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Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples
Matters relating to constitutional change

FANNING, Ms Katrina, Chairperson, ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body

Evidence was taken via teleconference—

CHAIR: Welcome. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and, therefore, has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. The evidence given today will be recorded by Hansard and attracts parliamentary privilege. I now invite you to make a brief opening statement before we proceed to discussion.

Ms Fanning : I just thought I'd give a quick overview of the elected body and then we can move to discussion. I have been part of the elected body for the last 12 months but this is the fourth term for the elected body. It was set-up by the ACT government in response to the closure of ATSIC. We have seven sitting members who are elected for three-year terms. We are part-time officeholders, as such on average we're expected to give about seven hours a week towards elected body business, which is not much time but we try and make the most of it.

We do hold hearings annually with the ACT government directorates but members of the ACT government are not required to attend those hearings. They are recorded through Hansard and a formal report, by the elected body, is provided to government with recommendations to which they are required to provide a formal response within three months of that report being tabled with them.

As it turns out, the ACT government has seven directorates, or departments. Each of us have responsibility or line of sight to one of those directorates. As the chairperson, I also have the responsibility of representing the elected body on the strategic subcommittee of the ACT government dealing with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island affairs. We are also required by legislation to provide a consultation plan for our community to cover our term. That's required to be done in our first six months. Those sorts of things are available on our website for people to have a look at. That's some of the basics around the elected body. I'm not quite sure how much people know about the elected body, so perhaps it's easier to take questions than to cover information that you might already know.

CHAIR: That's been extremely helpful, Ms Fanning. I don't know anything about the body, so that has been very useful. Can you tell me what the Indigenous population of the ACT is?

Ms Fanning : As of the last census it's a little over 6,000 people. Consistent with the rest of the country, more than half of our population is under 24. There are approximately 600 to 700 traditional owners living within Canberra. The rest, like myself, are from various parts of the country.

CHAIR: The traditional owners in the Canberra region are the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, aren't they?

Ms Fanning : That's correct.

CHAIR: Is there any different status that you, as a non-Ngunnawal or Ngambri person, are afforded, or that people who are Ngunnawal or Ngambri people are afforded in relation to your body?

Ms Fanning : Not in relation to the elected body. But there is also a legislated group known as the United Ngunnawal Elders Council. They have particular status in relation to the government around heritage and cultural matters—management of the national park, dealing with heritage sites, removal of artefacts and those sorts of issues. There is an elders council established for those particular roles. Of our seven seats, there aren't any that are allocated particularly to Ngunnawal people. In this term two of the seven positions are filled by local Ngunnawal elders.

CHAIR: Other than those matters of heritage protection and national parks, is there anything that the Ngunnawal body does that is overlapping with your body or different to your body?

Ms Fanning : There is a small component that overlaps, where the heritage matters may not relate specifically to sole traditional owner issues. So, for example, we have a facility here in in Canberra known as Boomanulla Oval that's been central to community activity for decades. Should the grandstand, which is named after a local Aboriginal man, need refurbishing, or the heritage walk, the elected body would be involved in these matters. But issues specifically around ownership and the traditional owner responsibility in that regard, and around language and culture, are not for the elected body to decide. We are very clear that that's for the traditional owners, and we support their role in determining that for themselves.

CHAIR: What is the annual budget for the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Elected Body?

Ms Fanning : We have a budget that covers sitting fees for the members, and we have staff secretariat of two people. We have general budget in the area of about $60,000.

CHAIR: So what is the total budget?

Ms Fanning : I don't have that figure in front of me, but I can provide that to the committee. It's in the range of about $300,000, with those two staff salaries included.

CHAIR: What is the difference between what you do and what was done by the ATSIC regional body that previously existed, which I assume had the same boundaries?

Ms Fanning : The previous ATSIC boundaries were different. The ACT was part of a much broader region that covered down to the South Coast and back up into the Brindabellas up towards Tumut. The ACT was a much smaller part of an ATSIC region than a stand-alone territory jurisdiction. We do similar things in terms of community consultation, but we don't have a budget or appropriation that allows us to determine program or service delivery funding. We really only have the ability to provide advice, to conduct community consultations and provide that information to government. There are some accountability measures through that hearing process that hold directorates to account on the commitments that they've made and how they're going about achieving them. In the ATSIC model the regional representatives had a much stronger say in how funding was directed and for what purpose.

CHAIR: So your role is really keeping government accountable rather than necessarily suggesting new policy ideas?

Ms Fanning : We do try to do both, but with the time that we have, at the moment we are working with government on our next whole-of-government agreement, which will go for a 10-year period and have specific outcomes that we would like to see achieved in that period. We don't get the opportunity to directly influence policy and program delivery as much as we would like, but that's not because the framework doesn't allow it; it's more that the amount of time we have to be able to do this work is quite limited, so we've had to prioritise where we can be most effective.

CHAIR: One of our terms of reference directs us to how existing consultation and engagement mechanisms lead to greater economic prosperity and better social outcomes. Can you point to any particular successes that you're proud of that the body has been involved in, where as a result of the consultation you have a better economic or social outcome for Indigenous people?

Ms Fanning : One of the best examples that we have here is the older persons housing program. We are about to move to stage 2 of it. Basically, our first stage was five units that have been built in the suburb of Kambah. They're allocated to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people but, given our life expectancy disparity, the eligibility for going into that public housing is age 50 rather than 65. Each of the units went through a community consultation on design and purpose of the tenancy. The first group of tenants provided overwhelmingly positive feedback on their experience and use of the site. Our second site has been selected just behind the Woden town centre, which is one of our larger centres in Canberra. This set of units will have a focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people over 50 who still have caring responsibilities, either for grandkids or people with a disability. So they are slightly bigger and allow them to continue with those roles within their family.

CHAIR: That's very helpful. One final question: in designing the voice that's come from the Uluru statement, people have said that there is an important dimension to how far local and regional voices might feed into anything that might be national. From your experience on the elected body, can you tell me what we can learn from the experience of the way the elected body is established and its functions and powers? What might be useful that we can take away in terms of designing local, regional and national bodies?

Ms Fanning : I think the work we've done to ensure that traditional owners have distinct role that has not been extinguished or overtaken by the elected body has been very important, that this isn't seen to extinguish or devalue their right and proper role into determining traditional owner matters. I think that's very important. By having the seven seats and the process through the Electoral Commission that is run in attracting candidates and votes, it means that all four terms of membership have had a very diverse group of people involved. Given that we aren't able to meet with constituents on a daily or weekly basis—we don't have shopfront and those sorts of things that members of parliament might have as part of their normal job—we have been able to attract and ensure diversity of people in the membership. We are required to undertake a certain level of consultation, so that ensures that, regardless of who the seven members are, we are held accountable to go back to community and make sure that we are hearing their voice and being accountable to them for the actions and advice that we are giving.

CHAIR: What percentage of the roughly 6,000 or 7,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people in the ACT voted in your last election?

Ms Fanning : The actual voter numbers were around 420. It's not compulsory, obviously. That works out at between 10 and 12 per cent of eligible voters. We are in that ballpark. It's not great.

CHAIR: This is a broader question. Congress has a turnout of about one per cent. ATSIC started with a turnout that was very high at about 78 per cent, and it was whittled down over the years. What you think explains low turnout in these elections?

Ms Fanning : The turnout in the ACT elected body elections has had a steady growth across the four election cycles, but I would still personally like to see a much higher turnout. The fact is it's not compulsory. We would need to have a look at what that looks like internationally—where voting is not compulsory, what do the turnout numbers look like—to have a fair comparison. Part of it is people not necessarily wanting to engage in the political government process. We still have some work to do in being able to show people the value of the elected body and the direct relationship of that and how that impacts their lives. Unfortunately, some of it's that if we could work more days a week on this and have clearer accountability on the programs that are delivered, so we were able to be more responsive to what we are hearing from people, I think we'd have a far better turnout in voter numbers.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. That's been very helpful.

Senator DODSON: Thank you for being available, Katrina. I have a couple of questions. How much involvement did first nations people have in the development of the legislation that sets you up?

Ms Fanning : My understanding is that that was fairly limited and narrow, and the intention of the Stanhope government at the time was that the first iteration of the elected body would be able to provide feedback and adjustment to that over time. That hasn't necessarily happened. It was not a broad consultation process on that. It was more trying to build a process as similar as possible to what we've lost, rather than an engagement on how we want to be represented.

Senator DODSON: Have you put amendments up to that to improve it?

Ms Fanning : My understanding is that the previous elected bodies had not. We do have a few amendments that we'd like to propose that we need to go back out to community on first to check that that's in line with their thinking. That is to change a little bit about how the consultation process goes, but also to engage accountability to the elected body at the ministerial level rather than at the directorate level.

Senator DODSON: I'm not sure that I caught your words in relation to programs. You have no funding for running programs, is that right?

Ms Fanning : That's correct. The only funding that we have is to hold the consultations that we're required to hold each year.

Senator DODSON: Would you like to have funding for running your programs?

Ms Fanning : Absolutely. One of the issues that our community are constantly telling us about here is problems they have in getting their programs up—getting through the procurement processes and having to compete with organisations who make some fairly strong claims about what they can deliver to the community but that are never realised. Being able to be responsive to what community are telling us and to direct program funding in that regard would be very helpful.

Senator DODSON: My last question involves two things: how does the advice to the parliament take place, and how do you engage in an auditing process on the effectiveness of the government's delivery of services?

Ms Fanning : We have an estimates style of hearing with the directorate, and then from that we table a formal report with recommendations to the assembly, and they are then required to formally respond to that with us. We then have a regular cycle in between of meeting with both ministers and directors-general on how progress towards meeting those recommendations is going.

Senator DODSON: Thank you.

Senator DUNIAM: In general terms, what is the success rate, or response rate, to the recommendations or advice put by ATSIEB to government ministers and directors-general of agencies? Is there a rough measure of how successful things are, from your point of view?

Ms Fanning : I'd have to say that the success rate of implementing those recommendations is quite low. Part of the problem has been that the cycle of ACT government versus the cycle of the elected body means there's only about 12 months where it's the same people talking to the same people. That said, the full implementation of recommendations from any of the elected bodies to date has not been high at all.

Senator DUNIAM: You mentioned cycle—you mean that the two electoral cycles result in—

Ms Fanning : That's right. They're not in sync.

Senator DUNIAM: I think you mentioned resourcing before. Does that factor in as well, in terms of whether things are implemented?

Ms Fanning : Absolutely, particularly in our ability to hold people accountable. In the time that we have, we need to be consulting and engaging with our community, designing and influencing policy development and coming up with co-design ideas. To be perfectly honest, there is just not enough time for what we are allocated or allowed to be working on to achieve all of those things.

Senator DUNIAM: Thank you very much.

Senator DODSON: Is your advice tabled in the parliament or made public?

Ms Fanning : Our formal reports certainly are. And we do informal communiques to our community on what we've been working and the advice that we are providing, so that, even where that's not being taken up, they can see quite clearly what we're doing and what we're saying with the advice that's been given to us.

CHAIR: Ms Fanning, that's been very helpful. Thank you for your attendance here today. If you've been asked to provide any additional information would you please forward it to the secretariat by Monday, 16 July. You'll be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence, and you'll have an opportunity to request corrections to transcription errors.

Proceedings susp ended from 11:28 to 11:50