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Committee chairperson discusses differences in the needs of rural and urban Aboriginal communities.

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VIVIAN SCHENKER: It wasn't a good day on Redfern's infamous block yesterday. Three police officers were taken to hospital after an outbreak of violence, allegedly after chasing a suspect into Everleigh Street over outstanding warrants. Police claim they were surrounded by a hundred people and pelted with bottles and rocks. Not surprisingly, indigenous leaders will meet with local police officers today in an attempt to find out why this confrontation occurred yesterday afternoon.


The latest incident, in a suburb renowned as one of Australia's urban centres boasting an indigenous community, highlights not only the problems but also the different needs such communities might have compared to those in regional areas. In fact, a House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs undertook an inquiry into the specific needs of urban dwelling indigenous people last year. Hearings have already been held in Perth, Adelaide, Darwin, Alice Springs and sessions started in Canberra yesterday.


Lou Lieberman, federal member for Indi, chairs this committee, and he joins us now, online from Canberra. Lou, welcome to Radio national breakfast .


LOU LIEBERMAN: Good morning, Vivian.


VIVIAN SCHENKER: What are the main differences in the needs of rural and urban communities?


LOU LIEBERMAN: Our inquiry is still going so we have to keep an open mind, but can I say this, that there's not a lot of difference between the needs. There are different emphases in some cases because of the more concentrated population, but across Australia I've been learning and listening and what I see is that there's a common need to target health, education, training, employment opportunities, environmental issues such as good decent water supplies and things like that. And I'm glad to tell you, although I'm sorry to hear about what happened yesterday, that progress is being made. It's slow progress because of the huge task ahead of us.


Can I also say, Vivian, that from my observations most indigenous people are peaceful and good citizens of Australia. And may I also point out that in most cases most Aboriginal people don't consume alcohol at all.


VIVIAN SCHENKER: Can I just suggest that one of the big differences might be when you're dealing with Aboriginal people living in remote communities it's possible to tailor whole programs for the indigenous people in that community because they're the only people accessing those services. When you're dealing with indigenous people in urban areas, you're talking about people that are accessing mainstream services. Is that one of the big differences?


LOU LIEBERMAN: Yes, that's true. But I've got some ideas in my mind that I'll talk over with my colleagues where we can address that. You take, for example, any Australian—doesn't matter whether they're indigenous or not—in a city, it's possible for community health initiatives to be taken where the local community actually develops the particular programs in conjunction under Michael Wooldridge's, the federal Minister for Health's new policies. They develop primary care to fit the needs of that area of a community rather than impose a model across Australia. That's where I'm very attracted to encouraging governments to be more flexible and to ....


VIVIAN SCHENKER: In practical terms though, Lou, what sort of things are you talking about?


LOU LIEBERMAN: For example, the primary health care, the rehabilitation, the preventative services that keep people out of hospital, keep them well in other words. I think those can be developed in larger urban centres to address the special needs of groups of individual Australians, in this case indigenous people. And also we must always remember that everyone in the health family in Australia, whether they be employed by Commonwealth, state or otherwise, has a responsibility to treat all Australians equally and to give them as much attention and care as they possibly can. So we don't want to see a segregated health care system develop for the whole of Australia, but there does need to be specialised community initiatives taken.


VIVIAN SCHENKER: Have you found a location that serves the needs of urban Aboriginal people well, one that could be used as a model?


LOU LIEBERMAN: There are some good stories around. I'd like to mention one in Alice Springs. We met the people involved there the other day, in a community called Tangentyere(?)—and I apologise for my pronunciation. But this is a terrific community. What they're doing, they run a community council and community health care services, and what they do, in a one-stop shop concept, they provide public housing, meals on wheels to the elderly, people not too well, night patrols to try and address some of the security and issues of youth. They have a youth drop-in centre, education centres in conjunction with the Northern Territory Department of Education, and they're developing initiatives where small businesses are also being developed by some individuals.


So that was good. And they've also got a one-stop shop for a banking agency, a Centrelink and they're trying to address office and housing needs as well. It's a good one. There's a lot of good health initiatives going on in partnership as well.


VIVIAN SCHENKER: Redfern in Sydney is portrayed in the media as the hub of indigenous problems. Is that what your committee is finding as well?


LOU LIEBERMAN: I don't want to brand anyone. There are problems in many areas of Australia. Redfern has its problems too. Can I just make the point that it's our responsibility, all of us as Australians, to help address all of these issues, and in particular I'm welcoming the initiatives being taken by Aboriginal people themselves. There are tremendous emerging leadership initiatives being taken and I want to encourage all those and all Australians to give those people encouragement in what is a huge task to address the disadvantage of Aboriginal people.


VIVIAN SCHENKER: When will your report make its recommendations?


LOU LIEBERMAN: Subject to my colleagues, and we're all working hard; we represent all different political parties, I'm aiming to try and get most of our recommendations before the community parliament by the end of the August.


VIVIAN SCHENKER: We wish you the best. It's obviously a very important inquiry and we'll await the outcome.


LOU LIEBERMAN: Thank you very much, Vivian. And may I just say don't brand—I know you don't, but for Australians when you hear of these incidents in Redfern, they're very worrying, but most Aboriginal people are peaceful and they're good citizens, and we've all got problems within our community wherever we come from.


VIVIAN SCHENKER: Lou Lieberman, thank you very much. Lou Lieberman, chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, and he was speaking to us from Canberra.