The Department of State Development’s Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation’s (DSD-AAR) latest
‘Progress on the APY Lands’ report covers the period January to December 2014. It was posted on the DSD-AAR website in August 2015; almost eight months after the period being reported on. This time-lag in reporting undermines the value of the report as an informative tool for monitoring progress and does not enable readers to reflect on or draw lessons about activities that occurred in the more recent past.
The ‘Progress on the APY Lands’ report has its origins in the South Australia Government APY Taskforce, which was established in 2004 in order to improve the planning and coordination of service delivery on the APY Lands.
The APY Taskforce and the Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Division (DPC-AARD) undertook to produce a regular report on current projects and programs on the APY Lands. Initially, the ‘Progress on the Lands’ report was produced three or four times per year. AARD then indicated that it would be produced twice a year. The latest Report from DSD-AAR indicates that it will now only be published once a year. Additional background information and the history of the ‘Progress on the Lands’ report is available here.
While it is understood that DSD-AAR’s function is not one of program or service delivery and is primarily focused on a policy and coordination role, the extent of the detail provided about the implementation of programs and strategies remains limited and in most cases is fairly general – this makes it difficult to track actual progress. For example, the section on the Mobile Renal Dialysis Unit (page 23) does not provide much information about the actual number of treatments and visits to the APY Lands; we are told is that the Unit ‘visited Pukatja in March 2014, with five patients receiving treatment’, and that it has ‘continued to visit remote Aboriginal communities across SA, travelling over 1700 kilometres and providing over one hundred and fifty dialysis treatments’. The actual total number of visits and treatments provided in 2014 in APY Lands communities is not provided.
Contradictory messages and an apparent lack of coordination across government departments that provide services across the APY Lands is evident. For example, with regard to the ongoing monitoring of the implementation of the Children on APY Lands (Mullighan) Commission of Inquiry recommendations, the Government’s fifth and final report to Parliament in 2013 states (on page 10) that the APY Lands Steering Committee will have responsibility for the ongoing monitoring of the implementation of the Inquiry’s recommendations.
However, the latest ‘Progress on the Lands’ report makes no reference to the APY Lands Steering Committee’s responsibility for monitoring the implementation of the Inquiry’s recommendations, but indicates that this Committee’s key focus areas are the Regional Partnership Agreement and the Remote School Attendance Strategy (page 46).
In response to a letter from the Paper Tracker to the Minister for Education and Child Development in December 2014 regarding the ongoing monitoring of the Inquiry’s recommendations, in March 2015 the Chief Executive of the Department indicated that the APY Lands Steering Committee had met twice in 2014 but that child protection was not on the agenda.
Having stated in a report to Parliament that the APY Lands Steering Committee would have responsibility for the ongoing monitoring of the implementation of the Inquiry’s recommendations, the relevant departments have not followed-through on this commitment and have not indicated any change to the undertaking made in the report tabled in Parliament.
While noting that various child safety programs and support activities are being undertaken (e.g. in Section Two, Taking Care of Kids, page 8), no reference is made in the ‘Progress on the Lands’ report to the Mullighan Inquiry or its recommendations. The question as to who has oversight and responsibility for the ongoing implementation of the Inquiry’s recommendations remains unanswered.
There are no doubt good news stories, with positive progress being made in programs and services across the APY Lands, which could be reported on and celebrated. However, these get lost in the generalities of this latest ‘Progress on the Lands’ report. The overly cautious and risk-averse style of government reporting provides readers with very little concrete and timely information or actual data; this makes any assessment of progress difficult.