Report Calls for Radical Change to Governance of Remote Australia

A major independent report has recommended sweeping changes to the way the residents and communities of remote Australia are consulted, treated and serviced by governments.

The report “Fixing the hole in Australia’s Heartland” is the result of more than three years consultation and research by the remoteFOCUS Group, which is facilitated by Desert Knowledge Australia.

It will be launched at Parliament House, Canberra at 11 am (AEST) today (Monday 10 September).

The remoteFOCUS Group says in the report that remote Australia is facing a crisis of disengagement, ineffective government arrangements, and national indifference.

The report states that despite good intentions, nearly all current government policies, funding mechanisms and programs are inadequate or demonstrably failing.

The remoteFOCUS Group is a group of concerned Australians with extensive experience in dealing with Remote Australia, which has embarked on a major engagement and discussion process to develop practical alternative options and models to greatly improve governance, policy and infrastructure and service delivery in relation to remote Australia.

The Group believes there is a compelling case for new systems and approaches to remote area governance which must embrace genuine participation of local residents and organisations in policy, administration and financial decisions on matters which affect them.

“Unless major changes are made to governance, policies and infrastructure and service delivery practices ‐ there will be dire economic, social, cultural, environmental and security consequences for Australia as a whole, with many of these consequences already becoming apparent,” says the convenor of the group, The Hon Fred Chaney, AO.

Mr.Chaney, a former Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister, is Chair of Desert Knowledge Australia, the national organisation (headquartered in Alice Springs) which initiated the remoteFOCUS program. Desert Knowledge Australia is committed to creating social and economic opportunities in Australia’s desert and remote areas.

“Is the current governance of remote Australia good, or even adequate? We think not. Is it fair and just? We think not,” he says.

Mr Chaney says the Group believes Australia cannot call itself a nation while “there is this hole in our heartland”.

The remoteFOCUS report responds to two fundamental questions: What is going wrong in remote Australia? And, how can it be fixed?

“And ultimately there is a strong need for an on-going institution such as an Outback Commission that has the mandate and authority to focus on remote Australia and its regions, change the dynamic of under-development that afflicts the regions, and sustain a momentum for change and regional coordination that is specific to remote Australia.”

According to the Director of the remoteFOCUS Group, Dr Bruce Walker, reform of this nature and scope will not be easy, nor will it be uniform.

“The remoteFOCUS report is principally concerned with the way government is structured to make decisions and carry them out. Our intent is to fix the hole in Australia’s heartland,” Dr Walker says.

“This report should not be news to government since we have also drawn evidence from governments’ own reports, reviews, policy statements and political promises. It certainly is not news to the people of remote Australia”, he says.

Dr Walker says that the sense of disconnect and discontent recorded in the group’s extensive consultations across remote Australia “is captured in the five things people have constantly told us they want but don’t get: A say in decisions which affect them; Equitable and sustainable financial flows; Better services and a locally responsive public service; Local control and accountability where possible; and inclusion in a greater Australian narrative”.

Mr Chaney reinforced the need for strong leadership.

“It is now not a case of whether or not we know what to do, but rather a case of having the collective will to do it. The market will not define the national interest in remote Australia and its peoples. Only political and civic leadership will drive the necessary reforms, “ he says.

Click here to view the “Fixing the hole in Australia’s Heartland” report or click here to order a copy.

For media inquiries, or interviews with:

  • The Hon Fred Chaney AO, Director of remoteFOCUS,
  • Dr Bruce Walker, or
  • CEO of Desert Knowledge Australia, Mr John Huigen.

Please contact:
Desert Knowledge Australia Media Liaison JEANETTE WORMALD
M 0418 810 785 | E jeanette.wormald@desertknowledge.com.au