Australian Government working with regional Indigenous leaders

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’.

This approach recognises how we work together is equally important to what we do, and that Government does not have all the answers. Rather, the Government’s role needs to be enabling Indigenous people to take advantage of opportunities, to develop, deliver and own actions that address their needs and aspirations. It is when we work together that effective solutions emerge that can make a real difference on the ground. Working together in a genuine partnership will also build capacity of Indigenous communities, organisations and individuals and enable people to make decisions that support their wellbeing.

One approach is the Indigenous-designed and led Empowered Communities initiative in eight regions.

The Government is also working with Indigenous leaders in other locations around the country who want to partner with Government to build a better future for their communities. Similarly to Empowered Communities, this aims to empower Indigenous people to exercise choices and make decisions about their lives, build trust between communities and governments, and move away from an application driven transactional approach that entrenches disempowerment to one of true partnership.

This work is underway for example in Murdi Paaki in western NSW, Ceduna in South Australia and Yarrabah in Queensland.

In the Murdi Paaki region, local communities have had a long history of working together to increase community engagement, empowerment and capability.

The Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly (MPRA) is a self-formed regional governance body representing interests of Indigenous people in 16 communities across western NSW. The MPRA has become a representative regional voice for Indigenous communities to participate in decision-making, assist in the implementation of government policy, and ensure both government and Indigenous people are accountable for the delivery of outcomes on the ground.

Murdi Paaki is one of the seven regions where NSW Government is progressing its Local Decision Making model. The model aims to give Indigenous communities more control of government services in their communities, and progressively build their decision making power and authority, as well as make government more flexible and responsive to the needs of Indigenous communities, and recognise Aboriginal leadership and decision-making.

The Australian Government is also working with the MPRA as a key point of engagement on service delivery in the region. Given the MPRA’s strong capability, governance and leadership, as well as its role in the LDM model, we are looking at opportunities to build on this relationship, including how to align the efforts of both the Commonwealth and NSW governments to maximise outcomes.

Another example is Ceduna, where community leaders co-designed with Government a Cashless Debit Card Trial, in an effort to deal with complex issues in Ceduna and surrounding communities.

Setting up the Trial has involved moving from a leadership role focused solely on their individual community or organisation to a group of leaders working collaboratively to address issues across the region.

Since then, Ceduna’s Indigenous leaders have indicated they are ready to do more with Government and partner to progress other issues in addition to the Cashless Debit Card Trial. PM&C has been supporting their work in considering what governance arrangements will best support taking this forward.

PM&C is also working with leaders in Yarrabah who approached Government to seek support for a community-led Yarrabah Community Recovery Plan aimed at achieving large-scale social change in the community.

Changing the way PM&C works

To support this work PM&C has recognised it needs to invest in supporting staff to lift and change the way we work to meet the expectations of communities and their leaders.

We are moving to ensure evidence is at the centre of what we do and that open and genuine collaborative leadership is how we go about our work in improving the wellbeing of Indigenous individuals, families and communities. For example, we have established a Business Transformation Office (BTO) in the Indigenous Affairs Group, to identify, design, plan and implement a range of initiatives that will support the shift to working in collaboration and enabling true partnerships with Indigenous communities and leaders. We are working to strengthen Indigenous development capabilities of staff and investing to be a strong and forward looking organisation. 

Government has a key role in building community capability where community cohesion is low and/or there is a lack a governance structures – Government needs to work with local stakeholders to build trust and local capacity.

PM&C appointed a Special Advisor on regional governance, Mr Sam Jeffries, who was the Chairperson of the Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly and has personal experience in regional governance mechanisms working alongside Commonwealth and State governments.

Mr Jeffries’ role is to enhance our capacity to work effectively with regions which sit outside the Empowered Communities footprint, to build their capability and improve our understanding of their aspirations and better inform how government responds to these.

Alongside the PM&C Regional Network, Mr Jeffries is working with leaders in sites such as Ceduna and Yarrabah. We are keen to understand the complex issues they are facing and ensure we back Indigenous leaders who want to introduce positive change to their communities.

More information is available by contacting PM&C Regional Network offices.

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