The CEO is responsible for the day to day running of the settlement, as well as implementing long term improvements, and crucial to the well running and the success, or alternatively the failure of remote Aboriginal settlements. CEOs have had a number of job titles, including Advisers, Project Officers, Managers, Coordinators, Trainers, etc.

Early CEOs

For many years, remote Aboriginal settlements had to accept whomsoever they could get to perform executive and administrative duties. Often enough those who were willing and available were not professionally skilled. Outback parlance often spoke of the three ‘m’s – missionaries, mercenaries and misfits – as being somewhat indicative of many early CEOs, who ran the gamut from the amazing to the absurd, from the virtuous to the crooked, from the competent to the con artist. Today, a single instance of an incompetent CEO can set back years of hard constructive work.

One remote Aboriginal settlement replaced their coordinator with the outstation developer, essentially a dozer driver, who was computer illiterate and had no understanding of administrative procedures, with the result that internal administrative controls became increasingly run down. CDEP employment decreased to around 5% being gainfully employed, and the rest on sit-down. Supervisory control was lost over participants and other community members, resulting in loss of control over vehicles and the community store. CDEP was eventually suspended.

Staffing Levels

In contrast with the relatively abundant staffing levels during the missions days, most communities today are severely understaffed, putting CEOs under inordinate pressure, that often lead to burn out and becoming ineffectual. Alternatively, out of self-preservation, a CEO may back away from excess pressure, and put in the requisite times, do the requisite recording and reporting, while neglecting on-the-ground activities, and allowing community development to get behind, but avoiding getting stressed and remaining in the job for years, in a run-down community.

Because of staff funding restrictions, the CEO on a remote community may also have to double as the essential services manager, and in addition to this, also be required to run the community store. Ensuring the community has food, power and water will invariably take precedence over finding meaningful work for CDEP participants, except perhaps for a skeleton crew of much needed, relatively skilled individuals.

Authority and Responsibility

Issues of authority and responsibility can be quite entangled in Aboriginal settlements.

  • the elected council is held accountable for any shortcomings of the CEO, which can induce a CEO to be less motivated and less caring in his position with corresponding lowered outcomes;
  • Sometimes a CEO, working under the direction of the council, is required to carry out directions inconsistent with doing the position esponsibly;
  • On occasions when a CEO has absconded with funds, the council, and by extension the community, is held responsible, and may suffer de-funding of a comparable amount.

Training Replacements

It was considered the proper and accepted thing for CEOs to train local persons as their intended replacements. Today, training of local people has substantially fallen by the wayside, and outside CEOs may remain in the position indefinitely without local people being trained in administration.

Problems for CEOs

Lack of transportability of superannuation, etc, has been a serious disincentive from having competent people persisting in the industry, and many competent CEOs have exited after only a few years, to return to mainstream where the pay and conditions are much more promising.

Replacing CEOs

Replacing CEOs is often a case of ‘poaching’ someone from an already actively filled position in another remote Aboriginal settlement, creating a “musical chairs” effect throughout remote Aboriginal settlements. Losing a CEO may cause much settlement functioning to fall in a hole, and it may take some time before another CEO is secured, requiring considerable time and effort to get up to speed and make headway through the new crises that will inevitably emerge following any period of no executive authority or capacity.

Bureaucratically Competent CEOs

For many years, ATSIC deemed the selection of CEOs in remote communities to be none of their business, beyond sifting out undesirables, which included anyone who questioned ATSICs wisdom in some matters, and threw many remote communities in the deep end, to figure it out for themselves. After suffering the consequences that ensued for it when community reporting requirements were not satisfied, and breaches followed, they assisted selection by ensuring the candidate was at least bureaucratically competent, to ensure the community would not go into breach through committing reporting failures.

This was a win/lose, half-solution, because many such CEOs, had little on-the-ground competencies, with the consequence of CDEP activities winding down, and sit-down money taking over. Many such CEOs have persisted for years in functionally failing settlements, because they are able to keep the books well, and explaining to ATSIC that the people are hopeless, when the reality is the CDEP needs close active supervision. Some CEOs have moved from settlement to settlement, collapsing as they go, and the locals are blamed and held responsible for the failure of the CDEP to perform. Some of these became settlements that have suffered much severe social degradation.

Following the army adage of “no bad soldiers, only bad officers”, to a large extent, the failure of a community is the failure of the CEO. The CEO’s responsibility, beyond reporting on community failure, is to ensure the settlement runs competently, down to the lowest level. His proactive job is to ensure it runs as a fully functional community, despite the structures and his personal criteria should be to do whatever it takes.

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