Far West Coast Joins Empowered Communities

Background

Established in June 2013 by Indigenous leaders from eight remote, regional and urban areas, Empowered Communities identifies a common vision for the comprehensive transformation of Indigenous affairs. The submission by the group of Indigenous Leaders to government set out a framework for structural reform and proposed a more balanced partnership with governments.  The proposal to develop the proposed reform agenda was supported by both sides of federal government, and Empowered Communities was launched in August 2013. Since the launch, Empowered Communities have been continuing to build regional reform agendas through strong governance frameworks, regional partnership agreements and establishing joint decision making processes in the eight Empowered Communities across Australia.

In April 2020, the Far West Aboriginal Community Leaders Group, comprising of leaders from the five Aboriginal communities of Ceduna, Koonibba, Scotdesco, Yalata and Oak Valley (Maralinga) submitted an expression of interest to join Empowered Communities to assist the region to continue to advocate and improve the social, cultural and economic status of Aboriginal families and communities in the region. The Leaders Group was established in 2011 when community leaders from these communities came together to address the impact of alcohol and other substance misuse in the region. The Group has focused on delivering social reform initiatives to improve the welfare of the region, including the co-design of the Cashless Debit Card with the Department of Social Services in 2016, and the formation of EyrePlus in July 2019 which administers the Community Development Program for the region.

Following consultation with the Empowered Communities Leadership, Minister Wyatt announced that the Aboriginal communities of the Far West in South Australia had joined Empowered Communities as the ninth EC region in June 2020.

On confirmation of joining Empowered Communities, Chair of the Far West Aboriginal Community Leaders Group, Corey McLennan, said

Today is another step forward for Aboriginal communities of the Far West Coast in shaping gand leading decisions that affect the lives of our people. We are proud to be embraced and to become the ninth region of Empowered Communities, we also look forward to continuously working closely with our local health and native title organisations to create real and genuine change for the betterment of our people. Our seat at the table will ensure our people and our region is at the heart of decision making.”

Approach

In July 2020, Far West Community Partnerships (FWCP) was established as the Region’s backbone organisation, responsible for the coordination and delivery of Stronger Places Stronger People and Empowered Communities initiatives, and the Far West Aboriginal Community Leaders Group; In July, Jawun Emerging Leader Jessie Sleep commenced as Chief Executive of Far West Community Partnerships. 

The primary aim of Far West Community Partnerships is to nurture community self-determination through collaboration at all levels of government, service provision, business, philanthropy and others to deliver locally designed strategies. Using a collaborative impact model, the strategies aim to address intergenerational social and economic disadvantage, enabling the cultural recognition and determination of the Aboriginal communities of the Far West Region.

Between August – December 2020, eight virtual secondees joined Far West Community Partnerships, supporting projects that developed strong governance, compliance, policy and processes and the skeleton structure for a new website. In addition, the initial stages of a Regional Data Atlas were developed to guide data collection, coordination and governance in the region that will be key to supporting and evidencing agreed regional reform priorities and progress.

Chief Executive Jessie Sleep commented on the importance and impact of the Regional Data Atlas secondments:

The outputs from this secondment have allowed us to create a very strong start to our Data Atlas and to create a space where we were able to refine and determine the direction we need to take with data.’

Outcomes

FWCP have worked diligently over the past 7 months, establishing the backbone entity, and working with the five Far West communities to ensure a strong commitment to community engagement. Supported by Jawun virtual secondees, the FWCP office has been established with sound processes and policies developed, and strong governance and systems implemented. A core team of staff have been appointed, including Community Engagement Lead Patrick Sharpe and Executive Assistant Gloria Haseldine. The recruitment for a Data and Evaluation Lead and Administration Officer is underway and recruitment will commence shortly for two Community Engagement Officers to round out the team. It is anticipated that a full compliment of staffing will be on board by early March. It has been a key priority that a line of sight is utilised to develop operational and governance structures, ensuring that a measured and strategic approach is used to ensure that frameworks are adaptive, useful and relevant.

Jessie Sleep, Chief Executive commented,

‘As a new organisation, it is very important to do things properly and thoroughly from the start. [APS Secondee] Jane has supported us in ensuring that this is in place for recruitment of new staff, and to support them in developing their own areas of the organisation.

In addition, FWCP is leading a shared service initiative with several Aboriginal organisations across the five communities to secure improved IT infrastructure and services, including group buying discounts for the benefit of Aboriginal organisations and the community. Building on this initiative and working with the service provider, Westpac secondee Sonny Tran worked with FWCP Community Engagement Lead to plan and develop the FWCP website structure, which is now ready for content input, a planned project for two virtual secondees in round 1, 2021. 

Highlighting the impact the virtual secondment with FWCP had on both his professional and personal growth, Sonny remarked,

‘My secondment with Far West Community Partnerships provided me an opportunity to utilise my thought process and expertise in building a blueprint for their new website. I have learned a lot about Indigenous people’s culture and their situation in the past and at the present’.

Next Steps

Far West Community Partnerships will underpin and facilitate community-led planning and stakeholder engagement and has commenced community consultation to formulate a joint decision making process to ensure all community is heard in the process. The first pilot joint decision making workshop will be facilitated in February 2021.

The first half of 2021 will concentrate on two key strategic areas, developing and testing the joint decision making process, and evolving a community centred theory of change to work towards a shared agenda. This will be directed through community consultation and engagement and working with stakeholders within the region as well as Empowered Community Leaders and the broader EC network, state and federal governments, philanthropic and other stakeholders. A community roadshow visiting each community to commence and establish a genuine and meaningful engagement process is currently underway. The roadshow aims to engage each community and provide information on the benefits and processes involved with Empowered Communities and support communities to determine their priorities and potential community members to participate in up-coming joint decision making workshops.

A formal launch of Far West Community Partnerships is currently being planned for late April as an opportunity for strong community engagement and education, as well as showcasing progress to date.