tools right now to do this properly, or should we be looking at a far more sophisticated assessment tool to look at this area genuinely rather than perhaps congratulating ourselves on things that, as Ms Hefren-Webb said, might have been going to happen anyway. Maybe Ms Croft is the person I should start with.
Mr Pratt : I am sorry, Senator, could I clarify: what is your question there?
Senator BOYCE: The question is: is the Closing the Gap framework a sufficiently sophisticated tool to be using to achieve what we are trying to achieve? It is great if we can say that we are halving infant mortality; that is wonderful. But quantity of life and quality of life are two different issues.
Mr Pratt : Effectively that question calls for officials to make a comment about government policy, which I would decline to do. However, the Closing the Gap framework really does identify the key targets that one would expect a government would focus on in trying to close the gap for Indigenous people with non-Indigenous people in Australia. Incarceration issues are very important, and those are things which we are very interested in and—
Senator BOYCE: But not measured by Closing the Gap.
Mr Pratt : That is correct.
Mr James : Data such as incarceration is reported in reports like the Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report, so there are many other statistical reports and frameworks that are broader than Closing the Gap and they sort of complement each other, if you like. Incarceration is, I know, one of the measures in the OID report.
Senator BOYCE: I guess we come back to the fact that we have not really got it all collected up in one place—and I appreciate how complex it is.
Senator FURNER: Going back to the early education issue for Closing the Gap, I note in the report that the target is 95 per cent and you have reached 91, so you are on your way, tracking to that result. Several years ago I was up in the cape and experienced some significant growth in child attendance up there. I wonder whether you could provide some feedback on how that is tracking in Northern Queensland.
Mr James : In terms of the cape, we have been involved in an evaluation of Cape York welfare reform. That should be released soon, and that provides an analysis of trends in school attendance and attempts to isolate the effect of different factors on that. That is probably the best way I can answer that one. The Queensland government does publish the data in terms of attendance as well in their quarterly reports for Indigenous communities in Queensland. That is probably the best way to answer that. In terms of the preschool, that is probably best directed to DEEWR, but the only point I would make is that the 91 per cent figure is for 2011, and obviously the end target point is 2013. There is further investment to be reflected in those numbers.
Senator FURNER: Thanks.
Senator SIEWERT: Could I ask another follow-up on incarceration and then we should move on. In terms of following up from Senator Boyce's question, has anybody from the community raised with you looking at an indicator around incarceration? It has certainly been raised in discussions with me around maybe considering that. Has that been raised? Maybe I need to ask Mr Dillon.
Mr Dillon : Senator, I think the answer is yes.
Senator SIEWERT: Thank you.
Senator SCULLION: I would just like to wrap the questions up surrounding access to childhood education. The challenge for everybody, I suspect, is: we appear to be measuring it not by the words of the Prime Minister but the report. When we have the program there and everyone has got a program, that means they have got access to it and that should be over. I am not suggesting that is what people think, but clearly the next part of that measure, if we have got the programs in place, rather than saying, 'We've hit that measure,' people actually need to be attending. People need to be engaged, and we need to ensure that element of it, now that we are getting close to the programs being in place. What are the plans, then, given some of the answers in regard to attendance and some of the comments from the coordinator general about 'It's less than perfect' and 'It's a complex situation'? Do you have any other ways of finding out not only attendance but whether people are actually getting better as a result of the programs. Are you planning to change the way you collect data? Are you planning, for example, to publish some of the attendance rates every parliamentary year? Are there any other measures that you are putting in place within this measure, so that we can see how effective it is?
Mr Dillon : Senator, this measure is actually owned by DEEWR, so I feel uncomfortable commenting. I think it might be best if we just take it on notice.
Mr Pratt : As a general comment, though, certainly all these issues are under consideration.
Senator SCULLION: So as the lead agency, in terms of Closing the Gap, are you aware of any current plans, as part of the Closing the Gap report, to include in that more information so that the engagement of people under four years old, which is what we are supposed to be doing, is a little bit easier to measure than just the fact we have got a program in place? Are you aware of any specific proposals to do that?
Mr James : As I mentioned before, we are moving to a situation where we measure attendance as well. It already happens in some jurisdictions, but rather than get the detail wrong, I should leave that to DEEWR. But we are attempting, as I said before, to measure attendance as well.
Senator SCULLION: Even if you could just take that on notice so we do not miss out, and hopefully someone from DEEWR will be helpful when they appear.
Mr Dillon : Senator, I would make a general point, as the lead agency, and that is: we are not stopping and saying, 'target achieved', 'will be achieved' or 'our job is done'. We understand absolutely that there is a huge challenge in front of us—not just in the early childhood space but across every one of the Close the Gap targets. We always have policy work going on which is actually trying to look ahead to what is the next step, or the next step after that, as to where we might be going. I can assure you that we are not just sitting on our hands doing nothing.
Senator SCULLION: I was not suggesting that at all, Mr Dillon—quite the contrary. I think we have done quite well, but we now have a benchmark in 95 per cent of enrolment for 2011. That is great, but we all know, if it is anything like the enrolment against attendance statistics in primary schools in my jurisdiction of the Northern Territory, then we will need some more measures. But the fact that we cannot even measure it yet—I was simply asking whether or not that is a consideration, and you have taken that on notice.
Mr Pratt : Senator, again we understand your point. Access is an important component. Also extremely important is that if you have access, how much attendance is there. Once you have got attendance then what is the quality of the outcome you receive. We understand all of those issues, and those are things which we and our colleagues are focused on.
Senator SCULLION: Although you are the head agency, some answers to halving the gap in reading, writing and numeracy within 10 years may have to be provided by another agency. In relation to reading, writing and numeracy targets, with five years to go, which of these targets can we meet?
Mr James : The best way to answer is that the report compares the targets to their required trajectory points and it shows how many are on track against the trajectory points and how many need to accelerate. From memory, three out of eight are on track and five need to accelerate. I am pretty sure that is what the report says.
Senator SIEWERT: Yes, that is what it says.
Senator SCULLION: So we have identified from that process, which is to identify where they are doing well and doing not so well, the five areas that need acceleration. They are quite specific areas and, taking on the broad brush approach that Mr Dillon says helps everything—I accept that—what plans are in place to accelerate progress for those particular areas that were identified in the Closing the Gap report?
Mr James : The only point I guess you could make is that some of the things, like getting better access to preschool, will feed through eventually. I think DEEWR should answer that question.
Senator SCULLION: Who should I direct that question to?
Mr James : To DEEWR.
Senator SCULLION: Perhaps, Mr Pratt, if I could comment, because the lead agency for Closing the Gap is FaHCSIA, I understand that with the levels of detail needed it is reasonable to expect other departments or agencies to provide answers for those. You might take this on notice but you had this beautiful glossy report, which has been around for a while, and in the report, in some areas, it is very clearly identified for everybody where progress can and should be accelerated. It is a FaHCSIA agency that is responsible for this. They are the coordinating agency for the report. I would have thought that by now when a question arises along the lines of: 'We have had the report and you are the coordinating agency—that is why we have a coordinating and single agency—here are the issues that clearly you need to accelerate; what are you doing about those?' I would not expect to be told, 'The Department of Education will have more detail.'. I am trying not to be overly critical about that; no doubt they will. Is it a fact that each of the different agencies, DEEWR for example, is dealing with one of the indicators and that that is their responsibility? Do you simply put the report together, or are you responsible for the report and coordinating all of the other agencies?
Mr Pratt : It is the second of those, of course. If you like, we can talk at macro level about the sorts of things which are being done in these areas. For example, I know that DEEWR spends a great deal of time interacting with the state and territory governments about numeracy and literacy and other education programs. They expend a huge effort on that sort of work, all aimed at trying to jointly identify ways to improve performance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in those areas. But we would not be doing the committee a service if we were to talk in areas which are outside our direct expertise, hence the suggestion that DEEWR might answer these questions when they come along. A suggestion that we might pick up the next time we plan the schedule for the committee's day is that we look at those areas where there will be contributions by both FaHCSIA and other departments, like on Closing the Gap, if that is the interest of the committee, and have those people here at the same time so that we can properly advise you.
CHAIR: Mr Pratt, it is very clear, and I think we need to put it on record, that as we planned these days we specifically said with DEEWR that they were coming to this day to talk about issues to do with employment. We agreed at the start that issues to do with education, and my understanding is that the issue of early education is deemed to be education, would be done at the DEEWR estimates. That is an agreement the committee has had with all the departments. I take the point that in terms of coordination around Closing the Gap FaHCSIA is the lead agency. But on specific issues around education and early childhood, that is to be dealt with at the DEEWR estimates. That is our agreement. If you want to go back and renegotiate that, that is fine, but that is the agreement.
Senator SCULLION: Not at all, Madam Chair. This says Closing the Gap in the title and I thought we would be able to be provided some answers. I am not saying you are trying to avoid that. Mr Pratt, are you aware of a response from either your agency or other agencies involved in this that would be a report to say that if we are to accelerate the Closing the Gap numbers this is what we would do, or a report that would be like that?
Mr Dillon : To add to Mr Pratt's previous comments, the problem we have with your line of questioning is that in a sense you are asking us to pre-empt future policy decisions. We may or may not have a line of sight to the detail of those but you are asking the impossible. That is part of our reticence to go down this path. You are not actually asking questions about the Closing the Gap report, you are asking about hypothetical future actions to address issues in the Closing the Gap report. That is part of our reticence here. The direct answer to your question is that I am not aware of any piece of paper that goes to that particular issue.
Senator SCULLION: Thank you. I will close that line of questioning before I go on to the next indicator. But Australians reasonably expect that if there is a big statement in the parliament it has become a particular time of the parliamentary process that we can all focus on something. I think everybody is now as we are having more trend just getting more valuable every year people are really looking to that. But the report that says where we are up to and sometimes not doing as well as we can do in some of the indicators, around the same time or not long afterwards I think Australians would be far more confident if they knew that there is a report on a response, if you like, that this is what we are doing to accelerate these indicators, this indicator is not were going to move but we hope generally the level of amenity will assist. I was hoping that there would be a response, there would be a plan to assist in Closing the Gap. The Closing the Gap report is very important but it is simply a report on the statistics of where we are at. I think the government response—all power to the excellent speech by the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition—did not deal with what we are going to do specifically. Each time we hope that the report varies and we are doing better in some areas. That is the intention. What I was looking for is whether this government has a response to ensure that we can accelerate Closing the Gap, which I would have thought would be the principle. I am not looking for other agencies and details; I was hoping someone would have a plan.
Mr Pratt : As a general response, I can confirm that that is what we and our colleague departments are focused on all of the time. To go back to what Mr Dillon said some time ago, every program and every service that we work on is aimed at trying to close the gap. So we have a report that says this is where we are at this stage. I hope it is helpful to confirm for you that we and our colleague departments are thinking, 'How do we try get these results even better? What specific measures can we put in place to try and drive a closing of those measures?'
Senator SCULLION: I have some questions in the same area. What was the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous employment in 2008 and what is the gap in the most recently available data?
Mr James : The 2008 figures were provided in the last report. I cannot remember exactly what they were. I would caution that you cannot directly compare the survey results from 2008 to the census results because, just to give one example, the census includes people in non-private dwellings, so that can unfortunately make a difference for the Indigenous population because it includes people in jail and that has an effect on young men. So they are not really comparable. That is why in this report we have focused on comparing the two census results. It is the soundest way of comparing the data.
We will get another survey-based estimate from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health survey that the ABS is currently in the field with as well. There are other survey estimates but, when you are comparing census data, you are better off comparing census data to census data.
Senator SCULLION: That is the intention in the future? It will be relying on the census data because it is going to be the most consistent?
Mr James : The baseline is survey data, so we will use survey data when the data is available. For this year's report, given that the census was available—and the census was clearly an important source—we used that to compare with 2006. In different years you will use census data or survey data, depending on what year it is.
Senator SCULLION: It did not appear from my reading that this was one of the targets that we have many prospects of closing in the time frame, certainly in comparison with some of the others. I take into consideration everything that Mr Pratt and others have said, but if we can know that these are the programs, and this is how we are accelerating it, I will perhaps create another question on notice to whoever it is supposed to be. I thought perhaps, as the lead agency, we could coordinate that and I could provide a question on notice that says, 'Are there any particular programs or initiatives that are intended to accelerate the Closing the Gap, as identified in the most recent Prime Ministerial statement, that can be made available to the committee?'
Mr Pratt : We have the Remote Jobs and Communities Program which we are going to talk about this afternoon. This is a very specific response to trying to improve employment outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote parts of Australia. We also have the mainstream Job Services Australia system which is aimed at helping job seekers across the board, including Indigenous job seekers to get into employment. Those are two programs.
Senator SCULLION: Thank you. I think it would be useful to have the answer. Even if it was a list of programs so that, if we still have the same programs and have had exactly the same outcomes the next time the report comes out, it will gives us all an opportunity to say, 'Perhaps some of these need to be changed, or some sort of action taken.' I think it would augment the report very well. One of the challenges with the Closing the Gap report is that it does not have a geographic breakdown. It is only my personal view that, whilst we can applaud the increase in the number of people who have left school having completed year 12, when you look at the NAPLAN tests and you attend a lot of these schools, I am quite sure that it is actually better in Sydney and Melbourne. I am pretty convinced that there are a lot more than two per cent of Aboriginal people who are getting through schools, but in other areas is going backwards. I understand this is a generic report, however, I just wondered if there has been some consideration in providing a breakdown of the results in each area of the Closing the Gap report—if it is possible—by very remote, remote, rural and urban areas. The disaggregation would simply inform us, because we might be steaming ahead in cities because the delivery of programs are slightly different, and we might be going backwards in some areas because it has not been delivered in the same way. I think it would greatly inform the report because, if you read the headline figures, from my perspective, in any event, I am a bit cynical about whether that is a genuine reflection given the vastly different circumstances we have across Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders around Australia. I was not sure if you had considered a disaggregation of that data as a subset of the next report?
Mr James : Some of the data already is like that. The NAPLAN data it is done by remoteness. With the census data, strictly speaking, the ABS are introducing a new remoteness to the way they do it. It is basically the same, but the boundaries change. That comes in in March, so we can run data that way in March, but I have asked the ABS, for example, to run the year 12 target data for me by remoteness area using the 2006 remoteness area categories, and you can see there that it does show what you are referring to, that is, say, for the year 12 target.
You see variation across remoteness areas. In the major cities, the year 12 attainment is quite a bit higher than in very remote, but you also see improvements as well across. The improvements are certainly not just in the more urban areas. You get a bit of a sense of that in the report because we showed the separate results for the NT. The NT is unique in that 80 per cent of the Indigenous population is in remote areas, so whatever happens in the NT is largely a reflection of that. And you saw that against two of the measures at least the NT had a faster improvement than the other jurisdictions. Sure, it came from a lower base but it still had a faster improvement.
The ABS is looking at the options for even producing life expectancy estimates by remoteness area. There are a lot of complications in doing that, particularly around someone moving to an area to retire and they may have come from somewhere else. We have asked the ABS to look at the possibility of producing at least life expectancy at the national level by remoteness area.
Senator SCULLION: Just to get it clear, the ABS are responsible for the collection of the data that you use. You have asked them to disaggregate in areas that you think are important and they seem to be doing that.
Mr James : They do do that. The life expectancy one poses quite a number of conceptual challenges but they are looking to the possibility of being able to do it.
Senator SCULLION: Do you think that that would be included in the next report, that the next Closing the Gap prime ministerial statement may include that level of data?
Mr Dillon : The report is the Prime Minister's report. The Prime Minister determines what is in the report and the level of detail. One of the advantages of the Closing the Gap framework is that we have a finite number of national targets and that creates a national focus. We are also focused on, as you can see from Mr James's previous answer, the disparities between remote and non-remote. But I think there is an issue here as to what level the annual report from the Prime Minister goes to and it is not for us to pre-empt or foreshadow any change to the level of disaggregation of the data within it.
CHAIR: I am sure Senator Farrell will take their message to the Prime Minister.
Senator SIEWERT: Recommendation 6 in your report concerns the transition plans for those two particular communities under the Remote Jobs and Communities package. You recommended that advice be provided by the end of 2012. Has that advice been provided?
Mr Gleeson : I will give my response and I am happy if FaHCSIA adds to it. I refer to Walgett and Mossman Gorge. These are two of the 29 remote service delivery priority communities. In each of those two communities there is a need for transition arrangements because they will not be able to access the RJCP roll out as the other regional locations will, particularly because of the procurement contract arrangements that apply. It is a legacy, particularly in the case of Walgett, where the current arrangements were reviewed through a contractual arrangement and you could not therefore undo a procurement arrangement as it would create a lot of penalties. Therefore, when I met the Walgett community working party they were particularly concerned that they may miss out on some of the opportunities that RJCP would provide.
What I asked, through DEEWR and FaHCSIA, was that we made sure that the community was able to access some of the benefits, if you like, of RJCP. I wanted to ensure they do not miss out, even though they have to go under the current arrangements until 2014. That is basically what it was about. The short answer is that we are still having those discussions in terms of the details of the transition plans. But I have been advised, and it has been confirmed to me, that there will be detailed plans put in place for both those committees.
Senator SIEWERT: So in other words there has been action on that particular recommendation.
Mr Gleeson : Yes.
Senator SIEWERT: I want to ask about the level of engagement that you have had in terms of the recommendation around the Medicare Locals and, particularly, the recommendation about how the relevant Medicare Locals are progressing in relation to objective 3. How Medicare Locals have been addressing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health has been an ongoing concern of mine. Have you had any feedback yet from the health department—and I will ask the department, obviously, about this—since you made that recommendation?
Mr Gleeson : The first comment I would make is that, in regard to all recommendations that go in my report, we have a lot of consultation with the relevant agencies beforehand. So it is not a surprise when they come out. Generally there is a consensus: 'This is okay; it is a good recommendation. We can work with you in terms of how it is implemented.' The report only came out late last year. FaHCSIA has the lead role in regard to follow-up on those recommendations. Ms Croft might like to add to that. They have a mechanism in place to progress the recommendations. We have had some consultation, but we have not had detailed follow-up in terms of the exact time frame, plan of action, to address that recommendation.
Ms Croft : We do coordinate a process across governments, both Commonwealth and state and territory, to respond to the coordinator-general's reports. We obviously do that as the lead agency. That process, once agreed, will go through the Working Group on Indigenous Reform, and it constitutes a cross-government response to each of the coordinator-general's recommendations. Then, through our boards of management and other agency working groups, we monitor progress against previous report recommendations. We are currently in the process of responding to the report that came out before Christmas. Once that is finalised, it is made public on the FaHCSIA website.
Senator SIEWERT: Thank you.
Senator SCULLION: Mr Gleeson, we have just been speaking about the Closing the Gap issue. Much of your reporting has been, in the early days, on providing a database so we know exactly what is there, the visitation rate and all of that. That has been very useful. You have a lot of hands-on, on-the-ground experience on the issues associated with preschool attendance and trying to get a coordinated approach. You have indicated that that approach is far from optimal, and we can understand why—it is the nature of the jurisdiction and those sorts of issues. Do you have any recommendations or suggestions about what can be done in terms of a process to tighten up the coordination of the various jurisdictions and agencies who share the responsibilities—the Northern Territory is providing education and the Commonwealth is providing some of the funding—and in terms of who is responsible for attendance and all those sorts of things? They seem to have been around for a fair while and we are still reporting on them, but there does not seem to have been any change. For example, we should know exactly who attends what school, and that is not the case yet. Do you have any suggestions from a practical perspective—I know you have a lot of experience on the ground—on how that could be changed and what sort of forum or process we should use? How should we address the issues of coordinating the various jurisdictions to get better data and better compliance?
Mr Gleeson : As I mentioned earlier to the committee, I spend a lot of time in my office trying to get information from a range of sources to inform the quality of my role of assessment of progress. I also have a role particularly around Closing the Gap, but it is very difficult to do things in relation to closing the gap—as the previous range of questions alluded to—at a place level, let alone doing it at the macro level. In that sense, I want to make that generalised comment that my role does cover off the issue of Closing the Gap, and I have some way to go to acquitting that role in regard to saying the gap is closing in this community and that target et cetera.
In terms of your specific question, those two recommendations that I put in my last report go to some practical solutions, in my view. I do believe there are appropriate mechanisms in place for coordination. There is a board of management, or equivalent, that exists in each of the different jurisdictions of the priority communities. That is a very good mechanism to bring the three levels of government together to talk. If there is a gap in terms of information gathering or quality of data, then that could be executed through that particular forum. That is why I referred to the board of management as a mechanism to coordinate those things.
The only comment I would make is that we need to be a bit more rigorous in regard to using that forum, and other similar forums, to make sure that the right people are at the table to be able to address where the gaps need to be followed up. That is something that I know my colleagues in FaHCSIA and I, and others, are working on. In fact, as early as the week of 25 February we are having a very good workshop in Alice Springs around improving RSD government arrangements.
Senator SCULLION: Thank you very much, Mr Gleeson. If I could just take this opportunity, Mr Dillon asked me about the name of that report. I can be of some assistance. The original misbehaviour determination was made on 14 November 2002 under Philip Ruddock. That misbehaviour determination was revoked on 21 August 2012 by the minister, Ms Macklin. While I do not have a date, I think the title of the report is Pre-2008 Review of Subordinate Legislation (Final Report). I understand it was completed by the department of finance for each of the portfolios. That is as much information as I can provide. I can hand over those two bits of advice if that would assist you, Mr Dillon.
Mr Dillon : Thank you. I am sure they will be very helpful.
Senator SCULLION: We are always being helpful here.
CHAIR: I know that Senator Furner has one question and then we are going onto Stronger Futures.
Senator FURNER: The Prime Minister's Closing the Gap report indicated some good successes in respect of mortality rates for Indigenous children under five years of age up to 2018. Would you update the committee on the progress of that and what the government is doing to ensure that that it is met?
Mr James : We discussed the under-five mortality target before and looked at the existing trends. In some of the data in the report one of the important indicators is access to antenatal care. The report talks about the data on that and some of the improvements there. It also talks about new directions such as the Mothers and Babies Services program. The report makes the point that maintaining the existing trends is going to require a continued focus on all of the preventative measures that have been taken. Some of the things that we measure in the NIRA that was reported on by the COAG Reform Council in their more detailed report on progress, and some of the lead indicators we look at for this target, are things like access to antenatal care, smoking during pregnancy and how those sorts of things are tracking, and policy is responding to those priorities. Some of that is spelt out in the report itself.
Mr Dillon : The bottom line is that we are heading in the right direction. That is the simple way to frame this. We are on a downward trend in terms of the mortality rates, and, as you said in your question, the trajectories go out to 2018 and we are on track to halve that gap.
CHAIR: We will now move to Stronger Futures general questions.
Senator SIEWERT: I specifically want to ask about the alcohol component of Stronger Futures. The minister—I think it was last week—announced her intention to use the powers under the Stronger Futures legislation to review two establishments in Alice Springs. I am wondering how that decision-making process rolled out. Could you explain the time period? The legislation came in in June and it was not until a week or two weeks ago that the minister announced her intention to take that particular action. Could you just outline that for us, please?
Ms Edwards : The provision that the minister is acting under at the moment is section 15 of the Stronger Futures Act. It relates to assessments of licensed premises, as you have mentioned. Assessments are actually a process done under the Northern Territory legislation, under section 14 of the Liquor Act. What the provision in the Stronger Futures Act does and is designed to do is to allow the Commonwealth minister to bring scrutiny onto premises of which he or she might be concerned.
It is a three-pass process, really. The first thing that happens—which is what the minister has done recently—is that the minister writes effectively a private letter to the Northern Territory minister saying that he or she is intending to request an assessment and it gives an opportunity for the Northern Territory minister to respond. The Northern Territory minister might respond and say, 'You've got the wrong premises,' or 'We should do a few more of them,' or 'I've got a problem.' The idea is for a collaboration between governments about what premises might be causing alcohol related harm to the community and whether some sort of extra scrutiny should be applied to those premises.
Twenty-eight days after that notice has been provided, the minister can formally request the assessments of the premises. In that 28 days that has passed in the meantime the Northern Territory might have written back and provided some extra information or they might have had a meeting. It might of its own motion gone and decided to take action or consideration of those premises.
Senator SIEWERT: The time is ticking now.
Ms Edwards : That time is ticking now. Once the minister has made the request in a more formal way, the Northern Territory has 28 days in which it is expected to commence those assessments and the correspondence between ministers would set out the time frame, what it is, what the premises are and so on. If it declines to do it—and there are a couple of reasons it can do that—it has to basically publicly explain why. The provision is about scrutiny. We are at the beginning of that process.
As you are aware the provision is there to say the minister can first notify of their intention and then request an assessment of a premises that they have reason to believe might be causing harm to the community. It is not a conclusion that it is causing harm; it is simply a matter of having reasonable, credible information to suggest that there might be issues from particular premises. In terms of your question about timing, I might need you to be a bit clearer about what you mean.
Senator SIEWERT: There are some well-known establishments in Alice Springs that people have known about for years, that the community has been raising concerns about for years. In fact, I would hazard a guess that some of those were the reasons that the minister wanted some more powers under Stronger Futures to deal with it. What process was undertaken between the legislation being passed—and I appreciate that there is a time for royal assent and all that sort of stuff—to the minister making a decision in early February. I am not having a go about the decision itself; it is the time frame and what process was undertaken between the legislation passing to the minister making a decision six months later to take that action.
Ms Edwards : We have been talking about particular premises, issues, licensing conditions and all of those sorts of matters with the Northern Territory at officials level and amongst ministers for a long time before the Stronger Futures Act and so on. We have had discussions about the potential for assessments and who assessors might be and all of those sorts of things at an officials level for some time. Of course, the change of government in the Northern Territory always means there is a bit of a hiatus in activity.
I think the key things that happened before this particular intention to request happened were some representations from particular community organisations and individuals in Alice Springs. So the minister's information is based on those sorts of representations, which are of course a really important way to raise the issue. If your question is going to why it took so long—
Senator SIEWERT: Yes.
Ms Edwards : I would say that we have been doing a lot of things about licensing and other alcohol related measures in the meantime and are continuing to do so. This intention to request has come up in response to additional information becoming available and, particularly, representations from individuals and organisations in Alice Springs.
Senator SIEWERT: As you know, I am critical of a lot of Stronger Futures, but that was one of the bits of the legislation that we actually thought was a very useful tool. So this was more to do with the time frame.
I realise that we are short of time and I may have to ask you take a bit of this on notice. I am interested in where the community planning process is up to. I am aware that some community plans had been significantly progressed. It is only from conversations but I have been told that there has been some concern that there has been a delay in the process in progressing some of the community plans—more because of the change in government, which inevitably causes delays. So where are we up to now with some of those plans? How many are you engaging with at the moment?
Ms Edwards : So we are talking about alcohol management plans?
Senator SIEWERT: Yes, alcohol managements plan.
Ms Edwards : Of course there is a specific meaning in the Northern Territory quite separate to its Queensland meaning.
Senator SIEWERT: Yes.
Ms Edwards : Alcohol management plans have been part of the landscape in the Northern Territory for a long time, both the Northern Territory direct and as part of the Northern Territory Emergency Response and now as part of Stronger Futures.
Senator SIEWERT: And there was a modification under NTER and then there was the modification again under Stronger Futures.
Ms Edwards : Yes, in short. The main modification now is really between the Northern Territory Emergency Response provisions and the Stronger Futures one. The Stronger Futures one gives the minister a much more holistic view of alcohol management plans. In the past we tried to be involved and to cooperate with Northern Territory colleagues on alcohol management planning—it is really a matter for the Territory to lead, as it still is—but decisions would come to our minister if they involved some sort of change to the Northern Territory Emergency Response restrictions.
Under the new legislation it is a more holistic approach. We are providing funding under Stronger Futures. The concept is for the Northern Territory to lead those but with our close involvement. The plans as a whole come to the minister for approval. The implementation plan with the Northern Territory for exactly how those provisions settle down is still in negotiation. We hope to resolve that shortly.
There are a number of communities which have plans in preparation and so on. When the new arrangements finally really imbed, it might be required to go back and have a look at some of those to check, in particular, that they meet the minimum standards that the minister has been consulting about in the Northern Territory. The important thing to say is that some of them will already well and truly meet those standards. Some of them will need reasonably minor adjustment and some of them might need renegotiation.
In the meantime, there is nothing to stop various initiatives that are being considered and proposed by the community or for service provision of those plans. There is nothing to stop those happening at any time. In fact, various of those negotiated under the previous scheme and ongoing have happened. So the actual conclusion of the plan does not prevent important activities happening in the communities.
Senator SIEWERT: I have a couple of questions coming out of that process. Because of the ongoing negotiations with the NT government, does that mean that you have not been able to progress sign-off on plans because you have not had that big-picture sign-off? Is that a correct interpretation?
Ms Edwards : I think it has meant that we would not have had any plans go to the minister for final approval.
Senator SIEWERT: That is what I mean.
Ms Edwards : Northern Territory staff are still engaging with communities on the ground and talking to them about their alcohol plans and so on.
Senator SIEWERT: That is what I meant. Is that the reason that some plans have not been progressed to finalisation—to tick-off?
Ms Edwards : It is possible that that is the case, particularly given that the minimum standards are still out with the community for consultation. The main aspect of that is talking to the communities and getting things happening, and we do not see any reason that that is being held up.
Senator SIEWERT: When do you expect the minimum standards to be finalised?
Ms Edwards : The minimum standards consultation period happened shortly before Christmas. It was a very productive process. We got back lots of input. It was generally positive about the minimum standards and there has been a process of making sure we look forensically at all the comments and make sure that they are included in the final standards. That process is very advanced.
Senator SIEWERT: That was helpful information but you did not answer my question.
Mr Pratt : What was the question again?
Senator SIEWERT: When are the minimum standards going to be finalised?
Ms Edwards : When the minister considers our proposed amendments and decides on them.
Mr Pratt : It is a matter for the minister.
Senator SIEWERT: You have provided those.
Ms Edwards : We are at a very advanced stage of considering them.
Senator SIEWERT: Of providing advice to the minister? The minister has not received it yet so she cannot actually make a decision.
Ms Edwards : It is an ongoing, complex process. We are well advanced.
Senator SIEWERT: Could you take notice the expenditure against each of the stronger futures measures for this financial year?
Mr Dillon : Yes.
Senator SCULLION: In regard to the two establishments or other establishments, is it that there are allegations of unlawful practice or criminal practice, or alternatively sharp practice that may not necessarily be against the law? It has always been a bit of a grey area.
Ms Edwards : It is a very useful question. The concept of the assessment, as we understand it in the Northern Territory legislation and in our capacity for the federal minister to request it, it is not necessarily about anything to do with illegality or breach of licence conditions. There might be a premises that repeatedly breaches its licence conditions and might well be one that you want to assess. But that is not necessarily what it is about. It is about what the licence conditions are, how that business operates, its impact on the surrounding community, whether it is the right fit for the community and whether it is associated with harm even if it is entirely compliant with its licence conditions. So it is a chance to step back, have a look at the licensed premises and ask how this premises works in the community, how it works in the context of what is happening in the town or wherever and come back with recommendations which the licensing commission would have regard to. It is not necessarily about illegality.
Senator SCULLION: That is very useful. Let's say the recommendations are for the liquor licensing commission. The commissioner would then have to amend the liquor licensing act in the Northern Territory or some regulation to ensure that people can comply.
Ms Edwards : It would depend upon the recommendations but they might be recommendations that the premises licence conditions are varied or, totally hypothetically, the trading hours changed, or the manner in which stock is displayed or any sorts of things like that. It might be about compliance. It might be about recommending that we do something with this premises. It is an open process to look at the premises and the impact that it is having with the aim of finding problems or solutions to alcohol-related harm and, in collaboration with the Northern Territory, fixing them.
Senator SCULLION: I am well and truly on the record of not having a great deal of sympathy for these establishments. One of the great challenges is that they say, 'What am I doing that is against the law?' At the end of this process there needs to be a lot more clarity. For example, is it going to be that the conditionality will change because of harm? At the end of the day, I think it is reasonable also that someone who conducts a business has to have a very clear set of guidelines. I have been a bit critical. But they are actually operating under the law and in their defence, they say, 'Retrospectively, you have come in and said that we are not doing the right thing, yet we are obeying the rules.' I think there is a precedent in terms of how we are attempting to go about this. To a large degree that does answer some of the questions.
Ms Edwards : It is about drawing to the attention of the Northern Territory government premises that appear to be associated with harm or which might be and calling on them to have a good look at them to see whether they are correctly structured in terms of their business model and licensing conditions for the surrounding community—and certainly no further than that at this stage.
Senator SCULLION: I read in the media, though it was just a perfunctory glance, that the Northern Territory is not being all that cooperative. The Northern Territory government had indicated that it was unlikely to instruct the Licensing Commission to do an assessment. Is that accurate?
Ms Edwards : There was a press statement from the Northern Territory government indicating that it was not going to order the assessments. We are still hoping to talk to officials who have a collaborative arrangement to have the best possible licensed premises for people.
Senator SCULLION: Thank you.
Senator Farrell: If you have any influence, Senator—
Senator SCULLION: I was hoping you were not going to ask me that. Probably no influence at all, that is probably my defence.
Senator Farrell: I know that feeling.
Senator SIEWERT: Have you had representations from community organisations about other establishments?
Ms Edwards : We talk to people a lot about all sorts of availability of alcohol. We make representations about major retailers that lots of alcohol is sold and harm ensures. The specific allegations I am mainly aware of are in relation to the ones in Alice Springs; the ones that have been the subject of the initial correspondence.
Senator SIEWERT: I have some broader questions about Stronger Futures. It does involve income management, but it is specifically about the powers of referral for the Alcohol and Other Drugs Tribunal. Can I ask about progress of the referral powers that were granted under Stronger Futures and where that particular element is up to.
Ms Hefren-Webb : The minister signed an instrument late last year authorising the Alcohol and Other Drugs Tribunal of the Northern Territory to make referrals to income management. It has commenced making referrals. The number of referrals it has made is less than 20. I am not in a position to give you the number, but it has made referrals. You would be aware that in the Northern Territory government's mini-budget it announced the abolition of that tribunal. We are still working through the process for individuals arising out of that.
Senator SIEWERT: The process from what mechanism would be—
Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes. If the tribunal ceases to be in existence, essentially, how would a person who had been referred to income management by that mechanism be managed by Centrelink.
Senator SIEWERT: If they have already been referred?
Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes.
Senator SIEWERT: Why would that be an ongoing issue?
Ms Hefren-Webb : Because the referral is for a period of time. If the tribunal is abolished then there is no-one to go back to at the, say, 12-month point and give advice about whether the person should remain on or not. But we have not made any final decision about that.
Senator SIEWERT: Is it possible to get a copy of that instrument? I missed that at the end of last year.
Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes, sure.
Senator SIEWERT: That would be great. There is the group of less than 20 who have been referred, so that is one issue that you need to work through. Do you have plans to enable another body to be able to refer?
Ms Hefren-Webb : At this stage, the information we have is just that the Northern Territory government plans to cease the tribunal. I understand there is some discussion about an alternate approach, but we are really waiting for some advice from the Northern Territory government about what that might look like.
Senator SIEWERT: About the alternative approach?
Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes. I do not know if Ms Edwards has that information.
Ms Edwards : Only to add that in addition to the issues that Ms Hefren-Webb's people are dealing with, with what happens to people who are already referred, we are also looking at the broader scope of alcohol policy. We are looking at what the Commonwealth does, our relationship with the Northern Territory and how we might put into place other initiatives given that one tool which was part of the overall package of Stronger Futures together with the Enough is Enough initiative, as it was then, to address correlated harm.
It is both an initial thing about how we deal with these people, whether and how we might have some other avenue to income management, and what else we might be able to do in this suite of measures. As you know, dealing with alcohol abuse is extremely broad and multifaceted so we look at what other things we might do in order to make up for a lost tool somewhere in the system.
Senator SIEWERT: You are right. That package was designed around the NT's existing structures and elements of that have now disappeared.
Ms Edwards : Yes. It was designed to complement Enough is Enough which, as you know, is the alcohol and other drugs tribunal where banned drinkers register, with other initiatives.
Senator SIEWERT: What time line have you got for that?
Ms Edwards : It is an ongoing thing. Obviously, we are talking with the Northern Territory government about bedding down the implementation plan. We want to get these AMPs and minimum standards in; we have commenced the discussion about potential assessments, as we have discussed already today; and we continue to look at all possible mechanisms to work with the Northern Territory to tackle alcohol abuse.
Senator SIEWERT: I have a question about some of the other budget cuts that were made in the NT and how those then relate to the funding of programs. Mr Pratt, I will probably need your advice on that. Should I have asked that in general matters? I know it crosses all portfolios.
Mr Pratt : With the Chair's permission, why don't you ask the question now.
Senator SIEWERT: There are various programs that have been either cut completely or their funding has been decreased. You fund some in partnership—child support programs and family support programs. What has FaHCSIA done—and DOHA is the same—in dealing with the fact that some of those programs are no longer funded or have had their funding cut?
Mr Pratt : Are you talking about the Northern Territory government?
Senator SIEWERT: I beg your pardon, yes, the Northern Territory government.
Mr Dillon : This is largely wrapped up with our negotiation of the implementation plans under the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory National Partnership Agreement. We are in the process of trying to finalise those implementation plans—I think there are nine that we are working on. We have made quite a bit of progress on that front but in the course of those negotiations one of the key issues for us has been to try to ensure that there is ongoing service delivery on a whole range of fronts and that over time the Northern Territory government takes ongoing responsibility for key service delivery in the areas you are talking about. It is fair to say that the cuts in the Northern Territory budget have complicated these issues for us but I am not in a position to, in a sense, outline a definitive landing spot.
Senator SIEWERT: Okay, I do follow it. Perhaps I should ask in the next estimates then. You gave us a really good briefing in response to the Bath report—I still call it the Bath report—and the additional program funding it provided for family support programs, which, as I understood it at the time, was also related to setting up the peak Aboriginal organisation. There have been funding cuts there as well. Has that all been taken into consideration in those negotiations? And, of those programs you are still funding, are they continuing regardless of whether the NT has cut funding?
Mr Stacey : We are alert to reductions that were made in the mini budget of the Northern Territory government in early December. Yes, they included a reduction in funding for that peak body called SAF,T. I think it had its funding reduced significantly over a three-year period. In the meantime, that is not impacting on the funding that we are providing to Stronger Futures. The funding that has been announced by our minister, by the federal government, is continuing.
We have had discussions with SAF,T about what possibilities might exist and whether or not they might play a role in Stronger Futures. That is still to be determined. We have to see what happens next.
Senator SIEWERT: Is that part of the implementation plan negotiations, or is it separately?
Mr Stacey : No, it is separately.
Senator SIEWERT: When do you anticipate resolving that?
Mr Stacey : The implementation plans?
Senator SIEWERT: No, resolving these ongoing funding issues you were just talking about.
Mr Stacey : I cannot say. We have been in contact with SAF,T on a couple of occasions. We have other initiatives with Stronger Futures that we are rolling out which are not part of the implementation plan. We have to see whether or not ultimately there is a role for SAF,T. I cannot say that there is any time frame on that at this stage.
Senator SIEWERT: Thank you for outlining what is happening in that particular area. Has the delivery of other programs that you have been funding, where there was an ongoing input from the Northern Territory government, been affected? I understand it has not affected the delivery of your funds but is it affecting the delivery of programs on the ground? Is there a gap in funding since the Northern Territory government's contributions were cut?
Mr Stacey : We did an analysis of the mini budget after it was announced. There were some reductions in programs, not directly linked to Stronger Futures, that we thought nonetheless potentially could lead to some gaps. One that comes to my mind that I know we were concerned about related to night patrol in Darwin. As far as I know, there were not any others that we thought were directly linked to Stronger Futures that we thought would create a gap.
Mr Dillon : The only addition I would make is that the NT government did cut the banned drinkers register, which was funded with Commonwealth dollars. You have seen public comments by ministers expressing concern about that.
CHAIR: Thank you very much to the officers. We will now break until 11 o'clock when we will come back with the agencies.
Proceedings suspended from 10:42 to 11:03