The Torres Cape Indigenous Council Alliance met in Cairns on 4 and 5 July to discuss matters including opportunities to improve local government efficiency and performance, reforms to community-based employment programs, health system reform, local government remuneration, and to decide on several motions to be submitted to the upcoming Local Government Association of Queensland Annual Conference.

The meeting was the Alliance’s third for 2023, with two more meetings remaining for the year.

TCICA 2023 -2026 Strategic Plan 

Members discussed the final draft Strategic Plan, with the final document to be circulated for endorsement.

Indigenous Councils Sustainability Project

Representatives from PwC Indigenous Consulting presented to TCICA the themes emerging from discussions with leaders to understand the challenges facing Indigenous councils, with a focus on critical infrastructure and corporate services functions.

This DSDILGP-funded project is focussed on considering options to improve the long-term sustainability of Indigenous local governments by reviewing and identifying opportunities to improve how councils deliver, own, operate and maintain critical water and waste water infrastructure; and manage their corporate services functions, including finance, asset management, procurement, governance, and human resources.

The project builds on the work TCICA is doing with Queensland Treasury Corporation to understand business improvement opportunities, with TCICA identifying standardised processes and joint procurement as two opportunities for immediate focus. Far North Queensland Regional Organisation of Councils will be invited to TCICA’s September meeting to discuss their pathway towards identifying joint procurement opportunities.

The PwC Indigenous Consulting team will continue individual Council consultations throughout July and commence validation sessions in mid to late August.

Remote Jobs reform

Representatives from the National Indigenous Australians Agency updated TCICA on the progress of reforms to the Community Development Program (CDP). It is the Minister’s preference that First Nations-led organisations participate in the program; there is no obligation by the Government to continue with existing providers once current agreements expire on 31 October 2024.

Key principles of the reform are that programs must be community-led, they must meet community needs, provide real jobs, proper wages and conditions, and create pathways for individuals toward long term careers.

Members were encouraged to engage with their CDP providers to co-design placed-based models that will work best in their communities.

The 1000 Jobs Scheme is not impacted by CDP reforms and will continue to run in parallel with the reforms.

TORCH Health Reforms

Members discussed the TORCH health reforms and Statement of Intent with representatives from the Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council, Queensland Health, and the Commonwealth’s Department of Health.  Leaders were encouraged to participate in the Summit planned for late August or early September, where it is intended that the State and Commonwealth Health Ministers formally sign the Statement of Intent, along with TCICA and other key stakeholders. The Statement of Intent is not a binding document, its purpose is to signal support for the intent of the project.

It was noted that not all Councils are endorsing the TORCH project at this stage, with Mayors seeking the opportunity for their full councils to consider the reforms. QAIHC will help support Councils with this process.

Local Government Remuneration

Mr Bob Abbot, Chair of the Local Government Remuneration Commission briefed Members on the Commission’s Category Review, noting that 2015 was the year the categories were last changed. The Commission is focused on developing a fit for purpose framework to guide future decision-making while ensuring categories are fair and equitable. The Commission understands the increased demands on Councils, which will be considered when determining categories and remuneration levels.

The proposed framework for categorisation is based on a primary criterion (council revenue) and four modifying criteria (population growth, population dispersion, Socio-Economic Indexes of Areas (SEIFA) and industry impacts).

Leaders discussed the additional responsibilities they have as Deed of Grant in Trust (DOGIT) Trustees and the increased burden on them.  Councils should take the opportunity to participate in the review process to raise this issue and identify how much work in involved in managing DOGIT responsibilities. A consultation paper outlining the review process and proposed categorisation framework was sent to all Mayors and Councillors on Monday 3 July.

LGAQ Conference Motions

Leaders discussed potential motions to be put before the LGAQ Annual Conference in October. Several other motions were discussed during the recent Indigenous Leader’s Forum, which individual councils have already agreed to submit.

New motions to be submitted include a motion calling for financial assistance for negotiating and reviewing Indigenous Land Use Agreements, to better support councils and Traditional Owners negotiate fair agreements for land and materials for community infrastructure, a review of the Land Act and Aboriginal Land Act to help facilitate better outcomes, and an opportunity for a motion on allowing bylaws.

All motions must be submitted to LGAQ by 9 August. LGAQ provided advice to Councils on the process for motions development by email on 6 July.

General Business

Regional shows

Members raised an opportunity to collaborate to attract regional shows.  Most communities are not currently on the show circuit and whilst they may get a public holiday, they miss out on attending a show in their town.  Mornington Shire Council has been approached by a show operator who is keen to explore opportunities with Councils. This will be discussed further during TCICA’s next meeting in September.

Planning Scheme Reviews

The Department of Seniors, Disability Services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships has provided advice regarding the need for Councils to update their planning schemes over the next three years. The total cost of updating schemes is around $19 million including the various studies needed to support the planning schemes. The funding is not currently within DSDATSIP’s budget, so advocacy will be needed to ensure the funding is available to complete the reviews as they arise.

DSDATSIP will be invited to TCICA’s September meeting to discuss this matter further.

Draft Far North Queensland Infrastructure Plan

Cape York and Cairns region members were reminded of the opportunity to review and input into the Draft Far North Queensland Infrastructure Plan, which was circulated by DSDILGP via email on 28 June.

Regional Planning Committee (Cape York Regional Plan)

Cape York members were reminded of the Regional Planning Committee meeting scheduled for 20 June.  The two hour meeting was originally to be held in Cooktown however DSDILGP has now moved to Cairns, with members now able to participate either in person or via video conference.

RFDS Mental Health Services

Members discussed diminishing ability of RFDS to provide mental health services across the region due to a reduction in the value of funding over time.  RFDS has not had an increase to its funding for this service since 2019 and can no longer provide the same level of service to communities.  TCICA agreed to write to the State and Commonwealth Health Ministers to call for funding for valuable services such as mental health support to be indexed and passed on.  Members also discussed the need for regional trauma response teams, with TCICA to also write on this matter.

Next meeting

The next meeting of TCICA is scheduled for 6 and 7 September, to be held in Cairns.