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Rubbish policy from FaCSIA

By Graham Ring - posted Tuesday, 17 October 2006

The Davenport Community Council near Port Augusta has developed governance structures, leaders and plans for the future so why is Mal Brough about to defund it?

If you’re living in Davenport and you forget to put the rubbish out one night, it’s no big deal. The Indigenous guys doing the round will more than likely duck out the back and empty it for you anyway. They care about the look of the place you see, and understand that sanitation is important. The grass here is trimmed back, and the sports oval is in good enough nick to host test cricket.

But that’s all about to change.


Mal Brough’s Department of Family and Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaCSIA) has notified this little community council perched at the edge of Port Augusta that they will be defunded from 31 December this year.

This kick in the guts from the federal government was met by the community with bewilderment as much as anger. Why would the federal government chop off at the knees a living example of successful Indigenous governance?

How does it make any sense?

Davenport is home to about 200 people, though it swells to almost double that number during the summer influx of visiting countrymen from points north.

Malcolm McKenzie is as gentle a soul as you are likely to meet, with the only apparent stain on his character being the fact that he barracks for Collingwood. Spokesman for Davenport Community Council, McKenzie picks me up in a battered ute and takes me for a spin around the tourist traps of Davenport, just a few kilometres to the north of Port Augusta.

With an obvious sense of pride he shows me through the well-maintained offices of the Davenport Community Council and takes me into the boardroom where council holds its monthly meetings. This is about Indigenous people taking responsibility for their own affairs, developing the skills of governance and instilling pride in their community. What’s not to like?


Malcolm points out the well-maintained plant and equipment sheds which he says are unlikely to survive the budget slashing. He also gestures towards the site of a proposed native plant nursery, which would be set up to train people from Davenport and surrounding Indigenous communities in a range of skills. Ditto.

The Community Council is in the process of negotiating with residents to ban the consumption of alcohol in public places. Malcolm points out that it is the people in the community who are putting these partial prohibition arrangements in place. If council infrastructure is decimated this initiative too will fall over.

There is a world of difference between the community implementing such a decision of its own volition, and having it imposed by an external authority. The former is an exercise of self-determination, autonomy and good sense, the latter a return to the bad old days of paternalism. Malcolm is anxious to point out that prior to the axe falling, there has been no suggestion from FaCSIA that the council’s performance has been unsatisfactory.

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First published in the National Indigenous Times in issue 114, September 21, 2006.

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About the Author

Graham Ring is an award-winning writer and a fortnightly National Indigenous Times columnist. He is based in Alice Springs.

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