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STANDING COMMITTEE ON ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER AFFAIRS
31/03/2010
Involvement of Indigenous juveniles and young adults in the criminal justice system

CHAIR —I welcome representatives of the Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Cultural Centre. Who is going to do the presentation? Allan, are you going to do that?

Mr Lawford —Yes. I have got a few different hats on. This is where our young kids need us, so there is a committee that has been formed, spread across a couple of language groups, and it came up with a program called Yiriman. We have got a few slides to show you, and you are free to ask questions. What it is all about is that our kids—and you probably saw a few posters when you walked in here—seem to be running into a lot of trouble. We want to take them out bush and teach them bush stuff, in conjunction with the education department that we have run that through, and I think we need some more partnership on Yiriman. I see this as a need; we need our young people to be out in the bush instead of breaking into shops and stuff like that around town.

Steven James has been employed by Yiriman. We can talk about it. We would like to show some slides showing what we have been doing for the past couple of years with a few of these young offenders. We are not stopping. We are going to go from year to year. Fitzroy Crossing is our town and we just needed to get the kids off the street. A few of the fellas we had are now starting to make their way up into football academies, like Clontarf. A few more are thinking outside the circle of our culture—lawyers and teachers. I never wanted to be a lawyer or a teacher, but these kids are coming out with something. We teach the cultural side, the pastoral industry side, the community side. It is about planning and talking with these kids out on country where there is no attraction from civilisation. We took a few trips out to the desert and they are starting to see that we have a big country and asking why we do not look after our country. They have gone back visiting old people and their knowledge is taught to these kids. It is to keep that culture inside them, because if you do not have culture you are just nothing.

CHAIR —It is hard when kids watch Home and Away on the TV and then, when they turn off the TV, they are still in Fitzroy Crossing. They have to work that out.

Mr Lawford —It is coming.

Mrs VALE —Allan, you have been operating this program since 2001. How many young people have you put through the program? Is it only for young boys? Are there any opportunities for the girls in the community?

Mr Lawford —We have two separate groups. We have girls who run into trouble as well. We leave that to the ladies side.

Mr James —That is how we work—being culturally appropriate. We work separately with males and females, according to our culture.

Mrs VALE —How many young people have you been able to put through your program since 2001?

Ms Coles —The statistics are held by us in the office. We work across four language groups. Allan works specifically with Walmajarri people. The numbers are in the thousands of young people who have participated in trips on country. There are several different parts of how Yiriman functions.

Mrs VALE —Thank you. I would like to know about the young girls too.

Ms O’Meara —I am the chair of Kurungal council. I have also worked with Yiriman, but Olive just spoke recently about the program that she was running out there and I am from that same place. But I have worked with the young women. There was one camp that I did with them. It was a seven-day camp and we talked not only about learning things. I took them from the desert and I took them onto the salt water. We spent a week over there and I showed them the differences in the two cultures and the way of living. They saw other young women there who we got involved to come on that trip with us, from Lombadina, Djarindjin and around that area. So we took a couple of girls from there and put them in with our group. It gave them a chance just to mix with those young women, see their lifestyle and the differences between them and how they can all get on and work the same.

We also talked about why they were getting into trouble and had evenings where they sat around and they talked about that—young women who may or may not have a child at an early age and what the consequences are. We were generally just getting out and having a good time, showing them something different. That is part of what we did, and then we came back and they also had to work on the report that we had to put in. I left a lot of that up to them, so they also had to learn how to work. When we go on these camps, I actually make those girls do all the work—things that they may not necessarily do at home. They may order around their family members, whereas on this camp they were given responsibilities and they had to go by that. So it was a different way of learning for them as well.

Ms Kogolo —I am the KALACC cultural adviser. I work very closely with support people like Michelle and Simon as well as with other elders in the community. With the projects that we do with our young women, we have been out on some field trips, bush trips out on country, and we work very separately most of the time. The men work with the young men and we work with the women. We have women who have that connection to the country where we are visiting, so they work very closely with the young women, and the women share a lot of information and cultural knowledge. They teach them about the land, the language and their culture out on country, and we have seen a lot of young women really getting to understand, because they have not been out on their country. They listen to stories about the importance of how it used to be when their parents lived in the desert or in certain places—special, significant places that need to be protected. They learn about all these different things like bush tucker and bush medicine out on country.

There are other activities that we get the women involved in, trying to get them to record traditional stories. They have a sit-down and respect the elders and collect information, which is really valuable. It should not be lost. They can receive special skills, using modern technology and keeping it all together to make them feel strong within themselves as well as encouraging the peer groups that they hang out with. So we work very closely to try and target some of the young people who would come as leaders in their communities and become role models. There are so many other things that really need to be done, not only out in the desert but also caring for country. So there are other projects. We have been doing some work about the river changes and things like that, getting the young people talking about how they see the changes that have been happening in the river since they were very young. We are working together very closely with the women.

Mrs VALE —Thank you, Annette.

CHAIR —I think the machinery is ready.

Slides were then shown—

Mr Lawford —You can probably see on the chart that we are working on two sides of the culture to let kids know that we can learn from one another. We would like to expand the Yiriman project in a few years time so that it will cover the whole of the Kimberley. I would like to see that in the near future.

Mr James —This slide shows the trip out to Bunuba. There is a girls’ trip and there is a boys’ trip—separately. That slide is of one of the walks we do. It is a two-week walk.

Mr Lawford —Ten days.

Mr James —Cultural trips out in country.

CHAIR —This is in the mountains?

Mr James —No, it is out in the desert. We have mountains in the dessert as well.

Mr Lawford —We teach them to make artefacts for hunting. We do a 10 kilometre punishment walk a day. These fellas walk about 180 kilometres. They did not even know they had done that. It is 10 kilometres a day. But it is teaching them—  

Mr James —They know how to use GPS.

Mr Lawford —Yes, GPS. In the old days we only knew how to pinpoint a country by a big hill; that was about it, but now you can get around with GPS. We stop to tell stories. We can tell stories until the sun goes down. They say that a few of these kids are slow learners, but when you take them out into country they are different fellas. We do a lot of Mangala tours with the boys. We got Ronnie involved in a leadership program. We have undertaken a few leadership programs—the Australian Rules leadership program. We are starting to be with these young ones.

CHAIR —What is that slide of?

Mr Lawford —That is seed collecting.

Ms Kogolo —They are cultural materials to support the men in the community.

Mr Lawford —In this slide we took a few of these kids out along the Canning Stock Route and we dug a few wells out there in the desert that had been filled in by the camels. It is well 51, 41 or 42.

Mrs VALE —You knew there was a well there?

Mr Lawford —We knew the well was there but we wanted to dig it out.

Mrs VALE —Is that a traditional well?

Mr James —It is a traditional home for Warlukurlongu people. We took our kids back there. We had to go there because some of us have not been there and that is where our ancestors are from. It is right there. We needed to know that. We needed to know where we were from. We needed to have our identity, which is where we have come from. Why we are all here in Fitzroy? We have come that far away and now we are here.

Mr Lawford —We have a formal of meeting when we go about. We get stories from old people. We get their direction and we go from there. This slide shows a few of the dances. We took the kids out to the desert. A few of these dances had never been seen in the Kimberleys for over 50 years. Slowly these young kids brought back the dance to an AGM through KALACC. This slide shows them at One Arm Point. It was good to see that they had brought the desert dance back, because it has been hidden for about 50 years. This is why we like to see a partnership with the police and the Yiriman. The kids run amuck straight into our troop and then we take them straight out bush.

Ms Coles —This is a community meeting that was held after the last bush camp. This is at the end, so it has all of the elders who were involved with Yiriman plus all of the mentors, the senior men—and a lot of them are here—and all the young people. They spent a whole day answering to the old people and listening to them speak about their feelings as senior people for the future of the young people. It was a really strong community activity that was governed by all of the elders and community people to show those young men that they have support and a leadership base and those elders are making decisions with partnership agencies to ensure their support and strength for them.

Mr Keenan —This is also the conclusion of an eight-week camp.

Mr Lawford —We keep them out in the bush for about six weeks. It keeps them out of trouble and then we bring them into court. We would like to see our courts come out to our communities so they can see two sides of the story. The police get painted as bad persons. We would like to work with the police and have them present. We would like to mix it a bit.

CHAIR —You are determined to continue this activity come what may, but what kinds of resources would help? We have to be able to answer Wes when he sends out the next email.

Mr Lawford —More troops on the ground. We have a lot of offenders. We can only spread it so far. Resources would be about setting something up in the desert, as Olive talked about. We have a small community and we could make it a base for anyone who wants to use it for cultural awareness stuff, for white and black. More resources like vehicles—

Ms O’Meara —Ongoing funding. We have too much stop-start funding. It needs to be ongoing. We have to source that funding from different areas. If there was one area that they could just go to to get the majority of their funding, it would make it so much easier. You have these eight-week courses. They go for eight weeks and they stop. In between there is a gap. Things happened and then you have to wait for funding to be approved again and then you can do your next one.

CHAIR —The funding is for salaries for supervising people?

Ms O’Meara —Yes.

CHAIR —And food and fuel—

Ms O’Meara —Vehicles. At the moment we use two vehicles to take the youth out. We have two troop carriers.

Mr James —There are a lot of communities around Fitzroy Valley. We are not a small community. With two troop carriers we are being overloaded. We cannot do it with two. We have a big community and there are communities over there and way over there. We just cannot cut it with two. We have to say no. We cannot afford to take elders who want to come. It is limited.

Ms Kogolo —We would like to see Yiriman work with the valley, with all of the people from other language groups who are interested in taking their children out on their country as well.

Mr James —Right up to Halls Creek they ask for the Yiriman Project, but we cannot do Halls Creek and Derby. We are only just a small vehicle. We cannot take everybody on board.

Ms O’Meara —You have to look at how many permanent staff you have.

CHAIR —These programs are about developing in young people an awareness of the community. They are to strengthen their character and therefore to prevent them from getting involved in the justice system. But there is another kind of program, which I think you have experimented with at least, which is for young people who have been convicted in the court. What are your thoughts about those kinds of programs? I know that the police would much prefer that such a program had a clear basis in the law of Western Australia, but what are your thoughts about those programs? I act on the assumption that there are a lot of kids involved in minor offences who will get straightened out a bit by this kind of program just as much as kids who have not been offending will be strengthened by it.

Mr Lawford —It is just an idea. If we give offenders three strikes and then they are gone, we are teaching them pretty early about what sort of trouble they are going to end up in. Jail is not a good place to be for our young kids. What I was thinking about was, beyond that, trying to work with the police in taking these offenders to a big prison like Casuarina, then they can see the inside story of these crims. That might straighten them out a bit. They need to see it. That would make them come to a state of mind where they would never run into trouble. But we would still have the program out there to try and warn them. We would have that sort of partnership to take these kids. I reckon that would work out really well.

Mr James —What was your question again? It was not clear.

CHAIR —The camps you are showing us are for kids who are not in trouble.

Ms O’Meara —They are in trouble. It is a mix of both.

CHAIR —Some are both.

Mr James —It is like prevention, but it is also for kids who are already in trouble.

CHAIR —That is what I am asking you about. How do the kids who are in trouble get on the program?

Ms O’Meara —Via the courts. Through the court system.

Mr James —They do something silly and then they end up in court. That is when we go to court and represent them. We have Simon and Michelle here. We will be there for the boys. The courts and the magistrates are well aware of the Yiriman Project.

Ms Coles —In our most recent structure we bring people to Yiriman who have been identified in the community and who old people have talked of.

Mr James —We have our own mentors and advisers on every trip that we do. The main teaching that we do is to teach them about respect. The big word is ‘respect’. If they do not have respect for themselves and others, that is where everything is just breaking down. We teach them big things like that. We do it out in the bush because we just cannot do it here in town. This is where everything is happening, in town. This is where the crimes are committed. This is the zone where everything happens. So we take them out bush. We make them clear their heads and we talk to them.

Mrs VALE —If a young person has been on one of your camps, can he go on a second camp with you?

Mr James —Yes. It is about building relationships too with the boys and the girls.

Mrs VALE —Yes, the same thing.

Mr James —That is what happens out in the bush.

Mr Lawford —They are turning the levers themselves. They say, ‘Don’t do this and that,’ so that becomes—

Mrs VALE —They really change from the experience of things.

Mr James —Here in town there are a lot of interruptions.

Mrs VALE —Yes, I understand.

Mr James —It is too much for them, so we take them out bush, then we talk to them out there, when their head is clear. That is the best way we do it.

Ms O’Meara —But the youth that come on the program have been identified by staff or by community or by the courts, so that is how they get into the program. It could be just their elders that come in and say, ‘Look, we need you to work with this group of girls or boys or these two,’ and then that is what happens. Yiriman take that on, and that is how they work with the youth. They come almost recommended.

Ms Kogolo —That is really getting back to the community, because it gets back to the parents or the grandparents who are caring for these children who are getting themselves into trouble. It is the parents’ responsibility to start disciplining or talking to their children about getting themselves into trouble. It is getting back through Yiriman through the family and to the community where they can be disciplined.

Mrs VALE —You really provide a circuit breaker in a way, don’t you? You take them out of the problems that we have in the town and take them back—

Mr James —Yes.

CHAIR —People have so-called culture camps all over Australia now, but it seems that yours is much more intense than most—a longer time in the bush, more serious stuff?

Mr James —We are just small; that is the issue. We are just small.

Ms O’Meara —It needs to be ongoing.

Mr James —Yes, we need ongoing funding.

Ms O’Meara —It needs to be better funded, better resourced.

Mr Lawford —The funding that we get is only limited for about three to four months. It just cuts off and then—

Mr James —That is some—

Mr Keenan —We receive funding from agencies, some philanthropic and some government agencies—the justice department, Attorney-General’s, FaHCSIA—and they are small pieces of funding, just little bits.

Ms Coles —There are a plethora of different objectives and outcomes. The diversionary stuff that is specifically related to justice is annually about $80,000.

CHAIR —$8,000?

Ms Coles —No, $80,000 for the year.

CHAIR —Is that coming from the state or the federal department?

Mr Keenan —It is coming from the federal department. We have men’s and women’s programs, so it is split.

CHAIR —It would be really good if someone could give us a very brief account of how you get the funding now and how it would be greatly improved. The amounts of money for improvement are not very large in comparison to plenty of funding that goes on, are they, but you need consistency.

Mr Keenan —Sure.

CHAIR —It would be really good if you could give us a bit more detail—you do not have to write a book, but a bit more detail—about how you would spend the money to keep a program going all the time and look after kids up and down the valley.

Mr Keenan —No problem. We have a business case that was put forward last year to COAG, which was quite comprehensive.

CHAIR —You will send us that?

Mr Keenan —We can send you that. But also we need to give you an idea of the cost of the camp that you were talking about, which had a justice focus. Young men had been referred through the courts; they were working with these guys and also Ronnie Jimbidie out there, one of the bosses. It was an eight-week camp. It was a work camp, a bush-style camp, a cultural camp. We need to give you an idea of the costs of those camps. As you can understand, working in such remote places, things cost a lot more than they do over in the east. The eight-week camp, which had two groups and a range of supervisors, cost about $50,000. I think also that when you compare that to the cost of incarcerating someone in the state of WA, and that is just—

CHAIR —It costs $100,000 to incarcerate somebody for one year.

Mr Keenan —And that is just the cost of correctional services, let alone the costs to the community, to their families and to the social fabric and the other ongoing costs.

Mrs VALE —So it is great value for the investment.

CHAIR —I do not mean to take up too much time about this, and perhaps some of the police officers know this with some precision. The magistrate has been putting people on a bond and saying they have to go on the camp and report back to him?

Ms Coles —One of the most important factors is that young people need to be compelled to do these programs because, naturally, if they do not have to they are not going to. It was just a support structure to the group of elders who were shaping the project, to have that support from the magistrate. They knew that they needed to participate for that length of time.

Mrs VALE —Do they have to go back for sentencing?

Ms Coles —Yes.

Mrs VALE —Is it like a suspended sentence or is it a bond? How does it work?

Snr Sgt Gibson —It is a remand. They are on bail, and a condition of their bail is that they undertake the program.

Mrs VALE —Then they go back after their program to the magistrate and he gives them a tick in the box or something?

Ms Coles —Yes. It was really good in this case because the magistrate included the elders in the sentencing process, rather than the usual. It was huge burden on the courts and the police that day because it took all day for that group to go through. Each of the elders spoke to the young people in the courts, they and the magistrate supported each other and it was a really interesting and weighty process.

Mrs VALE —A great investment in time, I would have thought.

Ms Coles —Yes.

Mrs VALE —How long does your current funding last on the current program?

Mr Keenan —We yearly have to submit, as I said, to multiple departments.

CHAIR —So it is stop-start?

Mrs VALE —You have enough for a couple of months or to the end of this year?

Mr Keenan —To the end of the financial year.

Mrs VALE —The financial year?

Mr Keenan —That is right; so just a couple of months.

Mrs VALE —Then you have to start all over again.

Mr Keenan —It is the same story, then we wait.

Ms Coles —The other thing that is pertinent to say is that there is no funding apart from the $80,000, which is to support young people through the justice process. There is no funding for any of the bush camps we do. We look for funding on an ad hoc, discrete, moment-by-moment basis. We are waiting to implement one project with a group of young men who have been identified. We have been able to approach COAG and the ROC group that has just been put in place in the valley in the last three months. They have been really supportive and promoted the idea, but there is no outcome to that. We have to have those young people through that program before 1 June, which is when they have to go back to court in sentencing, so we are trying to use our operational funds to make something happen.

The other thing that is really important to say is that these projects pay community people to supervise and monitor, so they engage about three different layers of local people in full-time employment, where they are supporting—

Mrs VALE —In supporting the police and the courts too in what they are doing.

Ms Coles —Yes, to run the camps specifically.

Mrs VALE —Yes, I know, but there is an indirect support.

Ms Coles —It is a partnership, a community partnership.

Mrs VALE —Community building. A good investment for your time and dollar.

CHAIR —Do we need some clearer Western Australian laws about the arrangements that can be made by the courts for young offenders? We do, actually. It would be much easier to administer if there was a formal system and the magistrate was not worrying all the time—if the magistrate knew it was legitimate to use one of these projects. But I should say two things to you: I am aware that the poor folk from Hansard are going to pass out soon if we do not give them a break and that we are running quite late on our timetable so it is a good idea to have a sandwich before we have the roundtable.

I came here in another role about a year ago and I spoke to Allan and Steve and a lot of other fellas in big hats, so I am aware of this program and admire it a lot. We also want to recommend to COAG that these issues get taken up, because at the present time the big program called Closing the Gap has got a lot of money going for health. It may not all be coming to Fitzroy Crossing yet, but there is a lot of money available. There is money for housing and for a whole lot of things. But, as Wes Morris has no doubt been reminding you, or as you have been reminding him, there is not so much money in the area of justice and crime prevention, and community safety. We are trying to identify the kinds of programs that you want to tell them they should be putting money into. That is why it would be a good thing if, instead of doing lots more work, you could just give us a copy of your business plan from last time.

Mr Keenan —That would be my pleasure.

Mr Lawford —We have got a symptom out there and we need to cure it—that is, our young people.

CHAIR —It has always seemed to me that in all cultures some version of this kind of thing has been common, really. Just in everyday European Australian culture, there are a whole lot of movements and charitable organisations that try to take juveniles and get them focused. That is what you are doing, except it is much more important. In this context you are educating them about your culture.

Mr James —And Yiriman is run by Aboriginal people. It was created by Aboriginal people and it is driven by Aboriginal people.

CHAIR —In other words, you can tell the government how you could use the funds. You do not want to employ an NGO from somewhere else to run the program; you want to run the program. That is the impression I generally get.

Mr James —Yes.

CHAIR —Thank you. It has been fantastic.

Proceedings suspended from 1.17 pm to 1.50 pm