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President’s Column – 30 August 2019

I was pleased to participate in a memorable second meeting of the Joint Council on Closing the Gap last week in Adelaide.

There can be few more pressing tasks than reducing the differences in life span, health, housing and employment between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians – and local government has a key role to play.

Among the objectives in the Joint Council’s communique are a shared commitment to work together, especially on three new priorities:

  1. Developing and strengthening structures to ensure the full involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in shared decision making at the national, state and local or regional level and embedding their ownership, responsibility and expertise to close the gap;
  2. Building the formal Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled services sector to deliver closing the gap services and programs in agreed priority areas; and
  3. Ensuring all mainstream government agencies and institutions undertake systemic and structural transformation to contribute to Closing the Gap.

While the consideration of a local voice is in its infancy, it is vital that local government is involved in these discussions as we are the most logical interface between local government and local voices.

ALGA’s policy commitments have long stressed the importance of Indigenous voices in local decision-making.

We say it is essential that the “voices of Indigenous councils and elected officials are heard loud and clear, and that their knowledge and experiences underpin the development of effective policy and advocacy.” Our level of government will not have all the answers, far from it, but we can have a powerful role in listening and channeling local needs and opportunities.

I also told the Joint Council that ALGA is considering the possibility of a project with the Commonwealth to address our skills gap.

The 2018 Closing the Gap report found that over a decade, the Indigenous employment rate fell to 46.6 per cent in 2016 from 48.0 per cent in 2006. The non-Indigenous employment rate was largely stable at around 72.0 percent.

Local Government needs more employees, particularly younger people who are keen to work in regional locations. Many regional councils have already engaged local Indigenous people in great council jobs, including in cadetships and apprenticeships which create career pathways.

Some local councils stipulate supporting Indigenous employment in their procurement policies. City of Prospect’s, for example, highlights that our council’s membership of Supply Nation – a database of verified Indigenous businesses – means we should consider these suppliers when purchasing goods and services.

Furthermore, our Reconciliation Action Plan, like those created by other councils in partnership with their local Indigenous communities, highlights our council’s policies to encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to apply for council jobs.

Local councils, choosing to employ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, can play a pivotal role in transforming local lives through providing local jobs and career pathways.

I also raised the importance of housing. Many communities still have significant overcrowding and housing quality issues.

We know that building more housing and improving existing ones for Indigenous Australians provides opportunities for Indigenous employment, apprenticeships, tradespeople and, in time, Indigenous businesses capable of maintaining or building the next batch of housing.

Lastly, I noted that councils were working with local Indigenous organisations to increasingly incorporate local indigenous language in signage across local government areas.

At our recent National General Assembly of Local Government, one of the best-received presentations and exhibition booths was by First Languages Australia, which also prepared these resources for local councils.

For example, the City of Newcastle (NSW) has installed a series of dual language signs to honour its local Awabakal and Worimi peoples, while my own City of Prospect (SA) has engaged with local language specialists to name our new civic centre, new streets and parks in Kaurna language, and to dual name our significant recreation facilities.

The Joint Council will meet again in November to report on progress made and agree the key recommendations to COAG in December.

I look forward to representing you at both meetings.

Please contact me or the ALGA team if you have ideas or examples of how we can work together on these important tasks.

David O’Loughlin
ALGA President

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People: A focus report on housing and homelessness

Fostering Indigenous well-being and prosperity is a key priority in ALGA’s federal election campaign. The ALGA President advocated for this and particularly funding for Indigenous housing at this week’s Joint Council on Closing the Gap meeting in Brisbane.

We welcome the report on Indigenous Housing and re-enforces the need for ALGAs advocacy on this issue.

Stable and secure housing is fundamentally important to health and well-being. Historically, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have experienced much higher rates of homelessness and have been overrepresented among clients seeking homelessness and social housing services than non-Indigenous Australians.

This report released today examines the profiles of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in both the housing and homelessness sectors over time, using multiple data sources and visualisation tools. Historically, Indigenous Australians have been over-represented among clients seeking homelessness and social housing services. This report shows that the housing situation of Indigenous Australians has improved—with rises in home ownership and housing provided through the private rental market, and falling levels of homelessness. The report is available on the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare website.

President’s Column: 22 March 2019

One of ALGA’s election priorities is to foster indigenous well-being and prosperity. Key to this is closing the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. Only modest progress has been achieved, with only one target met, and Indigenous Australians remain well behind on a range of indicators.

Stable, safe and appropriate housing is fundamental to reaching these objectives. A decent night’s sleep for all and orderly routines for kids are so much harder to achieve in over-crowded, worn out or undersized homes.

So, it was frustrating to hear at last week’s ALGA Board Meeting about the political games being played with remote indigenous housing in the NT and the fact that national partnership agreements for remote indigenous housing still have not been signed off with SA or QLD and that WA has a one-off deal but is concerned that the Commonwealth intends to walk away from long-term funding support for remote housing.

This situation has to be urgently resolved so some of our most vulnerable communities and families are not left in limbo about their future services. ALGA will continue to advocate at every possible opportunity for the renewal of long term national partnership agreements and adequate funding to address the needs of Indigenous communities particularly in areas of overcrowding, homelessness and the severe shortage of housing in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities.

An additional but very important benefit of long term housing funding is the opportunity for local apprenticeships. Upon completion these young workers become tradespeople and perhaps even local indigenous business people. With long term funding they can thrive and be involved in the construction and maintenance of housing over the longer term. They can take on their own apprentices and provide valuable ongoing employment opportunities which are so important in remote communities. The economic benefits of long term funding has been proven in outback Queensland and is something I have advocated strongly for at COAG.

At the December COAG meeting there was agreement to establish a formal partnership between governments and Indigenous Australians through their representatives. This Closing the Gap Partnership Agreement recognises that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must play an integral part in making decisions that affect their lives. I am pleased ALGA will be a signatory to this important agreement that will progress the Closing the Gap framework which focuses on key areas including health, education, housing, economic development and employment.

We are also watching closely the implications for local government of the High Court decision concerning Timber Creek. The decision relates to a claim for compensation by the Ngaliwurru Nungali People for the impairment and extinguishment of their native title rights and interests caused by the grant of development and Crown leases and freehold and the construction of public works over 127 hectares of land in the town of Timber Creek in the Northern Territory. The compensation claim related to the loss of spiritual attachment and also economic loss.

At present the Commonwealth, States and Territories are liable for native title compensation for land dealings and public works that have occurred since the enactment of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. However parties, including local governments, that extinguish or impair native title may also find themselves liable for compensation in the future if the State or Territory or the Commonwealth legislate to pass onto the proponent of activities any requirement to pay compensation. To date they have not done so and we will advocate that local governments are protected from any change in the legislation.

On a final note, on behalf of the ALGA Board and secretariat, I express my extreme sorrow and heartfelt condolences for the families of those lost in the horrific attacks last week in New Zealand.

One of the great honours I and all Mayors, Chair and Presidents have is to bestow Australian Citizenship on those who have come to our country to share and prosper in our wonderful way of life. All candidates have to read out a pledge of loyalty to Australia and its People, “whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey”. It at times like these that I wish all Australian citizens had to make the pledge, not just our newest arrivals.

Keep up the great work,

David O’Loughlin
ALGA President