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Community Affairs Legislation Committee
21/02/2012

JUNGALA, Mr Tommy, Private capacity

SHAW, Miss Barbara Rachel, Intervention Rollback Action Group

CHAIR: Welcome. You have regularly given evidence to our committee, so you know how it works and you have the information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses. Please tell us why you have come to see us.

Miss Shaw : I am here to talk about the Stronger Futures legislation. Tommy Jungala is a resident of the Angkweleyelengkwe outstation, which is just a little over 300 kilometres north of Alice Springs. He is actually my grandfather—my grandmother's little brother.

CHAIR: I invite you to make some comments, and then we will go to questions.

Miss Shaw : Do you have my submission that I presented to you?

CHAIR: Yes.

Miss Shaw : I find it very hard to see that the Northern Territory Emergency Response has done any good or that it has improved the lives or situations of Aboriginal people living in prescribed areas—on the basis that there is no real evidence. In regard to the Stronger Futures consultations I have witnessed and was involved in: it was very disappointing and disturbing to hear how Aboriginal people living in prescribed areas were greatly ignored. Once again, Aboriginal people have wasted their time and energy focusing on the wants and needs of each and every prescribed area. In the three bills, there are still aspects of the Northern Territory Emergency Response and that is why it is regarded as a second intervention by many Aboriginal people living in prescribed areas. Even though the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 has been reinstated, most parts of these new bills will still affect Aboriginal people living in prescribed areas.

The untold story is the ever-increasing incidence of attempted self-harm and suicide. The shocking incarceration rates will not dissipate with harsher alcohol laws. Rather, these laws will drive more people into crime as they become more impoverished. The loss of autonomy, resources and opportunities in communities is driving many people into the larger town centres. The overcrowding situation with housing has not improved. The removal of more and more Aboriginal children from their families is another silent statistic. There is a deterioration of social situations in the larger town centres, with increasing crime rates. I have a folder here with a submission from the Intervention Rollback Action Group, which I am a part of. It is called Rebuilding from the ground up: an alternative to the Northern Territory intervention. I actually hand-delivered this to the Prime Minister when she was here along with Minister Macklin. The report draws on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. There is one for each committee member.

CHAIR: Thank you, Miss Shaw.

Miss Shaw : You all know about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, but I call it my bible. I believe that the Stronger Futures bills go against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Policy should be based upon the 46 articles of the DRIP.

I will explain why my grandfather is here today. I asked him to come along because he comes from a community which the government will deem economically unviable—but the only consultation he has had has been with the Central Land Council. There were no consultations at his nearest community—the only one he has ever known and the one he grew up in. So here he is: an old man who is almost 80—he looks very well for his age—who has lived on the same country his whole life as a caretaker, who is a prominent elder in his community and who is the holder of stories of his country. Yet he does not know anything about the three bills being passed. And there are a lot of Aboriginal people in his position and in the same boat as him—policies are going to be imposed upon them without them knowing anything about those policies. As well as not having a decision-making role in these areas, the only economic development that is happening around his country is exploration for mining. My grandfather comes into town with ideas and goes to land councils with ideas but then he is ignored. His outstation is on the boundary between the Central Desert Shire and the Barkly Shire, so they are competing and arguing, saying that responsibility for such and such goes to the Central Desert Shire Council or the Barkly Shire. But the manager of the business does not even get out of his home at Ali Curung and talk to them about these Stronger Future policies or the intervention. My grandfather is an old man who has to look after his wife, who has a mental disability—and yet has sometimes been told to work. It is very evident that this old man can look after his country, can look after his outstation and can speak up for his people in his space, but he is very concerned about the impacts and the service delivery into his outstation as well as into the small community that is close by.

Senator SIEWERT: We will not have had time to read all the detail in your submission. I go to the issues around the supposed transition from the intervention to Stronger Futures. Maybe we can go through what you think should be done differently to the legislation. We will go through the specific comments on the legislation, but what I am really keen to hear is how we would do it differently.

Miss Shaw : I guess how you would do it differently is to get out there and ask each and every community. For these sittings, I find it very unfair that Hermannsburg had one, Alice Springs has one, Darwin has two and Maningrida has the other, but there are a lot of elder Aboriginal people living in prescribed areas that are not able to speak up for their communities. I had to pull my grandfather out of cultural activities just to come here today and, if he wants to, to have a say on what goes on in his community. I guess it would be getting back to the communities and actually asking them about how they would enter into economic development.

My grandfather and I sit down and talk about our outstation, which was handed back to us in 1998 straight after the Barunga statement was given to Bob Hawke. When we sit down and talk about how we are going to enter into economic development and fix up the social problems in the remote communities, I guess it is about empowering people and listening to the people on their needs and wants. I know that over the last four years all his community have got is a six-foot six fence, a shipping container that has been turned into an office and a night patrol vehicle, yet when there are rains up there the community gets flooded out and people cannot access their food, so people are missing out.

I guess what is happening now in the communities is always pointing the finger at the NT government or the federal government or the shire councils. It is about the lack of autonomy that people have and the decision making and the roles that they play within their organisations on the communities. But how would we do it differently? I want Dianne Rankin to stand up and show herself. This is a young lady who lives in Alice Springs. It is easier for her to get off income management than it is for my grandfather. I just wanted to point out the difference between a non-Aboriginal person who lives in the urban areas compared to an old Aboriginal man who lives out on a prescribed area.

I guess the finances that need to come from the federal government are for how Aboriginal people want the delivery of their services, especially in the remote areas. It is about not just fixing up the township hubs but also focusing on smaller communities such as Tara where my grandfather comes from.

ACTING CHAIR ( Senator Siewert ): Because of the reordering of the agenda, Senator Moore gives her apologies but will take over again once she gets back. Mr Jungala, could you tell us how you first found out about Stronger Futures and the new process but also how you felt that the intervention has impacted on you and your community.

Mr Jungala : I do not know about that. I cannot read or write. I do not understand the meaning for us.

ACTING CHAIR: Nobody has come out to explain that to you?

Mr Jungala : No.

ACTING CHAIR: When did you first find out?

Mr Jungala : Land council.

ACTING CHAIR: When did the land council tell you?

Mr Jungala : We had that meeting down at Ross River.

ACTING CHAIR: They organised a meeting to let people know what was happening?

Mr Jungala : Yes.

ACTING CHAIR: How long ago was the meeting?

Mr Jungala : In November.

ACTING CHAIR: When the legislation first came out?

Mr Jungala : Yes.

Senator CROSSIN: Can you tell us what consultations you went to? You said that they were perhaps not run very well or organised very well. Where were the ones that you might have gone to?

Miss Shaw : I attended the two consultations here in Alice Springs: one over at the Crowne Plaza and the other at the Town Council, at the Andy McNeill Room. What I found at the first consultation they had that was for our town camps was that, unfortunately, there was a funeral on that day and a lot of our town campers did not attend it. As well, there was the timing: they were held in the afternoon or later in the evening, so a lot of town campers were not able to go. I went to the one at the Town Council that was held in the afternoon and I found that there were not a lot of Aboriginal people there. There were only, I guess, four people that actually came from prescribed areas that were there. I found that a lot of non-Aboriginal people were actually saying that the intervention is good for those people. I am part of those people.

Senator CROSSIN: When the funeral was on, the one that was organised for town camps was not rescheduled?

Miss Shaw : No. They were the only two consultations that they had here in Alice Springs. There were members of my group, the Intervention Rollback Action Group, that actually went out and did audio and filmed a lot of the consultations out in the remote communities. A lot of people were saying education is important, but then you have to have a look at what education, what health. You have to look at the whole health spectrum, around primary health and environmental health. You have to look at the education system where bilingual language is going to be scrapped, but Aboriginal people say that by teaching their kids in language as well as English they communicate a lot better.

Senator CROSSIN: I am a big proponent of bilingual education, I have to say, and I taught in it for five years. But I think that is part of the problem. Do you get a feeling that the change in policy for bilingual education and the introduction of the shires, which are both Northern Territory government policies, have been confused and mixed up with what the federal government is trying to achieve?

Miss Shaw : Yes. In 2007, the shire council and the intervention were rolled out basically at the same time. On top of that, the NT government was bringing in the bilingual language policy as well as the closure of outstations. My grandfather has been living on his outstation since 1988. Before then he had been living and working around a lot of cattle stations. From their homelands policy, I guess, people live longer and better and healthier lives on their own country, and it clearly shows with my grandfather. He is nearly 80 years old and he does well for himself and his family. As well, in our school holidays we take our kids out and he teaches our kids, all his great grandkids, so he is basically keeping his culture alive and strong that way in educating the next generation and the generation after. It is important in education because bilingual language is important to Aboriginal people.

Senator CROSSIN: Do you think there is a lot of confusion about which government is doing some policies and which government is doing the others?

Miss Shaw : Yes. There is confusion with the whole three tiers or levels of government because you have your federal government, the NT government and then your local government. There are a lot of people confused and frustrated about who has to deal with who.

Senator CROSSIN: You are not alone there. There would be millions of people around the country who are confused about which level of government is supposed to do what. Do you have any understanding of the customary law provisions in the current act which are going to be taken across to the new legislation—that is, customary law is not to be taken into consideration for sentencing and bail purposes? Have you had feedback about the impact of that from the people you represent?

Miss Shaw : I know that customary law is not taken into consideration when sentencing people. But if you have a look at the documentary Bush Law, based upon the people of Lajamanu, it clearly shows examples of non-Aboriginal law and Aboriginal law working together. With customary law, it is easy for communities that may have trouble to deal with the issues together and everything will be clear. But because we cannot practice customary law anymore and there is interference from non-Aboriginal law, it makes it harder for Aboriginal people to get along in their communities, as well as causing a lot of the community trouble coming into the major town centres or going from one community to another. Basically when customary law is put into place, everything can be finished and over and done with even though it is a violent act. But when you are looking at the high incarceration rate of Aboriginal people that are in jail because they cannot practice their customary law or their law and culture, it makes it very hard for outsiders as well as insiders. It also causes a lot of problems in our major town centres where we do not have enough resources to control it.

Senator CROSSIN: Finally I want to ask you about the alcohol laws and what you think of the Northern Territory laws—again it will be a bit confusing. There are measures in this legislation to do with alcohol and some of them are quite strict. There is mandatory sentencing for possession of certain amounts of alcohol. Is that supported by your people? Do you have a view about whether we should do something differently?

Miss Shaw : Unfortunately I live in Alice Springs and we are the only town with pre-alcohol restrictions. We cannot drink within a two-kilometre zone. We cannot drink in a public place in Alice Springs, except for at the Telegraph Station or a pub. We cannot drink with friends and family and we cannot drink in our homes. My father is a Vietnam veteran who did two tours of Vietnam and one of Borneo. He fought for this country, but he cannot enjoy his retirement and have a drink in his own yard.

With the alcohol laws and restrictions, they need to look at the prices. People are entitled to drink. It is their choice, but they have to take responsibility for their own actions afterwards if they drink. On the other hand, the alcohol restrictions in this town are driving a lot more Aboriginal people into their homes when a home should be for their children. When it comes to takeaway, the black-market sales have increased. Not only has the black market increased on alcohol sales, it has pushed up the prices as well. Working with the ACC to target these Aboriginal people or non-Aboriginal people who are selling alcohol after hours and at the prices they are selling it for, we as Mount Nancy camp residents—and my mom will probably talk a lot more about it—are working on alcohol management programs in our camp. It is up to the minister, because we have been working very hard and getting our children involved in how they feel about the alcohol.

We have our first meeting tomorrow. It has already gone to the ministers, Jenny Macklin and the minister in the NT government. We get feedback tomorrow and have our first meeting on how we will implement the alcohol management programs into our camp. From what I am aware, we are ahead of a lot of other communities and town camps. That is because our children have been involved with our alcohol management program.

Senator CROSSIN: Do you think that having an alcohol management plan, camp by camp or community by community, is a good way to go?

Miss Shaw : Yes. It is no good my camp having an alcohol management plan for our camp and then using that in my grandfather's community; it should be his people in his community making up their own rules. But we residents have done our own.

Senator SCULLION: Your submission is quite clear. You summarise by saying that NTER legislation should be repealed, which it will be in any event in August because of sunsets. The Stronger Future set of legislation will be withdrawn. This morning we took evidence from the NPY Women's Council. In its submission to this committee of March 2010 and in this submission, they are, broadly speaking, supportive of two areas: one is income management and the other is the alcohol provisions. It states:

NPY Women’s Council has taken the position that the interests of children, women, or other vulnerable persons such as the frail aged or disabled, should not be subjected to the violent or otherwise oppressive behaviour of others.

The submission goes on to say:

Their interests, for example, take precedence over the rights of men, for example: to abuse, assault or kill women, often when affected by alcohol or drugs, and sometimes in the alleged pursuit of cultural or traditional practices or law (she swore at me wrong way; she didn’t cook my dinner, she make me jealous, she wouldn’t give me money for grog/smoke/marijuana.) NPY Women’s Council has taken its position on intra-community violence.

As you have said, they have used as their bibles, and they say that their bibles are the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Given your completely polarised view and given that you are somebody who I know has had a lot of time in this area—you have done a lot of work in communities; you know a lot about this issue—can you help me try to rationalise those two ends of the spectrum? There is evidence from one who says, 'Yes, this is very supportive' on the basis of a similar bible—in the vernacular that you use. How do I, as a member of this committee, try to find a balance between those two positions, given that they come from two very responsible areas?

Miss Shaw : I myself am a victim of domestic violence. I know how hard it is. Violence basically happens when someone is alcohol fuelled or drug-fuelled or there is other substance abuse. It is about how to fix that. There are no programs in place for Aboriginal people living in remote communities, especially when it comes to anger management. I talked about education, which is another key. People should be taught to drink sensibly. For example, the closest pub to my grandfather's community is the Barrow Creek pub. They sell six cans in three hours, so you can have one can every half hour. They go home after that. But there might be rabbit runners who want to do a trip to Alice or Tennant. They do not feel responsible for the people in their car or whether they are travelling overloaded to purchase alcohol in the nearest town or takeaway. My aunty, who is a non-drinker, has to keep the community together. She runs the night patrol now that they have one. In the past there was no night patrol. The nearest police would come from the Ti Tree Roadhouse or from Ali Curung, 100 kilometres each way.

There is no counselling for people, especially when grieving. When there is a loss in the Aboriginal community, the Aboriginal people mourn together. There are no programs for people in that situation. The need for anger management is mostly fuelled by alcohol, whether it is male on male, husbands and wives fighting, community versus community or group reverses group. Education around drinking is very important and that as well as anger management programs need to be set up in aboriginal communities.

Senator SCULLION: I think you are making some excellent points and observations, which are obviously coming from your background. The NPY Women's Council have said that they are broadly supportive of income management because they think it makes it better. They are also broadly supportive—with some criticism—of the way you implement alcohol management plans because they feel it makes it better for the particular area that they are trying to represent. Your submission says that you do not think either of them work particularly well and that you think they are negative. Coming from very similar backgrounds with obviously the same motive—you would all like to make things better—why do you think—

Mr Shaw : Prohibition has not worked either nationally or internationally. What you need to do is talk to the people and find out what the people want. That is exactly what the two tiers of government have come up with through the alcohol management plan. They have come and seen us in our town camps. Comparing NPY to my grandfather's country—that is only four communities on that side of the Territory—to what you find if you go from here upwards and outwards, every aboriginal community is different. They are very diverse. There is no support for my grandfather and his community. His community is economically unviable. Every community should be supported no matter what, especially if it is all going to come from people.

Senator SCULLION: You were pretty critical of the consultation process. and I certainly agree that it has been substandard. That has been something right across governments for a long time. We have not done particularly well; we should all acknowledge that. Do you have any suggestions? Last time we went out we had this Stronger Futures campaign. I am not sure of the details of it, but we had a high level of confidence it was going to be a lot better than no consultation from the intervention. I know it is a big question, but how would you go about it if it was your job to consult on a matter of important legislation? Forget about this particular part. How do you think we should go about it that we are not doing at the moment?

Mr Shaw : In my grandfather's community, for example, how they went about it is that a time and a place were booked for somebody to go out there, but a few days later a phone call was received to say it had been cancelled. The people in my grandfather's community were not consulted about the Stronger Futures. So they do not know. The only consultation that he had came from land council. If people are not going to have their say and their input into the Stronger Futures policy then how are you supposed to work in partnership and have genuine consultation with people? How are you going to find out what people's needs and wants are? I have been at it since 2007-08. I have been collecting evidence based reports ever since I met Minister Macklin. That is what she requested from me, and I have been at it for four years. I have sat in front of the same senators, but what more can we do. If my grandfather wants something done in his community about the economic development and the support that they need, how are you going to tackle the alcohol problem, the homelessness and the overcrowdedness? How are you going to take notice of what my grandfather has got to say?

Senator SCULLION: It is an important question and the answer is being able to have mechanisms where we can know, and that is all about the consultation. Perhaps the question was too big, but if you could put that on notice because of your particular interest.

Mr Shaw : We are talking about a business manager who does not even get out of the community. He comes out, drops off a bucket of paint and then goes back to Ali Curung. How is that government business manager or any of the IEOs going to engage with my grandfather and the people in the communities?

Senator SCULLION: If, given your experience, you have some ideas about how it could be improved, in terms of consulting more generally, you may well want to tell us about that. I know it is not an answer you can give me right now, but we would be interested as a committee in hearing about that.

CHAIR: Are there any further questions?

Senator SIEWERT: As a supplementary, I want to follow up on Senator Scullion's questions about the difference between what you and NPY are saying. You are both coming from the same perspective in terms of wanting to see changes and improvements in community. It is whether income management is effective in delivering the outcomes that both groups want. Would that be a correct understanding?

Miss Shaw : When you look at the NTER income management, we have always called for voluntary or case-by-case. When you look at the SEAM program, if my mimis that live on this outstation—mothers-in-law and fathers-in-law—have children, they have to move off their community, their outstation, and go to the nearest community where there is a school base. But if there is no transport provided to and from home and school then these parents get cut off because their children are not attending the school. If they have private vehicles that are run down—no fuel, no petrol, no oil, whatever—these children cannot get to school. But once they get to school or they become high school students, then they come into town here or go up to Darwin.

With income management I think same again—case by case. It was easier for Dianne to get off income management because she lives in town, whereas my grandfather found it very hard to get off income management even though he has no dependent children—all his children have grown up, all his grandkids have grown up. Now he has to look after his disabled wife, with a mental disorder. He finds it very hard to get off it, because she has got a disability. Parents who do the right thing are finding it very hard to get off income management as well. It should have always been case by case or even voluntary.

I have actually taken women into Centrelink, older women that were wanting to get off income management, because they were nondrinkers, they were Christian people and they had no dependent children, no grandkids. I sat there in front of the Centrelink officer and they were like, 'We have got $250 we can offer you for six months, every six months, if you want to stay on income management.' That is not voluntary and that is not case by case. That is saying, 'We have got this; you have got to stay on it.' The ladies were actually asking, 'Does that go in my bank or does it go in the kitty?' and they were told that it goes in the kitty. They said, 'No, we don't want it.' I guess the Centrelink officer kept drilling that line of $250 every six months. The ladies' choice was that they wanted to get off, but because they had influence from the Centrelink officer—

Senator SCULLION: Was that money basically offered as an incentive to stay on income management?

Miss Shaw : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: It is 250 bucks. And when you say the kitty, you actually mean the—

Miss Shaw : No, the income management kitty where funds are taken out for bills and what not. And whatever is left over is transferred to your BasicsCard.

CHAIR: Miss Shaw, I have two clarifying questions. Firstly, I would have thought that your grandfather, Mr Jungala, would not be subject to income management because he would be of pension age. I do not want to presume that, but—

Miss Shaw : It took him a while to get on the old age pension. My sister actually helped him do that.

CHAIR: So he has now got that?

Miss Shaw : Yes.

CHAIR: Is the outstation that you spoke about earlier in relation to children getting transport—which we heard about yesterday at Ntaria as well—not one of the SEAM trials?

Miss Shaw : No.

CHAIR: So no-one has been caught up in it? It is more a fear of what could happen as opposed to anything that has happened. Is that right?

Miss Shaw : Yes.

CHAIR: I just wanted to make sure, because we are trying to find out about the people who have been caught up in it. I just wanted to clarify they were not the people you were talking about.

Miss Shaw : No. I think Hermannsburg is the only SEAM trial community down here.

CHAIR: Thank you so much and also to you, Mr Jungala, for your evidence. Ms Shaw, I know that you keep talking to the same senators, but I know you will be talking to us again. If there is anything you want to add, please give it to us. We have got your evidence and your submission and if there is something you want to add please be in contact with us. Thank you very much.