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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 —Welcome, and thank you all for coming. We have had the privilege of having groups such as yours in most jurisdictions we have been to. They have conducted roundtables and they have been extremely valuable, as I am sure this one will be. I have to apologise to you: a colleague of mine has been delayed and a strange consequence is that without there being two of us here we do not have an appropriately constituted subcommittee of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. We will conduct this meeting informally, but will make a transcript in the usual fashion and turn it, by way of a formal resolution back in Canberra, back into a formal part of our hearings. In other words, it does not matter much, but you are not at this instant protected by parliamentary privilege. You will be when we pass a motion in Canberra. As I understand it, Dr O’Connell will give a presentation on behalf of the South Australia government and then we will fall to discussing it.

Dr O’Connell —Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to present to you today. You will have received the Attorney-General’s submission back in February this year, which details a range of strategic approaches and frameworks with regard to the over representation of the Aboriginal young people in South Australia in our criminal justice system. Also contained in that report is a detailed listing of various programs that are provided by the agencies represented here today. Rather than making a detailed address to you, we will make ourselves available for you to ask us questions relevant to the submission in the first instance. So if you have any questions with regard to any of the information provided by the Attorney-General, we are happy to address that.

CHAIR —Sure, but it would not be a bad thing if you could give us an account of your overall philosophy.

Dr O’Connell —Youth justice has been a priority focus for us in South Australia for the past few years. The Premier, back in 2007, requested that the Commissioner for Social Inclusion, Monsignor David Cappo, undertake a review and analysis of youth justice in South Australia, with a particular emphasis on serious and repeat offending. At the time we had a great deal of media coverage about what was referred to as the ‘Gang of 49’. This was a media construct and we had a number of offences being conducted in South Australia by young people, not just youths but young people primarily under the age of 25. The Premier wanted to undertake a review, and he requested that Monsignor Cappo lead that review. In August 2007, that review, the To break the cycle report, was tabled and government accepted the 46 recommendations that Monsignor Cappo had identified in his report. Those recommendations ranged from broad systemic changes to be undertaken, as well as some legislative changes and also some changes in priority areas with regard to different programs or different approaches to be adopted.

The main focus of the report, and indeed the policy position taken by the government, was to hang onto South Australia’s tradition of, where possible, diverting young people away from the criminal justice system. South Australia has historically been at the forefront of changes to the criminal justice system regarding early intervention and diversionary options. Family conferencing began in this country in South Australia and has been particularly useful in the reform of the juvenile justice system here. The focus is enhancing the number and range of diversionary options made available.

The report also acknowledged that we have a persistent overrepresentation of Aboriginal youths in the juvenile justice system and, following through, in the adult criminal justice system. It suggested increasing the focus on serious and repeat offending, acknowledging that we do have small but significant statistics on serious and repeat offending here in this state and that community protection was an area that needed enhancing and improving. To that end, the objects of the Young Offenders Act were subsequently amended.

The government also agreed with the Commissioner for Social Inclusion in wanting to look at the area of early intervention and diversion in slightly different ways. I draw your attention to a program which looked at working with Aboriginal communities in different ways to address intergenerational issues with regard to criminal justice. It looked at the level of desensitisation to criminal activity and at re-engaging with the principles of community development in order to strengthen community and bring about community driven responses.

In particular, I refer to recommendation 3 of the To break the cycle report, which asked us to look at the David Kennedy approach. David Kennedy is an academic from America. The Attorney General’s department has for the last two years been looking at that material and working with SAPOL, corrections and other agencies and with the Aboriginal community in South Australia on thinking differently about our approaches in a fundamental way. There are 46 recommendations in To break the cycle report, and we will be tabling that today for your information.

For the last eight years here in this state, because of our commitment to social inclusion, there has been a commitment to working across government and with community to try to minimise bureaucracy and avoid some of the ongoing challenges in the delivery of services, programs and funding to the community in order to address the overrepresentation of the Aboriginal community in the criminal justice system.

I should also point out that offending rates and victimisation rates are high in the Aboriginal community here and that we are conscious of both of those issues. Often they are not two distinct cohorts; the Aboriginal community suffer from disproportionate levels of victimisation compared to non-Indigenous people here in this state.

—It cannot be doubted that South Australia began early, in comparative terms, in trying to come to grips with these issues at the government level and that some really, apparently, important initiatives have been established. Nevertheless, the rate of imprisonment is extremely high—the existence of this dilemma is the reason for our committee inquiry. If it were an easy problem to solve, we would have done it long ago, because there are massive levels of goodwill in organisations like your own. That is not to be doubted. Indeed, you already explicitly show an awareness of a whole range of issues raised by Aboriginal communities. Why is it that there is not more success? What perspective do you have on the fact that the raw statistics do not show much success at the moment? This is not a hostile question; this is a question that we all have to wrestle and confront.

Dr O’Connell —I can provide you an answer but I will first offer to my colleagues this opportunity to respond.

Mr Neil Smith —I am quite happy to say a couple of things. From our perspective, we believe that it is very much the social issues which are driving the crime. We interact with the community at a number of levels, as you would have clearly seen from the submission, and we will continue to do that. It is the social issues, especially around employment, education, health and similar areas, which seem to drive a culture, to some degree. For example, of all the people arrested for serious offences, nearly 20 per cent are Aboriginal. As the doctor pointed out, they are nearly three times more likely to be a victim of serious crime in this state.

From a policing perspective, we do not step away from our role in pursuing offending. Where we can, we offer some level of diversion in minor drug offending and similar areas. For example, in the age group of 10 to 17 there are an average of around 640 per year in the police drug diversion program, which goes to health as opposed to criminal prosecution, so there is quite a high level. In addition, we run street diversion programs so that lower level offending does not necessarily have to enter the criminal justice system. We are in the throes of trialling an adult-cautioning model for some of those lower level type offending areas. But that will never take place for the more serious offending. We believe it is those social issues which are driving it.

Mr Severin —I wish to comment in relation to the adult correctional system, which the department I am heading is responsible for in the state. I do not think I will say anything that you would not have heard many times before. By the time offenders enter the adult correctional system, a lot of opportunity has been lost. For us it is then important to identify what we can do to provide functional support. It was not that long ago that our predominant focus in relation to Aboriginal imprisonment for adults was to prevent deaths in custody. That has certainly occupied a lot of initiative in terms of both policy program response and the way we manage Aboriginal people under the condition of incarceration. The objective remains that we try to limit the negative effects that incarceration has, as much as that is possible. We are now more and more focused on what we can do to facilitate reintegration into the community.

There are a number of examples where I think we could learn from practice elsewhere. At a national level we coordinate a whole range of initiatives now between Australian and New Zealand jurisdictions to ensure that we not only adopt what is seen as good practice but also what works. That is within a framework of trying to become more culturally competent, understanding better what it is that effects Aboriginal people and also what contributes to their high rates of offending in the first place. The submissions that were provided by the government contained a range of those initiatives. I wanted to focus on a couple of aspects there.

Certainly, and again this is nothing new, there is a difference between urban Aboriginal people and regional and remote Aboriginal people. We have quite successfully implemented a program, which is Commonwealth funded, in the remote areas of the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia which is the NPY lands. As a cross-border initiative we are running a family violence prevention program for offenders who are sentenced by a court. They are not people that come out of prison but people who have offended in a violent way against their families or within the communities. The evaluation of that program is very positive in both retention rates and successful completion rates. Obviously, there is a longer term evaluation that needs to occur in relation to reoffending; however, the early indications are that the reoffending rates have decreased by more than 40 per cent compared to people who have not participated in a similar intervention program. Again, it is not an initiative that is just born from one jurisdiction.

The answer that certainly we consider relevant in corrections is that this is a national problem of a magnitude that no singular agency is able to actually successfully manage. So the better we can integrate and the better we can complement what we are doing, the more likelihood of success it will have. Again I am talking right across all of our jurisdictions and to some extent learning a lot in the corrections environment from our New Zealand counterparts as well. However, the fundamental issue remains that the efforts both in a policy and programmatic response should be focused on prevention of crime. Looking at early childhood right through to when crime becomes obvious indicates that if we can provide protective measures, if we can integrate better with community, if we can make the Aboriginal communities more responsible in a constructive and positive sense—and I overheard a couple of comments made by the group that preceded us here in that regard—we have a higher likelihood of success than relying on the institution of the criminal justice system. Colleagues from other departments can no doubt support that. Thank you.

CHAIR —Mr Smith has said, I am sure correctly, that although there are many measures that police may take to ameliorate the consequences of offending behaviour and although there are many measures they may take to prevent some offending behaviour; nevertheless, there is a big heap of it happening. I am really interested in what you all think about—I know you have made submissions—what we should do back at the source.

Dr O’Connell —Could I make reference to a couple of programs and then I will pass this on to my colleagues to speak about. I will provide the background to the initiative that Gavin Wanganeen runs before I go on to speak about it. One of the issues we have here in South Australia was high representations of negative images of young Aboriginal people in society generally or a lack of positive representations and in particular with those to do with offending.

One of the initiatives we had was to try to identify positive role models and very overt media representations of positive images. To that end we have two programs, one of which is the Ambassador for Youth Opportunity, which I will ask Gavin to speak to in a moment, and the other of which is the Aboriginal Power Cup. The Aboriginal Power Cup in one sense is just like any other initiative. We are funding the Port Adelaide Football Club in conjunction with the South Australian Aboriginal Sports Training Academy and the SANFL to work with a number of children—really it is a school retention program—to keep them at school, because if they remain within the education system they are less likely to fall into the criminal justice system. As a strategy, though, the Aboriginal Power Cup is also for us to explore how we need to find different ways of delivering services to the community in order to enhance protective factors within that community. There is an acknowledgment, I think across government, that overt delivery of services from government to a community without community engagement is not the most productive thing to have happen. We are trying to explore different ways of delivering services and going back to basics in the sense of community development principles. The Aboriginal Power Cup is just one of them. Gavin Wanganeen is ambassador for another program, and I might ask him to speak to his role.

Mr Gavin Wanganeen —I have been in my role for almost two years now as Ambassador for Youth Opportunity. I go out and promote healthy lifestyle choices and messages to kids right across the state in primary schools, high schools and various youth programs, and I suppose footy has given me that profile and a great opportunity.

CHAIR —I was apologising at the beginning of the session, Gavin, that I come from New South Wales and only really understand rugby. But I acknowledge your very high profile in that other game.

Mr Gavin Wanganeen —I will forgive you this time! I have a very rewarding role. A big part of it is working in the Aboriginal community to promote healthy messages. Part of that involves working at Cavan Training Centre. I am out there most weeks doing a footy program and trying to mentor some of the lads there. I work with those boys not only when they are on the inside but also when they are on the outside. I am trying to be a positive role model and a mentor and just trying to teach these kids some basic lifestyle messages, hopefully.

CHAIR —How do they respond to you?

Mr Gavin Wanganeen —They take a liking to me very quickly, obviously through football. That is my point of difference, I suppose. I break the ice very early and develop a good relationship with these guys where they are able to open up to me. It gives me a great opportunity to try to pass on these messages and be a positive male influence in their lives, where they might have lacked this growing up.

CHAIR —It is too soon to know with great precision what effect it is having, but on the face of it it looks as if a lot of kids do respond.

Mr Gavin Wanganeen —You are never really going to know, but when I was a young lad I grew up in the northern suburbs. I went to Salisbury East High School. A fellow by the name of Bob Clayton, a pretty famous Port Adelaide footballer here, came out to our school and was doing some ‘Life. Be in it.’ exercise programs. I am 36 now and I have never forgotten that. So I suppose you should not underestimate what sporting identities can do. Hopefully some of these messages will stick in the minds of some of these young people, especially at the schools, where you are at the preventative stage.

Dr O’Connell —We do acknowledge that a limitation and a challenge for government in providing services is that the person who actually delivers the services is very significant. We have numerous reports and results of consultations from the Aboriginal community which consistently state that the more we place emphasis on community engagement and involvement, the better and more successful those programs will be. One of the challenges we have is that we have to look at the area of interim services, so where the government should be and are working to develop mentors in order to then take on and deliver programs. In the past we have sometimes gone straight to service delivery because of the obvious need, but we acknowledge that through these initiatives we actually have to have a multitiered approach and that one of the main mechanisms for community engagement, ongoing, is through a mentor capacity within communities. That is something that we do not necessarily have in all communities to the extent that we would wish.

CHAIR —Quite a few people have not said anything yet, and you must at the moment you feel like it. I know that many of you came in while our last group was still speaking. Towards the end of that particular roundtable discussion with people from Aboriginal organisations, a theme emerged which has emerged at virtually every hearing we have had. We have held hearings in a dozen places, and it has emerged almost everywhere. It was very clearly articulated at the end by Lesley Wanganeen when she was saying that Aboriginal community organisations have essentially been defunded in recent years. I cannot speak with precision about South Australia. It has, however, been a nationwide phenomena. It included the abolition of ATSIC, about which I make no particular observation one way or the other at the moment. Nevertheless, there is this absolutely persistent theme which says, ‘We, the Aboriginal organisations, know what the needs are at the grassroots; we know who the people are; and we think we should be given more power to deal with the problems.’ The most sophisticated of these groups acknowledge, as Lesley did, that there has got to be accountability, and they are very happy to be helped to be accountable at a financial level. I think what she is saying is an extension of what you just said—I am sure it is—in that it really matters who delivers it. It is why Gavin is successful, I take it. You could have a non-Aboriginal  Adelaide Crow talking to people, but it would not be the same. Why do you think that is? Why can’t we bring about a circumstance in which these persistent requests and suggestions are not better reflected in government policy? I say this in the understanding that South Australian government agencies may be able to do this better than most because they have a good tradition of administration and because it is a smaller administration than many other jurisdictions.

—I would like to say that there has been a change in the Commonwealth government policy position in recent years from the previous government. There was an emphasis on community-driven governance arrangements, funding organisations to present and work with the communities. There was a policy shift, from my understanding, at a national level and subsequent funding rearrangements because of that. That has had an impact on organisations and it has made it more challenging to line up both the broader strategic context, the enabling factors and the complementary funding arrangements because, in previous years, under the previous Liberal government, it has been much more difficult to determine how it wanted to work in with Aboriginal organisations and it was not necessarily as clear. That has meant that this state government works, obviously productively, with South Australian Aboriginal organisations here who receive a significant amount of Commonwealth government funds. In recent years we have seen the COAG arrangements assist us in everyone getting on the same page. That has enabled a far better ability to plan and implement programs across the board.

But I would like to acknowledge that the cut up approach to funding that agencies have received from the national government in previous years has not assisted us. Also, the change in governance arrangements for Aboriginal organisations—the demise of ATSIC and the change in policy there—has had both practical implications and a range of emotional implications which do not enhance our ability to work here with organisations in the most productive ways.

We would like to acknowledge a level of program fatigue that exists. Communities have had a number of different pilots or different approaches. Again, we hope the most recent COAG arrangements provide a broad enough strategic framework and are productive enough for us to actually step in without having to operate so closely at a programmatic level and therefore add to that fatigue.

CHAIR —You express these thoughts with extraordinary diplomacy. Everywhere we go Aboriginal groups and many agencies express some frustration about the patterns of short-term funding for programs and the perpetual pilots. In the group that preceded you this was again mentioned. I think it was Lesley Wanganeen who was saying, ‘Please let us have some programs that stay in place for 10 years.’ I am interested in the response of anyone around this table to those notions.

Ms Crossing —I think from a health and a generational perspective you need that. I have heard the previous group and the talk today is about the young people who are currently young offenders, their families’ experiences and the next generation coming through. If we actually want to make long-term change we can target just the young offenders now or we can actually say, ‘We need to do something that supports the next generation coming through.’ We know that that needs to happen from pre birth.

That support needs to happen for the Aboriginal families who are planning to have children: that they have the resources and supports available from that point in order to provide all of those experiences we know that children need to develop resilience and optimism, and all of those kinds of experiences that help them remain engaged positively in community health and in school, and be able to take those forward into their life choices. When we have pilot programs that run for three or four years there is no way that that can happen and be embedded.

CHAIR —You see the kind of paradox that is drawn to my attention all the time. Around the table here, as has happened in almost every other jurisdiction, some of the senior public servants who I am speaking to are actually Indigenous people. This is something that could not have been dreamt of 20 years ago. And yet the rate of incarceration is increasing. In the face of a determined and well thought-out program of activity by South Australian government agencies, can someone say to me what they think is the source of this paradox? I do not know what the answer is; I am not saying I do.

Ms Waters —I stand before you as an Aboriginal woman and a senior public servant. For Aboriginal people it is well evidenced that we are the most socially, economically and politically excluded population group. Our people experience consistent social issues, compounding social pressures. This has been an intergenerational thing. Lesley Wanganeen spoke earlier to you about unlocking some of the opportunity in our community based organisations which are on the ground in those communities. They know the communities well and they know the issues that are going on in those communities, and what will work in that community may not necessarily work in another community.

I worked with Lesley a number of years ago. I fully acknowledge what you are saying about long-term programs and responses. We have one initiative that I am very attached to. When you talk about public servants in senior positions, we introduced a program that was run by Aboriginal people on a shoestring budget but within a bureaucracy. For less than $1 million over 10 years, we graduated 100 Aboriginal people with professional qualifications who now are working across our government agencies. So I think that is great, and more of that sort of stuff needs to happen.

Going back to my point about exclusion, we know that exclusion impacts on quality and therefore quantity of life. We know that our people have been placed in the other category: the oppressed, the oppressor. We know that the longer we leave people there it costs lives. We know that we have to address that. One of the keys to unlocking that is through community redemption with these young people, and the media does not help us in that. When they were out reporting on this alleged gang of 49, it incited racial hatred, racial vilification. It set our community back many, many years. There were 49 alleged persons of interest to a particular police operation. They labelled it a gang. If there were as many people in the gang as the media liked to report, we would have more than a 1,000 members of that gang. What that does in local communities is incite fear and sets our people back. Aboriginal young males in particular were seeing increased racism, discrimination. The longer you leave people in that sort of exclusion they will fight back.

What I am seeing with these offenders—and Neil Smith alluded to it earlier—is the haves and the have-nots. I think community redemption is the key to unlocking that. We need to not transition people from one place of incarceration into the community that becomes the second place of incarceration. Our young people by virtue of being Aboriginal, by virtue of being young Aboriginal males, with all of the media hype around the alleged gang of 49 has compounded disadvantage.

Dr O’Connell —Just adding to Sonia’s comments, for those of us working in the area of Aboriginal justice and trying to address this overrepresentation, what is persistent is the social issues that Neil talked about: the persistent poverty, the intergenerational issues, the impacts of a rights of passage approach because of those intergenerational issues. We also have the absence of very assertive programs, assertive employment programs, which are tied to court orders, for example. We have a limitation in the options available for courts and we have not addressed the issue of how, from a policy perspective, assertive we should be. We are very assertive when it comes to custodial and secure care environments.

CHAIR —You may be aware that there are a number of formal evaluations of the equivalent of nunga courts in other places which suggest they have not had a great deal of effect on rates of recidivism. Each time such an evaluation has been made, the government involved have said, ‘Nevertheless, we think there are really important social values associated with these courts so we are going to keep them going.’ But it is possible to believe that it is the absence of the kind of programs you are now talking about that is one of the causes of the failure to reduce recidivism.

Dr O’Connell —In South Australia we have had the Nunga Court in operation for in excess of 10 years. As a court process it is a robust and effective one. Do people experience the court process in productive ways? Yes. We have not necessarily expanded the options available with regard to where or how someone would undertake their order. Having had a look at the evaluations of equivalent courts in other jurisdictions, we believe that is the main issue: that we have changed the court process per se but we have not provided other options. That is a policy gap for governments, including nationally. On the employment covenant, we are reaching for that in order to reach into and make connections with the criminal justice system. I will refer to my colleague Peter Severin to discuss the work that is happening in Port Augusta with regard to the relationship between the Port Augusta Prison and training initiatives in the Port Augusta area.

Mr Severin —We have recently formed a partnership with BHP Billiton and accessed some Commonwealth funding for training of offenders in preparation for their release and giving them skills that will qualify them to work in mining operations connected to Roxby Downs and the BHP operation there. BHP owns a whole range of pastoral set-ups, farms, which need to be tended and looked after. The groups of offenders, predominantly Aboriginal offenders, go and learn a whole range of skills and at the same time look after some of these farming operations. It is too early to talk about a sustained success. However, out of the first group of 12 participants, as soon as their sentence finished or they were granted parole, six of them were offered employment and have transitioned into employment with BHP Billiton. It is a very tangible example, albeit a small one at this stage, of enhancing the successful reintegration of Aboriginal people and other offenders as well into the community by providing some very tangible work opportunities. The win-win situation is further supported by the fact that the organisations that are associated with this are actually the BHP recruitment and training organisations, so they get to know their prospective future employees very well before they have to make this commitment. That has certainly proved to be very successful.

CHAIR —BHP is amongst a number of large national companies that have signed an accord in Canberra—the name of the organisation escapes me—and have made a pledge to employ a lot of Aboriginal people.

Mr Severin —I think Rio Tinto is doing something similar in Queensland.

CHAIR —Yes. That reminds me that in other jurisdictions, especially those with quite a large remote Aboriginal population, it has become clear to me that offences involving motor vehicle licences are responsible for introducing a lot of young Aboriginal people to the justice system. Do you have the same issue?

Dr O’Connell —We have the same issue here. Drivers licences and acquiring them is a nut; it is one of the key protective factors for a community—the number of people who have drivers licences and who therefore can facilitate and move people around within that community. Drivers licences help facilitate employment and a whole range of other outcomes, as we know. Also, driving offences can lead to not being able to acquire your licence for some time. We have some young people who cannot acquire their licence because of traffic offences and driving offences but would possibly benefit if they could acquire a licence and maintain it. We do not have unspent conviction legislation with regard to that.

It is a policy area that we are working on with the Commonwealth government, with DEEWR, at the moment and with the employment services. I am aware that a number of the employment services have also cited this as a major problem—as a barrier along the pathway to gaining employment. Again, what needs to be asked is: what do we need to do as a government to prepare communities and individuals to take up these options rather than just giving employment options to them and then wondering why they have not been taken up?

There are a number of different and complex issues involved in the drivers licence issue. Community safety is one of them, as well as the need to have universal systems in place. We are funding organisations—for example, we have provided, from the Attorney-General’s Department, funding to Whitelion, a non-government organisation, to work to provide young people with drivers licences. Programmatically, it is very costly to do this because of the number of hours we have now insisted, for safety reasons, that young people have to drive a car for.

Drivers licences is an interesting area. Parts of government want to emphasise safety, equity and universality of compliance as citizens. At the same time, we need to think through the practical and pragmatic decisions we need to make for communities. Again, it is a difficult area, but we are talking with DEEWR and with some of the large mining companies about how we can look at these issues to do with training, whether it be through simulation vehicles and things—

CHAIR —We have heard evidence from Rio Tinto in Western Australia. The individual official at the company who was responsible for recruiting Aboriginal people seemed to be indicating that an enormous amount of the initial training time is spent simply getting everybody a licence.

Dr O’Connell —It is a priority area for this government.

CHAIR —My committee hopes to make some recommendations about it. Obviously we would like to propose something that can have national application. You would quite like that if we could find something?

Dr O’Connell —That would be most useful.

CHAIR —I have personally experienced the irreconcilable differences that occur between attorneys-general and police ministers over these issues—and roads ministers. We are very grateful for your time and patience. Does anybody else feel they need to say something?

Ms Lawrie-Smith —While I might be an officer of the Department of Health, I also speak as an Aboriginal woman very much embedded in grassroots community activity where I come from on the far west coast. Governments come and go, but one thing that remains inherent is the Aboriginal community’s steadfast commitment to being involved in decisions that affect their community, that affect their children—notably, young people. What is probably important to note, as an extension of what Lesley Wanganeen said earlier, is the importance of community engagement, that there is ongoing dialogue between the Aboriginal community and the justice system.

We know about, and have to acknowledge, the adversarial relationship between Aboriginal communities and the justice system. It goes a long way, when you approach communities with community development principles—about community engagement and having communities involved in problem solving. The communities need to know what is the state of play in terms of the rates of offending and the patterns that are occurring in the community so that they are informed and they are able to participate in decision making—so that they have an understanding of what things affect them and can actively contribute in a positive way to the solutions to address offending in the community.

I can cite examples where that has happened before. I think that is an underlying principle that needs to be embedded in every single approach and at every level, from community to the macro systemic level, where you have interaction with the leadership. I think that what Lesley said earlier was right on the spot. It needs to be acknowledged and I am just reiterating that.

Mr Welch —With regard to Lesley Wanganeen, I think history does play a big role in the way Aboriginals perceive where they sit in society today. I will give you an example. I can go back two generations to my grandmother, who was born in the 930s. What happened to her sits quite closely to me—her journey and my mother’s journey. I was born before 1967, when the referendum made us Australian citizens. That scarred me and it still scars me today.

As April was saying, there is some good will. I see it every day across government—from both non-Aboriginal people and Aboriginal people—but one of the things that is missing is the true partnership that April talked about in governance, with Aboriginal people making decisions and being part of development, implementation and evaluation. That does not work very well.

I will give you an example. If we are talking about programs that support people—short programs—we need demonstration models. I think we do need pilot programs but we need them to look at what is the best practice so that we can develop them. That is where we drop short: we do not develop the best practice. We do not utilise it to look at good policy development or even legislation. There were a couple of examples this year with Commonwealth tenders. Some Aboriginal agencies lost some funding to the change in Commonwealth funding arrangements. Tenders went out. The criteria of part of those tenders made it almost impossible for Aboriginal agencies to apply. The criteria was across the board—so it was 70 per cent of non-Aboriginal participation in client services, compared to about 20 to 30 per cent of Aboriginal participation. So I think that the way tenders are written needs to be looked at so that when they are picked up—

CHAIR —Can you be slightly more specific about what they do?

Mr Welch —When the three tenders were written up, this year alone, it was argued that you would have to have 70 per cent non-Aboriginal client service and that should show at least 30 per cent. If you are an Aboriginal NGO you provide 100 per cent to your client base; so you are totally not in the picture for a tender. If a mainstream organisation wins a tender, maybe the tender should clearly state the relationship they should have with an Aboriginal NGO to provide services. I see in the tenders and the statements from DFEEST and DEEWR that we want to build on workplace development but I see that Aboriginal people are losing in the workforce development. We also need to build on Aboriginal workforce development. I think the way the tenders are set up do not support that. We lack a number of Aboriginal people in the services across the board, even though we had a program, as Sonya stated, that was quite successful. But that has come and gone.

CHAIR —But just to intervene there, it makes a difference, doesn’t it, if an Aboriginal organisation employs a non-Aboriginal expert? It is the Aboriginal organisation that is doing the employing.

Mr Welch —Now that some of these tenders are showing they have to come up with a 30 per cent client rate, they are tending to look towards employing Aboriginal people. But that still puts us at the bottom level. It does not give us the management or the executive and CEO material which some of our NGOs can deliver and are experts in, yet they are overseeing part of those tenders. I think that in the way we deliver small grants in this state we try to pick up on both non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal service delivery.

I want to quickly finish off by touching on the social and moral competencies that we need to build in our Aboriginal communities. They are pathways and they should be pathways to education and employment. We do have them but they do not work very well, particularly for the cohort of young offenders or even adult offenders. Within the criteria of those applications criminal records usually hold you back in a big way. Some of those competencies are that we should have clearer pathways to lots of positive outcomes, be it sport and recreation, or employment and education. One of the things we really lack is rehabilitation. Some of that rehabilitation is about a cultural response, particularly healing and cultural obligations—some of the stuff that Leslie talked about earlier.

The alternative systems that we have today probably do not work the best. They are a white principle-driven system. There can be changes to custody, there can be changes to the court system, and there can be changes to policing. A lot of those things, again, are about engaging Aboriginal people in those decisions.

CHAIR —Can you talk a bit more about the healing? Here and there around the country there are very charismatic Aboriginal people who run a rehabilitation program of one sort or another and who pop up unexpectedly. They produce some original ideas. There is a man who runs a program you may know of, called Mount Theo, in the middle of the Northern Territory.

Mr Welch —Yes.

CHAIR —You find people emerge in a variety of ways. I guess part of their role is as mentors but they use a quite different language from an ordinary therapeutic program run by the Salvation Army.

Mr Welch —Exactly.

CHAIR —How can you reconcile these two different approaches to try to work out whether the best thing to do would be to encourage one or the other or to let the program grow as it might?

Mr Welch —I would go for the encouragement side. You need to encourage a cultural response to healing; it is different from the standard therapeutic response. We find that we apply a lot of cultural response to programs but, again, in lots of ways they are driven by the non-Aboriginal principle of how we do things. What we need to do is then maybe show some trust and deliver on some of these programs that do work. Whether or not they are the right program, I cannot argue. But not only do you have the program and the process, you also need to have the environment and the resources to do it. Then you also need the other responses that Kylie talked about to make sure we can link it to those social and moral outcomes.

Dr O’Connell —We have the same dilemma when we are working as to the want, because the community keeps asking for culturally engaged and responsive approaches. Sighting them has been the most effective. This is a highly complex area because in one sense we want to be able to support that approach to the extent possible. We also want to increase and enhance the levels of responsiveness of individuals to cease offending. I will express the view that some feel there is a question about capacity: are those who are committing offences aware enough of their own cultural obligations? Are they aware and conscious enough of their own obligations to their community, their family and to themselves? Are they aware enough because they have suffered the effects of a range of different levels of damage?

I am not offering an answer to that. I think that is the big question that many people have. Some people view that they do not, that they are not aware and that they need to be given lots of support to even make them aware of their connection, their obligations to community and their disassociation from it. Others believe that is the very vehicle with which you can get to enhancing the levels of responsiveness.

From a government perspective we are looking and continuing to look at ways of achieving all of that. We do want to increase the levels of how responsive people are to stop offending and to take on more pro-social and productive activities in their lives. At the same time we have to invest time and energy into strengthening that which already exists and it does exist in the Aboriginal communities here in South Australia.

CHAIR —So, with that, you do not have to resolve the question of whether one or other approach is likely to be more effective? It may be very hard ever to do so, but you do support the idea of giving encouragement to Aboriginal people who appear to have found a way to induce some kind of a healing process amongst those whom they are looking after?

Dr O’Connell —It is essential. It is not for us as government or representatives of government to resolve. We are also very conscious that we should not put programs in the middle of some of our packaging—the way we package our responses—rather than help to facilitate the strengths that exist. We sometimes produce a range of programs which can inadvertently and unintentionally undermine the very strengths that exist within that community. Hence, that is why we are trying to look at alternative approaches of community engagement without moving away from community responsibility and that is an ongoing and rewarding task.

CHAIR —Finally, Peter, interestingly, within the corrections system you can have quite powerful and culturally infused rehabilitation programs. I think some of the New Zealand ones are?

Mr Severin —Very much so. The New Zealand approach—and, again, I believe it is not one that you can directly translate because there are cultural differences—is to have Maori focus units which afford Maori inmates opportunity to reconnect with their culture, to learn a lot about their heritage and, in that regard, develop a whole range of protective measures that assist them in better reintegrating into the community. A very similar approach occurs in Canada. We are trying to identify through not only addressing criminogenic needs and risks but also having culturally competent and appropriate programs available for Aboriginal people to give them an opportunity to facilitate a summary connection with culture which will hopefully and evidently support the strengths and mechanisms that prevent them from reoffending. So the short answer is, yes, there are some very positive approaches. There is one aspect that has not been directly raised here, which certainly involves a lot of consideration at the moment by correctional administrators and ministers: is our service delivery model able to assist Aboriginal people, particularly in community corrections, or do we need to come up with very different approaches to manage compliance and also have the whole construct of probation and parole as a service and as a concept reviewed in order to ensure that it is more effective?

CHAIR —Thank you very much for giving us your time and being so patient. It has been very useful to us and I hope we can reflect some of your wisdom in our final report.

Proceedings suspended from 1.44 pm to 2.22 pm