The Australian Government is moving to a new way of working with Indigenous leaders and communities – one that supports Indigenous ownership, enables true partnerships with Government, and recognises the diversity of cultures and circumstances of Indigenous Australians. This aligns with the Prime Minister’s commitment to ‘work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’.
One example is the Indigenous-designed and led Empowered Communities initiative.
The Empowered Communities initiative is a new way for Indigenous communities and governments to work together to set priorities, improve services and apply funding effectively at a regional level. Importantly, it aims to increase Indigenous ownership and give Indigenous people a greater say in decisions that affect them.
At its core, Empowered Communities is about governments backing Indigenous leaders who want to introduce positive changes in their communities and regions. It is an initiative that puts Indigenous culture and participation front and centre of government decision-making.
The Empowered Communities proposal was developed by Indigenous leaders from eight regions across Australia:
- Cape York
- Central Coast
- Inner Sydney
- Goulburn Murray
- East Kimberley
- West Kimberley
- Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands
- North East Arnhem Land
The Australian Government provided $5 million to support the Empowered Communities leaders to complete a detailed design of the model.
The Empowered Communities design report is a public document.
The regional implementation of Empowered Communities is underway with support from the Australian Government, Jawun Indigenous Corporate Partnerships. A number of state governments are also involved.
The Australian Government responded to the design report in December 2015, strongly supporting local Indigenous-led action to address priorities and aspirations identified by communities, in partnership with Indigenous people.
Implementation - Progress to Date
The Government is supporting the implementation of Empowered Communities in eight regions across Australia. This includes a commitment to greater transparency, collaboration on regional planning and discretionary investment, and co-design of solutions to address community-identified priorities.
The Government is providing $14.4 million over three years (to 30 June 2019) to fund ‘backbone organisations’ in seven regions. This provides critical capability for Indigenous leaders as they work with their communities and partner organisations to identify local priorities, needs and aspirations. In the eight region, North East Arnhem Land, Indigenous leaders are working to determine their approach to implementation.
As part of the Government’s commitment to greater transparency, PM&C has compiled and provided to Empowered Communities regions comprehensive data packages. These packages provide a platform for joint planning and identifying community priorities.
Work is under way in each region to identify first priorities and establish longer term regional Development Agendas that address social, economic and cultural development. PM&C’s Regional Network is supporting this effort on the ground.
For example, in La Perouse (Inner Sydney Empowered Communities region) the community has identified a local Aboriginal-operated aged care facility as a first priority for their region. A number of local Aboriginal organisations are working together on plans to provide community-based care and culturally appropriate residential aged care services, as well as training for Indigenous care workers. The Government has provided funding for a feasibility study.
The Prime Minister and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs have been engaging with Empowered Communities leaders since the beginning of implementation. In early 2016, the Prime Minister visited La Perouse in Inner Sydney and the Central Coast region to meet with regional leaders and discuss issues on the ground and the partnership approach to implementing Empowered Communities.
In November 2016, the Prime Minister and the Minister visited APY Lands in South Australia where they met with Empowered Communities leaders from the NPY Lands region to hear first- hand about issues involved in implementing Empowered Communities in a vast remote region of Australia.
In January 2017, the Prime Minister and the Minister held a successful meeting with Empowered Communities national leaders who provided updates on progress in their regions, discussed emerging themes and how the Government can further support implementation.
The Minister met again with the national Empowered Communities leaders’ group in May 2017 to discuss practical implementation issues, including action on social norms, regional Development Agendas and an initial approach to joint decision-making in Empowered Communities regions.
The joint decision-making approach is being co-designed by Empowered Communities leaders and PM&C to provide a platform for joint planning and increasingly sharing decision-making authority with local leaders. The aim is to roll out this approach progressively, as Empowered Communities regions establish their regional Development Agendas.
This will be followed over the coming months with the Minister visiting each of the Empowered Communities regions, to discuss with broader regional leadership groups where they want to be in 12 months, and what the Government can do to assist.
PM&C is supporting embedding a ‘learn and adapt as you go’ (adaptive learning) approach and developmental evaluation from the start of implementation. This is in line with what Empowered Communities leaders put forward in the design report.
This approach enables ongoing tracking of progress, supports innovation and quickly applying lessons learnt as implementation progresses across the regions. It also allows Indigenous leaders and Government to share responsibility for identifying what is working, what is not and why, and adjusting actions accordingly.
Empowered Communities has been designed as a long term initiative. Progress in implementing is to be reviewed annually, with an evaluation after three years.
PM&C is working with the Empowered Communities leaders to co-design a review and evaluation framework and establish baseline information.
Other regional approaches
The Government is committed to working effectively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In addition to the Empowered Communities regions, we are working with regional Indigenous leaders in other sites to support them to identify and address priorities and aspirations of their communities.
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