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SELECT COMMITTEE ON REGIONAL AND REMOTE INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES
14/04/2010
Effectiveness of state, territory and Commonwealth government policies on regional and remote Indigenous communities

CHAIR —I welcome Mr David Claudie from the Chuulangun Aboriginal Corporation. Do you have anything to say about the capacity in which you appear today?

Mr Claudie —I am from the Chuulangun Aboriginal Corporation in central Cape York, which is located on the northern Kaanju homelands, Kuuku I’yu, based on the Wenlock and Pascoe rivers.

CHAIR —Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has previously been provided to you. I now invite you to make a short opening statement or provide some remarks to the committee. At the conclusion of that, I will invite the members of the committee to put questions to you.

Mr Claudie —My statement would be to get towards our boys. What I am talking about with homelands is that we are not recognised up in Cape York to rehabilitate our younger generation or even our own people in terms of centralised towns. All the programs that have been done by the federal government since ATSIC and all that went down took the homelands policy off the table, and that really crumbled our homelands movement. There are only a few up in Cape York that have gone back to homelands, and you are looking at him.

We like to grab our own funding out on our homelands to generate income towards working, setting people up so they can pay taxes. We set our own programs up. As I said yesterday at the wild rivers one, we set up an NRM program to generate economic development. In our homelands, from our ancestors, we are not allowed alcohol or drugs. A lot of our mob up in Cape York respect our homelands in that field. We have the alcohol management plan in there, between Lockhart, Coen and Weipa. Our mob are passing from Lockhart over to Coen just to get grog. They do not pull in there if they are drunk. That is the good respect we get; we can police our own people out on our homelands.

Homelands development is the key to closing the gap in health, social, economic and cultural outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. That is the way we see it. We have been there for about 13 years. We try to get up a working relationship as a local community with the non-Indigenous mob around us, in our homelands. The focus of government funding policies and programs on the centralisation of Aboriginal people in large townships and growth towns goes against the government’s commitment to closing the gap; that is the way we see it. The focus of government funding policies and programs in remote areas needs to be on-ground initiatives, including those of groups and organisations based on homelands.

I think you were just saying to the lady who was here before me that the court system and justice system want to rehabilitate people under the parole system when they come out of Lotus Glen Correctional Centre. When they come up there into the towns, it does not resolve the situation by sending our people back onto the homelands. They are not giving the homelands any programs or funding to accommodate them.

That is just reinventing the wheel in terms of keeping the Aboriginal people going on that one cycle. What we need to do is say to the courts, ‘If you want to send Aboriginal people back to the Cape into those communities and back out to their homelands through the criminal justice system, you have to give support and there needs to be a whole-of-government approach in terms of Jenny Macklin talking to this fellow or that fellow, so that we can get the homelands policy back up and going and so that we can all accommodate it.’ That is basically what I wanted to talk about—homelands development, centralisation and support for homelands development.

This has been short notice for me—and probably for you mob too. I heard that you were coming up into the Cape and having a Senate inquiry on all the problems and stuff in the centralised places, but really the problem in those centralised places is that Aboriginal people are not policing themselves. They cannot get a chance to do that. They do not have ownership. They do not have some sort of set of directions where they belong. Everybody in that one area is from a different clan or a different tribe. When you get all different people into one area, the only thing they do is fight each other about who has got the best car or who has got the best yard, house or things like that. That is a Western perspective. From our perspective, we have got our own homelands—and they are big areas. We need to repatriate our people back there so that we can grab a hold of it ourselves, but we need support from the federal government in that regard.

Senator FURNER —Mr Claudie, we have heard from the Cairns Institute this morning evidence with regard to economical development through endeavours such as tourism opportunities for Indigenous communities. Can you elaborate on those types of initiatives, if that is what you were saying in your submission when you referred to ‘opportunities for enterprise development’?

Mr Claudie —When ATSIC was running, it did not recognise individual tribes up in Cape York or individual Indigenous clan groups. ATSIC said, ‘This mob up in Cape York have low numeracy and literacy skills,’ and set up programs down here expecting our mob to come from there down to here to learn and to be trained. We are saying that they need to be trained up there in Cape York. For example, you cannot have economic development down here for Cape York; you need Cape York people to be handling that economic development up there in terms of setting up businesses for themselves and having some sort of ownership in that field. What the institute said this morning was the first time I had heard about it.

Senator FURNER —You may be aware that we have travelled in the last couple of days through Weipa and Bamaga. There are initiatives in some of those areas where people have been very entrepreneurial with respect to setting up their own visions of businesses in various aspects of those communities. I think later in your paper you talk about opportunities for tourism in particular areas. I am interested in how that might work and how that might advantage communities in turning around the economic disadvantage in these communities.

Mr Claudie —As I said, in those communities you have all kinds of different tribes sitting there. For instance, in Weipa, you have a traditional owner, clan or tribe belonging to that area and then you have got all these other ones inside there. That is what I meant by centralisation. They do not have any ownership whatsoever. It is all pooled—for example, making boomerangs or making spears or doing art. We are all pooled depending on different skills from our ancestors and culture and traditions. We are business minds. We have to be; otherwise, we would not survive. We want to be given a chance. With government sending money to centralised places down here or to subregional or regional centres that speak on our behalf and cut the money out from us, we have nothing. That money needs to be streamlined down to give us an opportunity to think for ourselves in terms of getting businesses up and running—for example, tourism. We cannot do tourism in our centralised towns. We can promote tourism on our homelands. We can do ecotourism and stuff like that—set up camp grounds and employ rangers or caretakers and get artists from that area who can do the art that belongs to that area. We need to market it, manufacture it and sell it from our homelands. We cannot sell it from a town, because we do not have ownership.

Senator FURNER —Is anything that you just referred to happening currently in terms of some sort of business plan or marketing?

Mr Claudie —Where we are?

Senator FURNER —Yes.

Mr Claudie —Yes. But it is like the chicken before the egg now. IBA have to give out loans. For us, as Aboriginal people, we do not have any money in the first place. If we get a loan, we will be paying that loan back for the rest of our lives and not making dollars. We need seed funding to get over the bump and then we will be on our way.

Senator FURNER —The committee has heard from various regions on issues regarding health, education and employment. Can you explain the situation in the homelands on those particular issues? Is there an issue in terms of employment, health or education?

Mr Claudie —Can you repeat that? I missed the first part.

Senator FURNER —The committee has been to several communities to identify issues with Aboriginal and islanders associated with poor health, poor education and lack of employment. What is the situation in the homelands that you refer to?

Mr Claudie —We do not have issues in terms of employment. If we are asking for dollars to create employment on our homelands. That is what I meant by the towns. We cannot create employment in towns. We cannot create businesses in towns. We cannot create our own autonomy. The main issue is autonomy for the people. That autonomy can be sustained by people on their homelands. This can eradicate health issues because we would be using our own medicines. If we manufacture our own medicines for our own people, that is even better than getting the raw materials down here—in terms of the many side effects. Ours is for cure. You are away from alcohol, you are away from drugs and you are away from all the other stuff that is in those centralised places. Out there, we control our own people in that field, so we are right on top of it. It is not an issue on the homelands.

Senator ADAMS —Thank you for your submission, Mr Claudie. I am from Western Australia, so I do not really know the areas of the homelands that you are talking about. How many communities would there be within what you are describing as the homelands?

Mr Claudie —My homeland is 840,000 hectares and it has 22 clan estates inside. We have, like anywhere else, a hub. I spoke about Chuulangun. We started off as hub there first.

Senator ADAMS —How many people are in that hub?

Mr Claudie —In that hub there are around 10 to 20 people at any given time. What we do if the government gives us a bit of training money and things like that is that we put it into our homelands to get young people or older people trained—we have different targets—we get groups to come out and set up training for conservation land managers. We cannot get our people to fit into Western concepts because we are land mangers; we belong to the land.

Senator ADAMS —You belong to the land, but you have to live somewhere. Are you saying there are 20-odd people perhaps living in that hub before they start going out to smaller communities?

Mr Claudie —Yes.

Senator ADAMS —Also I note within your submission that there was a recommendation 20 years ago about state and territory governments providing funding to homelands for sanitation, power, schools and all of that. In the Northern Territory you are probably aware that they have set up 20 different regional centres so that all those health services, education and everything can be put together. That is a hub but then there are smaller ones going out. There is only a certain amount of money to go around, so how are you going to be able to service all those small communities with only 20-odd people living there with all these facilities? I know in Western Australia we cannot get rubbish collected.

Mr Claudie —One thing we have towards that is that it is one big homelands whereas the ones that you are talking about and what happened in the Cape was that we formed subregional groups—subregional centres we call them. There was one in Coen that we came out of called CRAC—Coen Regional Aboriginal Corporation—and there were eight different tribes inside there that represented the Coen region. When the government gave, say, $20,000 to go to the hub for a certain thing out on the homelands that money would be split between those eight tribes. Each one would get probably $2,500 each. That is what we meant by centralisation. With what I am talking about my homelands gets one big hub then Chuulangun is one big hub. The money comes into there. That money will be evenly spread out amongst those 22 clan estates.

Senator ADAMS —But how are you going to provide water, power and all of the services that you expect to be there just to a small group of people?

Mr Claudie —What I am doing is repatriating my people to come back to their homelands. All those 22 clan estates, those people will eventually come back to. They cannot come back if there is nothing there.

Senator ADAMS —That is what I am saying. How far is the money going to spread out to set up each of these little communities with all the essential services?

Mr Claudie —We did our own plans. We did our own evaluations as to how much power and water we need in one clan estate and how many houses. In the 22 clan estates we know who is who, what is what, what has been taken out. We have all that planned there. All we need is the money. That is what I am saying.

Senator ADAMS —How much, say, just for one hub is it going to cost to set it up with everything that you require for those 20 people?

—Give and take, it is not just one big lump sum of money. We are talking about long-term stuff in terms of how many years it will take, say, the next 20-odd years. There were 5,000 people who were taken out. We were a stronghold of 5,000 people. They are spread all over Australia now. What we decided was to evaluate what is already there in Cape York first to come back out to start it off. So for the next 20-odd years we are looking at probably around $10 million roughly. For just Chuulangun itself, we estimated probably around $1 million just to get the basics—a little bit of housing, accommodation and stuff like that. At the moment, we have one big house there now that accommodates 20 people.

Senator ADAMS —Has it got power? Has it got water?

Mr Claudie —We set it up with solar power. We got that through the rebate program that went through the Bushlight program.

Senator ADAMS —What about education for the children?

Mr Claudie —My kids go to school at the School of the Air. I had to buy my own classroom for them. I work out of an eight-metre by nine-metre shed. I set up telecommunications myself. I started out from Coen on CDEP money two days a week. It was a hundred and something dollars. I saved it up and bought my own computer and telephone deals and things like that. That is where we started.

Senator ADAMS —How many people have you got living there with you now?

Mr Claudie —We have about seven, at the most. People come and go. Because we cannot watch TV and things like that, they say, ‘We’ll go back to town.’ If I can have something there that will draw them out then we might get a winner.

Senator ADAMS —How far from town are you?

Mr Claudie —From each town we are probably around 180 kilometres or something like that.

Senator ADAMS —For your tourist enterprises, what are the tourists going to do when they come out there?

Mr Claudie —We have camp grounds set up all over with our river systems and catchment. What we can try to do is hook up with Tourism Queensland so that we can have some sort of network where we get bigger support from the Queensland government in that field with the national parks with their state land dealings so that we can get some sort of economy created inside so that we can pay for fuel, water and whatever we need into the future.

Senator SIEWERT —What response have you had from government to date?

Mr Claudie —No response. It was always a negative response. If you haven’t got a homelands policy on the table and I am singing the homelands policy tune then what is the point? That is why the government gives me the answer, ‘We haven’t got a homeland’s policy on the table.’ I cannot answer that with a nice answer.

Senator SIEWERT —So all of the work you have done so far is—

Mr Claudie —Based on what I funded.

Senator SIEWERT —based on what you have funded.

Mr Claudie —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —Do you get a lot of support from your broader community?

Mr Claudie —Yes, but everybody is all talk. They always say, ‘Yes, yes, we will support you,’ and things like that, but then when they come out they say, ‘You’ve just got a shed,’ or ‘I’ll do that when I go back home.’ I want Chuulangun to be an example for other homelands and people in those communities. I want them to go back out and grab their own accountability and responsibilities in that sense.

Senator MOORE —You said you are about 180 kilometres from the nearest town. I imagine Coen is the nearest town. What are the roads like and the accessibility for people to move to and from?

Mr Claudie —It is all dirt road up there.

Senator MOORE —And in the wet season?

Mr Claudie —In the wet season we are cut off altogether.

Senator MOORE —So for several months a year in the current arrangements your people will be totally self-sufficient?

Mr Claudie —Yes.

Senator MOORE —What about food? You were telling me about trying to bulk buy and stuff like that.

Mr Claudie —When we first moved out to our development we first thought about communications, then access, then water reticulation, then power and then accommodation.

Senator MOORE —And you ticked all those things off as you did them?

Mr Claudie —Yes. We did it all by starting off with the CDEP money and then we bought some computers and wrote submissions to the RASS program to set up the airstrip so that we could actually get food and basic mail every week. I had a bit of experience working on another airstrip. I worked there for about six years. I engineered the airstrip myself and set out a model and then got my mate the pastoralist next door to do the clearing work on it and then we got some money from the RASS program to set it up as an all-season airstrip.

Senator MOORE —So RFDS gets in and out, if required?

Mr Claudie —Basically we have it for RFDS.

Senator MOORE —I am interested in the relationship you have—and we have talked about it—with the pastoralists who are out there, because there are not many people around and it is very isolated. What kind of relationships have you built up with the people who have been using the land? It is for cattle usually. There are a lot of cattle up there.

Mr Claudie —You can work up a deal with a cattleman; you cannot with a miner. So it is give and take. With the cattlemen, we have programs like feral animal control and stuff like that. To save paying a big lump sum of money, which we get from the federal government, to pay for someone down here to come up into the Cape to help us what we have is a fee-for-service contract with our local mob. We keep the local economy going, because the pastoralists, the poor buggers, cannot even kill their own beef to eat it because the old government will want them to pay taxes.

Senator MOORE —There are regulations around those things. You know that.

Mr Claudie —But they cannot apply for feral animal money or weed control money or things like that.

Senator MOORE —So you negotiate with the pastoralists rather than with government?

Mr Claudie —Yes.

Senator MOORE —Even though you have done training through the rangers program and those things.

Mr Claudie —Yes. That is what I took to the government to try to get a collaborative relationship between us, government, pastoralists and industries around there.

Senator MOORE —Did you have any success with that?

Mr Claudie —Yes.

Senator MOORE —You already have that established, haven’t you?

Mr Claudie —I think we are the only place in Australia that has a relationship like that.

CHAIR —Thanks very much, Mr Claudie. There are quite possibly some further questions from the committee and they will be provided to you on notice through the secretariat. If you have a further submission or other elements that you may have omitted from your submission that you wish to provide to the committee at some later stage you can provide that through the secretariat.

Proceedings suspended from 2.52 pm to 3.09 pm