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Involvement of Indigenous juveniles and young adults in the criminal justice system

CHAIR —Welcome. Mr Clarke, the committee has decided to take some formal evidence from you. Before I ask you to explain your program for Indigenous drivers’ licences, do you have any comments to make on the capacity in which you appear?

Mr Clarke —Good morning. I am the Aboriginal liaison officer for the state of Queensland Fire and Rescue Service.

CHAIR —Would you explain how the booklet that you have given us relates to your program?

Mr Clarke —I have been involved with Indigenous learner licensing for at least the last eight years. I and a police officer would go out to a community every six months and do learner licensing with them. The officer has retired but I still carry it on. When we would go out to Palm Island, for instance, we would sit on the beach with the young people in order to make it as informal as possible. My being an Aboriginal man, I would sit around and discuss community issues with them. Then we would discuss traffic regulations. I would draw an intersection on the sand. I would use a shell for one car and a rock for another car and say to them: ‘Which one has the right of way? Which one must give way?’ They are sessions where the Aboriginal people are treated like human beings. When Aboriginal people go into an organisation like the Queensland transport department or into any other environment that is foreign to them, they have a tendency to get a bit inhibited. So I make sure they are relaxed. I have a joke with them about what is going on in their community, we talk and then we get through the examination.

There are some failures. Sometimes they do not understand what I am talking about. I go back to the ones who fail and ask them separately to explain their answer to me. When they explain the right answer to me, I do another test and they are successful. The majority of Aboriginal people can drive a car at 13 years of age as well as anybody else.

CHAIR —That is the problem.

Mr Clarke —It is literacy and numeracy. They cannot understand the test paper when they do it. With that book I explain to them what the question is. I draw it for them on a whiteboard, a beach or a river bank and then they are able to do it successfully.

CHAIR —How many people have you had contact with over the last four or five years?

Mr Clarke —In the last six years, I would have had successes of about 7,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I do it by myself now and last year I had over 800 successful applicants. I go back to the communities six months later and they say, ‘Uncle, I’m driving a car now thanks to you helping me get the learner’s licence.’ Some of them are employed in the mines to drive trucks. It is about giving these people an opportunity to do this test. In Hope Vale, I asked an older gentleman, an uncle, who is in his seventies: ‘Why do you want the learner’s licence?’ He said, ‘I want to sit a white man’s examine and pass.’ And he did it. Also, he said: ‘My brother’s got a licence’—they live at an outstation, 20 miles away from Hope Vale—‘and my brother gets tired of driving. I’ve now got to give him a hand.’ There are all these little things.

When I go to Rockhampton—I am going there next week—I teach unmarried Aboriginal women. Their husbands have gone to prison. There is a good car sitting in the garage but the women have not got a learner’s licence to drive it. All of these things impact on an Aboriginal family. The baby gets sick and the mother gets in the car. She can drive but she has not done the test. If a policeman pulls her up, it is jail. So we have to look at this in a way that keeps our people out of jail and that gives our people a chance to be employed.

CHAIR —Also, I think you mentioned that you are accredited by the department of transport in Queensland.

Mr Clarke —Yes. It has just been renewed until 2012.

CHAIR —Thank you. That is a very important piece of impromptu evidence, which will help us a lot in this particular issue. We will take your pamphlet on the Indigenous licensing program as an exhibit.

Mr Clarke —I have since delivered a program that is nationally accredited. It can be used by Indigenous people in all the states and territories of Australia to deliver a learner’s licence. I do not have to be in Western Australia or Tasmania, although I have to go there for a weekend to train up four trainers so that they can deliver the program. They will be in charge of their own mob’s licensing, and I will come back to Queensland. I am very passionate about this.

CHAIR —I see that you are, and we thank you for taking the trouble to tell us about it.

Mr Clarke —Thank you for the opportunity.

[11.34 am]