13. Government Business Managers (GBMs)
AMSANT has had considerable feedback from member services concerning problems with Government Business Managers (GBMs) appointed to some communities.
While some individual GBMs have developed positive, consultative relationships with the communities they serve, many have not. From our feedback, it appears many GBMs have little or no experience of working with Aboriginal communities, lack cultural understanding and sensitivity, and have poor knowledge of the local context of Indigenous policy and organisations.
A number of our member health services report that GBMs have either failed to respond to questions or approaches from health service CEOs and staff (sometimes repeatedly) or have failed to include the health service in meetings and community planning. One service reported that the GBM has never set foot in the community clinic. Another reported that the GBM did not respect local community governance structures such as the health committees which guide the activities of the health service. Yet another reported that the health service was left out of discussions about new housing even though the service's GP had specifically contacted the GBM about the urgent need for staff housing.
Questions over the quality of community consultation and engagement provided by GBMs raises further concerns over their spending priorities from the GBM Flexible Funding Pool (FFP). The NTER Taskforce reported that up to June 2008, $13.5 million from the FFP had been allocated.49 A report from one GBM on NTER-funded projects revealed that out of approximately $500,000 of approved projects, almost half was allocated to fencing and fire-fighting trailers – projects that would appear to be municipal rather than NTER-related responsibilities.
Part of the problem with GBMs is the considerable and over-riding powers bestowed through the provisions of the NTER legislation to support their role. In some instances, this appears to foster arrogance on their part, and some services have reported that GBMs have intimidated and pressured people in the community and have sought to pressure health services into accepting programs regarded as inappropriate or have issued tenders for health-related services without consulting with the local health service.
The powers granted to support the role of GBMs under the NTER legislation are sweeping and unwarranted and can include seizing the assets of organisations working or based in communities, and directing such organisations on how they are to deliver services. The powers also bestow the right to nominate a representative to be present at board meetings and other meetings that such organisations conduct, or to receive the minutes of such meetings.
Such powers are unacceptable and have no place in policies that should be based on the positive engagement of communities and empowering them to take responsibility for solutions. Instead, GBMs have introduced a counter-productive element reflected in the frequently heard comments from Aboriginal people that it is like a return to the old ‘mission manager' days.
AMSANT strongly recommends that, if GBMs are to be retained, that the relevant legislation is amended to remove the current delegable powers in relation to government business areas50 and that these be replaced with the requirement for GBMs to undertake appropriate consultation and provide for genuine participation of communities and community-based service organisations in the planning and development of services and infrastructure. [See Recommendation 18]
49. Northern Territory Emergency Response Situation Report week ending 6 June 2008.
50. Contained in Part 5 of the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill 2007 (Cth).