Originally published in the National Indigenous Times, June 28 2007.
SENIOR Commonwealth public servants from some of the biggest public service departments in Canberra are being asked to volunteer to act as Administrators of Aboriginal townships and communities in the Northern Territory which will soon be taken over by the Howard Government – and no experience is necessary.
The National Indigenous Times has obtained a message sent out to all staff of Centrelink by the agency’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr Jeff Whalan this week, seeking expressions of interest in the positions.
The notice was sent out on Monday of this week – five days after Prime Minister John Howard invoked his ‘national emergency’ in response to the Little Children Are Sacred report.
The notice advises staff that the government last week “announced major changes to the way in which payments and services are to be delivered to Indigenous people in the Northern Territory”.
“The focus is on remote communities and the Commonwealth has committed itself to swift action,” it continues.
“This week, Australian Federal Police (supported by police from other states) will start to arrive in the first of these communities.
“NORFORCE (the largely Indigenous element of the Australian Army which operates in Northern Australia) will provide logistical support.
“The Commonwealth will be moving to appoint Administrators in a number of communities, in which there will also be a police presence.
“I expect that Centrelink will also establish operations in each of these communities.
“At this stage it is not clear to what extent they will be visiting or permanently located services.
The Government is calling for expressions of interests from C4 and SES employees who are interested in becoming the administrator of a town for an initial period of 12 months.”
The notice makes it clear that experience in working in remote Aboriginals towns and communities is not essential.
“Experience with remote service delivery or with local government will be an advantage,” the notice says.
“Centrelink will also be calling for expressions of interest from CSAs and from team leaders who are interested in being seconded to the NT either for a ‘rotation’ of a few weeks or more permanently.
“We will need to significantly increase staff numbers in the NT and in the first phase we will treat this work in much the same way as we do an emergency and send additional staff to the NT for short periods.
“In parallel with this we will be looking for more people who are willing to relocate for 12 months or more.
“As we work closely on the whole-of government response, we will obtain further information that will be forwarded within the next few days.”
The notice to staff stipulated that the positions would be “unaccompanied”.
NIT understands this means that public servants would not be allowed to relocate with their families.
The notice also advises that accommodation in the impoverished remote communities will be “basic”.
Officers seeking appointment will be required to be seconded for up to 12 months to the Department of Families and Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FACSIA).
NIT understands a similar notice has been sent in other government departments including FACSIA.
The assignment is expected to be a difficult one given the unilateral intervention of the Prime Minister who has announced the Commonwealth will seize control from the Northern Territory Government of about 60 Aboriginal towns and communities, including some of the most dispersed and remote in Australia, and the speed with which the Commonwealth is seeking to intervene.
The implementation of the hastily conceived Federal Government response will present a major challenge for inexperienced bureaucrats to implement. NIT will be monitoring the take up rate in coming weeks.