Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 23 August 1994
Page: 72

Senator TAMBLING (5.32 p.m.) —by leave—I move:

  That the Senate take note of the document.

I welcome the Northern Territory government's report on the implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The 205-page report, now tabled in federal parliament, is one of considerable significance. This was acknowledged by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the Hon. Robert Tickner, in correspondence to me prior to the tabling of this report. I urged the minister, senators and the media to read the report carefully, particularly for the historical responses to many identified problems.

  While the Northern Territory government is committed to implementing the recommendations, it is concerned that the process will take much longer if the Commonwealth `does not provide the financial capacity'. Currently the Northern Territory government is actively involved in implementing 336 of the 339 recommendations of the royal commission. Let me stress those figures: 336 of 339. That is a remarkable record of achievement. There have been extensive changes to police general orders, legislation has been reviewed and programs across numerous departments have been modified to meet the recommendations. Almost all Northern Territory government agencies are commendably involved in this process.

  The implementation of these recommendations is being monitored in a number of ways. For example, a series of workshops has been planned to give Aboriginal organisations the opportunity to discuss directly with the responsible departmental officers the details of the implementations of the recommendations; and a full-time officer has been employed by the Northern Territory Office of Aboriginal Development, using a grant from ATSIC. This officer is working to raise the level of involvement by ATSIC's elected members in the monitoring process.

  In areas of community policing, the Northern Territory government is leading the way with its Aboriginal community police program and support for night patrols. According to the Northern Territory Chief Minister, Marshall Perron, these programs are `not in response to the royal commission's recommendations, but programs undertaken by the government arising from the positive interaction between territory police and Aboriginal communities'.

  The territory's living with alcohol campaign is another first for Australia, and a measure of the territory government's concern about alcohol abuse. Once again the Chief Minister made an important point when he said:

Given the link between alcohol abuse and crime and subsequent imprisonment, this initiative of its own will have the greatest impact of any program that could be implemented by Government.

The Northern Territory government established the living with alcohol program in 1991 to try to reduce the costs of alcohol related harm in the territory. The program incorporates the strategies of culture, control and care—culture to increase the community's knowledge, capacity and willingness to drink sensibly; controls on the supply and service of alcohol; and care for those who have alcohol related problems.

  According to this report, more than $3 million of the living with alcohol funds have been allocated to Aboriginal organisations or programs in the territory. For example, money has been used to employ an alcohol counsellor, help establish a residential treatment program, support night patrols, and develop a program for young offenders. The link between alcohol abuse and criminal behaviour cannot be ignored or sufficiently stated. The Northern Territory report states:

The majority of the Aboriginal people who come into contact with the criminal justice system do so because of alcohol related offences. Responsible use rather than abuse of alcohol could reduce contact with that system.

Despite the high level of territory Aborigines caught up in the criminal justice system, the territory has the lowest level of deaths in custody of any jurisdiction. Certainly this report is a tribute to the efforts of the Northern Territory government—in particular, the Office of Aboriginal Development—in addressing the royal commission's recommendations. The office not only compiled this significant report, but also maintains a broad, coordinating role in the implementation of the recommendations. While the Northern Territory government continues to work towards alleviating the socioeconomic disadvantage of many Aborigines, it is important to note that governments cannot force change. Let me quote:

Governments can continue to attempt to motivate, stimulate, and educate for change. In the end, however, it is Aboriginal people who will and who must choose the direction that they see as necessary to prevent further harm to their own people.

I commend the report, particularly for its impact in the International Year of the Family.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.