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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 —Welcome. I outlined the formalities a number of times earlier today, so you would be aware that your evidence is being taken by Hansard, unless you wish it to be otherwise, and that it will be published. I invite either or both of you to make an opening statement.

Mr Dalgleish —We have a statement which I will speak to. Firstly, Dean and I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet, the Jagera and Turrbal peoples. Dean and I would also like to thank the committee for the invitation to address it today on this critical issue facing our community.

Dean is the manager of our training, education and employment support programs in Logan City. He works directly with young Indigenous people in prison and with the child protection system. Many of the referrals that he receives for those programs are from the court or from youth justice services. Dean is also a registered fostered parent with Child Safety Services. The strategy and research team, which I manage, is responsible for evaluating BoysTown’s services to young people.

In relation to this issue, at a policy level there have been three traditional responses to the over-representation of Indigenous young people in the justice system. Firstly, there has been a focus on policing practices—how police and young people relate and how police deal with young people who allegedly offend. In our view, based on current practice, there has been an emerging emphasis on diversion in relation to policing and the use of cautions, and also on youth justice conferences as an alternative to court. Secondly, there have been changes to the criminal justice policy, whether a focus on diversion of young people from detention or restorative justice. The third issue is about responses to attacking the causes of Indigenous youth offending.

The central message in our submission is that preventing an Indigenous young person from contact with any part of the criminal justice system—by attacking the causes of offending behaviour and responding to the needs of Indigenous young people—is a central requirement of any effective crime prevention strategy. That is where we have placed our emphasis. In general, considerable contemporary research indicates that Indigenous young offending—and Dean will be able to speak to this in his evidence—is often associated with chronic unemployment, which is often made worse by Indigenous young people prematurely exiting from the education system, family violence—including child abuse—and substance abuse. Our direct experience of working with Indigenous young people confirms this assessment.

In our submission we have highlighted the success we are experiencing with social enterprises, which is an intermediate labour market strategy that we believe is effective in assisting Indigenous young people to transition to employment. In terms of Indigenous youth unemployment, figures that we access show that in 2008 about 22.5 per cent of Indigenous young people were unemployed compared to 10.2 per cent for all youth and six per cent for all-age unemployment. Those figures indicate that there is a considerable need to expand social enterprise-type programs and intermediate labour market programs in general through partnerships of government-corporate organisations to make these programs more accessible to Indigenous young people.

We also believe that unless Indigenous communities control, manage and influence the direction of crime prevention strategies, initiatives at a local level will not be successful. A fundamental systemic issue behind youth dislocation and offending is the loss of traditional culture and a resultant loss of individual identity and community roles. The experience of colonisation has led to traditional social control processes in Indigenous communities, based on mutual reciprocality and responsibility backed by the authority of elders, being degraded or lost altogether. However, it would be a mistake to assume that this impact has been the same for all Indigenous communities and families. Research indicates that for crime prevention strategies to work effectively, the historical experiences of individual Indigenous communities—together with analysis as to how the issues of social and economic marginalisation at the local level have impacted on a particular group of families and/or a particular community—need to be undertaken to identify the local drivers to offending and recidivism.

Consequently, BoysTown have emphasised in our submission the importance of Indigenous community ownership, direction and management for the effective delivery of crime prevention strategies. This is not a new idea, in fact it was a key concept advocated by both the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the Bringing Them Home report in inquiring into child protection and juvenile justice issues.

However, it is our view that implementation of community justice programs has been piecemeal and has not always enabled Indigenous communities to assert influence and ownership over these processes. The key theme of the service alliance agreement model—the development of which we are currently partnering in with the southern Kimberley community of Balgo—is direct accountability of all local service providers to the community, which in Balgo is represented by the community council. We believe that this model of local-place planning could be adopted to drive the development and delivery of local community owned crime prevention strategies.

BoysTown supports the call last year by Tom Calma, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, that government needs to quarantine a proportion of funding committed to the administration of criminal justice and direct these funds to local community based strategies to reduce offending behaviour. There is evidence from the United States that this justice reinvestment approach is an effective response to reducing crime and also in reducing the criminal justice cycle that inevitably leads to increasing numbers of young people being placed in detention.

CHAIR —Thank you. We have heard, through the day, from government departments and from NGOs of various sorts and it leads us to be particularly interested in your assertion that the most successful programs will involve Aboriginal owned organisations controlling and managing local programs. I wonder whether you could speculate on why it is still necessary to assert that principle. As you have said, it was asserted in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody and it is said with some frequency by many people, and yet it has not generally happened, it seems to me. I would be very interested if you could talk some more about why you think it has not happened and what measures we might think about to bring that strategy into its proper place in the whole administration of Aboriginal affairs.

Mr Dalgleish —I think it is a central question, thank you. I will kick off and then perhaps Dean will perhaps talk about some of the Logan experiences. I think there is not one answer to that, because as we were reiterating before, every community has its own different historical experience. So the reasons will differ from community to community. However, I will try to summarise it. Firstly, the administration of Aboriginal programs in general is quite fragmented. This is an issue, I know, because we have appeared before the Senate committee in relation to regional and remote Indigenous communities. It is an issue that your Senate colleagues are trying to grapple with as well.

You have state and Commonwealth jurisdictions. You also have a very complicated Lands Act, so policy development is fragmented. Then you try to coordinate that at a government level for the community. Take the community council at Balgo. The community council, Balgo, do not know who to deal with on their local issues because the government responses are so fragmented. Who do you talk to? Do you talk to the Western Australian government; do you talk to the federal government; do you talk to the local council? Where do you go for assistance? Structurally, there is this fragmentation that occurs.

Secondly, I think government departments and NGOs find it difficult to engage with communities. Often government timeframes and community timeframes do not necessarily match. To achieve change at a community level takes considerable periods of time and those considerable periods of time can go beyond the electoral cycle and the budget cycles that dominate so much of our policy thinking, development and delivery.

Also, governments and NGOs need to be culturally competent to engage with Indigenous communities. In my experience, that competence is not always there, and the ability to work with community people in their cultural framework is not understood. Many of the COAG initiatives in the southern Kimberley were independently evaluated by a major company. The constant theme of the evaluation, in terms of the limitations of those programs and why they did not achieve their goals, was that there was a disconnect between community and government. A bridge could not be developed between the two. There was a lack of understanding between those two parties about how to work together.

One of the key things from our experience in Balgo—Balgo community is only about 400 people—is that organisations dealing with Aboriginal communities have a responsibility to develop their own cultural competence. They need to employ Aboriginal people and they need to train their non-Indigenous staff in culture and working across cultures. Unless you have those fundamentals in place, I do not think progress will be made.

Mr Brunker —John mentioned governments working together, and governments have great ideas and put a lot of funding into offender programs. One of the programs I manage is a state government funded program called Participate in Prosperity. It is for young offenders who have been through the system, whether the adult prison system, the youth detention centre system or the order system. That state government program is a great program and we have had some great successes through it. It is run up here through SQW, the Skilling Queenslanders for Work initiative. I believe PiP is not running in New South Wales. Up here the funding available for the program through the state government is quite generous. We have had some good outcomes with the young people in the program, but I do not believe it is running in New South Wales at all. I am not sure if it is in South Australia. I think, as John mentioned, they have Flipside. That is a great program but, if PiP was federally run, we could run it round the whole of Australia.

I have seen the outcomes of Participate in Prosperity, and many young Indigenous people have gone through the program. It is very well supported. The program is for 12 months and is for people who have come through BoysTown from imprisonment and detention. They do life skill training, they do construction skill training and they are employed and supported by the BoysTown counsellors and support workers for a period of six months. Unfortunately, the program has limited funding, so we can only look after them for 12 months, and then we have to move them on to further employment. Once they go beyond BoysTown employment services, they seem to disengage. Maybe the government needs to look at something similar to what they did with the IEP funding. IEP was set up previously as STEP ERS, which looked after Indigenous people trying to get employment. If nationally there was something that worked similarly to the SQWs in Queensland, we might have good outcomes with our young people coming out of prison. Everyone has great intentions, but unless you have that support coming from close work between federal and state governments—

Mr Dalgleish —And sometimes the work with young people takes longer than what these programs allow.

Mr Brunker —It does. For example, we had a young Indigenous fellow who was in our program for two years at BoysTown. He went in firstly through my STEP ERS program, which is the federal government funded program. After he had finished, we had to make sure that he stayed with us. We linked him into another program and he has now gone into the Participate in Prosperity program. He is now 23 and is working full time for an external employer as a go-between between BoysTown ex-offenders and the employer. But that kind of thing takes time.

SQW, for example, is a 16-week, state funded program. After the 16 weeks we have to move the young person on. If it is a paid SQW, where the young person gets paid for doing that work, they cannot go into another program straightaway; they have to wait two years. Within that two years there is a lot of time that they could be incarcerated. There is a lifetime of incarceration in that two-year period. It is things like that that break the cycle of the young person’s employment strategy.

Mr Dalgleish —So the issue in dealing with young people is that you have these time-limited programs where we know that to get the change to prepare a young person who has had a range of abusive experiences for open employment takes much longer than what these programs are funded to do. As Dean says, you continually have to juggle young people through various programs to maintain your support for them until they get to that stage.

CHAIR —You are speaking, then, of a problem of inflexibility of the programs, which presumably could be overcome if there were something more like a case management approach.

Mr Brunker —That is correct. In all programs there should be a case management approach.

CHAIR —I will just return to the question of Aboriginal control. In an organisation like yours there are issues of finding ways to make sure Aboriginal voices are heard, but are you saying, as I think you are, that effective development of a community, especially a closely identified or remote community, actually involves the local people having the decisive role in deciding what policy should be?

Mr Dalgleish —Yes, absolutely.

CHAIR —How, as a non-Aboriginal NGO, do you deal with that?

Mr Dalgleish —We take a resourcing and facilitating role but not a leadership role. In Balgo we have sat down with the community, the elders of that community—the 13 families of Balgo are all represented on the community council—and raised the issue. We said: ‘How can we achieve change here around the issues that the community is concerned about? Let’s have a conversation about that.’ Out of that came the idea that the community councillors representing the community should state to local service providers what the key objectives to be achieved in any 12-month period are, and the local service providers, whether they be NGO or government, need to be accountable to the community council to achieve those.

The other thing that we have identified in that model is the need then to have, if you like, a political broker for each community at a senior level in government to help, in this example the Balgo community, to break through many of the silos that are experienced in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy development and program delivery—to act as an advocate for the community in achieving that.

We are a non-Indigenous organisation. We have Indigenous people on our board and we have Indigenous staff but, yes, we very clearly say we are a non-Indigenous organisation. But we believe in self-determination and we believe that we can provide the Balgo community with information and ideas and be a partner in developing something that will give to that community control over their services. At the moment, Indigenous communities do not have that control. The local public servants in government report to their hierarchies, who are often nowhere near the communities they are working in. So we really need to turn that over and we really need government to say that the services that are funded or delivered by government in local Indigenous communities need to be accountable to the community leadership for what they are doing.

Mr TURNOUR —I have to go, but thank you very much; that was good evidence.

Mr Dalgleish —It is a very difficult process and there is no easy solution, because we are still working through that model with people in that Balgo community. But we believe that it is a direction worth pursuing because, unless there is community ownership and control of local service provision, it is not going to go anywhere.

Ms REA —I will follow up a couple of things. I wanted to ask a question of Dean about the PiP project. Before I do, what you were talking about then is very interesting. This morning we had a roundtable—although they were all sitting in a line—of senior executives from the Queensland government, including the police commissioner and the commissioner of corrective services. There is a program or policy within the senior executive service of the government where individual executive members become community champions. They adopt a community. The police commissioner, for example, was talking about his experience of the community that he has adopted. He goes there and talks to people and, where he can, uses his influence as a senior bureaucrat to cut through the red tape and get the assistance to that community that they require. Perhaps something that Balgo community could do would be to see if there is somebody at a senior level, because no-one can cut through bureaucratic red tape like a bureaucrat. It would probably be something that you would find people receptive to. It seemed that it did not matter which department they came from; it was just a policy across the government that a senior executive adopt a community. Maybe it would be worthwhile following that up.

Dean, I wanted to go back to your comments about the PiP program, which I must admit I am not that familiar with. You were talking about the fact that it is a fairly successful program when the young person is in it and working under the auspices and support of BoysTown to be employed. You mentioned that there seems to be a dropout afterwards; once the funding ceases and they move on to external employment, they do not necessarily continue. You are saying that a lot of that is to do with time; if those programs were funded for a longer period of time, you might have a better success rate. Do you have an idea of what the dropout rate is and have you managed to have a look at why, other than just because of time, some young people do manage to continue in employment and others drop out? Is it just a matter of time or are there some other factors? I guess we as a committee are really keen to look not just at resourcing but also at the practical little bit of the puzzle that we can recommend to the minister that might make the difference between a young person dropping out or staying in full-time employment.

Mr Brunker —Certainly. I would say that our program has an outcome of about 60 per cent, which is quite high, of young people getting employment and staying in sustainable employment.

Ms REA —That is very good.

Mr Brunker —It is very good. The only reason that it is happening is that BoysTown is in the position where we run our own social enterprises, so the young people can go from our program and on to a fencing crew—because we do contracts for QBuild and we do landscape contracts for the council or for other organisations where they are getting paid. So the young people have a trainer full time and they have access to counsellors full time. So they will go from the program on to that social enterprise. That is one aspect of them reaching attainable, sustainable employment and getting the support there. Because BoysTown is also a JSA, or Job Services Australia, provider, we have that interconnection with Job Services. We get the Job Services placement officers to meet with young people as soon as they come into the programs and work with them to get an understanding of what the young person is like and then move them into their own sustainable employment.

There are a number of different factors which cause dropout in the program. I hate saying no to any young person. If I get a referral to my program and if this person has autism or a huge drug habit, I would rather get them into the program so that I can actually assist them to at least cut down their drug addiction, abuse or criminal behaviour. The dropout rate is usually because their drug abuse and addiction and their alcohol use is so deeply embedded it takes longer than the program allows. It is the same for an offending behaviour. The magistrates I must say are very, very good. I must commend the magistrates on what they have been doing with BoysTown’s young people in the program because they look at the program and the outcomes and say that with all the support that is surrounding these young people, let’s give them a go and not put them back into the detention centre or prison. They are supporting these types of programs. I give the magistrates a pat on the back. They are looking at programs like BoysTown’s programs, ex-offender programs, to put them into in lieu of incarcerating them again.

There are a number of factors that are causing young people to drop out. One of them is that once they reach the six months with BoysTown we have to move them on otherwise the program is going to get snowballed and there will be a big jam in the middle with all of these young people in the program. But some are not ready. Some could be ready—they could take one month—but some could take two years to move on to external employment and that is one of the problems we actually have. I have had to link with external employers that are actually very empathetic towards Indigenous youth. I cannot put them with a large company that has an Indigenous strategy that is not thought out properly because the young person will not get the support—they have good intentions, but it does not happen. I have to look for external employers who I can feel comfortable leaving them with, knowing that they are going to get an outcome.

One of the companies that I have linked with is APC Storage Solutions. They import pallet racking, shelving and cabinets. Once our young people have gone through our program and have done the four weeks pre-training they go to that employer and that young Indigenous person is the liaison. They are going to learn how to use pop rivet guns and how to work. If they do not turn up then we get on the phone and we go to their place and say, ‘Come on, you have to go to work.’ The employer will not sack them straightaway. He leaves it up to us to look after them. We invoice him for the amount of work we actually get done and then we are paid that way, so our young people are paid through BoysTown. That is how we have had to work with external employers.

I had an employer on the north side of Brisbane who had a contract with the city council. He would only employee Murri kids. Unfortunately, it was a seasonal thing. What would happen is that I would get young people coming out of the correctional facilities and he would not ask questions about where they were from or what they had done. He would just take them on. He had an old garage set up and he had pies and sausage rolls in the freezer. When the young people came to work he would feed them in the mornings and then he would take them to work in the car with whipper snippers on the roof. If they committed a crime and went back in for one to two weeks or whatever, he would take them straight back. A lot of employers would not do that. I would say of the 30 people I put with him that 20 of those were ex-offenders. There were five young people from one family and they all worked with him. That is the type of employer I have had to actually look for and link up with for our Indigenous young people coming out of programs.

Mr Dalgleish —One of the practical things, as a follow-on from what Dean just said, that government could do is that it has a huge procurement budget. It is buying services and goods all the time. If only a very, very small proportion of the budget was dedicated to social enterprises for young people or people who are facing social exclusion in our society, we believe that would be a very effective response. It would support non-government agencies in their ability to find work and provide people who are at risk of chronic unemployment with an opportunity to experience real work, genuine work, but in the supported way which Dean has just described. That would be a very practical suggestion.

Ms REA —As part of this committee recommending in a previous inquiry to establish what we have called the Indigenous Minority Supplier Council, two things are happening. One is that there is a group of private-sector, large-scale industries that have agreed to a certain percentage of their procurement or their employment being with Indigenous enterprises and also government procurement has done the same thing. That has been established now for about 12 months, so it is still fairly early days.

Mr Dalgleish —I think that is an excellent initiative. But we still find this difficulty and, again, it came up in the Productivity Commission review in relation to the not-for-profit sector: there is this emphasis on price. Decision makers for government procurement contracts quite rightly have to be responsible for government money and, of course, look for a price. Social enterprises cannot compete on price because our focus is on working with the people in those social enterprises to become work ready. There is still that cultural barrier there.

Mr Brunker —Just to add on to John; as a social enterprise we did have a contract with the city council for our young people to do roadside pick ups—they would pick up the rubbish from the roads. When the contract had come up they actually gave it to a husband and wife team. We are looking after four young people and, as John mentioned, our social enterprise is not to make money, it is to give young people employment. So the contract went to a couple. I understand that the council has to look after its budget, but they are just some of the problems that we actually have with our social enterprises—getting the government to look at that.

CHAIR —But you are doing a lot anyway.

Mr Dalgleish —We chip away.

Mr Brunker —We chip away—yes.

CHAIR —Have you got any idea of your rates of success with keeping kids out of imprisonment?

Mr Dalgleish —The figures that we have—

CHAIR —I might say that I do not think that is the only way to measure what you do, but—

Mr Dalgleish —Yes. We are currently working with Griffith University to look at the impact of our social enterprises on young people. Our preliminary results are in the submission that we have provided to the inquiry—and we are still working, if you like, with young people post exit of our programs to see the longitudinal impact of this—and they show that for Indigenous young people, about half of whom are in conflict with the law prior to their entry into BoysTown Social Enterprises, at exit there is very minimal conflict with the law. We believe that is because they are being engaged in work which provides them with self esteem and with a role in the community, and which diverts them from offending behaviour.

CHAIR —There are some really impressive statistics in your submission.

Mr Dalgleish —Thank you.

CHAIR —Amongst other things, you make a series of recommendations in your submission about the relationship that you think government should have with NGOs.

Mr Dalgleish —Yes.

CHAIR —Obviously, in one way or another we have been talking about that a lot, but it would be quite good if you could specifically explain that series of recommendations you made about the relationship that you think ought to exist between government and NGOs.

Mr Dalgleish —In a nutshell, I think that the issue of Indigenous offending is a very complex issue. The factors that are associated with Indigenous offending interlock and are quite extensive. Really, there is no one solution. We see that the government should really be a collaborative partner with the sector and with the community in terms of researching and evaluating initiatives that may have an impact, because there is no one answer. We believe that with initiatives like social enterprises governments should enter a collaborative relationship with the sector, should invest in those enterprises and also should be a research partner in terms of whether they are making a difference. In that way, we can gather at a national level some good data: ‘Is this working or not? Is it worthwhile to invest more resources in it?’ We believe from our preliminary data that it is worthwhile. That is how we see that government could assist. Also, through the budget, as I said before, government could quarantine some funds for social enterprise development, and it is great to hear from Kerry that this is going to be happening.

CHAIR —Okay, good. Thank you very much. Indulge me and remind me where BoysTown came from. It was started by an activist priest, was it not?

Mr Dalgleish —Yes, that is right. It was started in America by Father Flanagan.

Ms REA —Spencer Tracy.

Mr Dalgleish —That is right. BoysTown is a De La Salle initiative. There are BoysTowns across the world associated with the De La Salle Brothers, but that is where it started: at the turn of the last century in America.

CHAIR —Nothing lasts for a century unless it has a few things going for it. Thank you very much for your contribution.

Mr Dalgleish —Thank you for your time.

CHAIR —We have 10 or 15 minutes, and there are some ladies who have been sitting here all day, rather anxious to give informal evidence to the committee. If they would like to quickly replace John and Dean at the table now, we could take a few minutes of formal evidence. I will just say again, John, that your account of what you think an NGO should do has warmed my heart. I think it is just right.

Mr Dalgleish —Thank you.

[4.07 pm]