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Thursday, 25 June 2009
Page: 4292

Senator ARBIB (Minister for Employment Participation and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Government Service Delivery) (11:39 AM) —I table the revised explanatory memorandum relating to the bill and I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

This Bill creates the position of Coordinator-General for Remote Indigenous Services to drive the implementation of the Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) reforms across a range of areas including service delivery, employment and housing.

In late November 2008, COAG signed a National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery, which will change the way governments invest in remote areas, providing coordinated, concentrated and accelerated development across all levels of government.

The new model for remote service delivery will initially concentrate resources in priority locations across Australia.

The benchmark will be progressively to deliver in communities or townships facilities and services comparable with that in non-Indigenous communities of similar size, location and need elsewhere in Australia.

Government investment will be prioritised and coordinated to ensure each priority location has the infrastructure and services that support and sustain healthy social norms so people can reach their potential and communities can thrive.

As the backlogs are addressed and locations brought up to comparable standards, the approach will be extended to other remote communities.

Reporting directly to the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, the Coordinator-General will work closely with Commonwealth, State and Territory governments to ensure real improvements for Indigenous Australians against COAG’s Closing the Gap targets in remote locations specified by the Minister.

The bill allows the Minister to specify communities that are either remote or very remote and where a significant proportion of the population is Indigenous.

The position has been established to address the practical problems associated with designing, sequencing and rolling-out a myriad of programs in remote communities.

The Coordinator-General will ensure that the delivery of all government programs in the specified remote communities is coordinated between governments instead of being planned and delivered in isolation.

The Coordinator-General will remove bureaucratic blockages and ensure commitments by government agencies are delivered on time by monitoring requirements under the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery and other COAG reforms, assessing progress and advising government where there are gaps, slow progress, or where improvements need to be made.

The Coordinator-General will also oversee planning and strategic investment in communities and provide agencies with guidance on good practice.

The Coordinator-General will meet regularly with National and State/Territory officials who will be identified as coordinators by individual government agencies or jurisdictions.

The Coordinator-General will provide information to agencies on obstacles within their areas of responsibility and advise the Minister and COAG on the need for systemic changes.

Some of the problems may be addressed through better systems and cooperation by agencies, while others will require policy responses which require Ministerial involvement.

The Coordinator-General’s approach will be to work with other parties collaboratively.

The Coordinator-General will provide regular reports to the Minister on the progress made by all Commonwealth, State and Territory agencies.

However, when there is an issue requiring urgent remedy, this bill will give the Coordinator-General the powers:

  • to require people to provide information and or documents;
  • to require people to attend meetings; and
  • to request assistance from Commonwealth, State and Territory agencies.

If the Coordinator-General fails to receive an adequate response from an agency official, this bill allows for the matter to be reported to the head of the relevant Commonwealth, State or Territory agency.

If the Coordinator-General is not satisfied with the response from the head of the agency, the Coordinator-General may report the matter to the Minister and also the Prime Minister if necessary.

This bill also requires the Coordinator-General to report to the Minister twice each year, or as otherwise required, on the development and delivery of remote services since the last report, and on the progress that has been made in achieving the Closing the Gap targets within the specified remote localities.

The bill outlines the administrative provisions about the appointment of the Coordinator-General including their appointment, acting arrangements, remuneration and leave, and resignation or termination of appointment.

The bill also makes provision for the Coordinator-General to arrange with the Secretary for the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs for the services of APS employees from the Department to be made available.

The establishment of this office is long overdue.  It is supported by all Australian governments through COAG, to ensure government commitments in remote Indigenous communities are met.

Debate (on motion by Senator Arbib) adjourned.