'Centralised government not fit to deal with outback'


Sir – Episodic policy announcements about regions and northern Australia are evidence of political concern about non metropolitan Australia but will not solve the problems endemic across remote Australia because government arrangements are not fit for purpose.
The complaints across remote Australia are consistent and justified. This election campaign has seen some good policy ideas and messages delivered, including by several Indigenous leaders in relation to parts of remote Australia and part of its population, including Aboriginal Australians.
But increasing centralised government engagement with remote Australia alone will not achieve the significant advances needed so that remote Australians – Indigenous and non-indigenous alike – can enjoy the health and prosperity the rest of us enjoy.
Serious reform is needed. This matters to ordinary Australians who benefit from the wealth – cultural and economic – generated in remote Australia.  It matters because our country is more than just our cities.
The answers lie in a comprehensive “bottom-up” approach, with localised development of regional structures and actions.
Along with proper local community engagement that would include the interests of ALL remote Australians, these measures would include:
• Establishment of a Remote Australia Commission – a body that can act as an independent “umpire” because it has a mandate and authority to deliver practical policies for better governance, infrastructure and service delivery in remote Australia and its regions, and develop effective regional arrangements specific to remote Australia.
• Support a small number of “innovation” regions or zones, where the governance and delivery principles and service delivery approach outlined in the remoteFOCUS report are applied, with the aim of developing a process for learning consensus and regional capacity building.
• Conducting of a detailed review of the governance of remote Australia, and resourcing and funding arrangements. At the moment, funding of services and infrastructure for remote Australia tends to be haphazard, inequitable, inefficient, and unfortunately not based on a “resourcing must follow function “ approach remoteFOCUS, a group of non-partisan concerned Australians with extensive experience in remote Australia, believes that various policies and actions by governments, state and federal, of all political persuasions, have proven the “one size fits all” and “top down” (centralised decision-making and policy advice and development by people not directly involved on the ground) approaches do not work for remote Australia.
On behalf of remoteFOCUS, I have recently written to the major political parties seeking a set of policy commitments which will help achieve improvements in the way governments administer, govern and engage with remote Australia, which represents 85% of our land mass and 55% of Australia’s export GDP (ABS 2012).
We certainly recognise that commitments have been made to the development of Northern Australia as well as changes to Indigenous Affairs but argue that systemic reform in how governments govern remote Australia is needed for lasting impact and progress.
Let’s not forget our own backyard this election, and into our country’s future.
Fred Chaney AO
Convenor of the remoteFOCUS Reference Group and Chairman of Desert Knowledge Australia


  1. Yet another bureaucracy, a Remote Australia Commission – a body that can act as an independent “umpire” to the others and no doubt joining them as they collectively snuffle in the government Aboriginal trough.

  2. Ho hum, (rolls eyes), over the last 30 years, numerous government, QANGO, and charitable organisations have tried to solve “indigenous problems”, with a variety of approaches.
    ATSIC through its regional councils was intended to ensure centralised government policy was informed from the ground up.
    Billions were spent on elections, setting up regional council offices, travel costs, sitting costs, public servant salaries, meetings etc with many good outcomes.
    In its dying days, when ATSIC was seen to have “failed” in the eyes of some, probably because many of the problems still existed, ATSIS was set up to wind-down the Commission.
    ATSIS, with a changed approach, was beginning to see some successes, but unfortunately folded and its 80 odd programs were distributed to eight different Federal Government agencies creating a massive impediment to progress.
    Now Mr Chaney AO wants to set up some new organisations.
    Taxpaying Australians (many of whom are indigenous) are already doing everything humanly possible for indigenous Australians. What we need is for many of the indigenous to take up the dozens of opportunities that are available for them and make the most of themselves.
    More money, more beauracracy and more non-indigenous workers is not the way to do it.
    The starting point is to make sure the children get to school and get educated. The best people to do that are the kids’ parents.


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