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STANDING COMMITTEE ON ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER AFFAIRS
04/05/2010
Involvement of Indigenous juveniles and young adults in the criminal justice system

CHAIR —I should put it on the record, in a modest sort of a way, that the committee did ask a number of Indigenous justice groups and other organisations from around Brisbane to come. For reasons that are not entirely clear to us, a number of them were unable to do so. It is a pity, especially in terms of representation of a significant area of Aboriginal population. On the other hand, I should also point out that we are hearing from a great many Aboriginal groups all over the country as we move from one place to another. It is a great pleasure to welcome Joe and Rosemary here. Would either or both of you like to make an opening statement?

Mrs Connors —Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today and recognise our elders both past and present. I have been involved in law and justice for over 10 years now. I have been coordinator of the justice group in Ipswich for the last 10 years. Prior to that I worked in the prison system and worked with a number of alternative programs for juveniles in Townsville and throughout the Cape region. I have also been involved in the Anti-Discrimination Commission and the Human Rights Commission. I feel I bring enough experience to the table to discuss the issues we are talking about today. I will let Uncle Joe introduce himself before we get into the body of the program. Thank you.

Mr Kirk —I am involved with Catholic education at the moment. I have been for nine years. I have been involved with Rosie at the social justice group as a community elder of Ipswich for the past two years, having lived in Ipswich for 28 years. I am really concerned about juvenile justice and the justice system for our youth. I had a lot of experience coming from the Aboriginal community of Cherbourg, where I started in education and working with the court system on social justice for youth and managing a children’s shelter at Cherbourg under Family Services. At the moment, I am heavily involved in the Brisbane area as well, as a community elder in Brisbane. I am the Chairman of the Musgrave Park Cultural Centre at the moment and have been for the last year and a half. I am heavily involved with government bodies in the Parliamentary Annexe and Parliament House, doing a lot of corporate speaking and welcoming to country—being a traditional owner of the Turrbal people across the river. That is my story.

Mrs Connors —We might start addressing the terms of reference. I will start off with the initial one. It talks about social norms and behaviours. I think the development of social norms and behaviours leads to positive social engagement for any child or young person and should not be perceived as being relevant only to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people. The question I do raise is this: do our social norms or the social norms of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people fit the expectations of the social norms and behaviours of the rest of society? I would suggest that they do not. We are confronted on a daily basis with extended family versus the nuclear family; social inclusion of children versus children being seen and not heard; Aboriginal child-rearing practices versus non-Indigenous child-rearing practices; and the government policies and procedures that overlook the cultural differences.

In our culture, Aboriginal children are seen as mini adults and are included and are aware of all discussions around the family. Children hear and are involved in life experiences from birth to death. Discussions are not hidden from our children under the guise of, ‘This is adult talk and children should not be hearing this stuff.’ I guess the downside of this is that we tend to normalise inappropriate behaviour because it becomes an acceptable part of our family. We expect to be drunk and to drink in our homes. We expect domestic violence in our homes. We expect to go to prison. We expect to be harassed by police. We expect child safety to be on our doorstep. There is no shame in any of the things I have listed above. We need to stop normalising the inappropriate behaviours in our families. It is not that we do not have social norms and behaviours; it is just that these things have become so common within our families that we have started to accept them, to accept that this is how we behave in everyday life. I think Uncle Joe is going to talk more on that as we go along.

Mr Kirk —On the terms of reference, I have always been excited about Indigenous programs, especially around alcohol and drugs. When I was a young lad on Cherbourg it was, to us as young people, a requirement that we drank. We were given a glass and told: ‘Here, have a drink. Have a taste of a bottle of wine.’ When I was 15 that was a requirement to be a man. We should be educating our young people that it is not a requirement in today’s world to have alcohol or drugs. I am interested in the social norm of our young people being dropouts from the education system because there is not an efficient program for our young people within the education system—whether it be state or private. You have in the education system programs for other things like bullying; social awareness; families; how to be well respected in the community and well respected in your school; and how to respect other people and yourself. These are part of what Aboriginal people identify with on a daily basis. But our young people are losing a lot of respect for themselves, let alone for their families and other people within their communities.

So I am interested in talking about working out solutions and programs to combat the problem before they get to the alcohol and the drugs. It is an educational program. You can address the issues of why there are dropouts and why they are in the community as social misfits. They are not fitting into the education system because the education system does not have culturally appropriate programs for Indigenous youth. When I started as a teacher aide at Murgon high school, we had dropouts of about 20 per cent. So we created an Aboriginal cultural program for those youth from Cherbourg based on what they already knew and what they wanted to know more about. That was about their tradition and their culture. Most of the kids at Cherbourg community had horses, so we did a term on horses and we did a term on bicycles to get them interested in coming to school, and they started to come to school. Before that they were drinking and on drugs in their community and being misfits in their community and doing other things that the council was having problems with.

So I am all about addressing the social justice problems and issues around our youth, not only in Ipswich but in all cities, and about how we continue to educate our kids and make sure that they are aware that it is not a requirement to drink. They do not have to drink. The family wellbeing program needs to look at what mum and dad are doing at home. Are they role models for their children? Are the older sisters and brothers in the family role models for the younger siblings and what are they doing? Mainly it is about providing awareness for our young juveniles in the community about what is available in their environment for them.

Not all of our young people are interested in football or AFL. There are others who are interested not only in Aboriginal art but also in other things like riding horses, being involved in rodeos, music and dance. I always have, in my educational program across Catholic education, a program on music and Aboriginal people. I always make sure that our young people are aware that we are different to non-Aboriginal people. We have four beats, not one beat. Most Europeans dance to the beat of the drum, but Aboriginal people dance to four beats, not just one beat. I use Yothu Yindi as an example. When they first came onto the pop scene they were dancing to four beats. The lead singer was dancing to the beat of the drum. There were two young men dancing to another two beats and the young girls were dancing to another two beats. So there are five beats.

Education about where they are today traditionally and culturally is very important for our young people in our society. They do not have to have alcohol and drug problems. They do not have to address the other issues if we can address certain issues for them before they become alcoholics or have drug problems. There are alcoholics and drunks because they have got problems out there in the community, because the community is not providing the social and economic programs for them to fit into society and make them worthwhile citizens within their society and within their community. That is where I am coming from on the terms of reference. I would like to see better programs for our Indigenous youth so we can be aware of where they are at the moment if they are still on the street.

CHAIR —That is a big argument not just for education but for really carefully designed programs that will address particular characteristics that can become a problem. Obviously, there is a big re-emphasis under the so-called Closing the Gap program and the federal government and the state governments have committed to spend more money. Are you aware of or have you joined in any of this increased activity so far as the school syllabus is concerned for instance?

Mrs Connors —I am a teacher by trade, so I have always been interested in education. For me education is about teaching the Aboriginal curriculum within schools. It is about presenting Aboriginal people with positive images. This also relates to the media. We are only ever in the media when something negative happens. There is nothing positive in relation to being Aboriginal. There are a lot of Dare to Lead programs in the school trying to get the kids into leadership roles, but we are only talking about a small percentage of children that are in probably the top level who will actually go into those programs. The bulk of our children are dropping out from year 7 to year 8. We lose 50 per cent of our kids from year 7 to year 8 out at Ipswich. There is no explanation as to why that is happening.

There is no appropriate transition from primary school to secondary school. A lot of our parents are not educated to the secondary level, so they feel they are left behind. There are programs in the school now where we are doing numeracy and literacy for parents and reading programs for parents which has been of great assistance in making them feel that they are able to help their children in their schooling. There is a lack of access to technology. A lot of our kids do not have computers at home and therefore their homework is not being done. They cannot do handwritten assignments because everything is expected to be done on a computer these days. As a result they do not hand their assignments in, so they do not go to school one day, they do not go to school the next day and then they just do not go back thereafter. We need to establish a few more external homework centres where students are able to access computers at school to do their assignments with tutors and research in the library and all that sort of stuff. They do not have access at home or they do not even have space at home because we are still living with two or three families in a house and it might be a three-bedroom home. There is no capacity to sit down in a space and study.

I think schools need to link more with the community. It is good to have these internal programs within the school but they do not come outside of the school ground to talk to our elders and to invite people in to do programs and run support networks. We used to have the ASSPA program in our schools which was a committee made up of parents. That has since stopped, so we do not have parental involvement in schools any more. We need to reinstate the ASSPA committees and make them a little bit more structured and functional within the school system.

When children are excluded or suspended from schools we need to make sure that they are actually referred to a justice group or a community organisation to spend their two weeks, a month or however long it is that they are excluded. At the moment they are just sent home, they are idle all day or up in the shopping mall or shopping centres and that is where they get into trouble. There is no link between the schools and community and then we pick up the kids in the court system. We say, ‘Why aren’t you in school? They say, ‘We’ve been expelled or suspended’. When these kids have exited from the school for a short period there are nothing in place to keep them up with their schoolwork and maybe engage them in other programs or link them with elders who could talk about their inappropriate behaviours and that sort of stuff.

In terms of the ‘learn to earn’ program, with the kids that we are talking about we are flat out getting them to school. There are so many issues at home that getting a job or going into a traineeship is probably the furthest thing from their mind. There are too many other issues around them for them to focus, and we need to dissect the issues that they have within themselves before we can start referring people to job networks and things like that.

I recently had a young fellow who has now been in a job network for three years. He has been in an intensive support program for those three years. He has 25 certificates. He has done everything, but he has not got a job. He has never been referred to a job. I guess the reasons for that are twofold. There is money in keeping our kids in these intensive support programs, but it does not help our kids in the long run. He has 25 certificates. He is 26 or 27 years old. People are going to say, ‘Where have you been working?’ He has never had a job, so the chances of him getting a job are decreasing every time he spends time getting another certificate. So I am not a fan of job network providers in terms of working with our kids. I guess that is all I want to say.

Mr TURNOUR —I will pick up on a point you made there, Mrs Connors. I understand your experience with this person. I have a similar frustration at the moment with this issue. Obviously they have been on Newstart or dealing with the Centrelink system, and then they go across to the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, or DEEWR, who we heard about before. Do you think those organisations work very effectively together?

Mrs Connors —Not at all.

Mr TURNOUR —Could you make some more comments on that in relation to trying to help people get a job or a pathway into a job. I am talking about Indigenous people.

Mrs Connors —There are a lot of programs out there, but the community or a community based organisation is out of the loop. You are sending a person from Centrelink, a government body, over to another government body. Quite often, they are culturally inappropriate, or their staff are. They might have one Indigenous worker for about 300 clients, which is not effective. In the middle, there needs to be an agency or a community based organisation to work with these young people. We are trying to get young people who are dysfunctional to start with into jobs. They are going to last only four weeks at most. So for me there is a missing link in all of these government departments, whether in corrections, juvenile justice, education or health.

Quite frankly, our young kids are not going to walk up to someone in a government organisation and say, ‘I’m here to do XYZ.’ That is not going to happen. So we need a lot of mentoring programs, working with elders and assisting people to navigate the world, basically. It is providing them with basic skills. We have kids out there who would not even go and get a Medicare card because they had to go into an office and fill out some paperwork, so we took 10 of them one day and got them each a Medicare card. These are essential requirements to get your identification—birth certificates and things like that. It is just not happening if it is left up to them to initiate those things.

Mr TURNOUR —One of the issues that are coming up in my communities—and it goes to another level in the remote communities—is that you have FaHCSIA running CDEP, DEEWR running employment programs and Centrelink managing people’s benefits, and people have to shuffle between these three programs, challenged with their literacy and numeracy. There does not seem to be any particular case management or any one entry to assist people to go to a pathway. They can often end up in another training program and get another certificate, although I think that has been changing recently. There is a bit of a shuffling of people through doors on the employment side.

Mrs Connors —It is either that or they give up and think, ‘I’ll just go live on the street.’

Mr TURNOUR —It wears down their self-esteem, so to speak.

Mrs Connors —You go to these places and they all ask the same questions and the story is told over and over again. It is like: ‘Well, I told them over there and I told them over there and I told you and I told them.’ So by the time they get what they want, they have maybe told their story about 10 times.

CHAIR —Do you think the missing link you speak of would be filled best by a form of mentoring?

Mrs Connors —Yes, mentoring through a community based organisation. It is quite easy. I can say to my children, ‘Oh, you need to go over there and do that,’ and they will go and do that because that is how they have been raised. However, if you are in a family that does not do those sorts of things, kids just do not do it. So we need to have a service that says, ‘Okay, you go down there to so-and-so and they will help you do XYZ’ Then XYZ leads on to ABC and then it goes from there to there to there.

CHAIR —What you are talking about is crucially important. It is easy to forget that the situation now is that there is quite a lot of money being made generally available through government for all sorts of programs in health, education and elsewhere. In the mainstream community there is, I think, a kind of a level of goodwill unthought of 25 or 30 years ago, but still kids are falling through the gaps. We even have a very persistent theme—it was here again this morning—which suggests that early intervention is the most important general strategy to use, from whatever particular perspective you see it. Whether it is from the perspective of education, health or the justice system, early intervention is the most important thing you can do. Remedial programs for those who are falling out of the system at an older age are what you have to provide. Everyone agrees about that, but you are saying, as plenty of others have, that it still does not work properly in practice, hence the importance of your suggestions about how to fill in those gaps or how to make all those streams of activity actually work for individual people.

Another thing I notice is that, every time we have a hearing, people like you turn up—people who have positions of great responsibility in the community, who are very articulate and apparently not suffering disadvantage at a personal level at all. Earlier in the day, we had one of the directors of policy from the Queensland Education Department speaking to us and she was Indigenous. Nevertheless, there is always a substantial body of people who continue to fall through the cracks in this system which is trying, whatever its shortcomings, to do the right thing. I am really interested in what you think is missing.

Mrs Connors —Do not get me wrong—I have come from a background of disadvantage. I was removed as a child, never knew my parents and have come through the child protection system.

CHAIR —I have no doubt. What I am saying is that you are a fully functioning, effective, responsible member of the widest society.

Mrs Connors —You just got me on a good day! For me—Uncle Joe probably has an opinion on this—since the demise of ATSIC and a whole lot of things, we have lost a lot of community based organisations. The government is very much into mainstreaming and so the mainstream organisations now get the bulk of the funding for all of our programs.

When they get this funding and they have .to deal with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families they do not know what to do, so they end up on my doorstep saying, ‘Can you help us with this?’ and I will say, ‘Yes, fee for service’ and then I do not hear from them anymore. In terms of agencies receiving the funding, they expect us to provide the service on a voluntary basis because this is my community, these are my kids and these are my families and we should be just providing this service.

CHAIR —Again, just to be really precise: you are here saying that you think it is a problem that government is giving more and more money to what are called in some places ‘big NGOs’?

Mrs Connors —Yes.

CHAIR —Or as one of our witnesses in Sydney in called them, ‘the usual suspects’?

Mrs Connors —We call them ‘the fab five’.

CHAIR —I do not want to put words in your mouth but from your perspective these big NGOs end up being another form of bureaucracy and, by their very nature, find it hard to embrace the community and therefore find it hard to do what in principle they are set up to do—assist with community development?

Mrs Connors —Part of their application process is that they have links into the Aboriginal community. We at Ipswich do not provide letters of support to any non-Indigenous NGOs. Yet in their application there is a criterion in there that says, ‘What are your links into the community? Who are your contacts? Where are your letters of support?’ If we do not provide them I do not know why they are still getting the funding because a percentage of their funding belongs to and should utilised for services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but time and time again they seem to get the funding.

Our justice group operates on $83,000 a year. That is all we get to do what we have to do. We had 1,600 Murris go through the Ipswich court last financial year. Our funding cannot manage that capacity of people. We also have our Murri court running for both adults and juveniles. We are now in discussions around having a district Murri court but we still get $83,000 a year to do all of that. It is not fair.

CHAIR —This is not really a fair question but if you had your own preference fulfilled, how would you like the funding to be delivered? Of course I understand in general but can you talk a bit more specifically about how you would like the funding in Ipswich to be delivered for the benefit of the Murri community?

Mrs Connors —In sitting here I also talk for other groups. Within Queensland we have 51 justice groups. These groups are actually legislated groups. So the government has recognised that they have a role to play, yet we all only receive $83,000 a year. They receive a bit more in the cape because of the remoteness; however, they do not have the numbers that we have in an urban situation.

Our justice groups deal with child protection. They deal with juvenile justice, they deal with the prisons and they deal with basically homeless families. We cover just about every government department. We are running to Centrelink. We are doing everyone else’s job but we are not getting any kind of finance to do what we do. We then rely on elders to come in and volunteer their time to go to juvenile justice conferences to talk with young people, to spend time with the men’s group and the women’s group. They volunteer their time to do this.

The Murri court system is atrocious. Our elders get $36.50 for five or six hours of work, not to mention the reading time that goes into the pre-sentence reports. The justice system is saving squillions on keeping people out of prisons. We have had 150 offenders come through our Murri court. Of those, six have actually gone to prison for different offences. We have saved the government—what is it?—$100,000 to keep a prisoner in prison per annum.

CHAIR —Are there any support programs for Indigenous youth returning from juvenile justice centres in Ipswich and surrounding areas?

Mrs Connors —Do not get us started on juvenile justice! It is one of those areas we struggle with.

CHAIR —I think it would be a good idea if we did get you started! I know that you have many criticisms of what the state government agencies are doing, let alone what the federal government agencies are doing or not doing, but if you look at the big picture you see that, say, in the last decade the way in which the state government agencies in Queensland have operated has been transformed. If you hear the high officials of those organisations talking, you find that they have quite sophisticated levels of understanding of what is going on in all sorts of places and why.

I personally think that, if the governments are going to deliver lots of money, the government agencies ought to work as best they can. Nevertheless, it comes back to the problem that, from your perspective, there is so much that is not being done on the ground. Increased amounts of money are available; the budgets overall are much bigger than they were within the last generation. I am trying to understand where you would like to see more of that money going. You have started to explain it. It is about what we might better do right in the fabric of the community in Ipswich, isn’t it?

Mrs Connors —In Ipswich we have about nine community organisations: our health service; aged care; Children of the Dreaming, who deal with youth; Purga Mission; our kindergarten, Amaroo; and a couple of employment agencies. None of these organisations receive a substantial amount of funding to do what they have to do. Yet we are expected to take the bulk of the clients that come through, whether from the child protection system, the courts, aged care or health. There is nothing there for our people to access, so people just say, ‘You go over there and see Children of the Dreaming,’ or, ‘You go over there and see Kambu.’ But there is not enough capacity for these organisations to respond to the number of people they receive.

There are agencies receiving funding to provide the service and they are not doing it. There could be a number of reasons for that: (a) they do not know how to do it or (b) our families and children do not want to access those services because they are culturally inappropriate. They might employ one Indigenous staff member and then call themselves culturally competent, which is not good enough. I would rather go to an Indigenous service, as opposed to going into an office and trying to find out who you have to talk to and then standing there and quite often not being served for ages. There are a whole lot of things that go on, even in that reception area, before someone comes to see you. Within the community we are able to do it; we are just not funded to do it.

A number of reports have come out of Ipswich that have gone nowhere, through the Indigenous coordinating council or whatever they are called. The Department of Communities has done reports on the community, but we get nothing back. We provide information constantly on what we need in Ipswich, but there is certainly no response from any government department. If there is a response, it is given to one of the other organisations to implement it: ‘Ipswich needs family resource centres, so let’s give it to Mission Australia to do it.’ It is hopeless. I will get into trouble here. But it does not matter. I have nothing to lose.

CHAIR —Neither have we.

Mrs Connors —In terms of juvenile justice, in Ipswich we struggle with the juvenile justice department. They should just close the damn thing down and let us do what we have to do. Last year we had over 220 juveniles go through our courts. Of those, I think juvenile justice probably handled 10. They are funded for a whole organisation to look after 10 of our kids; yet we have to manage the other 210 children on our $83,000. Our kids, once they go to juvenile justice, are breached about two weeks later, because they are not turning up and reporting or doing whatever they are supposed to do.

CHAIR —Sorry, I do not quite understand this. You said, ‘Juvenile justice handles 10.’ Do you mean that they actually oversee a community service order or what have you?

Mrs Connors —Yes. That is the only time.

CHAIR —And you said, ‘We do the other 200’.

Mrs Connors —Yes, 210.

CHAIR —What do you mean, ‘We do them’?

Mrs Connors —Support them. We try to encourage them to go to school. We have a few on a bail program where we offer three months intensive support. We get 100 per cent participation when they are on the bail program. As soon as they are placed on an order and go to juvenile justice, they are breached within two or three weeks and then they are back in the court system again. We have had juveniles saying, ‘I’d rather go to youth detention than report to juvenile justice.’ What do you say to a young kid who is saying that to us? The elders are saying, ‘No, youth detention is no good for you,’ but it is a better alternative than going to report to juvenile justice.

We have no Indigenous staff within juvenile justice out at Ipswich. We had five and all of a sudden they were all on short-term temporary contracts, so as a result we have none. We have no Indigenous workers within corrections, yet we are surrounded by five or six prisons. A lot of our families and people come to Ipswich because they have family in the prison system and quite a few then settle in Ipswich. They would have made their home there for two or three or four years, so they are not going to move when prisoners are released. They are two of our big issues. There are no Indigenous workers within these departments.

Juvenile justice conferencing is a waste of time with our kids. Our kids have created little templates and if you go along to juvenile justice you have a little template of your sorry letter, which they photocopy and hand to the next one. so they are really getting nothing out of it. I went to one a few weeks ago and it was like, ‘Well, what would you do differently?’ And they said, ‘Well, I’d make sure they’re not home next time.’ So they are not learning anything from that conferencing process. We have some suggestions on how we might fix that.

CHAIR —To be fair to the government officials from whom we heard this morning, it is possible to show that, in Queensland in particular, there are some improvements in the statistics of offending. But you are saying, nevertheless, that the great number of offenders that you see in your local community are really not part of that system at all?

Mrs Connors —We have juveniles who have been conferenced six or seven times. It is just the same thing. They just bring out that template. They have templates for sorry cards. They have templates for the sorry letter. It is just a matter of photocopying it and saying, ‘Well, there it is.’ There is certainly nothing to stop them from reoffending. I am not a fan of conferencing either. I think it can be better done using our elders and doing circle conferencing with elders and community members rather than government officials.

Mr Kirk —That is when we talk about it not being culturally appropriate. Elders come in from a cultural point of view. They are mentors, and that is very important. In education in the state system and in the private system, they have got a mentor program now—and they are getting a fair bit of money for that—where they adopt an elder. In the state system they also adopt a cop. Some of them are Aboriginal liaison officers, and they are working and getting money for that—the social justice and all that. We do all that with Murri Court but we do not get any money for it, and we are culturally appropriate to our community and doing it as a cultural program for our community. But we do not get any support.

The other problem we have in Ipswich is that the white organisations there do not network together. They work on their own and then they come to us for advice and want to know how we are doing it, because we are working.

CHAIR —Again, another unfair question—if you come along here and talk to us with good ideas you get lots of unfair questions—if you could fulfil your ambition, what sort of organisation would you have in Ipswich? It sounds to me you are really saying that you would like to have a much bigger and better funded organisation that could deal with a wide range of Murri welfare and justice issues and that it was funded like Mission Australia to do it.

Mrs Connors —For us, it is not about one organisation doing everything. We know our own capacity and that we are unable to do everything. As an Indigenous community we network quite well amongst ourselves, so we need to have—and I do not like to call it a one-stop shop—a place where people can go and say, ‘Okay, I need to do XYZ,’ whether it be for court, or child protection, or part of their parole conditions or whatever. That referral point could then say, ‘Okay, you can go over here and do that,’ or ‘You can go over there and do that.’ That is probably a lot of what the justice group is supposed to do. But we have found ourselves to be developing our own programs because there is just nothing out there for our people to participate in.

CHAIR —But it sounds to me as if you are close to saying that it is actually extremely difficult for a conventional bureaucracy to develop the kinds of programs that you think are appropriate and that you, in consequence, might be best off to be funded to do it yourselves?

Mrs Connors —Yes.

CHAIR —With all sorts of proper evaluation and accountability, of course.

Mrs Connors —Yes.

CHAIR —We know what happens when people just get given money willy-nilly.

Mrs Connors —Yes. But they are giving money willy-nilly now. I do not know where these organisations get their numbers from when their time comes up to say, ‘How many Murris have you had through your door this month?’ I do not know where they are getting those numbers from because I know damn well there are none going through that door. But they seem to be funded quarter after quarter after quarter and year after year after year. Yet they come to our service with our $83,000 and we are getting truckloads through our door, but our funding is just not increasing and then we have got to justify why we continue to receive funding every 12 months. We do not get funded for three or four years; it is a 12-month funding block, and if we do not perform we do not get funded. Although that is about to change; they are going to move through a three-year funding plan, but we are still only getting $83,000 a year so nothing has changed there.

CHAIR —It is certainly true that wherever we go we hear complaint and concern about short-term funding and pilot programs. Frankly, that is not something that is limited to Indigenous organisations, but it seems to be particularly prominent in the practice of government at all levels.

Mrs Connors —Yes. It is something that we talk about each year.

Mr TURNOUR —Just picking up on that point—and I do not want to put words in your mouth either—it sounds like one of the issues that I have come across, and I would not mind your comments on it. At the federal level, we seem to be moving to these big tenders for service delivery. We are trying to encourage people to work more effectively together but, in some ways, we are making it more difficult for the smaller, more locally based service providers to successfully tender and provide the unique service in a particular community.

Mrs Connors —We do not have the capacity. The bigger organisations have whole sections to do their tenders. They have finance people and others who specialise in doing tenders and submissions. Quite often, it comes down to me to do these submissions.

CHAIR —Some of those big organisations have whole departments that just right tender documents.

Mrs Connors —Yes, that is right. We cannot possibly compete with that, plus they have additional resources they can throw into any package that they might offer. They might have vehicles, or they might have staff floating around who could fill in for someone there. We do not have that luxury. In our justice group at Ipswich, there is me, a support officer and 10 to 15 elders and community reps. That is it.

CHAIR —It strikes me that sometimes the best thing that a lot of the big non-government organisations could do is help organisations like yours to write submissions. They could give you assistance in writing submissions and in developing your capacity rather than, in effect, replacing it.

Mrs Connors —Yes. I guess that is the role of the partnerships branch within the Department of Communities. It is their job to build the capacity of the community, and they are not doing that either. I would be reluctant to go to Lifeline and say, ‘Help me put a tender together,’ because all of a sudden all your ideas are theirs and they think, ‘We could run with that.’ So we are not about sharing some of our stats and some of the things that we want to do either for fear that they will be taken by someone else and then they will get the funding for them. We do not want to share what we have because there is a fear that, at the end of the day, we will not be funded to do it and that someone else will possibly get it. The partnerships branch within the Department of Communities needs to do what it is supposed to do, which is to get out and build the capacity of the community.

CHAIR —We have been quite ruthlessly picking your brains about these issues and have run out of the formal time allotted. However, I wonder whether there is anything you would like to say to sum up.

Mr Kirk —To sum up, I think it is about appropriate programs for Indigenous youth and about money. It is as simple as that. We need more money to do programs for our juvenile youth in the city of Ipswich. We are struggling. We are begging for help. We do not want other people coming in and showing us how to do things. We know how to do them. We are community elders. We have been around for years, and we know our young people. We know education is where they are at. We know why they are wagging school. We know why they are not at school. We have the answers to that but we have no money. In a nutshell that is where we are at. We just need money to put our programs together. It is simple. Other organisations are getting money and we are not getting any, yet we are doing all the right things.

Mrs Connors —We have not even touched on the programs we do, but there are quite a few of them.

CHAIR —Very quickly for our record, just give us a two-minute rundown or the programs you actually have.

Mrs Connors —We have our Murri Court bail program, which is a three-month intensive program. During that time adults and young people go through a community service as part of their bail program. They undertake men’s group activities. We do a Murri in the bush program, which is a five-day adventure based bush program. The men designed this for their men’s group, so they are out camping, canoeing, hunting and doing a whole range of things for themselves. We have the women’s group, we are now establishing our own substance abuse program—which has been used in the prison—and we have an ‘ending family violence’ program. We are doing a whole range of programs for our juveniles and our adults.

Another stipulation is that we cannot mix juveniles with adults, so we have got to run separate programs. We have also got the drug court, and we have issues with that in that our clients do not meet the criteria for drug court because they have mental health issues. Even though they have drug and alcohol issues, they cannot meet the criteria for drug court because they have mental health issues and the drug court will not take them.

There are a lot of gaps in terms of mental health services at Ipswich, and I guess my biggest beef is transition from care for children within the department of child safety. They self-place in the park, and that is quite acceptable to the department. About 60 per cent of our prison population are children or people who have been in the care of the department of child safety. So there are some real issues around the way placement is offered in child safety.

CHAIR —I think that is true in the mainstream community as well.

Mrs Connors —There is no link to family and community, and when it comes time to transition, the department just do not want to know our kids, and they send them back to families they do not even know, or the kids just self-place in inappropriate or unsafe homes and in the parks. That is where we pick them up at night usually.

CHAIR —I am pretty conscious that we are running over time. When this committee was taking evidence in New South Wales, we saw some very particular programs—which the caseworkers suggested to us at the time had been evaluated over many years to be successful, both in Australia and in the United States—which involved intensive family counselling. It is very expensive to have counsellors, or therapists, even, who work with a young family for six, nine or even 12 months to try to help teach the parents better parenting, encourage the kids to get oriented to learning. It takes various forms, and it has been put in place intermittently, but I am just wondering if you have an opinion about that kind of thing and about how  it might be done in your local context, if there were resources available.

Mrs Connors —In a traditional society—Uncle Joe can correct me—there are basically seven levels of intervention. Six of those intervention levels involve the family and the community. The very last level involves going external. In present-day society we skip from level 1 right down to level 7, and there is no concept of family or community within those intervention levels.

One-on-one counselling does not work for our people. It has got to be a group or a family situation. I have found that most of our people respond to the group stuff instead of the one-on-one. It is all about working with family and community, and returning to what it was as far as levels of intervention. New South Wales get much more funding than we in Queensland do to do things.

CHAIR —Thank you both. It has been tremendously helpful to us.

Proceedings suspended from 1.16 pm to 2.06 pm