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STANDING COMMITTEE ON ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER AFFAIRS
20/05/2010
Involvement of Indigenous juveniles and young adults in the criminal justice system

CHAIR —How we often proceed is that someone gives an opening statement giving an indication, in this case, how your group works and what it is for. Then we can begin to have a discussion and see how it comes out. In a formal sense we were going to take an hour to do it.

The other thing I have to say by way of introduction is that I come from New South Wales, where we play rugby, and I am aware that there are names around this table which are closely associated with Australian Rules football, so you will have to be careful to forgive me if I show some kind of ignorance of that very peculiar game.

There is a famous Wanganeen—a play or a former player. His name is Gavin and he actually helps with some really important programs in South Australia, if I am not mistaken. Who did he play for?

Mr Michael Wanganeen —Essendon and then Port Adelaide.

CHAIR —Essendon and then Port. Shane, have you been a footballer?

Mr Tongerie —Yes, I have played AFL.

CHAIR —With?

Mr Tongerie —Adelaide Crows.

CHAIR —There you go; I know some names!

Mrs Lesley Wanganeen —I would firstly like to acknowledge the land that we meet on today, as the traditional lands for the Kaurna people. We respect their spiritual relationship with their country. We also acknowledge the Kaurna people as the custodians of the Greater Adelaide region and that their cultural and heritage beliefs are still as important to the living Kaurna people today. I would like to hand over to Sharon Letton.

Mrs Letton —I am a Ngarrindjeri woman. I will just give you a bit of a background on the committee. The Youth Justice Aboriginal Advisory Committee was initially established in 2005 and reviewed in 2009. As is culturally responsive, the committee’s membership reflects the cultural diversity of its Youth Justice clientele and has an integrated service approach. The committee aims: to provide a quality cultural advisory mechanism that supports Families SA’s capacity to deliver culturally competent services to ATSI children and young people involved in the justice system; to identify strategies to enhance ATSI community participation; to identify strategies to increase ATSI employment across the youth justice areas; to develop strategies to aim to reduce the incarceration rates of ATSI children and young people in youth justice; and to identify systemic barriers that contribute to gaps in service delivery to ATSI children and young people in youth justice.

The committee endeavours to stimulate greater discussion through its membership and across all stakeholders to create partnerships between both government and non-government sectors. Further, the committee aims to provide advice to the Youth Justice directorate that emphasises current and future trends and service gaps that contribute to the over-representation of ATSI youth in the justice system.

In the submission that we have presented the Youth Justice Committee aims to provide a brief overview of the historical intergenerational impacts and current service provision and, more importantly, to identify potential sustainable actions and solutions as they relate to the terms of reference of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Affairs. Because we were not 100 per cent sure of the format I was not sure; did you want us to jump to our recommendations?

CHAIR —I think that would be good. In other words, it would be very good if you could collectively talk about what you think are sustainable actions and solutions.

Mrs Lesley Wanganeen —Can we introduce the whole group? I guess it demonstrates the diversity of the group that sits here and what we are trying to deliver.

CHAIR —Surely.

Mrs Letton —I am the acting manager of Metropolitan Aboriginal Youth and Family Services.

Mr Tongerie —I work at the Cavan Training Centre, in juvenile justice. I work as a case management consultant of Indigenous services. My main focus is to work with the boys while they are in the training centre. My clan group is Ngarrindjeri and Arabana.

Mr Michael Wanganeen —My language group is Narungga.

Mr Minniecon —I am a Kabi Kabi man from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. I like rugby too. I am with child and adolescent mental health, and I provide a service within Cavan detention centre and Magill Youth Training Centre.

Mrs Lesley Wanganeen —I am a Narungga woman.

Ms Axleby —I am also Narungga, and I am currently the manager of the Salisbury Metropolitan Aboriginal Youth and Family Services office.

Mrs Lesley Wilson —I am a Jingili person from the Northern Territory, and I work with the Department of Education and Children’s Services.

CHAIR —Perhaps, Sharon, it would be good if you would introduce the ideas that you have of what kind of actions and solutions are indeed sustainable.

Mrs Letton —To close the gap on social, cultural and economic disadvantage across Aboriginal communities, including in education and health and the overrepresentation of ATSI juveniles in the justice system, the Youth Justice Aboriginal Advisory Committee recommends the following: mandatory cultural competency training across all sectors; ATSI-specific focus programs developed within training centres targeted to individual learning and cognitive capacity and linking to learning plans when transitioning back to community; development of one-on-one tutorial support and schooling for ATSI young people in training centres; increasing capacity for through-care programs to support young ATSI people transitioning from training centres back into the community; establishment of healing and rehabilitation centres; establishment of drug and alcohol and substance abuse places for ATSI youth as diversionary programs; regional youth justice committees; adequate funding and expansion of current culturally responsive intervention programs for young offenders and youth at risk; and use of section 40 to support ATSI young people’s transitioning to education, employment and community from within the training centres.

The committee recommends holistic early intervention and diversion programs to address and support complex needs within families. We have an example, which is the MAYFS Taikurtinna Maltorendi program, a holistic family case management service; prioritising the employment of Aboriginal mentors for one-on-one support for young people, and also family mentors. We also recommend interagency cultural forums supported by government and non-government agencies; and ATSI family practitioners to maintain the family connection while the young people are in custody.

We recommend the further establishment of specialist schools and/or programs to address the numeracy and literacy deficiencies and complex needs of ATSI young people. We have another example which is a current program, though it is only in one school: the Tirkandi program at Warriappendi School. We recommend: supported accommodation inclusive of wraparound services to transition ATSI young people from secure care to community, because currently what is happening is that they are transitioning back into the environment they were initially in; review of SAPOL’s diversionary powers relating to ATSI young people; review of SAPOL’s community intervention practices; increased Aboriginal employment across the justice portfolio; improved intervention for younger ATSI children prior to entering the justice system; ATSI young people being prepared to transition from Cavan to independent living housing, not always back to the home or unsafe environments; Commonwealth and state funding for ATSI initiatives to be monitored against service agreements; mandatory culturally appropriate psychological and health assessments that are specific to ATSI young people; early intervention programs being developed for eight- to 12-year-olds, because at the moment there is a real gap in service for that age group; and the Youth Justice Aboriginal Advisory Committee having input into policy, practice and funding in relation to the ATSI youth justice issues. That is really it from me. I think we are open for questions now.

CHAIR —I would be very interested if you could talk a bit more about what you think are the problems we are trying to overcome by these programs. To put it in a slightly provocative way, we have more attention probably than ever before being paid to the issue of incarceration of adolescents—we are concerned with young adults as well—and there are groups of people of extreme goodwill, like all of you, who are paying attention all the time and thinking about it. There is probably more activity in government departments than there has been before, in every state—South Australia has a program where they try to bring everything together—yet the rate of imprisonment is getting worse. This is a provocative way to put it but it is the very nub of the issue which we keep thinking about. I do not pretend to you that I know what the answer is but it would be really helpful to know what you think is the more particular nature of the problem.

Ms Axleby —I think the challenges out there in regard to addressing the Aboriginal representation are about the rationale of funding priorities, how funding is divvied out within government. Also there needs to be a stronger focus about how many more community agencies are provided with support and funding to develop new initiatives. One of the big issues I see—and I have been involved in law and justice for many years—is the barriers we face in regard to the political stance of the day in respect of addressing Aboriginal representation or law and order versus representation. Usually law and order in this context has priority on the government agenda, which further impacts on the high level of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. I think that is critical. When we are talking about how we try to impact change and create opportunities for young people and diverting them from the justice system there are not a lot of early intervention or targeted intervention opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. Historically, a lot of families have been under the attention of relevant agencies for many years but have not had any support provided. For me that is a really big issue. So we are balancing the political agenda as well as representation, but how do we balance that to address the issue?

CHAIR —I noticed among the list of proposals you have that there is one concerning early intervention with families. That theme has come through other interviews we have had. It is true, is it not, that this kind of intervention can be quite expensive but not as expensive as dealing where someone going in and out of a correctional institution for 20 years. Can you tell us why you think that would be beneficial? I am not disagreeing with you. I think that, for a child, the impact of difficult circumstances in infant years is so powerful that it takes a long while to recover. That is the kind of a justification for putting more resources into looking after people and families at a time when children are very small. It would be very helpful if you could talk some more about your views on that kind of intervention.

Mr Michael Wangeneen —If we are talking about Commonwealth and state programs, I think we are looking at the coordination of those programs to benefit clients. Having said that, we say that there should be partnerships between the Commonwealth and the states and the programs they fund. To look at where the outcomes will be in the growth of the child and the benefits to the child, it is to move forward not so much within the criminal system itself but to advance them and their communities in a manner which is going to be beneficial to all Aboriginal people. We would like to think, whether we are working with education, employment or any of the social factors around that, that there is coordination. Too often we tend to get caught up in our own little web of working with what we have been funded to do; whereas, if we work outside the square and pull in other agencies which have specific programs dealing with other components, health or otherwise, it all fits in a holistic approach—dealing with Aboriginal people from the youth to the adults, ensuring that programs are suitable for people to advance through the system without incarceration.

For argument’s sake, some of the programs that came out of DECS were very useful and worth while. There are programs with Families SA which are very beneficial and the same with ALRM,  the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement. As a body of people collectively, if you use your resources effectively, you will find that those resources will adequately cover in some way or attempt to rectify the problems they are dealing with.

Ms Axleby —One thing which is really critical is how we address the intergenerational impact of issues which have impacted families for many generations. We expect them to have services—which are not funded. Some programs have a three- to four-year turnaround; some programs are for only 12 months. They have proven to be successful but they are not adapted or picked up. If Aboriginal people are using these programs, that is where the focus on succession should be, besides the aspect of what the long-term outcomes will be. One of the key issues I see is timeliness—how you are expected to work with these very marginalised and disadvantaged families for a short period when the reality is that it is going to take quite some years of intervention and supporting families to get them to a stage where it does not impact as much on children. That is one issue I would like to raise.

CHAIR —Everywhere we have been, it has been said to us in different ways. At one meeting we had, a young man answered a question of mine by saying, ‘We tried that, but the pilot program ran out of money.’ We thought we might make that a chapter heading in our report. There is an ongoing issue of that nature. The fact is, in any community you are still dealing with only a relatively small number of families. You are saying that there should be family support and counselling which is sustained over a long time with identified families, that that is the way we can give support to people, particularly kids who would otherwise suffer loss of self-esteem and so on. Is there anything you would like to say around the idea of the Aboriginal community having ownership of all this stuff because that has happened quite a lot?

Mrs Lesley Wilson —You may have heard of the so-called ‘Gang of 49’. We had consultations about how the community could be involved in looking at solutions. One of the things that really stuck out for me was that the children involved in the justice system were themselves crying out for help. Parents needed help in trying to change their kids. They were feeling helpless. There are perceptions out there that parents do not care. They do care but they do not know what to do or who to go to for support. So that is the frustration parents face. We are talking about 10-year-old and eight-year-old kids not listening to their parents. I was talking to several single mums with no male figure in the house to support them and they had three or four other children. I may be wrong, but I have not seen any successful programs that support parents working with their kids to bring about change or provide support for parents’ social and emotional wellbeing.

Mrs Letton —There are programs, but they are small—that is the problem. They receive limited funds. The demand for the service certainly outweighs the resources that are available, but there are successful models of practice in this area of early intervention and support for families. One particular model has been funded for seven years—it is on a service agreement so it just keeps rolling over—and it has just received another three years funding. So the program has been funded for 10 years running, but they can only service 20 families a year because of the resources that are available. That is only in the western area of Adelaide.

CHAIR —What is that called?

Mrs Letton —That is the Taikurtinna Maltorendi program. I have given you that information and there is a flyer on it as well. There are models around. There is also the Kanggarendi program at Salisbury. Taikurtinna Maltorendi does the western area. Both of these are a Families SA initiative, but the problem is the limited funds provided. There is only a certain amount of money in the pool; it is the way it is divvied out, in the end. So that is certainly an issue. But there are a few programs that work very well. They have Aboriginal family practitioners there. It is about building that rapport and that trust, even though they are Families SA workers. They are still Aboriginal people that live and work within the Aboriginal community. It is about building that relationship and strengthening the family and working in partnership. There is no statutory work done in these programs. These workers do not want anything to do with it. It sits outside that supportive role and that capacity building that the program does. Cheryl, do you want to add anything?

Ms Axleby —I think the real issue is about how we build the capacity of those types of programs across the community. We need to also make sure we have government and non-government programs that our community can access. There are already substantial Aboriginal community organisations established within regions. One thing we need to deal with is how to build community capacity to support the organisations that now have limited funds. The demise of ATSIC has had a great impact on our communities, particularly within our community organisations. I think it is really clear that that is where we need to build services. We also need administrative support services for these agencies so they can be actively involved in looking after their funding and in developing submissions. The problem we have within these community organisations is the ability to do that, and I am sure you find this right across Australia. It is something that is really crucial. Aboriginal communities are already connecting with these community organisations. Other governments are building partnerships with some of these community organisations as well. But when we are talking about family intervention and support, we already have a good base. They are also doing some good work with education and Lesley might want to talk about some of those initiatives.

Mrs Lesley Wilson —We are working hard at trying to change the role of some of the people who work in the schools to make it more of a community focus. I know in other states they are building school and community partnerships between the schools and the parents to get the parents more involved in what is actually happening in the kids’ education. In this state we are looking at forming regional community voices across the 12 regions we have. There are about five or six regions that have it. Others are still developing it. Parents can actually have a voice and talk to the regional directors who look after each region about the things that we need to look at and consider. We are trying to build the capacity of the community in that way. We are only in the early stages.

CHAIR —Who is ‘we’?

Mrs Lesley Wilson —The Department of Education and Children’s Services.

CHAIR —So the department is trying to do it?

Mrs Lesley Wilson —Yes. The other strategy that is happening nationally is the Indigenous education plan, which is going to be looking at schools with significant numbers of Aboriginal students forming school and community partnership agreements. So I think that is a strategy that could be used to help develop the capacity of parents to be involved in education and look at working with the parents that we do not have engagement with—the ones who are really disengaged—to try and get them involved from the early years right through to the senior years.

CHAIR —There is a school in every community and it is a permanent thing, so it makes sense to suggest that sort of relationship might get built up. Most other government departments do not have anything like the presence of a school. Cheryl, I think you were suggesting that, if Aboriginal organisations themselves had more capacity, they could be the conduit and the coordinator for the other government departments. I do not want to put words in your mouth.

Ms Axleby —That is exactly what I am saying.

CHAIR —It is pretty interesting how often some of these themes are coming through. Is it fair to say then—again, I do not want to put words in your mouth—that, in all that change that happened a few years ago accompanying the abolition of ATSIC, Aboriginal organisations got left out?

Ms Axleby —They got forgotten. They have also been disempowered as a voice within communities about how services should be shaped and also how you do that within each of the communities. One thing that we are all very clear about is that one model does not fit every community. There might be different needs in different communities. I think localised community partnerships between government agencies and community organisations is a way that we could actually build community capacity.

CHAIR —Sharon, when she made her list, had two things beside each other. One was diversionary drug programs, which I took to mean the kind of programs that one or other government department might be setting up. At the same time, she mentioned healing and rehabilitation centres, which I took to mean some kind of Aboriginal controlled organisation. I am really interested in how you see those kinds of things working together, whether they are complimentary or opposed to one another in any way, and what you think are the best techniques for dealing with people who are drug addicted. Suddenly we have moved from what you might do for very little kids to what you might do for older people and youth who are off the rails in some way or other and we are trying to get them back again.

Mr Tongerie —I worked in a community, Ceduna, for two years. The problem with that community and other communities in regional areas is that there is a lack of dry-out areas for substance abuse. A lot of the elders travel down from Yalata and Amata and all of those areas and come back down to Ceduna. A lot of them are abusive with alcohol and that passes on to the next generation. You have got kids involved in that as well, seeing that it is okay for that abuse to happen.

It is not only the alcohol abuse; then it goes into violence. A lot of that was being brought forward into the courts. I worked for the courts there for many years. Part of talking to the magistrates about Aboriginal issues is that there needs to be, with that Aboriginal court, Aboriginal sentencing. But also the community was unable to assist with the dry-out areas because of lack of funding. Aboriginal health had only so much money that they could put towards sourcing health, nurses, for other issues. The main issue screaming out to be dealt with in those areas is alcohol and drug abuse. It just goes to prove that, when you do have those things happen, you have deaths on the street. That is what happened with kids coming down from Yalata to Ceduna. Part of our problem is trying to get those communities assistance with funding.

Mr Minniecon —Our biggest problem within detention centres is that most of our boys came in and are picked up straightaway for drug and alcohol abuse, they go to court and they are put in out there. There is no halfway house for them to go to. They go to court and then they go straight to detention. There is no place like what we talked about—a healing centre—so they can be educated about drugs and alcohol. The reason they take drugs and alcohol is that they learn it. They have no education behind it and what side effects it can cause and why they are doing it. A lot of the reason we have a high number of young people in detention centres is that there is no halfway place. It is in court and straight into Magill or Cavan. So it is very important for this to happen, a healing place, an educational place and a dry-out place.

CHAIR —This is a question that puzzles me a little bit. Have you got a preference for a kind of program that might be run by any agency or big non-government organisation using standard drug rehabilitation technique on the one hand or for a kind of healing centre based in Aboriginal culture on the other? I suppose the answer is that you want both, but can you talk about that? I am not quite sure what has happened in South Australia, but we have been here and there around Australia and we find that there is this or that really charismatic Aboriginal person who has a program to grab boys, mostly, and take them on culture camps or do any number of things that are quite specifically related to their Aboriginality—in fact, try to teach them about it. On the other hand, you have got programs of the sort that are not particularly culturally specific at all. I am really interested in what you think about what kind of a mix of programs of that sort there were and whether you know about any evaluations of them.

Mr Minniecon —There has been a program that was developed, yet to be funded. It was called the Journey program. That was to be used for this sort of thing we are talking about now—a halfway place where, instead of putting them in detention centres, they take them out to a farm, a place where the infrastructure is purposely built and they learn cultural education, skills and work. But this is not a place where you can just come out for a week or two weeks; it is a place where you come for, say, three months. They say it takes three months to form a new habit and six months for it to become part of your life. For these boys who have been, from birth, exposed to this environment, it is going to take longer than a week or a camp to fix any of their problems. This program was working alongside the families and bringing them out there every now and then to visit. It will teach the boys, and their families, resilience to stand on their own. Resilience in our families is what we need, and this program was to deliver that.

CHAIR —What happened to it?

Mr Minniecon —It is still waiting to be funded. It has been written up.

Mrs Lesley Wanganeen —A scoping paper has been done on the proposal. However, we were unable to attract funding.

Mr Minniecon —There are a lot of agencies involved in that. It is not just one agency. It creates a web around it—keep it in the family.

CHAIR —You are hoping for South Australian government funding?

Mrs Lesley Wanganeen —We are hoping for both state and Commonwealth government funding.

CHAIR —I find that Aboriginal people all over Australia are now putting forward ideas that are quite like that. This sits within a pattern of suggestions that are made. How many young fellas will any individual program like that reach? I keep wondering why we do not fund not only that one but a big bunch of them.

Mr Minniecon —We did get money for phase 1 and phase 3 to happen, and that is happening within the organisation. But phase 2 is yet to be funded. That is the middle part. It is about taking them out there and building that support system around them. So we have got phase 1 and phase 3 funded but we are finding—

CHAIR —For the record, what is this one called?

Mr Minniecon —It is called the Journey Home program. We are finding that the money is not going back to empowering our people and we need to take the reins of these programs and organisations. We are finding that, when the funding goes in, it is not used specifically for that. So we have got people in high places who, when they get the funding for a particular program, spend it broadly to fix up other problems. So that issue is looked at 40 per cent and the program is not targeted. That is the issue we are having at the moment. But the program is going to happen.

Ms Axleby —It is also important to note that the Aboriginal Sobriety Group in South Australia have been running drug and alcohol related programs. They have a place just out of Murray Bridge which has been recognised for many years. Coming back to community capacity building, I think this is an important issue. We have already got some services that have a connection within the community but they are unable to attract funding support to take it to the next stage, which would be really beneficial to the community. In one sense it could save a bit of money, because it is already partly established, but it might take a bit more money to get it to a level where it can actually service the community adequately. That is one of the challenges. Talking as a community person, it is quite frustrating for me that we have a lot of these resources partly established within the community but we cannot get to the next step.

CHAIR —What is the name of your organisation?

Ms Axleby —I work with Families SA.

CHAIR —You work with a South Australian government agency?

Ms Axleby —That is right.

CHAIR —That is your formal job?

Ms Axleby —That is my formal job but I am talking here as a community person. I have been around the area of law and justice for 20-odd years. I think it is quite important that, when we do have these initiatives, we support our local communities.

Mr Minniecon —That scoping paper which Cheryl was talking about sits with them, with the Aboriginal Sobriety Group.

CHAIR —In South Australia you have Nunga Courts, and there is a version of them in maybe every state now. Have you got anything you would like to say about the way they operate? They are generally favoured by the community, I assume, but there are a lot of questions about how much the court actually gets backed up by services to which they could direct young people who they have sentenced. I do not know if there is anything which you would like to tell us in that respect?

Mr Tongerie —I actually worked as an Aboriginal justice officer for two years in Ceduna and Adelaide. A lot of the legislation around that 9C, which is legislation for Aboriginal sentencing, is now being pushed in South Australia. A fair few sentencings have been held at the district court now. We find that a lot of the youth have not been pushed towards Aboriginal sentencing at this stage. I worked up at Cavan, issuing to the boys, and while in there thought that Aboriginal sentencing was the way to go.

As part of our sentencing, the services do get involved. There are elders up with the magistrate at this stage—they sit up there. We get the family involved as well as the community, and services are on board to assist that client to get over their problems. The magistrate also asks the elders for advice as part of that role. It is not always taken; sometimes it is just advice from them to push that person towards a service to help them out.

It has been running for 10 years and, in fact, one of the aunties who first started is in the gallery at the moment. With respect to her, she pushed a lot of this to start, and it has been a very good role model. The magistrates are now seeing that it works for certain clients. But it is one of those things which need to be pushed a lot more.

Mr Michael Wanganeen —In addition to the Nunga Courts is family conferencing, which is important in getting the families involved with the youth who are the offenders and having those matters dealt with accordingly. It has been very positive and fruitful in dealing with a lot of the issues as they revolve around youth and communities in regional and country areas which do not have access to the Nunga Courts which operate within Adelaide.

CHAIR —Do you happen to know if there are perceived problems with language in the courts? In some places, most obviously in the Northern Territory and the Kimberly, there are apparently sometimes serious difficulties having some people understood, and of having some people understand what it is that they are in court for because of language barriers. Is that an issue in South Australia?

Mr Michael Wanganeen —It is an issue. We find that with ALRM and in particular with people who are coming from Pitjantjatjara to Yankunytjatjara. To a lesser extent, I suppose, there are the ones from Arrernte and people from the Northern Territory who may be apprehended either in Coober Pedy or further down south—Port Augusta et cetera, or even in Adelaide. They do not fully understand the position that they have actually put themselves in or understand the dialogue when the solicitor is questioning them in relation to the offence or the matter at hand, which to them is perfectly normal where they have come from. They do not fully understand down here because English is their second language.

 Trying to get the interpreters involved in that is something that AARD is looking at now. AARD is the Aboriginal reconciliation body that is looking at the interpreter service and how best and how effectively we can utilise the interpreter service within South Australia and in particular, I suppose, with the magistrate courts, which are set up now through Port Augusta, Port Lincoln, Coober Pedy et cetera. So it is being addressed, but it is still an issue that is on the table that needs further involvement.

CHAIR —Thank you. We have been paying attention to that. I guess we are coming to the end of the session, and I thank you very much indeed for being so frank and informative with us. Is there anything you think you ought to tell us before we end?

Mrs Lesley Wanganeen —I would really like to go back to the building of capacity in communities. I still believe that is where the answer lies to so many of our issues. I think that the withdrawal of funding and resources is a major problem for our communities. I think they struggle around the historical grief and loss issues. I think we need to go back into those communities and work from a community development framework to skill people up. In particular, if I talk about our young people in the youth justice system, a major issue is the limited knowledge that our people have around this system, what happens to their children in the system and how to use strategies to try and curb that flow into the system.

However, I believe that they have the capacity to want to learn. I think that we need to resource that, and I believe that they need to take responsibility around supporting these young people with programs like the one that Tony has talked about. It is almost a transition program and it is needed because our children have become so incarcerated and so attuned to life in custody that they cannot function when they get out. What we equally have is that parents do not know how then to deal with these young people, so the cycle continues. So programs such as Tony has talked about—and he has a copy of one that he will leave with you—are programs that we need as a sort of centrepiece to prepare children to go back into their communities, because learning in an institutional environment is not conducive to what they need to know on the outside. We need to take all of those things into account in terms of being able to stop the overrepresentation of these young people, which hopefully then will impact on those people going into the adult system.

CHAIR —Lesley, earlier in the piece we were just talking about the fact that, in spite of the astonishingly intense devotion that all of you provide and that the next group of people provide as well, the rate of incarceration is going up.

Mrs Lesley Wanganeen —Yes.

CHAIR —And I think you were saying to me that without the kind of empowerment that you are speaking of you do not think that too much will be done about it. Is that is the case? Are you saying that there is always really good activity taking place but, because there is still a big hole in what is necessary, although all this other activity can ameliorate problems all over the place, it has not stopped the source of the problem?

Mrs Lesley Wanganeen —No, and it goes back to all of that intergenerational disadvantage. That really is the basis of how all of this other business pans out. I do believe that the answer lies in those communities. I think that with that community development framework we could in fact empower the right people to do this type of work.

CHAIR —I spent some time when I was not in the parliament working in an organisation that concerned itself with international development assistance and did poverty alleviation programs in Indonesia and Africa. All of those programs began with an assumption that you ought to find people with capacity in a community and help them work to bring everybody else into a more effective kind of relationship with the world. I think one of the reasons why there has been, in government, a reluctance to proceed as you are suggesting is that people in government get worried about financial accountability and whatever. I have seen some of the accountability requirements that some of the government departments put on you, and I would not have the faintest idea how to fill in the forms; that is the truth of it.

Mrs Lesley Wanganeen —Exactly.

CHAIR —It is stupid not to acknowledge that from time to time there has been a bit of fraud in one organisation and another. The real question in that respect is: what can we do to better ensure that there is just that sort of decent management, just to make sure that the everyday housekeeping is done in a straightforward and honest fashion? It seems like a silly question, but it is not; it is actually a bit crucial to how bureaucracies may respond.

Mrs Lesley Wanganeen —I think it goes back to what Cheryl was saying about using our already existing organisations as the hub, if you like, in moving all of that back into the community, so there is already a monitoring system in place. There are some really good organisations and, as you have rightly said, we might have a few that fall off the tracks but in essence most people are striving to make change in the Aboriginal community, and we also need to be guided in how we best to do this.

CHAIR —You could have someone keep the books, couldn’t you—

Mrs Lesley Wanganeen —Yes. We could easily—

CHAIR —including an external person?

Mrs Lesley Wanganeen —Exactly. We do not want it to be too restrictive because that does not actually help to empower nor does it help to create those management skills you need, but certainly I do not think that that is a major issue. I think it could be one that could very easily be done. But I think it is a way that we need to look at how to improve the relationships. If we constantly say that only government can fix up our problems then we will be sitting here at this table saying the same thing. So we need as Aboriginal people to take that.

CHAIR —I am not sure what the rules say about me leading witnesses, but I am going to anyway! I can never understand why it is assumed that Aboriginal communities must be led by about 25,000 government departments but the people up the street do not suffer from the same assumption. Why would it be that Aboriginal communities respond differently to a bit of responsibility?

Mrs Lesley Wanganeen —That is a historical issue. You need to go right back and have a look at how first the country was founded and at the sorts of policies and practices. That will give you your answer, because those things still continue today. Whilst there are lots of good things happening, we are still restricted in being able to take our own measures to change our own lives. They are always done in the purpose of funding agreements or accountability. Whilst I appreciate that all that needs to be there, I still believe it is restrictive in terms of how we do it.

The other important point I would like to make is that nothing is sustained. You cannot change generations of disadvantage in short-term programs. We need to be able to be sustained and identify some of the real priority issues. Sustain those in communities and within 10 years I personally, as an Aboriginal person, will guarantee some changes.

CHAIR —You are saying you do not want a pilot program.

Mrs Lesley Wanganeen —No, very loudly!

CHAIR —You are saying you do not want government funded programs filtered through other big non-Aboriginal NGOs, though government does that all the time—not only to Aboriginal groups; the big human services departments do it all the time to everybody. And you are saying that you want to have capacity building, you want to be helped to make sure that nobody tickles the Peter. You are not against evaluation; you would like evaluation so long as it is continuous and so long as you do not fear you are going to lose your funding. If somebody blows in and says they do not like the way you did something, you want a dialogue with the agencies, but you accept that they have a right to that kind of evaluation if they are giving you money.

Mrs Lesley Wanganeen —There is something in the paper here that qualifies where we sit in society. It is on page 2, last paragraph. It says:

Equally the debate that dominates the issue is largely dogmatic and remains adverse to the cultural expertise, particularly where this advice does not qualify pre-existing prejudices.

I think that sums up where we sit because our advice, as Aboriginal people, is going to conflict with a whole range of things because it needs to. It needs to do that in terms us standing strong. But it needs to be seen as cultural expert advice and taken as that. It is not challenging; it is just saying, ‘These are the issues that you confront and these are the ways forward.’

CHAIR —That is not a bad place to end, is it? Thank you all very much.

[12.39 pm]