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Community Affairs Legislation Committee
21/02/2012

MASON, Ms Andrea, Coordinator, NPY Women's Council

[09:15]

CHAIR: Good morning, Ms Mason. Thank you for travelling to be with us; we appreciate that. You have information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses. If you have any more questions about that they can go to the secretariat. I invite you to make an opening statement and then we will go to questions.

Ms Mason : I had hoped that other directors would be with me today, but we are currently in sorry business on the lands with the death of a staff member a couple of weeks ago and those arrangements, with his funeral, are still in progress, so unfortunately other directors are not able to join me today.

CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Mason. I know you often bring your directors with you when you come and give evidence, but we understand the reason.

Ms Mason : Thank you. As the committee would be well aware, the NPY Women's Council overall supports income management and we have provided that detail in previous reports and submissions. I would like to talk to some of the comments made through the paper that we have submitted to the committee, particularly focusing on the importance of case management that women's council provides to clients and the future role of income management in other regions in Central Australia. It is our view that that really is an important component in supporting those that are referred to income management or being considered for that in future.

We have recently commenced a project within NT communities around an intensive family support program, and a component of that is around intensive case management support for referrals through the department, particularly in matters to do with neglect. When women's council discussed that project with the department last year, one of the questions that we discussed was the definition of neglect and how that definition is discussed and put to families who are being assessed as being at risk of neglect, particularly children age 12 and under. I guess that opens up a broader discussion around the aims of income management, the aims of supporting families who are showing signs of concern and risk. So women's council, for those reasons, have supported income management because families are living in our region and generally the women have said that it provides some certainty around access to income if there are issues of risk, vulnerable people, children.

The issue of income management being applied particularly to do with school attendance has not been discussed with members nor with directors. We had planned a directors meeting in February, but with the death of the staff member we unfortunately had to cancel that meeting. That would have been an opportunity for the organisation to have discussed that in a bit more detail. We asked for advice from the Indigenous education committee last year but we did not receive any information, so I am reluctant to talk about that matter because we have not sought that advice from members. Those are my general comments. I will open up to the committee for questions now.

CHAIR: Thank you for that.

Senator SIEWERT: Can I ask you for a little bit more detail around the case management that you offer, about how it operates? In your submission you urge the government 'to develop appropriate services to provide case management support'. This has come up time and time again. So could you tell us how you provide that support, what funding is made available to you to do that and if you have had any discussions with government about ongoing support for the provision of those services?

Ms Mason : The phrase 'women's counsellor', as it attaches to case management, is our way of providing proper support. Proper support, in terms of case management, is working closely with the client but also with their family. Obviously, given the Wanarn membership of the organisation, it means working with the community. Generally, the women's council, in delivering case management, goes over and above what would be seen as a standard model of case management. That particularly relates to the work that we do with advocacy, so the case management concerns and issues that are raised which are then taken on board and become part of the broader, systemic advocacy that we do. We rely on government funding. Most of our funding comes from government, particularly the Commonwealth: FaHCSIA, DOHA and OATSI. The level of case work is reliant on what we do get from government. For instance, with the domestic and family violence service, up until 2010 we had one caseworker for the three regions, so you can imagine the case load that would put on each worker. Also, there is the broader community development work that happens through our case management work. It is not just crisis driven or in terms of responding to requests for assistance but it is that broader work. In South Australia in 2010 we did receive additional funding to put on two more caseworkers, so we now have three caseworkers in South Australia. That has now given us more room to be able to do that broader community development work in running workshops and talking to the women and being more proactive. Since 2009 we have also secured legal services in the region for members. As for the casework, it is intensive case management work and brokerage support is provided to clients to help alleviate or to assist if that is necessary. We also look at the broader picture of what is happening in that community. There are our comments in terms of income management being applied to school attendance. That is the reason why we talked about that model, because there would be broader issues in play around school attendance and having a narrow view within our practice would be seen as not taking in all those considerations.

Senator SIEWERT: When you have worked with women under case management, how many women that are on income management specifically have you worked with? Do you work with each family that is on income management or with ones where significant issues are identified?

Ms Mason : As such, we do not collect data specifically across the programs on income management. We will now, obviously, with this new project, the intensive parenting support program, do so because those referrals are coming through the department. The other point I would like to make in terms of data collection is that it is only since the beginning of 2010, with the purchasing of a whole-of-organisation database, that the organisation has had the capacity to do what I would term social policy forecasting and really closely look at trends that are in play with clients who may be clients of more than one of the services. The example of that is the statistics that we provided to do with the child nutrition program, where we see trends with children who are in homes where they are being case-managed through the department, with there being a high incidence of domestic violence in those homes and those who are clients of our domestic violence service also being clients of our failure to thrive program. I think it is important to be able to drill down to that level, but it is also the capacity of the organisation to do that and to tailor and create those reports that are specific in that nature.

I would like to also go back and talk about case management. One of the ongoing concerns in our region is the issues with alcohol and marijuana. As senators would know, since 2007 and past that the issue of petrol sniffing has always been a big concern in our region. The issue of data collection, in terms not so much of alcohol but of cannabis, in our region is an area of lack of good data. The women's council was involved in collecting data; it had attitudinal data collection back in 2009. For a lot of the people that we spoke to in the APY lands, marijuana use was quite a huge concern. That is another reason why the women are also supportive of income management, because it is the cash economy. It is those that are not engaged in the community, particularly young people, who are using what they do receive to access cannabis. That sort of data really falls within the responsibility of the Department of Health and Ageing and the South Australian Department of Health. In South Australia we have the Nganampa Health Council, which is the Aboriginal health service, but to date we do not have really strong data coming through the health departments around the level of cannabis.

Senator SIEWERT: In that case we do not know whether, over the period of time that income management has been implemented, the use of cannabis has gone up or down?

Ms Mason : That data would have to be collected in those four southern NT communities, and I am not aware of that data.

Senator SIEWERT: I know I am going to run out of time. I have two more questions if that is okay. A lot of people have talked about SEAM and said the intensive case management is absolutely essential. What would be your estimate of the funding required to enable intensive case management to be facilitated?

Ms Mason : I am just thinking of the threshold that we would have in our programs. With the intensive parenting support program there are about 12 per caseworker. That is with a caseworker based in town and travelling out to those southern NT communities. It would be advantageous for caseworkers to be based in communities. At the moment the women's council has one based in WA for the domestic and family violence service; the others travel fifty-fifty. We have caseworkers through our youth program and through our disability program, and obviously the difference in terms of referral and closer working with families happens. So the cost of basing people in communities to provide that intensive case management support would be the ideal. But in our region over the last several years there has not been that investment by government and others to be able to build accommodation to provide those services locally. For the women's council that is the next step.

Senator SIEWERT: You have made comments in your submission around the alcohol management process. My reading of this is that you do not think it has gone far enough. Would that be the legislation?

Ms Mason : Overall, the women's council supports the reduction of demand and supply. Senators would be well aware of the relationship and the working together that we have had at Curtin Springs. There has been a ban on supply to people from our region. Since 1997 there have not been any alcohol related injuries or deaths as a result of that arrangement. The women see that as a good example and an example for other regions to consider, but at Curtin Springs there are some specific situations which may not apply to other areas.

Senator CROSSIN: Do you get any feedback from your members about the role of government business managers and what they are doing on communities?

Ms Mason : We have GBMs in two communities in the APY Lands: Amata and Mimili. Generally the effort there is appreciated but, particularly in the APY Lands, there has been a withdrawing of support for community councils, which administer their own communities. A lot of support and resources being directed to just two communities in the APY Lands, where the others may not receive the same level of support, obviously raises concerns not only for service delivery but also for the ability of communities to run their own affairs. There are discussions currently looking at a regional partnership agreement with all key organisations in the APY Lands. They have come about as a result of direct frustration from community people feeling that community councils have lost what they had.

Senator CROSSIN: Is this because of the implementation of the shire system in the Northern Territory?

Ms Mason : In the APY Lands, they do not have a local government system. They are run through state government departments with Aboriginal organisations, so there is not a shire system as such.

Senator CROSSIN: Do you also cover Imanpa, Mutitjulu and those communities that are now in the Central Desert shire?

Ms Mason : Yes, that is right. I was at the consultation the minister held in Docker River last year and heard directly, first-hand, people's frustration at the lack of services through the shires. In that regard, yes, people are not entirely happy.

Senator CROSSIN: Do they tend to confuse those reforms with the reforms that are trying to be implemented through Stronger Futures?

Ms Mason : They were rolled out at the same time, and that was very confusing.

Senator CROSSIN: Do you get any feedback from women through the council about what is happening in the stores and whether or not they support them?

Ms Mason : On that question, I would like to get current information from members. We will have our next directors meeting in March and also a general meeting in April. That will be our opportunity not only to talk to members about these changes but also to ask questions about community stores. There are differences that apply across our regions but, particularly for the southern NT communities, I would be seeking feedback from directors and members. Individually, people have their own view, but I think we need to have a much more accurate picture.

Senator SCULLION: You made reference to the SEAM program and mentioned that you still have to talk to one of your internal groups. I am not sure if you will be able to make some sort of a further submission but I would be very interested to hear your views on the issue of parental responsibility. It is all very well to say the parents will be responsible, but so often it is the case that it might be auntie, grandmother or someone else that is looking after the children at the time. Better understanding of those cultural norms would certainly be of great assistance. I am not sure exactly what the time lines are for submissions, I am not sure if it will coincide with that meeting, but it would certainly be very useful.

CHAIR: It is, in many cases.

Ms Mason : The women's council is very keen to get that feedback from members but also from organisations working in our region that support and work in schools. I think that is really important. It is not our area of expertise and we are participants in that system, not necessarily leaders—although some of our members are leaders in the system. It would be really important to get their feedback and not be at cross-purposes.

Senator SCULLION: I know; I appreciate that very much. Ms Mason, you also mentioned the emergence of a new substance of abuse of marijuana in the lands. I know it has been going on for a while and has become quite a concern. Just anecdotally, through the council, what sort of an impact does that have on the community and what demographics in the community does that have an impact on?

Ms Mason : The survey we did in 2009 was seen as very significant. I was out in the lands a couple of weeks ago and staying at Ernabella. I was woken up at 12.30 by a young fellow outside wanting to hang himself and he was having an episode. The women in the house said that he is a very dedicated user of cannabis and this is a regular occurrence in the community.

Senator SCULLION: Was it as a threat or was he seeking assistance?

Ms Mason : Seeking assistance, threatening—being upset. Noise travels in communities so people are woken up and are concerned about what is happening. But through our surveys we know that people travel as far away as WA and South Australia for cannabis.

Senator SCULLION: To purchase cannabis. You made the connection earlier between the cash economy and being able to purchase and the mental health issues in the community as well. I am not sure how much it costs but it must be quite expensive.

Ms Mason : That is right. The ability to ban is obviously difficult because of the size of the region. We have more numbers of police—through the women's council and others, over many years—residing in communities but they are not huge numbers, so people can still get from (a) to (b) and not necessarily through the main roads. It is probably better than it was in the past, with those increased numbers of police, but it is still of great concern.

Senator SCULLION: Are you aware of any sniffer dogs on the teams and that sort of thing on the lands?

Ms Mason : No, not recently. It is important to get really good baseline data and that is why I mentioned that we do not have that baseline data. The agencies that have responsibility for it do not collect it. We were able to quantify the issue of petrol sniffing and monitor the impact of it because of good data. I think we should be doing the same with cannabis.

Senator BOYCE: What is the view of the women's council on policing and increased policing? Is it sufficient, is more needed and is it working?

Ms Mason : Always, more is good. I guess the comment I would make around policing is that we have a good relationship with WA, NT and South Australia police and people are working very hard; the officers are working very hard. Again, it comes down to the numbers of police that we have working in communities. They also have to comply with their own workplace conditions—shifts, safety. There may not always be police in the community responding to incidents, because of those workplace conditions.

Senator BOYCE: So after-hours and so on are an issue, is that what you are saying?

Ms Mason : That is right, or if they had been on a shift or travelling to a community because police are not based in the neighbouring community or they are doing other things, and then obviously they have to knock off at some point. There is discussion at the moment around the community patrols, particularly in the APY Lands. That serves a purpose but it has to be part of a model of delivering safety rather than as a stand-alone, not working together with police.

Senator BOYCE: This legislation talks not just about punishment in terms of breaking alcohol management plans but about rehabilitation and education. What are you aware of in your section of the NT and what else could be done in this area?

Ms Mason : Rehabilitation is always preferred, obviously. With the case management model we are always looking at working with individuals to find a way of being more transformative and supporting individuals and families. I am actually having a discussion this week with the service providers of the Amata facility on the APY Lands—

Senator BOYCE: I am sorry, with who?

Ms Mason : There is an Amata substance misuse facility on the APY Lands. We are having discussions with officers next week about a changing of the way that those services are delivered in the APY Lands. Referrals are always preferred. It encourages reporting of incidents, and we are finding this in WA.

Senator BOYCE: Rather than the alcoholic being removed from the family—is that what you are saying?

Ms Mason : Yes. I will use the example of the VSA act that we have here in the Northern Territory. We do not have that act in Western Australia. If a person is raising concern with a community because of petrol sniffing, no legislation exists in WA so that the young person can be referred for treatment. That has an effect on the community, where there is a sense of helplessness if we report what will happen to that young person. We want to see change and support, and at the moment there is no mechanism for that. So, along with the Central Australian Youth Link-up service, CAYLUS, we have been advocating for WA and South Australia to consider legislation so that there can be referrals. For substance misuse, particularly alcohol, there just needs to be more, particularly for the whole of the NPY Lands. I am talking about Western Australia as well as South Australia.

Senator BOYCE: Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Ms Mason, for your evidence and thank you as always to the women's council. If we can get any information your council has on the SEAM program, when you have that meeting, that would be really useful.

Ms Mason : Thank you.

Proceedings suspended from 9:44 to 10:33