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Aboriginal input needed

Saturday, 2nd April, 2016

Murdi Paaki chairman Sam Jeffries Murdi Paaki chairman Sam Jeffries

By Andrew Robertson

The region’s peak Aboriginal group says Broken Hill and other far west councils should be scrapped and replaced with a single body that gives Aboriginal people a greater voice.

Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly (MPRA) chairman Sam Jeffries said Aboriginal people were under-represented on Western Division councils despite making up an increasingly large proportion of the region’s population.

He said the assembly also had little confidence that a plan to reform local government in the region would reverse the dearth of Aboriginal people on councils. 

The Far West Initiative aims to come up with a new governance and service delivery model in the eight Western Division councils, after an Independent Local Government Review Panel report found they were unsustainable.

But at its recent meeting in Cobar, the assembly called for the eight councils to be abolished and a model that “better reflects the future demographic” be established.

“What we’re looking for is a model that is more reflective of the demographics, and if you have a look at the demographic trends that have happened over the last 20 years, there’s been quite a significant shift in the general population going down and the Aboriginal population going up,” Mr Jeffries told the BDT.

He said 20 years ago there were 65,000 people in the far west and 11.5 per cent were Indigenous. Today there were 45,000 people and 24.4 per cent were Indigenous.

Despite this, only three of the eight Western Division councils had Aboriginal representation on them, according to Mr Jeffries, who said a new body was needed that would work across all three tiers of government and “gives all residents, in particular Aboriginal people, a voice”.

“We want to have the confidence that local government will continue to deliver local government services to a predominantly Aboriginal population in most communities across western NSW.

“We feel that Aboriginal people have got to play a greater role in that.”

He said there were “some good young people” coming through the assembly’s leadership program and it wanted to expose them to the local government system.

“These young people are making a decision to stay in small rural communities and we feel local government is an opportunity to do that.”

To ensure adequate Aboriginal representation, Mr Jeffries said the new body would need to have a number of designated Aboriginal positions. 

A campaign to educate Aboriginal people about the role of council would also be needed “because most Aboriginal people see government as government”.

Mr Jeffries said the assembly had deliberately set out to “ruffle a few feathers” as those involved in reform process appeared to be “fluffing around the edges”.

“What disappoints me at the moment is that the eight councils want to keep things as they are and I think that’s just such a lack of leadership.

“Aboriginal people will play an increasingly important role in the region and we need to lay the proper foundations now to secure something that will stand the test of time.”

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