As we go to press there is disconcerting talk of remote communities in WA being closed due to insufficient government funding, of whole communities potentially being dislocated from country and a new wave of social problems. Understandably, people are very confused about what the future holds.

At Red Ochre we have learnt that every challenge can be re-worked into a new opportunity, provided there is goodwill and an effective process which enables parties to talk and jointly plan a shared direction forward.

The questions we ask are:
Is the current model of community management really the best we can do?
Might there actually be better ways of governing and funding remote communities?

We believe new ways of supporting communities can be explored, ones that depend more on indigenous decision-making and partnerships, one’s less driven by what government does and doesn’t do. For instance groups that have their native title recognised and/or have negotiated land use agreements may have opportunities to incorporate community service needs into a broader strategic package of benefits negotiated with the resources sector and developers. The issue is not just about identifying new funding sources. It can be part of an exciting process of building the new economy in remote Australia. In 2010, for instance, Red Ochre was involved in a review of an $80 million Torres Strait infrastructure programme jointly supported by the Federal and Queensland Governments. A new efficient and well-managed service model was developed and implemented. Both levels of government now channel their funds through a Cairns based engineering company which carries out required works, takes responsibility for meeting Key Performance Indicators and reports on progress. The program is delivering real jobs for local people, improving utility service delivery and providing better governance. Can we honestly say this is the situation in most remote communities?

It is also the case that new state-of-the-art technologies are increasingly making it possible to run sustainable power supplies, water pumps and essential services without fuel powered generators. How would we know? Because one of our consultants actually operates a self-reliant remote tourism venture in Qld without the need for any external power supply.

Red Ochre are optimists. In the end we believe there are no problems, only the inspiration to find new and innovative solutions. In 20 years time will we look back on the present challenge as a time when remote communities were again plunged into crisis or as a catalyst towards finding a truly new and sustainable way forward?


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