report

Delivering Essential Services to Remote Aboriginal Communities – Follow-up

This audit assessed whether the Department of Communities effectively addressed findings from our 2015 audit Delivering Essential Services to Remote Aboriginal Communities.

Auditor General’s overview

Access to safe, effective and reliable water, power and wastewater services is essential to liveability in any community. Providing those services in remote Aboriginal communities is a particularly significant challenge that successive governments have grappled with, often with mixed results. Remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia can range from very small family groups (10 to 15 people, 3 to 5 dwellings and not continuously inhabited) to larger communities (over 600 people and 130 dwellings).

This audit looked at the Department of Communities’ management of essential services to 143 communities in remote WA, and it follows up on the recommendations from our 2015 audit when the State provided services to 84 of the larger communities. It also explains key changes and assesses service delivery since the Commonwealth ceased providing municipal and essential services to remote WA communities from 2015 with a $90 million exit payment to the State. I am pleased to be able to report that the Department has made progress on all our previous recommendations. Perhaps most importantly, water quality has improved in many communities since 2015, reducing critical risks to public health.

However, the level of service that communities receive is not uniform, and water quality is not routinely tested in the smallest communities. While this is consistent with service guidelines, it can mean these communities face health risks from their water supplies. This in part reflects the challenge of bringing disparate communities under the State’s management following the Commonwealth’s withdrawal from service delivery. It also highlights that managing expanded responsibilities effectively requires detailed planning, ongoing consultation and transparency in policy and decision making about what services communities will receive.

Feedback from communities showed us that policy and decision making will also need to address what is considered another essential service. Specifically, digital connectivity is becoming critical for service access and delivery in remote communities. Remote telemetry over telecommunications networks is used to monitor assets such as generators and water purification systems, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, internet access has also become essential for delivering health and education services. Identifying and addressing any emerging digital divide in remote communicates could be key to continuing to support Aboriginal people to live on country, which has been recognised as important for their wellbeing and culture.

Executive summary

Introduction

The objective of the audit was to assess whether the Department of Communities has effectively addressed the findings from our 2015 audit Delivering Essential Services to Remote Aboriginal Communities.

Our 2015 audit found shortcomings in the delivery of power, water and wastewater services to 84 remote Aboriginal communities under the Remote Area Essential Services Program (RAESP). The report highlighted poor water quality in some communities, difficulties coordinating services and weaknesses in the application of service eligibility criteria. It included 6 recommendations to the then Department of Housing. Appendix 1 shows the status of the recommendations at December 2020. 

There have been a number of changes since 2015. Essential and municipal services in remote communities have been the State Government’s responsibility since the Commonwealth Government stopped providing services in 2015. Communities formerly managed by the Commonwealth now make up 51 of the smallest communities serviced by the State. Accordingly, the RAESP has been expanded and renamed the Remote Essential and Municipal Services program (REMS). The Department of Housing was absorbed into the new Department of Communities (Department) in 2017.

We audited the Department’s administration of power, water and wastewater services to the 143 communities in REMS. We did not audit REMS’ municipal services such as road maintenance and rubbish collection. The Department also manages housing maintenance and tenancy in remote communities but this is not part of REMS and was not audited.

Context

The Department oversees the delivery of the REMS program to remote communities in the Kimberley, Pilbara and Goldfields regions. REMS’ objective for essential services is to provide and maintain assets and infrastructure needed to supply reliable power, safe drinking water and effective wastewater services. 

Prior to July 2015, the State and Commonwealth Governments shared responsibility for essential services in remote Aboriginal communities. When we tabled our previous audit in May 2015, the State Government was providing essential services and maintenance to 84 of WA’s larger remote Aboriginal communities under RAESP. The Commonwealth Government provided funding to the State for upgrades and new essential service assets. The Commonwealth separately funded 59 communities. A brief history of these shared responsibilities, going back to 1985, is at Appendix 2.

To deliver REMS, the Department uses a Contracted State Program Manager (Program Manager) to oversee Regional Service Providers (RSPs) in the Kimberley, Pilbara and Goldfields. In addition to the RSPs, Horizon Power provides power services in 16 communities and to a central community meter in another 9. Water Corporation supplies water to 7 communities but not to individual dwellings.

Since our last audit, the Department has finalised the Remote Service Level Guidelines for Essential Services in Remote Settlements in Western Australia (Guidelines). Endorsed by Cabinet in 2014, these Guidelines outline service delivery levels and standards for water, wastewater and power.

Conclusion

The Department of Communities has made progress on all 6 recommendations from our 2015 audit. Water quality has improved in 38 communities and wastewater is now monitored in line with contracts. Power and water supplies are more reliable. The Department has taken steps to improve coordination with other State entities and improved its contract management. It has also reviewed essential service eligibility and clarified its roles and responsibilities for essential services in remote Aboriginal communities.

However, water still tested positive for contaminants in 37 communities in the 2 year period to 2019-20. A further 51 communities were not tested for water quality until late 2019, 4 years after they were included in the REMS program. This exposed these communities to the risk of illness from chemical and biological contamination.

Although the Department has reviewed essential service levels, the criteria it uses and how they are applied are not transparent. The Guidelines specify service levels based on community size, prioritising large communities in line with the State Government’s 2016 road map Resilient Families, Strong Communities. But the Department also considers additional factors outside the published criteria. Its documentation of decisions affecting remote communities is also poor. With a lack of public reporting on performance of service delivery and no formal process for remote Aboriginal communities to raise concerns, it is hard for people living in these communities to assess the services they receive.

Key findings

Power and water supplies were more reliable and wastewater services were more consistently monitored

Power and water supplies were more reliable overall

Power and water supplies were generally more reliable now for communities than in 2015. We looked at data from communities in the Kimberley, Pilbara and Goldfields. For both power and water supply there was on average fewer than 1 outage per community per year during the audit period. Outages were addressed more promptly and services restored according to contract requirements.

Wastewater services were more consistently monitored

Following our 2015 audit finding that testing of wastewater ponds had not been done by RSPs according to contract, the Department has ensured this is done in all communities affected. Since then, RSPs have consistently met sampling requirements in these communities as required by their current contracts. This applied to 38 communities in
2019-20.

Water quality had improved in larger communities but there had been no microbial water testing in the smallest communities

Measures implemented since our 2015 audit had improved water quality in 38 communities

New assets and water management plans have contributed to improved drinking water in around half of the communities we looked at in 2015, reducing risks from poor water quality. The number of times water-borne microbes posed a risk to public health has declined, with 4 in 5 of those communities having water supplies free from microbes in recent testing compared with less than half in 2015.    

Thirty-seven communities we looked at in 2015 remained at risk from unsafe water

Contamination of the water supply by microbes, nitrates or uranium still occurred in 37 of the communities we looked at in 2015. In the 2 years to 2019-20, test results confirmed Escherichia coli (E. coli) or Naegleria species in 21 communities, high nitrate levels in 19 communities, and high uranium levels in 4 communities. Public health risks from drinking contaminated water remain in these communities.

Water in the smallest communities may pose health risks

There was no water quality testing in 51 of the smallest communities previously serviced by the Commonwealth until November 2019. The Department told us in early 2020 that it did not test regularly and had no plans to do so because the Commonwealth had not done it, it was neither necessary nor practical and the Department was not funded to do it. However, in October 2020 it varied contracts to include annual chemical testing in 501 of these communities and started microbial testing in 6 of them. These tests found 2 with microbial contamination and unsafe levels of uranium and fluoride in another.

Even when tests were done, the Department did not always act promptly on the results. It took 9 months to issue a ‘no drink’ notice to 1 community after a water quality test result exceeded Australian Drinking Water Guidelines in 2019. The delay in notifying the community of the test results meant it was exposed to unsafe water for those 9 months.

There are no plans to ensure existing water treatment systems in these communities are adequate by testing the water quality output. Apart from the limited testing mentioned above, the Department intends only to protect bores and carry out annual inspections and preventative maintenance of these systems. However, source protection and system maintenance alone cannot ensure that assets are functioning as expected and that drinking water sources are clean.

We note that the Public Health Act 2016 (Act) requires entities to take all reasonable steps to avoid harm to public health. In May 2017 the Department advised the Minister for Housing that the Act applied to remote communities. In September 2019 it acknowledged that it may need to seek exemption under section 267 of that Act for an unspecified number of communities because of budgetary constraints. Regulations under the Act have not yet been gazetted, but if they are the Department will need to ensure it is compliant.

Better service coordination had begun in 10 communities and contract management had improved but repeated contract extensions risked poor value for money

A program to upgrade services and coordinate service delivery had begun in 10 large communities

Since 2015, the Department has demonstrated improved coordination of services in 10 large REMS communities. The Department collaborated with other entities through the Utilities Reference Group2 and the Essential and Municipal Services Upgrade Program (EMSUP). EMSUP intends to upgrade power, water and wastewater infrastructure. Site works have started in 2 of these communities. According to the Department, after the upgrades, these 10 communities will have essential services comparable to regional towns. There are no plans to extend the program.

Contract management of RSPs had improved since our 2015 audit

The current contract for RSPs includes Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that better support effective contract management. KPIs are clearer and more comprehensive, with targets and minimum performance levels. These are backed with financial performance incentives and penalties. This enables the Department to better monitor RSP performance and reduces the risk that RSPs will not meet performance targets.

Repeated extensions of the Program Manager contract without re-tendering risked value for money

The Program Manager contract was extended 6 times without testing it in the market. The Department first offered the contract in 2012 as a 3 year contract. It was repeatedly extended until the Department retained an external consultant to review it in 2019. This resulted in a substantially new contract that was re-tendered in April 2020 and awarded in February 2021. Failure to regularly review and tender the contract reduces market competition for government services and risks value for money in service delivery.

How the Department decides what services communities receive is not transparent, and the performance of essential services is not publicly reported

Decisions about service levels for communities are not transparent

The Department has reviewed service levels for all communities since our last audit. However, not all criteria used to determine service levels are included in the Guidelines, nor are they all publicly available. As well as the number of houses and resident population, the Department also considers if houses are habitable but this criterion is not included in the Guidelines. Habitability maybe a reasonable consideration but not publishing all criteria, including for habitability itself, makes decisions about service levels very difficult for communities and other stakeholders to understand.

The Department also uses its own population estimates and house numbers that differ substantially from publicly available data such as Australian Bureau of Statistics data but does not publish these. While the Department’s data may be more up to date, its use of unpublished data further reduces transparency of service level decisions.

We also found no formal process for community members to be consulted on, and raise concerns about, their services with the Department or for this information to be appropriately reviewed, stored and monitored. While the Department may visit a community 3 or 4 times a year and capture some issues, this is driven by the needs of the Department rather than community members. A formal consultation process would promote community trust and better understanding of local issues. Not having such a process limits communities’ ability to be heard and have their concerns addressed in a timely manner.

Information about essential services performance in remote communities is not publicly available and decision-making is not well documented

The Department does not publicly report on the performance of power, water and wastewater services in remote communities. Information about power services performance is also not published for the 16 remote communities serviced by Horizon Power. While there is no requirement to report on performance in remote communities, the lack of reporting makes it hard for communities to compare their experience and risks communities accepting poor performance. It also reduces Parliament’s visibility of the Department’s performance.

Service levels to communities vary within REMS categories but documentation of the decisions to vary service levels, or remove services altogether, is inadequate. Variations are recorded primarily in contracts without written evidence of community consultation or criteria-based decision-making. The Department told us that consultations with communities were often verbal and undocumented. Decisions should be capable of review and without adequate documentation it is not possible to assess if each of these service level decisions is appropriate and consistently applied.

The Department has clarified its roles and responsibilities, focusing on larger communities while the smallest communities are largely self-managed

Roles and responsibilities of entities are clearer but aims and objectives have not been publicly explained

The Department has clarified its REMS roles and responsibilities and that of other State entities for communities previously serviced by the Commonwealth as recommended in our 2015 audit report. However, it has not publicly explained REMS’ aims and objectives and how they are being implemented in all REMS communities. There is no information about REMS on the Department’s website other than a brief overview included in its annual reports. While contract terms of interest to communities, such as service schedules, are publicly available through the Tenders WA website, this is not easily accessible. The lack of easily accessible information to promote a shared understanding of REMS is likely to make it harder for communities and other interested parties to hold entities to account.

The Department also has not received a formal response from other State entities to a consultation paper proposing an investment framework consistent with the 2016 Resilient Families, Strong Communities reform road map. The Department sought feedback on this consultation paper in 2018 through the Aboriginal Affairs Coordinating Committee.3

The Department is implementing an approach that focuses resources only on larger communities, leaving the smaller communities to manage themselves

The Department is implementing an approach set out in Resilient Families, Strong Communities for services to remote Aboriginal communities. The road map acknowledged poor quality of infrastructure in many remote communities and proposed to address this by initially identifying up to 10 communities for upgrade by the end of 2016. Accordingly, the Department is focusing on these large communities through EMSUP, with limited resources allocated to Small and Self-managed communities.

Roughly half of REMS communities are categorised as Self-managed and therefore will not be included in planned infrastructure upgrades. Fifty-nine of these communities had previously been serviced by the Commonwealth. The Guidelines treat standards for these communities as aspirational only and the Department provides maintenance of their existing infrastructure but not improvements. There is a risk that this approach will not achieve the aims of Resilient Families, Strong Communities to improve outcomes for Aboriginal people living in remote communities.

The Department has identified investment needs in communities we looked at in 2015 but not in communities more recently included in REMS

The Department, through the Program Manager, has identified 68 communities formerly managed under the RAESP program where urgent investment is needed to ensure essential services assets meet current demands and to provide critical upgrades. However, current funding does not cover the cost of these upgrades. The Program Manager advised the Department that it expected assets in these communities would deteriorate and fail to meet demand if upgrades were not carried out. The Department has made no equivalent assessment in the smallest communities, where assets are at the same risk of deterioration.

The Department uses a tiered approach to allocate services to communities based on the number of dwellings and residents. The Department does not appear to include systematic risk assessment in its approach. Around half of REMS communities, including the smallest communities, are in the Self-managed category where the need for asset upgrades will not be assessed. This is despite the identified need for infrastructure improvements in some of them. While it is consistent with policy and the State’s assumption of responsibility for these communities from the Commonwealth, it has resulted in unsafe infrastructure remaining in use in some of them. For example, on a field visit we saw water towers with unsafe ladders and an elevated platform with no railing around it.

Recommendations

  1. To improve assurance of drinking water quality, the Department should:
    1. regularly test water quality in all REMS communities
    2. upgrade water treatment and supporting power systems where necessary to achieve this.
      Entity response: Accepted-in-principle. The Department of Communities will engage with the State Government on future policy and service delivery options to: a. introduce microbial water testing in the small self-managed remote settlements that do not under current Remote Service Level Guidelines receive that testing; b. upgrade water treatment and supporting power systems in those settlements where necessary to respond to that testing.
      Implementation timeframe: by June 2022
  1. To improve governance of its program, the Department should:
    1. improve transparency by publishing service performance data and the eligibility criteria it uses
    2. establish and promote engagement of Aboriginal communities in service delivery decisions.
      Entity response: Accepted
      Implementation timeframe: by December 2021
  1. To ensure the sustainability of essential services in remote Aboriginal communities, the Department should finalise:
    1. a detailed action plan to address priority risk areas
    2. a comprehensive investment plan for essential service delivery to communities.
      Entity response: Accepted
      Implementation timeframe: by December 2021
  1. To ensure value for money in its contracts for essential services in remote communities, the Department should ensure all contracts are tendered regularly according to State Government procurement policy.
    Entity response: Accepted
    Implementation timeframe: when contracts are due or as appropriate.

Response from the Department of Communities

The Department welcomes this report, as remote Aboriginal communities are too often forgotten in the news and public debate. The report shines a light on the challenge and complexity of delivering services to far-flung places with small populations, poor roads and inadequate infrastructure. Remote Aboriginal communities receive different utility services from people in greater Perth or regional towns. Only a few receive electricity from a licensed supplier. None receive a water or wastewater service from a licensed supplier.

For historical reasons, it has fallen to our Department to (partially) fill this gap. A 2015 audit of our performance found we could do better, which we accepted. We believe we are now doing much better. As this report notes, our Department has made significant improvements in the reliability and quality of our services, and in our coordination and contracting. And we have achieved this during a time when the Commonwealth Government ceased to co-fund essential services infrastructure in remote Aboriginal communities.

We are pleased to report that we have already implemented, or commenced implementation, of Recommendations 2, 3 and 4. We have developed a risk-based investment plan to meet community needs. We are providing more public information. We continue to engage with communities about service decisions. We run all our contracts according to government procurement policy.

In terms of Recommendation 1, we have a rigorous program to test drinking water quality. Our service levels are set out in Cabinet-endorsed guidelines and we test every community in line with those guidelines. Recommendation 1 would require a change in this policy, and we will engage with government on service delivery options. Testing drinking water in a small self-managed remote settlement (e.g. five or less houses) is more costly than in a regional town. To be meaningful, a testing program would also likely require in some settlements a considerable capital investment in water treatment systems and supporting continuous power supply.

We provide all water quality test results promptly to the Department of Health and the State Government’s Advisory Committee for the Purity of Water. We trust and follow the advice we receive from them on the results. This includes, for example, current advice to provide an alternative supply of drinking water to communities described in this report as having elevated levels of nitrates or uranium in their groundwater supply. For these reasons, residents of remote Aboriginal communities should feel confident that their drinking water is safe.

Audit focus and scope

This performance audit followed-up our 2015 audit Delivering Essential Services To Remote Aboriginal Communities. The audit objective was to assess whether the Department of Communities had effectively addressed the findings from our 2015 report.

In conducting this audit, we:

  • reviewed legislation, strategies, advice to and decisions of Government, policies, procedures, contracts and other key documents
  • interviewed key entity staff, the Contracted State Program Manager, and 3 contracted Regional Service Providers
  • visited Warburton, Cosmo Newberry, Tjirrkarli (Goldfields), Woolah, Warmun, Cockatoo Springs, Emu Creek, Four Mile, Garlburang (Kimberley), Jinparinya and Yandeyarra (Pilbara) and spoke to community leaders and residents where possible
  • reviewed water quality sample results for coli, Naegleria species, nitrates and uranium from July 2012 to December 2020. These contaminants are of most concern given their prevalence and health impacts
  • used a separate team to re-analyse data extracted from the Program Manager’s database to confirm the initial analysis
  • assessed the REMS contract schedule of maintenance for compliance with contract service requirements and analysed service performance data
  • considered State Government funding to the Department for REMS and its allocation over the period 2019-20 to 2023-24.
Source: OAG and Warmun Community
Figure 1: Warmun community members talking with OAG audit team.
Warmun is 160 km southwest of Kununurra in the East Kimberley. Established in the 1970s by the Gija people, population ranges from 300 to 600 people. Warmun is scheduled to have essential service improvements through EMSUP.

We did not audit the Contracted State Program Manager contract or other services provided by the Department that are not part of REMS such as housing construction, home maintenance and tenancy.

This was an independent performance audit, conducted under Section 18 of the Auditor General Act 2006, in accordance with Australian Standard on Assurance Engagements ASAE 3500 Performance Engagements. We complied with the independence and other ethical requirements related to assurance engagements. Performance audits focus primarily on the effective management and operations of entity programs and activities. The approximate cost of undertaking the audit and reporting was $841,000.

Background

The WA Government has been solely responsible for delivering essential services in remote Aboriginal communities since 2015. At that time, the State committed to deliver the services previously provided by the Commonwealth through the Municipal Services (MUNS) program, bringing the total number of communities serviced by the State to 165. The State received a $90 million exit payment from the Commonwealth to assist this transition. After a review, the number of communities serviced by the State was reduced to 143. Table 1 shows the expenditure of the Commonwealth and State for essential and municipal services including asset upgrades.

Source: OAG using Department of Communities data
Table 1: Expenditure on essential and municipal services, 2012-13 to 2019-20

Note that the $90 million Commonwealth exit payment is included in the table from 2015-16 across subsequent years. Rounding means numbers do not always sum precisely. Figures in the table also include other funds and do not sum to $90 million.

In 2016, the State Government released its policy on remote Aboriginal communities. This document, titled Resilient Families, Strong Communities, was developed by the Regional Services Reform Unit (RSRU) in the then Department of Regional Development to serve as a road map for future development of remote Aboriginal communities in WA. The roadmap acknowledged poor essential services infrastructure in many remote communities. It also identified barriers to improved services such as no or unclear community ownership of land or assets, insufficient economic activity to pay for services, lack of effective community leadership and inadequate housing and noted the need for policies to address them.

Resilient Families, Strong Communities was followed by reports on:

  • consultations with Aboriginal communities in September 2017
  • mapping State Government services in the Kimberley and Pilbara in October 2017.

Under the Remote Service Level Guidelines for Essential Services in Remote Settlements in Western Australia 2014 (the Guidelines), the Department continues to classify communities based on population and number of dwellings with service connections. The Guidelines specify service standards for water, wastewater and power. Services must also comply with the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines 2011 (ADWG), and statutory and regulatory requirements for sanitation, electrical safety, occupational health and safety and environmental protection. However, not all communities in a size category get the same services as needs vary depending on local conditions.

Table 2 shows the number and location by region of all 143 REMS communities at June 2020. Appendix 4 lists

Source: OAG using Department of Communities data
Table 2: Number of REMS communities by region

Larger communities need and receive more substantial infrastructure and investment than smaller ones. Under the Guidelines, minimum emergency response times to supply interruptions and asset breakdowns are also shorter for large communities.

There are no minimum service levels for Self-managed communities. These are very small communities, normally with a population of 10-15 people and 3-5 dwellings, that may not be continuously inhabited. Self-managed communities are serviced less frequently and, unlike larger communities, at variable intervals. Table 3 shows the service delivery arrangements and type of service at June 2020, by community category.

Source: OAG and Department of Communities data
* Municipal services were not audited.
** 11 communities received tests for microbes while the remainder had received a single baseline test for chemical composition.
Table 3: Number of REMS communities by service type

To deliver REMS, the Department uses a Contracted State Program Manager (Program Manager). The Program Manager’s primary role is to ensure Regional Service Providers (RSPs) deliver services within agreed timeframes and to the standards specified in the Guidelines. Three RSPs deliver the services to communities in the Kimberley, Pilbara and Goldfields. The Program Manager and RSPs are contracted to the Department. There is no direct contractual relationship between the Program Manager and RSPs (Figure 2).

Source: Department of Communities
Figure 2: Contractual relationships in REMS

Audit findings

Power and water supplies were more reliable and wastewater services were more consistently monitored

Power and water supplies were more reliable overall

Power and water supplies were generally more reliable in the communities we looked at in 2015. We looked at data from 83 communities across the Kimberley, Pilbara and Goldfields. These communities experienced on average only around 1 power outage per community per year in the 5 years to 2019-20. Water supply interruptions were even less frequent. When outages occurred, both power and water supplies were restored according to contract requirements.

Power outages occurred 36 times in 2015-16 across 73 communities, increasing to 106 times across 68 communities in 2018-19 before declining to 75 times in 68 communities in 2019-20. Communities supplied by Horizon Power were not included in the sample, resulting in a smaller sample in recent years. Power outages were addressed by service providers within 24 hours on 95% of occasions, up from 85% at the time of our 2015 audit and well within contract requirements.

While the increase in number of power outages over the audit period appears significant, they were addressed more promptly. Outages occurred on average only 0.9 times a year in these communities during the sample period, peaking at exactly 2.0 times in the Pilbara in 2018-19. For context, power outages in the Perth metropolitan area, excluding the CBD, averaged 1.87 per customer in 2019-20.

Water outages were similarly infrequent. There was an average of only 0.5 outages per community annually in the 5 years to 2019-20. Water supply was restored within 24 hours on more than 93% of occasions. This too was well within contract requirements.

Wastewater services were more consistently monitored

The Department has ensured that contracted monitoring and testing of wastewater ponds is carried out in the 38 communities among those we looked at in 2015 that have them. Monitoring includes checking for leaks, secure fencing and levels of E. coli and other contaminants. To support this, the Department introduced 4 key performance indicators (KPIs) related to wastewater delivery and performance of RSPs since our last audit. These KPIs are based on the REMS wastewater policy and result in incentives and abatements applied to RSPs.

We found:

  • RSPs met the required sampling timeframes in these communities consistently since 2015-16
  • tests met or exceeded the contracted number for communities we looked at in 2015 in all regions in the 2 year period to 2019-20.

This means the Department is aware of wastewater asset performance and can prioritise asset maintenance and investment in the formerly State-managed communities.

Water quality had improved in larger communities but there had been no microbial water testing in the smallest communities

Measures implemented since our 2015 audit had improved water quality in 38 communities

Water quality test results have improved in 38 communities we looked at in 2015, with new assets and water management plans contributing to the improvement. Levels of contaminants in local water sources vary naturally and improvements are not always the result of improved systems. However, significant improvements in many locations where they have been implemented suggests a positive impact overall from new assets and plans. Since our last audit:

  • 37 RAESP communities received new water treatment assets
  • 28 had chlorine systems installed
  • 10 received ultra-violet disinfection units
  • reverse osmosis was installed in Cosmo Newberry (Figure 3), Jameson, Jigalong and Tjuntjuntjara
  • existing water assets were upgraded by improving part of the asset in 3 communities
  • the Department introduced water safety management plans from 2016 that are now in place in 34 communities. These plans include bore management which blends water from different bores to achieve desired volumes while maintaining safe levels of chemicals such as nitrates and uranium
  • 15 communities with new assets still tested positive for contaminants.

Note that numbers are not additive as communities may have more than 1 asset and also a plan.

These measures have reduced overall risk to health from poor water quality in the communities we looked at in 2015 but test results show contamination still occurs. The Department mitigates this risk by providing bottled water where appropriate. This mitigates the risk substantially but does not eliminate it entirely. For example, children playing with garden hoses may be exposed to contaminated water.

Source: OAG
Figure 3: Main street of Cosmo Newberry, also known as Yilka, in the Pilbara around 1,000 km east of Perth and 85 km east of the mining town of Laverton. After being briefly abandoned in the 1980s, it now has a population of around 75. The Department has installed a water treatment system to remove nitrates that naturally occur in the only available water source (groundwater) and samples drinking water monthly for nitrate levels. Nitrate levels have been within required limits since the treatment system was installed.

Instances of E. coli and Naegleria species, have declined in the drinking water of many communities we looked at in 2015, making locally sourced water in these communities safer. Contamination by E. coli and the Naegleria species N. fowleri can lead to serious, and occasionally fatal, illness.

Tests for N. fowleri are carried out following a positive result from a preliminary test for Naegleria species. A positive preliminary test indicates a risk of N. fowleri while a negative test rules it out. However, any positive result from the preliminary test needs to be remediated even if N. fowleri is not subsequently detected because it means that protective measures have not eliminated the contamination risk.4

While there have been improvements in the Pilbara and Goldfields, the greatest improvement in test results was in the Kimberley in 2015-16 when the number of communities posting positive test results for microbes fell from 26 to 8 (Figure 4). In the audit period, there were no positive tests for N. fowleri.

E.coli or Naegleria test results from communities we looked at in 2015 showed:

  • 48 had fewer test results outside ADWG guidelines in the 2 years to June 2020 than in the 2 years to June 2014
  • 59 had no test results outside ADWG guidelines in the 2 years to June 2020, compared to 23 in the 2 years to June 2014.
Source: OAG using Department of Communities data
Figure 4: Number of communities with microbial test results outside ADWG guidelines by region.
Note: 2020-2021 represents the period July 2020 to December 2020.

The improvements have reduced but not eliminated the health risk of E. coli and
N. fowleri contamination for residents and visitors to remote communities. To put these results into perspective, Water Corporation reported no water quality test results outside ADWG guidelines in the Perth metropolitan area in the same period.

Thirty-seven communities we looked at in 2015 remained at risk from unsafe water

Levels of contamination by either E. coli, Naegleria species, nitrates or uranium were found in 37 communities in the 2 year period to 2019-20.5 Water quality testing results for these types of contaminants are discussed below.

Water quality issues – microbes

Despite improvements in water quality in remote communities overall, in the 2 year period to June 2020, testing found E. coli or Naegleria species in water in 21 of the communities we looked at in 2015. Of these, 4 had not had test results outside ADWG guidelines in the 2 years to June 2014:

  • Kupartiya (2 test results outside ADWG guidelines)
  • Balgo (2 test results outside ADWG guidelines)
  • Wurrenranginy (6 test results outside ADWG guidelines)
  • Mulga Queen (3 test results outside ADWG guidelines).

It is not known if the test results in these 4 communities are the result of deteriorating water quality or a change in the testing procedure, for example, testing in more and different locations further from the water source. People living in these remote communities therefore continue to face the risk that their water may be contaminated by harmful microbes.

Water quality issues – nitrates

Despite ongoing management practices, high levels of nitrates in drinking water continue to be found in communities in the program, particularly in the Goldfields region (Figure 5). Each year since 2012, at least 12 communities have had levels of nitrates in their drinking water that are unsafe for bottle-fed babies. In the 2 year period to June 2020, we found:

  • 19 separate communities had at least 1 occasion were drinking water contained nitrates at unsafe levels for bottle-fed babies under 3 months
  • 4 Goldfields communities had drinking water with nitrate levels above ADWG guidelines for adults. The guideline level for adults is higher than the safe level for babies
  • no communities have been found to have nitrates above ADWG guideline levels for adults in either the Pilbara or Kimberley since 2012-13.

In our 2015 report we identified 14 communities that had persistent issues with high nitrate levels in locally sourced water. Currently, water treatment systems are in place in 6 of the 14 communities, we found:

  • the number of times nitrates were recorded above ADWG guideline levels fell in 7 of the 14 communities
  • of the 14 communities, Jigalong recorded nitrate below ADWG guideline levels on every test in the 2 years to June 2020.

Managing nitrate levels is an ongoing process that often requires multiple approaches to ensure water complies with ADWG guidelines. For example, the installation of a reverse osmosis6 unit at Jigalong (installed in September 2014) together with ongoing water management by blending water from different bore sources has resulted in nitrate levels decreasing there by nearly half.

While most communities can be confident that nitrate levels in locally sourced water are below the ADWG guideline level for adults, elevated nitrate levels are still found in some communities.The Department manages this risk by supplying bottled water to these communities and monthly water quality testing.

Source: OAG and Department of Communities
Figure 5: Number of communities with nitrate testing above the 50mg/L threshold by region. This is the safe level for bottle-fed infants 7
Note: 2020-2021 represents the period July 2020 to December 2020.
Water quality issues – uranium

Since 2012-13, 7 communities have tested positive for uranium above ADWG guideline levels at least once. Although the number of tests detecting uranium in communities we looked at in 2015 has fallen, tests are still detecting it in 4 communities. High concentrations of uranium can cause kidney inflammation.8 The Department monitors these communities with monthly water testing and 2 of these, Tjunjuntjarra and Yandeyarra, recorded no test results above ADWG guideline levels in 2019-20. Improvements in uranium levels in these communities were due to upgrades to water treatment systems, such as reverse osmosis, and they do not currently face health risks from uranium in the water.

Water management plans involving blending water from multiple bores have only been partly successful in managing uranium levels. They have been used in Bow River, Burringurrah and Pia Wadjari but have only been successful in Bow River. Tests in Burringurrah have detected uranium above ADWG guideline levels every year since 2012-13 and in Pia Wadjari since 2015-16. According to the Department’s 2017 RAESP Capital Works program, an estimated $2.7 million is needed to improve water quality in these 2 communities. People living in Burringurrah and Pia Wadjari face ongoing risks from higher uranium levels than specified as safe in the ADWG guidelines.

Water in the smallest communities may pose health risks

There was no water quality testing in 51 of the smallest communities until November 2019 when the Department tested 509 of those communities’ water sources to establish their baseline chemical composition. Testing began under a change to service provider contracts as we were finalising this audit.

The Department told us in early 2020 that it did not test regularly and had no plans to do so because:

  • it was not part of the previous service contracts managed by the Commonwealth
  • it does not consider them necessary or practical
  • it has not received funding for that purpose.

The Department also advised us in 2020 that power assets in many of the smallest communities would need upgrading to carry the additional service load of new water treatment assets. As some of these communities fund their own generator fuel costs, residents turn off the power when they travel away from the community. This interrupts the continuous supply of power and would compromise any water treatment.

Since baseline testing in November 2019, the drinking water at 50 of these very small communities has been assessed for physical and chemical characteristics. This testing has found several communities with chemicals testing in excess of ADWG guideline levels. Among these the drinking water at Crocodile Hole in the Kimberley region exceeded ADWG guideline levels of both uranium and fluoride on 2 occasions. In October 2020, the Department varied contracts to include annual chemical testing for all these communities.

Microbial testing of water started in 6 of these 50 very small communities in September 2020. Testing as part of this program found water quality did not meet ADWG quality standards in 2 of the 6 communities. Water at Emu Creek had E. coli above ADWG guideline levels in October of 2020 and water at Munthanmar had both E. coli and Naegleria species above ADWG guideline levels in October and then for Naegleria species again in December 2020. Remediation measures were put in place and the problem was resolved. This still leaves 44 communities not tested for microbial contamination, risking the health of an estimated 500 people who live in or regularly visit these communities.

Source: OAG
Figure 6: Ngunulum, also known as Cockatoo Springs, 25 km south west of Kununurra in the East Kimberley is a former Commonwealth community. Since 2015, it has had only 2 chemical water quality tests and no microbe testing.

Even when tests were done, the Department did not always act promptly to address water quality issues. It took 9 months to issue a ‘no drink’ notice to a community after a water quality test in 2019. We found that water quality testing in Crocodile Hole in the Kimberley in December 2019 showed levels of fluoride and uranium above ADWG guideline levels.

Although a follow-up test in January 2020 confirmed the result, the Department only issued a ‘no drink notice’ in August 2020. The Department attributed this delay to lack of access to the community and the probability that it was unoccupied during this period. The delay in notifying community members of the test results meant they were at risk of exposure to fluoride and uranium above ADWG guideline levels for 9 months.

There are no plans to ensure existing water treatment systems in these communities are adequate to provide safe drinking water from local sources. Apart from the limited testing mentioned above, the Department intends only to carry out annual inspections and preventative maintenance of these systems. It has also undertaken works to protect bores. Focusing more on system inspections and a clean water source and less on water testing is consistent with ADWG guidelines for remote communities. However, these guidelines also state that water should be tested for E. coli regularly as an indicator of water safety. System maintenance and source protection alone cannot ensure that assets are functioning as expected and that water from local sources is clean.

We note that the Public Health Act 2016 (Act) requires entities to take all reasonable steps to avoid harm to public health.10 The Department was advised by the Program Manager on 2 December 2016 that its obligations under the Act would extend to remote communities and in 2017 it provided this advice to the then Minister for Housing. In September 2019 the Department acknowledged that, given budgetary constraints, it may be necessary to seek exemption under section 267 of that Act for ‘certain communities’. Regulations under the Act have not yet been gazetted, but when they are the Department will need to ensure it is compliant.

Better service coordination had begun in 10 communities and contract management had improved but repeated contract extensions risked poor value for money

A program to upgrade services and coordinate service delivery had begun in 10 large communities

Since 2015, EMSUP has begun to improve the coordination of services in 10 large REMS communities but there are no plans for similar improvements in the other 15 large communities. The Department is collaborating with other entities through the Utilities Reference Group to upgrade services to these 10 communities. This group includes the Department, Department of Treasury, Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage, Horizon Power and Water Corporation.

EMSUP improvements include removing asbestos, upgrades to water and wastewater infrastructure and metering power and water. Site works have begun in Bayulu and Bidyadanga, with asbestos removal near completion in these 2 communities. Project planning has started for 5 others, including a scope of works for Mowanjum. Although a slow process, once completed, the Department says the 10 EMSUP communities will have essential services comparable to those in regional towns. However, the remaining 15 large communities will not and there are no current plans to expand EMSUP.

Source: OAG and Yandeyarra community
Figure 7: Water tank and water quality sample test point at Yandeyarra community. Yandeyarra is 144 km southeast of Port Hedland in the Pilbara region. A population of around 120 people, the majority are members of the Kariyarra and Nyangumarta language groups. Yandeyarra is scheduled to have essential asset improvements by EMSUP, but no planning has commenced.

Contract management of RSPs had improved since our 2015 audit

The current REMS contract, which covers RSPs, now includes better KPIs to support effective contract management. The Department reviewed its essential services program delivered by RSPs in 2017 and improved the contract before tendering in 2018. KPIs are clearer and more comprehensive, with targets and minimum performance levels. They are measurable and reflect what the OAG11, the Institute of Internal Auditors12 and the then Public Accounts Committee13 consider good practice. This enables better monitoring of RSP performance.

Performance incentives and penalties, together with closer supervision by the Program Manager, help to ensure RSPs fulfil their contractual obligations. The Department has applied incentives and penalties to the REMS contract for RSPs since 2018. Penalties totalling $76,000 were applied to 1 RSP in 2018-19 for not meeting KPIs. The current REMS contract now clearly defines the role, obligations and responsibilities of RSPs. RSPs have told us they experience closer supervision by the Program Manager than previously and expend more effort on compliance. This will encourage RSPs to achieve performance targets.

Repeated extensions of the Program Manager contract without re-tendering risked value for money

The Department has extended its Program Manager contract 6 times over 5 years without testing it in the market, contrary to good practice and State Government policy. The Department first offered the contract in 2012 as a 3 year contract. The terms of this contract provided for an extension but further extensions went beyond this provision. After repeated extensions, the contract was independently reviewed in October 2019, resulting in a substantially new contract. It was re-tendered in April 2020 with the new contract awarded in February 2021. Failure to regularly tender reduces market competition for government services and increases the risk that the extended contracts do not deliver value for money.

How the Department decides what services communities receive is not transparent and the performance of essential services is not publicly reported

Decisions about service levels for communities are not transparent

The Department has reviewed service levels for all communities since our last audit. However, not all criteria it uses to determine service levels are included in the Guidelines, nor are they publicly available. The Guidelines use indicative population estimates and number of houses with service connections. In deciding service levels, the Department advised that it also considers if houses are habitable but the Guidelines do not include habitability as a criterion. While it may be reasonable to consider habitability, it may be a subjective value if there are no explicit criteria. Considering additional factors outside the published criteria makes decisions about service levels non-transparent. It also risks misalignment with community members’ expectations about service continuity in buildings they may be using or plan to use.

The Department uses population estimates and house numbers that differ substantially from publicly available data but does not publish these. For example, the Department lists 2 communities as having 3 habitable houses each while the request for tender listed them as having 7 each. Communities with fewer than 5 houses are considered Self-managed. The Department uses data from field surveys, planned maintenance and housing management but does not make this data public. We compared this data to the 2017 REMS request for tender and found 10 communities where the data differed enough to affect service levels. While the Department’s data may be more up to date, its use of unpublished data further reduces transparency of service level decisions. 

Source: OAG
Figure 8: View of Tjirrkarli from the water tower across the helicopter landing pad. Tjirrkarli is a small community 125 km west of Warburton in the Shire of Ngaanyatjarraku. In the 2 years to June 2020, nitrates in the water exceeded the safe level for infants under 3 months, on 2 occasions

There is no formal process which aids, promotes or records community members’ feedback nor a formal avenue for them to raise concerns about service access, supply or quality. Issues can be raised with the Department during community visits 3 to 4 times a year or with the RSP when on site. However, the RSP is contractually unable to provide advice on behalf of the Department.

According to the Department no complaints have been made about REMS by communities to date. However, the current arrangements do not facilitate or encourage feedback. We expected to see a formal consultative process where members of REMS communities can share their experience. Apart from building community trust, this would enable better understanding of local issues. Not having a formal process limits a community’s ability to raise issues and for these to be reviewed and addressed in a timely manner by the Department.

Information about essential services performance in remote communities is not publicly available and decision-making is not well documented

The Department does not publicly report on the performance of power, water and wastewater services in remote communities. For example, information about failures in water quality or supply interruption is not publicly reported. Remote communities are only informed when they are directly affected by poor test results or asset failures and have no formal avenues of raising concerns with the Department. This makes it hard for communities to compare their experience and form reasonable expectations about services provided to them. The lack of a way to compare services risks communities accepting poor performance.
Information about power services performance is also not published for the 16 remote communities serviced by Horizon Power. State entities publicly report their performance in cities and towns but not for remote Aboriginal communities because the Economic Regulation Authority exempts them from doing so. While there is no requirement to report on performance in remote communities, this further reduces the information available to people living in remote communities about the relative quality and reliability of services they receive.

The Department does not publicly report on the performance of power, water and wastewater services in remote communities. For example, information about failures in water quality or supply interruption is not publicly reported. Remote communities are only informed when they are directly affected by poor test results or asset failures and have no formal avenues of raising concerns with the Department. This makes it hard for communities to compare their experience and form reasonable expectations about services provided to them. The lack of a way to compare services risks communities accepting poor performance.

Information about power services performance is also not published for the 16 remote communities serviced by Horizon Power. State entities publicly report their performance in cities and towns but not for remote Aboriginal communities because the Economic Regulation Authority exempts them from doing so. While there is no requirement to report on performance in remote communities, this further reduces the information available to people living in remote communities about the relative quality and reliability of services they receive.

Service levels to communities vary within REMS categories but documentation of the decision-making process leading to these variations is inadequate. The Department allows reduced service levels for some communities in very remote locations. This practice is consistent with a range of Australian standards and guidelines that explicitly allow providers to take costs of very remote service delivery into account when deciding service levels. However, the Department’s documentation is not adequate to explain how decisions were reached, what was taken into consideration and what the financial implications were. Without visibility of the decision process through adequate documentation, it is not possible to assess if each of these service level decisions is appropriate and justified.

Documentation of decisions removing communities from REMS is also inadequate. Communities can become ineligible for REMS, for example if they are abandoned, or can withdraw at their own request. However, as with variations to service levels, we found there was little documentation of the decision process. The Department advised that written communication was not always culturally appropriate and not all processes under the contract can or need to be documented. However, decisions should be capable of review, and without adequate documentation it is not possible to assess if each of these service level decisions is appropriate and consistently applied.

Documentation of decisions removing communities from REMS is also inadequate. Communities can become ineligible for REMS, for example if they are abandoned, or can withdraw at their own request. However, as with variations to service levels, we found there was little documentation of the decision process. The Department advised that written communication was not always culturally appropriate and not all processes under the contract can or need to be documented. However, decisions should be capable of review, and without adequate documentation it is not possible to assess if each of these service level decisions is appropriate and consistently applied.

The Department has clarified its roles and responsibilities, focusing on larger communities while the smallest communities are largely self-managed

Roles and responsibilities of entities are clearer but aims and objectives have not been publicly explained

The Department has clarified its REMS roles and responsibilities and those of other State Government entities in internal documents and contracts. As we recommended in our 2015 audit report, this includes clarifying responsibility for services previously provided by the Commonwealth. We found:

  • tender documents and contracts reflect the Department’s roles and responsibilities
  • briefing notes to the Director General, Ministers and Premier and other internal documents discuss the Department’s role.

However, the Department has not publicly explained REMS’ aims and objectives and how they are being implemented in all REMS communities. Specifically:

  • tender documents that include key contract terms can only be found on Tender WA’s website using a tender number or keyword search
  • the Department does not publicly report on its role and responsibilities for REMS, its REMS service delivery activities or performance outcomes in remote Aboriginal communities
  • other than a brief overview in the Department’s annual report, information about REMS is not online.

The lack of clear public reporting of REMS aims and objectives leaves room for misunderstandings about the Department’s role and what remote communities can expect from it. This makes it hard for communities and other parties to hold the Department to account for services they depend on.

The Department has not received a formal response from other State entities to a 2018 consultation paper on a proposed investment framework for remote Aboriginal communities. This paper sets out a tiered approach allocating essential services to remote communities by their size. It also proposed taking account of distinct characteristics of each community and highlighted the need to address barriers to developing business and enterprise opportunities, including land tenure arrangements.

Source: OAG
Figure 9: Warburton power station. Warburton is just south of the Gibson Desert, 1,500 km northeast of Perth on the Great Central Road to Alice Springs. It has a population of around 600 and is administered by the Shire of Ngaanyatjarraku

The Department is implementing an approach that focuses resources only on larger communities, leaving the smaller communities to manage themselves

The Department is implementing policy outlined in the 2016 Resilient Families, Strong Communities road map for reform of services to remote Aboriginal communities. However, the road map focuses on providing essential services only to larger communities. Minimum service standards are not assured for around half of REMS communities that have 5 or fewer dwellings and/or 30 or fewer residents. Consequently, essential services infrastructure in these smaller communities may not be adequate to ensure public health and safety.

Despite acknowledging the poor quality of infrastructure in many remote communities, Resilient Families, Strong Communities only committed to identifying up to 10 large communities for asset and service upgrades. At the time of our audit, service and asset upgrades were being planned or had commenced under EMSUP in only 7 of the 143 REMS communities. While around half of REMS communities will receive asset upgrades from time to time as needed, the other half are classified as Self-managed and will not receive upgrades.

Among communities in the Self-managed category, where services and assets will not be systematically upgraded, are the 59 communities previously serviced by the Commonwealth but subsequently included in REMS. The Department proposed in 2018 that future support for these communities include only emergency assistance, basic municipal services such as road maintenance, garbage disposal and wild dog control, and one-off infrastructure funding. Not ensuring essential services assets in these communities are maintained and working as intended risks the broader aims of Resilient Families, Strong Communities to improve outcomes for Aboriginal people.

The Department has identified investment needs in communities we looked at in 2015 but not in communities more recently included in REMS

The Department has identified 68 communities formerly managed under the RAESP program where urgent investment is needed to upgrade essential services infrastructure. The investment needs of the smallest communities have not been assessed despite the readily visible need for infrastructure improvements in some of them.

In a 2017 report to the Department, the Program Manager identified assets in 68 communities formerly managed under the RAESP program that would deteriorate and fail to meet demand if upgrades were not carried out. Since then, the Department has used existing resources to meet critical needs as they arise but has not carried out all the urgently needed upgrades identified by the Program Manager. This approach has maintained service levels in these communities but risks identified in 2017 remain.

Current funding does not allow for all urgent upgrades identified by the Program Manager in 2017 and not yet carried out. The Program Manager estimated the cost of capital works items that should be addressed immediately at $84.4 million with a further $103.5 million that should be scheduled for medium priority replacements. This far exceeds existing funding allocations for asset replacements in REMS. Funding of $383 million has been allocated to the REMS program from 2019-20 to 2023-24 of which only $14 million has been allocated for asset replacement (Table 4). Our analysis shows it will only maintain current service levels and assets. The only exceptions will be the EMSUP communities where upgrades are already budgeted.

Source: Department of Communities
Table 4: REMS funding allocation, 2019-20 to 2023-24. Note that numbers have been rounded and so do not all sum

The Department uses a tiered approach based on the number of dwellings and residents to determine service levels, including asset requirements, in REMS but does not apply a systematic risk management framework to it. The tiered approach puts the smallest communities, including those formerly managed by the Commonwealth, in the Self-managed category. While this is consistent with policy, it has resulted in unsafe infrastructure remaining in use in some communities. For example, the water tower at Garlburang (Gulberang), around 20 kilometres from Kununurra on the Victoria Highway, is noticeably unsafe (Figure 10).

Source: OAG
Figure 10: This water tower at Garlburang has no safety rail around its platform or the means to safely access it. We visited Garlburang, a very small East Kimberley community where the Department has no plans to improve or upgrade essential services, early in 2020

Appendix 1: Status of recommendations from our 2015 audit report

Source: OAG

Appendix 2: Brief history of Commonwealth and State responsibilities for remote Aboriginal communities

The timeline outlines the history of shared responsibilities and ongoing policy issues that successive governments have sought to address.

Source: OAG

At the time of our last audit, the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing saw the Commonwealth Government servicing around 150 small remote Aboriginal communities in WA. These included municipal services to some RAESP communities through a program called the Municipal and Essential Services (MUNS) program. MUNS services included:

  • capital works
  • municipal services such as rubbish collection and road maintenance
  • fuel for generators
  • asset maintenance, including essential services assets in non-RAESP communities.

In 2014, the Commonwealth announced its withdrawal from supporting remote communities, handing full responsibility to the states. On 24 September that year, the then Minister for Housing told Parliament that ‘the State Government is deeply concerned about a large number of remote communities that do not meet a basic standard of living. For example, … drinking water is generally not treated or monitored in the more than 180 small remote communities and outstations for which the Commonwealth has until now retained funding responsibility’.

In its response to our 2015 audit, the Department indicated it would integrate RAESP and MUNS and managed them in parallel before combining them in July 2018 to form the REMS program. As part of this process, it suspended services to 22 locations that it found were either abandoned or had extremely limited occupation. Locations excluded from REMS are very small settlements and only seasonally or infrequently inhabited. In 2016, the State Government released a road map for future reform in remote Aboriginal communities titled Resilient Families, Strong Communities. This document outlines State Government policy for remote Aboriginal communities.

In June 2020, the Department told us that 3 very small communities classified as Self-managed had exited the program.14 Before this, REMS serviced 143 communities, including all 84 communities previously in the RAESP program and 59 communities formerly serviced by the Commonwealth through the MUNS program. This audit covers all 143 communities.

Appendix 3: Water quality results for 80 REMS communities tested in 2012-14 and 2018-20

Source: OAG and Department of Communities

Appendix 4: Communities in the Remote Essential and Municipal Services program

Source: Department of Communities

Appendix 5: Community locations

REMS communities in the Kimberly region

Source: Department of Communities

REMS communities in the Pilbara region

Source: Department of Communities

REMS communities in the Goldfields region

Source: Department of Communities

1 One community declined the testing.

2 The Utilities Reference Group includes the Department of Communities, Department of Treasury and Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage, Horizon Power and Water Corporation.

3 The Aboriginal Affairs Coordinating Committee includes the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, Chair of the Aboriginal Advisory Council of WA, Department of Health, Department of Education, Department of Communities, Department of Treasury, Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage, Department of Justice and the WA Police Force.

4 E. coli – key facts World Health Organization February 2018 and Free-Living Amebae as Opportunistic Agents of Human Disease Journal of Neuroparasitology January 2010

5 In 12019-20, 29 communities still experienced a water quality failure of either, E. coli, N. fowleri, nitrates or uranium.

6 Reverse osmosis removes impurities from water by forcing it under pressure through a series of semi-permeable membranes that together act as an extremely fine filter.

7 Ward, M.H.; Jones, R.R.; Brender, J.D.; De Kok, T.M.; Weyer, P.J.; Nolan, B.T.; Villanueva, C.M.; Van Breda, S.G. Drinking Water Nitrate and Human Health: An Updated Review. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018, 15, 1557. <https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/15/7/1557/htm>

8 Uranium in Drinking-water – Background document for development of WHO Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality World Health Organization 2005

9 One community declined the water quality testing.

10 Public Health Act 2016 s34(1)

11 Beyond Compliance: Reporting and managing KPIs in the public sector, Report 3, OAG, 2012

12 Balanced Scorecard Reporting, Whitepaper, the Institute of Internal Auditors Australia, February 2019

13 Key Performance Indicators, Report 17, October 2012, Public Accounts Committee, Legislative Assembly Parliament of Western Australia  

14 Services to Carnot Springs ceased June 2020, Loongabid and Bindurrk ceased May 2020.


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Page last updated: June 9, 2021

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