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Cutting through Indigenous red tape

By Rollo Manning - posted Thursday, 5 July 2007

A single authority reporting directly to Federal Parliament should take the place of Commonwealth and Territory Government Departments of Health, Housing and Education to make more money available and be more responsive to Indigenous community needs.

While the police, army, doctors and nurses are rushing around the NT “restoring law and order” it is to be hoped that Dr Peter Shergold and his senior bureaucrats back in Canberra are looking at how they too are part of the problem.

If there was ever remote and isolated communities choked by bureaucratic strangulation it is those in the NT that are now the being targeted in the crackdown on child abuse.


The problem may not have become nearly as bad if the local government governing councils had more time to consider their community’s future and less about running the red tape gauntlet with Canberra.

Where else in the world would a community of 500 people, governed by an elected body of eight persons and with a support staff of about 12 people - but wait for it - receive its money from 68 different sources of funds from both the Commonwealth and Territory Governments? (Source: Nauiyu Nambiyu CGC - Daly River NT)

The cost of maintaining Aboriginal communities is high and always will be due to their isolation. But it is how the money is spent that has to be looked at and how changes can be made to the infrastructure that gets the money to the people. Governments over the years can be blamed for not taking action and whatever is done in 2007 will be wasted unless there is a change to the governance structure.

It is time for a single “authority” to be established to administer monies going into communities and to provide their core municipal services, which should be co-ordinated regionally. The job of a council at the local level should be to concentrate on improved community facilities and establishing a quality control process so that future funding is geared to successfully improving the quality of life for the population.

There should be no reason why isolated communities should not all have a properly equipped learning and recreational centre for young people. An audit done now would probably show that 90 per cent of remote communities lack this resource.

These communities should have Internet facilities allowing email to be sent and Internet banking transacted. Up until now this has not been a priority - these are Aboriginal communities and hence they can wait. This institutionalised racism should stop; everyone should be treated equally no matter where they live or the colour of their skin.


The NT Government has shown itself to be inept when administering housing, health and education with standards in these among the worst in the developed world.

The duplication of effort and resources between the Territory and Commonwealth is ludicrous: an agency in Darwin funded directly by the federal Parliament to would be a far more efficient way of conducting remote Aboriginal business.

The notion that “mainstreaming” programs is best has proved to be a fallacy as the cultures that are the targets are so distinctively different.

In 2007 there is a situation where it is being quoted that half the money through the Commonwealth Department of Family, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs goes back into consolidated revenue as overhead expenses; one third of the education dollars hit the ground at a remote community; and, a health service gets its money from 27 different programs.

This has got to stop so local governing councils can concentrate on the things that matter - the people they represent. If the Prime Minister can shock people with strong arm tactics to restore law and order surely he can take an equally sharp axe to the red tape that surrounds the same communities.

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About the Author

Rollo Manning is a consultant in Darwin to Aboriginal communities and organisations in health and social development.

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