Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has invited Aboriginal groups from around the country to submit proposals to regain control of their land, service delivery and government funding.

The move followed success in designing the next stage of the Cape York Agenda, which Senator Scullion told Garma Festival was “the most exciting thing” happening in indigenous affairs.

Members of the Gumatj clan perform bunggul (ceremonial dancing) at the annual Garma Festival in northeast Arnhem Land. Picture: Melanie Faith Dove/Yothu Yindi Foundation
Members of the Gumatj clan perform bunggul (ceremonial dancing) at the annual Garma Festival in northeast Arnhem Land. Picture: Melanie Faith Dove/Yothu Yindi Foundation

“It is the single most exciting thing, and we’ve just got to try so hard to get this right and to provide the people of Cape York an opportunity to self-determine in every possible way, and I think this is just the road to success,” Senator Scullion said.

“So much of the money misses the mark: we spend money on Aboriginal communities, but it’s never there. We spend it on a white organisation to deliver some sort of service.”

The plan, known as Pama Futures, would see a network of community bodies within an umbrella organisation administer native title, direct governments on service delivery and choice of providers and even make and enforce some local laws. It represents the work of more than 800 traditional owners from 15 communities across the Cape.

“There will be 100 per cent of any Indigenous Advancement Strategy grants and funds going through Pama,” Senator Scullion said. “They can decide; I won’t be approving; the department won’t be approving; They will be providing the advice.”

“People may have some problems with that at the moment: ‘It’s government money, you have to approve it’. Sure. We tick-off on advisory groups; many ministers have advice from departments that we look at … and we just sign it off.”

Senator Scullion said Pama would be run by Aboriginal people.

“There are so many services that are not run by Aboriginal people, so none of the money gets there to stick,” he said. “This can be a real improvement.”

Cape York leader Noel Pearson said Pama Futures represented the culmination of everything learned through the Cape York reform agenda, including the Cape York welfare reform trials.

He said combining structural reform with indigenous agency was key to finally seeing the gap close.

“A combination of structural reforms and indigenous agency, we believe, is the means by which we close the gap over time,” he said.

“If those two things connect in concert with one another, we will start to compress the gap over generations.”

Pama Futures included 15 targeted areas for incremental increases to local capability. Those covered topics such as health, education, empowerment, cultural stewardship, land management, law and order and developing enterprise and industry.

“We proposed a new governance model to interface with both levels of government, and we believe that a Cape York Regional Interface has to be legislated by the commonwealth,” Mr Pearson said.

“We need a kind of federal model within the region where each of the communities will be able to interface with government in relation to their own plans and their own units and their own agendas.

“Twelve subregions across the Cape need to have the opportunity to sit down with government of both levels in relation to their plans.”

Senator Scullion said one novel idea involved ranger groups enforcing bylaws passed by Aboriginal local governments under powers devolved through Queensland legislation.

“We’ve already had some discussions about their capacity to enforce laws for their own,” he said.

“Those councils are actually able to make by-laws about trespass, about everything, about alcohol, about speed limits, about roads. For the first time, they will be able to make laws for themselves and for others.”

READ: The Australian