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Regional Development, Territories and Local Government


Contact: Sema Varova (02) 6274 8050, Email: Sema.Varova@DOTARS.gov.au


    1. Policy advice, regional Australia
    2. Cross-Commonwealth coordination on regional policy and programs
    3. Improving availability of government information to regional Australia
    4. Policy advice and administration, Indian Ocean Territories and Jervis Bay Territory
    5. Service delivery in the Indian Ocean Territories and Jervis Bay Territory
    6. Policy advice, Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory, Norfolk Island, Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands, and Coral Sea Islands Territory
    7. Policy advice, administration of Commonwealth functions in the National Capital
    8. Policy advice, local government
    9. Grant administration, local government and regional communities

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Following the Administrative Arrangements Order of 21 October 1998, the following programs and resources were transferred to the Department of Transport and Regional Services from the former Department of Primary Industries and Energy (subprogram 1.5):

  • Rural Communities Program;
  • Rural Plan;
  • Countrylink Australia;
  • Rural Domestic Violence Program;
  • resources from the Rural Women's Unit;
  • CreditCare;
  • Rural Development Centre Fund;
  • Research Information and Data funding; and the
  • Understanding Rural Australia Program

all of which were effective from 15 March 1999.

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As part of the 1998-99 Budget, the Commonwealth Government announced a Regional Australia Strategy to take a 'whole of government' approach to help meet regional needs. It encompasses:

  • improving regional services;
  • fostering employment and business initiatives;
  • enhancing regional infrastructure, particularly telecommunications infrastructure;
  • rural initiatives; and
  • environmental sustainability.

The Department is responsible for the Regional Australia Strategy, which coordinates initiatives across portfolios to help meet the needs of regional Australia. The Department continued to develop its policy advice and program capacity to implement the Commonwealth Government's 'whole of government' approach to regional Australia. The Department also plays a significant role in Australia's territories through the provision of services to Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands and the Jervis Bay Territory. It maintained and developed Commonwealth interests in the self-governing territories of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), the Northern Territory (NT) and Norfolk Island, and worked in partnership with local government to contribute to national social, environmental and economic performance.

The Department worked closely with regional communities to implement the strategy through initiatives such as Rural Plan and the Rural Communities Program, Rural Transaction Centres Program, the Regional and Rural Women's Unit, and the development of a series of Regional Forums.

As part of the Commonwealth Government's election commitment, the Rural Transaction Centres Program was introduced this financial year. Its objective is to improve access to basic private and government transaction services (banking, post, telephone, facsimile facilities and Medicare Easyclaim) in a way that encourages private sector and/or community-based provision. Up to $70 million will be provided over the next five years, to be funded from the social bonus arising from the sale of the next 16 per cent of Telstra.

A set of complementary funding programs aimed at capacity-building in regional, rural and remote Australia is administered by the Department. These include Rural Plan and the Rural Communities Program.

The Commonwealth Government recognises the significant contribution that women from regional, rural and remote Australia make to decision-making and policy debates. The Department's Regional and Rural Women's Unit undertakes the lead role within Government on issues of concern to regional and rural women.

Countrylink Australia, a 1800 026 222 freecall telephone service, provides information services on a range of federal programs and services for people in regional and rural Australia.

CreditCare, a national project that commenced in July 1995, helps provide financial services in rural and remote communities that have lost access to those services. As at June 1999, 54 towns in rural or remote communities had received access to financial services as a direct result of the project.

The Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government on 12 May 1999 launched the Regional Flood Mitigation Program making available over three years $20 million for flood mitigation measures in rural towns and regional centres.

In March 1999 a $10 million joint trust fund with Western Australia (WA) was set up to provide assistance to communities affected by cyclones 'Elaine' and 'Vance'. As at 30 June 1999 grants for eligible businesses totalling $4.58 million had been approved.

On 11 May 1999 the Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government announced that $7 million will be available to local government over two years under a new Local Government Incentive Program.

In 1998-99 the Minister approved funding for 50 projects totalling $3.753 million under the Local Government Development Program.

The National Office of Local Government (NOLG) administered the 11th 'National Awards for Innovation in Local Government', designed to encourage innovations by councils.

Twenty local government workshops were held in regional Australia during May and June 1999. They demonstrated leading practice in local government, discussed effective means of disseminating information to councils, and invited comment on the role of the NOLG in supporting local government.

During 1998-99 further progress was made toward streamlining and harmonising development and building application and approvals processes. The work stems from the Commonwealth Government response in 1997 to Recommendation 29 of the Small Business Deregulation Task Force.

The NOLG administered the payment of $1.227 billion in untied financial assistance grants to local government in 1998-99 under the Local Government (Financial Assistance) Act 1995.

The Department provided advice to the Commonwealth Government on all aspects of the non-self-governing territories of Christmas Island, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Jervis Bay Territory. Policy advice is provided across a wide range of issues including inter-governmental arrangements and legal regimes affecting the territories, and the provision of specific services such as health and education.

The Department also provided advice on Commonwealth interests in the ACT, the NT and Norfolk Island.

The Territories Office continued to evaluate functions undertaken by the Commonwealth, with a view to providing best-practice service delivery. The continued upgrading of capital works and infrastructure in the territories is consistent with the objective of aligning standards and conditions with those in comparable communities elsewhere in Australia.

Testing and remedial work for year 2000 compliance is being undertaken for essential service delivery systems in the Indian Ocean Territories (IOTs) and Jervis Bay Territory.

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Ministerials, Briefings, Speeches

Two thousand, two hundred and one Ministerials, 170 Questions on Notice, 99 briefings and speeches, and two submissions for the Government were processed in 1998-99.

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'Whole of government' advice on strategies to maximise the social and economic potential of regional Australia

The Department is responsible for coordinating the Government's Regional Australia Strategy. This 'whole of government' approach is designed to maximise the effectiveness in regional Australia of policies and programs across portfolios. The Department works closely with other agencies to ensure that Government policies recognise and respond to the differing needs of regional Australia, and provides advice to the portfolio Ministers on those matters. Particular priorities include the impact of transport reform and infrastructure investment.

Regional Impact Statements

In July 1998 the Government agreed that Ministers should prepare a Regional Impact Statement (RIS) describing the likely impact new policies and programs will have on regional Australia. In preparing a RIS, departments are expected to consult the Department of Transport and Regional Services.

Structural Adjustment Management

In 1996-97 the Government allocated $20 million for a two-year program to support measures to create jobs through economic development in regions most adversely affected by the sale of the Australian National Railways Commission.

The allocation was split between South Australia (SA) ($18.25 million), Tasmania ($1.35 million), the NT ($200 000) and WA ($200 000). As at 30 June 1999, 61 projects totalling $20.12 million have been approved as part of the adjustment strategy. (The $20 million is in a trust fund that earns interest, increasing the amount available for allocation to projects.) During 1998-99, projects valued at $8.6 million were approved.

The Government also made $10 million available in 1997-98 to help the Newcastle region adjust to economic dislocation caused by the closure of BHP (Broken Hill Proprietary Limited) Steel. The Department is working with regional organisations to ensure funds are utilised to complement and assist the community's efforts to offset the effects of closure.

During 1998-99, two projects totalling just over $2 million were approved, and a further two totalling $2.1 million received in-principle approval. As at 30 June 1999, assistance of $8.6 million for five projects in Newcastle had been announced. To avoid duplication and maximise the impact of assistance on the region's economy, the Department works closely with the NSW Government, which is also providing a $10 million assistance package for Newcastle.

Research and information programs

The research and information programs (Understanding Rural Australia, Rural Development Centre funding and the Research Information and Data Fund) are designed to improve the availability and use of information about rural social issues and trends. They focus on understanding changes occurring in rural communities and the impact of those changes. The Department uses the information to develop and manage initiatives in such areas as health and welfare reform, structural adjustment, investment in infrastructure, and job creation policies. In 1998-99 two major projects valued at $260 000 were funded to examine service provision in regional Australia and income and job security issues.

Post-disaster business recovery

Following cyclones Elaine and Vance in the Exmouth region of WA in March 1999, a joint Commonwealth-WA Trust Fund of $10 million was established for business recovery, general relief and the reconstruction of community facilities. A Deed of Agreement was developed and signed by the governments, and a Trust Fund Committee was formed. The Department is represented on the Committee.

Applications were called for from eligible businesses for a $10 000 business recovery grant to help 'kick-start' the local economies of the cyclone-affected areas. Four hundred and fifty-eight grants to the business communities of Exmouth, Onslow, Moora and the Gascoyne pastoral district, totalling $4.58 million, had been approved as at 30 June 1999.

Financial assistance was also provided for emergency accommodation, clean up costs, tourism promotion and some community reconstruction. Projects are being identified and prioritised by Local Recovery Committees for referral to the Trust Fund Committee. It is anticipated the work of the Committee will be completed by December 1999.

Regional Flood Mitigation Program

Funding for the new Regional Flood Mitigation Program was announced in the budget on 11 May 1999. The Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government launched the program on 12 May 1999. It will provide $20 million over three years to fund priority flood mitigation measures in rural towns and regional centres. Under the program the Commonwealth will contribute one-third of the cost of approved projects, the States and local governments contributing the remainder.

Regional and Rural Women's Roundtable

The Department convened a Regional and Rural Women's Roundtable for the Minister for Transport and Regional Services. Priority issues emerging from that meeting will be further considered at the Regional Australia Summit. Additional resources have been provided to enhance the impact of the Regional and Rural Women's Unit.

Regional Women's Advisory Council

In April 1999 the Government strengthened its interaction with women in regional and rural Australia by announcing the establishment of a Regional Women's Advisory Council. The Department will provide the Secretariat. Council members will be appointed by, and report to, the Minister for Transport and Regional Services. The Council will advise the Minister on issues identified as major concerns to people in regional and rural Australia, and make recommendations on appropriate Government action.

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In 1998-99 the Government provided $10 million, over four years, for the Regional Australia Strategy, to improve coordination of Commonwealth initiatives and communications with regional Australia.

Memoranda of Understanding on Regional Australia

Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) between the Minister for Transport and Regional Services and Ministers for:

  • Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry;
  • Education, Training and Youth Affairs;
  • Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business; and
  • Health and Aged Care

have been prepared to provide a new and effective mechanism for coordination. The Department of Transport and Regional Services provides policy advice to the Minister and works closely with other departments in providing advice and implementing policies. The MoUs have replaced the Ministerial Working Group on Regional Affairs.

The MoUs are designed to achieve more effective communication between the Commonwealth Government and regional Australia by coordinated service and program delivery through interdepartmental liaison.

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Departmental coordination

Complementing the MoUs between Ministers, the Department convenes regular bilateral meetings with other departments and interdepartmental committees to maximise consultation on and coordination of policy and program issues that affect regional Australia. The subjects of these consultations between agencies include the Regional Australia Communications Strategy, the series of regional forums currently under development, the Regional Australia Summit, the preparation of Regional Impact Statements for Cabinet Submissions, and the introduction of Rural Transaction Centres. The consultations have produced a clearer focus for the Department's policies for regional Australia, and have provided a sound basis for such initiatives as the Regional Australia Summit and regional forums to take place in 1999-2000.

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Remote Communities Liaison Service

The Department is establishing, for two years, a pilot liaison scheme under the Remote Communities Liaison Service. A Liaison Officer will be employed in Longreach, Queensland to work with the Central Queensland Area Consultative Committee, surrounding shires, local and regional groups and individuals, and State and federal officers.

The Liaison Officer will develop strong links with communities to allow a two-way flow of information about Commonwealth Government regional programs and services. The officer will advise on methods for seamless delivery of services, particularly through advanced technology, and assist communities to provide input to regional policy and directions.

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Regional Programs

Rural Domestic Violence Program

The Rural Domestic Violence Program (RDVP) is part of the Government's $25.3 million Partnerships Against Domestic Violence initiative, a major commitment by the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments to work together toward their shared goal of preventing domestic violence and creating an Australian culture free from violence.

Over three years (July 1998-June 2001) $534 000 has been allocated to the RDVP, with $103 000 spent in the 1998-99 financial year.

The Department is arranging for a consultant to consolidate data on the incidence of domestic violence in rural and remote communities, and clarify major issues and possible initiatives for those areas. The National Data Collection Agency (within the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) has agreed to commence analysis of Supported Accommodation Assistance Program data relating to domestic violence service provision in regional areas.

Rural Transaction Centres Program

The Rural Transaction Centres Program was officially launched on 11 March 1999, with up to $70 million to be allocated over the next five years. The program aims to restore to rural communities services such as banking facilities, Medicare and postal facilities, in a way that encourages private sector and/or community-based provision.

The launch marked the beginning of a major promotional campaign that included an extensive series of press articles and advertisements, and a direct mail campaign to more than 2700 stakeholders, including community groups, local councils, service providers, State governments and Members of Parliament.

Guidelines, application forms and fact sheets about the program were completed by Departmental officers in March 1999. A web site for the program was also launched in March, with a 1800 038 160 telephone hotline for enquiries. Since March more than 700 telephone enquiries and approximately 500 website hits have been recorded.

An independent Advisory Panel, comprising people with expertise in economic and social conditions in rural Australia as well as in business transaction services, was established in June 1999 to provide the Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government with advice on applications for funding received under the program.

Twenty-nine applications were assessed, and recommendations prepared for consideration by the Panel at its first meeting on 22 June 1999. The Panel's advice was referred to the Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government for consideration.


CreditCare, a national project commencing in July 1995, aims to help provide financial services in rural and remote communities that have lost access to financial services. CreditCare field officers work with local communities to assess their financial viability by facilitating community meetings, conducting surveys, and developing business plans. The plans generated by CreditCare activities may then be used to attract financial institutions (usually existing credit unions) to the communities.

The Department funds the Credit Union Services Corporation (Australia) Limited (CUSCAL) to provide CreditCare Services. The State Government of New South Wales and CUSCAL also contribute funds.

Following successful outcomes achieved from the initial two-year funding, the Government has committed an additional $2.7 million over three years to 1999-2000 for the national CreditCare project. As at June 1999, 54 communities had been assisted since CreditCare was introduced in 1995.

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Regional Australia Strategy communications campaign

In August 1998 the Ministerial Committee on Government Communications (MCGC) approved the Regional Australia Strategy communications campaign. As part of its broad communications approach, a comprehensive market research brief was developed to identify and prioritise issues of concern in regional Australia, and to define the most effective communications mechanisms and vehicles. The brief and the list of proposed consultants to conduct the research were approved by the MCGC in June 1999. Results from that market research are expected to be available by October 1999, and will contribute to the further development of the communications campaign.

As part of the communications approach, the Department is preparing a booklet Commonwealth Government Services for Regional Australia: A User's Guide. It has been developed in consultation with 14 other Commonwealth agencies, and is scheduled for publication in late1999. It will provide residents in regional and rural Australia with information on and direct points of contact for Commonwealth Government services.

The publication will be updated and its target audience reviewed regularly, based on market research indicators.

The quarterly reports on Government initiatives for regional Australia foreshadowed in the 1998-99 Portfolio Budget Statement did not proceed, as the Ministerial Working Group on Regional Affairs was replaced by the Memoranda of Understanding on Regional Australia between Ministers (see Output 9.2).

Regional Summit

Planning and organisation have commenced for the Regional Australia Summit announced by the Minister for Transport and Regional Services, the Hon John Anderson MP. The Summit will be held 27-29 October 1999 at Parliament House in Canberra. Its objectives are to:

  • develop a national appreciation of the challenges facing regional Australia;
  • gather ideas on how these challenges can be met;
  • establish a series of goals for regional Australia; and
  • identify roles that government, corporate and community sectors could take to achieve these goals.

Approximately 200 targeted participants from a range of industry sectors, regional and community representatives and State, Territory and local governments will be invited to participate.

Themes of the Summit will be communications, infrastructure, health, community well-being and lifestyle, the role of government - local, state and federal, finance and facilitating entrepreneurship, adding value to regional communities and their industries, exploring new industries and new opportunities, community leadership, education and training, philanthropy and partnerships, and sustainable resource management.

Regional forums

An important component of the Strategy is the Regional Forums Australia Program (RFAP). The RFAP aims to develop a considered approach to the sustainable future of a region, as well as to be a mechanism for governments to address how they interact with, and provide services for, regional Australia. The Department has extended an invitation to States and local government to be partners in the RFAP.

The main components of the forum process are:

  • development of a 'regional future brief' to identify key priorities for the sustainable future of the region;
  • to conduct a forum attended by the Minister and senior officers from Commonwealth agencies. Regions will make a presentation to the Commonwealth, based around the regional future brief, and hold discussions on how best the Commonwealth can respond to the priorities identified; and
  • the provision of a formal response by the Commonwealth to a region, within three months of the forum.

A trial forum was held in the Spencer Gulf (SA) area on 22-23 July 1999, and a second one is planned for north-west NSW on 15-16 September 1999. The trials will be evaluated before a full program across Australia is considered.

Countrylink Australia

Countrylink Australia is a Commonwealth Government information service for people living in regional and rural Australia. In 1998-99 the service achieved the following:

  • approximately 35 000 copies of the Rural Book were circulated;
  • attended regional and rural shows and field days on behalf of the Department;
  • liaised with other Government departments;
  • kept information as up-to-date as possible for public inquiries;
  • staffed the free call telephone information line;
  • assisted in the design of a new web site;
  • commenced work on a new edition of the Rural Book; and
  • answered approximately 27 000 calls on the 1800 026 222 information line.

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Institutional Investor Information Service

The Department administered a contract with the Australian Council for Infrastructure Development to operate the Institutional Investor Information Service initiative, which is nearing completion. The project aimed to expand private sector investment in infrastructure in regional Australia by bridging the information gap between institutional investors and regional project proponents. Feedback from project proponents and institutional investors is that the objective is being achieved.

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Indian Ocean Territories

During the year, the Departments of Transport and Regional Services and Finance and Administration conducted a joint review to asses the long-term economic sustainability of the Indian Ocean Territories (IOTs) and their likely funding requirements.

As part of that review, the Bureau of Transport Economics assessed the economic viability of the IOTs. The resulting Regional Analyses were released in April 1999. They show that the IOTs are significantly dependent on Commonwealth activities and, without these, are not economically sustainable at current standards of living.

In early 1999 the Review of the Indian Ocean Territories was presented to the Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government and the Minister for Finance and Administration. The steering committee for the Review comprised officials of the Department of Transport and Regional Services and the Department of Finance and Administration.

The Department prepared two submissions and presented evidence in response to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade 'Report on the Loss of the HMAS Sydney '. The Department also made representations to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories 'Island to Islands' report on the Territories' communications sector. It is anticipated that the draft Government response to the 'Island to Islands' report will be finalised early in the spring sitting of Parliament.

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Jervis Bay Territory

The Territories Office provided advice to the Minister on land issues within the Jervis Bay Territory, including advice on commercial and residential leases. As a result six leases were surrendered, and new 30-year leases issued in their place.

Work is continuing on the application of NSW maritime legislation to the Jervis Bay Territory. The Department is awaiting proclamation of new maritime laws in NSW that will then be applied to the Jervis Bay Territory by Commonwealth Ordinance.

The Department has been liaising with the ACT Government on proposed legislation relating to Community Service Orders that would permit suitably trained and authorised persons to supervise Jervis Bay residents serving Community Service Orders. The legislative changes are expected to be in place toward the end of 1999.

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Service delivery

In collaboration with the IOT communities, all elements of the Territories Office adopted the following strategic measures to deliver services more equitably:

  • identification of comparable community services;
  • assessment of appropriate funding levels for the IOTs;
  • development of an appropriate, efficient legislative and administrative framework for the good governance of, and delivery of services to, the IOTs; and
  • encouragement for other government agencies to extend programs to the Territories.

Agreement has been reached with most WA State Government agencies, with which there are service delivery arrangements for the provision of services in the IOTs, to commence a new reporting system to help assess the level of services provided to the IOT communities, including comparisons with WA mainland standards. The performance reporting will form the basis of an information system that will be an invaluable source of information in negotiating future Service Delivery Arrangements (SDAs).

Christmas Island let new contracts with a private sector provider to provide the management of repairs and maintenance and new minor works for properties managed by the Administration, and an IOT health services benchmarking consultancy.

A contract for the management of electricity, sewerage and water utilities in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands was awarded to WA Watercorp in December 1998, following a tender process managed by Asset Services and a contract issued by the Territory Administration. Contracts with a number of lessees on Cocos (Keeling) Islands were finalised to replace informal arrangements, some of which had been in place for several years. The process is continuing.

Five Ordinances were made under the Christmas Island Act 1958 and five under the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act 1955. The Ordinances deal with imprisonment and custody of offenders, workers' compensation, liquor licensing, and interpretation legislation.

Contracts for both the provision of commercial functions relating to the supply of electricity in the Jervis Bay Territory and maintenance of the electricity infrastructure are in the final stages of negotiation, and expected to be operational in the latter half of 1999.

The Department administered funding in accordance with an agreement for recurrent funding with the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council for housing, local government-type functions, and Aboriginal Land Council functions. Discussions of future housing funding arrangements have commenced with the Commonwealth Department of Family and Community Services.

Contracts with LJ Hooker Jervis Bay (management of housing stock within Jervis Bay Village), Jirgen's Contracting (maintenance of municipal services, i.e. water, sewerage and roads) and Asset Services (maintenance of commercial buildings) were evaluated. The Department decided to exercise its option to extend each contract for another year. The contract with the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council Works Department for ground maintenance was found to be working well, and was continued.

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Service Delivery Arrangements

The various contracts for the provision of municipal services in the IOTs and Jervis Bay Territory continue to operate smoothly through a participative approach to service delivery. There are currently 24 SDAs in place with WA State agencies for the IOTs and 12 in place with the ACT and NSW for the delivery of services in Jervis Bay.

The Territories Office, Perth is responsible for the negotiation and management of SDAs with WA State agencies for the provision of a wide range of State-level services to the IOT communities and the management of the air services contract.

In 1998-99, service delivery arrangements were signed with three new agencies - Contract and Management Services, Family Services, and Environment Protection.

Agreements are in place with several WA State agencies for the delivery of their services to the Territories.

Negotiations are underway in relation to the services of the Departments of Training, Transport and Fisheries and the Nurses' and Medical Boards of WA (to complement the service delivery arrangement with the Department of Health), and with the State Electoral Office.

In addition, the Territory Office, Perth, developed a deed with the Indian Ocean Group Training Association for the provision of funds for core training activities in relation to apprentices, trainees, and adult education services.

The SDA with Legal Aid was renewed after review and evaluation. A review of the arrangement with the WA Ministry of Fair Trading is currently underway, and several other arrangements are due for review over the next 12 months.

The ACT Government advised the Department that it intends to withdraw as soon as possible from its service provision role in the Jervis Bay Territory. Currently the ACT Government provides services on the basis of agreed MoUs. These arrangements continue services on a month-by-month basis, except education, as primary and pre-school services cannot be adequately provided on that basis. The Territories Office is negotiating with the ACT Department of Education a new year-by-year MoU.

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Client Service Charters

In addition to the Department's Service Charter, Client Service Charters have been developed by each of the Territory Administrations of Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Christmas Island and Jervis Bay Territory. These Service Charters describe in detail the range of services provided by the Administrations, expected standards of service by staff, rights and responsibilities of clients, and ways in which clients can provide feedback about the standard of service they experience. In all cases the Service Charters were developed in consultation with clients of each Administration and include access to independent channels of complaint such as the Commonwealth Ombudsman. A review of the terms and effectiveness of the Charters began in June 1999, and the results, including improvements to the terms of the Charters, will be published in the Department's 1999-2000 annual report.

The Department continues to uphold its Client Service Charter, providing clients with fair, courteous and professional service, and timely and accurate information.

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Asset management

Work has continued on a range of capital works projects on Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in line with the Government's objective of bringing public infrastructure in the IOTs to comparable mainland standards.

Strategic asset management and planning

The Department is committed to managing assets strategically in the Territories. In 1999, management of strategic assets was reviewed in workshops held in Perth (April) and Jervis Bay (May). Service delivery strategies were evaluated and asset management plans prepared in line with the approach outlined in the Australian National Audit Office Better Practice Guide and Asset Management Handbook. The plans covered lifecycle asset maintenance and capital renewal funding requirements.

Installation of new asset management and finance systems was completed, bringing the systems used by the Cocos (Keeling) and Christmas Islands Administrations into line with those used by the Department.

The firm of Ernst and Young was engaged in May 1999 to develop an information management system to capture accurately the full accrual costs of service delivery in the Territories, including the cost of capital assets. The consultants provided an initial report early in the 1999-2000 financial year.

Cocos Capital Works Program

In the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, major asset upgrading centred on finalising environmental studies associated with the new sewerage system and the development of the Rumah Baru passenger- and freight-handling facility. Planning will continue into 1999-2000. Other upgrading included work on the Home Island wharf and lagoon navigation channel, and high voltage reticulation.

Capital works and contractual processes concluded in 1998-99 included:

  • a tender process for the high-voltage reticulation upgrade on West Island and marine services;
  • building condition appraisal reports of Commonwealth housing stock;
  • commissioning of a report on the generating capacity of Home Island Power Station;
  • design of an environmental assessment for an improved passenger and freight handling facility at Rumah Baru, Cocos (Keeling) Islands; and
  • construction of changed fuel storage arrangements and demolished and rehabilitated Flying Fish Cove fuel tank site.

Upgrading Water Supply System for Jervis Bay (Stage 1)

An alternative supply of fresh water for the Jervis Bay Territory has been sought due to the depletion of its current supply. Water is currently sourced from Lake Windermere, within the Territory. An alternative source identified is from the adjoining Shoalhaven City Council, with which initial consultations have taken place. No final decision has been made about the design or construction of the project. Funding provided in the 1998 Budget has been carried over to the 1999-2000 financial year.

The Territories Office identified essential capital works items that will need to be carried out at Jervis Bay Territory in the near future, including the upgrade of the electricity supply to the Bherwerre Ridge Trigonometric Station and the reconfiguration of the supply lines at the water storage tanks.

Stage 2 of the Christmas Island Rebuilding Program

Stage 1 of the Christmas Island Rebuilding Program is nearing completion. Approximately $102 million has been spent since 1992 on upgrading a wide range of infrastructure including housing and community amenities, hospital and equipment, school extensions, transport and communications, and marine and harbours. Stage 2 commenced in 1998 with work on new public housing to replace Kampong units (at risk of being damaged by possible rock fall), water supply items, and marine works.

Community consultation was completed in July 1998. Project managers were engaged by the end of August. In February 1999 building and construction tenders were let, and in April construction commenced. It is expected that construction of the first houses and units will be completed by October 1999.

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Christmas Island Casino

Following cancellation of the casino licence in July 1998, a Receiver and Manager was appointed by the Federal Court to administer the affairs of the casino.

The casino on Christmas Island remained closed in 1998-99, and tenders have been called for the purchase of the resort and casino.

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Space Centre - Christmas Island

The Asia-Pacific Space Centre (APSC) consortium is preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for a proposed space centre on Christmas Island in accordance with the provisions of the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974. The EIS was finalised during August 1999 and submitted to Environment Australia for assessment. A full public consultation process will be undertaken.

The land sought by APSC is part of a 21-year mining lease held by Phosphate Resources Limited (PRL). In March 1999 APSC and PRL advised the Minister that they had reached agreement in relation to land required for the launch site. In May the Minister approved a land negotiation framework including the surrendering of land by PRL and its sale to APSC. Officers continue to hold discussions with PRL and APSC in order to facilitate land availability and development issues associated with the project.

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Territories Air Services

As an ongoing contractual arrangement, National Jet Services (NJS) provided a regular weekly air service to the IOTs. This service was supplemented by additional scheduled flights during peak periods. During the year two flights were cancelled by NJS when industrial action by the Union of Christmas Island Workers affected the Christmas Island Airport.

The IOTs communities continue to express dissatisfaction about the size of the RJ70 aircraft and consequential capacity limitations. It is anticipated that the market for the provision of ongoing air services will be tested again in 1999-2000 to determine whether a viable solution that incorporates a larger plane is available when the current contract expires at the end of June 2000.

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Jervis Bay Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee and Booderee National Park

The Territories Office provides secretarial support to the Jervis Bay Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee, which meets every three months. An officer from the Territories Office is chairperson. The Committee works on range of social justice issues, including the provision of sentencing options such as community service orders and periodic detention. Training is currently being arranged for a number of Wreck Bay residents to be trained as Aboriginal Interview Friends to provide support for persons taken into custody. Members of the Committee regularly liaise with relevant ACT and NSW Government agencies.

The First Assistant Secretary, Territories and Regional Support, is a member of the Booderee National Park and Botanic Garden Board of Management in the Jervis Bay Territory. The statutory board meets on average four times per year, as the need arises.

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Year 2000 Compliance

A review was conducted of Year 2000 compliance in the IOTs and Jervis Bay Territory. A consultant engaged for the review took a comprehensive inventory and assessed the Territories' systems for compliance. The systems, including those providing essential services, identified as non-compliant by the review have mostly been upgraded or replaced, although some are outstanding, to be rectified by September 1999. Business Continuity Plans and Contingency Plans are being developed for critical services. To ensure compliance, specialist consultants are monitoring remediation work.

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Norfolk Island

Consultation with the Norfolk Island Government on a range of matters took place at the Inter-Governmental meeting held on the Island on 25 January and during other meetings between the Minister, Norfolk Island Legislatively Assembly members and officials held during the year. Issues discussed included the division of responsibilities between the Commonwealth and Norfolk Island, Norfolk Island Government proposals impacting on Commonwealth responsibilities, and Commonwealth assistance for the Territory.

The Territory has progressed its capability of administering land matters with the passage of planning and land-use legislation. Discussions continue on the remaining improvements required in the land administration regime.

Norfolk Island Government proposals impacting on Commonwealth responsibilities included the possible establishment in the Territory of an offshore finance centre, a proposal for minting a commemorative Norfolk Island coin, involvement in management of the local fishery within Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone, and the assessment of crushing rock on alternative Crown land sites.

The Department has facilitated the inclusion of Norfolk Island in Commonwealth programs established during the year. They include the Regional Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund and the Federation Community Projects program.

After the departure from the island of the Deputy Administrator, the incoming Official Secretary to the Administrator was appointed Deputy Administrator by the Governor-General on 4 February 1999.

The Norfolk Island Amendment Bill 1999 was introduced to the Senate on 31 March 1999. The Bill addresses citizenship requirements for Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly elections, changes appointment procedures for Deputy Administrators, and effects the removal of firearms from the exclusive responsibility of the Norfolk Island Government. The Bill was considered by the Senate Standing Committee on the Scrutiny of Bills, and is currently being considered by the Senate Standing Committee, Legal and Constitutional.

The Norfolk Island Government was consulted on the extension of Commonwealth legislation to the Territory including such issues as environmental protection, criminal code (bribery of foreign public officials), copyrights, superannuation, and other matters.

Under the Immigration Act 1980 (Norfolk Island) the federal Minister is empowered to consider appeals against decisions made by the Norfolk Island Government under the Act. Two immigration appeals were considered by the Minister, one upheld and the other overturning the Norfolk Island Government's decision.

Departmental representatives attended three Kingston and Arthur's Vale Historic Area Management Board meetings during the year. Departmental activities stemming from the meetings included following proposed refurbishment of Government House and other heritage buildings, a review of the historic area's viewshed, and other proposals on administrative matters and land usage and activities in the area.

During the year the Commonwealth paid two instalments from the Cascade Cliff Loan Fund to the Norfolk Island Government toward work to render safe the cliff at Cascade Bay. The Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation Australia is overseeing the Cascade Cliff stabilisation program under contract to the Norfolk Island Government.

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Northern Territory

Advice was provided on the appointment of the Administrator of the Northern Territory, and the appointment of Dr Neil Conn, AO, was extended for one year from 17 February 1999.

The Interdepartmental Committee on Statehood met to continue its work on developing proposals for Commonwealth consideration in relation to the possible grant of statehood to the NT. The Commonwealth Government announced in-principle agreement that statehood be granted through an Act of Parliament under section 121 of the Constitution, subject to terms and conditions to be resolved at a later date.

An Agreement with the NT Government, extending its executive power to submit referendum questions on NT constitutional development to Territory electors, was signed by the Minister for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government. Pursuant to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, the Governor-General authorised the holding of a NT referendum on the same day as a federal election. The referendum was held on 3 October 1998, and almost 52 per cent of electors voted 'No' to the question: 'Now that a Constitution for a State of the Northern Territory has been recommended by the Statehood Convention and endorsed by the NT Parliament, do you agree that we should become a state?'

The NT Legislative Assembly Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs undertook to inquire into appropriate measures to facilitate statehood by 2001. The Committee reported back to the NT Legislative Assembly in April. Progression of the statehood issue remains the responsibility of the NT Government.

A new Deed of Agreement was signed by the Commonwealth and NT governments to facilitate the payment of $10 million for indigenous health infrastructure in 1998-99. Approximately $2.4 million was spent on road repair (including resealing and upgrading) to key roads linking Aboriginal communities with facilities and towns. Approximately $4.5 million was spent on upgrading health facilities (significantly replacing clinics and fitting them out), with the remainder spent on the provision of water and sewerage.

At the request of the NT Government, regulations under the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 were made to clarify that Ministers of the NT have executive authority for railways and rail safety.

The Commonwealth contributed $3.34 million to the Katherine District Business Re-establishment Trust, to help the recovery of Katherine businesses following the 1998 Australia Day floods. The Trust is currently in the process of being wound up, and any remaining monies disbursed in accordance with the Trust Deed.

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Australian Capital Territory

The report of the joint Commonwealth and ACT Working Party on Governance is under consideration by the ACT Legislative Assembly. A formal view is yet to be developed. Proposals for consideration by the Commonwealth Government will be developed when the ACT Government conveys its position on any possible changes to the governance arrangements.

The Canberra Ministerial Forum was formed in 1996 to consider key issues affecting Canberra's growth and prosperity. The Forum was expanded in 1998-99 to give it a greater regional focus, and was renamed the Canberra Regional Ministerial Forum. It met for the first time under its new name on 22 March 1999, focusing on regional development opportunities in the Australian Capital Region (ACR). Members also expressed a desire for the continuation of the Forum and for dialogue to be maintained between members and the Minister.

The Department provided funding to the ACT and region for economic development and diversification initiatives. Over two years $90 000 sponsorship funding was provided to the Australian Capital Region Development Council (ACRDC) for the management of an Industry Development and Promotion Program aimed at facilitating industry growth through expanding the markets and customer bases of businesses in the ACR.

Funding of $50 000 has also been provided to the ACT Government to help an ACT and Region Expo, Focus on Business. The inaugural Expo will be held in March 2000, and will showcase the best in innovative, successful and new businesses that Canberra and the region have to offer. Although the Expo is expected to be held every two years, the March 2000 Expo will be the forerunner of an event in September 2001 to be held during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Canberra. The Department has a representative on the steering committee.

The Regional Leaders Forum, which includes the ACT Chief Minister, Mayors of 17 local governments in the region and the Chair of the ACRDC, has asked the ACRDC to undertake a Regional Road Transport Priorities Study. The study will determine priorities for road transport over the next 5-10 years, helping to facilitate economic development in the region. The Department contributed $20 000 to the study, and is represented on the steering committee.

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Advice was provided to the Minister on appointments to the National Capital Authority. Air Marshal David Evans, AC, DSO (retired), was reappointed as Chair of the Authority for two years from 1 January 1999. Mrs Sallyanne Atkinson was appointed as a part-time member of the Authority for one year from 17 December 1998.

Planning and land management

The Australian Capital Territory (Planning and Land Management) Amendment Bill 1999 was introduced to the Senate on 17 February 1999. The Bill, which had been introduced previously and lapsed when Parliament was prorogued, would allow for the maximum term of an estate in the Territory to be 999 years.

Recommendations for reforms to the Commonwealth's role in planning and land management in the National Capital were provided to the Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government, and are currently under consideration by the Commonwealth Government.

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The National Office of Local Government (NOLG) within the Department provides a direct link between the Commonwealth Government and local government councils and associations. Currently NOLG aims to achieve three objectives:

  • improve the financial capacity of local government;
  • improve local government performance; and
  • develop national networks and partnerships.

Financial Assistance Grants

Under its tax reform agenda, the Commonwealth Government had proposed to transfer from 1 July 2000 responsibility for the payment of Local Government Financial Assistance Grants (FAGs) administered by NOLG from the Commonwealth to the States and the NT. The A New Tax System (Commonwealth-State Financial Relations - Consequential Provisions) Bill 1999 sought to change payment arrangements for FAGs from April 2000. The Bill also provided for the repeal of the Local Government (Financial Assistance) Act 1995.

The agreement between the Commonwealth Government and the Democrats over the goods and services tax ensured that the Commonwealth Government would retain responsibility for local government FAGs. The A New Tax System (Commonwealth-State Financial Relations - Consequential Provisions) Bill 1999, including the proposed repeal of the Local Government (Financial Assistance) Act 1995, is subject to amendment.

Regional local government workshops

In May and June 1999, workshops were held with local government bodies throughout regional Australia. The 20 workshops showcased local government leading practice, and sought input on the most effective way of disseminating information to local government bodies. They also gathered information to assist NOLG review its core business in terms of policies, programs and communication strategies.

National Awards for Innovation in Local Government

NOLG administered the 11th 'National Awards for Innovation in Local Government' which are facilitated to encourage innovation by councils. They identify and reward local government bodies, associations and other collaborating organisations which are developing and implementing innovative resourceful practices that improve local government outcomes and help build sustainable Australian communities.

A summary of the winners was published as A Guide to Good Practice in Local Government, with category awards given for Environment, Information Technology, Leisure and Community Services, Organisational Practices, Regional and Economic Development and Engineering, Infrastructure and Urban Design. Two national awards were also presented.

The 12th National Awards were launched in May 1999, with sponsorship obtained for eight category awards and two national awards. The major sponsor for 1999 is AusIndustry.

Small Business Task Force, Recommendation 29 - streamlining and harmonising the development assessment process

The NOLG has responsibility for advancing Recommendation 29 of More Time for Business. Recommendation 29 advocates development of a regulatory reform strategy, including mechanisms to reform concurrence and referral procedures in building and development assessment, and to delegate decision-making processes to the lowest level possible.

At a meeting of key stakeholders in June 1998, the Development Assessment Forum (DAF) was established to coordinate and harmonise planning and development regimes throughout Australia. The NOLG provides the DAF secretariat.

In its first 12 months, the DAF:

  • developed a charter outlining its role in advising jurisdictions on leading-practice in planning systems;
  • published a comparison of planning systems in Australian States and Territories - State of Play Report - available on the NOLG website (www.daf.gov.au/sop/index.aspx);
  • produced a concepts scoping paper that provided a comprehensive framework for the evaluation of development assessment processes, and includes best-practice case studies as an illustration of how particular local government bodies have turned problems into opportunities. It also analyses concurrence and referral issues and makes recommendations for change;
  • developed a major reference document Principles of Leading Practice in Development Assessment to be submitted to State and Territory Planning Ministers for consideration in late 1999; and
  • commenced work on agreeing common industry measurement definitions, representing an important step toward harmonisation.

DAF finalised its work program for 1999-2000 at its meeting in early August 1999.

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Local Government

Financial Assistance Grants

Most FAGs payment requests were analysed and processed within five working days, as planned. Some delays were experienced in data analysis due to data integrity problems arising from an inadequate FAGs database system. A new FAGs database system (FAG 2000) has been developed, is Year 2000 compliant, and is now fully operational.

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Local Government Development Program

The Local Government Development Program (LGDP), administered by NOLG, provided the capacity to:

  • promote a cooperative approach to local government development;
  • facilitate social and economic development; and
  • encourage institutional strengthening and capacity-building.

The program was redesigned in the light of recommendations arising from a program evaluation conducted in November 1997 which focused on the adequacy of the LGDP to address current Commonwealth Government policies and meet the needs of State and local government organisations.

The final round of discretionary funding decisions under LGDP were made in May and June 1999, following consultation between NOLG, State and Territory local government departments, and local government associations, using joint assessment panels, with final approval by the Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government.

More than 230 proposals for LGDP funding were received from State and Territory government and local government associations. Funding was agreed for 50 projects totalling $3.753 million, which includes:

  • 26 projects proposed by local government bodies;
  • 15 projects proposed by State and Territory government and local government associations;
  • one project proposed by the Housing Industry Association;
  • $300 000 shared between seven local government associations to address a range of needs in the development of their ongoing training programs; and
  • $100 000 provided for the continuing operation of the very successful program 'National Awards for Innovation in Local Government'.

More than $800 000 in payments was made for 38 projects carried over to 1998-99 from earlier years. Only four projects were fully completed, representing a significant shortfall in expected outcomes.

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Local Government National Report

The third Local Government National Report was tabled in Parliament on 8 December 1998, and disseminated to all local government authorities and local government organisations throughout Australia in December 1998. It was also distributed free to all State libraries, universities, interested organisations, and individuals.

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Local Government Ministers' Conference

The Local Government Ministers' Conference was rescheduled from late 1998. Ministers met in Adelaide on 18 June 1999. Issues for discussion included:

  • Commonwealth responsibility for local government funding under changes to the tax package announced on 28 May 1999;
  • a new Local Government Incentive Program announced in the May Budget for 1999-2000, providing $7 million over two years;
  • a National Strategy to streamline development assessment processes in local government (Recommendation 29);
  • a report of the Activities Fund Project 'A pilot study into service population estimates'; and
  • the development and adoption of an Australian Environmental Accounting Standard.

Local Government Incentive Program

NOLG provided policy advice to the Minister that influenced program development and strategic direction, including the development of a new Local Government Incentive Program to commence in 1999-2000. On 11 May 1999 the Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government announced that $7 million would be available over two years under the program, the details of which are under consideration.

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Regional Communities

Rural Plan

Rural Plan is a program administered by the Department to assist rural communities and rural-based industries to work together to produce and implement strategic and other development plans at regional level. In 1998-99 the Rural Plan program accomplished the following:

  • conducted seven pilot projects;
  • developed funding guidelines and application forms;
  • advertised for applications for funding from the public;
  • received 102 applications for funding, currently being processed; and
  • undertook extensive liaison with community groups.

Rural Communities Program

The Department administers the Rural Communities Program, which aims to contribute to the development of vibrant rural communities by providing access to information and services and encouraging community 'ownership' of service demands and delivery. In 1998-99 the Rural Communities Program achieved the following:

  • expenditure of $6.88 million on community groups;
  • program administration by the Department of Transport and Regional Services with joint administrative responsibility with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry for the financial counselling component of the program;
  • three Rural Communities Program Advisory Committee meetings to assess applications for funding from community groups; and
  • extensive liaison with community groups.

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