Our Work With Aboriginal Communities

We take complaints from Aboriginal individuals, organisations and communities about community services and child protection, out-of-home care, disability services, local councils, Aboriginal land councils, housing, education, juvenile justice and corrections.

In our assessment and handling of complaints, we look at ways agencies can work to deliver real improvements for Aboriginal people.

Increasingly, our complaint work has translated into systemic projects and investigations that involves identifying practical strategies to tackle major issues that impact on the health and well-being of Aboriginal people. We have reported publicly on a number of these projects and investigations.

See related reports.

Monitoring and Assessing Aboriginal Programs

Since July 2014, we have had legislative responsibility under Part 3B of the Ombudsman Act 1974 (NSW) for monitoring and assessing designated Aboriginal programs.

Daniel Lester was appointed in October 2014 as the inaugural Deputy Ombudsman (Aboriginal Programs) with responsibility for leading this function, which is aimed at improving transparency and accountability in the provision of services to Aboriginal communities and the outcomes they deliver.

Mr Lester is supported by the Aboriginal Program Monitoring & Assessment Unit in relation to program monitoring and the Aboriginal Inclusion & Community Engagement Unit and the Communication, Media & Training Unit in relation to Aboriginal community engagement.

The first program we are responsible for oversighting is OCHRE, the NSW Government’s plan for Aboriginal affairs,which was launched in April 2013.

OCHRE consists of the following initiatives:

  • Healing – OCHRE formally recognises the need for healing inter-generational trauma from the legacy of colonisation and commits to advance the dialogue on healing with Aboriginal communities.
  • Aboriginal Language and Culture Nests – operating in five locations, it supports the revitalisation of Aboriginal languages and cultures within schools and communities.
  • Local Decision Making (LDM) – operating in eight locations, it supports Aboriginal regional governance bodies to have a progressively greater say in designing the services that are delivered in their communities.
  • Aboriginal Economic Prosperity Framework (AEPF) – a state-wide initiative which contains 12 targets for government commitments relating to jobs and employment, education and skills, and economic agency.
  • Solution Brokerage – a state-wide initiative operating as four discrete projects to date – it is essentially an administrative mechanism that enables Aboriginal Affairs to engage with NSW government agencies to identify and implement practical solutions to significant issues for Aboriginal communities.
  • Opportunity Hubs – operating in four locations, it provides Aboriginal students with school-based mentoring and clearer pathways from school to further education, training and employment.
  • Connected Communities – operating in 15 locations, it establishes schools as ‘service hubs’ and promotes school-community partnership approaches to reduce barriers to student learning and improve Aboriginal education outcomes.

Our office monitors the extent to which OCHRE is delivering on its commitments.

Our May 2016 report ‘Fostering Economic Development for Aboriginal people in NSW’ drew attention to the fact that, despite the considerable expenditure of public funds and attention on building Aboriginal economic capacity by state and federal governments, the return on investment had so far been unsatisfactory due to poorly targeted measures and overlapping programs operated by multiple agencies, with no lead agency held responsible for driving Aboriginal economic development. We highlighted the resulting inefficiency and waste, and a lack of tangible outcomes for Aboriginal communities.

Following our report, the OCHRE Aboriginal Economic Prosperity Framework (AEPF) was released in December 2016. As part of this, all NSW Government agencies are responsible for meeting the whole-of-government targets relating to Aboriginal participation policies for government procurement and employment in the public service.

We have also published our progressive observations about the implementation of OCHRE in four successive annual reports and they can be found here 2014-152015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18. On 28 October 2019, our OCHRE Review Report was tabled in the NSW Parliament. The report provides a comprehensive assessment of the OCHRE programs over the past five years. Most notably it identifies that the first five years of OCHRE’s implementation clearly demonstrated:

  • what can be achieved when individuals with sufficient clout, authority and accountability are given a role to lead particular initiatives and solve intractable problems – such as the officers in charge of Solution Brokerage declarations, Executive Principals in Connected Communities schools, and the Executive Sponsors for Local Decision Making
  • the critical need for robust governance arrangements across agency portfolios in seeking to achieve results – tellingly, the Aboriginal Economic Prosperity Framework targets that are on track to be met are those with the strongest governance arrangements in place
  • the vital importance of systematically collecting quality outcomes data that is closely tracked at senior levels within government and shared with community leaders to inform decision making and ongoing service planning and delivery, and
  • the importance of government agency staff demonstrating cultural competency – evidenced by them showing respect for, and a deeper understanding of, the Aboriginal communities they serve and delivering on the promises they make.

We are currently monitoring the implementation of our 69 recommendations.