The objective of the audit was to assess the administrative effectiveness of AGD's management of the Northern Territory Night Patrols Program.



1. Safe and functional communities assist in addressing Indigenous disadvantage by providing an environment where individual and family wellbeing is fostered. Impediments to achieving this goal can include alcohol and substance abuse, violence (including domestic violence), youth unsupervised at night, mental health problems, property damage, and family feuds. A related community safety issue is the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the justice system and the subsequent impact on individuals and families. These issues are inextricably linked with other social and economic factors affecting Indigenous communities. Accordingly, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) has strongly emphasised the role that safe and functional communities can play in Closing the Gap on Indigenous disadvantage, and various Australian governments have made commitments to action in this area.

2. Night patrols are community­based intervention initiatives which seek to improve personal and community safety in Aboriginal communities across the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory Night Patrols Program is administered by the Attorney­General's Department (AGD) as part of the broader Indigenous Justice Program (IJP). The IJP operates nationally and its primary objective is to reduce the numbers of Indigenous Australians coming into adverse contact with the criminal justice system. A key strategy of the IJP is to use cultural knowledge and identity in its implementation.

3. Night patrols originated in the Northern Territory as a community­generated response to improving safety by preventing anti-social behaviour within Aboriginal communities. One of the first night patrol services was established by Julalikari Council during the 1980s to patrol areas in and around Tennant Creek. These patrols were originally staffed by volunteers with the aims of resolving problems in town camps, settling disputes, and supporting and assisting local police in their dealings with the community. From these beginnings in the Northern Territory, the concept of night patrols spread to other Indigenous communities in Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales. Subsequently, the Australian Government established program arrangements to support the operation of night patrols across a larger number of communities.

4. In line with the broader objectives of the IJP, the core functions of the night patrol program are to provide a service that assists vulnerable people, prevents social disorder, maintains community peace, and offers an alternative to police involvement. To do this, teams of local people patrol communities at night (mostly in vehicles but sometimes on foot), and assist community members who may be at risk of either causing harm or becoming a victim of harm. The approach is non­coercive and seeks to be culturally appropriate. Common forms of assistance that a night patrol service might offer include: transport to a safe place or sobering-up shelter; mediating potentially violent situations (when it is safe to do so); moving youth off the streets; or, referring clients to other related community support services.

5. Night patrols were initially funded by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission from the mid–1990s, with responsibility being transferred to AGD in 2004. When the program was transferred to AGD, it was a small, annual grants program providing supplementary funding for aspects of night patrol services (such as vehicle maintenance, uniforms or training), and was dependent on other Australian Government programs such as the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) Program. The funding was intended to complement state and territory funded initiatives, as state and territory governments are primarily responsible for law and justice.

6. Night patrols were expanded as part of the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER), established by the then Australian Government in June 2007 as a result of the Government's concerns about the safety of children in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. At the time the NTER was announced, the Australian Government was providing support under the Prevention, Diversion, Rehabilitation and Restorative Justice Program (PDRRP) for the operation of 44 night patrols across Australia, including 32 in the Northern Territory. In the Northern Territory, 30 service providers were funded to operate 32 patrols, with 23 operating in remote areas and the remainder providing a service in urban areas of Alice Springs, Katherine and Tennant Creek.

7. A key focus of the NTER was to improve law and order in 73 communities, known as prescribed communities. As part of this enhanced focus on law and order, the Government decided to significantly expand its support for the operation of night patrols, and extend the program to cover all 73 prescribed communities as a measure to improve community safety. AGD was required to implement the significant, and rapid, expansion of patrols in the Northern Territory to an additional 50 remote communities not previously covered by the program so that all of the 73 prescribed communities were serviced by a night patrol. Subsequently, night patrols funding under the NTER was expanded to include the operation of patrols in urban areas of Alice Springs, Katherine and Tennant Creek (previously funded under the PDRRP).

8. At the same time as the NTER was announced, the Northern Territory Government was implementing major reforms to the structure of local government. This reform led to the creation of eight shires that began formal operations on 1 July 2008. These shires replaced local community government councils and associations that previously were a provider of municipal and other community­level services, including night patrols in some communities. In light of this development, the Australian Government decided to use shire councils as the main service providers of night patrol services, following a ‘hub and spoke' regional administration model. In addition to the eight shire councils, there was initially one non-government organisation servicing communities near Darwin that were not within a shire council boundary. Currently, there are a total of 12 service providers, with the later addition of three non-government organisations providing night patrols in urban areas of Alice Springs, Katherine and Tennant Creek. 

9. Following the initial emergency phase of the NTER, in July 2009, the NTER was transitioned to a three year development phase to build on, and enhance, existing measures. The funding and framework for this transition was provided under the Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory National Partnership Agreement, which allowed for the continuation of a number of NTER measures, including night patrols, until 30 June 2012.

10. Funding for night patrols has increased over recent years. AGD received $13.25 million for the Prevention, Diversion, Rehabilitation and Restorative Justice Program (with a nominal percentage allocation for night patrols nationally) in the 2007–08 Budget. This was further increased when the NTER was announced in June 2007 - AGD received $14.98 million for law and order which included $12.11 million for night patrols. AGD was allocated $17.7 million in the 2008–09 Budget to promote the achievement of law and order and increase community safety through night patrols. The 2009–10 Budget provided for $67.9 million over three years to continue the operation of night patrols in the Northern Territory.

Audit objective and scope

11. The objective of the audit was to assess the administrative effectiveness of AGD's management of the Northern Territory Night Patrols Program.

Overall conclusion

12. Community safety issues in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory are diverse and complex. In rapidly expanding the geographical distribution and level of support for night patrols as part of the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER), the Attorney-General's Department (AGD) worked within the policy parameters set by the Government and was also influenced by the service delivery environment. This included the need to design and implement the expanded program over a very short period to meet the Government's overall implementation schedule for the NTER. Implementation also took place against a backdrop of local government reforms in the Northern Territory which significantly changed the nature of the service provider market.

13. AGD was able to quickly implement a new service delivery model in the Northern Territory, which enabled the department to establish and support night patrol services in an additional 50 remote communities across the Northern Territory. There are now night patrol services operating in 80 communities, including in urban areas. In one year of operation, between July 2008 and June 2009, night patrols assisted 75 220 people on a range of community safety matters.

14. A fundamental implementation consideration for the department was the need to manage the transformation of a small program operating on a community by community basis into a scaled-up program operating across 73 locations in the Northern Territory. In this situation, it was important that the design of the expansion of the program, and the supporting management arrangements, achieved a balance between flexibility to respond at the local level and consistency in delivery across all areas. Adapting initiatives to other communities can have many benefits. However, successful community­based activities generally grow from within the community in response to a particular set of conditions and circumstances. Accordingly, in order to replicate the success of community initiatives, it is important that the program is adapted to other community sites with appropriate consideration to local circumstances.

15. The timeframes for NTER implementation meant that AGD gave priority to the roll out of a common service delivery approach across all communities, with limited variation in the model to match specific community needs. This facilitated the establishment of night patrol services in all prescribed communities within the short timeframes required by the emergency context of the NTER. This model has also potentially limited the ability of the service to respond to community circumstances and priorities. Over time, as the program matured and the service delivery environment stabilised, the program framework has been incrementally updated by AGD to give greater recognition to specific service delivery requirements in different communities.

16. AGD collects a large amount of performance data from service providers that is primarily activity­focused. This data indicates that night patrols are providing a service in the Northern Territory which is heavily utilised. Undertaking greater analysis of existing performance information, in conjunction with consideration of other available data, would better position AGD to measure the contributions that the night patrols program makes to broader community safety and law and order outcomes.

17. The effectiveness of achieving community safety outcomes is influenced by the ability of night patrol services to respond to varying circumstances in communities, and to develop effective relationships between patrollers and other related services in communities. Overall, AGD expanded night patrols as required. While the department has made adjustments to program administration, there is potential for further modification to allow increased flexibility and responsiveness to local circumstances, as well as a greater focus on referrals to other community services. Administrative benefits would be achieved if aspects of the grant process, such as annual competitive funding cycles were revised to allow for alignment with the long­term objectives of the program and the service delivery model. This would be further supported by an enhanced program performance framework to measure the effectiveness of night patrols' interventions.

18. In order to improve the administrative effectiveness of the program, the ANAO has made four recommendations aimed at reducing the administrative load associated with annual competitive funding, enabling more flexible service delivery in communities, improved connection with other services, and assessing program performance.

Key findings by chapter

Arrangements to support the expansion of night patrols (Chapter 2)

19. A theme in Indigenous policy has been the need to adopt a flexible approach to program delivery that can be tailored to the needs and priorities of communities, as well as the development of effective partnerships between government and communities. Engaging with Indigenous communities is an important step in developing appropriate program approaches and service delivery activities. Engagement provides an avenue for community input into proposed approaches and allows these approaches to be informed by local knowledge, ultimately contributing to more responsive service delivery. The implementation plan developed by AGD included a community consultation phase, but this came after decisions had been made on the service delivery model, the program framework, and the engagement of service providers (including defining their scopes of service). Feedback to the ANAO from some stakeholders indicated that the initial implementation of night patrols did not allow for adequate community consultation or engagement, and in some cases, this impacted on the community ownership of the service.

20. While the use of a common service delivery approach had some benefits in terms of enabling the department to rapidly implement the expanded program, the nature of service delivery in remote communities is complex with community circumstances varying. In some cases, by attempting to apply tighter definition to the scope of services, the department has limited the ability of night patrols to take a flexible approach across communities. The ANAO observed some instances where the standardised service delivery approach did not align well with community expectations and circumstances. AGD has recognised the importance of incorporating a more flexible approach to community service provision and has taken steps to enable this. However, service providers consulted by the ANAO were not aware of the flexibility available to them. It will be important for the department to maintain this active approach to the program's management so that the program can continue to be adjusted to increase its flexibility over time, and to work more closely with communities and service providers to raise awareness about the flexible program options available to them.

21. The effectiveness of night patrols is also affected by the extent to which night patrollers can persuade clients towards a course of action and to adequately access support services. While the service delivery environment can make it difficult to coordinate with other services, this is an important element of the program's objectives and achieving community safety outcomes. In the immediate future, the nature of the assistance provided by night patrols will continue to provide a service of benefit to community members in the Northern Territory, but it is important that a focus is also maintained on supporting integrated community solutions to address community issues.

Program administration (Chapter 3)

22. The administration of night patrols is based on AGD's centralised management, and a ‘hub and spoke' regional service delivery model, involving eight shire councils and four non­government organisations delivering services to a varied number of communities in their identified regions. The administrative arrangements developed by AGD include an annual grants funding process supported by a suite of operational guidelines, service delivery guidance, and monitoring and reporting requirements for service providers.

23. The administrative arrangements, such as the use of a competitive annual funding round and annual funding agreements with quarterly reporting, were based on the existing arrangements prior to the expansion of the program under the NTER. These arrangements allow for program operation on a year to year basis and give the department a way to manage risks associated with the use of new service providers. Given the long-term nature of night patrols' objectives, and the current service delivery model, the annual competitive grants process creates an administrative load for both service providers and AGD. There would be benefit in AGD reviewing the process to streamline funding arrangements and considering alternative options to reduce the difficulties associated with the annual funding cycle.

24. Recruiting and retaining local Indigenous people in night patrol positions is an ongoing difficulty. There are many reasons for this, including location, availability of skilled people, and cultural commitments affecting the availability of staff. Interviews with service providers indicated that there is a wide variety of experience and formal qualifications across the night patrol workforce and this, in conjunction with other factors, suggests that the training and support needs of patrollers vary across locations. In 2010–11, AGD has implemented additional support mechanisms and is also working towards delivering a standard training suite. The ANAO encourages AGD to maintain an ongoing focus on the adequacy of support provided to patrollers, including appropriate training, ongoing mentoring, consistent resourcing, and adequate employment provisions.

Night patrols in communities (Chapter 4)

25. Night patrols operate in a complex service delivery environment that is characterised by differences in remoteness, population, size of the client base, social and economic pressures, and availability of related community services. For example, a night patrol service operating in an urban area, such as Alice Springs, Tennant Creek or Katherine, is likely to be influenced by, and have different requirements to, a service operating in a very remote community of 100 people. Research suggests that the historical effectiveness of night patrols in achieving community safety outcomes derives from the cultural authority of patrollers and the targeting of community safety issues.

26. In order to achieve outcomes (both in communities and at a program level), AGD needs to manage service providers in a broadly consistent manner, while also understanding and being responsive to, service delivery issues in different communities. AGD advised that it provides guidance on minimum standards for night patrols' operation and service providers are required to determine the details of their operations in consultation with communities. However, the arrangements for the management of service providers are focused more at the regional administration level, rather than at the community level. The ANAO considers there is scope for AGD to better promote the flexibility available within existing service delivery requirements in order to facilitate greater responsiveness to community circumstances.

27. There has been limited consultation and engagement with communities or consideration of individual communities' circumstances when determining priorities from a central perspective. While the ‘one size fits all' approach assisted AGD to meet the implementation timeframes of the NTER, it has also limited the flexibility of service providers to adapt night patrols to the circumstances of individual communities and maintain community ownership of the service. In recognition of this, AGD is moving towards a model that is more tailored to community circumstances; for example, additional patrols have been funded in larger communities.

28. Effectively addressing the multi­faceted nature of community safety and related issues requires a coordinated approach to service delivery at the community level. In practical terms for night patrols, this means establishing effective partnerships with other related community support services (such as police, safe houses, sobering-up shelters, and health clinics) at a local level so that when night patrols identify people who are ‘at risk', they can be transported to a safe place to avoid the occurrence of future harm. Connections between night patrols and these other services do not always exist in communities, leading to a risk of fragmented service delivery and ultimately, a risk to the achievement of the program's objectives. Developing such relationships can be difficult for service providers at the local level owing to factors such as different times of operation and different understandings of respective roles and responsibilities.

29. Recognising the constraints on service providers developing comprehensive arrangements at the local level, the AGD has negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding between the Northern Territory Police Service and service providers. This could potentially be replicated with other key services to further improve service connectivity at a community level.

Performance measurement and reporting (Chapter 5)

30. The collection of robust and meaningful program performance information is important so that assessments can be made about a program's progress towards its objectives and its overall effectiveness. There are particular challenges to measuring performance of prevention and diversionary programs, such as night patrols, where success is judged by the absence of undesirable events, such as police arrest or incarceration. As a diversionary service, there are also multiple implications of night patrols' work, and information is needed to connect night patrols to the broader environment.

31. Presently, the performance indicators and reporting arrangements established by AGD are focused on the number of operational services and the demand on night patrol services. This data allows AGD to measure the level of night patrol's activities. However, these arrangements do not currently support an analysis of the extent to which the program's objectives are being achieved and whether night patrols are contributing to the achievement of broader community safety and justice outcomes.

32. While AGD collects a significant amount of data, there are some gaps in data collection, collation and analysis, which affect the ability of the department to make an overall assessment of the program's performance and provide advice to the Government on its effectiveness. The reliability of the data is influenced by several barriers to collecting high quality and available data. The current performance reporting arrangements are also resource intensive for service providers which may detract attention from service delivery matters.

33. In light of these constraints, the department could explore other ways of obtaining perspectives on performance, including through a greater engagement with communities. Additionally, there would be benefit to AGD and service providers if collated data was analysed and used to inform future program decisions and operations at the strategic and community level. This would further support a flexible approach to service delivery based on the needs and priorities of communities.

Summary of agency response

34. The Department welcomes the performance audit of the Northern Territory Night Patrols Program, and largely agrees with the recommendations of the report.

35. The report presents an accurate view of the unique challenges faced by the Attorney-General's Department in managing the transformation of a small community-driven program administered at a community council level, to a greatly-expanded program delivered at a regional level by the shire councils.

36. Night patrols are an important element of the Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory initiative focusing on reducing adverse contact with the criminal justice system and increasing community safety. The Department works closely with service providers to support patrols which are responsive to community needs, delivers high quality outcomes and partners with other services to support safer communities.

37. The findings in this report will assist in the future effective delivery of night patrols in the Northern Territory.