There has been vigorous public debate in recent times about the future of small remote Aboriginal communities. The debate has covered Commonwealth-State responsibilities as well as the economic and social sustainability of communities and the cultural security of community members. These are all difficult and challenging policy decisions.
However, the debate has generally recognised that remote communities will always exist and that some will always need support and service delivery from some part of government. The Program, which is the subject of this audit, is designed specifically to repair and maintain essential services to selected remote communities.
State and Commonwealth governments also provide many other services to communities, including often smaller communities outside the Program. For instance, Housing builds and maintains the houses in 120 communities, including those in the Program, and the Commonwealth has also separately funded capital works and municipal services. The provision of these services and the sustainability of smaller communities is not in the scope of this audit.
Audit focus and scope
The focus of this audit was to assess how well the Department of Housing delivers essential services to remote Aboriginal communities through the Remote Area Essential Services Program. We focused on three lines of inquiry:
- Does the Program provide effective essential services to remote communities in accordance with relevant requirements, standards and guidelines?
- Does Housing actively manage essential services maintenance and repairs in those communities?
- Does Housing integrate its services well and coordinate them with other relevant agencies?
Our scope included Housing and its contractors delivering the Program. We conducted fieldwork in 27 remote communities in the Kimberley, Pilbara and Goldfields, and interviewed stakeholders including Health. We did not audit other services provided by Housing such as housing construction and home maintenance, nor did we audit services provided by other agencies.
We conducted the audit in accordance with Australian Auditing and Assurance Standards.