Queensland’s got a new plan to empower remote Indigenous communities

By Stephen Easton

Thursday October 12, 2017

The Queensland Productivity Commission recommends a “new approach” for government service delivery in the remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities dotted around the state, after a major inquiry.

Queensland’s independent advisory body has issued 16 detailed recommendations to give the state’s Indigenous people living in far-flung settlements more control over the government services delivered to them. Being a draft report, comments are welcome up until November 8, ahead of final publication a few days before Christmas.

The QPC believes it is a “realistic but ambitious” aim to empower these Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities so they can “improve outcomes for themselves” and warns it won’t happen overnight.

“The potential benefits are large, in improving wellbeing and in re-prioritising expenditure to where communities value it most,” states the report.

The QPC team investigated service delivery across education, health care, housing and community safety in communities from Cherbourg to the Torres Strait.

“Our inquiry team was asked to look at what the Queensland Government currently spends on services and what’s being delivered, and opportunities to improve services and outcomes for communities,” commissioner Bronwyn Fredericks said in a statement.

“While some services are being delivered well, many are not. All stakeholders agree the current system is not meeting community, provider or government expectations.”

According to Fredericks, who is pro vice-chancellor for Indigenous engagement with Central Queensland University and a Murri woman from south-east Queensland, it’s well known that the “traditional bureaucratic, supply-driven model and funding arrangements” have not worked well in these settings:

Bronwyn Fredericks

“Most service delivery issues are well-known to government, providers and communities,” she said.

“What have been missing are the mechanisms for communities and government to achieve change. The proposed reforms aim to achieve two long sought-after goals—enabling communities to develop ways to improve outcomes for themselves and ensuring genuine accountability for outcomes.”

The QPC’s “overarching reform proposal” is that the state government should “transfer accountability and decision-making to regions and communities, reform funding and resourcing arrangements, and monitor progress through independent oversight”.

In a familiar refrain, the commission argues community members need to be more directly involved in service design to find “models that suit the circumstances” and encouraged to get involved in more economic activity.

It prescribes detailed reforms to achieve these kinds of aims, and argues they will also require “capability and capacity building within government, service providers and communities to support a new way of doing things,” as well as “timely and transparent data collection and reporting to support performance and accountability.”

Meanwhile, in line with the national Productivity Commission’s advice, federal Indigenous affairs bureaucrats are focused on delivering higher quality and more transparent policy evaluation, and have published their own draft document setting out how they plan to do that.

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