Much has been written about the issues of Aboriginal Australian self-determination, self-governance and sovereignty. This report attempts to identify a way forward on some of the challenging self-governance and service delivery issues facing governments and Aboriginal peoples, by identifying strategic opportunities for change and the development of more collaborative relationships. It has been commissioned by the Central Australian regional office of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC). However the report has not been restricted, in its commissioning, to either an ATSIC or a Central Australian perspective. The issues here are of relevance to all stakeholders dealing with the related issues of governance and service delivery for remote Aboriginal communities across the Northern Territory. Underlying the report is the basic premise that self-governance, local government and service delivery are inextricably intertwined both conceptually, and in practice.
We commence by providing some background on Aboriginal affairs reform dating from the 1970s and the granting of Northern Territory self-government in 1978, and describe the emergence of some rather adversarial relationships in governance and service delivery for remote Northern Territory Aboriginal communities during the 1980s and 1990s. These adversarial relationships between Commonwealth-sponsored and Northern Territory-sponsored organisations need to be overcome. In this context, more collaborative approaches to gaining effective self-governance and service delivery for remote Aboriginal communities are emerging, but they require significant further development, and need to be underpinned by the development of regional service delivery agreements.
The report also examines land rights and local government reform proposals and more collaborative service delivery arrangements already being developed in housing and health. The need for the further development of regional support organisations to assist and service local Aboriginal communities is identified as a critical factor, while acknowledging that in discrete remote communities many services must still be addressed at the individual community level. We argue strongly for an incremental, but planned, approach to governance and service delivery reform, rather than grand institutional redesign. Potential implications and ways forward for Central Australia are considered and related recommendations are set out at the end of the report.