The objective of the audit was to assess the effectiveness of the governance of the Northern Land Council in fulfilling its responsibilities and obligations under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, Native Title Act 1993 and Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013. To form a conclusion against this objective, the ANAO adopted high level criteria that the Northern Land Council’s:
- operations, through the Full Council, Regional Councils and Executive Council are effective in representing the interests of Aboriginal people in the region;
- administrative arrangements and systems—including documents management, human resources management and information and communications technology systems—support the council’s functions and delivery of services; and
- corporate planning and performance reporting are effective and meet legislative requirements.
The Northern Land Council is some two years into a wide-ranging reform agenda covering almost all aspects of the governance and administration of the council. While tangible improvements have been made to date to raise the standard of administration from a very low base, considerable work remains for the council to be administratively effective. Throughout the conduct of this audit, there was a notable energy and commitment from staff and managers to achieve the aims of the reforms over the longer term.
The NLC is improving its processes for representing the interests of Aboriginal people in the region, but more remains to be done to demonstrate that these processes are effective. The NLC has yet to implement measures to assess the performance of the Full Council, Regional Councils and Executive Council and of council members, in engaging with NLC constituents and representing their rights and interests. A review and restructure of the Secretariat branch aims to streamline and improve its support for the operation of the council, with a branch plan and performance indicators recently developed.
Subsequent to substantial criticisms about failed administrative processes, practices and controls, the NLC has commenced a range of initiatives to better support its functions and the delivery of services. These initiatives have included enhanced financial reporting capability and records management, and the establishment of a competent Audit Committee to oversee reforms across key corporate functions and policies. Some progress has been made in modernising the NLC’s dysfunctional information and communications technology systems, with further improvements subject to available funding. Improvements in service delivery are supported by management and budget information that was not previously available to managers. The NLC could more effectively manage its reform agenda given the extent of the changes underway.
The NLC is improving its planning in line with requirements under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013, but it is still some way from developing a robust set of qualitative and quantitative performance indicators. The NLC’s planning and performance reporting cycle could be better supported by an update of the funding process administered by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, to align it with the Commonwealth Performance Framework. In engaging with the department and government, the lack of a shared understanding of the extent of the use of powers, and the roles and responsibilities of the NLC, the department and the responsible Minister has not supported a strong and productive relationship between the various parties.