Abstract: The National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery (the National Partnership) is due to end on 30 June 2014. The National Partnership has made a solid start on a task that will take a generation to change, improving the quality of life for Indigenous people in remote communities to a level that is broadly consistent with that enjoyed by people across Australia. In this final year of the National Partnership, it is critical to prioritise effort on the issues that will deliver sustainable results for Indigenous people living in the 29 Remote Service Delivery communities. While a decision on successor arrangements for the National Partnership is clearly a matter for governments, the Remote Service Delivery communities will continue to exist and the Australian, State, Northern Territory and local governments will continue to provide services. The work done in the final year of the National Partnership must focus on building strengths and capacity that will last beyond this year. In this report I have not made any new recommendations. Instead, I have reviewed the recommendations from my previous reports and highlighted where priority action should be focused. Further action is required in three priority areas: • enhancing local governance capacity and local ownership of decision making; • reforming funding arrangements to support decision making at the local level; and • introducing simplified and meaningful monitoring and evaluation frameworks that can assess community perceptions of success. The lessons learned over the past four years should not be overlooked in designing and deciding on future initiatives. Drawing on my own experience, as well as others intimately involved in Remote Service Delivery, I have identified five key areas where continued momentum will yield significant results, the key strengths of each area and ways to move forward. Highlights from these sections include: Joint planning and engagement between communities and government The Local Implementation Plans reinforced that services based on locally (or regionally) identified needs are most effective and minimise the wastage that occurs when services are not targeted. I am strongly advocating for an agreed plan like the Local Implementation Plans to be refined and retained in future initiatives. But there is room for improvement. In future, these plans should be simpler and identify a smaller number of key priorities that will focus effort and make a sustainable difference. Governments have a responsibility to support communities’ transition from a passive to an active role in social reforms by supporting community governance and by understanding and hearing the community voice. A renewed focus on intergovernmental cooperation to achieve strategic objectives The Remote Service Delivery model has demonstrated that a place based approach can encourage agencies to look beyond program boundaries, but the energy and whole of government commitment has diminished over time. More effort is required to develop capabilities and clear working arrangements to allow officers from different agencies and different governments to work together as a coherent and united team. For remote strategies to succeed, a strong partnership between all three tiers of government is necessary, incorporating clear roles and responsibilities, high level policy commitment to service integration and shared accountability. Intergovernmental cooperation has generally been strongest in areas where a regional approach was taken. While regional approaches may not be appropriate everywhere, it is important to consider natural connections across communities and existing governance structures when determining the most appropriate geography for place based approaches. Local Government is well placed to provide advice in this area. Ongoing government presence in communities There is clear consensus that the Government Business Managers and Indigenous Engagement Officers (or similar), which provide an ongoing government coordination presence in communities, are a key strength of the Remote Service Delivery model. An ongoing government coordination presence in communities should be an essential feature of future initiatives. With some refinements to the model, the Government Business Managers and Indigenous Engagement Officers can be used to maximum effect. There is a need for clear guidelines outlining how the positions are used and how their local knowledge and relationships inform whole of government policy and service delivery. Consideration must be given to how Government Business Managers and Indigenous Engagement Officers can be equipped to work across multiple agencies of multiple governments on a day to day basis. Lessons learned about how to recruit and develop Government Business Managers and Indigenous Engagement Officers should be consolidated into a long term capability development strategy which emphasises continuous improvement. Greater shared responsibility for accountability and transparency A reporting and monitoring framework was built into the Remote Service Delivery model but governments disagreed on how the framework should be applied in practice. While large amounts of data were collected, they were difficult to interpret into meaningful statements of progress against the objectives of the National Partnership. In future, monitoring and reporting, and supporting systems, must be introduced from the start of new initiatives so that adjustments can be made as issues arise. Measures used should be developed in partnership with communities to ensure that monitoring and reporting represents an accurate view of progress against shared objectives. The process of monitoring and reporting should not be a burden but should be a useful tool to ensure that all stakeholders, including the community, are engaged in the process as well as being informed and able to contribute as equal partners. A strengthened independent monitoring and accountability mechanism An independent monitoring and accountability mechanism is important in any large scale initiative that seeks to effect lasting change. In my role as the Coordinator General for Remote Indigenous Services, I have helped to undo blockages and ensure the objectives of Remote Service Delivery are met. Strengths of my role include: a lack of vested interests, statutory powers resulting in good cooperation from agencies, an ability to leverage effective inter-governmental mechanisms, evidence-based perspectives based on nearly 150 community visits, established stakeholder networks and regular publicly available evidence based reports. These strengths can be built upon in future by reviewing and better utilising the statutory powers; expanding the focus beyond the 29 priority communities; advising on strategic Indigenous reforms; and enhancing the independence and implementation results of my Office by placing it within a central agency.
Caption: Service Delivery