OUTPUT 4.2. ADVOCACY AND REPRESENTATION
Provide advocacy and representation as appropriate to the traditional owners and other clients of the CLC.
The CLC has a statutory responsibility to ascertain, express and represent the wishes and opinions of Aboriginal people in the CLC area and to protect their interests. To meet this responsibility, it identifies significant legislative and policy matters, consults with traditional owners and Aboriginal people to ascertain their views, and develops positions on significant policy issues with the council and the executive.
It also carries out research to support policy development and engages with all stakeholders to ensure that Aboriginal interests are taken into account. It therefore represents Aboriginal views and aspirations with a high degree of authority.
The CLC made 12 submissions to the Australian and NT governments on policy matters.
Table 19. CLC policy submissions
Burial and Cremations Bill 2019
Water Further Amendment Bill 2019
Northern Territory Draft Climate Change Response
Amendments to NT Petroleum Legislation 2019 (jointly with Northern Land Council)
Draft Strategic Regional and Environmental and Baseline Assessment Framework
Draft Northern Territory Offsets Policy
Overview of Draft Animal Protection Regulation 2020
Implementation of Environment Protection Authority Act
Inquiry into Education in Remote and Complex Environments
Regional Connectivity Program – draft grant opportunity guidelines
Independent review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
Inquiry into food pricing and food security in remote communities
THE LAND RIGHTS ACT
The four NT land councils and the Australian and NT governments agreed to meet for an NT Biannual Strategic Forum, aimed at achieving effective engagement on policy matters relating to land rights and land councils.
At the August 2019 meeting, the Australian Government reported on the establishment of the National Indigenous Australians Agency. Strategic priorities were discussed, including the reform of the ABA and more ABA investment in homelands; and reform of the Commonwealth’s community development program and its alternative, the Fair Work and Strong Communities proposal of the Aboriginal Peak Organisations of the NT. The meeting committed to developing costed strategic proposals for ABA funding for morgue refurbishments and dialysis infrastructure, and to participate in a joint land councils and governments working group to progress funding for outstations. It also discussed strategic water allocations and solutions for water-stressed communities. Participants agreed to further consultation and collaboration between land councils and the NT Government.
Better engagement with Aboriginal people on housing reform was high on the four land councils’ agendas. The CLC presented about its new community-driven housing model and the meeting participants agreed to progress housing reform through a new joint steering committee on the national partnership for remote Aboriginal housing. The committee includes representatives from the Australian and NT governments and, for the first time, the four NT land councils.
The strategic forum meeting scheduled for April/May 2020 did not proceed because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.
ABORIGINAL PEAK ORGANISATIONS OF THE NORTHERN TERRITORY
The Aboriginal Peak Organisations of the Northern Territory (APO NT) is an alliance that has represented the Aboriginal people, communities and organisations of the NT since 2010. The alliance was formed to improve collaboration among organisations advocating on remote community issues. Until May 2020, it included the Central Land Council, the Northern Land Council, Aboriginal Housing NT and the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the NT (AMSANT). The NLC suspended its membership in May 2020, pending the outcome of an independent review of the APO NT in 2020–21.
The alliance works with government and non-government organisations to promote a better understanding of, and improve policy and program outcomes affecting, its constituents. It delivers policy advice, advocacy, community engagement and sector development activities. It promotes programs and initiatives that support strategic and collaborative approaches to services and social and economic policy development.
The NT Government funds the APO NT secretariat, a coordinator, a network coordinator and an administrative officer. An early APO NT initiative, the Aboriginal Governance and Management Program, secured funding from the Australian Government for three positions for three years. The program supports governance training for Aboriginal community controlled organisations across the NT.
The program has promoted partnership principles and an associated checklist for non-Aboriginal organisations that want to work respectfully with Aboriginal organisations, rather than compete with them for scarce funds.
The CLC has provided significant in-kind contributions and support to the secretariat and prepared five submissions to the following reviews and inquiries:
- Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management to Cashless Debit Card Transition) Bill 2019
- Adequacy of Newstart and related payments and alternative mechanisms to determine the level of income support payments in Australia
- Council of Attorneys-General Age of Criminal Responsibility Working Group Review
- Northern Territory Aboriginal Justice Agreement (2019–2025)
- Australian Senate select committee on COVID-19 inquiry into the government’s response to the pandemic.
It advocated on behalf of the alliance in Canberra about the proposed cashless debit card in November 2019 and about the reform of the Australian Government’s work-for-the-dole program in February 2020.
Child protection and detention
The Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory (2016) remains a priority for the alliance. APO NT representatives participated in meetings that brought together community organisations with the Australian and NT governments to progress the reform program arising from the royal commission. As one of seven community sector representatives, the CLC participated in three of the five meetings during the period. The APO NT has urged the government to maintain a strong commitment to the royal commission reforms. It particularly wants the age of criminal responsibility to be raised from 10 years to 14 years.
The Children and Families Tripartite Forum held its second meeting in May 2020. It discussed the Productivity Commission’s study into expenditure on children in the NT. The commission made recommendations on how governments can work together better to keep children safe and well. The APO NT agreed that the recommendations should be actioned through the development and implementation of a 10-year generational strategy for NT children and families. The forum also agreed, in principle, to expanding its role in line with the commission’s recommendations. It called for additional funding to resource the community sector to have more input into the tripartite forum.
The Commonwealth funded a policy officer position each at the APO NT, NT Council of Social Services (NTCOSS), and Northern Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA). A senior policy position works across the community sector to provide high-level input to the forum. The four positions support the additional workload of the community sector members of the forum, resulting from the 10-year strategy.
Closing the Gap
Federal, state and territory governments, meeting as the now-disbanded Council of Australian Governments (COAG), failed to meet most targets of the 10-year-old Closing the Gap strategy. In 2018, a coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians asked Prime Minister Scott Morrison for a more collaborative and consultative process. The result was the Closing the Gap Joint Council, the first COAG body to include members from outside government. A formal partnership between the COAG and the National Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations (Coalition of Peaks), the joint council came into effect in March 2019 and met only once, in August. John Paterson, the chief executive of the AMSANT, represents the APO NT on the council. CLC chief executive Joe Martin-Jard and executive manager policy and governance, Josie Douglas, participated in Coalition of Peaks meetings and contributed to the development of new Closing the Gap targets.
The Coalition of Peaks, with the support of all levels of government, embarked on extensive community consultations across the nation between September and October 2019. The APO NT led the Closing the Gap engagement process in the NT, chairing and facilitating seven consultations that involved a total of 198 delegates. The CLC was responsible for the consultations in Alice Springs and Tennant Creek.
Participants in the national consultations endorsed three priority actions around Aboriginal control and governance and the transformation of mainstream services to meet the needs of Aboriginal people:
- developing and strengthening structures so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people share in decision making with governments on closing the gap
- building formal Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community controlled service sectors to deliver Closing the Gap services
- ensuring mainstream government agencies and institutions that deliver services and programs to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people undertake systemic and structural transformation to contribute to Closing the Gap.
A fourth priority area was added later by the Coalition of Peaks, based on the issues raised in the 2019 consultations:
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to have access to data and information on Closing the Gap priorities and targets at the local level to support decision making about their communities.
All four have been included as priority reforms in the new national agreement on Closing the Gap.
Heading National Partnership Agreement for Remote Housing
The CLC joined the three other NT land councils and the Australian and NT governments on the joint steering committee of the National Partnership for Remote Housing NT. The agreement between the governments aims to improve the standard and supply of housing for Aboriginal people in 73 remote communities and 17 Alice Springs town camps. The establishment of the steering committee acknowledges that governments must work with Aboriginal people if they are to improve health and housing outcomes. The committee aims to reduce overcrowding, give the land councils a role in the governance of the agreement, spend money transparently and deliver works, wherever possible, through Aboriginal Territorians and businesses.
The CLC took part in four committee and sub-committee meetings since August 2019 to oversee the implementation of the agreement. One sub-committee is developing a reporting framework for the agreement, while another is reviewing leasing and housing models. The joint steering committee endorsed a property and tenancy management framework; contributed to a draft reporting framework for the implementation of the agreement; and endorsed two stages of a capital works programs for demolitions, transitional housing, new home builds and additional rooms for existing homes, as well as preventative maintenance programs.
The CLC consulted with five communities that had steadfastly refused to sign the 40-year housing leases the Australian and NT governments demanded before they would invest in new housing infrastructure. Leases signed during the financial year extend only to the end of the current national partnership agreement in 2023, rather than to four decades. With the exception of Wallace Rockhole, all of the communities that resisted long leases have now agreed. Amoonguna, Yuelamu and Daguragu signed in November 2019, and Ikuntji (Haasts Bluff) signed in January 2020.
CLC Housing Project
An ABA housing project grant allowed the CLC to engage suitably qualified consultants to develop a community housing model for Central Australia. The project focusses on remote communities on Aboriginal land, community living areas excised from pastoral leases, smaller homelands and town camps. It has progressed rapidly in collaboration with partner organisations and Aboriginal housing stakeholders. Extensive consultations across Central Australia were supported by a project advisory group, while more limited consultations in the north of the NT, due to COVID-19, were undertaken with Northern Land Council staff and the chief executive of the Yilli Rreung Housing Aboriginal Corporation.
In February 2020 the consultants presented a proposed community housing model to an ABA reform working group. The working group was established to negotiate changes with the Australian Government about the operations and guidelines of the ABA. One consultant took part as an ‘expert member’ in a meeting of the subcommittee on housing and leasing models. In April the project distributed a background discussion paper on the history of Aboriginal housing delivery, funding and management in the NT. It also circulated a draft housing model proposal. Following feedback from a small group of housing and strategy experts, the paper is now being updated for wider distribution prior to submission to the joint steering committee.
The council reaffirmed its commitment to constitutional reform and a constitutionally enshrined voice to parliament at its July 2019 meeting at Ross River and, again, at its October 2019 meeting at Yulara Pulka. A voice to parliament, with constitutional protection, ensures Aboriginal aspirations and policy priorities can be considered directly by the legislature. Australian Government proposals for a voice to government is at odds with this commitment.
Aboriginal people from Central Australia want a real say in the laws and policies made about and for them. Giving advice directly to the parliament, rather than the government of the day, is critical to achieving the structural changes the council wants to see. This desire for change is also reflected in the reforms of Closing the Gap championed by the council. It wants to develop and strengthen structures to ensure the full involvement of Aboriginal peoples in decision making with governments on policy. A voice to government lacks the capacity for structural reform that the Uluru Statement from the Heart seeks to achieve.
Constitutional lawyer, Professor Megan Davis, Referendum Council chair, Pat Anderson, and Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Council chair, Sally Scales, updated the CLC delegates about the constitutional reform process at their council meeting at Yulara Pulka. The delegates reiterated their desire to be part of designing a voice to parliament to ensure it represents people from the bush.
The historic Barunga Agreement between the four NT land councils and the NT Government in 2018 provided a framework for negotiating a treaty, or treaties, in the NT. The government has since established an independent treaty commission headed by Treaty Commissioner, Professor Mick Dodson, and his deputy, Ursula Raymond. Both attended the CLC’s July 2019 council meeting to explain their roles and key deliverables and inform the delegates about the treaty or treaties. They released an interim report in March 2020. The NT’s legislative assembly voted in favour of Professor Dodson’s statutory appointment in June 2020. The land councils had insisted on a statutory appointment and ensured that the Barunga Agreement formed part of the legislation governing his appointment. A few days before his statutory appointment, Professor Dodson briefed the land councils about treaty-making in the NT. The discussion paper forms the template for NT-wide treaty consultations between August 2020 and December 2021. The CLC will assist the treaty commission with consultations in its region and ensure that council and executive members receive regular updates from the commissioners.
ABORIGINALS BENEFIT ACCOUNT
The ABA administers ‘royalty equivalent’ funds paid to the Commonwealth for mining on Aboriginal land in the NT. Since its inception, the CLC has advocated for the devolution of the ABA to Aboriginal control. The NT land councils agreed to 12 principles that must underpin comprehensive and strategic reform of the ABA and its grant-making functions. Key reform areas include Aboriginal control of grants administration, funding for strategic projects, ABA investment and spending, and reform of grant guidelines. The CLC helped to finalise the terms of reference of an ABA working group set up by former Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion to progress reform as part of the NT biannual strategic forum. It attended two meetings of the group. In August 2019, it considered the process for co-designing the reform and the establishment of projects at the land councils supporting ABA grant applicants. A follow-up meeting in February discussed the review and streamlining of grant guidelines, ABA finances and investment, and the establishment of a new Aboriginal-controlled ABA entity in the NT. CLC consultants also presented to the group about a proposed new community-controlled housing system for the NT, and an NT housing entity.
Small communities and homelands
Secure funding and services for homelands remain key policy and advocacy priorities for the CLC. In 2018-19, its 90 delegates chose 105 outstations to share a $15.75 million ABA grant for upgrading homelands infrastructure. Council decided that each of the chosen outstations will receive infrastructure works worth up to $150,000.
The CLC consulted with the residents of the outstations and submitted ABA grant applications for their priority projects on their behalf. The submissions concluded the CLC’s involvement in the project. The next stages of the project are being implemented by the National Indigenous Australians Agency. In May 2020, the agency advised that the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, had approved 90 of the 105 applications, and that it had invited organisations, many of which are Aboriginal-run, to submit proposals to deliver the works. All but four actual submissions have been delayed by the COVID-19 lockdowns and travel restrictions. The restrictions have also put a stop to meetings of the ABA’s advisory committee, which has yet to consider 15 grant applications and make recommendations to the minister.
COMMONWEALTH COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM
In May 2017, the APO NT released Fair Work and Strong Communities, a detailed proposal to replace the Commonwealth’s punitive work-for-the-dole scheme (also known as ‘community development program’). The APO NT proposal would fund 12,000 additional jobs in Aboriginal organisations across remote communities. The advocacy work generated by the 2017 proposal influenced the Australian Government’s decision to sever the link between provider incentive payments and penalties for non-attendance at work-for-the-dole activities. The CLC welcomed this change because it reduced an unprecedented level of penalties. However, many of the underlying problems remote community residents face, when trying to access income support, remain.
In January 2020, the CLC raised an NT-specific jobs-creation package based on the proposal with Anne Ruston, federal Minister for Families and Social Services. Minister Ruston expressed an interest in holding further discussions with the APO NT and the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt. The package features 5,000 parttime positions and offers a pathway to employment, particularly to young Aboriginal people from remote NT communities. In February, the APO NT met with 13 mostly Aboriginal organisations to workshop the package. Although there was strong support for it, COVID-19 stalled this initiative.
The security, supply and affordability of food in remote communities has long been inadequate. The NT Government’s 2019 market basket survey shows that, on average, residents pay 57 per cent more for healthy food in remote stores than in urban supermarkets. The COVID-19 lockdown period brought the existing food security issues to a head for remote community residents. Faced with empty shelves and trying to make ends meet by shopping for cheaper groceries in regional towns, they had to apply for permission letters to return to biosecurity areas after these trips. The CLC advocated for government subsidies of essential goods, such as healthy food and cleaning products, in all remote community stores to ensure price parity with regional centres. It documented reports about remote stores and relayed them to the NT Government’s critical goods team for follow up.
The CLC was part of a group of 13 Aboriginal organisations that called on the governments to subsidise goods for bush stores at a media conference at the CLC on 20 April 2020. Minister Wyatt held a roundtable meeting on the following day to discuss food security with the NT Government, food retailers and suppliers. While the government did not support a food subsidy, it announced an inquiry into food prices and food security in remote communities in May 2020. The CLC and the APO NT submitted recommendations to the inquiry for achieving equitable access to affordable food in remote communities.
Water security is a major concern for remote NT communities and improving the availability and quality of water is among the council’s policy priorities. Five of the communities in the CLC region are considered to be so water-stressed that no more houses can be built there.
The NT has no laws protecting and prioritising drinking water above other uses in remote communities, and no minimum quality standards for drinking water. Larger towns are subject to drinking water laws while there are few protections of the water supply in remote communities. This discriminatory situation does not exist in any other Australian jurisdiction. The CLC executive has called for a Safe Drinking Water Act for the NT and the organisation is developing a water strategy for the CLC region.