Beds at the troubled Ngunnawal Bush Healing Farm are likely to lay empty for longer after the government back tracked on plans to look for a provider for a residential program by early this year.
The $12 million custom-built facility in Canberra's Tidbinbilla Valley - opened in late 2017 - was originally designed as an eight-bed residential facility for Indigenous people.
The government controversially abandoned the Indigenous community's proposal for a residential drug and alcohol centre after it was revealed the area was not zoned for clinical services.
However it maintained plans for a residential program on the site to facilitate a "reconnection with the land and culture".
But more than a year after it opened, clients are still bussed to and from daily activities at the farm. Just 34 participants have taken part since it opened.
A briefing for estimates hearings prepared by ACT Health in October revealed the government planned to put a tender out for a residential program at the farm by early 2019. But the government has since confirmed those plans are on hold.
It will not decide the future of the farm until the delayed "healing framework" - which was due for completion in January 2019 - is completed and a wide ranging review is handed down in October.
The government says there are separate plans to open a residential drug and alcohol facility for the Indigenous community.
"ACT Health will consider all findings and recommendations of the review as it rolls out to determine the most appropriate next steps for the [bush healing farm]," an ACT Health spokeswoman said.
She said the work was being done in close collaboration with members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body, United Ngunnawal Elders Council as well as other stakeholders.
The government has denied the purpose of the farm was ever to include clinical services, but stakeholders have disputed that.
Winnunga Aboriginal Health Service and Gugan Gulwan Youth Aboriginal Corporation walked away from the program in 2017 after it emerged no clinical services would actually be offered on-site.
The spokeswoman said, "The primary purpose of the [bush healing farm] is to provide an additional service to support a person’s reconnection with the land and culture and empower them to make new and more positive choices.
"The current operational model of the [bush healing farm] was not intended as a clinical model of alcohol and other drug withdrawal.
"However, the government recognises the need for Aboriginal specific services for withdrawal and rehabilitation and is at the same time progressing this work."
The spokeswoman said that at the time of writing the estimates brief, the government anticipated the healing framework would be finalised by early 2019.
When that did not happen, the plans to put out a tender were scrapped.
"In addition, ACT Health initiated the review of the [bush healing farm] in September 2018, which will review the services, program design and delivery and governance of the facility," she said.
"The review will build upon success and learnings to date and talk to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community about the best way forward for this service.
"The review is well underway and key stakeholders are contributing their views and aspirations for the [bush healing farm], which will inform next steps.
"During this review, further assessment will take place to determine the best way forward to provide a residential program, and the government will consider any changes as recommended by the review throughout the year."
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