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STANDING COMMITTEE ON ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER AFFAIRS
07/05/2010
Involvement of Indigenous juveniles and young adults in the criminal justice system

CHAIR —I welcome Bob Colless of the Cairns community justice group. I gather that in a little while we will be joined by Julie Go-Sam, who is from the Innisfail Community Justice Group—her bus is late, but she will not be long.

I guess, Bob, you have heard what we do. It is a good thing from our point of view if somebody who is giving evidence to us can make an introductory statement explaining the context they come from and the basic points they wish to make.

Mr Colless —I work for the Gumba Gumba Elders Justice Group. It is the peak Indigenous elders organisation for Far North Queensland. I also work with the Cairns Community Justice Group. Gumba Gumba is the endorsed community justice group for the Cairns region. We have a number of programs which we work with, some of which are a type of out of school hours care program which is different to the general out of school hours care program. We talk about culture, respect and careers. We have also developed a program with the Department of Community Safety called the Indigenous Elders Visitation program, where my elders visit Lotus Glen twice monthly.

We are involved in other programs with the Cairns Murri Court and also the Youth Murri Court in Cairns. Because of where we are located, we have networked in with all of the justice groups in the cape and in the Torres Strait and quite often we will support other justice groups in the region, particularly with delegations to Brisbane. If we are talking about matters of tribal law working in association with Westminster law, Gumba Gumba Elders Justice Group are generally willing to sit down and discuss those issues. We have had some successes in the past with various departments. Unfortunately, a lot of good programs are funded but, due to a number of factors, the funding ceases, or sometimes departments will strangle a program by putting unrealistic demands on it.

Mr LAMING —Could you tell us more about those demands.

CHAIR —We hear a bit about that, you see.

Mr Colless —One of these matters—saying it straight—was when the Department of Communities created a new department called Child Safety Services. It seemed to me that the right hand did not know what the left hand was doing. A lot of people were not sure how far they could go and whose jurisdiction was dealing with this. There seemed to be a propensity to go into the cape, act on an allegation of abuse and bring the child out to Cairns. The immediate result was that the infrastructural support was not always followed up here in Cairns because of the haste with which these things occurred. Procedures that were agreed to through consultation and information-sharing with families and the community in general never happened. Over at Yarrabah, one family told me that the way that the department acted was like a Gestapo raid that they had seen on TV, where the department went over, snatched and grabbed the child and got out, saying, ‘We’ll sort the business with the child out later.’ It just goes on and on.

We have difficulties with the police at times, with how the police operate and with their lack of willingness to share information. It is ongoing, as you are constantly jumping through hoops that they are putting in front of you—and I am talking specifically about the QP9s and criminal history matters. If we are to adequately represent individuals in court, we need access to these. Without this information, our submission to the court could be incorrect, highly inaccurate, and in fact may have no consideration for the victim as well. If the Murri Courts in Queensland are to operate effectively, they need the same information that the legal services get and the same information that Child Safety Services gets if it is a juvenile matter. The justice groups are willing to be vetted by an independent agency to ensure that their systems are confidential, their systems are above board and the matter can be treated in the correct manner in which it is meant to be treated.

There are other obstacles. Legislation has an immediate effect on our children and how we operate. The way the department of immigration works, immigration seems to happen in waves up here. Some of our programs are Indigenous specific, but it is hard to enable other families or children to participate, even though they may be living in this suburb or in fact living next door to children that are going to these programs; it seems to take an awful lot to get some of these departments to agree to allow a South Pacific islander child or another child in. Yet, when they go out and do the break-and-enters, some children are allowed to come into the Murri Court because they are Indigenous, and others, who are co-offenders, cannot come in. As a justice group we find that we are representing people outside our jurisdiction to try and assist them as well. They are just some examples.

CHAIR —What about the amount of funding you have? My question made Julie Go-Sam smile! We have had conversations in other places about what appears to be an imbalance between the amounts of funding that are available in the ordinary fashion to a government agency as compared to the amounts of funding that non-government organisations get while they attempt, nevertheless, to match the services that are being provided by the government agencies or to meet the demands of the government agencies.

Mr Colless —A very good example is that, with the new funding model for the 52 justice groups in the state, the coordinator is considered to be at a 4.2 level. Some of us in previous employment were 6s and 7s, and we are expected, because we are committed and passionate, to drop to a 4.2 level, yet the person within the department who has a similar duty statement is at a much higher level. Funding is always an issue. Of the Queensland Murri courts, only five are funded. The other 11 in Queensland are considered non-evaluated. As such, they do not have a paid coordinator, a court officer, appointed to assist the justice group and its elders. My elders are paid $36.50, but Brisbane will only pay for two, so the justice group has to cover the other two others that we use within the court. However, if you are one of the five evaluated courts, four justice group elders will be funded and there is other funding available to you. So there is an imbalance just within the Murri courts in Queensland. When we went to Mildura, the justice group there that runs the Koori Court told us that the elders that attend are paid $300, but they have legislation that supports the Koori Court in its deliberations.

Ms Go-Sam —Justice groups have always been underfunded. When we first started out in Innisfail, we were only on $40,000. My wage was $15,000. I worked from nine to five and worked in a pub at night just to pay my rent. But that is the commitment that a lot of the justice groups have to help improve our community. The problem is that there is no funding for programs. When they set up the justice groups, they expected us to run programs on that $40,000, and they still expect us to run programs on $82,000—and they dropped us $1,000 as of next year. Most of the project officers that oversee us are on $83,000 a year, yet we get that amount of money for the whole year and are expected to do a hell of a lot of work. My duty statement runs into three pages. I do not how you expect me to do all that, but we have been trying to do it. There is never any money for programs or anything in our areas, especially in the rural areas. Brisbane, Townsville and Cairns get a lot of money and have programs. We cannot access those programs were I come from. The area that we cover as a justice group is from Babinda right through to Cardwell. How do you expect us to cut the rates of Indigenous offending when there is nothing in place for that mob to stop?

CHAIR —When you say you are expected to run programs, can you be more precise about that. Who is expecting the programs to be run?

Ms Go-Sam —The justice groups. The state government expects the justice groups to run programs on the money that they receive.

CHAIR —Do they put forward propositions to you about projects that you should run? Could you spell out what happens between you and the state agencies.

Ms Go-Sam —When we first got our money a few years ago, $40,000, we were expected to set up programs ourselves and run them with the $40,000. The thing is that you just cannot. We used our initiative and started doing our own programs where we went out into the community and asked for fundraising or donations or whatever. We did it ourselves. But we also had the CDEP program then and we had 17 extra people who could help us. When CDEP closed, basically everything else did too. We did not have that extra assistance to help us. I am full time there. I am the only full-time person, funded by the state. I do get funding from the Commonwealth for night patrol, which is two people, and 0.5 funding for a bookkeeper. And yet, like I said, our area is massive. So I have to run between all these places and try and help all these people in court, juveniles and adults.

CHAIR —Are you saying that if you do not deliver the assistance there is no-one else around who will?

Ms Go-Sam —We have just drawn up a program for men, women and children—the whole family—that we have sent down to Canberra to see if we can get funding. I am not asking for any salaries in it. We are using the services that we have there to deliver those programs, like ATODS, the local medical centre, mental health and places like that. If they give me that funding that will be great because at least I will have something in place there. We have been incorporated since 2002, but right up until this point we really have not been able to make much of a dent. We do all the right things. We talk to the police and we get on fairly well with our police down there. But it is really hard when there are juveniles continuously offending and young adults continuously offending simply because there is nothing for them to do.

CHAIR —You have anticipated my next question. I ask you both: what do you think it is that drives offending behaviour amongst young people in your areas, for the most part?

Ms Go-Sam —Boredom. In my area it is boredom. The only industries we have down there where you can get any kind of work are bananas and sugar cane. The other thing is that these children have no respect left. The rights of parents to discipline their children have been taken away. If they discipline their children, the children turn around and say, ‘We’re going to have you charged with assault.’ Then Child Safety comes in. So we are caught in the middle. What do you do? Do you give the rights back to the parents? If you gave them back to the elders and went back to the traditional ways, I tell you you would not have any of these problems.

Mr Colless —When the departments ask us to do something—whether it is mentoring little Johnny or Janie or providing a program of intervention or prevention or something of that nature—Gumba Gumba elders generally charge on a fee-for-service basis. So my elders do get some financial remuneration for their time, which can be demanding. My elders are different to sport stars. We have tried to include the sport stars from up in this area, but if you wake them up on a Friday or Saturday night with a young person in crisis, they are not interested. My elders generally do not drink. They might sleep a bit longer, but generally they are available to provide good solid advice to the young person when they are in crisis and a system kicks in where we do our best to pick up with that young person at the earliest opportunity.

In Cairns, one of the problems we have is the sheer number of Cape York and Torres kids who come down for various reasons. I believe it is peer pressure—the bright lights and everything that they have seen on TV up in their communities is available here. They want to experiment and try it all. There is a sort of attraction to living on the streets. Some of these kids come from good homes; they have not all had abused childhoods and come from bad homes, but there is this kind of attraction to the streets. When we did a report into homelessness for one of the departments, we had to re-look at the definition of ‘homeless’. Some of these children are homeless on weekends only. They have various uncles and aunts. You would have heard the term ‘kinship connection’, and most of us Indigenous people have some home to go to, even the Kowanyamas and the Aurukuns and that here.

It is a choice for these children of whether or not they wish to go home, and if their friends are going to rob someone who looks like they could be cashed-up and they want to be a co-offender, not too much happens to them. The detention centres are just training grounds for going on and learning better tricks for how not to get caught. They also learn to tell us, the social workers and the departments what they believe we want to hear. So the detention centres are no help either. In my opinion there is an element of peer pressure that is very negative. Drugs seem to be an excitement. Getting drunk and the various activities that go along with it seem to be some sort of excitement. It is promoted as such on TV and wherever you look, and our sports stars are not good role models.

CHAIR —On the basis of that analysis, is it worth bothering? What do you think would be useful policy to reduce the rate of offending?

Mr Colless —I work for a council of elders, and we often have think tanks on matters that involve Indigenous people in this town. We often have other justice groups or elders organisations from the Cape or Torres join in with us. Julie and I represent eight justice groups in this region. There are eight regions in the state, and we sit on the state body which covers Queensland pretty well. The discussions of my elders are no different to what elders in Ipswich and those down south have to discuss. We are facing the same problems. They might have more chemical or hard drugs to deal with, but in some of our communities up here everyone has a couple of plants growing nearby. We do not have the drug labs in the next suburb that we know to go along to and get what we want. You probably know that there is evidence out there saying that boot camps do not work. That may be the case with non-Indigenous kids, but let us be clear that boot camps do work for Indigenous kids, particularly if they are aligned with culture and if that is part of the training. Culture engenders respect and leads toward a career.

There was a rehabilitation farm up here that was closed down through poor management. The old couple that ran that farm had an 87 per cent figure. Warren Entsch was a part of that program and Bob Scott, when he was the Labor member for Cook, supported that program. We certainly supported it. My mother was one of the foundation members of it. That program had such a high percentage for keeping the kids, retaining them. They would complete the order that the department or the courts had imposed on them and they were able to continue schooling. There was a figure of 80 per cent for getting them jobs. My background is TAFE college and off-campus training. I never realised how multiskilled a ringer is. Up here in the north the cattle industry has always been a major part of Indigenous people’s lives. There is the way that Indigenous corporations buy cattle stations. There are a number of them up here. The particular training farm that I am talking about was such a huge success, but that old couple are retired. People say continuously that there is evidence boot camps do not work. That may well be, but this is where Indigenous people are different again. Indigenous people like practical, on-the-job things.

CHAIR —We do not want to get tied up with language but it does not sound to me as if you are talking about what the Americans call a boot camp.

Mr Colless —It is not.

CHAIR —It is a camp with a good deal of disciplines, not a boot camp. A boot camp is where you get flogged half to death and you do not know why it is happening to you.

Mr Colless —We certainly do not apply the American GI style of discipline, but I can assure you that the walks—

CHAIR —Actually there is a lot of evidence, mainly anecdotal, that the kind of thing that you are talking about really does work.

Mr Colless —It does.

CHAIR —We have heard evidence within the last couple of days about several other places around the country. For instance, at Ilpurla outstation, far out in the Central Desert, there is exactly the same kind of thing happening.

Mr LAMING —Can I throw in a question. Because time is limited, can I give you this picture and get you to tell me what you do not like about it. To me justice groups are the seeds that will eventually become an Indigenous legal and courts system. I do not understand why you guys are not paid like Aboriginal nurses or health workers or teachers, so on the same salaries, and why you are not recruiting members who would be on the community full-time with justice training and ultimately legal assistance training and the ability to make their own judgments with the assistance of a court or to deal with offenders before they get to court so you have already sorted it out with your own Indigenous solutions and say, ‘This is what we’ve come up with.’ If there is no other way around it—and we are not dealing with serious offences like children’s, violent or rape, but we are dealing with the rest of them—there is the possibility that there are small detention facilities that effectively allow elders to have contact with these young people rather than losing them to big cities. What is the problem with that picture?

Ms Go-Sam —You wonder why we do not get paid like nurses. We wonder too.

Mr LAMING —Would that help the situation? First of all, you would be paid better but with it you would have more responsibility, more professional recognition and a lot more expectation.

Ms Go-Sam —We have already got that responsibility.

Mr LAMING —So you have but you have not had the money to go with it.

Ms Go-Sam —We do not get paid for it. Like I have said, we do it for our community, to keep our kids out of there. We try to do programs. On the weekends I will pick up kids around the community to go out fishing or something. We do not get funded for any of that. Most of the time we pay for our own petrol, even to pick up clients to bring them up to Cairns for them to go and see their solicitors.

Mr LAMING —So where you actually do all of the work right up—

Ms Go-Sam —We do do all of the work.

Mr LAMING —to almost replace a court? A court hears from what the justice groups have decided for their own people.

Ms Go-Sam —They do that now. We make submissions to the court on behalf of the clients, not with the pre-sentence reports. Most of our submissions through the magistrate’s court go on. We sit in with the client when they are talking to the solicitor. That is to ensure that that client understands exactly what the solicitor is saying, because many times they will come out and say, ‘Now, what did he say?’ Then you have got to explain it. We make those submissions through the solicitor on behalf of the client.

For the district courts we do written submissions, presentence reports and other business, and the magistrate will often ask us about something if she is unsure. For a long time we could not refer our clients to the QIADP courts up here because we were out of jurisdiction. Rose Colless Haven closed down up there, and that was the only place we could refer our alcohol clients to.

CHAIR —The magistrates were quite happy to send kids to Rose Colless’s farm?

Ms Go-Sam —Yes, they were. It was a great place, but then it closed down. We had nothing in our area. For a long time we could not send people to the QIADP court. Now we can, but that has only been this year. We have had a lot of people that really would have benefited from it, but we always seem to be out of that area. I have always said we are in a black spot. From Babinda down to Cardwell, nobody wants to know us. There is nothing there for us.

Mr Colless —QIADP, the Queensland Indigenous Alcohol Diversion Program, is being trialled in three sites in Queensland. Because it is a pilot program there were specific areas that they wanted to trial. Cairns, Rockhampton and Townsville were recognised as having a transient Indigenous population, and one of the biggest issues bringing in the department of health was alcoholism. So it was really designed as a pilot program, and it is still in pilot phase. QIADP now accepts certain people from the Torres Straits, the cape, Innisfail and Kuranda, but they are still at a minimum because it is a pilot program that is relevant to Cairns. With regard to the Rose Colless Haven, the program that used to be run up there, CARRP, the Cairns Alcohol Remand and Rehabilitation Program, is available and is currently being run out of Gindaja at Yarrabah. That program is up and running and the department of communities have made it available.

Mr LAMING —Thanks.

Mr TURNOUR —Thanks for your presentation. It is appreciated. We all recognise that we need to get more resources in to pay people who do the work you do. We can make that recommendation but, in the end, it will be the state that has to pay, so there might be some roundabouts on that.

Ms Go-Sam —It would be better if you looked at community based programs, initiatives from those communities. It is no use us having programs up here in Cairns, because people are not going to move away from their areas. They have to have programs within those areas that we can work with continuously, even for people that are coming out of jail, so that there are things that are in place for them.

Mr TURNOUR —Talking about people coming out of jail, could you make some comments about how effective the system is at the moment in helping people coming out of jail to get back to communities?

Ms Go-Sam —There is no system in place. They come out and are homeless. Some stay with family and friends; some cannot, so they go back to alcohol, because there is nothing there for them. They come out with nothing, so they go back to alcoholism. A lot of them do in our area, unless they have full support.

Mr Colless —I used to work with corrections and there is a transitional program but, unfortunately, it is not as effective as it should be. Just as a little bit of history, Gumba Gumba elders group, which was formed by my mum, Rose Colless, used to run the alcohol rehab centre here, Douglas House. When these people are released from Lotus Glen, it was recognised that there is a three-day window to get them back to their community. If they are here longer than those three days they will generally get into problems, and there are lots of reasons why. One of the best people to speak to about all of those reasons is sitting in the audience. Judy was in this game for a very long time.

I would just like to answer one of your questions, Deputy Chair. I want you to be aware that Corrections used to have outstations on the cape for people who had six months left on their sentences, where they could go back to be with their families. That was Oriners at Kowanyama, Baa’s Yard at Pormpuraaw and Wathanin at Aurukun. In my opinion, they were very, very successful. The general manager at Lotus Glen and I did most of the consultation with the communities to get their men. In all the years, I never came across a person who did not want to go to one of these outstations when he was eligible.

CHAIR —So you released people straight into the community instead of out onto the Esplanade in Cairns.

Mr Colless —I think I may not have explained it clearly. They still had time to serve. They were within six months of being released. So they were under an order, but they did go back to their community. They were generally brought into town once a week. There were some complaints that these guys did not have what someone in Caboolture or the Gold Coast had. Sometimes my mob would prefer to kill their own bullock and cut it up and make a good day of it. They are all life skills. They used to go out and do a day’s fishing to supplement. I just want to point out that these people felt that they were contributing because when they went back to their communities at weekends they went back with fish or a big lump of meat or whatever. They were still contributing to their families. While they are incarcerated in a correctional centre there is no contribution to the family. There is no continuing connection with the family. The kids cannot jump on his lap and pull the hair on his chest. These blokes had to earn the right to go to these outstations. They needed to have no breaches to be eligible to go there, and these blokes generally toed the line.

I will also point out that some of these people needed medication on a regular basis to stop some of this behaviour. At these outstations they were taken into the clinic and they were getting this. All us men, we need our women because they will remind us that this medication has to be taken. If it comes from our partner we know that it is not going to affect us in some way and is not some sort of chemical thing that might cause us trouble. Sometimes people can have a reaction to some of the modern-day medicines. What was happening was that these guys on these outstations were getting into a routine. One of these chaps was in fact the chairperson of Pormpuraaw, and he has never returned to Lotus Glen.

CHAIR —You were saying that the outstation program was abandoned.

Mr Colless —Yes, it was. All three of them.

Mr LAMING —Very briefly, why was that? Was it because of resourcing or policy change?

Mr Colless —I have my own views on that. There are so many rumours that I think you would have to take that up with the corrections department.

Mr LAMING —Thanks.

CHAIR —Thank you both very much. That is terrific.

[2.41 pm]