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Thursday, 25 June 2009
Page: 4307

Senator SCULLION (12:46 PM) —The coalition supports the introduction of the Coordinator-General for Remote Indigenous Services Bill 2009. Its clear intent is to provide a government service coordination function that has been identified as absolutely vital in the Northern Territory intervention. For those who are listening to this debate, the vernacular for the Northern Territory intervention, the terminology, is now ‘closing the gap in the Northern Territory’, but they mean the same thing. This concept clearly is not new. To be effective, I believe that there are some significant and serious challenges that the coordinator-general has to overcome.

Anyone who has had close association with Indigenous communities will be painfully aware of the lack of coordination between government departments over years and years and the confusion and the substandard delivery of service as a consequence of that. I suppose one of the realities is that, as an Indigenous community leader, you would think that you would have a special certificate in being a professional meeting attendee, given the numbers of meetings that are required. People land in aeroplanes and they say, ‘Where are the leaders?’ and they are all supposed to jump out there and be keen. That is a huge load on those leaders, and they often do not even understand the results of the meetings or what happened, so they are very confused.

What is proposed to occur through this piece of legislation I think will make it a lot better, although we need to be very careful about this. I am certainly reminded of an attempt by the Northern Territory government in 2001, with Bob Beadman. I think the intent was clearly to have a very similar effect to that of the coordinator-general as indicated in this piece of legislation. It had some successes, but inevitably the system failed because individual departments within the Northern Territory and individual departments within the Commonwealth were not able to communicate successfully. This is nothing new. Anybody who has had anything to do with bureaucracies knows that we have silos: ‘They are your silo of responsibility.’ There is no mischief in that; that is just the way the system is built. But, unless we are able to deal with desiloisation in a coordinated way, the proposal before us will fail as others have before it.

We still think that this is a very important proposal. I think it is very important for us to understand—and perhaps, in some sort of response, the minister may indicate—the nature of the relationship between the coordinator-general and other individuals who are responsible for the running of what is now called ‘closing the gap in the Northern Territory’. Certainly government business managers have provided a number of pieces of coordination, and I think they—to a greater and lesser degree, depending on who you talk to and which business manager you are talking about—have been quite successful.

As an exemplar, I was recently in Milingimbi, and there is actually a letter of agreement between the individual who runs the shire and the shire operations and the government business manager to have a meeting on any issue that affects either of their jurisdictions. I understand that there are only two other communities in which that occurs, and the coordination of the service delivery between them just works a lot better. They are all very busy people in these communities, but we have to have a dictate that says: ‘You are going to have to meet with these individuals. You’re going to have to ensure that this happens.’ To simply set up another head of something will fail as surely as did the process that introduced Mr Beadman.

I am not sure how it can be done, but all governments at all levels have to provide the necessary support to this individual to ensure that this works very well, and we need to do that very carefully. Indigenous Australians do not need any more promises; they deserve real action. I think this is a significant part of ensuring that we deliver that, but, without the support of all government departments across the board, that is not going to happen. Perhaps, Minister, those particular notes are not at hand, but I am sure you will be able to provide that advice to me at some stage. Certainly, if that advice is not available at the moment, it will not change our position on supporting this legislation.