Elite unit to drive Noel Pearson indigenous reforms

6 Feb 2014 12:00 AM - Publication: The Australian

Sixteen of the most powerful indigenous and business leaders as well as top-ranking bureaucrats have been appointed to oversee a radical plan devised by Noel Pearson to empower Aboriginal communities and ensure that funding delivers real gains on the ground.

Mr Pearson will co-chair the new steering committee with Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet associate secretary Liza Carroll to drive enormous change in the way money for indigenous Australians is spent.

The Cape York leader told The Australian that Tony Abbott had placed a high priority on the Empowered Communities project, and was receiving maximum co-operation from state and territory counterparts.

The first official meeting of the federal government's Empowered Communities project took place this week.

"The meeting brought together the most senior public servants responsible for indigenous affairs, together with commonwealth government officials and indigenous leaders," Mr Pearson said. "The fact that the heads of the Premier's Department in NSW and Queensland were there spoke volumes about the seriousness with which both levels of government are treating the Empowered Communities project."

Mr Pearson said the involvement of key commonwealth department secretaries, particularly David Tune from Treasury and Finn Pratt from Social Services, meant the "most important players in the public service" were turning their minds to how to develop a better and more productive system for tackling indigenous affairs.

"This will be very hard work and we have bold ambitions, but I am optimistic," he said.

The project is a joint effort between indigenous leaders from eight regions across Australia, the Australian government and Jawun Indigenous Corporate Partnerships. Several state governments are also participating.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister on Indigenous Affairs Alan Tudge said the $5 million investment to fund the detailed design of the project would address key problems that caused waste instead of service delivery.

He said one of the key problems in government interaction with indigenous communities had been the sheer number of programs and agencies that interacted with often very small communities.

Sometimes these programs and agencies were aligned and customised, but frequently they were not.

"For example, the (Australian National Audit Office) reported a community with a population of less than 500 indigenous people receiving over 100 programs, delivered by seven federal government agencies and 11 state government agencies." Mr Tudge said. "The Empowered Communities model will change the way government and indigenous communities work together.

"It will create a model to achieve greater co-ordination of government policy and it will ensure that government investment is informed by local leaders and targeted to make a genuine and practical difference to the lives of indigenous people."

Mr Tudge said the project would build on the government's decision to consolidate indigenous specific programs, bringing them under one government department and ensuring greater policy co-ordination.

He said a stronger local governance structure, led by key indigenous leaders, would be important to delivering better services. "We know local empowerment and locally driven solutions will improve outcomes for indigenous people," he said. "We need to give indigenous people a greater say and greater responsibility about how best to respond to local issues, and especially to combat welfare dependence."

The eight regions involved are Cape York, NSW central coast, inner Sydney, Goulburn Murray, East Kimberley, West Kimberley, APY/NPY Lands and northeast Arnhem Land. Marcia Langton of the University of Melbourne is a special adviser to the co chairs.

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