Umoona is an Anangu community located within the District Council of Coober Pedy. In September 2006, the Federal Government announced that its main funding commitment to Umoona would end. After the decision was widely condemned, the bulk of the funding was reinstated for six months. In May 2008, in response to a year-long campaign, the Federal Minister approved “one-off” funding for 2007/08.
The Paper Trail
The Anangu community of Umoona is located on the edge of Coober Pedy, 850km north of Adelaide. It is governed and managed by an Anangu-controlled council: the Umoona Community Council Inc.
In September 2006, the Federal Government announced plans to abruptly end a long-standing funding arrangement with Umoona Community.[i]
Umoona was one of 31 Aboriginal communities across Australia affected by this sudden shift in Federal policy. All 31 communities are “encapsulated” within the boundaries of a local government area. In the case of Umoona community, it is located within the boundaries of the District Council of Coober Pedy.[ii]
In speaking about its decision, the Federal Government stated that its “preference” was for the “municipal services” provided to these communities to be “delivered by local government [authorities], just as local government provides for other Australians.”[iii]
From the Federal Minister’s perspective, continuing to fund Aboriginal-controlled organisations and councils cut against his Government’s desire to “normalise” the delivery of services to Aboriginal people.[iv]
The Federal Government’s position appears to be based on a number of assumptions:
- It assumes that mainstream services are culturally appropriate and easy for Aboriginal people to access. This is often not the case.
- It assumes that mainstream services are of a higher standard and more efficient than those provided by Aboriginal organisations. This also is often not the case.[v]
- It assumes that the “municipal services” funding provided to the 31 communities only funded the delivery of mainstream municipal-type services and programs (eg garbage collection, street sweeping). This too is often not the case.
Historically a large portion of what was called “municipal services funding” was actually provided to communities like Umoona to cover the costs of council administration (including salaries) and to maintain and insure community-owned assets. This practice was long-standing and Australia-wide.[vi]
In Umoona’s case, “municipal services funding” covered the cost of employing administrative and management staff, including the greater part of the wages for its CEO, admin officer and finance and payroll clerk.[vii]
Umoona also received “municipal services funding” to pay administrative overheads (telephone, postage, building and vehicle insurances, accounting and auditing) and operational costs (registration, repairs and maintenance, and fuelling of council’s vehicles).[viii]
The funding also covered the wages of two labourer positions (one full-time, one half-time). Those positions provided a weekly domestic rubbish collection service, removed hard and hazardous rubbish, maintained fences, cleaned the community ablution and laundry block and implemented dog control measures.[ix]
After the Federal Government’s decision was publicly condemned – including by the District Council of Coober Pedy, the State Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Hon Jay Weatherill MP) and the State’s Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Dr Duncan McFetridge MP)[x] – the Federal Government agreed to reinstate about 80% of Umoona’s regular municipal service funding through to 30 June 2007.[xi]
In February 2007, the Federal Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FACSIA) engaged the Local Government Association (SA) to conduct a review into the delivery of local government services to Umoona and four other “encapsulated” communities. None of the five Aboriginal communities affected by the proposed changes were consulted about the review’s Terms of Reference. The review had not been completed when funding to Umoona ended on 30 June 2007.[xii]
On 18 June 2007 – less than two weeks before funding ended – Umoona’s Chairperson, a Council Member and its CEO gave evidence to a Parliamentary Inquiry established to examine the funding changes. In his evidence, the CEO stated:
The cessation of Municipal Services funding, the drive to mainstream service delivery to Aboriginal communities and the recommendations of the [CHIP Housing] Review all threaten the future of Umoona Community Council which by any measure is achieving most if not all of the Commonwealth’s policy aims for the Indigenous people of Australia. …
There have been no consultations over the implementation of the decision, we have simply been told the funding is to cease and our concerns about the significant problems with that decision have been ignored….
Last Friday [15 June 2007] we met with representatives of FACSIA in Coober Pedy … They were unable to advise what arrangements are in place for [the] next [financial] year.[xiii]
At the conclusion of their evidence, the Umoona representatives made the following statement:
It is our recommendation that our offer to cooperate with the Commonwealth in implementing structural change over a realistic timeframe of five years be implemented. The way forward will be facilitated if an objective assessment of the delivery of services to Aboriginal Communities is undertaken. All parties need to have an input into the terms of references of such a study. [xiv]
In the report of its Inquiry, the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee (SA) concluded:
Witnesses have described the changes as occurring suddenly, without adequate consultation, transitional planning, or exit strategies to manage the change process. The changes are not fully understood, nor have they formally been agreed to by Community Councils. … With only weeks before the changes are to be implemented, all Councils (Local Government and Community) stated that they still do not know who will be delivering, what services, when and how.
Witnesses stated the urgent need for timely, consistent and clear communication, culturally respectful and inclusive consultation, and sufficient transitional planning, to address the issues and adjustments needed to positively manage the change process into the future.
From their evidence these communities feel confused, disrespected and disengaged from the change process, and fear for their future survival. They acknowledge the need for change, but want it in partnership with all stakeholders.[xv]
The Standing Committee directed five recommendations to the Federal Government, including that it:
- defer the implementation of changes to municipal services funding in South Australian Aboriginal Communities due to commence on 1 July 2007;
- commit to quarantine the municipal services funding identified for each Aboriginal Community, prior to any earlier funding changes;
- ensure timely, clear and culturally respectful consultation and agreement with all affected Aboriginal Communities.[xvi]
Click here to access a copy of the Committee’s report (file size: 99KB)
On a number of occasions after March 2007, the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs (Hon Mal Brough MP) acknowledged that his Department had mismanaged the process of changing the funding arrangements.[xvii] Notwithstanding this candour, he continued to resist calls from local councils, Aboriginal communities, a tri-partisan Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee (SA) and other concerned parties to reinstate funding until a proper review process had been conducted.
On 2 July 2007, the Adelaide Advertiser reported that a spokesperson for Minister Brough had stated that “funding would continue [in 2007/08], although some changes in delivery were being considered.”[xviii]
On 12 July 2007, the Paper Tracker – through UnitingCare Wesley Adelaide – asked FACSIA to:
- confirm that funding would be provided for services to Umoona in 2007/08
- indicate the amount of funding that would be provided for these services in 2007/08
- indicate to whom this funding would be provided and when.
As of 31 December 2007, FASCIA had not acknowledged or responded to this request.
Earlier, on 13 August 2007, Umoona Community Council had received a letter from FACSIA advising the Council that it would not receive grants for any of the activities previously funded under the Municipal Services grants scheme. Instead, FACSIA advised, $220,000 would be provided to the Aboriginal Lands Trust to undertake certain activities, $35,000 would be provided to the State Department of Families and Communities for home living skills assistance and other funding would be provided to the District Council of Coober Pedy to deliver
Municipal Services to [the] community while the historical impediments to providing … communities such as Umoona with local government services are being resolved and new arrangements are being put in place.[xix]
A concerned Umoona Community Council subsequently contacted the District Council of Coober Pedy and the Aboriginal Lands Trust about these arrangements. Both organisations indicated that they had not agreed or entered into any formal arrangements with FACSIA to receive the funding or provide the services outlined in the letter.[xx]
In a letter to FACSIA dated 10 September 2007, Umoona noted that it could not support FACSIA’s proposal. At the same time, Umoona pointed out that FACSIA had “not obtained agreement” for the proposed arrangements from either the Aboriginal Lands Trust or the State Department of Families and Communities.[xxi] (More than eight months later, on 30 May 2008, the Department acknowledged that it had “no agreements or arrangements” with “the Aboriginal Lands Trust in relation to Umoona”).[xxii]
On 10 January 2008, the Paper Tracker wrote to the new Federal Minister (Hon Jenny Macklin MP) concerning the uncertainty surrounding the provision of federal funding to Umoona Community Council.[xxiii] As of 20 March 2008, the Minister had not responded to our letter.
On 21 March 2008, Senator Rachel Siewert (Australian Greens) placed 20 questions on notice in the Australian Parliament concerning Umoona’s funding.[xxiv] Questions asked by the Senator included:
Are you aware of a promise by the former Minister Mal Brough on 2 July 2007 that funding for Umoona would continue in 2007/08?
Can you explain how seven months after this indication from the Minister that no funding has been released?
Are you aware of a letter sent to FaCSIA by UnitingCare Wesley in July 2007 requesting confirmation that funding would continue in 2007/08 and asking who would be paid and how much? Why has there been no response?
Are you aware of a similar letter sent to the new Minister Jenny Macklin by UnitingCare Wesley in early January? … Why has there been no response?
How does the department intend to resolve this issue for the future? What is the plan for the next financial year?[xxv]
Additional information (added 29 June 2008)
On 28 May 2008, the Federal Minister’s Office advised UnitingCare Wesley that the Minister had:
approved one-off funding in 2007-2008 for the Umoona Community Council which will enable some non-municipal services activities to be funded. These arrangements are intended to support the capacity of UCC to prepare for new arrangements to be put in place in the future.[xxvi]
While the Paper Tracker welcomes the Minister’s decision to provide funding for 2007/08, we believe that the allocation of annual funding one month prior to the end of the financial year in which those funds must be acquitted is poor practice.
The Paper Tracker remains concerned that ongoing funding arrangements for Umoona have not yet been addressed but, rather, in the Government’s words, are “to be put in place in the future.”[xxvii]
On 30 May 2008, the Federal Government answered the bulk of Senator Siewert’s questions. In its replies, the Government indicated that:
- it had “overlooked” UnitingCare Wesley’s correspondence from July 2007,
- its funding allocation to Umoona for 2007/2008 was more than $60,000 less than its 2006/2007 allocation, and
- the 2007/08 allocation would “be released shortly.”[xxviii]
The Government also reiterated its intention to “normalise” the delivery of local government services to Umoona and other Aboriginal communities located within the boundaries of local or district councils. On this, it stated:
It is acknowledged that the municipal services funding reforms represent a significant change from the funding practices of the past … The normalisation approach is based on ensuring that Indigenous Australians have access to the same type of services as other Australians wherever this is possible. In the case of communities such as Umoona, it involves local government councils taking responsibility for service provision to those Indigenous communities located within their jurisdictional area.
The Department will continue to work closely with Indigenous community organisations, relevant local government units and other stakeholders to monitor the new arrangements, to ensure Indigenous constituents receive an equitable service.[xxix]
On 11 June 2008, Umoona Community Council wrote to UnitingCare Wesley to express its “heartfelt thanks” for “the continued support provided” during the battle to secure its 2007/08 funding. Umoona noted that it expects a similar battle in 2008/09 given that:
as yet the Commonwealth has not agreed to continue to fund encapsulated communities for their overheads, governance and administration and management costs … so we will most likely need your continued support on this issue.[xxx]
Click here for information of Umoona’s efforts to secure funding for the following financial year (i.e. 2009/10).
This article was last updated in June 2008. It 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.
[i] Umoona Community Council Inc. Press Release 27 February 2007. See also Ring, G. 19 October 2006, “FaCSIA takes axe to black governance,” National Indigenous Times. Available at http://www.nit.com.au/News/story.aspx?id=8122 (accessed 13 July 2007).
[ii] Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee. 2007. Inquiry into the impact of Australian Government changes to Municipal Services funding upon four Aboriginal communities in South Australia, Parliament of South Australia, PP191, p3.
[iii] See comments of FACSIA spokesperson in Ring, G. 19 October 2006, “FaCSIA takes axe to black governance,” National Indigenous Times. Available at http://www.nit.com.au/News/story.aspx?id=8122 (accessed 13 July 2007).
[v] For example, Umoona Community Council runs a highly successful rental housing program. Its average weekly rent collection per property ($97 in 2007) far exceeds the amount collected by Housing SA ($23 in 2001).
[vi] Holder, F. 10 November 2006. Letter to J. Nicholls.
[vii] Holder, F. 31 August 2006. Letter to B. Wakelin.
[viii] Cooley, G. 18 June 2007. “Briefing to Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee,” p3.
[ix] Cooley, G. 18 June 2007. “Briefing to Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee,” p4.
[x] See, for example, “Federal funding cuts to Indigenous services criticised,” 1 November 2006, ABC News Online, www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2006/11/01/1778392.htm.
[xi] see: Holder, F. 18 June 2007. “Briefing to Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee”. Also: Umoona Community Council Inc. 18 June 2007, “Briefing to Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee.”
[xii] Holder, F. 18 June 2007. “Briefing to Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee,” p9.
[xiii] Umoona Community Council Inc. 18 June 2007, “Briefing to Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee,” p7-9.
[xiv] Umoona Community Council Inc. 18 June 2007, “Briefing to Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee,” p10.
[xv] Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee. 2007. Inquiry into the impact of Australian Government changes to Municipal Services funding upon four Aboriginal communities in South Australia, Parliament of South Australia, PP191, p20.
[xvi] Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee. 2007. Inquiry into the impact of Australian Government changes to Municipal Services funding upon four Aboriginal communities in South Australia, Parliament of South Australia, PP191, p21.
[xvii] See “Fed funding cuts stop garbage collection in Indigenous communities,” 16 March 2007, The World Today, ABC Radio National, Transcript. The Federal Minister also admitted that the matter had been mishandled during a meeting with representatives of the Uniting Church in Australia held at Parliament House on 20 June 2007.
[xviii] Wheatley, K & Shepherd, T. 2 July 2007, “Ice now adds to Aboriginal drug worries,” Advertiser, p9.
[xix] Holder, F. 14 August 2007. Email to J Nicholls.
[xx] Information provided by the Chief Executive Officer, Umoona Community Council Inc., 22 August 2007.
[xxi] Holder, F. 10 September 2007, Letter to M Tutton, Manager Housing and Lands, SA State Officer, FACSIA.
[xxii] This information was provided in response to a question on notice asked by Senator Rachel Siewert in February 2008 as part of the Australian Senate’s 2007-08 Additional Estimates session (see Output Group 1.2, Question 77).
[xxiii] McDonald, P. 10 January 2008. Letter to Hon J Macklin, Minister for Indigenous Affairs.
[xxiv] Twomey, C. 27 February 2008, Email to J. Nicholls. The questions were asked through the Senate’s Standing Committee on Community Affairs’ Estimates hearings.
[xxv] A copy of all twenty questions was provided to the Paper Tracker (see attachment to email from C. Twomey, 27 February 2008, Email addressed to J. Nicholls).
[xxvi] Huntington, K. 28 May 2008, Letter to P. McDonald.
[xxvii] Huntington, K. 28 May 2008, Letter to P. McDonald.
[xxviii] See Answers to Questions 66 to 81, Output Group 1.2, Senate Community Affairs Committee, Answers to Estimates Questions on Notice, Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Portfolio, 2007-08 Additional Estimates, February 2008. The Government’s answers to the bulk of those questions were provided on 30 May 2008 (see Twomey, C. 12 June 2008, Email to F Holder).
[xxix] This information was provided as part of an Amended Answer to a question on notice asked by Senator Rachel Siewert in February 2008 as part of the Australian Senate’s 2007-08 Additional Estimates session (see Output Group 1.2, Question 80, Amended Answer).
[xxx] Holder, F. 11 June 2008, Letter to J. Nicholls.