Amata and Mimili: National Agreement on Remote Service Delivery

First posted on 4 June 2009 under Amata & Mimili.
This article has been updated and archived.
Tags: COAG & service delivery

Summary

In November 2008, the Council of Australian Governments agreed to a new National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery.  The Agreement aims to improve the delivery and coordination of services to 26 remote Indigenous communities. More than $290 million has been allocated towards the cost of implementing the Agreement. In South Australia, the Agreement is focused on improving conditions in Amata and Mimili.

The Paper Trail

Introduction: a new National Partnership Agreement

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) is Australia’s “peak intergovernmental forum.”[i] Its role is “to initiate, develop and monitor the implementation of policy reforms that are of national significance and which require cooperative action” across all levels of government.[ii]

On 29 November 2008, COAG agreed to a new National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery (file size: 416KB).

The main aim of the Agreement is to:

implement a new remote service delivery model that clearly identifies service standards, roles and responsibilities and service delivery parameters to ensure that Indigenous Australians living in selected remote communities receive and actively participate in services to close the gap in Indigenous disadvantage.[iii]

More particularly, the Agreement aims to “raise the standard and range of services delivered to Indigenous families” living in 26 locations so that they are “broadly consistent” with services provided to non-Indigenous Australians “in similar sized and located communities”.[iv]

The Agreement comes with $291.2 million in new funding. Of this:

  • $187.7 million is to be provided by the Federal Government, and
  • $103.5 million will be provided by participating State Governments.[v]

The Agreement came into force on 27 January 2009 and is set to run for a period of five and a half years; that is, until 30 June 2014.[vi]

Implementation plan and timelines

The Agreement contains a detailed implementation plan and defines timelines for key activities. For example:

  • Bilateral plans
    Within three months of the Agreement coming into force, the Federal Government is required to have established bilateral plans with each of the participating State and Territory governments. These plans must specify:
    –  which communities will be targeted,
    –  key “milestones, performance benchmarks and indicators”, and
    –  timelines for achieving the benchmarks.
    [vii]
  • Integrated service delivery mechanism
    Once a bilateral plan has been agreed to, the Federal Government has six months to establish an “integrated service delivery mechanism” for each of the communities covered by the plan. This mechanism must outline the “processes and structures” by which Federal and State Governments will plan and deliver “integrated services” to that community
    .[viii]
  • Government business managers
    Within a month of the integrated service delivery mechanism having been established, government business managers
    [ix] must be working “on site” in the targeted communities. These managers will coordinate the government’s service delivery commitments and, as single point-of-contact, remove the need for local community members to navigate their own way through bewildering bureaucracies.[x]
  • Baseline mapping
    Detailed baseline mapping of the targeted communities must also be completed within one month of the establishment of the integrated service delivery mechanism. This mapping must include an account of:
    –  the social and economic indicators for that particular community,
    –  existing government investments in the community, and
    –  the services that are currently being provided to the community, along with any “service gaps.”
    [xi]

All of the above activities were supposed to be completed within ten months of the Agreement coming into force; that is by 27 November 2009.

While the Paper Tracker welcomes the establishment of clear, outcome-driven timelines, we believe that it is critically important for these timelines to be realistic. For example, under Section 24 of the Agreement, the bilateral plan should have been finalised by 27 April 2009. This timeframe was not met. Indeed, the Australian and South Australian Governments did not formally agree to the plan until 2 September 2009.[xii]

The Paper Tracker is also concerned that the Agreement appears to allow the above activities to be undertaken in relative isolation from the local Aboriginal community on whom they will have the greatest impact. Indeed, the Agreement does not direct either the Federal or the State Governments to consult with the “local Indigenous people” until the government business managers have moved into the communities (that is, at the conclusion of the ten-month period).[xiii]

Reporting requirements

The Agreement stipulates that its service delivery “priorities” must be “embodied in publicly available documents” which include “targets, actions and associated milestones and timelines.”[xiv]

Some of these reporting requirements outlined in the Agreement include that:

  • the Federal Government must “report annually to COAG” on the implementation of the Agreement,”
  • the State Government must provide the Federal Government with “a report card after six months and then every twelve months … against the performance indicators, completed baseline mapping and timelines”, and
  • a clear statement of expenditure in each of the 26 locations must be produced “twelve months after implementation.”[xv]

The selection of Amata and Mimili

As mentioned earlier, the Agreement commits the Federal, State and Territory Governments to focus their efforts to reform remote service delivery arrangements – at least for the foreseeable future – on 26 priority communities.[xvi]

A set of “principles for investment in remote locations” was developed to guide the selection of the 26 communities. Among other things, these principles require governments to give:

priority for enhanced infrastructure support and service provision … to larger and more economically sustainable communities where secure land tenure exists.[xvii]

In April 2009, the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs (Hon Jenny Macklin MP) confirmed reports that Amata and Mimili had been selected to be the South Australian communities on which the reform of remote service delivery arrangements would be focused.[xviii]

The Paper Tracker notes that the Minister’s statements – as reported by ABC News[xix]  – did not include any information on:

  • why these communities had been selected ahead of other large communities on the APY Lands, particularly Pukatja, and
  • whether Amata and Mimili are considered to be “more economically sustainable” than other APY communities.

As of 1 August 2009, subsequent statements by the Minister had not clarified these matters.[xx]

Benchmarking

A key objective of the Agreement is to “raise the standard and range of services delivered to Indigenous families” living in Amata and Mimili so that they are “broadly consistent with those provided to other Australians in similar sized and located communities.”[xxi]

In mid June 2009, the Paper Tracker highlighted the importance of knowing which non-Indigenous communities had been selected as – in effect – benchmarks for monitoring government efforts in Amata and Mimili. We noted that until those non-Indigenous communities had been identified it would be difficult to gauge the scope of what COAG was hoping to achieve.[xxii]

On 9 July 2009, the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs (Hon Jenny Macklin MP) advised the Paper Tracker that the “methodology” for selecting the “comparator communities” was still being developed.[xxiii]

The Minister’s letter continued:

While the methodology may include comparing service levels to specific non-Indigenous communities it is also likely to involve comparisons with groups of communities and with State and National averages to determine appropriate service and infrastructure benchmarks with regard to need.[xxiv]

The Paper Tracker believes that the information supplied by the Minister highlights a lack of clarity around a core aspect on the Agreement.

Specifically, the Minister’s remark that the yet-to-be-finalised methodology “may” include comparisons with the service levels found in certain non-Indigenous communities is at odds with the Agreement’s unequivocal objectives and outcomes; namely the commitment to improve conditions in Amata and Mimili so that they are comparable with conditions in “non-Indigenous communities of similar size, location and need.”[xxv]

Broader implications

COAG has indicated that while the 26 priority communities are the “initial focus” of the Agreement, in the longer term it hopes to apply this approach more broadly.[xxvi] In the short to medium term, however, it appears likely that many more resources and a much more concerted effort will be expended on the 26 priority communities than on other remote Indigenous locations.

For example, on the 23 March 2009, the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs (Hon Jenny Macklin MP) noted that a $5.5 billion investment in housing in remote Indigenous communities would initially focus on the “26 priority communities … which have the potential for economic development.”[xxvii] This focus saw the South Australian Government issue a call for tenders in April 2009 for the construction of 17 new community houses in Amata and 16 new community houses in Mimili.[xxviii]

Further information on COAG’s plan to “concentrate government investment” in “priority locations” was released by the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs in May 2009. At that time, the Minister stated:

Communities and townships not initially covered by this strategy will continue to receive government support and services … The intention is to maximise the role of priority communities as service hubs that support improved outcomes for both residents in those communities and those living in neighbouring areas.[xxix]

The Paper Tracker estimates that around $22 million of the $291.2 million attached to the Agreement has been earmarked for expenditure in South Australia. This could equate to an additional expenditure on Amata and Mimili of $1.86 million per annum per community for the next six years.[xxx]

On 17 June 2009, the Paper Tracker asked the Minister to confirm the amount of Federal funding that would be spent in South Australia under the Agreement each year and what proportion of this funding would be spent on improving the delivery of services to Amata and Mimili.[xxxi]

In a reply dated 19 August 2009, the Minister noted that because “a number of these activities will be coordinated at a national level … it is not possible to provide a breakdown of funding at the State or community level.”[xxxii]

The Minister indicated, however, that “clear statements of expenditure in each location” would be presented by the Commonwealth and South Australian Governments a year after they had agreed on the bilateral plan.[xxxiii]

The Paper Tracker notes that the Australian and South Australian Governments formally agreed to the bilateral plan on 2 September 2009.[xxxiv] Accordingly, key information on the amount of funding spent improving the delivery of services to Amata and Mimili is unlikely to be available before 2 September 2010.

Click here to download a copy of the bilateral plan (file size: 67KB)

This article has been archived and will no longer be updated. It will, however, remain accessible online as a source of background information for anyone wishing to undertake further research on this issue. Information included in the article was current at the time it was archived. Keep in mind, however, that Ministerial changes and names of departments, among other things, may have since changed.


[i] Council of Australian Governments, 2008, “About COAG,” Council of Australian Governments website. http://www.coag.gov.au/about_coag/index.cfm. Accessed 27 May 2009.

[ii] Council of Australian Governments, 2008, “About COAG,” Council of Australian Governments website. http://www.coag.gov.au/about_coag/index.cfm. Accessed 27 May 2009.

[iii] Council of Australian Governments, 2008, “National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery,” p3.

[iv] Council of Australian Governments, 2008, “National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery,” p5-6.

[v] Council of Australian Governments, 2008, “National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery,” p11.

[vi] Council of Australian Governments, 2008, “National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery,” p4. See also: House of Representatives. 2009, “Coordinator-General for Remote Indigenous Services Bill 2009: Explanatory Memorandum. (Circulated by the authority of the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, the Hon Jenny Macklin MP),” p2.

[vii] Council of Australian Governments, 2008, “National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery,” p9.

[viii] Council of Australian Governments, 2008, “National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery,” p5 & 9.

[ix] In COAG and Federal Government documents, alternative names for these positions are “single government interface” and “champions”. See, for example, Council of Australian Governments, 2008, “National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery,” p5.

[x] Council of Australian Governments, 2008, “National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery,” p10. Also: Council of Australian Governments, November 2008, “Remote Service Delivery National Partnership Agreement,” fact sheet, p2. Available at: http://www.coag.gov.au/coag_meeting_outcomes/2008-11-29/docs/20081129_remote_service_delivery_factsheet.pdf. Accessed 30 may 2009.

[xi] Council of Australian Governments, 2008, “National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery,” p6 & 9.

[xii] Tucker, S (FaHCSIA). 10 November 2009. Email to J. Nicholls. See also: Gillam, A (FaHCSIA). 3 August 2009. Email to J. Nicholls; Gillam, A (FaHCSIA). 26 May 2009. Email to J. Nicholls.

[xiii] Council of Australian Governments, 2008, “National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery,” p9-10.

[xiv] Council of Australian Governments, 2008, “National Indigenous Reform Agreement,” p8.

[xv] Council of Australian Governments, 2008, “National Indigenous Reform Agreement,” p10.

[xvi] Council of Australian Governments, 2008, “National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery,” p5. See also: Council of Australian Governments, November 2008, “Remote Service Delivery National Partnership Agreement,” fact sheet, p4.

[xvii] Council of Australian Governments, 2008, Schedule A of “National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery,” pA-1.

[xviii] See: ABC News. 21 April 2009, “Amata, Mimili share in housing funds,” Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/04/21/2548678.htm.%20Accessed%2031%20May%202009Also: ABC News. 22 April 2009, “$300m funds boost for APY communities,” Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/04/22/2549654.htm. Accessed 31 May 2009.

[xix] See: ABC News. 21 April 2009, “Amata, Mimili share in housing funds,” Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/04/21/2548678.htm.%20Accessed%2031%20May%202009Also: ABC News. 22 April 2009, “$300m funds boost for APY communities,” Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/04/22/2549654.htm. Accessed 31 May 2009.

[xx] See, for example: Macklin, J. 12 May 2009, Closing the Gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian, Budget Statement, p17-18.

[xxi] Council of Australian Governments, 2008, “National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery,” p5-6.

[xxii] The Paper Tracker raised this issue in emails sent to selected members of the Australian Parliament on 15 June 2009. The emails were sent in the context of Parliament’s consideration of the “Coordinator-General for Remote Indigenous Services Bill 2009.” The emails, signed by Jonathan Nicholls, were sent to the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs (Hon Jenny Macklin MP) and Senators Siewert, Scullion, Moore and Johnston.

[xxiii] Macklin, J. 9 July 2009. Letter to J. Nicholls.

[xxiv] Macklin, J. 9 July 2009. Letter to J. Nicholls.

[xxv] Council of Australian Governments, 2008, “National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery,” p5-6.

[xxvi] Council of Australian Governments, November 2008, “Remote Service Delivery National Partnership Agreement,” fact sheet, p4. Available at: http://www.coag.gov.au/coag_meeting_outcomes/2008-11-29/docs/20081129_remote_service_delivery_factsheet.pdf. Accessed 30 may 2009.

[xxvii] Macklin, J. 23 March 2009, “Remote Indigenous housing investment,” Media Release.

[xxviii] Government of South Australia, 2009. “Display Tender HAS017314: Housing for Remote Aboriginal Communities – Amata & Mimili Stage 1,” SA Tenders and Contracts website. https://www.tenders.sa.gov.au/tenders/tender/display/tender-details.do?id=17314&action=display-tender-details. Accessed 4 June 2009. Also: Bou, P (DFC). 26 May 2009. Email to J. Nicholls.

[xxix] Macklin, J. 12 May 2009, Closing the Gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian, Budget Statement, p18.

[xxx] This estimate is based on the following statement contained in the agreement, “The distribution of funding between the States and the Northern Territory will be broadly proportional to the number of agreed locations in each State and Territory” (see: Council of Australian Governments, 2008, “National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery,” p11).

[xxxi] McDonald, P. 17 June 2009. Letter to Hon J. Macklin MP.

[xxxii] Huntington, K. (Office of the Minister for Indigenous Affairs). 19 August 2009. Letter to Rev P. McDonald.

[xxxiii] Huntington, K. (Office of the Minister for Indigenous Affairs). 19 August 2009. Letter to Rev P. McDonald.

[xxxiv] Tucker, S (FaHCSIA). 10 November 2009. Email to J. Nicholls.

The Paper Tracker works hard to provide accurate and up-to-date information. We will correct any inaccurate information as soon as it is brought to our attention. Please contact us if you have additional information or can provide us with an update.