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Effectiveness of state, territory and Commonwealth government policies on regional and remote Indigenous communities

CHAIR —Welcome. Mr Davies, if you wish to bring some other staff to the table to assist you, please feel welcome to do so. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses’ evidence has been provided to you. I now invite you to make a short opening statement. At the conclusion of your remarks, I will invite members of the committee to put questions to you. With the concurrence, I will temporarily pass on chairmanship to the Senator Judith Adams.

Mr Davies —Thank you, Senator. I have brought with me a colleague from the Department of Education and Training in the Northern Territory, Dr Gillan. Thank you for allowing us to appear before the Senate Select Committee on Regional and Remote Indigenous Communities. Today I have brought some material that I would like to leave for the committee’s consideration. The first is a territory government initiative, Working Future, which is a major policy announcement. I will refer to this in my opening address following the announcement that was made yesterday by the Chief Minister and the Northern Territory Minister for Indigenous Policy.

I also table a headline policy statement in relation to the outstations homeland policy in the Northern Territory, a Closing the Gap on Indigenous Disadvantage progress report for the Northern Territory’s Closing the Gap response, and finally a paper that has been launched jointly by the Australian and Northern Territory governments in relation to the report of the NTER Review Board on a review that was conducted in the Northern Territory.

ACTING CHAIR —Could you tender those?

Mr Davies —Sure. I wish to address the committee in the context of a Working Future. Working Future is a strategy and framework that will drive government investment and activity to grow 20 identified communities into well-serviced townships. The townships will operate as hubs, servicing many of the nearby outstations and homelands. It is anticipated that 33,000 people, 24,000 people residing in towns and 9,000 people in residing in 300 small communities and outstations located within a 50-kilometre radius will be serviced through the Working Future.

This accounts for around 50 to 60 per cent of the territory’s total Indigenous population and approximately 80 per cent of the Indigenous population residing outside of the territory’s urban centres. Coupled with that is a national partnership agreement on remote service delivery which targets 15 remote locations. This agreement is with the Australian government in the Northern Territory and aims to improve access to services, provide simpler access and better coordinated government services for joint service delivery structures and local implementation plans that identify service delivery priorities for each location.

It is hoped that these partnerships will substantially increase economic and social participation in the communities. The 15 locations that have been selected under this remote service delivery program are 15 of the larger communities identified for substantial housing funding, and they are also aligned with the Northern Territory’s 20 territory towns approach. An outstations policy concurrent with this also is being developed as a result of the territory inheriting responsibility for outstations under the 2007 Indigenous housing accommodation and related services MOU from the Australian government. This MOU provided $20 million to the Territory for outstations municipal services for 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10 financial years. A funding disbursement methodology is being determined as part of the outstations policy.

On top of the $20 million, there is additional funding which also is set aside to support outstations through CDEP funds and also through Bushlight programs. It is in that context that I want to talk to you today and to take your questions. My colleague, Dr Gillan, is here also because your committee had some specific questions around education service provision at Hermannsburg and Ntaria. We thought it would be appropriate if we could deal with those particular questions today. He is here to respond for you in that regard. Senator Siewert, you also asked a question about the training programs and the link for young men.

Senator SIEWERT —Yes.

Mr Davies —I am sure Dr Gillan will also be able to answer or at least help in that regard as well. Thank you.

ACTING CHAIR —Dr Gillan, would you like to make a brief opening statement before we ask you questions.

Dr Gillan —Certainly, Senator. I would just like to brief the committee on the increased focus into remote service delivery and provision in the territory over the last few years, specifically since the beginning of 2007. We have appointed a number of regional directors of education who are living in the regions. For instance, we have one at Nhulunbuy, one at Tennant Creek and one at Katherine, and they work specifically with the schools in their communities in those regions. We have implemented an accountability and performance improvement framework across the system. That has strong performance management approaches within it. As a result of that, we have had a big change in the principalship in our remote communities over the last few years. I think we have had up to 13 changes of principal as a result.

We also have appointed to each of the regions principal consultants in literacy to work with our schools, our principals and communities in relation to improving the literacy results that are assessed nationally as part of the NAPLAN assessments which just recently have taken place across Australia. We have mandated that all schools in our remote and very remote areas have whole school approaches to literacy and numeracy. These whole school approaches basically are made accountable through the regional directors. We have also put together an attendance unit centrally, which also is regionalised. All schools in the territory have to have an attendance plan. Schools are made accountable through their regional directors in relation to this.

In the last 18 months we have converted two homeland learning centres into schools. One is Yilpara, which is out in the Laynhapuy homelands, and the other one is Mapuru, which also is in east Arnhem. We have had an increased senior secondary focus in our remote service delivery with the addition of extra staffing and with a focus on distance learning. We are currently moving into a series of virtual learning experiences for our remote schools.

We have also instigated in the past 18 months remote VET provision. We had one of our high schools in Darwin, Taminmin, which is a registered training organisation. We have harnessed federal and Northern Territory government money to provide service delivery to a number of remote schools from Gunbalanya to Beswick to Milingimbi toShepherdson to Borroloola. This proving to be very successful in bringing students back to school, especially young men and young women who are 15, 16, or 17 years of age. We are looking to increase that this year.

Last year we also appointed a director of homelands education. That is a completely new position. We have been aware that we need to lift our game there. Our director is looking at doing a scope through all of the homelands that have learning centres to look at the facilities but also at the quality of the programs. He works in very close collaboration with the regional directors. We also have developed an online curriculum, scoping sequence and units of works for our remote and very remote schools. We started off with the middle years and we are now focusing on early childhood. This provides new teachers to the territory with a Ready Set Go kit as far as literacy and numeracy are concerned.

It is proving to be very successful. In fact, other jurisdictions are paying very close attention to this model. We have also put significant money into training our Indigenous assistant teachers to become fully-fledged teachers because we believe that our biggest resource in our remote communities are the local people. Certainly there has been a really strong focus not only on training assistant teachers to become teachers but also on working with the teachers to take on the principalship. We currently have five Indigenous principals in the territory. We are working to increase that.

We also have across 14 communities remote learning partnership agreements. About half of those have been signed off. They take about six to nine months in collaboration with the community so set out a plan for the future that involves community aspirations for the children in their schools. By the middle of the year they will all have been signed off. There are 14 of those. The department also is undergoing a restructure at the moment. The report has not been released as yet; it will be released in the near future. However, I can say that there will be a focus on regionalisation of resources, which includes staffing, and also a look at the group school model where we have a number of schools that are administered centrally from Katherine, Alice Springs or Darwin.

One of the issues we have come across is that some of those very small communities have no say in the governance of the school. Obviously that is an issue for the community but it is also an issue for us. Currently we are examining how we can improve that situation. Finally, we have really focused on literacy and numeracy and getting students in our remote schools ready for the NAPLAN assessments. Our big focus this year was on participation. When you have students with an ESL background and who come from homes where they may not be speaking English a lot of the time, they find it very hard to sit down and do these formal assessments.

Our staff out in the remote areas have been spending a lot of time this year preparing the students and the communities for the assessments which have just taken place. We are very hopeful that we will have a much better participation rate this year. I am not sure about the results because the experience has shown in Indigenous communities in the Kimberley, for instance, when the participation rate in the national assessments went up, the results went down because you had a lot more students who had never had an assessment before and who were doing it for the first time.

ACTING CHAIR —There again, the fact that you have more coming into the school to try would be positive.

Dr Gillan —Absolutely, Senator.

ACTING CHAIR —They are participating.

Dr Gillan —Thank you.

ACTING CHAIR —Thank you very much.

Senator SIEWERT —Can I just pick up on the education issue. You touched on the remote VET provisions. I am not knocking that at all. I think it is great that that has improved. However, the issue that has been raised with us, which is not just a Northern Territory issue, is that what people are finding is they need to do some literacy and numeracy training before they even start some of the other VET courses, but they are not able to get funding for provision of those classes because they are not registered at any certification level. I have been to various schools that are getting around this basically because they are just going above and beyond and they are squeezing limited resources to run extra classes at night and things like that. However, it is only for so long that you can do that and that is not sustainable in the long term. Have you seen that as an issue? If you have, how are you addressing it?

Dr Gillan —Senator, absolutely it is an issue. The communities are letting us know that. There are significant funds available from the Commonwealth government through DEEWR. The issue with obtaining the funds, which is where the problem starts and finishes I suppose, is that as a territory government department we cannot access those funds. Only a private registered training organisation is able to access those funds. We cannot get any of our RTOs in the territory interested enough to be able to go out, access those funds and work in the community.

Senator SIEWERT —So schools that are really keen to run these services cannot access that? We have spoken to lots of schools that are keen.

ACTING CHAIR —This has been one of the biggest issues that has come up as real jobs are coming on stream. Younger people who have left school early are realising that somehow they have to be able to read and write before they can apply for a job or be involved. It is almost epidemic-type things that are happening because the reality is that they should have stayed at school, but of course they did not. Surely there must be some flexibility to get those funds out.

Dr Gillan —Not for schools, unfortunately.

ACTING CHAIR —That is so ridiculous.

Dr Gillan —For instance, we would love to get one of our RTOs to Min Min, but my understanding is that they have to be private RTOs.

Senator SIEWERT —We can find that out.

Dr Gillan —There are significant funds available for adult numeracy and literacy programs.

Senator SIEWERT —It is just that various state governments cannot access them.

Dr Gillan —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —We will check this, but it is only at registered private RTOs.

Dr Gillan —That is my understanding.

Senator SIEWERT —We will check that one. The other issue while we are on education is one that you have touched on it. You are requiring all schools to have an attendance plan. I did not bring the report with me, but was there not a report done on school attendance in the 1990s in the NT, or on education?

Mr Davies —On education.

Senator SIEWERT —One of the recommendations of that report, if I recall correctly, was to develop an attendance strategy. Up until fairly recently I do not think the NT government had one, did they? That was certainly what I was told on another committee and in relation to another issue.

Mr Davies —Senator, I will try to respond to that. The report I think you are referring to was Learning Lessons.

Senator SIEWERT —Yes, that was it.

Mr Davies —Out of that, there has in past years been substantial funding allocated to dealing with attendance. The Northern Territory government in its first phase set aside some money to put in place attendance officers. What has happened is that the attendance program has gone through a number of stages. There has been a strategy developed, but at the end of the day, particularly in our remote schools, the data still was telling us that despite the efforts both at the school level and centrally, we have improved the way we now track kids and measure their attendance rates, and even understand their participation rates in testing. But the single greatest challenge facing our remote schools is still attendance.

Senator SIEWERT —Yes.

Mr Davies —Kevin can perhaps talk a little bit more about what is actually on foot now.

Dr Gillan —I suppose when it gets down to the basics, Senator, it is the quality of the principal and the teachers that makes the difference for communities. We have noticed that when we have had a change of principal, you can throw any amount of money and have home liaison officers and buses and all sorts of things, but if the community is not happy with what is going on in the school, the students are unlikely to attend as much as they should. A good example of that is Shepherdson College on Elcho Island where last year the average attendance was between 100 and 150. We have a new principal in there now who went in in October last year. He is getting an attendance rate of more than 400.

Mr Davies —That is per day.

Dr Gillan —That is because he has mobilised staff to respond to community needs. The community is ensuring that their children are attending the school.

Senator SIEWERT —We had the same experience in Hermannsburg.

CHAIR —Hermannsburg is the same. It has just changed so much.

Dr Gillan —Daryl Fowler, the principal there, is doing an outstanding job and is working the community. Hence the attendance has gone right up.

CHAIR —And his wife is helping with that too.

Dr Gillan —Yes.

Senator MOORE —If you went from getting 100-odd to school and now you are getting 400, how about classrooms, toilets, desks, computers that were there for 150, and now you have 400 and hopefully more? How quickly can you respond? If we get kids coming to school and they do not have good conditions, they will stop coming to school. We have seen that as well where perhaps the conditions need a lot of work.

Dr Gillan —At Shepherdson, that has the capacity for over 500 students.

Senator MOORE —Right, so it all the right desks and, most importantly, kitchens for the nutrition programs and toilets?

Dr Gillan —Absolutely. In fact, Shepherson would be out of our stand-out remote schools in the territory as far as facilities are concerned.

Senator MOORE —I think maybe we should go to Shepherdson.

CHAIR —We could always go to Elcho. Could I segue from attendance to a couple of things: I hope it would be reasonable to say that there is capacity generally in the territory to lift attendance by, let us say, 30 per cent across the board? I know some say 90, but let us say it is 70 per cent; I know we would all be very enthusiastic if that was the case. But if we found a way to get attendance up to where enrolment was, does the NT government have the capacity, or is there capacity between us, is there some way to say that although Shepherdson is a great place and we have that capacity, a number of the schools really are at capacity with 50 per cent attendance?

Forget about the statistics. I think we all realise as we move around that that is the issue. While we are saying, ‘Let’s get everyone to school’, what are we doing to fit out the school and ensure that it has the level of amenity for 100 per cent attendance? What is the plan for the NT government to do that, given that let us say 70 per cent, or whatever number you think it is, is what we need to go to?

Dr Gillan —The average attendance rate across Australia is 90 per cent. For our Indigenous students in the territory, it is around about 70 per cent. Obviously it will take some time for that level to increase.

Senator MOORE —Can you explain why Indigenous attendance at school in the Northern Territory at the moment is 70 per cent?

Dr Gillan —On average. Our second highest school as far as attendance rates are concerned is Minyerri, which is a remote community. On average, they have 93 or 94 per cent of their students attending every day.

CHAIR —I know there is no mischief in your answer, but we are all talking about the percentage of those children who are enrolled but who are not attending, or are attending, rather than those people who are of enrolment age and who have not enrolled and who are not attending. I mention that just so that we know what we are talking about.

Dr Gillan —Sure.

Senator MOORE —It could be a big difference.

CHAIR —The whole notion of attendance. It seems that a number of programs by the Northern Territory government over ages and by the federal government but we seem to have gathered the low hanging fruit. I was one of the higher ones in the tree. I would never have gone to school. There was no way you would have ever got me to school and I was a recidivistic truant. It was always the police officers whom I got to know quite well on my fishing excursions during most school days. You may want to make a comment, not on my youth but on the difficulty of that demographic now that we have to move.

In my view it is the family. I must say that I become quite sad listening to evidence and people telling me that it is always someone else’s fault that their children will not go to school. I know it is a difficult demographic and there are some cultural issues about discipline that are very difficult and far from the mainstream notions of discipline and why it would seem so obvious, but do you have any ideas on what sort of areas we should start looking at? Do you have any particular plans to deal with this last demographic, which I think we all acknowledge is the most complex and difficult?

Perhaps you could segue during your answer into a discussion of those people who have been disconnected from the school system for some time. They might now be 15 and 16 but have become enlightened or through program they have begun to think that they would now like to return to school and they have very little literacy and numeracy? Do we engage those in the school environment? We have seen some of that at Hermannsburg and at other places. What sort of plans do you have to deal with that difficult demographic and the other demographic of those people who are seeking to re-engage at a later age?

Dr Gillan —I suppose that our remote VET provision has been very successful in getting some of the students who had left back to school. We are extending that across the territory this year and next year across six communities. We are extending it to 10 and then to 12 communities. It is a very expensive option but it is working. The other question is a bit harder to answer, I suppose, in relation to the engagement of all the other families. As I said, you have a good principal and good staff, and generally the students will come. Generally there is a real pattern.

Mr Davies —Senator—

CHAIR —What has been described to us is a bit of a jurisdictional thing. For example, in relation to truancy, if we are going to have some compliance regime associated with income and all those sorts of things, you can understand the reluctance of a school to be able to report their children into school and into a compliance regime when part of the education is having a good relationship with the parents. That is a very difficult process. We are coming up to that process soon. Do you think perhaps, like in some jurisdictions around the world, we could have the local council run the truancy bus? Do you think it is a jurisdictional issue? I have to move around where there is much talk. I will de-politicise this. There are promises from all sorts of governments about truancy officers and things like that, but I would have to say that we do not see any and we do not hear of many. Do you think it is a jurisdictional issue? Who should be responsible for dealing with that difficult demographic if you cannot provide sufficient pull from the schools?

Dr Gillan —I have worked in the Kimberley, throughout the territory and also in the Ngaanyatjarra lands in the goldfields and the issue is basically the same. I think it is to do with the quality of what is happening within the school and that sense of engagement as well as the responsibilities around governance that communities have in relation to the provision of their education.

Mr Davies —Senator, if I can add to that: with the remote learning partnerships that the department has been negotiating with each community, and there are 16 of them on foot, the data is presented to the community in pretty stark terms—the learning outcomes of the children, the attendance rates and the potential enrolments. Part of that process is about engaging with the community. We also have the SEAMs trials running in the Northern Territory. There is one at Wadeye and one in Katherine.

It is about trying to line up not only the school responsibility end of it, which is about making sure the program is effective and engages children and that their enrolment and attendance rates are recorded, but about working with Centrelink and with the support agencies to target particular families and get students back to school. That is happening in that mix. In relation to long-term non-attending students, the answer is not necessarily four walls and a classroom seat.

CHAIR —Certainly in transition at least.

Mr Davies —Absolutely so. The focus around attendance rates absolutely is about getting in early and building good school habits with young Indigenous children. That involves working with their mothers and in particular their families. For the older students, the government has announced a learning or earning policy. Quite clearly part of that is around the VET provision and getting the kids into either a training or a learning program, or into a job. Stretching that out into the very remote context is going to be challenging but that is part of the answer in a policy context.

It is making it happen that will be the difficult part. But the focus around the 20 big communities in particular and creating them as hubs might well enable us to focus the resources in a way that we can really start to drive that. Senator, as you and all of us know, there is a huge untapped resource out there that are just missing the opportunities that we are all enjoying.

Dr Gillan —Senator, one of the more successful strategies we have had in recent years that also is proving to be very successful in Western Australia is the Clontarf Academy, which is a football academy. Obviously we would like to see something like that for girls as well. But that has really made a huge difference to the attendance rate for young Indigenous youth and also for retention as well. It is making them stay on at school. We do not have any Clontarf academies in our very remote communities yet. However, we are looking at starting one up at Maningrida next year.

CHAIR —Excellent. Senator Siewert?

Senator SIEWERT —I want to move on to a couple of other issues beyond education.

CHAIR —Before you do, we will finish off on education for the moment.

Senator MOORE —This is just a follow-up from yesterday, Dr Gillan. We had people here who were the traditional owners from north-east Arnhem Land and they had particular questions about the future of one of their schools, the Garthalala college. They put it on record in evidence, so I thought that while we had you here we could raise it with you. They raised issues about whether the funding for that school would continue. They spoke up very highly about how successful it was. Can the NT government give us any indication about ongoing support for that school?

Dr Gillan —Absolutely, Senator. We have put that in writing to that community.

Senator MOORE —How long ago, Dr Gillan?

Dr Gillan —That would have been last year.

Senator MOORE —Okay. Despite that letter, in both their submission and their verbal evidence to us yesterday, there continues to be fear that that school is under threat. When you see Hansard, you will see that.

CHAIR —You might want to resend the letter.

Dr Gillan —Okay. It is a very successful school.

Senator MOORE —They said that.

Dr Gillan —It is doing some fantastic things for the senior secondary students with their NTCEs.

Senator MOORE —Thank you.

Senator SIEWERT —Yesterday we heard from the Larrakia nation about people living in the long grass and an increase on their services. One issue they raised was the increased number of older people who are living in the long grass. They raised the issue of the lack of appropriate aged cares for people all over, but particularly in Darwin. Obviously if people are coming in from other remote communities, apparently sometimes they come in for respite or for services in town and then stay in town.

The provision of aged care is a problem all over Australia, so I am not singling out the territory, but it seems to be an important issue here, particularly for Aboriginal people. Is it as large as problem as people are saying it is? If it is, what is being done about it?

Mr Davies —Senator, it is a big challenge for us. The whole issue of people living in the long grass and people moving further and further into the long grass is a challenge for us, particularly as our policing efforts and those sorts of things ramp up, those sorts of things, sometimes that pushes people further away from the eye of police. In relation to the Larrakia, we are having some discussions with them about some managed camping-type accommodation facilities, but the challenge of old people in the long grass is a shared responsibility between the Australian government and the Northern Territory government.

It is about us lining up our services, tracking down those people and then getting them into appropriate accommodation. There is a substantial amount of work going on between the Northern Territory and Australian governments in this regard. You might be aware of this but Senator Macklin has just announced a $25 million social package in Alice Springs to deal with a similar issue in Alice Springs around mobility and town camps, and in particular the overflow from town camps.

We do not have all the answers yet, but the Northern Territory government is working with the Australian government to substantially improve our aged care facilities, and also to look at the transient nature of people travelling in from remote areas. They might come in with family for medical reasons or to see family, and then essentially they get stuck here and are not in a position to return to their communities. I acknowledge it is definitely an issue. We are working jointly on it. In relation to the Larrakia, it is their country so they have a particular view about ways they think that this could be better managed as well. We are working with them and looking at a couple of proposals from the Larrakia around managed camping facilities, in particular.

Senator SIEWERT —The issue also has been raised and the point has been made that a lot of people have come into Darwin since the intervention was introduced and that there has been an increased call on their services. The point also made by several of the people making submissions was that there was concern that with the new Working Future policy that has been introduced and the federal government’s policy of concentrating on specific communities that there will be more migration out of the smaller centres that are not getting the support into bigger centres and into Darwin. Obviously you have thought about it. I am not going to insult your intelligence by saying you have not thought about it.

Mr Davies —No. Certainly, Senator, we have. There are two elements to your question, one of which is the increased mobility. It is interesting that a recent study has been released that has done some analysis of mobility around the intervention. I will find the title of that study and let the chair know where that can be found. It is saying that the mobility issues have not changed a lot. In terms of numbers of people, interestingly the study says that mobility is a big issue but a direct attribution to the NTER is not an easy link to make to the intervention. It is also interesting because the research is also saying that people are not moving to find employment either, so we are not getting mobility because people are going to look for employment. There is that side of it.

The strategy about coming into the 20 territory growth towns and creating them as hub and service centres is absolutely about making sure we have a very good well-connected transport strategy around the hub and service centres. So the road network and the capacity to have either a paid or a publicly funded transport system is all part of the way we want to develop these towns. We certainly do not want them to be places that just capture people and keep them there because they have no way to get home.

Understand that football matches and sport are a key part of community life along with cultural ceremonies as well as accessing services. We absolutely are working very thoroughly to develop a very comprehensive transport strategy to make sure that we ensure that people do not gravitate into centres. We have 20 territory growth towns with a range of town camps around them. That is not what we would like to see.

Senator SIEWERT —Okay. Thanks.

CHAIR —I heard something on the radio the other day. It is important for you to have an opportunity to correct the record. I spoke to Senator Crossin about it when I got in. I may have been mistaken, but I know a number of other Territorians had the same view. It was on the ABC in the morning and you had a representative of the government speaking about the 20 communities. He spoke about what I thought was in answer to the question about the permit system. He was giving a view that you would be able to go into these 20 communities without a permit. I am not sure whether he is right or wrong, but I know there was some concern about things. Could you clarify that on the record? I know Senator Crossin would like you to do that, if she were here.

Senator MOORE —Senator Crossin always wants clarity.

Mr Davies —Look, our Indigenous affairs minister has made it very clear that she does not think in the 20 territory towns that permits will be a prerequisite for access.

CHAIR —Okay.

Mr Davies —Quite clearly though, it is on Aboriginal land. Setting up the township leases requires engagement with the traditional owners and the land councils. We already have townships agreed, with Anindilyakwa Land Council and the Tiwi Land Councils at Nguiu and at Groote Eylandt. The permit issue is something that needs to be worked through in a cooperative way with the communities. The position absolutely is that it would not be used as a way to exclude people from those 20 territory towns. There would have to be other reasons for excluding them. That would be the normal application of process of the law of the territory. Once the territory growth towns are established, agreed and negotiated with the community, could a permit system be used to exclude someone from a town? The view at the moment is that we will need to work that through, but it is not the intent that the permit system would be in place to exclude people.

CHAIR —As federal parliamentarians, as we would understand it, there would be no requirement for the Northern Territory government to inform parliament of the matter. It would simply go to Minister Macklin, who currently has the capacity because of the legislation to make changes to the permit system as it applies to the Aboriginal Lands Rights Act. It would simply be a matter of the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory writing to Minister Macklin and seeking her formal agreement with that. As I understand it, it would not come to parliament. Is that your understanding of it, Mr Davies?

Mr Davies —I would need to take some advice on that, Senator.

CHAIR —I thought you may understand that.

Mr Davies —No, my understanding is not that. I understand that declaring the townships as townships is certainly something that the territory can do under its own laws and its own town planning regime, but in relation to the permits issue, the ALRA and Australian government law, I would need to take advice on that.

CHAIR —Thank you very much, Mr Davies.

Senator ADAMS —Arising from the Hermannsburg visit, several outstations were very worried because the schools have been closed and the children were having to be transported into Hermannsburg. But the roads are really bad and private transport is just about impossible, so there is real concern from those two people.

CHAIR —They are saying that it is dangerous.

Mr Davies —Chair, when you were out of the room I was saying to the Acting Chair that we had questions on notice and had prepared some detailed information around each of them. Kevin could talk to those. We could table those or respond right now to you.

CHAIR —If you can do both, that would be fantastic. Talk to them, but the tabled response would be excellent. Thank you for that.

Dr Gillan —Thank you, Senator. The two homeland outstations that I think you are referring to. Red Sandhill was one, which was closed in 2007 due to declining enrolments and changes to the management of the school, and Kulpitharra is the other one, and that was closed in 2006 after a six months period when no students had presented to go to school. This was after several years of very low enrolments and attendance.

Senator MOORE —You had a teacher out there and no-one came?

Mr Davies —Senator, the teacher would have been based at the hub school. The teacher would have been travelling in and out of that community. Certainly I do not think the teacher would have been in situ at Kulpitharra in a government house, no.

Dr Gillan —We have a homelands policy whereby our schools are not viable if they have less than eight students over an extended period.

CHAIR —There is a view, I think anyway—I am sure my committee members will correct me if I am wrong—that in relation to the sustainability of homelands, if they see they are losing their school, they will say, ‘Well, we’re finished. That’s the beginning of the end. The school will go. The kids will have to move to go to school. Other infrastructure will follow.’ It is just like country towns, I suppose, as they contract. There is a critical mass level.

Places like the ones we talked to out of Hermannsburg reflected that that was their concern and that is why they were really keen to keep the schools open and to keep the schools open. In fact, they were reluctant to say anything. They gave us safety issues, which I am sure was quite a legitimate issue, but clearly they were very reluctant to send the kids to school, in what I have to say was a new and very engaging school environment, which was fantastic, because effectively it would mean the loss of their community. That is what they believe.

It must be very difficult to engage across such a complex level. We have the intervention governance and the GBM. How do you try to resolve those issues? Do you work closely with the other levels of government in trying to resolve those issues, given that the funding streams come from the federal government, from yourselves and now the shire is involved? That is just an example. Perhaps you can talk about the specifics of that example but also about how these governance arrangements work and how you think they may work in the future.

Dr Gillan —Senator, certainly with the schools and the homelands, where they have a viable population, we resource them. I appointed out earlier the two homeland learning centres which we have turned into schools, Yilpara and Mapuru. Obviously we would continue to do that. Also those communities that have—

CHAIR —May I ask just one swift question? Does Mapuru have a full-time teacher?

Dr Gillan —Mapuru has two teachers.

CHAIR —I had a submission again that said that Mapuru was promised in 2003 by the then Minister for Education, Syd Stirling, a full-time teacher. They said in the submission dated today that there are still no two full-time teachers at Mapuru. It is just on that fact that I was trying to establish if you had any contrary position.

Dr Gillan —Mapuru has a teacher that works Monday to Thursday and another teacher that works Tuesday to Friday. They stay over during the week. We put in a $1.25 million facility there—a double classroom and a facility where the teachers can stay, which has bedrooms and a kitchen, et cetera.

CHAIR —Thank you very much. I am sorry to have had to interrupt, so please continue your remarks.

Dr Gillan —Where the outstations are showing that they are viable land and will be able to present at a school and have that sustainability, we have supported those areas. Where the facilities or the number of students and people in the community has diminished, obviously we work with the community to come up with a solution. We do not just barge in and close down a facility. I think the last school that closed was Warrego.

Mr Davies —Yes, next to Tennant Creek.

Dr Gillan —Yes, two years ago, next to Tennant Creek, and that had four students. Other than that, I have the two outstations out in Ntaria. They were not sustainable, given that one of them is only five minutes from Ntaria, Hermannsburg, and the other one is a bit further out but just did not have the students there to make it cost effective for us.

Senator ADAMS —It is very hard for us, of course, not knowing the geographical location and exactly what the background is. That is the reason we are asking.

Senator MOORE —How many schools do you have with fewer than 20 students? Take that on notice if you cannot just tell me. But it seems that as soon as you have a cut-off point, you have people with questions. I would be interested to know across the territory how many there are.

Dr Gillan —Senator, it is an interesting question because we have schools and we have homeland learning centres. We have quite a few schools with fewer than 20 students but we also have homeland learning centres that are not funded in the same with more than 50 or 60 students. I can get the information.

Senator MOORE —That would be very useful.

CHAIR —While you are taking this on notice, this may take you some time, but I would hope you would have it at hand. What I think the committee would like is, in a spatial sense such as on a map, the three different types of educational institutions you are speaking of and how many students currently are at each one of those. If that is too onerous, and I understand if it is, even if you supplied us with the positions of them, I think we can get them located on a map ourselves. It would be great if we had a map to put that on.

Mr Davies —Senator, is that in the context of remote?

CHAIR —Indeed, outside of the main centres at the moment.

Dr Gillan —We have that, yes.

Senator SIEWERT —That would be great.

CHAIR —I hoped you would have. Thanks very much.

Mr Davies —Senator, I will comment on the remote service delivery coordination work that is going on as well to answer your question. We are working very closely with the Australian government’s FaHCSIA and with the FaHCSIA state office and our Australian government colleagues, particularly around the 15 sites that were announced under the remote service delivery NP and the additional five that the Northern Territory government has put into this mix. The way this is shaping up is that we will be jointly putting in place regional operations centres, a north and a south, that we will use to jointly manage the Australian government business managers on the ground.

The Northern Territory cabinet has attributed some funding to us to set up a service delivery coordination unit, so we will be providing resources out of that service delivery coordination unit into the operations centre to jointly coordinate. So we will have Australian government and NT officers working together. The Coordinator-General has been appointed for the Northern Territory, Bob Beadman, so he will work with the Australian government’s Coordinator-General, once that person is announced. The idea is that the commitment around the remote service delivery partnerships is actually a five-year commitment from the Australian government worth $160-odd million. It goes well beyond just the NTER frame. The NTER is until 18 August 2012 and that is when that act completes and there will be a sequencing to a new arrangement.

We are hoping that the Northern Territory will be well positioned in three years time to really take on full responsibility for a lot of what has been developed and created out there through the NTER and through the major policy initiatives we have also put in place through the NT Closing the Gap strategy. We think A Working Future is quite a sophisticated policy platform. It picks up the land issues, economic development and the transport strategies as well as the outstations and the townships. The whole focus behind this is about working with the Australian government to maximise the impact of the dollars that are coming into the Northern Territory and to make a difference on the ground. In five years time, we want those towns to look a whole lot different from the way they look now.

We want them to have a business centre, a motor vehicle registry and we want students or children to have a real address—a house with an address—and we would like to see a postal service in place. We would like to see the rubbish runs being done really in the same way you would see in an equivalent regional town elsewhere.

CHAIR —Regionalisation?

Mr Davies —That is absolutely the aim.

Senator ADAMS —Right. This is fine for us to be told this, but outside in the community at the moment, there is huge confusion and lots of fear. That has probably been the basis of most people who have come before us here. Is there any way that you can get it out to the people in simple language in the media? It is hard but it is the only way to go.

Mr Davies —Senator, we are going to have to work really hard at that. We will have to work through the government business managers that we have and with whom we are now jointly working. We will have to work with the land councils, particularly with the outstation resource centres. This whole approach is trying to break 30 years of habit.

Senator ADAMS —Even at Darwin itself, just last night people said to me, ‘What’s going on? What’s happening? How’s this all going to work?’ I think it probably needs perhaps a wraparound on the paper on exactly what you are doing in language that is very easy to understand.

Mr Davies —I understand exactly what you are saying. We have funded quite a few of the Indigenous radios and networks to start sending out what we are hoping are pretty plain messages about what the approach is. We understand we have a big communication issue around this, but if we do not draw a line in the sand now, we are going to keep replicating funding policy and spreading the funds too thinly to see real outcomes achieved in targeted locations on the ground. We need all our agencies joining up even around the issue of attendance, which we discussed earlier. It is not just the schools’ problem to sort through. Local government have a role to play in that, so has the community and so has the Australian government.

Senator ADAMS —It is important to get that correct message out there. At the moment it is very confused and unfortunately people are getting the wrong end of the stick and the fear is coming back.

Mr Davies —Yes, sure.

Senator MOORE —Mr Davies, why do you think that will work now when we have been using that language for 20 years? We have to get it together and get the coordination. That language has been entrenched in policy for at least 20 years. In drawing the line in the sand, why do you think it will work now?

Mr Davies —Senator, I think it will. I started off at Papunya in 1978 and I spent 10 years out bush, so that is the 30-year frame of reference I have. I can tell you that at the point of self-government, when there was a transfer of the assets, we had a lot of people in that town living in houses that were largely non-Indigenous people. There was a big group of Indigenous people around who were living in humpies and in a range of substandard accommodation. Since then, things have improved; there is no doubt about it. But what we are now doing is creating a structural arrangement between governments and a real commitment here to put a proper coordination mechanism in place that will drive the funding in a coordinated way.

We have learned some lessons from the intervention; there is no doubt about that. We are understanding that we need a really solid policy platform that everybody understands and that we can stick to—creating towns, not communities, and shifting away from communal housing to private ownership, and saying to people on outstations that there is a limit to the resourcing that is available and that while we are not going to shift you off the outstations, we cannot continue to apply resources and build new houses on what is essentially private property. We have to target expenditure and that is a big change.

CHAIR —Before concluding, we have one last question. It was just comment that was provided to us when I was in Hermannsburg after I had asked why Hermannsburg is so different. This is one community but I am sure there are others, but at so many levels they simply seem to have been embraced the opportunities that the intervention had provided. I suspect that part of the answer was that they had seen some of the benefits with houses and schools, and nobody else has, I have to say. Notwithstanding that, they said that some communities are simply ready. I asked, ‘What do you mean by that? I can make the comparison with Yuendumu.’ Their response was, ‘Well, Yuendumu just isn’t ready.’

When we went in with the intervention, they towed the sign away, defaced the sign and cut it off a gas axe and towed it off. No-one was allowed, and you had to get a policeman to escort the GBM into Kintore. There seemed to be a completely different and highly politicised environment, yet the circumstances were still there. It is almost like a preconditioning. That was the sort of inference I drew. You have to get to a place before people will embrace change, and maybe that is part of the understanding. I am not really sure but, given your experience, I would appreciate some comments on it.

Mr Davies —Part of it is about the leadership in the communities.

Senator ADAMS —Yes.

Mr Davies —Quite clearly, there is some evidence that the school is working properly. It is about how the momentum builds in that context. But at the end of the day those key people in that community, the Indigenous leadership, are really the ones that have to take the quantum steps in that regard. Why does a particular community embrace it? Because they see the opportunities. Hermannsburg used to be a Lutheran mission a long time ago, so there has been a long interaction there. They have had a fantastic art and painting background and a long interaction with business and enterprise in that regard. Senator, the other thing is that there is proximity to Alice Springs as well, so it is not as hard to get in your car and do your shopping.

CHAIR —There is no permit requirement. That is not a comment on the permit system, but generally a permit is not required because it is not far.

Mr Davies —Often there are people moving through, such as tourists. There would be a range of factors, but those questions would be really interesting to unpack, Senator, because there are similar communities all through the territory that are at various stages. I went to Wadeye about three weeks ago. You go down the main street of Wadeye now, and you will see the shire is getting traction and is clean. The main street has a butcher and a shopping centre. They are even talking about the Thamarrurr Development Corporation building their own Mitchell centre. That is their frame of reference. It will be a two-storey building and they will have a shopping centre, and they are renting office space in it. I understand that Centrelink has signed up to take one of the new office areas.

CHAIR —After spending seven years not paying a cent to the regional transaction centre, I might note.

Mr Davies —I think things are moving.

CHAIR —Excellent.

Mr Davies —But it will take time.

CHAIR —Thank you very much, Mr Davies, and Dr Gillan. I can imagine that there may well be more questions on notice provided to you and they will be provided through the secretariat. Thank you very much for coming and giving evidence today as well as for your submission to my questions on notice.

Mr Davies —Thank you, Senator.

Committee adjourned at 1.09 pm