- Parliamentary Business
- Senators & Members
- News & Events
- About Parliament
- Visit Parliament
STANDING COMMITTEE ON ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER AFFAIRS
Involvement of Indigenous juveniles and young adults in the criminal justice system
House of Reps
- Parl No.
- Committee Name
STANDING COMMITTEE ON ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER AFFAIRS
Involvement of Indigenous juveniles and young adults in the criminal justice system
- System Id
Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Table Of ContentsDownload PDF
STANDING COMMITTEE ON ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER AFFAIRS
(House of Representatives-Friday, 28 January 2011)
PHILLIPS, Mr Shane
EMMANUEL, Superintendent Michael
McKENZIE, Mr John
BAPTIE, Ms Joan
McFARLANE, Ms Katherine
JEFFRIES, Mr Sam
BENSTED, Ms Lilian
Assistant Commissioner Grant
ATKINSON, Mr Robert
KELLY, Mr Grahame
OLIVER, Ms Sue
Assistant Commissioner Kelly
BLAGG, Dr Harry
FREUDENSTEIN, Superintendent Luke
GRANT, Mr Luke
SOVENYHAZI, Ms Tammy
RADCLIFFE, Mrs Leza
CHANT, Dr Kerry
TIERNEY, Mr David
CUMMINGS, Mr Andrew
BAMBLETT, Professor Muriel
BURROW, Mr Andrew Charles
MIERS, Ms Sue
CHAMPION, Ms Una
PRIDAY, Ms Emilie
SOMERVILLE, Associate Professor Robert Stanly, AM
SCOTT, Ms Michelle
GLASGOW, Mr David
MASON, Miss Patricia
HOLLYWOOD, Ms Romola
GASKIN, Ms Claire
- PHILLIPS, Mr Shane
Content WindowSTANDING COMMITTEE ON ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER AFFAIRS - 28/01/2011 - Involvement of Indigenous juveniles and young adults in the criminal justice system
Ms Scott —I am the Commissioner for Children and Young People in Western Australia. Today I am also representing the other children’s commissioners throughout Australia.
Prof. Somerville —I am the director of Aboriginal education for Western Australia in the state school system. I am also a Martu man from Jigalong in Western Australia.
Prof. Bamblett —I am a Yorta Yorta-Wotjobalak woman from Victoria. My daytime job is that I am CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, which is principally involved in child welfare. We employ about 180 staff.
Mr Tierney —I represent the Aboriginal Child, Family and Community Care State Secretariat.
Dr Shepherd —I am from the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education in the Northern Territory, which is Australia’s only postsecondary multisector Indigenous training centre.
Mrs Radcliffe —I am the Yamatji regional representative for the Western Australian State Aboriginal Justice Congress.
Miss Mason —I am the state chair for the Aboriginal Justice Congress, and I come from the Pilbara region—Port Hedland.
Ms Hollywood —I am the manager for social policy and advocacy with UnitingCare Burnside, which is a large child and family service provider providing services throughout metropolitan, regional and rural New South Wales, primarily working in disadvantaged communities.
Ms Sovenyhazi —I am a registrar with the Family Responsibilities Commission in Northern Queensland.
Mr Glasgow —I am the commissioner with the Family Responsibilities Commission, which is an independent commission operating in Northern Queensland.
Ms Miers —I am the spokesperson for the National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and Related Disorders. I am also the foster carer of a now 30-year-old daughter who has a foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Ms Champion —I am here today representing Justice Health, which is the New South Wales state-wide health service that looks after all people who come in contact with the criminal justice system, including the young people. My usual position is nurse-manager with the young people in custody.
Ms Gaskin —I am the clinical director for adolescent mental health for Justice Health in New South Wales Health.
Mr Cummings —I am the Executive Director of the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition, which is the national peak body representing young people in the youth support sector.
Ms Priday —I am from the Human Rights Commission, and I am representing Commissioner Mick Gooda.
Mr Burrow —I work for Rio Tinto Iron Ore in Western Australia, and I am the superintendent of the Work Readiness and Education department, which is part of the Communities department of Rio Tinto Iron Ore.
CHAIR —Thank you very much. If you were here this morning, you saw that it went all over the place, and that is what we want to do. It is a roundtable. Feel free to contribute back and forward across the issues. I might start with pretty much what I started with this morning and say that we know that we have gone backwards in the last 20 years on issues of Indigenous incarceration, detention and involvement in the criminal justice system. We want to know why, and I think the Australian public want to know how we can fix it. I know it is a big and complex dual question, but I will open it up for anyone to start. We might start with you, Michelle, right at the end.
Ms Scott —I want to say that as a commissioner I am independent and I report to the Western Australian parliament. It is a relatively new position in Western Australia. I have been the commissioner for three years, and I am charged with the responsibility for all children and young people under the age of 18, but I must have special regard for Aboriginal children and young people and others who might be vulnerable or disadvantaged.
From the very beginning of my appointment, the over-representation of Aboriginal kids in detention and coming into contact with the criminal justice system has been a priority. That is because in Western Australia we have an average daily rate of about 158 kids in detention, compared to Victoria, which has an average daily rate of about 43 to 50. If you are an Aboriginal young person, you are 43 times more likely to be detained in Western Australia than you are elsewhere in the country. So it has been a very important priority. I think there are complex reasons why that is the case. I think there is some evidence that others can talk about that we could be investing in and that can make a difference. But I agree with you that, despite our best efforts, we are not making the substantial inroads that we should be.
CHAIR —We had a lot of evidence this morning from other states, but I am glad to see Western Australians here this afternoon, because most of the evidence we had this morning came in relation to Queensland, New South Wales and the Northern Territory. Robert, you are another Western Australian, aren’t you?
Prof. Somerville —Yes, I am.
CHAIR —So perhaps you could comment.
Prof. Somerville —The issues are complex. I think what often occurs is that we come up with solutions for a term of parliament. I think one thing the government is doing well at the moment is giving us a longer period of time in closing the gap. Over the last 20 years things have gone back. I think they have gone back in a number of ways. We are seeing a huge lack of Aboriginal leadership and Aboriginal people making the decisions with regard to the directions we are taking. There are very few Aboriginal people in areas of power now. When I look at my own department—and I can say this—we have a lack of Aboriginal people in senior positions, and we had that 10 or 15 years ago. That is one solution we have got.
People do know the problems but often do not know the solutions. We are not taking a big picture approach with a whole range of things such as tax reform for Aboriginal people to get them into and allow them to stay in jobs. We are getting more Aboriginal young people in the justice system in Western Australia and we are getting a huge number of Aboriginal people being retained to year 12 and getting TERs to get them into university and so on. We are seeing an enormous change at one end of the spectrum yet we are seeing that ongoing rise at the other end of the spectrum. Why? What are some of the solutions? How do we get people who are out of work back into work so that they can make those life choices?
Mrs Radcliffe —There is not enough consultation with the community at the grassroots level. We have heard about a lot of youth programs and youth funding and agencies that are responsible for youth but we do not hear about a lot of people talking to the kids and finding out what will work for them. It is great to talk to their parents and the community leaders. I spent a good part of every day putting out fires for the rest of the community, but I spend a major part of my day speaking to the kids that we are here about. The reasons behind their offending behaviour and the reasons they are disengaging from education can range from small things such as not having breakfast—and we heard about the breakfast programs and things like that—to major things such as not having a bed to sleep in, worrying about being raped and worrying about being beaten every night. These are the reasons our kids are not engaging in programs. The programs could be great. With just a little bit of tweaking they could be more relevant to the kids you want to engage with. You are not going to find that out if you do not talk to the kids.
Dr STONE —Would you put the suicide risk with young Indigenous girls and boys into the same basket as increasing offending and so on?
Mrs Radcliffe —Yes, across the board. We make a lot of decisions on behalf of our kids, and rightly so as parents who are fully equipped to make those decisions but a good portion of our parents are under the age of 18 and have never really been asked their opinion about anything. They do not get to vote and they do not get to legally drink but they are parents. They are raising kids with no skills. We have third or fourth generation families that have not had long-term sustained employment where they would have superannuation at the end of it. CDEP is going in the future and that will have a massive impact on our communities and how they are going to survive these major changes coming their way.
Ms Scott —I think Leza raised a very important point. The Western Australian Department of Corrective Services actually for the first time talked to kids in detention. I have brought this along for the committee. Earlier this year I published a major research report about wellbeing. That involved 12 months of researchers talking to kids, 10 per cent of whom were Aboriginal in regional and remote communities as well as in metropolitan areas. What was important to their wellbeing? Having a loving, supportive family where they feel safe and secure was critical to their wellbeing. What things were they most concerned about that detracted from their wellbeing? Anything that impacted on family: alcohol and child abuse. Recently we also talked to the Halo boys, who are kids in detention, about their mental health and wellbeing. They commented a lot about the lack of parenting and the lack of male role models in their community.
So from hearing the voices of kids and young people, for those of you who have not worked in that area, you would be surprised at how much their views correlate with the scientific, objective research that comes out of all of the universities and the Telethon institute in Perth. But it is very important that we talk directly with children and young people, and that is a point that we have made in our submission.
CHAIR —Muriel, you have done a lot of work in this area and I know you have given a lot of evidence in relation to this. Can you comment about the family connectiveness and impact and the social norms. The first recommendation is about developing positive social norms and dealing with social engagement in communities, and I know you have done a lot of work in this area.
Prof. Bamblett —I think the strongest predictor to young people and children being involved in the criminal justice system is parenting, and there is an absence of this with a lot of our young people, particularly with a history of stolen generations. I think all the evidence in Victoria suggests that young people who are involved in the criminal justice system have issues at home: mental health, drug and alcohol, disability. I think if we do not do something about parents working with parents and families in the home we are not going to stem the flow of children in the system. I think that is one issue.
On the issue of involvement of the Aboriginal community, Aboriginal people have to be at the forefront and driving. You have heard evidence about NGOs doing the work. I think that is great. But I was involved recently in the NT inquiry, in the Northern Territory, where we went to one community where 81 services flew into a community on a monthly basis. Most of those services did not know who was coming in, so you had mental health, drug, family violence—every type of service. The answer is not more services for Aboriginal people, it is for Aboriginal people to drive our services.
Our Aboriginal Justice Agreement in Victoria is actually making inroads. If you look at the data there, the actual numbers of young people going to criminal justice is reducing and we have got Koori courts, similar to in New South Wales, so where Aboriginal people are involved you can see there is a difference. That is the Aboriginal Justice Agreement, but there is the whole justice system. Being on the Youth Parole Board in Victoria, I have to make the point that culture is the critical issue for our young people. A lot of kids that are involved in the criminal justice system have no connection with their culture. A lot of them have been placed in non-Aboriginal care, with a history of being in non-Aboriginal care with no connection to culture. They do not know who they are. They did not know who their family are. We know that when children leave care, 80 per cent of them go home. If children have been raised by non-Aboriginal people, who do they go home to? That is why the criminal justice system becomes their home, becomes their family, becomes the only institution that they know.
I think we have to look at all of these issues. We have to look at the underlying issues and address those issues. You cannot just continually deal with the episodes of children being in the court system and young people coming to the court. We do not have a therapeutic response to young people. We do not know how to deal with their issues of chroming, alcohol, homelessness—too many complex issues that a criminal justice system is not geared to deal with.
Mr PERRETT —We have been told that one of the greatest predictors is family behaviours, we have a horrible history of taking children away, and I do not know the data for children in care but I assume it is similar to the data for ATSI children in custody. In terms of interventions for a 10-year-old or for a 12-year old or a 14-year-old or a 16-year-old, would it be better to go earlier, to act earlier? By the time someone is 12 or 14 or 16, you are flat out finding a foster home. I have constituents come and say to me, ‘We’re going off to India because there are no kids to adopt in Australia,’ and I say that there are lots of kids to adopt in Australia or to care for as a foster carer. Could you explore that question of early intervention? And that would be the state taking somebody.
Dr Chant —The state not only needs to take children, though; it also needs to work on improving outcomes for children, because outcomes for children in the care system are actually worse now. Children come out of the system much worse. We have to have an out-of-home care system that improves outcomes. It is the same with the criminal justice system: the outcome for children who come out of care is generally that they progress to the adult criminal system.
Mr PERRETT —I always marvel at foster carers; they are saints—occasionally sinners but mostly incredible saints. This is outside the ambit of the inquiry, I guess, but would there be more people signing up for foster care if there were younger children to care for? Obviously, that 14-year-old child that you have has some behaviours that would be challenging for any parent.
Dr Chant —But I think that this inquiry should look at the out-of-home care system, because adolescents in out-of-home care are hard to place. They have behavioural issues. A number of those young people are ending up in the juvenile justice system because the out-of-home care system cannot cope with their behaviours. So you have to look at the out-of-home care system. You have to look at why so many of our young people who are vulnerable and at risk are not able to access treatment or services. In the Northern Territory, when we did the inquiry there, we found that if you were homeless you ended up in juvenile justice because you deliberately committed a crime so you could get accommodation and, if you had mental health problems, you ended up in the criminal justice system. The service system has to be made available to all young people and has to address their needs. We cannot let the criminal justice system be the answer to children’s needs.
Mrs Radcliffe —If I could just add to that. While the focus needs to be on the child—and primary prevention would be fantastic; services are now starting to look at kids aged six and up to try to effect some change—without looking at the family and the home life, it is not going to make any difference. You can prop that kid up until they are about 13 or 14, but then you will find them going away from the mainstream, finding a social life, finding a sex life, finding alcohol and drugs if they have not already found them, and you will lose them anyway. If you do not repair whatever is going on in the home, you could have 48 foster families and you will still need more.
CHAIR —Miss Mason, you are nodding your head sagaciously there—at least, you want to make a point.
Miss Mason —Yes. I have been listening to all the speakers this morning. I spoke to the Attorney in regards to this, because we are actually dealing with law and order in Western Australia through the State Aboriginal Justice Congress. In looking at reducing rates, I feel that we are going to hit our heads against a brick wall. If we are going to use preventative measures in this situation, we need to look at the external as well as the internal, because people within the system need support as well. We try to stop them from going into the system, but what about the people that are in the system that are going to come out and reoffend? I think someone had that discussion this morning. That is a major concern. I spoke to Andrew Barrow in regards to the Rio Tinto initiative for employing people. But the young children have no family support in there. The parents do not visit them; it is only by phone. There are 750 youths in detention. We should be appalled. We are going backwards. We are severely going backwards, because the majority of those kids are in there because they have nowhere to go. Nobody wants them. If you commit a crime, you have got nobody.
But, at the end of the day, whether you come from Western Australia, New South Wales, Victoria or wherever, if you take all those borders away, those boundary fences, you are still Australian Aboriginal. I say that over and over. We are actually refugees in our own country. For me, sitting at this table, I am part of it—a shamed person who sits up and represents the state of Western Australia and sees these things happening time after time after time. How many trees are we going to keep cutting down to make more reports of research on us? Pull out the material that we have got—surely to God, some of us have got a brain. Do you know what I mean?
I looked at a few of the things you did not cover this morning in relation to hearing loss. You have got a nought to five program. I think with an Aboriginal child you have to start before five, at three, because we see the progress. It is not improper. That child will do what he wants to do and the mother will let you go and do that.
Then you have got Indigenous consultation—I think you did not cover much of that this morning—grassroots services, and family and community initiatives. You have detention programs. You have got parenting support for two to three months: interactions with their child in the centres—you must have this whether you like it or not; intense programs on family, where you have got mothers, family, brothers and sisters. You need to pull that family structure back together. Without it you will never win; it is a lose-lose situation.
Talk about the welfare system—I am solemnly against the welfare system. Over 250 years we got introduced to things that, to us, were taboo, like alcohol and drugs, and there is driving—the things that we have been introduced to are the biggest issues. That is why Aboriginal problems are on the front pages of the newspapers. We need to change the front pages of the newspapers. That is why we are sitting here. We need to put our heads together. I talk to Leza all the time; I bring that to the congress table. Now is the time, whether we like it or not, to make change and change for the better, because that is the next generation. I am 52 now; I will not be sitting here for another 10 years—well, I hope to be but I don’t know! I might be one of the statistics for Aboriginal people! Then you have a male life expectancy which has risen from 10 per cent to 15 per cent. What are we doing? That is me.
CHAIR —Thanks, Patricia. We want to make change for the better.
Miss Mason —I think we do.
CHAIR —We have had 106 submissions and 17 public hearings and this is the final roundtable before we prepare our report.
Dr STONE —Miss Mason, you very eloquently describe the problems and you have been in the business of trying to help for a very long time. Can you give us examples of what you have seen work or what you know could work better? You talk about the whole family approach; how can we do that better? What does it require us to do differently from what is being done now?
Miss Mason —I think that we are failing to mentor these youths and families. Mothers—well, you can’t inherit a behaviour; it is learnt. They only do things that they learn from the people who are around them, and if they are not getting pulled up for that behaviour they think it is right. What I am saying is: even though we tend to forget and say, ‘They’re not our family,’ at the end of the day, they are. We drive past an incident, instead of pulling up and saying, ‘Do you need help?’ They need that sort of guidance. They have got no guidance. These youths have got nothing. Even the parents have got nothing, because that is the way they were brought up. But I see that you need role models to mentor these people. You need to get them into petty little things to start off with—not challenges of life, because if you put a person to challenge, that challenge will get too much for that child and he will drop off the bandwagon, won’t he?
I am here to present something later on. It is called Swim for Life. You might think, why do we want Swim for Life? But if you look at swimming itself it is actually setting work-related tasks for you in management. If you start looking at survival, in the sense of saving someone else’s life, you can save your own life by doing that. I will give you a better rundown later on of the statistics in relation to this program.
I went through Curtin and I have seen different levels of learning even in one room. A lot of lecturers will not give you a thought because they are there to teach and to teach only. They do not consider the levels of the people who are in the room. There are three levels. One level will be those on the ground: they are there to learn. Then there is another one that is in the sky: they do not want to learn because they know everything. What about the people in the middle that are drowning? Do you pick up on those people? That is what you call the Indigenous race. They are in the sea and they are drowning—you know what I mean?—whereas the likes of me are educated. I had the best of two worlds: the white and the Aboriginal. Those sorts of people have not got that support, and I think we need to support them.
CHAIR —Thank you, Patricia. Something that was picked up before was education, work and transition. Andrew, what stands in the way of people making that transition from school learning to work? We talked a lot about it this morning and about getting Indigenous young people to school. With the transition from school to work, what are the obstacles and how can we overcome them? What has worked for Rio Tinto?
Mr Burrow —From our perspective, it is clearly a lack of education, and by that I mean above year 10 is an issue. I heard someone talking during lunchtime about the importance of some of the harder subjects like maths, science and English and those sorts of things. I think that is pretty well documented. The area that I am working in is focused on trying to get people who for whatever reason have not been in the workforce into the workforce. Certainly one of the biggest issues that we encountered, which at the time probably accounted for 80 per cent of people not getting into the workforce, was driving licences. It is an area that has been a bit of a passion of mine. Hopefully, it will gradually be put to bed and we will have other issues to cope with.
One of the problems that we see in the Pilbara, particularly within the mining industry—and Rio Tinto is probably no exception—is that, traditionally, there has been a requirement for people, irrespective of the role for which they came into a mining operation, to have a full C class licence. With time, the bar, as it were, to achieve a driving licence has got progressively higher. In the submission that I have put to you, there is a bit of a quantification of it. But, in a nutshell, a long time is involved in getting a licence, and it is a pretty costly exercise. We budget, for example, $3,000 per individual to get a novice driver through to at least a provisional licence. That is based on a system which requires 25 logbook hours. I know that in Queensland and New South Wales the figure is 100 logbook hours. That would push the cost up to probably $8,000 or $10,000 per person. The situation that we see is one where a lot of people out there want to get into the workforce but cannot because they have not got a drivers licence. As a consequence of that, we have put a lot of effort into providing driving instruction and access to roadworthy vehicles and that a sort of thing to enable people to get across that bridge. That seems to be coming together.
Some of the job service providers, I am pleased to say, are starting to embark on the driving licence instruction thing. So I think it is a problem that will gradually become less so, but it will continue to be one because there is a big segment of the community who cannot afford access to the resources that will enable them to get a licence unaided. I think it affects recidivism and particularly young people getting into the criminal system. It is not the only reason, but certainly in Roma regional prison, for example, which we have a good connection with, the anecdotal comments that I hear from the people that I know there are that probably 60 per cent of the inmates have driving or licence related offences. In addition to enabling people to get into our workforce and also, hopefully, keeping them out of the prison system, we see driving instruction as a very important thing. As we move on, I think there is opportunity for us—and it is something that we have not really looked at—to try and engage more with youngsters at the school level.
I think a lot of what we are doing revolves around giving people hope. I think a lot of the problems that we see are because people just do not have hope. We have employed a lot of Aboriginal people, and I think we are starting to see some of the benefits. We have people that are becoming role models, so that when you have engagements with local communities people see people that they know have made it, and people start asking the question and saying, ‘If they can do it, I can probably do it as well.’
What we are doing with these work-ready programs is basically providing an opportunity for people to get into an entry-level working environment within Rio Tinto. More lately, we have been working with quite a few of our contracting companies to try and explore for opportunities there. We think that these will provide the opportunity for people to hone their work skills and some of the life-coping skills that we have hopefully imparted to them during these work-ready programs. It also gives them the opportunity to see what sorts of careers and jobs are available in the organisation, and from the other side it gives our supervisors and the people that have to make the decision to employ a particular individual the opportunity to see that individual and hopefully say, ‘Yes, we’re prepared to take you into a particular role.’
There are some issues that we are grappling with. Accommodation is a real problem up in the Pilbara. There are quite a lot of job opportunities which are available, but access to those is difficult because of the inability of people to get into accommodation. With the expansion going on, a lot of accommodation that was available in the past is taken up by people doing contract construction work. But that is something we have to cope with, I guess.
Dr STONE —What proportion of women, compared to men, are you employing and putting through your various mentoring programs, licence-achieving programs and so on?
Mr Burrow —Off the top of my head, I would guess that it is probably at 25 per cent compared to 75 per cent. That is female to male. Actually, it is probably closer to a third female and two-thirds male. From a recruitment perspective, we do not make any distinction between male and female. We get whoever puts their hat in the ring in most instances. We certainly have a recruitment policy that it is one of the high priorities to get Indigenous people into the workforce and to get women. Certainly, in terms of Indigenous employment, you are probably aware that Rio Tinto has a stated intent in the Pilbara, for example, that we want to achieve a proportion of Aboriginal people in the workforce that is similar to the greater population in the Pilbara. So, by 2015, our reading of the demographics is that we need to be aiming for approximately 14 to 15 per cent of our workforce being Aboriginal people.
Dr STONE —Ms Champion, do you want to follow on from that?
Ms Champion —Yes. It was not a follow-on from the education; it was really a follow-on from the previous speaker. It is so true—the things that were said—and there is lots of evidence out there. I am speaking on behalf of Justice Health, who have done two large researches, one in 2003 and one in 2009—it is just completed—looking at young people in custody health surveys. We have been looking at various areas of health, including psychosocial and lifestyle issues. All of the data, unfortunately—we are looking at the most vulnerable young people in New South Wales—show that 50 per cent of the young people in custody, as you have probably heard this morning, are Aboriginal young people, and their levels are still higher than all those vulnerable young people in a number of areas: mental health, drug and alcohol, and even in the areas of the young people placed in health or home care. The young people who have a parent who has been in prison are up to 60 per cent. So you are looking at young people who are really vulnerable. The families try and support the young people and they love the young people, but they need guidance on how to be parents, because they have not really got the skills themselves.
So I think you need to begin with the young people when they leave the maternity hospital. The people are identified there. There should be some mentoring or some process in place when they identify those young people when they leave to try and support the families. One of the predictor factors was that the data showed that the Aboriginal young people do attend school at a higher percentage than the non-Aboriginal vulnerable young people. However, they leave at a much earlier age.
So I think the focus has to be on actually supporting the families. They talk about this program and that program for young people but, for a start, they have no money. One area the inmates identify is that they like being in custody because they get food three times a day and they get a bed. Some young people even want to come back in, but they miss their families. We did follow-up studies on young people in three months, six months and 12 months after they went back into the community and asked them what they missed when they were inside and what they missed when they were outside. When they were inside, the things they missed were social issues such as regular school, regular food and regular meals. And they missed their families.
When they are outside they like being with their families, but they miss all the other stability. They do not have money. They are not in a position themselves, even though they are age 12, 13, 14 or 15, to get themselves to a doctor or to a shop to buy food. They do not have money for food. So, in my view, you must work with the families. It is very difficult to put programs in place for individual young people, without involving the families and supporting the families.
The families want to do the best they can. They are so happy to get some help and information on what can be done and who can help them. Justice Health have some programs that they run in the community as well and Claire can talk about some of those where we support the young people in the community and link them into services in the community. Unfortunately, across New South Wales there is a bit of a gap in services that they can be linked into.
CHAIR —We will ask Peter Shepherd to follow on and then we will get Andrew after that. Peter, you had some experience in terms of vocational training, getting Indigenous young people from education into the workforce, following on what Andrew Burrow had to say. I am interested in your evidence.
Dr Shepherd —I certainly support the work that Andrew is doing. Batchelor Institute, in conjunction with the NT Correctional Services, is focusing on providing people with vocational skills in an area where there is a skills shortage. We are having considerable success in having those people headhunted before they finish their prison work and also helping them stay out of prison in future. So we are reducing recidivism rates to under 10 per cent for Indigenous adult males where, I believe, the norm would be above 60 per cent. I think the key to what we are doing is related to real life. So I am establishing a sustainable social enterprise—or a number of them, I hope—based on vocational skills which support the existing training program in the prison, which includes things such as life skills, anger management, financial management, and drug and alcohol abuse. I am focusing on areas where there is a skills shortage. The inmates are getting accredited skills, which are highly desirable by the industry we are focusing on. Consider OH&S and you would look at various tickets in forklift driving, welding or whatever, by consulting with industry in your local area. You would ask: ‘What do you want? How can I prepare somebody whom you will employ?’ It is more than that because, by working on real work with real contracts, with real clients, a real budget you actually develop what I call ‘soft skills’ in the inmates, which is problem solving, communication, literacy and numeracy, based on workplace needs, not on something that somebody has dreamt up about how to read a menu or whatever.
You also develop the personal attributes that we have been talking about here, which is a commitment, taking responsibility and taking a pride in what you do, developing self-esteem and a sense of worth, vision and goals and intrinsic motivation. These are outcomes that are happening by finding real jobs that people can do that will actually provide them with achievement and actually things to do. We have people who say: ‘No, I’ve never done this before; I thought I was always going to come back to prison. I didn’t think I was useful, but you are showing me that I can do something. I’m now going to go out; I’m not coming back here.’ And they don’t. It is really quite a successful outcome.
Mr Cummings —I just want to go back to your original question about why we are going backwards. I guess one of the biggest concerns that I see is that the areas where government funding is going continue to ignore the evidence base. We have a really strong evidence base that tells us that prevention and early intervention are what work, and yet what we keep doing is locking up young people, particularly Aboriginal young people. All of the research also tells us that the reason we lock up young people is not because crime is increasing; it is because we are changing bail laws and sentencing laws, and we are ignoring our obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which say that we should only ever lock up children and young people as a very last resort and for the shortest amount of time. Instead, we are seeing, as I read today—and it might be an outdated figure, so please forgive me if it is wrong, but I think this is what it was saying—that in Queensland 74 per cent of children and young people in detention are there on remand, so they have never been found guilty of a crime. Yet we keep on locking up these young people—and, when we are talking about Aboriginal young people, 24 times more than we do with non-Aboriginal young people. That is a national average, and we know that in some places like WA it is even worse than that.
I would implore you: let us go back to the evidence, the research. The international research shows us that there are really good outcomes for diverting funding away from building new prisons, detention centres and really expensive things like that and reinvesting that money into things that actually work, the things that people are talking about: supporting families, providing mentoring and role models to children and young people at the earlier stages and avoiding them ever getting into the criminal justice system.
Just as an anecdote: I was in the Northern Territory a few weeks ago and I met a young youth worker from a remote community who is working for the YMCA there. She was telling us how on one day a week she goes into a local community school. The usual attendance rate there is around 60 per cent. On the one day a week that she goes in, it goes up to over 90 per cent. All she does is things like go in and talk to the young people, put on barbecues, have games in the pool after school and that kind of thing. The rule is that if the kids do not turn up at school they do not get to take part in the program. I do not know how much that costs, but I cannot imagine that it is more than a few thousand dollars a year. Her salary is probably $50,000 a year, and that is one day of the week that she goes there, so we are talking about something like $10,000 a year that is seeing this massive increase in just getting the kids into school and giving them something productive to do.
Children and young people constantly tell us—going back to Michelle’s comments earlier about when we actually listen to what young people say—that the reason they get involved in crime so often, especially at that kind of early level of the antisocial behaviour, the breaking and entering and low-level kinds of crime, is that they are bored. There are not enough things for them to do, and the things that they want to do cost a lot of money. We know from other people that that money is not available. That is across the board; that is not just Aboriginal young people, but those things are often heightened for Aboriginal young people.
I would really like us to start paying attention to that evidence. The evidence is there. We have the research, and there are some really good, simple things that we can start to do. There are some really good case studies, pilot programs and established programs that are doing a great job at the moment.
CHAIR —There is something that Andrew picked up, so I will go to Emilie first because she is an expert on justice reinvestment and the Human Rights Commission has been very critical of government in terms of strategy, funding and targets but also in relation to the fact that we have not got justice targets in Closing the Gap. So, on the point that Andrew made, Emilie, could you talk about those.
Ms Priday —Thank you very much. I think it is an excellent point to pick up at this point. I noticed, Andrew, that you mentioned that we need to be putting our efforts into things that are actually going to make an impact in terms of diversion, early intervention and those sorts of things. Instead of spending what in New South Wales I think is $541 to put a young person in detention, it is $10 to provide a program in the community for them and it is $10 for a youth justice conference, so it is a very stark financial cost. But I think there has been a lot of discussion around the fact that we need to reinvest in early intervention and we need to take perhaps some of that money away from the other end of the system, the imprisonment end of things.
I guess where we are coming from with justice reinvestment is an approach that they have been using in the US that is also gaining some currency in the UK. What it involves is diverting a portion of the funds that would have been spent on prisons and giving it to the communities where there is a high concentration of offenders. It is not just saying, ‘Here’s some money; let’s go and spend it on diversion in a general sense’; it is finding the communities where there are a whole heap of offenders and giving the communities some ownership over those funds and making some decisions around how they think the solutions need to come about for young people who are offending.
I think this is something we have identified in our reports that has a lot of promise for the Indigenous communities in particular. We talk time and time again about engaging Aboriginal communities in the process, but this would be quite a concrete way of bringing them into the discussion and giving them some ownership over the solutions that need to take place. It is an approach that has been very successful in the US in places like Texas, somewhere that you would imagine would be quite a conservative state. They do have traditionally a really very high incarceration rate, but they have managed to basically stunt its growth. They were looking at having to build new prisons every year or every two years, and now they have been able to stem that tide.
CHAIR —I will call Romola, Sharman, Kerry and then Claire after that. The Uniting Church is one of the biggest NGOs in the country and certainly involved at the coalface in social welfare as well.
Ms Hollywood —I am actually here representing UnitingCare Burnside, though, which is a large service provider of child and family services in New South Wales. We are part of an agency called UnitingCare Children, Young People and Families, which basically feeds up as a service arm ultimately to the Uniting Church. I thought I would explain it in a little bit more detail; it is quite complicated.
I wanted to say two key things. The first one is that I am really heartened by the conversation around the table focusing on prevention and early intervention. Our organisation, UnitingCare Burnside, is actually celebrating its centenary. Our core business is indeed out-of-home care, but as an organisation we have looked very carefully at saying that over the long term, if we look at it from a systemic point of view, we really need to get in earlier and work with families much earlier to prevent children from coming into out-of-home care.
As an out-of-home-care provider we are very committed to providing the best quality out-of-home care, but we know if we look at the stats across New South Wales, which is what we know best, that the statistics for a whole range of indicators are actually quite poor for children who have grown up in out-of-home care. Indeed, why we got involved with looking at juvenile justice was that a third of young people who have grown up in out-of-home care are actually in the juvenile justice system. And, when you drill down into the stats, Aboriginal children and young people are over-represented there as well.
Our concern in New South Wales from the juvenile justice perspective is around some of the legislation that is in place that basically gives children and young people, their lawyers and their families very little room to move. Basically, we have a situation where the remand numbers are growing, and we are finding that the majority of children and young people who are held on remand will not actually go on to serve a custodial sentence. Indeed, four in five will not go on to serve a custodial sentence, which is fairly alarming in New South Wales. It is a huge cost to New South Wales, but the biggest factor is that it is hugely damaging to these extremely vulnerable children and young people—so in fact we have policies and an approach that are potentially doing more harm than good.
I have worked with a range of non-government providers in New South Wales, and we produced this position paper called Releasing the pressure on remand, which includes a range of solutions to look at diverting children and young people away from the juvenile justice centres. We have some solutions around better court support, where you are at that intersection. Particularly we have heard stories that some young people who are in out-of-home care—not our young people but some young people—actually go before the courts without any form of support except for their Legal Aid solicitor, who they will only see for 20 or 30 minutes. They do not have anybody with them. If you couple that with the stats around intellectual disability, mental health issues et cetera, it is fairly alarming.
So we have worked with a number of non-government organisations in New South Wales to try and get this issue on the table, and we have noticed also that experts in the legal field are very concerned about the ‘tough on law and order’ kind of approach. We hope that things will change in New South Wales through this advocacy.
Dr STONE —Could I address some questions to Sue Miers, who is particularly representing foetal alcohol syndrome issues. Almost everybody this morning and this afternoon has talked about the combination of mental health, alcohol and intellectual disability issues, juvenile offending, recidivism and so on. Perhaps the elephant in the room, particularly for young women who are alcohol dependent, is the potential for foetal alcohol syndrome to be passed on or for their children to be born with that condition. Do you want to tell us what you are aware of in terms of research or Australia’s experience with what is happening right now, particularly the Western Australian incidence studies and so on, with foetal alcohol and its relationship to juvenile offenders in particular and what we should be doing about all of that?
Ms Miers —Okay. I will start by just giving a very rough run-down of what we know about foetal alcohol, because people might not be aware; they have heard of foetal alcohol syndrome, but ‘foetal alcohol spectrum disorder’ is fairly new terminology, and that might confuse some people. ‘Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder’ is a term that describes a range of physical, mental, behavioural and learning disabilities that are a direct result of alcohol use during pregnancy. I want to stress that it is not an Indigenous problem; in fact, we have some Australian studies that show that the women most likely to drink alcohol during pregnancy are on a higher income, are tertiary educated and live in urban areas. But I think the myth in Australia is that it is purely an Indigenous problem. There would be far more children in Australia—and this is my experience with our support group—from non-Indigenous backgrounds that have foetal alcohol syndrome than those from Indigenous backgrounds. Having said that, though, we know that there are some Indigenous communities that are very high-risk because of a whole range of factors which relate to determinants of health.
Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder is not really a diagnosis in itself, but there are a range of diagnoses that come under the spectrum. There is foetal alcohol syndrome, which many people have heard about, and that has specific facial features. However, a minority of children have those specific facial features, because that happens in a very small window early in pregnancy. The other diagnoses are alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder and alcohol-related birth defects, and it is alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder that, probably, the majority of children who are affected by alcohol have. But they do not look any different to other children and quite often they speak very well as well, so they are just seen as being badly behaved children, and not as a result of having a disability.
What foetal alcohol syndrome or foetal alcohol spectrum disorder really means is that these are children and adults—it is lifelong and they do not grow out of it; it is a very complex disability—who are unable to learn from their mistakes, cannot make changes in their behaviour, do not understand the consequences of their actions and are very impulsive. They often do not internalise or understand cultural rules, so that has huge impacts on communities that rely on an understanding of cultural rules to function properly. They often have far better skills in expressive language than in receptive language, so they appear to understand more than they actually do.
What happens is that, when we do not have diagnosis and early intervention and support, we know through longitudinal studies that have been undertaken in the United States and Canada that these children go on to have a range of what we call secondary issues. They drop out of school early. They have a lot of problems gaining employment. They are often expelled from school too; they are the children that get expelled all the time. They are over-represented amongst the homeless. We know from longitudinal studies that about 95 per cent end up with a mental health issue and between about 40 and 60 per cent end up with a drug and alcohol issue. So we can see how easily they can come into contact with the law and become repeat offenders. But I do not hear very many people, when we talk about early intervention, actually talk about early intervention starting from conception to birth. If we do not start there, anything we do later is going to be less than effective.
The international studies show that about 60 per cent of people with FASD get into trouble with the law—there are some different studies; if you are interested in those I can point you in the right direction—and about 50 per cent are confined in a jail or prison, a drug treatment facility or a psychiatric hospital at some point in their lives. In the study of 415 adults, only something like one per cent were able to live independently without ongoing intensive support throughout their lives. So it is a huge issue; and if we are not going to start at conception, then it is an issue we are never going to address.
The majority of individuals with FASD have an IQ that falls in the normal range, so that has huge implications for getting support and services. They generally do not qualify for support or services and yet they have an emotional and social age that sometimes is only about the age of an eight to 14-year-old. That is another big issue. Unless they are recognised and managed appropriately there will be no solution, yet currently in Australia we have a situation where our medical and other health professionals have not received any training in diagnosing and so affected individuals are slipping through the cracks.
In Canada, FASD training has been implemented into their police service and their correction systems and for lawyers and judges because they have realised that prevention and appropriate intervention and management is a far less costly alternative than jail. In North America they have now got probably in excess of 100 specially trained diagnostic teams. We do not have one specially trained diagnostic team in Australia. However, there is a team in Western Australia that are ready to go, but they have not yet got funding to run properly as a diagnostic team so they just have to fit in their diagnosis for FASD amongst a myriad of other diagnoses that come through the child development unit. Western Australia is also the first state to have a model of care for FASD, and I think other states need to look at that model of care. Also, Western Australia is the first state where the magistrates have got a bench book where FASD is recognised in the population and that there needs to be a special way of looking at how we serve them in the justice system.
So, really, it is a human rights issue—and I notice there is someone here from human rights—in that what we have here is a disability where individuals with that disability are not receiving the same level of care as those with other more familiar disabilities. It is just an appalling situation. I can say that families are really struggling. They are at crisis. They are burning out because they are not getting the help and support they need.
The latest international studies estimate that the current prevalence of FASD in populations of younger school children may be as high as two to five per cent in the US and some western European countries. Some of these studies come, interestingly, from Italy. I have often had people tell me: ‘If FASD was real, countries like Italy, where they’ve been having alcohol forever, would have high rates.’ Well, they are finding now that they do have higher rates of FASD; it is just that they have never noticed them before.
In Australia, FASD does not appear on the government list of registered disabilities. There is no Medicare number for a rebate for diagnosis. There are no Australian clinical guidelines for diagnosing. There are no specially trained multidisciplinary teams. Fewer than half of Australian health professionals routinely ask women about alcohol consumption in pregnancy or routinely provide information to pregnant women about the effects of alcohol in pregnancy. Less than 20 per cent of Australian health professionals, including paediatricians, know the four essential criteria for diagnosing foetal alcohol syndrome, let alone the whole spectrum of effects. A tiny proportion—less than five per cent—of health professionals feel very prepared to deal with FAS, and FASD does not appear in most policy or discussion documents where it should be receiving attention. I would just draw your attention to a 2007 report from the Australian National Council on Drugs that looked at drug use in the family and impacts and implications on children. It identified 451,000 children from the ages of birth to 12 years as living in binge-drinking families but, despite these shocking figures, the term ‘foetal alcohol’ did not appear anywhere in that report. Yet the parents of those children would obviously be in their most reproductive years, so amongst that cohort I wonder how many actually have FASD that have not been identified.
To finish—and I am sorry I have gone on for so long but I have just got to get all of this out—the current invisibility of FASD in policy and practice must be addressed. We need culturally appropriate diagnostic and treatment services delivered by an interdisciplinary team of professionals who have been specifically trained to understand the complex needs of children, adolescents and adults with FASD.
We need a national standard of care for individuals with disabilities of all ages, and so a cross-agency approach is really imperative. There needs to be collaboration and a greater understanding in the education, drug and alcohol health, mental health and justice systems, and funding needs to be made available for the development of training programs for FASD across all of these sectors because none of them have received significant training in at FASD.
It must be included under the Commonwealth list of registered disabilities so that families do not have to continually fight for services from the education, health, disability, social service and justice sectors. There needs to be an immediate commitment from government to provide the same level of funding that is already being provided to support children with autism spectrum disorder to enable children, adolescents and adults with FASD to have access to specifically targeted service delivery.
Ms GRIERSON —I think we need a response on what health departments are doing about teenage births, foetal alcohol syndrome and the presence of Indigenous people in psychiatric services because of drug related psychosis et cetera. If you could give us a picture of the presentations and the responses and programs, that would be of interest to us.
Dr Chant —New South Wales certainly supports the focus on early intervention and prevention. One of the key programs has been a focus on a healthy start to life. One of the particular programs is our AMS program, which is our Aboriginal maternal and infant strategy. It is hoping to improve the issues raised both around conception right through to delivery and looks at the first five years of life. But I do take your point that supporting families is an ongoing journey.
Obviously as part of that program there is a focus on alcohol exposure as well as cigarette smoking, because we know the rates of cigarette smoking are incredibly high in Aboriginal populations. We are at the moment rolling out a program specifically addressing Aboriginal smoking called SmokeCheck, and we are just looking at the level of intensity of the intervention, given that a lot of the other studies to address that issue have not been shown to be effective.
So we have the AMS program—sorry about that diversion to tobacco; it is just a key issue for us going forward—
Dr STONE —Tobacco smoking in mothers does not lead to permanent disability such as foetal alcohol syndrome.
Dr Chant —It actually does. Tobacco is a significant issue for babies in terms of growth retardation, prematurity and those issues which then also put additional strains on families and the child long term.
In terms of alcohol, in our submission, which reviewed what we have previously put to the committee, we highlight the need for an expansion of youth services that address the issue of alcohol as well as other complex mental health issues in Aboriginal populations. We run a number of programs which I am happy to go through, but we have provided them to the committee previously.
In addition, the second part of your question was more broadly around the mental health services that are available. There has been a lot of work done in ensuring a stronger Aboriginal workforce delivering mental health programs. That has been quite successful in the recruitment of Aboriginal workers and involvement, and a preliminary evaluation of that has been quite supportive. Clearly there are always issues of access to mental health services. The key theme is that we really have to offer them in partnership with the community. There is still a long way to go in us adequately addressing the mental health needs of this community.
Mr PERRETT —This is as much to the rest of the roundtable as to Ms Miers. You talked about dealing with it at conception, and obviously the chief health officer has talked about prevention prior or during that event. What do you mean by that?
Ms Miers —Firstly, by educating women so that they understand why they might be being told that alcohol is not good in pregnancy and, secondly, by addressing the determinants of health that might lead to women not being able to give up alcohol during pregnancy—issues like poverty, homelessness, domestic violence, loss of culture and land. There are a range of health determinants. I do not believe any woman deliberately sets out to harm her child; but, if we have not addressed the issues in her life that might not be right that are leading her to use alcohol in pregnancy, then we are never going to address foetal alcohol spectrum disorder. There needs to be a lot more education.
The NHMRC guidelines say, ‘There are no known safe levels, so the safest choice is not to drink at all,’ but I am hearing women in the media saying, ‘I’m not having someone tell me what I can do with my body,’ because we are not educating them about what alcohol does and why we are saying ‘no alcohol in pregnancy’. We are not telling them that there is really no safe level according to animal studies. I am hearing about funding money still being given out to try to determine a safe level for drinking alcohol during pregnancy, and I cannot work that out for the life of me. We do not try to do that for smoking. Why are we trying to do it for alcohol? It is a known teratogen. I think we need to have a much better public health message around alcohol and pregnancy, with a lot less money spent on trying to find a safe level of alcohol in pregnancy and a lot more money spent on trying to help those women who have already given birth to a child that is affected, and putting in interventions and supports for those women.
Dr Chant —Clearly, alcohol is a key determinant of a number of impacts on Aboriginal communities, as it is in non-Aboriginal communities. The NHMRC guidelines have provided an incredibly good platform to start having that debate in the community, and I think it is an important debate in that we have to get the information out about the harm associated with alcohol.
Ms Scott —There are some very good programs in Australia that are providing that early intervention. In Western Australia, just to name two, there are the Wyndham early childhood program and the Warmun early childhood program. They have both been evaluated. It is all about early intervention, prior to women becoming pregnant, from conception onwards. It is about what the mother needs but also what the child needs. Kerry was talking about home-visiting programs. South Australia has an excellent home-visiting program for Aboriginal and other vulnerable families, with 34 home visits in the first two years of your life. That is the kind of program we need in many communities, for Aboriginal families but also for non-Aboriginal families that are vulnerable. Those are the programs, the evidence tells us, as Andrew said, that make a big difference.
Can I just make a comment about mental health. The mental health of children and young people is a national issue, but it is not a priority for any state or federal government. It is not about early intervention in terms of psychosis at 14-plus; it is actually about the relationships between parents and quality attachments between parents and children. This is really important because, generally, we are not responding well to and dealing with the mental health problems and wellbeing of children and young people in providing specialist services. But, in the forensic criminal justice context, there are very few services that are provided nationally. There are some in Victoria and there are some here in New South Wales, but elsewhere such services are negligible. One YMCA report I saw recently said 88 per cent of kids in detention have mental health problems—yet we do not provide specialist mental health services.
Ms Gaskin —I am a child and adolescent forensic psychiatrist so I am probably the best person to comment on that and talk about some of the things that we do know and some of the things that are happening in NSW Health and in justice health particularly. One comment on the alcohol issue: last year’s Australian of the Year ran an international youth mental health conference, which was the first youth mental health conference. In fact, at that conference, most of the people who spoke indicated that most disorders have their onset in childhood, not in adolescence; that substance use is a significant and major issue in most of the problems that we are talking about today; and that preventing the entry into substance abuse is about early intervention, not about intervention at 14, because most of these kids are exposed to substances from a very early age, not only in utero but also in childhood.
There are a lot of reasons why they go into substance use much earlier. In fact, in our in-custody health surveys most of the kids that we see in custody are using substances. Ninety-odd per cent of them are using substances and about 70 per cent have a substance use disorder. Of those that were surveyed in 2009—and that report has not yet been published but hopefully will be soon—most are saying that they had already started using significant amounts of substances before the age of 12. So their contact with the criminal justice system, their contact with mental health services and their use of substances are all intertwined.
I want to make four main points. The first one is that the commission will have a lot of information about antisocial behaviour. There are lots and lots of studies around antisocial behaviour and its persistence and nonpersistence into adolescence. What a lot of people have already said is that some of the best interventions, which have been shown to have a significant impact on antisocial behaviour, are early interventions in parenting. The problem with those is that very often they are not culturally sensitive. They are not funded appropriately for families that cannot access them. The problem that has been shown in a lot of studies, particularly out of the UK and the US, is that, if you do not target those programs with people who actually understand the parents they are working with, the programs will not work as effectively. So we can have the most effective parenting program, but if you ask parents to attend a group where there are X number of white fellas and a couple of Aboriginal women they will not come, and if you go to them out there and try to take some white psychiatrists or some white psychologists without the knowledge and understanding of the culture they will not be able to effect the appropriate change. So we need to work with Aboriginal people to get them on board with that training and make sure that they are trained and working effectively with the specialists in those fields. An important part of that research is that, yes, it works, but it only works if you can do it in the most effective way. So we need to be looking at that and funding it for those populations that we cannot get to a centre that runs a parenting program.
The second thing I want to say is about trauma, which has not been mentioned a great deal. We had some vague statements about child abuse, but one of the major things that we saw through the Young People in Custody Health Survey, and also what is coming out of international research, is that the kids that are in contact with the criminal justice system not only are traumatised early in their lives but are repeatedly traumatised throughout their lives into adolescence. Young people who are in contact with the criminal justice system are much likely to be assaulted by other young people. Not only are they assaulting other people; they are being assaulted themselves. They are much likely to be the victims of crime than anybody else. The people most likely to be victims of crime, particularly violent crime, in our society are actually 16- and 17-year-olds, not adults. Not only do we need to address those issues of trauma from an early age in looking at what we can do to reduce child neglect and abuse—neglect being a particular problem for those young people in contact with the criminal justice system—but I think we also need to address what we can do once young people come into contact with the criminal justice system and not say, ‘Well, it’s too late.’ I think a lot of people agree that early intervention and prevention is the best way to go. But there will still be a lot of things that we can do once people are in contact with us.
One of the things that we try to do in Justice Health, which we have been funded for by a combination of New South Wales health and also the Indigenous health national partnership agreement, is court diversion. We have court clinicians who sit in the courts and actually see young people who are referred to us by a multitude of agencies, by themselves or by the families. They do an assessment on the day and try to advise the court where there might be a diversion from the criminal justice system available to the young person. We try to link them up not only with mental health services but with child and family services and NGOs that might provide some input. We have had a lot of success with that. In fact, in the last two years we have increased the number of Aboriginal young people that we have been able to include in that program.
The other thing I want to talk about is interventions.
Mr PERRETT —Excuse me, Dr Gaskin, can I ask you if that would be irrespective of whether they were in the care of the state or in the care of their parents?
Ms Gaskin —It is if they are coming into the Children’s Court. We have clinicians now in seven children’s courts at various times during the week—not every day in every court, but we are hoping to expand as well to another three of the children’s courts, where the Children’s Court magistrates sit. That is available to anyone who is in the Children’s Court.
Mr PERRETT —Whether mum or dad are sitting there or not.
Ms Gaskin —If there are matters that are District Court level, obviously then they cannot be part of that program, because they have to be divertible under the forensic provisions act of New South Wales. The other thing that we try to do is interventions once young people do come into custody. We try to make sure that they get what they probably should get in the community, which is a gold service assessment. They get an assessment not only by our very skilled RNs but also very often by the psychologists—who work for juvenile justice and not health—and also by a psychiatrist or one of our clinical nurse consultants in mental health, if they have or are suspected of having mental health issues. So we pick up a great deal of things that are not picked up out in the community, or we pick up things that have been but those young people have fallen out of contact with services.
When I came here five years ago, one of our major problems was linking young people back into services when they left custody. As most people know, most of the kids who come into custody are only there for very short periods of time, which is a good thing but it also makes it difficult to arrange services for them. We were lucky enough to be funded for our community integration team. We now have 11 clinicians working across New South Wales in various areas who can work with young people for up to six months, trying to get them to their appointments, making sure they go to their GP, they pick up their medication, they go to the AMS and they go to the psychiatric services where they are available. We still have a lot of problems where the services that they need are not available, particularly out in the rural settings. Bourke at the moment does not have any psychiatry services for child and adolescent mental health, which is very concerning, and there are other areas where there are no services. So we are trying to expand services to as many parts of the state as we can.
One final thing I wanted to say—there is lots I could say; I could go on all afternoon but I will not—is that research is only as good as the population that you are researching. Unfortunately, if you look at those research documents that will be before you as a committee, you will find that most of them do not include very many Indigenous young people. The difficulty we have is finding out exactly what those persistent factors are that cause people to come into contact with criminal justice—those antisocial behaviour determinants, the heritable things, the things that are about shared environments, the things that are about non-shared environments. We have to look at that population as a separate population as well as part of the general population, because they will have specific factors. We need that research to be funded, accepted and not be a problem. Researching the offender population is also very difficult in terms of consent issues.
Proceedings suspended from 2.27 pm to 2.41 pm
CHAIR —David Tierney, you are at the coalface. You are a senior programs officer, and I am very interested in hearing what you think works best and what your take on these difficulties and challenges is—on what programs there are in terms of education, empowering families and mentoring, and also on sporting programs; we have had evidence this morning on sporting programs, funding for sport and also PCYCs and other things that have also been beneficial.
Mr Tierney —I will answer that question in two ways. My first response will be a work response, and then I will give you an individual response. From an out-of-home care perspective, which is where I am at, I think strengthening Aboriginal community control of out-of-home care organisations is the way to go. Strengthening and supporting those community agencies will have a flow-on effect of increasing the number of Aboriginal carers. There has now been enough evidence to suggest that Aboriginal kids that are removed from their homes and go to Aboriginal families do much better than those going to non-Aboriginal families. So that is something that we would put up straightaway: we need to really strengthen the local Aboriginal community controlled organisations. We found that Aboriginal kids that are going to non-Aboriginal families are more likely to have contact with the justice system. That is fairly self-evident, I think.
Mr PERRETT —Sorry. Does that contradict what the person sitting next to you said earlier?
Mr Tierney —No, she said exactly the same thing about strengthening the Aboriginal community controlled organisations. It is exactly what Muriel said.
Mr PERRETT —So if the change of cultures is the problem rather than the troubled home environment—
Mr Tierney —I do not think they are connected. I think that there are always going to be troubled home environments wherever you are, in non-Aboriginal or Aboriginal communities. What I am trying to say is that if we are taking the Aboriginal kids away from their communities or their families then we certainly need to be looking at strengthening and making more accessible Aboriginal families to look after those kids. It is bad enough for an Aboriginal kid to be taken away from their family, but it is also bad for them to be taken away from their community because they have that connection—the cultural connection, the physical connection and the spiritual connection—to that community where they are from. So taking them from an Aboriginal family and putting them in a non-Aboriginal family is devastating, but even moving communities is another devastating aspect. So that is that part of it.
There is another thing I want to say. It is a bit radical and left-field, I guess, and it is different to what everyone else has said. I have heard a lot today about what programs have been conducted and how successful they are or how they are not working. You guys are looking at a way to reduce the number of Aboriginal kids going into custody or offending. This is a pretty radical view and one that I provided to a former Prime Minister about 20 years ago. That Prime Minister looked at me and said, ‘Dave, how do we do that?’ and 20 years ago I did not know how. Maybe I do not know how now either, but I will just put it to you anyway. The issue, as I see it—this is an individual view—is of engagement and social participation for Aboriginal people in this country. If you will bear with me, I wrote a bit of a paragraph when I was listening before, so I might just read it.
When the community accepts and embraces the Aboriginal community as the first citizens of this country and promotes the diversity and beauty of the culture, then we will begin to see real change. Intensive social inclusion and participation for and by Aboriginal people will create change. The psychological damage needs to be healed first.
This is a politically radical idea that may not get votes but, considering that nothing else has worked, why don’t we look at that? Since 235 years ago, Aboriginal people have been disengaged—they have not been part of the fabric and the structure of this country. A case in point is that two days ago the majority of this country celebrated Australia Day. In New South Wales, the day is called ‘Invasion Day’ or ‘Survival Day’. That shows that 235 years later it has not worked. I use words like integration and assimilation in the way that I talk to a lot of people, and what this country needs to realise is that Aboriginal society in Australia is so diverse and so different. From a New South Wales-only perspective, because that has been my only jurisdiction, the diversity amongst the Aboriginal people is incredible—you have professionals, you have professional public servants, you have doctors and lawyers and then you have people who have grown up on missions and had no access to the wonderful beauty that this country can provide.
What Patricia touched on was that Aboriginal people are definitely refugees in their own country. The psychology around that must be incredible—to know that this was your country and then there was a colonisation—and there has been total social disengagement from that point on. Another thing Patricia mentioned was that we need to get rid of the bad news stories on the front pages of newspapers. There is a newspaper in New South Wales called the Koori Mail, which is a national paper, and the majority of the stories in that paper are good news stories—it is promoting good education outcomes and it is promoting good health outcomes. To change things in this country we need to change the perception in the wider community of Aboriginal people.
Mr PERRETT —Unfortunately, nationalising the newspapers is not part of our brief.
CHAIR —My side of politics tried in ’49—with the banks!
Mr Tierney —Not that national! There needs to be a change in perception. I get the feeling that among a lot of people there is a perception of weakness with Aboriginal people when the reality is that Aboriginal people are not weak at all; they are so vitally strong culturally and spiritually, and the breakdown of their families is something that is totally against what existed in this country for 40,000 or 60,000 years. That is my take on how things could change. I do not have the answer as to how the government can promote that—and I wish I did—but we have to go past all these programs and all the current ideologies and get back to what really affects people.
To get back to the present, there are a range of programs that we have—and I am only speaking from a New South Wales perspective—that are engaging people. The New South Wales government has been really—
CHAIR —I am glad this is not the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing, because we have just put all of these in front of it.
Mr Tierney —And it is no good for diabetes! There are a range of programs being conducted in New South Wales that are engaging Aboriginal communities. The department of Aboriginal affairs in New South Wales is trying to do a job of engagement with communities and the government, but in my view it is not going to change until there is acceptance and embracing of the Aboriginal people in this country. I do not know how that helps you guys—the former Prime Minister did not know how to do it either—but to me that is the underlying issue.
CHAIR —We would like to hear now from the families commission.
Mr Glasgow —I am an independent commissioner appointed by the Governor in Council. I report directly to parliament through an advisory board consisting of the Director-General of the Premier’s department; Dr Jeff Harmer, who is Jenny Macklin’s secretary; and Noel Pearson. I want to say at the outset that it is a Noel Pearson initiative that has been accepted by the governments. Noel is not as popular in places as he would like to think, at times. It is a process which I am obliged, by my act, to implement.
I have heard much, this morning, about the services that you would each like to have in your communities and I can tell you that we probably have all of those. We are part of a $48 million state and federal government initiative called welfare reform. We are only a very small part of that but in my communities—each of the four that I represent today and which I sit in—there is a state health clinic; a wellbeing centre established by the federal government; a parenting program; a family income management program, which is a budgeting program; and school case managers who go out to attend to any student who has not turned up.
We sit as a result of any trigger notices. There are four trigger notices. If a person has a child in their care and the child has not attended school for three days without a proper reason we get a notice. If a person is the subject of a child safety notice we receive a notice. If a person has a defect notice in housing, rent or of misbehaving in a house we receive a notice. And if a person has been convicted of a Magistrate’s Court offence we receive a notice. Each of those people receives a notice to attend if they fall within the jurisdiction and they sit before a commission of three people: me and two Indigenous commissioners. There are six commissioners in each community. One of those Indigenous commissioners chairs the meeting. In Aurukun it is all conducted in Wik-Mungkan and they translate for me where necessary. They make the decisions. The decisions have to be majority decisions. If they are not majority decisions the response has to be recorded.
Our objects and our priorities are: early intervention and the wellbeing of children, to raise local authority in each community, and to help the community re-establish some reasonable social norms—such as, it is the norm to go to school; it is the norm not to drink at home; it is the norm not to have pornography at home, and those kinds of things. Then we assist the community as a whole—we deal with the whole family of those who come before us—to make decisions about their future. Basically we endeavour to have people enter into an agreement to attend certain programs. It may be to attend an ‘ending family violence’ program conducted by corrections, to attend FIM to get a family budget together, and to liaise with the school case manager to get their kids to school. If they fail to comply with that agreement within a reasonable time they get a show-cause notice and if they fail to comply with that they are income-managed.
We have approximately 2,000 welfare recipients in our area and we have approximately at the moment 200 people—10 per cent of the population—on income management. That includes about 20 people on voluntary income-management programs. They are not all completely effective. Some of our clients are in jail and some of them are defying us by giving up their welfare moneys, sitting around and saying, ‘We’re not going to do anything about it.’ I am happy to wait them out and so are my commissioners.
Basically, we are in our fourth year of the process. We started in August 2008. There have been some positives and it is not solely because of the commission; I can tell you that it is the local people—the NGOs on the ground—working together. The gentleman from Western Australia talked about silo mentalities of the departments, which we really have had to overcome. His address was very much the subject of a report I sent to the Premier and Jenny Macklin in the first year of operation. I told them that this was happening and I have to say that both of those ministers shook up departments and we really got some good responses. One thing that is really important about it is the integrity and standing of the local commissioners. Without that it just does not work.
In 2008, we had school attendance rate of 37.9 per cent in Aurukun. That is from the education figures. For term 4 of last year and for the full year, it was up to 64.8 per cent. It is a school which runs pre-prep to year 10. I have to tell you that years 8, 9 and 10—which were part of a whole process of neglect over that period of time by parents and others—school attendance rates were pretty poor. That level will eventually be taken out of the school and most of those children will be offered some assistance with distance education. The government is proposing to build—it is being implemented this year—a residence in Weipa. A vast number of children go to boarding schools throughout Queensland. One of my commissioners has two children at Clayfield College in Brisbane. So a wide variety of schools are available.
I invite you to look at the KPM review which was published last year. It looks at the establishment of the commission. It also looks at how we function and how our service providers have dealt with that. I have to agree with the lady at the end, a psychiatrist, who said that a number of the psychologists who come out to the community are really not prepared for what they come into, particularly in Aurukun. That wellbeing centre is being run by the Royal Flying Doctor Service. They are still working on a fly-in, fly-out basis, which does not work in the communities. It is not looked upon well. However, some of those communities are working very well.
The Hope Vale one has been work exceptionally well. There has been a reduction in the amount of violence. One of my commissioners worked for 27 years for the health department, and she used to tell me how Monday morning was the busiest day of the week because over the weekend the violence was fairly significant. Now it is the quietest day of the week. I think that has to do with a whole lot of people coming on board with this welfare reform and trying to give this pilot a shot—and it is a pilot. It may be that, because we are intense about it, we are getting these results. But it does seem to me that you to have attach everything house by house. It is no good dealing with one group of children who are not going to school. If I find that one person is not sending their children to school and that there are more children in that house, I will deal with the house because it is to do with the behaviour of the people in the house, the lack of water in the house and a whole lot of other things.
I find my colleagues, the Indigenous commissioners, to be amazing. They are mainly women, I have to say. In Hope Vale, we have an equal number of men and women. In Aurukun, we have mainly women and one man. In Coen, we have an equal number. In Mossman Gorge, we have one male and three female commissioners. The women are determined to use this opportunity for change. They are resolute. They have stood up to enormous problems in the community, including being assaulted. They have been forthright in bringing their own families forward first. I noticed that one of them, Edgar Kerindun, had three of his brothers coming in for drink related offences. We talked about conflicts of interests. He said, ‘No, this is the only time they will listen to me.’ So we did what we had to do. They are very quick to issue a BasicsCard to people if they have failed to comply but they are very tolerant about giving people time. They will give them extra time to do comply.
The figures that I have are yet to be released. They have to go through the board and a government process. My quarterly report to 31 December will be out soon. All the other reports, including my annual reports, are on the website. We are putting up some detail about how we operate. Of course I am biased because I have been running the process and I have been very reluctant to allow myself to get into a debate about being compared with the Northern Territory system. This project is a trial. It has to have an end date. It has to be assessed. The current assessment is to determine the effectiveness and the timeliness of the service providers’ delivery of services to clients. There has been bit of problem with fly-in, fly-out and retention of staff, and I have been very sympathetic about it.
We actually did not get a lot of our service providers underway until midway through 2009. There is some suggestion that we may be extended a year, but that is going to be subject to budgetary requirements and submissions by the various people. It is a very costly business if you provide all those services on the community. So to attribute the increases in Mossman Gorge, which has been nearly 20 per cent, and Aurukun, which is 27 per cent, to us is wrong. It is getting parents to understand their obligations, and it is supportive of them.
Finally, I just need to remind us all that we are not talking about parents at the moment; we are talking about carers. It soon became very evident to me that the vast majority of older children, between nine and 14, were not with parents; they were with grandparents, cousins, aunts or whatever. People have been brought up and often given to parents—or to carers, rather—who do not have the strength or the good health to be as significant in the community.
Police have been very good. They work very well together. I have to say that Commissioner Atkinson has been very supportive of staffing levels and so forth. We have tried to avoid having police officers in school, but as you get more and more children to school who have not been at school we get more and more problems on the school grounds. To talk about those things—foetal alcohol and other issues—we have encouraged the academy which has now taken over running the school in Aurukun to employ school nurses, and it has employed a school nurse in both Aurukun and Coen this year. We have had consultations with the local psychiatrists, and they are going to set up a process of reference so that the school nurse might be able to at least make some observations.
The teachers are really significant. You have to really give full marks to the people on the ground. We work pretty well together. We are now developing an intensive case management system for 10 people in each community so we can transition them through. I just want to end up with that, because one of the ladies is looking after seven children and living in her brother’s house, which, we found out, did not have running water. We income-managed her because she could not get her kids to school. We are now looking after that, not to do it for her but to try and help her through the process. The person from the council needs to get back to her. She has done it five times. Why isn’t the water connected? It was interesting, because we asked her what her goals were, and I thought how simple they were. She really wanted to help some of the children back to their natural parents, she wanted to get a decent hair perm and she wanted to do a TAFE course. They were her goals in life. Surely we can do that for people on the communities.
What we hope to do in setting up this back-to-family pathways process is to get all the NGOs on the ground to be part of it. When we stop, that can be taken over by somebody else who can take a group of people from the community and transition them through. That is done only with their consent and with their general agreement.
I am happy to answer any questions. I am very supportive of all of what you say around here. I see lots of the issues of juvenile mental health and difficulties with youth justice. But I have to say that since we have got kids to school there has been less violence by the older kids in the school. Since the older men have come out of jail into ending family violence programs that they have had to sit down in and go through, that has had an effect. Initially the Magistrates Court convictions increased, so I went to find out why, and we found out that people were dobbing people in. My commissioners were ringing up and saying, ‘This car’s going to Weipa to bring the grog in.’ The other thing is that child safety notices increased, because the child safety people came on board and worked very comfortably with the commissioners, and they used to get the feedback. They would be saying, ‘You really need to remove this child, but let’s see if we can find someone in the communities.’ We work actively to try and reunite children when we can. Commissioners will say: ‘These two are misbehaving. They had their children taken off them six months. They’re on the grog. They’re on the ganja. We need to bring them in and get them started on a rehabilitation program.’ So, provided we have a trigger notice for them, we can do that.
Finally, on the income management issue, I was very concerned—because we do it for 12 months—that it should not go on forever, so we do a review. After three months, we do a review to see whether people are actually doing anything. We ask them to come in. We do it after nine months as well because we want to know how they are going. I and my commissioners would rather have people doing programs than just simply being income-managed and leaving it at that.
If you look at the total, we have been at over 250 but we get them off the process. We are running at 204. I can give you the exact figures. One is awaiting a CDEP removal—if you are on CDEP and you get income-managed, you lose your job. What we do is that once they get notice of losing the job we say, ‘We’ll bring them in and let’s see what we can do.’ Eleven are in prison; 153 are actively managed; 21 have given up Centrelink; three are pending Centrelink action; and 15 are on voluntary income management. Out of the population it is not a huge number, and that varies.
Mr HUSIC —Just for the income management, are you able to repeat those figures?
Mr Glasgow —The income management?
Mr PERRETT —How many were there?
Mr Glasgow —I have them here. There are 204: 153 currently have BasicsCards that are active; 11 additional people are in prison, and that has happened recently; one is waiting for a CDEP removal; 21 are not receiving any Centrelink; three are pending action, which would be in the process of just going through; and 15 are voluntary—
Mr PERRETT —Those 21 just said, ‘Too hard; we’re just going to bludge off someone else’—
Mr Glasgow —Yes—
Mr PERRETT —or they have struck it rich with Lotto or something?
Mr Glasgow —It is reasonable to say that we do not leave them there; we irritate them and they eventually come in—not all but some.
Mr HAASE —Could you repeat the area that that covers please?
Mr Glasgow —I sit in Aurukun, which is just south of Weipa. I sit in Hopevale, which is north of Cooktown. I sit in Coen, which is in the centre of the cape but parallel to or on the latitude of Cooktown.
Mr HAASE —I have got it. I have a further question for clarification. What is the total population in the communities that you are active in, and therefore what would the percentage be of those on income management?
Mr Glasgow —About 4,000 total.
Mr HAASE —And 200-odd—
Mr Glasgow —About 2,000 receive some proper form of welfare payment, not just a subsidy amount.
Mr HAASE —So about 10 per cent.
Mrs GRIGGS —David, I am from the Northern Territory where the BasicsCard has been in use for a while. What I found was that the women actually like the income management and are very supportive; it is the men who do not like the women being income-managed. It would be interesting to see if you have similar findings when you review the people that you are currently income-managing.
Mr Glasgow —A number of women who have been income-managed come back to us and ask to be extended because they are really put upon by their partners. There are a couple where I then bring in the partners and income-manage them as well. It is amazing. We have all—to be frank around the table—suffered threats. How many times they have threatened to kill you—it does not really come around. But in the end people sit down and talk to you, and in the end they know that if they want to come off income management they have to do something about it. Principally, they have to look after their children. If they are on their own and they are drinking themselves to death, I cannot really stop that, but if they have kids in their care that is my concern. They have to go to school. They have to be fed. They have to be protected.
So, getting back to your answer, yes, there are a number of women who do that, and there are some people who manage themselves quite well and still want to sit on it. I have a problem with that. I bring them in and say: ‘Look, I have a Family Income Management service with a proper budget system. They can tell you how to save money. Really you should go down there and talk about it and start managing your affairs yourself, because this shouldn’t go on forever unless you need it for some particular reason.’ So we try that, but, quite honestly, if people say, ‘I want the BasicsCard to continue,’ I allow that to happen.
It is the commissioners—I want to make it clear. I started in August. By December they were chairing the meetings. One of the recommendations I put up to the government which they have accepted is now for the commissioners to sit alone, because I think they are quite capable of doing it. The only restriction the government said was that they could not income-manage people. Unfortunately, I was ill up in Aurukun just before Christmas and I could not leave the building that I was in, so they ran the program and they income-managed a couple of people, and I was just on the phone.
I am very confident that they are balanced. They certainly have their conflicts of interest and they work it out fairly quickly. They are well respected in the community. They have their own uniform. They know when not to wear it. So, for instance, if there were advocating a cause, they are not advocating as commissioners; they have to advocate it as a person in the community. If I go anywhere, I address them as commissioners. It was quite classic when Commissioner Atkinson arrived and I said, ‘Commissioner, meet the commissioners,’ and it was all over the place, but they are commissioners. In that room they have to be dealt with respectfully. They are paid the equivalent of a government board membership, which is about $490 a day to sit and appropriately $200 for half a day. We put them in on a regular basis. In Aurukun I have at least four sitting because there is so much family business and clan business. So I will sit out and they work it out. I have had only one case where someone claimed a conflict of interest and he had a conflict of interest with everybody, including me. We just dealt with that—that was in Hope Vale. I have not really had a problem.
Mr PERRETT —My partner has been in frontline child protection for 21 years in Queensland. So I have heard stories of some of these communities. In one of them in particular—I will not name it—there was not anyone sober in the town to take someone into care when someone had to be put in care. You said initially the child protection notification went up.
Mr Glasgow —Yes.
Mr PERRETT —Has it gone down since?
Mr Glasgow —Yes. We get worried about statistics because we have to do them quarterly. They have gone down in the quarter ended to December and we are worried about that because they have gone down dramatically. And you can miss a month. Someone can be a little bit lazy in getting their statistics in, so we have to be careful. We often do that with court matters. They will be up one quarter and we will find that they have kept back several quarters.
Ms Sovenyhazi —We only pay a certain amount of attention to the statistics when it comes to particularly the Magistrates Court and child safety because of the way the court is structured in the communities—they are travelling circuits. You might have more circuits in one particular quarter than you do the next. Also, with child safety and other government departments, they are subject to resourcing issues so they lose a heap of staff in one particular quarter and therefore the submissions of notifications go down. So we are very mindful about how we report the ups and downs of the statistics.
Dr STONE —Mr Glasgow, in the first instance when the government was choosing the Indigenous commissioners, did they look at them in relation to their traditional standing in the communities, whether they were TOs or were recognised elders in those communities? How were they chosen?
Mr Glasgow —In each of the communities at that time there were justice groups and the justice group was a nominating authority. I had to get up a couple of justice groups and I got, for instance in Hope Vale, the council to nominate a group. Then I just went out and asked people to nominate in the community. They had to pass some fairly stringent tests. They could not have had a domestic violence order against them in the five years prior to the commencement. They had to have a clear criminal history check, although in Queensland we have spent offences. So if they had been naughty—and some of them had been in the early days and would admit it—but they had been clear for 15 years, that was fine. They had to have an insolvency check and a child safety clearance. If they did not get the child safety clearance, quite a number of them dropped out.
Initially in Aurukun there were five clans and the justice group said, ‘We’ll have two from each clan and they’ll only hear clan matters.’ I said, ‘That’s a load of nonsense but if that’s what you want, nominate them.’ So we called for nominations and we got eight nominations, not enough to do it. So we went through the process and from those who were approved we got six. We asked them whether they were prepared to sit across clans and they have. That is probably because these people were really recognised. For me to know whether they were elders in the community—I do not know. I did not even try that. I tried to get the community to put forward their nominees.
Dr STONE —Can I follow that up with a question to Leza. We were talking before about you working in communities where there is a real mixture of people from all over WA who come into your centre, so there is not necessarily the old understood gerontocracy with the senior males or senior women. So how are you managing your programs in identifying local leaders to carry through programs which often mean real leadership has to be exercised in difficult circumstances?
Mrs Radcliffe —In most cases it is, ‘Put your hand up, pretty please.’ In other areas people are asked to nominate other people. With the local justice forums, people were invited to attend and then from there representatives were elected. With regard to our Badimia court, it was voluntary. With regard to our women’s group and trying to address community violence, it is down to strong Aboriginal women who are prepared to step up and take a chance. It is really difficult. We try to stay away from the native title issue because of the level of violence in our community. Native title is the basis of at least two of the major family conflicts, so we do not use the recognised traditional owners unless it is appropriate. It is quite difficult to try to marry the two when you do need strong leaders. We are very short on strong male leaders. We have a population of around 6,000 Aboriginal people in Geraldton, which is my community, and we find it very difficult to get positive male participation in programs.
Just looking at some of the other programs in Geraldton, we have our midwest netball academy looking at sport being a positive grab to get kids back into school. That is a female academy. We offer netball and basketball. It is the only academy of its kind in the country that is managed and operated by an Aboriginal organisation. The important thing is leadership and education attendance. When the program initially started, the average attendance for years 8 and 9 was around 35 per cent to 37 per cent. Our stats last year reflect a turnaround of almost 60 per cent, with 92 per cent being the average classroom attendance and active participation. So it can be achieved, but it is not always constantly successful given that we had quite a high incidence of violence coming from our young girls in our community in November and December last year. The media, as we have talked about time and time again, does major damage in highlighting and focusing on the negatives and not looking at what the community has actually tried to achieve because of the violence. I noticed that a couple of members laughed when we tried to ask the question, ‘Can we stop it and get off the front page?’ That was our Attorney-General’s response when we went to him as well. I know that holding the media accountable is difficult but if there is any way, shape or form that it can be achieved in a small way that would help.
Social networking sites like Diva Chat and Facebook are the best tools kids have got to do major damage to each other. In the last 12 months in Geraldton alone we have had no fewer than 35 violent instances directly resulting from posts on Diva Chat and Facebook. The organisation that I am employed by, which is a not-for-profit organisation, provides mediation services. So it falls back to us to address those issues. But the social networking sites are great tools for kids who do not have access to computers but can access the internet via their phones. They are being used as weapons. These companies—Facebook, Diva Chat—are not Australian companies. I do not know if there is a way around the pie in the sky, ‘you can’t touch us’ corporations and businesses but with business legislation and laws in this country surely we have some way of tapping into the social networking sites and restricting the access of who they can get to.
CHAIR —You mentioned a basketball academy; how successful were the sporting programs?
Mrs Radcliffe —In the netball we had three teams in the mainstream competition. We had two teams get to the finals and one team just missed out. Basketball is still going. It is due to start next month. We have only been offering basketball for the last 12 months. Attendance, community participation and leadership are all qualities that the girls are assessed on. Linkages to elite programs and things like that are a mainstream aim of trying to get the girls there. We do not have any big stars yet but we are working on it.
Mr HAASE —Commissioner, I want to ask you a question. You have been talking about the nexus between income management and school attendance. I am interested in what your perception of community response to your program is generally and whether you are aware of it. Well before intervention, some years ago now, there was a proposition put in Halls Creek because of very poor attendance—overall about 51 per cent of formal time was being spent at school. By word of mouth it became apparent to members of the community that there was going to be a radical change and that welfare would be directly affected if kids did not attend school. The first semester of the next year additional mobile classrooms were required because attendance went up to 81 per cent. A complaint was then lodged through Commonwealth welfare that this was not only erroneous but illegal and the children left the school in droves. What is your perception, as commissioner of this program, of the public’s response to income management et cetera? Is it something that should be pursued more or only used in the most extreme cases? Give me some sense of what you see the public response as being.
Mr Glasgow —Generally it is thought of as a weapon, I suppose, and used as a stick by commissioners. One of the interesting things that we have found is that you will often have a carer—and I can think of several—who are the grandparents, and they will have three children in their care, two of whom regularly go to school and one does not. We need to get to the knowledge of why the child does not want to go to school. What is the point of income-managing that person? Really what we have been trying to do in that case is get someone to see that child to find out why they do not go to school.
There are a number of people who just tell us that they are not going to do anything. It largely depends. There are a great number of males Aurukun, even though it is a dry community, who get alcohol or drugs regularly. It is regular for many of them to stay up most of the night watching DVDs or whatever and getting up around 10 o’clock or 12 o’clock in the morning. That obviously is not conducive to getting kids to school. So I will bring in a whole group of people. Even though mum might be living with grandma I will bring in the father and say, ‘You have to do something as well.’ So, yes, I will use it as a weapon with them and they do not like it. The males do not like it and they try to get out of it. So the commission says, ‘For this week, you be the responsible parent taking the kids to school.’ We are gradually getting that. I think people look at it as something they do not want and they try to get out of it. It will be interesting to see what happens this term in Aurukun because last year I had in every carer of every child in Aurukun and I made it clear to them that this year if they do not have their kids to school and they do not have proper reasons they will be income-managed. They have had plenty of notice.
Out of that, a lot of the parents came along and said, ‘Here’s my youngster, and he’s all over the place; we can’t control him.’ We are finding out what is happening to some of these children, so we have to be careful to find out whether the kids are suffering from some sort of disability. I am not there to punish the parent; I am there to find out what is happening to the children. So we are now working very closely with the school case managers, who will go out to the household and find out, basically, what is happening in that household. It may very well be that there is a death. When there is a death in Aurukun, wailing goes on, and it is disruptive for everyone in that vicinity, so it will stop kids going to school. So we have to have reasons. You accept the reason that they cannot go to school because they have not been able to sleep. So it is not easy to make a one-off answer to it.
To go back, I think that most of the people of Aurukun do not want to be income-managed. They look at it as a weapon for us, so they will try and comply. I think that has assisted with these calculations—these figures. These figures are accurate. We now have them conducted by the academy and by the case managers, and they are double-checked. If you are more than half an hour late for school, you are absent and you are not regarded as present. So these figures are fairly solid. They are that 64.9 per cent of kids are at school for the full day.
The issue that they are going to do this year to assist is that they are bringing in a pilot called ‘Club’. Noel Pearson explained to me that he wants people to learn English. They have to compete in the outside market. They have to be able to compete for jobs. They have to learn to read and write. They have to be able to read signs. They have to do all those sorts of things. Lack of numeracy and literacy for kids from about 15 to 22 is endemic in Aurukun. So that has to happen, but also the language has to be taught. So in the afternoon, when school finishes at 2.30, it goes on for another hour, and this year they will have ‘Class, Club and Culture’, which will be language and traditions; it will be the weaving by the women and the making of spears—God knows what is going to happen to them, but anyhow. It will be those sorts of things. The academy, which the institute now controls, will have placements into outstations during each semester for children. So it is generally to try and encourage kids to school.
So it will be interesting to see. Certainly figures have been all over the place during various semesters. I thought they were progressively going up, but they dropped off in term 3 this year. When we analysed it, it had to do with some very significant funerals when kids were away from school for a week and all these sorts of things. So we now have a funeral policy—how many days you are allowed to be away, and then you have to get permission for the other period. That has been developed by the Indigenous people, not by me. So we are trying to implement a system which takes those things into account. Really it is the commissioners. I go to them and say, ‘What do you think about this?’ and they will go and talk to people and come back, and then we will consult widely with the community. Aurukun has a council; Hopevale has a council. The other places have various groups.
Dr STONE —Professor Somerville, in Western Australia you have obviously had a lot of experience with truancy, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. But can you tell us what you have observed in Western Australia. What are your trends? For example, are there programs doing things like looking at how much pornography is in some of the communities and what impact that has on younger children and their ability to sleep? Can you give us your experience. We have heard some excellent results in Queensland. Are you doing similar sorts of things?
Prof. Somerville —We are doing many things similar to the ones in Queensland, but let me make some global comments first. First of all, many of the issues we have spoken about this afternoon have to do with people being poor. Because of the over-representation of Aboriginal people in that area, we get an over-representation of the issues, and consequently we think they are Aboriginal issues and not about being poor. There has been some conversation around our culture. Certainly, with Aboriginal people and the impact of government policies, we have seen a disintegration of our culture. In many aspects, if we look at the Canadian experience, it is very similar to the Australian experience, and there are some things to be learnt, I think, by looking at what the Canadian government has done over the last 10 years to turn around education outcomes.
With regard to education, there is no doubt that there is an absolute correlation between a child failing at school and a child entering the justice system. Over the last six years I have led the writing of the Australian directions in Indigenous education paper and just recently the new national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education action plan that COAG is hopefully about to sign off on in the next couple of weeks. Within those negotiations, what we found was that the issues across all jurisdictions, across all states, were the same. The contexts were very different. The issues in education for us are about not getting kids ready for school. In Western Australia—I will use the Western Australian experience—we find that about 50 to 60 per cent of the Aboriginal children are not ready for year 1. It is interesting that around 50 to 60 per cent of Aboriginal children are not ready for high school—year 8—as we see through the NAPLAN results. You do not have to be a mathematician to think there is probably a one-to-one correlation.
We are not getting Aboriginal children to school. Attendance rates are an interesting personification, for want of a better word, because we as departments can hide behind them. In Western Australia the average attendance of Aboriginal children is 80 per cent; the average attendance of non-Aboriginal children is 90 per cent. Consequently, you would say ‘that ain’t bad’. The reality is that we need to look at regular attendance—that is, children attending school regularly. Regular attendance is defined as 90 per cent of the time or more. Below that, a child is at risk of failure, and is at risk of lots of other things—entering the juvenile justice system and so on. That stat comes from Queensland as well as our own Telethon Institute, through the Western Australian Aboriginal child health survey. In Western Australia, 35 per cent of Aboriginal children attend school regularly. So there is a significant issue for us, and that is the same across all jurisdictions. We have taken our eye off the ball.
As well as that, Aboriginal children across Australia do not achieve in literacy and numeracy—one might say it is because they do not attend school—and also are not retained to year 12 in the same numbers as non-Aboriginal children. There are programs that have been put in place that we are seeing have been successful.
The other thing that we are not doing is engaging Aboriginal parents in the educative process. That does not mean going to a school council; that means getting their children to school, being involved in literacy and numeracy, reading and so on. We are not ensuring that those Aboriginal parents are involved in the cultural aspects of being Aboriginal. Noel Pearson and a number of people in Queensland have come out with the Stronger Smarter philosophy, about being stronger in your culture and smarter at school. There is a lot in that, because the last thing we need in our school system is Aboriginal children turning out to be white people, not understanding the Aboriginal system or being proud of their own culture. So we are not doing that. What we are doing is blaming the kids and saying we have a set of children who are failing our system rather than saying we have a system that is failing the children. We need to turn that system around.
One of the interesting aspects of that is that in WA—and it is the same in other states—the further away you are from a major city, the worse your outcomes are. With non-Aboriginal children it is about your socioeconomic status. The worse that is, the worse your outcomes are. It is not the case with Aboriginal children. It is the further away from a major centre you are, which is very interesting. Why is it so? We put it down to attendance. Attendance gets worse the further you get away from a major centre. Commonwealth government investment is lower in rural and remote areas than it is in metropolitan areas, and we as a state have been fighting that along with the Northern Territory and Queensland for some time.
So there are a number of issues there but, to answer your question with regard to what is working, we have had a number of programs that have had outstanding outcomes. There is one called Follow the Dream: Partnerships for Success, which is a program that Rio Tinto is involved in with us, along with the Polly Farmer Foundation. So there are a number of very large philanthropic and industry groups. The program looks at supporting Aboriginal children from year 8 through to year 12 to ensure they get a TER. We have turned that around in 10 years. In 2002, two Aboriginal children got a TER that got them to university. Now we are averaging 30 Aboriginal children with TERs who move to university—and with TERs over 90, which will get you straight into medicine. So there is an enormous switch that we have seen over the time. Nearly 300 Aboriginal children are getting a Western Australian certificate of education due to those programs, and the programs are successful because they involve the Aboriginal community. Parents are completely involved in it. They have very high expectations, so children are expected to finish and do very well. We ensure that teachers understand and the cultural aspects are set into place.
That is one of many. We have run an Aboriginal pilot training course for pilots. Those young pilots are now flying you around in aircraft. With pilot training there is usually a failure rate of over 70 per cent. Not one of our Aboriginal pilots failed. They are all fully trained to ATPL level. High expectations do make a difference when young people are expected to move through the system. We have lots of good examples, but I go back to what I said at the beginning: the reason these are successful is that they are Aboriginal ideas led by Aboriginal people, involving face-to-face and shoulder-to-shoulder support by non-Aboriginal people. We cannot continue as a nation to have non-Aboriginal people leading Aboriginal affairs.
In Western Australia, we are still in 1811. We have a non-Aboriginal person leading our Department of Indigenous Affairs and a general as the major person providing us with advice. My god! It should be an Aboriginal person supported by an Aboriginal person, and the general and the other person working shoulder to shoulder with them. That is where we must start to see some change. We are the ones who are going to change it. As a strong recommendation, that is where we need to start: Aboriginal advice and Aboriginal leadership. I hope that answers your question.
On the pornography side of it, yes, we have Net Scan and a whole range of things to keep it out of our schools. Most of our schools are the hub for all of the internet connections because it is so sophisticated for an entire remote community.
Ms Miers —It is great to hear that there are some really great things happening and that we are increasing the rates of Aboriginal attendance at school and literacy and numeracy. I am still concerned about the percentage who are not getting there and the fact that we are still leaving them behind, and that some of these programs have an expectation that there has to be this mutual obligation thing: ‘If this doesn’t happen then that doesn’t happen’. Families experiencing foetal alcohol spectrum disorder cannot take responsibility for actions. They cannot follow through and they cannot do some of the things that are being asked of them. What we need to do is what they have done in Canada in some communities there where they know there is a high incidence of alcohol use. Through some of the people who have contacted me—at Aurukun we have some of this—I know that children who are affected by alcohol are not being assessed. They are not being put into the right programs. They are probably being mismanaged and they may even be being put into programs that are going to actually exacerbate their condition because the people working with them have not had enough training. That is what I am concerned about. We are still talking about large numbers of Aboriginal kids who are not making it. It is like ignoring a child who has paraplegia and not giving them the wheelchair and the ramps. Not putting in the supports that are necessary for a child with foetal alcohol syndrome is to ignore them. It is not okay; it is a human rights issue. We are hearing a lot of fabulous stuff, but we are still pushing stuff under the carpet.
Prof. Somerville —FASD is a major issue now for us. A number of my staff went to Canada with regard to this issue. As you know, in WA it has been misdiagnosed as ADHD and a range of other areas. We are beginning now to move this forward as a major issue in education for Western Australia. The funding is always going to be an issue for us. But this problem will not go away; we need to do something about it. Our schools are screaming out for support. As you know, in Fitzroy Crossing, for example, there is a lot being on FASD at present. We are moving that forward very quickly.
Ms Miers —It needs to be.
Prof. Somerville —Please be assured of that, and we would love to see more work.
Ms Miers —Please excuse me, I have to go and catch a plane.
Ms Priday —I would like to take a moment for us to have a think about some of the broader, big picture policy issues. I want to return to the Closing the Gap targets. It is something that we believe really needs some serious action in terms of addressing juvenile justice issues. At the moment, we have Closing the Gap and a whole heap of targets in terms of education, health and employment. Yet we do not have anything around criminal justice targets. When we are looking at the overrepresentation that we have, it seems crazy that we are not including that. It is really important for us to put this forward to the committee as a Closing the Gap issue and also as a human rights issue.
I guess really what that also means is that then we can have some sort of platform for integrating some of these issues into COAG processes. The thing about juvenile justice issues—and I am sure everyone here has mentioned it and I think we would all agree—is that they are quite siloed. The beauty of the Closing the Gap process is that it is bringing together state, territory and Commonwealth levels of government and departments—all the different departments. I think that could be one practical step that we could take in a big picture approach to where we need to be going in terms of overrepresentation.
That is where justice reinvestment feeds in as well, because this is a strategy that we can attach to these targets to make some meaningful changes. I agree with you, Robert, that it needs to be community led, and that is where we are coming from and where Mick is coming from in putting forward justice reinvestment as a process that communities can own to create their own solutions.
It is nice to hear that the work from Fitzroy Crossing in FASD has been picked up, and the alcohol reforms. That is something that we are also looking at in this year’s social justice report, and it is another example of why these things need to be so community based. It is like a how-to manual for community action.
CHAIR —Can you elaborate on the reinvestment process, because the evidence we have got about it has been quite vague, if not esoteric. How would that work in practice?
Ms Priday —It is actually a really well-stepped-out, evidence based process. The first thing you need to do is work out where the offenders are coming from. There is a demographic component. There is a research component for identifying the communities that are, I guess, high-risk communities. You would be looking at different places. If, say, you are in New South Wales, there has been some scoping around Dubbo, for instance. But equally you could have an urban place. It could be somewhere like Mount Druitt or Blacktown. They would be other good examples. You identify the research and then you look at the drivers that are bringing people into the criminal justice system. That will entail a research component in terms of the demographic and also the systemic changes. Then there is a process of actually sitting down. In America it is based on bipartisan support. In Australia it is most likely to involve a holistic government approach. A whole range of departments would in the first instance sit down and work out an agreement, and then there is the process of bringing in the community.
I guess the difficulty in Australia at the moment is that we need to have some sort of evidence, some sort of pilot, before we can then go to government and say, ‘Okay, you need to be diverting this much of your budget, hopefully, to the early intervention rather than to the things that are further down the end, such as incarceration.’
CHAIR —Basically, you are saying that Blacktown could be a pilot for that and then identified. Is that what you are saying?
Ms Priday —Sorry?
CHAIR —Blacktown could be a pilot for that.
Ms Priday —Sure.
CHAIR —Do mapping of Blacktown and then work it out.
Ms Priday —Yes. Once you have identified a community where there is a high level of overrepresentation, you can then set money aside and put it into the early intervention and diversion programs that we have seen and everyone has talked about and supported. One thing about this is that it is also really different. We hear about early intervention and diversion always as pilots. They are always programs that run for a year and then they run out of funding. Something like justice reinvestment gives them stable funding.
Mr HAASE —Members would be aghast if we were to suggest yet another review, another data collection process and another body of money used to do that instead of putting the money where we know the problem exists today. I apologise, but I cannot believe in another survey being carried out.
Ms Champion —Whether it is with the criminal justice system or whether it is with health, there is already a lot of data out there that could be reviewed.
Ms Priday —It is very doable.
Ms Hollywood —I want to say quite a few things, but is the committee familiar with the review of the New South Wales juvenile justice system that was conducted by consultants called Noetic? We refer to it in New South Wales as the Noetic review. One of their key recommendations is justice reinvestment. I suggest that rather than actually going and doing another review maybe we could have a look at it. It was a very comprehensive report. The other thing is that there was very wide consultation with the non-government sector as well as with government departments, so its recommendations are fairly well supported. We have yet to see them actually implemented.
CHAIR —The New South Wales government did not take up many of them. Is that the one you are talking about?
Ms Hollywood —That is correct.
Mr PERRETT —So we will hear about it from O’Farrell and Keneally in the lead up-to the election, probably. They will be pushing hard on it, no doubt.
Ms Hollywood —As part of our own organisation’s advocacy in the lead-up to the state election—yes, we have some key recommendations around juvenile justice, because we think it is a significant area that needs reform.
I just wanted to go back to the point about education and engagement with education. Speaking from the New South Wales perspective, we have heard a lot about some of the barriers preventing parents from getting their kids to school, but I wanted to turn that on its head and talk about what is happening to Aboriginal children and young people when they actually are attending school in New South Wales. We have some fairly horrifying figures on the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in school suspensions. Our organisation is just starting to do some very preliminary research on the issue of school suspension and some possible alternatives to it, but it is in its very early days. We have some figures showing that Indigenous young people are three times as likely to be suspended from school as non-Indigenous young people and that, of the young people who have been suspended from school in the past year, more than 50 per cent are likely to engage in antisocial behaviour and those young people are 70 per cent more likely to engage in violent behaviour—we are controlling for a whole range of other factors in that. So we might have a system where the kids are actually getting to school but then, for a range of reasons, are being suspended. Some of these suspensions in New South Wales last much longer than a couple of days; sometimes they can translate into weeks. That is a real concern in terms of—
Mr HUSIC —Where are you getting your stats from?
Ms Hollywood —I think we have aggregated them from Department of Education and Training data, but we can provide more detail if you would like.
Mr HUSIC —Yes.
Ms Hollywood —School suspension is a good indicator of educational disengagement, so we should be ensuring that we minimise school suspension and find some alternatives. We would also add that Aboriginal children and young people who are suspended as a result of not attending are not disengaging because they are not interested, it is just that the school is not, perhaps, providing the right kinds of culturally appropriate programs—it is not a friendly welcoming place for families et cetera. There is a whole range of things sitting underneath that.
Dr STONE —Including undiagnosed disability, hearing issues, mental health issues or whatever?
Ms Hollywood —Exactly. And that is why we want to do more research in that area.
Ms Gaskin —On the issue of parents getting kids to school, New South Wales Health, I think, has been quite proactive with children of parents with mental illness. It is a major issue—kids coming into custody have been identified as having much higher rates of parents with mental illness than children in the general population. That is another issue that adds to kids not getting to school—because they are having to look after mentally unwell parents at home or parents with other physical disabilities. That is an area that needs to be assessed, as much as anything else, whenever there is a child that is not attending school—the whole family assessment is important.
Dr STONE —In the session this afternoon someone mentioned hearing loss—that we had not really put it into the mix in this morning’s session. We know that there is endemic hearing loss for a lot of young Indigenous children—even with babies—because of upper respiratory infections and so on. Has anyone got any data or information about hearing loss diagnosis and treatments? Where that is being picked up?
Ms Gaskin —We have those figures from the criminal justice system because we screen kids for sensory deficits, including hearing loss, when they come into custody. So we have those numbers.
Dr STONE —What are you finding?
CHAIR —Very high rates.
Ms Gaskin —Very high rates, yes. We have managed to reduce those rates in the follow-up studies.
CHAIR —That would be great, Claire. Kerry, do you have some stuff?
Dr Chant —We would be able to provide that. There was an otitis media program and there has been a review of evidence, a literature review and a process where we have reoriented that program. So I can give you an extensive report on that.
Ms Hollywood —We run a pilot for family referral services, which is part of the child protection service in New South Wales, called Keep Them Safe. That family referral system is out in Dubbo. It has only been running since May last year, but otitis media is actually coming up as an issue. We have always known it is an issue but it is interesting, in a new service where we are trying to connect families who are in need of support with additional services, that that is a key issue coming up. We are looking at how we might be able to work more effectively.
I also want to talk about some of the early child and family programs. There are a number of programs that have a really strong evidence base around working with families. One of them that we self-fund at present is called NEWPIN, and we run four of those programs in Western Sydney. We also hold the licence to support other services around Australia that might be interested in running that program in their own local community. We are also running pilots into prisons, one in Western Australia and more recently down in Nowra, New South Wales. That issue that we talked about very early on, around getting in early and working with parents and their children before things get too difficult, is really important. One of the important components is a dual-track kind of program, where you actually work with the children and deal with their developmental needs and then also work with the parents. One of the key things about NEWPIN is that it has a strong therapeutic component to it as well so that parents can deal with their own issues of trauma and abuse that they may have experienced themselves in their own young lives.
Miss Mason —I used to work for Disability Services. I am curious about the criteria that FAS sits within in the terms of reference for whether you are born with it or it is induced. Maybe that needs to be looked at. There are certain criteria, for claiming from Disability Services, that you need to look at.
I want to talk about how Swim For Life came about in the Hedland area. Young youth were very concerned about having nothing to do, so they started up a YIC, or Youth Involvement Council, program. That involved local government, industry, the public, community members, education people, DEWAR and BHP, and then they became involved with partnerships with YMCA. The Swim For Life program actually started in 2009-10. There actually two, with the bridging project as well. There were 36 enrolments in the 2009-10 session, and of the 36 enrolments 19 were female and 17 were male. There was a broad age range of 15 to 23 years, with the average age being 17 years for females and 16 years for males. Twenty-four participants passed at bronze medal level. Twelve participants did not complete the bronze medal course despite their young age. Thirteen participants were employed as lifeguards. Of those 13, nine are currently at a school or college. All lifeguards have achieved a minimum year 10 education. One participant was a university graduate. Enrolments increased in the program from 2008-09 to 2009-10. There was an increase in the number of graduates being awarded the bronze medal from 2008 to 2010. All 24 bronze medal graduates were offered casual lifeguard employment. Some participants did not take up the offer of employment due to other factors impacting on their lives.
The philosophy for it was the AAA approach, which was first articulated in the Hedland Youth Plan in 2009. It was based upon principles of youth development which empowered and encouraged young people to succeed along a continuum of individual aspiration, action and achievement. That was the stairway to ‘going for gold’. The springboard to success was increasing confidence, increasing social and economic capacity and increasing skills and employment. The bridging project, which was looking at kids who were in the detention centres, was work-ready training while the young person was in custody, evaluation of the young person’s goals and skills, training and support before and during placement of employment and completion and placement for fully trained young people.
Over that time we had one re-offender, and I have a list here if anybody would like to have a look at it. Since then this guy, who had gone through the system three or four times, since he was nine or 10 years of age, is now doing a traineeship as a train driver with BHP. We have got kids at high school on scholarships in Perth. We have got boilermaker apprentices. We have people working as orderlies in Kalgoorlie. We have got landscaping, hospitality and full-time employment in shipping. One of the girls—she is in this picture here—is moving to Sydney and she is going to help youth over there. She is very influential—she will call anybody in! It is a really good program.
CHAIR —Thank you for that, Patricia. We will go to Muriel and then Andrew.
Prof. Bamblett —I want to go to the point Emily made about the complexities. I congratulate you for this work; I know it is big. I think it is important that we look at the facilities where our young people are. It is important to look at how they are treated, the type of service and the people who are actually in those facilities. It is also important to look at the court processes, which I know you will be looking at, and the types of treatment that our young people are getting in the courts. Juvenile justice systems also need to look at the legislation, the policy and the programs. I know this is broad for you and you are probably looking at that. Today we have focused on the underlying issues and the pathways to juvenile justice. There was a report by Alan Hayes a number of years ago that talked about the pathways to juvenile justice and I think that is a really good document that has already done that work.
Our challenge, though, will be that in Australia we have so many states and territories. I was chair of SNAICC, a national body for children, for about 10 years and we were constantly challenged with different states. With the Northern Territory we were constantly challenged: they did not have systems; they did not have good court facilities. There was a challenge in comparatively looking at states and territories, and I think that is going to be the challenge with this. Are you going to develop national standards? Are there going to be some sort of cost comparisons around how you actually do this?
Today I have heard really good information about early intervention and prevention, and that is really important. There is an overrepresentation of our people in the punitive end of the system and an underrepresentation in the support types of services, so we have got to swing the pendulum back. We have got to have our people more involved. We have got to divert people and we have got to have rehabilitation. We have got to do pre-release transition back to the community and provide post-release support for our families. Approaches, though, have been very much a ‘do for’ all the time for us—people flying in to communities and ‘doing for’ us. There is an article written by Helen Hunt that talks about how we need to go to empowerment. The commissioner today did speak about some really good examples of how, when you empower people, you get results. We have heard about similar approaches in Western Australia. It all boils down to community engagement and Aboriginal governance. I think what I heard from you was Aboriginal people governing and setting the rules, and to me that is really critical, but it is about access and equity: access to all services.
Victoria would want to go on the record to say that we want you to consider us as having a juvenile justice problem as well, not just go and put all the money into Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Victoria do have a juvenile justice problem, as does New South Wales, as do the states and territories, but we get left behind. It is like a projection. We are tired of it. We are Aboriginal and we have a right to have equal service across the nation, not to be pitted against each other for a tiny bucket of money and look like we are opposing each other, because we are not. I feel very strongly about every other part of the state and every other part of the country, and I think that sometimes the government pits us against each other for that very small bucket of money.
CHAIR —Thank you for that. I call Andrew and then Claire.
Mr Cummings —I just want to go back to some of the things that we know work in supporting young people, particularly Aboriginal young people, and also in diverting their attention away from criminal activity or helping them to avoid ever getting into the criminal justice system. One of the things that young people talk about time and time again as being important in terms of their engagement in the community and so on is relationships. It is about the relationships that they build with people across generations, with their peers and so on, and that really flies in the face of what Muriel was talking about before: that fly-in fly-out mentality and communities where we know services are flying in, providing a service and flying back out again. It really does not work with young people. I do not know if it works with anyone, but it particularly does not work with young people and I think particularly Aboriginal young people.
We need to be supporting programs and activities that are based on relationship building, which is a core premise of the youth work approach. That works best when it is provided by people in local communities, people who know the young people in that community and are able to build those relationships over a long period of time. We also know that sometimes—and we have heard a number of examples where—it is useful for people from outside to go in and work alongside local people in order to build up those skills and so on, so we need to be looking at how we resource that kind of activity.
One of the things that I have been hearing about when going around the country and talking to people in different states and territories, particularly in rural and remote communities, is the particular difficulties in recruiting and retaining suitable youth workers to go in and hold those kinds of positions. There are huge barriers to people first of all finding people who are willing to go into those communities for the very poor salaries they get paid. That is one problem, but there are a whole lot of other systemic things that get in the way. The chronic shortage of housing and of affordable housing is a huge problem. I remember talking to one young youth worker in WA who was working in a mining community who said that if you could get a two-bedroom flat in the town that she was living in it would be $1,500 a week. She had bought a second-hand, run-down caravan with her partner for $7,000, and they were paying $250 a week to park it nearly a kilometre away from the nearest toilets at the caravan park. But she was a passionate young woman who saw this as a chance to have a life experience. She was going to stay for a year or so and then go and travel the world. So we need to be really looking at how we resource those types of people.
There is the competition for jobs in mining communities. We heard from Andrew from Rio Tinto that there is a shortage of staff who are willing to work in the mines, but we are hearing constantly that those companies can offer, even for the most basic admin jobs, salaries at least double what we can offer for community service type roles like youth work. And those companies can build houses and they can provide company cars and a whole lot of other things, so there is a real problem from a sector development point of view in resourcing people who are willing to go and work in communities alongside the local people to help them build their skills.
There is a problem with training. One of the things that we were hearing particularly in the Northern Territory was that officially there were five or six RTOs, registered training organisations, which were willing to go in and train people who wanted youth work qualifications, but the reality was that, as soon as organisations started talking to those RTOs about going into remote communities, it was: ‘Oh, no, we can’t do that. They’re too expensive; we can’t afford the costs.’ So the government say, ‘Hey, we’ve got six providers,’ but the service providers say, ‘We cannot get one of them to come out and run the kinds of courses that we need in order to have people working at the level of qualification that we need.’
It is a bit of a diversion away from that, but one other thing that research, particularly international research, shows is particularly useful is peer-to-peer support. That is training and supporting young people to go in and work alongside other young people to provide them with education, social discussions and so on. It is an approach that is working really well in a number of countries. The UK have been investing in that for many years. They have some really good, well-developed programs. Personally, I think Australia is a bit behind the eight ball with that. I know there is a really good program in WA at the moment around health education with a peer support approach, but I think there is a real opportunity to look at and pilot some approaches here in Australia, particularly with Aboriginal youth.
Ms Gaskin —I know that we have talked a lot about the negatives and the problems. I just wanted to say that the thing that strikes me is that I see a lot of young people who really want to be helped when they come into custody. They want to have an opportunity to change their lives. They want treatment for their mental health problems. They want treatment for their parents’ mental health problems and their social, housing and other problems. Very many of them want to be in education and get jobs and have families and do all of the things that we take for granted. Hopefully what is addressed in the committee’s report and recommendations is looking at the factors that build resilience, because this community, and particularly young people in custody and Aboriginal young people, have enormous resilience. I think that if we had experienced many of the traumas that they have themselves and also their families have we would not be in the positions we are in and we probably would not be functioning even as well as they are. So although they are getting into trouble and doing other things that we do not want them to, I am very glad that the committee is looking at this because offending is not a sexy thing, it is not a thing that people want to spend money on, but if we can get people to address the resilience factors and really look with young people in the Aboriginal communities at how they are surviving and how we can help them survive better and achieve those things that not all but very many of them want that would help. I just wanted to say that. Thanks.
CHAIR —Thanks, Claire. Thank you to all those people who travelled, particularly from Western Australia and Far North Queensland. And people from the Northern Territory, thank you very much for coming.
Resolved (on motion by Dr Stone):
That this committee authorises publication, including publication on the parliamentary database, of the transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.
Committee adjourned at 4.07 pm