Have your say about a National Indigenous Representative Body - Submission WS05

Gulf & West QLD Economic Foundation Ltd


Report - ‘Where to From Here’ Community Consultation for a Proposed Indigenous Representative Model for the Gulf & West Queensland Region

Presented by the Gulf & West Qld Regional Council

Gulf & West Qld Region Council Members

Regional Council Chairperson: Stephen Hirvonen
Deputy Chairperson Peter O’Keefe
Alternative Chairperson  Don Rowlands
Regional Councillors   Warren King
  Kerry Major
Jason Connolly
Roger Kelly
Pearl Connelly
Hazel Sewter
Lance Owens
Tim Shaw

Contact Details:          
Gulf & West Qld Regional Council
Regional Council Chairperson
PO Box 2416

Telephone:  (07) 4747 3066


In April 2004, the Federal Government announced it would abolish ATSIC and from the 30th of June 2005 ATSIC Regional Councils’  would cease to operate.

On the 1st of July, 2004 the Federal Government transferred all ATSIC program funds to mainstream departments. Indigenous Coordination Centres (ICC) and the National Indigenous Council (NIC) were established.  As of July 2003 ATSIC  no longer had control or delegation over funding or most program monies.

However, the government indicated that it was open to suggestion about  alternative regional representative models.  “We recognise that different models are likely to emerge to suit different regions and jurisdictions” (Senate Hansard 1 December, 2004).

Since August 2004 the Gulf & West Qld Regional Council have conducted community consultations with Indigenous communities, community based organisations, government agencies and private businesses through out the region to obtain feedback on what type of representative model, if any, the Indigenous community would like after June, 2005.

This Regional Council has endeavoured to keep abreast of the drip feed of information disseminated to them about any future arrangements for Indigenous issues and any proposed regional representative entity representing those issues.

During the consultation process Regional Council recognised and acknowledged  both the negative and positives comments made of the current ATSIC structure and the limited amount of information available to people to consider more thoroughly any future proposed regional representative structure that may be put into service or imposed upon them by government.

This report is a result of the findings of community consultations undertaken and when endorsed the Gulf & west Qld ATSIC Regional Council will forward the report to government and advocate for its sanction, refinement and implementation.

Our Region Our People

The Gulf and West Qld region is avast area covering almost 380,000 square kilometres.  It is bounded in the south by South Australia and in the west by the Northern Territory, and extends to the Gulf of Carpentaria including the Wellesley Island Group.  In the east it follows a jagged line from the bottom of Cape York east to Julia Creek and Kynuna and south to Haddons Corner.

The region’s total population is 34,968 (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS] Census 2001) with the Indigenous population accounting for 7,248 or 22% of this figure.  Of the Indigenous population, 95% are Aboriginal with the balance being Torres Strait Islander or identifying as both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.  Approximately one half of the Indigenous population reside in Mount Isa which, with 22,000 people, is the largest population centre in the region.

Apart from Mount Isa there are 13 Indigenous communities in the region with populations ranging from 50 to 1,700. Among the largest are Doomadgee, Cloncurry, Normanton and Mornington Island.  Indigenous people are represented by over 20 different tribal/language groups in the region.

When compared with other Australians, Indigenous people in the Gulf & West Qld region are disadvantaged in health, housing, education, employment and income, among other criteria.  The development tasks facing Indigenous people are enormous if they are to achieve justice, a fair and equitable place in Australian society, and the same living standards and potential held by other Australians.

The Region is one of the most remote in Australia in terms of service delivery and accessibility to goods and services, according to the Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia (ARIA), prepared by GISCA (http://www.gisca.adelaide.edu.au) for the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aging.  According to the ARIA index, the Gulf & West Qld region ranges from ‘Remote” around Mount Isa, to ‘Very Remote’ elsewhere in the region, with disadvantage arising from lack of access to goods, services and opportunities (http://www.health.gov.au)

Map of Mount Isa ATSIC Region

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The Consultation Process

In August 2004 the Gulf & West QLD Regional Council held its 12th Regional Council Meeting, and from this meeting Council recognised and acknowledged the need to consult with the community and  obtain feedback on what the community seen as an Indigenous representative structure, if any, post June 2005.

It was not however until late September when appropriate information was filtered back to the regions to determine what the government was proposing as regional structures and what they would look like and how they would correspond under the new arrangements for representation of Indigenous Affairs.

The Gulf & West Qld ATSIC Regional Council continued on in its belief that any form of regional structure would require community consultation, feedback and endorsement.

There were three stages in the Regional Council Community Consultation process:- 

  1. Stage One – Distribute ‘Where to From Here’ Community Feedback Questionnaire Forms and meet with community members, community councils, community based organisations, government agencies, local State Minister and private businesses through out the region via an open process of consultation and communication.
  2. Stage Two – Review Community Feedback and prepare a draft regional representative structure model based on the feedback received and  report back to the community for general endorsement.
  3. Stage Three – G&WQ ATSIC Regional Council endorsement and present Regional Representative Model to the ICC, OIPC, DIMIA and all relevant Ministers.

Stage One:  Where to from Here Community Consultation

The feedback that Regional Council sought from the community was based on the information provided  by government  and at the time of commencing the consultation it was clear that the challenges confronting ATSIC were many and complex given the limited information provided to Regional Councils and communities.

However, Council identified a number of key themes that they believe needed to be explored.

  1. Was there any support in the region for an organisation such as ATSIC or for a representative model post June, 2005?
  2. Would members of an representative structure be elected or appointed ?
  3. How would this model link into the new governmentstructures?

From these themes Regional Council developed a ‘Where to From Here’ Questionnaire with the following questions:-

  1. Do you want an Indigenous body representing you at a local/regional/state/national level? If so, at which levels?
  2. How many people do you think should make up an Indigenous group to represent your community at the Local/Region/State/National level
  3. Should they be elected or appointed?
  4. Which model would you prefer? 3 proposed models were put forward as options.
  5. What role do you see for the Gulf & West Qld Regional Council until 30 June 2005?.
  6. Other Comments?

Regional Council then conducted  intensive community consultation  from early September 2004 through to the middle of March, 2005 which included:

  • Broadcast (facsimile) fax out of ‘Where to from here Questionnaire’ to 45 Indigenous organisations and all government/stakeholders within the region during the week of the 4th of October, 2004.
  • Mail out of ‘Where to From here Questionnaire’ to 45 Indigenous organisations during the week of 18th of October, 2004

 Community Meetings were held in Dajarra, Boulia, Bedourie, Birdsville, Mt Isa (2), Cloncurry, Normanton, Burketown, Doomadgee, Mornington Island, Bentinck Island, Julia Creek and Camooweal between August 2004 to March 2005.

  • Individual meetings were held with local businesses, Ron McCullough Mt Isa City Council (Mayor), Tony McGrady MP, State MP, Government agencies (including DATSIP, National Parks and Wildlife, Health Services, Housing, local Schools, Mt Isa Base Hospital) and individual Indigenous and Non-Indigenous community members
  • There was an advertisement in the North West Star from the 25th of April to 29th of April, 2005 seeking community feedback on what people perceived as a new framework for an Indigenous Representative Model
  • Individual community members were encouraged to meet at any time via an open door policy with the Chairperson and individual Regional Councillors from their respective areas

Stage Two:  Review of Community Feedback

Regional Council convened a Special Two Day Meeting on the 7th and 8th of March, 2005 to review all community feedback reports and comments about the  structure and function of regional representative models Indigenous people would prefer after June 30th, 2005.

The general comments received during this consultation process included but was not limited to the following:-

  • Working Group (State Minister, Federal Minister, Mayor) – working with Regional Council
  • Require strong/genuine leadership
  • Require more females
  • Indigenous/Non-Indigenous representative to make up Regional Council
  • People to be appointed with appropriate experience eg Health
  • Community needs to benefit from new structure
  • Council Members to have different background so input would be included
  • How do you select from different tribal groups
  • Representation should depend on size of community
  • Nominations can cause trouble if people aren’t happy with the choice
  • Require a senate of elders
  • Should be fines for people who don’t vote ie compulsory voting
  • Local Council Model – Chief Executive Officer must be Indigenous
  • Economic Foundation as a priority.  Basis for existence
  • Business Advisory Group
  • Regional Council to be more noisier in advocacy
  • Current structure:  no linkage with ICC
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations have let themselves down and contributed to ATSIC’s demise
  • Committed/educated people on Council
  • Century Zinifex Structure – CLC/NLC
  • Advisory Committee – provide direction to Council
  • Require a local body
  • The representative body – advisory would not have to be funded – similar to current structure as the NIC– not paid
  • A Representative from the Mt Isa district, the NIC, a representative body must exist to provide information to 7 people elected in community
  • Appointing people should be by way of an expression of interest
  • NIC should feed into Taskforce and Mt Isa district advisory group to lead into ICC
  • Grassroots problems to be rectified
  • Accountability/Council Members
  • Maori policies should be considered as part of new framework
  • Any new reps should be considered from the ground up
  • Youth Committee should be developed as an advisory
  • The best people
  • Community people to deal with their own issues
  • Organisations to be constituted as representatives eg Health, CDEP, Community Police, Elders group, Justice Group
  • Full time officers
  • Communities need to get together, to meet regularly to discuss issues of similar concern
  • Concern that under the new arrangements they may not get to see the various government departments.
  • Don't want Shire Council to deal with all the issues alone
  • The Government hasn't delivered on previous promises so we need to keep them accountable with a new approach
  • Bulk money should be given to communities to deal with issues; too much money wasted in administration
  • Elected representative eg housing issues
  • A Coordinator to bring the people together and ensure that meetings are taking place between organisations with different portfolios
  • A Steering Committee; issues are then broken down into groups and funding then given to assist in the developments; require a professional person to do research
  • The community requires a strong voice
  • Felt the whole Island should be involved in a committee to make the government accountable
  • Still required 2 to 4 elected representatives within an election system; 2 women and 2 men

From these comments Regional Council identified the following commonalities:-

  • 4 tiers of representation - local, regional, state, federal
  • compulsory election as current ATSIC model
  • Expert advisory boards/community based by selection criteria
  • Community dealing with government itself
  • good corporate governance
  • re-sourcing of the regional structure
  • any representative body must address the enhancing Indigenous people livelihood
  • any new arrangements would need to work in closely with local councils
  • more Indigenous women in representation
  • consideration of other models (NLC/CLC, Inuit, Murdi Paaki, Maori)

Stage Three: Presentation of ‘Proposed’ Representative Model

This report is only in draft form and needs to be presented back to the community.  Regional Council will distribute this report to the Indigenous communities from March, 2005.

The following timeframes have been set by the Regional Council.

Task Timeframe
Distribute Draft report to RC’s 18th of March, 2005
Feedback from RC’s 25th of March, 2005
Media Statement 13th of April, 2005
Broadcast fax of report 14th of April, 2005 and 18th of April,  2005
Tentative Community Visits 14th of April – 26th of April
Endorsement by RC at 16th RC Mtg 26th – 29th of April, 2005
Provide report to Government 2nd of May, 2005

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Proposed Structure

Regional Council deliberations on a proposed Model identified it was essential that any regional representative body has to be inclusive and appropriately representative, should have the authority to advocate for Indigenous people and communities of the Gulf and West Qld region, engage with all levels government and enter into regional agreements on behalf of its constituents and communities following appropriate communication and endorsement of such agreements. It also recognised that communities and their representatives required a greater role in decision making on issues that directly impact upon them.

To address the issue of appropriate representation  Regional Council:

  1. Identified communities in the ATSIC identified region 
  2. Grouped some communities that have had some historical association or affiliation eg Burketown/Bidunggu & Birdsville/Bedourie or due to local government shire boundaries eg. Urandangie/Boulia & Bentink Island/Mornington Island.
  3. ATSI populations statistics were sought and from local knowledge ascertained estimated community population figures.

From this process Regional Council proposed that the new Representative Model would comprise of 15 Representatives from the communities based on the formula of one Representative for up to 1000 people per location. (Refer to Diagram A below)

Diagram A: Representative Distribution based on estimated population per location
Location Estimated Indigenous Population Representative per location
Normanton 950 1
Bentink/Mt Island 1500 2
Doomadgee 1500- 2000 2
Burketown/Bidunggu 120 1
Cloncurry/Julia Creek 700 1
Mt Isa – 3500 4
Dajarra 240 1
Urandangie/Boulia 150 1
Birdsville/Bedourie 90 1
Camooweal 120 1
  TOTAL 15

In addressing the need for communities and their representatives having a greater role in decision making on issues that directly impact upon themselves, the proposed model allows for communities to establish Community Issue Groups and Community Negotiating Teams to deal directly with the ICC and other government departments or agencies.

It also allows for communities to elect their representative/s to the regional body which was aptly titled “Indigenous Regional Co-ordination Assembly” IRCA. It is proposed that IRCA establish and maintain a working relationship and partnership with Indigenous communities and its people, along with the ICC, NIC and government and further that the Chairperson is elected from IRCA’s 15 community representatives is appointed to the NIC.

Diagram B below outlines the Regional Council proposed Representative Model.

Diagram B:  Gulf & West Qld ATSIC Regional Council proposed regional representative structure.

Gulf & West Qld ATSIC Regional Council proposed regional representative structure

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Principle of Role and Responsibilities

Based on information available and feedback received the above regional representative model was developed and it was from these findings that principles of the roles and responsibilities of the IRCA, Community Issue Groups and Community Negotiation Teams  were developed.

Indigenous Regional Co-ordination Assembly (IRCA)

  • Develop and maintain working partnership arrangements with the ICC and NIC
  • Provide an advocacy and advisory role for Regional Indigenous people & communities
  • Develop and maintain working partnerships with all levels of government
  • Monitor services in regards to accountability
  • Assist, Develop, Implement, Monitor and review shared responsibility agreements SRA’s, Policy, Regional Agreements and legislation
  • Establish and maintain appropriate reporting and communication mechanisms with the indigenous people of the region.
  • Be accountable for our roles and responsibilities including transparency of decision making, principles and procedures
  • Develop and maintain a real understanding of regional factors including diversity, legitimacy, capacity, accountability, and legislation
  • Approachable, non judgemental process of representation to be transparent
  • Constitution to be grounded in democratic principles
  • Long term sustainability
  • The ability to become incorporated and have management capabilities of programs and services
  • Develop processes and procedures for removal and replacement of representatives on the IRCA
  • Provide support for the Chairperson appointed to the NIC
  • Ensure that the mandate of IRCA is enshrined in legislation
  • Principle source of advice to government regarding the regions Indigenous people and communities and issues effecting them
  • The ability to meet on a regular basis and to have the resources both human and financial to assist with the maintenance of IRCA’s roles and responsibilities,
  • Ownership of IRCA to belong to Indigenous people of the region
  • Ability to establish advisory groups that are also resourced both human and financial

Community Issue Groups

Community Issue Groups will vary from community to community and each group will be determined by the issues within each community.

  • Community to determine issue groups; number, reps, chairperson etc
  • Provide advice, support and guidance to IRCA or its representative
  • Ensure issue groups comprise of people with appropriate expertise
  • Issue groups have a responsibility to develop,implement, maintain and review SRA’s negotiation team roles and responsibility
  • Develop and maintain a real understanding of regional factors including diversity, legitimacy, capacity, accountability, and legislation

It is proposed that ICC and IRCA assist communities with the establishment of Community Issue Groups.

Community Negotiating Team

Community Negotiating Teams will operate within the community and the Negotiating Team will be selected by the Issue Groups.

  • established by community and issue groups for responsibility of developing, implementing, maintaining appropriate SRA’s
  • Ability to seek expertise eg advisory boards (youth, elders, women, men), IRCA
  • Roles and responsibilities to be determined by the issue groups
  • Be provided with appropriate resources to undertake their roles and responsibilities as needed.

In determining the principles for the various arms of the Model, Council also gave consideration to factors based on community feedback, which needs to be further considered in fully developing an appropriate Indigenous representative network for our region.

Other Considerations

  • Compulsory voting to legitimise the election process to IRCA
  • This model is based on the communities and their representatives having a greater role through their issues group in determining their representation to address the needs within the regions and is inclusive of marginalised groups eg women
  • To be more inclusive and have a whole of community approach to identify community issues
  • It is the Gulf & West Qld Regional Council opinion that this model will go along way in addressing the governments commitment to regional representation post ATSIC
  • IRCA to encourage more women representatives
  • 4 year term for representative members
  • Selection and representation
    • Process 
    • Participation
  • Governance
    • Authority
    • Functions
    • Communication
  • Accountability
    • Consultation and advice
  • Resources
    • Cost of operation
    • Sources of funding
  • Government position
    • Funding
    • Policies/expectations
    • Legislation
    • Adopt the principles of good governance

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This IRCA model is based on the communities and their representatives having a greater role through their issues groups and their negotiating teams and in determining their representation to address the needs within the regions and is inclusive of marginalised groups eg women

Whilst the ‘Australian Governments vision of ICC Manager roles in establishing new representative arrangements’ states that ‘Regional Councils are part of consultations but not leading the process’ (The Australian Government’s visions of ICC Manager roles in establishing new representative arrangements), the Gulf and West Qld Regional Council thought it more than appropriate to undertake community consultations regarding our regions representative structure and in keeping with the governments actions and timeframes.

 The Gulf & West Qld Regional Council acknowledges that the proposed draft regional structure requires further feedback and refinement and is subject to acceptance of the model by government further items listed under ‘other considerations’ of this report will need to be determined.

A Hand Over report from the Gulf & West Qld Regional Council to the IRCA or the new representative model structure approved by government will occur as required.

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Aboriginal Co-ordinating Council, Council Structure from website www.accq.org.au

ATSIC Gulf & West Queensland Regional Council, Gulf & West Queensland Regional Council Regional Plan 2004-2006 May 2004

ATSIC, ATSIC Response to the ATSIC Review Report - December 2003

Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Indigenous Geographical Classification – Maps and Census Profiles, 2001 Census.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, Commonwealth Government, Census 2001: Community Profile Series 2002.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, Recent Developments in the Collection of Indigenous Statistics, from ABS website www.abs.gov.au/Ausstats

Labrador Inuit Association, Council Structure from website www.nunatsiavut.com.au

National Indigenous Leaders Meeting Summary Report 11-14 June 2004, Adelaide SA

Northern Land Council, Council Structure, Accountability and Governance from website www.nlc.org.au

Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination (OIPC) Developing Regional Representative Arrangements from regionalgovernanceunit@opic.gov.au

Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination (OIPC) The Australian Government’s visions of ICC Manager roles in establishing new representative arrangements from regionalgovernanceunit@opic.gov.au

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Glossary of Acronyms

ABS Australian Bureau of Statistics
ATSIC Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services
ATSIS Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services
DATSIP  Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy
CDEP  Community Development Employment Program
CLC Central Land Council
GWQRC  Gulf & West Qld Regional Council
ICC   Indigenous Coordination Centre
IRCA Indigenous Regional Co-ordinating Assembly
NLC  Northern Land Council
NIC    National Indigenous Council
OIPC  Office of Policy Coordination
SRA   Shared Responsibility Agreements


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