THE CHALLENGE FOR GOVERNMENT
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics there are 15,353 Suburbs and Localities covering the whole of Australia without gaps or overlaps. In addition to addressing the varied needs of these distinct communities, governments must also address the needs of various groups within these communities that have their own unique circumstance including Aboriginal people, LGBTQI+ people, refugees, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, unemployed and employed people etc.
One of the challenges for government is that state and national agencies are often too remote from the circumstances and needs of local communities and groups, limiting the capacity to centrally determine relevant priorities or match programs and services to unique needs.
Governments have to some extent recognised this problem through the creation of ‘mega-departments’ that combine a number of related functions together to promote increased coordination, resource sharing and planning for community need. But as departments have grown, so too has the complexity of running the departments which can making decision making even more remote from the communities and groups served.
Another challenge for government is that different agencies have different priorities and discipline approaches to addressing similar problems. For example, the priority of a health agency may be to reduce the impact of social determinants on the number of preventable hospitalisations, while justice may focus on the impact of poor access to quality of health care services on recidivism. Priorities for different agencies may be similar, but the outcomes expected and manner in which these issues are addressed may differ.
There is a risk that this can contribute to a fragmented approach to addressing the social determinants of disadvantage, which can lead to duplication, unnecessary competition and waste.
One of the challenges for governments is to connect decision making closer to the communities and groups the government is trying to support. This requires stronger networks with local community organisations that have established trust relationships with local communities, and which have the expertise to advise the government on priorities and inform solutions that will work on the ground. This is why is most developed countries, governments are more actively engaging local NGOs as agents in addressing the causes and consequences of disadvantage.