In 2006, Watarru entered into an agreement with the Federal Government for a community swimming pool. Unlike the arrangements established for other pools on the APY Lands, the Watarru agreement did not require either the Federal or State Government to fund the pool’s ongoing operating costs. Those costs were to be borne by the community itself, possibly with a fuel sales levy.
In May 2008, the Watarru community advised the Federal Government “that it was unable to manage or maintain” the proposed pool. The following month, the Government decided that “construction of the pool would not proceed.”[i]
The Paper Trail
In July 2006, the community and the Federal Government entered into a Shared Responsibility Agreement (SRA).[iv] The signing of the agreement coincided with a visit to Watarru by the then Federal Minister for Health and Ageing (Hon Tony Abbott MP).[v]
Under the SRA, the Federal Government agreed to provide almost $1.5 million for the construction of a community swimming pool. Specifically:
- the Federal Department of Health and Ageing committed $1.33 million to cover the pool’s construction costs, and
- the Federal Department of Education, Science and Training committed $150,000 for safety and security fencing.[vi]
In addition, the Federal Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs agreed to provide “in-kind” resources through the work of Watarru’s municipal services officer (a position funded by the department). Under the agreement, this officer would assist with research on the pool’s impact and its “ongoing operational needs.”[vii]
For its part, the community agreed to provide $100,000 to cover “the management and supervision of the pool and associated ongoing recurrent costs.”[viii] The agreement did not stipulate whether this would be an annual or once-off contribution.
As well as its financial contribution, Watarru agreed to:
manage and enforce the ‘no school, no pool’ policy through clear and applied attendance rates and enforcement by the Watarru school.[ix]
Under the SRA, Watarru community and its council also agreed to do thirteen specific things, including:
- instigating the possibility of introducing a fuel sales levy as a contribution to the ongoing management and operational costs of the pool,
- taking responsibility for the management and supervision of the pool including ongoing financial and in-kind support and the seeking of any additional funding from government, and
- ensuring the pool manager, lifeguards and maintenance staff are “recruited and appropriately accredited, including ongoing annual updating of skills and community water-safety education.[x]
At the time that the SRA was signed, the Federal Government estimated that the pool would be completed and operational by May 2007.[xi]
On 8 February 2007, the Department of Heath and Ageing advised a Senate Standing Committee that the completion date for Watarru’s pool had been pushed back to December 2007. The department also indicated that, to date, it had only expended $33,000 on the project – for a feasibility study – but was committed to spending the rest of its $1.33 million contribution during construction of the pool.[xii]
On 20 February 2007, the then Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs (Hon Mal Brough MP) and the then Federal Minister for Health and Ageing (Hon Tony Abbott MP) drew attention to the funding of the Watarru pool as part of their government’s response to petrol-sniffing and their commitment to “providing alternative activities for young people.”[xiii] Five months later, and more than two months after the original completion date, the final site of the Watarru pool was still under negotiation.[xiv]
On 7 August 2007, the then Federal Minister for Health and Ageing advised that his department’s “estimated” expenditure on the project for 2006/07 had been $1.485 million. Given that at that time the site for the pool had not been finalised, it seems unlikely that the bulk of those monies had been expended.[xv]
A different pool, a different deal
If the construction of the Watarru swimming pool had gone ahead, it would have been the fourth federally-funded pool built on the APY Lands since 2006.
Although the other pools were also subject to Shared Responsibility Agreements and required the introduction of a ‘no school, no pool’ policy, the agreement Watarru signed was significantly different to the ones established with Mimili, Amata and Pipalyatjara.
In the other three cases, the State Government had been part of the negotiations and had agreed to fund the pool’s recurrent costs.[xvi] At Watarru those costs had to be met out of the community’s own resources.[xvii]
Another significant difference between the agreements was that in the other three cases, the State Department of Education and Children’s Services agreed to play a major role in the ongoing management of the swimming pool.[xviii] In contrast, at Watarru, the community and its municipal services officer were expected to take on that responsibility.[xix]
The difference between the agreements can be seen as a consequence of the way the Federal Government went about deciding where to build a fourth pool.
The locations of the first two pools were determined on the basis of a competitive process. Communities interested in having a pool submitted a community proposal and the strongest applications – from Mimili and Amata – were selected.
By the time funding for a third pool was announced, Anangu and government had established Tjungunku Kuranyu-Kuta Palyantjaku (TKP) – a peak body of Anangu, State and Commonwealth and service providers. Accordingly, it was TKP that decided that the third pool should be built at Pipalyatjara.[xx]
The decision to fund the construction of a pool at Watarru did not involve either a competitive process or TKP. It was, instead, the result of direct negotiations between Watarru community and the Federal Department of Health and Ageing (in its capacity as the lead agency for the APY Lands COAG trial).[xxi]
While no one begrudged Watarru the opportunity to secure a significant piece of infrastructure, under protocols and arrangements hammered out in 2005, the proposal should have been referred to TKP. It is possible that a desire to finalise the agreement during the Federal Minister of Health and Ageing’s visit to Watarru overrode established processes.[xxii]
Of greater concern was the possibility that Watarru would have been unable to meet the pool’s ongoing operating costs. The Paper Tracker has always believed that any suggestion that a significant amount of that funding could be raised by the introduction of a fuel level was entirely unrealistic. Watarru is a small, isolated community with no “passing traffic” to speak of. Any levy would have been a charge – almost exclusively – on local Anangu and their support staff.
In mid September 2007, the Paper Tracker asked the Federal Department of Health and Ageing for the following information:
- the findings of the 2006 feasibility study,
- the projected annual operating and management costs of the Watarru swimming pool, and
- the date on which it expected construction of the pool to be completed.
In its reply dated 7 November 2007, the Department stated:
A feasibility study was undertaken to determine whether the local water and electricity capacity was sufficient to support a pool. The study found that a pool of 15m x 6m could be supported without adversely affecting water or electricity supply to the community. The study also noted that the annual operating cost of the pool would be in the vicinity of $150,000 inclusive of the salaries for a full time pool manager and other necessary staff.
The Watarru community is currently facing some local issues which may have an impact on the pool project. The Department is in contact with the community and will work with Watarru to ensure that the future direction of the project is in accordance with the wishes of the community.[xxiii]
Watarru has a population of approximately 75 people.[xxiv] Under the terms of the SRA, the community would have had to contribute annually the equivalent of $2000 per community member.
At the time that the SRA was signed, the construction of a Commonwealth-funded swimming pool at Mimili was close to completion. The annual operating costs for that and two other pools on the APY Lands was $160,000 per pool.[xxv] The Paper Tracker believes that the Department should have been able to provide Watarru with an estimated operating cost for the proposed pool before the agreement was signed so that any decision it made was an informed one.
On 6 August 2009, the Paper Tracker asked the Federal Department of Health and Ageing for an update on this matter.[xxvi]
In a reply dated 14 September 2009, the Department advised that:
- “in May 2008 Watarru community informed the Department that it was unable to manage or maintain a pool and instead sought Departmental support to establish a multi-purpose facility,”
- in June 2008, “a decision was taken … that construction of the pool would not proceed,” and
- on 15 June 2009, the Department signed a “change of purpose funding agreement” under which funding that had been set aside for the Watarru pool was to be “provided to Ananguku Arts to extend and renovate the arts centre at Nyapari.”[xxvii]
On 17 November 2009, the Department advised the Paper Tracker that it had allocated “approximately $628,000” for the Nyapari arts centre project.[xxviii]
The Paper Tracker notes that this amount is less than half of the Department’s original $1.33 million funding commitment for the construction of the Watarru pool.[xxix]
On 9 December 2009, the Department further advised the Paper Tracker that the remaining funds – presumably around $700,000 – had been “returned to the Regional Health Services program during 2007/08 for other one-off projects.”[xxx]
This article was last updated in January 2010. 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. 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] Halton, J. 14 September 2009. Letter to Rev. P. McDonald.
[ii] Department for Environment and Heritage, 2005, “Kuka Kanyini at Watarru: Health and Wellbeing Survey Report 2005,” Government of South Australia, p3.
[iii] Office for Recreation and Sport, 2006, APY Lands Recreation and Sport Discussion Paper for the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands Task Force and Social Inclusion Unit, Department of Premier and Cabinet, p7.
[v] Starick, P. 5 July 2006, “Troubleshooter for Lands,” Advertiser, p5.
[xii] Information provided in response to question asked by Senator C Evans on 1 November 2006 during the Community Affairs Committee’s examination of Budget Estimates 2006-2007. Answer tabled in the Senate, Parliament of Australia on 8 February 2007.
[xiii] Abbott, T. & Brough, M. 20 February 2007, “Petrol-sniffing campaign expanded,” media release.
[xiv] Minutes of the meeting of the APY Executive Board held at Alice Springs on 1 August 2007. Available at www.waru.org/organisations/ap/apyminutes/execmins070801.pdf
[xv] Information provided in response to question asked by Senator Carr on 10 April 2007. Answer tabled in the Senate, Parliament of Australia on 7 August 2007. The Minister’s answer also contained the erroneous statement: “The pool should be completed in mid May 2007.”
[xvi] Vanstone, A & Rann, M. 7 June 2005, “Third Pool for APY Lands,” joint media release.
[xviii] See Annual Report of the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee 2004/2005, Parliament of South Australia, PP235, p43.
[xx] Vanstone, A & Rann, M. 7 June 2005, “Third Pool for APY Lands,” joint media release. See also the minutes of the meeting of TKP held on 2 May 2005.
[xxi] See information provided in response to question asked by Senator Carr on 10 April 2007. Answer tabled in the Senate, Parliament of Australia on 7 August 2007. This information also reveals that, extraordinarily, the cost of the Watarru pool accounts for more than one quarter of all of the department’s expenditure on COAG Trial-related activity on the APY Lands between 2004/04 and 2006/07.
[xxii] On 6 August 2006, a representative of the Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Division of the Department of the Premier and Cabinet told the SA Parliament’s Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee that the decision to fund a pool at Watarru was made independently by the Federal Minister for Health and Ageing.
[xxiii] Halton, J (DoHA). 7 November 2007. Letter to Rev P McDonald.
[xxiv] Department for Environment and Heritage, 2005, “Kuka Kanyini at Watarru: Health and Wellbeing Survey Report 2005,” Government of South Australia, p3. The 2006 Census did not report on Watarru as a locality in its own right. The 2001 Census recorded a population of 60.
[xxv] See, Rann, M, Weatherill, J. & Lomax-Smith, J. 24 June 2007, “$30 Million Infrastructure Package for APY Lands,” news release.
[xxvi] McDonald, P. 6 August 2009. Letter to J. Halton (DoHA).
[xxvii] Halton, J (DoHA). 14 September 2009. Letter to Rev. P. McDonald.
[xxviii] Halton, J (DoHA). 17 November 2009. Letter to Rev. P. McDonald.
[xxx] Briscoe, A. (DoHA). 9 December 2009. Email to J. Nicholls.