- BY:PATRICIA KARVELAS AND PAUL KELLY
- FROM THE AUSTRALIAN
TONY Abbott has thrown his support behind a radical plan devised by indigenous leader Noel Pearson to empower Aboriginal communities, to ensure that monies spent deliver real gains on the ground.
“I am happy to be working with Noel Pearson on this project and I believe there are lots of lessons to be drawn from his experience on Cape York,” the Opposition Leader told The Weekend Australian yesterday.
His support means an Abbott government would assess a sweeping new agenda for governance in indigenous communities. It would be based upon the Pearson concept of an Indigenous Policy Productivity Council to evaluate the multiple programs that service Aborigines.
Mr Pearson’s blueprint, “Empowered Communities”, will be released in Sydney next Wednesday with Mr Abbott promising a $5 million commitment to develop the idea.
This signals that Mr Pearson will become a close personal adviser to Mr Abbott if he becomes prime minister.
“Governance is a terrible problem in remote Aboriginal communities,” Mr Abbott said. “Noel Pearson has been a prophet for our times. He is a remarkable thinker on social policy and I want to support his efforts.
“The urgent task now, however, is to get kids into school, parents into jobs and ensure there is law and order in these communities.”
The Pearson concept, based on a new statutory body, aims to monitor current programs, identify why they are failing and entrench the principle of indigenous-led responsibility at the heart of all policy. It involves a five-year pilot program for eight different regions on an opt-in basis.
“We have the money but we are not getting the results that we should be getting,” Mr Pearson told The Weekend Australian.
“This is about re-engineering the existing investment. It is about making the existing investments more productive.”
Mr Abbott and Mr Peason have held extensive talks about the difficulties facing indigenous communities and the need for major reforms.
The Opposition Leader has stated that indigenous policy will be one of his top priorities if he wins the September 7 election.
The Pearson plan means the new IPPC will hold both government and indigenous parties to account for progress.
“It would say, ‘you guys made these commitments, said they would be delivered by this date, so how are we going and what’s the blockage?’,” Mr Pearson said.
“I see this as the most important second-tier reform.
“The first-tier reform is the recognition agenda in the Constitution at a high level of symbolism and both parties are committed to that.
“The next step down is the practical delivery.
“I see this happening in this reform of empowered communities. In my view it will be the thing that gives substance to the headline commitment.
“If you go into the Lockhart River (community) in Cape York, you know there are 90 government programs there.
“You have one organisation having to report 90 different grant programs. The issue is: how do we account to a single point rather than 90 separate points?”
Mr Pearson’s aim is to bring the transformative progress in Cape York to other communities. Under his plan, funds would be pooled on a region-by-region basis under bold new partnership agreements.
Mr Pearson, as head of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership, has drafted a 25-page reform blueprint along with other indigenous leaders.
It has been given to Labor and the Coalition and obtained by The Weekend Australian.
Under the pooled funding proposal, spending would be overseen by the IPPC. It would co-ordinate different agencies to help close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous living standards faster.
That body would audit the performance of both government and Aboriginal organisations.
Mr Pearson is also concerned that private companies who have outsourcing contracts are not performing to expectations.
Since June, eight regions have been working together to develop cross-regional collaboration and a new interface between government and indigenous communities.
The regions are Cape York, the central coast of NSW, inner Sydney, Goulburn Murray, East Kimberley, West Kimberley, APY/NPY Lands, and Northeast Arnhem Land.
The idea is to test the effectiveness of programs. Pooled funding for opt-in regions would be based on empowered local communities. The blueprint asked for $5m to fund a nine-month design phase.
The overall aim is for the Closing the Gap targets to be achieved faster.
Mr Pearson is keen for government to reform its tender process so that indigenous organisations and people assume more responsibility.
This means tenders must recognise characteristics relevant to service delivery that are currently excluded: for example, connection to community and indigenous leadership.
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