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Social Justice Report 2003: Chapter 2: Reconciliation and government accountability

Social Justice Report 2003

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  • Chapter two: Reconciliation and government accountability

    In the Social Justice Report 1999,
    my first report as Social Justice Commissioner, I identified four key
    themes and challenges that existed in the approach of the federal government
    to Indigenous policy making at the time. These were moving beyond welfare
    dependency, accountability, participation and reconciliation.[1] Since the release of that report approximately four years ago, the key
    themes and challenges facing the government have remained relatively constant.
    The fundamentals of the government's approach to Indigenous affairs have
    not changed substantially, with only subtle refinements and a locking
    down of their approach across all program and policy areas and at the
    inter-governmental level. These refinements have taken place through the
    consistent use of coded language such as 'practical reconciliation', 'mutual
    obligation', 'agreement making' and 'partnerships', and more recently
    'shared responsibility'.[2]

    To the phrase 'moving beyond welfare dependency'
    we could now add 'sustainable development', 'capacity building' and 'mutual
    obligation'. For 'accountability' we could add 'governance reform', 'shared
    responsibility', 'whole of government approach' and 'changing the way
    we do business with Indigenous communities'. For 'participation' we could
    add 'self-management', 'agreement making' and 'partnerships'. For 'reconciliation'
    we can directly substitute 'practical reconciliation' and divide issues
    into so-called real and symbolic ones.

    The next two chapters examine current progress
    in addressing a range of issues in relation to these four themes. They
    consider the adequacy of the structures and processes that have been put
    into place at the national level to progress programs and services to
    Indigenous peoples; and ultimately, based on this analysis, identify an
    agenda for change with recommendations to improve Indigenous policy and
    program design. This chapter focuses on developments relating to reconciliation
    and mechanisms for government accountability. Chapter 3 then focuses on
    the participation (and accountability) of Indigenous organisations and
    peoples in government activity and developments relating to the objective
    of moving Indigenous peoples beyond welfare dependency. The subject matter
    of the two chapters is inter-related and together they constitute my annual
    progress report on reconciliation.


    In 2003, there have been three main sets
    of developments in relation to the government's approach to reconciliation.
    First, there has been continuity in the implementation of programmes and
    in the policy direction of the federal government towards reconciliation.
    The primary focus of activity during the year has been on advancing initiatives
    that were announced or committed to in either 2002 or previous years (such
    as through the Council of Australian Governments' Communiques on Reconciliation
    in 2000 and 2002).

    There has been a high level of commitment
    by the federal government to continuing to implement programmes in accordance
    with its 'practical reconciliation' agenda. There have been significant
    developments in implementing the commitments of the Council of Australian
    Governments (COAG) to conduct a number of whole-of-government community
    trials across Australia and to establishing an annual reporting framework
    on Indigenous disadvantage. There has also been an increased focus on
    debilitating problems affecting Indigenous communities such as family
    violence, with the convening of a national summit by the Prime Minister
    and the announcement of new funding for programs to address it (these
    were described as a 'down-payment' and are expected to be backed up with
    further funding in the 2004 Budget).

    Second, and concurrent to this continuation
    of the existing approach, has been public debate about the adequacy of
    accountability mechanisms for government service delivery to Indigenous
    peoples and for reconciliation. Specifically in relation to reconciliation,
    this debate has taken place through the Senate Legal and Constitutional
    References Committee's inquiry into national progress towards reconciliation
    and through the commencement of the second reading debate in the Senate
    on the Reconciliation Bill 2001 (which seeks to introduce monitoring
    and evaluation processes for reconciliation, in accordance with the recommendations
    of the final report of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation). Through
    both of these processes the government has revealed that it considers
    it unnecessary to introduce formal legislative monitoring mechanisms for
    progress towards reconciliation at the national level.

    In more general terms, this debate has taken
    place through the review of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
    Commission (ATSIC). The review process saw a clear expression of dissatisfaction
    with progress in addressing the disadvantage experienced by Indigenous
    peoples and in government service delivery to Indigenous peoples, as well
    as at the perceived failure of ATSIC to effectively represent Indigenous
    peoples. The findings and recommendations of this review are discussed
    in detail in the next chapter. Of note here, however, is that while the
    review was intended to review mechanisms for service delivery to Indigenous
    peoples (i.e., not to be solely focused on ATSIC) its ultimate focus from
    an accountability perspective was on the role of ATSIC. It provided only
    limited focus on accountability mechanisms and the responsibilities of
    the rest of government.

    The third main set of developments in relation
    to the government's approach to reconciliation has been that the limits
    of practical reconciliation were exposed through a number of processes
    and events during the year. These included the Senate Legal and Constitutional
    References Committee's inquiry into national progress towards reconciliation,
    the release of data from and analysis of the 2001 Census, the release
    of the first national report on overcoming Indigenous disadvantage by
    the Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision,
    and the public debates about service delivery to Indigenous peoples that
    took place as part of the ATSIC Review.

    The Social Justice Report 2002 had noted that the dominant feature of the government's approach to reconciliation
    and Indigenous affairs the previous year was the refinement and bedding
    down of its 'practical reconciliation' approach.[3] The report expressed the concern that 'by continually reinforcing that
    its commitment is to addressing key issues of Indigenous disadvantage
    and nothing else' the government had 'developed a tunnel vision that renders
    it incapable of seeing anything that falls outside the boundaries that
    it has unilaterally, and artificially, established for relations with
    Indigenous peoples'[4] . It also expressed
    the concern that as a consequence of this, the limited processes that
    existed for accountability were not directed to those issues with which
    the government did not agree or which fell outside of its limited approach.

    In the remainder of this chapter, I examine
    key developments relating to reconciliation at the national level during
    2003. The focus of this progress report is on the adequacy of processes
    for accountability of the government for reconciliation, particularly
    as they relate to 'practical' reconciliation.

    National progress towards reconciliation in 2003
    - Key developments

    This section considers developments over
    the past year relating to reconciliation under the following headings:

    • A 'highly controlled' commitment to 'practical' reconciliation;
    • Progress in addressing Indigenous disadvantage; and
    • Implementing the commitments of the Council of Australian

    a) A 'highly controlled' commitment to 'practical'

    On 27 November 2003, the Senate began the
    second reading debate on the Reconciliation Bill 2001. The Bill
    was identical to that included in the final report of the Council for
    Aboriginal Reconciliation and which the Council had recommended should
    be passed by the Parliament in order to provide a legislative framework
    to deal with the unfinished business of reconciliation. The Bill was first
    introduced by Senator Ridgeway on 5 April 2001, with debate on the Bill
    adjourned that same day. It has taken more than two and a half years for
    the Bill to be reconsidered and reach the second reading stage in the

    As Senator Ridgeway noted in his second
    reading speech, the Bill provided 'an opportunity to debate essentially
    what the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation recommended'.[6] It was the first extensive debate to take place directly on
    reconciliation in the Senate chamber since the Council released its report
    in December 2000 (notwithstanding the debates that took place through
    the parliamentary committee system with the Senate Legal and Constitutional
    References Committee's inquiry into reconciliation and estimates processes).

    The debate on the Bill was acrimonious.
    The opposition parties stated that 'there has been a clear lack of responsibility
    on the part of the government which ...seems to be intent on destroying the
    spirit of what reconciliation is about by putting forward a policy of
    practical reconciliation';[7] that reconciliation
    'is clearly an issue that has fallen off the Howard government's agenda';[8] and that the government has a 'record of not performing when it comes
    to reconciliation in this country'. [9]

    Government Senators responded angrily to
    these comments. One government minister interjected that criticisms of
    the government's performance were 'sanctimonious rubbish' and that 'you
    could be a bit gracious and comment on some of the positive things'.[10] Another member of the government accused a fellow Senator of being 'one
    of the phoney people ... There is a lot of phoniness in this debate. People
    come in here and make symbolic speeches and then go home and forget about
    it. You want to live it'.[11]

    A striking feature of the debate is the
    deeply impassioned nature of the speeches made by members of the government
    and their outrage at the suggestion that the government is not committed
    to reconciliation. Senator Ferris put the position of the government as

    If one were to listen to the contribution of (the Opposition) ...
    one would believe that reconciliation is dead in this country. Nothing
    could be further from the truth. Reconciliation between Indigenous
    Australians and the wider community is an objective that the federal
    government is fully committed to, and all of us on this side of the
    chamber are fully committed to. The Australian government strongly
    reaffirms its support for reconciliation, as expressed in the historic
    motion of reconciliation that was passed by both houses of the federal
    parliament on 26 August 1999 ... [T]his motion confirmed a whole-hearted
    commitment to reconciliation as an important national priority for
    all Australians.'[12]

    There is a subtle but important factor illustrated
    by comments such as these that must be acknowledged about the government's
    approach to reconciliation. Members of the government are committed to
    achieving reconciliation. Analyses of how the government is performing
    on reconciliation, such as this report, do not seek to present the government's
    position as if it were opposed to achieving reconciliation. Instead, the
    crucial issue is the nature of the commitments made by the government
    and whether they are sufficient (or in other words, do they progress reconciliation
    or instead impede progress, either through commission or omission?).

    Senator Ferris explained what the government
    means by reconciliation in the debate on the Reconciliation Bill as follows:

    Of course, the concept of reconciliation is one that
    means different things to different people ... But there is one common
    thread to people's view of reconciliation in this country and that is
    that all Australians are entitled to equal life chances, to equality
    of opportunity, and that true reconciliation will not exist until Indigenous
    disadvantage has been eliminated. The very sad truth is that Aboriginal
    and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia still remain the most
    disadvantaged group in our society ... despite the best efforts of hundreds,
    perhaps thousands of individuals in this country over many years ...
    The federal government believes that the best way
    it can act to achieve reconciliation is through the provision of practical
    and effective measures that address the legacy of profound economic
    and social disadvantage that are experienced by many Indigenous Australians,
    particularly in those crucial areas of health, education, housing and
    employment. Practical measures in these key areas have a positive effect
    on the everyday lives of Indigenous Australians.'[13]

    I have extensively criticised this approach
    to reconciliation in the Social Justice Reports for 2000-2002.'[14] At core, concerns about the government's approach to reconciliation focus
    on the limited scope of the commitments that they make; the lack of a
    process for dealing with issues that fall outside the parameters set by
    the government; the derisive and somewhat arbitrary way that the government
    discards issues which it does not agree with as 'symbolic' and then simply
    ignores them; and the lack of a rigorous monitoring framework to hold
    the government accountable for its commitments and for any lack of progress
    in areas which it has chosen to ignore.

    The government's approach to reconciliation
    is also malleable. In 2003, for example, the design and wording for a
    memorial on the stolen generations for inclusion at Reconciliation Place
    in Canberra was agreed between the government and the National Sorry Day
    Committee.'[15] While there is a clear preference
    for 'practical' measures of assistance rather than 'symbolic' measures,
    the government's approach does involve and recognise the importance of
    such symbolic measures. It is often not clear, however, why particular
    issues are acceptable and fall within the parameters of practical reconciliation
    while others do not.

    These concerns about the government's approach
    do not, however, suggest that there is an absence of a commitment to reconciliation.
    Instead they identify that this commitment is to a particular type of reconciliation around which the boundaries are tightly proscribed by
    the government.'[16]

    Jackie Huggins has effectively addressed
    the issue of the nature of the government's commitment to reconciliation
    as follows:

    There is little doubt that the current Government in
    Canberra would like to make an impact in Indigenous affairs, though
    its vision of a reconciled Australia would be very different to that
    of many of us ... Although, there are strong indications that Ministers
    across a number of Commonwealth portfolios are becoming more open
    to looking at creative solutions to persistent problems.

    But the bottom line for this Prime Minister and his
    governmental has always been the compartmentalising of reconciliation
    and Indigenous affairs into so-called practical and symbolic measures,
    the latter having been rejected as unacceptable to mainstream Australia ...

    In this highly controlled context ... it is true to say
    that many in the community have been left with the impression that
    the reconciliation agenda in Australia has run into the sand. Others
    have been basking in the mistaken belief that reconciliation has already
    arrived. The truth is somewhere in between ...'[17]

    The continuity over several years of this
    'highly controlled' approach of the government towards reconciliation
    has inevitably seen policy debates shift towards the government's framework.
    This was increasingly the case in 2003. Progressively each year has seen
    less focus on issues that do not fall within the government's approach,
    such as an apology, the plight of the stolen generations, the treaty debate
    and native title. As Reconciliation Australia notes, these issues 'have
    not gone away however those involved in reconciliation have chosen to
    engage with the government where constructive progress can be made'.'[18] This reflects political reality rather than an embracing or endorsement
    of the government's position. As Jackie Huggins has noted:

    Those of us involved in reconciliation and Indigenous
    affairs have had to make a choice about whether to keep beating our
    heads against a wall on ... issues (of unfinished business) ... or whether
    we look to what can be achieved in the political context in which
    we find ourselves, and try to move forward. And that is the choice
    we have made. We have a responsibility to keep the rest of the agenda
    alive but we also have a duty to engage and to continue to progress
    things that can be progressed.'[19]

    Similarly, processes for sustaining and
    monitoring progress towards reconciliation are increasingly focused on
    'practical' reconciliation. In 2003, the Senate Legal and Constitutional
    References Committee concluded its inquiry into national progress towards
    reconciliation and made several recommendations to implement a broader
    approach to reconciliation which incorporates all aspects of reconciliation
    that were identified by the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation'[20] A similarly based debate also commenced in the Senate on the Reconciliation
    Bill 2001.
    The government has indicated that it does not consider
    the mechanisms in either of these processes as necessary, on the basis
    that it already has mechanisms in place for progressing practical reconciliation.
    Consequently, it is unlikely that there will be mechanisms introduced
    which will enable issues that do not fit exactly within the government's
    framework to be advanced.

    b) Progress in addressing Indigenous disadvantage

    The government has emphasised time and again
    that the key focus of reconciliation should be on practical and effective
    measures that address the legacy of profound economic and social disadvantage
    that is experienced by many Indigenous Australians. As quoted above, the
    government's position is that 'true reconciliation will not exist until
    Indigenous disadvantage has been eliminated'.

    Newly released data in 2003 provided the
    opportunity to establish whether we are progressing towards this ultimate
    goal of the government's reconciliation agenda and to determine whether
    the pace of such progress is adequate.

    The Social Justice Reports for
    2000 through to 2002 raised a number of challenges for the government
    in order to determine whether they are meeting their commitment to address
    the social and economic inequality experienced by Indigenous Australians.
    These challenges include the establishment of benchmarks and targets which
    commit to a rate of progress in improving the socio-economic conditions
    of Indigenous peoples and improved data collection to enable such progress
    to be more accurately measured. There have been some developments over
    the past year relating to data collection and reporting, such as the establishment
    of the national reporting framework on key indicators of Indigenous disadvantage
    (which is discussed more fully in the next section of this chapter).

    However, the long-standing commitment of
    governments to develop benchmarks and action plans for key areas of Indigenous
    disadvantage through the various inter-governmental ministerial councils
    remains largely unfulfilled. Accordingly, it is not possible to determine
    whether government efforts to address Indigenous disadvantage have progressed
    at a rate that meets the expectations (and targets) of governments and
    Indigenous peoples. There are no publicly reported goals setting out what
    is an acceptable rate of improvement against which we can determine whether
    current progress is adequate and fully matches the potential of available
    resources and programs. This is a critical issue of lack of accountability
    of government and I return to it later in this chapter.

    Despite the lack of publicly reported benchmarks
    and action plans, we can still evaluate progress in addressing Indigenous
    disadvantage from the following three perspectives.

    First, we can see whether there have been improvements in
    the circumstances of Indigenous peoples on a number of key indicators
    over the past five and ten years. Generally, due to difficulties in comparing
    data over time periods the Australian Bureau of Statistics recommends
    that such comparisons be made on the basis of changes in percentages over
    time rather than raw figures.[21]

    Second, we can see whether there have been
    improvements in the situation of Indigenous peoples compared to non-Indigenous
    people over the past five and ten years. In other words, given the prime
    goal of the government of eliminating the inequality in socio-economic
    conditions experienced by Indigenous peoples, is there relative improvement
    in the situation of Indigenous peoples compared to the rest of Australian
    society? If the government's approach is working then we can reasonably
    expect a continual closing of the gap between the two groups.

    Third, we can make comparisons between the
    situation of Indigenous peoples in Australia and Indigenous peoples in
    other similar countries, as well as to people in less developed countries.
    By doing so we can establish whether we are progressing at a rate comparable
    to that in other countries or whether we are lagging behind in the improvements
    being achieved.

    The government's view is that it is making
    progress in addressing Indigenous disadvantage. In October 2003 the Minister
    for Indigenous Affairs stated:

    The wellbeing of Indigenous people is improving under
    this Government. Record amounts of money and effort are now being spent
    on trying to solve the problem of Indigenous disadvantage. Since coming
    to Government, real steps forward have been made. Between the 1996 and
    2001 censuses, many indicators of Indigenous disadvantage show real
    improvement. For example:
    • Indigenous unemployment rate fell from 22.7 per cent
      to 20.0 per cent, and there were an additional 18,000 Indigenous people
      in employment
    • the proportion of Indigenous people employed in the
      private sector rose from 46.3 per cent to 48.5 per cent
    • the proportion of Indigenous adults who had left school
      before their 15th birthday fell from 44.2 per cent to 33.4 per cent,
    • the proportion of Indigenous adults with post school
      qualifications rose from 23.6 per cent to 27.9 per cent
    • the proportion of Indigenous children who stayed on
      at school through to Year 12 increased from 29.2 per cent in 1996
      to 38 per cent in 2002
    • there were 5566 Indigenous students enrolled in a bachelor's
      level degree or higher degree course in 2002, 24.3 per cent more students
      than were enrolled in 1996
    • there were 59 763 Indigenous people who undertook post-secondary
      vocational and educational training in 2002, nearly twice the number
      of Indigenous students registered for training in 1996.
    While things are getting better, I am not saying
    everything is good or that we can sit back and be complacent. This Government
    will remain committed to building an Australia where Indigenous people
    enjoy the same standards of living as other Australians while maintaining
    their unique cultural identities.[22]

    In the debate on the Reconciliation
    Bill 2001
    in November 2003, Senator Ferris also stated the government's
    position as follows:

    Despite (the opposition's) claims of economic failure
    and government policy failure, let us have a look at some of the improvements
    that have taken place in Indigenous affairs since this government
    came to office in 1996.

    In terms of education, from 1996 to 2002 the proportion
    of Indigenous children who stayed on at school increased from a very
    poor 29.2 per cent to 38 per cent. I know that 38 per cent is still
    very low, but an improvement of 10 per cent since this government
    came to office is very significant. More importantly, the number of
    Indigenous students registered for post-secondary vocational and educational
    training has nearly doubled from 1996 to 2002 ... to a total of 59,763...
    if that is failure of government policy, one can only imagine what
    would be determined to be successful. The number of young Indigenous
    Australians who are undertaking post-secondary training has almost
    doubled. Over the same period of time, there was a 32 per cent increase
    in the number of Indigenous men and women involved in bachelor-level
    degree courses or higher degree courses in Australian universities.
    I know that those figures are still low, but we are starting to build
    a base of economic advantage through higher education and training
    for young Indigenous men and women ...

    In terms of unemployment, the unemployment rate for
    Indigenous people actually fell from 22.7 per cent to 20 per cent
    between the 1996 census and the 2001 census. Again, I am the first
    to say that we have a long way to go before we can honestly in this
    place say that there is equality of opportunity for jobs for young
    Indigenous people. However, between 1996 and 2001 the number of Indigenous
    people in employment increased from 82,346 to 100,348, an increase
    of 22 per cent...

    In terms of health, the Australian government has substantially
    increased its spending on Indigenous-specific health programs. Such
    spending is now at record levels. So much for failure ... Our total spending
    on specific Indigenous health services this year will rise to more
    than $258 million-more than has ever been spent before. Again I say
    that we know this does not indicate we are going to solve this problem,
    but it is a significant first step. This is a real increase of nearly
    90 per cent since this government took office in 1996... how can you
    say that this is a failure of government policy? We have increased
    real spending on Indigenous-specific health by more than 90 per cent
    since 1996. In the last five years, 46 remote communities have gained
    access to primary health care for the very first time. Indigenous
    infant and perinatal death rates have fallen by a third over the last

    Commonwealth spending on Indigenous programs
    has increased by one-third in real terms since 1996 and is now at record
    levels. In 2003-04, the Commonwealth government will spend $2.7 billion
    on Aboriginal affairs, on Aboriginal policies-more than has ever been
    spent by any government in this nation's history. There is still much
    that we can do and still much that state governments can do to help
    with the practical measures that improve the day-to-day lives of Indigenous
    Australians, but, as we all know, many of those problems will not be
    solved with money. You cannot continue to just throw money at the issue
    without looking at some of the other measures ...

    This government is committed to seeing
    that every policy initiative is carried out to reconcile Indigenous
    Australians and the broader community. Improvements are being made,
    and the statistics that I gave to this chamber earlier indicate that.
    We are making steps forward. There is a long way to go.[23]

    These statements have been reproduced here
    at length to ensure that I have authentically represented the government's
    position on the rate of progress in addressing Indigenous disadvantage.

    There are a number of notable features about
    these statements. First, the government's position on reconciliation clearly
    states that the ultimate test of success is whether the inequality experienced
    by Indigenous peoples compared to non-Indigenous people is eliminated.
    Despite this, in its claims to success above there is not a single reference
    to progress in reducing the gaps that exist between Indigenous and non-Indigenous

    The only reference by the Minister to this
    inequality gap can be found in a press release dated 12 November 2003,
    which comments on the release of the first national report on national
    indicators for overcoming Indigenous disadvantage.[24] The Minister stated: 'While there has been improvements in many key indicators,
    greater rates of improvement for non-Indigenous people, tend to mask the
    gains that have been made.' [25]

    In my progress report on reconciliation
    in the Social Justice Report 2002, I noted a tendency of the
    government to misrepresent progress towards reconciliation through the
    way that it presents statistics.[26] This
    statement by the Minister is a further example of this. Greater rates
    of improvement in key indicators for non-Indigenous Australians do not
    'mask the gains that have been made' for Indigenous people. Instead, they
    indicate that the gains made have not been sufficient to reduce the level
    of inequality or that improvements for Indigenous peoples are not keeping
    pace with the rest of society. There is a substantial difference between
    presenting information in this way and the way that it has been presented
    by the government.

    Second, there are significant omissions
    in the indicators that the government presents as demonstrating 'real
    improvement'. This is most obvious in relation to indicators of health
    status, where the only achievement listed above is that the government
    has 'substantially increased its spending on Indigenous-specific health
    programs to record levels'. There are also no indicators cited relating
    to contact with criminal justice processes or care and protection systems,
    for example.

    At no stage does the government state that
    there are areas where the situation is not improving. The Minister's statement
    above, for example, is unequivocal that 'the wellbeing of Indigenous people
    is improving under this Government'. The only qualification, that there
    is still a way to go, also does not admit lack of progress in key areas:
    'While things are getting better, I am not saying everything is good or
    that we can sit back and be complacent'. It is hardly a frank assessment
    of the actual situation.

    Third, some of the measures of success are
    presented purely as raw numbers and as percentages of increases in raw
    numbers (for example, 5566 Indigenous students enrolled in a bachelor's
    level degree or higher degree course in 2002, 24.3 per cent more students
    than in 1996). As noted above, the ABS cautions against such presentation
    of statistics as they do not account for changes in the accuracy of data
    collection or increased rates of identification of people as Indigenous.
    This can result in the presentation of the level of progress being misleading.
    Indeed, as discussed shortly, there are significant concerns being expressed
    about poor rates of achievement by the government in education over the
    past five years, particularly in relation to higher education.

    Taking these factors into account, and examining
    the statistics on Indigenous well-being from the different perspectives
    listed above (namely, on the basis of absolute change in the situation
    of Indigenous peoples; relative change compared to the non-Indigenous
    population; and where available, international comparisons), it can be
    seen that the claim of the government that 'the wellbeing of Indigenous
    people is improving under this Government' cannot be verified across many
    core areas of practical reconciliation. There are undoubtedly some areas
    where improvements are being realised. Overall, however, there is no consistent
    forward trend in improving the well-being of Indigenous peoples, and particularly
    no forward trend towards a reduction in the disparity between Indigenous
    and non-Indigenous Australians.

    Appendix one of this report provides a statistical
    profile of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. It includes
    information on the current status of Indigenous peoples on key measures
    of socio-economic well-being including health status, employment, income,
    education, housing, and contact with criminal justice and care and protection
    systems. The main findings in the Appendix in terms of progress in addressing
    Indigenous disadvantage across these areas are summarised below.

    Progress in addressing Indigenous disadvantage

    • Gross household income for Indigenous people increased
      by 11% between 1996 and 2001. In 2001, it was 62% of the rate
      for non-Indigenous Australians, compared to 64% in 1996.
    • Median gross individual income for Indigenous people
      increased by 19% from 1996 to 2001, compared to an increase of
      28.4% for non-Indigenous people. There has been a considerable
      increase in the disparity in individual income between these two
      groups between 1996 and 2001, as well as over the decade from
      1991 to 2001.
    • In 2001, 54% of Indigenous people of working age
      were participating in the labour force compared to 73% of non-Indigenous
      people.In 2001, the unemployment rate for Indigenous people was
      20% - an improvement from the rate of 23% in 1996. This is three
      times higher than the rate for non-Indigenous Australians.
    • 18% of all Indigenous people in employment in 2001
      worked on a CDEP scheme. If CDEP were classified as a form of
      unemployment, the Indigenous unemployment rate would rise to over
    • 69% of Indigenous students progressed from year
      10 (compulsory) to year 11 (non-compulsory) schooling, compared
      to 90% of non-Indigenous students in 2001.
    • 38% of Indigenous students were retained to year
      12 in 2002 compared to over 76% for non-Indigenous students. This
      was an increase from 29% in 1996.
    • In 2001, Indigenous people participated in post-secondary
      education at a similar rate to non-Indigenous people, although
      they had a slightly higher attendance rate at TAFE colleges and
      lower attendance rates at universities. The proprtion of Indigenous
      youth (aged 15-24 years) attending a tertiary institution declined
      between 1996 and 2001.
    • In 2001, 63% of Indigenous households were renting
      (compared to 27% of non-Indigenous households), and 13% owned
      their home outright (compared to 40%).
    • Indigenous people are 5.6 times more likely to
      live in over-crowded houses than non-Indigenous people.
    Contact with criminal justice system
    • Indigenous people have consistently constituted
      20% of the total prisoner population since the late 1990s, compared
      to 14% in 1991.
    • Indigenous people are imprisoned at 16 times the
      rate of non-Indigenous people. Indigenous women are imprisoned
      at over 19 times the rate of non-Indigenous women. These rates
      are higher than in 1991, when the Royal Commission into Aboriginal
      Deaths in Custody reported.
    • Since 1997, Indigenous juveniles have constituted
      at least 42% of all incarcerated juveniles, despite constituting
      4% of the total juvenile population. In 2002, Indigenous juveniles
      were incarcerated at a rate 19 times that of non-Indigenous juveniles,
      an increase from 13 times in 1993.
    Contact with care and protection system
    • Indigenous children come into contact with the
      care and protection system at a greater rate than non-Indigenous
      children, and are increasingly represented at the more serious
      stages of intervention.

    Of particular concern is the lack of achievement in relation
    to improving the health status of Indigenous Australians. Appendix One
    illustrates the following.

    Progress in addressing Indigenous disadvantage
    - Health status

    Life Expectancy
    • Life expectancy for Indigenous females declined
      slightly from 1997 - 2001 to 62.8 years. This rate is lower than
      the life expectancy rate for females in India and sub-Saharan
      Africa (with the impact of HIV-AIDs factored out).The gap with
      non-Indigenous female life expectancy increased from 18.8 to 19.6
      years in the same period.
    • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander females can
      also expect to live between 10.9 and 12.6 years less than Indigenous
      females in Canada, the United States of America and New Zealand.
    • Life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait
      Islander males increased slightly from 1997-2001 to 56.3 years.
      This rate is lower than the life expectancy rate for males in
      Myanmar (Burma), Papua New Guinea and Cambodia. The gap between
      Indigenous and non-Indigenous male life expectancy increased slightly
      from 20.6 to 20.7 years in the same period.
    • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males can
      also expect to live between 8.8 and 13.5 years less than Indigenous
      males in Canada, the USA and New Zealand
    Median death age
    • In 2001, the median age of death was 24 years
      lower for Indigenous Australians than for non-Indigenous Australians.
      There has been no identifiable trend towards a reduction in this
      gap for either Indigenous males or females over the past decade.
    Infant health
    • There are twice as many low birth-weight babies
      born to Indigenous mothers than to non-Indigenous mothers. The
      rate of low birth-weights has increased for both groups in recent
      years, with a slight increase in the disparity between the two
      groups over the decade.
    • There are higher rates of low birth-weight babies
      among Indigenous Australians than there are for mothers in countries
      that are classified as low development countries by the United
      Nations, such as Ethiopia, Senegal, Zimbabwe, Lebanon and Indonesia.
    • There are 2.5 times as many deaths among Indigenous
      infants than non-Indigenous infants in Australia, with no discernable
      reduction in the number of deaths or the rate of inequality since
    • Rates of infant mortality for Indigenous people
      in Australia are significantly higher than rates for Indigenous
      people in Canada, the USA and New Zealand.

    These figures indicate that there are clear
    disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, and limited
    progress in reducing these disparities across many key areas of socio-economic

    These findings are confirmed by significant
    research published by the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research
    (CAEPR) in late 2003. CAEPR released analysis by Professor Jon Altman
    and Dr Boyd Hunter of 2001 Census data which sought to monitor progress
    towards reconciliation by measuring absolute and relative changes in Indigenous
    peoples' labour force status, income, housing, education and health over
    the period 1991-2001.

    As the authors of the study noted, for the
    first time ever there was a relatively close correlation between the conduct
    of the five-yearly national census and political cycles:

    The change in government shortly before the 1996 Census
    means that the 1996 data reflect the Labor legacy rather than the
    effect of early policy initiatives of the new government. While arguably
    there are various types of policy lags ... the second inter-censal period
    (1996-2001) can be readily interpreted as the policy domain (and legacy)
    of the Howard government. [27]

    The research aimed to answer the following question:

    How do the outcomes in the period 1991-1996, represented
    by the Federal government and many conservative commentators as a
    period when symbolic reconciliation was too dominant, compare with
    those in the period 1996-2001 when a change in government saw greater
    policy focus on practical reconciliation? [28]

    The research concluded that in the period
    1996-2001, labour force status for Indigenous people worsened relative
    to the rest of the population when measured by labour force participation
    rates, unemployment rates, the employment to population ratio, and rate
    of full time employment. There was, however, a slight improvement in employment
    of Indigenous people in the private sector. The authors expressed concern
    about this general worsening in Indigenous labour force status as it moved
    'against the trend for the rest of the population'.[29] They noted:

    Unemployment rates fell by less for the Indigenous population
    than for other Australians, despite rapid economic growth over the
    five year period and growth in numbers participating in the CDEP scheme.
    There is little evidence of trickle down improving Indigenous economic
    participation and reducing the significance of non-employment (welfare)
    income. Given that low skilled workers are often the first to lose
    work in an economic downturn, the lack of improvement is worrying,
    especially if there is any significant deterioration in the Australian
    and international economies in the near future. [30]

    In terms of income, the research noted a
    continued relative decline in income for Indigenous individuals, but a
    slight improvement in the relativity in median family income between Indigenous
    and non-Indigenous families. [31] In terms
    of housing, the research also noted marginal improvements in the relativity
    between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people for both home ownership rates
    and household size.

    The research expressed significant concern
    about the lack of improvement in relation to both health and education.
    The authors expressed concern at the 'substantial inertia in Indigenous
    health'[32] as indicated in the lack of improvement
    in relativities relating to life expectancy and proportion of the population
    aged over 55 years. In relation to education, the research notes a slight
    reduction in the disparity in the proportion of adults who have never
    gone to school, but a worsening in the comparative rate of early school
    leavers. There was a slight improvement in the proportion of Indigenous
    adults with post-school qualifications, but a significant decline in the
    comparative rate of Indigenous youth currently attending a tertiary institution.
    The authors commented that:

    it is an indictment of current education policy that
    there was a large decline in the Indigenous to non-Indigenous ratio
    between 1996 and 2001 ... future prospects for improved socio-economic
    outcomes for the Indigenous population are not good when attendance
    of Indigenous youth at tertiary institutions fell by 2.2 percentage
    points ... Even in its own terms the government is failing in the education
    arena. [33]

    When these results are compared to the results
    achieved by the previous government in the period from 1991-1996, the
    research revealed that:

    in absolute terms, it is difficult to differentiate
    the performance of governments pre-1996 and post-1996. However, in relative
    terms - that is when comparing the relative wellbeing of Indigenous
    people as a whole with all other Australians - there is some disparity
    between the periods, with the early period 1991-1996 clearly outperforming
    the more recent period ...[34] Of particular
    concern was relative decline over the period in educational and health
    status. [35]

    As a consequence, the authors offered the
    following appraisal of the achievements of practical reconciliation in
    addressing Indigenous disadvantage:

    Despite the policy rhetoric of three Howard governments,
    there is no statistical evidence that their policies and programs are
    delivering better outcomes for Indigenous Australians, at the national
    level, than those of their political predecessors ...[36] It is of particular concern that some of the relative gains made between
    1991 and 1996 appear to have been offset by the relative poor performance
    of Indigenous outcomes between 1996 and 2001[37] ...
    This intractability is worrying in part because it is evident during
    a time when (in) Australia the macro-economy is growing rapidly. This
    suggests, in turn, that problems are deeply entrenched - it is not just
    a matter of choosing between practical and symbolic reconciliation. [38]

    There is one further issue of grave concern
    relating to progress in addressing Indigenous disadvantage. As CAEPR note:

    A major problem for both Indigenous Australians and
    the nation is that other research suggests that the situation described
    using the latest 2001 Census statistics is likely to get worse, rather
    than better, over the next decade. [39]

    This is due to the demographic characteristics
    of the Indigenous population. As I noted in the Social Justice Report
    there is 'a well-documented, emerging crisis facing Indigenous
    policy design'. Not only is the Indigenous population growing at a faster
    rate than the non-Indigenous population (2.3 per cent compared to 1.2
    per cent annually), but the Indigenous population's median age is younger
    (20 years compared to 35 years) and nearly twice as many Indigenous compared
    to non-Indigenous people are under 15 years of age (almost 40 per cent
    compared to just over 20 per cent). Similarly, only 2.8% of the Indigenous
    population are aged over 65 compared to 12.5% of the non-Indigenous population. [40] The consequence of this age structure
    and rate of population growth is that there will be a significant increase
    in the number of Indigenous people entering the age group where they will
    be seeking employment.

    Based in this demographic profile, research
    by CAEPR forecasts that there will be a further widening of the disparity
    between Indigenous and non-Indigenous employment rates over the next decade:

    Because the rate of employment growth is anticipated
    to be slower than population growth, the overall employment rate is
    expected to fall from 40 per cent to 36 per cent over the projection
    period (2001-2011). Assuming no change in the labour force participation
    rate, the reverse side of this equation will see unemployment numbers
    rise from an estimated 32,808 in 2001 to 58,565 by 2011, with a consequent
    increase in the unemployment rate from 22.5% to almost 31% of those
    in the labour force.

    These projections point clearly to a worsening in the
    labour force status of Indigenous adults. Moreover it should be noted
    that they are based on the inclusion of working CDEP scheme participants
    in the estimates of persons employed. If these were excluded, and
    instead counted as unemployed ... then predicted labour market outcomes
    for Indigenous people would become far worse, with an unemployment
    rate of 43 per cent rising to 50 per cent... [41]

    It is worth recalling that the equivalent rates for
    the rest of the Australian population are presently around 6.0 per
    cent for unemployment ... these are likely to remain relatively unchanged ...
    The medium term prognosis, then, all other things being equal, is
    for a substantial worsening of the overall labour force status of
    Indigenous people both relatively and absolutely. [42]

    These figures from CAEPR update analysis
    that they conducted in 1997 and 1998 into the likely growth in employment
    disparity for Indigenous peoples. [43] Consequently,
    the government has been aware of the likelihood of deterioration in employment
    status for Indigenous peoples since at least 1997. The absence of benchmarks
    and an action plan to address this potential situation is a serious omission
    from the 'practical reconciliation' agenda.

    These projected high rates of Indigenous
    unemployment and low rates of Indigenous participation in the labour force
    have impacts not only on the overall financial wellbeing of Indigenous
    individuals and communities, but it also has major direct impacts on the
    Australian economy at large. For example, CAEPR estimates the cost of
    the current level of Indigenous employment (including unemployment, underemployment,
    CDEP participation and discouraged workers) to be approximately $700 million
    in total foregone tax revenue. [44] CAEPR
    have made the following projections for the situation over the decade
    to 2011:

    If Indigenous unemployment was reduced to a level commensurate
    with the rest of the population, and assuming that this latter rate
    remained constant, then the savings to government in payments to the
    unemployed, in real terms, would be $328 million in 2006 and $450
    million in 2011. On the credit side, if all those formerly unemployed
    were to gain mainstream employment (excluding CDEP scheme employees)
    with an annual income equivalent ... [similar to reported income of non-CDEP
    employees in 1994] ... then the estimated tax return to government would
    approximate $211 million and $290 million in 2006 and 2011 respectively.

    These estimates are conservative because they hold the
    Indigenous participation rate at their 2001 levels. If all the Indigenous
    people outside the labour force who wanted jobs found them, then the
    government would save an additional $416 million in 2006 and $472
    million in 2011 on government payments. That is, the additional welfare
    cost of not finding work for discouraged workers is even greater than
    that for the unemployed. The cost of lost tax revenue from discouraged
    workers will be as much as $345 million by 2011. [45]

    CAEPR have summarised this situation as
    follows: 'the current fiscal cost of this failure to eradicate Indigenous
    employment disparity is massive - in 2001, it was estimated to be around
    0.5 per cent of Australian GDP. Findings from this new analysis indicate
    that the cost will be even higher in the future.' [46]

    Overall, the statistics across key areas
    of Indigenous disadvantage for the past five years indicate that there
    is no consistent forward trend in reducing the extent of disadvantage
    experienced by Indigenous peoples, and limited progress in eradicating
    the disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. There
    is some evidence that in relation to key measures, this situation may
    deteriorate further in the coming decade. The outcomes being achieved
    by governments are not adequate on any measure of success and despite
    the investment of significant resources by governments. This situation
    needs to change.

    c) Implementing the commitments of the Council of Australian

    An area where there has been significant
    progress in advancing the reconciliation process over the past year is
    the efforts of governments, lead by the federal government, in implementing
    the commitments made by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) towards

    In its communique of 3 November 2000, COAG
    agreed to take a leading role in driving change to address Indigenous
    disadvantage. COAG agreed to focus on three priority areas: community
    leadership; reviewing and re-engineering programs and services to support
    families, children and young people; and forging links between the business
    sector and indigenous communities to promote economic independence. As
    part of this process, Ministerial Councils were to develop 'action plans,
    performance reporting strategies and benchmarks' with COAG to review progress

    In its communique of 5 April 2002, COAG
    agreed to conduct a number of whole-of-government community trials across
    Australia and to commission an annual reporting framework on key indicators
    of Indigenous disadvantage. This reporting framework had its genesis in
    the efforts of the Ministerial Council on Aboriginal and Torres Strait
    Islander Affairs in progressing COAG's communique of November 2000.

    This section reviews developments in relation
    to the disadvantage reporting framework, COAG trials and Ministerial action
    plans over 2003.

    i) Overcoming Indigenous disadvantage - Annual
    report against key indicators

    In his capacity as Chairman of COAG, the
    Prime Minister wrote to the Steering Committee for the Review of Commonwealth/State
    Service Provision[47] on 3 May 2002 to request
    the Committee to develop a framework for reporting to COAG against key
    indicators of indigenous disadvantage. COAG had agreed to the production
    of such a regular report at its April 2002 meeting.

    The Steering Committee developed a draft
    reporting framework in 2002 and consulted with Indigenous organisations
    and governments about it in 2002 and 2003. This draft framework was the
    subject of a workshop convened by the Social Justice Commissioner in November
    2002, and was discussed in detail in Chapter 4 of the Social Justice
    Report 2002.

    On 22 August 2003, the Prime Minister wrote
    to the Steering Committee on behalf of COAG to formally endorse the Committee's
    proposed framework for reporting progress in addressing indigenous disadvantage.
    The finalised framework is reproduced in Figure 1 below.

    Figure 1 - COAG Framework for reporting on Indigenous

    Figure 1 - COAG Framework for reporting on Indigenous disadvantage. To obtain this information in a more accessible format email:

    here to view a larger version of this figure

    COAG and the Prime Minister nominated two
    core objectives for the Report: namely, to identify indicators that 'are
    of relevance to all governments and indigenous stakeholders' and 'demonstrate
    the impact of programme and policy interventions'. [48]

    As the Chair of the Steering Committee has stated about
    the report:

    The ... commissioning (of this report by COAG) demonstrates
    a new resolve, at the highest political level, not only to tackle
    the root causes of Indigenous disadvantage, but also to monitor the
    outcomes in a systematic way that crosses jurisdictional and portfolio
    boundaries. In doing so, the Report will henceforth also raise the
    transparency of government's performance.

    This report's purpose, therefore, is to be more than
    just another collection of data. It seeks to document outcomes for
    Indigenous people within a framework that has both an agreed vision of what life should be for Indigenous people and a strategic focus on key areas that need to be targeted if that longer term vision is
    to be realised. [49]

    The vision of the reporting framework
    is that 'Indigenous people will one day enjoy the same overall standard
    of living as other Australians. They will be as healthy, live as long,
    and participate fully in the social and economic life of the nation.' [50] This vision is encapsulated in the three,
    inter-related priority outcomes of the reporting framework, namely:

    • Safe, healthy and supportive family environments with
      strong communities and cultural identity;
    • Positive child development and prevention of violence,
      crime and self-harm;
    • Improved wealth creation and economic sustainability
      for individuals, families and communities. [51]

    The report also seeks to present the statistics
    within a strategic framework. There are two key features to this
    framework. First, it seeks to report on Indigenous disadvantage on a holistic
    and whole-of-government basis. As the Committee has explained:

    [T]he report is predicated on the view that achieving
    improvements in the wellbeing of Indigenous Australians in a particular
    area will generally require the involvement of more than one government
    agency, and that improvements will need preventative policy actions
    on a whole-of-government basis ...[52]
    Without detracting from the importance of individual
    agencies being responsible and accountable for the services they deliver,
    the structure of this Report seeks to facilitate interaction between
    sectors and between governments on programs that are delivered to Indigenous
    people. Furthermore, it can assist agencies to consider how they can
    strategically develop programs which have the capacity to deliver outcomes
    outside of their traditional sphere of action. [53]

    A recurring theme of the framework is acknowledgement
    that areas such as health, education, employment, housing, crime and so
    on are inextricably linked. Disadvantage or involvement in any of these
    areas can have serious impacts on other areas of well-being. Acknowledgement
    of, and action based on, these interconnections is therefore critical
    in assisting COAG to inform policy development with respect to Indigenous

    Second, the framework is premised on a realisation
    that there are a range of causative factors for Indigenous disadvantage.
    This necessitates reporting on progress in addressing both the larger,
    cumulative indicators (such as life expectancy, unemployment and contact
    with criminal justice processes) which reflect the consequences of a number
    of contributing factors, as well as identifying progress in improving
    these smaller, more individualised factors.

    To reflect these strategic considerations,
    the framework seeks to present progress in addressing Indigenous disadvantage
    at two levels. The first level is a series of twelve 'headline indicators'
    that provide a snapshot of the overall state of Indigenous disadvantage.
    The twelve indicators are:

    • Life expectancy at birth;
    • Rates of disability and/or core activity restriction;
    • Years 10 and 12 retention and attainment;
    • Labour force participation and unemployment;
    • Household and individual income;
    • Home ownership;
    • Suicide and self-harm;
    • Substantiated child protection notifications;
    • Deaths from homicide and hospitalisations for assault;
    • Victim rates for crime; and
    • Imprisonment and juvenile detention rates.

    These 'headline indicators' are measures
    of the major social and economic factors that need to be improved if COAG's
    vision of an improved standard of living for Indigenous peoples is to
    become reality. But as the Chairman of the Steering Committee notes, these
    headline indicators:

    reflect desired longer term outcomes and therefore
    are themselves only likely to change gradually. Because most of the
    measures are at such a high level and have long lead times (eg life
    expectancy) they do not provide a sufficient focus for policy action
    and are only blunt indicators of policy performance.
    Indeed, reporting at the 'headline' level alone can
    make the policy challenges appear overwhelming. The problems observed
    at this level are generally the end result of a chain of contributing
    factors, some of which may be of long standing. These causal factors
    almost never fall neatly within the purview of a single agency of government,
    or indeed a single government. [54]

    Hence, the Steering Committee has devised
    a second level of reporting which breaks down these broader, longer term
    measures. The Committee has identified seven 'strategic areas for action'
    and a number of supporting 'strategic change indicators' to measure progress
    in these. The particular areas and change indicators have been chosen
    for their 'potential to respond to policy action within the shorter term ...
    (and to indicate) intermediate measures of progress'[55] while also having the potential in the longer term to contribute to improvements
    in overall Indigenous disadvantage (as reflected through the 'headline
    indicators'). [56] The seven strategic areas
    and related indicators are set out in the following table.

    Table 1: COAG Overcoming Disadvantage framework:
    Strategic areas for action and strategic change indicators[57]

    Strategic areas for action Strategic change indicators
    1. Early child development and growth (prenatal to age 3)
    • Rates of hospital admission for infectious diseases
    • Infant mortality
    • Birth weight
      Hearing impediments
    2. Early school engagement and performance (preschool to year 3)
    • Preschool and school attendance
    • Year 3 literacy and numeracy
      Primary school children with dental caries
    3. Positive childhood and transition to adulthood
    • Years 5 and 7 literacy and numeracy
    • Retention at year 9
    • Indigenous cultural studies in school curriculum and involvement
      of Indigenous people in development and delivery of Indigenous
    • Participation in organised sport, arts or community group activities
    • Juvenile diversions as a proportion of all juvenile offenders
      Transition from school to work
    4. Substance use and misuse
    • Alcohol and tobacco consumption
    • Alcohol related crime and hospital statistics
      Drug and other substance use
    5. Functional and resilient families and communities
    • Children on long term care and protection orders
    • Repeat offending
    • Access to the nearest health professional
    • Proportion of indigenous people with access to their traditional
    6. Effective environmental health systems
    • Rates of diseases associated with poor environmental health
      (including water and food borne diseases, trachoma, tuberculosis
      and rheumatic heart disease)
    • Access to clean water and functional sewerage
      Overcrowding in housing
    7. Economic participation and development
    • Employment (full-time/part-time) by sector (public/private),
      industry and occupation
    • CDEP participation
    • Long term unemployment
    • Self employment
    • Indigenous owned or controlled land
    • Accredited training in leadership, finance or management
      Case studies in governance arrangements

    The Steering Committee published its first
    report against this framework, titled Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage
    - Key Indicators 2003,
    in November 2003. The report confirms that
    Indigenous disadvantage is broadly based, with major disparities between
    Indigenous and other Australian in most areas. As the Chairman of the
    Steering Committee has commented on the findings of the report:

    [The report] confirms the pervasiveness of Indigenous
    disadvantage. It is distressingly apparent that many years of policy
    effort have not delivered desired outcomes; indeed in some important
    respects the circumstances of Indigenous people appear to have deteriorated
    or regressed. Worse than that, outcomes in the strategic areas identified
    as critical to overcoming disadvantage in the long term remain well
    short of what is needed. [58]

    The presentation of information within the
    strategic areas also highlights the inter-related nature of the challenges
    faced in improving Indigenous well-being. As the Chairman of the Committee
    notes, 'in the three strategic areas that focus on young Indigenous people,
    the potential for cumulative disadvantage is plain to see.' [59] The presentation of what are generally well known statistics in this way
    under the strategic areas of action 'are not rocket science'[60] but the ability to highlight cumulative disadvantage factors is a significant
    breakthrough which should assist policy making in relation to Indigenous

    There are, however, two main issues relating
    to the framework which have a bearing on how influential it will be in
    promoting change to policy and program approaches by governments and ultimately
    in improving the well-being of Indigenous peoples.

    First, a critical issue for the reporting
    framework is the availability of adequate and regular data. The Social
    Justice Report 2000
    identified limitations in data collection as
    a critical problem that must be addressed in order to ensure government
    accountability for progress towards reconciliation. [61] This has been an issue that the Steering Committee has had to grapple
    with in establishing the framework and in reporting against it.

    The Committee has noted that the existence
    of data sets or ease of developing them was a practical consideration
    that influenced the choice of indicators in the framework:

    In many cases, the selected indicators are a compromise,
    due not only to the absence of data, but also to the unlikelihood of
    any data becoming available in the foreseeable future ... In some cases,
    however, an indicator has been included even when the data are not available
    on a national basis, or are substantially qualified. These are indicators
    where there is some likelihood that data quality and availability will
    improve over time. In two cases where there were no reliable data available,
    the indicators were nevertheless considered to be so important that
    qualitative indicators have been included in the report. [62]

    In reporting against each of the headline
    indicators and strategic change indicators in the first report, the Steering
    Committee has noted limitations in data availability and quality. Each
    chapter of the report contains a section titled 'future directions in
    data' which notes current developments which will contribute to addressing
    the difficulties in data availability and quality in future years, and
    how exactly specific initiatives will do this. It also identifies major
    deficiencies and areas where there is an urgent and outstanding need for
    improved statistical collection methods. [63]

    I envisage that in future years the Committee
    is also going to face additional issues relating to the regularity of
    data availability and hence the ability to report progress over time.
    In this regard, I have previously recommended that the Indigenous General
    Social Survey (IGSS) should be conducted on a triennial basis, alongside
    the General Social Survey, to ensure the regularity of comparable data
    on the unique issues covered in that survey. Currently, the IGSS is intended
    to occur every 6 years, with the results of the first IGSS conducted in
    2002 due to be released in early 2004.

    On the positive side, it was announced in
    the federal budget for 2003 that a national longitudinal study on Indigenous
    children will be conducted. This study will track the development of 4,000
    Indigenous children over a nine year period and will be a rich source
    of ongoing data for the Steering Committee. The study, however, is not
    due to commence until at least 2005 in order for extensive consultations
    to be conducted with Indigenous peoples and communities prior to its introduction.

    There may also be issues in future years
    relating to the ability to disaggregate available data from the national
    and state or territory level, down to a regional level.

    It is critical that the recommendations
    and suggestions of the Steering Committee in relation to improved data
    collection are addressed as a matter of urgency in order to ensure that
    the reporting framework is able to fully realise its potential and to
    be viable into the longer term. As the Chairman of the Steering Committee

    [the] immediate contribution [of the report] is constrained
    by serious gaps and deficiencies in data. For example, we know that
    hearing impediments in young children can seriously undermine their
    ability to succeed at school, yet we have little basis for knowing whether
    this problem is getting better or worse. We know that attendance at
    school is critical to lifelong achievement, but we have inadequate data
    to monitor it. Substance abuse is blighting young lives, but we have
    little systematic information on it. Data on the extent of disabilities
    among Indigenous people is almost non-existent. The Review documents
    these and a range of other data priorities that will need to be addressed
    if the Report is to realise its potential and meet COAG's needs. [64]

    In producing this report I am mandated to
    make recommendations on actions which should be taken to secure the enjoyment
    and exercise of the rights of Indigenous peoples. In light of the crucial
    nature of this issue, I have chosen to make the following recommendation
    about improving data collection in the context of the Steering Committee's

    Recommendation 1 on reconciliation: Data

    1. That the federal government request
    the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to provide to COAG information
    on the actions that need to be taken in order to improve Indigenous
    data collection. The ABS should respond to the suggestions made
    by the Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Delivery
    in the Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage Report 2003, as well as identify actions that they consider necessary to ensure
    the availability of relevant data on a regular basis. In providing
    this information, the ABS should:

    • identify those issues that could be addressed through
      improvements to its existing data collection processes, as well
      as those issues which would require additional one-off funding
      allocations and those issues which would require additional recurrent
      funding from the federal government or COAG;
    • estimate the cost of any additional one-off and
      recurrent funding needs, including the cost of conducting the
      Indigenous General Social Survey on a triennial basis; and
    • consult with the Steering Committee for the Review
      of Government Services, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
      Commission, and other relevant agencies.

    The second main issue that impacts on the
    potential of the Steering Committee's report is how it is incorporated
    into policy design and programmes across governments and between government
    departments. As the Chairman of the Steering Committee notes:

    The Report's contribution to this important national
    endeavour is essentially informational. It does not (and
    cannot) in itself provide policy answers. But it can (and hopefully
    will) help governments and Indigenous people to identify where programs
    need to deliver results, and to assess whether they are succeeding.
    For it to be effective in this, it will be important that governments
    integrate elements of the reporting framework into their policy development
    and evaluation processes. [65]

    This is the most critical issue relating
    to the report - ultimately it does not matter how refined the statistics
    that are reported are if the report is not utilised by governments to
    inform and change the way they go about delivering services to Indigenous

    In the Social Justice Report 2002, I expressed the concern that the Steering Committee's framework 'currently
    exists in isolation from any other form of performance monitoring, particularly
    on identifying progress on important goals such as capacity building and
    governance reform, as well as identifying the unmet need and accordingly
    whether policy approaches are moving forward or in fact regressing.' [66] If the reporting framework is not integrated into policy development then
    the Steering Committee's report risks becoming, in the words of the Chairman
    of the Steering Committee, 'an annual misery index'[67] which simply reminds us on an annual basis of continuing Indigenous disadvantage
    without action to change this situation.

    At this stage, it is not clear how the report
    will inform policy development and how governments will use the report
    to review their approach to Indigenous issues. This is in part because
    COAG has not yet formally considered and responded to the first report
    of the Steering Committee. It is anticipated that further guidance will
    be provided when COAG next meets.

    It is clear, however, that the other two
    main activities of COAG relating to reconciliation have a vital role to
    play in drawing lessons from the reporting framework and connecting the
    framework to day to day policy development processes. As the Chairman
    of the Steering Committee has noted:

    One important national vehicle for this is the Action
    Plans that are being developed by Ministerial Councils in such areas
    as health, education, employment, justice and small business. The
    whole-of-government, outcomes orientation of the framework also complements
    the coordinated service delivery trials in eight different regions
    across Australia that was initiated by COAG. [68]

    It is notable that when developing the framework
    for reporting it was debated whether there should be a third level of
    indicators added to the framework which could report on service delivery.
    Ultimately, this was seen as a role for the Ministerial Council action
    plans, which are intended to link service delivery with the reporting
    framework. These action plans form the vital link in drawing lessons from
    the reporting framework. Progress in developing these action plans is
    discussed in the next section of this report.

    Overall, as I noted in the Social Justice
    Report 2002,
    the Steering Committee's framework is a 'significant
    institutional development in measuring progress for Indigenous peoples'
    and the 'only positive form of monitoring and evaluation that the Government
    has provided for practical reconciliation'.[69]

    The endorsement of the framework by COAG
    in August 2003 and the production of the first report by the Steering
    Committee in November 2003 are both substantial achievements. And as the
    Chairman of the Steering Committee has stated, one of the most significant
    contributions of the reporting framework is that it 'challenges us to
    do better. It also vindicates COAG's decision to give new impetus to the
    development and coordination of Indigenous policies and programs.' [70]

    ii) Developing Ministerial Council action plans
    and benchmarks

    The COAG Communique on reconciliation of
    3 November 2000 commits to an integrated framework for addressing Indigenous
    disadvantage. As the former Minister for Immigration and Multicultural
    and Indigenous Affairs notes:

    Under the aegis of the Framework to Advance Reconciliation
    agreed by the Council of Australian Government s(COAG) in November
    2000, all Australian governments are collectively establishing a comprehensive
    regime of performance monitoring and reporting that supports (the
    government's) overarching performance benchmark and objective of...
    a society where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples enjoy
    comparable standards of social and economic wellbeing to those of
    the wider community, especially in the areas of education, health,
    employment, and law and justice, while maintaining their unique cultural
    identities ...

    This regime has two key elements:

    • regular national report on Indigenous disadvantage;
    • a series of sectoral performance monitoring strategies
      and benchmarks oversighted by the responsible Commonwealth/State Ministerial

    The purpose of this regime is to enable
    governments, community organisations, indigenous people and other Australians
    to monitor progress of the nation in overcoming Indigenous disadvantage.
    The regime is still in its development phase and the government anticipates
    that it will be firmly in place by the third quarter in 2003. [71]

    Each Ministerial Council is to develop action
    plans, performance reporting strategies and benchmarks for addressing
    Indigenous disadvantage. In its action plan, the Ministerial Council on
    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs (MCATSIA) resolved to review
    all of the other Ministerial Council action plans, performance reporting
    strategies and benchmarks in order to identify gaps to COAG and comment
    on those gaps. [72] Progress under the action
    plans would then be regularly reviewed by COAG.

    The COAG communique of 5 April 2002 admits
    that progress by the Ministerial Councils in developing action plans and
    benchmarks in the year and a half after this commitment was made has been
    'slower than expected'.[73] The communique
    indicates that COAG will continue to review progress and that a report
    on the state of the action plans would be submitted by MCATSIA to COAG
    for consideration no later than the end of 2003.

    In his submission to the Senate Legal and
    Constitutional References Committee inquiry into national progress towards
    reconciliation, the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous
    Affairs noted that MCATSIA had provided its initial report of comments
    on the action plans to the Prime Minister (in his role as the Chair of
    COAG) in June 2003. [74] At the time of writing,
    MCATSIA's report had not been made public and a number of action plans
    were still not finalised. It has now been three years since COAG agreed
    to the production of these action plans and benchmarks.

    The federal government noted in November
    2002 that:

    Already a number of Ministerial Councils have performance
    monitoring strategies and benchmarks in place. A leading example is
    the annual performance report against the Aboriginal and Torres Strait
    Islander health indicators. Other ministerial councils also have specific
    data agreements that will support the development of performance monitoring
    strategies and benchmarks. [75]

    The government noted that the following
    Ministerial Councils have, or had prior to COAG's decision in 2000, developed
    action plans:

    • Community Services Ministers Conference;
    • Ministerial Council on Mineral and Petroleum Resources;
    • Australian Transport Council;
    • Sport and Recreation Ministerial Council;
    • Standing Committee of Attorneys-General;
    • The Online Council;
    • Primary Industries Ministerial Council;
    • Ministerial Council for Education, Employment, Training
      and Youth Affairs;
    • Australian Health Ministers Conference;
    • Cultural Ministers Conference;
    • Housing Ministers Conference; and
    • Small Business Ministerial Council. [76]

    Examples of Ministerial Council action plans,
    performance reporting strategies and benchmarks include the following:

    Community services and juvenile
    The central aspect of the community services
    action plan is the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community
    Services Information Plan. This implements the report Principles
    and Standards for Community Services Indigenous Population Data
    and aims to improve data collection across this sector, with a key focus
    on child protection and welfare, juvenile justice, the Supported Accommodation
    Assistance Scheme and agencies funded under the Commonwealth / State
    Disability Agreement.

    Housing: In
    2001, state and territory Housing Ministers and relevant federal Ministers
    committed to new directions in housing through Building a better
    future: Indigenous Housing to 2010
    .[77] An agreement on national housing information was also signed by all
    jurisdictions in 1999. All jurisdictions have agreed to a performance
    monitoring system through improving the availability of reliable data;
    developing reporting systems which will enable performance appraisal
    at the national, state / territory and regional levels; and reporting
    annually to relevant ministers at the federal and state/territory level
    against outcomes identified in Building a better future. A
    reporting framework has also been developed by ATSIC and the Department
    of Family and Community Services to facilitate this performance reporting.

    Employment: Indigenous specific employment data is collected at the federal level.
    Quarterly reports of outcomes data are published by the Department of
    Workplace Relations.

    Justice related areas: The Standing Committee of Attorneys-General have agreed to performance
    indicators in five areas, namely prevent crime and community safety;
    improve access to justice related services; improved access to bail;
    improved access to diversionary schemes; and enhanced participation
    of Indigenous peoples in justice administration systems.

    Health: Processes
    have been in place since 1998 for reporting on national performance
    indicators, although 'data required to report on some indicators are
    either unavailable, of poor quality, or require substantial development'.[78] Indigenous health care agreements with the states and the Commonwealth/State
    Australian Health Care Agreements also have requirements relating to
    data collection. The National Strategic Framework for Aboriginal
    and Torres Strait Islander Health
    was endorsed by health ministers
    in July 2003. It includes reporting on three 'key result areas' which
    relate largely to reforming the structure of the health system to increase
    its accessibility to Indigenous people.

    Education: The
    Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs
    (MCEETYA) has agreed on national performance indicators for all students
    (not just Indigenous). The main measures are national literacy and numeracy
    benchmarks for years 3 and 5 (with benchmarks for year 7 still under
    development). The objective is that all students meet the standards.
    Under the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy
    (NATSIEP), all governments have made commitments 'to bring about equity
    in education for Indigenous Australians'.[79] The main goals of the policy are improved Indigenous participation in
    educational decision-making; equality of access to education services;
    equity of educational participation; and equitable and appropriate educational
    outcomes. These goals are enshrined in the Indigenous Education
    (Targeted Assistance) Act 2000

    One of the main federal programs under the NATSEIP
    is the Indigenous Education Strategic Initiatives Programme (IESIP).
    IESIP funding is provided on a quadrennial basis and States/Territories
    are required to acquit the spending of IESIP funds against negotiated
    indicators which include numeracy and literacy, Indigenous workforce,
    retention rates and attrition. Service providers are required to submit
    annual reports against annual targets. This information is tabled,
    along with progress in addressing other performance indicators, in
    Parliament through the National Report to Parliament on Indigenous
    Education and Training
    by the federal Department of Education
    Science and Training. The first report was tabled in 2002. Programs
    under the IESIP, such as the National Indigenous English Literacy
    and Numeracy Strategy, also have targets for improving literacy and
    numeracy rates of Indigenous people to levels comparable to other
    Australians. [80]

    The federal government admits that these
    action plans 'vary in their sophistication'.[81] In fact, many of these action plans are rudimentary in scope and deal
    almost exclusively with data collection and performance monitoring issues.
    Very few have any benchmarks or targets.

    The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation
    defined a 'benchmark' as 'an agreed standard or target that reflects the
    community aspirations that either have been met or are desirable to be

    Benchmarking is a critical aspect of ensuring
    human rights compliance and accountability. This is in accordance with
    the guiding principle of 'progressive realisation' under international
    human rights law (and as reflected in the International Covenant on
    Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
    ). The Office of the High Commissioner
    for Human Rights and United Nations Development Programme has explained
    this obligation as follows:

    The idea of progressive realization has
    two major strategic implications. First, it allows for a time dimension
    in the strategy for human rights fulfilment by recognizing that full
    realization of human rights may have to occur in a progressive manner
    over a period of time. Second, it allows for setting priorities among
    different rights at any point in time since the constraint of resources
    may not permit a strategy to pursue all rights simultaneously with equal
    vigour ...

    The recognition of a time dimension is
    accompanied by certain conditions aimed at ensuring that the State does
    not take it as a licence either to defer or to relax the efforts needed
    to realize human rights. In particular, the State is required to do
    the following.

    First, the State must acknowledge that
    with a serious commitment to poverty reduction it may be possible to
    make rapid progress towards the realization of many human rights even
    within the existing resource constraint ... Second, to the extent that
    the realization of human rights may be contingent on a gradual expansion
    in the availability of resources, the State must begin immediately to
    take steps to fulfil the rights as expeditiously as possible by developing
    and implementing a time-bound plan of action. The plan must spell out
    when and how the State hopes to arrive at the realization of rights.

    Third, the plan must include a series
    of intermediate - preferably annual - targets. As the realization of
    human rights may take some considerable time, possibly extending well
    beyond the immediate term of a Government in power, it is with regard
    to these intermediate targets (or benchmarks) rather than the final
    target of full realization that the State will have to be held accountable.

    Fourth, as a prerequisite of setting targets,
    the State will have to identify some indicators in terms of which targets
    will be set... Realistic time-bound targets will have to be set in relation
    to each indicator so as to serve as benchmarks.[83]

    The Social Justice Report 2000 described the key attributes of a benchmark as that it is:

    • specific, time bound and verifiable;
    • set with the participation of the people whose rights
      are affected, to agree on what is an adequate rate of progress and to
      prevent the target from being set too low; and
    • re-assessed independently at their target date, with
      accountability for performance.[84]

    In relation to benchmarking, the Council
    for Aboriginal Reconciliation's national strategy to overcome Indigenous
    disadvantage also recommended that governments and ATSIC:

    • set national, state, territory and regional outcomes
      and output benchmarks that are measurable, include time-lines and are
      agreed in partnership with Indigenous peoples and communities;
    • ensure that they have appropriate methods to enable accurate
      and consistent output and outcome reporting for mainstream and Indigenous
      specific programs; and
    • publicly and annually present an outputs and outcomes
      based report to their parliaments, on a whole-of-government basis, against
      these agreed benchmarks. [85]

    Even the most sophisticated of these action
    plans, in education, does not meet the attributes necessary for adequate
    benchmarking. Like the Steering Committee's framework, a target of statistical
    equality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians can be implied
    into some of these action plans. But the establishment of benchmarks requires
    more than the identification of this ultimate goal. It requires an identification
    of an agreed rate of progress towards this goal, within a short, medium
    and longer term context, and an evaluation of issues relating to the prioritisation,
    resourcing and re-engineering of programs and services that will be needed
    in order to achieve this. The action plans and strategies adopted at the
    inter-governmental level to date do not contain critical elements for

    The absence of appropriate benchmarks is
    perhaps the most significant failure of governments in implementing practical
    reconciliation since the year 2000. On this basis, I make the following
    recommendations to improve government accountability for reconciliation.

    Recommendations 2 -5 on Reconciliation: Ministerial
    Council Action Plans

    2. That the federal government, through
    its leadership role in the Council of Australian Governments, ensure
    that all Commonwealth / State Ministerial Councils finalise action
    plans on addressing Indigenous disadvantage and reconciliation by
    30 June 2004. These action plans must contain benchmarks, with specific
    timeframes (covering short, medium and long term objectives) for
    their realisation. Where appropriate, these benchmarks should correlate
    with the strategic change indicators and headline indicators reported
    annually by the Steering Committee for the Provision of Government

    3. That the federal government, through
    its leadership role in the Council of Australian Governments, request
    the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) to
    advise COAG whether it endorses these action plans and the benchmarks
    contained within, following consultations through its Regional Councils.
    ATSIC should be required to advise COAG of its endorsement or any
    concerns about the action plans within a maximum period of six months
    after being furnished with the action plans.

    4. That the federal government ensure
    that all Commonwealth / State Ministerial Council Action Plans are
    made publicly available as a compendium of national commitments
    to overcoming Indigenous disadvantage.

    5. That COAG publicly report on progress
    in meeting the benchmarks contained in each Commonwealth / State
    Ministerial Council Action Plan on an annual basis.

    iii) The COAG whole-of-government community trials

    In its communique of 5 April 2002, COAG
    agreed to trial a whole-of-government cooperative approach in up to ten
    communities or regions of Australia. It was subsequently decided that
    there will be eight trial sites, one in each state or territory of Australia.
    The eight trial sites are:

    • Murdi Paaki region (New South Wales);
    • Wadeye (Northern Territory);
    • Shepparton (Victoria);
    • Cape York (Queensland);
    • Anangu Pitjantjatjara Lands (South Australia);
    • Northern Tasmania;
    • East Kimberley region (Western Australia); and
    • The Australian Capital Territory.

    Appendix two of this report provides a detailed
    overview of the trials, the mechanisms that have been put into place for
    inter-agency and inter-governmental coordination, monitoring and evaluation
    mechanisms for the trials, as well as progress in each of the trial sites.

    The COAG Communique of April 2002 recognised
    that outcomes and management processes in Indigenous policy and service
    delivery need to be improved. The COAG initiative is intended to trial
    a different approach as current and past approaches have not achieved
    the desired outcomes. As the Indigenous Communities Coordination Taskforce

    Many people are saying that the relationship
    between the community and the governments has got to change. It is clear
    that some of the ways that governments and communities approach their
    responsibilities needs to be done differently if we are going to move
    forward together.

    Recently, Commonwealth and State and Territory
    governments have agreed to improve their approach. They have agreed
    to work together .... And they have agreed to work in partnership with
    Indigenous communities to support them find and manage sustainable solutions
    to local problems. This means government have agreed to learn new ways
    of doing business with Indigenous communities. [86]

    It is intended that the trials will be flexible
    in approach in order to reflect the specific needs of each community trial
    site, to build on existing initiatives and to improve the compatibility
    of the approaches currently undertaken by the federal and state or territory
    governments in order to achieve better outcomes. COAG will be looking
    for transferable outcomes from the trials, to be applied more broadly
    in service delivery to Indigenous peoples.[87]

    The objectives of the COAG trials are to:

    • tailor government action to identified community needs
      and aspirations;
    • coordinate government programmes and services where this
      will improve service delivery outcomes;
    • encourage innovative approaches traversing new territory;
    • cut through blockages and red tape to resolve issues
    • work with Indigenous communities to build the capacity
      of people in those communities to negotiate as genuine partners with
    • negotiate agreed outcomes, benchmarks for measuring progress
      and management of responsibilities for achieving those outcomes with
      the relevant people in Indigenous communities; and
    • build the capacity of government employees to be able
      to meet the challenges of working in this new way with Indigenous communities. [88]

    It is anticipated that the trials will encourage
    governments to modify the way they conduct their program and service delivery
    responsibilities, including by encouraging the pooling of funding, breaking
    down internal administrative barriers and improving the way government
    manages and awards contracts. [89]

    Overall, the broader policy context for
    the COAG trials is the federal government's emphasis on mutual obligation
    and the responsibility of all players (government, communities, families
    and individuals) to address issues of social and economic participation.
    It is a continuation of the approach adopted by the government in its
    welfare reform package as well as through practical reconciliation.[90]

    The philosophy that underpins the trials
    is 'shared responsibility - shared future'. The ICCT has stated that the
    'Shared Responsibility approach will involve communities negotiating as
    equal parties with government'[91] and asserts
    that the wellbeing of Indigenous communities is shared by individuals,
    families, communities and government. All parties must work together and
    build their capacity to support a different approach for the economic,
    social and cultural development of Indigenous peoples. This partnership
    approach is formalised in each trial site through the negotiation of a Shared Responsibility Agreement (SRA) between governments and
    Indigenous peoples.

    The Minister for Immigration, Multicultural
    and Indigenous Affairs has overall federal responsibility for the trials.
    A federal government department is also identified for each trial site
    to lead the federal government's involvement in that particular trial.
    It is then responsible for coordinating all federal government input into
    the trial.

    Federal government involvement in the trial
    is also coordinated through three main processes. First, meetings are
    held every three to four months by federal Ministers with program responsibilities
    for Indigenous affairs. Second, monthly meetings are held of federal government
    departmental secretaries (the Secretaries Group). Third, a coordinating
    taskforce (known as the Indigenous Communities Coordination Taskforce
    or ICCT) has been established, located within the Department of Immigration,
    Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) to implement the directives
    of these groups. The ICCT is comprised of senior officers seconded from
    each of the government departments participating in the trials.

    As demonstrated by the descriptions of current
    progress in the eight trial sites in Appendix Two, there are significant
    differences between the selected sites. These differences include the
    location of the trials (across urban, regional and remote areas), the
    representative structures for involvement of Indigenous peoples and communities
    (varying from heavy involvement of ATSIC Regional Council structures through
    to traditional governance models), and the priority areas for action identified
    in each site.

    While the trials remain in the preliminary
    stages of development, rapid progress has been made during 2003. At this
    initial stage, this progress has involved the selection of appropriate
    trial sites and consultations with Indigenous communities in those sites
    to determine their willingness to participate in the trials and the key
    issues that the trials will focus on. For three of the sites, Shared Responsibility
    Agreements have also been finalised.

    In meetings and correspondence about the
    trials, I have noticed an air of enthusiasm and optimism among government
    departments about the potential of the trials. Government departments
    are embracing the challenge to re-learn how to interact with and deliver
    services to Indigenous peoples. There are no illusions among government
    departments that the trials are as much about building the capacity of
    governments as they are about building the capacity of Indigenous communities.

    Through the active involvement of Ministers
    and secretaries of federal departments in the trials, a clear message
    is being sent through mainstream federal departments that these trials
    matter and that government is serious about improving outcomes for Indigenous
    peoples. Even at this preliminary stage, this is a significant achievement
    for the trials. ATSIC have stated that to date 'there has been clear success
    through improved relationships across governments at trial sites'.[92]

    Governments have not turned up in Indigenous
    communities with pre-determined priorities and approaches. This has been
    of great symbolic value. The ICCT has noted that much of the initial stages
    have involved building up trust between governments and Indigenous peoples.
    This has in turn had an impact on relationships within Indigenous communities
    in some of the trial sites, with an increased focus from Indigenous communities
    on organising themselves in ways that facilitate dialogue with governments.[93]

    It is too early to determine whether the
    trials will have a positive impact in improving government service delivery
    to communities in each trial region in the longer term or whether transferable
    lessons will be learnt which are able to more broadly benefit other Indigenous
    communities. At this stage, I have the following observations and concerns
    about the conduct of the trials and their potential.

    First, it appears that the Indigenous Communities
    Coordination Taskforce is inadequately funded and supported to complete
    its ever-expanding role in coordinating federal government involvement
    in the trials.

    As the trials have progressed, the ICCT
    has become an integral, indeed the central, coordinating agency for the
    trials. While the day to day operation of governmental activities in each
    of the trial sites is the responsibility of the respective lead federal
    government agencies, the ICCT has taken on a vital role in oversighting
    developments in each trial. This has allowed lessons from individual trial
    sites to be applied to other trial sites and ensured a level of consistency
    in the approach of different federal agencies to the trials.

    Examples of how the ICCT has fulfilled this
    role is the development of a template Shared Responsibility Agreement
    from which negotiations can commence in each trial site (and be customised
    to local circumstances), the development of a information database on
    the indicators for each trial, and a performance and monitoring framework
    for the trials. The role of the ICCT continues to evolve, and expand,
    as the trials develop.

    At present, the federal government appears
    to be equivocal as to the longer term future of the ICCT. It is not clear
    that the ICCT will exist for the full five years of the trials and if
    it does, in what form.

    This uncertainty is compounded by the recommendations
    of the report of the ATSIC Review team. While the review does not explicitly
    consider the role of the ICCT, it recommends that the Office of Aboriginal
    and Torres Strait Islander Affairs (currently located within DIMIA) be
    replaced by a small office within the Department of Prime Minister and
    Cabinet to provide a whole of government approach to Indigenous issues.[94] The proposed roles of this group would include progressing COAG initiatives,
    achieving the cooperation of all spheres of government in addressing Indigenous
    needs and achieving whole of government approaches to addressing Indigenous
    needs. [95] These are roles that the ICCT
    fulfils specifically in relation to the COAG trials. It is not clear whether
    implementation of this recommendation would involve disbanding or substituting
    the role of the ICCT.

    Related to this uncertainty in the future
    of the ICCT for the full five year period are uncertainties in staffing
    of the ICCT. It is my clear impression that the ICCT is understaffed to
    complete the large task that it has been set. In part this is because
    the role of the ICCT has evolved and expanded as the trials have developed.
    It is understandable that no one envisaged the full extent of the resources
    required to implement the trials, nor the central role that the ICCT would
    assume in the trials.

    There is a clear need for the Commonwealth
    to commit to the existence of the ICCT for the full five years of the
    COAG trials and to increase staffing levels to ensure that the ICCT is
    able to be fully responsive and continue to make high quality contributions
    to the COAG trials. I note that, currently, officers are placed in the
    ICCT's Secretariat from a variety of federal departments who are participating
    in the trials. The costs of these officers are met by the participating
    departments as a contribution to the trials. It is feasible that the cost
    of expanding the number of staff on the ICCT, perhaps by doubling it,
    could easily be absorbed within existing departmental budgets.

    From discussions with the ICCT, it was noted
    that despite the eight trial sites having already been announced, they
    continue to receive requests from other departments as to whether there
    will be an expansion of the trials beyond the eight sites or for assistance
    and advice in new initiatives that these departments are considering.
    An increased staffing capacity would contribute greatly to the ability
    of the ICCT to provide advice and assistance more generally on approaches
    to improving government coordination across government. The cost of this
    increased capacity would be insubstantial, particularly in light of the
    potential for transferring the lessons learnt from the trials more broadly
    across government.

    On the basis of these concerns, I make the
    following recommendations.

    6 - 7 on reconciliation: COAG Whole-of-government community trials

    6. That the federal government, through
    the Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs,
    commit to the existence of the Indigenous Communities Coordination
    Taskforce for a minimum of the five year duration of the COAG whole-of-government
    community trials and accordingly commit resources to the Taskforce
    until 2007.

    7. That federal government departments
    participating in the COAG whole-of-government trials increase their
    staffing commitments to the Indigenous Communities Coordination
    Taskforce by placing additional officers in the Taskforce's Secretariat.

    Second, there are concerns relating to the
    use of the Flexible Funding Pool that has been established to support
    the trials. This Funding Pool consists of $3million for each of the 2003-04
    and 2004-05 years. The ICCT have explained the purpose of this funding
    pool as follows:

    The idea of this flexible funding pool was that it
    would only be a short term mechanism to kick-start some whole of government
    activity on the basis that the whole of government or joined-up activity
    had to come from mainstream and big Indigenous specific programs already
    in operation. The government was not trying to create a superficial
    mechanism to take the place of joining up existing programs and services ...
    The trials were not about new money. The COAG decision was actually
    more about more effective use of existing government expenditure. [96]

    There is no commitment to any funding pool
    for the final two years of the trials. The ICCT expects that funding will
    ultimately be provided in 'a more informal way'[97] through the joining up of existing programs and changes to program approaches.
    This is an important goal for the trials and a way of ensuring that the
    outcomes of the trials are sustainable and able to be more broadly applied
    to other Indigenous communities. There will, however, need to be close
    attention paid in the implementation of the trials to the reality of this
    goal and a degree of flexibility from the government to allocate funding
    to the ICCT for the final two years of the trials should such funding
    ultimately prove necessary.

    ATSIC has expressed concern about how funding
    from this Funding Pool is allocated. [98] They state:

    Generally, proposals to use the Flexible Funding Pool
    [FFP] are developed by Lead Agencies and should be consistent with
    the relevant Regional Council plan. However, concerns remain regarding
    the manner in which the requirement for FFP proposals take account
    of, and are informed by, Regional Council plans. Greater engagement
    of Regional Councils in the submission and evaluation of FFP proposals
    will provide valuable opportunities to progress ATSIC's involvement
    in the FFP process at a regional and national level. [99]

    Third, there is concern from ATSIC that
    it is not being sufficiently engaged in the trials. The matching of the
    use of the Flexible Funding Pool with ATSIC Regional Council plans is
    a specific example of this concern. More broadly, the acting Chairman
    has stated that:

    While the Commission believe that the most important
    level of Indigenous engagement in this initiative is the local community,
    it should be recognised that the Commission and ATSIC Regional Councils
    have significant responsibilities to these particular communities
    and, for this reason, have sought to improve their involvement in
    the initiative. As the initiative has enormous relevance and potential
    implications for all Indigenous communities across the country, the
    Commission does not want its roles and responsibilities in this regard
    overlooked or ignored. In particular, Commissioners are concerned
    that Indigenous representation is both welcomed and supported especially
    in political interaction at the most senior levels. [100]

    The acting Chairman has noted that ATSIC-ATSIS
    are considering ways to strengthen their engagement in the trials to promote
    national discussions, informed by an Indigenous perspective, regarding
    the utility of the trials. The acting Chairman identifies the following
    issues as needing to be addressed:

    • the fragmented involvement of Regional Councils in both
      the signing of Shared Responsibility Agreements and selection of trial
    • the status of relationships between Commissioners, ATSIC
      Regional Councils, ATSIS staff, Lead Agencies and the ICCT; and
    • a lack of engagement of and by Regional Councils with
      Lead Agencies and other government partners. [102]

    Fourth, it is not clear at this stage that
    the performance monitoring framework for the trials will be sufficiently
    rigorous. It is anticipated that the first two years of the trial will
    be reviewed in mid-2004 and a further review conducted at the end of the
    5 year trial phase. It is not clear at this stage how these reviews will
    be conducted, by whom or whether the results of the reviews will be made

    The lack of a clear evaluation strategy
    is of great concern. It may be that the uncertainty in this regard is
    largely the product of the evolving nature of the trials and that there
    will be much greater clarity during 2004. I have previously, however,
    expressed concern at reliance by COAG on internal monitoring and evaluation
    strategies. In particular, I have expressed concerns about the lack of
    information that is publicly reported about such evaluations (thus limiting
    government accountability), the lack of appropriate consultation with
    Indigenous peoples and lack of independence in the monitoring process. [103]

    My concern about such processes is reinforced
    by the failure in recent years of the Ministerial Council on Aboriginal
    and Torres Strait Islander Affairs to complete two significant evaluations
    on COAG's behalf and in a timely manner. The first is the review of progress
    by all levels of government in implementing the recommendations of the Bringing them home report. The second is an audit of family violence
    programmes to guide the response of COAG to this crisis issue. Approximately
    three years after these reviews were announced, neither has been presented
    to COAG nor made public.

    ATSIC has also expressed significant concern
    about the monitoring framework for the trials. It states:

    The Commission is particularly concerned that a comprehensive
    national evaluation strategy is not in place. This is likely to lead
    to unclear judgements later on, as the starting point for assessing
    change has not been clearly established. In addition, the Commission
    is concerned that there is no commitment to an independent evaluation
    of the initiative. The reliance on a systems-based internal evaluation
    strategy might not provide the most objective perspective on the successes
    and failures of the initiative, and may produce an inadequate basis
    upon which to make long term policy and program reforms. [104]

    A related issue is the existence of adequate
    data to contribute to the monitoring and evaluation process.

    In the initial stages of the trials, there
    has been a significant focus on developing local level priorities, outcomes
    and benchmarks. The 'Indigenous Communities Coordination Taskforce Database'
    has been developed to capture this information across the eight trial
    sites. A number of government agencies have informed me that it is intended
    that this local level information will be able to be aggregated into a
    national level analysis. The intention is that this information will be
    able to be aligned with the headline and strategic change indicators developed
    by the Steering Committee for the Provision of Government Services, and
    that data will able to be compared 'against existing portfolio budget
    statements and other cross-government frameworks at the national level'.[105]

    It is not, however, clear how the local
    level data will be able to be matched up to the national level in these
    ways. There is very little ability to disaggregate, on a regional or local
    basis, the statistics which form the basis of the headline indicators
    and strategic change indicators in the national reporting framework. The
    emphasis of the trials to date has also, quite rightly, not been on improving
    data collection at this local level. Hence, existing systems of data collection
    are very poor at identifying the status of Indigenous people in a particular
    locality or region across a broad range of social and economic indicators.
    Accordingly they are also ill equipped to measure change in such indicators.

    It is quite likely that it will not be possible
    to match up local level indicators with the national reporting framework,
    other than through the provision of case studies which can illustrate
    links between particular types of policy interventions and outcomes. This
    will, of itself, be valuable information. The concern is that the trials
    have set objectives for data analysis and performance monitoring that
    will not be able to be achieved because of the existing limitations in
    data quality and collection.

    On the basis of these concerns, I make the following recommendations.

    8 - 9 on reconciliation: COAG Whole-of-government community trials

    8. That the Indigenous Communities
    Coordination Taskforce request the Productivity Commission (as Chair
    of the Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision)
    to provide advice on aligning the benchmarks and outcomes agreed
    at the local level with COAG's National Framework for Reporting
    on Indigenous Disadvantage. This advice should include any recommendations
    for adapting the Indigenous Communities Coordination Taskforce Database
    to enable reporting of outcomes against this National Framework.

    9. That COAG agree and fund an independent
    monitoring and evaluation process for the whole-of-government community
    trials initiative. The Productivity Commission, Commonwealth Grants
    Commission or ATSIC's National Office of Evaluation and Audit would
    be suitable agencies to conduct this review.

    Fifth, it is not clear how the lessons learnt
    from the trials will be transferable and contribute to broader reform
    of program design and service delivery for Indigenous peoples. The adequacy
    of the performance monitoring framework, as discussed above, will be one
    of the key determinants of such lessons.

    ATSIC have expressed some preliminary concerns
    about the conduct of the trials and the transferability of lessons learned.
    Their concerns relate to three broad factors. The first is limited experimentation
    of new approaches by Lead Agencies in the trials. ATSIC argue that to

    there has been little progress in doing 'business' differently ...
    Silos continue to characterise government relationships and the way
    in which funds are provided and accounted for, leading to restrictions
    in the experimentation of interventions. Lead Agencies are struggling
    to balance different priorities with trial partners leading to difficulties
    in progressing joined-up projects on the ground. As little obvious
    progress has been made in re-engineering programs, Lead Agencies are
    tending to use existing programs in the trial sites with little flexibility
    or creativity.[106]

    They note, significantly, that 'programs
    that are used more flexibly tend to be Indigenous-specific rather than

    The second concern identified by ATSIC is
    that there has been a blurring in some instances of Commonwealth and state
    responsibilities, 'attracting the possibility of cost shifting between
    parties' compounded by the 'inexperience of Lead Agencies and their personnel
    when engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities'.[108] ATSIC sees a need for 'clearer mechanisms ... to facilitate a more cohesive
    joined-up approach accompanied by greater flexibility in the availability
    of fund to improve outcomes' combined with 'effective and timely evaluation'.[109]

    The third concern identified by ATSIC relating
    to transferability of outcomes is a perception that initiatives in one
    trial are not being identified as having potential application in other
    trials. They state:

    One of the strengths of the initiative is the opportunity
    to develop locally based solutions to meet locally identified needs.
    It seems reasonable therefore, that where a Lead Agency has proceeded
    to implement a program differently, such as increasing the provision
    of housing to one of the communities in the trial site, then that
    initiative should be considered for the other trial sites. This would
    address basic needs that are common to most of the sites. [110]

    It is clear that there are many common issues
    across trial sites that could be advanced more quickly if each trial can
    work from the experiences in other trial sites. This has been identified
    as a critical issue by the ICCT. As noted earlier, a mechanism for coordinating
    state and territory activity could also be of great value in addressing
    this significant issue.

    Ultimately, the transferability of outcomes
    from the trials in the longer term will depend on whether the trials are
    able to more broadly change the status quo of service delivery and program
    guidelines. A significant challenge will be ensuring that the adoption
    of more holistic, whole-of-government approaches is not a transient feature
    and that departments do not simply slip back into their usual ways of
    doing things once the trials have ended. Factors that will need to be
    addressed to ensure that this is not the case include the following:

    Continued engagement of mainstream
    departments and programs:
    It is clear that a significant
    factor in the early success of the trials has been the high level involvement
    and commitment of ministers and departmental secretaries at the federal
    level in taking responsibility for particular communities (as the lead
    agency) and harnessing the services and programs of mainstream departments.
    The lead agency approach is not sustainable beyond a limited number
    of communities in its current format. Mechanisms such as the Minister's
    group and the Secretaries group may be more sustainable, so long as
    departments continue to have a significant investment in promoting improved
    coordination of services.

    Coordinating funding of proposals
    in non-trial sites:
    Similarly, the identification
    of a region or community as a trial site has naturally elevated the
    priority with which the service delivery needs of that community or
    region are dealt with. Governments and departments have been able to
    look to how they can relax program guidelines or join up funding from
    different programs and areas for more holistic solutions. A significant
    challenge is identifying how proposals in non-trial sites can also benefit
    from this approach where such proposals do not enjoy such priority attention.

    Resource constraints: While the emphasis of the trials is not on new money but on better coordinating
    and getting value from existing money, there is a broader context of
    significant under-funding of key areas of Indigenous disadvantage. The
    focus on a limited number of communities, and the
    availability of a short term funding pool, shields the trials
    from this broader issue. Funding restrictions will become a significant
    issue when seeking to more broadly implement the lessons learnt from
    the trials. This will be complicated further by an emphasis on addressing
    relative need and reallocating funding towards those areas and issues
    of greatest disadvantage.

    Capacity development of Indigenous
    Each of the trials has built on local Indigenous
    initiatives that were already under development to improve service delivery
    to their communities. For example, processes such as the ATSIC Murdi
    Paaki Regional Council initiatives of community working parties, the
    incorporation of the Tharmarrurr Regional Council under local government
    legislation in the Northern Territory, and the Cape York Partnerships
    in Queensland were relatively developed when the decision was made to
    make each of these areas a trial site. The trials have undoubtedly greatly
    advanced processes that were previously underway in these and other
    trial areas.

    However, the broader concern is how transferable
    lessons will be drawn from the trials for those communities which experience
    a high degree of dysfunction and which are not, at least at this stage,
    capable of organising themselves so that they can better interact with
    governments.[111] In other words, how
    do we avoid the situation where governments focus their attention on
    improved coordination of service delivery to those communities that
    are relatively organised? Even in the trial sites, where there has been
    a great deal of activity by communities to address these issues, it
    has taken a long time to develop the capacity of the communities to
    the point where they can determine what the priorities of the community
    are and the approaches that should be adopted. It is critical that in
    the longer term other communities do not get left behind because they
    do not have such capacity.

    There are also a number of processes available
    to ATSIC and Indigenous peoples to build on the achievements of the trials
    and more broadly inform policies and programs.

    There are three significant processes which
    ATSIC currently utilises which provide ATSIC with some leverage for advancing
    inter-governmental coordination and improved service delivery.

    First, ATSIC has entered into a number of partnership
    agreements with states and territories. An overview of these agreements
    was provided in Appendix 1 of the Social Justice Report 2002. As an example, the Statement of commitment for a new and just relationship
    with Aboriginal Western Australians
    was signed by ATSIC, the Western
    Australian government and other Indigenous representative organisations
    in October 2001. This commits the parties to the agreement to a whole-of-government
    approach with the negotiation of regional agreements based on an acknowledgement
    of shared responsibility, as well as the negotiation of framework agreements
    in areas such as health, housing, essential services, justice and native

    ATSIC has also negotiated agreements and compacts with
    federal government departments such as the Department of Workplace Relations
    (DEWR), the Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST) and the
    Department of Health and Ageing. [112]

    Second, is through the operation of ATSIC's Regional
    Councils and the development of their regional plans. As ATSIC have stated
    about their approach to the COAG trials:

    ATSIC-ATSIS' approach has been to promote the Regional
    Councils as the pre-eminent source of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
    advice in all trial sites. This is easier in regions where Regional
    Councils are the main source of leadership but it has proved difficult
    where other organisations compete for this role or the trial boundary
    differs from the Regional Council boundary.[113]

    The better utilisation of ATSIC Regional Councils and
    the capacity of ATSIC's regional planning process is discussed in detail
    in the next chapter. Regional plans offer a significant opportunity for
    coordinating government activity within regions. Recent agreements between
    ATSIC, DEWR and DEST, for example, commit these departments to using the
    regional planning process to better coordinate their activities regionally.

    Third, ATSIC leads the Community Participation Agreements
    (CPA) initiative under the Australians Working Together package.
    The CPA process provides ATSIC with a significant tool for advancing the
    objectives of Indigenous communities or regions as they relate to aspects
    of government service delivery.

    The CPA initiative was announced in the 2001-02 Federal
    Budget, with $30.5 million allocated to ATSIC over four years to develop
    and implement agreements in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
    communities. The agreements involve the community identifying practical
    ways people can contribute to their families and communities in return
    for their income support payments. To date, ten CPA initiatives have commenced
    in the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia
    and New South Wales. These ten processes cover a mix of individual communities
    and regional negotiations, and involve the following 27 communities:

    • Mutitijulu (NT);
    • West Macdonnell Ranges (NT) - covering the communities of Papunya,
      Ikuntji, Kintore and Mt Leibig;
    • Tennant Creek (NT) - involving the communities of Ali Curung, Elliot
      and Mungkarta;
    • Canteen Creek (NT) - involving the communities of Kunlinjara, Canteen
      Creek, Epenarra and 10 Mile communities;
    • Barrow Creek (NT) - involving the communities of Tara, Barrow Creek
      and Wilora;Coen (Qld);
    • Aurukun (Qld);
    • Tjurabalan (WA) - involving the communities of Yagga Yagga, Billiluna,
      Mulan, Ringers Soak and Balgo;
    • New South Wales - involving the communities of Bourke, Brewarrina,
      Walgett and Wilcannia; and
    • Oodnadatta (SA).

    CPA initiatives are underway in a number of COAG whole
    of government trial sites. This includes Tjurabalan (WA) which corresponds
    to the west Kimberley trial, and a number of specific communities in the
    Murdi Paaki region and Cape York respectively. CPA negotiations are occurring
    on a community-by-community basis and in remote COAG regions their potential
    is being explored as a subsidiary measure to support the COAG shared responsibility
    approach. In addition to the aforementioned COAG sites, preliminary discussions
    are occurring in Wadeye (NT) and the Anangu Pitjantjatjara (AP) Lands
    in South Australia about their interest in implementing a CPA agreement.

    A further tool which is available to Indigenous communities
    to build on the advances of the COAG trials are the Indigenous Land Use
    Agreement provisions of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth). In discussions
    with government officers concerning the trials it was noted that there
    are similarities between the issues raised in some native title agreement
    negotiations and the negotiation of Shared Responsibility Agreements in
    the COAG trials. It was noted that while native title issues have not
    emerged as central issues in the initial stages of the trials, it is anticipated
    that these issues will become more prominent in some trial sites as the
    trials progress.

    My Native Title Report 2003 provides a detailed
    analysis of how federal, state and territory government policies and approaches
    to native title negotiations promote the utilisation of native title as
    a tool for economic and social development within a cultural context.
    It suggests that the full potential of native title as contributing to
    these processes is not being utilised and in many instances is being actively
    prevented by the approaches of governments. The report states:

    In many cases the role of native title is glaringly
    absent from States' policy responses to the reconciliation process.
    Native title negotiations and agreements are not seen as part of the
    State's policy toolbox directed towards transforming the conditions
    of Indigenous people's lives ...

    The two important policy responses to emerge from the
    reconciliation process as necessary to facilitate the economic and social
    development of Indigenous people are, firstly, a whole-of-government
    approach to Indigenous policy and secondly, partnerships between government
    and Indigenous communities ... [A] whole-of-government approach, which
    requires government to integrate the responsibilities and policies of
    all the agencies concerned with providing services to Indigenous communities,
    is a very important element of achieving the sustainable development
    of these communities. However the application of this approach is very
    limited and fails to ensure that Indigenous policies in all their manifestations
    are underpinned by consistent objectives. In particular it fails to
    ensure that native title programs are brought within or are consistent
    with strategies for achieving economic social and cultural development.

    The second policy response to reconciliation, the establishment
    of partnerships between Indigenous communities and governments, is also
    an important element of sustainable development ... government plays
    an important role in the group achieving its development objectives:
    it facilitates the group in identifying its development goals; it assists
    the group to build upon its assets, skills and knowledge so as to achieve
    its development goals; it assists the group to identify which aspects
    of its asset skills and knowledge base may need to be supplemented,
    and it facilitates the group to monitor and evaluate the strategies
    it adopts to achieve its goals. This policy framework can be summed
    up as a partnership approach. It is a partnership, however, with special

    First, for the approach to achieve sustainable development
    of the community, the dominant partner is the Indigenous side. It is
    the community that must determine its policy objectives and strategies
    and control the way they are achieved. Decisions to this effect must
    be conducted through processes and institutions which the community
    respects and which reflect the group's cultural values ... native title
    provides a framework to ensure decisions are made in this way.

    Second, the government's role in this partnership directed
    to the sustainable development of the group is to facilitate and assist
    the group to achieve its goals. The government should not take over
    the control of the process. Indigenous leader Gerhardt Pearson has put
    the situation thus:

    It is easy for government bureaucracies to accept so-called
    "whole-of-government" approaches, coordinated service delivery and so
    on. It is much harder for them to let go of the responsibility. On one
    hand we have the almost complete failure on their part to lead and facilitate
    social and economic development in Indigenous Australia. On the other
    hand, our experience is that the government bureaucracies are resistant
    to the transfer of responsibility to our people.[114]

    Despite the limitations in the way the whole-of-government
    and partnership approaches have been applied these two responses to
    reconciliation have provided an important foundation for economic and
    social development to occur in Indigenous communities. Yet in many cases
    States have not included native title in their response to reconciliation.[115]

    Overall, the COAG whole-of-government community trials
    have advanced significantly during 2003 and offer much potential for reforming
    inter-government and whole-of-government approaches to service delivery
    to Indigenous peoples. There have already been a number of achievements
    from the process. There remain a number of challenges and some structural
    issues (particularly relating to monitoring and evaluation) that remain
    to be addressed. The long term success of the process will, however, depend
    on how the trials promote structural change in the way that governments
    go about delivering services to Indigenous peoples. A number of challenges
    and options for this have been identified in this section of the report.

    Conclusion - Government accountability for reconciliation

    During 2003, the government's approach to reconciliation
    has continued to be restricted to measures that fall within its 'practical'
    reconciliation approach. The government has rejected the introduction
    of measures (such as those recommended by the Senate Legal and Constitutional
    References Committee and contained in the Reconciliation Bill 2001)
    to progress issues that fall outside the parameters it has set. This has
    the consequence of there being a partial framework for progressing reconciliation
    with significant issues of unfinished business left in abeyance.

    The focus of this chapter has largely been on processes
    for government accountability for 'practical' reconciliation. It has sought
    to evaluate progress of the government on their own terms. It establishes
    that progress in advancing 'practical' reconciliation over the course
    of the year has been variable.

    The statistical data indicates that there has been limited
    progress over the past five years in achieving the central purpose of
    practical reconciliation, namely improved Indigenous well-being. Of particular
    concern is the fact that the disparities that exist between Indigenous
    and non-Indigenous Australians have remained substantially the same, or
    have widened over the past five and ten years. Indigenous Australians
    also presently endure health standards worse than those in some so-called
    'third world' countries. The lack of progress in achieving substantial
    improvement in Indigenous well-being is also in marked contrast to outcomes
    in similar settler countries such as the United States of America, Canada
    and New Zealand.

    The Social Justice Report 2000 set out a human
    rights approach for progressing reconciliation. It identified five integrated
    requirements to ensure sufficient government accountability for addressing
    Indigenous disadvantage from a human rights perspective. These five requirements

    1) Making an unqualified national commitment to redressing
    Indigenous disadvantage;

    2) Facilitating the collection of sufficient data to
    support decision-making and reporting, and developing appropriate mechanisms
    for the independent monitoring and evaluation of progress towards redressing
    Indigenous disadvantage;

    3) Adopting appropriate benchmarks to redress Indigenous
    disadvantage, negotiated with Indigenous peoples, state and territory
    governments and other service delivery agencies, with clear timeframes
    for achievement of both longer term and short-term goals;

    4) Providing national leadership to facilitate increased
    coordination between governments, reduced duplication and overlap between
    services; and

    5) Ensuring the full participation of Indigenous organisations
    and communities in the design and delivery of services.[116]

    The year 2003 saw the development of significant measures
    for advancing reconciliation within the framework of the Council of Australian
    Governments. The national reporting framework on Indigenous disadvantage
    and whole-of-government trials under COAG have contributed to meeting
    aspects of the second, fourth and fifth of these requirements. These initiatives
    are in fledgling stages and there are a number of issues that remain to
    be addressed before success is assured.

    These initiatives have not, however, been backed up by
    a range of other commitments and processes that are necessary to ensure
    the long term sustainability of improvements in the well-being of Indigenous
    peoples. There remains an absence of an appropriate national commitment
    to redressing Indigenous disadvantage, sufficiently rigorous monitoring
    and evaluation mechanisms, and benchmarks with both short term and longer
    term targets agreed with Indigenous peoples. There are also critical issues
    relating to the depth of inequality experienced by Indigenous people,
    the size and growth of the Indigenous population and under-resourcing
    of services and programs to Indigenous peoples that cannot continue to
    be ignored if there is to be any genuine improvement in Indigenous peoples'

    Ultimately, the process of practical reconciliation is
    hampered by its lack of a substantive action plan for overcoming Indigenous
    disadvantage in the longer term, with short term objectives to indicate
    whether the rate of progress towards this goal is sufficient.

    The failure of the government to address these factors
    as part of its practical reconciliation approach reflects a fundamental
    flaw in the process. By committing to provide full access to citizenship
    entitlements and nothing more, practical reconciliation is a 'blank cheque'
    and amounts to a commitment into the foreseeable future to pay the increased
    economic and social costs associated with Indigenous disadvantage. In
    relation to employment alone, this cost is estimated by the Centre for
    Aboriginal Economic Policy Research to rise to the vicinity of 0.5 to
    1% of gross domestic product within the decade.

    At this stage, it is not possible to foresee a time when
    'record levels of expenditure' of the Commonwealth on Indigenous services
    will not be necessary. It is also not possible to foresee a time when
    a continuation of the current approach will result in significant improvements
    in the lives of Indigenous peoples. Practical reconciliation does not
    have a plan for overcoming rather than simply managing Indigenous

    Ultimately, deficiencies in monitoring and evaluating
    processes for reconciliation indicate that there are problems of accountability
    of governments for their contribution to reconciliation. This lack of
    accountability allows governments to unilaterally establish the boundaries
    of issues that they will address in the first place and then to avoid
    public scrutiny when material improvements in Indigenous well-being are
    not achieved and sustained. A number of recommendations have been made
    throughout the course of this chapter to address this situation.

    The focus of this chapter has been on government accountability.
    This is, however, only half of the story. The next chapter examines initiatives
    over the past year relating to the role of Indigenous communities and
    organisations. It also builds on the analysis in this chapter by considering
    how Indigenous people can play a more meaningful role in setting the priorities
    of governments in achieving sustainable improvements in Indigenous well-being
    and in monitoring and evaluating their performance.

    1. See: Aboriginal
    and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Social Justice
    Report 1999,
    HREOC Sydney 2000, pp 2-24.

    2. For an analysis
    of these themes see: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice
    Commissioner, Social Justice Report 2001, HREOC Sydney 2001,
    Chapters 2,3,6 and Appendix 2 (Herein Social Justice Report 2001);
    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Social
    Justice Report 2002,
    HREOC Sydney 2002, Chapters 2, 3 and 4 (Herein Social Justice Report 2002).

    3. Social
    Justice Report 2002
    , p58.

    4. ibid, p87.

    5. The debate on the
    Bill was interrupted after 2 ½ hours and it is unclear when it will recommence.

    6. Senator Ridgeway, Hansard - Senate, 27 November 2003, p17988.

    7. ibid.

    8. Senator Evans, Hansard
    - Senate,
    27 November 2003, p17988.

    9. Senator Brown, Hansard
    - Senate,
    27 November 2003, p17993.

    10. Senator Patterson, Hansard - Senate, 27 November 2003, p18003.

    11. Senator Heffernan, Hansard - Senate, 27 November 2003, p18008.

    12. Senator Ferris, Hansard - Senate, 27 November 2003, p17990.

    13. ibid, pp 17990-91. See also: Department of Immigration, Multiculturalism and
    Indigenous Affairs, Fact Sheet No.3 - Reconciliation, online
    accessed 10 November 2003.

    14. See in
    particular: Social Justice Report 2001, Chapter 6; Social
    Justice Report 2002,
    Chapters 2, 3 and 4.

    15. Ruddock, P and
    National Sorry Day Committee, Recognition of removal practices at
    Reconciliation Place,
    Joint Media Statement, 29 June 2003.

    16. In the Social
    Justice Report 2001
    I described the consequences of this approach
    as follows: 'Recent years have seen the emphasis of the reconciliation
    process shift dramatically. Currently, it is not about mutual accommodation
    on the basis of equality - it is about whether one group, Indigenous people,
    are prepared to conform to the rest of society. If not, then the offer
    is closed.': Social Justice Report 2001, p221.

    17. Huggins, J, 'The
    figures seem to confirm that practical reconciliation is not enough',
    On Line Opinion, 19 November 2003, p2,

    December 2003).

    18. Reconciliation
    Australia, 2003 Reconciliation report, Reconciliation Australia,
    Canberra 2003, p10.

    19. Huggins, J, op.cit, p3.

    20. Senate Legal and
    Constitutional References Committee, Reconciliation: Off track, Parliament of Australia, Canberra 2003.

    21. See Appendix one
    of this report for discussion of data collection issues.

    22. Senator Vanstone,
    'Indigenous wellbeing is a top priority', Media Release, 15
    October 2003,

    23. Senator Ferris, Hansard - Senate, 27 November 2003, pp17991-2.

    24. This report is
    discussed in the next section of this chapter.

    25. Senator Vanstone,
    'Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage', Media Release, 12 November 2003,,
    accessed 12 November 2003.

    26. See Social
    Justice Report 2002,

    27. Altman, J and
    Hunter, B, 'Monitoring 'practical' reconciliation: Evidence from the reconciliation
    decade, 1991-2001', Discussion Paper 254 / 2003, Centre for Aboriginal
    Economic Policy Research, Canberra 2003, p1. Available online at:

    28. ibid, p2.

    29. ibid, p9.

    30. ibid.

    31. Although note
    that the Australian Bureau of Statistics produced alternative adjusted
    figures for household income (as presented in Appendix One of this report)
    which showed a slight increase in the disparity between Indigenous and
    non-Indigenous people.

    32. Altman, J and
    Hunter, B, op.cit, p11.

    33. ibid., pp10-11.

    34. ibid, p v.

    35. ibid, p12.

    36. ibid., p16.

    37. ibid, p v..

    38. ibid., p16.

    39. ibid.

    40. Social Justice
    Report 2002,

    41. Hunter, H, Kinfu,
    Y and Taylor, J, 'The future of Indigenous work: Forecasts of labour force
    status to 2011', Discussion paper 251/2003, Centre for Aboriginal Economic
    Policy Research, Canberra 2003, p3. Available online at:,

    42. ibid, p10.

    43. Taylor, J, and
    Altman, J, The job ahead - Escalating economic costs of Indigenous
    employment disparity,
    ATSIC, Canberra 1997; Taylor, J, and Hunter,
    B, The job still ahead: Economic costs of continuing Indigenous employment
    ATSIC, Canberra, 1998.

    44. Hunter, H, Kinfu,
    Y and Taylor, J, 'The future of Indigenous work: Forecasts of labour force
    status to 2011', op.cit, Table 12, p17.

    45. Ibid, p19.

    46. Ibid, p20.

    47. The Committee
    has since been renamed the Steering Committee for the Review of Government
    Service Provision.

    48. Steering Committee
    for the Review of Government Service Provision, Overcoming Indigenous
    Disadvantage - Key indicators 2003,
    Commonwealth of Australia, Melbourne
    2003, p xvii (Herein, Overcoming Indigenous disadvantage).

    49. Banks, G, 'Indigenous
    disadvantage: assessing policy impacts', Speech, Pursuing Opportunity
    and Prosperity conference,
    Melbourne, 13 November 2003, pp1-2, available
    online from: Emphasis

    50. Overcoming
    Indigenous disadvantage,
    pp 1.1, 1.2.

    51. ibid, p2.4. The Steering Committee notes that these outcomes were widely supported
    by Indigenous peoples during their consultations on the draft framework.

    52. ibid, p2.2.

    53. ibid, p2.1.

    54. Banks, G, op.cit., p3.

    55. ibid.

    56. For a more detailed
    overview of the rationale for choosing each strategic area and the change
    indicators underneath these, see: Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage, pp2.6-2.10

    57. ibid, p2.5.

    58. Banks, G, op.cit, p9.

    59. ibid, p5.

    60. ibid, p3.

    61. Social Justice
    Report 2000
    , pp 96-100 and recommendations 6-10, pp131-32.

    62. Overcoming
    Indigenous disadvantage,

    63. For a summary
    of these see the overview of the report: ibid, p LII.

    64. Banks, G, op.cit, pp9-10.

    65. ibid, p9.

    66. Social Justice
    Report 2002
    , p133.

    67. ibid, p130.

    68. Banks, G, op.cit, p9.

    69. Social Justice
    Report 2002,

    70. Banks, G, op.cit., p9.

    71. Minister for Immigration
    and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Submission - Senate Legal
    and Constitution References Committee Inquiry into national progress towards
    26 November 2002, p10.

    72. Council of Australian
    Governments, Communique, COAG, Canberra, 5 April 2002, p18 (contained
    in Attachment 1: COAG Reconciliation Framework - Report on progress in

    73. ibid, p4.

    74. Senate Legal and
    Constitutional References Committee, Reconciliation: Off track, Parliament of Australia, Canberra 2003, p75.

    75. Minister for Immigration
    and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Submission - Senate Legal
    and Constitution References Committee Inquiry into national progress towards
    reconciliation, op.cit,

    76. ibid, p13.

    77. Available online

    78. Minister for Immigration
    and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Submission - Senate Legal
    and Constitution References Committee Inquiry into national progress towards
    reconciliation, op.cit,

    79. Department of
    Education, Science and Training, National Report to Parliament on
    Indigenous Education and Training 2001,
    DEST, Canberra 2002, p2.

    80. See:

    81. Minister for Immigration
    and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Submission - Senate Legal
    and Constitution References Committee Inquiry into national progress towards
    reconciliation, op.cit,
    p12. For details of a number of these action
    plans see: ibid, pp 13-17.

    82. Council for Aboriginal
    Reconciliation, Towards a benchmarking framework for service delivery
    to Indigenous Australians,
    CAR and Centre for Aboriginal Economic
    Policy Research, Canberra 1998, p16.

    83. United Nations
    High Commissioner for Human Rights and United Nations Development Programme, Draft Guidelines: A Human Rights Approach to Poverty Reduction Strategies,
    OHCHR, Geneva 2002, Guideline 4, pp14-15. See also: Social Justice
    Report 2002,
    Chapter 4; Social Justice Report 2000, Chapter

    84. Social Justice
    Report 2000,
    p97; quoting the United Nations Development Programme's Human Development Report 2000.

    85. Council for Aboriginal
    Reconciliation, Overcoming disadvantage, as quoted in Social
    Justice Report 2000,

    86. Indigenous Communities
    Coordination Taskforce, Towards better outcomes for Indigenous Australians, DIMIA Canberra 2003,,
    accessed 15 November 2003.

    87. Council of Australian
    Governments, Communique, 5 April 2002,,
    accessed 12 December 2003.

    88. Indigenous Communities
    Coordination Taskforce, Trial Objectives, online at:,
    (29 October 2003).

    89. Indigenous Communities
    Coordination Taskforce, Imagine What Could Happen if we Worked Together:
    Shared Responsibility and a Whole of Governments Approach,
    Paper - The Native Title Conference, Alice Springs, 3 June 2003,, 24 December

    90. For a detailed
    evaluation of mutual obligation in an Indigenous context see: Social
    Justice Report 2001,
    Chapter 2 and 3.

    91. Hawgood, D, Hansard
    -House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres
    Strait Islander Affairs,
    13 October 2003, p1294.

    92. Quartermaine,
    L, Correspondence with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social
    Justice Commissioner on COAG trials,
    15 January 2004, p4.

    93. Discussions with
    ICCT, November 2003.

    94. Hannaford, J,
    Huggins, J and Collins, B, In the hands of the regions - A new ATSIC.
    Report of the Review of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission,
    Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra 2003, Recommendation 32, p55.

    95. ibid, p51.

    96. Hawgood, D, Hansard
    - Senate Legal and Constitution Legislation Committee,
    4 November 2003, p8.

    97. ibid.

    98. As noted in Appendix
    2, ATSIC has contributed $1million (of the $3million total) per annum
    to this Flexible Funding Pool.

    99. Quartermaine,
    L, op.cit p6.

    100. ibid, p5.

    101. ATSIC note that
    'the involvement of the Commission and Regional Councils in the selection
    of the trial sites has varied from none to limited, with the exception
    of the Murdi Paaki Regional Council, which nominated its region as a trial
    site and since its announcement has been integrally involved in the development
    of the trial': ibid, p6.

    102. ibid.

    103. Social Justice
    Report 2001,
    p201; and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social
    Justice Commissioner, Submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional
    References Committee inquiry into the stolen generation,
    HREOC Sydney
    2000, online at:

    104. ibid.

    105. Indigenous Community
    Coordination Taskforce, Shared responsibility shared future - Indigenous
    whole of government initiative: The Australian government performance
    monitoring and evaluation framework, DIMIA Canberra 2003,
    p3. See
    Appendix 2 of this report for further information.

    106. Quartermaine,
    L, op.cit, p4.

    107. ibid.

    108. ibid.

    109. ibid, p5.

    110. ibid ¸p5.

    111. It is the interaction
    of these factors that is critical - many of the communities in the trial
    sites would describe themselves as experiencing high levels of dysfunction.
    It is the determination, and in most cases simply the ability, to address
    this that is missing in some other communities.

    112. See comments
    on this approach by the CEO of ATSIC in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
    Commission, Annual Report 2002-03, ATSIC Canberra 2003, pp15-16.

    113. Quartermaine,
    L, op.cit, p4.

    114. Pearson, G, Man Cannot Live By Service Delivery Alone, Conference Paper,
    Opportunity and Prosperity Conference, Melbourne November 2003, online
    at, (14/11/2003).

    115. Aboriginal and
    Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Native Title Report
    HREOC Sydney 2004. Note: this quote is from the draft report.

    116. Aboriginal
    and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Social Justice
    Report 2000,
    HREOC Sydney 2000, p100.