Sweeping changes to the way services are delivered to remote Aboriginal settlements and new thinking about wealth creation have been urged by researchers at a national conference in Perth today.
For remote settlements to be sustainable we must find a better way for services providers and consumers to work together, starting with a reduction of the administrative overload, said a key note speaker at the Sustainability of Indigenous Communities conference at Murdoch University.
“People in remote settlements are drowning in growing amounts of paperwork, ironically in order to administer their own self determination. No non-Aboriginal council would put up with this,” said Dr Mark Moran from the Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre (CRC).
“When added together, the number and complexity of reports required by different levels of government is mind-boggling and often beyond the capacity of local communities,” he said.
Dr Moran, the leader of the Desert Knowledge CRC’s new Sustainable Services for Desert Settlements research project, said the service system has to become much simpler and much more responsive to consumers if Aboriginal people are to achieve their aspirations.
He said we must come up with innovative ways for consumers in a restricted budget environment to express their demand, which balance the tradeoffs and the contributions they are prepared to make.
”This is not only about money, but also long term investments in time and effort,” he said. “We must also find ways to involve consumers in decisions about budget and program allocations that are currently made by service providers alone.”
“Changing funding mechanisms and redistributing service functions at different levels of the system are just some of the solutions our research is exploring.”
“It investigates whether some service functions, such as regional road works, should have been made the responsibility of people in remote settlements and, conversely, if the powers and resources for other functions that are best carried out locally, such as for town planning, were ever given to them in the first place.”
He said because the high cost of transport to remote settlements makes it difficult for people to get access to services we should explore decentralised service delivery through new information and communications technologies.
“The potential of e-service delivery and smart-card technologies needs to be looked at together with local people, as well as the potential of better housing management systems and tenant involvement for making houses in remote settlements last longer.”
Another keynote speaker cautioned policy makers against quick fixes to the question of remote settlement sustainability.
“Knee-jerk reactions tend to create a host of new problems,” said Professor Murray McGregor, the General Manager of the Desert Knowledge CRC.
“We need to look at the whole system to understand what makes remote settlements sustainable and how they are affected by change,” he said. “That takes time because in isolated places residents don’t feel the impact of policy and other changes straight away.”
Prof. McGregor said remote settlements can become more sustainable if they use their competitive advantages cleverly.
“People in remote settlements are ideally placed to protect and build on the rich natural and cultural resources of their country and some are already showing us how this can be done,” he said.
“For example, Aboriginal people are managing feral animals and monitoring the biodiversity of fragile desert environments.
That’s in everybody’s interest.” “Others are sharing their art and culture with visitors or are developing businesses based on bush foods and medicines.”
He said thinking about remote settlements needed to shift from “life support” to wealth creation.
“Governments and non-government organisations can facilitate wealth creation in remote settlements if they invest in vocational and technical education, localised value added production and micro lending schemes.”
“There is a need to develop community leaders who can think and act as business leaders and who can create long term wealth and encourage local savings and investment, for example through community banks or affordable life insurance.”
The Sustainable Indigenous Communities conference brings together Aboriginal leaders, researchers, government and businesses at Murdoch University from July 12–14.
Prof. McGregor and Dr Moran will give their keynote addresses today at 11 am and 2 pm respectively.
Dr Mark Moran, 0408 897 432 or 08 8951 4320,
email@example.com Prof. Murray McGregor, 0418 462 011 or 08 9690 1567,
firstname.lastname@example.org Elke Wiesmann, 0427 009 240 or 08 89507142,