Summary of Submission to ATSIC
- Social Justice Commissioner calls
on government to strengthen ATSIC
Dr Bill Jonas has called on the government to strengthen the
monitoring role of ATSIC at the national level as well as provide it with enhanced
powers at the state and regional levels. Dr Jonas is the Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner. His comments were made in a submission
made on behalf of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and lodged
with the ATSIC Review this week.
In the submission, Dr Jonas argues that in order for ATSIC
to represent Indigenous peoples effectively its current powers must be enhanced
at the each of the national, state/territory, and regional levels. What is required
to make ATSIC more effective is not a redistribution of ATSIC’s current
powers from the national to the regional level but instead an enhancement of
the existing powers at all levels.
The submission recommends that particular attention should
be devoted to:
the overall role of ATSIC at the national level in monitoring service delivery
by all government agencies and setting the national policy agenda;
- enhancing the
capacity of ATSIC regional councils to undertake an expanded role in regional
planning and service delivery by providing additional powers to enter into
agreements on a regional or state-wide basis; and
- providing flexibility
to adjust the structure of the regional council to best meet local needs (for
example, through providing the capacity to develop alternative governance
arrangements such as a regional authority or other suitable structures).
Dr Jonas has indicated that he supports the maintenance of
a ‘separation of powers’ between the elected and administrative
arms of ATSIC, but does not support the continuation of a separate agency such
as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services to manage ATSIC’s programs.
A unified ATSIC structure that has functions of advocating for Indigenous peoples,
setting policy objectives and priorities, and delivering services and programmes
is feasible, achievable and the preferred option.
Dr Jonas has also indicated to the Review Team that he considers that it would
be a retrograde step to ‘mainstream’ programs currently delivered
by ATSIC/ATSIS, such as CDEP and CHIP, to other Commonwealth government departments.
The submission to the ATSIC Review argues that ATSIC’s
powers at the national level should be enhanced to provide increased ability
to set national objectives and to monitor and evaluate the performance of other
government departments in addressing the service delivery needs of Indigenous
peoples. Dr Jonas advocates amendment of the ATSIC Act to authorise ATSIC to
issue legally binding directions and to require the Minister for Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander Affairs to table these in Parliament as disallowable
instruments. ATSIC should also be provided with subpoena powers and the ability
to call government departments to appear before the ATSIC Board to account for
their performance on delivering services to Indigenous peoples.
Providing ATSIC with the power to create legally binding directions,
subject to parliamentary scrutiny, would create a direct relationship between
the ATSIC Board, the elected representatives of Indigenous peoples, and the
federal Parliament, the elected representatives of the whole Australian community.
The submission also argues that ATSIC should have an enhanced
monitoring role at the inter-governmental level to address the ineffective monitoring
framework currently in place.
At the state and territory level, Dr Jonas recommends that
ATSIC’s State Advisory Committees be provided with additional powers to
support agreement making and partnerships with state and territory governments.
This should include the ability to enter into service delivery agreements to
deliver state programs and pool funding with Commonwealth programs. It should
also be accompanied by an enhanced role for ATSIC’s internal evaluation
and audit office so that it can monitor state and territory government service
delivery; identify best practice and transferable models between states; and
more effectively feed into regional planning processes.
The submission agrees with the focus of the ATSIC Review’s
discussion paper on the need for enhanced powers at the ATSIC regional council
level to ensure that decisions at the local level are better able to inform
policy development and decision-making processes at the state / territory and
Dr Jonas states that the need for greater powers for regional
councils in terms of setting funding priorities, determining outcomes, entering
purchaser/provider agreements, developing more representative and effective
regional governance arrangements are fundamental and significant issues that
deserve serious consideration from the Review Team.
The submission supports the ATSIC Review Team’s ‘devolution
model’ for ATSIC regional councils, with some qualifications. The submission
- regional councils
be provided with the ability to enter into agreements to introduce more flexible
funding arrangements and to implement an outcomes-based funding approach and
longer-term funding frameworks;
role at the state level be strengthened as an essential component of strengthening
regional planning processes;
- the ATSIC Act
provide greater flexibility for regional councils to adapt to their local
needs through developing alternative governance arrangements.
The submission recommends that consideration of alternative
governance arrangements must not be restricted to one model, such as the regional
authority structure adopted in the Torres Strait. The submission supports the
inclusion in the ATSIC Act of an ‘opt-out’ mechanism to vary the
structure of individual regional councils according to the needs of the particular
Dr Jonas’ submission
to the ATSIC Review Team is available online at: http://www.humanrights.gov.au/social_justice/submissions/atsic_review.html
Last updated 22 August, 2003.