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Community Affairs References Committee
05/07/2018
Accessibility and quality of mental health services in rural and remote Australia

STOREY, Mr Nathan, Chair, Kununurra Region Economic Aboriginal Corporation

[11:22]

CHAIR: I welcome Mr Storey. Can I double-check that you've been given information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence?

Mr Storey : Yes.

CHAIR: I invite you to make an opening statement if you want to, and then we'll ask you some questions.

Mr Storey : I guess I'm asking what you guys are thinking about mental health in Kununurra. It is at the point of breaking, especially with the way that things are going now. I go back to the earlier years when I was a young fella in this town. We had so much to do. At the same time, not a lot to do. We had our bikes, we had our swimming, we had fishing, we had all these things. These days there's the mobile phone. In the old days you used to ring, and say, 'He's not answering—he must be down the back paddock,' and you ride your bike up to see him down at the back paddock or right around town till you find him. So it kept you occupied all the time. Now, for adults as well as children, there is so much pressure on them to succeed—buy a house, buy a car, go to this, do that. I struggle myself, but I've got a good wife who pushes me to keep going. If you haven't got that support, you can't continue pushing yourself. The barriers and the push to go are not here. There's myself, with my guys. I push them every day to get better at what they're doing, in whatever we're doing—driving a bobcat, a backhoe, fixing a truck, changing a tyre and all those kinds of things. It's about changing from 'I don't want to go' to 'I want to go because I want to finish this.'

KREAC have come up with a healing centre. It's out of town. It started off as a small camping ground. We've received no funding for this. It's all been self-funded. In the history of KREAC, we ran the eco-CDP program. We partnered with Wunan. We went from $18 million turnover to $200,000, which was a big slam to us. We had to get rid of everyone that was employed. We ended up with one employee. We've had two employees the last three years. It wasn't till I got in there and started saying, 'We need to find a new direction here.' We went from 430 members and we now have 75, because the interest in it has just gone out.

I wonder where all those people's interest has gone now. You would find that most of them are not members of corporations anymore, because there are only, strengthened, maybe four corporations that require membership and one that doesn't require membership. So all of those corporations that used to be the CDP, they used to pay them to maintain their communities—self pride, ownership and all of those things were involved in there. Power bills have gone up through the roof in the last four years. All of this strain is put on these guys. All they want to do is live in their communities. There's no work in there. They're saying, 'We're going to do this and we're going to do that,' but what people fail to realise is that we've gone from a culture that has just survived for 60,000 years—all they had to do was survive—to 'What's this? This is all new.' All this new stuff came in. They're deprived, they're invaded. Then it's, 'We'll put them into missions. We'll show them how we work.' Instead of saying, 'If you want to come, come,' they were forced into these things. Everyone was forced into it. Then it's, 'We're sorry—here, we'll give you your lands back.' We give the lands back; we build communities; then it's, 'No, we're not giving you anything anymore.'

So we've got this whole generation that had seen their parents being given, so they've worked—give, give, give, give—then it's, 'No, you have to work.' It's that whole bumpy ride. Nowadays, especially with the young fellas, they don't know where they're going to go. As soon as that contract, that CDP program, started, everyone that was 18 has not received training for the last five years. There has been nil training. Those kids are 23 years old now. They don't even know how to check the oil in a motor car or change a tyre. They only learn what they learn with their families out in the bush.

CHAIR: What are they doing? If it's not the old CDEP, and they're supposed to be doing CDP, what are they doing on Work for the Dole?

Mr Storey : Most of them don't get on it. They get their grandparents to look after them. They get the single mothers and the old people to look after them. It's in their DNA to survive. 'Nanna's got no money—we'll go out and get a kangaroo, we'll go and get a killer, we'll get a bush turkey, we'll go fishing.' It was in our DNA for 60,000 years to survive, to look after our elders, and in their DNA it's for the elders to look after the young fellows in whatever way they can. We all share everything. As far as mental health goes, the biggest thing in the Aboriginal way is this whole up and down. We don't know where we're standing. These last four years have done nothing but push us backwards more. If little corporations were still receiving those little bits of money every year to keep their communities clean and fresh—you look at them now and it is so disheartening. If you went out there five or six years ago all the roads were maintained, there were green lawns everywhere, everyone was happy, everyone was picking up the rubbish and looking after everything. It was a job for them and they were getting paid for it.

CHAIR: Yes. It was work.

Mr Storey : Now supervisors are going out to these communities where there are one or two people that are on Work for the Dole. They turn up there and say, 'They're not here to be seen. Oh well, invalid', and they drive off. What they didn't realise was that they had just gone down to get some firewood for their grandmother who is freezing cold in the mornings. As far as I can see that's work, that's looking after the people that can't be looked after and they're getting punished for it. What happens then? They say, 'I'm getting cut-off. It's too hard. I may as well move into town', so they move into town.

They move into their rellies place, who you can't refuse them, because they are family. They move into the house, 'I've I just got to go and do my Work for the Dole'. Meanwhile, grandmothers and grandfathers are sitting out there and they can't get any support. Then, of course, you have the support services around town which aren't there for those people. The whole support and the mental support doesn't have to be a person with diplomas and all of these things; it just has to be the family themselves, that's the biggest support that can come from that.

I've been lucky in the way that I've grown up and I loved the way that I have, the experiences I've had and everything like that. But when you see people not being able to look after their own families in their own communities, because the roads have been washed away. They have to get their family in. As soon as they can get them in they pull them all out of the community and they all come into town and the next minute there are all these issues in town. There is overcrowding and all the rest of it. They say, 'Let's build new houses here'. Then the dry season comes and they all get back out there and then, 'Oh, the town's empty. Why did we build all these houses when they town's empty?'

The same thing at Groote Eylandt. Groote Eylandt is very self-sufficient. They put themselves under no alcohol and all the other stuff. They look after themselves. I had housing go out there once. I worked for Groote Eylandt trust. They came out in the wet season and went to every community by helicopter and marked off all the ones that nobody was at. There was no-one at each of those houses. They came back and they said, 'There's nobody out there'. I said, 'Mate, how'd you get there?' They said, 'We flew in the helicopter'. I said, 'I'll tell you what, jump in the car and we'll go and we'll find a way out there'. I got bogged for four hours. They said, 'Nah, we've got to get back on the plane'. I said, 'Nah, we'll go to these communities'. All the elders that were with me said, 'Nah, you're going to see how we get out'. Half the road wasn't there. What do we do? I said, 'Mate, I'll give you a call when it's the time that everyone is in this town and you can talk to all of them'. Of course, that's one particular time of the year when everyone has their big funerals or anything like that. I said, 'Righto, fly over' and they flew over. You've got 30 people in each house and they come from everywhere, because they're all part of Groote. It's the same here. Sometimes you go to a community and you won't see anyone and all the grass has grown—nobody's here. Why aren't they there? There's no water, there's no power and there's no contact phone—all of those things aren't there as well. There's nobody there, as an individual of that community, that can maintain it, and the biggest mental issue is that—

Senator O'NEILL: Lack of connection. Is it broken now, Mr Storey? Can those communities come back to health or is it is too far gone?

Mr Storey : At the end of the day the money that has been saved in the last five years needs to be put back into those communities and bulk built again. That's the way that it needs to be done—'We are sorry we took that money out of your community. Let's build it back to what it was and get people motivated again.' It can be repaired. At the end of the day it needs to be, 'This is going to be it.' It's not going to be 10 years down the track: 'We're going to pull out again. You look after yourselves.'

KREAC has been very lucky. We have not received a single dime from government. We've been self-sufficient. We do contracts around town and we employ 25 Indigenous people casually. Our aim is to build a youth camp. That's the thing we strive to do. We've been trying to do it ourselves. We've got a certain distance. You will read more about it. We are in the process of getting all the words right. It needs to be a place for young kids who have been abused in all areas, not just sexual or violence but in the school systems and those kinds of things. They need a clear, open place where they can be children and bring those things out. The woman was sitting here saying that they're not bringing them out. Why aren't they bringing them out? Because they put them in a little, sterile room and say, 'What's the matter, Johnny?' That doesn't work.

Take them out bush to hunt a kangaroo. Everyone will cook the kangaroo and sit around eating damper and even marshmallows, if you want. We will all sit, dance and sing. We will go to sleep and when we wake up we will go fishing. We will come back. Eventually you'll get those kids opening up.

CHAIR: Yes. You have to get the trust that we were talking about.

Mr Storey : Yes, and it doesn't have to be a professional psychologist to get this out. It has to be local people who can get this out without being the big scary white person. I'll give you a classic example. Yeehaa Trail Rides are shut now. The education department pulled the funding out of it. Kris was the teacher for it. They contracted their horses and all that to the school. It was through the whole of Western Australia. They have pulled all those sorts of things back to the school.

I know that the kids who were out there working with the horses with Sherie and Kris had self-pride. It was a beautiful thing. You could see them dressed nice with a hat and all of the gear. They treated the horses with love and respect. It was all the things you get taught as a stockman. That has closed and they're sitting there thinking, 'What are we going to do?' What happens to those kids now, especially those kids who weren't quite at the age where they could go in there and were for the last two years working hard at school so that they could get into that? Now they've been let down. What are they going to do?

Senator O'NEILL: I want to ask about East Kimberley Cattle. I've heard that there has been some support for training for people for breeding, mustering and stuff like that. That's one program that's still going, but it's really desperate for money. Do you know anything about that, Mr Storey?

Mr Storey : Yes. We got Harry Curtain. Unfortunately, his son passed away on the weekend.

Senator O'NEILL: I did hear that. I want to say how sorry we are to hear that news and for the whole community.

Mr Storey : These are the other issues. A grandfather, a grandmother, a son and a daughter—it's not a matter of being over in a week or a month. As we heard before, a daughter was lost and several years later it's still there. We've always supported Harry as one of our members and he has always been there for us. We support him wherever we can. Of course it is things that aren't costing us, as much as I'd like to say, 'Harry, we'll give you a truck and a truck driver to go out there.' Our boys go out there and do some fencing, but we have to charge him for the fencing because we've got nothing to back it up. We've got guys who want to go out and do the fencing because they see it as a way to get away from all of this town stuff.

We're self-funded. If we clean a yard for $500, we spend $400 on materials, wages and all of that and have got $100. Where do we put that $100? We have to put it into the next job. It builds up and you get $1,000. You will know that whoosh $1,000 can be gone. You try to hang onto it and build it up. Where are we going to put this? We'll buy another 10 pickets at Mulligans, because that's what we want to do. Meanwhile you've got people like Harry who needs that money to support him but he needs a lot more support than that.

There have been guys who have gone out there and worked and they weren't paid because it wasn't explained that it was work for the dole. While they are out there they have to come in to report and do this and that. When they're out there there's no communication. They go out there for two or three months thinking that their bank account is building up because they're doing their activity. When they get back to town they find out that they were cut out off three months ago. They say, 'But I was out there doing my activity,' and they are told, 'You should've been coming in to report.' If you've got 10 blokes and each has to report every day, how can Harry drive those blokes in to report? These are the complications that go on.

There's no trust in that, especially on community. I've always said that there should be one person responsible for those people signing in and out. Take their word for it. Don't sit there and look over his shoulder and dictate to him, 'You shouldn't have given him a day off,' or this or that. They should be a bit more lenient.

Senator O'NEILL: Yes, it's a problem when systems are more important than people; isn't it, Mr Storey?

Mr Storey : It is. It's the same as the young fellow who passed away the other day. The girls in the office had witnessed it. That person was family. On the Monday they were expected to turn up to work. I shut down the whole of KREAC. We're not that big. I shut everything down and said: 'No dealings today whatsoever—no phone calls. Sorry, we're not dealing with anything today. It's a sorry day.' But then on Wednesday there was a huge funeral as well. We shut down in respect for the family. But when it comes outside of a corporation like ours, no.

Senator O'NEILL: No room for that.

Mr Storey : There's nothing. There's no give for it. I've been a building contractor. I've done roads, civils contracting and all of that and I totally understand that you need to get the job done, but in another way I say: 'Hang on. How do I get the most productivity out of my people?'

Senator O'NEILL: Pay respect to culture.

Mr Storey : It's by having compassion and respect, and you'll receive it back. If you have no compassion or respect, they're going to say, 'See you later, mate.' It happens, and it happens more than not. That's why people aren't in these positions. This is the way that big business in China, America and all these other big places work, but that isn't the way we work here in Kununurra. They've got to bring that to Kununurra, not take Kununurra to that at the end of the day. It's the only way it's going to work. I personally think that with 50 per cent of the mental issues that are going on now—the violence, alcohol, drugs and all of those things—if we pour more back into little communities and revive little corporations then we'll have self-pride and respect. That's when they'll feel proud—'This is mine. This is what I own.'

Senator O'NEILL: And they do a job that values—

CHAIR: I'm going to have to wind us up, sorry, because we're going to Halls Creek and we've got to get to the plane.

Senator O'NEILL: Thank you, Mr Storey.

CHAIR: Thank you very much.

Mr Storey : Thanks for the opportunity to have a talk. I'm pretty sure the guy there is pretty bored from listening. There are only two today, but all the other guys are working for money today, so actual cash.

Senator O'NEILL: These guys are working too. They're listening hard and learning.

Mr Storey : That's good. That's our future there.

Senator O'NEILL: Absolutely.

Mr Storey : At the end of the day if I see these guys operating a big loader, a big dozer and those kinds of things, I'm happy.

Senator O'NEILL: I just want to put on the record that my brother has got a D10. You should be very impressed, apparently. He tells me it's a big deal.

Mr Storey : I'll get on one one day.

CHAIR: Thank you very much.

Mr Storey : Thanks for the opportunity.

CHAIR: We really appreciate your time. Thank you.

Senator O'NEILL: Thank you, Mr Storey.

Committee adjourned at 11:45