[Timor-Leste Decentralisation Conference, Speaking points – circulated by Graeme Emonson, 18 August 2016]
Thank you for the opportunity to address the conference today. Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge members of the Government of Timor-Leste, including
- the Vice Minister for State Administration, His Excellency Tomas Cabral
- His Excellency Ambassador Abel Guterres.
- I’d like to acknowledge Australia’s Ambassador to Timor-Leste, Peter Doyle
and the large number of Australians who have travelled to Timor-Leste to be part of this conference, including:
- Representatives of Victorian councils, including staff and councillors from Ballarat, Frankston and Stonnington
- Friendship Group representatives from all over Australia, in particular from Victoria the National Convenor of the Australia Timor-Leste Friendship Network, Derarca O’Mahony, and Victorian facilitator, Lorraine McBride
- Timor-Leste’s Honorary Consul to Victoria, Rae Kingsbury
The strong presence of Australian participants here reflects the deep bonds between our communities.
This is my first visit to Timor-Leste, and I am impressed with the progress of the Government and its plans going forward, with our shared ideals of democracy, peace and prosperity.
I speak today on behalf of the Victorian government, and in particular Local Government Victoria – the part of the Victorian Government that works with our councils; similar to how the Ministry of State Administration works with Timorese municipal administrations and municipal authorities.
I do not speak on behalf of the many Australian Friendship Groups who are here today – they are independent non-government organisations, separate from our councils, but I do want to acknowledge the good working relationship between the Victorian Government, councils, and Friendship Groups.
This is an important network providing strong community support for Timor-Leste.
If anybody here is not familiar with how the Friendship Groups work, I encourage you to find a Friendship Group member and have a chat over the break. It’s a unique and effective model of community participation, and may be of interest to our Portuguese colleagues.
Victoria and Timor-Leste
The Governments of Timor-Leste and Victoria share a long relationship based on friendship and mutual respect. This reflects the strong Timorese community in Victoria – we are proud to have the largest Timorese population outside of Timor-Leste.
And it builds on the great work of our Friendship Groups, and the support of our councils.
Over the past 14 years, our governments have worked together to build the capacity of the Timorese government in ways that match Timorese needs with Victorian capacity. This has included areas such as:
- Technical and Vocational Education and Training
- Sanitation and drainage
- Developing business capacity through a Chamber of Commerce
- Municipal administration
- and many others.
We do this through a formal Memorandum of Understanding between our governments – a unique international arrangement between national and state level partners. The history of effort is documented in English and Tetun in the book “Partners in Government” – if you’re interested in learning more about this history, the book is available online and we can provide a weblink.
Within this relationship, my organisation, Local Government Victoria, has a specific link with the Ministry of State Administration, focused on supporting the decentralisation process. A key feature of this is establishing a set of municipal partnerships, linking Victorian and Timorese municipalities.
We now have 15 Victorian councils actively matched with 11 Timorese municipalities.
Local Government Victoria brings the Victorian councils together every three months to share information and experiences, and to provide opportunities for mutual learning among councils to support Timorese municipalities. It is wonderful to see so many Victorian councils willing to share their skills, knowledge and experience, in ways that match Timorese needs with Victorian council capabilities and capacity.
It is also wonderful to see Friendship Groups working closely with councils to support these partnerships – in many cases, it is the work of the Friendship Group that allowed the municipal relationship to develop. I offer my congratulations for the great work of Friendship Groups in encouraging council involvement in Timor-Leste.
Not all of the 15 councils can be with us here, but all have asked me to convey their commitment to working with their Timorese partners. They look forward to hearing the conference outcomes so they can continue to develop and deliver activities.
Victorian municipal reform
Victoria is lucky to have a well-established local government sector, with a great depth of skills, experience and capability. And we are privileged to be able to share our knowledge with our Timorese friends in ways that provide mutual support.
It is important to note, however, that there is always room for improvement. Victoria is currently going through significant reform of its local government sector, focussed on three strategic areas:
- to improve integrity and good governance
- to increase capacity and performance
- to deliver outcomes for communities
This includes 17 key actions for a better, stronger and more vibrant local government sector. I won’t list them all, but I know that many will be of interest here in Timor-Leste, such as:
- preparing a new Local Government Act – to modernise the relationship between the State and councils, and better reflect the essential roles and responsibilities of both levels of government
- a number of initiatives to improve council governance – both to support positive behaviour by elected councillors, and improve how we address misconduct when it arises from time to time
- supporting financial stability of our rural councils – a common issue across Australia and likely across both developed and developing countries across the world
- strengthening support for social inclusion – encouraging greater participation and representation of women, young people, people with disabilities, and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds to be involved in the community and to have a greater say
Through this process, we are learning more and more about how the State government can better support our local governments, and how our local governments can better deliver on the needs and expectations of their communities – an aspiration strongly embedded in Timor-Leste’s decentralisation process. We hope that our reform experience can be of benefit to Timor-Leste as it strengthens its own local government system.
In preparing for the conference, the Ministry of State Administration was interested in a SWOT analysis of our partnership work, highlighting the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. I’d like to share my thinking in this space, which I look forward to exploring further throughout the conference.
I’ve already highlighted Victoria’s well-established government sector at national, state and local levels, with well-developed processes and performance across a broad range of government services. We have government organisations wanting to share their knowledge – I speak specifically of the Victorian government and many of our councils participating in strengthening relationships with Timor-Leste. This is underpinned by bipartisan government support for Victoria’s relationship with Timor-Leste.
Equally as important, it is underpinned by community support and input – this is seen through the active participation of Friendship Groups in Timor-Leste, many of whom are here for this conference.
Our physical distance from Timor-Leste creates challenges for us in remaining connected – we all know that face to face contact is vital in developing relationships, but this is difficult given the time and cost required for travel. Consequently, it is not easy for us to maintain a deep and current understanding of Timorese priorities.
We also have language challenges – while I’m very impressed by the ability of many Timorese civil servants to communicate in many different languages, and indeed of many Victorians to communicate in Tetun, across Victorian government departments and councils we’re generally limited to the English language. This can limit the pool of Timorese public servants that we can work directly with.
Our main opportunity at the moment is to support training activities and work placements, which is something the Victorian government has a proud history of.
- Some 100 Timorese public servants have been hosted by the Victorian government over the past 14 years, many of them also spending time in local councils.
- And I know a number of these friends are here as part of this conference.
We also have networks of Victorians committed to Timor-Leste that we can partner with.
For example, we’re currently working with retired Taxation Office staff who have contributed to Friendship Group and council activities, and who wish to develop and deliver training programs for the Government of Timor-Leste.
We are also interested in creative ways to engage from a distance
For example, using technology such as email and video calls for training and mentoring.
We see our most exciting opportunity emerging now – the challenge is to capture these opportunities and act on them.
With Timorese municipalities expected to significantly increase their service delivery next year, and a network of Victorian councils ready to help, we have a great opportunity to develop a broad-ranging program to support local government skills consistently across Timor-Leste. We look forward to being an active partner.
Our first threat is having incomplete information, in terms of what Timorese support is needed, and what activities are already underway that we might build on and contribute to. Often different pieces of the picture are known by different people, both in Victoria and Timor-Leste, but we need to have a full, up-to- date understanding of needs, priorities and opportunities for us to work as effectively together as possible. We hope that this conference will go some way to addressing these potential obstacles.
Another valuable approach from our perspective could be an inventory of the skills needed by Timorese municipal staff to deliver their increased services – I am not sure if this is already being progressed. This would identify:
- what the current levels of skills are,
- what level will be needed immediately and in the future,
- where the gaps are,
- where the highest priorities lie,
- and importantly, what training and mentoring opportunities already exist, through organisations such as the National Institute of Public Administration or other local and international partners.
This information is really important in informing how Victoria can target effective training to support Timorese municipalities – at both a systematic level across all municipalities through our council partnership program, and tailored for individual municipalities through their individual agreements.
Our other main threat is opportunities and access to funding to support training activities. At both the State and local government levels, we are accessing what internal funds we can to run programs to support our Timorese government friends. At times we’re able to access Australian Commonwealth government funding – but this is not always guaranteed. Without greater certainty around funds it is difficult to develop long-term, strategic work programs of mutual support for and with you.
We hope that understanding how the increased municipal budgets will be applied, and how the Timorese Human Capacity Fund can be used to support municipal staff, will create opportunities to access Timorese funding to support staff development in partnership with Victoria.
In closing, I would like to thank you again for the opportunity to speak today. I look forward to the many insights that will be shared through the conference. And afterwards, I look forward to sharing these insights with Victorian councils, as we continue to work together to support Timor-Leste’s decentralisation process as important neighbours and partners in realising Timor-Leste’s aspirations.