Outstations Policy Discussion Paper
Australian Human Rights Commission
Submission to the Office of Indigenous Policy, NT Department of Chief
15 December 2008
Table of Contents
3 Policy Propositions
3.1 Eligibility for support
3.2 Definition of an Outstation
3.3 Hub and Spoke Model
3.4 Outstation Service Levels
The Australian Human Rights Commission (the Commission) makes this
submission to the Office of Indigenous Policy, Northern Territory Department of
Chief Minister in its Inquiry into Outstations Policy.
In 2007, the Northern Territory Government signed an MoU with the
Commonwealth Government which transfers responsibility for Outstation municipal
and essential services from the Commonwealth Government to the Northern
Territory Government as of 1 July 2008. The MoU specified the transfer of $20M
per year for three years for the provision of these services.
The Northern Territory Government is now seeking comment on a Northern
Territory Outstations Policy. To guide the process, the NT Government
released a Discussion Paper which outlines existing policy and discusses
some of the issues regarding Outstation service delivery. The Discussion
Paper explains that the Northern Territory Outstations Policy will
have a wider ambit than essential and municipal services. The range of policies
which affect service delivery to Outstations will be reviewed, including health,
housing, employment and education policies. The Northern Territory Government
intends to develop a “uniform, whole of government Outstation
This submission is structured to respond to four ‘Policy
Propositions’ put forward by the Discussion Paper. It begins with a
summary of issues, followed by responses to the Discussion Paper’s four
Propositions and concludes with Recommendations. As follows:
Proposition 1: Eligibility for Support
Proposition 2: Outstations Definition
Proposition 3: Hub and Spoke Model
Proposition 4: Outstation Service Levels, and
The Commission prefers the term ‘Homeland’ to
‘Outstation’, and will use this terminology throughout the
submission except in instances when quoting other sources or citing the names of
As the Discussion Paper describes, there are many benefits to
Homeland living and there are many reasons why Aboriginal people choose to live
in Homeland communities. There are also factors which cause the populations of
Homelands to fluctuate over time.
Homelands are located on Aboriginal ancestral lands with cultural and
spiritual significance to the Aboriginal people who live there. The connections
to land are complex and include cultural, spiritual and environmental
obligations, including obligations regarding the protection of sacred sites.
Homelands vary in size, composition, resources, access to potable water,
access to services and time of establishment. Some may be very small and
comprise a few families living together. Others may be expanding and developing
small economies such as Mapuru Homeland in Arnhem Land. Homelands are difficult
to categorise and in policy terms are distinguished as such because they are
relatively small compared with townships and larger regional centres.
Homelands provide a healthy alternative living environment for Aboriginal
people who want to avoid some of the problems that can be associated with living
in larger regional centres. Evidence from a study conducted over a ten year
interval at the Utopia Homelands in the Northern Territory found that there are
positive health benefits for Aboriginal people living in Homelands. The study
found: ‘The factors associated with the particularly good [health]
outcomes here are likely to include outstation living, with its attendant
benefits for physical activity and diet and limited access to alcohol, as well
as social factors, including connectedness to culture, family and land, and
opportunities for self-determination’. 
Homelands provide important land management functions through fire abatement
activities and other actions which preserve the biodiversity of otherwise
unoccupied areas. Homelands residents manage the control of feral animals and
introduced plant species in some of the remotest regions of Australia.
The Commission recognises that Homeland populations have been
under-resourced and underfunded for many years. Due to the relatively small
populations of Homelands and their dispersal over large unpopulated regions,
many Homeland residents have to temporarily relocate to access services. For
example, there are limited education services to Homelands communities. To date,
governments have no firm estimates of the number of school-aged children across
the Northern Territory who have no access to school education, and
school staffing is allocated on the basis of school attendance rather than
As the Discussion Paper acknowledges, Aboriginal clan groups are
mobile for a variety of reasons, though this is not an indication that they wish
to permanently vacate their ancestral land. Homeland residents may relocate for
periods of time when they are required to participate in ceremony and other
cultural obligations. Parents and guardians leave Homelands to educate children
in larger centres during school terms. Residents temporarily relocate to access
health services in regional centres or to stay in other Homelands for
therapeutic purposes. The Mt Theo Homeland is an example of this. When whole
families move to a new temporary location this can significantly change
population sizes. For this reason the numbers of people living in Homelands can
fluctuate at different times.
New Homelands are being established over time. Elders and others set up new
Homelands when they are unable to live in larger townships due to clan tensions.
The situation at Wadeye is an example of this with people moving progressively
to outlying community areas.
3 Policy Propositions
The Commission supports a flexible model for Homelands funding and
resourcing whereby municipal funds are provided to regions or language group
areas for distribution. Under such a model, regional management structures would
be responsible for allocating funds and determining eligibility for support.
Existing clan leadership groups would play an important role in the
decision-making process. A regional or language group model would incorporate
traditional clan management structures and processes, building, if necessary, on
the governance structures of the Outstation Resource Agencies.
A regional or language group model of municipal funding recognises the
existing Aboriginal leadership groups across the Northern Territory. For
example, the Yolngu and Bininj clan leaders associated with the communities of
Yirrkala, Gunyangara, Gapuwiyak, Maningrida, Galiwin’ku, Milingimbi,
Ramingining, and Laynhapuy Homelands regions are best placed to represent the
interests of approximately 8,000 Aboriginal people who constitute these Arnhem
Land clans. Similarly, the Warlpiri Group have representative structures
associated with the communities of Lajamanu, Yuendumu, Nyirrpi, Mt Allen,
Willowra and Homeland regions; encompassing a population between 5,000 and 6,000
Regional resource models allow for flexible, locally managed resource
arrangements based on a needs assessment of Homelands over time. Funding and
resource levels would necessarily change over time to meet the emerging needs of
communities. Such a model gives Aboriginal people decision-making
responsibilities over their own affairs in line with the right of Indigenous
peoples to self management and to participate in decisions that affect them.
Outstation Resource Agencies have provided a wide range of service support
for Homelands over time and should continue to administer services where they
The Commission is not in a position to comment on a specific funding and
resource allocation model to regions of language groups, though consideration
should be given to per-capita allocations with additional funds on a needs
The Commission does not support an eligibility model which assesses Homeland
communities using fixed criteria. A fixed model does not allow for
contingencies. For example, a model which sets a population threshold does not
take into consideration the fact that Homeland residents move temporarily to
regions where their children can access schools or where their kin can gain
access health services. It does not account for the fact that small Homelands
can swell to much larger communities during times of ceremony, which can occur
over periods of months.
The Discussion Paper foreshadows the Northern Territory
Government’s position that newly established and newly populated Homelands
will not receive NT Government funding. While understanding that
the resources of governments are finite, the Commission does not support a
sunset clause on eligibility for support. Limiting resources for new Homelands
will adversely affect an increasing Aboriginal population in the Northern
Territory. In addition, it does not take into account the complex reasons why
Homelands are established over time. A flexible model based on a regional
resourcing will allow for new Homelands should the regional representatives
decide to allocate funds and resources.
3.2 Definition of an
The Discussion Paper identifies the need to develop a definition of
Homelands for policy purposes. The Commission supports the broadest definition
of Homelands and warns against definitions that are developed and limited for
the purposes of administrative or bureaucratic ease. Given that Homelands are
increasingly supported by philanthropic groups and others, it is important that
the definition does not limit understanding of these communities to those which
are eligible for NT Government funding.
The term ‘Homelands’ is preferred to ‘Outstations’
as it is a more accurate description of these communities and it is the
preferred term of the Aboriginal residents of Homeland communities.
A range of communities may be considered Homelands; communities that vary in
population size, number and quality of houses, level of resources, distance from
regional centres and time of establishment. Definitions should not be limited by
assessments of these criteria.
Any definition of Homelands should recognise the fundamental right of
Aboriginal people to live on their country of affiliation and maintain language,
custom and cultural practices. These rights are protected under United Nations
treaties and declarations.
3.3 Hub and Spoke Model
The Hub and Spoke model is essentially an
outreach, part-time service delivery model whereby health, maintenance,
education and other government personnel visit Homeland communities from larger
regional centres. This model may be useful for some services such as maintenance
of housing and infrastructure including roads, though it is not a model which
fits all areas of service delivery. Decentralised services can provide good
one-off services such as housing maintenance, but they are less likely to hit
the mark in terms of quality and consistency for services such as education.
Education is a fundamental right of all Australian citizens and should be
delivered to the highest standard with regard to availability, accessibility and
appropriateness. The Hub and Spoke
model is not a preferred model for education services.
Education services should not be linked to assessments of
community types. The under-resourcing of education services to Homelands is an
ongoing issue and one that the Commission addressed in the 2000 National
Inquiry into Rural and Remote Education report. Given that up to 1,000
school-aged children in the Arnhem region alone have limited or no access to
school education, it is now a matter of urgency that the Northern Territory
government audit Homeland populations and provide accessible and acceptable
education services to the current and projected school-aged populations of these
The Hub and Spoke model should be abandoned for the purposes of education
provision, and governments should enter into negotiations with Homelands
stakeholders to determine appropriate education service delivery. The education
model at Garrthalala in Arnhem Land is an example of the ways in which Homeland
residents, volunteers, governments and Homeland Associations can work together
to achieve quality education outcomes that suit local requirements.
The Commission recognises that the policy settings for Homelands must be
congruent so that one policy does not drive another. A shift in a policy such as
the proposed reforms to Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) will
have implications for the viability of some Homelands.
The Commission notes that the proposed reforms to CDEP to take effect from 1
July 2009 in remote communities will adversely affect the resourcing of Homeland
centres. Outstation Resource Agencies (ORAs) are dependent on CDEP workers to
provide services to Homelands. Many of the positions that support Homelands are
not full-time, and in limited markets, CDEP ‘Top Up’ is important to
the functioning of these positions. If CDEP wages are transferred to Centrelink,
this effectively converts waged workers to welfare recipients. While the
Commonwealth Government intends to convert some CDEP positions into full time
employment, part-time positions will be lost in transition.
Limits to funding for remote housing such as those under the Community
Housing and Infrastructure Program (CHIP) will similarly affect the viability of
Homelands, and must be part of any considered policy with regard to Homeland
At present, there is a lack of authoritative information about the
population characteristics of Homelands which is linked to levels of government
service support to Homelands. There is a need for a thorough analysis of
population characteristics, requirements and outcomes, and the development of
policy and resource plans to meet the shortfall in services based on evidence.
For example, there is strong evidence that remote school students do not do as
well as their urban counterparts. There is also evidence that remote schools are
not staffed, supported or resourced in the same way as urban schools.
Services such as education, and possibly health should be categorised under
universal provision models, rather than being resourced by community type. If
governments expect equality of outcomes for student performance in national test
results, they must ensure equality of education services and resources across
Ongoing support and funding to develop sustainable industries in Homelands
is essential. There is scope to expand ranger programs and fire abatement
projects and to build upon and develop cottage industries and low impact eco
As part of the whole of government approach to Homelands policy, training
and development resources should be made available to assist Homeland residents
to utilise appropriate technologies in self sufficiency. The work of Bushlight
(Centre for Appropriate Technology) is a model for improving renewable energy
systems in remote communities utilising community engagement and community
development processes. Programs such as this one should be expanded and funded
into the future.
The Australian Human Rights Commission recommends that:
the Northern Territory Government use the term Homeland rather than
the Northern Territory Government employ a flexible model for determining
eligibility for Homeland support which allows for new Homelands which may be
established in future.
consideration be given to a resource model which allocates municipal and
essential service funds to regions on a per-capita basis with additional funds
on a needs basis.
the Northern Territory Government allocate municipal and essential service
funds to regions to be managed by leaders of existing clan leadership groups in
association with Outstation Resource Agencies.
any definition of Homeland communities recognise the fundamental right of
Aboriginal people to live on their country of affiliation and maintain language,
custom and cultural practices.
education services be provided to school-aged Homeland children on a
per-capita basis and the Hub and Spoke model be abandoned for education
purposes. As a matter of urgency, the Northern Territory government audit
school-aged populations with limited or no education services and develop
accessible and appropriate education options.
policies be congruent and consideration be given to the ways in which
Commonwealth policies may undermine Northern Territory priorities and the
viability of Homelands into the future.
consideration be given to expanding the development of sustainable
industries in Homelands.
representative groups of Aboriginal residents from Homeland communities be
part of any process to develop policies for Homeland
 Northern Territory Government, Outstations Policy, Discussion Paper, 2008, p.2
 Kevin G Rowley, Kerin
O’Dea, Ian Anderson, Robyn McDermott, Karmananda Saraswati, Ricky
Tilmouth, Iris Roberts, Joseph Fitz, Zaimin Wang, Alicia Jenkins, James D Best,
Zhiqiang Wang and Alex Brown, Lower than expected morbidity and mortality for
an Australian Aboriginal population: 10-year follow-up in a decentralised
 The Committee on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights at General Comment No. 13, 1999, paragraph 6 has
identified 3 inter-connected elements of 'accessibility' in the context of
- Non-discrimination - education must be accessible to all, especially the
most vulnerable groups, in law and fact, without discrimination on any of the
- Physical accessibility - education has to be within safe physical reach,
either by attendance at some reasonably convenient geographic location (e.g. a
neighbourhood school) or via modern technology (e.g. access to a "distance
- Economic accessibility - education has to be affordable to all. This
dimension of accessibility is subject to the differential wording of article 13
(2) [of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights] in
relation to primary, secondary and higher education: whereas primary education
shall be available "free to all", States parties are required to progressively
introduce free secondary and higher education (General
Comment No. 13, 1999, paragraph 6).
Another element of
'accessibility' is what the Committee has termed 'acceptability': 'the form and
substance of education, including curricula and teaching methods, have to be
acceptable (e.g. relevant, culturally appropriate and of good quality) to
students and, in appropriate cases, parents; this is subject to the educational
objectives required by article 13 (1) and such minimum educational standards as
may be approved by the State (see art. 13 (3) and (4))'.
 Human Rights and Equal
Opportunity Commission, Emerging Themes, National Inquiry into Rural and
Remote Education, March 2000, pp. 12-13, available online at: http://humanrights.gov.au/pdf/human_rights/rural_remote/emerging_themes.pdf accessed 18 December 2008