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Community Affairs Legislation Committee

HOOSAN, Ms Eileen, Secretary, Central Australian Aboriginal Alcohol Programs Unit; AMP, Mt Nancy and Bazzo Town Camps

SHAW, Miss Barbara Rachel, AMP, Mt Nancy and Bazzo Town Camps


CHAIR: I welcome Ms Hoosan and Miss Shaw. Thank you very much for stepping in. It is good of you to come and give evidence to us today. You have information on the protection of witnesses and parliamentary privilege. If you have any questions on that, please speak to our secretariat. Do you have anything to add about the capacity in which you appear?

Ms Hoosan : I have lived in Mt Nancy for over 30 years. I am a mother and a grandmother. I am also the chairperson of CAAAPU, the Central Australian Aboriginal Alcohol Programs Unit. We were not on the agenda today, but I would like to present CAAAPU's overall statement. I am wearing two hats. I want to speak to the committee about the Mt Nancy town camp alcohol management plan.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. I invite you to make an opening statement. Then the senators will ask questions.

Ms Hoosan : The CAAAPU board of directors are concerned that Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory and affected communities may have no understanding or knowledge of the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Bill 2011. This bill is legislation, rules and regulations that will govern the lives of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory for 10 years. We consider that to be too long. The provisions under the stronger futures legislation are about partnerships being undertaken between Aboriginal people, communities and organisations. The proposed joint Commonwealth and Northern Territory review of the stronger futures legislation is an issue.

We know that a stronger future can only be built in partnership with Indigenous people and communities because the issues we want to tackle are the same issues that many Indigenous people face every day.

That last bit was in the Stronger Futures statement. The implementation of the Stronger Futures legislation should be by Aboriginal people and Aboriginal communities and not through the enforcement of legislation by governments and public servants. The legislation must be reviewed by the Aboriginal people and the 73 NT Aboriginal communities and Aboriginal organisations to assess its effectiveness. Change for a good future will only come through a whole-of-community approach and not through a whole-of-government approach.

CAAAPU recognises the need to provide the Senate committee with CAAAPU's views about the proposed legislation and CAAAPU's role in making a difference in tackling the alcohol abuse in Central Australia. CAAAPU is an Aboriginal organisation that was incorporated in 1992. It is located in Alice Springs and provides care and support to Aboriginal people who wish to lead an alcohol and drug free lifestyle. CAAAPU was established to address these issues by providing culturally appropriate services that assist Aboriginal people regain control over their lives and re-establish themselves in the community.

The CAAAPU governing committee is in a position to be an advocate for tackling alcohol abuse in the Territory as we think that it is fair to say that we have the relevant experience necessary to speak on behalf of Aboriginal people about the subject of alcohol. CAAAPU recently has gone through significant corporate governance reform and improvements for the Australian government's Office of the Registry of Indigenous Corporations. CAAAPU would welcome the opportunity to be involved with helping to provide solutions for the alcohol abuse, thereby reducing alcohol related harm.

The Australian government to genuinely listen to the Indigenous communities to bring about change for a stronger future. Aboriginal communities all need to be appropriately consulted. CAAAPU supports and encourages alcohol management plans that are developed by the communities with professional support and input from our organisation. Alcohol management plans should be completed with professional assistance from persons qualified and experienced in the field of alcohol and substance abuse issues.

The policy is mainly about tackling the supply of alcohol. We feel that this will only solve part of the problem. We would like to see the Australian government commit to increasing the support and funding for treatment and rehabilitation facilities for Aboriginal people, especially for residential treatment for families. Implementing a holistic preventative approach will reduce the demand for alcohol and problem drinking. It is critical to reduce the demand for alcohol through increasing employment opportunities, training, improving health services, early intervention at school, improving community stores, having better housing schemes and building community capacity and leadership. It is about good governance.

We support the priority areas. A stronger future needs to be community driven. We recognise that there are some good decisions in the Stronger Futures NT plan, including the NT government's 'Enough is Enough' alcohol reform campaign. We refer to the substance misuse assessment and referral for treatment courts for alcohol related offences. The CAAAPU organisation are doing everything possible to support the Northern Territory government's campaign by providing culturally appropriate rehabilitation treatment services, delivered by highly qualified Aboriginal employees and elders. That is CAAAPU's statement.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Ms Hoosan : Barbara is here today to support me in advising the committee about our alcohol management plan for Mt Nancy and Bazzo.

CHAIR: Could you tell us about your plan operates before we ask you questions.

Ms Hoosan : We started working on our alcohol management plan in 2010. We are ready to sign off in two weeks time. The principle behind our alcohol management plan for our community is taking care of family, community, ourselves and each other. It has been developed by everybody in the community. Everybody has had an opportunity to develop this plan. We see that it will help towards recognising that there is a problem in the community with alcohol and that it is better to have a management plan than no plan at all. Because we live in a prescribed area, we live under legislation that could be seen as segregation to the rest of the community, because it is against the law to drink in our communities and we live in urban areas in Alice Springs. That is why it was important for the community to develop this alcohol management plan. It is in the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Bill. It is the reason why we want to develop this plan. We have worked fairly hard with the Department of Justice and the Regional Alcohol Strategy Project Officer. We know that under the legislation the minister has the final decision to sign off on it.

Once this plan goes to the department, it goes to a subcommittee of managers from government services here in Alice Springs. They will look at this plan and will make an assessment on it. Then it goes to the CEOs of government departments and they will look at it. It finally gets to the minister. We think that process takes too long. We are concerned that, with the way we developed our management plan, there may be some—not so much interference, but we need to work in partnership. Our concern is that, if it goes through these different layers of government, we may not have the plan that we originally started with.

Senator SIEWERT: I start where you just finished off. In terms of the government departments it goes through, it goes to the Department of Justice. You worked with them to develop it—is that right?

Ms Hoosan : Yes, we worked with the NT Alcohol Strategy Project Officer. We have worked on this for over a year. We think it is a good plan. Everybody in the community has had input into it. We developed strategies to deal with alcohol issues and we are ready to sign off on it.

Senator SIEWERT: When you were working with the officer, did you agree to a set of criteria that you would use to develop the plan?

Ms Hoosan : Yes. One of the alcohol methods we used was at Mt Nancy and Bazzo Farm. They have been proactive in developing the AMP and they understand that, prior to exploring opportunities for consumption in the community, they must implement the AMP and increase their community's safety. That was one of the criteria: community safety. It was a whole-of-community approach to the plan.

Senator SIEWERT: How did you work with the whole of the community to get them working with it, developing it and then signing off on it?

Ms Hoosan : We met as a community to talk about the alcohol issue and the legislation as it is—that it is against the law to drink in your community. What we identified in our alcohol management plan is that, since the intervention, there has been an increase in the level of alcohol in our community. If we want to address alcohol and monitor what happens in our community, we would develop this plan. It is a living document. It is about supply reduction strategies and the way aboriginal people drink in their communities. It is also about demand reduction strategies, dealing with the problems of diverting men and women in the community to positive activities, supporting the better pathways into training and employment and encouraging access to services for people affected by alcohol and other drugs.

Senator SIEWERT: I have got a couple of questions arising out of that. Do you need additional resources to implement the plan?

Ms Hoosan : What we have done is work with other agencies like CAAAPU, who have provided support counselling our community members. We have got a list of strategies so that we can tap into other organisations.

Senator SIEWERT: In other words, it includes—while the resources are available—how you access those resources. Is that right?

Ms Hoosan : Yes. One of the things we want to do is the Tangentyere night patrol. They will come to the community and, if there are any problems there, be a referral agency for anybody in the community who needs that support. What we want to do is sign off with the police. If there is a need for involvement by police it is important that we—and visitors—work with them as well.

Senator SIEWERT: Have you engaged with the police in the debate—

Ms Hoosan : Our project officer has.

Senator SIEWERT: Going back to the Stronger Futures legislation itself, will the changes that are being made in the new legislation assist your plan. You made a comment before about the layers that are required to sign off on it. Is your concern that the changes made under Stronger Futures will act as a disincentive to implement your plan or to get it recognised?

Miss Shaw : Under the intervention, where we have already got alcohol laws in place for our prescribed areas, and with the Stronger Futures alcohol management plan, the minister basically states that each community should have their own alcohol management plan. That is what we have been working on over the last 12 months. To allow this alcohol management plan to go through we have also set up a committee. This committee works as a support base for problem drinkers who we can refer to other organisations that will provide help for them, as well as tapping in with the skills for our students to go to school, even when we have visitors coming in. So it is our own rules and regulations for our camps. So when we have visitors coming in from the bush or family coming in from the bush they have to abide by our rules. At the moment they do not care about that alcohol laws under the intervention. They will go to the bottle shop and come home and drink it. They would not care if the police came along because they will go along and buy another 30-pack or so on. Our rules are our rules and this time people have to abide by them. This is allowing Aboriginal people at a grassroots level to have their own alcohol management program that they have to abide by.

Senator SIEWERT: I get that. The issue is therefore whether, on the changes that are being made to that particular area of Stronger Futures—there was the original intervention alcohol controls, then there were the 2009 changes where you could have the management plan, now Stronger Futures has taken that management plan and the minister signs off on it, and there are a few other changes—you are happy with the changes that are being made in the way it allows the implementation of alcohol management plans.

Miss Shaw : Yes, because it allows people to have a drink, but then we have got these rules in place so the residents from house 1, house 2, house 3 or whatever have to abide by that rule, whether or not they drink. If they have visitors that need to come into town and drink, then they need to abide by our rules. If they have children, they need to abide by those rules, because our children in our town camps have had input into our alcohol management plan. We told the CEO from the regional alcohol strategy program that we do not want the plan to be hijacked because it is ours. The minister came to us and said, 'If you want to drink here, I want this alcohol management plan in place.' That was one of the arguments we put forward is that we do not want it hijacked. This is coming from us as mothers and grandmothers.

CHAIR: Hijacked by whom—people coming from outside?

Senator CROSSIN: Strangers.

Miss Shaw : We do not want it hijacked by them saying, 'We are going to look at the Mount Nancy camp as a model.' It needs to work and it needs to be supported. We need a chance to make it work. If we announce it today or tomorrow, then somebody else might hijack it—an organisation or another community. We want to be able to use it as a model to allow it to get off the ground.

Senator SIEWERT: I am not being pedantic, but I am trying to work out what the misuse—

Senator CROSSIN: She is saying the legislation supports what they want to do.

Ms Hoosan : It does, but our concern is the delay of government. This plan has to go through before it gets to the minister.

Senator SIEWERT: So you do not have a problem with the minister signing it off but you want to go more directly to the minister?

Miss Shaw : More or less.

Senator SCULLION: And to make sure nobody alters the plan on the way.

Miss Shaw : From us, it has two more stops before it gets to the minister.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, that is what I was trying to find out.

Senator SCULLION: We will ask FaHCSIA exactly what happens to the plan, what is involved, what is recommended and what actually happens.

Miss Shaw : We should be able to give this to the minister without it going through the next two stages and having changes in the middle and then the minister coming back to us and saying, 'Oh, these changes need to be made,' because it did not come to us in the original form.

Senator SCULLION: An area that we know is difficult is that in a town camp there are not just the people who live in the town camp but often people who might not have ownership of any of the rules—and those people are more generally referred to as visitors. Whilst the notion of visitors is not endless, we know sort of who they are. In the formation of your plan did you speak to them? Do you have a plan for the people who are not permanent residents of the town camp?

Miss Shaw : That is actually in the alcohol management plan. The plan is only at the early stage. We have our first meeting tomorrow and then it goes through the other stages before it gets to the minister. Our camp, just like other camps around Alice Springs, is geographically mapped out. We have ties to many communities. We will be sending these packages to other communities—say to Apatula where my mother has family—so they will be allowed to look at our alcohol management plan and say, 'Okay, the next time I go to Mount Nancy I have got to abide by these rules because they have got a new rule there instead of the intervention rule.' They might even go back. When my grandfather comes into town he has to abide by our camp rules and our alcohol management plan.

Senator SCULLION: I understand the document might be a work in progress. It is up to you entirely, but it would be great to be able to table it so that we could peruse it. That is a matter for you.

Miss Shaw : It is a draft. We asked Naomi to come along and be here this afternoon. Because I am chairing a meeting tomorrow, I could ask her to forward it on.

Senator SCULLION: We could get it in confidence if you like. It is only for our information, not for anything else. In any event, if you could request that, I would appreciate it. It would be really good to have a look at it.

Ms Hoosan : With the responsibility of communities, I think it is time now that we say to families that, under the future directions, community safety is important, that there is a time limit to when you can stay with us and that, after that, we will use other agencies to support us to relocate you back to your communities. It is an important part of this alcohol management plan that we will be responsible for ourselves and that there is a time limit to how long you can stay with us. We have found over the years that people have tended to come in, take over and stay longer than they should have, but the opportunity to work with the alcohol management plan for Aboriginal communities can be seen as a positive step. Hopefully, we will get this off to the minister within the next two weeks, but I will table this for you. Our project officer's name is on here and she is happy to provide a draft to the committee.

CHAIR: That would be great, thank you.

Senator SCULLION: It is certainly a very big step from what was effectively a prohibition. Frankly, if anybody who has been in any of the town camps here were to say there was no drinking happening in the town camps, they have not been there. That is without any mouth; that is just the way it is. Certainly, if it is a community based process and we can have a set of rules about where that all happens, I will be very interested to see how that goes.

Senator SIEWERT: How did you pay for your project officer, and how did you find the project officer?

Ms Hoosan : That was through Tangentyere Council advising the Department of Justice that there are town camp communities who are interested in developing alcohol management plans.

Senator SIEWERT: And they allocated you a project officer?

Ms Hoosan : Yes.

CHAIR: Thank you very much.