Better Engagement With Indigenous Australians Needed On Government Programs

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18th December 2009, 04:20pm - Views: 1030

Culture Indigenous Commonwealth Ombudsman 1 image

Culture Indigenous Commonwealth Ombudsman 2 image


EMBARGOED until 12.01 am

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Better engagement with Indigenous Australians needed

on program development & delivery

Indigenous people in the Northern Territory should have been informed earlier than they

were about a government program to detect asbestos in local buildings, according to

Commonwealth Ombudsman Professor John McMillan.

The Ombudsman today released the findings of his investigation into information

provided to Indigenous communities about the asbestos surveys program, which was

undertaken by the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and

Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) between November 2007 and September 2008.

‘In seeking to protect the health of people living in these communities by surveying for,

and removing—where it posed a risk—asbestos containing materials, FaHCSIA did not

attach sufficient importance to ensuring there was a coordinated flow of accurate and

consistent information to people affected by the surveys,’ Professor McMillan said.

‘The primary focus was on inspecting buildings, including community centres, schools

and homes. More emphasis should have been placed on providing an adequate

explanation to residents, employees and other locals of what was happening and when

they would get the survey results.’

Professor McMillan acknowledged that FaHCSIA was able to demonstrate to his office

its intention to let communities know how it would proceed when all the survey results

became available. However, he was critical that FaHCSIA did not act earlier, especially

given the Government’s commitment in May 2008 to remove all asbestos from

communities within 12 months.

‘The longer people are left without specific information about whether their houses and

community buildings contain asbestos, the longer they are at risk of inadvertently

disturbing it,’ he said.

‘There is no doubt that communicating effectively with Indigenous people living in remote

communities is challenging. The residents’ information needs prior to the survey results

should have been anticipated and a better strategy for dealing with them put in place by


Professor McMillan recommended that FaHCSIA review its approach to communicating

with Indigenous people in the Northern Territory, and undertook to monitor the

implementation of FaHCSIA’s information campaign about the planned removal of

asbestos from Indigenous communities.

He also reminded other Australian Government agencies to make engagement with

Indigenous people central to program design and delivery, as set out in the Council of

Australian Governments’ National Indigenous Reform Agreement and National

Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Remote Service Delivery.


Media contact:

Fiona Skivington, Director Public Affairs

0408 861 803

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