remoteFOCUS asks political parties to commit to Remote Australia, and help avoid the unfolding crisis

There is a “perfect storm” facing much of remote Australia. The storm is a set of economic, social and environmental crises that continues to unfold, and is a significant danger to the health of our economy, our land, and our nation’s soul. There is an unfortunate overall lack of focus in the Federal Election campaign on the situation facing remote Australia – 85% of our land mass and 55% of Australia’s export GDP (ABS 2012).

remoteFOCUS is a project initiated by a non-partisan group of concerned Australians with extensive experience in dealing with regional and remote Australia aiming to improve the way governments administer, govern and engage with remote Australia. remoteFOCUS has written to all political parties seeking a set of policy commitments which will help achieve improvements in the way governments administer, govern and engage with remote Australia.

“This is essential, so there is proper – and equitable – provision of basic services such as health and education, and so the deep challenges confronting the region can be met, opportunities taken, and the very significant contribution remote Australia can make is fully and sustainably realised,” says Fred Chaney AO, Convenor of remoteFOCUS and Chairman of Desert Knowledge Australia.

remoteFOCUS is seeking a commitment from parties to:

  • Establish a Remote Australia Commission – a body that has a mandate and authority to deliver practical policies for better governance, infrastructure and service delivery in remote Australia and its regions, and develop effective regional arrangements specific to remote Australia. This body, as outlined in the remoteFOCUS report (*see below), would 'sit above the contest' and act as an independent “umpire” and “mediator” when inevitable disputes arise, to keep the various elements “on track”, committed, and from going their own ways as has happened in the past. Commissioners would be eminent Australians with significant experience and understanding of remote Australia, with the composition reflecting the cultural make-up of remote Australia as closely as possible.
  • Support a small number of “innovation” regions or zones, where the governance and delivery principles and service delivery approach outlined in the remoteFOCUS report (*see below) are applied, with the aim of developing a process for learning consensus and regional capacity building.
  • Conduct a detailed review of the governance of remote Australia, and resourcing and funding arrangements. At the moment, funding of services and infrastructure for remote Australia tends to be, far too often, haphazard, inequitable, inefficient, and unfortunately not based on a “resourcing must follow function “ approach.

“This election campaign has seen some good policy ideas and messages delivered, including by several Indigenous leaders in relation to parts of remote Australia and part of its population, including Aboriginal Australians,” said Mr. Chaney.

“These ideas include policies in regard to regionalisation in policy and structure, pooled funding, independent governance bodies, etc. Many of these suggestions reflect aspects of the approach that remoteFOCUS advocates and are necessary if Australia is to accelerate progress in closing the gap. However we believe that similar approaches are needed for ALL people of remote Australia, for two primary reasons:

“First, there are universal economic, social and environmental problems for ALL the people of remote Australia: It is not just about the economy, important as that is; it is not only about Aboriginal Australians and the vital need to “close the gap” in such areas as health and education, as important as this is.

“We want a solution for ALL of remote Australia, including to the delivery of such basic rights and services as health and education. Moreover, what happens in remote Australia affects all Australians, in many ways. This is about the whole nation and the hole in its heartland.

“Second, many of these ideas, as encouraging as they are, will struggle if the current framework and approach to policy, governance and delivery of services persists around them. More of the same will not work. We believe a paradigm shift with wholesale structural reform is needed in the way governments (at all tiers) approach the issues and challenges facing remote Australia.

“The present governance framework is part of the problem, not the solution,” said Mr. Chaney.

remoteFOCUS believes that various policies and actions by governments, state and federal, of all political persuasions, have proven the “one size fits all” and “top down” (centralised decision-making and policy advice and development by people not directly involved on the ground) approaches do not work for remote Australia.

A comprehensive “bottom-up” approach, with localised development of regional structures and actions, is needed for all remote Australia: “There must be proper local community engagement and decentralised governance,” said Mr. Chaney.

Remote Australia is different! Its needs are different, and many are specific to particular regions, and communities.

*In September 2012, remoteFOCUS released a major report: “Fixing the hole in Australia’s heartland: How Government needs to work in remote Australia”, outlining the problems, and needs of remote Australia, and the opportunities and possible options for improving governance and service and infrastructure delivery.

For media enquiries and arrangements for interviews with Fred Chaney, contact:
Fionn Muster
Manager Communications and Engagement
T: +61 8 8959 6015 M: 0428 893 524
E: fionn.muster@desertknowledge.com.au