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Standing Committee on Education and Employment
06/06/2011
Mental health and workforce participation

HILLMAN, Ms Rose, Project Coordinator, Aboriginal Health, Spencer Gulf Rural Health School

THOMAS, Mr Kym, Coordinator, Aboriginal Health, Spencer Gulf Rural Health School

[11:57]

CHAIR: Welcome to today's public hearing. I will introduce the committee.

Mr Thomas : We have been here all day. We have heard it all, so you can skip that bit.

CHAIR: No worries. We will skip that bit. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as the procedures of the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, I do have to read that. I invite you to make an opening statement, and then we can proceed to questions.

Mr Thomas then spoke in an Indigenous language—

Mr Thomas : No response?

CHAIR: No.

Mr Thomas : Welcome to our world. Basically when English is not your first language it is all foreign lingo, right? The people we are dealing with, in a whole range of stuff, have this issue or problem. Some conceive it as something else, but what I want to do today is just cover a brief statement of introduction. I am going to cover one project that I have been involved in. As you can appreciate, it is very confronting for both Auntie Rose and me to be in a forum like this—for a senior Aboriginal person to be here. I am delighted Auntie Rose is here, after a lot of convincing. As you can appreciate, white people are everywhere; we are alone, so we feel out of our depth but we will try to go as we can. Auntie Rose knows she is invited to speak and she will once she gets faith in herself to do that, but I ask you to be pretty careful with your questions and not too confronting. We are shaking now, aren't we?

Ms Hillman : Just use everyday language.

Mr Thomas : Everyday language, yes. I just want to read something about Males in Black. It was mentioned by a previous speaker. There is a lot of stuff in there. We find it excellent that a lot of organisations are using our name; unfortunately, that seems to be it. They are using our names and taking the credit—the Males in Black group does not get the credit. Basically, I just want to read you something about Males in Black. Males in Black is a success story of Aboriginal community leadership by men and for men. The Port Augusta Males in Black Inc. was formed in 1998, comprised of 50-plus Aboriginal men between the ages of 20 and 70. It was not set up by our previous organisation. MIB are incorporated under the South Australian Associations Incorporation Act 1985. Incorporation was in July 2003. Its purpose is to improve the physical health and social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal males in the Port Augusta-Northern Flinders Ranges regions. The program is aimed to assist Aboriginal men to gain confidence in themselves and self-esteem. Historically, activities have been coordinated by volunteers, but in July 2008 MIB secured a temporary full-time project officer to provide coordination leadership to develop a range of programs on offer. This position, unfortunately, finished earlier this year.

The poor health status of Aboriginal people compared to the mainstream has been well documented. Aboriginal people are the most disadvantaged when we consider health and social status in Australian society. The age difference between Aboriginal people dying from preventable diseases and those in the mainstream is alarming. Aboriginal males have the lowest life expectancy, highest incarceration rates, highest rates of substance abuse and highest rate of suicide. Aboriginal males seem to be the forgotten ones when it comes to health and education delivery and communication participation. As a result, Aboriginal males are victims of low self-esteem and dysfunctional lifestyles, and are socially unacceptable and misunderstood in many instances. Aboriginal males are culturally, socially, spiritually, physically and emotionally different from Aboriginal women and children. As a result, males require different culturally appropriate medical and education services and programs. The current medical and education services and programs available to Aboriginal males within Port Augusta and the northern region are inadequate.

In recognition of these differences, Males in Black developed ways to improve the education, health and wellbeing of Aboriginal males within Port Augusta and the surrounding regions. MIB conduct a range of activities for men. These include 'back to bush' camps and a young Aboriginal dads program. The camps promote healthy lifestyles and relationships in a respectful environment where men of all ages can revive their culture and heritage and learn to share their stories passed down from ancestors. The Aboriginal dads project adopts an early intervention approach to reinforce the traditional culture of men as fathers. It encourages young fathers to be involved in prenatal activities, such as health checks, information sessions and playgroups, thereby promoting stronger families and a stronger community.

MIB also work to improve employment opportunities for Aboriginal males by providing Aboriginal cultural awareness programs to potential employers; employment and work life skills workshops for Aboriginal males; and helps individuals gain medical clearance for work purposes. Anecdotal feedback indicates that the programs improve perceptions of self-worth, improve strength and resilience, and improve access to assistance for personal development for Males in Black across the region over their lifespan.

MIB have formed many partnerships and have had many organisations require our services, and I will just read out a few: Pika Wiya Health Service, UnitingCare Wesley Port Pirie, Spencer Gulf Rural Health School, Country Health SA, Courts Administration Authority, Community for Families, the department of education, the Office of (inaudible), UnitingCare Wesley and the Australian Red Cross.

A positive example of one our partnerships involves young Aboriginal dads working with children aged zero to 12, with UnitingCare Wesley Port Pirie and Early Years Parenting Centre. The Aboriginal dads program is funded by Communities for Children under the Australian government's Family Support Program. The project officer works tirelessly with a difficult group to provide positive parenting, education and antenatal programs. The Aboriginal dads program has ceased to exist due to the lack of full-time project officers for mentoring.

In conclusion, MIB programs have significant positive effects on the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal males, their families and their communities, and they continue to be at the forefront to strive for access and equality to reduce barriers and address the needs of Aboriginal males in our region. Some of the barriers identified include health, education, social and emotional wellbeing, and employment. This program is like no other that I know within Australia. I am chairman of the Indigenous Staff Network and they all wish that they could have something similar to this. This program focuses on the needs of the males. It looks at sport, it looks at health, it looks at education, it looks at technology—at a level that they can understand and absorb. We do it our way. Back to Bush is the best way for doing it. We have environments in which we can get our blokes to come, compared to bricks and mortar. It is not the thing for them. At the end of the program, hopefully—and it has happened—they will integrate with mainstream, with the TAFE systems, with the mining and a whole range of stuff. Initially, about three years ago, we set up with Career Employment Group. We shared an office at that time. We have now left that office for a range of reasons. We set up a database for these guys which allowed them to have 60 Aboriginal males on their books. Between that and BHP Billiton, a lot of those guys have gone on to get jobs and they are still working in those jobs in communities where they would not have been before. We do the mentoring for those guys when they return and I can assure you we do not get paid a cracker for that.

We are a burnt-out volunteer organisation who is the lifeblood for a lot of organisations who are riding on the backs of our success. There is our willingness to put our blokes forward and their families forward, so they are not left without jobs and education, and they are role models for the future communities. We do this because we want that for our people, but unfortunately we have become a victim of our success. We do not believe bigger is better. We see that as a barrier to us. All the organisations larger than us that have accreditations and a whole range of stuff are getting the funding to supposedly run the programs that we should be doing. We have pulled back on them, one, because we are being drip-fed. It is almost comparative to the big Woolies and Coles. You see our farmers who are supplying the product, but eventually they get worn out. They are not getting the kudos or the profits that they need to function. We are in that same situation. You see the vines are being pulled out, you see the orange trees are being pulled out, the milk industry is in disarray—it is similar for us. We are doing all the hard yards but we are not getting any rewards from it. So we are holding back on that.

Aunty Rose does something similar here but on a very small scale. Funding, obviously, is a big issue. Aunty Rose takes the women to certain camps for their mental health and wellbeing as well, not on such a scale as we do, purely because an elderly person with very limited access to vehicles and money cannot provide those services. Having said that, it is a similar thing with the Aboriginal people, the males or the females. The thing we have found with Males in Black is that one of our barriers is that, while we are supporting the men and we are doing so well, the women and the children get really upset, because they get left out of the picture. We are going, supposedly, on all these camps, having these good times and doing all these good things and they are missing out. What we have been able to do is get a whole range of funding from different community grants, which itself poses a problem, because you have to be very astute in your fund applications. You have to be very good in your reporting. There are a whole lot of obligations that almost put barriers up for the small amounts that you get, and you think, 'Why do I bother?' If you had to pay the wages for someone to do that, you would not do it. So basically that volunteer side comes in again.

We have interviews with the Ceduna community. They want to do the same. Coober Pedy want to do the same. Someone down in the river land wants to do something similar and also Point Pierce are looking at something similar. We want MIB to be out there to do that and play that role. Obviously we are a long way off, but, if we had our own premises, if we had our own people working for us, if we had support of a whole range of people, this could happen. This is not the first committee I have highlighted this to. I have put that out there to many government organisations and mining sectors,. If we had a sport, education, technology and health program all in one area, we could deliver many of the outcomes these people are crying out for. We can provide educational learning at that lowest level in an environment in which they are comfortable to learn. I first learned about literacy, numeracy and the participation of work and being involved in programs many years back when I was on the camps that were first conducted. The participants are very backward in being involved. That comes from, one, a lack of education; two, being told not to interfere; and, three, not knowing what to do. In the camp, these people are all involved. They feel a need, they feel happy that they can actually be involved in a thing like tying down a trailer and tying knots. All of that stuff is amazing. Having a better bed to sleep in. Amazing.

Cooking is a big part of the programs that we promote. What has cooking got to do with the life of things? It teaches you numeracy skills, it teaches nutrition, it teaches you how to be a dad, it teaches you how to economise in your own family with your own budget. So, basically, we set up a whole range of flour drums. It is almost like we were the precursor to MasterChef. You ever seen that show? We have been doing this for a couple of years. We go and get all the products, we set them out on the benches, and they for the first time see and know what these products are. They pick them up and learn. We would do a recipe. These recipes would have all the photos and they would have to follow that process. They would know by the end what a litre of milk is, what 200 grams of something is, and they know the difference between a lettuce and a cabbage—they can do all of this. They walk away with a product they have never done before. They can then take that home, they have a little fire bucket, they have a handful of wood and they can cook a meal which will feed 20 people. If they set them on coves, so they are breaking the bacon and only a few are getting fed, it is going decline their health.

So those are the types of things to do. We are out in the bush. How many times did that crow call—five; how many trees are there; how many lizards did you see? All that sort of stuff. The numeracy stuff is there. How far did we just walk; what time is it now, looking at the sun and comparing it to the clock? All that stuff is in place. That is the level of education that we provide that is required. I am talking about all ages of people, before they even get to jobs. It is a big market out there and it is not until you actually work with these guys that they do it. I am working with guys who had project officers who cannot fill out reports. I have to do that for them. This is capacity building. This is sustainability.

We were a victim to our own success. We had four guys. Two of them were my trainees, and they have now got jobs in the mines. The other two have now got jobs in the mine. It is very hard for a committee to operate with four. Take four out of your committee, who is going to be left holding it? How are you going to go there? Debra, are you going to do all of this by yourself? No. Overloaded and overburdened. Our success has been the loss of blokes to better paying jobs, which is great, but we are now on the back foot and we have gone a bit quieter. We cannot do all of these things—these organisations. We cannot deliver mainstream ones. The Eurocentric world is aimed at a level up here and I am told that our guys are down here. Our families are down here. Just to give you an indication of how awkward it is for us to do things in the community in 2011: some say colonisation happened in 1788, and I am telling you that contact for Aboriginal people, mainstream, is still happening today, in 2011, for the first time.

For example, I organised a camp for 65 Aboriginal people—mothers, fathers and the children. I was at my wits end to find somewhere where we could place these people, because nobody would have us. The only place that would have us was Whyalla. We had an excellent camp, we had good rapport with the owners, they were happy with our behaviour—a whole range of stuff. That is the only holiday that these families, these kids, have ever had in their lives. They had never been to a caravan park, had never slept in a bed, never knew what a bunk bed was and had never been in an environment where it was all laid on.

Mr RAMSEY: Where did those people come from?

Mr Thomas : From Port Augusta and surrounding regions.

Mr RAMSEY: So they were basically an urban mob. You are not talking about Far North? You are talking about people in the area?

Mr Thomas : I have got tell you, while we say Port Augusta and the Northern region, our mob are from everywhere. We may have people from Ceduna, Whyalla, APY Lands, Cooper Pedy and Riverland. They may even come from Port Augusta. It is one family, basically. Like mainstream people who do not have feuds and all get along—that is a joke!—the Aboriginal community is similar. We have a board made up of 10 language groups. Our alliances are for everybody. We have to get along and we do that. We do a lot of programs but we are also selective as to who comes into those programs. We have to avoid conflict—like you when you go out: if you know Joe Blow is going to that show, you will avoid it. We have to cater for that. It seems like duplication but it is the necessary way of doing it. It is all-inclusive, but exclusive, if you know what I mean.

We are looking to keep this program up and running as much as we can. As I said, it is the project officers; it is a place to call home to operate from that we lack at this stage. We have runs on the board. We are doing evaluations and all that sort of stuff. But bigger is not always best and that is a barrier to us. We will not get any funding while there are organisations such as UnitingCare Wesley Port Pirie, CEG, Centacare—all those big players are now getting the funding and they will try to sub that stuff out to us. But we are expected to employ, do the books and accounting—the whole lot. We get a bucket of money which, at the end of the day, is not enough to support those programs or those people.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. That has been a really comprehensive overview of a very innovative program. You mentioned that there was funding for a project officer that ceased in 2011. Who was that being funded through?

Mr Thomas : Through the social justice system. Through the ICC, we were successful in gaining a fund of $110,000. We initially put in for tri-annual funding for this program. It highlighted all those things I said. When the funding became available we were told that we were unsuccessful. Somehow—in their wisdom and with a little reconfiguration—we were told we were successful in the funding, but that was three months after the initial date. At the time we had to run around to get a person to do all this work and finding the right person who was not fully employed was a near-impossible task. Through my organisation, Spencer Gulf Rural Health School, we came to a negotiation that I could do this under an auspice for six months. It grew to 12 months and it is still going. The funding has stopped, but I am still doing it. As you can appreciate, trying to do two full-time jobs is absolute murder. I have now had to say no to a lot of things. My personal life could not take the burden. We still operate in a minor capacity. There are many phone calls from organisations and individuals asking what we are doing. They are now starting to get despondent; their heads are down. We had momentum, strength and energy; it is now disappearing.

CHAIR: It was the timing of the grant and the end of that? Was that the social justice—

Mr Thomas : Yes; through the ICC. I was very lucky to get a variation in that funding. We said: 'We will have to give the money back. We cannot get a project officer to do this job. There is only six months to go; we will achieve nothing.' They agreed not to take the funding back. .This is how ridiculous it was: we had money there only for a chief executive officer; there was nothing for programs or anything else, such as infrastructure.

CHAIR: Since that time have you been operating on a volunteer capacity?

Mr Thomas : Yes.

CHAIR: Because you were being so successful, organisations were trying to tap into you as a resource—whether to mentor people at work or things like that—but you do not have the money to maintain that. Do those organisations provide you with any money?

Mr Thomas : No.

CHAIR: It is just tapping into your connections, your resources but without actually—

Mr Thomas : We were the conduit to allow them to fulfil all of their contract obligations, basically. Let us talk about money. Initially—when we set up the mining program—we shared an office with CEG, but we had no privacy whatsoever. If they needed to do exams or programs, we had to move out. We had no security. That became untenable. We are now sharing an office with Australian Red Cross which is probably a quarter of the size of this room, but it does not allow for our people to come in and feel comfortable; it is just enough to set up a computer and take phone calls and that sort of stuff. That is where we are. So we take that in kind. BHP Billiton did not pay us. CEG definitely did not pay us. We now have other mining companies who are interested in our service and are talking about financial rewards for that, but we have not gone into any agreements as yet. But we initially set that program up and now they are saying, 'This works, we want it.' So, now that we are backing off, saying no, all of a sudden they realise—

CHAIR: You cannot do it for nothing. That has provided us a great overview of where your challenges lie and how you might get there. I might hand over to Rowan and see if he has got any questions.

Mr RAMSEY: I will try and be as quick as I can. Kym, I have to say, every time I have come across Males in Black, I have been very impressed with the people that have been involved with it, and it seems to me that, if you started in 1998, you have probably not been able to replace the original driving forces of that nucleus as you have gone along, which is just typical of so many volunteer organisations, I would have to say.

Mr Thomas : Yes. The first witness said the same thing.

Mr RAMSEY: Yes. How we replace people on the ground, I guess, is a great challenge, and I do not know that there is any further we can go with it but I just thought I would identify that. Rose, I did not know you were actually running a program with women here in Whyalla, and I would love to hear a little bit about it. I just wonder how many helpers you have got to do that.

Ms Hillman : I have got no helpers. It is just me with about five to a dozen women at times, and it is not a regular thing but it is there, and they know—plus, they come to my house and we sit talking and that. These women need help. What we do out bush, as well as teaching cultural awareness, is teach them Dreamtime stories and songline and dance. The dances are helping them to settle down in themselves. They are really all upset and—

Mr Thomas : They are lost. What Auntie Rose is trying to say—and I will try not to put words in her mouth—is that this is all about the connection with land. Our spiritual connection with the land is where our mental healing and wellbeing starts, unlike mainstream people. Your connection with the land is through your bank or through your deeds or whatever; ours is there. We come from Mother Earth, we return to Mother Earth. Everything in our journey starts there. So, when we connect those dots, it talks about our law, it talks about our behaviour, it talks about our obligations to family, it talks about right or wrong: we get all that there. This brings us back to our starting point, where we should have been before we went the wrong way—that is what all that does. We cannot do that in town; we have to do that in the bush.

Ms Hillman : Near sacred sites.

Mr Thomas : Yes.

Mr RAMSEY: And how old a group? Are you talking about young ladies?

Ms Hillman : Young girls and young mothers and a couple of elderly women—but not me!

Mr RAMSEY: No, I know you are not. Gracious me!

Ms Hillman : The women are reaching out for something, and I seem to be the one that has to be there for them, and I enjoy doing that. But it gets a bit much; it really does. And I do not like to let them down, and we must have something.

Mr RAMSEY: So you need a helper or two.

Ms Hillman : A helper or two or three.

Mr Thomas : Because her only help at this stage is me and a colleague, Pat Sketchley—and I am trying to coordinate Aboriginal health and I cannot do all these other programs because I have got Port Lincoln-Ceduna, all across there. I am really happy to support the things I see that work. And I cannot help Auntie Rose on a women's camp, so that is another problem as well. But more support out there would be good—camping in trailers and stuff out there. It is a critical thing.

When I talk about the age at which Aboriginal people dying, I need you to understand how critical that is to us, because the elders are not there. We have a middle section that is not there and we have a young generation we are trying to work with to do something. The last time I gave a presentation to the mining company was about Males in Black and the importance of what we do, and I nearly finished the presentation when I said, 'Sorry, I have got to go,' and I had to go. My mate's lad suicided—that is what it is all about, this sort of stuff.

Mr SYMON: Kym, I would like to ask a question that you may or may not have the answer for, and that is: what can government do to step into this mentoring space that you are occupying to make sure that you get a return, as an organisation, on the people that you put through so that you can therefore put more through?

Mr Thomas : Your KPIs are outrageous compared to ours. You measure your outcomes by the amount of people who pass year 11 and 12 and go into full-time jobs. We measure ours by the amount who will turn up for a program, who learn the basics and who will be a role model to their family, who are not ashamed to sit there and read a book with their kids or do some maths. They do not know how to; that is why they do not do it. But if we can teach them those basics, and they are happy enough to do that, that is a big positive for us. How do you measure that? Involvement with family. It is not about all these other things that people talk about. We are talking about the basic basics.

Mr SYMON: So we need a different type of program to address that?

Mr Thomas : Absolutely. We measure ours by the amount of people who will come to camp, the amount of people who will pick up a book and who will do something with their kids. What we take as a privilege and granted in the mainstream, these blokes are struggling way back here. They just do not know it. The only way you can do that is if you are an aboriginal person working with aboriginal people; they will not share that with the mainstream. It is too embarrassing and too shameful. It is 2011 and these things do not exist in their community. So we work at the ground roots with all that sort of stuff.

Some of the guys talk about how they teach, but that is the old, cradle-to-the-grave, traditional way of learning: 'Show me, I will learn. Tell me, I will forget.' And that is how we do it. We lock it in that way. Our blokes—when I talk about that technology—might not be able to read or write, but they pick up a phone or a computer and away they go. I am absolutely gobsmacked. I do not know how they do it, but they do it, and that is the sort of stuff we promote. We work with their strengths, what they know and how they do it. If it means throwing a ball 30 times through a hole and saying, 'I got it through 15 times,' they are learning maths. That is the way it is.

Mr SYMON: You mentioned you were in discussion with some other mining companies about taking on some of the people you put through the mentoring program, and they are looking at some form of recompense. Is that widespread? Is there an understanding there or are they just trying to come across as a more caring organisation? Which end does it come from? Does it come from them or does it come from yourselves?

Mr Thomas : It is about you having to retain your workers, and if you are not retaining your workers you are doing something wrong. So before they get into the mining we sit with the mining companies and say, 'This is what we are going to do and this is our presentation we are going to give to these blokes before they start.' One is about the hours you work, one is about the OHS, one is about your money, one is about working with other people and working in hot and cold environments, and underground, and that sort of stuff. If it is not for you, you do not go, for a start. So we are setting all that up, but it is like this with money—and I have not got enough time to discuss it all, but our people get money for the first time. We have an old adage in our kinship system which means, 'We must share'. So, 'Why should I go away for a fortnight, three weeks, come back and everybody gets my money and does nothing?' We are faced with all that sort of stuff, we are dealing with all that in the background.

The mining companies want these blokes, they are good workers, but it is very hard. For example, the young lad I had with me has just gone on 24 and he has three kids under the age of five. He has a young wife at home. Is it the mine or is it the family? And the family wins every time. I do not know if you notice or not, our kids are having kids when they are kids, almost, so we have that generation. The most important thing for them is family. They can survive somehow without money—I do not know how they do it but they do it. We are trying to work with that so that at least if you are in town you can still have the involvement of family and still have the early years of parenting.

The thing with the young dads program, which was a real bonus for us, was that we were getting dads and the mothers to come to early years parenting, where our kids would not have that access anywhere. You can imagine how frightening it is going to the school for the first time and your numeracy and literacy is that far behind that the first thing you want to do is hit out at the teacher, or anybody there, and run off home. If that is the start of your education process that is going to follow you all the way. Our Aboriginal dads program was breaking that down. We were getting kids into preschool, doing the cooking, interacting with all the other kids. They were learning all that there for the first time, which is very unusual. That is our next generation and we are trying to crack that cycle of not understanding and getting them an education. That is important. We cannot get the dads out unless they feel comfortable. And I tell you what: I ain't going anywhere where I feel out of place, because I would feel threatened by that and a lot of our young dads and mums are like that. But numeracy and literacy is a big issue.

CHAIR: Last questions?

Mr Thomas : We could go all day, but I just want to mention that an important thing for us is our traditional healers, our ngangkaris, so we involve those in the stuff we do but I have not covered that area.

CHAIR: I think Auntie Rose is taking us to the foreshore and we might have a discussion about that there, if that is all right with you?

Mr Thomas : Auntie Rose will show you the place. There is men's, there is women's, there is also a contemporary society. Auntie Rose will give you a brief overview of that transition, that taking over in the face of Aboriginal culture. That is a pattern that is right around the country, and we have not touched on that, how it affects the way we live, the way we act and a whole range of stuff. Our connection with country is really determined by who owns the properties out there. If they let us out there and they are good, that is good, that is great. We are still fighting all those demons as well.

CHAIR: Yes, absolutely.

Ms O'NEILL: Thank you, Kym and Auntie Rose, for coming and sharing with us today. I always have a lot more questions that I never get to ask, but one of the questions that we want to ask is about mental health in all of the communities. You have spoken about job access and engagement and family, but I am sure that there are particular problems with particular kinds of mental health that are in your community and I am sure that that is going to be different from our whitefella world. So I am just interested for you to talk about mental health issues that are, in your view, indigenous mental health issues, and how are they different from the mainstream stuff that we are hearing about?

Ms Hillman : The women do not want to talk about it, but they know they have got it. It is covered with that wunga shame. They just throw the shame wunga clean over. But the problem is there.

Mr Thomas : It is a very difficult question to answer. I am trying to think how I would answer it in a way that you would understand it from an Aboriginal and a mainstream perspective. The shame factor is there. You might have heard the words 'shame job.' Have you heard that?

Ms O'NEILL: No.

Mr Thomas : It basically means, 'We don't want to talk about it.' But we have a generation of the stolen generation, which affected Aboriginal people across the country. So we have a loss of culture, a loss of respect, a loss of kinship and we are in a modern society. Somehow we are trying to assimilate and be accepted. We are not understanding where we have come from. So we are getting a bantering from those who know culture and from those who do not know culture. We are getting all this stuff: 'You're mainstream; you 're not Aboriginal,' so you are not accepted in either world. So that creates a whole range of issues for mental health. For those who are integrating into mainstream society, the drugs, the alcohol—all those play a big part in their world. People are finding out for the first time that they are not actually who they are—they were adopted and they were part of a stolen generation. That creates a whole range of stuff as well—suicides, to not being who you should be, to marrying your sister or your brother, all that sort of stuff that is all too close. It is just mind-blowing stuff.

When you are from a different country and you have no rights to be there but you are there because that is what the missionaries have done to you, you are continually being told by the Aboriginal mob that you have got to nick off, go away to your country, and they do not know where their country is. So we have internal conflicts sparking all the time. In any missionary reserve around Australia you find there is a whole range of stuff that creates animosity amongst the Aboriginal people, amongst the stakeholders in the community, because there is no right and wrong about who is in charge there, and you have conflict all the time. It is almost like immigration—you put all these people in the one basket and you are going to have disputes left, right and centre. That has happened in contemporary society with our immigration and that is still happening with Aboriginal people, as it has since missionary days. We have awful disputes to the point of people being murdered, people being frightened, people not talking to each other—it is ongoing. Once that filters through a community it does not disappear. That is a mental health thing. While we might have what you see as duplication, we do things separately so that all those families can participate somewhere. Does that answer your question?

Ms O'NEILL: Yes, thank you.

Mr Thomas : People say, 'No, you are already providing that'. Yes, we are, but we cannot take this mob, we cannot take that mob. Port Augusta is a melting pot for about 26 different language groups at the moment. Whyalla can be quite different, Port Lincoln is quite different, Point Pearce is quite different, Adelaide is different in itself again, but we recognise and understand all that. It is too hard to work across those areas. The blanket approach, which most governments find easy to do and want to do, will not work—it never has worked and never will work—so we have to be smart and diverse in how we do it.

Ms O'NEILL: So efficiency is pretty ineffective?

Mr Thomas : It depends how you measure that. I need to ask you the question, 'What is mental health?' anyway. I will bet you that each one of you will give me a different answer, and you really do not understand it yourself. How do you measure it? What is it? Is it a physical thing, is it a mental thing?

Ms O'NEILL: Spiritual.

Mr Thomas : Or is it just the way you appear? Spiritual, all those things.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, because I think what you have provided the committee with is a very different perspective, a great description of a very innovative program, and I think the key reminder is about where you are starting from with some of the Indigenous people you are working with, and about how to measure success. Success is not always about year 12 or year 11, and I think that has been an important point. And the discussion about creative ways that literacy and numeracy can be measured has been really helpful and has given the committee a really good perspective of the work that you do. So thank you very much for coming today and we look forward to seeing you after lunch.

You will be sent a transcript of your evidence, which you can make corrections to if you wish. We are hoping to report around the end of the year and we will certainly provide you with a copy of that report. That will be tabled in the parliament. Thank you very much.

Committee adjourned at 12 : 38