An independent review of the State Government’s Indigenous affairs policy has described it as ‘ground-breaking’ but also says much can be improved.
The OCHRE plan was introduced by the NSW State Government in 2013, hoping to work with Indigenous communities to improve their outcomes, including unprecedented steps to give them control over their decisions.
The plan established regional alliances of Indigenous communities across the state to talk directly with the Government about their concerns and to secure funding for services.
The report says these community-led programs have helped the state government enact real change for Indigenous Australians, citing a $55 million funding boost to improve roads, lighting and drainage in ten Aboriginal communities.
It also references the successful Maranguka Just Reinvestment project in Bourke, which has helped drive down crime in a town at one time labelled "the most dangerous in the world".
“In many ways, OCHRE is a ground-breaking reform,” the review by the NSW Ombudsman states.
“OCHRE has put a spotlight on the many strengths of Aboriginal people and communities and what can be achieved when government and community work hand-in-glove with each other.”
The report lauds the progress made in giving Aboriginal Leaders "a seat at the table" but it also says progress in rolling out positive reforms has been "slower than anticipated", citing the significant challenges for government in making the changes required to share decision-making with Aboriginal communities.
NSW Aboriginal Land Council chief executive, James Christian, has criticised the quality of the report's findings.
Community's and local voices really do struggle to get heard in key decisions governments are making, he said.
"This report is yet another report in a long list of reports [and] we know the findings in this particular report are based on some very inadequate analysis or research - the data just doesn't exist."
The report notes many of the government programs were yet to reach their desired targets.
“We have made 69 recommendations in this report with the intention of informing the future of OCHRE,” NSW Ombudsman Michael Barnes said.
The New South Wales Government has announced its intention to reform the Aboriginal Affairs strategy in 2020.
“The findings from the report will now be carefully considered by Government, together with the findings from the independent evaluation of OCHRE published in 2018, to help inform the policy refresh in 2020,” Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Don Harwin told NITV News.