Service access and provision in remote Aboriginal communities was identified as a key concern for many communities across the State. Barriers to accessing critical services such as education, health and telecommunication services were raised at 89 per cent of community meetings. Community leaders across the State were critical of service design or the lack of service accountability, with 62 per cent of communities suggesting some sort of redesign for services delivered to or accessed by their residents.
Access to services in remote Aboriginal communities
Given the diversity of remote communities in size and distance from regional towns, there is significant variation in what services are available in communities. For example, some large communities have a school, health clinic and police station, and good mobile phone coverage. However many medium and small communities have few or no services in or near their community, and travel vast distances to access those services.
Community leaders told us that accessing services is a constant challenge.
The lack of telecommunication services is a key concern for many communities, with many reporting no mobile or internet coverage and reliance on a single landline or payphone (which were often out of service). Community members explained how lack of telecommunications can have a significant impact on community life, including an inability to contact emergency services and financial hardship for residents who have had Centrelink payments suspended.
Many communities raised challenges about dealing with Centrelink. Community members said that all contact with Centrelink had to be by phone and that it usually took around two hours per phone transaction. Even those who could travel to a local Centrelink office claimed there was no customer service ethic, with people directed to use an office computer, which many found daunting.
The need to travel for health care was consistently raised across the State. Communities told us about the frequency with which some community members travelled for health care, citing the examples of those with chronic health conditions and pregnant women. Community leaders highlighted the financial and emotional burden on residents of frequent travel to regional centres to access health services. They explained that in turn, this burden meant that some residents were reluctant to travel to access the services, resulting in poorer health outcomes.
High school was another key service that residents told us it is difficult to access. They said that remoteness meant that many students do not complete year 12, as the only options for doing so is via boarding school or families relocating to a city or regional town. We were told that the requirement to move for high school is difficult for many students, particularly as few family members or friends have successfully done so.
We heard about similar issues in accessing adult education opportunities, with many residents telling us moving was too big a barrier for them to consider further education. Communities called for better access to vocational training in their communities, and in many cases highlighted that the infrastructure to support training programs was already in place.
Accountability for service delivery
Community members across the State questioned the transparency of government contracts, suggesting that government expenditure did not match the value of work they saw in their community. Community leaders called for government to build greater accountability into its contracts and services.
Many communities talked about the frequency of government and non-government agency visits, with little or no notice, requesting meetings with the CEO or community council. Community leaders expressed frustration with the demands this placed on the community and its leadership.
Redesign of services
Community leaders across the State told us that if outcomes are to change, government needs to change the way it does business. Many said that service design should start at a community level and solutions should be community-driven. Others noted the need for different solutions in different locations.
In particular, leaders focused on community-level preventative programs. Examples discussed included programs to improve knowledge and skills around parenting, house management and health, and reduce drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence. Communities often noted that culture and country should be central to program design, as those are key factors in wellbeing and healing long-term trauma.
Education and youth programs were also discussed extensively during our consultation. Leaders highlighted the vital role that education plays in changing outcomes, while acknowledging that local school attendance rates are often unacceptably low. The need to meaningfully embed culture and language into the remote community school curriculum was echoed throughout the State. Many community members raised the need to better engage young people in activities, both to occupy their time and enhance their skills.
Community members frequently requested that key services such as birthing, dialysis and aged care services be delivered locally, on community. They also expressed concern about the lack of frequency of general health services like nurses, general practitioners and dentist visiting communities.
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