The Outback Communities Authority (OCA) was established pursuant to the Outback Communities (Administration & Management) Act 2009 and commenced operations on 1 July 2010. The OCA replaced the Outback Areas Community Development Trust as the management and governance authority for the outback.
The OCA has responsibility for the management and local governance of the unincorporated areas of South Australia. The region encompasses 63% of the State of South Australia and is home to approximately 4,500 people who reside in a number of small townships and numerous smaller settlements including pastoral, farming and tourism enterprises.
The OCA comprises seven board members, supported by administrative staff, and is responsible for the effective governance of OCA affairs.
The OCA’s functions and objectives are to:
- Manage and promote improvements in the provision of public services and facilities to outback communities;
- Articulate the views, interests and aspirations of outback communities.
To achieve this, the OCA will:
- Provide support to outback communities for the provision of public services and facilities;
- Consider long-term requirements for the maintenance, replacement or development of infrastructure for public services and facilities in outback communities;
- Work with all levels of government to plan and deliver appropriate public services to outback communities;
- Commit to undertaking regular community consultation to ensure that communities needs and wants are fully understood;
- Advocate on behalf of outback communities at State and national forums;
- Be accountable and efficient in the way it conducts its business,
- Effectively manage resources and continue to maintain public assets.
The OCA is funded through a variety of funding mechanisms including the Federal and State Governments. In particular, OCA receives Australian Government funding through the South Australian Local Government Grants Commission to provide local government type services. Local Government Councils also receive this Australian Government grant funding, but they raise most of their revenue to provide services by charging rates to land owners based on property values, which is quite different to the way OCA operates.
Formal funding and service provision arrangements between the OCA and community groups in townships and settlements are made through annual Community Affairs Resourcing and Management (CARM) agreements.
Through CARM Agreements, communities also decide their own priorities for local services and facilities, prepare community plans, and pay for amenities through local fundraising. The OCA provides advice, guidance and funding assistance to support these efforts.
The OCA structure is unique in the Australian context as it performs some functions traditionally undertaken by Local Government and some which usually fall within the jurisdiction of State Governments.
A Brief History
The OCA owes its origins to the Outback Areas Community Development Trust (OACDT). Below is an excerpt from an account of the first 20 years of the OACDT by its inaugural Chairman, Ted Connelly.
In the early 1970s the Commonwealth Government introduced an amended income tax assessment notice that showed the proportion of tax revenue that went to the Federal Government, the State governments and local government. The obvious lack of reference to them drew a sharp reaction from the people of the unincorporated outback areas of South Australia.
Several communities made direct approaches to the then SA Premier, Don Dunstan, and their local members of parliament. But an initial proposal to form local government in each remote area was rigorously opposed and subsequently abandoned.
In a 1977 election policy speech, Mr Dunstan indicated that as a means by which tax rebates could be returned also to the people of the outback, he would, if elected, establish a 'trust' to operate in the outback and distribute funds via the Local Government Grants Commission. The 'trust' was to qualify as a local government authority for this purpose. The Labor Government won the election and on 20 May 1978, the Outback Areas Community Development Trust Act was proclaimed.
Why the OCA?
The OCA, further empowers communities to initiate and drive proposals to seek further services for the outback.
These changes were brought about as a result of a review undertaken in 2007, which showed that outback communities were facing unnecessary challenges when seeking to provide stability and services in outback areas.
The arrangements put a greater focus on community involvement in decision making and provide the OCA with the option of introducing levies, subject to consultation with communities, to help respond to service and infrastructure demands.
Like the OACDT, the OCA provides ongoing support to remote communities. This support is based on clearly defined priorities which all members of the outback community have the opportunity to influence, to ensure services and infrastructure demands are assessed and prioritised fairly.
Outback communities can have a greater say in what happens in the outback, with the OCA committed to consulting the community about what services and infrastructure would deliver the greatest benefits to residents.