KIERAN FINNANE speaks with Indigenous Advancement Minister Alison Anderson in the wake of the Havnen Report.
Alison Anderson has proved her political clout in her electorate, increasing her vote despite her switch of party and the negative campaign against her. Now she is setting out to prove it as a Minister in two important portfolios – Indigenous Advancement and Regional Development. She has showed her style early, suggesting that Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin is in “La La Land” if she thinks she’s “closing the gap”, but what will be the substance?
Ms Anderson is pictured with Judy Brumby (right) and Esmeralda, both from Areyonga, during her election campaign.
The long-awaited report by NT Coordinator-General of Remote Services, Olga Havnen, has finally been released (although it is not yet on the government website). The focus of the Coordinator-General job is, as its title suggests, remote service delivery, particularly in relation to Closing the Gap targets as well as the Working Future policy and its associated Growth Towns. The last of four reports by former Coordinator-General Bob Beadman was released in May 2011. Former Indigenous Policy Minister Malarndirri McCarthy (at right) told the Alice Springs News Online in April that the Havnen Report would be tabled in Parliament in May – instead, it seems, it was kept under wraps until after the election. In the letter to Ms Havnen confirming her appointment, the requirement of six-monthly formal reports was stipulated. However in a letter to Ms Anderson, dated September 18, Ms Havnen said she had a verbal agreement with Ms McCarthy to provide an annual report.
The report comes with 12 recommendations, but Ms Anderson is not committing her government to implementing them as formulated – “not at all”, she says. This is because, although it has attracted a lot of publicity, the report is “nothing new”: “She’s done a report literally of things that have been said for at least a decade that I know of, by people like Bob Beadman, Rolf Gerritsen. Where to from now, is what we want to know,” says Ms Anderson.
Havnen’s human rights agenda
The report is certainly an odd mixture of things. The Barunga Statement – a sweeping set of claims for national Indigenous rights dating from 1988 – adorns the cover (at left). In keeping with this, scattered throughout the report are various broad statements of human rights from documents like the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and so on.
Rights-oriented thinking is reflected in the way subject areas are approached. For example the issue of housing, infrastructure and leasing has at its head a statement from the UN Declaration of Human Rights on the right of everyone to a healthy and secure living standard. In her discussion in this area Ms Havnen does not broach the complexity raised in Mr Beadman’s final report about the government provision of housing and services on homelands, which are essentially privately owned. Indeed the report in its entirety does not discuss the issues in homelands in any detail, despite the high profile of debate around their future in recent times.
On service delivery in remote communities generally, Ms Havnen’s basic framework is unnuanced – “It is the responsibility of government to provide a standard of services for health, education, water and sanitation for all citizens regardless of where people live, in the same manner as the universal obligations for postal services and telecommunications.” – even if her description of the funding landscape rightly highlights some of its absurdities. A striking example is that of the Warlpiri Youth Development Aboriginal Corporation, the Yuendumu-based body responsible for among other programs the Mt Theo substance misuse program, which “reported that it was a signatory to 34 funding agreements with government, philanthropic and royalty organisations for varying periods from four months to three years, with an additional 12 recently completed,” records Ms Havnen. “Of the 34 agreements 16 were with three Commonwealth agencies and six were with NT Government agencies. Reporting on these grants was required quarterly for eight grants, six-monthly for a further eight grants and annually for 13 grants, with five agreements having no financial element and no reporting requirement.”
At right: Young Warlpiri people from the Mt Theo program performing at the Alice Desert Festival, from left, Rene Coull, Tyrone ‘T-bone’ Spencer, and Leon ‘The Desert Man’ Penhall.
In her discussion of Stronger Futures, the legislation and policy replacing the NT Emergency Response, Ms Havnen baldly dismisses income management as a “punitive” measure, one of the four elements of “most concern” in Stronger Futures. She does not examine in any detail the benefits of the system and the reasons why some people are happy with it, and asserts without substantiation that “acquisition of competencies in household budgeting and financial management tend to be more a function of what individuals learn from families and friends – people teach each other!” She rightly reports on the estimated cost to deliver income management per recipient – $5000 to $5,500 p.a. This is certainly “substantial” – almost equal to the annual Youth Allowance, for example – but, as she does not consider the possible gains it delivers, such as putting food in children’s mouths, we cannot really assess whether it is worthwhile.
Her discussion of suicide links its high incidence to the Intervention, without examination of the picture before, when we know that the suicide rate for Indigenous men in the Territory began to climb sharply in the early 2000s. In 2001 to 2002 it was approximately three times the comparable Australian rate, while the NT non-Indigenous male rate was approximately 1.6 times the Australian rate. The rates among Indigenous women increased substantially from 1991 to become twice as high as the Australian female rate by 2001-2002. Is the tragic increase cited by Ms Havnen – 360% since 2007, from 57 to 261 – on a continuum from the rise that had taken root earlier or is it, as she asserts (in the company of anti-Intervention activists like Paddy Gibson) linked to the Intervention?
At times her analysis and description of the issues stands in odd relationhsip to her recommendations. For example, after some 30 pages of discussion, the thrust of which is a broad critique of top-down, costly policy decisions and fragmented program delivery, she recommends the establishment of “one-stop shop business centres” in communities, where people can do things like pay their power bill or renew their licence. It’s hard to see how such a centre, even if a good thing in itself, would deal with the issues she raises.
Growth Towns an ‘old mission policy’
Ms Anderson herself, as a Labor Minister for Indigenous Policy, created the Coordinator-General position and coaxed Mr Beadman out of retirement to fill it. She is not sure now if she will maintain it. Nor will she make a commitment yet on the prominent policy initiative of her Labor Ministry, Working Future and the associated Growth Towns. But the following comment would suggest that she is having a rethink: “Pastor Howard Smith from Docker hit the nail on the head. [Growth Towns] is just an old policy they brought back from the missions. The missions had ‘growth towns’ – Hermannsburg, Areyonga, Haasts Bluff, Yuendumu. Since then we’ve moved on in life, he says, we’ve gone back to our country and we want to live on our country, we want the government to respect that and put the resources where we live. We don’t want to go into someone else’s country just to access service.”
At left: A street in the Growth Town of Hermannsburg (Ntaria), photo from our archive.
But realistically, the News asks, what level of service can be put into outstations and tiny communities?
“You would measure them, the distance they are from bigger commnities. You wouldn’t give huge amounts of service to someone who lived five kilometres from a major community. That’s the kind of variations we need to make. Take for example Undarana and Kulpitjara, [outstations] that are 70 kms from Hermannsburg, 40 from Areyonga, 50 from Haasts Bluf. People live there all the time, about 10 at Undarana, and about 25 at Kulpitjara, including school age kids. They have a little school building, closed by the Labor Government. You could have a visiting teacher twice a week and they go three times week to Areyonga, you’ve still got interaction between children and the opportunity to learn on their little outstation.”
But when the teacher turns up, will the children be there?
“That’s one thing we’ve got to do, with lots of consultations on communities – the responsiblity for kids going to school is their community’s and parents’ responsibility. We will back them to make sure they go to school. We all have to realise in the 21st century education is the key to having employment and having a future. We’ve got to keep pumping that message back into the communities.”
Compulsory early childhood education
Ms Havnen’s discussion of education is fairly broadbrush but she emphasises the importance of early childhood in laying the foundation of life-long outcomes. Her recommendations include that consideration be given to making early childhood education compulsory for at least one year. How feasible it would be to achieve this quickly is impossible to say, as the report does not quantify the preschool programs and resources already available or those coming on line (if any).
At right: Imogen Anderson learning to count money with her grandfather, Amos Anderson.
Ms Anderson’s discussion too is fairly broadbrush and of course it’s still early days for the new government: “We’re looking at our departments, looking at the MOU between ourselves and the Federal Government, making sure that we’re doing work that benefits Territorians, not giving out contracts willy-nilly to people who come from South Africa and Queensland, as they did in SIHIP [the Strategic Indigenous Housing Infrastructure Program]. We have to hold the capacity and the money in the Territory. If we don’t have the capacity that’s the only time we should go out of the Territory. But I think myself that we do have the capacity. We’ve got lots of businesses here – start tapping into their resources, give them the opportunity to do these contracts on the ground with Aboriginal people.”
This does align with Ms Havnen’s observations: “Far too many programs continue to be fragmented, short term and uncoordinated,” she writes, “and are often delivered by non-Indigenous providers operating in competition with Aboriginal organisations and each other. There appears little consideration of the connection between the long-term workforce needs of communities and their local organisations, and the on-going high levels of unemployment in remote areas.
“A major proportion of the delivery of services to remote communities (e.g. early childhood, youth and family support) is now outsourced to third party non-Indigenous, not-for-profit organisations who do not receive the level of scrutiny and accountability that might reasonably be expected of multi-million dollar, multi-year contracts. These third parties are not accountable to parliaments and too often are unaccountable to the communities in which they operate. Funds are being diverted to build the capital base and operational capacity of non-resident agencies rather than funding and building the skills and capabilities of local Aboriginal people and organisations.”
Shire reform at top of the wish list
This is the focus of Ms Havnen’s Recommendation 10 on Workforce Strategy and is certainly an area that Ms Anderson will prioritise. She rolls it into her government’s promised action on the shires. On her ministerial tour of Wadeye and the Tiwi Islands and in her visit to communities in Namatjira since the election, dissatisfaction with the shires continued to be the main message, she says.
Given how big an issue this has been, it is strangely avoided in Ms Havnen’s report. She provides a broad discussion of how the shires operate but comments in relation to the central focus of her office – service delivery – that “it is difficult to assess the quality and comprehensiveness of services and how well they meet community expectations as minimum service delivery standards and performance indicators have not been developed.”
The absence of “key performance indicators” (KPIs) broadly is something Ms Anderson is determined to address and it’s part of the picture, she says, in the failure to develop a local workforce on communities: “We saw some of the things [the shires] weren’t doing, like blocked sinks. They’re contracted by the government to do these things and it costs heaps of money for contractors to go out to communities. They do half a job and then come back and it costs the shires heaps of money. I’m thinking more along the lines of getting people on the ground, a team of workers to do this work.”
Above: A shire-employed works team at Titjikala. Photo courtesy MacDonnell Shire.
The shires haven’t got these teams, she says. (Our photo suggests that they exist but perhaps not to the extent Ms Anderson sees as desirable.) “It’s because they don’t have KPIs in their contracts and the government doesn’t really hold them accountable. That’s what we’ve got to change. We’ve got to put targets and KPIs around our money and if people who use our money to deliver a service aren’t doing the job, then you get rid of them and get someone else.
“It’s about training local people as well so we’re not paying big money for people to go out to places like Bonya, Docker, Kintore. That costs no less than $2000 just for a contractor to go out. So it’s about going back to the old system, going out and teaching people to undo the s-bend to unblock sinks, to unblock toilets themselves, working side by side with contractors and learning from them.
“[It’s about] less money going out of the community, building capacity and leaving the capacity there. If you’ve got a smaller community nearby then you bring the capacity from the larger community into the smaller community.”
Too many NGOs, not enough KPIs!
The Federal Government must adopt this approach as well, says Ms Anderson. The Havnen Report has painted a picture of the Commonwealth funding an extraordinary “proliferation of non-Indigenous NFP [not for profit] organisations in remote service delivery often in direct competition with local community-based organisations”, many of them with ” little or no prior experience of working with Aboriginal people”.
Says Ms Anderson: “What the Federal Government has done in this case is realise that the problem is huge and filled up the bureacracy, layers and layers of bureacrcay, with no KPIs and targets around their own money. That’s why you get so many NGOs running around delivering a service and not even talking to other agencies who are delivering a similar service. I would use an example like what triggered the Gordon Inquiry in Western Australia , there was a 15 year old girl who committed suicided, with something like 13 services wrapped around her and not one of those services was talking to the other. NGOs are running around, the Territory Government is running around, the Federal Government is running around, and the layers and layers of bureaucracy is just jamming real service delivery and outcomes on the ground.”
Knowing what you want your money to do, putting KPIs around it and acting if the performance isn’t there will be the way to go, but again, it’s early days: “What we’re doing now is getting the picture, pulling all this together, the picture of how much money is going out to a region and how many service providers and we will pull those reins back, so that there’s more money getting on the ground and less bureacracy to administer it. It’s too top heavy. You see that in the Havnen report.”
At right: Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin in Alice Springs in 2008. Photo from our archive. Her administration is “too top heavy”, says Ms Anderson, and has sponsored a “proliferation” of NGOs in the bush, says Ms Havnen.
Among the striking examples of top-heaviness cited in the report is that more than half – $320.8m – of the Commonwealth Government’s Intervention funding in the “stabilisation phase” (2007-8) went on “departmental expenditure and capital expenses to meet the costs of increased personnel, staff accommodation, infrastructure upgrades and improving the IT capacity across agencies”.
Ms Havnen also identifies another staggering amount – $269.5 million for governance and building community governance capacity – about which she says: “It is unclear what this has been spent on, or if this funding has been spent at all as there does not appear to be any clear and transparent account of the funding.”
This lack of clarity is on-going, she suggests: “The Government has committed $427.4 million over 10 years as part of the Stronger Futures funding package to increase the number of Indigenous Engagement Officers, ensure local services are effective, support governance and leadership and local planning, and continue to support interpreting services. The detail of how this substantial amount of new funding will ‘support governance and leadership’ has not yet been provided.”
Ms Anderson has signaled that she will be asking the Federal Government for not only more money but more power for the Territory Government in relation to how it is spent. Given this, the News asks her whether she should be more diplomatic in her comments about the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin?
“I can ony be diplomatic to people I know [who] have been around and seen things. I don’t think she has. I think she’s getting really poor advice from her people and she needs to start coming out and seeing the real world. I wouldn’t mind her having a ministerial council of Indigneous Affairs – or Indigneous Advancement – at Utopia.”
The GBMs (government business managers, a position created under the Intervention – 60 of them serving 72 communities at a cost of some $28m a year) are in Ms Anderson’s sights for not talking to the local people and passing their views back up to government. “Perhaps 5%” of them are good, the rest are there to fill a position, many of them from interstate, says Ms Anderson: “Sooner or later those jobs have to be given to Territorians and to Aboriginal people. We’ve got so many unemployed people, people who want to work, we’ve got to make sure we keep our wealth in the Teritory, keep the Territory moving forward, rather than taking the resources out like we saw with SIHIP.”
Construction camp for alliance workers building new houses at Ntaria. Tjuwanpa Outstation Resource Centre got the contract to house the construction camp but not to build the houses, which they could have done with their local workforce over five years.
The Havnen Report is not all that critical of SIHIP. It “attracted significant and at times unjustified criticism that fails to acknowledge the inefficiencies, duplication and fragmentation of the pre-existing approach to the construction, maintenance and management of remote housing,” writes Ms Havnen. She continues: “As much as there were some extremely successful Aboriginal housing associations, most suffered from inconsistent funding which inhibited workforce and skills development and did not provide the scale or standardisation in construction that would support sustainable maintenance programs. In 2008 ICHOs received about $2,300 per dwelling to fund maintenance and administration whereas the new public housing model was able to provide over three times this allocation.
“Much of the early criticism of SIHIP related to the time taken to mobilise works under the alliance methodology, but given the project scale and investment and the need for thorough accountability this was understandable.”
SIHIP still a bug bear
Ms Anderson is particularly frustrated with what she sees as a lack of cut-through on SIHIP in the report: “One would have thought she’d have put into her report how many people were brought into the Territory and what sort of money went out of the Territory. That would have been a really good picture for all of us to see but that information was not there. What happened to all the training under SIHIP? Have those people got jobs now? Have they been put into building and construction jobs, having the consistency of having employment for a long time rather than just for a couple of months. All that data is missing.”
Ms Havnen does deal with these issues broadly: “Analysis of the approaches taken by each alliance reveals the Aboriginal employee retention rate beyond 13 weeks is 60% for Territory Alliance, but only 23% for New Future Alliance, and beyond 26 weeks it is 42% and 12% respectively. On the other hand 18% of New Future Alliance’s recruits achieve Certificate II or III, with only 5% for Territory Alliance.
“Due to the limited construction period under SIHIP at each location the completion of formal qualifications has been problematic. The limited success in this critical area means that there needs to be more formal negotiations with the shires, Aboriginal housing associations and resource centres in relation to the transition of part-qualified staff from the alliances to these local employers. Strategies need to be developed to better support the continued skills development of the local labour force in remote areas if the progress made under the $2 billion SIHIP initiative will not be lost and again fail Aboriginal people part way through the process.”
The failures of SIHIP were a key motivator for Ms Anderson’s resignation from the Labor party and she won’t let go of this issue easily: “Have a look at SIHIP in its entirety. South of Elliott no Aboriginal people on a remote community got a house.”
There are some going up at Ntaria now.
Is that the fault of SIHIP or the leasing negotiations?
“It’s a combination of both, but you’d think they would have done the leasing first before they put SIHIP in. They put the horse before the cart. The only place to benefit south of Elliott was Alice Springs, under the Transformation Plan.”
Urban migration a long term trend
In terms of where to invest, how to prioritise it will be important to have an idea of what the remote population is doing and will be doing in the future. The long term trend shows an inexorable move out of the very small communities (less than 200 residents) towards larger ones and overall an increasing urbanisation of the population – this trend pre-dates the Intervention, by the way, as is clearly visualised in this graph (Proportion of NT Indigenous people by settlement size, at right), supplied by Dr Andrew Taylor, Senior Research Fellow of The Northern Institute (see explanatory note below).
Ms Havnen makes a population and mobility study, jointly commissioned by the Commonwealth and NT Governments, her first recommendation. It seems hard to believe that this still hasn’t been done although obviously there’s some knowledge of the way things are heading, as Dr Taylor’s graph illustrates. Although it would likely challenge Pastor Howard Smith’s kind of thinking, as quoted by Ms Anderson above, she recognises the importance of knowing the facts: “I think 15 years ago ATSIC asked for a mobility study to be done of people moving into Alice Springs. That should be done, it should have been done years ago. We could have planned for the future growth of Alice Springs and we would have known exactly what kind of people were moving in – renal patients, kids coming to school, people just wanting to shift. We’re just too slow at acting! We should be having a 10 year plan for Alice Springs, a 20 year plan. Where are we going?”
So, let’s say government makes a significant investment in small communities, the News puts to her, will they still be inhabited in 10, 20, 30 years time?
She speaks of her own family. She acknowledges that none of her own children live in Papunya but “Sid [Anderson, her brother and president of MacDonnell Shire] and his family will still be at Five Mile outside of Papunya in 10 years’ time. His children will be there, they’ve grown up there, after being on homelands in South Australia when they were babies.
“These people will continue to stay on communities. They might go off for a year or so but they always come back. Today you find outstations that are empty, but it’s for lots of reasons. For example, you can’t have old people on outstations without a transport strategy. You should have a bus service from the outstation to the outstation resource centre, to pick kids up, people wanting to do shopping. The resource centre would know how many people are out there, their daily activity, who doesn’t have a car. ‘One size fits all’ doesn’t work anywhere.”
So what about their economic future? Ms Havnen’s discussion is focussed on the way government programs and procurement can be better linked to business opportunities and jobs for people in remote communities. Ms Anderson wants to go further, but this is still broadbrush: “You have to look at industries in the region, mining and tourism, you build economic development arnd capacity around what’s already there.”
Havnen supports floor price for alcohol, but not the Minister
There is a fairly detailed summary of Territory alcohol consumption and its attendant problems in the Havnen Report and like many who have come before her, Ms Havnen says further consideration must be given to the introduction of a floor price: “Increasing the unit price of alcohol is known to be an effective strategy in reducing excessive alcohol consumption and related harm.”
The News puts to Ms Anderson that there is an opportunity for her government, in the wake of the Briscoe Inquest (image from police CCTV footage, at right), to take strong action. The party line has been opposition to a floor price, but the News reminds her that the Living with Alcohol levy, although ultimately deemed unconstitutional, was a price mechanism, it was a Country Liberal initiative, and did have a positive impact while it lasted. Are the Country Liberals prepared once again to do something effective in this area?
“Yes, we are, we’re going to make sure the towns are safer, we’re going to have a look at rehab for habitual drunks, so that the problem is taken away rather than punishing everybody. These people are sick, it’s a place where Labor didn’t go, we’re not afraid to help people identify they have a probelm. If you take a drunk back to an Aboriginal community without medication, they start taking fits. Rehab is the best opportunity we can give them, to teach them they can’t go back to the same ways.”
But isn’t the problem bigger than the habitual drunks, with NT per capita alcohol consumption 40% higher than the national average?
“That needs an education strategy. You can’t take the choice away from people,” she says, declining to comment further on this thorny issue – “that’s something for the Cabinet and the Alcohol Policy Minister.”
So what looms largest as she sets out on her mission as Minister? She has always said she wants to leave a legacy. She thinks for a moment before replying:
“I want to make sure it’s about us as Territorians growing together in this journey, making sure we provide help for one another and do things together. When I was growing up here in Alice Springs, mingling and playing sports with the Hatzimihails, the Dianos, and I still have really, really good relationships with them, Italians or Greek families, Australians and Aboriginals, we now have a really multicultural society with the Africans too. It’s about giving us all the opportunity to get this great place we live in called the Northern Territory into a higher profile, with greater services, and achieving better than what we can for the future generation of Territorians growing up here.”
Explanatory note: Dr Andrew Taylor, Senior Research Fellow – Demography and Growth Planning, at The Northern Institute, explains the Proportion of NT Indigenous people by settlement size graph (above):
• The data is for Indigenous Territorians only and it is derived from the Census of Population and Housing, conducted by the ABS each five years.
• The percentages denote the proportion of the Territory’s Indigenous population living in each ‘cluster’ (group by size).
• ‘Urban’ refers to Alice Springs and Darwin combined. ‘Towns’ are Katherine, Tennant Creek, Nhulunbuy, Jabiru and Yulara
• The downward trend in 1991 of the urban population is likely to be a from combination of factors including Census enumeration procedures (or issues) and short-term movements ‘back to country’ which was, as I recall, encouraged during this period.
Does the graph mean that in only 20 years the population of small communities and outstations has fallen from 40% of the Aboriginal population to 10%, including a huge 15% drop in the last 5 years?
• Yes, but this MUST be taken with some caution as there are some issues around geographical classifications (essentially changes to the official statistical geography framework and issues around Census enumeration which mean that it is plausible to suggest the ‘real’ proportion might be somewhere 5-10% either side of this line for ‘less than 200’ as well as the other lines. There is no method for deriving or assessing this more precisely unfortunately because the Census under-enumeration estimates do not hold up at below Territory level (to tell us how many people were missed or double counted in the Census for each cluster).