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Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs - 14/02/2013 - Contribution of sport to Indigenous wellbeing and mentoring
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CURREY, Mr Carl Brian, Director, Left-field Business Solutions

[13:09]

CHAIR: Welcome. Would you like to make a brief introductory statement?

Mr Currey : I have worked in Aboriginal affairs for 18 years, and eight of those were working in sport» . I managed the Indigenous «sport» program at the Australian Sports Commission. In 2002, I also participated in a whole-of-government taskforce that laid the foundations for the Closing the Gap strategy, so I come to the table with a fair amount of knowledge about Indigenous outcomes, how government needs to work better together and I have an Aboriginal person's perspective. I bring to the table a fair amount of experience in relation to this.

In terms of «sport» being used as an effective vehicle and/or tool to achieve Closing the Gap outcomes for mentoring and wellbeing, it needs to be understood in context. «Sport» on its own is not able to achieve a number of those outcomes; it needs to be done in partnership: if it is a «sport» , with government agencies, the private sector and not-for-profits. Yes, it can achieve some good outcomes but it needs to be developed, delivered, designed and placed in context for it to work effectively.

CHAIR: What sort of programs have you seen that have been effective in that regard?

Mr Currey : Through my business, we have worked with the Australian Rugby League Commission as well as the National Rugby League. We have coordinated, delivered and evaluated a number of their programs, including one called the State of Origin job experience—it is funded by the federal education department.

That program targets some year 11 and 12 Indigenous students in various locations in New South Wales and Queensland and works with them to understand what their interests are beyond school. We are talking about those individuals who want to go to TAFE, university or do trades. We identify that information and link those individuals to some work experience during a week of activity. We then take the individuals from their relevant locations to Sydney or to the Gold Coast, which we did last year, culminating with attendance at the relevant state of origins in each of those areas.

The key is that «sport» was neither the outcome nor the goal. The «sport» was the catch, as you have mentioned previously, and the role that rugby league played was that it created the attraction. We are able to access some of the elite players as ambassadors that are members in the relevant State of Origin teams. The students that we took as part of this week of activities were very excited about the whole idea of meeting them, but that wasn't the goal; it was to provide the individuals with some leadership, mentoring, work experience and, ultimately, to participate in the game.

The critical part of that, while it may have only been a week of activity, was we spent upwards of four months working with the individual communities the kids came from, meeting the parents, the students and with the schools to get a clear understanding about what their needs were. It is very important in the scheme of things. By understanding that, we developed a really good relationship with those communities and the people from those communities, so we were able to place those individuals in workplaces.

We mentioned before about the potential to put individuals into «sport» employment outcomes. The beauty of these individuals is that their interests were varied from motor mechanics to zoology, art—you name it.

We were then able to link through the sponsors of the National Rugby League and the Australian Rugby League Commission—through Toyota, News Limited and Telstra—to provide individuals with some workplace experience. The beauty of it, while the particular project we did on the Gold Coast last year was only for one week, from testimonials we got back, five of those students were offered jobs.

CHAIR: That is great.

Mr HAASE: Did they take them?

Mr Currey : No, they were encouraged to continue their education, to complete year 12. If a reciprocal opportunity was available, say for instance through Toyota, in the community or township they came from they would try to identify it there. Then they would take it up when they finished their schooling.

CHAIR: We heard evidence in Brisbane about work that has been done by the Titans, the Cowboys and the Broncos in Queensland. Can you comment on one particular program that you saw was very successful? We have heard evidence in relation to other programs, such as Learn Earn Legend. Can you comment on that program or any other programs that you have had experience with and how effective they have been, and what evaluation has been undertaken?

Mr Currey : My understanding about the programs is fairly limited in terms of what we have seen from the submissions and what we have heard from individuals who have presented at the public hearings. I think there is a glaring gap in the evidence base regarding independent evaluation. I do not believe there is enough information out there that clearly demonstrates that these activities make a difference. There is a huge difference between being able to run a program and have numbers—that is, we have had kids running around for two days; we have had 100 kids. That is an output. What is missing is often the outcome and/or the impact. Some of those programs may be in their infancy—I do not want to criticise them too much because they should have time to germinate and be able to achieve the outcomes—but if you set up something to achieve an employment outcome or a social outcome or a health outcome or a juvenile diversion outcome, you must be able to design it effectively to achieve it. Some of those programs may not have the appropriate design to achieve it.

Dr STONE: You told us how you very much understand the need to integrate your programs with other government agencies, and you particularly mentioned health services. Can you give us some examples of where you have seen that happen, or facilitated that happening, perhaps in things like the smoking programs, alcohol consumption and illicit drug consumption? Can you give some examples of best practice there?

Mr Currey : Yes. Critical to the involvement of other government agencies is to clearly understand what their objectives and their outcomes are. You mentioned Tackling Indigenous Smoking. Healthy Active Lifestyle is another one that comes out of the Department of Health and Ageing. To be able to achieve those outcomes using «sport» , you have to be really clear about what role «sport» plays. «Sport» is not going to divert people from smoking. It can be a means to engage people effectively and once you have engaged them effectively you can use those key messages around diversion of smoking to influence people's decisions to make better choices. Again, you then link it with being actively involved, not smoking, eating healthily. You have a balance of providing people with a better decision to be made.

A project that we are undertaking at the moment, in Goondiwindi—members might be aware of where that is and be aware of issues that are faced in the Goondiwindi region—is funded through the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, again. The purpose of the program is to work with parents to improve their support for their students while they complete their schooling, but we take an inclusive, integrated approach to it. We are working with the local Aboriginal medical service, Carbal Medical Centre, which is based in Toowoomba, Queensland, and they have access to some medical workers. They also have a Tackling Indigenous Smoking officer as well as a mini van that has a doctor and other nurses who travel to a number of the communities to provide health checks. We are linking that activity with the programs that we are delivering in the community.

So, we might run a sports day as part of a launch for this program. We will bring in rugby league—they will run some clinics—and we will also bring in the Carbal Medical Centre to do health checks on the people who are there. That is one means of utilising the health component to achieve their outcomes by physically being there as part of a sports initiative. It is in context; it is planned; it is designed. People are really clear about what they are meant to be doing, and it works on the ground because you take the time to actually work it out in the first place. You ask the simple question, and this was mentioned before: what do you need?

If you do not know what people need you should not make assumptions and turn up to try to deliver something that may not be needed.

Dr STONE: Are you getting your male/female balance right in your programs?

Mr Currey : Yes. Our approach—and I will go back to the State of Origin Job Experience Programs in both Queensland and New South Wales—is fifty-fifty. We made sure of that.

Dr STONE: Do you have quotas?

Mr Currey : No, we took that as our approach; we want to get a gender balance. We acknowledge that a lot of sports are male dominated; that initiative was not about «sport» but we needed to ensure that there was a female balance. If we go to Goondiwindi as an example, we look at the ABS statistics, we look at and work with the local service providers, we get a better understanding about who is using what, and we do the maths and the science behind it to clearly understand who we are dealing with, how many people we are dealing with and how we can engage people effectively. Those are critical elements that people, in the programs they deliver in and around «sport» and in trying to achieve non- «sport» outcomes, do get wrong.

Mr HAASE: I have a reputation for asking the annoying questions about the degree of rigour and the scrutiny of program results. You alluded in your opening statements to the need for measurement. Without being too intrusive, I note that you are a consultancy service; what measure of rigour is used by the entities that engage your services? What do they use to gauge whether or not they should continue to use your services?

Mr Currey : We adopt both quantitative and qualitative data collection approaches to get the baseline data—that is, the number of participants, where they came from, what they want to achieve et cetera. The qualitative side of it is the true test because you get feedback from individuals that participate in the program. Yes, we gather that data, but then we provide that back to the people we are working with and give them the opportunity to verify the data should they want to. The data we get back from people who participate in our programs make it clear that what they participated in was a positive experience, and that it is something where they look forward to the next steps. Our ability to be able to verify our data is based on what people give us in their personal accounts, but people also have the opportunity to go back and check that if they need to.

Mr HAASE: You say that you are regularly involved in coordinating Indigenous service delivery, and I see here that we are speaking of 18 years experience overall. In that 18 years experience does the Indigenous service delivery reach back a long way, or is that a more recent situation?

Mr Currey : I finished my university degree in 2004 and went straight into the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, so service delivery started back there.

Mr HAASE: In those 18 years you would have seen the emergence of individuals, especially youth, from education to employment age. Do you have any stats for us that would give us an understanding of how effective Indigenous community «sport» is in creating real employment—ongoing, secure, across the board, normal lifestyle employment?

Mr Currey : I do not, but that is a question you should really direct to the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. That is their core business; how to identify the education and employment outcomes. It is a really good question and it is really important, too, because if you are a department of education and workplace relations your core is education and the workplace. If it is health, the core business is health. Sport's core business, as an example, is «sport» . Sports should never be asked to deliver anything beyond «sport» . That is where problems occur. For example, if government went to the AFL and said, 'We're going to give you $5 million and we want you to run programs to divert kids away from crime.' Unless that program involves the juvenile justice system, the local police, the community services area, Indigenous «Sport» Development Officers, community «sport» officers et cetera, so it is a holistic approach, you are never going to achieve it. Just playing a physical activity, or playing «sport» , does not divert you over the longer term from activity.

If you get people to participate in something, you have to have them engaged over a longer term. It also has to be a holistic approach so that if you are participating you have other services to support you along the way, particularly if you have problems at home, you have health issues or you have education outcome problems. It is a continuum. It is a journey. «Sport» is not the only way to achieve it. It is not a panacea.

Mr HAASE: Your submission does go to the point that your involvement and work are directed towards Closing the Gap.

Mr Currey : Correct.

Mr HAASE: Do you concede that involvement in «sport» and involvement in activities hooked by «sport» do in fact have an outcome that closes the gap?

Mr Currey : It does, in context.

Mr HAASE: Can we measure it? That is the point.

Mr Currey : It is difficult.

Mr HAASE: We are trying to get to a justification for this fund.

Mr Currey : It is difficult to measure because the Closing the Gap initiative is incredibly complex and requires combinations and partnerships across all different levels of government, the private sector and the not-for-profit sector. We acknowledge that, and COAG acknowledges that as well. If you design a program where you are very clear about what role «sport» plays, and you know exactly what you are trying to measure—

Mr HAASE: Are you saying that has not been done?

Mr Currey : No. There is anecdotal evidence which I do not have access to. There is information that is available through the Sports Commission and through the Clearinghouse for «Sport» Knowledge Base. There is information in there about some programs that have been active, and some forms of measurement. There is evidence around non-Indigenous and international, but very little in Australia. There was a body of research completed as a partnership through the Australian Sports Commission, the Laureus «Sport» for Good Foundation—which is an international apolitical charitable organisation—and the University of Queensland. Dr Stephen Rynne, who appeared at one of the public hearings, led that research. That research utilised participation in «sport» to test whether it could improve human and social capital, and it gave the evidence which showed that bringing people together in a positive activity like «sport» did contribute because it got people better connected with their communities and their families.

Mr HAASE: What would Carl Currey, as an individual with an observation of the environment, say about the nexus between involvement in «sport» and improvements in lifestyle closing the gap—just in a couple of sentences.

Mr Currey : I think «sport» can play a critical role. It has to have its place. It needs involvement of federal and state government agencies and it also needs to involve the sports industry. It needs to work in partnership. But, you have to have—what I believe is a missing thread through this whole thing—a framework. That is the missing piece in all of this. If you want to achieve Closing the Gap outcomes, you have to be clear about what you are trying to achieve and, unless you have a framework that encompasses the investment across the Office for «Sport» , the Australian Sports Commission, federal education, health, family and community services, it is virtually impossible.

Mr HAASE: What do you think of the Clontarf scheme?

Mr Currey : I think that Clontarf has merit. I think there are elements of it that are very positive, but it is a model that can not be used in every location. That is a key one too.

Ms GRIERSON: Mr Currey, I would have to say to you, congratulations on the part you played in the Indigenous All Stars concept. It is just wonderful and so popular. I am an NRL Knights tragic and I know what it has meant to my community. Congratulations on that, and in your part in repatriating human remains.

CHAIR: We have a geographic conflict. I am a Broncos fan.

Ms GRIERSON: I think those things give you great credibility. I am a member of parliament and I know how hard it is for cross-department and cross-portfolio activities, yet the Closing the Gap task demands that, and therefore every program has to be measured against how it contributes. That was one of the biggest obstacles with the Northern Territory intervention: how do you work across portfolios and across levels of government? That has been very hard for our public servants and our departments and our bureaucrats. It has been a very steep and ambitious learning curve for people, but I think they are doing it and starting to get it right, and we are probably the people that stand in their way sometimes. The first question I asked was: what are you trying to achieve? Is it a health outcome, is it a performance athletic achievement outcome, is it participation, is it engagement, it is community development? You say that is what is missing. How would you do that?

Mr Currey : It is almost like you need to pull apart what the actual Closing the Gap strategy is. You need to identify the service delivery principles and how they link to the individual targets. It can be done, but you need to take a constructive approach. I do not want to sound disrespectful, but the people that work across a number of government agencies at this point of time do not understand that context. Often, what happens is that when you are delivering a program, you are so constrained by your individual bureaucracy and your guidelines that you do not actually understand why you are delivering it. Again, unless there is a framework, and you clearly articulate where it fits within the Closing the Gap strategy, it is virtually impossible to do it. It can be done, but you have to have the understanding and the clarity of mind to see how it fits together.

CHAIR: Is that why you are saying the Office for «Sport» should be in consultation with FaHCSIA in relation to this issue?

Mr Currey : The key point is the Australian Sports Commission does a great job of funding sports, and that is where it should stay: fund «sport» for sport's sake. Sports need to be strong to engage and achieve non- «sport» outcomes. That is the first step. The Office for «Sport» did a great thing when it changed its annual grant funding to three years. That was a fantastic thing. It used to be annual, which was very painful, because it was very difficult to get security and continuity of delivery programs.

Dr STONE: Short-termism is one of the major problems with Closing the Gap work.

CHAIR: We have heard that evidence so far.

Mr Currey : From that perspective, the Office for «Sport» , because it is the premier agency for «sport» in Australia, has to be a part of the discussion; but it cannot lead it. It will support «sport» for sport's sake and some of these non-support outcomes, but the Department Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs is the lead agency when it comes to Indigenous affairs, so it really should lead it.

Ms GRIERSON: Is there a model of a program that is funded across departments—beside the intervention programs—where they have to work together and manage a program. Can you think of any examples?

Mr Currey : Not that I am aware of; very few.

Ms GRIERSON: No. That is part of the problem.

Mr Currey : That gets down to the lack of flexibility. No disrespect to the ministers for portfolios, but it is difficult to develop a genuine partnership across agencies since each minister wants their pound of flesh.

Ms GRIERSON: In a way, that is the way the real world works and operates. We are looking at what «sport» is achieving within our Indigenous community; what its role is, what its purpose is and all of those things. Are the funding streams around that area balanced in the right way?

Mr Currey : No. I think there is enough—

Ms GRIERSON: If you could change one aspect of the funding streams, what would you do?

Mr Currey : You have to understand what the quantum is. I did some research quite some time ago at the Sports Commission and, at that time, there appeared to be enough funding. When you take into consideration the Sporting Chance Program from DEEWR and what is funded out of families and community services, there is quite a lot of money, but it is how it is being administered that is important. Again, you have to come down to: where are you going to deliver it, who are you going to deliver it with, has anyone asked the communities whether this is what they want? And then you have to design an individual solution for each one of the communities. For example, if at Goondiwindi there is a juvenile crime issue and you want to use «sport» , you have to understand the context of how «sport» needs to operate in that community. You cannot just say, 'Here is some funding for rugby league to go and run some programs. You beauty.' It does not work like that. You have to understand that it has to be delivered: how are the kids going to school, what the family environment is, what the support services are. You have to be to able to capture this. Again, I get back to my point about the development of a framework. The framework is absolutely critical because, from that, you can quite clearly articulate to all government departments—federal, state and local—where they fit in the grander scheme of things. That is the missing piece at this point in time.

Ms GRIERSON: In mainstream «sport» , we see participation rates drop off markedly with teenagers, which is a critical time for young Indigenous people. Is it the same story with Indigenous communities, in the activity and participation rates in «sport» ? Do you have any solutions or suggestions around that to increase and continue that participation level?

Mr Currey : I think the continuation of participation is based on quality people, and this committee has already identified that in previous public hearings. Programs are one thing, key people on the ground are absolutely critical because they are the ones who sustain it. They are the mums and dads and the aunties and the uncles who get up in the morning and take their kids to school, and also take them to «sport» . Without that, these programs mean nothing. Programs need to be funded over a long enough period to get a result. If you want people to participate in «sport , and you want to achieve an education outcome, you have to be able to sustain a minimum of three to five years. Often programs are delivered for five minutes and the community says, 'Wow, that was fantastic,' and the following question is, 'What is next?' And, the people say, 'There is nothing next.' People who have come out of their problematic lifestyle and participated in something positive will revert back to their problem lifestyle because there is nothing next. It has to be a continuum and it has to be sustained. It has to be over a longer period. You have to be able to have key people who are not only organising it—they are like the gel or the glue at the community level—but designing these programs effectively and coordinating them so that people know exactly what they are doing.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for your evidence today. A copy of the transcript will be on our website. Please make any changes to it if you think it is inaccurate. I call on Dr Stone to move that the committee authorise publication of the evidence given before the public hearing today, including publication of the parliamentary electronic database approved transcript.

Dr STONE: So moved.

CHAIR: No objections, so resolved.

Committee adjourned 13:36