July 1 a new beginning for the National Indigenous Australians Agency, among others

By Stephen Easton

Tuesday July 2, 2019

July 1 marked a new start for the arm of the public sector concerned with Indigenous affairs policy, which was re-centralised after the 2013 election and is now an executive agency in the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio, giving it a little more independence from the department itself.

The new Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Ken Wyatt, promises “a new era of co-design and partnership” and “a fundamental change in the way of doing business with Indigenous Australians” from the government based on the idea of partnerships, with everyone from children in remote communities to the leaders of Indigenous peak bodies who speak from national platforms.

The NIAA was previously the PM&C Indigenous affairs group, which combined a series of functions from line agencies and put them under the leadership of an associate secretary, a position above deputy secretary and not a typical feature of APS departments. That gave the impression of a slightly distinct entity in PM&C and marked a return to the centre of government for the policy area, which had previously been situated in a series of line agencies after an earlier period of centralisation in its own dedicated agencies and departments.

Another example of an executive agency is the Digital Transformation Agency, which started life as an office within the Department of Communications, then moved into PM&C and has now been shifted to the new government services portfolio in which the Department of Human Services is slowly rebranding as Services Australia.

Wyatt issued a statement on Monday aiming to explain what the latest change in Indigenous affairs means:

“Establishing this agency solely dedicated to the advancement of Australia’s First Nations is a significant opportunity for the Government to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on the ground to provide opportunities for growth and advancement, in education, employment, suicide prevention, community safety, health and constitutional recognition.

“Over my life I have seen progress made but there is still more to do to find solutions and make a difference at the community level. The NIAA will play a critical role in supporting me, as the first Indigenous cabinet minister and Minister for Indigenous Australians, to meet the changing needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, their leaders and communities.

“All of us must work together with State and Territory Governments to bring about change and close the gap in Indigenous communities.”

The associate secretary, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, is now known as the chief executive officer. “NIAA is privileged to have such an experienced leader at the helm,” Minister Wyatt said.

Griggs said the change could enhance the group’s work and lead to “better coordination across the Commonwealth” on policy affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Livestock recovery agency also scores an upgrade

The North Queensland Livestock Industry Recovery Agency, which was attacked by the opposition as a needless duplication of a state government function, has also been upgraded to “executive agency” status in the PM&C portfolio.

Established in March to assist with “immediate response, recovery and reconstruction efforts” after this year’s devastating floods, the agency website now says it represents “a long-term commitment to rebuild the region long after the flood waters have receded” on the part of the Morrison government, so it looks like NQLIRA will be around for a while yet.

Its leader, former Liberal Party president and past Northern Territory chief minister Shane Stone, is now chief executive and chair of an advisory board. Labor’s agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon argued earlier this year that the Queensland Rural and Industry Development Authority was providing the Commonwealth assistance anyway, implying that perhaps NQLIRA is not just about the Coalition government in Canberra helping farmers in Queensland, but also making absolutely sure that they know where the additional money is coming from.

According to a statement from PM&C:

“NQLIRA has already helped more than 1200 primary producers and more than 560 small businesses and not-for-profits access grants to get back to business following widespread flooding which occurred in North Queensland earlier this year.

“As an Executive Agency, NQLIRA will continue to support a range of initiatives across primary production, land management, education, mental health, infrastructure and community resilience.”

Commonwealth opens Office of Road Safety

Not an executive agency but a new entity that merits a ministerial announcement nonetheless, the Commonwealth’s new Office of Road Safety also commenced work this week, within the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development.

Portfolio minister and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said its role was “improving leadership and co-ordination across governments to reduce deaths and serious injuries on the nation’s roads” but first it had to build the “functions needed to perform its lead agency role” for the nation.

“The key objective of the Office of Road Safety is to provide national leadership in eliminating road trauma in Australia.

“In August, the Transport and Infrastructure Council will consider a range of actions in response to the Inquiry into the National Road Safety Strategy 2011–20, the outcomes of the Governance Review and the initiatives stemming from the Inquiry and the Review. This will be an important input to the longer term role of the Office.”

McCormack is joined in this solemn task by the Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport, Scott Buchholz.

“The Office will draw together interdisciplinary expertise and experience to learn, share and channel effort towards proven approaches to reducing national road trauma,” Buchholz said. “In doing this, it will work collaboratively with counterpart agencies across the states and territories, as well as expert agencies.”

Another new transport agency, the National Faster Rail Agency, also commenced this week without fanfare. It has a place in the online government directory but as of Tuesday afternoon, the details were still TBA.

Australian Space Agency celebrates ‘paper’ anniversary

One year on from its establishment the Australian Space Agency found a reason to celebrate the new financial year as well, marking its first anniversary with agency head Megan Clark announcing “significant outcomes” had already been achieved towards the goal of tripling the size of the local space industry to $12 billion by 2030 and creating somewhere near 20,000 jobs.

“We’ve had an incredible response from the community, industry and our researchers as we reinvigorate Australia’s efforts in space,” she said in a statement.

“The Agency has signed international partnerships to open the door for our industry and researchers, has modernised our legislation to better balance entrepreneurship while ensuring safety, and set a new long-term strategy for Australia’s civil space sector.”

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