Black responsibility deals 'no miracle'
Kathryn Shine

ONLY a small percentage of Aboriginal communities have signed up to shared responsibility agreements, prompting indigenous advocates to label the Howard Government scheme a "massive con".

Hailed by some as the way forward for indigenous services, the agreements require communities to commit to work or lifestyle changes in return for new facilities or equipment.

Agreements signed to date have included a face-washing program in return for a fuel bowser and planting a vegetable garden, and erecting fencing in return for a creche.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone has refused to name the communities involved or release any of the agreements. And The Australian's numerous inquiries to the Government's regional indigenous centres have all been referred to Senator Vanstone's office.

But the minister's office has not given an exact number of communities involved, saying "about 35" have signed a total of 50 agreements, and promising an announcement soon.

The Australian has identified 11 communities that have signed contracts out of more than 1200 across the nation.

Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation national director David Cooper said it was clear only a tiny number of communities had signed contracts to date.

"At this rate, it's going to take 20 years to sign SRAs with all the communities," Mr Cooper said.

"They are a massive con. They are not proper evidence-based agreements."

The Howard Government was taking credit for initiatives already under way in many of the communities that had signed agreements, Mr Cooper said.

"This work that is essentially ongoing is being rebadged as shared responsibility," he said.

"It implies to people from the outside that the Government has to step in and force these people to do basic things."

Democrats senator Aden Ridgeway visited the West Australian communities of Mulan, Balgo and Bililuna recently to investigate the SRA scheme.

He said the face-washing program credited with cutting the rate of eye disease in Mulan was started by the local school long before the SRA.

"The Government has implied wrongly this is their miracle," he said.

Senator Ridgeway said he supported the concept of shared responsibility, but the existing system, which encompassed less than 3per cent of indigenous communities, lacked the proper protocols and structure.

"There's a lot of chaos and confusion," he said. "There needs to be a basic bottom line in terms of what these agreements look like. They need to be more comprehensive."

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner Tom Calma, the only independent indigenous watchdog, said he wanted to ensure the agreements were fair, but the Government had refused to give him any details.

"It makes it very difficult to monitor them," he said. "Apparently, 30 agreements have been signed or are about to be signed. I understand they're not going to be made public until the minister announces them."

Regional groups representing more than 60 Aboriginal communities around the country agreed at least a year ago to work to develop SRAs, but only seven have actually signed contracts, according to government progress reports.

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