Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Aboriginal deaths in custody - Royal Commission (Hon. E.F. Johnston, QC) - Reports - National report (Commissioner E. Johnston, QC) - Volume 4

Download PDF Download PDF




Commonwealth, New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and Northern Territory






Australian Government Publishing Service Canberra

© Commonwealth of Australia 1991

ISBN (Volume 4) 0 644 14 257 X ISBN (the set) 0 644 14262 6 This work is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced by any process witho ut written permission from th e Aus!Talian Government Publishing Service. Requests and inquiries concerning reproduction and rights should be addressed to th e Manager, AGPS Press, GPO Box 84, Canberra ACT 2601.

Printed in Australia for the Australian Government Publishing Service by

Pirie Printers Sales Pty Ltd, Fyshwick, ACT 2609


Volume 1 Trans mi ssion Letters Preface Framework of this report

1. Overview

PART A THE DEATHS INVESTIGATED BY THE ROYAL COMMISSION 2. Profile of Those Who Died; 3. The Findings of the Commissioners as to the Deaths; 4. The Adequacy of Previous Investigations.

PART B THE DISPROPORTIONATE NUMBER OF ABORIGINAL PEOPLE IN CUSTODY 5. The Di sproportionate Numbers in Custody as the Immediate Explanation of the Numbers of Deaths in Custody; 6. Aboriginal People in Custody-Some Basic Facts; 7. Reasons for Custody; 8. Duration of Custody; 9. The Extent of the Disproportion.

Volume 2

PART C THE UNDERLYING ISSUES WHICH EXPLAIN THE DISPROPORTIONATE NUMBER OF ABORIGINAL PEOPLE IN CUSTODY 10. The Legacy of History; 11. Aboriginal Society Today; 12. Relations with the Non-Aboriginal Community; 13. The Criminal Justice System: Relations with Police; 14. Young Aboriginal People and the Juvenile Justice System;

15. The Harmful Use of Alcohol and Other Drugs; 16. Schooling; 17 . Employment, Unemployment and Poverty; 18. Housing and Infrastructure; 19. Land Needs; 20. Self-determination.

Vol4 Page iii

Sun1mary of All Volumes

Volume 3

PART D REDUCING THE NUMBERS IN CUSTODY 21. Diversion from Police Custody; 22. Imprisonment as a Last Resort.

PART E REDUCING THE RISKS OF DEATH IN CUSTODY 23. The Vulnerabilities of those in Custody; 24. Custodial Health and Safety; 25. The Prison Experience.

Volume 4

PART F THE UNDERLYING ISSUES: DIRECTIONS FOR CHANGE 26. The Interrelationship of the Underlying Issues; 27. The Path to Self­ determination; 28. Accomodating Difference-Relations Between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal People; 29. Improving the Criminal Justice System­ Aboriginal People and Police; 30. Breaking the Cycle: Aboriginal Youth; 31. Towards Better Health; 32. Coping with Alcohol and Other Drugs­ Strategies for Change; 33. Educating for the Future; 34. Increasing Economic Opportunity; 35. Improving the Living Environment-Housing and Infrastructure.

Volu1ne 5

PART G TOWARDS RECONCILIATION 36. Conforming with International Obligations; 37. Addressing Land Needs; 38. The Process of Reconciliation.


PART H APPENDICES L 1e Terms of Reference; Individual Deaths-Inquiries and Rulings; Methodology; Sources of Information.


Pageiv Vol4





27.1 Agreement as to the Definition and Process of Self-determination 6

27.2 The Role of A TSIC 7

27.3 The Multiplicity of Funding Agencies 12

27.4 The Role of Aboriginal Organizations and Mainstreaming Policies 22

27.5 Delivering Local Government Services 31

27.6 Addressing Training Needs 39

27.7 Providing for the Future 41

27.8 Aboriginal Self-Determination-Some Case Studies 45

Port Lincoln 45

Echuca 48

Some Other Cases 49

27.9 Conclusion 50

Vol4 Page v

Table of Contents Vol 4


28.1 Educating the non-Aboriginal Community 53

The Formal Education System 55

28.2 The Media 57

Marketing of Aboriginal Art and Artefacts 60

28.3 Combating Racism and Discrimination 62

Anti-Discrimination Legislation 62

The Issue of Racial Vilification 69

28.4 Improving Relations at the Local Level 75

28 .5 Conclusion 76


29.1 The Importance of Improving Relationships 80

29.2 Aboriginal Community Responses 83

The Importance of Aboriginal Organizations 83

Community Strategies 85

Aboriginal Community Policing 90

The Aboriginal Community Justice Project 93

Recognition of Customary Law 97

29.3 Police Force Responses 102

29.4 Joint initiatives 109

Protocols 110

Aboriginal-Police Liaison Committees 112 29.5 Police Accountability 124

Police Complaints Mechanisms 125

29.6 Issues Relating to Recruitment and Placement of Police Officers 132

Placement of Police Officers 135

Training and Education of Police Officers 137

29.7 The Question of Aboriginal Police and Police Aides and Police Liaison Officers 151

Aboriginal Police Officers 151

Aboriginal Police Aides 152

Various Initiatives 159

29.8 Conclusion The Basis for Change 162

Page vi Vol4

Vol 4 Table of Contents


30.1 Programs for Aboriginal Youth At Risk I 165

Family Control 166

Sport, Recreation and Entertainment 168

Better Relations with Police 170

Wilderness Camps and Traditional Teachings 172

Role of Aboriginal Organizations 173

Aboriginal Youth Initiatives 176

30.2 Diversion from the Court System 178

30.3 Non-Custodial Options 185

30.4 Other Programs 197

30.5 United Nations Standards Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice and Other Instruments 199

30.6 Custodial Options 201

Alternative Custodial Options 203

30.7 Recidivism 204

30.8 Conclusion 205


31.1 Some Basic Issues 211

Aboriginal Health and Aboriginal Deaths in Custody 211

Health Services 212

Multi-Sectoral Imperatives 212

A Caution 213

31.2 The Aboriginal Health Care System a Description 214

The Australian Health Care System 214

Aboriginal People and the Health Care System 215

Aboriginal Community-Controlled Health Services 216

State and Territory Aboriginal Health Programs 218

Aboriginal Health Workers 222

Mental Health Services 223

Aerial Medical Services 225

Other Initiatives 225

Vol4 Page vii

Table of Contents Vol 4

31.3 The Adequacy of Current Policies, Programs and Services 228

General or Mainstream Health Services 230 Aboriginal Community-Controlled Health Services 241

Aboriginal Health Professionals 244

Special State Aboriginal Health Programs 247

Mental Health Services 248

Aerial Medical Services 252

Research and Statistics 253

The Policy of the Australian Medical Association 255

31.4 The National Aboriginal Health Strategy 264

31.5 Conclusion 268


32.1 The Harmful Use of Alcohol and Other Drugs 273

32.2 Prevention 275

The Public Health Approach 275

The Availability of Alcoholic Beverages 275 The Promotion of Alcohol Use 279

Alternatives 279

Work Place Programs 280

Local Community Interventions 281

32.3 Early Intervention and Treatment 284

Other Treatment Issues 288

32.4 Petrol Sniffing and Other Drug Use 290

Petrol Sniffing 290

Other Drugs 293

32.5 Conclusion 294


33.1 Improving Aboriginal Education 299

Preschooling 301

Curriculum Modification 304

Financial Assistance to Students 309

Education of Teachers 315

Aboriginal Education Workers and Teaching Aides 323

Aboriginal Teachers 327

Aboriginal Schools 329

33.2 Higher Education 335

33.3 Adult Education 338

Page viii Vol4

Vol 4 Table of Contents

33.4 The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy





Commonwealth and State Policies Assimilation to Self-Determination The Miller Report The Aboriginal Employment

Development Policy Programs Employment and Training Programs Aboriginal Organizations

Public Sector Employment Private Sector Employment Youth Employment Employment and Imprisonment Enterprises

Problems with Enterprises Community Enterprises Management Funding The Future of Enterprise Development Prospects for Economic Development

Tourism Arts · and Crafts Pastoral Enterprises Land Management and Rehabilitation The Future of Remote Communities

34.5 The Community Development Employment Projects scheme Background Positive Benefits of CDEP

Criticisms of CDEP Program Goals Future Directions

34.6 Public Policy Issues Regional Variation Responsiveness to Local Needs



359 360 360 363

365 369 378 380 382 386 389 389 391 391 395 399 400 401 402 403 406 408 411 420

425 425 426 430 437 438 442 442 445


Table of Contents Vol 4


35.1 The Development of Aboriginal Housing Policy 455

The Housing Needs Agenda 457

The Alternative Housing Agenda 459

35.2 Funding for Housing 464

The Commonwealth/State Housing Agreement (CSHA) 464

ATSIC/ADC Programs 466

35.3 Aboriginal Housing Organizations 471

The Emergence of Aboriginal Housing Organizations 471

Problems of Funding 474

Training and Employment Needs 476

35.4 Funding for Infrastructure 480

Community Infrastructure Program 480

Priority Communities Development Strategy 481

Town Campers Housing and Infrastructure Program 482

Aboriginal Community Development Program 483

Community Development Infrastructure Program 484

The Problem of Infrastructure Shortfall 485 The Payment of Council Rates 487

35.5 Community Plans 489

Pagex Vol4

Table 33.1

Table 33 .2

Table 34.1

Table 34.2

Table 34.3

Table 35.1

Table 35.2



Abstudy Recipients and Allocations, 1989-91

Graduates From Teacher Training Courses at Batchelor College, 1985-1990

AEDP Expenditure 1986-89

Programs under Aboriginal Employment Development Policy

Placements and Expenditure on DEET Employment Programs, 1989-90

Housing Loan Approvals 1974-1975 to 1988-89 By State and Territory

Projects Funded under the Community Development Infrastructure Program (CDIP), 1989-90








Page xi































Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority

Aboriginal Advancement Trust Account

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Australian Bureau of Statistics

Aboriginal Secondary Assistance Scheme (now ABSTUDY Schooling)

Aboriginal Secondary Education Grant (now ABSTUDY Schooling)

Aboriginal Community Affairs Panel

Aboriginal Study Assistance Scheme

Aboriginals Benefit Trust Account

Aboriginal Community Affairs Panel

Aboriginal Co-ordinating Council

Aboriginal Development Commission (Now A TSIC)

Alcohol and Drug Foundation Australia (now known as Australian Council of Alcohol and Other Drug Associations)

Aboriginal Education Assistant

Aboriginal Education Consultative Groups

Aboriginal Employment Development Policy

Aboriginal Economic and Employment Development Officer

Aboriginal Enterprise Incentive Scheme

Aboriginal Education Strategic Initiatives Program

Aboriginal Education Worker

Australian Government Publishing Service

Aboriginal Hostels Ltd

Aboriginal Health Organization

Aboriginal Health Service

Australian Institute of Criminology

Aboriginal and Islander Community Health Service

Australian Institute of Health

Australian Institute of Judicial Administration

Page xiii







































Australian Institute of Management

Aboriginal and Islander Teacher Education

Aboriginal Issues Unit (of Royal

Australian Journalists Association

Aboriginal Loans Commission

Aboriginal Land Fund Commission

Aboriginal Liaison Officer

Australian Law Reform Commission

Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement

Aboriginal Legal Service

Aboriginal Lands Trust

Australian Medical Association

Aboriginal Mental Health Network

Aboriginal Medical Service

Australian National Audit Office

Australian National Opinion Polls

Australian National Parks and Wildlife

Anangu Teacher Education Programme

Aboriginal Organization Training Program

Anangu Pitjantjatjara Homelands

Aboriginal Participation Initiative

Australian Public Service

Aboriginal Services Action Plan

Aboriginal Student Support and Parent Awareness

Aboriginal Tutorial Assistance Scheme

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander

Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Commission (Formerly DAA -Department of Aboriginal Affairs)

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commercial Development Corporation

Aboriginal Visitors Scheme

Broome Aboriginal Medical Service

Brucellocis and Tuberculosis Eradication Campaign

Central Australian Aboriginal Congress Inc

Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Scheme

Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association

College of Advanced Education

Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research

Conservation & Land Management
















cso CT




DCS (1)

DCS (2)

















Carnarvon Aboriginal Medical Service

Central Area Training Aboriginal Resource Accounting Corporation

Conservation Commission of the Northern Territory

Committee to Defend Black Rights

(Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Commercial Development Corporation

Community Development Employment Projects scheme

Catholic Education Aboriginal Advisory Committee

Catholic Education Commission

Commonwealth Employment Project

United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Commonwealth Employment Service

Community Justice Panel

Central Land Council

Community Release Program

Criminology Research Unit

Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organization

Community Service Order

Computerized Tomography

Department of Aboriginal Affairs (Now A TSIC)

Department of Aboriginal Sites

Department of Community Health

Department of Community Services

Department of Corrective Services

Department of Employment, Education & Training

Department of Employment, Technical and Further Education

Department of Family Services and Aboriginal and Islander Affairs

Department of Finance

Deeds Of Grant In Trust

Department of Primary Industry and Energy

Director of Public Prosecutions

Department for Planning & Urban Development

Department of Sport & Recreation

Department of Social Security

Enterprise Employment Assistance

Equal Employment Opportunity

English as a Second Language

Enterprise Support Units

Page xv















Family and Community Services

Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

Foundation of Rehabilitation with Aboriginal Alcohol Related Difficulties

Good Neighbour Program Home And Community Care

Healthy Aroriginal Life Team Health Department of Western Australia Homes on Aboriginal Land Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights International Classification of Diseases International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination

Incarcerated Peoples Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation Justice of the Peace Justices of Peace Association Kimberley Aboriginal Law & Culture Centre Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services Council Kimberley Land Council Katherine Regional Aboriginal Legal Aid Service

Legal Aid Commission Local Aboriginal Education Consultative Groups Local Government Council Northern Area Aboriginal Neighbourhood House National Aboriginal Congress National Aboriginal Consultative Committee North Australia Development Unit National Aboriginal Education Committee National Aboriginal Education Policy National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Paper National Aboriginal and Islander Day Organising Committee National Aboriginal Islander Health Organization National Aboriginal and Islander Legal Services Secretariat North Australia Research Unit National Campaign Against Drug Abuse Nulungu Catholic College
























SMR (1) SMR (2)



swos SWRC











National Employment Strategy for Aboriginals

National Federation of Land Councils

National Health and Medical Research Council

Nganampa Health Council

Northern Territory Aerial Medical School

Office of Aboriginal Affairs

Officer in Charge

Police Federation of Australia and New Zealand

Public Intoxication Act

Public Interest Advocacy Centre

Prison Medical Service

Preferred National Land Rights Model

Public Service Commission

Queensland Corrective Service's Commission

Regional Aboriginal Land Council

Remote Area Teacher Education

Remote Area Teacher Education Program


Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration

Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody

Royal Flying Doctor Service

Special Broadcasting Service

Self Contained Accommodation Modules

StJohn Ambulance Association

Standardized Mortality Ratio

Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners

Secretariat National Aboriginal Islander Child Care

Special Purpose Grant

Special Weapons and Operations Section

Social Welfare Research Centre (now Social Policy Research Centre)

Technical & Further Education

Technical and Further Education

Training for Aboriginals Program

Town Campers Housing and Infrastructure Program

Tertiary Entrance

Tertiary Education Program for Aboriginals

Tactical Response Group

United Aboriginal Mission

Unemployment Benefit

United Nations

Page xvii











Page xviii

Uwankara Palyanyku Kanyintjaku

Victorian Aboriginal Community Services Association Incorporated

Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Inc

Victorian Aboriginal Health Service

Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service

Victorian Aboriginal Mental Health Network

Western Australia Alcohol & Drug Authority

Western Australian Aboriginal Education Consultative Group

Western Australian College of Advanced Education

Western Australian Tourism Commission


Names of Deceased Persons whose Deaths were within the Jurisdiction of the Royal Commission Showing the Last Place of Custody NEW SOUTH WALES Shane ATKINSON Lloyd BONEY Peter CAMPBELL Thomas CARR David GUNDY Paul KEARNEY Bruce LESLIE Eddie MURRAY Tim MURRAY


Griffith Watch-house Brewarrina Watch-house Long Bay Gaol Minda Remand Centre Private Residence Darlinghurst Watch-house Tamworth Watch-house Wee Waa Watch-house Berrima Training Centre Walgeu Watch-house Wilcannia Watch-house Grafton Watch-house Goulburn Training Centre Long Bay Gaol Grafton Gaol


Harrison DAY Arthur MOFFATT James MOORE

Echuca Watch-house Warragul Watch-house Swan Hill Watch-house


Aurukun • Walter BARNEY Muriel BINKS Patrick BOOTH Gregory DUNROBIN Charlie HYDE Bernard JOHNSON David KOOWOOTIIA

Charlie KUllA KUllA Daniel LACEY Daniel LORRA WAY Nikira MAU Patrine MISI Perry NOBLE Karen O'ROURKE John PILOT Alistair RIVERSLEIGH

Aurukun Watch-house Townsville Prison Innisfail Watch-house Rockhampton Prison

Cherbourg Watch-house Y arrabah Watch-house Townsville Prison Y arrabah Watch-house

Cocn Watch-house Brisbane Prison Townsville Prison Brisbane City Watch-house Townsville Watch-house Y arrabah Watch-house Birralee Children's Home Brisbane City Watch-house Doomadgee Watch-house

VmcentRYAN Monty SALT Deidre SHORT Barbara TIERS Eddie WEST Darren WOliTERS Wujal Wujal • Barbara Y ARRIE FayYARRIE

Townsville Prisoo Police vehicle, Kings Plains Lockhart River Watch-house Rockhamptoo Watch-house Cherbourg Watch-house Brisbane City Watch-house Wujal Wujal Watch-house Brisbane City Watch-house Brisbane City Watch-house


Robert ANDERSON Wiluna Lockup

Faith BARNES Kalgoorlie Lockup

Bobby BATES Eastern Goldfields Regional


Nita BLANKETT Stanley BROWN Edward CAMERON Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital* Donald CHA 11JNALGI Wayne DOOLER Albert DOUGAL Paul FARMER Darryl GARLETT Geraldton • Dixoo GREEN Dooald HARRIS

Christine JONES Bernard McGRATH Charles MICHAEL Steven MICHAEL

Benjamin MORRISON Jimmy NJANn John PAT Kim POLAK Ginger SAMSON Ronald UGLE

Bandyup Women's Prison Broome Lockup Geraldtoo Lockup Fremantle Prison Halls Creek Lockup Carnarvoo Lockup Broome Lockup Albany Regional Prison Wooroloo Prison Farm Geraldton Lockup Broome Regional Prison Canning Vale Remand Centre and Prison Midland Lockup Kalgoorlie Lockup Barton's Mill Prison Carming Vale Remand Centre and Prison Frernantle Lockup Port Hedland Lockup Roebourne Lockup Kalgoorlie Lockup Roebourne Lockup Broome Regional Prisoo



Canning Vale Remand Centre and Prison East Perth Lockup Frernantle Prison Kalgoorlie Lockup Greenough Regional Prison Kalgoorlie Lockup Broome Lockup


Eddie BETTS Malcolm BUZZACOTT Ceduna* Kingsley DIXON Joyce EGAN Michael GOLLAN

Stanley GOLLAN John HIGHFOLD Craig KARP ANY Keith KARPANY Oodnadatta • Gordon SEMMENS

Port Lincoln Watch-house Port Augusta Gaol Ceduna Watch-house Adelaide Gaol Mount Gambier Watch-house South Australian Youth Training Centre

Mount Gambier Watch-house Adelaide Gaol Darlington Watch-house Adelaide City Watch-house Oodnadatta Watch-house Port Augusta Gaol


Glenn CLARK Glenorchy Watch-house

NORTHERN TERRITORY Beatrice Hill Prison Farm • Burralangi • Darwin Prison • Elliott • Jabanardi • Jarnbajimba • Katherine • Kwementyaye Price • Royal Darwin Hospital •

Beatrice Hill Prisoo Farm Darwin Prison Darwin Prison Elliott Watch-house Aileron Rd, Ti Tree Alice Springs Prison Katherine Watch-house Alice Springs Watch-house Berrirnah Watch-house

• Name of the deceased suppressed by order of Commissioner.

• Broome A od

oebolml Lodwp (2)




A Wiluna Lockup


(\& Watch-house eeDarwinPI1son(2l e Beatnce Hil Pnson Farm l odou!le 0 Aurukun Watcll-OOuse & ) J •c---' .t.'f'Yujal Wujal Watcll-llouse & Hals !)eek Lodile Watcl1-llouse i T E R R I T 0 R Y ! eeeeTOWilSVIl\le Prison (4) , I I , j & Aileron Road , Ti Tree ! ' I I &Alice Springs Watcl1-house 0 U E E N S L A N D ' e Alice Sp ri ngs Pnson ! . A od


To this point my report has been concerned with identifying the underlying social, cultural and legal factors which explain the deaths in broader terms. As I have earlier illustrated, the principal reason why the deaths occurred relates to the disproportionate rate at which Aboriginal people are detained

in custody in this country. Those whose deaths were investigated, as individuals, reflected a tragic component in the dimension of that disproportion.

The major point which is emphasized in this part of the report is that changes to the operation of the criminal justice system alone will not have a significant impact on the number of Aboriginal persons entering into custody or the number of those who die in custody; the social and

economic circumstances which both predispose Aboriginal people to offend and which explain why the criminal justice system focuses upon them are much more significant factors in over-representation. It is in this part of the report that I focus upon these broader issues. Changes in this

area will be difficult and in many cases not achievable in the short term, but unless these factors are addressed it is unlikely that there will be any significant reduction in the numbers of Aboriginal people who are taken into custody.

The underlying issues which contribute to the high levels of Aboriginal people in custody are complex and interrelated. The importance of history has been emphasized. While many of the repressive and discriminatory practices once embodied in Australian legislation have been discontinued,

the effects of this history continue to the present day, and impact on all aspects of Aboriginal life.

Appreciation of this history is fundamental, both to the understanding of the circumstances in which Aboriginal people live today, and n1ore particularly to explain the poor relations between Aboriginal and. r:on­ Aboriginal people. The government policies under which Abonginal

people were controlled and excluded from mainstream society reflected and reinforced perceptions of Aboriginal people in wider community. Those attitudes cannot be erased simply by changing the

Vol4 Page 1

The Interrelationship of the Underlying Issues 26

policy. Non-Aboriginal Australia generally has a poor knowledge of this history and of the way in which it has shaped Aboriginal lives today.

The history of Aboriginal relations with the broader community has impacted upon Aboriginal people in many ways. Collectively, Aboriginal people have been denied access to the social and economic power which is essential to effective participation in mainstream society. The dislocation of Aboriginal people from their land and culture, and the intrusion of western society into Aboriginal life has rendered many Aboriginal forms of social control ineffective. The dependence which characterised the confined and controlled way in which most Aboriginal people lived for much of recent history has left people poorly equipped to deal with the many social problems they experience.

History has also impacted upon Aboriginal people as individuals. The treatment of Aboriginal people over the last two hundred years has done little to suggest that they were either welcome or even tolerated in the country which had been taken from them. In the following chapters I will emphasise the importance of non-Aboriginal society demonstrating to Aboriginal people its willingness to recognize these unpalatable facts and to take positive steps to redress the effects of this history.

These social and psychological legacies of the assimilation policy still reverberate through Aboriginal families who are struggling to reunite, and to regain some sense of pride in themselves and their people. The high levels of involvement of young people in criminal offending, the problematic use of alcohol, self destructive behaviour and interpersonal violence reflect the difficulties which Aboriginal people are still experiencing in overcoming these effects. In view of the projected increase in the Aboriginal population, it is likely that their over­ representation in custody will continue. Unless Aboriginal people are

supported in their efforts to overcome the social problems confronting them, this over-representation may very well increase.

In the following chapters, I will discuss many ways in which Aboriginal people are endeavouring to overcome these problems for themselves, and succeeding in doing so. While there is much that non-Aboriginal people can do to reduce the burdens under which they labour, it is clear that in this context Aboriginal people must be permitted to find their own solutions, and be supported to the utmost extent in doing so. If there is one lesson we can learn from history, it is that solutions imposed from outside will only create their own problems. The issue of giving back to Aboriginal people the power to control their own lives is therefore central to any strategies which are designed to address these underlying issues.

The relinquishing of control over many aspects of Aboriginal life is not the only step which non-Aboriginal Australia must take. In order to exercise effective control, the conditions under which Aboriginal people live must

Page2 Vol4

26 The Interrelationship of the Underlying Issues

be improved. Through many of the foregoing chapters, a picture has been painted of the social and economic depression which characterizes the lives of many Aboriginal people. Poverty, inadequate living conditions and consequent poor health reduce the ability of Aboriginal people to assert

their autonomy and to take control over their lives. Past inequalities in educational access, employment and in low levels of material wealth continue to hinder Aboriginal people's efforts. Redressing these inequalities is an integral part of returning control to Aboriginal people.

Each issue which this part of the report addresses has identifiable components which need to be addressed in policies and programs. At the same time, however, the inter-relationship of these issues must never be forgotten. In my view, particular solutions with respect to each issue will

be found to flow from application of the principles of self-determination and self-management. The importance of Aboriginal organizations is re­ iterated throughout these chapters, and the need to afford them adequate control over resources and decision-making is emphasized. For that

reason the part commences with a discussion of those fundamental foundations for effective change.

As will be seen, thereafter, each specific area of reform plays a part separately and jointly in both explaining and determining the approach to reducing the level of over-representation of Aboriginal people in custody. Readers who would see the solution in simpler, one-dimensional terms,

for example that alcohol misuse is the sole explanation, will find that the constant interaction of issues confounds that notion.

Vol4 Page3

Chapter 27 THE PATH TO SELF­


Chapter 20 described the history of the movement towards recognition of self-determination as the central plank of government policy for Aboriginal affairs and the tentative efforts of government, so far, to define the concept and to make it a practical reality. This chapter takes the matter further by

looking to the future to suggest what I believe may be some approaches which, if adopted, may result in a more meaningful application of the principle of self-determination.

The chapter points out that little agreement exists as to the definition of self-determination and the processes available to implement a policy of enhanced levels of self-determination, and suggests that these matters be settled at an early stage. It goes on to discuss the emerging role of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), arguing that,

although ATSIC has the potential to be a key vehicle for enhancing Aboriginal self-determination, it operates within a number of constraints militating against this role. Since the multiplicity of funding agencies that Aboriginal organizations deal with serves to thwart self-management and

self-determination, I discuss the need for funding and accountability arrangements to be consolidated around a system of block grants, with the recipient Aboriginal organizations and communities determining expenditure priorities. I argue that Aboriginal people have accepted the

concept of representation through organizations and, as a result, specific Aboriginal programs should be run by those organizations in preference to service delivery through mainstream agencies. The delivery of local government services to Aboriginal people is discussed, and

recommendations are presented on how greater equity in this area, between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, may be attained. The need for effective training and the opportunity to develop community and regional plans are mentioned, and the chapter concludes with some

case studies on Aboriginal self-determination.


Page 5

The Path to Self-Determination



27 .1.1 As I have explained in Chapter 20, there has been in the past little agreement amongst those administering Aboriginal affairs or involved in programs, about the definition of self-determination and consequently little agreement as to the processes which should be adopted.

27 .1.2 There are now a wide range of agencies and organizations which deal directly with Aboriginal people and which are in a position to usurp or deny the decision-making role which the people should have or else to assist in ensuring that the Aboriginal voice is heard. Many, but not all, of these agencies are Aboriginal controlled and managed; others are government departments which administer policies and programs, which, in some cases, have little Aboriginal involvement at any level in their processes.

27 .1.3 Aboriginal community-controlled organizations are undoubtedly those which receive the most broad-based support from the Aboriginal people as the appropriate agencies to address issues of concern. The organizations in theory at least, are answerable to the communities

which they serve. Obviously not all of the organizations have been successful; in some cases factionalism, inexperience, poor advice and financial irregularities have reduced their capacity to serve their constituency. Not all of the organizations are, in fact, accountable to the people they are meant to serve. But overwhelmingly the organizations

have stood the test of time and are by far the most effective and informed means by which Aboriginal opinion may be articulated.

27 .1.4 Governments and Aboriginal organizations, including ATSIC, need to agree together the processes which should be adopted for the delivery of services and the designing of policies. There is a very real need to formalize such understandings. I am impressed by the process adopted by the Aboriginal Legal Services in Katherine, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs to agree upon written protocols for some relationships between police, hospitals and the Legal Services. In my opinion, there would be great value if organizations were to have similar written . understandings with agencies of government with which they most closely relate in servicing the needs of their clients. ATSIC, if it is genuinely an Aboriginal-controlled body, should not need to have written agreement with any Aboriginal organization about the definition of self-determination and the processes which it will adopt to ensure that the principle motivates design and delivery of services, but for reasons to which I refer I do not

believe that it should be assumed that A TSIC will be any more certain as to this than was its predecessor.

Page6 Vol4



The Path to Self-Determination

Recommendation 188: That governments negotiate with appropriate Aboriginal organizations and communities to determine guidelines as to the procedures and

processes which should be followed to ensure that the self-determination principle is applied in the design and implementation of any policy or program or the substantial modification of any policy or program

which will particularly affect Aboriginal people.


27 .2. 1 On 5 March 1990, A TSIC began to function. A statutory authority of the Commonwealth, A TSIC replaced and-for the moment­ continued the programs of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (DAA) and the Aboriginal Development Commission (ADC). After an interim

period, the Commission will consist of seventeen elected and three Ministerially-appointed Aboriginal!forres Strait Islander Commissioners who will henceforth make most of the policies and allocate most of the appropriations of the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio. (Aboriginal Hostels

Limited and the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies remain autonomous bodies within that portfolio.)

27 .2.2 A TSIC thus answers to a need articulated by Aboriginal leaders and non-Aboriginal advisers since 197 4: indigenous people have at last been given executive rather than advisory powers over Commonwealth programs dedicated to their welfare. The National

Aboriginal Consultative Committee (NACC) Executive, its reviewer Dr Les Hiatt, the National Aboriginal Conference (NAC) Executive, and its reviewer Dr H. C. Coombs have each urged this development as essential to self-determination.

27 .2.3 One of the lessons learned from the NACC and NAC-the difficulties of representing at a national level the and

interests articulated at the local level-appears to have Informed the des1gn of ATSIC. As well as the elected Commission there will be sixty Regional Councils, each elected by enrolled Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders. The special interests of Torres Strait are to be

represented by an Office of Torres Strait Islander Affaus and a Torres Strait Islander Advisory Board.



The Path to Self-Determination 27

27 .2.4 The Regional Councils (whose elections took place in November 1990) will exercise substantial powers. Regional Councils are grouped into seventeen zones to elect a Councillor from .each zone to be a national Commissioner. Regional Councils are. to draw up regional plans and annual budgets; such budgets must be ratified by the A TSIC (ie. the Commission per se). It is not yet clear what proportion of program funds will be allocated by Regional Council decisions, for there are some programs which have been designated 'national' in the legislation: the

'Housing Fund', enterprise loans or grants, the Community Development Employment Projects scheme, the administrative expenses of the Commission and Regional Councils. However, there is an expectation that this leaves much in the hands of Regional Councils, and the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs has recently recommended that A TSIC be recognized as the agency overseeing inter­ governmental co-ordination, a step with the potential to give Regional Councils very great significance. 1 Local Aboriginal resource agencies of many kinds have flourished under increased government funding since the

1970s. ATSIC's Regional Councils may give local Aboriginal leaders a chance to participate as never before in decisions of government.

27 .2.5 To keep a sober view of ATSIC's potential as a devolution of power to indigenous, community-based leaders, however, it is necessary to take full measure of the weight of the political, administrative and ideological past from which it grew. In the remainder of this section I will discuss what seem to me to be the limitations of ATSIC as a venture in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self-determination.

27 .2. 6 The role of ATSIC is constrained by a number of important factors. In the first place, whilst A TSIC will administer a budget of some $500m in its first years a, very significant amount of funding on programs for Aboriginal people will continue to be administered by Commonwealth Government departments which have none of the trappings of self­ determination which the ATSIC structure provides. In 1988-89, for example, DAA administered a budget of $339m, the Aboriginal Development Corporation a budget of $109m and a further $328m was

administered by fifteen other Commonwealth agencies, notably the Department of Employment, Education and Training (DEET)-$191m in 1988-89-and Department of Community Services and Health ($112m).

27 .2. 7 The second potential constraint relates to the fact that ATSIC staff are public employed by the Commonwealth. While

nominations for ATSIC Regional Councils were open, it must have occurred to many experienced Aboriginal politicians that whereas in their own organizations (housing associations, legal services, land councils, medical services, etc.) they had powers to hire and fire their staff, as Regional Councillors or A TSIC Commissioners they would not. A TSIC staff remain Commonwealth public servants whose primary accountability, in the performance of duties and in the interpretation of

Page8 Vol4

27 The Path to Self-Determination

policy guidelines, is to the Chief Executive Officer, a full-time public servant appointed by the Minister. The Act specifies the grounds on which a CEO's appointment may be terminated.

27 .2.8 It is particularly significant that Regional Councils do not have their own local secretariat within their region but must make use of staff at Regional Offices which may be hundreds of kilometres from a Councillor's home constituency.

27 .2.9 There is thus great potential in ATSIC's structure for the intensification of the tendencies towards centralized bureaucratic determination of program implementation. Aboriginal organizations such as Tangentyere Council have demonstrated how much effort must be put

into contesting head office perspectives on housing, assumptions which emphasize the quantitative over the qualitative and which move from the periphery to the centre the prerogative to define Aboriginal needs.2 As ATSIC has been set up, few, if any, Regional Councils will have anything

like the resources (political experience, administrative infrastructure) which it has taken to assert successfully the specific demands of particular communities.

27 .2.1 0 The experiences of Aboriginal people in attempting to control the affairs at community level-the area where local government policies play such a major role-are a microcosm of broader questions.

27.2.11 The control of funding at a local level and the determining of priorities for the allocation of funds would be greatly facilitated if Aboriginal people were able to deal with fewer funding agencies (and preferably only one agency). That agency should understand the concept

of self-determination-its staff should recognize that the process of consultation can either advance self-determination or else can impose intolerable demands which effectively deny community control and add to the pressures which are so overwhelming to people on many communities.

27.2.12 In regard to these questions it is necessary to consider ATSIC and also to assess whether there are not other, less intrusive, ways in which Aboriginal people can gain greater control over their own affairs and at the same time can maximize the funds which are available to meet

their great needs.

27.2.13 A TSIC is an important new feature of society.

Throughout my consultations and those of other Comm1ssloners I many expressions of pessimism about A TSIC-although I heard many 1n support of it and more who said that it must be 'given a go'.

27.2.14 Many people, both Aboriginal Aboriginal, that ATSIC would fail to represent Abong1nal 1nterests; 1t was a cynical device created by governments to transfer the hard dec1s1ons-and

Vol4 Page9

The Path to Self-Determination 27

the inevitable anger and enmity which would flow from them-to Aboriginal shoulders; that it would be under-funded and thus ensure division between Aboriginal people; that it was merely the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, a white bureaucracy disguised as a body responsive to Aboriginal aspirations; that it was a body controlled by non-Aboriginal Ministers; and that it was designed to compete with and dominate existing Aboriginal organizations. Not all those who were pessimistic raised all these points but these were the range of most often voiced concerns.

27.2.15 All of these criticisms and fears, or some of them, could prove valid, but there is good reason why A TSIC should be supported by Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people alike. Too often, decisions about Aboriginal people have been made by non-Aboriginal people. A TSIC, whilst it may not redress that in all areas, nonetheless allows a significant devolving of decision making to Aboriginal people over a range of issues which would otherwise be determined by non-Aboriginal people.

27.2.16 There is clearly some uncertainty as to the precise operations of A TSIC and the respective roles of its Commissioners, Regional Councillors and bureaucracy. The uncertainty arises partly because of the constraints imposed by the A TSIC legislation, partly because many

significant programs which impact on Aboriginal affairs are under the control of government departments and not ATSIC, and partly, of course, because the Commissioners and Councillors have so recently been appointed or elected that there has been no time to develop the working procedures of ATSIC under Aboriginal control.

27.2.17 The uncertainty and ambiguity of the roles of the various constituent parts of ATSIC was highlighted by a comment made by a senior officer (a non-Aboriginal person) during a conference session which Commissioner Dodson and I convened in Darwin in late 1990. Asked about the role of Regional Councillors the ATSIC officer said:

The Regional Councillors in the first instance are not going to have any formal say in the economic programs run by ATSIC. The Enterprise Funding, the

Management Advisory Services and everything else will be a national program and as such will stay within the bureaucracy. However, it's likely that any

recommendations made by the bureaucracy will be passed through the Regional Councils for their information and input. At some future stage it may well happen that these programs will be down or

devolved down to the Regional Councils.

27.2.18 At the time when the officer was speaking, the first elections of A TSIC Regional Councillors had not taken place and I realize that the officer may not have been speaking with precision, but it is a matter of

Page)O Vol4

27 The Path to Self-Determination

concern-if it is correct-that the Regional Councillors might be thought to have less of a role to play in determining economic programs than would the bureaucracy of A TSIC.

27.2.19 Yet, what the officer had to say may well be an accurate statement of the role, or the limitations of the role, of Regional Councillors, as determined by the legislation. DEET carries responsibility for employment and training programs, apart from the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) Scheme which remains under

the jurisdiction of ATSIC. A TSIC also has responsibility for a number of important economic policies; for example, commercial and development enterprises, including loans and grants for housing. It is, however, the responsibility of the A TSIC Commissioners or else the Board of the

Commercial Development Corporation to determine policy and make decisions as to funding in these areas. These matters are not the responsibility of the Regional Councils. ATSIC and the Commercial Development Corporation (CDC) provide the money for economic

enterprises. However, the management and staff training aspects are so significant for the effectiveness of most programs that, in effect, DEET plays a greater role in the development of economic enterprises-at both a national level in reviewing the training component of funding applications,

and at the local and regional level of implementation-than ATSIC itself plays.

27.2.20 Furthermore, the legislation (by sections 17, 63, and 97) provides that in formulating their regional budgets the Regional Councils are not able to allocate or seek funding with respect, inter alia, to CDEP, housing, loan and grants for commercially viable business enterprises or

'programs appropriately conducted on a national basis'. Accordingly, in those key areas of economic development which do not come under the jurisdiction of DEET it is not the Regional Councils which will determine the allocation of resources in their regions.

27.2.21 There is, however, another point which must be understood and does not appear to be recognized, or clearly emphasized, by the words of the A TSIC officer whom I have quoted. Where A TSIC has control over decisions with respect to allocation of funds in these economic programs it is not the A TSIC bureaucracy which the legislation empowers

to make decisions but the A TSIC Commissioners or else the Board of the CDC which is also established by the A TSIC legislation.

27.2.22 There is another reason why it is incorrect to say that 'The Regional Councillors in the first instance are not going to have any formal say in the economic programs run by A TSIC', as the officer ass.erted. The Regional Councils are specifically given power? by 94, to

formulate regional plans 'for social and

status' of people in their region and to assist, advise and co-. operate with Commonwealth, State!ferritory and local government bodies as well as


Page 11

The Path to Self-Determination 27

with the ATSIC Commission to implement those plans. Additionally, the Regional Councils may pass on the views of people in their regions and represent the interests of those people with respect to 'the activities' of any such government body as well as those of the A TSIC Commission.

27.2.23 In other words, the Regional Councils are not at all

constrained by the legislation in the extent to which they wish to 'have a say' in the economic policies and programs initiated by the A TSIC Commission or by any government department. They do not have power to decide those policies and programs, but certainly they 'have a say' and it is quite wrong to suggest that their entitlement in that respect is

subordinate to the entitlement of the bureaucracy of A TSIC.

27.2.24 Whatever the ultimate success or otherwise of ATSIC it will undoubtedly have teething troubles. This should be recognized by all as inevitable. Much patience and foresight will be necessary to negotiate the early period.

Recommendation 189: That the Commonwealth Government give

consideration to constituting ATSIC as an employing authority independent of the Australian Public Service.


27 .3.1 It can be expected that ATSIC Commissioners will preside over a budget of about $500m in the first year. Regional Councils will make bids for this funding and the national councillors will then be required to allocate funds between regions. As I understand it, once a region has received funding there will be considerable scope for reallocation of funding as between budget items, but there will be

accountability requirements monitored by the Office of Evaluation and Audit which is being set up under ATSIC. What is not clear is the extent to which the funding which will be provided through the ATSIC budget will be in substitution of funding from other sources which might be available to Aboriginal communities in each region.

27 .3.2 The Chairperson of ATSIC, Ms Lois O'Donoghue, CBE, AM, has advised me that she would expect Regional Councils to try to maximize the amounts of money available to their regions by seeking additional funding from sources other than A TSIC, rather than use the limited funds from ATSIC to meet areas of need which could be the subject of funding through other programs and departments. In some

Page 12 Vol4

27 The Path to Self-Determination

ways the very vagueness of the current understandings of the areas which might be funded through A TSIC and of the relationship of ATSIC to government departments at State, Federal and Local Government levels may provide the opportunity for communities to maximize the level of

funding to their communities. On the other hand, if A TSIC simply replaces DAA as just one of the bodies which is involved in the allocation of funds it will perpetuate the current confusing and complex funding arrangements which already bedevil Aboriginal communities.

27 .3.3 Many critiques have been written about the extent to which the multiplicity of government agencies (which, at all levels, maintain programs relating to Aboriginal people) serves to diminish the prospect of self-determination and self-management of these communities. The recent House of Representatives Standing Committee of Aboriginal Affairs report

Our Future, Our Selves identified the need for improvements to be introduced in funding arrangements in order to increase control over resources. The committee reported as follows:

The problems associated with funding represent real restrictions on the autonomy of Aboriginal communities. This lack of autonomy is reinforced by the fact that almost all funding to Aboriginal communities comes in

the form of grants for specific projects or functions, although some may receive block grants or untied local government funding. These funds are supplemented to a limited extent by other activities such as enterprises.

Communities also tap into sources such as the CDEP and direct individual unemployment benefits into a comrnunity wages pool from which a variety of projects are funded. In reality, however, it is difficult for

communities to control and set priorities for the overall funding coming into their communities as they are derived from too many sources and tied to pre-determined priorities that may not necessarily reflect a

community's requirement. 3

27 .3.4 I think the problem goes even further than identified in that quotation. Departments and agencies are constantly coming to communities with programs, proposals to do assessments and feasibility studies. I heard of committees dealing with up to thirty-five bodies. They

are submerged in people wanting to consult. I was told of one community council which sets one week of the month as 'off limits' to people wanting to consult so that it could get on with its own business. This is obviously very frustrating for communities and appears to be inefficient. One can

also see very well the difficulty (referred to in the above quote about 'control and set[ting] priorities for the overall funding') when funding comes from so many sources and tied in so many ways.

Vol4 Page 13

The Path to Self-Determination 27

27.3.5 But above and beyond this the whole process can only tend to take decision-making power out of Aboriginal hands. The communities are constantly responding to agendas promoted from outside, rather than setting their own agenda and then negotiating about relevant matters. Such negotiations will necesaarily involve a whole range of organizations­ A TSIC, governments, Health Departments, Main Roads Boards, the Arts Council etc., and even private enterprise bodies.

27 .3.6 I therefore agree with the committee's recommendation that the Commonwealth, in conjunction with the States and Territories, develop proposals for implementing a system of block funding of Aboriginal communities and organizations. There should also be implemented a system whereby Aboriginal communities and organizations are provided with a minimum level of funding on a triennial basis.

27.3.7 In my view the ideal situation would be that all sources of funds provided for, or identified as being available to, Aboriginal communities or organizations be allocated through a single source with one set of audit and financial requirements, but with the maximum devolution of power to the communities and organizations to determine the priorities for the allocation of such funds. In order to stress my support for the principles just discussed I make a recommendation in the same terms as those used by the House of Representatives Standing Committee.

27 .3.8 As matters now stand, programs are devised, most frequently, without substantial Aboriginal input at Commonwealth, State and local government level and these programs are then ' sold' to Aboriginal communities. Paradoxically, one criticism which could still be made of many of the programs is that despite the employment by some departments of Aboriginal field officers, the programs are really not adequately brought to the attention of communities. It is left to the communities or their advisers to identify the funding possibilities and to approach the departments concerned.

2 7. 3. 9 Problems of fiscal management persists at all levels of Aboriginal organizations because of inexperience. Fiscal mismanagement in some organizations or communities has resulted in a concentration on the difficulties Aboriginal communities or organizations have with bookkeeping, accountancy, audit and cash flow generally. This has created a belief in sections of the broader society that all communities and organizations are guilty of fiscal mismanagement and derelection in their duties to government funding agencies. This is absolutely not the case. It would be good if attention could be drawn to communities and organizations that have a good control. It is no diminution of Aboriginal self-management to insist that monies expended be accounted for to the funding agency. There has been no suggestion by Aboriginal people that accountability for public funds does not require their responsible management and accounting. To argue otherwise is to cheat on their own

Page 14 Vol4

27 The Path to Self-Determination

people a.nd risk a serious political backlash from the non-Aboriginal commumty.

27.3 .1 0 The question of financial management within Aboriginal organizations is an important one which I will further address in Section 27.4 of this chapter.

27.3.11 However, there needs to be, in my view, a two-way

relationship involving both funding agencies and the communities. Thus, Aboriginal people-who are responsible for money granted from the public purse-are just as aware of the way in which funding agencies are dealing with funds specified for Aboriginal purposes; and are assured that

they are dealing responsibly with the granting of those funds under the relevant program charter-as are the funding agencies of Aboriginal uses of those funds.

27.3 .12 As well, the accountability of Aboriginal Councils to their communities, has been relatively neglected. This accountability requires accounting methods that can be understood in aggregate by the community at large. ATSIC might consider mechanisms which could achieve this


27.3.13 The multiplicity of funding agencies, the obvious overlap between many programs from one department to another, the apparent competition for programs to be adopted by Aboriginal communities all present a grossly complex and unwieldy environment which is hardly

conducive to effective self-determination and self-management. So far as I can see, no Aboriginal individual or organization, anywhere, has asked for this complex multi-layered, bureaucratic and organizational picture to be the reality of Aboriginal self-determination and self-management. All of

these arrangements are the product of non-Aboriginal bureaucratic and political notions of the organizational needs and program needs for Aboriginal communities. There is a quite tragic waste of time and money involved in the maintenance of such a ludicrously complicated funding


27.3.14 As the House of Representatives Standing Committee noted, it is worth considering what might occur if a different approach to funding was adopted. At the moment (and pending the ATSIC Commissioners and Regional Councillors commencing their work with respect of

budgetting for regional areas) Aboriginal communities are invited either to 'bid' for funds for their general needs or else to apply for grants under particular programs. In either case the Aboriginal request is considered in the context of existing programs, and if the 'bid' or request fits within the

funding category and if funds are available and, further, if the community is deemed eligible on a 'needs' basis then funding is approved, usually for a year. There may, however, be a quite different response if the community were to be simply offered a ' block' amount of funding and be

Vol4 Page 15

The Path to Self-Determination 27

invited to set its own priorities for the allocating of the funds. An illustration may provide an answer.

27.3.15 The Gagadju Association in the Northern Territory benefits from mining royalties of approximately $2m per annum with respect to the J abiru mine. The community receives little funding from other sources and no government grants. The community at Gagadju decided that very little of its funding would be spent on housing. Thus, very basic houses were built and the balance of the funding has been invested in properties such as hotels and motels which will provide a long term economic base for the community. The community also resolved that only a very limited amount of money would be paid out to individuals within the community and that sum of money is specifically calculated to ensure that eligibility to unemployment benefits is not affected.

27.3 .1 6 The House of Representatives Committee contrasted the Gagadju approach (where the people decided for themselves how to spend their money), with the approach which would be likely to be adopted if a government official was to arrive at a community and announce that the government had a housing program and were then to ask whether the people would like to have houses built. Inevitably the answer would be

' yes ' and there would then commence a process of consultation which would lead to the design of houses, ultimately of a much grander construction than what Gagadju chose to build for itself. This may be a very satisfactory way of ensuring the best possible level of housing development within a community, but if the community had had the chance to reallocate available housing funds in whatever other way it saw fit and provided further that the money so re-allocated would not be offset against other funding entitlements, then would the community make the same choice about the nature of the housing which was to be built? I comment on this example again in Chapter 35.

27.3.17 On Friday 30 November 1990, Commissioner Dodson and I conducted a transcribed conference session with senior officers of DEET and of A TSIC. I am grateful for the written submissions which both bodies made to the Commission. During the session we discussed the role of the two bodies by looking at the process which they each adopted in considering a request for funding which had been made jointly by three Aooriginal resource agencies. It was an illuminating exercise which gave some insight into the bureaucratic processes which are likely to continue to -apply even after the birth of A TSIC. The officers from DEET were involved because the funding application related to programs for which DEET had an interest in the provision of training. DEET officers clearly

saw their responsibilities being to assess the proposals from the viewpoint of fiscal responsibility-an entirely appropriate function but one which clearly placed them in a position where DEET would be seen as thwarting self-determination.

Page 16 Vol4

2 7 The Path to Self-Determination

27 .3.18 In response to Counsel Assisting's question that:

the community is facing the fact that their common goals can fail ... because funding agencies which aren't Aboriginal may make the decision that what they're seeking is not appropriate.

Mr Gallagher replied: We do put the hard line on the other side. I mean, we do have a responsibility as public servants to ensure that taxpayers dollars are effectively allocated, and this proposal does not look at

all cost effective. Now we have to work out a way of balancing those interests against the self determination objective and of establishing a non-threatening negotiating process.4

27 .3.19 The response from Mr Gallagher emphasizes the complexity which does arise, and will do doubt continue to arise, where programs directly related to Aboriginal people come within the jurisdiction of a government department rather than A TSIC. In this case, the proposal­

for community development planning in the region-came under the jurisdiction of DEET, at least insofar as training issues were involved. One reason for caution in dealing with the application, no doubt, was the fact that under the A TSIC legislation the development of regional plans

relating to the 'economic, social and cultural status' of Aboriginal people in a region was made the task of ATSIC Regional Councils. The proposal from the three organizations may well have been an appropriate matter to be deferred until after the Regional Councillors were elected (which was

due to occur about a month after my hearings in which this discussion occurred).

27.3.20 However, leaving aside the timing or merits of the specific funding application a question of principle and practice still arises. As I said earlier in this chapter, the body with primary responsibility for funding the employment and training components of economic

development programs is DEET. This role has been given to DEET pursuant to the Aboriginal Employment Development Policy (AEDP) which was the government's response to the recommendations of the Miller Report on Aboriginal Employment and Training Programs

published in 1985. The Miller Report specifically recommended that DEET (as the department became known after the report was published) take responsibility for programs relating to employment and training (apart from CDEP), rather than Department of Aboriginal Affairs (the forerunner

of ATSIC). There are sound reasons why this was recommended and why this might remain the case given the expertise and resources of DEET in these areas.

Vol4 Page 17

The Path to Self-Determination 27

27.3.21 Under AEDP, the role of DEET is recognized but DAA-and now, ATSIC-was to be intimately involved in the process to ensure co­ ordination of such programs. This was probably easier to achieve with DAA, which was a Commonwealth Government Department, than it may prove to be with ATSIC, where Councillors and Commissioners, as elected representatives of Aboriginal people, may have a different appreciation of their role and relationship with DEET. The objective of co­ ordination is obviously still highly desirable.

27.3.22 The situation remains, however, that the DEET officers have to balance their obligations to government, through their department, with the objectives of self-determination which they, as well as DAA (now A TSIC), are required to honour. Mr Gallagher clearly recognized the dilemma. Whilst DEET has employed many Aboriginal people on its staff to assist the process (a senior Aboriginal officer also took part in the conference session), this would not necessarily ensure that Aboriginal perceptions of what is self-determination at the grass root level would be reflected in the funding decision made on their applications. The perception that self-determination has been denied is, of course, much more likely to be held if the ultimate decision is taken not by an Aboriginal body, such as ATSIC, but by a government department, no matter how many Aboriginal people are employed by that department.

27.3.23 In the very case under discussion the point was illustrated. The officials who appeared before me expressed their reservations about not only the effectiveness of what had been proposed in the funding application but also as to its cultural appropriateness. For all I know their reservations may have been entirely justified. The question remains, however, would it not be better that such evaluation be made by representatives of an Aboriginal organizations whose decision makers are directly answerable to Aboriginal people?

27.3.24 It is too early to be proposing that government make radical re­ arrangements which will affect both AEDP and the respective roles of DEET and ATSIC, when the latter body has barely started its work. The problems which I have raised, however, do point to the fact that government should be looking at ways which, wherever place decision making on issues which directly affect Aboriginal people under

the control of A TSIC rather than under the control of government through its departments or agencies.

27.3.25 There will, however, be many situations where it would be inappropriate for A TSIC to duplicate the functions of a government department which provides specialist services under its own budget and programs. In these cases what seems to me to be essential is that the precise terms of the involvement of such an agency and the process whereby the principle of self-determination is to be given effect, or else the limitations which will be imposed on giving effect to that principle, should

Page 18 Vol4

27 The Path to Self-Determination

be negotiated with A TSIC so that all Aboriginal organizations may be aware of the processes.

27.3.26 I should make it clear that I am not being critical of the DEET officers who appeared before Commissioner Dodson and me. It is obvious that there are finite limits to any budget and decisions must be made between competing claims. This will be as true for ATSIC as it is

for DEET, but at least in the case of A TSIC where hard decisions have to be taken they will be taken by an Aboriginal organization and that enables Aboriginal people to determine cultural and financial priorities.

27.3.27 It needs to be said that the question of finding an appropriate and effective process to ensure that Aboriginal people, their communities and organizations, gain .the maximum degree of self-determination with the least amount of administrative and bureaucratic complication is by no

means a simple one. This is one of the reasons why the recommendations which follow this section are couched in the terms they are.

27.3.28 There is a very great need for governments to get together to examine the whole complex picture of funding in the Aboriginal affairs area. It is quite clear that there is, and has been for many years, broad acceptance across the political spectrum that the principle of self­

determination is the appropriate basis for reform in Aboriginal affairs. The best method to adopt in implementation of that principle, however, is a matter which has been under constant debate and for some very good reasons.

27.3.29 The concept of block funding to communities and

organizations was supported by the bi-partisan House of Representatives Committee, and I agree with their proposal. The concept of block funding, however, is not without its difficulties. At one level block funding might mean that an Aboriginal community or organization would receive a single line allocation of money, and the community or

organization would then be entirely free to decide how it would spend the money. I wrote earlier of the approach of the Gagadju Association in this regard.

27.3.30 Consider, for example, a scenario in which a community is allocated funds by an ATSIC Regional Council on the basis of an assessment of the health needs of all communities and organizations in the council's region. What should be the response of government, or of

A TSIC, if a community then decided that instead of allocating funds to health needs it decided instead to spent the money on hghung or transport needs?

27.3.31 In this illustration it could be said that the community had spoken-it had applied the principle of self-determination to set own priorities-and so it had. But might government not have a legtumate

Vol4 Page 19

The Path to Self-Determination 27

concern to ensure that the health needs of citizens were not being denied? Might the Regional Council not have a similar concern that its careful assessment of competing needs in the health area and its budget allocation to the relevant community or organization would have been different had it known the purpose for which the funds were to be applied?

27.3.32 If the funding came through AT SIC was that not also a process of self-determination which it had applied in making its allocation of funds between communities?

27.3.33 There are very many illustrations which could be given which would highlight the fact that it is an area where quite legitimate, but conflicting, opinions could arise. These are all very difficult questions, but the fact remains that the situation, as it now exists, would see these questions resolved in a highly bureaucratic way and the decision-making process would be dominated by the involvement of government departments and agencies, at all levels.

27.3.34 The House of Representatives Committee suggested that the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments should consult together, and with ATSIC and appropriate Aboriginal organizations, to try to agree on a system which would ensure that so far as is possible as much of the money which is now allocated to Aboriginal people from the various levels of government actually reached those Aboriginal organizations and communities. I entirely agree and add·that the objectives should be that by

this approach such funding as was then made available would be provided in a way which gave the communities • the greatest freedom possible to decide for themselves the areas on which the funds would be spent; • as much forward notice as possible of the amount of money

which will be made available to them; and • a guarantee of funding on a triennial basis so that the communities or organizations could plan ahead.

27.3.35 If these objectives were met then the communities or organizations would be given the greatest possible ability to plan their overall priorities and to achieve the aims which they set for themselves.

27.3.36 From the perspective of the organizations and communities- . and, in my opinion, this is a desirable objective-their ability to plan ahead would be enhanced if they had to deal with as few funding bodies as possible. Another of my recommendations addresses this point. As far as possible, funds allocated to a particular area of Aboriginal need, whether provided under Commonwealth, State or local government programs,

should be provided to the communities and organizations from a common source and be accounted for to the one source and with one set of audit and fmancial rules applying.

Page20 Vol4

27 The Path to Self-Determination

27.3.37 This leads to the conclusion that the ideal situation would be to have only one body-and preferably one Aboriginal-controlled body-to be the source of all funds. I am aware, however, that this proposition is not regarded as being without its own constitutional and administrative

difficulties. It is for this reason that I agree with the House of

Representatives Committee that the starting point is for governments to get together to see to what extent there is agreement to improve the current system, having in mind the objectives which I have described above. I believe that there could be many administrative arrangements which could

be made which would assist the process whereby departments and agencies could reduce the level of the involvement of them all and increase the extent to which decision making was moved more firmly to Aboriginal people and further from the domain of non-Aboriginal people.


Recommendation 190: That the Commonwealth Government, in conjunction with the State and Territory Governments, develop proposals for implementing a system of block grant funding of Aboriginal communities and organizations

and also implement a system whereby Aboriginal communities and organizations are provided with a minimum level of funding on a triennial basis.

Recommendation 191: That the Commonwealth Government, in conjunction with the State and Territory Governments, develop means by which all sources of funds provided or

identified as being available to

communities or organizations wherever posszble be allocated through a single source one set of .audit and financial requirements but wzth the . "!axzmum devolution of power to the communztzes and

organizations to determine the priorities for the

allocation of such funds.

Page 21

The Path to Self-Determination



27 .4.1 Whilst it may well be true that Aboriginal processes

traditionally emphasized local autonomy, and no doubt still do, one of the most remarkable developments in the past twenty years has been the growth and effectiveness of Aboriginal organizations. I have been told that there are well in excess of one thousand such organizations in Australia. These organizations cover an extraordinary range, many are national bodies, but the greatest number are incorporated associations delivering services in housing, legal, social welfare and other fields. In effect, for every policy of government, at whatever level, there is likely to

be an Aboriginal organization which claims to represent local, regional, State or national Aboriginal people on the issue and which is delivering services in that field to Aboriginal people.

27 .4.2 In some places these organizations have become very significant and skilful forces in dealing with the broader community and its agencies. In the Northern Territory the Aboriginal Land Councils, with their funding tied to mining royalties and the statutory recognition given to them by the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act, are strong political forces in their own right and innovative proponents of Aboriginal viewpoints on topics much wider than land rights.

27 .4.3 The Land Rights Legislation, quite apart from providing an independent funding base (although still accountable to government), has had a dramatic effect on the status of Aboriginal people in another way. These councils negotiate with, governments, major corporations and various interest groups. They are not sought out so much to be consulted

but to be negotiated with. The Act provides for the power of veto over development proposals at the preliminary stage; once there is agreement the power is surrendered. The Land Councils, upon instruction of traditional owners, negotiate the terms upon which consent is given or else convey the advice that consent is refused. This power to refuse consent to development is a powerful incentive to ensure that the negotiations are serious.

27 .4.4 The Land Councils have many critics, but I am impressed by the fact that they have really become an accepted part of the political fabric of the Northern Territory. They have had their 'losses' and have, at times, also been criticized by Aboriginal people for failing, so it was said, to adequately represent the interests of particular groups. Overwhelmingly, however, Aboriginal people appreciate the strength which the Councils give them and the ability of the Councils to protect Aboriginal interests, and through intelligent research, to plan for the long term. There have, of

Page 22 Vol4

27 The Path to Self-Determination

course, been occasions when Aboriginal people have been publicly critical of Land Councils and have sought to break away from the

Councils. It seems to me, however, that such criticism does not involve rejection of the concept of Land Councils. Indeed, the reverse is the case since in these instances the demand has been to create new Land but with a regional or local base of operation.

27 .4.? . a quarter the Northern Territory population being

Abongmal It IS perhaps unwise to assume that the achievements of the Land Councils can be readily repeated elsewhere. But it is not just the Land Rights Act or the population size which has given the Councils such strength. Many other organizations in the Northern Territory, without the

benefit of such legislation, have also won a significant role in the political agenda of the Territory.

27 .4.6 In other States there are other organizations which play very important roles in local and State affairs.

27 .4.7 It seems to me quite clear that Aboriginal people have accepted the concept of representation through organizations. This may well have been a foreign concept when DAA so enthusiastically embraced the notion of 'community' as the basis for funding. Aboriginal people are quick to

stress that their organizations must consult with, and be instructed by, their constituencies, however much devolution of authority has occurred. In my opinion, there will over time be greater recognition that many of the day-to-day issues should not be the subject of consultation at a local level.

As Aboriginal people gain more confidence in the role of organizations and the ability to delegate decision-making power to organizations over the many mundane issues on which they are currently consulted some of the pressures will be removed from local communities without them losing the

degree of self-determination which they demand. Self-determination will in this regard be achieved through the agency of the organizations.

27 .4.8 Aboriginal organizations are, however, bedevilled by demands of government to account for their every action and expenditure. It is quite appropriate and, as I said previously, I do not believe that any organization would disagree with this, that government funds should be properly

managed and accounted for, but the level of control and the of accounting processes which are required by government and fundmg agencies wastes time and resources.

27 .4.9 It needs to be borne in mind that there are practically no Aboriginal people who, until very recently, were accustomed to control sums of money other than those involved for p:rsonal n:eds. Th.e book­ keeping and accounting processes of large bodies

sums of money, which sums must be accounted for, dtfficult task. This difficulty is experienced by all people, Abongmal and non-


Page 23

The Path to Self-Determination 27

Aboriginal, who are required to perform book-keeping and accounting functions without adequate training or experience.

27 .4.1 0 There are many problems which .impact on the ability of Aboriginal organizations to meet the management and accounting demands placed on them by government. Commonwealth and State Governments, which provide funding to the same organizations, may require different accounting procedures to be adopted. The staff and executives of the Aboriginal organizations may sometimes find themselves at odds with the membership of the organizations who would also usually have little experience in financial administration of such organizations. Members of the organization might, at times, be puzzled by restrictions on expenditure of sums in circumstances which appeared to the membership to be both appropriate and necessary but which was prohibited or restricted according to the procedures imposed by funding bodies. I believe that it would be extremely helpful to Aboriginal organizations, and would enable them to perform their functions more efficiently, if the funding bodies could agree

upon the simplest and most uniform system of accounting and book­ keeping procedures as is possible.

27.4.11 In my opinion it is these organizations which provide the best hope of achieving genuine self-determination. They have the support of Aboriginal people and are accountable to them. On the other hand, governments do not, apparently, feel an obligation upon themselves to account to Aboriginal people for the processes whereby they or their public servants make decisions on policy or deal with applications for funding made by the organizations. They should do so.

27.4.12 It would be unfortunate if ideological concerns and narrowly focused notions of efficiency and effectiveness were to obtrude in discussion about the means to be employed in the delivery of services. It seems to me that there is a need for flexibility as well as for considerations of practicality and efficiency to be taken into account, and, generally speaking, governments and Aboriginal people do acknowledge this in practice. The simple and undeniable fact of the matter is that the condition of Aboriginal people is different from that of non-Aboriginal people; firstly, because of the accumulated disadvantage which this report indicates; secondly, because a very substantial number of Aboriginal people live in remote areas; thirdly, because they have a different cultural

background; fourthly, they are just coming out of a period of having no · rights and no say in their affairs; and fifthly, they have continuously been responding to agendas determined by others. To insist upon mainstreaming in service provison in these circumstances is both more costly in the long term and is thoroughly undesirable in my view.

27.4.13 At different times in the past there have been those who have raised objections to the establishment and existence of Aboriginal­ controlled organizations to service Aboriginal people. However, the

Page 24 Vol4

27 The Path to Self-Determination

important that successive Australian Governments, irrespective of party compositlon, have funded and otherwise supported Aboriginal Legal and AtJ:original Services (and a whole range of other

Abongmal service orgamzauons). Recently, the Northern Territory Government supported the Aboriginal Medical Services as, indeed was by th.e o.f when opening the fairly new

medical bmldmg m Allee Spnngs. State Government agencies work comfortably with Commonwealth-funded service organizations.

27.4.14 On the other hand, Aboriginal interests appear to me to rec?gnize that there are 'mainstream' services which can only soundly be dehvered by mainstream agencies, and Aboriginal people are willing users of many mainstream services such as Medicare, Commonwealth

Employment Service (CES), ambulance services, hospital services, library services, tertiary education services, court services and others.

27.4.15 Leaving governments aside, individual non-Aboriginal people in some areas avail themselves of the services of Aboriginal organizations; for example, health services in areas where mainstream services are not so readily available as at other places.

27.4.16 I have already noted that government departments and agencies in Alice Springs use the services of the Aboriginal adult education provider, the Institute of Aboriginal Development, to deliver services for employees in cross-cultural communication.

27.4.17 In short, there is nothing in the question which should cause non-Aboriginal people to be alarmed, and certainly it is not one on which to feel compelled to take up any fixed position. What is needed is greater opportunities for non-Aboriginal people to become acquainted with the

work and functions of these Aboriginal organizations.

27.4.18 On the Aboriginal side, it is quite clear that on those matters which are closest to specialist Aboriginal interest, such as legal rights, primary health care, child care, maintenance of languages, Aboriginal culture, arts and crafts, land ownership and lease, and many others,

Aboriginal people as a whole greatly prefer their own organizati

equality and self-determination (in some cases close to self-management).

27.4.19 However, in my opinion self-determination cannot be a if governments fail to recognize that Aboriginal people have clearly their preference for using not only as.

negotiators, but as the agents for dehvenng services. The. organizations, when given adequate funding and m a posttlon in which they are respected negotiators and service deliverers, have


Page 25

The Path to Self-Determination 27

performed much more effectively than the majority of mainstream agencies have performed in relation to Aboriginal people. They are trusted, they know and respect Aboriginal society and culture and they enhance self­ respect within the Aboriginal community as they fulfil their roles.

27.4.20 Aboriginal organizations would undoubtedly perform better if some of the unnecessary constraints were removed. The funding of them on an annual basis, with quarterly payments being made, makes forward planning difficult.

27.4.21 I have earlier noted the need for proper accounting of funds granted to Aboriginal organizations and I return to this again. There have been a number of well published instances of apparent financial mismanagement in Aboriginal organizations. The effect on Aboriginal morale of public criticism in these circumstances has been very substantial.

27.4.22 As previously mentioned in this report, Aboriginal people resent the constant and critical monitoring which their organizations receive from government, officials, the media and others. It seems to them that the attention which is given to any failure of an organization is both unfair and racist. Management mistakes and improprieties of major mainstream organizations, not to say the daily stories of the failures of small business ventures, do not carry with them the suggestion that all corporations and all business people are dishonest or are incompetent; yet that appears, to Aboriginal people, to be the theme of responses to any instance of an Aboriginal organization suffering a management failure.

27.4.23 I can well understand why Aboriginal people feel this way. At the same time many Aboriginal people have spoken to me and to other Commissioners about their anger and frustration that such situations do arise and have such a damaging effect on the public reputation of all Aboriginal people and on their organizations.

27.4.24 It is quite unfair if funding agencies devise unnecessarily complicated accounting procedures which pay no regard either to the tremendous pressures under which all Aboriginal organizations operate, nor to the limited experience and training which many Aboriginal people have in managing the affairs of such organizations. As the daily media reports demonstrate, it is not only within some Aboriginal organizations that inexperience and misjudgement can combine to produce unfortunate results.

27.4.25 There is, however, a need, widely recognized among Aboriginal people, to reduce or eliminate such incidents. Misjudgement is one thing but dishonesty is another. I believe that Aboriginal organizations would very willingly work with the Councillors and Commissioners of A TSIC to establish a system for streamlining

Page26 Vol4

27 The Path to Self-Determination

accounting and management procedures which would ensure that the integrity of the organizations and their staff was not compromised.

27.4.26 A problem which frequently arises in Aboriginal organizations to. the ?f clearl.Y in.temal procedures. In any

organizatJ.on which IS comm1tted to the pnnciple of self-determination­ and is anxious to ensure that the needs of its members are met expeditiously and with minimum bureaucratic restrictions-situations will inevitably arise where the lack of established procedures may present a

problem. There is a need in many organizations for a clear statement of duties of staff and management and for a demarcation of the duties and responsibilities and respective rights as between management and staff, on the one hand, and executive and membership, on the other. Aboriginal

people are frequently impatient with the lines of command which are familiar in many non-Aboriginal organizations but which to Aboriginal people can often appear to be non-Aboriginal imposed bureaucratic impediments to action. The situation can be very difficult for staff,

whether Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, when a direct request for expenditure of funds is made by one of the membership or the executive of the organization. To the person seeking the expenditure the request may appear entirely reasonable and in accordance with the proper role of the

organization, but the request may be contrary to funding guidelines and stipulated internal organizational or external government accountability requirements.

27.4.27 The sort of difficulties which I have described arise, once again, in mainstream organizations also. Recent experiences have demonstrated that non-Aboriginal organizations--even those with a long tradition of and staff acceptance of bureaucratic procedures-frequently

experience problems in this regard.

27.4.28 One solution to the problems of meeting accounting and management requirements, and which has been adopted in many Aboriginal organizations, is the employment of specialist non-Aboriginal staff. There has often been considerable ambivalence within such

organizations about the necessity for employing non-Aborigi.nal and this has itself often been a factor in management and staff d1ssens1on. In my opinion, there is nothing inconsistent with the principle of self­ determination for organizations to c?ntract or employ non­

Aboriginal staff. The critical matter, however, 1s that the terms of the employment and the respective obligations of the employer and employee should be clearly known, and the member of staff so .should know precisely the nature of his/her to the and

his/her relationship to other staff, executive and .membership of the organization. Uncertainty in thts regard sometimes leads to the unfortunate result that the non-Aboriginal person employed

employer for fear of being accused of showtng a lack of commitment to


Page 27

The Path to Self-Determination 27

the organization, on the one hand, or too great a commitment . to the interests of funding bodies, on the other. These are all matters whtch are capable of being resolved by the adoption of appropriate procedures at time of hiring of employees, which pr9cedures should provide mechanisms for the orderly resolution of disputes which might arise during the course of the employment or contract.

27.4.29 Although problems, such as I have described, have occurred in many Aboriginal organizations, I must that most

organizations function extremely well. Many, over a penod of decades, have developed procedures which provide efficient services in a well­ managed atmosphere which entirely meets the expectations of the membership and the needs of staff. In devising an appropriate system which might generally be adopted by Aboriginal organizations, ATSIC will be able to call on the advice of many such organizations.

27.4.30 There has been little agreement between funding bodies and Aboriginal organizations about requirements for monitoring performance. Performance indicators (as I discuss in Chapter 11) are of less value in areas dealing with cultural deprivation than they are in dealing with measurable areas of disadvantage. For this reason Aboriginal organizations have often demands by funders to provide statistics and to demonstrate 'achievement'. Aboriginal people have just as much interest as the funders in ensuring that funds are applied to best advantage and that needs are properly identified and are being met with some sense of priorities. The disagreement is about what the needs are and how best

they can be met. It is particularly the case that A TSIC should be appreciative of these concerns, but other government agencies which provide funding also need to consult with Aboriginal organizations to determine appropriate processes of evaluation.

27.4.31 One of the interesting developments which has occurred in recent years has been the recognition by government that not only do Aboriginal organizations perform very well for Aboriginal people but they can equally deliver such services to non-Aboriginal people-which would reduce the cost to government of establishing mainstream service delivery

agencies, in remote areas particularly. The Western Australian Health Commission has recently contracted with some Aboriginal Medical Services (AMS) to deliver medical services to remote communities where the is established. This is a sensible approach which

provides an additional · source of funding to the Aboriginal organizations and also demonstrates, in a practical way, the respect which government has for the organizations.

Page 28

Recommendation 192: That in the implementation of any policy or program which will particularly affect Aboriginal people the delivery of the program should, as a matter of




The Path to Self-Determination

preference, be made by such Aboriginal organizations as are appropriate to deliver services pursuant to the policy or program on a contractual basis. Where no appropriate Aboriginal organization is available to provide such service then any agency of government

delivering the service should, in consultation with appropriate Aboriginal organizations and communities, ensure that the processes to be adopted by the agency in the delivery of services are

appropriate to the needs of the Aboriginal people and communities receiving such services. Particular emphasis should be given to the employment of

Aboriginal people by the agency in the delivery of such services and in the design and management of the process adopted by the agency.

Recommendation 193: That the Commonwealth Government, in negotiation with appropriate Aboriginal organizations, devise a procedure which will enable Aboriginal communities

and organizations to properly account to government for funding but which will be least onerous and as convenient and simple as possible for the Aboriginal organizations and communities to operate. The

Commission further recommends that State and Territory Governments adopt the same procedure, once agreed, and with as few modifications as may be essential for implementation, in programs funded by

those governments.

Recommendation 194: That Commonwealth, State and Territory

Governments, in negotiation with appropriate Aboriginal communities and organizations, agree upon appropriate performance indicators for programs relevant to Aboriginal communities and organizations.

The Commission further recommends that

governments fund Aboriginal organizations and communities to enable the appropriate level of

infrastructure and training as is required to develop, apply and monitor performance indicators.

Page 29

The Path to Self-Determination 27

Page 30

Recommendation 195: That, subject to appropriate provision to ensure accountability to government for funds received, payments by government to Aboriginal organizations and communities be made on the basis of triennial rather than annual or quarterly funding.

Recommendation 196: That whilst governments are entitled to require a proper system for accounting of funds provided to Aboriginal organizations and communities, those

organizations and communities are equally entitled to receive a full explanation of the funding processes which are adopted by governments. The Commission recommends that governments ensure that Aboriginal communities and organizations are given prompt advice, in writing and in plain English or, where appropriate, in Aboriginal languages, as to decisions concerning funding applications and as to financial and other matters relevant to the assessment of

applications for funding made by those organizations and communities so as to enable those organizations and communities to make appropriate planning decisions.

Recommendation 197: That ATSIC Councillors and Commissioners at an early stage be encouraged to consult with Aboriginal organizations and communities to develop a program for training staff of Aboriginal organizations and

communities in appropriate management and accounting procedures to ensure the efficiency and integrity of the organizations which are culturally appropriate. In particular, there should be a

commitment to devising management procedures which provide rules for the relationship, obligations and rights, both individually and as between each . other, of directors, managers and staff of Aboriginal organizations.


27 The Path to Self-Determination


27 .5.1 As I described in Chapter 20, Aboriginal people have fared poorly in the provision of services at the level of local government. It would be unfair to lay the blame for this exclusively with local government authorities (LGAs); there is much justification for their complaint that they

cannot be expected to provide the catch up funding after decades of neglect in the provision of infrastructure and services to Aboriginal communities.

27 .5.2 Nonetheless, an anomaly remains. Local governments receive one level of funding, in untied grants, based on the numbers in the local government areas. Thus, Aboriginal people are counted in the equation which determines the level of funding received. However, it is grossly

unfair if, having been provided with such funds, local government authorities allocate the funds disproportionately to the benefit of non­ Aboriginal people, and because those funds are untied, the LGAs do not have to answer for this inequity. Aboriginal organizations would be jealous of the LGAs' freedom from having to justify their expenditure of

Financial Assistance Grants and for their ability to accumulate funds unspent at the end of a financial year.

27 .5.3 There has been an approach adopted by the Western Australian Local Governments Grants Commission which attempts to deal with the inequity in the distribution of local government funds between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in some LGA areas. The Western Australian

Grants Commission recognized that much inequity was occurring in many LGA areas and introduced the principle called Reduced Service Requirement. Where it appears that equitable allocation of funds is not occurring, the Commission can withhold some funds from the LGA,

which would put the onus on the LGA to demonstrate that it was spending the funds in an equitable manner.

27 .5.4 Ironically, the first council to suffer under this approach was at Wiluna, where, in 1987-88, an Aboriginal majority of councillors was elected. Because in the previous year the council had not spent its funds to the benefit of Aboriginal people as much as for non-Aboriginal people, the

new council found that its grant was reduced. The situation was subsequently changed as the new council quickly demonstrated that it was indeed ensuring that Aboriginal people were gaining a fair share of the local government funds.

27 .5.5 The tensions between local government authorities and Aboriginal people and their organizations are very real, but what is at issue is finding the most appropriate process to ensure that Aboriginal people secure their appropriate share of services of a local government kind. In

Vol4 Page 31

The Path to Self-Determination 27

some cases the existing LOA may be the only agency capable of delivering the services, in which case mechanisms must be created to ensure that Aboriginal needs are being both articulated and heeded.

27 .5.6 As the discussion in Chapter 20 shows (and also Chapter 12), there is fertile ground for divisive confrontation between Aboriginal people and local government authorities, not only over delivery of services but on other issues as well, especially those related to 'law and order'. Where, however, progress is achieved, it is important that State and Territory Governments recognize that achievement which may be of great importance generally in enhancing community relations.

27 .5. 7 I will illustrate this by referring to the relations between Tangentyere Cout:tcil and the Alice Springs Municipal Council. In my opinion, what has ·occurred in Alice Springs is one of the most important developments in the last decade and has great significance for Aboriginal affairs in Australia. There are many lessons to be learnt from this story, and, whilst the setting relates to local government issues, much wider issues are also involved.

27 .5.8 As explained in Chapter 20, the Northern Territory, by legislation administered through its Office of Local Government, had introduced a scheme of Community Government Councils and was anxious for discrete Aboriginal communities to adopt this system and to become recognized local government authorities under Northern Territory legislation. Many Aboriginal organizations (including the Central Land Council) reacted with suspicion and encouraged Aboriginal communities to resist efforts to have them join the Northern Territory local government structure. Many factors were relevant to explain this reaction. The Land Councils and the Northern Territory Government were opponents, and often quite aggressively so, on land rights issues. The Northern Territory Government, through legal challenges, had fought against many land claims. I give this history not to draw any conclusion but only to provide

background. Tangentyere Council and the Central Land Council were ideological allies sharing some common executive officers and councillors. In effect, Tangentyere was the land rights body for town campers in Alice Springs, and the Land Council especially represented those outside the boundaries of the town.

27.5.9 The Land Council (and also Tangentyere) suspected that the · Northern Territory Government was using the local government legislation as a means of attacking the Land Councils and reducing their influence over land matters on Aboriginal communities. The fears and accusations all intruded into the issue of the delivery of local government services to Alice Springs residents.

27.5.10 Certainly some of the writing which has emanated from the Office of Local Government in the Northern Territory would do little to

Page 32 Vol4

27 The Path to Self-Determination

disabuse Aboriginal organizations of their fears that the push for community government is motivated by strategies and considerations other than equitable distribution of funding for local government purposes.

27.5.11 In a position paper distributed to Municipal Councils by the Office of Local Government, which deals with Town Camps and Local Government, concern was expressed that funding of Aboriginal organizations to perform local government functions was contrary to 'the

mainstream policy' of the Northern Territory Government. Although the position paper was not intended to express the policy of the government or of the Office of Local Government, I am satisfied that it accurately represents the philosophical approach toward local government which

substantially motivates policy development in this area.

27.5.12 In Alice Springs the delivery of municipal and other services to town camps is performed by Tangentyere Council, a grass roots Aboriginal organizations which, for over fifteen years, has represented the interests of camp residents. Tangentyere received its funding for these purposes directly through the Northern Territory Government, but, at the

time of my hearings in October 1990, had been advised that this funding I' would be substantially reduced and, within three years, then abolished. The Office of Local Government regarded the existing arrangement as leading to results which it regarded as undesirable: dilution of the authority of local governments and discouraging them from being responsible for all

citizens; encouraging the development of separate infrastructures for Aboriginal groups would lead to by duplication and overlap; promoting 'separate development'. In a further submission, the Office of Local Government asserted that by permitting Aboriginal people to gain

funding from sources other than mainstream Northern Territory government structures, the government would be encouraging an agenda of 'sovereignty' which it considered to be the real objective of Aboriginal organizations.

27.5.13 This debate illustrates how ideological fears and hostile communications can derail policy and prevent rational discussion of such an important practical issue which ought to be solved as a matter of some urgency; namely, how the needs for local government services of

Aboriginal people, in a range of community types from urban to remote, may best be met.

27.5.14 The ability of Tangentyere to deliver such services was acknowledged by the Office of Local Government, but its ideological concerns intrude:


At the practical level of provision of services it is not operationally important who carries out municipal functions, provided that they are carried out properly and at reasonable cost. What is important is that the

Page 33

The Path to Self-Determination

authority structure of local government is not diminished-knowingly or otherwise. Although the establishment of many such organizations has led to beneficial improvement in the delivery of services, the policy creates and perpetuates a divide between mainstream society and Aboriginal communities.

Evidence of this divide is the increasingly prominent Aboriginal agenda of sovereignty and self-government and the vigorous rejection of any proposed reduction in the existing power of Aboriginal organizations.


27.5.15 Yet, representatives of both the Alice Springs Town Council and Tangentyere have given evidence that they have reached an arrangement entirely satisfactory to both for the delivery of local government services. The Town Council accepted that it would not interfere in the operations of the camps, and Tangentyere would provide the municipal services required by those camps. The campers paid rates to the council in return for the general benefits which they shared as part of the municipality.

27.5.16 Far from regarding this arrangement as either cost inefficient or as conceding 'sovereignty' to Tangentyere, the Town Council representatives, who appeared before me, saw it as a successful arrangement which flowed out of an excellent, friendly and co-operative approach which benefited all. Mr Bruce Marriott, Manager for Community Services on the Council, said this:

/' d suggest that in Alice Springs we' re in a fairly unique position in that we have a very strong organization in the Tangentyere Council ... [R]ather than it being perceived as a threat by the Alice Springs Town Council I believe it's seen as an advantage because we have that representative organization that we're able to refer to ... I would suggest that it's an illustration of the fact that there can be a very high degree of self-determination and self-management without in any way undermining the role and authority of local government.

27.5.17 Tangentyere Council believes that this is its role, as expressed by Bob Duman of Tangentyere Council at the Hearing of the Commission - in Alice Springs on 'Local Government, Self-management/Self­ determination':

Page 34

Tangentyere does not regard this as being an inequitable situation. It does not think that the town council is falling down in its job by not doing those things because the style, the content, the history of the services that are

provided by town-campers to themselves in these


27 The Path to Self-Determination

ways--quite different because of the different social and cultural circumstances, basically, and the different history and economics of the situation. Aboriginal people ... who wish to live on the camps, wish to

maintain their power over their own space.

27 .5.18 Geoff Shaw, Chairman ofTangentyere, submitted:

[T]he harmonious relationship between the Alice Springs Town Council is an encouraging development. An importantfeature-ofthis relationship is the respective autonomy of the two Councils . Their consultation is

between relative equals and each respects each others objectives and responsibilities.

27 .5.19 However, he continued:

It would be erroneous and dangerous to extrapolate this experience in an attempt to illustrate the viability of Aboriginal representation on municipal or community government councils under the NT Local Government Act.

27.5.20 Mr Mitchell and Mr Marriott of the Alice Springs Town Council referred to the autonomy of the town camp associations in respect of the special purpose leases which they govern. A Town Camp Advisory Committee has been established which enables town campers to make recommendations under Section 63 of the Northern Territory Local

Government Act to the town council on how services within town camps could be better provided with the co-operation and assistance of the two bodies. It is clear that the advisory committee works because of the context of the autonomy of Tangentyere in its relationship with the town


27.5 .21


Marriott explained:

Very early in the work of the committee it was quite obvious that talking about traditional municipal services in the context ofTangentyere, was to totally misconstrue what Tangentyere was really all about.

The areas in which we were involved in discussions very early in the role of this committee, were things like the effects of unemployment on the lives of people in town camps, the need for CDEP programs on town

camps, and those discussions led to support by the Alice Springs Town Council for applications for CDEP programs to be provided in the town camps;

Page 35

The Path to Self-Determination

discussions on the need for additional town camp facilities, particularly for transient people, and the need for further land to be provided to establish · transient camps, which was also supported by. the Alice Springs

Town Council; the need to examine the potential for Aboriginal employment within Alice Springs, and at the moment that's being investigated as a possible area of involvement for the Alice Springs Town Council, which would be a totally new area for the council to be involved in, to look at how it could be involved in promoting the potential for employment of Aboriginal people, both in the public and the private sector in Alice

Springs. We've also discussed library services, for example.


27.5.22 It would appear that all the aims of community government and Aboriginal participation in local government schemes, as tried and proposed around Australia, are successfully met by this co-operative arrangement between a town council and an Aboriginal community-based organization which adheres to its policy of autonomy, self-determination and self-management.

27.5.23 Alice Springs, as all observers attested, once had a reputation of being a community divided by racial issues. It is remarkable that within ten years such dramatic improvement in race relations has been achieved that leaders of Aboriginal organizations and council representatives can meet together with obvious mutual respect and good will to jointly plan ways of meeting the needs of Aboriginal people.

27.5.24 It would be a tragedy if these achievements were threatened by the adoption of rigid ideological positions. The Alice Springs example demonstrates what can be achieved in the vexed area of local government. It would not have been achieved but for the role of Aboriginal organizations and the common-sense approach adopted by the

Councillors. It is quite plain that there is no issue of 'sovereignty', in the sense of separate nationhood or separate government, involved in this debate. But there are issues of the degree of autonomy and self­ government at the local level which Aboriginal people desire in some areas of Australia, particularly remote areas, such as Central Australia.

27.5.25 It is my view that solutions to the problem of Aboriginal inequity in local government and the Aboriginal search for autonomy in self governance are not simple, and that there is no one structure which can be applied universally.

27.5.26 Because of the diversity of Aboriginal communities and the variety of organizational models which they have developed, it is quite reasonable to expect a number of different local government models to be

Page 36 Vol4

27 The Path to Self-Determination

working in Aboriginal communities or in towns where there are large Aboriginal populations, and to find that services are delivered as well by any model so long as there is stable funding. Examples include: various community government councils in the Northern Territory; the Aurukun

and Mornington Island Shire Councils and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Councils in Queensland; associations which are incorporated under the Commonwealth Councils and Associations Act or under equivalent State legislation; and Aboriginal outstation resource centres.

27.5.27 As Commissioner Dodson makes clear, outside areas of formal local government jurisdiction, Aboriginal organizations have been formed to deal with the problems of Aboriginal communities because Aboriginal people believe that they are best able to solve their own

problems, and, having solved them, or having gone some way toward that goal, they feel pride in their success. Success breeds success. As Commissioner Dodson stated in his Regional Report:

When structures and organizational formats are imposed and thrust upon Aboriginal people, there is no sense of ownership developed. Such things tend to come from outside Aboriginal considerations and

initiatives. When there is no sense of ownership, there is no pride. For pride to be advanced, there needs to be control and sensitivity to enable delivery and participation. Without these dynamics being put in

train, there will be repetition of past patterns of rejection, failure and resistance.

Contracting, involving, supporting and resourcing Aboriginal controlled organizations, offer the best opportunity to get some of the crucial matters about progress and achievement right. In my Commission's

view, they offer the best mirror images of Aboriginal people doing and achieving things for themselves. 5

27.5.28 The Commission notes that Aboriginal people aspire, for the most part, to receive the same level of essential services as non-Aboriginal citizens living in similar locations would expect to receive. The Commission notes that factors such as the remoteness of location, the

inadequacy of existing infrastructure, the shortage of experienced and trained personnel are all factors which hinder realization of the expectations of many Aboriginal people. The Commission, however, notes that many such disadvantages have been exacerbated by past

government policies with respect to Aboriginal people and that such inadequacies can be overcome or substantially reduced by appropriate government policies. The policies must, though, be based on principles of self-determination and on recognition of the right of Aboriginal people

Vol4 Page 37

The Path to Self-Determination 27

to receive essential services to the same standard delivered to and accepted as a right by non-Aboriginal Australians.

Page 38

Recommendation 198: That governments commit themselves to achieving the objective that Aboriginal people are not discriminated against in the delivery of essential services and, in particular, are not disadvantaged by the fact that the

low levels of income received by Aboriginal people reduce their ability to contribute to the provision of such services to the same extent as would be possible by non-Aboriginal Australians living in similar circumstances and locations.

Recommendation 199: That governments recognize that a variety of

organizational structures have developed or been adapted by Aboriginal people to deliver services, including local government type services to

Aboriginal communities. These structures include community councils recognized as local government authorities, outstation resource centres, Aboriginal land councils and co-operatives and other bodies incorporated under Commonwealth, State and Territory legislation as councils or associations. Organizational structures which have received acceptance within an Aboriginal community are particularly important, not only because they deliver

services in a manner which makes them accountable to the Aboriginal communities concerned but also because acceptance of the role of such organizations recognizes the principle of Aboriginal self­

determination. The Commission recommends that government should recognize such diversity in organizational structures and that funding for the delivery of services should not be dependent upon the structure of organization which is adopted by

Aboriginal communities for the delivery of such . services.

Recommendation 200: That the Commonwealth Government negotiate with State and Territory Governments to ensure that where funds for local government purposes are supplied to

local government authorities on a basis which has


27 The Path to Self-Determination

regard to the population of Aboriginal people within the boundaries of a local government authority equitable distribution of those funds is made between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal residents in those local

government areas. The Commission further

recommends that where it is demonstrated that

equitable distribution has not been provided that local government funds should be withheld until it can be assured that equitable distribution will occur.

Recommendation 201: The Commission has observed the operations of the Tangentyere Council in Alice Springs and the co­ operative relationship established with the Alice Springs Town Council. It is imperative that the

Tangentyere Council be provided with stable and adequate funding to enable it to continue and to

enhance its provision of services and that

governments, local government authorities, Aboriginal organizations and communities consider the adoption of similar models for local governance modified according to the de·sires of particular



27 .6.1 In Chapter 20 I wrote of the demand suddenly placed on Aboriginal people and their communities after 1972, under the rubric of self-determination, to take charge and run their own communities. As the funding agencies well knew, appropriate structures were not in place. The

appalling inadequacies of the education system and the domination, lack of self-esteem and debilitation produced under the era of assimilation guaranteed that there would be many failures as a result. Aboriginal people were very keen to grasp the opportunity for self-determination, but

they were not trained for the tasks suddenly presented to them. But it was also a cruel hoax. They were not really being offered self-determination, just the tantalizing hint of it. Instead they were being bequeathed the administrative mess which non-Aboriginal people left and were being told

to fix it up. It was their mess now.

27 .6.2 This situation produced many effects. The pressures destroyed many good Aboriginal men and women who were simply crushed by the pressures associated with attempting to manage the

Vol4 Page 39

The Path to Self-Determination 27

communities without training or experience for the task. The pressures created enmities between Aboriginal people who struggled with the task of distributing scarce resources. Those attempting administer their communities grappled with the task of resolving issues on which they had little information and no knowledge of the range of options open to them and inadequate opportunity or resources to consult with their own communities.

27 .6.3 The reaction of the bureaucracies was swift. Soon 'advisers' flooded into communities, many with no obvious skills apart from their familiarity with the English language and bureaucratic procedures. Far from gaining self-determination many communities suffered a new style of dependency but this time they were 'consulted'-they were always consulted--on everything, but somehow the consultation process rarely seemed to result in Aboriginal priorities and decisions being adopted in practice.

27 .6.4 Much has changed, largely because of the experience gained and shared by and through Aboriginal organizations. The training need is still very great, not only as to administrative skills but also political skills; knowledge and understanding of how the dominant society operates is essential. This is not a question of submitting to that society, it is a question of gaining the skills to manipulate it in the same way that non­ Aboriginal people take for granted in their process of self-determination.

27 .6.5 The skills and training are needed in the Aboriginal

organizations, in the local communities performing local government functions and, I suggest, they will be needed by ATSIC Councillors also.

27 .6.6 There are, however, some wonderful training programs now in existence, often delivered very effectively by Aboriginal education deliverers. TAFE is also playing a major role-see Chapters 16 and 33. I mention in particular Pundulumuna College in South Hedland, which Comnlissioner Dodson has advised me about, and Batchelor College in the Northern Territory, which I had the opportunity to visit. Batchelor has over 600 Aboriginal students who are being trained as teachers, local government clerks, police aides, health workers, secretaries, handy­ persons, and in many other fields. It is a wonderful, indeed inspiring, institution. The Territory Government which funds the college is to be commended for its support. The capacity of such an institution and others like it (the Institute for Aboriginal Development is another outstanding education and training organization) to make self-determination a reality by providing Aboriginal people to take the key decision-making positions cannot be underestimated.

27 .6. 7 I have heard similar favourable things said about other institutions, including the Aboriginal controlled adult education providers. These bodies should be supported by government.

Page40 Vol4

27 The Path to Self-Determination

27 .6.8 Training programs which exist at the moment include the Aboriginal Organization Training (AOT) program run by ATSIC and the Community Management Training (CMT) program run by DEET. These programs have only been in existence since 1986 and whilst they

undoubtedly play an important role in meeting training needs, there remains much to be done. The AOT program assists people in organizations to learn how to meet the accounting requirements of government, but does not provide general management training which also

seems to be required.

Recommendation 202: That where such courses are not already available, suitable training courses to provide necessary

administrative, political and management skills should be available for persons elected to regional councils of ATSIC, elected to, appointed to, or engaged in Aboriginal organizations involved in the delivery of

services to Aboriginal people and other Aboriginal community organizations. The content of such

training courses should be negotiated between appropriate education providers (including Aboriginal education providers) other appropriate Aboriginal organizations and government. Such courses should

be funded by government and persons undertaking such courses should be eligible for such financial assistance in the course of studies as would be

available under ABSTUDY guidelines.


27.7 .1 Aboriginal people want to achieve self-sufficiency, to break away from welfare dependence. I deal with this issue in Chapters 17 and 34. To achieve this result and to truly provide self-determination many things are required. Sufficient development funds must be available,

whether the fund is called compensation/reparation or not may be less important than making sure that it is assured and under Aboriginal control.

27.7 .2 In some communities the prospects for self-sufficiency are bleak, their remoteness and other factors difficult to overcome. But a first step is for Aboriginal people to know what realistic options they have. I am greatly impressed by the wisdom and methodology adopted by

Aboriginal organizations in some places to commission baseline studies of economic opportunities that are available in regions. The Alice Springs

Vol4 Page41

The Path to Self-Determination 27

study, which was conducted for the Combined Aboriginal Organizations, will, I believe, provide important information for planning for many years ahead, and other studies in the Torres Strait Islands, the Kimberleys, and the West Coast of South Australia similarly so.

27.7 .3 Research studies, such as the regional economic studies which I have just described, provided an important information base for community planning generally. Throughout this report I have stressed the necessity for Aboriginal people at a local level to be empowered to decide what policies, programs and processes should apply in their own communities. In many instances decisions relating to particular issues may be able to be considered at a regional level and perhaps be articulated through Aboriginal organizations. Other issues will require more detailed consideration at a local level. There are a very large number of important issues which all interrelate and have a major bearing on the quality of life and the degree of control which Aboriginal people will experience at a local level. The nature of the interrelationship between these different activities and the policies and programs which separately relate to each should be considered in a broader context of community planning. The economic baseline studies to which I have referred could appropriately address programs and goals relating to training, employment and enterprise projects as well as Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) schemes.

27.7 .4 The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs has indicated its strong support for the development of community plans as a means of co-ordinating action in respect of economic, infrastructure, social and cultural needs by government agencies. It has argued that ·

the development of community plans is crucial to the design and implementation of programs at the local level. Community plans must be wide ranging, covering the physical, socioeconomic and cultural aspirations of the local people. There must be much more than just a town or infrastructure plan and should embrace the future development strategies of people in a broad sense 6

27.7 .5 Models for improved co-ordination and co-operation already exist under the Aboriginal Employment Development Policy (AEDP), which also place a heavy emphasis on government agencies acting on the needs identified by local Aboriginal communities and organizations.

27.7 .6 The committee reports that during its inquiry it visited few, if any, Aboriginal communities where infrastructure and services would be considered standard for non-Aboriginal communities of similar size and remoteness. It notes in particular that

Page42 Vol4

27 The Path to Self-Determination

the suggestion that Aboriginal people should, in the context of substandard facilities and services, be self­ determining and self-managing imposes an additional burden onto the communities. These basic needs must be addressed in the community planning approach so

that infrastructure and service provision is closely related to individual communities' social, economic and cultural aspirations .1

27.7. 7 The Royal Commission supports the recommendations of the Standing Committee in respect of the development and implementation of community plans, and the training required to facilitate this process.

27.7.8 Communities that are given knowledge of their economic options, as I have said, are given a basis on which empowerment can be realized in practice. But there are many other aspects of community life which inevitably do, and should, impact on the economic plans and goals

which a community may set for itself. Increasingly it is being recognized that a community's attitude to law and justice issues, to education, to health services, etc. should all be addressed if empowerment is to be a reality. Community planning must take into account community needs and

aspirations in these areas also. It may be that there would be different attitudes taken by communities as to the extent to which, if at all, they would wish to address such wide-ranging issues within the framework of a wide ranging community planning exercise. Some communities may prefer to deal with the issues quite separately but proper planning would

accommodate their wishes in this regard.

27.7.9 Under the ATSIC legislation (Section 94(1)), the Regional Councils are given the function of formulating regional plans 'for improving the economic, social and cultural status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander residents' of each region. The councils also have the

function of then assisting ATSIC and other government agencies to implement those plans. In the development of such plans there will clearly be a need to co-ordinate closely with Aboriginal organizations, some of which have, as I have described, already undertaken such community­

planning processes.

27.7.10 On the basis of my own inquiries, consultations with other Commissioners, submissions to the Commission and reports from the AIU s, I feel strongly that the majority of Aboriginal people want greater levels of autonomy for their organizations and communities. They seek

ways to better negotiate the agenda with the non-Aboriginal society. It is clear there is a need and desire to escape from the legacy of welfare dependency and proceed from a base of greater self sufficiency-where they have the opportunities and abilities to make decisions about their

lives, children, culture, education and the protection of their sacred sites;

Vol4 Page43

The Path to Self-Determination 27

in short, to have freedom from exploitation and discrimination; to be treated as equals and not forced to be the same as non-Aboriginals. These matters appear to me to constitute the dreams of Aboriginal people for self­ determination. Sometimes this may be labelled or called sovereignty. For most Aboriginal people they are not the pillars of faith for a separate international State. Whether that majority changes its mind about what it perceives to be self-determination or whether it chooses differently from the 'range of options' referred to by NAILSS (Chapter 20) rests very much with non-Aboriginal people, with the question of how we respond to their essentially reasonable aspirations.

27.7.11 This report is written on the basis that these are the aspirations of the great majority of Aboriginal people and that they are proper and reasonable.


Recommendation 203: That the highest priority be accorded to the facilitation · of social, economic and cultural development plans by Aboriginal communities, and on a regional basis, as a

basis for future planning of: a. Economic development goals; b. Training, employment and enterprise projects; c. CDEP schemes;

d. The provision of services and infrastructure; and e. Such other social and cultural needs as are


Recommendation 204: That the . preparation of community development plans should be a participative process involving all

members of the community, and should draw upon the knowledge and expertise of a wide range of

professionals as well as upon the views and

aspirations of Aboriginal people in the local area. It is critical that the processes by which plans are

developed are culturally sensitive, unhurried and holistic in approach, and that adequate information on the folio wing matters is made available to

participants: a. The range of Aboriginal needs and aspirations; b. The opportunities created by government

policies or programs;





The Path to Self-Determination

The opportunities and constraints in the local economy; and The political opportunities to influence the local arena.


27 .8.1 I have already spoken of the outstanding achievements of Central Australian organizations, but there are many more such demonstrations of how self-determination can work and how readily Aboriginal people will seize any opportunity to take control of their own

lives. I take another community, far removed in location, in size, and in the length of time during which it has experienced the impact of non­ Aboriginal settlement.


27 .8.2 Port Lincoln is at the base of Eyre Peninsula. It is the main centre serving the southern part of the Peninsula. The Port Lincoln Aboriginal Organization Inc. (PLAO) was constituted in 1975. It was not until 1980 that it was able to employ a full-time Executive Secretary and

part-time receptionist/typist and caretaker/cleaner. It has always relied substantially on the enthusiastic volunteer labour of the community. The community was beset with many problems arising especially from harmful alcohol use. The PLAO and the people of Port Lincoln set about to tackle

the problems.

27 .8.3 It is no exaggeration to say that it would take too long to describe all of the activities which PLAO has undertaken and which have turned this community around. The achievements are wonderful. The Port Lincoln community has seized every opportunity: even remote

possibilities were turned into realities. One of the assets which the community had, apart from people, was a substantial area of Aboriginal land in the town Mallee Park. Mallee Park now contains one of the best ovals in Port Lincoln (fenced and grassed), a splendid club building, a

community centre, a young people's gym and recreation area, and a room for school children to do homework. It also has a virgin bush area of some acres with a camping area for visiting Aboriginal people, very good outdoor cooking facilities, an ablution block, and two very imaginatively

designed single rooms, round, with a central fire place and sleeping accommodation. These gains have been achieved by being on the lookout

Vol4 Page45

The Path to Self-Determination 27

for funding opportunities and for bargains (some of the lesser structures were going cheaply as a result of local development). The PLAO creates good relations with police, the local council and other agencies, and, by its energy and commonsense, it attracts support:

27 .8.4 The oval is home ground to the Malee Park Football Club which is a powerful club in the local competition in the area where Australian Rules Football has a big following (to which I refer in my report into the death of Eddie Betts). Other sports are fostered in the complex.

27 .8.5 Three or four years ago PLAO conducted a questionnaire among all Aboriginal people as to what they thought were the principal things they wanted, where they wanted to go. Out of this came an outline for the future. Employment was a main question. The PLAO set out to do something about it. It very deliberately sought out jobs and training opportunities. It applied for and was accepted for the CDEP scheme in which about 300 of the 650 population are now engaged. Before starting the scheme it visited Broome and Alice Springs to discuss its ideas with others.

27 .8.6 Among the CDEP programs are a creche program; a wood yard program which collects firewood, cuts hay, removes furniture and provides a yard and maintenance program; an artefacts production program and a mechanics program.

27 .8. 7 PLAO has committees which deal with housing, youth affairs, harmful alcohol use, education, welfare, sports and an Aboriginal/Police Liaison Committee. They have built a magnificent sports oval and clubrooms, established a drop-in centre, established an alcohol rehabilitation farm and operate the CDEP program. Initiative and foresight epitomize the work of PLAO.

27 .8.8 More recently it made overtures to the State Government to take over the care and management of a local forest, Warilla. The government has agreed to this proposal, at least as to part of the forest. That will supply some jobs and some income from available firewood. That work is getting under way.

27 .8.9 The first mission in South Australia was established at Poonindie. The community has some land from the old mission area. That is being developed, among other things, as an outdoor living, training and enjoyment area for the young girls and boys. Poonindie is a place of much significance for many Aboriginal people in South Australia. PLAO now has a scheme for archeological work at the old mission site.

27.8.10 PLAO currently conducts the following programs and I list the range of funding agencies.

Page46 Vol4

27 The Path to Self-Determination

Programs/ Entererises Funding Source

1 PLAO Office Administ.rntion ATSIC

2 Substance Abuse ATSIC

3 Women's Group ATSIC

4 Youth Program Community Services & Health

5 After School Care Community Services & Health

6 Aboriginal Family Ca:re Work Family and Community Services (F ACS) - (W A)

7 Visitors Scheme State Office of Aboriginal Affairs

8 Contract Employment National Wild Life Services

9 Financial Assistance Service Community Services

10 Women's Youth Councillor (For single FACS mothers)

11 Arts and Crafts Aust. Council for the Arts

12 Poonindie Development Aust. Council for the Arts

13 Vacation Care Children's Service Office rNA)

14 Work Experience (Aboriginal people placed DEET in employment in PLAO, National Parks and Local Library)

15 Tree Planting Greening Australia

16 Aboriginal Women's Training Office of Tertiary Education (e.g. lectures)

17 National Parks - training in Adelaide plus Department Environment and 3 contract workers Planning

18 Archaeology work for Poonindie National Estate Grant

19 Wanilla Forest (sell firewood, plant trees No funding as yet. open to public- large progress)

20 Aboriginal Fire Fighting Team (Available This is the only all-Aboriginal to Eyre Peninsula - 12 men have completed firefighting team in South the course and eguiQment will be Qrovided.) Australia.

27.8.11 I have written at some length about Port Lincoln because it says a great deal about self determination in practice. I am sure that the community has problems; but it is achieving and as it does so the members of the community gain confidence and self respect. People become more

proud of their Aboriginality. They gain the respect of others. Alcohol dependence is being tackled in a practical way by trying to find jobs and

Vol4 Page47

The Path to Self-Determination 27

interests for those affected. PLAO acknowledges the support it has had from many non-Aboriginal quarters. The Port Lincoln community is not alone.


27.8.12 Commissioner Wootten has told me that in Echuca, Victoria, the local Aboriginal people have responded strongly to the opportunities and funding available to them and have built a strong web of activities around their Co-operative. Commissioner Wootten suggests that for those looking for signs of Aboriginal communities standing up and seeking to take control of their affairs and achieving success, Echuca is a heartening place.

27.8.13 Quite a number of Aboriginal people in the town were employed in government services directed to Aboriginal people or by the Aboriginal co-operative and its enterprises. However, very few were employed in private enterprise, and Aboriginal people felt very strongly that they did not get 'real' or 'true blue' jobs from private employers, but were mainly employed in subsidized work promotion jobs where employment ceased when the subsidy ceased.

27.8.14 To meet this situation they had moved strongly to create employment in their own enterprises. Building teams had been organized for the construction of homes and buildings and for maintenance. A non­ Aboriginal supervisor was employed to help with contracts and accounting, and a non-Aboriginal builder was employed to head each team, but the remainder of the staff were Aboriginal people. After initial difficulties, a number of Aboriginal people had settled down to regular employment and study, and were well into apprenticeships. One of the builders told Commissioner Wootten how the initial reluctance to work regularly and stick with study had changed dramatically when the first house was completed. There was great pride in achievement, and enthusiasm to go on, and the team was now building houses competitively on the open market.

27.8.15 As more houses were obtained for Aboriginal people, there was a problem in furnishing them. The co-operative set up a workshop to repair and renovate furniture. The workshop not only renovated furniture for Aboriginal people, but bought furniture at government auctions, repaired it and resold it on the open market, thereby providing employment for another group of Aboriginal people.

2 7. 8.16 A course in sewing was organized through the co-operative's education officer, and, when a group of women completed it, a small factory was started making T -shirts, windcheaters, track suits and the like.

Page48 Vol4

27 The Path to Self-Determination

These were completely made from the original cloth and elegantly screen­ printed with the workshop's own designs, and marketed widely under the Warma brand.

27.8.17 The co-operative obtained a ninety-nine year lease at a peppercorn rental on the beautiful old court house at Echuca and obtained funds to restore it. It was developed to house a museum and workshop where tourists could see artefacts being made, and a shop where artefacts

and souvenirs were being sold. The shop was already operating selling the W anna clothes and a variety of Aboriginal artefacts.

27.8.18 With the assistance of an education officer provided by the Ministry of Education to work with the Aboriginal educators, the co­ operative had developed strong support for Aboriginal children in the schools. There had been a number of programs to improve teacher

awareness, and Aboriginal mothers took a strong interest in school activities and supported the work of the Aboriginal educators employed in the schools. An endeavour had been made to tackle the variety of problems which commonly lead to Aboriginal children leaving school at an early age, and to encourage them to remain and receive a good education.

27.8.19 The list of achievements goes on and includes child care and health work. Most importantly it includes a flourishing Community Justice Panel. The panel itself was a very considerable cause for hope, revealing as it did not only the great capacity and willingness of Aboriginal

people to work for a better life for their community, but successful co­ operation between police and Aboriginal people. In its first year of operation not one Aboriginal person went to gaol in Echuca.


27.8.20 In its submission to me on self-determination, the National Aboriginal and Islander Legal Services Secretariat (NAILSS) comments:


Many of the deaths in custody involved Aboriginal people from communities with an inadequate land base on which to support the growing numbers of young, unemployed and frankly, futureless Aboriginal people.

Aboriginal communities are not without ideas for the development of self-reliance and individual/community dignity through employment programs. Where land is available Aboriginal communities are successfully

building up employment programs in a diverse range of areas. For example, market gardening and building (Erambie community in Cowra - N.S.W.), grazing (Weinteriga station near Wilcannia), construction

industry (Riverina), heritage and national park work


The Path to Self-Determination

(East Kimberley), mining (Northern Territory and Pilbara) plus the wide range of community enterprises now taking shape in the Northern Territory .. Land that is restored on a compensation basis has both economic and cultural importance. The N.S.W. L.and Council poster celebrating the purchase of W einteriga station in Western N .S.W. states 'Weinteriga. Aboriginal Land. Always

was-Always will be.' The multiplication benefits of job creation through land purchase and job training schemes can be seen at the Erambie community in N .S. W. where increasing employment opportunities through training schemes has increased demand on the childcare facilities in the community and created jobs in the

building and childcare industries.

Many of the young unemployed and c_hronically unhealthy (often from excess alcohol) who died in custody would not have done so if their communities could have offered them opportunities to work and raise a family on Aboriginal land in conditions that could strongly identify their labour as contributing to a future within their own community. 8



2 7. 9.1 I said in Chapter 20 that the best way to assess what self­ determination means to Aboriginal people is to look at what they and their organizations are doing. As this chapter shows they are, in fact, very much wanting to participate and share with non-Aboriginal society. Certainly there are many Aboriginal people living on outstations and in remote areas who keep 'arm's length' from the broader society-that is their self-determination.

27.9.2 Government can transform the picture of Aboriginal affairs. But not so much by 'doing' things-more by letting go of the controls; letting Aboriginal people make the decisions which government now pretends they do make. Government would be doing non-Aboriginal society a service; the resolution of the 'Aboriginal problem' has been beyond the capacity of non-Aboriginal policy makers and bureaucrats. It is about time they left the stage to those who collectively know the problems at national and local levels; they know the solutions because they live with the problems.

Page 50 Vol4

27 The Path to Self-Determination

Australia. Parliament. House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Our Future, Our Selves: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Control Mangement and Resources, AGPS, Canberra, 1990, p. 72

2 T. Rowse, 'From houses to households? The Aboriginal Development Commission and economic adaptation by Alice Springs towncampers', Social Analysis, 24, 1988

3 Australia. Parliament. House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, p. 92

4 RCIADIC Transcript, Adelaide, 30/11/90, pp. 41-2

5 P. Dodson, Regional Report Into Underlying Issues in Western Australia, AGPS, Canberra, 1991, p. 751

6 Australia. Parliament. House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal

Affairs, p. 83

7 Australia. Parliament. House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal

Affairs, p. 84

8 National Aboriginal and Islander Legal Service Secretariat (NAILSS), Stopping the deaths: a spectrum of possibilities for self-determination, RCIADIC Submission, 1991, para 14.22 & para 14.23

Vo14 Page 51


In Chapter I2 I described the relationships between Aboriginal and non"­ Aboriginal society in Australia, pointing out that racism is seen in the attitudes and behaviour of individuals, and also in the structures and methods of functioning of the powerful institutions of Australian society.

In this companion chapter, I outline just what is being done, and could be done, to improve race relations in this country. The chapter commences by focusing on education of the non-Aboriginal community as a strategy for improving community relationships. It argues that broad community

education is needed, along with changes to the curricula and operating styles of our schools. Attention is also given to action needed regarding the mass media, the marketing of Aboriginal art and artefacts, and non­ Aboriginal staff training.

The middle part of the chapter is concerned with combating racism and discrimination. The dual roles of legislation (providing protection against individual actions and changing community attitudes) are discussed with regard to anti-discrimination and racial vilification legislation, and I offer

recommendations for the more effective use of these tools. Finally, I return to the issue highlighted in Chapter 12 concerning the central role of local government, demonstrating that alternatives exist to the discriminatory policies and practices so often seen at this level. The

chapter which follows this one focuses more specifically on what can be done to improve the area of relationships between Aboriginal people and the police.


28.1.1 I made the point in Chapter 10 of this report that from the beginning European society regarded the Aboriginal society as inferior and the Aboriginal people as inferior; as far as the great majority of non­ Aboriginal people were concerned, that attitude persisted and it is only

Vol4 Page 53

Accommodating Difference ... 28

comparatively recently that changes in attitude are beginning to take place. In Chapter 12 I pointed out that these attitudes had become embedded in legislation, embedded in policy, embedded in practice and administration, so that an attitude of superiority towards Aboriginal people, as such, the racist attitude, became fixed in institutions as well as in the minds of individuals. The more racist attitudes became embedded in institutions the more were racist ideas underpinned in the minds of individuals. There is an ongoing process whereby the attitudes of individuals help shape policy and drive forward the carrying through of policy, and the operation of the policy strengthens and confirms in the minds of the individuals their original ideas.

28.1.2 Racism in Australia is of these two sorts: individual and an institutional racism. The second is in a way more insidious and more difficult to combat; it is not strident, in most cases it is merely a matter of carrying forward policies, practices and procedures which have existed for a long time, become familiar and through familiarity tend to be accepted without question. The ideas of individuals are frequently more open to change.

28.1.3 There is no doubt that one basis for the continued existence of racism in Australia towards Aboriginal people is self-interest. Self­ interest has operated in different ways at different times and has been of different kinds. In the earliest days it is plain that self-interest was the motive for original expansion of the settled areas and the dispossession of the Aboriginal people, and that same individual and community self­ interest kept driving the frontier further out. It was self-interest which led farmers and graziers in particular to trade rations and living areas to Aboriginal people in return for labour. In more modern times it may equally be self-interest that often makes it difficult for Aboriginal families to get a rental home on the private market.

28.1.4 But self-interest also takes the form of concern for one's ideas, one's society, one's group in the wider sense in terms that do not contradict economic interest but are not necessarily directly connected to it. This form of self-interest, strongly pursued, involves an indifference to the interests of other groups. It is sometimes called ethnocentrism, which is defined (in the Macquarie Dictionary) as 'belief in the inherent superiority of one's own group and culture accompanied by a feeling of contempt for other groups and cultures'. It was this sort of ethnocentrism or self-interest which drove the non-Aboriginal society to put the Aboriginal people on reserves and missions, to attempt to undermine their culture, traditions and ceremony and to replace their ideas and attitudes with European ideas and religious beliefs. · These two sorts of self-interest often become easy allies. Ethnocentrism, which saw the Aboriginal person as of no account, could easily condone the attitudes of a settler who, for his own personal interest, mistreated his male Aboriginal workers in an economic sense or the females in a sexual sense.

Page 54 Vol4

28 Accommodating Difference ...

Subjectively, of course, many people advocating the reserve and mission concept did so out of apparently lofty motives.

28.1.5 Various vested interests have had, and still have, a strong interest in some aspects of Aboriginal policy. There is, of course, nothing strange about that, but it ought to be recognized. There is also an irrational component in racism. We saw that demonstrated in Germany before World War II and in many other places. That sort of attitude is hard to

contend with, not being open to persuasion by reason. It seems to me to be a less significant element in the mix of Australian opinions than opinions arising from a lack of understanding. Aboriginal people may well think otherwise.

28.1.6 There is a considerable and increasing segment of non­ Aboriginal public opinion that understands that Aboriginal society was and is a society in its own right. This perception acknowledges that Aboriginal people occupied the country and had a remarkable culture of their own-a culture which is increasingly commanding study and thought in many

parts of the world. This public opinion is extremely interested in seeing proper community relations established between the Aboriginal and non­ Aboriginal communities based upon mutual respect, mutual interest and association.

28 .1. 7 Although, as I have said, individual racism may be based upon self-interest or indeed assumed self-interest or irrationality, it seems to me overwhelmingly to be based upon ignorance. Such ignorance is understandable in an historical context. Generation after generation of

Australians grew up subject to the prevailing concept of Aboriginal inferiority. Their education was derived from schools that virtually ignored Aboriginal history and culture and misrepresented the history of Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal relations. In cities, many people had no

association with Aboriginal people at all, or virtually none. And outside the cities they saw Aboriginal people who had been reduced to poverty and who were universally treated either not as citizens at all or as second-class citizens.

28.1.8 So the ignorance is not to be wondered at, and it is only in comparatively recent times that changes in the schools and in the churches and in the society generally have begun to challenge the largely prevailing ignorance.


28.1.9 One only has to consult one's own experience to understand what an important role schools play in moulding opinions, as I have suggested. Until comparatively recently, Aboriginal people were almost invisible or the subject of misinformation in the schooling system.

Vol4 Page 55

Accommodating Difference ... 28

28.1.1 0 An analysis of racism in school textbooks since 1945 was published in 1987. Cope summarizes his findings . .

This paper traces a striking change in the cultural contents of school textbooks since 1945, from the paradigm of assimilation to that of multiculturalism. This change, however, needs to be situated in the

context of a much broader ideological shift. To swnmarize this shift in a few sentences, we see a move away from an old story of Australia in which history is a narrative of progress and development, with cultural differences conceived as a matter of

superiority/inferiority; dominance and suppression of other cultures is depicted as a historical necessity, as, for example, in the assimilation of Aborigines and immigrants to the structural and technical movement of an ever-modernizing industrialism. This old story was the all-but unanimous view of the texts of the 1945-1965 period. From the late 1960s, however, a new story of

Australia began to emerge. Its reading of history was based on principles of cultural pluralism. This, in part, is linked to a re-evaluation of the historical 'us', as the supposed benefits of progress and development are thrown into question ... This new reading of Australian history is of much broader significance than simply giving new recognition and value to different cultures. It involves ascribing quite new meanings to history, establishing a new epistemology for reading history, and, ultimately, giving history a radically new meaning .1

28.1.11 Clearly, therefore, there have been changes in curricula, and in the approach by teachers to the question of multiculturalism. It is still true, however, that primary school children are often taught the history of colonization without any serious reference to Aboriginal presence or participation in these events. I am told that it is possible for children from a grade 4 in Canberra, for example, to spend two days on an excursion to sites in the Sydney area as part of their study of the colonial period without a single mention of Aboriginal people.

28.1.12 This raises the question of the most appropriate ways to give children knowledge about Aboriginal people, and of whether this should be done through special courses in Aboriginal studies, or by inclusive curriculum. The possibility of greater exploration of Aboriginal societies and cultures through Aboriginal studies courses is obviously very positive, and is already in existence in a number of secondary and tertiary institutions. I would hope that such courses can be continued and on an elective basis, since compulsion would be counter productive. On this

Page 56 Vo14

28 Accommodating Difference ...

latter point I differ from some Aboriginal Issues Units (AIUs). But even more imperative is that the curriculum be such that it automatically incorporates the presence of Aboriginal people.

28.1.13 Such an approach addresses the problems raised by the constant separation of Aboriginal people from the concerns and interests of mainstream Australian society, something that special Aboriginal studies do not do of themselves. The teaching of inclusive curricula, on the other

hand, ensures that Aboriginal concerns are placed firmly within the concerns of Australia as a society. This, of course, is not inconsistent with courses in Aboriginal studies which are of great significance.

28.1.14 I repeat, however, that there is a fundamental principle involved in this whole question, and I here speak of the non-Aboriginal population. The education of our children must be not just in Aboriginal history and culture, but-taking full account of our relations with

Aboriginal people since 1788-in our own history and culture as well. Only such an emphasis can lead to a questioning of ourselves.

28.1.15 I deal with these issues further in Chapter 33 and make certain recommendations.


28.1.16 The media is a principal source of information for the public, and is generally considered to play an important part in forming-or at least influencing-public consciousness and public opinion. The media is also a subject on which many people have strong views. My own discussions with Aboriginal people, reports to me from other

Commissioners and the information coming from the Allis and all regions certainly indicate that Aboriginal people had, and continue to have, an extremely negative view of the functioning of the media as a whole. Their view was that Aboriginal people were presented as problems. They

considered that their achievements were very seldom given any prominence even if noted at all, whereas failure of an enterprise or failures to account to the satisfaction of a funding agency, on the one hand, or anti­ social or unlawful behaviour, on the other hand, were given much

publicity. If a non-Aboriginal youth was charged with stealing a car the report announced that 'a youth aged sixteen was charged', but if the youth was Aboriginal that fact was stated.

28.1.17 I must say that, to my mind, there has been a very

considerable change in treatment of Aboriginal people and Aboriginal issues by much of the media over the life of the Commission. We monitored the main print media throughout the life of the Commission. Newspapers carry many more stories about Aboriginal achievement, and

they usually present it in quite a warm and supporting way. There are

Vol4 Page 57

Accommodating Difference ... 28

some stories being written which appear to be badly slanted against the Aboriginal people. From my perusal of clippings over the life of the Commission, these are in a minority. Aboriginal people have remarked to me, or to others, about the change. In the above remarks I am speaking of the general tone of the main metropolitan newspapers and some local papers from areas of high Aboriginal population. I should add that Commissioner Dodson's view is that the West Australian daily does not fit this picture of improvement in the treatment of Aboriginal issues.

28.1.18 I think that on radio and television there have been some informative, interesting and sometimes inspiring programs. In this respect Commissioner Dodson speaks very highly of the TV program 'Milbindi' onGWNTV.

28.1 .19 All this appears to me to be part of an increasing public

awareness that there has been ignorance and prejudice in the past and that there is a need for change. Every effort should be made to consolidate the improvements that have occurred and which at least some Aboriginal people have appreciated. It would be constructive if media interests and

the unions concerned could enter into dialogue with Aboriginal organizations and communities to further mutual understanding.

28.1.20 In Chapter 34 I recommend a concerted effort by

employers, unions, governments and Aboriginal organizations to develop a strategy for the employment of Aboriginal people in the private sector. I would hope that the media might participate in this, and that, in any event, the industries would pursue a fair employment practice in relation to Aboriginal people. In this case it has a double importance in the sense that Aboriginal media training is important both in assisting the media to perform its function in relation to Aboriginal issues as well as preparing

workers for Aboriginal media.

28.1.21 Aboriginal-controlled media is important in that it is directed in some cases both to the non-Aboriginal and the Aboriginal population. In the latter respect I think it could play a very important role in informing communities about successes in other communities; not merely to record

success but to present a picture of how it was accomplished-what was done. It can also play a key part in the Aboriginal campaign to solve the alcohol problem. There are now quite a number of Aboriginal media organizations. They deserve support.

28.1.22 The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) is to be congratulated on its training program for Aboriginal recruits. I also mention the practice of some newspapers in providing a regular column for Aboriginal spokespeople-see Section 12.6.

Page 58 Vol4



Accommodating Difference ...

Recommendation 205: That: a. Aboriginal media organizations should receive adequate funding, where necessary, in

recognition of the importance of their function; and b. All media organizations should be encouraged to develop codes and policies relating to the

presentation of Aboriginal issues, the

establishment of monitoring bodies, and the putting into place of training and employment programs for Aboriginal employees in all


Recommendation 206: That the media industry and media unions be

requested to consider the establishment of and support of an annual award or awards for excellence in

Aboriginal affairs reporting to be judged by a panel of media, union and Aboriginal representatives.

Recommendation 207: That institutions providing journalism courses be requested to: . a. Ensure that courses contain a significant

component relating to Aboriginal affairs thereby reflecting the social context in which journalists work; and b. Consider, in consultation with media industry

and media unions, the creation of specific units of study dedicated to Aboriginal affairs and the reporting thereof.

Recommendation 208: That, in view of the fact that many Aboriginal people throughout Australia express disappointment in the portrayal of Aboriginal people by the media, the

media industry and media unions should encourage formal and informal contact with Aboriginal

organizations, including Aboriginal media organizations where available. The purpose of such contact should be the creation of a better

understanding, on all sides, of issues relating to

media treatment of Aboriginal affairs.

Page 59

Accommodating Difference ... 28


28.1.23 The development of a market for Aboriginal art and artefacts, at both the tourist and the domestic market level, is one of the most striking phenomena of recent decades. One significant aspect of this is economic. It actually provides income to Aboriginal people-though not as much as it should in view of the kinds of prices that much Aboriginal art now attracts. It is therefore an important aspect of changing the position of Aboriginal people in Australian society. Change brought about in this way is, however, not only economic but also symbolic. Aboriginal art and artefacts are now firmly entrenched as part of the broader Australian culture.

28.1.24 There is another aspect that is of interest to this Commission. Art and artefacts are potentially an important and legitimating vehicle for knowledge about Aboriginal people; namely, their beliefs, ways of seeing and interpreting their world, and their 'culture'. They are, that is, Aboriginal representations of themselves.

28.1.25 I mention one matter which has a relationship to this and some other topics. Aboriginal art, crafts and aspects of culture generally are widely used in advertising designed to attract tourists to Australia and particularly to the Northern Territory. Many people, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, have drawn my attention to what they see as a contradiction between the use of Aboriginal 'culture' for commercial purposes and the neglect of it in other respects.

Recommendation 209: That continuing support should be given to Aboriginal organizations such as the Aboriginal Arts Board in their endeavours to protect the interests of Aboriginal artists and to ensure the continuing expansion of the production and marketing of Aboriginal art and craft



28.1.26 An extension of the process of education of the non-Aboriginal community is the question of specific training schemes for people involved in providing services for Aboriginal people; namely, doctors and hospital workers, teachers, bureaucrats, and especially police (police will be dealt with in a later section). Again, however, central to this issue is the question of institutional, as distinct from individual, racism. Such training

Page60 Vol4

28 Accommodating Difference ...

schemes must take account of this. There is need for knowledge about the kinds of communities in which people will be working. This probably needs to take place when people arrive in the community and be directed by local Aboriginal people. Such a scheme was developed in Roebourne

as part of the Aboriginal-police relations program and is recommended by the Australian Medical Association in its submission to the Commission (reproduced in Chapter 31 ).

28.1.27 In developing training for immediate service providers, then, there need to be at least two other approaches. One is for in-service training for senior administrative and executive staff. The other is for appropriate access by those actually in the field to both resources and

senior management.

28.1.28 If a change in attitude by the non-Aboriginal community towards Aboriginal people is to be achieved, this kind of training of service providers, as well as information to the wider community in the various ways that I have suggested, is essential.


Recommendation 210: That: a.



All employees of government departments and agencies who will live or work in areas with significant Aboriginal population and whose work involves the delivery of services to

Aboriginal people be trained to understand and appreciate the traditions and culture of

contemporary Aboriginal society; Such training programs should be developed in negotiation with local Aboriginal communities and organizations; and

Such training should, wherever possible, be provided by Aboriginal adult education providers with appropriate input from local communities.

Page 61

Accommodating Difference ... 28



28.3.1 It can be argued that legislation is an effective way of tackling discrimination: it is a way of effecting institutional change and of using institutional and legal processes to change individual behaviour. It can further be argued that, while legislation cannot replace education, it can in fact be more effective, at least in the short term, by actually changing the relations between racial minorities and the dominant Anglo-Australian majority. At the same time, and because of this power, legislation can be an excellent educative device operating to change public definitions of what are acceptable behaviours and also, to some extent, attitudes.

28.3.2 The central issue of anti-discrimination legislation as it affects Aboriginal people is its effectiveness in addressing the various sources and manifestations of racism. The legal prohibition of discrimination based on race may protect individual Aboriginal people from abuse--or at least provide some form of redress. Well publicized actions by individuals who prove that, in a specific instance, they were subjected to unlawful discrimination may have an exemplary effect. Yet, individual complaint mechanisms are limited in their ability to shift general attitudes, institutionalized practices or passive, neglectful discrimination which maintains a status quo of inequality.

28.3.3 The effectiveness of anti-discrimination legislation must be considered from two perspectives: first, its ability to provide protection against manifest individual acts of racism; and, second, its ability to achieve broad, practical improvements in the general position of Aboriginal people. Before considering these matters it is necessary to briefly review the structure of the legislation.

28.3.4 The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) is a permanent Commonwealth statutory authority with responsibility for the operation of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 ('the Act'). The object of this legislation is to give force to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Accordingly, section 9 of the Act creates an offence which is based on the definition of 'racial discrimination' contained in Article 1 of the Convention. Section 9 provides that:

Page 62

It is unlawful for a person to do any act involving a distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the


28 Accommodating Difference ...

recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of any human right or fundamental freedom in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.

28.3.5 Section 9 establishes the grounds upon which a complaint may be brought. Other sections of the Act define areas in which it is unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of race, colour, national or ethnic origin. The prescribed areas include access to places and facilities, land, housing

and other accommodation, provision of goods and services, the right to join a trade union and employment. It is unlawful not merely to refuse access to goods, services, etc., but also to provide them on a less favourable basis because of a person's race.

28.3.6 Similar anti-discrimination legislation exists in South Australia, Western Australia, New South Wales and Victoria. The development of co-operative arrangements with these four States has resulted in the HREOC appointing the relevant State Equal Opportunity

Commissions as agents. This involves the delegation of certain Commission powers to the various State bodies in order to minimize duplication of services. When concurrent State legislation exists, a person has a choice of lodging a complaint under either the Commonwealth or

State provisions. However, if an election is made to pursue the complaint through the State system, section 6A (2) of the Act removes the Commonwealth right of complaint.

28.3.7 I turn now to consider the prosecution of individual

complaints. Under the Act and equivalent State legislation, the lodging of a written complaint commences a process of investigation and conciliation. The primary object is to achieve a resolution of the complaint resulting in a voluntary settlement between the parties. Settlement of a complaint to the

satisfaction of both parties may involve an apology, an undertaking to redress the substance of the complaint and/or the payment of compensation. The voluntary settlement of a complaint through conciliation may hold the best promise of altering personal attitudes.

Through the respondent's confrontation with the individual he/she has discriminated against, and the realization of the offence caused, a genuine shift in understanding may be achieved.

28.3.8 The limitations of such settlements are equally clear. A case study referred to in the HREOC Annual Report, 1989-90 cites the example of a young Aboriginal man claiming discrimination in employment.


The complaint was conciliated when both parties agreed to and confirmed that the organization would not tolerate discrimination in the work place as defined in the Racial Discrimination Act and that the principles of equal

opportunity in employment and education would be

Page 63

Accommodating Difference ...

adhered to. The organization also agreed to train the young man in other areas of work within the



28.3.9 Such a settlement has general implications for the employment practices of an entire organization and expands the effect of the individual's complaint. However, the general impact of such settlements remains essentially limited-they are private and personal. The vast majority of complaints are settled by conciliation. Only 4.1% of all complaints lodged with the HREOC in 1989-90 were referred for formal hearing. A total of 297 complaints were lodged under the Act: six were referred for hearing. 3

28.3.10 The recent cases in Mareeba, Queensland, provide a good illustration of the effect of individual complaints being pursued to formal hearing. Several separate complaints were received from Aboriginal people alleging that they had been refused service in two local hotels. The majority of complaints were upheld and resulted in declarations that compensation payments should be made. The awards of compensation for the humiliation and embarrassment suffered by the various complainants ranged from $1,000 to $1 ,200-the latter being a warded for a. 'protracted

silent racial taunt'.

28.3.11 The further declarations made in the Mareeba cases show the range of orders which may be made. They included directions that discrimination should cease, directions that the respondent should provide written apologies to the complainants-in certain cases notices of apology were directed to be published in a local newspaper. Such a clear public transmission of disapproval of racist conduct broadens the impact of an individual complaint.

28.3.12 Further, the reasons for decision were forwarded to the Licensing Commission of Queensland for consideration 'in relation to any jurisdiction it has over [the licensee of the hotel's] fitness to participate in the hotel industry in Queensland'. The State Attorney-General was also

sent a copy of the reasons for decision 'to consider whether express provision should be made in the liquor licensing laws to render unlawful refusal of service in hotels on the ground ofrace'.4

28.3.13 In one of the Mareeba cases, the managing co-owner of the hotel received a complaint from a respected Aboriginal community leader to the effect that a colour bar was operating at the hotel. No appropriate follow-up was made by the proprietor. It would appear that consultation and reasonable discussion was fruitless. The formal hearing provided an objective forum for the fair determination of the complaint. The findings and declarations not only served to acknowledge and protect the rights of the individual complainants, they also stimulated a great deal of public attention in Mareeba, in the State of Queensland and, in fact, throughout

Page 64 Vol4

28 Accommodating Difference ...

Australia. It stimulated intense local debate on issues of racism in Mareeba. The Queensland Attorney-General is reported to have stated that the Mareeba findings will be taken into account in preparing Queensland's first anti-discrimination legislation.5

28.3.14 The second substantial function of the HREOC is

demonstrated by the reference of the decisions in the Mareeba cases for the consideration of State authorities. It is a pro-active function: to give force to the International Convention which refers to the 'Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination'. The implication of this convention and

the role of the HREOC is that it is not sufficient to merely react to abuses, but to address those institutionalized practices and entrenched attitudes leading to abuse. A considerable amount of the work of the HREOC and State Equal Opportunity bodies is devoted to educational programs

designed to inform and raise the awareness of the general public about race issues and to achieve a wider impact on discriminatory practices. Powers of inquiry are not limited to individual complaints. The National Inquiry into Racist Violence and the Toomelah Report are pre-eminent examples of

the far broader matters which may be addressed. The former Inquiry's terms of reference were to investigate: • Acts of violence or intimidation based on racism directed at persons, organizations or property.

• Acts of violence or intimidation directed at persons or

organizations on the basis of their advocacy of support for or implementation of non-racist policies, including violence or intimidation intended to deter such advocacy, support or implementation.

Current or prospective measures of government or government instrumentalities to deal with the above matters.6

28.3.15 The objectives of the Toomelah Inquiry and Report were equally far reaching:

At the time of the release of the Toomelah Report, the Commission anticipated that it would have flow-on effects for other Aboriginal communities. We hoped that when the appalling living conditions of the people of Toomelah were exposed, governments and the

community in general would review policies and practices to improve conditions for Aboriginal people across the board. Aboriginal communities throughout Australia are still fighting the same battles against

inefficiency and lack of co-ordination that were fought in Toomelah. 1

28.3.16 The HREOC has pursued a central issue raised by the Toomelah Report. A Water Supply Project is currently being undertaken.

Vol4 Page 65

Accommodating Difference ... 28

It will provide a broad overview of the adequacy of water supplied to Aboriginal communities and an intensive study of ten individual communities. Such a project has the useful quality of translating the abstract language of the International Convention into a vital and tangible matter. The quality of treatment of Aboriginal communities may be assessed in the practical and measurable terms of the quality and availability of water in those communities.

28.3.17 The various State Equal Opportunity Commissions have similar powers to pursue education programs and enquiries into broad matters of racial discrimination. Section 82 of the Equal Opportunity Act 1982 (W A) requires the Commissioner of Equal Opportunity to

undertake a review of ... government policies and practices ... with a view to identifying circumstances where discrimination on a ground referred to in this Act occurs, in substance or effect, against any person or

class of persons and shall furnish a report of the findings of the review to the Minister.

28.3.18 This section has recently been used to review the policies and practices of the Western Australian Department of Community Services (Report No. 7) and Police Practices (Report No. 8). The value of the HREOC and State bodies holding and exercising such powers of inquiry, review and report to government is very great. Beyond general programs of public education, the HREOC and Equal Opportunity agencies provide permanent, independent bodies which are able to monitor and give precise guidance to generalized governmental and departmental commitments to equality of treatment.

28.3.19 While such bodies have no more than the power to recommend changes, they carry some political weight and frequently command considerable media attention. They target specific issues which may become actionable under their legislation and thus exercise sharp pressure on the relevant bodies to act.

28.3.20 The major problems raised by anti-discrimination legislation centre on the prosecution of individual complaints. Amongst Aboriginal communities, knowledge of the protection potentially afforded by the HREOC and State bodies is limited. In the Western Australian Review of Police Practices, the Commissioner for Equal Opportunity noted that:

Page 66

Specific information about the Act and its implications for State Government services, including those provided by the Police, should be made more widely available to those the legislation is intended to protect. The Equal

Opportunity Commission has already committed certain significant resources to community education. This


28 Accommodating Difference ...

appears to have been more effective in some areas (for example, access to entertainment venues, accommodation) than in others. 8

28.3.21 The potential impact of adequate information appropriately delivered to Aboriginal communities may be demonstrated in the Victorian context. Between the period 1 July 1989 to 30 June 1990, five complaints from Aboriginal people alleging racial discrimination were received by the

Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission. In the period 1 July 1990 to 21 January 1991, fifteen such complaints had been lodged. This substantial increase coincided with a community education program involving posters, pamphlets and, more particularly, three Koori staff

members attending at communities to give direct information regarding rights and procedures.

28.3.22 At the end of this section I recommend that HREOC provide education programs to inform the community of its role.

28.3.23 In making this recommendation I am conscious that such information and education programs already exist. It is essentially a matter of expanding their reach and refining their target areas. As noted by the Western Australian Commissioner for Equal Opportunity:

Information gathered from Section 82 (b) reviews of policies and practices should provide specific information to enable a more effective targeting of groups in danger of discrimination in their access to

certain State Government services.9

28.3.24 In the same Report on Police Practices the Western Australian Commissioner also found that:

The doubts of Aboriginal people about the potential of the Equal Opportunity Act to positively affect their relations with Police, need to be addressed by the Commissioner for Equal Opportunity and the government. Aboriginal people have many reasons for

their hesitancy to use the Act which are likely to remain until it is demonstrated that the legislation is effective in countering discriminatory actions and practices by organizations such as the Police. 10

28.3.25 Aspects of the Commonwealth legislation have certainly given rise to legitimate doubts as to its potential effectiveness to deliver redress. Certain complaints arising from the refusal of service in Mareeba were dismissed because the Commissioner was not persuaded that the race of

the complainant was the 'dominant reason' for refusal. Section 18 of the Act required that the ground of discrimination, such as race, had to be

Vo14 Page 67

Accommodating Difference ... 28

dominant where there were a number of reasons for the unlawful act. That requirement has now been removed by a recent amendment to the Commonwealth Act.

28.3.26 A further limitation on the effectiveness of the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act 1975 lay in its lack of provision for a complaint alleging 'indirect discrimination'. Direct reference to race or racial characteristics clearly gives rise to cause for complaint. However, there are practices which appear to be neutral but which result in a particular person or group being adversely affected. In Australia there have only

been a small number of cases in this area. Those cases arose under State legislation.

28.3.27 Indirect discrimination litigation has achieved significant results in the United States of America, where it is known as 'disparate impact'. A classic case is that of Griggs v. Duke Power Company. 11 In that case, black employees of a power company brought a class action against their employer. They alleged that the employer had breached the Civil Rights Act 1964 by requiring a High School Diploma and satisfactory intelligence test score for certain jobs previously limited to white employees. The Supreme Court of the United States held that the Act prohibited an employer from insisting on such requirements of employment when:

(i) the standards were not significantly related to job performance;

(ii) the requirements operated to disqualify blacks at a substantially higher rate than white applicants; and

(iii) the jobs in question had formerly been filled only by white employees as part of a long-standing practice of preferring whites.

28.3.28 The prosecution of complaints alleging indirect discrimination have the potential to challenge entrenched institutional practices-­ particularly employment criteria based on educational standards-which tend to disproportionately affect Aboriginal people. While this basis of complaint was available under State legislation, the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 did not provide for it until amendment in early 1991. The same

amendment introduced the vicarious liability of employers for acts of racial discrimination by their employees. Class or representative actions may also be used to challenge discriminatory practices which affect Aboriginal people or Aboriginal communities generally.

28.3.29 Mechanisms exist under anti-discrimination legislation, not only to redress individual abuses, but to challenge wider, institutional practices which, either intentionally or by carelessness as to their effect, limit the lives of Aboriginal people and deny them equality of opportunity.

Page 68 Vol4

28 Accommodating Difference ...

The impact of this legislation, particularly in the area of indirect discrimination, is yet to be deeply felt.

28.3.30 To enhance its effectiveness requires more than general education programs to inform individual Aboriginal people. The proof of the disparate effect of apparently neutral criteria requires detailed evidence, frequently statistical evidence. The effective conduct of such actions

requires the involvement of Aboriginal organizations, particularly Aboriginal Legal Services, in order to marshal such material. It would be valuable if HREOC and Equal Opportunity Commissions could assist in developing strategies to maximize the use of the legislation which they


Recommendation 211: That the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity

Commission and State Equal Opportunity

Commissions should be encouraged to further pursue their programs designed to inform the Aboriginal community regarding anti-discrimination legislation, particularly by way of Aboriginal staff members attending at communities and organizations to ensure

the effective dissemination of information as to the legislation and ways and means of taking advantage of it.

Recommendation 212: That the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity

Commission and State Equal Opportunity

Commissions should be encouraged to consult with appropriate Aboriginal organizations and Aboriginal Legal Services with a view to developing strategies to encourage and enable Aboriginal people to utilize anti­

discrimination mechanisms more effectively, particularly in the area of indirect discrimination and representative actions.


28.3.31 The issue of legislating to make unlawful such behaviour as can be categorized as racial vilification relates to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. This convention requires all signatories to take action against the

incitement to racial violence, discrimination or hostility. At the same time,

Vol4 Page 69

Accommodating Difference ... 28

the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights enshrines the fundamental right of freedom of expression, providing that 'everyone shall have the right of freedom of expression'. Article .19 goes on to state, however, that the exercise of this right:

carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary (a) for respect of the rights or reputations of others, [or] (b) for the protection of national security or of public order, or of public health or morals.

28.3.32 Article 20 of the same Covenant provides that: 'Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law'. Article 17 provides that everyone has the right to the protection of the law against interference or attacks upon their honour and reputation.

28.3.33 National legislation relating to racial vilification, then, has to take into account the potential conflict between these two rights in a democratic society: the right to freedom of speech, and the right of the state to limit certain kinds of speech that can lead to overt conflict among its citizens.

28.3.34 Legislation in this area recognizes the important fact that language itself can be a form of violence. This principle was enunciated by Justice Felix Frankfurter of the United States Supreme Court:

[l]nsulting or fighting words, which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite to immediate breach of the peace, these utterances have no essential value as a step to the truth. Any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.

Wilful purveyors of falsehood concerning racial and religious groups promote strife and tend powerfully to obstruct the manifold adjustments required for free ordered life in a metropolitan polyglot community. 12

28.3.35 What is at issue in the legislation, therefore, is the matter of balancing the individual's rights, in this case to freedom of speech, with the rights of other individuals and groups and the legitimate interests of the state in the promotion of civil order. There is another issue, however, that is perhaps even more fundamental: that is, the question of the rights of the individual that is the basis of much of liberal western thought as distinct from the rights of the collective, the group that exists by virtue of its treatment in the society as a whole. The Royal Commission hearings have

Page 70 Vol4

28 Accommodating Difference ...

demonstrated that Aboriginal people are such a group. They have also shown that, within the systemic discrimination that Aboriginal people receive from police, language is one of the forms of violence that has most impact on relations between the two. Indeed, one quarter of all complaints

of racist statements lodged with the Human Rights Commission up to 1984-by various groups--concerned statements made by officials such as public servants and members of the police. 13 It is therefore appropriate that this Royal Commission address the issue.

28.3.36 In April 1990 the Community Relations Advisory Committee published its report to the Minister of Ethnic Affairs in South Australia. I was the Chairperson of that Committee, and, although the report has not yet been publicly released, I draw on the work of the Committee for the

comments which follow.

28.3 .37 The New South Wales Anti-Discrimination (Racial Vilification) Amendment Act 1989 (No. 48)-an Act to amend the Anti­ Discrimination Act 1977 to render vilification on the ground of race unlawful and to create an offence of serious racial vilification; and for

other purposes-was assented to by the New South Wales Governor in May 1989.

28.3.38 The essential features of the New South Wales legislation are as follows:


Section 20B of the Act defines the term 'public act' to include spoken and written communications to the public, actions and gestures observable by the public, the wearing and displaying in public of signs and emblems and the distribution of matter to the public with knowledge that the matter vilifies a person or group

on the ground of race. The conduct encompassed by the Bill is intended to be limited to 'public acts' and does not include private communications or other conduct in private. Section 20C of the Act makes it unlawful for a person by a public

act to incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of a person or group of persons on the grounds of the race of the person or membership of the group. Public acts done reasonably and in good faith, for academic/artistic, scientific or

research purposes or for other purposes in the public interest, including a discussion or debate about and expositions of any act or matter are exempt from the Amendment. Section 20D of the Bill provides that racial vilification which is in

the nature of threatened violence or the incitement of others to threaten violence, constitutes a summary offence, punishable in the case of an individual, by a maximum penalty of $1,000 or imprisonment for six months, or both, and, in the case of a

corporation, by a maximum penalty of $10,000. This offence is aimed at very serious and blatant forms of racial vilification such

Page 71

Accommodating Difference ... 28

as the threatening or inciting others to threaten physical harm to people or property. The requirement for intention in the offence of serious racial vilification also sets it apart from proposed section 20C and further ensures that prosecution and conviction will be limited to only very serious cases of racial vilification. In addition, Section 20D(2) provides that a person may only be prosecuted for the offence with the Attorney-General's consent. A distinction is therefore made between 'racial vilification', less serious behaviour with civil penalties only and 'serious racial vilification', more serious behaviour with criminal penalties and prosecution initiated by the state. • An amendment to Section 88 of the Act enables a body which

represents a racial group to lodge a racial vilification complaint on behalf of one or more named persons who are members of that racial group. Such a complaint may be lodged only with the consent of the person or persons. • Section 89B requires the President of the Anti-Discrimination .

Board to refer a complaint to the Attorney-General if, after investigating the complaint, the President considers that the offence of serious racial vilification may have been committed. The President is required to notify the complainant of the referral and the complainant retains the right to require the President to refer the complaint to the Equal Opportunity Tribunal.

28.3.39 The New South Wales Act on Racial Vilification is considered by many to be:

a landmark piece of social legislation in the Australian context. By prescribing certain beliefs and acts as anti­ social, warranting the imposition of legal sanctions for a breach of community standards in this regard, the state and society has denied emphatically any legitimacy that .may have been afforded so far to racist views because of

government inaction and community indifference. 14

28.3.40 In Western Australia, the impetus for debate on the issue of Incitement to Racial Hatred legislation was provided through the publishing of a report on Incitement to Racial Hatred (Project No. 86) by the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia. The principal problem out of which the report was commissioned was the occurrence of large scale racist poster and graffiti campaigns on public property in the metropolitan and some rural areas of Western Australia since 1983. These posters consisted of messages which expressed causal links between unwanted economic and social phenomena such as unemployment and the presence of members of a particular community, for example, '400,000 Jobless; 400,000 Asians Out! '.

Page 72 Vol4

28 Accommodating Difference ...

28.3.41 As part of the Inquiry, the Law Reform Commission undertook two community surveys on the phenomenon of racist poster campaigns. These surveys canvassed the subject of effects of racist posters. In addition, the survey expressly posed specific options for

legislative change (including no change).

28.3.42 As a result of its findings, the Law Reform Commission recommended to the Attorney-General that new provisions should be included in the criminal law to outlaw certain kinds of racially inflammatory activity, and that these offences should take the form of four

amendments to the criminal code, as follows: • Possession of racially inflammatory material for publication, distribution or display (racial hatred offence). • Publication, distribution or display of racially inflammatory

material (racial hatred offence). • Possession of racially inflammatory material for display

(harassment, alarm, fear or distress offence). • Display of racially inflammatory material (harassment, alarm, fear or distress offence).

The Law Reform Commission also recommended criminal penalties.

28.3.43 The effect of the proposed amendments is to create two categories of offences relating to the possession or publication, distribution or display of racially inflammatory written or pictorial materials for the purpose of inciting others to hatred of any identifiable

group. Furthermore, possession or display of the same materials which is intended or is likely to cause serious harassment, alarm, fear or distress to any identifiable group will also be an offence. In summary, and in contrast to the New South Wales Act, the Western Australia Bill makes it

only unlawful to publish, distribute or display racist material for the purpose of inciting racist hatred and makes such publishing, distributing or displaying a criminal offence with sanctions, able to be prosecuted by the State.

28.3.44 I prefer the New South Wale's Act to the suggested Western Australia model, particularly because it puts less emphasis on the criminal law. In this area conciliation arid education are likely to be more effective than making of martyrs; particularly when it is words, not acts, which are

in issue.

28.3.45 Australia has a duty and obligation to meet both its internal and international commitments in relation to both the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Vol4 Page 73

Accommodating Difference ... 28

28.3.46 A second compelling argument for the introduction of legislation to render vilification on the basis of race unlawful relates to the powerful educative role of legislation:

The role of the law as an educational force is often underestimated. The simple fact that an act is known to be unlawful will dissuade most citizens from performing that act unless they have a strong economic or personal interest in so doing. Laws can also change attitudes over time and it is not necessarily the case that overall attitudinal change has to precede a change in the law. Indeed often when the major proportion of the population accepts that a particular behaviour (say,

spitting in the street) is not acceptable, a law restraining the practice will then be highly effective in convincing the remainder of the population to conform to the new social standard. ts

28.3.47 The law's education role has been clearly demonstrated in relation to the sexual harassment legislation. Much of the success of this legislation has been its dual legislative and educative role which has enabled parameters to be set around what is and what is not acceptable behaviour. Legislation, therefore, provides empowerment for the educative process.16

28.3.48 I generally support legislation of the kind introduced in New South Wales but I would qualify my support in some respects.

28.3.49 I think that the legislation should have the following features:

(i) I believe that any such legislation should very clearly exclude from its ambit such activities as demonstrations against the behaviour of particular countries, publication or performance of works of art and the serious and non-inflammatory discussion of issues of public policy.

(ii) I do not agree with the creation of two categories of offence i.e. 'racial vilification' and 'serious racial vilification'. In the New South Wales legislation the former offence gives rise to civil penalties and the latter to criminal penalties. In my view there should be only one offence, racial vilification, and no criminal sanctions should apply.

(iii) Such legislation should provide for an organization, such as an Aboriginal Legal Service, with a special interest in the issue to be able to lodge a complaint on behalf of any aggrieved individual or group.

Page74 Vol4

28 Accommodating Difference ...

(iv) The emphasis of the legislation should be on conciliation not the use of criminal sanctions. Where conciliation fails then the powers provided to the Tribunal which considers the matter could include the awarding of damages and costs and to have injunctive power to order a person to desist from such conduct, to apologize publicly for such conduct or to take some positive step to reduce

the harm which the conduct has occasioned.

28.3.50 There are, of course, acts which would fall within the definition of acts of racial vilifications and which offend the criminal law. It is not suggested that they should not be subject to the criminal law.

Recommendation 213: That governments which have not already done so legislate to proscribe racial vilification and to provide a conciliation mechanism for dealing with complaints

of racial vilification. The penalties for racial

vilification should not involve criminal sanctions. In addition to enabling individuals to lodge complaints, the legislation should empower organizations which can demonstrate a special interest in QJJPOSing racial

vilification to complain on behalf of any individual or group represented by that organization.


28.4.1 While it is plain that improved relations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people requires effort and goodwill at all levels and the putting in place of appropriate policies, practical experience demonstrates that it is at the local level that steps can most readily be taken to improve

those relations. Issues present themselves in a less complicated way; there are fewer conflicting interests at the local level than when the arena is larger; it is easier for people to interact on a less formal basis.

28.4.2 Throughout this report I refer again and again to what I see as very positive developments at the local level whereby Aboriginal and non­ Aboriginal people are interacting, negotiating and co-operating in a way and on a scale unknown ten years ago. I do not discuss what is discussed

elsewhere. But I refer to the example of the Justice Panels in Victoria; the example of Julalikari Council in Tennant Creek; the very positive relations at Port Lincoln, South Australia, which I mention at the end of Chapter 27; the relations which I understand are developing in some western New

South Wales towns where the Aboriginal people are now involved in the

Vol4 Page 75

Accommodating Difference ... 28

Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) Scheme and are contracting with local farmers and councils; the relations between the Alice Springs Council and Tangentyere Council and the Tangentyere proposals for the Social Behaviour Program; the increasing number of localities where sensible, practical understandings are being reached between police and Aboriginal people, several of whom I have referred to but I mention two others-in Geraldton (where I rely on information from others) and in Roebourne (which I personally observed).

28.4.3 The examples can be multiplied; the arrangements referred to in this report between the Queensland corrections authorities and the Aboriginal community in Brisbane; and the use by various non-Aboriginal organizations of Aboriginal education providers.

28.4.4 What is common to all of the cases is the fact that there are in existence Aboriginal organizations, community-based, which are capable of meeting with relevant non-Aboriginal agencies. The existence of these organizations is immensely valuable to both. On the Aboriginal side the people have a voice, they are no longer voiceless and powerless; the non­ Aboriginal agencies have a body with whom they can deal, confident that the body is able to represent the Aboriginal constituency. On both sides it is recognized that the other has some responsibility and some power and authority. So, there can be a useful dialogue which gets results and which helps both sides to better understand this. Commissioner Dodson speaks of approaching matters 'through mutual experience and practice' and

'interaction upon terms of respect, co-operation and negotiation which will affect change and improvements in relationships that are capable of diminishing racism and dismantling the myths'.

28.4.5 I would only add that if there are difficulties in making the breakthroughs in the first place and monitoring them, history demands that it is the non-Aboriginal people who make the first advances and be prepared for early rebuffs.


There is a great deal of misunderstanding of the special privileges available for Aboriginal people, aimed at undoing the years of disadvantage and discrimination, and these misunderstandings need to be faced squarely by the Government. 11

28.5.1 There are many myths current in the general Australian society today that to some extent have replaced the stereotypes of the past. While many of the stereotypes still exist, the new myths relate to the 'privileges' available to Aboriginal people. The Australian National Opinion Polls, in their study on attitudes to land rights, identified some of these, 18 as did

Page 76 Vol4

28 Accommodating Difference ...

other material coming before the Royal Commission. In view of the general picture of Aboriginal disadvantage, those new myths are remarkably curious.

B. Cope, 'Racism, popular culture and Australian identity in transition: a case study of change in school textbooks since 1945', A. Marcus and R. Rasmussen (eds.), Prejudice in the Public arena: Racism, Centre for Migrant and Intercultural Studies, Monash University, Melbourne, 1987, pp. 73-4

2 Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC), Annual Report 1989-90, AGPS, Canberra, 1990, p. 65

3 HREOC, pp. 62, 65

4 HREOC, Case No. H90/13

5 Courier Mail, 17 December 1990

6 HREOC, p. 56

7 HREOC, p. 54

8 Western Australia. Equal Opportunity Commission, Discrimination in Government Policies and Practices, Section 82(b) Report No. 8:Review of Police Practices, Main Report, Perth, 1990

9 Western Australia. Equal Opportunity Commission, p. 14

10 Western Australia. Equal Opportunity Commission, p. 15

11 Griggs v. Duke Power Company (1971) 401 US 424

Vol4 Page 77

Accommodating Difference ...

12 F. Frankfurter, Beauharnais v. Illinois (1952) 343 US

13 H. Ware, 'Incitement to racial hatred, racial defamation, and the law', Media Information Australia, May 1984, p. 5


14 Jayasuriya: 1987: 7, cited in South Australia. Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs Commission, Community Relations: A Strategy for South Australia, The Report of the Community Relations Advisory Committee, Adelaide, 1990, pp. 95-8

15 Human Rights Commission: Report No. 7, p. 13

16 South Australia. Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs Commission, p. 99

17 M. Brady, Submission to the Royal Commission inJo the Deaths of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders in Custody, RCIADIC Submission, p. 6

18 Australian National Opinion Polls (ANOP), Land Rights: Winning Middle Australia, An attitude and communication research study presented to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, Canberra, 1985, pp. 13-16

Page 78 Vol4


Chapter 29

Improving the Criminal Justice System


This chapter follows on from Chapter 13 on the criminal justice system and relations with police. As I discussed in Chapter 13, police relations with Aboriginal people cannot be divorced from community relations in general. In this chapter I am concerned with the ways and means whereby

both Aboriginal people and police have addressed the need for change. The most instrumental changes have been achieved where both Aboriginal communities, police and other representative community bodies have worked in close and sensitive consultation. Hence, I have devoted

significant space in this chapter to Aboriginal Community Policing strategies and Community Justice Panels. Both are examples of Aboriginal and police initiatives. I refer also to the very constructive submission of the Police Federation of Australia and New Zealand.

I also make mention of currently operating programs which I consider to be innovative examples of how Aboriginal Councils have successfully negotiated with community and government bodies for effective social control in their communities. There are many emerging examples of programs in other States. It is impossible to discuss all these initiatives

but I select some which are typical.

The second half of this chapter is concerned with a discussion of police training and recruitment practices, largely of non-Aboriginal police. It is apparent that police training and recruitment practices are a critical area that needs to be addressed in order to address the question of police attitudes to Aboriginal people. Equally important in achieving change in relations with police and policing strategies is the need to examine the options for

Aboriginal involvement in policing. Hence, I conclude my discussion in this chapter with an examination of the question and issues surrounding the idea of Aboriginal police and police aide schemes.

Vol4 Page 79

Improving the Criminal Justice System



29.1.1 Generally speaking Aboriginal people accept the need for police, and do not want their communities to be without their services. What they typically complain of is that police are not 'accountable', and that they themselves are 'powerless' in the face of police. The power they want over police is not physical power, but effective legal power-the power to make police themselves accountable for their actions in the community. A formal right of complaint to a senior police officer or a distant bureaucracy is seen as of little comfort. What they want is a real say at the local level in how their community is policed. There are some outstanding examples, to which I shall refer, in which a mutually

satisfactory and workable accommodation has been reached between police and particular Aboriginal communities. These remain very much the exception, but hopefully they will serve as an inspiration to police and to Aboriginal people in other places. The issue of community policing, the allocation of police resources and the extent to which Aboriginal opinions on these issues may be taken into account are addressed in detail in Chapter 21.

29.1.2 Whilst hostility towards police is widespread among the Aboriginal community, my investigations and those of other Commissioners have also demonstrated that in many places relations are good and long-standing patterns of mutual distrust and antagonism are changing for the better. It is rare for such situations to receive publicity and the effect of the constant media reporting of Aboriginal-police relations in a way which highlights division and confrontation misleads not only non-Aboriginal people but also Aboriginal people to believe that police departments and officers are universally opposed to Aboriginal interests.

29.1.3 To paint a picture of unrelieved opposition and division between Aboriginal people and police is not only to distort the truth but also to deny just recognition to the efforts which so many Aboriginal people and police officers have made in order to improve relations. It is a

sad fact of life that it takes courage for an Aboriginal leader or a police officer to publicly acknowledge fault on each others' own side and to be prepared to listen to the other's point of view. I am impressed by the numbers of people on both sides of what, admittedly, remains a divide who quietly and determinably demonstrate the courage to go beyond rhetoric, to put the past behind them and to get on with the task of improving relations.

29.1.4 In the report of the Aboriginal Issues Unit (AIU) in

Queensland, by way of illustration, it was reported that their consultations with the Aboriginal community led to the conclusion that the relationship between Aboriginal people and police was not 'healthy' overall. On the

Page 80 Vol4

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

other hand, a greater number of communities said that relations were generally satisfactory than said they were not. It is also worth noting that where criticisms of police were voiced quite often the criticism was directed as much against Aboriginal community police or police aides as it

was against non-Aboriginal officers.

29.1.5 The factors which were said by the AIU to contribute to good relations were often very simple. In some instances the role of a police liaison officer was identified as making a difference. Another important factor (and one noted throughout Australia) was that officers who had

worked with a community for an extended time were usually regarded as better to deal with than newly posted officers, recent recruits or officers serving as relieving staff. Police who took the simple step of taking juveniles who had been found offending to their homes rather than

detaining or charging them were appreciated. Communities which had established formal and effective liaison systems invariably reported that relations had improved; officers who took the effort to mix with people less formally, perhaps by joining local sports teams to socialize with

Aboriginal people, or officers who routinely would 'drop in' to visit an Aboriginal farming community were well regarded. Similar reports were received in New South Wales.

29.1.6 What all of these activities have in common is that they represent genuine efforts to break down barriers and to relate, one to the other, as people rather than to deal with people only as a group which shares attitudes hostile to the others' viewpoint. When considering the

many complaints about police behaviour which I have reported here, it is well to keep in mind just how great can be the improvement in the situation which, as these cases demonstrate, can occur with genuine effort being made on both sides.

29 .1. 7 A lengthy submission to me by the Police Federation of Australia and New Zealand, which represents all police unions throughout Australia, illustrates the genuine efforts which police officers have made to understand the causes of division between the Aboriginal community and police. This comprehensive submission canvasses a wide range of

underlying issues and, in my view, correctly places the role of police officers in a broader context. The submission deals with efforts being made throughout Australia to effect a reconciliation of Aboriginal and non­ Aboriginal people. The Federation notes the need to provide


land security for dispossessed Aboriginal communities, a fair process for resolving conflicting land claims, provision for the adequate operation of Aboriginal councils and a guaranteed future for their culture and

tradition, protection of their heritage and, most importantly, public education of all Australians about

Page 81

Improving the Criminal Justice System

Aboriginal history-the vitality of contemporary Aboriginal culture.'


Other areas the Submission canvassed, for instance, on Aboriginal schools, health matters, the media and the criminal justice system reflect the Police Federation's recognition of the complexity of the scope of the underlying issues at hand.

29.1.8 The Federation, having noted this agenda for reconciliation, then adds:

The Police Federation of Australia supports these movements but from a practical point of view, respectfully points out that the work of the police officer is to carry out the instruction of his seniors. If the attitudes and sympathies of governments, police departments and senior authorities change for the better, those changes will be reflected in the day-to-day work performed by police officers charged with maintaining

law and order within the community. 2

2 9 .1. 9 The Police Federation notes that 'the winds of change' are blowing. It supports the decision of Police Commissioners in March 1990 to abandon the traditional military style of police structure and to replace it with one which provides for 'greater accountability to the public for police actions'. The submission acknowledges that Australia's history of colonization had dominant features of dispossession, expropriation, repressive control, dependence, de-culturation and near genocide of Aboriginal people. The Federation supports Aboriginal self­ determination. The submission continues:

Page 82

Whilst the police may have been seen, in the past, as the visible agents of dispossession and control, it needs to be realized and emphasized that the police are the working product of statutory enactments and their procedures have been determined by the disciplinary

dictates of seniors, extending beyond commissioners to ministerial determinations of policy and its application in practice.

There have been sustainable allegations of and discriminatory use of the criminal justice system against Aboriginals. The statistical reports speak clearly under this heading. At the dictate of Government heavy policing has permeated Aboriginal life, producing

through incarceration destructive effects on individual and communallives.3


29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

29 .1.1 0 I will not endeavour here to note the very many reforms which the Federation supports in its submission. What I stress, however, is this. At the start of this Royal Commission in 1987 it is highly unlikely that a submission such as this would have been written by any police union let

alone be put forward as the considered position of all police union bodies in Australia. To those who might be tempted to dismiss the submission as merely words or public relations rhetoric I can point to tangible evidence to the contrary. The specific recommendations put forward for consideration

by the Royal Commission demonstrate the depth to which the Federation has studied the problems identified during this Commission and its recognition that fundamental change is needed. The sincerity of the submission is supported by practical changes which have occurred in

various parts of the country, many of which would not have been possible had there not been police genuinely committed to change. It is no public relations exercise which has seen every commissioned and non­ commissioned officer in the Northern Territory undergo a training course

on Aboriginal culture; it is no temporary step which had led to great successes in the community justice panel program in Victoria. These and many more changes are evidence of genuine effort on the part of police. The matters which I report in this chapter and which reflect badly, at

times, on police officers must be seen in the context of the positive changes which I also describe.



29.2.1 Before examining a number of examples of positive and effective Aboriginal Community responses to law and order, which includes relations with police, I would like to make the point that a key element in the success of Aboriginal organizations is the legislative and

administrative support offered by government to these organizations. The conditions under which effective social control can be exercised requires the effective development of an independent base for action by Aboriginal people and for the growth of strong Aboriginal organizations. While these

organizations may be extremely effective in their own right, without external supports, the effectiveness of Aboriginal organization strategies can be severely curtailed. For example, in Queensland it is apparent that at present the key Aboriginal organizations which would assist with social

controls and self-management, the Community Councils, lack adequate resources and legislative and administrative supports to enable the councils to operate appropriately. This situation exists even though the Aboriginal Co-ordinating Council in Queensland is one of the most effectively

representative State organizations.

Vol4 Page 83

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29

29.2.2 The situation in Queensland contrasts with that in the Northern Territory where Aboriginal organizations cannot be easily ignored in the broader Territory community. They have been able to establish strong, efficient bodies to represent their interest. Through the use of the Land Rights Act some of them have been able to establish independent economic

opportunities for themselves. Their active role in representing Aboriginal interests provides two important factors: bodies with whom police can negotiate, and pressure on police to engage in negotiation. These organizations have already established a range of community-based schemes and have proposed others. Protocols have been signed between police and Aboriginal community organizations in Katherine, Alice Springs, and Tennant Creek detailing agreed procedures for such matters as the safety of Aboriginal people in detention, the attendance of legal staff and families when a person is detained, and the provision of medical care to detainees. In Alice Springs,Tangentyere Council, the federation of town camp associations, has developed a wide range of comprehensive and imaginative programs aimed not just at improving the material conditions of the town camps but also at reducing both harmful use of alcohol and crime. In Tennant Creek, Julalikari Council has worked in close and productive collaboration with the local police, and particularly with Superintendent Warren O'Meara. The result has been a notable improvement in relations between Aboriginal people and police, an improvement that has occurred not just in Tennant Creek and its immediate environs, but in neighbouring communities, including Elliott and Gurungu

Council initiatives and Ali-Curung as well. I have previously discussed the role and activities of Julalikari Council in Chapters 21 and 22.

29.2.3 An important factor also in these meetings between police and Aboriginal people is the presence of an officer in charge who is open to discussion and the possibility of change, and, as in Roeboume, prepared to see accountability to the local community as a crucial factor. In each case, too, the local community has shown a willingness and an ability to accept, across a whole range of issues including harmful use of alcohol and violence, accountability to and for themselves. This is made possible because mechanisms to do so exist through the organizations.

29.2.4 The greatest changes in relations between Aboriginal people and the wider community (including police) have occurred in places where the Aboriginal organizations have a significant track record of achievement, are recognized for their professionalism and have gained either legislative or de facto recognition as significant players in the affairs of the community. I am particularly impressed by the work of Tangentyere Council in Alice Springs in this regard. What impresses me about Tangentyere Council is the extent to which it has pursued a carefully thought out strategy for improving community relations and, without conceding anything on behalf of the members, has recognized that rhetoric is no match for calm discussion and negotiation with those groups who might otherwise be regarded as opponents unworthy of dialogue. There is

Page 84 Vol4

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

a lesson here for all Aboriginal organizations. Confrontation and distance sometimes have a place in a struggle for rights, but advancement is rarely sustained unless the leadership of organizations is willing to give the attention to discussion, to the detail of submissions and to dialogue which is needed to persuade others to a point of view which recognizes the legitimate interests of Aboriginal people.

Recommendation 214: The emphasis on the concept of community policing by Police Services in Australia is supported and

greater emphasis should be placed on the involvement of Aboriginal communities, organizations and groups in devising appropriate procedures for the sensitive policing of public and private locations where it is

known that substantial numbers of Aboriginal people gather or live.

Recommendation 215: That Police Services introduce procedures, in

consultation with appropriate Aboriginal organizations, whereby negotiation will take place at the local level between Aboriginal communities and police concerning police activities affecting such

communities, including: a. The methods of policing used, with particular

reference to police conduct perceived by the Aboriginal community as harassment or discrimination; b. Any problems perceived by Aboriginal people;


c. Any problems perceived by police. Such negotiations must be with representative

community organizations, not Aboriginal people selected by police, and must be frank and open, and with a willingness to discuss issues notwithstanding the absence of formal complaints.


29.2.5 I have above, and at other points during this report, referred to the work being done by Aboriginal organizations in the Northern Territory to effect change in relations between Aboriginal people and the broader community including relations between Aboriginal people and police. As I

have said such initiatives are occurring in many places in Australia, but the

Vol4 Page 85

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29

Territory experience illustrates well how changes can be made and is worthy of more detailed study. I would also like to point out that while these strategies have derived from more remote areas of Australia, the basic principles of these strategies can also be applied to urban situations.

29 .2.6 Alice Springs had a notoriety which most observers would agree was well deserved as a town that epitomized the racism and division which characterized relations between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities. Many problems remain, but there is no doubt that over the last ten years, especially, very great improvement has occurred. Unfortunately, serious social problems remain, which have led to misuse of alcohol and consequent behaviour which results in so many arrests and detentions of Aboriginal people. Significantly, however, the processes for analysing these problems and for devising solutions has changed greatly. Aboriginal people and their organizations have played a major role in forcing the views of Aboriginal people into the agenda of the law and order debate, and the contribution which they are making is finally gaining

the recognition which is deserved.

29.2.7 The Alice Springs Town Council, in response to complaints from some traders and other citizens about unruly behaviour in the town, formed the 'Fight Crime Committee'. Tangentyere Council placed before the Committee a well reasoned, well researched and comprehensive strategy which offered an alternative view to the problems of crime in the community and the processes for dealing with it.

29.2.8 The strategy, rather than simply characterize as racist the concerns which led to formation of the Committee, acknowledged the problems which existed, placed the street behaviour into a broader context of the social disorder which Aboriginal people experienced, especially in the town camps, and proposed an holistic strategy which would lead to long-term solutions.


Page 86

Tangentyere Council identified the issues in this way:

If lasting impact is to be achieved it will only be through an approach to crime which focuses on long and short­ term strategies which target these underlying forces which, if not tackled, ultimately emerge in the shape of crime.

It is essential if a lasting impact is to be made on Aboriginal (and non-Aboriginal) crime, the Committee has to come to grips with and show respect for the social and cultural reality of Aboriginal people. This reality is: • low Aboriginal employment • few Aboriginal employment opportunities • family and traditional value breakdown


29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

• high alcoholism • high crime rate • a dominant non-Aboriginal culture that does not accept Aboriginal people as they are and provide

tokenistic solutions which require no painful change by non-Aboriginal people • A reluctance by non-Aboriginal people to get behind Aboriginal people in sorting out their problems,

preferring to blame them for their problems. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that Tangentyere has been trying to launch measures to prevent the crime problem/or many years without much support from

government, the media, etc. • lack of accommodation options for many people from bush when visiting Alice Springs.

29.2.10 The strategies which Tangentyere proposed dealt with such matters as: the provision of greater financial and community support for Aboriginal outstations and remote communities; training and employment programs in Alice Springs; a Community Development Employment

Projects (CDEP) employment scheme for town campers (since achieved); creation of transient camps for visitors from outlying areas; development of an Aboriginal social club; and long term alcohol education, counselling and rehabilitation programs.

29.2.11 Short-term moves which Tangentyere suggested included the employment of more police aides (to represent different language groups), the employment of Aboriginal community corrections officers, a women's recreation officer to work with town camp women, a child welfare

worker, reduced hours for take-away liquor outlets, better lighting in areas where Aboriginal people congregated to make the areas safer, banning of take-away liquor sales to pedestrians on Sundays, and reduction of liquor outlets.

29.2.12 Coupled with this strategy was another, also under the auspices of Tangentyere-the Social Behaviour Project. This project represented an Aboriginal process for dealing with serious behavioural problems in town camps. Rather than either accept the behaviour or rely

on the police force to resolve the problems, Tangentyere identified the issues as ones to be resolved by Aboriginal people themselves. Ms Barbara Shaw, the Acting General Manager ofTangentyere, explained the program in the following way:

The problems in question include: • violence amongst the drinkers; • violence towards tenants on the leases;

Vol4 Page 87

Improving the Criminal Justice System

Page 88

• families being kept awake all night; • bad examples being set for children; • sexual offences; • public health problems; • increasing alcoholism; • vandalism and theft; • family and community disintegration under the stress

of all of the above; and • marriages occurring [sic] which break tribal rules and which cause problems in communities.

I believe that many of these problems occur because the visitors are (outside the law'. They are away from the laws and restrictions of their own communities and do not understand the (whitefella' law that applies in Alice Springs. Nor do they understand the rules of life on town camps.

Tangentyere is proposing to assist in the creation of awareness of the rules and laws of Alice Springs amongst these people and also to assist in the application of these. We are calling this our Social Behaviour Project.

We believe that this can best be done by fostering a widespread identification with and commitment to the rules and laws by elders, family leaders and ordinary people in the bush. For this to happen successfully,

there needs to be a process whereby the bush people can learn about (town law', work out their own approach to wulerstanding, teaching and applying that law, and place it in the context of their own laws and customs. Hopefully this could lead to a maximum integration of

the two sets of rules, at least in the Alice Springs situation.

It is hoped that the bush people could come up with some constructive suggestions for changes or adaptation of either town or bush law in the process and this could assist the Government in its own legal planning.

This Social Behaviour Project is not meant to be all­ encompassing, but to be firmly focused on areas of day­ to-day life in town. The kinds of topics which could be addressed would be;·



29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

• is it OK to be totally uninhibited when you're drunk? • what behaviour by drinkers is acceptable, and what is not? • how are disputes to be resolved without using

violence? • what public health standards are needed in town? • who is responsible for getting individual family members, who have become stranded in town, back

to their homes? • who is responsible for taking action when people stay in town and stan causing trouble? • where should people camp when they visit town,

particularly drinkers? • what is disrespectful and acceptable to the permanent residents of Alice Springs?

29.2.13 The project will operate in four phases: the first, consultation with leaders in bush communities to discuss the problems experienced by town campers; second, to gain consensus among Aboriginal leaders throughout Central Australia about appropriate rules of conduct for people visiting each others' communities; third, publicizing the rules to all people;

and fourth, seeking funding and support from governments and the Aboriginal community to provide the infrastructure, programs and services which would deal with alcohol-related problems in a broad way.

29.2.14 The Northern Territory Department of Community Services and Health has recently provided substantial funding for the project. The government deserves praise for taking that step. The community, I am sure, will soon appreciate that it is money very well spent.

29.2.15 There are examples of other schemes operative in South Australia that have involved police working with Aboriginal people in particular areas to improve relations. One is the Combined Operation Group in Adelaide's far northern suburbs (Elizabeth/Para Hills). The

scheme was developed in response to what is perceived as a high involvement in offences by young Aboriginal people. This was done in conjunction with members of the Northern Area Aboriginal Neighbourhood House (NAANH). The strategy is to target affected areas

and individuals with an emphasis on seeking support for the family of the individuals. As a result of police and local government support, the NAANH has been able to establish larger and more central premises. Police are also prepared to support particular NAANH initiatives that are

focused on improving services to and facilities for young people.

29.2.16 A central feature of the whole Tangentyere strategy in Alice Springs has been the establishment of social clubs which would allow Aboriginal people to drink in more dignified circumstances than now exists, and to provide encouragement for modified drinking habits.

Vol4 Page 89

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29

Tangentyere recognized that a single club which catered to people from all language groups was not the best solution-preferably there should be sufficient clubs to reflect the preference of people . to identify with and associate with countrymen of the same language group.

29.2.17 Having gained support from government for the creation of the first such club, the Tangentyere Social Club, it is disappointing to learn that the application of the club for a liquor licence was recently refused by the Northern Territory Liquor Commission. The application for a licence received widespread support, including, significantly and commendably in my view, from the Superintendent of Police in charge of Alice Springs Region. Opposition to the club came principally from a number of Aboriginal people, mainly from those living at some remote communities, such as Hermannsburg.

29.2.18 It must be said that opposition to the licence application demonstrated that Tangentyere' s strategy does not have universal support from Aboriginal people. This is not surprising as the alcohol problem is one on which all communities, Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, have many conflicting opinions.

29.2.19 Whilst I can understand why some Aboriginal people would be fearful that a licensed Aboriginal club could create rather than reduce problems of alcohol-generated misbehaviour, I must say that I believe that opposition to the club is misguided. I do not believe that the misuse of alcohol in Central Australia or anywhere else can be tackled whilst alternative but much less controlled outlets remain for drinking. Binge drinking, the style of drinking which is particularly dangerous, will continue to thrive in creek beds and camps in Alice Springs. The club offers some hope for modification, by Aboriginal people themselves, of

the use of alcohol.

29.2.20 I hope that the management of the club and the Aboriginal people who objected to the club can get together to resolve their differences on this issue. I am convinced that the concept of the club is worth support.


29.2.21 A significant, initiative of the Aboriginal community, in addition to the initatives described above, is the concept of Aboriginal Community Policing. As the term signifies, policing is carried out by members of the Aboriginal community, and, in particular, by members of the local Aboriginal councils. This policing has, in part, arisen out of a fruitful dialogue between police and Aboriginal communities. For example, the police have actively supported the initiative of Julalikari Council in the Northern Territory in establishing and maintaining a

Page90 Vol4

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

program of Council patrols which attend disturbances in the town camps during the night. Generally police do not attend the scene of a disturbance unless requested to do so by members of the Council patrol. The Council then attempts to resolve the disputes at meetings the morning after. The

actual presence of the patrol may also act as a deterrent for potential incidences.

29.2.22 Perhaps the weakest point in such schemes is their under­ resourcing. The patrols in Tennant Creek and Elliott, for example, depend entirely on the voluntary involvement of councillors on a very constant basis, as well, in some cases, of the use of their own vehicles and

provision of petrol. I have already pointed out in other parts of this report that there are very heavy demands placed on those people in Aboriginal communities who are willing to take on these sorts of responsibilities. The result is often exhaustion and withdrawal. Although there has been

some limited funding support for the Julalikari Council patrols from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs/Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (A TSIC), this was limited to provision of a vehicle and radio and was for two years only. My own view is that this project (and others

like it) should not rely upon ATSIC funding which is intended for use to make good Aboriginal disadvantage. The whole project is a contribution to peaceful order in the town as well as in the Aboriginal community and it should be funded from a justice budget. gave their strongest

support to continued funding for the program. It is to be hoped that, in view of my discussion and findings in this report, ATSIC will reconsider its decision. Adequate funding and resources must be made available so that schemes which have proved so important in improving relations

between police and Aboriginal people can continue.

29.2.23 The community policing programs in Tennant Creek and Elliott devised, managed and staffed by Aboriginal people have been very successful, and moves are underway to introduce a similar scheme in Alice Springs. The AIU reported to me on the Julalikari Council patrols in

Tennant Creek. I quote the AIU report in some length because it is an approach which I am sure many other Aboriginal communities and police services would find illuminating:


The Aboriginal community at Tennant Creek has attempted to overcome a number of problems with police and policing by establishing council patrols which attend disturbances in the camps at night and which attempt to

resolve conflicts at morning meetings in the camps. The Julalikari Council insists that people should bring their complaints to the Councillors on patrol, rather than the police, and that the police should not attend at

disturbances without the presence of Councillors to explain the problem to them.

Page 91

Improving the Criminal Justice System

The involvement of Aboriginal Councillors in voluntary policing of their communities, and their preparedness to use their own vehicles and money to patrol the streets and camps every night, points to their dissatisfaction

with policing in their communities. The Councillors state that the main factors in Aboriginal offending is alcohol, disrespect by Aboriginal youth and the white community for Aboriginal Law, and the inadequacy of essential services, alcohol rehabilitation services, and general standards of living in the community. They are concerned that the police do not understand what they are dealing with, nor how they are used by protagonists on one side of a dispute against the others. They are attempting to resolve conflicts in an Aboriginal way rather than having the police simply arrest a person or persons, sometimes the wrong person, without solving

the problem. Councillors are able to speak to Aboriginal people and reprimand them with success. Police reprimands may not be successful in some situations, especially domestic violence situations. The use of Aboriginal language as the medium in these patrols makes an enormous difference to their success.

Inspector 0' Meara at a meeting of the Domestic Violence Committee in Tennant Creek said that in the previous two months, of the 162 disturbances reported to the police, over 50 per cent were domestic violence and

95 per cent of them were alcohol-related. Many of the reports were generated by Ju/alikari patrols and their contribution had increased the disturbances reported to police considerably.


29.2.24 I would like to make it clear that what is being referred to here is not an · increase in disturbances but rather that there was an increase in reporting of offences because of the patrols. Moreover, the nature of these offences were by-and-large less serious because of the patrols intervention. The AIU report continued with respect to Inspector O'Meara:


He attempted to involve representatives on the Domestic Violence Committee to work together with the police when the new legislation on domestic violence was introduced at the end of that month, enabling police to remove offenders from homes and detain them for four hours.

When the Aboriginal Issues Unit met with the Julalikari Council to ascertain their views on the underlying issues


29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

leading to high rates of custody and sometimes deaths in custody for Aboriginal people, the discussion turned to the problems with the patrols. It is very important to the Councillors that the patrols work, and that relations with police improve.

Aboriginal Issues Unit staff observed morning meetings convened by the Councillors to bring about resolution of conflict between disputants who had caused disturbances during the night.

Councillors work with their constituents on their night patrols to diffuse arguments and prevent disturbances. Camp residents do not call police themselves. They call the Council to attend a dispute and if residents feel that

police are required, the Councillors call on their behalf. This means that heavy-handed police surveillance is minimized, and that police attending complaints are met by Councillors who explain the problem. This avoids

misunderstanding by police.4


29.2.25 In the same way that the Julalikari Council patrols attempt to reinforce indigenous mechanisms for preserving law and order and resolving disputes at the point of initial conflict, the Aboriginal Community Justice Project is a correctional program designed to achieve a

level of Aboriginal involvement in relation to sentencing and some wider matters. While not strictly an Aboriginal initiative, it is the correctional equivalent of the community policing strategies of the council referred to above. It is essentially a means to bring forward the Aboriginal

community's view of an offence and to advise the court what is considered to be an appropriate form of punishment. In the light of this advice, traditional forms of punishment may be incorporated into the sentence imposed by the court.

29.2.26 The project was established on a trial basis at Galiwinku, Elcho Island, by the Northern Territory Department of Law in 1982. Its purpose has been described as follows:


The Aboriginal Community Justice Project was initiated with the aim of providing a justice program which sought to accommodate wherever possible Aboriginal law and social control mechanisms within the present judicial system of the Northern Territory.

Page 93

Improving the Criminal Justice System

This has been implemented by involving senior Aboriginal custodians with the magistrate in discussion prior to sentencing an offender after close and detailed pre-court consultation with the defendant's nuclear and

extended family ... to support existing social controls evident in the community and strengthen such mechanisms within the contemporary life of the community.


29.2.27 As reported by the AIU, cases where offences had been committed in Darwin were heard, not before Darwin courts, but before the community court at Galiwinku. The defendant's family and social control group were directly involved in hearing the case before senior Aboriginal leaders and the magistrate. They were able to make their wishes known to the court in regard to rehabilitation of the offender and to use traditional methods of social control with the backing of the court and the magistrate.

29.2.28 The Northern Territory AIU report raised criticism of the project's assumption of a rigid 'lineage authority structure' whereby genealogical relations were imputed with fixed patterns of behaviour. This criticism highlights the need for extreme care in constructing the most appropriate method of consultation and facilitating the involvement of responsible relatives and Aboriginal communities generally.

29.2.29 Although the Galiwinku project was initially hailed as a success, it no longer operates. During hearings which I conducted in the Northern Territory I learned that a similar scheme which was thought to be operating successfully in Groote Eylandt had also, apparently, become inactive.

29.2.30 A proposal for a Community Justice scheme had been put forward by the community at Yirrkala in 1983 and had been supported by the Australian Law Reform Commission in the report of its enquiry into Customary Law. Dr H. C. Coombs, who was actively involved in efforts to have the scheme put into effect, has reported to me that the scheme failed to gain the support of the Northern Territory Government and without that support could not operate effectively.s

29.2.31 Although I do not know the history of the apparent failure of the Yirrkala scheme to gain support, the present Secretary of the Northern Territory Department of Correctional Services, Mr Doug Owston, who participated in my hearings in Darwin, strongly supported the concept of

the Community Justice Project. As a result of the hearings Mr Owston has initiated a review of the project and its operation on each of the several communities where it had operated or where attempts had been made to have the scheme introduced. The proposed terms of reference for the review are:

Page 94 Vol4

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

• How can Aboriginal communities be more closely involved in the court process? • What type of advice would assist a magistrate convening a Circuit Court of Summary Jurisdiction?

• What is the role of Aboriginal Community Corrections Officers in this process? ·

• Should the scheme only apply to juveniles?

29.2.32 It is timely that there should be such a review as the scheme seems to me to have great promise, and the reasons for its mixed success need to be determined given that the concept of community involvement in the criminal justice process is one which Aboriginal people consistently

supported during my inquiries. It seems that not all magistrates were familiar with the scheme, perhaps not surprising given that it first developed some years ago and some magistrates may not have been in the Territory at that time. In other ways, though, variations of the scheme still

apply. In Chapter 22 I refer to the transcript of consultations which were submitted to me concerning a meeting between the magistrate Mr Dennis Barritt and the Tennant Creek community. I was very impressed by the discussion as it showed, at a practical level, how consultation with the

community can help to inform the court and to make the criminal justice system more responsible to community needs.

29.2.33 Finding the right mechanism for ensuring that community involvement can occur in a way which is appropriate to the culture of the local community and at the same time appropriate to safeguard the rights of individual offenders will not be simple. Dr Nancy Williams, who was

closely involved with the Yirrkala proposal, wrote in 1987 that:


The viability of Aboriginal community justice mechanisms depends on Aboriginal autonomy. At the most basic level this means that police and other Australian law enforcement agencies will not intervene

unilaterally in offences involving Aborigines, but will intervene at the invitation of Aboriginal community leaders. They will keep the leaders involved at all stages of dealing with a community member charged with an

offence if the matter is dealt with outside the community, and within the community will act to support the authority of community leaders ... Where Aboriginal communities suggest mechanisms of articulation or joint

operation with Australian law enforcement agencies, these must be seen as means of providing support for Aboriginal authority, not of superseding [sic] it. 6

Page 95

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29

29.2.34 It is clear that the proposed review will need to have

substantial input from Aboriginal people and their organizations and from magistrates, police and correctional officers.

29.2.35 The sources of advice and recommendations received from Aboriginal communities requires close consideration. The voices of senior men alone do not necessarily express the range of views which may exist within any particular community. In traditional society parallel lines of authority were held by women. The Northern Territory AIU report draws attention to the distinct position of women and the divergent views which they may hold, especially in relation to domestic violence. Young members of the community may also have different perspectives on the seriousness of offences, the motivation for offending and the appropriateness of various forms of punishment. Any scheme which purports to seek and respond to the views of an Aboriginal community must be conscious of the diversity of views which may co-exist within that community. Ultimately, of course, it is for the relatives and

representatives chosen by the community to express those views which the community wishes the court to take into account.

29.2.36 The view of Aboriginal communities should be sought on all matters relating to the structure of the program and its future operation.

29.2.37 Although the examples of community initiatives discussed here have occurred in the Northern Territory, it would be mistaken to assume that there is neither the desire nor the capability within Aboriginal communities in other parts of Australia to pursue their own initiatives. Commissioner Dodson in his Report to me related the expressed desires of senior Aboriginal men at a bush meeting in the Kimberley:

The main thing they said was people need to return to their own traditional country to do a number of things, the first one being to show the young who they are. That is, like their skin groups. To show how the relationships work between all people, kids, woman, man. To put back or reinforce old laws. 1

29.2.38 Commissioner Dodson found that social relationships continue to be the sustaining link in the lives of Aboriginal people in Western Australia, albeit within the context of change. Importantly he found that these relationships developed from, and were originally centred around, connecting relationships to land. 8 The importance of security of land tenure will be discussed at greater length elsewhere in this report, but it should be borne in mind when considering the opportunities for Aboriginal communities across Australia to implement their own processes of social control as has been discussed in this section. Similarly, the question of land ownership is relevant to the ability of Aboriginal people to continue the development and use of customary law.

Page96 Vol4

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

Recommendation 216: That the Northern Territory Department of

Correctional Services should, at the conclusion of the review of the Aboriginal Community Justice Project, establish regular meetings with Magistrates to monitor the effective operation of the program and establish a

mechanism to ensure that the views of the Aboriginal communities in which the program operates are considered in the context of these meetings.

Recommendation 217: That the review of the Aboriginal Community Justice Project should undertake a detailed consideration of the resources required by the Project to operate

effectively. Consideration should be given to the creation of specific liaison officer positions

employing Aboriginal people to facilitate

communications between the court and the


Recommendation 218: That in reviewing the Aboriginal Community Justice Project the Northern Territory Department of

Correctional Services should undertake extensive consultations with all Aboriginal communities which wish to participate in the program. In pursuing this consultation, care should be given to canvassing the

entire range of community opinions and the means by which these may be brought, in any relevant case, to the Court's attention.


29.2.39 Initiatives such as the Julalikari Council patrols and the Aboriginal Community Justice Project provide a vehicle for the local, functional recognition of Aboriginal law favoured by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC).

29.2.40 The problem of the recognition of Aboriginal customary laws has already been thoroughly canvassed by the ALRC. The Commission took the approach that:

Vol4 Page 97

Improving the Criminal Justice System

problems of recognition can be minimized by approaching the Reference in a functional way, issue by issue: it maximizes the extent to which Aborigines may retain control over their laws, and enables proposals to be formulated that reflect the fact that Aboriginal customary laws continue to be subject to external pressures, and that they vary from community to

community, both in strength and content. Functional recognition also avoids creating separate systems of laws. 9


29.2.41 The inter-relationship between Aboriginal customary law and the general legal system is complex. An examination of this relationship by the ALRC was prudently reluctant to recommend any general propositions (for example, the establishment of Aboriginal courts), although clear interest was shown in the functional recognition of customary law in local contexts. In view of the range of Aboriginal experience, styles of living and immediacy of connection with traditional rule, even within the Northern Territ

29.2.42 However, in the Northern Territory there does exist a significant proportion of Aboriginal people whose prime allegiance is to traditional values. In plain terms, their conceptions of right and wrong are shaped by customary Aboriginal values. There may be overlap, and there may be coincident rules between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal law, but these. must be approached cautiously. Intersections between rules should not be confused with similarities in the structures and the values which inform them. Genuine differences, bewilderment and alienation from the rules and administration of the non-Aboriginal legal system do exist. This has great implications for the achievement of justice and the attainment of order in the broadest sense.

29.2.43 One of the first responses from the broader community to any proposed recognition of Aboriginal customary law has been a repugnance felt towards two legal systems existing within a single political entity-a basic sense that it is unfair that there should be two bodies of law, one for white and one for black. It is interesting to note that the difficulties of grappling with such a duality and the sense of unfairness this brings is precisely what many Aboriginal communities face every day.

29.2.44 If non-Aboriginal society responds with unease and anxiety at the suggestion that two sets of standards could, in theory, be given full recognition, it is salutary for that society to reflect on the impact upon Aboriginal people who have had this reality forced upon them.

29.2.45 However, the recognition of the significance of customary law and formal reference to it in the legal system does not create conflict

Page98 Vol4

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal legal systems. Respect for Aboriginal law and practical steps to incorporate and honour its traditional social function can be achieved without proposing separate systems. This is acknowledged by Aboriginal people themselves. The Northern Territory AIU submitted that: 'Aboriginal law should be recognized, but

most elders argued that the two laws should work together', and quoted a senior man from Yirrkala: 'It should be on both ends, both sides, they should recognize our law and we should recognize their law' .10

29.2.46 This need for functional interdependence was eloquently stated in the AIU's report to me:

Some leaders have spoken clearly about the need to set the terms under which both laws operate along side each other. Clearly, they feel that offenders in Aboriginal society would respond better to the dictates of their own Law and Culture than to those of an alien one.

Aboriginal people argued to us that European laws would work better if there was an attempt to work with the support of traditional Aboriginal Law. After all, why should Aboriginal people accept that a strange

system of law, instituted by strangers, is better than their own and deserving of the respect and compliance which they accord their own law implemented mostly by loving, if strict, kinsfolk? 11

29.2.47 The central complaint of Aboriginal communities is that non­ Aboriginal law comes from a different world view. While European criminal law proscribes certain behaviour, it does so as an expression of a culturally-determined framework of values. The law is an expression of

these values. Whether it is seen to be underpinned by specific political or economic theories, or by an appeal to moral imperatives or natural justice, it holds allegiance and commands respect not merely by punishment but by how well it translates these values into practical rules.

29.2.48 In the same way, and perhaps in a more immediate way, Aboriginal law is an expression of Aboriginal culture. To ignore its standing is to override and devalue that culture. If the preservation and transmission of Aboriginal values is a genuine concern of Australian non­

Aboriginal society, if self-determination means an earnest endeavour to empower Aboriginal people to choose a life style consistent with their own cultural aspirations, then it is essential that the legal system responds with resrect and that in turn may compel recognition of customary law.

29.2.49 The Northern Territory AIU report conveys criticism and widespread disenchantment with the failure to implement the ALRC' s recomn1endations concerning the recognition of Aboriginal customary law:

Vol4 Page99

Improving the Criminal Justice System

All over the Northern Territory, Aboriginal people recalled the Australian Law Reform Commissions' consultations concerning traditional Aboriginal Law and community justice.

Aboriginal elders in the Northern Territory were not aware of any implementation of the recommendations of the Aboriginal Law Reform Commission. Because there has been no action on this Commission's

recommendations, they believe they are saying the same thing over and over again with no effect. Nevertheless, these issues are of such great importance that many elders have yet again given advice in an attempt to obtain some recognition for, and co-operation with, their Law.


29.2.50 This duplication of effort was also reported in relation to Aooriginal-police relations:


The Aboriginal Issues Unit has found itself repeating the work of the Law Reform Commission in respect of reporting on Aboriginal views put to us about Aboriginal police-relations and reiterating the same

recommendations that the Law Reform Commission put to government.

It is clear that action must be taken on the Law Reform recommendations and that governments be urged to follow through with well-considered and resourced programs in all of these areas as well as in the further

recommendations which the Aboriginal Issues Unit is making on behalf of the many Aboriginal people who put their ideas to us.

Unfortunately, although some sections of government might be able to point to piecemeal reforms, governments (local, Territory, and Federal) have failed to act on these recommendations in an effective way. Almost a decade has passed since the Law Reform

Commission staff began their consultations; four years have gone by since their final report. · The Aboriginal Issues Unit is hearing the same suggestions and complaints from Aboriginal people who feel that what they say is being ignored. This government inaction is part of the reason for the only slight improvement in the

relationship between Aboriginal people and police during the 1980s. 12


29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

29.2.51 The Northern Territory AIU stressed why it was important that the processes of customary law and behaviour should be recognized; one reason being the significance that these issues have with respect to Aboriginal attitudes to policing:

The police are not merely interacting with, arresting and imprisoning individual 'trouble-makers' but are interacting with a social process which is invisible to them. They are intervening at various stages in the process of conflict resolution between two individuals or

between two groups, treating a legal process of one society as an illegal process in their own society. 13

29.2.52 In his Regional Report, Commissioner Dodson has noted that the informal application by the criminal justice system of customary law has resulted in procedures which are ad hoc, idiosyncratic to individual police or judicial officers, confusing to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people alike, and potentially open to abuse and overstatement or over­

simplification. He suggests that out of such a situation there develops a 'folk history' that Aboriginal people have been given a 'fair go' owing to the exercise of discretion-both police and judicial. This situation is directly attributable to the failure to enshrine customary law in legislation:

Such a failure has reduced Aboriginal people to reliance upon the patronage of police and judicial officers. The position of Aboriginal people in respect of the legal system remains precarious. Aboriginal people have far

too long been dependent on the use of 'discretions'. In my Commission's view, they should not have to approach police and courts as supplicants for recognition of their Customary law.1 4

29.2.53 Commissioner Dodson also notes that the ALRC was of the view that the Commonwealth was responsible for the legislative recognition of customary law in cases where State or Territory laws do not establish adequate or appropriate rules responding to the special needs of

Aboriginal people. The draft legislation which was proposed by the ALRC has not been sanctioned even now; the Bill has never got past the 'Draft' stage. The Queensland AIU also submitted that the ALRC recommendations should be put into effect and a body be established to

implement them.

29.2.54 It was not possible for me or the other Commissioners to thoroughly examine the issues relating to the possible recognition of customary law. The potential application of such recognition would extend beyond the Northern Territory and Western Australia and the issue

is a complex one. The ALRC an expert body which examined the question over many years. There are a number of recommendations made

Vol4 Page 101

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29

by the ALRC with which this Commission would want to associate itself but which for the reasons given it would not be appropriate for me to make a definite commitment. It is clear, however, that Aboriginal opinions on sentencing, in particular, may have a significant bearing on the level of over-representation of Aboriginal people in prisons. Whilst I am unable to make any national recommendations about implementation of the ALRC report, it is clearly unsatisfactory that government has not reported back to those Aboriginal people who participated in the ALRC investigations as to the current status of its recommendations.

Recommendation 219: The Australian Law Reform Commission's Report on the Recognition of Aboriginal Customary Law was a significant, well-researched study. The Royal

Commission received requests from Aboriginal people through the Aboriginal Issues Units regarding the progress in implementation of the recommendations made by the Australian Law Reform Commission and in some cases from communities which had made proposals to the Law Reform Commission. This

Commission urges government to report as to the progress in dealing with this Law Reform Report.


29.3.1 In the following section I examine initiatives which, at present, offer the most significant promise in generating a community-based response in which the Aboriginal community and the police actively participate in settling law and order matters. I refer, in this respect, particularly to Community Justice Panels (CJPs). Of course these initiatives would not be possible without the support and contribution of the Aboriginal community to pursue alternative forms of addressing law and order matters. Although there are schemes with some similar features, the CJPs, at the moment, exist only in Victoria. The Echuca scheme is a good illustration of how they operate.

29.3.2 The success of the Echuca CJP was described by

Commissioner Wootten in his Report of the Inquiry into the death of Harrison Day:

Page 102

Looking back over the years, including the time of Harrison Day's death, Echuca Aboriginals were highly critical of police conduct, but when the concept of


29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

Community Justice Panels was advanced they moved rapidly to explore its possibilities. While most of Victoria was still talking about setting up Community Justice Panels, Echuca had had one operating strongly for a year. The basic concept was of a panel of

Aboriginals who were on roster and would be called on by the police when an Aboriginal was arrested or in trouble. The panel member would come to the police station and might be able to resolve the matter without a

charge being laid, for example by taking a drunken person home or to hospital, or by taking a young person home or to a supportive environment. A person who was arrested could be helped with bail and comforted if

distressed. Potentially difficult situations between police and Aboriginals might be mediated so as to avoid the escalation of conflict and arrests.

The result was a very much improved relationship between police and Aboriginals. Police, under the encouragement of Chief Inspector Mal McKay of Shepparton, had sought to make a success of the panel

and were pleased with the results, which assisted them in carrying out their duties, and allowed them to do so in a much more pleasant environment. While Aboriginals still chafed under past grievances, they acknowledged

the very great improvement that has taken place. One panel member proudly said to me recently (We have decriminalized drunkenness in Echuca'.

The Echuca Community Justice Panel had not only carried out these basic functions, but had through its meetings established contact with magistrates, probation staff, and child welfare officers. It was able to

contribute to intelligent sentencing of convicted Aboriginals, to the placement of children who were in trouble, to the administration of community service orders and in other ways.

29.3.3 The Echuca CJP has continued to flourish and one of its members has been appointed State Co-ordinator of CJPs. He told the Commission late in 1990 that no Aboriginal persons had been locked up in Echuca (a town with some four hundred Aboriginal people) since

November 1988, a striking contrast with the previous position. At the end of 1990 there were approximately twenty panels throughout Victoria, although not all were fully operational. There was an average of five panel members on each. The panels in Echuca, Mildura and Ballarat were

particularly well established.

Page 103

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29

29.3.4 CJPs were officially recognized in July of 1988, when the Victorian Government announced measures to improve the treatment of Aboriginal people in the Victorian justice system .. These included the funding of the CJPs. The CJP proposal had .been developed in 1987 as an initiative of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service which has received strong support from the Government, particularly the Office of Corrections and the Victoria Police. The concept was developed within the Koorie community in response to the growing awareness of the over­ representation of Koories in the criminal justice system. Consultations were conducted with Koorie communities throughout Victoria where there was a general feeling that the criminal justice system in its present form was not only failing to meet the needs of Koories but was positively discriminatory in its operation. The aim of the CJPs was to provide a

service to Aboriginal communities, to the Community Based Corrections and other components of the criminal justice system, and to reinforce social control mechanisms based on traditional Aboriginal people values. It was hoped that the establishment of Aboriginal panels might provide acceptable solutions to reduce the numbers of Aboriginal people entering the system. In addition the Office of Corrections which administered community service orders, and Aboriginal communities both desired to provide a more culturally relevant and supportive service to Aboriginal offen ders and members of the offenders' family clan group. ·

29.3.5 •





The goals of the project were: to encourage and enable Aboriginal CJP members to play an ac tive and positive part in police procedures, legal aid services and court proceedings; to recognize and reinforce those traditional social control mechanisms within Aboriginal communities as a means of lowering the rate of Aboriginal offences and recidivism; to allow for a thorough canvassing of all sentencing and rehabilitation options appropriate to both the nature of the offence and the circumstances of the offender; to ensure that justice is seen to be done by the whole community; and to act as a resource for the local Aboriginal community and any other groups which may have involvement with Aboriginal issues. Panel members would: • caution Aboriginal people who draw the attention of police but

who have not committed an offence; •


Page 104

be involved with the defence briefing to a solicitor who will defend the Aboriginal offender at court; and provide a character witness at the court, and in the event of the offender being found guilty, provide a pre-sentence assessment


29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

offering an outline of the responsibilities the panel is prepared to undertake in relation to the offender, for example - supervision - direction community work assignments

- co-ordinate personal development and/or educational programs - provide progress reports on individual offenders - provide disciplinary action when required.

29 .3.6 Some Aboriginal people see the involvement of Aboriginal people in the social control of Aboriginal community members as the return of the elder system which regulated community behaviour in accordance with traditional Aboriginal values.

29.3.7 A permanent position has been created in the Ministry for Police and Emergency Services to assist CJPs, and following a recent review it is planned to provide funding separately and directly to each CJP. It is likely that the Department of Employment, Education and

Training (DEET) will fund a training course for panel members which has been developed by the Department of Technical and Further Education (T AFE). It is intended to improve upon the skills of the participants so they are better equipped to take on the duties of a panel member, including

the provision of court advice and assessment reports, co-ordinating community work supervision and personal development programs. Panel members will become gazetted community corrections volunteers after completing this Community Based Corrections volunteers training


29.3.8 While the Aboriginal communities acknowledged the enormous potential of the CJPs, they told the Victorian AIU that there is still much room for improvement. They said that, generally, a CJP has made the police more accountable and has resulted in less Koories being

locked up. Some said that a potential conflict can be defused by a CJP member and the need for police involvement removed. However, police attitudes and community resources can also have a great bearing on the success or otherwise of the CJP.

29.3.9 The CJP scheme places a considerable load of responsibility on the local Koorie communities. They pointed out that CJP members work as volunteers to carry out the important aims and objectives of the scheme. The work involves dedication and persistence on the part of -

community members, however, many cases have needs for which the community is not equipped or resourced. For some community members of the CJP, involvement is an additional burden to their everyday lives. Some are struggling to survive themselves. All have a big area to cover,

and there is no remuneration for petrol or vehicle costs, bus or rail fares for clients, food or other costs associated with their duties. The CJP

Vol4 Page 105

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29

members make an indeterminate commitment of their time and effort. As was said in one community and endorsed in many others,

some people don't like going out at midnight. The government and police want us to do it and Koories want it too, but we have families and homes and jobs. It is stressful, there is burnout. 15

29.3.10 One member .said 'The CJP is needed and can play a very important role but they expect us to operate with nothing'.

29.3.11 Community members do not always have transport to go to the police station, sometimes in another town, to do their job. Community members do not always have phones or beepers. In some communities this has resulted in the panel members relying on the police to come and get them. Members in this situation worry that the police will come and get them only when it suits them to do so. They would prefer not to be dependent upon the police. This may also provide an excuse for the police not contacting them immediately (although it is not mandatory that they do). The provision of beepers would increase the contactability of community members at all times without inconveniencing the members by requiring them to be near their phones unnecessarily.

29.3.12 Many communities identified the pressure which is placed on a member when they are expected to take a stranger into their home. Communities said that many of the Koories they come into contact with are from other places and not necessarily known to them. While this does not happen often, communities said that it placed the member in a difficult position in which they make their family vulnerable to the risk of violence on the part of the offender. The need to make a bed available is also a problem for some. This situation may be somewhat alleviated by the recent establishment of nine Sobering Up Centres (which operate in conjunction with the CJPs) throughout Victoria which cater for people who are intoxicated. But this would not be so in all communities, nor in all cases. The members often pay the cost of food, cigarettes, bus or rail tickets and other personal needs of those in their care and there is no reimbursement for this.

29.3.13 Another source of stress for panel members is the latent fear that a person may die while in their care. If the need for medical attention is obvious, the community member is expected to see to it that the person receives medical attention. This includes doing all that is necessary to get them to a hospital or doctor, with or without a phone or vehicle, and at their own cost.

2 9. 3.14 While police co-operation has been excellent in some areas, the communities' experience is that not all police agree with the CJP Those who do not agree are unwilling to co-operate with the local CJP.

Page 106 Vol4

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

Several communities indicated that the relations betwe.en the community and police had not improved, and that continuing poor relations were hampering the establishment of the the CJP. From what communities said, it would appear that meetings and good communications between the police and community are crucial to the successful operation of a CJP.

29.3.15 If police do not choose to contact the CJP member, and several incidents of this were cited to the AIU, it is difficult for the CJP to be effective. In some places communities have been in a position to take the initiative to make the scheme work. This includes ringing the police

station periodically to see if anyone has been arrested or come into contact with police in any way, and insisting on and arranging regular meetings between the police and the CJP.

29.3.16 Smaller communities with less resources were not in a position to be so active. Some still felt intimidated by the police and were reluctant to attend at the police station for fear of being 'talked down' by the police. Furthermore, many feared reprisals by the police if they 'talked up' to


29.3.17 The AIU recommended that the requirement that the police contact the CJP should be mandatory, as, while it remains discretionary, the onus is on the prisoner to insist if the police choose not to do so. Koories who have been arrested and were held by police have not insisted

on the CJP member being contacted because, they claimed, the police have threatened harsher treatment if they did.

29.3.18 It is obvious that CJPs have the potential to work best where there is a strong and cohesive Aboriginal community; but, as with other organizations, the fact of a panel may in itself be a factor for cohesion and for inspiring others' efforts.

29.3.19 It cannot be expected that Aboriginal people will shoulder the burden placed on them indefinitely unless they receive reasonable remuneration and reimbursement. On purely financial grounds this can be justified by the reduction in police and prison custody. Unless adequate

resources are provided, the panels are likely to founder in the same way that many other initiatives have foundered, by placing excessive demands on the small number of people involved and giving them no support.

29.3.20 A recently released draft Aboriginal Policy for the New South Wales Department of Corrective Services indicates that the New South Wales Government may soon be considering the introduction of Aboriginal CJPs, similar to the Victorian model. The draft policy states

that the objectives of the CJPs will be: (i) to minimize the contact of an Aboriginal person with the Criminal Justice System through working with police on appropriate diversionary programs;

Vol4 Page 107

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29

(ii) to assist police in ensuring the safety of Aboriginal people in custody; (iii) to provide assistance to Aboriginal people involved in court processes; (iv) to provide advice to courts on sentencing matters in relation to

Aboriginal people; (v) to advise on and participate in the supervision of community­ based sentencing orders, pre-release programs and parole orders; (vi) to assist prison authorities in ensuring welfare of Aboriginal

people in custody; and (vii) to assist Aboriginal people in the post-custodial stage.

29.3.21 It is proposed to pilot two Aboriginal CJPs at Redfern, and at a country location. The policy notes that it is important that the impetus to set up the panel should come from Aboriginal community members, and so it would be necessary for a member of the Probation and Parole Service to explain the concept to the community and allow them to accept or reject it. In my view, this is a particularly critical requirement for the success of such a scheme. A CJP, no matter how appropriate in model, will not be successful unless the majority of the community support the proposal and are in control of the scheme. The draft policy notes two further very important requirements. The first is that the panels must be given the flexibility to adapt to local conditions and needs, and the second is that panel members need to be provided with training to perform their duties, particularly those relating to assessment, referral and resources. 16

Page 108

Recommendation 220: That organizations such as Julalikari Counclil in Tennant ,Creek in the Northern Territory and the Community Justice Panels at Echuca and elsewhere in Victoria, and others which are actively involved in providing voluntary support for community policing and community justice programs, be provided with adequate and ongoing funding by governments to ensure the success of such programs. Although regional and local factors may dictate different approaches, these schemes should be examined with a

view to introducing similar schemes into Aboriginal communities that are willing to operate them because they have the potential to improve policing and to improve relations between police and Aboriginal people rapidly and to substantially lower crime rates.


29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

Recommendation 221: That Aboriginal people who are involved in

community and police intitiated schemes such as those referred to in Recommendation 220 should receive adequate remuneration in keeping with their important contribution to the administration of justice. Funding for the payment of these people should be from

allocations to expenditure on justice matters, not from the Aboriginal affairs budget.

Recommendation 222: That the National Police Research Unit make a

particular study of efforts currently being made by Police Services to improve relations between police and Aboriginal people with a view to disseminating rele vant information to Police Services and Aboriginal

communities and organizations, as to appropriate initiatives which might be adopted.


29.4.1 Apart from the CJPs there are many other activities taking place designed to break down the barriers of distrust between Aboriginal people and police and to improve the level of communications between the two groups at a day-to-day level. In this section I will describe some of

these processes in detail and will examine the strengths and apparent weaknesses of the different approaches.

29.4.2 Although a detailed description of these matters may be somewhat oppressive for the reader who simply wants to gain an overview of what is occurring, I adopt this course for a particular reason. I have been struck by the fact that although experiences in the relationship

between police and Aboriginal people are so similar, in many respects, throughout Australia, there appears to be so little exchange of information across State borders either as between police services or Aboriginal people so that worthwhile initiatives in one place are often simply unknown to

people in other places. There is a tendency for everyone to repeat each others' mistakes without even knowing that there was experience elsewhere which could have been drawn on.

Vol4 Page 109

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29


29.4.3 I have earlier mentioned the written protocols which have been signed on behalf of police and Aboriginal Legal Services in Katherine, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. I think that these written understandings are very important as it is often the case, in my experience, that much time can be wasted in unproductive recriminations where verbal understandings have apparently been broken. Personnel changes can have bearing on the extent to which understandings made by others are known or respected. What seems to me to be important about these protocols is that they represent a process of negotiation by bodies which each have important roles to play in the criminal justice system. The very process of negotiating such agreements can do much to improve relations and to increase the respect and recognition of good faith each body gains for the other.

29 .4.4 There are many institutions which play a direct or indirect role in determining the impact of the criminal justice system on Aboriginal people. Hospitals are also very important.

29 .4.5 In December 1988 an agreement was reached between the South Australian Police Department and the administrator of the Royal Adelaide Hospital which set out precise procedures to be followed in the case of intoxicated persons presenting at the hospital where the hospital

seeks police assistance to remove them. Similar agreements have now been extended to other metropolitan and country hospitals. As readers of this report will appreciate, the attendance of drunken people at hospital casualty areas, the failures in proper diagnosis and the intervention of police at the request of hospital staff has been a recurring theme in many of

the deaths in custody. The agreement provides for the manner in which the hospital staff should deal with a drunken person; for instance, to ensure that he or she is properly assessed and that where police are called the person is not released until a doctor has examined the person and provided a written certificate which records the patient's condition, whether there are signs of external injury, whether the person is affected by liquor or drugs and, if so, an estimated recovery time. If the person fails to respond in the manner estimated by the doctor then the police officers who receive him or her is under a duty to obtain further medical advice. Had these steps been in place throughout Australia many deaths would have been avoided.

29.4.6 A similar protocol document was signed in February 1990 between police, the Tennant Creek Hospital and Anyingini Congress, the Aboriginal Medical Service. I consider that it was very sensible to have involved the Aboriginal Medical Service in this way and it would be appropriate that such services are involved when other similar protocols are signed. In Katherine a protocol has been signed between the police,

Page 110 Vol4

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

the hospital and the ambulance service. This agreement, however, does not specifically address the needs of Aboriginal people (although they are certainly not excluded). The Kalano Association (which operates the local Aboriginal Medical Service) is not a party to the agreement, an oversight

which I think should be addressed.


Recommendation 223: That Police Services, Aboriginal Legal Services and relevant Aboriginal organizations at a local level should consider agreeing upon a protocol setting out

the procedures and rules which should govern areas of interaction between police and Aboriginal people. Protocols, among other matters, should address questions of: a. Notification of the Aboriginal Legal Service

when Aboriginal people are arrested or detained; b. The circumstances in which Aboriginal people are taken into protective custody by virtue of intoxication;

c. Concerns of the local community about local

policing and other matters; and d. Processes which might be adopted to enable

discrete Aboriginal communities to participate in decisions as to the placement and conduct of police officers on their communities.

Recommendation 224: That pending the negotiation of protocols referred to in Recommendation 223, in jurisdictions where legislation, standing orders or instructions do not already so provide, appropriate steps be taken to make

it mandatory for Aboriginal Legal Services to be notified upon the arrest or detention of any Aboriginal person other than such arrests or detentions for which it is agreed between the Aboriginal Legal Services and

the Police Services that notification is not required.

Page 111

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29


29.4.7 I have already covered this issue in Chapter 13 in discussing the various State and Territory police forces and their relations with Aboriginal people. Suffice it to say here that, in principle, these committees are an excellent way of confronting the problems that arise between Aboriginal people and police. In practice, however, the success of such liaison committees depends very much on the structures that are

set in place to maintain continuity. The experience in many places, including South Australia with its longer history of liaison committees, is that sometimes they are useful, but more often they are not. Often this depends on whether there is a particular issue that requires resolution. Very often, the terms and agenda of the meetings are set up by police in order to facilitate their role in the community, the place is formal, and police wear their uniforms. The Roeboume Research Project found that this was, for many Aboriginal people, either intimidating or alienating.

29.4.8 The main problem for liaison committees, however, is one that they share in common with many other voluntary community activities, and one that I have mentioned several times already. This is that an enormous burden is placed on the generally few people who are prepared to devote to it their time and energy. A police liaison committee meeting also is generally only one of a wide range of meetings that Aboriginal people, especially in rural and remote areas, are expected to run or attend. The failure of such committees, therefore-frustrating and disappointing as it may be for police officers for whom it is merely an aspect of their job--may well reflect the conflict of priorities for Aboriginal people who

are responsible for all aspects of the community in which they live.

29.4.9 I can only repeat in relation to liaison committees in general the need for adequate support and resources to maintain appropriate and ongoing liaison. Clearly also in those States or Territory where it is appropriate, the change to or extension of the role of Aboriginal police aide or community police to one of proper liaison would facilitate this matter.

2 9. 4.10 Fortunately there is another side to the picture. An early indication of a possible new approach came when an Aboriginal Liaison Unit was established in 1980 as a component of the New South Wales Police Community Relations Bureau. It was designed to promote

awareness of, and consultation with, Aboriginal groups, and was involved in the establishment of some community consultative committees. The idea of 'community-based' policing has been developing in the service for some years, although it did not become organizational philosophy until the second half of the 1980s. Indeed regionalization, which is seen as a necessary concomitant, was introduced in August 1987.

Page 112 Vol4

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

29.4.11 In describing the change to the Commission, Superintendent Ure wrote:

The prevention of crime, and the detection and prosecution of offenders, is still our number one priority, however the theme has now been expanded beyond just taking preventive and/or remedial action, to

developing programs which take into account the reasons for anti-social behaviour and therefore have a more realistic base, as well as encouraging police to implement local programs and initiatives to divert people, particularly young people, away from the

criminal justice system. These programs, many of which are investments in the future, will of course lead to preventing the type of behaviour which we have been dealing with in a reactive manner for so many years. 17

29.4.12 It should be made clear that the 'community' referred to in these developments is not the Aboriginal community but a general community which is assumed to include the Aboriginal community.

29.4.13 What happens in a particular place to implement the community-based policing philosophy depends very much on local police, and in particular on the patrol commander. To quote Superintendent Ure again:

With the advent of regionalization and the focus on the patrol for the delivery of policing services, opportunities have been created for Patrol Commanders to introduce programs which will suit their local community.

Decisions can be made by those best qualified to make them-the police who are actually working in the community. Patrols are supported by their district, region and headquarters, however the accountability for

the delivery of policing services to the community lies with the Patrol Commander.

It is quite possible that this accountability would not have succeeded under the old promotion system, where a police officer was promoted to a rank and then allocated a duty or location. In saying this I do not in

any way denigrate the thousands of police (myself included) who progressed through the ranks under the seniority system. However, it is true to say that in earlier years some of the least-qualified officers were

sent to the places of greatest need, including Aboriginal communities.

Page 113

Improving the Criminal Justice System

The opportunity, and the reward, was just not there for a talented, committed officer to seek the challenge of working in a particular town, with · ;he added responsibility of command. Under ·the current system of positional promotion, an officer must compete for a position, such as Patrol Commander in a specific

location, and if successful will be appointed to the rank that goes with the position. Although not perfect, this system should identify the person best qualified to fill the position and accept that accountability. 18


29.4.14 There are a number of initiatives which illustrate the support of senior officers for efforts to improve police-Aboriginal relations. They include Aboriginal community liaison officers, the appointment of a senior Aboriginal adviser at Head Office, the recruitment of Aboriginal people as police officers, components in the training of new recruits, and the holding of Aboriginal-police workshops. There are also initiatives introduced in relation to the general community which have a potential to impact ori Aboriginal-police relations. They include community consultative committees (which have already been mentioned), community aid panels

('Wyong panels'), visitor schemes and the search for better ways of dealing with juvenile offenders.

29.4.15 Four Aboriginal community liaison officers, stationed at Bourke and W algett, were appointed in December 1986. This number had risen by the end of 1988 to sixteen liaison officers through the State. From the Aboriginal point of view the result has been very mixed. Some

are trusted by the Aboriginal community and seen as doing a valuable job. Others are not. A great deal depends on the good sense of the local patrol commander in how he selects and how he uses the liaison officers. A number of Aboriginal communities complained of lack of involvement in the selection of the officer for their community. If the officer is to carry out his work successfully he must have the confidence of the community, and it is essential that the community be involved through its representative organizations in his selection. Unfortunately, there are still too many police officers who believe that they know best and are not willing to listen

to and act on the advice of communities. It is not good enough for police officers to select someone whom they believe to be acceptable to the community, or to involve in the selection some hand-picked Aboriginal people with whom they get on.

29.4.16 The other major concern is about the role of the liaison officers. In the first place it is essential that police recognize the special function of the liaison officer and do not seek to involve him or her in law enforcement duties, publicly or privately. They should not be wasted or demeaned by being given routine police tasks, such as serving documents or finding witnesses, or compromised by involvement in investigation. In one community the fact that a liaison officer had been involved in the

Page 114 Vo14

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

enforcement of an ev1ct1on notice had a continuing effect on the community's attitude to him. The liaison officer has to walk a tightrope, being accountable in some degree to both the police service on the one hand and the community on the other. Fortunately, most police officers

seem to recognize this and do not seek to use the liaison officers as informers. Some do however seek to make the liaison officer conform to many police practices, including standards of dress. I refer later to the particular instance of Wilcannia, where a relaxed police attitude on this

issue has paid dividends.

29.4.17 Experience shows that liaison officers can be very valuable in defusing situations which might lead to conflict between police and Aboriginal people. However, a number of communities complained that liaison officers were used exclusively in this way, and were not used

to play a general liaison role directed to improving understanding and co­ operation between Aboriginal people and police. Obviously in these areas the potential of the liaison officers is not being realized, and their role should be rethought. However, there is a point to be emphasized: the role

is to improve Aboriginal-police relations, not to replace them. While the work of liaison officers should reduce the amount of adversarial contact between regular police and Aboriginal people, it should increase, not decrease, the amount of dialogue and constructive interaction.

29.4.18 The Aboriginal adviser in Head Office is a relatively recent development, and the potential of the role is still being explored. Regionalization means that she has to convince a number of regional commanders to adopt her recommendations, and these officers inevitably

vary in their experience and understanding of Aboriginal issues. Only one region now maintains an Aboriginal-Police Liaison Unit. and it has only one officer.

29.4.19 The adviser's position is of great importance and is difficult and demanding. It needs to be adequately resourced, including the provision of research assistance, and staff in regional offices and regular contact with Aboriginal community liaison officers. It also needs

continuing support from senior officers, and, indeed, officers at all levels, who should not feel that they can now reduce their input into Aboriginal matters and leave it all to her. A desirable adjunct to the position would be an Aboriginal advisory committee to ensure that there is adequate support

and input from the Aboriginal community.

29.4.20 In towns where there is a large Aboriginal population, an endeavour has been made to include one or more Aboriginal members on police community consultative committees. While these committees have varied in their effectiveness, on the whole they do not appear to have been

successful in involving people who are representative of the Aboriginal community as a whole, and, in particular, that part of the Aboriginal community which feels itself at odds with the police. Too often the

Vol4 Page 115

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29

Aboriginal people on the committees are not only in a considerable minority but have been effectively selected by police or local council officers, rather than the Aboriginal community. They are often people with whom the police find it easy to get on, and who find it difficult to assert themselves against the members of the local non-Aboriginal establishment who make up most of the committee. While useful work may be done by such committees, they are rarely effective means of involving the Aboriginal community. If, as occurs in at least one centre, the representatives see themselves as real representatives and discuss issues at Aboriginal community meetings before attending the committee, their contribution can be greatly strengthened. However, at this stage at least, there is a need for Aboriginal-police liaison committees.

29.4.21 The other response (as contrasted with the approach of increasing numbers of police and the degree of surveillance) is community policing, with an attempt to identify the sources of the problems and do something about them. The two responses were mixed together in the events after Mark Quayle's death. There was a turnover of police as those

whose conduct had aroused hostility were transferred, and a new officer in charge was appointed who has a reputation for interest in Aboriginal issues. This was Senior Sergeant R.N. Steer, who, in his submissions to the Royal Commission, has emphasized the need for police officers working with Aboriginal people to make much greater use of the power of discretion. He told the Commission that his policy was to

try and adopt a standard--! would accept certain things and couldn't accept certain things--the aim was to break down the barrier. To have the police more visible-if offences were committed then we had to take appropriate action. 19

29.4.22 This was a 'law enforcement' policy, which led to an increase in the charge rate in the months following his arrival. The stringent law enforcement policy on the part of the police has continued, and recently has led to obvious conflict between police and a new magistrate who sees room for a more humane approach to law enforcement. But, on the other hand, there have been police initiatives which reflect the ideas of constructive community policing, among them the encouragement of young police to take part in sport with Aboriginal people and the appointment and intelligent use of two Aboriginal community liaison officers. In the Report on the death of Mark Quayle, Commissioner Wootten noted that in contrast to what he had observed in some other towns, no attempts had been made by the police to make the liaison officers dress, look and act like police officers. They continued to dress appropriately for the climate and informally, very much like other Aboriginal people. They had obviously retained community confidence, and this enabled them to be very successful in defusing problems, and for example, p.ersuading intoxicated Aboriginal people to go home. They

Page 116 Vol4

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

could also relate well to young Aboriginal people. They were accountable directly to Senior Sergeant Steer, the officer in charge, and were not subjected to pressures to act as informants or to assist in general police work. They were initially handicapped by lack of an office and lack of

transport, but Senior Sergeant Steer later succeeded in getting funds to purchase a second-hand car for their use.

29.4.23 A recent initiative has been the holding of a seminar by Senior Sergeant Steer at Wilcannia, involving local, Broken Hill and Wentworth police, at which various members of the Aboriginal community were invited to attend and speak. The object was to promote

an understanding by Aboriginal people and police of each other's viewpoints.

29.4.24 A more unusual initiative demonstrates that senior police officers responsible for Aboriginal relations are sensitive to the problems of towns such as Wilcannia. The Commission was informed that with a view to ultimately achieving a reduction in police numbers, the police

service was providing money for an economic survey to find ways of increasing the employment of Aboriginal people in Wilcannia and to initiate some of the proposals. Commissioner Wootten commented in the Quayle Report that this was well motivated, but it remains to be seen

whether it is a role which police can play successfully. There have in recent times been a number of economic surveys of Wilcannia by other agencies, none of which has so far led to any impact on the unemployment situation. It is not a role which should be left to police, but this is not in

anyway to lessen the value of police initiatives.

29.4.25 The Victorian Aboriginal-Police Liaison Committee was established in 1983 to act as a mechanism for improving understanding between the police and Aboriginal people, and also as a practical forum in which solutions to specific problems could be formulated. The committee

originally comprised ten members-five police· and five Aboriginal. In 1990 the membership was expanded to twenty-four and was constituted in a way that took into account new Police District boundaries and the regional boundaries of State-wide Aboriginal organizations. From each of

nine geographical areas there is one Aboriginal and one police member, and the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) and the Victorian Aboriginal Community Services Association Incorporated (VACSAI) are represented on the committee as are the two people attached to the

Victorian Police/ Aboriginal Liaison Unit. There are two co-chairpersons, one Aboriginal and one police, and each member of the committee has a nominated deputy.

29.4.26 The purpose of the committee is 'to initiate, plan, develop and implement programs that will improve Koorie-Police Relations'. Its objectives are:

Vol4 Page 117

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29

(a) To establish policies in connection with Aboriginal-police relations. (b) To co-ordinate the development of Aboriginal-police liaison committees throughout Victoria. (c) To advise Aboriginal-police liaison committees throughout the

State of policies and agreements which have been made at State level. (d) To consider and attempt to resolve problems referred to it by Aboriginal-police liaison committees throughout the State. (e) To consider and implement initiatives in order to resolve

problems affecting·Aboriginal-police relations. (f) To consider ways and implement action designed to improve communication and facilitate understanding between Aboriginal people and Police.

29.4.27 The committee's current activities include the establishment of a comprehensive networking system between Aboriginal people and police throughout Victoria, publicizing the work of the committee, maintaining and establishing local Aboriginal-police liaison committees, encouraging Aboriginal people to consider the police force as a career and 'ensuring continual progress is made in the production of programs to train and develop both Aboriginal and police persons in understanding the respective role and history of each other'. ·

29.4.28 Funds to cover the expenses of the committee including travel to meetings, are provided by the government through the Ministry for Police and Emergency Services. The committee meets every second month at different venues throughout the State. The intention is that after each meeting the local Aboriginal communities and police personnel have access to the members to canvass relevant local issues. However, members of the Baimsdale community complained to the Commission's AIU that, when the committee was to meet in their area, their suggestion that the meeting be held at Bairnsdale where the local community would have access was ignored, and instead it was held twenty kilometres from Bairnsdale, which effectively excluded any local Koorie input. The committee was regarded as an organization controlled by the police, who organized the agenda, the venue and took the minutes. It was not seen as a neutral forum; indeed, it was suspected that police tried to get information from these meetings, either directly or indirectly, in relation to Koorie offenders. I have no doubt that this is all quite contrary to the intentions of those who work with the committee, but it shows how far the committee has to go in establishing its credentials with the Aboriginal community.

29.4.29 The Victoria Police Service has an Aboriginal Liaison Unit with two officers, one of whom is an Aboriginal. The current Aboriginal member, Mr Ken Saunders, formerly worked with VALS and is widely

Page 118 Vol4

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

respected in the Aboriginal community. His duties include giving lectures to cadets at the Police Academy. In a number of towns a member of the force has been nominated as a liaison officer, and some of these appear to have established reasonably good communication with the local Aboriginal community. There has for years been an arrangement in Victoria whereby

whenever a police officer arrested an Aboriginal persons anywhere in Victoria he or she notified the Police Missing Persons Bureau, who in turn notified V ALS.

29.4.30 During the inquiry into the death of James Moore, the Commission was told something of the work of the Police-Aboriginal Liaison Committee in Swan Hill, a town with particularly difficult policing problems arising out of sometimes violent conflict in the Aboriginal

community. Informal contact by police with the Swan Hill and District Aboriginal Co-operative was initiated in 1984 and was formalized into the committee at the end of 1985. The situation underlines the importance of strong Aboriginal organizations for successful police-Aboriginal co­ operation. Representatives who have the backing of a strong organization

are better able to deal with police on equal terms, and there can be no suspicion that police have chosen the Aboriginal representatives to suit themselves.

29.4.31 Another situation which indicated the importance of a strong Aboriginal organization was the development of 'Operation Bacchus' in Mildura, a town which Commissioner Wootten visited during his inquiry into the death of Malcolm Smith, who was born at Dareton just across the

border. At the time there was a very strong Aboriginal co-operative with a number of activities including a successful building company. The co­ operative had negotiated an arrangement with the Mildura police so that when an Aboriginal person was arrested a representative was immediately

able to go to the police station, see the person arrested and discuss the situation with police. This often resulted, for example in a case of drunkenness, in the person being released into the care of the representative. The representative was able to assist with matters such as

bail, and notification of relatives. A very good working relationship had developed between the police and the co-operative.

29.4.32 In my Report of the Inquiry into the Death of Edward Frederick Betts, I discussed other ways of improving relations between Aboriginal people and police that are in operation in Port Lincoln. This is through the Port Lincoln Police Aboriginal Liaison Committee. Liaison

committees were established, as I have mentioned, in 1973, but their success has been chequered, and in a number of places they have become virtually moribund. In Port Lincoln, on the contrary, the committee represents 'a hallmark for police-Aboriginal relationships throughout

Australia' .20 My impression is that this is a very direct outcome of the presence of a resourceful and creative organization, the Port Lincoln Aboriginal Organization. There is no doubt in my mind that the presence

Vol4 Page 119

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29

of this organization is a key to the improved relations, just as the effective Pitjantjatjara Council is a key to the success of the Police Aide scheme in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Lands.

29.4.33 Another initiative taking place in South Australia is the recent establishment of the Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee. It is intended that this committee will provide a forum through which the views of the Aboriginal community can be expressed on justice issues. This committee will in large measure be concerned with the development of sustained preventive strategies. The committee, as well as comprising Aboriginal representatives, also comprises representatives from community services, the South Australian police, court and correctional


29.4.34 Some moves already occurred in the field of relations with Aboriginal people in Queensland. There are ten Aboriginal and ethnic liaison committees in operation throughout the State, and six police officers engaged in full-time liaison, mostly in north Queensland. The

success of liaison committees has been variable, and liaison officers presently perform an advisory role only. The organization involved in both areas tends to be rather ad hoc. The recent location of liaison officers within the Community Policing Unit, however, should provide increased opportunities for the development of programs and strategies conducive to a more provocative role. It is also proposed to establish an Indigenous and Ethnic Issues Unit to advise on matters of policy and practice in respect of all facets of the service's dealings with indigenous and ethnic people. It is envisaged that this unit will liaise with the Crinlinal Justice Commission and other relevant bodies to assist with a multi-agency approach. 21 In a related area, in November 1990, an officer from DEET began a study of the police service with a view to identifying the potential for employment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders at both the sworn officer and support staff levels.

29.4.35 In Western Australia the establishment of the Special Cabinet (now Government) Committee on Aboriginal-Police and Community Relations was a response to the Laverton Royal Commission. It was formed in 1976 with a membership of seven and restructured, with a membership expanded to ten, in 1984 after the death in Roebourne of John Pat and the convening of a special Aboriginal-Police Relations summit. One of the projects subsequently undertaken by the committee was the Pilbara Research Project. This produced the report I mentioned earlier on Aboriginal-Police Relations in the Pilbara: A Study of Perceptions (1986).

One of its outcomes was an extension of the project to a particular focus on Roebourne. This became known as the Roeboume Research Project, begun in December 1986 and lasting for about six months. The aim was to work at improving, at a very grass-roots level, relations between Aboriginal people and police. In many ways, the project can be said to

Page 120 Vol4

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

have succeeded, and to that extent might well be used as a model in other places.

29.4.36 There were a number of essential elements to this program. These were: • careful selection of the police officers, particularly at the level of sergeant-in-charge, but extending also to other serving officers;

• full involvement of the Aboriginal community, but depending not just on the goodwill and energy of individuals and with resources made available to allow actual work t<;> be paid; • a fully-paid experienced co-ordinator who, in developing the

project with potential employees and other members of the community, incorporated not only flexibility of working arrangements into the administration of the program but also an automatic process on ongoing assessment, as well as the

opportunity for the development of skills for those involved; • occasions for informal contact between police and the

community-at social occasions such as barbeques and a sports day more importantly because it was ongoing, through team sporting activities. Pivotal to this aspect was the presence of one particular constable who became involved in setting up and

training a basketball team and who worked throughout the whole process with one of the police aides; · • the induction of the sergeant-in-charge by elders of the

community into knowledge about Aboriginal Law that included visits to Sacred Sites; • the willing and very productive involvement of the wife of the sergeant-in-charge in activities with women and girls; • the willingness of the project team to recognize the difficulties of

police work and to intervene in potentially damaging disputes between local people and police; • the willingness of police on many occasions to listen to the

project team and take advice from them, a process that implied a certain level of accountability by police to. the community; and • the development of a joint newsletter as a means of ongoing communication between police and community.

29.4.37 These were the strengths of the project. Some of its

weaknesses were also documented in a review carried out in 1988 by another team from the Special Government Committee, and others were identified by both police and members of the community. A number of these weaknesses should be mentioned in the hope that similar projects be

set up in other areas: • funding was not ongoing. This meant that the resources

necessary to maintain employment on the project team, and particularly the service of a liaison officer, were not available.

Vo14 Page 121

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29

The amount of time and energy needed to maintain such a project should not be dependent on voluntary commitment; • most of the changes that occurred were dependent on the presence of particular police, and of the involvement of the wife of the

sergeant-in-charge, rather than on any alteration to the system; this means that when those particular officers leave, there are no mechanisms in place to ensure that the improvement can be sustained; • there were no rewards or incentives offered to police officers to

encourage them either to pursue the objectives of the project or to stay; the accommodation offered to the sergeant-in-charge and his wife was in fact counter-productive; and • no extra resources were made available to encourage and support

the initiatives that were taken. Given the isolation of Roe bourne and the lack of any kind of adequate transport for most Aboriginal people there, the need for a bus for the use of the basketball teams, in training and competition, was pressing. The lack of one was a constant source of frustration to both police and players. This is the kind of area where the Shire Council, shown

to be so lamentably remiss in its provision of services to the town of Roebourne,22 might well take some responsibility.

29.4.38 On 1 May 1990, the inaugural meeting of the Tennant Creek Licenced Premises Committee was held. This was attended by a representative of the Liquor Commission as well as the licensees of each of the licensed premises in Tennant Creek and was chaired by Superintendent O'Meara. The meeting recommended that a committee consisting of all the licensees, police, a representative of the Combined Aboriginal Organizations, and a representative of the Tourist Association would be formed. The task of the committee is to oversee and attempt to improve enforcement of the Liquor Act, the training of staff, and generally provide a forum to address issues associated with licensed premises. This is an interesting innovation. The training of staff is an important concept linked with improved enforcement of the Liquor Act. If some agreement can be reached of a practical nature about the level of intoxication to exclude service and this has the support of police and the Aboriginal community, there are real possibilities of hotels being more prepared to enforce the Act.

29.4.39 The devolution of authority to the local level is in New Wales obviously one of the factors underlying the great diversity in the quality of police-Aboriginal relations around the State. A great deal depends on the personality of the patrol commander and his or her ability

to relate to Aboriginal people. In particular there is the ability of the police commander to understand and recognize the distinctive nature of the Aboriginal community, its organizations and spokespersons. Above all, there is the police commander's ability to listen to Aboriginal people and take seriously what they say. There is no more common (and well-

Page 122 Vo14

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

justified) complaint by Aboriginal people about those with whom they have to deal than that they 'will not listen'. This is not peculiar to police; few non-Aboriginal Australians find it easy to escape the assumptions of racial superiority that have been built into their culture and which lead even

people of gOodwill to proceed on the unconscious assumption that they know better than Aboriginal people, and that .although one must listen courteously to Aboriginal people, the important thing is what one tells them. Not surprisingly Aboriginal people are very sensitive to this

treatment. Certainly many attempts by police officers to establish relations with Aboriginal people founder on this obstacle. An officer in a New South Wales country town told how hard it was to do anything with Aboriginal people in his town; they would not even come to meetings or respond to his various initiatives. The Aboriginal people in the town

explained how frustrated they were in their dealings with the police. If there was to be a meeting, they were simply summoned at a time and to a place fixed by the police. The inspector assumed that he would take the chair and then proceeded to harangue them about the situation as he saw it.

When they spoke, they immediately felt 'put down'; there was no serious interest in what they said, which was assumed to be wrong or based on misunderstanding. They were not willing to go to any more meetings.

29.4.40 A sad thing is to see how much well-intentioned effort by police is wasted for lack of the humility to listen and the ability to establish rapport. In one town an officer in charge who does not appear to have been particularly active in his role is remembered fondly by many

Aboriginal people because he used to talk in a relaxed and friendly way to old Aboriginal people drinking in the park. His successor worked with great energy and devotion for several years to bring to pass his own ideas of what was good for the town, but departed a tired and disappointed man

who had remained at odds with much of the town's Aboriginal population.


Recommendation 225: That Police Services should consider setting up policy and development units within their structures to deal with developing policies and programs that relate to Aboriginal people. Each such unit should be headed

by a competent Aboriginal person, not necessarily a police officer, and should seek to encourage

Aboriginal employment within the Unit. Each unit should have full access to senior management of the service and report directly to the Commissioner or his or her delegate.

Page 123

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29


29.5.1 At present, as clearly demonstrated throughout the work of the Commission, police accountability is almost exclusively to the Police Commissioner or Police Minister and to dominant non-Aboriginal, largely white, interests. Aboriginal people, as identified by the figures on over­ representation in all forms of custody, are the victims of this situation.

Change, therefore, must be based on a change in the direction of accountability. The beginnings of this may be seen in some areas already, either through formalized procedures, such as the protocols now in existence in Katherine, Tennant Creek, and Alice Springs, or the kind of Aboriginal-Police Liaison Committee that proved to be so useful in Roeboume while it was in existence. Individual initiatives are also very important, as the work of Superintendent O'Meara in the Tennant Creek region or Senior Sergeant Steer's very active involvement in Wilcannia demonstrate. As well, as I point out in Chapter 21, police administrative procedures are themselves important in terms of changing practices. The

bureaucratic nature of police administration means that many of the practices determining arrest and detention are as much related to the bureaucratic as to the political or social process. Police do not, therefore, need to wait on the political process in order to initiate change, and recent developments in particularly the Northern Territory, but also in the States, indicate that they are not doing so. Decisions made by senior police in relation to these procedures, then, are clearly a significant way of changing practices in relation to Aboriginal people.

2 9. 5. 2 Perhaps one of the most important findings of the Commission has been to identify very clearly that the racism under which Aboriginal people labour is institutionalized and systemic, and resides not just in indivipuals or in individual institutions but in the relationships between the various institutions as I discussed in Chapter 12. In this general context, however, the police play a definitive role in reproducing the subordination of Aboriginal people.

29.5.3 Within the organization of the police forces, however, there is the capacity to change, as I have mentioned earlier, and this has been shown to be effective in some instances.

29.5.4 The other essential aspect to change-indeed ultimately the essential aspect to change-is a strengthening in the position of Aboriginal people in Australian society in general. Where this has begun to occur, and there has been a efflorescence in both numbers and strength of Aboriginal organizations, one of the outcomes has been a change in relations with police. This change has a number of different aspects, among which are:

Page 124 Vol4

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

• the increased ability of Aboriginal people to negotiate with police, as well as with other representatives of the State; and • the increased ability of Aboriginal organizations to address some of the issues, such as the harmful use of alcohol and associated

violence, that they themselves have identified as problems for themselves as a people, and that relate to behaviours that bring them to the attention of police.

29.5.5 Initiatives by police, both personal endeavours and organizational, as for example the protocols that have been signed in Katherine and Alice Springs, have worked to improve relations with Aboriginal people to some extent. The outcome of this is, then,

accountability by the police to the local community and the hope of improved relations between police and Aboriginal people. This is fundamental if the question of over-representation in custody, and therefore of Aboriginal deaths in custody, is to be resolved.

29.5. 6 As this chapter and Chapter 13 demonstrate, Aboriginal people continue to have both general and specific grievances about the conduct of individual police officers as well as with respect to general police policies. The existing mechanisms for dealing with complaints against police rarely

give confidence to Aboriginal people that their complaints will be fairly evaluated. This question of the process for dealing with complaints against individuals is of critical importance in determining whether broader programs for improving Aboriginal-police relations will be effective in the

long term.


29.5.7 In his Report of the Inquiry into the Death of Mark Wayne Revell, Commissioner Wootten, in discussing the question of police accountability, observed:


One of the deep-seated and debilitating feelings expressed by many articulate Aboriginals is powerlessness. They illustrate it in reference to police, with whom they have a grotesquely disproportionate

amount of contact, by saying that police are not l accountable' ...

In this inquiry I had occasion to examine three ways which were nominally available to make police accountable for their actions-supervision and investigation by superior officers; the coronia/ process;

and investigation, still by police officers but at the instance of the Ombudsman, under the Police Regulation

Page 125

Improving the Criminal Justice System

(Allegations of Misconduct) Act 1978. All three failed as instrwnents of accountability. 23


29.5.8 In 1975, the ALRC recommended that the ombudsman have responsibility for monitoring complaints against police, and this is now the position in every State except South Australia and Victoria.

29.5.9 In terms of lodging complaints, although these may be lodged in most States with the police or with the civilian agency, complaints lodged with police must be brought promptly to the attention of the civilian agency, which has power to determine whether they should be investigated or dealt with in some other way. In general, except for Queensland and Tasmania, the extent of the civilian agencies' powers to receive and monitor the reception of complaints against the police appear to

be adequate. 24

29.5.10 In general, however, the processes involved in lodging a complaint are very formalized, and therefore inaccessible to many people in the community, including Aboriginal people. Although the employment of Aboriginal liaison officers within the civilian agency, as now occurs in New South Wales, is desirable, this is no guarantee that Aboriginal people are more likely to use this mechanism. In the Northern Territory, for example, although a number of complaints were lodged between 1978 and

1988 on behalf of Aboriginal people by organizations such as the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aide Scheme (CAALAS), only sixty-five out of a total of 1461 complaints over the ten year period were lodged by individual Aboriginal people. 25 The case of Mark Revell demonstrates that, even when this is done, the results are not necessarily going to be satisfactory.

29.5.11 South Australia is the only State that has given its external agency direct powers in relation to the conduct of internal police investigations. There an independent statutory body, the Police Complaints authority, was set up in 1985. Under the Act of

establishment, the Police (Complaints and Disciplinary Proceedings) Act 1985, the Authority is empowered to receive complaints and then to notify the police of the complaint, to keep a register or record of complaints made to the authority and to the police, and to monitor the investigation then carried out by police.26 In the Police Complaints Tribunal Annual Report 1988-89 there were no documented statistics on complaints from Aboriginal people, although there is a perception in the authority that the number of such complaints is increasing. In 1989 there were twenty-five complaints, mainly from third parties such as the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement. There were two complaints against Aboriginal police aides from the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Lands. One of these was not sustained.

29.5.12 The main problem with the Police Complaints Authority from the point of view of relations between police and Aboriginal people in South Australia-and this this equally true of the bodies in other States

Page 126 Vol4

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

and Territory-is that it has no real link with the Aboriginal community. Although members of the authority have attempted to improve this situation, by visits to communities, for example, the limitations on staffmg and resources make any comprehensive initiatives very difficult.

29.5.13 Although South fttustralia is the only State to grant such specific powers of monitoring internal police investigations to its external agency, moves by agreement have occurred in a similar direction elsewhere.27 This has occurred, for example, in the Northern Territory

where the ombudsman and the police negotiated an administrative arrangement in 1985. In Victoria, it also appears that a degree of continuous monitoring is undertaken.28

29.5.14 Overall, however, Aboriginal people make little use of any of the formal mechanisms normally available within the bureaucratic system. Given their usual experience of such contact, this is not surprising. Aboriginal people have, on the other hand, used other forums. The most

recent examples of this has been Aboriginal peoples' input into the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's hearings (noticeably the National Inquiry into Racist Violence) as well as public hearings conducted by this Royal Commission and meetings with the various

AIU s. What this underlines is the need for much more informal procedures and mechanisms that are actually responsive to Aboriginal needs, in dealing with complaints against police as in many other areas. It is significant that there is one mechanism, frrmly situated within the

Australian legal system but developed specifically to respond to the needs of Aboriginal people, that generally leaves aside the trappings of formality and meets Aboriginal people, often literally, on their own ground. This is the Land Claims Court in the Northern Territory, whose informal settings

are as much its hallmark as the key to its su.ccess. Another forum that has a similar potential for success is the Aboriginal-Police Liaison Committee.

29.5.15 The importance of police accountability to the improvement of relations between Aboriginal people and police was noted by Commissioner Dodson:

One remedy for this distrust would be to make Police accountable by providing an effective, observable, independent complaints procedure. Improved relations would flow from confidence in complain-t resolution. 19

29.5.16 In order to evaluate how such confidence could be achieved, I shall briefly outline the present procedures in operation around Australia for the investigation of complaints against police.

29.5.17 In all States and Territories, police officers of the rank of Inspector are the designated investigators of complaints made against police, although there is provision in two States for less serious matters to be investigated by senior sergeants. 30 The High Court has held that

Vol4 Page 127

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29

investigative powers available to investigative officers include the power to direct members to answer questions, furnish information and produce documents (Police Service Board v Morris). In contrast to the powers held by internal police investigators, all States and Territories except Victoria and also the Commonwealth retain the right to silence to avoid self-incrimination when police are giving evidence during an investigation by the police complaints body external to the police (ombudsmen and similar).31 It is noted that in South Australia police who avail themselves of the right to silence may be dealt with under police discipline regulations. Nevertheless, a picture emerges of the internal police investigatory procedures being the sole repositories of the powers needed to fully investigate complaints.

29.5.18 In addition, the only State in which the police complaints body has statutory powers to make recommendations in relation to the conduct of internal investigations is South Australia. The Police Complaints Authority in that State has the power to advise the Commissioner of Police what directions it believes should be given concerning the conduct of an investigation. If the Commissioner does not agree to give the directions sought, the matter is decided by the Minister. The South Australian Police Complaints Authority can also determine to investigate a complaint in private and in such manner as the authority thinks fit, but even then, recourse to police investigators to carry out the inquiry on its behalf is the only option. In all the other States and Territories the police complaints body is confined to a review of police internal investigations which have been completed prior to the body exercising its powers. In Queensland the now disbanded Police Complaints Tribunal did have the power to investigate complaints which were made directly to it, but one member of the tribunal was nominated by the Queensland Police Union. In the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory administrative arrangements have been negotiated between the Commissioner of Police and the Ombudsman wherein all complaints are jointly assessed by senior representatives from both offices. The Deputy Ombudsman (Complaints) in Victoria is pursuing a similar informal arrangement. No such agreement has been reached in New South Wales and Tasmania, where all investigations are carried out in the first instance by the police. 32 The summation of the various situations is that the police are frrmly in control of investigations when they want to be (that is, when they choose to enforce a prerogative based on legislation) with the possible exception of

South Australia, though even there the Police Complaints Authority is one step removed from the actual investigation and has to rely on police personnel for the implementation of any directions.

29.5.19 It should be noted, however, that in 1987 the New South Wales Ombudsman was given power to employ civilian investigators in pursuance of the right given earlier (1984) ofhis office to re-investigate cases when the internal investigation was unable to satisfy him as to the truth of allegations made. The Ombudsman, however, has praised the integrity of the investigative work which had been done, until that time,

Page 128 Vol4

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

solely by police officers seconded to his office for the purpose of such re­ investigation.

29.5.20 What light do the cases of the individual deaths investigated by the Commission shed on the efficacy of these police investigations of police?

29.5.21 One particularly tragic example was the death of 20-year-old Perry Noble at Yarrabah, Queensland. He had repeatedly claimed that he was the victim of harassment by the local police, but nothing had been done to satisfactorily address his complaints. The Aboriginal community

at Yarrabah strongly believe that harassment and victimization by the police lead Noble to hang himself. In his report into the death of Perry Noble, Commissioner Wyvill found some evidence which supported the complaints made against the police, and, although he was not able to

conclude whether or not the actions complained of had taken place, the point was made that there had been no serious attempt by the police to conduct an investigation.

29.5.22 In my report into the death of Craig Karpany I expressed my dissatisfaction as to the conduct of South Australian police investigations into the remarks made over police radio by two police officers on separate occasions. One of the remarks contained a deliberately racist epithet in

relation to the deceased and was made by one of the police officers who had arrested the deceased and placed him in the cell where he died. The detective chief inspector who interviewed the officer in question made no reference to the remark, nor was any reference to the transcript of the radio

tape included in the coroner's brief despite the fact that the remark had already been the subject of some media publicity. The officer who made another remark suggesting that one of the arresting officers should hit or strike the deceased was interviewed by the detective sergeant in charge of

the coronia! investigation. As I said in my report:

The interview consisted of four questions which sought to identify the author of the comment, and the text of the remark. In particular, no attempt was made to elicit what the officer had to say about the meaning of the

remark or its background. I find that it was inadequate.

29.5.23 In his report into the death of Mark Revell Commissioner Wootten described the attitude of the New South Wales detective sergeant in charge of the investigation of the death as a classic example of the reluctance, if not paralysis, that seems to descend on many police officers

when called on to investigate other police officers. A partial paralysis on the part of an inspector is observed in the reaction to the investigation requested by the ombudsman. The inspector was unable to notice glaring contradictions and implausible statements in what the detective sergeant

told him. The Inspector's attitude was shared by Police Headquarters and in the end the rationalization that the Police Instructions were only guides

Vol4 Page 129

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29

anyway was used. Bearing in mind that it was an alleged breach of the instructions which was the subject of the investigation, it could be said that the whole investigatory process was a pretence and, accordingly, that it is not surprising that there is a widespread lack of confidence amongst Aboriginal people in police investigative processes.

29.5.24 At least so far as they involve complaints by Aboriginal people, investigations of alleged police misconduct should be carried out as much as possible by persons other than police officers. It may be that a civilian investigator might be a team leader of a group including police officers, as there are some investigatory skills and processes, such as physical evidence collection and analysis, which are best done by police,

but it is vital that there be a 'hands on' investigation leader who is not currently or formerly a police officer. There needs to be an involvement in the process of an Aboriginal person so that the complainant is kept informed of progress by someone who has their trust, and, finally, details of the investigation and the findings must be made public so that the wider Aboriginal community might have some confidence in the process.

29.5.25 Senior police should seek frank discussions with Aboriginal communities to ascertain whether there are concerns about mistreatment, and should not refuse such discussions because no formal complaints are lodged or details given of particular incidents. While such complaints are necessary for disciplinary action, there are other ways in which an officer in charge may respond to general expressions of concern which appear sincere, for example by stressing to his officers the importance which he attaches to the matter, and ensuring appropriate supervision.

29.5.26 In my opinion it-is essential that the investigative and hearing processes be seen to be both impartial and thorough. There would be great merit in having an Aboriginal person on any tribunal which conducts hearings into complaints involving Aboriginal persons. Whilst a panel of adjudicators would no doubt also include a police person this seems to me to be reasonable. There is little doubt that there would be occasions when an Aboriginal adjudicator would feel great pressure to meet the expectations of the Aboriginal complainant and failure to agree that a complaint had been established might lead to criticism. Over time, however, I believe that the Aboriginal and broader communities would recognize that a fair system is worthy of support even if the results are not always what interested parties may want. It is also fundamental to a fair system that there should be no barrier imposed to those wanting to complain by demanding payments to lodge complaints or else placing the person at risk of meeting orders for costs. Similarly, the complainants must be assured that they will not be victimized as a result of making their complaints. Whilst all these steps could encourage unmeritorious complaints, I do not think that they would do so in practice. Even if that were one side effect then I believe it would be a cost worth paying if overall it meant that Aboriginal people had a complaints system in which they felt confidence.

Page 130 Vol4



Improving the Criminal Justice System

Recommendation 226: That in all jurisdictions the processes for dealing with complaints against police need to be urgently

reviewed. The Commission recommends that

legislation should be based on the following

principles: a . That complaints against police should be made to, be investigated by or on behalf of and

adjudicated upon by a body or bodies totally









independent of Police Services; That the name of a complainant should remain confidential (except where its disclosure is warranted in the interests of justice), and it

should be a serious offence for a police officer to take any action against or detrimental to the interest of a person by reason of that person

having made a complaint; That where it is decided by the independent

authority to hold a formal hearing of a

complaint, that hearing should be in public; That the complaints body report annually to Parlian1ent; That in the adjudication of complaints made by

or on behalf of Aboriginal persons one member of the review or adjudication panel should be an Aboriginal person nominated by an appropriate Aboriginal organization( s) in the State or

Territory in which the complaint arose. The

panel should also contain a person nominated by the Police Union or similar body; That there be no financial cost imposed upon a complainant in the making of a complaint or in

the hearing of the complaint; That Aboriginal Legal Services be funded to ensure that legal assistance, if required, is

available to any Aboriginal complainant; That the complaints body take all reasonable steps to employ members of the Aboriginal

community on the staff of the body; That the investigation of complaints should be undertaken either by appropriately qualified staff employed by the authority itself, or by

police officers who are, for the purpose of and for the duration of the investigation, under the

Page 131

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29

direction of and answerable to, the head of the independent authority; j. That in the course of in·vestigations into

complaints, police · officers should be

legislatively required to answer questions put to them by the head of the independent authority or any person acting on her/his behalf but subject to further legislative provisions that any

statements made by a police officer in such circumstances may not be used against him/her in other disciplinary proceedings; and k. That legislation ensure that the complaints body

has access to such files, documents and

information from the Police Services as is

required for the purpose of investigating any complaint.


29.6.1 The service has set considerable store on initial education in the academy as a means of improving police attitudes. The fact that Aboriginal complaints are often directed against young officers shows that the education may be missing its mark. Obviously it is a difficult task, and if not carefully handled may produce a backlash rather than improvement. As there are severe constraints in time at the Police Training Academy, and as only a minority of recruits will go to Aboriginal areas, there is obvious merit in special additional courses for those who do. A frequent suggestion from Aboriginal communities is that new recruits posted to their area should spend some time getting to know the Aboriginal community before commencing work. It would be salutary for those recruits to get their first experience ofAboriginal people with those who are living peaceably and engaged in constructive work in their communities, rather than with a resentful drunken person in the streets. A number of workshops have been held in Aboriginal areas in which Aboriginal people and police speak and take part and share their viewpoints. This, too, is a valuable initiative.

29 .6.2 A thoughtful and forthright submission from Sergeant D M Dansie of the Queensland Police Services indicates the fact that police officers themselves are well aware of the value of proper training for those who will work in Aboriginal communities. He wrote:

Page 132 Vol4

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

Life on an Aboriginal Community is hard for a State Police Officer and his family. It is made harder by the fact that he does not really know what he will be encountering until he gets there and it is too late then to

change his mind.

With this in mind it is encouraging and advantageous for Police who may consider serving on an Aboriginal Community in future service, that training packages to teach Police about Aboriginals and their way of life, are

being proposed through Workshops that will be held at Cherbourg in the near future. These workshops are being organized through a joint Police/Aboriginal Liaison team. Cherbourg is an experiment in this regard

and the success or failure of the scheme at Cherbourg will determine whether similar training packages and workshops will be held on other communities.

The success of these workshops will be of enormous benefit to Aboriginal-police relations. Similarly, failure will not weaken present Aboriginal-police relations but will only lengthen the time we have to wait to see a vast

improvement in Aboriginal-police relations.33

29.6.3 Recruitment practices across all States and Territories focus almost exclusively on attracting young cadets. Secondary educational qualifications are the basic requirement for entry in all States and Territories. Recruits tend to be school leavers with the exception of Western Australia where the minimum entry requirement is Year 10

(sixteen years). There are few if any mechanisms for later entry from other organizations, or for mature recruits. Since almost all subsequent training, including middle management courses, is done in-house within the police institutions, this raises the question of a narrow and exclusive

socialization, constructing and then exacerbating a sense of 'us' and 'them'. Such a closed approach is a strong basis for the development of the more negative aspects of police culture.

29.6.4 There is a strong need to open up these practices, both in relation to broadening the base for recruitment as well as for liaising with other institutions, particularly Aboriginal bodies, in relation to training programs--a matter that will be referred to again.

29 .6.5 One of the issues related to recruiting that has been raised in the work of the Commission is the screening of recruits for racist views. Recommendation 27 of the Interim Report states:


Appropriate screening procedures should be implemented to ensure that potential officers who will

Page 133

Improving the Criminal .Justice System

have contact with Aboriginal people in their duties are not recruited or retained by police and prison departments whilst hOlding racist views which cannot be eliminated by training or retraining programs. 34


29 .6.6 Police responses from the various States and Territories to this recommendation have in general recognized the need for such screening practices, while remaining vague about the effectiveness of the mechanisms available to achieve this. The Western Australian Police Union, however, responded strongly:

This recommendation is totally rejected as a purely emotive statement. There is no basis and no proven cases of racism by police officers within Western Australia. If there were ever such a thing found there is adequate provision with the Police Regulations to deal with that matter now. 35

29.6.7 What this response indicates, coming as it does from the State with the highest over-representation as well as deaths of Aboriginal people in custody, is the need to remove this issue from the domain of the purely individual and place it in the broader context already discussed. This is that racist views flourish in a situation of unequal relations, and it is from the subordinate position of Aboriginal people in the broader society that racist views in the whole society, including the police forces, emanate. In dealing with the issue of racist views, therefore, while the question of the

screening of individual officers remains important, the focus needs to be much more on establishing a real shift towards greater equality.

29.6.8 The Police Federation of Australia and New Zealand in its considered submission on behalf of all Australian police unions in 1990 adopts a much more balanced understanding of the situation than the earlier response of the Western Australian Police Union. The Federation refers to the New South Wales Police Association in these terms:


Page 134

On the subject of alleged racism in the 12,500 strong New South Wales Police Service there was a sensible admission that there would exist 'racist officers' but an equally rational explanation was proffered that such attitudes usually developed and were not

necessarily obvious at the time of recruitment. 36

More generally, the federation states:

But the fact remains that police are the product of the society from which they are recruited; they continue to be members of the society whence they were recruited and by which they were trained. If racist attitudes are


29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

endemic in Australian society or are so ingrained as to be irrevocable (which the Federation does not admit is absolutely correct) then some police, as a general statement, may have latent racist feelings which may be

altered by educative training but not by political victimization. 37

29.6.10 Importantly the federation states its policy to be as follows:

The policy of the Police Federation is non-racist; it promotes equality of all before the law; it urges the respective State and Territory Police authorities to have regard, in the recruitment and training of personnel to

the expressed principles of non-racism in the application to their police duties.3 8

29.6.11 The value in achieving such a shift towards better relations is already evident in some areas. The impact of the presence of strong Aboriginal organizations, as for example in Tennant Creek, has already been discussed in Chapters 12 and 13, and cannot be over-emphasized. In

these places, precisely because of the presence of effective Aboriginal organizations, it has been possible to develop not just good feelings, but a protocol between police and the community. Another example of the value of such regulated relations is the New South Wales situation where police

must negotiate with local Aboriginal councils regarding entry to lands owned by such councils. Such a requirement or protocol, based as it is on the local situation, has the potential to regulate relations between police and Aboriginal communities in ways that recognize the responsibilities of both

in the maintenance of law and order. It also incorporates a level of accountability at the local level.

29.6.12 Within police services themselves, however, there are a number of other possible mechanisms available to achieve a certain shift in terms of greater equality for Aboriginal people. One of these concerns is the recruitment of Aboriginal people, both men and women, to mainstream policing and the conditions of their employment. Such recruitment would

not only more truly reflect the make-up of Australian society in general, but it also has the potential to serve as an informal monitoring mechanism in relation to clearly racist practices such as inappropriate language or rough handling of those in custody. I discuss this question later in the



29.6.13 Another of the mechanisms available to police forces in improving relations with Aboriginal people is in terms of the actual placement of officers. The Commission has been made acutely aware of

Vol4 Page 135

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29

the need for particular care in the appointments made to towns with large Aboriginal populations, or to Aboriginal communities. This has emerged as an issue in a number of the cases that have come before us, for example in the cases of John Pat and Mark Quayle to .name but two. What has been strongly urged is that Aboriginal people be represented in the appointment process. Again, this can be facilitated by the presence of effective Aboriginal organizations, but, where these do not yet exist, other representatives may be identified.

29.6.14 Related to the question of the placement of police officers is the importance of stability of placement. It has been pointed out in a number of the hearings and submissions that a particular problem for Aboriginal people is the comparatively speedy turnover of police officers in their town or community. On the whole, officers tend to stay for only two to three years, a length of time that allows little consolidation of either relations or programs. As was pointed out in a submission by one serving police officer to the Commission:

I see nothing more important and valuable than the ability for the Police to know the Aboriginal community they are working in and for the Aboriginal community to know the police. The constant and continual transfer of police officers f rom various locations makes this

situation difficult. 39

29.6.15 The Commission has noted positive comments by Aboriginal people for the Northern Territory Police Service School-based Program. The school-based program represents a contribution to the teaching of Aboriginal and other students about the function of police in society and about laws of the community and the community aspects of policing, and is intended to help bring about better understanding between police and the rest of the community, especially young people. This program is worthy of study in other places in Australia.

29.6. 16 Clearly, there is a need for specific incentives to be offered in order to encourage longer periods of involvement by officers in particular communities. Again, as with so many of the issues raised throughout the Commission's hearings, this issue is by no means straightforward, raising as it does potential problems in relation to spouses and children. This is so particularly in remote towns and communities, the very places where such continuity is important. The challenge posed is in terms of other opportunities for employment, or with the question of children' s education. These questions are not easily resolvable, and those offering solutions need to beware of falling into the trap of expecting the unstinting support of the incorporated wife or assuming, on the part of spouses, the premiss of dedication. Nevertheless, solutions must be sought and these issues canvassed when appointments are being made.

Page 136 Vol4

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

29.6.17 By the same token, there is urgent need for mechanisms that allow the identification of good officers and offer them recognition of their work and role. This can be done with the provision of special incentives for achievements, as well as with an improvement in career prospects on

the basis of those achievements. One outcome of such recognition might be involvement in police training programs, both initial and in-service, a situation that has already occurred in, for example, Western Australia.

Recommendation 227: That the Northern Territory Police Service School­ based Program be studied by other Police Services and that the progress and results of the program

should be monitored by those services.


29.6.18 Commissioner Muirhead, in his Interim Report, pointed out that 'issues relating to the training of police or prison officers have arisen in all inquiries I have conducted to date' .40 This observation remains true about all the remaining cases that have been heard by other Commissioners

and is seen as a fundamental issue. Commissioner Muirhead went on to say:

Many police and prison officers whose work involves significant contact with Aboriginal people have had little or no education concerning these people, their culture and outlooks. It is not unusual for junior police officers

to be sent to country areas with significant Aboriginal populations with little or no prior exposure to Aboriginal people and their ways. They are likely to readily absorb the white antipathy to Aborigines evident in some

places. This lack of recognition and understanding hampers the development of positive relationships and perpetuates the history of antagonism between the police and the Aboriginal community, a history in which the

Aboriginal people have suffered bitterly .41

29.6.19 On the basis of his observations, Commissioner Muirhead made the following recommendation:


All personnel of police, prison, social welfare or other departments whose work will bring them into contact with Aboriginal people should receive appropriate training or re-training to ensure that they have an

understanding and appreciation of Aboriginal history, culture and social behaviour and the abilities to

Page 137

Improving the Criminal Justice System

effectively communicate and work with Aboriginal people.42


29.6.20 Some two years after this recommendation was formulated, the situation in relation to police training schemes varies widely from State to State and Territory, some police bodies responding much more directly and effectively than others.

New South Wales 29.6.21 I note that the whole question of police training is under review at present, on the very desirable basis of enabling police officers to

know and appreciate the unique position of Aborigines within Australian society and understand the threat posed to good policing by stereotyping, prejudice, discrimination and racism. 43

At present, however, the academy simply offers recruits a basic strand of training and guidance in Aboriginal issues.

Course outline: 29.6.22 The basic strand in training and guidance occurs within the Police Recruit Education Program. The information imparted is designed to constitute 'at least a minimum knowledge of the current state of relations between Aborigines and the police and what lies at the heart of some of the problems that exist'.44 The course comprises a one day seminar detailed below.

Aboriginal participation: 29.6.23 There is no formal requirement for Aboriginal participation in the training course. Recruits attend one Aboriginal Issues day in which police and Aboriginal issues are discussed. There may be representatives of police, Aboriginal Legal Aid, ATSIC, and may include Aboriginal people, but this is not necessarily so. I note that a much greater requirement for Aboriginal participation is envisaged in the review of police training procedures and urge that it be significantly extended and formalized.

In-service training: 29.6.24 In the past, little additional in-service trammg has been provided. In 1989, however, some headway in this area was made with the convening of a seminar on Selection and Training of Police. This dealt with the placement of police in areas with large Aboriginal populations. A number of recommendations arose from this seminar, dealing with selection procedures and the implementation of effective in-service

Page 138 Vol4

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

training. I very much hope that these recommendations will be followed through.

29.6.25 In 1990, one officer was completing a post-graduate­ strategic development-scholarship awarded by the Police Board of New South Wales. The subject of the study was police relationships with Aboriginal youth.

29.6.26 Another aspect of in-service training consists of an assignment relating to Aboriginal issues that is given to probationary constables. They are given eighteen weeks to complete the assignment, and it is conceived that up to three hours a week should be devoted to it. Part of the

requirements of this assignment is consultation with the local Aboriginal community.

Victoria 29.6.27 Training courses in Victoria demonstrate the potential impact of an active Aboriginal-police liaison committee, both at the recruit and at the in-service training level where a number of changes have been initiated

by the Aboriginal liaison officer. There is, however, considerable room for improvement, particularly as the amount of time dedicated to Aboriginal issues is still very limited.

Course outline: 29.6.28 The cadet trammg course offers only two forty-minute sessions in cross-cultural training. Although the conceptual scope of the sessions is commendable in that the course aims 'to create an awareness in

police of the cultural differences' between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal police it is unrealistic to expect this to be achieved in such a short time.

Aboriginal participation: 29.6.29 Aboriginal participation in the police training course is made directly through the presence of the Aboriginal liaison officer who teaches, together with the police co-chairman of the Aboriginal-Police Liaison

Committee, in the training sessions.

In-service training: 29.6.30 This area of training seems to be somewhat more extensive than the recruit training scheme, and has a number of different components:

• the Aboriginal liaison officer gives one forty-minute session to advanced police who have completed eighteen months to two years in the force. This group undergoes an advanced phase induction course;

Vol4 Page 139

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29

• a pilot program for sergeants was held in August 1990, and in future sergeants are expected to receive two forty-minute sessions in cross-cultural training, similar to those in the recruit training scheme; • in the past two years, the Aboriginal-Police Liaison Committee

convened four Aboriginal-police workshops. The workshops ran over three days, and included police and Aboriginal participants living together.

29.6.31 One valuable initiative of the Committee which the Victorian Government has funded has been the holding of 'live-in' Aboriginal-police seminars. An equal number of Aboriginals and police take part in a residential seminar on relations. Two were held in the year 1988-1989 and two in the year 1989-1990, and a further seminar is planned in the first half of 1991. In his report relating to the death of Harrison Day, Commissioner Wootten wrote:

I had the privilege of attending a live-in conference at the Dharnya Centre near Echuca which was attended by Aboriginals and police from all over Victoria. Police/Aboriginal problems generally were discussed and particularly the establishment of Community Justice Panels. It was heartening to see the frank discussions and the breaking down of barriers and development of mutual understanding and respect during the conference. I noted one Aboriginal rebuking another for referring to police as 'pigs', saying 'That's like them calling us

coons'. One can see in such interchange the potential for breaking down some of the negative attitudes towards Aboriginals which characterized police treatment of Harrison Day. Conversely Aboriginal

attitudes to police can be softened.


Course outline: 29.6.32 The Aboriginal component of police training courses for cadets takes place within a course entitled Human Relations. This is concerned with certain sociological and psychological aspects of policing. The Queensland Police Underlying Issues response paper presaged a number of changes to the current police curriculum (dependent on funding) which included an Aboriginal cultural/social awareness training package for

trainee police officers. The current Human Relations course as a whole comprises one-fifth of the total program of studies for cadets.

29.6.33 The section on Aboriginal culture is contained within a general section that deals with notions of the dominant Australian culture and multiculturalism. It deals with:

Page 140 Vol4

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

• traditional Aboriginal culture; • the effects of colonization on traditional life; and • contemporary problems.

Aboriginal participation: 29.6.34 This is confined to one seminar, generally conducted in co­ operation with the Aboriginal community of Brisbane. The community is asked to provide speakers and additional guests. It is anticipated that the

Cherbourg Aboriginal community will be involved in an in-service teaching capacity in the future.

29.6.35 There is some additional material presented during the training course, which consists of four films dealing with each of the three topics covered in the basic course.

In-service training: 29.6.36 One important initiative, however, has been taken by the police service in order to expose serving officers to life on an Aboriginal community. As part of a community policing strategy, a pilot program for

serving police has been developed at the Cherbourg Aboriginal community. Officers are assigned to live at the community for a period during which they participate in workshops and become involved in pro­ active policing-working with schools, hospitals and community

organizations. The project presents an opportunity for improving attitudes and relations generally, as well as a means of identifying officers with the requisite aptitude and abilities to serve on communities. It is anticipated that the project might be expanded to other communities, with full

consultation with those communities.

Western Australia 29.6.37 Police training procedures in matters of Aboriginal culture have had an extremely chequered history in Western Australia, despite repeated recommendations made by various inquiries to improve and

increase the level of training. The details of this history are given in Commissioner Dodson's Regional Report.45 Not only has the course quality suffered as a result of poor relations between the Police Academy and the various educative bodies that have endeavoured to teach this course, but the length of training in Aboriginal affairs has decreased

significantly from seven hours forty-five minutes in 1976 to two hours forty minutes in There has been some improvement in the time allotted for 1991. Nevertheless, I strongly urge the academy to reassess their position with a view to overcoming these ongoing problems, in the

interests of providing improved training to recruits and in the essential improvement in relations between police and Aboriginal people.

Vpl4 Page 141

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29

Course description: 29.6.38 Currently the Aboriginal Educational Liaison Unit of the Ministry for Education provides training to police recruits. The course length currently comprises five seventy minute sessions or one full day which covers Aboriginal Pre-History; Contact History and Legislation to

1967; social issues reflecting pre-history Aboriginal societies and post­ contact history and a panel discussion. The course is assessable and, in addition, Aboriginal-police relations are touched upon in other segments of the training course.47

Aboriginal participation: 29.6.39 The Aboriginal Educational Liaison Unit which delivers the unit is comprised of Aboriginal educators. In addition, the

Police/Aboriginal Unit provides staff to speak to recruits about their function for a single seventy minute session.

In-service training: 29.6.40 To date, there has been little such training available. There is now, however, a program for serving officers that runs over two days and is State-wide. There is, clearly, much room for extending this important aspect of training, particularly for officers who are currently serving in areas with significant Aboriginal populations or officers who are soon to be transferred to such an area.

South Australia

Course description: 29.6.41 In South Australia, the current course for cadet training has been operating with some alterations since 1984. Improved curriculum changes for this course have been put forward. Currently, Aboriginal Affairs is located in the Cross Cultural Communication module. In this module, also dedicated to issues related to other minority ethnic groups, there is a one day workshop devoted to Aboriginal issues in which police officers attend the School of Aboriginal Education. The day before this session one lesson is devoted to briefing the police officers about the nature of the day-long course. The contents of the program are co­ ordinated by liaison officers attached to Multicultural Services.

29.6.42 In a submission to the Royal Commission by the South Australian Police Department, the aim of this unit is stated as being: 'to provide an understanding of Aboriginal and ethnic attitudes and customs, police policies, procedures and methods for interacting with people of Aboriginal or ethnic origin'.

29.6.43 The Aboriginal component of the course looks at: • Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal societal interaction;

Page 142 Vol4

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

• the purpose of the police special liaison policies for Aboriginal people; and • particular aspects of police relations with Aboriginal people.

This unit is to be examinable.

Aboriginal participation: 29.6.44 There are three aspects to this: • Aboriginal participation in the police training course currently involves the one day of police trainee attendance at the School of

Aboriginal Education. The day is organized by Aboriginal lecturers and staff of the college in conjunction with Multicultural Services. It is proposed that, in the near future, an Aboriginal lecturer will

be employed full-time by the academy. A pilot program has been run involving twenty-eight recruits and Aboriginal students ofT AFE. This has involved three sessions in which Aboriginal students and staff have worked with the police recruits in practical exercises. It is proposed, depending

on the evaluation, that this course be incorporated into future training courses.

In-service training: 29.6.45 There are also three aspects to in-service training, although this in general tends to be on an ad hoc basis: the one-day cadet training course at the School of Aboriginal

Education may also be attended by other police officers; when a course is deemed necessary in a particular situation,for example when police officers are selected as police aide supervisors. Occasional seminars are also organized; • the Remote Policing Seminar, developed with the assistance of

Multicultural Services. This is designed to provide a basis for selecting police personnel to work in remote areas. The seminar is advertised in the police gazette and is open to anyone to apply. Prospective candidates then go through a series of stages:


1 . screening;

2. partaking in forums involving officers who have worked with Aboriginal communities; 3. being flown to remote areas to assess and be


4. selection thereafter on merit.

Page 143

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29

Tasmania 29.6.46 In his submission to the Royal the then

Tasmanian Commissioner of Police stated that:

In Tasmania, policing is carried out on a general basis throughout the entire community, with the law being enforced equally on community members regardless of their being Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal ...

With Tasmanian Aboriginals in the main having European features, there is not the pressure felt by them as is stated to be the case with tribal Aboriginals, and few cases of racial discrimination have been reported. 48

29.6.47 This perception is at odds with the level of over-representation of Aboriginal people in police custody in that State as identified in the National Police Custody Survey carried out by the Royal Commission Research Unit. 49 This found that, although the level of over-representation

was lowest in Tasmania compared with other States and Territories (including the Australian Capital Territory), Aboriginal people in Tasmania were nevertheless five times more likely than non-Aboriginal people to be in police custody.

29.6.48 This disjunction between the perception that being Aboriginal is determined solely by appearance, and the Aboriginal perception that they have been singled out, is an issue that needs to be dealt with in police training. At present, however, the training provided reinforces the mis­ perception that Aboriginal people in Tasmania are not over-represented in police custody. ·

29.6.49 Until very recently the course syllabus for police trainees in Tasmania did not contain any Aboriginal content.

29.6.50 This situation is under review at the present time, with the Tasmanian police in the process of responding to changes in the police syllabus in response to the Commission's Interim Report. A training subject has been established with its curriculum relating to deaths in custody. A two-day course is being introduced for officers on Aboriginal matters. The course is being put together by an Aboriginal member of the Federal Police residing in Tasmania. It is proposed that a form of this course will be adapted to the needs of cadet officers. The exact length and content of this course is at this stage unknown.

Northern Territory 29.6.51 New training procedures regarding the course were put in place in January 1989. Material related to Aboriginal issues is offered in both recruit training and in-service training courses. The recruit training

Page 144 Vol4

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

component is offered within the Aboriginal and Ethnic Areas Unit. This course lasts in its entirety between 23 and 26 weeks, of which specific Aboriginal material is covered in a 16-session program. The component is conducted by an independent anthropologist. In addition, a number of

recruit training sessions contain Aboriginal-related content.

29.6.52 Overall the Aboriginal component of the course comprises approximately 8% of the entire police training course; a level of exposure that is not matched anywhere else in Australia, but which does match the significant numbers of Aboriginal people in this region. This is to the credit of the Northern Territory police, and reflects the growing

improvement in relations with Aboriginal people there while at the same time contributing to furthering that growth.

Course description: 29.6.53 The Aboriginal component of the training course is made up in the following way: the anthropology course contains 10 units running over 16

sessions. The course involves 20 hours of close contact and is examinable. The units are designed to emphasize practical matters, that is, possible day to day situations, rather than abstract ones. Hence the emphasis is on the existing language and culture

of the region, current issues and working with Aboriginal people. An important aspect of this is a comparison between Aboriginal and Anglo-Australian ways of understanding the world. • The remaining sessions, although not always specifically dealing

with Aboriginal matters, do contain Aboriginal-related content. Of particular note is the remote stations management course which deals with the day-to-day running of a station in a remote community. This course also has a specific Aboriginal

component, given that the majority of remote stations are in Aboriginal communities. Other lectures and sessions on Aboriginal matters include:


(a) policing settlements, including one lecture by a general duties member who has recently returned from a period on a 'bush station'; (b) questioning of suspects; (c) the 197 6 Land Rights Act;

(d) the Anunga Rules developed by the Supreme Court Justices; (e) the Liquor Act, including information on legislation and legal definitions;

(t) language module, includes reference to Aboriginal issues such as interpreters; (g) communicable diseases, especially those that are more prevalent in the Aboriginal community;

Page 145

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29

(h) ethics and morality and corruption; (i) history and geography; G) Northern Territory and multiculturalism;

(k) communication skills; (I) prisoner handling and care; (m) watch-house functions; (n) human relations; ( o) domestic violence.

The anthropological component of the course is examinable.

Aboriginal participation: 29.6.54 The recruits travel to Daly River on a six day field exercise which involves a one day visit the Daly River Aboriginal community.

In-service training: 29.6.55 Another recent initiative for Northern Territory police is the Aboriginal culture awareness in-service training course. This is a one­ week course conducted by the anthropology unit. To date all commissioned officers have attended this course. Eventually the course

should reach all officers as it makes its way through the ranks.

Australian Capital Territory 29.6.56 Despite the fact that there have been no deaths in custody here, the level of over-representation as identified in the National Police Custody Survey is very high-at eleven it is the same as the Northern Territory. Hence, an examination of the police training course here is relevant.

Course outline: 29.6.57 The Aboriginal component of the police training course reflects the fact that the Australian Federal Police also 'police' the Australian Capital Territory as community police. There are, consequently, two components of the police training course here. Approximately two periods are devoted to Aboriginal culture in the National training course (sixteen weeks) while an afternoon is devoted to Aboriginal matters in the local procedures training course (ten weeks). This latter subject deals specifically with anticipating and understanding situations that police may face when they meet Aboriginal people during the course of their work.

Aboriginal participation: 29.6.58 Aboriginal participation arises out of the involvement of the Aboriginal-police liaison body (Aboriginal Educational Consultative Group) in advising on matters of Aboriginal-police relations, including training courses.

Page 146 Vol4

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

In-service training: 29.6.59 The Australian Federal Police has acknowledged in a Submission to the Royal Commission that in order to 'eliminate or at least minimize custody trauma ... training and education of its personnel in

Aboriginal culture' is desirable not only within other Federal Police's training institutions but also at tertiary level. In 1989 members of the Australian Federal Police initiated a program in which members attended an 'Aboriginal studies' course at the Reid T AFE. It is envisaged that a

further number of police officers will attend the same course in 1990 and onwards. 50 A proposal is underway to institute an in-service training program for senior officers at the T AFE College as proposed by the Aboriginal educator there.

Overview and Assessment 29.6.60 With the exception of the Northern Territory respective courses in each of the States currently devoted to the Aboriginal component of the police recruit training course and in-service training are

currently inadequate. However, the Northern Territory is not immune from criticism. At the present time, direct Aboriginal participation in the course is lacking. It is a positive and encouraging sign that there are moves afoot in a number of States to re-dress the inadequate state of police

training regarding Aboriginal matters through a review of the Aboriginal component of the police training course for recruits and serving officers . .a

29.6.61 It is apparent that, given the complexity and depth of Aboriginal culture and the fact that police training courses have strict time and often budgetary constraints, there are certain logistical problems involved in offering an adequate course. Nevertheless, the question of

Aboriginal-police relations is clearly so central to the whole question of policing in Australia, and the issue of police training so fundamental, that significant efforts are required to assure that the most effective courses are developed. A number of factors are important in this kind of planning:

(a) Time:

29.6.62 It should be clear that, no matter how enlightened the objectives of any police cadet training course might be, recruits enter the academy with attitudes towards Aboriginal people which are constructed within the general situation of inequalities between Aboriginal and non­

Aboriginal Australians. As is clear from the examination of community relations made earlier in this report, this inequality has produced very negative attitudes-and it is essential that time be provided within training courses to confront and work on this situation.

29.6.63 The Northern Territory cadet training course is the only course that reflects the serious consideration to the course in the amount of time allocated to Aboriginal issues. The drop is then very great to those States

Vol4 Page 147

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29

that represent the next level of commitment: South Australia, and Western Australia in the course run in conjunction with the Institute of Applied Aboriginal Studies, and a number of other States are in a process of review. The experience and proposal of Tranby College in Sydney has

shown that a course needs a minimum total of 20 hours face-to-face teaching in order to be effective . .u The consideration of time in the Aboriginal component of the police training course is clearly an issue, however, that requires serious consideration, in relation to both cadet and in-service training, in all academies.

(b) Evaluation: 29.6.64 Recommendation 33 of the Commission's Interim Report states in part that 'training courses in Aboriginal issues should be examinable'. 53 Formal assessment of police training procedures in relation to this component is a critical factor in determining the seriousness given to the course not just by trainees but also by staff. Formal assessment also allows for a more strict evaluation of police attitudes. However, for some years the desirability of formally examining this part of the training program has been discussed in order to lift its status and to motivate

greater effort. It was raised with me in Royal Commission hearings in Alice Springs, and has since been implemented. 54

29.6.65 A second question in relation to evaluation is whether this ought to be carried out within the academy or by those outside lecturers involved in teaching the course. It is on this issue that problems have arisen in Western Australia. It would appear, from what has been said about the closed nature of police culture in general, that outside assessment, where this reflects the way in which the course is taught, is essential. At this stage-and leaving aside Western Australia where the

situation is currently uncertain--only South Australia is in the process of instituting formal evaluation procedures, although the New South Wales allocation of a specific assignment would also lend itself to such a process.

(c) Aboriginal participation: 29.6.66 The earlier part of Recommendation 33 of the Interim Report states that 'the Aboriginal component of training courses should be prepared in consultation with representatives from the Aboriginal community' .55 While there is some element of this involved in all training courses, the level of involvement varies from State to State and Territories, and in none-with the possible exception of the Aboriginal Educational Liaison Unit of the Ministry of Education in Western Australia-is the involvement very much more than peripheral.

29.6.67 There is no doubt in my mind that Aboriginal people must be brought into the planning and implementation of courses not just as consultants but as integral members of a team with equal responsibilities to those of other staff in this matter. However, care must be taken not to

Page 148 Vo14

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

over-burden staff. For instance, in Victoria the Aboriginal liaison officer with the Police Service has been given the responsibility to teach the Aboriginal component of the police training course as well as the other responsibilities required of that position. Aboriginal participation in courses appears to be greatly facilitated by linking police programs into courses provided by Aboriginal institutes. In the Northern Territory a valuable example of the input Aboriginal organizations can have in such

courses is in the assistance with the provision of cross-cultural courses for a number of departments. I refer to these courses in more detail in my discussion of the Institute of Aboriginal Development in Chapter 33 on Education.

29.6.68 A further issue that pertains to this question of Aboriginal participation is the role of Aboriginal women. None of the courses places any focus on this issue, whether in relation to the very important place of women in Aboriginal communities, the appropriateness of contact with

Aboriginal women by male police, or the need for Aboriginal and non­ Aboriginal women to be employed by police departments. The training of women police may well require some special component, and, in particular, it is essential to ensure that Aboriginal women are involved in

the preparation of any courses.

(d) Police participation: 29.6.69 While recognizing that Aboriginal participation is central to the creation of an effective teaching unit, police support must also be given. In particular, positive attitudes on the part of the police from the most

senior levels of police to the police cadets will enhance significantly the aims of the course. As an example, tangible support of the course from the police hierarchy will significantly aid police cadet perceptions of the course.

(e) 0 ngoing training for young police: 29.6.70 An issue of particular importance for young police is that of the development of skills in dealing with difficult situations. One clear response to this is for the provision of supervised on-the-spot training­

something that, given the weighty responsibilities that fall upon police, should be regarded as a normal and integral part of training. Another would be the institution of a system of rewards that recognizes achievement in precisely the areas of routine and less pleasant work.

29.6.71 The components of an effective police training course are many and diverse, although a number of essential aspects should be considered. For instance aspects of Aboriginal culture, the history of Aboriginal/European relations, the issue of self-determination with emphasis upon the relations particular to the State or Territory in which the

course is being taught, cross-cultural aspects of communication, and practical aspects of policing in relation to Aboriginal people.

Vol4 Page 149

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29

(j) In-service training: 29.6.72 Two-week intensive community development workshops, external to the police force, where members ·of the police are engaged in interaction with people from a whole range of different disciplines and backgrounds, have worked well in the past, for example in Alice Springs between 1975 and 1977. Such involvement with groups outside the force is clearly to be commended.

29.6.73 Since my hearings in Alice Springs in 1989, a number of other initiatives have been undertaken. One is that nearly the whole of the Northern Territory Police Force has participated in Aboriginal Studies seminars as distinct from the recruit courses. As well, a series of one-day seminars for commissioned and non-commissioned officers has been held. Virtually all police officers have participated, including the Commissioner. It is to be hoped that this kind of necessary in-service training should be continued on a regular basis.

Page 150

Recommendation 228: That police training courses be reviewed to ensure that a substantial component of training both for recruits and as in-service training relates to

interaction between police and Aboriginal people. It is important that police training provide practical advice as to the conduct which is appropriate for such interactions. Furthermore, such training should incorporate information as to: a. The social and historical factors 1 which have

contributed to the disadvantaged position in society of many Aboriginal people; b. The social and historical factors which explain the nature of contemporary Aboriginal and non­

Aboriginal relations in society today; and c. The history of Aboriginal police relations and the role of police as enforcement agents of

previous policies of expropriation, protection, and assimilation.


29 Improving the Criminal Justice System


29.7 .1 The question of Aboriginal police and police aide and liaison officer schemes is of central importance to the long-term issue of policing on Aboriginal communities and in areas of Aboriginal population. I received many submissions on the question of the involvement of

Aboriginal people in the work of police forces and in policing generally and, in particular, of Aboriginal communities.


29.7 .2 There was general agreement that it was desirable that more Aboriginal men and women .should be recruited into the police services of the States and Territories. There is little opposition to and very much support for this Some Aboriginal people suggested that those

Aboriginal men and women who had become police officers (and there are not many of them in any part of the country) had either 'joined the enemy' or had not been able to stand the strain of an ambiguous position and had resigned. Nevertheless, most of those who raised this matter supported

Aboriginal recruitment, and clearly thought that greater numbers would improve the situation both for Aboriginal police officers themselves and for the Aboriginal community. Police officers to whom I spoke and who gave evidence on the topic supported the idea, although a number

expressed opposition to any system of lowering educational or other standards to accommodate Aboriginal recruitment.

29.7 .3 In my view additional Aboriginal recruitment is highly desirable; I think that (along with other developments) it is capable of having significant effects within the ranks of the police services; and that over time it will make police services appear less alien to Aboriginal people

than is generally the case now. It is also fundamentally important that the police service in any community should reflect the composition of the community. All police services should pursue a policy of encouraging Aboriginal police officer recruits to their services. Where applicants who

wish to join the service appear otherwise to be suitable but whose general standard of education is insufficient, means should be available to allow those persons to undertake a bridging course before entering upon the specific police training; and that particular attention be paid to the recruitment of women officers. Efforts should be made to take the recruits

in batches rather than singly for their own ease.

Vol4 Page 151

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29

Recommendation 229: That all Police Services pursue an active policy of recruiting Aboriginal people into their services, in particular recruiting Aboriginal women. Where possible Aboriginal recruits should be inducted in groups.

Recommendation 230: That where Aboriginal applicants wish to join a service who appear otherwise to be suitable but whose general standard of education is insufficient, means

should be available to allow those persons to

undertake a bridging course before entering upon the specific police training.

Recommendation 231: That different jurisdictions pursue their chosen initiatives for improving relations between police and Aboriginal people in the form of police aides, police

liaison officers and in other ways; experimenting and adjusting in the light of the experience of other

services and applying what seems to work best in particular circumstances.


29.7 .4 The question of police aides is a far more complex situation. In Chapter 13 I discussed the results of a survey conducted by the Commission among police officers in South Australia and Queensland. Overall, only 15% of respondents had experience of working with Aboriginal police aides or community police, but those who had responded very favourably to their role. Eighty-eight per cent of South Australian respondents thought the aides were effective in their role and only 9% said they were not. Seventy-seven per cent of Queensland respondents thought community police made their job easier, less than 2% thought they made the job harder and the balance thought that they made no difference. I will now describe the situation in each State and Territory.

Northern Territory 29.7.5 The police aide concept is most strongly established in the Northern Territory. Aides are stationed both in remote Aboriginal

Page 152 Vol4

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

communities and increasingly in towns. The aides have a power of arrest of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alleged offenders over an area of offending which is designated by the Commissioner from time to time and in accordance with their experience and, presumably, their perceived

ability; their arrest power is delineated by reference to sections of the statutes under which they are empowered to police. Additionally, they work with police officers. In remote communities they normally work with officers, but there are some communities where the only police presence is an aide or aides. They attempt to settle disputes, negotiate to

nip trouble in the bud and practice preventive policing. They are a source of information and understanding to police officers about local matters, conditions, etc. The Northern Territory aides are appointed by the Commissioner but on the nomination, approval, suggestion of a

community. That 'endorsement' by the community is regarded as important by the service; I am not aware of the 'approval' procedures in relation to aides stationed in towns.

29.7. 6 The practice in remote communities is that aides are stationed in their own communities; they are not shifted about as ordinary police officers would be. My impression is that the Northern Territory aides have a strong policing role, that they receive a good deal of training, that

historically they are remote community appointees and that they are most successful when working in their own communities. (In some communities where different people were brought together on what were reserves or missions stations there is more than one aide.) The Northern Territory AIU commended the work of aides. I am unable to say from my

own investigations that the majority of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory support the aide concept, but it is quite clear that there is much support for them. I have the strong impression that the Commissioner and his senior officers are supportive of the police aides, take the issue very

seriously and are attempting to develop the prestige and significance of their work.

Western Australia 29.7. 7 Western Australia has had police aides for a number of years. I personally have made little investigation in that State although, by coincidence, Inspector Court gave evidence during my inquiry into the death in 1983 of John Pat in Roebourne. He had been stationed

subsequently in Roebourne. He was about to assume the task of leadership of the aide group within the Western Australian police force. He told me that the function of aides was being re-examined in the direction of them playing more of a liaison role. My own impression from

the evidence in that inquiry was that (at least in 1983) the role of the police aides was much less clearly defined than in the Northern Territory, and, indeed, it was very clear that the two aides in the Roebourne Station in 1983 played quite different roles. Their powers of arrest are limited to

Aboriginal persons and I had the impression they are more subsidiary to police officers. Commissioners Dodson and O'Dea each formed the same

Vol4 Page 153

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29

impression of the operation of the scheme in Western Australia; namely that it was very uneven, generally not helpful to better community relations and very generally not well regarded by the AborigiQal community (with some aides being the exception). They some particular reasons: for example, that aides were not kept on their own land but were located where required; that they performed a purely traditional police role. They also reported that the aides with whom they consulted were not happy about their position.

2 9. 7. 8 An important project undertaken in Western Australia by the Special Government Committee was a review of the Police Aides scheme, established in 1975. This was set up after the 1984 Summit on Aboriginal Police Relations in the light of the strong dissatisfaction expressed by Aboriginal representatives with the way the scheme was operating. The report of this review was submitted to the Minister of Police in June 1987. This has never been released to the public, despite the recommendation of the Special Government Committee itself, and was only released to this Royal Commission in July 1990.

29.7. 9 The Police Aides Review identifies many of the same issues as those already mentioned in relation to the Aboriginal police in Queensland. The central issue was very clear: should the primary role of Aboriginal police aides be one of liaison or of law enforcement? The overwhelming support by respondents to the review was for aides as liaison workers. This would require a restructuring of the scheme, beginning with a change of name. In particular this restructuring would require the provision of conditions commensurate with liaison staff in other government departments and commensurate with their responsibilities and duties. These changes are, as the Report points out, in keeping the expertise of police aides which is otherwise unavailable to the police department. 56

29.7 .1 0 Within the present structure of the scheme, the main criticisms related to the ambivalence of the position of aides in relation to their duties and powers and their status as second-class policemen. The most senior police aide, after seven years in the Police Force, is still more junior than the most junior constable.

29.7.11 It is pleasing to note that one in particular of the

recommendations of the Police Aide Review- . that the first appointment of an Aboriginal woman liaison officer be made in the Pilbara-has been carried out. A woman police aide was appointed in Roeboume for the first time in 1988.

29.7.12 The question of Aboriginal police aides in Western Australia requires urgent consideration in light of recent developments. These developments include the Police Aides Review, the development of programs for police aides in other jurisdictions, the investigations into the work of police aides reported by Commissioner Dodson and the

Page 154 Vol4

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

recommendations of this National Report. In the consideration of Aboriginal police aides special attention should be given to the wisdom of police aides being engaged to work in communities other than those from which they were recruited.

South Australia 29.7.13 In South Australia, Aboriginal police aides provide the everyday police presence on the Pitjantjatjara Lands. There is a police station staffed by police officers at Marla Bore just outside the lands. The relationship between the station and the police aides on the land appears to

be very good. I heard evidence from the officer in charge of the Marla station, Sergeant Peter Morrison. He also provided a comprehensive written submission to the Commission on the work of police aides. He is an officer dedicated to improving community relations between Aboriginal

and non-Aboriginal Australians and is very impressed with the work of the aides. Quite independently, I have received good reports of the scheme from Aboriginal people, police union and police department sources. Mr Hiskey, SM, who conducts courts in the north-west of the State and

who for many years was a solicitor with the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement, with particular experience in the area of land rights, made a submission to me in which he points to very positive aspects of their work. Finally, and most importantly, their work is approved by the

Pitjantjatjara Council. Aides have a general power of arrest, that is, their power of arrest is not limited to any particular section of the community (but it is limited in scope and to the ·lands). The operation has recently been extended to the Maralinga Lands. More recently again, the

Commissioner has embarked upon a program of appointing aides in the metropolitan area and some country towns. This initiative is too recent for evaluation.

29.7.14 In 1985 the Police Department in South Australia carried out a review of Aboriginal-police relations. The report was comprehensive and developed a series of recommendations covering aspects of policing throughout the State. Its most important contribution, however, was

probably to the setting up of the Police Aide Scheme. This scheme offers a very different profile from that in Western Australia or from the Aboriginal police in Queensland. In a submission to the Royal Commission from the Pitjantjatjara in November 1988, the Director of the Council wrote:


The arrest and detention of trouble-makers and potential trouble-makers by Police Aides and the Marla Police is now the accepted mechanism whereby communities, including close family and relations of those trouble­

makers and potential trouble-makers, can take action ...

In summary, the by-laws and the police aide scheme are Anangu initiatives with strong support.51

Page 155

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29

29.7.15 The scheme was introduced in South Australia in November 1986 at four locations. This was initially done with supervisors in each of the communities, but, after twelve months, the supervisors were withdrawn and four additional aides replaced them. There are currently ten police aides in seven locations. The aides are operationally controlled from Marla Bore police station, where there are eight police officers, and administratively from the Multicultural Services Office. Although there have inevitably been some problems, the scheme is generally regarded as successful-a success closely related to a number of factors. One of these was the careful research into and implementation of the scheme. Another was the actual organization of the scheme, in which the pay and conditions of the police aides, while not the same as those of police officers, have been carefully monitored. ss

29.7.16 As a result .of the success of the Police Aide scheme, seven further Aboriginal police aides, now to be known as community police, have been appointed to three urban and rural locations. The community police officers will probably work more closely with mainstream police than the aides on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Lands.

South-Eastern States 29.7.17 There are no police aides in south-eastern Australia. In New South Wales there is a system in some places (I gather mainly rural) of police liaison officers whose function is described above under the section on Aboriginal-Police Liaison Committees.

Queensland 29.7.18 In the Deed of Grant in Trust communities in Queensland, the position is different again. The Queensland Police Service has either a permanent or a regular part-time presence on these communities, where they are assisted by community police men and women employed by the Aboriginal councils. The community police have a power of arrest, but their jurisdiction is restricted to the enforcement of community by-laws and they are required to work under the direction of members of the Queensland Police Service. This restriction on their authority together with their limited jurisdiction and an almost total absence of adequate training are among the burning issues Commissioner Wyvill has identified as giving rise to general dissatisfaction with current arrangements. It _is apparent that there is a need to-review not only the methods of employment and training of community police but their entire role in the enforcement of law and order on communities.

29.7.19 In one very important sense, the difficulties faced by Aboriginal police- · and therefore of the Aboriginal communities where they are stationed-are a direct outcome of the failure of Queensland Governments to take responsibility for providing adequate support or

Page 156 Vol4

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

resources to Aboriginal people in the State. As Commissioner Wyvill commented in his Regional Report:

I recognize here that the present practices of Queensland and Aboriginal police intervention, apprehension and incarceration have failed, must change and must be accompanied by fundamental reform of the

administration of the communities. 59

Although some form of legislative independence to former reserves was created, first to Aurukun and Mornington Island in 1978 under the Local Government (Aboriginal Lands) Act, and then to other former reserves in 1984 under the Community Services (Aborigines) Act 1984, the

administrative framework under which such legislation might be effectively implemented by communities was denied.

29.7.20 The result has been an unconscionable burden for the community councils created under the 1984 Act which requires them to act in the absence of legislative clarity concerning their powers. The community councils also lack adequate resources to properly train people,

give adequate administrative support and to act as the body responsible in their communities.

29.7.21 The submission from Sergeant D. M. Dansie, io which I have earlier made reference, puts the matter very clearly:


The greatest problem facing the viable continued existence of the Aboriginal Community Police Forces is the lack of proper training and experience. In the past these Community Police Forces could successfully

operate with little training as they were virtually a law unto themselves within their respective Aboriginal communities. Community residents could be locked away for a period of time in the Community Watch­

houses for just being disrespectful to a Community Police Officer or Councillor and no-one would worry.

Now, with more people taking an interest in what goes on in Aboriginal communities and the R .C.l.A.D .l.C. conducting their inquiries,following the recent spate of deaths in custody, more is expected of the Community

Police, yet their work conditions and pay would very unlikely be tolerated by many other persons in the workforce. They are required to wear second-hand Queensland Police Uniforms and boots. They are employed by the Community Council with no training or

experience in Policing. Yet they are required to enforce By-Laws within their community that are, for all intents

Page 157

Improving the Criminal Justice System

and purposes, State Laws under By-Law headings. Queensland Police Officers undergo six months of intensive training before being required to enforce the laws of this State. Community Police receive none and are expected to learn on the job. They are given as much assistance and advice by State Police as possible, but it is nowhere near sufficient. Is it any wonder the Community Police are continually criticized by their Councils and fellow community residents for not carrying out their duties properly. This all leads to a breakdown in morale and the high turnover of Community Police that is experienced. 60


2 9. 7.22 Under Section 39 of the 1984 Act, the function of maintaining peace and good order in all parts of a trust area is ascribed to Aboriginal police. Overall, these police are expected to exercise three inter-related functions: (a) The maintenance of peace and good order in all parts of a trust


(b) the enforcement of the by-laws of the Aboriginal council established for the trust area; and (c) the exercise of their functions, duties and powers subject to the direction and control of any State police officer present in the trust


29.7.23 Similar provisions as to the role, functions and powers of Aboriginal police are provided for the Aboriginal communities of Aurukun and Mornington Island in the Local Government (Aboriginal Lands) Act 197 8. In 1990, there were Aboriginal as well State police on ten communities and Aboriginal police alone on six.

29.7.24 In his Report of the Inquiry into the Death of Alistair Albert Riversleigh, Commissioner Wyvill outlined the matters that had been raised before him in a number of communities concerning the role of Aboriginal police.61 Despite some of the special conditions applying to the role of Aboriginal police on communities in Queensland, the list is very similar to those relating to Aboriginal police aides in other States and the Territory:

1 . Aboriginal police are not members of the Queensland Police Force. 2. There is no career structure for Aboriginal police. 3. There are no formal qualifications required for appointment as a

member of the Aboriginal police. Indeed, it is not even a requirement that an applicant be able to read or write. 4. There are no established requirernents for appointment to the position.

Page 158 Vol4

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

5. Aboriginal police receive no formal police training. 6. Aboriginal police appointed and paid by an Aboriginal council are subject to the direction and control of any member of the Queensland Police Force, stationed or present on duty in their

area at the time, in the discharge of their duties. This can lead to uncertainty at community level as to who has responsibility for the administration and superintendence of the Aboriginal police. 7. As they are residents of a small community subject to kinship

allegiances, they may have difficulty in policing members of that community. Allegations that they have acted favourably to members of their own family or relatives or have been improperly influenced by Aboriginal councillors in the carrying out of their

duties are not uncommon.

29.7 .25 None of these problems is new. There is a wealth of

testimony to the inertia that has historically characterized the development of an effective community policing service. Moreover, the use of Aboriginal people to extend the effectiveness of policing in Queensland has always been on the basis of co-option for the most difficult,

dangerous, or unsavoury tasks. This has been so from the establishment of the notorious Native Police by the Queensland Government from the outset in 1848, through the various forms of 'special constables' after 1939, up until the establishment of the present system in 1984. On all

occasions, the Aboriginal police have served as a convenient, generally co­ operative, and exceedingly inexpensive alternative to the provision of adequate policing services.


29.7.26 The small number of existing police officers, the aides in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia, the community police in Queensland, aand the police liaison officers in New South Wales constitute what might be called the direct organization of Aboriginal people

into police work.

29.7.27 Additionally, there are a multitude of initiatives in all States and the Territory designed to provide a n1eans whereby Aboriginal people can have some input into police practices or decisions (in general or particular) and whereby police personnel can consult with representatives

of Aboriginal communities or organizations. These initiatives in my opinion are of fundamental significance, representing as they do the efforts of police services, on the one hand, and Aboriginal people on the other to negotiate together, find solutions, act constructively and to show mutual

respect. I have discussed many of them earlier in the chapter.

Vol4 Page 159

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29

29.7.28 There has been substantial argument put to me that I should recommend support on the one hand, or opposition on the other, to the police aide concept. There are substantial arguments on both sides. Some say that it is inherent in the concept that the aides are second class police personnel; some say that the aides are there only to make things easier for the police officers; that the concept of the aide is just another form of downgrading of Aboriginal people. I must say that my approach to the matter was from the standpoint that it was undesirable to have different categories of police personnel based on racial considerations.

29.7.29 On examining the question, my view is that it would be unwise to either positively recommend the preservation and extension of the aide concept or to recommend opposition to it. The fact is that there are different schemes based on somewhat different concepts, operating in different parts of Australia in different conditions. In South Australia and the Northern Territory at least there is considerable support for the scheme. In Western Australia the scheme is under review and Commissioners Dodson and O'Dea are of the opinion that the current operation of the police aides scheme is ineffective and should cease in its current form. They are of the opinion that the function of the police aide should be to act as a liaison person between Aboriginal people and the police. It was felt that policing functions should be very restricted or

should end altogether.62

29.7.30 I think it should be borne in mind that policing in this country was, until the 1970s, the sole prerogative of police forces staffed virtually exclusively by non-Aboriginal people and with very little, if any, tradition of consultation with Aboriginal people as to the carrying out of their functions. It is not surprising that initiatives directed at involving Aboriginal people in the police process should be experimental, tentative, not always successful and liable to be misunderstood. There is undoubtedly considerable animosity in the Aboriginal community towards police services and to a lesser extent to those Aboriginal people who join the services; there is equally no doubt that many of the people who join the services find themselves in an alien or at least difficult environment, and have found that maintaining their relations with Aboriginal people while carrying out their police functions puts them under great strain. We are encumbered with the baggage of history in this area as in so many others, but in this area the load is heavy.

29.7.31 My recomn1endation is that different jurisdictions should pursue their chosen initiatives in the form of police aides, police liaison officers and perhaps other forms; experimenting, adjusting in the light of experience of other services and applying what seems to work best in particular circumstances. And, at the same time, jurisdictions should pursue the objective of increasing Aboriginal recruitment of police officers, and developing stronger relationships with the Aboriginal

Page 160 Yol4

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

communities to which their duties are relevant. I stress that there is quite strong support for more female personnel, whether officers or aides.

29.7.32 There are some matters which I should mention. There is Aboriginal opposition to the title 'police aide' on the ground thatit makes the officers appear as second-rate constables. I think that opposition is perfectly natural. I do not think the name is appropriate; I think it is better

to have a name which designates the task by reference to itself rather than by reference to another task. A title such as 'Aboriginal Police Constable' suggests itself. It is also a matter of much criticism that police aides do not have a career path, that they are insufficiently equipped, housed etc. I do not comment on these matters except to say that they are routine industrial

questions which should be handled in the ordinary way. To the extent that there is substance in the complaints it is natural and proper that there will be accusations of discrimination. However, these matters are not fundamental criticisms of the concept. They can, of course, discredit the concept if not properly addressed. There are some matters which are of

such importance as to be stressed. Police aides (under whatever name) should be entitled to such special service rights as other officers (such as superannuation and pensions); they should be members of the service, they should have a special function and should be allowed every opportunity to transfer, after appropriate further study, into the main body of the service if they desire to do so.


Recommendation 232: That the question of Community Police in Queensland and the powers and responsibilities of Community Councils in relation to them be urgently reviewed.

Recommendation 233: That the question of Aboriginal police aides in

Western Australia be given urgent consideration in light of recent developments, including the Police Aides Review (1987), the development of programs for police aides in other jurisdictions and the

investigations into the work of police aides reported in the report of Commissioner Dodson and in this National Report and the recommendations of this report. In the consideration of Aboriginal police

aides special attention should be given to the wisdom of police aides being engaged to work in communities other than those from which they were recruited.

Page 161

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29


29.8.1 The basis for change must be the realization that Aboriginal relations with police reflect general relations in the community. At the level of Aboriginal-police relations these relations have been unequal. However, the information available to the Commission indicates that there is beginning to be some improvement The essential elements for building on these improvements are that there is a recognition of the common interest in improving relations between Aboriginal people and police. There must also be mutual respect, co-operation and the understanding that policing needs should not be dictated to the community. An environment of n1utual trust will create the preconditions for solutions to wider problems.

Police Federation of Australia and New Zealand, Overview Submission by the Police Federation of Australia and New Zealand to the Royal Commission, RCIADIC Submission, p. 19

2 Police Federation of Australia and New Zealand, p. 21

3 Police Federation of Australia and New Zealand, p. 26

4 M. Langton and others, Too Much Sorry Business, Northern Territory Aboriginal Issues Unit, Alice Springs, NT, 1990, pp. 166-8

5 H. C. Coombs, letter to G. M. Eames dated 10 December 1990

6 Langton and others, p. 113

7 P. Dodson, Regional Report of Inquiry inio Underlying Issues in Western Australia, AGPS, Canberra, 1991, p. 744

8 Dodson, p. 323

9 Australian Law Reform Commission, The Recognition of Aboriginal Customary Laws Summary Report, Report No. 31, AGPS, Canberra, 1986, p. 21

10 Langton and others, p. 74

11 Langton and others, p. 75

12 Langton and others, pp. 128-9

13 M. Langton 'Medicine Square', I. Keen (ed.), Being Black, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, 1988, p. 212

14 Dodson, p. 187

Page 162 Vol4

29 Improving the Criminal Justice System

15 S. Bailey and others, Victorian Aboriginal Issues Unit. Report, 1991, p. 14

16 New South Wales. Department of Corrective Services, Draft Aboriginal Policy, Probation and Parole Service, New South Wales, 1991, pp. 19-20

17 J. Ure, Interview with Superintendent John Ure, 1990, RCIADIC New South Wales

18 Ure, Interview

19 R.N. Steer, Submission by Senior Sergeant RN. Steer, Patrol Commander at Wilcannia, to the Royal Commission into the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, RCIADIC Submission, 1989

20 E. Johnston, Report of the Inquiry into the Death of Edward Frederick Betts, RCIADIC S/8, AGPS, Canberra, 1991, p. 36

21 R. C. Kirkpatrick, Deputy Commissioner Operations, Queensland Police Service, Letter to G. M. Eames re: Queensland Police Service Submission on paper by Dr Ian O'Connor, 1990

22 Western Australia Equal Opportunity Commission, 1989

23 J. H. Wootten, Report of the Inquiry into the Death of Mark Wayne Revell, RCIADIC AGPS, Canberra, 1989, pp. 12-13

24 S. Armstrong, Issues in New South Wales Police Accountability, Research paper prepared for RCIADIC, Sydney, 1990, p. 18

25 Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service Inc., Submission of the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service Inc., RCIADIC Exhibit NT/AP/G5, 1990

26 C. Haskett, Address given by Christine Haskett at a training session held at the School of Aboriginal Education, TAPE, 1989, p. 2 27 Armstrong, p. 32

28 Armstrong, p. 33

29 Dodson, p. 239

30 D. J. Meadus, Complaints Against Police in the Commonwealth of Australia, The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travelling Fellowship 1988, RCIADIC Exhibit NT/2/4, 1989, p 14

31 Meadus, p. 16

32 Meadus, pp. 16-24

33 Queensland Police Service, Further responses to the Submissions to the Royal Commission by the Aboriginal Co-ordinating Council, Comments by D. M. Dansie, RCIADIC Submission, 1990, pp. 6-7

34 J. H. Muirhead, Interim Report, AGPS, Canberra, 1988, p. 51

35 Western Australian Police Union of Workers, Overview Submission of Members of the West Australian Police Union of Workers to Royal Commissioner Dodson, RCIADIC Submission, Perth, 1990

36 Police Federation of Australia and New Zealand, p. 42

37 Police Federation of Australia and New Zealand, p. 40

38 Police Federation of Australia and New Zealand, p. 40

39 Steer, RCIADIC Submission 40 Muirhead, Interim Report, p. 45 41 Muirhead, Interim Report, p. 47

42 Muirhead, Interim Report, p. 51, Recommendation 32

Vol4 Page 163

Improving the Criminal Justice System 29

43 P. Moir, Request of lnformaJion on New Training Course, New South Wales Police Academy Goulbum, 1990, p. 13

44 Moir, p. 6

45 Dodson, pp. 570-581

46 D. J. O'Dea, Regional Report of lfUjuiry inlo Individual Deaths in Custody in Western Australia, AGPS, Canberra, 1991, pp. 575, 577. This original course length occurred during the time when the Police Academy liaised with the Institute of Applied Aboriginal Studies. Since this time the course time has increased. However, the dramatic decrease in time committed to this course is, I would see, a reflection of deterioration in relations.

47 O'Dea, Regional Report, pp. 577-8, 580

48 W. J. Horman, Submission by Commissioner of Police to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, RCIADIC Submission, 1990

49 D. McDonald, National Police Custody Survey National Report, RCIADIC Criminology Research Unit Research Paper No . 13, 1988

50 B. C. Bates, Assistant Commissioner, ACf Region, Australian Federal Police, RCIADIC Submission, 1990

ll New South Wales is currently reviewing the Aboriginal component of the police training course; Queensland will, in the near future, be reviewing all aspects of police training; a new module has been proposed in South Australia and is currently being examined; the Tasmanian Police recently introduced for the first time an Aboriginal studies component into their course. 52 Tranby College has been conducting a consultancy training program for the Department of Foreign Affairs for the past two years. 53 Muirhead, Interim Report, p. 51 54 M. de Graaf, Fostering Cross-Cultural Skills and Awareness in the Police Force, RCIADIC Submission, 1990 55 Muirhead, Interim Report, p. 51 56 L. Roberts and L Forrest, Law Enforcement Or Liaison. A Review of the Aboriginal Police Aides Scheme, Western Australian Police Aides Scheme Review, Special Goverrunent Committee on Aboriginal/Police and Community Relations, Western Australia, 1987, p. 191 57 R. Bradshaw, Pitjantjatjara Council Inc., Submission by the Pitjantjatjara Council to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, RCIADIC Submission, 1989 58 P. Morrison, RCIADIC Submission, 1990 59 L. F. Wyvil, Regional Report of lfli/uiry in Queensland, AGPS, Canberra, 1991, p. 56 60 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Task Force, Queensland Police Service, Comments by D. M. Dansie, p. 7 61 L. F. Wyvill, Report of the lfUjuiry into the Death of Alistair Albert Riversleigh, RCIADIC QE, AGPS, Canberra, 1989, pp. 34-5 62 Dodson, p. 238; O'Dea, Regional Report, pp. 630ff Page 164 Vol4


In Chapter 14 1 gave some attention to young Aboriginal people, describing their high level of over-representation in custody and the reasons for offending. This chapter builds on that material by describing and reviewing a wide range of options that exist to minimize the number of

young people coming into contact with the criminal justice system and being placed into custody.

I begin by considering the issue of Aboriginal youth at risk of entering the criminal justice system, and the preventive measures available, such as sports and recreation programs, police/school liaison schemes, and wilderness camps. The chapter then considers Aboriginal youth offenders

who may have experienced their first brushes with the criminal justice system, examining methods available for diverting young people out of the criminal justice system, as well as non-custodial correctional options. I go on to deal with programs for those Aboriginal youth offenders where

custody appears to become a practical necessity in the last resort and, finally, examine the issue of recidivism.


30.1.1 As mentioned at the outset of Chapter 14, the issues facing Aboriginal youth should be seen in the con!ext of issues facing the general Aboriginal community. Similarly, solutions to Aboriginal youth offending should be located in this wider context. In other chapters on underlying issues in this report-for instance in the chapters on housing, education

and community relations-more detail on the nature of possible solutions is given. Of particular concern for Aboriginal youth is the relationship they have with their family and community. The strengthening of this key relationship knits into the thesis of empowerment which is referred to

thoughout this report.

Vol4 Page 165

Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth 30

30.1.3 The examination of programs in this chapter is not exhaustive, nor does it examine in any detail involvement with non-Aboriginal youth-although I recognize there may be some useful programs here arising out of this interaction. However, I have endeavoured to indicate program options which either potentially or already show promise. It is apparent that successful programs must have Aboriginal community involvement and involve staff who are familiar with and understand Aboriginal people. Such programs and strategies are critical in diverting Aboriginal youth from the criminal justice system.

30.1.4 Special attention should be paid to proposals which emanate from the Aboriginal community, and in this respect it is up to the non­ Aboriginal community to lend strong and sensitive support. The most successful programs make a point of accomodating the cultural needs of Aboriginal youth and involving the Aboriginal community in the process, for instance the substitute care program in Western Australia mentioned later in this section. This program also exemplifies the value of co­ ordinating the relevant government departments in order to maximize the use of government infrastructure.

30.1.5 Information received by the Royal Commission from the Aboriginal Issues Units (AIUs) disclose that there maybe a lack of support services for youth in many parts of Australia. In Victoria, Aboriginal communities see the lack of programs and activities for youth and children as a critical situation of which boredom, alcohol and harmful use of drugs are often symptomatic. 1 In South Australia, Aboriginal communities with whom the AIU consulted suggested there were many programs, including sport and recreation programs, which, if introduced, might provide some activities for youth and assist to keep them out of the criminal justice system. Communities also stressed the need for employment and for appropriate trade courses to be run by the Department of Employment and Technical and Further Education (DETAFE) which would lead to trade

skills for Aboriginal youth. The community at Yalata saw a direct relationship between the high rate of youth offending and the fact that there were no youth programs at Yalata. Behind the need for program delivery is the deeper issue of addressing the social issues; in particular, · the relationship of Aboriginal youth to their family and community.


Page 166

[One] would have to say that a priority must be placed on supporting pro grams and activities which enhance the ability of Aboriginal families to keep their children with them in close contact with their communities. 2


30 Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth

30.1.6 The importance of the family has already been stressed in Chapter 14. It would seem appropriate to start with this critical unit in addressing Aboriginal juvenile offending. As Commissioner Wyvill has stated:

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, kinship structures and communities must be given the power and the opportunity to control and assist their own families and children and governments must not only respect

those ambitions but ensure their realization.3

Commissioner Dodson has stressed the importance of addressing this fundamental unit in instituting programs.

It is apparent that the role of the family needs to be given a greater emphasis in program design and content to attend to the issue of Aboriginal juvenile offending. In this way the individual is not unnecessarily exposed to

elements that may persuade him! her away from the influence of his/her family. To the contrary it could serve to consolidate the family unit, providing the necessary resources and support structures are put in place.4

30 .1. 7 One of the issues that has been identified in Aboriginal youth offending is the issue of parental control and the behaviour of children. The AIU in the Northern Territory has identified the 'family' as the key unit in implementing strategies.5 The National Aboriginal and Islander

Legal Services Secretariat (NAILSS) submission on juvenile justice in Western Australia highlights this issue as a central one, that is, the need 'to bring the Aboriginal community to discipline their own children'. 6 There is a perception in the Central Australian Aboriginal community that there is

'a lack of appropriate models for children, models that could guide kids in the right direction'. 7

30.1 .8 In the light of these expressed needs within the Aboriginal community, it may be appropriate for Aboriginal communities to institute programs which address the 'family' unit in order to re-institute controls here which have for many reasons been undermined, particularly, in recent

times, by many years of reliance on the external controls of the welfare system. The Aboriginal Working Group on Juvenile Crime in Western Australia sums up these concerns when it points out that 'the multitude of agencies operating in the juvenile area appear to leave out parental control

and rights'. 8

30.1.9 An additional issue to consider when looking at the family structure in Aboriginal communities is the different cultural perceptions of what constitutes adequate child care-for instance, the independence given

Vol4 Page 167

Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth 30

to Aboriginal children. However, cultural difference may at times be obscured by social issues, for instance, a lack of parental supervision over their children. Commissioner Wootten has higplighted the need for the fears of Aboriginal parents in instituting .controls over their children to be addressed:

There seems to be a clear need for some kind of carefully worked out program, involving the police and the Department ofF amily and Community Services, but mainly irnplemented by Aboriginal organizations, to explain the true position. It will be difficult, as it is not easy to explain the limits of reasonable use of force under the law, and there may be differing cultural as well as individual views as to what is reasonable. 9

30.1.1 0 The Streetmeet scheme in Hindley Street, South Australia would seem to be a positive example of family supervision of children. The scheme involves

local Aboriginal residents, particularly the women, [who] have developed an organization to provide a buffer between young Aboriginal people and the police. The group, Streetmeet, was originally formed in response to discussion and requests from Aboriginal mothers who were concerned about the relationship between their children and the police in the areas of Hindley Street, the Adelaide Railway Station and adjacent areas. It is recognition and support of this kind of locally developed service, rather than any attempt to replace it with a national scheme, that is fundamental. 10


Diversionary activity is the most commonly suggested solution to eliminate or--ease the problem of serious youth offences since it is generally implied that the root cause is a lack of constructive (or at least not harmful) outlets for youthful energy and tensions, generally described as (boredom' .11

30.1.11 The provision of sport, recreation and entertainment as an antidote to boredom would appear to be a key factor in prevention of Aboriginal juvenile crime. A State police officer at Momington perceived that youth alienation 'could well be tied to loss of cultural identity and language, so that effective diversionary activity needed to mesh recreation and ATSIC [Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission] cultural strands together' .12 In the report of the visit to Mt Penang, Kevin

Page 168 Vol4

30 Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth

Kitchener of the New South Wales AIU noted that Aboriginal juveniles detained in Mt Penang expressed enthusiasm for preventative measures being instituted in their communities, and all wanted more activities for Koori kids in their communities. Sport, in particular, is one activity that

has been shown to have very positive effects in channelling the activites of youth.U Commissioner Muirhead in the Interim Report identified this role of sport and how local government can play a key role in the provision of these facilities:

Sport in some places appears to provide some mutual understanding, and church activities make their contribution. I do not suggest that this type of

community liaison should be bureacrautically-oriented, far from it. But governments (particularly Local Government) can be a source of encouragement, and particularly in regards to youth, can do much to

implement positive programs and provide diversionary facilities. H

30.1.12 Research carried out by Gail Mason and Dr Paul Wilson from the Australian Institute of Criminology on sport, recreation and juvenile crime concluded that while it could not be assumed that sports, recreation and wilderness programs were the new answer to high rates of Aboriginal

and non-Aboriginal delinquent behaviour, there is sufficient evidence to show that sport and recreation do have the ability to play a role in the reduction of offending behaviour. 15 The authors of this report made a number of key points regarding the nature of the provision of these

facilities and programs in respect of Aboriginal youth offenders. In summary these points could be made of any program involving Aboriginal youth, for instance the need for Aboriginal community support and involvement. 16 The authors went on to point out that, furthermore:

• For such programs to succeed they must be attractive to

Aboriginal youth and adults. Aboriginal recreation officers provide an important link between facilities, community members and the encouragement of motivation and involvement.

There is a need for after-school and school holiday activities to be provided for Aboriginal youth, as· these are the periods when most offending and substance abuse occurs.

30.1.13 The success of the programs initiated by recreation officers in Aboriginal communities, in the long term, is reflected in the encouragement of recreational activities that involve the broader sections of the community, both adults and children. 17 The Fitzroy Stars Aboriginal

Community Youth Club and Gymnasium operating in Melbourne since 1982 is attended by all ages ranging from young Aboriginals to elders who attend for a cup of tea and a chat.ts This Youth Club also shows how

Vol4 Page 169

Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth 30

famous Aboriginals have the potential to encourage Aboriginal children and youth to participate in sport. The AID in Queensland reported that in Mitchell drinking, violence and depression within the community had decreased after the provision of a range of recreational outlets. 19

30.1.14 It should be noted though, that organized sport may not be the preferred recreational activity of all Aborginal groups, for instance the very young and the very old. Yvonne Agius has pointed out that, in this respect, 'A sensible balance between high level structured sport, sport for

the masses and unstructured recreational activities needs to be struck'.20

30.1.15 Information arising from the AID in Queensland has shown that recreational activities initiated or organized by police have proven to be very effective in improving police and Aboriginal youth relations. The Aboriginal Co-ordinating Council and Mornington Island informants

believe that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth and police relations have improved in locations where mixing in team sports has occurred, where formerly there had not been mixed sporting teams. The Queensland Aboriginal Co-ordinating Council has documented improvements through a positive youth recreation program organized by police in community sporting events.21 It is evident that preventative police/recreational programs have the potential to build up a rapport with young people. 22


30. 1.16 Recreational schemes are one avenue of locally improving police and Aboriginal youth relations. In this section I will look at other schemes which have proved beneficial to this relationship. One scheme in particular, in the Northern Territory, and other schemes, noticeably in New South Wales and South Australia, are good examples of how police relations can be improved in respect to Aboriginal youth.

Northern Territory School Based Policing Scheme 30.1.17 The Northern Territory scheme would seem to have much to recommend it. The school based policing scheme commenced in the Northern Territory in 1984 with the primary aim to break down barriers between police and youth. 23 It's success would seem to lie, in part, in its integration into the existing education system. The Katherine Regional Aboriginal Legal Aid Service submission sums up well the advantages of this approach.

Page 170

We would commend the initiative of the Northern Territory Police force in setting up the system of school based constables, whereby a police officer is stationed in a school and is available for counselling and advice generally to students concerning their rights and


30 Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth

responsibilities under the Law. These police officers are also involved in organizing social, sporting and recreational activities, which we believe are of considerable value in assisting Aboriginal youths as well

as others, to face the responsibilites they have in respect of the community.24

30.1.18 The scheme has attracted considerable support from school communities, including principals, teachers, parents and students. The constables in the scheme also work closely with truancy and home liaison officers and assist with the operation of a special juvenile patrol.

30.1.19 The Northern Territory AIU commended the scheme. I spoke at length with one school-based constable and shortly with another, and I was very impressed with the commonsense and sensitivity with which they spoke of their tasks.

30.1.20 The writers of the Western Australian submission of Concerned Aboriginal People on Juvenile Crime suggests that the Northern Territory scheme has considerable promise 'as a proactive police initiative'.

New South Wales Schemes 30.1.21 An encouraging development in the New South Wales Police Service has been the active interest in finding policies which will reduce the number of juveniles passing through the justice system. Given the

disproportionate representation of Aboriginals in juvenile institutions, and the high rate of graduation from those institutions to gaols, this is of great relevance to the overall reduction of the numbers of Aboriginals in custody. The service has a permanent position for a civilian Youth Client Group Consultant, and has conducted a seminar specifically on Aboriginal

youth problems. There is a General Duty Youth Officer Program under which a number of young police officers around the State have the opportunity to work with young people within their patrol and to develop strategies for dealing with youth problems. Through Police Youth Clubs police have initiated a youth exchange program in which young people

from such areas as Wilcannia, Brewarrina, Kempsey and Redfern have recreational and development exchange visits to Sydney and other locations. In some places police conduct Blue Light Discos for young people in which Aboriginal youth take part. In one town the patrol

commander put great effort into a boxing club in which many young Aboriginal people took part.

30.1.22 The Submission by Concerned Aboriginal People on Juvenile Crime to the Cabinet Sub-committee on Crime Prevention in Western Australia recommends the New South Wales Special Constable Program. This program involves police officers who work in plain

Vol4 Page 171

Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth 30

clothes: 'their whole role is then devoted to working with the Aboriginal Community in the juvenile area' .15

South Australian Scheme 30.1.23 I have already referred to the innovative Hindley Street Streetmeet scheme. The AIU in South Australia reports on the success of this scheme and the liaison with police of the local station and the Aboriginal Youth Support Group. The AIU reports that as a result of hard work a better liaison and working relationship has arisen with the police in Hindley Street.

30.1.24 Cautioning practices have been discussed at the outset of this chapter and earlier in Chapter 14. Such procedures coupled with community intervention strategies like the Hindley Street scheme may well prove effective. The South Australian Report to the Justice and Consumer Affairs Committee in 1988 has pointed out that such a permanently established and paid team would do much to work towards overcoming negative ·stereoptypes that are formed between police and Aboriginal youth. 26


[We] would take those kids and address the problems ourselves in our own communities out there in the bush, on our own stations, and set up training programs, set up education programs and set up apprenticeship programs for these young people.v

30.1.25 The significant contribution of the wilderness camp as a non­ custodial option has been discussed in Chapter 22 and also later in this chapter. Wilderness programs here are, like the Wildman River program in the Northern Territory, used for those 'at the end of the line'. However, it would seem that wilderness programs could have equal application to Aboriginal youth at risk. A central role in these and other progran1s is the contribution of traditional teachers or elders. The Katherine Regional Aboriginal Legal Aid Service submission argues that because some of the reasons for offending lie in Aboriginal youth being caught between two cultures that wherever possible traditional leaders should be encouraged to 'accept responsibility in teaching traditional cultural ways and values to the younger generation of Aboriginal persons' .28

30.1 .26 Although the AIU in the Northern Territory remarked in its report that 'Taking kids out bush was seen as one solution to getting kids, as well as adults, away from the problems of town and larger

Page 172 Vol4

30 Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth

communities', the efficacy of wilderness programs was debated . by the AIU:

It seems that 'bush life' can only succeed for some; for others, especially those who are distant from their country, or whose country is alienated by towns or pastoral properties, the bush solution either doesn't exist

or is not practicable.')!)

30.1.27 There has, however, been some success in the use of traditional teachers and mentors in a remote setting. In the Daly River region of the Northern Territory, one Aboriginal man has been working for some time in assisting young people (many of whom have been repeat

offenders) to stop drinking. The philosophy behind the camp is to get the 'old people to teach them about their own country'.30 Part of this philosophy is getting young Aboriginal people to make Aboriginal artefacts from which they can earn money.

30.1.28 Maggie Brady, an anthropologist, has concluded that outstations aimed specifically at diverting or rehabilitating petrol sniffers could work if the scheme involved viable projects with jobs. Furthermore, Maggie Brady points out that such projects can succed if the

adults involved have 'jurisdiction' over the young people involved and if there is a strong ongoing commitment by adults to devote themselves to the enterprise.31

30.1.29 Another more contemporary program is shown in the New South Wales Breakthrough program which is aimed at juveniles living on the street. Its use of mentors combined with counselling in a rural retreat would seem to have application for Aboriginal youth. The scheme involves a group of 16-20 year olds who spend eight days in intensive

counselling at a rural retreat. Each juvenile is then found a partner and mentor to assist him/her in finding employment, accomodation and in other needs. A second scheme has been proposed along similar lines whereby those in the 12-14 year age group have been 'identified by their

locals schools as high risk possibilities for taking to the streets'. 32


30.1.30 Aboriginal organizations and communities will have a central role to play in the construction and implementation of appropriate strategies to deal with Aboriginal juvenile offending. As the NAILSS submission on juvenile justice in Western Australia states:


[U]ntil a genuine attempt is made by white institutions ... to recognize and respect the specific cultural norms of traditional and even more importantly trans-traditional

Page 173

Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth

(that is Aboriginal organizations situated at the {intersection' of Aboriginal and Anglo-Australian systems) (mechanisms) it will be difficult for any meaningful improvement in race relations to occur. 33


30.1.31 The submission on juvenile crime by concerned Aboriginal people in Western Australia stresses particularly the need for Aboriginal youth programs and programs generally to be placed in the hands of Aboriginal organizations, for instance sport and recreation and the provision of many more Aboriginal youth workers in the community. 34

30.1.32 Evidence arising from the Royal Commission repeatedly points to the need for Aboriginal involvement in programs if they are to be at all assured of success. The role of non-Aboriginal people would be to facilitate this process. As Helen Daff, previously superintendent of Giles House, a youth detention institution in the Northern Territory describes:

In my view the essence is to have Aboriginal people working with Aboriginal people for they are the only ones who are going to be able to really help. The role that we white people should be playing is in the training of Aboriginal people to work with their own people. 35

30.1.33 The nature of these strategies will vary depending on the Aborginal community concerned. For instance, more traditional communities may find more advantage in using traditional methods of punishment; namely, the influence of customary law, the role of traditional elders and the use of ostracism and banishment. 36 Urban Aboriginal communities might well require different strategies of involvement and intervention.

30.1.34 The Aboriginal Legal Services would, potentially, have a key role to play in the provision of educational legal services to Aboriginal youth; for instance rights and obligations under the law. 37 It is also apparent, from my discussion in Chapter 14, that an adequate level of legal representation and advice to Aboriginal juveniles is essential. The Aboriginal Legal Service would best be placed to perform this function and should be adequately funded to perform this task.

30.1.35 The provision of Aboriginal youth workers would seem to be a key provision in the prevention of offending. The Submission by Concerned Aboriginal People on Juvenile Crime in Western Australia advocates permanent Aboriginal youth workers on a 24-hour basis attached to Aboriginal community-based organizations and the provision of Aboriginal Youth Officers who could help young Aboriginals in liaising with various agencies. 38 Aboriginal 'youth' workers have been shown to be effective in inner-city Adelaide.

Page 174 Vol4

30 Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth

30.1.36 The advice to me from the AIU in South Australia is that Aboriginal people in that State, in common I am sure with all States, take a very active interest in programs for youth and are sometimes frustrated about the level of consultation that they have with the Department of

Family and Community Services (FACS). The AIU contrasted the activities of the Far West Aboriginal Progress Association, which runs its own youth program and which the community regards as relevant both to the youth and the older people in the community, with programs operated

under the auspices of the department. The AIU suggests that operating a separate program

draws away the young people from the Aboriginal controlled programs which suffer a lack of resources, and this frequently undermines the Aboriginal program. The non-Aboriginal workers in FACS (Family and

Community Services) have a responsibility to the young offenders, but if they are going to continually undermine the community initiatives then they should give the Aboriginal community control of the program.39

30.1.37 One problem identified by the AIU has also been commented upon elsewhere. They report:

Aboriginal children are saying the only way they are going to get things in life is by becoming an offender because all of the programs are for offenders and that's a very dangerous trap. That is the situation which is being

set up in the community.

30.1.38 Mr Doug Owston, the Secretary of the Northern Territory Department of Corrections, reported during a conference on 23 March 1990 that similar concerns had been expressed to him about some of the programs run by Corrections in the Northern Territory. In fact,

Mr Owston added one further complication by saying that in his experience employers are more likely to give a young ex-offender a chance at employment rather than, perhaps, a youngster who has not broken the law. 40

30.1.39 The AIU in South Australia suggests that Aboriginal Community Councils should employ Community Development Officers to target youth. The AIU identifies the problem as being that 'Aboriginal kids are waking up with negative ideas every day, negative towards their parents, and also towards the education system'. The AIU identifies the

problems of the children's lack of a feeling of identity and the racism which they face in their day-to-day life. "IJley conclude:


Sqciety requires more Aboriginal people teaching Aboriginal culture and paying attention to Aboriginal

Page 175

Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth

youth to build their self-esteem and reinforce their identity. The Aboriginal child care agency workers would like to see Aboriginal groups in schools to look at basic teaching, like students' . self-esteem, self­ confidence, how to get the best results from the education system, how to feel good about themselves, and where to find support for achievements.41


30.1.40 A simple but very successful Aboriginal initiative in South Australia was one which involved taking school children from Years 11 and 12 to Kangaroo Island. This camp was funded by the Department of Employment, Education and Training and the emphasis was on providing information to the students which would benefit them in their challenge to

successfully complete Year 12. Apart from dealing with matters relating to study, the camp also looked at issues of police harassment and the problems which lead juveniles into contact with the criminal justice system. Many of the students who attended had been in trouble with the police from an early age. During the camp various prominent Aboriginal people, such as an Aboriginal police officer, attended the camp to discuss problems that the students had. Arising out of that camp was a request that the camp project become an annual event and that the Adelaide Area Aboriginal Education Unit develop a comprehensive strategy to support

students through their years of education. This is the sort of initiative which deserves community support. It is also a good illustration of how government involvement and funding, in response to Aboriginal requests and Aboriginal identification of a need, is much more effective when the initiative and the control of the program arises from the community rather than being programs which are created by others and then 'sold' to the communities by government departments.


30.1.41 It is essential in any of the programs outlined above that Aboriginal youth have active involvement and participation in program development to ensure the programs' success with Aboriginal youth. I have not addressed specifically the issue of Aboriginal youth initiatives in this chapter; however, I consider these initiatives to be important in considering program development. The Redfern Youth Action Group is a good example of how youth can direct their own needs. As Suzanne Kenney has written in her discussion paper for the Royal Commission on Arts in Aboriginal culture, the Redfern Youth Action Group, which has significant participation by youth members, has established a successful community based arts program.42 In addition, Aboriginal youth involved in this Action Group have been able to establish confidence in speaking in public forums in order to achieve change in public awareness of the issues

they face. The establishment and functioning of this Youth Action Group recognizes implicitly that community-based approaches are necessary.

Page 176 Vol4



Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth

Recommendation 234: That Aboriginal Legal Services throughout Australia be funded to such extent as will enable an adequate level of legal representation and advice to Aboriginal juveniles.

Recommendation 235: That policies of government and the practices of agencies which have involvement with Aboriginal juveniles in the welfare and criminal justice systems

should recognize and be committed to ensuring, through legislative enactment, that the primary sources of advice about the interests and welfare of Aboriginal juveniles should be the families and

community · groups of the juveniles and specialist Aboriginal organizations, including Aboriginal Child Care Agencies.

Recommendation 236: That in the process of negotiating with Aboriginal communities and organizations in the devising of Aboriginal youth programs governments should

recognize that local community based and devised strategies have the greatest prospect of success and this recognition should be reflected in funding.

Recommendation 237: That at all levels of the juvenile welfare and justice systems there is a need for the employment and

training of Aboriginal people as youth workers in roles such as recreation ·officers, welfare officers, counsellors, probation and parole officers, and street workers in both government and community

organizations. Governments, after consultation with appropriate Aboriginal organizations, should increase funding in this area and pursue a more vigorous

recruitment and training strategy.

Page 177

Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth 30

Recommendation 238: That once programs and strategies · for youth have been devised and agreed, after negotiation between governments and appropriate Aboriginal organizations and communities, governments should provide resources for the employment and training of

appropriate persons to ensure that the programs and strategies are successfully implemented at a local level. In making appointment of trainers preference should be given to Aboriginal people with a proven record of being able to relate to, and influence, young people even though such candidates may not have academic qualifications.


30.2.1 In some jurisdictions formalized processes have been developed to divert juveniles away from the court process altogether. One such process, involving panels, has been a significant feature of the South Australian system for many years. Juvenile Aid Panels were created in

1971 to provide an opportunity for intervention in the lives of juvenile offenders. It was intended that the panels would provide an early caution for the children and their parents, with an accent on counselling rather than punishment and, thus, would divert the child from the criminal justice process and at the same time avoid a repetition of offences. These panels originally only applied to juveniles under the age of 16. The amending legislation in 1979 extended the panel's operation to deal with all juveniles under the age of 18 years and in addition Screening Panels were created to operate as a 'sieve' to determine which cases needed to be referred to the court or to the Children's Aid Panel. The adherence to the principles embodied in the panels reflects the conviction of the legislators that this process is effective in avoiding juvenile offending. The authors Gale, Bailey-Harris and Wundersitz cast considerable doubt on that assumption. The authors note that neither in South Australia nor in Western Australia, where Children's Aid Panels also exist (Western Australia does not have the screening panel process), has the panel system served to reduce the disproportionate involvement of Aboriginal youth in the criminal justice process. Indeed, the panel process has probably increased their involvement by net-widening.43

30.2.2 In Western Australia, Children's (Suspended Proceedings) Panels began in the Perth metropolitan area in 1964 under the auspices of the Child Welfare Department. Initially they dealt only with first offenders

Page 178 Vol4

30 Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth

aged seven to twelve years, but over the years the age limit expanded until in 1971 they applied to first offenders up to the age of sixteen. By 1976 the panels were operating throughout the State.

30.2.3 The Western Australian panels, like those in South Australia, operate independently of the court system. A juvenile, who must first admit guilt to be dealt with by the panel, may be cautioned for the offence but is then discharged without a conviction being recorded. There is a

proposal currently being considered to allow police to issue such cautions. Apart from admitting guilt a juvenile must also be willing to provide restitution for damaged or stolen property if the panel requires this.

30.2.4 Commissioner Dodson has reported that his advice has been that the panel process has not been particularly effective as a means of diverting cases from the court system.44

30.2.5 The authors of the South Australian study criticized the operation of both the Children's Panel and the Screening Panel because of the limited extent to which Aboriginal youth benefited from their existence. The Screening Panels had the crucial decision as to whether or not a case

would go to court. The authors commented:

Throughout South Australia, a disproportionately large number of Aboriginal children are referred to court, and are thus not given the opportunity to profit from a positive counselling that aid panels provide. Children's

Aid Panels were created with the primary aim of preventing further offending. All the more disturbing then, is the finding that one group appears to be denied equitable access to them. At no stage in the juvenile justice process, from the first point of apprehension to

the ultimate stage of sentencing, are differences in outcome between Aborigines and non-Aborigines more critical. 45

30.2.6 The authors investigated the disposition of offenders for the period 1983-84 and concluded that Screening Panel referrals led to 68.9% of Aboriginal offenders being referred to the court compared with 38.5% of socioeconomically matched non-Aboriginal offenders. The authors also

concluded that Aboriginal youth are disproportionately dealt with by arrest rather than summons, a situation which continues to occur. The 1989 Report of the Office of Crime Statistics in South Australia once again demonstrated the disproportionate extent to which Aboriginal youths are

arrested rather than proceeded against by summons.46

30.2.7 The main factor which determined whether a youth was referred to court or to an Aid Panel was the police method of

apprehehnsion. Irrespective of the nature and number of offence charges,

Vol4 Page 179

Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth 30

prior offending records or family circumstances, youths who had been arrested were virtually guaranteed a court appearance, while those who had been reported were more likely to go to a panel. Since Aboriginal youths were more likely to be arrested than non-Aboriginal youths, it followed that they were more likely to be referred by Screening Panels to

the Children's Court because of this. This illustrates how decisions taken at one level of the system (in this case, the police decision to arrest) significantly influences decisions taken at subsequent levels of the justice system. This means that because Aboriginal youths are disadvantaged at the point of arrest, this disadvantage is compounded as they move through the system.

30.2.8 Gale and her co-authors concluded that rather than benefiting young people by ensuring greater equity for the socially disadvantaged the Screening Panels achieved the reverse result. The authors continue:

These results clearly support Feely's ( 1979) argument that to concentrate solely on the final stages of court adjudication and disposition in the criminal process gives a distorted and incomplete picture of the real impact of that process on an accused. Whilst it is important to investigate Aboriginal rates of detention, it is equally, if not more, important to examine the operation of the various pre-trial mechanisms, since these affect a far greater number of accused young people. As evidenced here, young Aborigines have

already experienced considerable disadvantage long before they even reach the final stages of disposition. The mere fact that so many end up in court is in itself an indictment of the system and its inability to deliver justice equitably to all young persons. The process of

differential treatment begins much earlier, at the very first point of contact with police. From the first encounter, through the charging process and arrest, to pre-trial filtering and eventually to court, Aborigines are

given the more serious outcomes of the options available to decision makers.41 ·

30.2.9 · After the Screening Panels the next diversionary stage is the Children's Aid Panel, but the authors note that disproportionately fewer young Aboriginal people are referred to Children's Aid Panels in the first place. Once referred to the panel, however, they do not apparently receive discriminatory treatment. They note that the real issue is that few Alx>riginal children are given the opportunity of such diversion from the court system.48 (The 1990 amendment to the legislation whereby Alx>riginal Police Aides may now sit on screening panels may remedy the situation in the future.)

Page 180 Vol4

30 Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth

30.2.1 0 The Children's Aid Panel does not pronounce on guilt or innocence, but, given that the child must admit the offences in order to be dealt with by the panel, Gale and her co-authors recognize that there is an undesirable element of disguised coercion inducing children to admit to

offences which they did not, in reality, commit.49 There is also, as the authors state, 'a strongly held view that diversionary procedures will have a constructive effect on an offender only if that person voluntarily co­ operates and acknowledges responsibility'.

30.2.11 In New South Wales an experiment is being conducted by the Department of Correctional Services at Wyong and this scheme, the Community Panel, Court Diversion, Scheme, is now being extended to other country areas. Evaluation of the scheme, however, showed that

only 50% of participants were juveniles, and it was found that a very large number of those juveniles could have been dealt with by police cautions. 5° The panel was, however, able to make determinations which involved assigning community work to be performed by an offender. The scheme

has been criticized as providing too great an incentive for a young person to admit guilt of an offence. 51 The Department of Correctional Services has conducted its own evaluations of the scheme and the authors of the Youth Justice Project comment that those evaluations 'point to the potential

of panel schemes to encourage a higher rate of intervention (or net­ widening)' .52

30.2.12 The Queensland Aboriginal Co-ordinating Council (ACC) Submission discusses successful diversionary measures in their community whereby:

An agreement was reached between the Police, the Council and the school (which was often vandalised) that youth offenders would not be taken to court, but would do community service at the school or police

station. Those youths who did not offend would be rewarded once a month and taken out bush by the Police Sergeant and taught shooting skills. It worked well.

The author of the submission of ACC pointed out that in order

{t]o protect the Council and the Police, this arrangement needs to be incorporated into a community by-law. The Acting State Police Sergeant was caring and sensitive which was a welcome change from what /' d seen on

other communities .53

30.2.13 Data collected by Wundersitz indicate higher intervention_ rates in South Australia and Western Australia (the two Australian jurisdictions where panels exist) than in any other States. The Northern Territory

Vol4 Page 181

Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth 30

continues to have a very high intervention rate, similar to that of South Australia and Western Australia.

30.2.14 Whilst I do not suggest that jurisdictions in which panels currently operate should be moving to abolish the panels, there does seem to me to be a real danger that juveniles are coming into the system in circumstances which are quite unnecessary and for situations which could have been dealt with by way of police cautions. The process of police caution, whilst it can have its own problems, operates to a significant degree in many jurisdictions and has the benefit of keeping a child totally out of the official and recorded processes of the criminal justice system. Gale and others noted that, with the creation and then the maintenance of panels in South Australia, police who might otherwise have simply cautioned juveniles for first or minor offences instead referred the juveniles to the panels on the assumption that that was appropriate. When

the decision to charge the juvenile was then coupled with arrest, the child's prospects of receiving a disproportionately harsh penalty either then or on a later occasion was clearly demonstrated by the South Australian study. 54 The potential for 'net-widening' has been reduced by legislative amendments which enabled the Screening Panel to refer a case back to the police for cautioning of the offender. The South Australian Report to Justice & Consumer Affairs has also pointed out that the Aid Panel system could be made more relevant to Aboriginal young people if the panels themselves included an Aboriginal person more frequently than is now the case and also if the procedures were made more flexible by allowing suitable alternative community members other than parents or guardians

'to accompany a child to these proceedings'.55

30.2.15 In Queensland, which does not have a panel system, the police exercise a discretion to caution rather than to charge first offenders, and sometimes second offenders, who admit their guilt. Such children are formerly warned about the consequences of their behaviour, if offences are repeated. In Queensland for the past ten years police have chosen to caution approximately 70% of juveniles detected committing an offence. It is not known to what extent this cautioning process favours or does not favour Aboriginal youth. 56

30.2.16 In New South Wales, which also does not have established panel systems, there has been increased usage and formalizing of police cautions since 1985.57 This increased emphasis on police cautions reflected a shift in direction in New South Wales towards community­

based options. The authors of the Youth Justice Project estimated that since 1985 some 10-15% fewer children were appearing in the Children's Court as a result of the increased usage of police cautions. 58 However, the authors have noted that the extended use of cautions has been reduced since 1986 with a consequent increase in court appearances--although overall there is still a significant number of children thus diverted from the court system.

Page 182 Vol4

30 Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth

30.2.17 Late in 1990 the New South Wales Police Youth Client Group Consultant, together with Inspector Ireland of the Policy and Planning Branch prepared a proposal for change in the juvenile justice system for submission to the New South Wales Parliamentary Standing Committee

on Social Issues. The proposal was based on an on-the-spot study of the working of the New Zealand Children, Young Persons and their Families Act 1989, which promises to divert a high percentage of juvenile offenders from the court system and contribute imaginatively to their rehabilitation.

Given the high proportion of Aboriginal youth entering the New South Wales system, it is a pity that the Working Party of four which went to New Zealand did not include an Aboriginal person. Nevertheless, the report is a very positive attempt by the New South Wales Police Service to

tackle a major issue, and it does recognize to some extent the role that may be played by Aboriginal communities. In discussing the provision for the supervision of community work orders, the report notes:

This aspect would have relevance to the very large number of Aboriginal young people wlw find their way into the juvenile justice system in New South Wales. State funded community-based supervision could be provided at considerably less cost than government

supervision and responses to offending, to the community.

30.2.18 It is to be hoped that any development of the proposals will allot a major role to Aboriginal communities at a much earlier stage than the supervision of orders.


Recommendation 239: That governments should review relevant legislation and police standing orders so as to ensure that police officers do not exercise their powers of arrest in

relation to Aboriginal juveniles rather than proceed by way of formal or informal caution or service of an attendance notice or summons unless there are

reasonable grounds for believing that such action is necessary. The test whether arrest is necessary

should, in general, be more stringent than that

imposed in relation to adults. The general rule should be that if the offence alleged to have been committed is not grave and if the indications are that the juvenile is unlikely to repeat the offence or commit other

offences at that time then arrest should not be


Page 183

Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth 30

Page 184

Recommendation 240: That: a. Police administrators · give police officers

greater encouragement to proceed by way of caution rather than by arrest, summons or

attendance notice; b. That wherever possible the police caution be

given in the presence of a parent, adult relative or person having care and responsibility for the juvenile; and c. That if a police caution is given other than in

the presence of any such person having care and responsibility for the juvenile such person be notified in writing of the fact and details of the caution administered.

Recommendation 241: The Commission notes that in some jurisdictions (in particular South Australia and Western Australia) Children's Aid Panels or Screening Panels apply.

These panels provide an option lying between police cautions, on the one hand, and appearances in

children's courts, on the other hand. The

Commission is unable to recommend that such panels be established in places where they do not presently exist, nor that panels be abolished in places where they do exist. The Commission, however, draws attention to evidence suggesting that the potential benefits which may flow from the provision of such panels are not fully realized in the case of Aboriginal juveniles. The Commission draws attention to the

desirability of studies being done on a wide scale to determine the efficacy of such initiatives. The

Commission recommends that for South Australia and Western Australia the following matters should be made clear by legislation, standing orders or

administrative directions so as to provide: a. That the fact of arrest is not to be taken into

account in determining whether a child is

referred to a Children's Court as opposed to being referred to an alternative body such as a


Children's Aid Panel; That the decision to proceed by way of

summons or attendance notice rather than by







Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth

cautioning a juvenile should not be influenced by the existence of such panels; That there should be adequate representation of Aboriginal people on the list of panel members;

That the panels should be so constituted that there be adequate representation of Aboriginal members of the panel on any occasion in which an Aboriginal juvenile's case is being

considered; That in no case should there be consideration of the case of an Aboriginal juvenile unless one member, at least, of the panel is an Aboriginal person; and

That an Aboriginal juvenile should not be

denied consideration by a Children's Aid Panel by virtue of the juvenile's inability, on financial grounds, to make restitution for property lost, stolen or damaged.


30.3.1 As was noted in Chapter 14, there has been a significant decrease in the rate at which juveniles generally have been subject to detention orders over recent years. This decrease has coincided with, and been a consequence of, moves in all jurisdictions for a more

comprehensive range of non-custodial options being provided to the juvenile courts. In this section I will examine the processes which have been adopted-although I will not endeavour to do so exhaustively, given that this is a field in which changes are occurring with some rapidity-in

order to consider whether Aboriginal youth have benefited to an appropriate degree from the non-custodial options which have been provided.

30.3.2 In Queensland, Dr Ian O'Connor, in his submission to the Royal Commission, noted that factors other than the range of options provided to the courts can militate against the effective use of non­ custodial options. He said this:


The extent of contact between the departmental officers and a child placed under supervision varies dramatically. Some Area Officers do appear to take such orders seriously. However, in many cases children under

supervision have minimal contact with the

Page 185

Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth

In rural and isolated areas, supervision

orders are meaning less for there is no infrastructure for their implementation. ro


30.3.3 Dr O'Connor suggests that the same lack of support

infrastructure applies to children released from institutional care. As a result, post-release supervision and support is frequently minimal. The department is endeavouring to improve standards of supervision, but it is clear that much needs to be done for the supervision to become a reality in many rural areas. Dr O'Connor states:

It is clearly imperative that a community corrections program addressing the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth is developed.

30.3.4 Dr O'Connor concluded that Aboriginal children are dealt with more harshly within the juvenile justice system in Queensland than non­ Aboriginal children, and are more likely to be dealt with harshly by the court. They therefore move through the juvenile justice system into institutional care at an accelerated pace. Dr O'Connor adopts, as applicable in Queensland, the conclusions of Gale, Bailey-Harris and Wundersitz who stated:

At the disposition stage of the children's court hearing, differences were again evident. Aboriginal youth seemed to be given more severe penalties than their non­ Aboriginal counterparts. They are more likely than other young offenders to be sentenced to detention and less

likely to have the sentence suspended. In this they fail to benefit from the current trends away from incarceration and in favour of more constructive alternatives. 61

30.3.5 The absence of a wide range of non-custodial options in Queensland has been noted elsewhere in this report as a legacy of the emphasis which the Department of Family Services in Queensland had placed on the 'welfare model' for dealing with juvenile offenders.

30.3.6 However, in other States a much more comprehensive range of alternative, community based, corrections orders and programs has been devised with many such schemes having great potential for reducing the detention rate of Aboriginal juveniles.

30.3.7 In Western Australia the Children's Court may impose a Conditional Release Order. One innovative program to fit in with the Conditional Release Orders is the Station (Alternative Custody Program). This program has been devised primarily to assist Aboriginal youths. The Department for Community Services in Western Australia has recognized

Page 186 Vol4

30 Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth

that it is preferable that Aboriginal offenders are placed within the geographic boundaries with which they have cultural and/or family associations. The offender may be directed to the Station Program as part of a Conditional Release Order.

30.3.8 Under the program Aboriginal youths are placed on a station under the guidance of older Aboriginal people. The local Aboriginal communities are being consulted both as to the appropriate stations at which the youths may be placed and as to the appropriateness of the

placement generally. By May of 1990 there had been twenty-eight individual youths placed under the program and only three of those had been returned to custody. Six were still on the program at that stage and twenty-one had successfully completed the program.62

30.3.9 This program, which has a direct focus on the needs of Aboriginal youths, supplements the department's Substitute Care Program in which the department, in close consultation with members of the family of the youth concerned, and, where appropriate, with Aboriginal

organizations, arranges for the placement of the child within the Aboriginal community or with a family when that child is apparently in need of care and protection. By placing the child back within the Aboriginal community the department is recognizing the importance of the Aboriginal

family and community in child rearing. In the Statement of Principles concerning the scheme, provided to the Commission by the department, emphasis is placed on returning responsibility for the welfare of the children to the Aboriginal community and family.

30.3.10 Commissioner Dodson reports that as a result of the Substitute Care Program there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of Wardship orders made over the past five years and in the removal of children to foster care. 63

30.3.11 The department advises that the success of both of the above programs arises substantially because it has made a point of accommodating cultural needs and of involving Aboriginal people in the process. There is clearly scope for the expansion of such schemes, but,

once again, a critical factor will be the availability of supervision of the programs. In his report, Commissioner Dodson says of the Station Placement Program that it is:


indicative of the benefits of a community-based approach to the problem of Aboriginal juvenile offending. This should inspire the authorities to extend the parameters of the program beyond the Station. The

ideal extension is, of course, into the Aboriginal community's own infrastructure where a re-learning and enhancement of the culture can become the focus to deal with the issue of low self-esteem caused by a sense of

Page 187

Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth

cultural inferiority which is manufactured within the present processes. 64


30.3.12 The Western Australian Station Placement Program has also demonstrated the value which can arise from a co-ordination of all relevant government departments. The Department for Community Services has taken responsibility for ensuring this co-ordination. Thirteen cattle stations now participate in the program and approximately $250 per week, per individual, is paid to the station owner to take each youth. This is a cheap investment of the State's money when one considers that the cost of maintaining a juvenile in an institution is so much greater. The Department for Community Services co-operates with Departments of Sport and Recreation, Police and Citizen's Youth Club, Department of Employment and Training, T AFE, Department of Education, the Equal Opportunity Commission and the Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority.

30.3.13 The Western Australian Station Placement Program is in many ways similar to a scheme which has been started in the Northern Territory. In the Territory the Station Placement Program operates in the Alice Springs region, but it has not been particularly successful to date as only four people have been placed on stations. It is a pre-release program designed to take juveniles.already under detention or imprisonment. The

scheme is regarded by Mr Doug Owston as being particularly suitable to Aboriginal people because of their particular interest and experience in stock work. 65 Mr Owston estimated that the cost of keeping a juvenile in detention varied between $300-$400 per day. 66 The Station Placement Program is infinitely cheaper. I hope that the Northern Territory scheme is able to expand, as I believe that it would have considerable benefits to Aboriginal youths.

30.3.14 The Northern Territory does, however, have a number of much more successful and innovative programs and is in many ways a 'trailblazer' in this and other areas of the corrections system. The philosophy behind the programs of the Department of Correctional

Services with respect to juveniles are expressed by Mr Owston in these terms: ·

I just want to stress the importance that my Department and the Government place on addressing the way in which black and white people end up in prison and its cause, and that is in terms of diverting juveniles from penetrating the criminal justice system if that is possible

but if not, from trying to prevent them from graduating, if I can put it that way, to the adult system.61

30.3.15 Mr Owston said in his evidence to me: 'I will do anything within reason to divert Aborigines and non-Aborigines from short-term

Page 188 Vol4

30 Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth

imprisonment, which I don't think does any good. It is costly and potentially damaging' .68

30.3.16 In the Northern Territory the following programs exist as alternatives to detention and are known as Conditional Liberty Programs:

(1) Probation.

(2) No Further Trouble Orders: Under this order the magistrate, upon finding a juvenile guilty, may release the person to be of no further trouble for a period of up to three months. During that period the juvenile's behaviour and performance can be

monitored by a juvenile justice officer and a report submitted to the court at the completion of the three months. If the juvenile does not have trouble in that period the magistrate will take no further action.

(3) Curfew Orders: Juveniles who are on remand or under

Conditional Liberty Supervision may be placed on curfew. Their presence is checked randomly by juvenile justice officers.

(4) Community Service Orders: The juvenile may be required to perform community service work in accordance with the conditions of the Juvenile Justice Act. Much of the work is done on weekends so as not to interfere with the juvenile's education

or employment.

Juvenile justice officers have discretion to operate the following programs: • Welfare visits to juveniles in prison. • Law education programs for offenders and their families

and also as a component of some high school studies. • Pre- and post-release work with juvenile offenders which involves preparing a juvenile for his or her return to the community.

• Pre- and post -court counselling.

(5) Juvenile Offenders Placement Program (JOPP): This is aimed at juveniles between the ages of ten and seventeen who are on remand. For twenty-eight consecutive days the offender may be placed with a Caregiver family. Programs are established in

Darwin and Groote Eylandt with trials also underway in Alice Springs. Caregivers are paid an allowance of $200 per week. Caregivers are given substantial training and are carefully selected. Since the program started in December 1989 there have

been four placements. All remanded juveniles will in future be assessed for this program.

Vol4 Page 189

Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth 30

30.3.17 Although strictly not non-custodial options, two ·other programs which have particular relevance for juveniles are worthy of noting. These schemes apply to offenders who have been sentenced to imprisonment or detention.

30.3.18 Attempts by the Northern Territory to address the particular problems of juveniles show signs of being very successful. Groote Eylandt, a place which has been reported as having the highest imprisonment rate in the world, is an example. Mr Owston reported that there has been a significant decrease in the number of young offenders from Groote Eylandt coming before the juvenile court in the twelve months before March 1990. At that time there was one juvenile in detention, whereas in previous months there had been as many as ten juveniles from Groote Eylandt in the detention centre at any given time.

Mr Owston attributes these results to two factors. In the first place, a recreation officer was appointed to the community who provided alternative sporting and recreation activities for young, at-risk, community members. Secondly, the community and its church organized alternative activities for young Aboriginal people who were at risk of offending due to petrol sniffmg and other misbehaviour. Mr Owston reported that twelve months prior to his giving evidence there were eighty youths regularly sniffing petrol. The regional probation and parole officer at Groote Eylandt reported that there were now only about twenty-five youngsters who regularly sniffed petrol, and there were signs that there was a tum around in the criminal justice situation in that place. 69 It may also be the case that the significant decrease of juveniles in detention on Groote Eylandt is because of the hard work of the local probation officer.

30.3.19 At the time of giving his evidence there were seventy-two juveniles performing community service orders (CSOs) of which 79% were Aboriginal (these statistics were taken at 1 March 1990). There were 192 juveniles on probation of which 67.7% were Aboriginal. There were four juveniles on suspended detention centre orders, of which one was Aboriginal.70

30.3.20 In the Northern Territory juvenile justice officers perform the role of probation and parole officers for juveniles. These are officers of the Juvenile Court who provide pre-sentence reports to the court in all cases and supervise youngsters on probation and CSOs. They relate closely to the family and to the Department of Community Welfare and the

schools. There are six such officers in Darwin and three in Alice Springs, plus one at Groote Eylandt. In remote communities at Yuendumu, Port Keats, Groote Eylandt and Nhulunbuy probation and parole officers are also gazetted to act as juvenile justice officers.

30.3.21 There are Aboriginal community corrections officers based at Groote Eylandt, Port Keats, Ali Curung, Papunya, Maningrida and

Page 190 Vol4

30 Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth

Hermannsburg. There are two at Groote Eylandt These are all Aboriginal officers. Whilst they do not hold the same powers as the juvenile justice officers, they provide advice to the courts when the courts sit in those places. The Aboriginal community corrections officers work as statutory

officers in their own communities.

30.3.22 A less formal scheme which operates in the Northern Territory centres around the enthusiasm of one Aboriginal man and his family at Wallace Rock Hole, west of Alice Springs. For many years, Barry Ablx>tt has accepted youths referred to him by courts pursuant to a bond.

Mr Abbott gives the juveniles stock work. Juvenile justice officers who have power to direct where a probationer must reside also direct youths to Mr Abbott. He is a respected Aboriginal leader who is proud of the fact, and rightly so, that his methods have encouraged many youths to avoid

criminal careers. His methodology involves providing constructive work and treating the young people as responsible, an attitude which he maintains leads to them acting responsibly. Professor Harding expressed some reservation about informal projects of this sort and stressed the need for proper guidelines to ensure that people were not being sent to quasi

custodial situations where the children may not have appropriately received a custodial order at all.71 I accept that such caution is sound, but I consider that the work of Mr Abbott does not conflict with proper guidelines and deserves support.

30.3.23 There is no program for juveniles (although there is for adults) to be placed on orders which require or allow them to take driving courses and to get their licence. 72 I believe that if it is possible to arrange such programs for juveniles there would be many positive benefits which could

result. I make a recommendation on this topic in Chapter 22.

30.3.24 With respect to the type of work performed under CSOs, Mr Owston stressed that his department relies very heavily on the advice of communities as to what work they wish to have performed. He said that on occasions he got the impression that communities, in fact, wanted

some sort of demeaning work to be performed, as a deterrent.73

30.3.25 There are Community Service Advisory Committees in Darwin, Groote Eylandt, Nhulunbuy, Tennant Creek, Katherine and Alice Springs. These consider what work should be performed. With respect to Aboriginal communities, Mr Owston said:


As far as I am concerned, if an Aboriginal community can decide, or the elected or the responsible members of that community can decide, the way in which they want the Community Service Order Program to apply I am

quite happy to leave that with them.14

Page 191

Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth 30

30.3.26 The Northern Territory AIU submission to me referred generally to the approval of Aboriginal communities for non-custodial options such as CSOs. Among comments made to the AIU were these:

• Most of the kids that we get down here have never worked ... most of the kids that we have had on CSO work are still here you know. There's probably four that have been on CSO work that are still here.

• Like the two young blokes we've got now, you know, they used to always get into trouble, but since they've been working out here they steer clear of trouble. 75

30.3.27 As noted elsewhere in this report (Chapter 21) there were divided views about whether there was an element of 'shaming' involved in having to perform CSO work and, if it did, whether this was a desirable effect.

30.3.28 The AIU submission puts the issue of strategies for children into a broader perspective:

From talking to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, it is obvious that the Aboriginal kin and family based structures will be the key to the success or otherwise of any strategies that might be developed. No number of reforms in the prison system, or changes to policies about apprehension and detention, will curb the high rate of imprisonment-and subsequent risk of death in custody--our people face unless the problem of substance abuse is solved. And that can only occur if support structures to our families, traditional and otherwise, are maintained and strengthened.76

30.3.29 I have dealt with the Northern Territory programs in some detail partly because I am familiar with them having conducted hearings in the Northern Territory, but also because I am satisfied that they demonstrate what is possible with a firm commitment and some imagination in the devising of alternative non-custodial options.

30.3.30 It is worth reflecting on the process which was undertaken in the Northern Territory and which has resulted in such dramatic improvement in the rate of imprisonment of Aboriginal juveniles in the Northern Territory. The clear separation between welfare and juvenile justice services only occurred in April 1984 with passage of the Juvenile Justice Act. At the time there was considerable community unease about

the separation of the services, as it was felt that placing juveniles within the criminal justice procedures would inevitably lead to an increase in the

Page 192 Vol4

30 Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth

rate at which Aboriginal juveniles were convicted and sentenced to imprisonment by the courts. Initially the statistics seemed to justify the critics worst fears as detention centre populations actually increased. Mr Owston attributes the increase to the very fact that the Department of

Correctional Services, by expanding the number of staff to service remote areas, increased the surveillance of offenders on non-custodial orders and this in turn lead to an increase in the number of Breach of Order actions which were taken against juveniles. Furthermore, despite the fact that a

wide range of community based sentencing options were made available to the courts after the Juvenile Justice Act was passed, there was an initial reluctance of the courts to impose such orders. Mr Owston, however, has noted that these initial 'teething problems' were gradually overcome. The

rapid expansion of the program of community based sentencing options to remote communities began to achieve results. In 1985 CSOs and Probation Supervision were available to juveniles in only six remote communities outside of the major urban centres. By mid-1987 these

schemes were available to young offenders in over thirty-five remote communities. Other programs which have previously been unavailable to Circuit Courts, including Bail Supervision, Attendance Orders, and Intensive Supervision (such as curfews and other stringent conditions) as

well as probation orders, were able to be adopted in remote communities. Furthermore, the Circuit Courts were able to obtain, at a local level, reports and assessments prior to sentencing of juveniles who previously would have been remanded to Darwin or Alice Springs for such reports to

be prepared. Mr Owston has commented:

The availability of the full gamut of sentencing options to the majority of juvenile offenders in their native communities has been a significant factor in the reduction of the juvenile detention/imprisonment population in the Northern Territory.T1

30.3.31 The figures demonstrate the change which has taken place. In 1985, under the welfare system and before passage of the Juvenile Justice Act , there were a total of forty-six juveniles held in prison serving an average sentence of forty-four days each, and a daily average detention

centre population of thirty-one juveniles who had been declared in need of care or were in detention having been declared uncontrollable or truant. For the 1990 calendar year to September. there had been a total of one juvenile in prison and a daily average detention centre population of less

than thirty. Mr Owston concluded his submission to me with the following comment, which I believe to be justified by the evidence:


With the Territory having the youngest population in Australia ( 17.4% aged 10 to 19 years of age), having the highest percentage of Aboriginal population (23.5%) of any State or Territory, and considering the geographic

dispersion of its population, Correctional Services is

Page 193

Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth

proud of its record in providing credible community­ based sentencing alternatives to the courts which have virtually eliminated juvenile imprisonment and achieved a reduction in detention centre custody.18


30.3.32 In South Australia there are also alternative schemes to avoid detention, and on the face of it these also appear to be quite varied. But the Department of Family and Community Services (formerly Department for Community Welfare) has cautioned. in its submission to the Commission that 'There have been some problems tailoring these programs to the specific needs of Aboriginal children and their families'. 79

30.3.33 The department, in its strategy statements for 1989-90, stated that a major initiative would be efforts to recruit Aboriginal Intensive Personnel Supervision (IPS) staff as supervisors so that Aboriginal young offenders could participate more fully in the IPS program. The IPS program applies to young offenders whose offending is so serious that

they are either in secure care or likely to be placed in secure care in the · immediate future. The young person concerned enters an agreement with an adult, who is not an officer of the department, to be supervised in the community for specified hours and activities. That person must be approved by the Children's Court or the Training Centre Review Board. A program is then planned setting out the goals and conditions which might relate to educational, vocational or recreational activities. The scheme has operated for some ten years and has grown rapidly in the past three years. It is clearly a scheme which has some possibilities with reference to Aboriginal youth. The supervisor receives a small hourly fee for the contact with the child and also to cover any costs.

30.3.34 CSOs in South Australia, until amendments were made to legislation in 1990, could only be imposed as a condition of a suspended detention order, but are now available as a sentencing option in their own right-that is, not only as a condition of another order. In country areas

this scheme operates through the Department of Correctional Services, which provides work supervisors on contract. The department acknowledges as a strategy for 1989-90 the necessity to provide more effective methods of service delivery in the colllliiunity work area. There is also a community work option available for default of payment of fines. With respect to that order, the department notes that the current participation rate of young Aboriginal people is very low but is expected to increase dramatically with the introduction of Aboriginal community

supervisors, who will find appropriate work in community groups and supervise and support offenders.

30.3.35 In New South Wales the Youth Justice Project, in its report, identifies the wide range of community based correction options which are available in that State.

Page 194 Vol4

30 Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth

30.3.36 The Department of Family and Community Services through its Juvenile Justice Branch and Young Offender Support (YOS) Services plays the principle role in providing and promoting alternatives to custodial sentences. YOS teams were first implemented in Sydney in 1985 and

expanded into a State-wide network of workers. The YOS worker provides court reports and supervises CSOs, probation, etc. As a result of the Sentencing Act 1989 an additional twenty-two positions (in addition to the eighty established positions) were provided for as YOS workers.

30.3.37 The first non-custodial program to be developed in New South Wales was the Community Youth Centre (CYC) in 1977. There is now a CYC in each of the three metropolitan regions but 'Young people from country areas do not have ready access to CY Cs'. 80 The CY Cs were

intended to be an early release alternative to custody, such as to provide for people discharged from detention centres. They are staffed by psychologists and social workers and offer counselling.

30.3.38 The general sentencing principles for children are set out in the Children (Criminal Proceedings) Act 1987. The emphasis is 'that it is desirable to allow a child to reside in his or her own home' .81 Section 33(2) of the Act provides that the sentence handed down should always be

the least restrictive one unless the court is satisfied that such alternatives would be wholly inappropriate.

30.3.39 The Children (Community Service Orders) Act provides that CSOs are only available as an alternative to committal.

30.3.40 Section 33 also provides a range of non-custodial sentencing options which include: • dismiss/caution;

• recognizance (up to 24 months);

• fine;

• recognizance and fine;

• probation (up to 24 months);

• community service order.

The section then provides for a period of committal to a detention centre.

30.3.41 The authors of the New South Wales study estimate that with the enhancement of police cautioning in 1985, 10-15% less children were appearing in court.82 The numbers have, however, dropped off since 1986 with a consequent increase in court appearances.

30.3.42 Recognizances and probation orders account for 34% of all outcomes in New South Wales courts in 1988-89. Conditions which may be imposed include attendance at school, employment, place of residence,

Vol4 Page 195

Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth 30

preventing further offences, etc. Fines constituted 18.6% of all court outcomes in 1988-89.

30.3.43 CSOs were introduced for juveniles in 1987, and in 1989 a new scheme for fine defaulters to be placed on CSOs was provided in lieu of committal for non-payment. CSOs constituted 3.9% of juvenile sentences in 1988-89.

30.3.44 In 1988 some 2,500 fine default CSOs had been ordered.

30.3.45 The study by the Youth Justice Project in 1990 concluded that CSOs were underutilized in New South Wales in many areas due to lack of availability of such orders usually related to lack of YOS resources or to the lack of awareness on the part of magistrates 83 •

30.3.46 The study of sentencing patterns in the years 1986-87 and 1988-89 led to the following conclusions stated in the Youth Justice Project Report: ( 1) There was a sharp decline in the use of a fine as a sanction;

decreasing from 41% in 1980 to 23% of sentences in 1986. (2) Unsupervised release rose from 23% in 1980 to 31% in 1986. (3) Probations and supervisory recognizances declined from 19.7% to 17.3% over the two year period. (4) Caution/dismissals rose from 12.1% to 15.1% over the two


(5) CSOs rose from 1.2% to 3.9%.

30.3.47 The authors regard the increased use of CSOs as a great success. From 1986 to 1988 as use of CSOs increased so too did committals decrease. There was opportunity for increased use of CSOs in that 71.4% of those committed had not previously had a CSO. A difference in outcomes between country and metropolitan areas was marked. For example, 38.5% of young people committed in the metropolitan area had previously received a CSO whereas in the Northern and Western regions only 13.5% and 17.5%, respectively, had been given this opportunity. The authors state:

Those regions with the least likelihood of a previous CSO were also the regions with the highest over­ representation of Aboriginal young people in detention. The Aboriginal detainees in September 1989 comprised 50% of detainees from each of these regions. 84

30.3.48 Evidence referred to in the report showed that the likelihood of committal at country courts was twice that of specialist city courts. The report suggested that magistrates regard the nature of the offence as more

Page 196 Vol4

30 Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth

important than the child's previous record in determining whether committal orders will be made 85

30.3.49 In Victoria Youth Support Units are community based regional agencies which provide an alternative supervision and accommodation option for young offenders who would otherwise have been detained in metropolitan detention centres. These units are managed by a local

committee with community representation. Government support has enabled Support Units to provide hostel accommodation to juveniles and staff to supervise juveniles on probation, parole and other orders. These units provide a focal point for the delivery of programs aimed at personal

development and education and training on an individual basis. 86

30.3.50 It may be that the relatively small numbers of Aboriginal youth from rural areas, who are subject to either custodial or non-custodial orders, would not justify the costs of providing separate Youth Support Units, hostel accommodation and staff for Aboriginal youth. At 30 June

1990 there were only seventeen Aboriginal juveniles from rural areas throughout Victoria in custody either under detention order or on remand and only a further eleven on either parole or probation.87

30.3.51 The importance of initiatives such as these and others like the Child Placement Program in Western Australia is that they recognize the serious hardship caused to a juvenile from a rural area who is transferred to a metropolitan detention centre. This is a particularly serious problem

for Aboriginal children and for their families. The close family ties which characterize and which are a great strength of the Aboriginal community are fractured by such removals, with families often finding it impossible to visit the children.

30.3.52 In Western Australia there are only four detention centres to which juveniles may be sent, and all are located in Perth. The Longmore Remand and Assessment Centre, alone, received 108 sentenced juveniles between 1 July 1988 and 30 June 1989, and 81 of those receptions

(84.2%) were Aboriginal juveniles. In addition they received 7 6 juveniles on remand. A study conducted in March 1988 by the Youth Legal Service, commissioned by the Department for Community Services, disclosed that 83% of the Aboriginal youths at the centre at that date had

not had a single telephone call or personal contact from family or friends during the time of their detention. 88 This clearly must be remedied.


30.4.1 There are other programs and options for youth offenders which do not fit necessarily into the categories outlined. In New South

,Vol4 Page 197

Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth 30

Wales, the Youth Justice Report concludes that the availability of YOS workers has a major impact on the system. The YOS workers can assist in finding jobs, liaising with schools, planning paths, etc. They were able to tailor CSOs to meet the needs Qf the individual. The report noted that although magistrates rarely make a condition of an order the referral of an offender to an agency other than YOS, the YOS workers themselves use a wide range of agencies for their tasks. In particular, they relate to community justice centres and work and training programs. 89

30.4.2 A South Australian initiative is the Turkondi Employment Training Program for serious young offenders which aims to provide employment and training for such offenders.

30.4.3 Another South Australian initiative is the highly successful Intensive Neighlx>urhood Care Scheme (INC) which has been running for ten years. The department, in its submission, suggests that the INC scheme is an alternative to incarceration. The scheme provides for special family care for young offenders and adolescents in crisis. Payment is · made to the INC families. The department notes that its strategy for 1989-90 was to engage an Aboriginal INC Manager with the objective of recruiting twenty Aboriginal INC families in the metropolitan area. In

1988-89 thirty-two Aboriginal males and nineteen Aboriginal females were placed in homes under the INC program.

30.4.4 Youth project teams have been established in South Australia for serious young offenders as an alternative to detention. Young persons can be required by the Children's Court to attend a Youth Project Centre as a condition of a bond after an Assessment Panel Report has been obtained. Once in the centre, the young person may lead a normal life but receives intensive support and counselling. These teams are based in each region in the metropolitan area. There are also teams based at most major country towns. It is not clear to me to what extent the youth project teams involve Aboriginal people. In its submission, however, the department refers to the needs for such teams in the metropolitan area. It says of the Metropolitan Aboriginal Youth Team (MA YT) that it was:

Established as a State Government response to the Interim Report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, (and) has the objective of reducing the proportion of Aboriginal young people in custody by 66% over two years from October 1989. The team is

charged with the responsibility of increasing the relevance of community based programs to Aboriginal young people and their families, and introducing new programs where appropriate.90

30.4.5 The MA YT employs four full-time Aboriginal group workers. The program has funding for two years and currently caters for twenty

Page 198 Vol4

30 Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth

youths per week. These young people come from the South Australian Youth Remand Assessment Centre (SAYRAC) or the South Australian Youth Training Assessment Centre (SA YT AC). The youth from these centres have been remanded for assessment until their next court

appearance, or they have been directed to attend the MA YT program as a term of their bail.

30.4.6 The Department of Correctional Services notes in its submission to the Commission that the greatest proportion of the Aboriginal custodial population were people from the metropolitan area of Adelaide, and this is the reason why there is a particular focus on the

metropolitan area with MA YT. The department claims that whilst there has been a 'dramatic reduction' in custodial population in South Australia, the proportions of Aboriginal youth in the total numbers have not decreased significantly. In 1989 the department estimates that the

proportion of young Aboriginal people in the custodial population was between 20% to 30% whereas they constituted 1% of the population of South Australia. It is said that the task of the new team is to attempt to redress the balance through the provision of culturally relevant community

programs as an alternative to detentions.


30.5.1 In most recent times the Standard Mimimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (The Beijing Rules) have served as the guiding principles by which juvenile justice should be administered.91 The Rules have been clarified by the United Nations Rules for the Protection of

Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty drawn up in October 1990 which give more specific details on the protection of juveniles in detention. In December 1990 the Australian Government ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This Convention contains some

guiding principles on the protection of juveniles in institutions. The Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners adopted by the United Nations applies also to juveniles as do other human rights instruments and standards recognized by the international community that

relate to the care and protection of the young. 92 (Refer to Chapter 36 on Custodial Obligations and International Law). Commissioner Dodson has pointed out that the notion of imprisonment as a last resort is not indicated by the figures of over-representation of Aboriginal youth. As the

Commissioner goes on to state:

Vol4 Page 199

Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth

The need to use the lock-up as a detention facility indicates that other areas such as bail, arrest procedures and sentencing options are not really considered. Such a lack of consideration could also be seen as a direct contravention of the Beijing Rules relating to juvenile offenders insitutional treatment.93


30.5.2 The commentary on Rule 10.3 provided by the United Nations is a useful guide to the general underlying principles of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice.

Involvement in juvenile justice processes in itself can be 'harmful' to juveniles; the term 'avoid harm' should be broadly interpreted, therefore, as doing the least harm possible to the juvenile in the first instance, as well as

any additional or undue harm. This is especially important in the initial contact with law enforcement agencies which might profoundly influence the juvenile's attitude towards the State and society.

30.5.3 The following principles are relevant to the discussion of police practices in relation to arrest, bail, questioning and detention of juveniles, institutional treatment and conditional release.94 It should be pointed out that these standards are, as stated, only minimum requirements. There is no national process for scrutiny of compliance

with these rules. The New South Wales Youth Justice Project has recommended that certain key organizations should develop strategies to monitor the state-wide conditions of justice.95

5. Aims of juvenile justice 5.1 The juvenile justice system shall emphasize the well-being of the juvenile and shall ensure that any reaction to juvenile offenders shall always be in proportion to the circumstances of both the offenders

and the offence.

7. Rights of juveniles 7.1 Basic procedural safeguards such as the presumption of innocence, the right to be notified of the charges, the right to remain silent, the right to

counsel, the right to the presence of a parent or guardian, the right to confront and cross examine witnesses and the right to appeal to a higher authority shall be guaranteed at all stages of proceedings.

Page 200 Vol4

30 Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth

10. 1 nitial contact 10.1 Upon apprehension of a juvenile, her or his parents or guardian shall be immediately notified of such apprehension, and, where such immediate

notification is not possible, the parents or guardian shall be notified within the shortest possible time thereafter. 10.2 A judge or other competent official or body shall, without delay, consider the issue of release.

10.3 Contacts between the law enforcement agencies and a juvenile offender shall be managed in such a way as to respect the legal status of the juvenile, promise the well-being of the juvenile and

avoid harm to her or him, with due regard to the circumstances of the case.

13. Detention pending trial 13 .1 Detention pending trial shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible period of time.

2 6. 1 nstitutional Treatment 26.3 Juveniles in institutions shall be kept

separate from adults and shall be detained in a separate institution or in a separate part of an institution holding adults.

28 Conditional Release 28.1 Conditional release from an institution shall be used by the appropriate authority to the greatest possible extent, and shall be granted at the earliest possible time.


30.6.1 It is apparent that the United Nations guidelines and

conventions offer important basic principles for the administration of juvenile justice. Conventional custodial options, namely in youth detention centres, should only be excercised when all other avenues have been exhausted. The placement of youth in police lockups should, save

for exceptional circumstances, not constitute a custodial option. In any situation where a juvenile may, unless bailed, be detained in a police lockup, substantial efforts should be made as a matter of urgency to

Vo14 Page 201

Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth 30

expedite the release of the juvenile on bail. If a juvenile is not released as a result of a grant of bail by a police officer or justice of the peace then the matter should be immediately referred to a magistr4te, clerk of court or such person as has jurisdiction to bail so that bail may be reconsidered. In these circumstances it should be possible for bail to be set by a telephone attendance. It is the reponsibility of governments, in consultation with appropriate Aboriginal organizations, to ensure that appropriate places to accommodate Aboriginal juveniles, in particular with Aboriginal families, be nominated in places where alternative juvenile detention facilities do not exist, and that legislation provide that release of juveniles to such places of accommodation be authorized. If in the event a juvenile is detained overnight in a police lockup every effort should be

made to arrange for a parent or vistor or member of an appropriate Aboriginal organization such as the Aboriginal Legal Service to attend and remain with the juvenile.

Page 202

Recommendation 242: That, except in exceptional circumstances, juveniles . should not be detained in police lockups. In order to avoid such an outcome in places where alternative juvenile detention facilities do not exist, the following

administrative and, where necessary, legislative steps should be taken: a. Police officers in charge of lockups should be instructed that consideration of bail in such

cases be expedited as a matter of urgency; b. If the juvenile is not released as a result of a

grant of bail by a police officer or Justice of the Peace then the question of bail should be

immediately referred (telephone referral being permitted) to a magistrate, clerk of Court or such other person as shall be given appropriate jurisdiction so that bail can be reconsidered; c. Government should approve informal juvenile

holding homes, particularly the homes · of Aboriginal people, in which juveniles can lawfully be placed by police officers if bail is in fact not allowed; and d. If in the event a juvenile is detained overnight

in a police lock-up every effort should be made to arrange for a parent or visitor to attend and remain with the juvenile whether pursuant to the terms of a formal cell visitor scheme or


Such steps should be in addition to notice that the officer in charge of the station should give to parents, the Aboriginal Legal Service or its representative.


30 Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth

Recommendation 243: That where an Aboriginal juvenile is taken to a police station for interrogation or as a result of arrest, the officer in charge of the police station at which the juvenile is detained should be required to immediately

advise the relevant Aboriginal Legal Service and the parent or person responsible for the care and

supervision of the juvenile of the fact of the child being detained at the police station (without prejudice to any obligation to advise any other person).

Recommendation 244: That no Aboriginal juvenile should be interrogated by a police officer except in the presence of a parent, other person responsible for the care and supervision

of the child or, in the absence of a parent or such

other person, an officer of an agency or organization charged with responsibility for the care and welfare of Aboriginal juveniles.


30.6.2 It is imperative, given that detaining juveniles should be a last resort, that alternative custodial options to being detained be examined. There are a number of alternative custodial programs currently operating in Australia that warrant examination

30.6.3 The Wilderness Work Camp at Wildman River takes juveniles who are 'at the end of the line'. In other words, these are juveniles who have proceeded through a wide variety of other conditional liberty programs none of which have worked. As Mr Owston says: 'A juvenile

who ends up in the Wilderness Work Camp was probably on his or her way to prison' .96 The Wilderness Work Camp was developed in 1986. Since that time there have been 144 juvenile offenders admitted to the camp program and only forty-three of those have subsequently returned to detention as a result of further sentences. As Professor Richard Harding

noted, this is, in fact, a very successful rate. He described it as 'a sign of something hopeful going on' .97 The AIU in the Northern Territory reported that the Wilderness project as a prison farm for juvenile offenders was approved by those Aboriginal adults who mentioned it to the AIU. 98

30.6.4 The work camp is located in a remote area of the Northern Territory and the detainees carry out work on Conservation Commission

Vol4 Page 203

Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth 30

land. The program is based on the Outward Bound concept where the young offender learns useful skills. The department regards it as 'designed to build self-esteem and heightened feeling of self-worth through hard physical work'

30.6.5 The Wilderness Work Camp is a designated detention centre. Persons who are convicted and sentenced are assessed as to whether it is appropriate for them to be sent to the work camps. The Wilderness Camp receives about 55% of detainees and it can take up to fifteen juveniles at a time. 100


30.7 .1 Whilst the emphasis placed on non-custodial options for juvenile offenders is clearly the correct one, in my opinion, one must be cautious in assuming that a program which stresses community-based alternatives will necessarily also produce a reduced rate of recidivism. The

authors of the Youth and Justice Study in New South Wales have reported that whilst there have been arguments advanced in favour of non-custodial options on the basis that these options reduce recidivism, by and large the type of sentencing options currently available in New South Wales have little to recommend them in terms of preventing re-offending. 101 .

30.7 .2 On the other hand, the Department of Family and Community Services in New South Wales in a submission to the Commission of background information relating to juvenile justice commented on the effects of institutionalization in the following terms: ·

(1) There is greater recidivism of comparable offenders after institutionalization than after probation. (2) Institutionalized young offenders committed more

car thefts and break-and-enters after release than did probationers after completion of their orders. (3) Recidivists who had been institutionalized committed more assaults, more malicious damage

than those placed on probation. (4) Remand in custody increased the likelihood of recidivism.

30.7 .3 As this review has demonstrated, it cannot be said that New South Wales has, in my opinion, yet provided the mixture of appropriate non-custodial options which might have particular benefit for Aboriginal youth, and I stress the remarks that I have made earlier that provision of the programs is only one part of the task. It is essential that programs be backed with adequate support staff.

Page204 Vol4

30 Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth

30.7 .4 It is plain from the Northern Territory experience that the more that those support staff are familiar with and understand Aboriginal people, their culture and society, the greater are the prospects for such programs to succeed. Prospects of success are advanced even further if a

conscious effort is made to involve the Aboriginal community at all stages in the process. Moreover, kinship and family networks which are so important within the Aboriginal community should be utilized for the strength which they will provide, not only for the offender, but for the

community generally. It is in everyone's interest to ensure that juvenile offenders remain outside of the justice system; not simply by being diverted from it after offences have been committed, but by avoiding the circumstances which lead to the commission of the offences in the first


Recommendation 245: That legislation, regulations and/or police standing orders, as may be appropriate, be amended so as to require compliance with the above recommendations.


30.8.1 I have examined the situation of Aboriginal juveniles distinctly, and in detail, because whilst all underlying issues which concern adults now, or will in the future, affect those who are now juveniles, there are very specific factors and issues which concern juveniles.

30.8.2 The issues which I have addressed with respect to juveniles all relate very closely to the criminal justice system. The problems which I have identified, however, in the main do not require any major legislative changes to be made to the general law. In other words, it is not the laws

which parliaments have passed to create and define criminal offences which are the source of the problem of over-representation of Aboriginal juveniles in the system; it is the practices and assumptions of those people who administer and function within the system who can play the most

important part in reducing the level of over-representation.

30.8.3 The role of parents and guardians of Aboriginal juveniles and the involvement of juveniles themselves in finding solutions to the problem have been emphasized. Their perspective has not been sought or given sufficient weight in devising programs or shaping policies. The

solutions will require the closest co-operation and consultation between Aboriginal people and their organizations and representatives of government and its agencies.

Vol4 Page 205

Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth 30

30.8.4 Solutions can be found and must be. · Unless solutions are found to the problems confronting Aboriginal juveniles which lead to their great involvement in the criminal justice system, we can be assured that from the population of today's Aboriginal juveniles will come the people who comprise tomorrow's Aboriginal adults in that system. Given the factors already mentioned relating to the age of the Aboriginal population

that level of over-representation will be even greater than it is now, with all its attendant consequences.

1 S. Bailey and others, Victorian Aboriginal Issues Unit, Report, 1990-91, p. 6

2 Secretariat National Aboriginal Islander Child Care (SNAICC), RCIADIC Submission, 1990

3 L.F. Wyvill, Queensland Regional Report, 1990, p. 48

4 P. Dodson, Broome Final Report, 1990, p. 383

5 M. Langton and others, Too Much Sorry Business, Aboriginal Issues Unit, Alice Springs, 1990 pp. 220, 226

Page206 Vol4

30 Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth

6 National Aboriginal and Islander Legal Services Secretariat (NAILSS), Killing Me Softly, RCIADIC Submission, 1990 p. 35

7 Langton and others, p. 210

8 N. Phillips, co-ordinator, Juvenile Crime: Concerned Individual Aboriginal Peoples' Submission to the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Crime Prevention. Western Australia, RCIADIC exhibit GE0/29, 1990 p. 30 .

9 J. H. Wootten, Report of Inquiry into the Death of Thomas Carr, RCIADIC N/15, AGPS, Canberra, 1990, p. 55

10 M. Edmunds, Doing Business: Socialisation, Social relations, and Social Control in Aboriginal Societies, Research paper prepared for RCIADIC, 1990, pp. 53-4

11 M. Williams, L. Malezer and others, Queensland Aboriginal Issues Unit, Report, 1990, p. 140

12 Queensland Aboriginal Issues Unit, Report, 1990, p. 141

.ll RCIADIC Transcript, Perth, 2/5/90, p. 70. A statement by Sergeant Steer in New South Wales illustrates the direct relationship between sport and crime. He pointed out that the charge rate in Wilcannia dropped in winter. The most likely explanation of this was that many Aboriginal youths were engaged in the winter football season.

(Statement of Ronald Steer, RCIADIC exhibit N/6n8.)

H J. H. Muirhead, Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths In Custody: Interim Report, AGPS Canberra 1988, p. 50 Statements by Lez Morgan ( RCIADIC exhibit N/13/49) and Marty John Gordon (RCIADIC exhibit N/15/17/16) stress boredom as a key issue e.g. the latter describes how juveniles have nothing to do and that most of

the activities such as ice-skating and Police Boys Club involves money. Programmes must therefore keep in mind the economic circumstances/monetary constraints of Aboriginal youth.

15 G. Mason and P. Wilson, Sport, Recreation and Juvenile Crime: an Assessment of the Impact of Sport and Recreation upon Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Youth Offenders, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra, 1988 p. 131

16 Mason and Wilson, p. 143

1 7 Mason and Wilson, p. 129

18 Mason and Wilson, p. 116

19 Queensland Aboriginal Issues Unit, Report, 1990, p. 141

20 Y. Agius, 'Position Paper, Department of Aboriginal Affairs', Aboriginals and Recreation Workshop Report No. 4, 1986, p. 30

21 Queensland Aboriginal Issues Unit, Report, 1990, p. 159

22 Aboriginal Co-ordinating Council (ACC), Queensland, RCIADIC Submission,1990, p. 45

23 M. Palmer, Aboriginal and Youth Initiatives, Paper delivered at the conference 'Policing in a multicultural society', Melbourne, 1990, p. 7

24 Katherine Regional Aboriginal Legal Aid Service (KRALAS), RCIADIC exhibit G/NT/1, 1987

25 Phillips, p. 4

26 Task Force on Aboriginals and Criminal Justice Report to Justice and Consumer Affairs Committee, South Australia, 1988, p. 52

2 7 RCIADIC Transcript, Geraldton, 11/4/90, p. 326

Vol4 Page 207

Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth 30


29 Langton and others, p. 222

3 0 Langton and others, p. 57

31 M. Brady, ' Heavy Metal: The Social Meaning of Petrol Sniffmg in Australia', Report to the. Research into Drug Abwse Grants Advisory Committee, Commonwealth Department of Community Services and Health, 1989, p. 184

3 2 Phillips, p. 11

3 3 NAILSS, p. 77

34 Submission by concerned people ... RCIADIC exhibit G0/29, p. 12

35 H. Daff, General Submission, 1987, RCIADIC Submission

3 6 Phillips, p. 34


3 8 Phillips, p. 19

3 9 Notes provided by the South Australian Aboriginal Issues Unit on the Metropolitan Aboriginal Youth Team (MAYT), nd

40 RCIADIC Transcript, Perth, 23/3/90, p. 99 41 R. Hammond and others, South Austra!ia Aboriginal Issues Unit, Report, p. 82

42 S. Kenney, 'The Scope and Significance of the Arts in Aboriginal Culture: an overview,Research paper prepared for the RCIADIC, 1991, p. 14

43 F. Gale, R. Bailey-Harris and J. Wundersitz, Aboriginal Youth and the Criminal Justice System, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 1990, p. 30

44 P. Dodson, Regional Report into Underlying Issues In Western Australia, AGPS, Canberra, 1990, p. 387

45 F. Gale and others, 1990, p. 83

46 Office of Crime Statistics, Crime and Justice in South Australia, Allomey-General's Department., Adelaide, 1989

4 7 F. Gale and others, pp. 91-2

48 F. Gale and others, p. 95

49 F. Gale and others, p. 95 50 Youth Justice Project, Kids in Justice : a Blueprint for the 90s: Full Report of the Youth Justice Project, Youth Justice Coalition, Sydney South, NSW, 1990, p. 272

51 Youth Justice Project., p. 273

52 Youth Justice Project., p. 274

53 ACC pp. 39-40

54 Gale and others, p. 29

55 Report to Justice and Consumer Affairs Committee 1988 p. 45

56 I. O'Connor, The Impact of Queensland's Family and Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice Legislation, Policy and Practice on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Families and Children, Research paper prepared for RCIADIC, 1990 p. 53

57 Youth Justice Project., p. 265

58 Youth Justice Project., p. 269

Page 208 Vol4

30 Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth

j_2 Department of Family Services and Aboriginal and Islander Affairs

60 O'Connor, p. 57

61 F. Gale and others, 1990

62 P. Dodson, Broome Final Report, 1990

63 P. Dodson, Broome Final Report, 1990 p. 378

64 P. Dodson, Broome Final Report, 1990 p. 382

65 RCIADIC Transcript, Perth, 23{3/90, p. 94

66 RCIADIC Transcript, Perth, 23{3/90, p. 109

67 Owston, p . 130

68 RCIADIC Transcript, Perth, 23{3/90, p. 130

69 RCIADIC Transcript, Perth, 23{3/90, p. 97

70 RCIADIC Transcript, Perth, 23{3/90, pp. 100-1

71 RCIADIC Transcript, Perth, 23{3/90, p. 113

72 RCIADIC Transcript, Perth, 23{3/90, p. 122

73 RCIADIC Transcript, Perth, 23{3/90, p. 123

74 RCIADIC Transcript, Perth, 23!3/90, p. 125

75 Langton and others, p. 196

7 6 Northern Territories Aboriginal Issues Unit, Report, p. 226

77 D. K. Owston Correspondence, 9 January 1991, to Department of Law as forwarded to Royal Commission on 4 February 1991.

78 D. K. Ow.ston Correspondence, 9 January 1991, to Department of Law as forwarded to Royal Commission on 4 February 1991.

79 Department of Community Welfare, Response to Questions raised by Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, RCIADIC Submission, 1990

80 Youth Justice Report, p. 264

81 Youth Justice Project, p. 267

8 2 Youth Justice Project, p. 269

83 Youth Justice Project, p. 275

84 Youth Justice Project, p. 276

85 Youth Justice Project, pp. 279-80

86 S. Murphy and S. Laurie, Community Based Program for Young People, Paper presented at Australian Institute of Criminology Conference, Hobart, 1990

8 7 V. Duggan, Information provided by Vaughan Duggan, Director Youth Support Branch, Community Services, Victoria, 21 November 1990 to John McKenzie, RCIADIC, 1990 88 D. J. O'Dea, Western Australia Regional Report, 1990, Section 4 .1.4.9

89 Youth Justice Project, p. 84

90 Notes provided by the South Australian Aboriginal Issues Unit Metropolitan Aboriginal Youth Team (MAYT), no date

91 D. J. O'Dea, Western Australia Regional Report, 1990, p. 273

Vol4 Page 209

Breaking the Cycle: Programs for Aboriginal Youth 30

92 J. Hookey, /nJernmioNJI Law Issues, RCIADIC Discussion Paper No 3, 1990, p. 128

9 3 P. Dodson, 1990, p. 387

94 D. I. O,Dea. Regional Report into Individual deaths in Western Australia, AGPS, Canberrra. 1990, p. 273;P. Dodson, Broome RegioNJI Report, 1990, p. 387;

95 Youth Justice Project, p. 144

96 RCIADIC Transcript, Perth 23{3/90, p. 91

9 7 RCIADIC Transcript, Perth 23{3/90, p. 89

9 8 Langton and others, pp. 185-86

9 9 Owston. p. 134

100 RCIADIC Transcript, Perth, 23{3/90, p. 92

1 01 Youth Justice Project, p. 296

Page210 Vol4


Clearly, Aboriginal health is one of the areas which must be addressed if the circumstances which lead to the disproportionate numbers of Aboriginal people in custody and to their deaths in custody are to be improved.

I commence the chapter by raising some basic issues in health and sickness care services in Australia today and their relevance to the health of Aboriginal people, and point to the emergence in recent years of a heightened awareness of the social factors that determine the state of health

or illness of an individual or group, and the social and political factors involved in the delivery of health and sickness care services. Section 31 .2 presents a description of health care services as they relate to Aboriginal people, noting the mix of Aboriginal community-controlled

services, mainstream services and other government-controlled services. Section 31.3 is a commentary on the services, seeking to evaluate their appropriateness and effectiveness, emphasizing the processes involved in the delivery of health care services as well as their outcomes.

The newly developed National Aboriginal Heath Strategy is discussed towards the chapter's end, since it is potentially the springboard for future advances in this area. I conclude by expressing my concern about the Commonwealth Government's recent decisions on funding the strategy at

a level far lower than that believed to be necessary for the strategy's goals to be achieved.



31.1.1 A clear link exists between Aboriginal health and Aboriginal deaths in custody or, more accurately, between Aboriginal sickness and Aboriginal deaths in custody. These relationships have been discussed in some detail in Chapters 3 and 24, above, and that material will not be

repeated here. Readers are reminded, however, that 37 of the 99

Page 211

Towards Better Health 31

Aboriginal deaths in custody investigated by the Royal Commission were from natural causes or illnesses; 12 were from head injuries; 7 were from other externally inflicted trauma; and a further 9 were from alcohol and/or other drug use. With the exception of the 4 .gunshot deaths, the balance were deaths from hanging which reflected, to a significant degree, the mental health status of the deceased.

31.1.2 The link between the health of Aboriginal people in the community and these deaths in custody should be obvious: Aboriginal people in general have a very poor level of health. Their quality of life is substantially reduced by illnesses that only uncommonly affect the general Australian public. Since so many Aboriginal people experience serious sickness and injury as part of their everyday lives, it should be no surprise to find that they bring this impaired health status with them into the custodial situation. The quality of their management in these circumstances is a central theme of this report.


31.1. 3 No clear and direct relationship exists between the health of the population (Or, for that matter, of an individual) and the provision of health services. Governments consider that Australia has too many doctors in the urban areas, but rural Aboriginal people are dying for want of basic medical treatment for injuries and disease. People argue that Australia spends too high a proportion of the taxpayers' money on what is called health care services, but only small amounts are spent on health promotion and disease prevention among Aboriginal people. Clearly, a mismatch exists between the health services resources of the nation and their application to meeting the needs of particularly vulnerable groups within Australian society.


31.1.4 My discussion elsewhere in this report of housing, education, employment, etc. is directly relevant to the present discussion of the health of Aboriginal people. I have been advised that one of the greatest insights in public health has been the overwhelming degree to which the health status of both individuals and groups is determined by their social and physical environments, rather than by the medical or pharmacological treatment of disease. The health of thousands of Aboriginal people is compromised by environmental health hazards such as contaminated water supplies, exposure to dust and overcrowding. Poverty and lack of employment opportunities, along with a deep sense of personal powerlessness, limit many Aboriginal people's initiative and capacity to engage in health promoting life styles, whilst at the same time promoting

Page 212 Vol4

31 Towards Better Health

the excessive and damaging use of alcohol. These facts highlight the need for multi-sectoral approaches in Aboriginal advancement programs, and the fact that health development comes not simply from more and better health and sickness care services, but from improvements in the quality of

life in general.

31.1.5 According to advice received by the Commission, another major step forward in public health, internationally, has been the development of what has come to be called the 'New Public Health'. The new public health is, in essence, public and professional concern with the

total environment-both physical and socioeconomic-within which we live. Within this framework, primary health care is essential health care made accessible to those who need it, at an affordable price, and with the full participation of the users of the services provided. The implications

for Aboriginal health are clear. The primary health care approach, perhaps best exemplified in Australia by some of the Aboriginal community­ controlled health services, provides part of the solution to the current problems in Aboriginal health.

31.1.6 Central to the new public health, as it should be applied in Aboriginal health programs, is sensitivity to the social and cultural determinants of perceptions of health and illness, of health status and of perceptions of appropriate responses to poor health. As I discuss in some

detail below, non-Aboriginal people involved in the delivery of health services will only be effective in their helping roles if they grasp this concept and have the skills to operate in a cross-cultural context. These skills are generally not taught in universities: specific training is required.


31.1. 7 I conclude this introduction with a note of caution. I am conscious of the fact that many of the causes of the appalling health status of many Aboriginal people today can be understood in historical terms and in terms of existing AboriginaVnon-Aboriginal relations. There is no

simple solution.

31.1. 8 My fmal caution is that the application of strategies to resolve many of the health problems identified through the work of the Royal Commission and others will not be easy. As Commissioner Dodson has reminded me, the poor health of many individual Aboriginal people

reflects the nature of many Aboriginal communities. They are characterized by a deep sense of malaise. Their members seem to lack life goals and the initiative to remedy the many problems apparent to the outside observer. Feelings of despair and hopelessness are commonplace,

and are reflected in drunkenness, vandalism, violence and other forms of crime, as well as illness and self-destructive behaviour. To be effective,

Vol4 Page 213

Towards Better Health 31

community development and health development must be part of an integrated set of processes of social change.


31.2.1 The purpose of this section of the chapter is to describe the Australian health care system as it relates to Aboriginal people. After initial comments on the national health care system, I focus on both the Aboriginal community-controlled and government-controlled services. Inevitably, some emphasis will be placed on the sick care system, rather than on the broader concept of health care. This is because so little is being done on the promotion of positive health, rather than simply the treatment of injury and disease. In the following section I will review the adequacy of the current policies, programs and services.


31.2.2 Australia's health services can be categorized into three main areas, community and personal health services, hospital and nursing home services and public health services. As with some other essential services, the nature of Australia's health services is greatly influenced by the country's federal system. The division of responsibilities between the Commonwealth, State, Territory and local Governments creates difficulties in developing national policies and programs and must be

borne in mind in considering specific services. Another factor exerting a major influence is the mix of public and private elements, particularly in community and personal health services, and in hospital and nursing home services.

31.2.3 In the public sector, the Comn1onwealth is responsible largely for the funding of health services and the States and Territories for the direct provision of services. Expenditure on medical services is met mainly by . the Commonwealth through Medicare, the compulsory health insurance scheme, which is in part financed through a tax levy. While not having responsibility for the direct provision of most health services, the Commonwealth can, and does, use its control over financing to exert a major influence on the health care system. This is effected through its control over Medicare, its grants to State and Territory Governments, and its financing of private nursing homes and of the pharmaceutical benefits scheme.

31.2.4 Community and personal health services are provided by a wide range of health practitioners, the numerically dominant groups being

Page 214 Vol4

31 Towards Better Health

nurses and doctors. The majority of medical practitioners-general and specialist-are self-employed on a fee-for-service basis, operating out of private practices, increasingly comprising two or more practitioners. (Across the country, only a fifth of general practitioners are in solo practice.) Medicare provides the bulk of the funds expended on medical

services. Most other health practitioners providing community and personal health services, including dentists, physiotherapists, chiropractors, etc., also operate privately but generally do not benefit from Medicare coverage. Pharmacists and optometrists practice privately, but

do receive some Commonwealth reimbursements. Very few nurses practice privately. A small number of salaried medical practitioners, nurses and other practitioners provide personal services through community health centres-such as the Aboriginal community-controlled

health services-and other community services, largely funded by governments and other agencies.

31.2.5 The provision of hospital and nursing home services consumes 55% of all recurrent expenditure on health services, the hospital sector alone being responsible for 45%. The vast majority of public hospitals are the responsibility of the individual State and Territory

Governments, with repatriation hospitals being administered by the Commonwealth Government. Most nursing homes catering for long-stay chronically ill patients are operated by private agencies--conducted on either a for-profit or a not-for-profit basis-but a few are administered by

State or Territory health authorities. Public health services, including environmental health measures, health education, health promotion and other disease prevention activities-such as immunization programs-are almost exclusively provided by State and Territory or local governments. Despite the support for preventive interventions, health promotion and

disease prevention programs attract less than 1% of recurrent expenditures.


31.2.6 The general observer may consider that Australia's health care system, particularly in the areas of personal health care and acute-care hospitals, should be able to cope with the health problems experienced by Aboriginal people. While theoretically this is so, in practice this has not

been the case.

31.2.7 The substantial health disadvantages experienced by Aboriginal people, as outlined in Chapter 23, reflect, at least in part, the inadequacy of the health care system in addressing Aboriginal health problems. For many Aboriginal people, a major obstacle has been-and

still is-the relative inaccessibility of the mainstream personal health care services and acute-care hospitals. This relative inaccessibility-and unacceptability-has physical, sociocultural and economic determinants.

Vol4 Page 215

Towards Better Health 31

31.2.8 Since the early 1970s, these shortcomings have produced developments in two main directions: the establishment of Aboriginal community-controlled health services-the.Aboriginal Health Services (AHSs)-and the establishment of special State-run Aboriginal health programs . . A large proportion of the funds for these developments has, until recently, come from Commonwealth sources, primarily through the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, now the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (A TSIC). Until 1984, some funds were provided by the then Commonwealth Department of Health, but, since December of that year, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (now ATSIC) has been responsible for the funding and administration of almost all special

Commonwealth programs relating to Aboriginal health. The division between the Commonwealth Government, the States and the Northern Territory in the determination and running of the programs creates several problems, as it does in a number of other areas crucial to Aboriginal advancement.

31.2. 9 Over recent years, Commonwealth funding of the State-run programs has decreased steadily, with funds being redirected to the Aboriginal community-controlled health services. Generally, the States have taken over the funding of their own programs, and some have provided additional funds to these and other programs. As part of the recognition by the States of their responsibilities in the delivery of health

services to all their residents, some have also provided funds to the Aboriginal community-controlled services.

31.2.1 0 It should be noted that these special programs and services are in addition to the generally available health services, such as general practitioner medical services and State-run public hospitals. Although separate figures are not available routinely, much more money is expended on Aboriginal health through these channels than through the special Aboriginal programs and services and it is inevitable that these general community services will continue to play an important role in the provision of health care for Aboriginal people.


31.2.11 In 1971, the inaccessibility to Aboriginal people of mainstream health services in the inner Sydney suburb of Redfern led to the establishment of Australia's frrst Aboriginal community-controlled health service. 1 Today, AHSs are found in all States and Territories, around seventy in total. There are also ten Aboriginal-controlled dental services operating (most as part of a general Aboriginal community-controlled health service) and almost fifty programs and addressing alcohol and other drug problems among Aboriginal people. A TSIC has advised

Page216 Vol4

31 Towards Better Health

that, at the end of 1990, the AHSs to which it was providing financial assistance include those located at:

• New South Wales: Bourke, Brewarrina, Broken Hill,

Campbelltown, Cummeragunga, Dareton, Grafton, Kempsey, Lismore, Moree, Mt Druitt, Narooma, Newcastle, Nowra, Taree, Redfern, W algett, Wilcannia, Wollongong.

• Victoria: Bairnsdale, Ballarat, Dandenong, Fitzroy, Geelong, Lake Tyers, Mildura, Shepparton/Mooroopna, Morwell, Robinvale, Swan Hill.

• Queensland: Brisbane, Cairns, Innisfail, Ipswich, Mackay, Rockhampton, Townsville.

Western Australia: Broome, Carnarvon, Geraldton, Halls Creek, Kalgoorlie, Kununurra, Wingelinna, Roebourne, Perth, Strelley, Wiluna.

· • South Australia: Adelaide, Ceduna/Koonibba, Nganampa, Port Augusta, Y alata/Maralinga.

• Tasmania: Flinders Island.

Northern Territory: Alice Springs, Katherine, Kintore, Tennant Creek, Uluru, Utopia.

31.2.12 According to information received from ATSIC, its 1989-90 expenditure for Aboriginal community-controlled services was $29m for the AHSs (including dental services) and $4.3m for the alcohol and other drug-related programs. A further $4.4m was allocated to new health

initiatives, a special one-year funding program. Additional funding to the Aboriginal community-controlled services is by donation from both individuals and organizations, national and international, and, as stated above, some are starting to receive funds directly from their State or Territory Government.

31.2.13 As the report of the National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party noted: 'these community services were intended to provide innovative clinical and health development services where cultural imperatives, social realities and technical necessities were taken into

balanced account' .2

31.2.14 The actual roles performed by the services vary considerably. While some have the capacity to employ a wide range of appropriate health professionals, others are largely restricted to general practitioner-type services, and some mainly function as referral services. In the six months

Vol4 Page 217

Towards Better Health 31

period to 31 December 1989, doctors, nurses and Aboriginal health workers in the services provided some 240,000 services to clients.

1.2.15 While clinical-curative work generally occupies a central role

tn most Aboriginal community-controlled services, it is placed within a broad social health context. Where possible, the services also emphasize prevention, including nutrition programs, health education, detailed health · screening, liaison with alcohol rehabilitation programs, welfare assistance and the dispensing of pharmaceuticals. Some services provide other functions, such as child care, welfare assistance, family support and a school bus service. Alice Springs' Central Australian Aboriginal Congress has also established a birthing centre known as the Congress Alukura. ·


31.2.16 Also in the 1970s, most States and Territories initiated special Aboriginal health programs, financed by the Commonwealth under a system of States' Grants. At the time when the pattern of States' Grants funding was established, health services in the Northern Territory were provided by the Commonwealth, so that the Territory has not benefited from funds provided through this scheme.

31.2.17 The sum allocated by the Commonwealth through the States' Grants scheme in 1989-90, $1 0.46m, is much less than the amounts allocated in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and it is expected that, within the next year or two, funds will cease to be provided through this scheme. As noted above, it seems appropriate that these programs should be seen as a part of the health responsibilities of each State and Territory to their Aboriginal residents.

31.2.18 Most of the State programs have focused on preventive measures, including health and nutrition education, while encouraging and assisting Aboriginal people to use existing medical services. While recognizing that the nature of most programs is currently under review as part of the further development of the National Aboriginal Health Strategy

(as discussed below), I will summarize briefly what is known to the Royal Commission about the program in each State and Territory. As an example of the changes anticipated as part of the Strategy, it is expected that each State and Territory will set up a tripartite group comprising representatives of the Aboriginal community and Commonwealth and State{ferritory Governments to replace existing mechanisms for reviewing Aboriginal health policy and programs. The nature of individual programs is also subject to change as a result of changing funding arrangements, as noted above. In the absence of more up-to-date information, in this summary I draw heavily on material included in the report of the National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party. I caution the reader that care

Page218 Vol4

31 Towards Better Health

should be exercised in comparing the details provided for each State and Territory, as the range of services summarized is often quite different, and the allocations quoted may relate to different financial years.

New South Wales: 31.2.19 In 1989-90, approximately $5m was allocated by the State for special Aboriginal health programs, in addition to funds expended through mainstream services. Of these special funds, more than $3m was used for

the employment of 108 Aboriginal health staff throughout the State, primarily Aboriginal health workers, including a centrally-located Aboriginal Health Unit. The central Unit is responsible for Aboriginal health policy and for the provision of advice and assistance to other

Departmental staff. More than $1.6m was allocated to Aboriginal non­ government organizations in three areas: drug and alcohol programs, public health, and dental care.

31.2.20 The development of Aboriginal health policy and programs in New South Wales is guided by the Aboriginal Health Resources comprising sixty Aboriginal community representatives, with

the majority of the Aboriginal community-controlled services being represented, and representatives of the State Department. The Committee is also responsible for the design of a suitable training course for staff working in the community-controlled health services.

Victoria: 31.2.21 In addition to resources expended through mainstream services, the Victorian Department of Heath provided, in 1987-88, $1.17m for Aboriginal health. Part of this money supported a centrally­

based Koorie Health Unit, which seeks to maximize the involvement of the Aboriginal community in decision making in Aboriginal health issues, and to improve the accessibility to Aboriginal people of elements of the public health care system (for example, by the use of Aboriginal hospital

liaison officers). The Department supports a number of specific programs for Aboriginal people, such as a diabetes education program.

31.2.22 The Minister and Department receive guidance on policy and program issues from the Victorian Aboriginal Resources Consultative Group, comprising representatives of the State's Aboriginal community­ controlled health services and other Aboriginal community organizations.

Queensland: 31.2.23 In addition to funds expended through other mainstream services in 1987-88 the Queensland Government spent $15.05m on curative for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living on

Aboriginal communities and the outer islands of Torres Strait.

Vol4 Page 219

Towards Better Health 31

31.2.24 In 1988-89, the Commonwealth Government provided $5.8m to support the State's Aboriginal Health Program, which largely focuses on health promotion and disease prevention. Key components include: surveillance of various health indicators, with appropriate follow-up; co-ordination of public health activities (such as communicable disease prevention and control); promotion of healthy lifestyles; health education using a self-help health care model; and the promotion of the use of existing services (including mainstream and Aboriginal community­ controlled). The Program carries out its work through health teams (in

1988-89, they were based in twenty-nine localities throughout Queensland), supported by specialist units in diet and nutrition, hearing conservation, parasitology, AIDS prevention, staff development and statistics.

31.2.25 The Queensland Minister for Health receives advice from a special Ministerially-appointed Aboriginal and Islander Health Advisory Council.

Western Australia: 31.2.26 In 1987-88, the Health Department of Western Australia spent a total of $67 .9m on health services for Aboriginal people, including mainstream services. Included in this sum were the special funds received from the Commonwealth as part of the States' Grants scheme. Special approaches to Aboriginal health in Western Australia have been undertaken largely as part of the State's Community Health Service. These have included special programs in maternal and child health, trachoma and eye health, ear health, control of endemic diseases and the training of Aboriginal health workers. As well, the use of hospital liaison officers is being extended to many of the State's major hospitals. These programs are supported by targeted health promotion and education services. The report of the National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party noted that the Department's program includes a strong commitment to Aboriginal self-determination, Aboriginal participation and the promotion of Aboriginal self-esteem.

31.2.27 The Department has recently established a small Aboriginal Health Policy Unit, and is expected to establish a more broadly based tripartite group.

South Australia: 31.2.28 In 1981, the South Australian Government established the Aboriginal Health Organization of South Australia (AHO) as an incorporated body under the South Australian Health Commission Act. In

seeking to develop systems of appropriate primary and preventive care for Aboriginal people and to facilitate access to these and other systems, the AHO conducted a variety of health programs (for example, in women's health, including family planning and antenatal care, and AIDS/sexually

Page220 Vol4

31 Towards Better Health

transmitted diseases) and co-ordinated, through TAFE, accredited Aboriginal health worker training programs. In 1987-88, the South Australian Government expended $2m on the AHO and three Aboriginal community-controlled services.

31.2.29 The Aboriginal Health Council has now been established, being proclaimed on 1 December 1990 under the South Australian Health Commission Act. The Aboriginal Health Organization has become part of this new Council. The membership of the Council includes representatives

of all Aboriginal community-controlled health services in the State, the five ATSIC regional councils of South Australia, a representative of the South Australian regional office of A TSIC to represent Commonwealth interests, a representative of the South Australian Health Commission to represent

State interests and a representative of drug and alcohol agencies. Fifteen of the seventeen Council members are Aboriginal people.

Tasmania: 31.2.30 The Tasmanian Government has attempted to provide for Aboriginal people through mainstream services, supplemented by liaison services and a special nursing service on Cape Barren Island.

Australian Capital Territory: 31 .2. 31 Aboriginal people are served by mainstream ·services, with a special nurse being provided to the coastal community of Wreck Bay, a part of the Australian Capital Territory.

Northern Territory: 31.2.32 With Aboriginal people comprising approximately a quarter of the Northern Territory population, Aboriginal health care is mainly provided as part of the general system. In 1987-88, it was estimated that

almost half of the total health budget of $194m was allocated to Aboriginal health-related activities.

31.2.33 A special Aboriginal Health Branch within the Department of Health and Community Services aims to ensure that Aboriginal people have access to all aspects of health care and to increase their active participation in all aspects of the health care systems.

31.2.34 The Department has special Aboriginal programs in ear trachoma infant and child health women's health, health promotion, nutritional. surveillance and dental health. As discussed below, emphasis is placed on the training and employment of health worke:s,

and the Department provides grants to local Abong1nal community councils for special health projects.

Vol4 Page 221

Towards Better Health 31


31.2.35 Another important development over the past twenty years has been the extension of the use of Aboriginal health workers (AHWs). The first training program was developed in the Northern Territory in 1973, where a number of Aboriginal people had, since the 1960s, worked as medical assistants. Since that time, AHW s have become an integral part of most health services-Aboriginal community-controlled or government run-serving Aboriginal people. Writing in 1989, the National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party noted that 657 Aboriginal health workers were employed in both Government and community-controlled health programs. No State-level breakdowns of this total are given. 3

31.2.36 Depending both on employing agency and geographic location, the roles of Aboriginal health workers vary greatly across Australia, from medical and nursing assistants, to program managers, to roles which may be described more aptly as welfare \Vorkers. The variation in roles reflects differing perceptions of what AHW s can contribute, as well as the roles of the employing agencies.

31.2.37 These varied roles, and differing pre-training education, are reflected in the training programs set up for Aboriginal health workers to complement on-the-job training. A number of training programs are run by or in association with the Aboriginal community-controlled others by State or Territory authorities, and others by academic institutions-for example, the course run by the Cumberland College of Health Sciences in Sydney. Generallys attempts are being made to obtain

accreditation for the training programs, largely to enhance the value of the courses and the career prospects of graduates. There is also a trend to formalize the role, as has been done in the Northern Territory where the Health Practitioners and Allied Professionals Registration Act provides for the registration of AHW s, along with social workers, dieticians, speech pathologists, etc.

31.2.38 The training programs run in association with the AHSs are generally broader than those run by the State and Territory authorities, which tend to focus more closely on clinical and preventive aspects. Most of the Aboriginal-controlled courses, such as those of the Nganampa Health Service and Koori Kollij, include attention to topics such as community organization and the politics of health, as well as medically oriented material. In contrast, the training programs run by Government agencies, such as that of the Health Department of Western Australia, emphasize basic medical care, but also recognize the community health context. Reflecting the limited western education of many of the workers, the courses in some jurisdictions also include numeracy and literacy training. The emphasis for Aboriginal health workers in the State

Page222 Vol4

31 Towards Better Health

Aboriginal health programs appears to be more on prevention, consistent with the overall approaches of those programs.

31.2.39 Given the breadth of the roles of AHWs, it is appropriate to consider Aboriginal hospital liaison officers under this heading. The employment of these officers is seen by many as an important mechanism in making hospitals less alien, and more therapeutic, environments for

Aboriginal people. As well as contributing to the successful management of Aboriginal patients in hospital, Aboriginal hospital liaison officers work at making hospitals generally more appropriate and accessible places for Aboriginal people. They can provide the personal, empathetic,

individualized contact that Aboriginal people so often miss out on in the impersonal milieu of modern hospital environments.


31.2.40 In view of the extent of mental health problems found by the Commission among the people whose deaths it has investigated, special attention needs to be directed at the component of the health care system aimed at addressing mental health problems. In Chapter 23, I noted that

the prevalence of major mental disorders among Aboriginal people is probably similar to that among non-Aboriginal people, but that, for many Aboriginal people, mental distress is a common and crippling problem which largely goes unnoticed, undiagnosed and untreated.

31.2.41 As with other specific health problems, services addressing mental health problems are spread over the three main areas summarized above, with responsibility for the delivery of services being shared between the State, Territory and Commonwealth Governments; non­

Government organizations; and the private sector.

31.2.42 As part of the current development of a national mental health strategy, a discussion paper about mental health services in Australia prepared for the Australian Health Ministers' Advisory Council noted that 'there is little cohesion in the provision of services, in the monitoring of

the area of service deficiency, or in ensuring that mental health care is available to all' .5 Earlier, a detailed report on mental health services in Australia had found that public and private services were unevenly distributed; that access to services was determined by geographic location,

socioeconomic status and the cultural background of the consumers; that great State-to-State variation exists; and that standards of service delivery varied from extremely good to very poor.6

31.2.43 The current development of the national strategy involves the active participation of consumer representatives in the search for the appropriate balance between community and institutional management of people with mental health problems. Such a balance will involve care of

Vol4 Page 223

Towards Better Health 31

many mentally ill people in the community, others in general hospitals and some in specialized mental hospitals.

31.2.44 Mental health service provision for Aboriginal people constitutes, for the most part, mainstream services. As a result, Aboriginal people are particularly disadvantaged. Not only are they disadvantaged by their socioeconomic status and cultural background, but proportionately more Aboriginal than non-Aboriginal people are disadvantaged by their geographic location, in the sense that many live in the rural or remote regions of Australia where mental health services are lacking.

31.2.45 While many of the State and Territory-based services include a specific focus on Aboriginal mental health, at present only Victoria and Western Australia employ separate staff to address Aboriginal mental health problems. Of these approaches, Victoria's is most developed. The Victorian Aboriginal Mental Health Network (V AMHN), initiated by the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (V AHS), provides an example of how mental health services might be most effectively provided to Aboriginal people in an urban setting. Recognizing that existing mainstream health

services were not meeting the needs of the Aboriginal community, the V AHS, in conjunction with psychiatric facilities and hospitals, has developed a community-based mental health network linking the community-based health service with a psychiatric hospital and a public hospital. The network is staffed by a psychiatrist, two psychiatric registrars, two Aboriginal mental health workers and an Aboriginal research officer. The range of services offered by V AMHN has expanded in recent times to include a community consultation unit, a supra-regional psychiatric hospital in-patient unit and an education and evaluation progra..rn. The advantages of this network are clear: it links existing general community mental health services with Aboriginal health services, with the specific aim of serving the mental health needs of the Aboriginal people. The central linking role of an Aboriginal health organization in this case is a prime example of what can be achieved if Aboriginal people are given adequate opportunities to work in concert with mainstream services to meet the special needs of Aboriginal people.

31.2.46 Mental health services for Aboriginal people are less well specialized in the other States and Tenitories, with none having a comparable service. In New South Wales, for example, I understand that there is only one Aboriginal person working specifically in mental health (and he is, in fact, employed as a welfare officer) even though some psychiatric units, such as the one at Sydney's Prince Henry Hospital, have a special interest in Aboriginal mental health.

31.2.47 I understand that at present in Queensland there are no Aboriginal mental health workers, and, as with the other States and the Northern Territory, mental health services are not well staffed outside the

Page224 Vol4

31 Towards Better Health

State capital. In Western Australia the Multicultural Psychiatric Centre, part of the State-run mental health services, employs one Aboriginal welfare officer, Mr Richard Wilkes. He liaises with Aboriginal people throughout the State, and has provided to the Royal Commission useful

insights, particularly in the enquiry into the death of Paul Farmer. It is understood that moves are underway in Western Australia to extend the regional coverage of trained psychiatrists, but this will not necessarily provide a culturally sensitive service for Aboriginal people.

31.2.48 I understand that, in South Australia, six Aboriginal people are training as mental health workers, and a proposal to establish an Aboriginal youth community mental health team is currently being considered. There are no specialized services for Aboriginal people in

either Tasmania or the Australian Capital Territory.

31.2.49 The Northern Territory employs a number of specialized non­ Aboriginal mental health nurses who work primarily with Aboriginal communities but, at present, no Aboriginal mental health workers. The work of the nurses is supported by periodic visits by psychiatrists.

31.2.50 At present, it is understood that no Aboriginal community­ controlled health services have sufficient funds to employ specialized Aboriginal mental health workers, but some of their general health workers undertake counselling and other mental health-type work.


31.2.51 The best known of the aerial medical services is the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), originally established as a service by the Presbyterian Church for non-Aboriginal people living in remote parts of Australia. The RFDS and other aerial medical services, such as those in

Queensland and the Northern Territory Aerial Medical Service, operate out of some twenty bases and have become important links in the provision of medical services to Aboriginal people living in the more remote parts of the country.

31.2.52 The specific provided include radio consultations, routine clinic care, emergency medical consultations and the aerial evacuation of patients to hospital. Of the 90,000 patients seen annually by the RFDS, about 40% are Aboriginal, and they comprise a similar

proportion of the 9,000 evacuees.7


31.2.53 I discuss alcohol and other drug services in some depth in Chapter 32, and have already discussed prison health services in Chapter

Vol4 Page 225

Towards Better Health 31

24. Chapters 18 and 35 cover environmental and infrastructure issues. Accordingly, I will now refer to a number of other special government­ initiated Aboriginal health activities not encompassed by the review presented above.

31.2.54 Over the years, the Commonwealth Government has allocated additional funds for a number of special purposes. For example, in response to extremely high levels of trachoma and other avoidable disorders of the eyes among Aboriginal people, the then Commonwealth Department of Health funded a special National Trachoma and Eye Health Program, which undertook during the period 1976-79 an Australia-wide screening and treatment program for eye disease, and reviewed a number of other diseases. It also undertook a detailed evaluation of the physical environmental factors that contribute to disease.

31.2.55 After a brief interruption in 1980-81, the Program was re­ established. State and Territory-based Trachoma Committees, on which Aboriginal people occupied a majority of the positions, were established. These Comn1ittees attempt to link their specifically targeted eye health

work with other services, both Aboriginal community-controlled and State-run. Separate figures for 1989-90 are not available, but in 1988-89 the Department of Aboriginal Affairs allocated $0.52m to enable the Committees to undertake their work.

31.2.56 More recently, special Commonwealth funds have been provided for the development of special immunization programs against hepatitis B, reflecting the high prevalence of carrier rates of the virus among Aboriginal people in some parts of the country. Joint Commonwealth-State funded programs have been developed in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia, with the Commonwealth contributing $1.7m over the two-year period 1988-90. Support has since been extended to the Northern Territory, and Western Australia has initiated its own special program.

31.2.57 Under the so-called national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health initiatives, A TSIC provided in 1989-90 a total of $3.53m, including the funds allocated for the trachoma and hepatitis B programs. The other initiatives include the development and implementation of education and training programs to reduce the impact of life style diseases

(particularly hypertension, ischaemic heart disease and diabetes mellitus), special support for a number of ear health projects, the establishment of a unified AHW education program in Queensland, and infrastructure support for a number of the AHSs.

31.2.58 One area in which health programs for Aboriginal people are funded through the Commonwealth Department of Community Services and Health relate to HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). Over the past four years, more

Page226 Vol4

31 Towards Better Health

than $1m has been provided by that Department for various programs aimed at minimizing the impact of AIDS in Aboriginal communities, largely through educational and other preventive programs, including the training of Aboriginal health workers.

31.2.59 In summary, this description has demonstrated the complex mix of policies, funding arrangements, administrative structures and services currently operating in the Aboriginal health field The current mix has evolved in a more or less piecemeal fashion in response to pressures

as they emerge. I would like to have been able to present a summary statement regarding the level of funding provided to Aboriginal health initiatives but, as this description reveals, the available information precludes any such aggregation. Reflecting the diverse sources of funding

and methods of reporting, the information covers differing activities and differing time periods. Overlaps or double counting would inevitably result from any attempt to aggregate the allocations identified. This very fact leads me to make this recommendation concerning Aboriginal health:

accurate and comprehensive information on inputs to and activities of Aboriginal health programs is needed if Aboriginal organizations, Governments and the community are to be in a position to understand and monitor what is taking place in this area, and to develop appropriate

policies and programs to address existing and newly emerging needs.


Recommendation 246: That the State, Territory and Commonwealth

governments act to put an end to the situation where insufficient accurate and comprehensive information on inputs to and activities of Aboriginal health

programs is available. Such information is needed if Aboriginal organizations, governments and the community are to be in a position to understand and monitor what is taking place in this area, to estimate

the benefits derived therefrom and to develop

appropriate policies and programs to address existing and newly emerging needs.


Towards . Better Health



31.3 .1 In this section I seek to evaluate the adequacy of the policies, programs and services that currently exist in the Aboriginal health field, with particular reference to their implications for deaths in custody. My main emphasis will be a discussion of the general or mainstream health services and the Aboriginal community-controlled services, pointing to the nature of their interactions and to the strengths and weaknesses of each. Attention will also be paid to the State-run special Aboriginal health services, Aboriginal health professionals, mental health services and related matters.

31.3.2 The observations which I note on this topic are based on the evidence given in the enquiries into the deaths and on many submissions · made by both health workers and Aboriginal people.

31.3.3 I expect that most observers, when asked how adequate and effective are Aboriginal health services, would agree that they must be inadequate given the level of Aboriginal health as discussed in Chapter 23. In other words, we tend to expect that the low standards of health experienced by Aboriginal people are explained, or determined, by the general quality and quantity of health care services. Furthermore, to most of us, 'health care services' means those services with which we are most familiar: the curative services provided by general practitioners and hospitals.

31.3.4 In the introduction to this chapter, however, I sought to make the point that the key determinant of the health of Aboriginal people today is not the level of curative services available to and used by them. The determinants of health status are found in the history of Aboriginal people and in their current social and physical environments. Feelings of powerlessness, an inevitable consequence for many of two centuries of oppression, combined with poverty, health damaging physical environments, social disruption and poor diets combine to produce the poor health status of Aboriginal people today. Since I address elsewhere the broader issues of discrimination, self-determination and self­ management, along with basic needs such as education, housing and community services, I will focus here on the needs and services that fall within the scope of the agencies which most of us think of as centrally health related: those aimed at promoting healthy life styles, preventing disease, treating disease and caring for people with chronically impaired health.

Page228 Vol4.

31 Towards Better Health

31.3.5 At the outset, I must acknowledge the difficulty which exists in considering the overall impact on Aboriginal health status of current services and programs. As with many other services, the relationship between inputs and outcomes is not simple. The recently released second

biennial report of the Australian Institute of Health (1990) notes that the relationship between health services and health outcomes is complex, and thaf it is not a simple matter to relate specific population-level health outcomes to health services In particular, the relationship between death

rates and the use of health care services has been described as 'tenuous', and 'there is widespread agreement that there are limits to what they [health care services] can achieve in improving the health of the nation' .8 Prevention services and programs, which aim at promoting healthy

behaviour and environments-physical and social-and preventing diseases, offer the promise of generating greater improvements in health and are now receiving greater emphasis in Australia. However, as with the treatment-oriented health care services, evaluation of the effectiveness

of disease prevention and health promotion services is limited. As well, in the evaluation of health promotion and disease prevention services an added difficulty exists with 'outcome measures being less readily defined' .9

Differing Perceptions 3-L 3.6 The central problems that exist in health services for Aboriginal people are those of differing perceptions of vital phenomena. Over and over again, in our inquiries into the individual deaths in custody

and the underlying issues, and in reports from our Aboriginal Issues Units, we heard of serious health problems being caused or exacerbated as a result of Aboriginal people and health professionals viewing common concerns in quite different ways. Perceptions differ as to the meaning of

the concept of health itself, the meaning of illness and the appropriate responses to prevent or treat illness.

31.3. 7 For many Aboriginal people, the concept of health means life itself. It is far from a narrow concept of something concerned with illness or medical treatment. As the National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party points out, the concept encompasses the interrelationships between

people and the land, people and the beings, and people and

people.1o Our Aboriginal Issues Unit in Victoria described the Aboriginal perception of health succinctly, quoting a defmition used by the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, as follows:


Health does not simply mean the physical well-being of an individual but refers to the social, emotional and cultural well-being of the whole community. For Aboriginal people this is seen in terms of the whole-of­

life view incorporating the cyclical concept of life-death-

Page 229

Towards Better Health

life ... Health Care services should strive to achieve the state where every individual is able to achieve their full potential as human beings, and thus bring about the total well-being of their community. This is an evolving

definition. 11


31.3.8 Ill health, in this concept, is not simply the presence of disease-it is a much broader concept. Similarly, enhancing health or resolving health problems is not simply the province of experts whose orientation is towards remedying bodily malfunctioning and the use of medical technology and pharmaceutical products. These differences in perceptions contribute to a number of otherwise puzzling aspects of Aboriginal health, including the apparent reluctance of tnany Aboriginal people to use the general community health services, their 'inadequate compliance' with professional advice, and the conflicts which so often exist between government-controlled and Aboriginal community­ controlled health services.


31.3.9 In this section, I will discuss the general 'mainstream' health services, with particular reference to the personal and acute hospital services. Special services such as those addressing mental health problems and the specific State and Territory-run Aboriginal health programs will be considered later. I address the mainstream health sector first because it inevitably provides the bulk of health services to Aboriginal people. No data are available to quantify the proportion of services provided in mainstream environments compared with specific Aboriginal health services, but it is probable that the bulk of services would be provided in the former. Aboriginal people have very high hospital admission rates, compared with those of non-Aboriginal people, and general hospitals will inevitably be mainstream, rather than Aboriginal specific, facilities. Some Aboriginal people will choose to use general community services rather than special Aboriginal services--as is their right-and in any case the number of special Aboriginal services now

available could not possibly meet the level of need in both the prevention and treatment areas. This follows from the relatively limited number of AHSs currently operating, and in the considerable distances many Aboriginal people may have to travel to attend them. I note, however, that many Aboriginal people are prepared to travel these distances, preferring to use an AHS rather than a mainstream one.

31.3.10 The overall impression I have gained is that Aboriginal people are not well served by the existing mainstream services. The material presented to my fellow Commissioners and me in submissions and evidence raises a number of serious concerns regarding their operation in so far as Aboriginal people are concerned. Particularly since the health

Page230 Vol4

31 Towards Better Health

status of Aboriginal people is such that they comprise, in health terms, an at-risk population, these concerns justify close attention from the relevant authorities. I highlight below some of the areas which are high priority for action.

Culture Gaps 31.3.11 In its submission, the Victorian Aboriginal Health Services noted that 'mainstream health care services are generally poorly informed about Aboriginal health issues and deal with them badly' .12 From this and

other submissions, it is apparent that the deficiencies relate both to information about specific health conditions and, more pervasively, to deficiencies in health professionals' understanding of relevant social, cultural and environmental factors.

31.3.12 Commissioner O'Dea deals with this matter in his regional report, quoting Dr R. McKenzie, a medical officer employed by the Carnarvon Aboriginal community in their community-operated medical service. Dr McKenzie points out that:

I feel that for too long and its still happening ... that Aboriginal people are let down by the quality of white advisers and experts that are provided to them because, well-meaning as these people are, they take with them

their own origins, of course, and their own culture and their own prejudices and a lot of them don't have empathy with the Aboriginal people and don't actually trust them in terms of their abilities and their wants and

their needs and they feel that they have to do the doing .13

31.3.13 Along with many other Australians, health care workers generally are poorly informed about Aboriginal people, their cultural differences, their specific socioeconomic circumstances and their recent history within Australian society. 'As a result, unrealistic expectations,

culturally inappropriate care and treatment, poor communication, and intolerance based on lack of understanding and general dissatisfaction on both sides can be the consequences. ' 14 Clearly, in their initial training and in their introduction to roles involving the health care of Aboriginal people,

many health professionals are poorly prepared. Eor people who have the responsibility of providing quality health care, this lack of information is not acceptable. Of course, the impact of this poor preparation is exacerbated in circumstances involving a high turnover of staff, such as

appears to occur in the rotation of staff through rural hospitals.

31.3.14 A poignant example of what happens when non-Aboriginal health professionals are insensitive, for whatever reasons, to the different cultural determinants of the behaviour of Aboriginal people, comes from Ms Teresa Isaacs, who runs an AMS Interpreter Service in Western

Vol4 Page 231

Towards Better Health

Australia. Commissioner O'Dea quotes her as follows:

I had to tell a tribal woman that her son had only one hour to live. I told the young doctor to watch her, because she may injure herself called (sorry bleed'. When I left the room she hurt herself with a tin waste basket. They didn't understand and they put her in a psych. ward for the night. 15


31.3.15 It is not surprising that such events are not uncommon experiences of Aboriginal people using mainstream health services, when we consider the cultural, professional training and experiential backgrounds of the non- Aboriginal staff in health services. The Australian Medical Association has recognized this problem and advises that its Aboriginal Health Policy includes the provision that 'the cultural beliefs and practices of Aboriginal people which relate to health and health services must be an integral part of the design and implementation of Aboriginal health care [programs]' .16 The policy goes on to emphasize how medical and other health professionals' training can increase the cultural sensitivity of such staff.

31.3.16 In the training of all health professionals, there is clearly a need to redress what the National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party called 'scant attention' to the relevance of cultural, political and socioeconomic factors to Aboriginal health and well-being. Consistent with the findings of the Doherty inquiry into medical education, the Working Party noted that:

until tertiary institutions recognize the need for, and benefits of, culturally appropriate, relevant, academic content and clinical experience when designing courses for all health professionals, there will continue to be

difficulties in attracting and retaining health professionals to work amongst Aboriginal communities and a limited understanding of Aboriginal health issues. 11

31.3 .1 7 The Working Party also called for a reorientation of training to reflect a primary health care approach, which would demonstrate the linkages between community empowerment, social justice, equity and health. In this regard, the joint proposal by the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, and Monash University's Departments of Community Medicine to establish an Aboriginal Primary Health Care Unit is of interest. The Unit, which I understand will be located in Melbourne's Koori Kollij from mid-1991, will provide a focus for professional education and health services support, and act as a resource centre. In particular, it is proposed that the Unit will expand the undergraduate

Page232 Vol4

31 Towards Better Health

medical training by providing a primary health care approach, encourage and assist Aboriginal medical students, and run postgraduate programs for doctors and other health professionals. It is a most interesting proposal which justifies the close scrutiny of appropriate authorities.

31.3.18 As discussed below, there are also specific basic training deficiencies, particularly in the need for much more culturally appropriate training, in the field of mental health. These deficiencies need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

31.3.19 Another key aspect of training relates to orientation programs for, no matter how well basic training is oriented to general Aboriginal issues, there will still be a need for specific training tailored to local needs. These specific local needs relate both to socio-cultural aspects and to the

type of medical and health conditions likely to be encountered in a particular locality. All agencies need to provide adequate orientation training for newly starting health professional staff. Of course, such orientation programs must be complemented by appropriate on-the-job


Communication Difficulties 31.3.20 The lack of understanding of cultural differences clearly poses major communication difficulties between Aboriginal patients and staff. Unless these difficulties are addressed, it is obvious that misdiagnosis can,

and will, occur. In some circumstances, the use of AHWs and skilled interpreters will be required to permit adequate communication. Modem medical diagnosis, while supported by advanced technology, still relies largely on the history of the patient's presenting problem and physical

examination. In the absence of an accurate history, depending heavily on effective doctor-patient communication, there is a greater risk that the correct diagnosis will not be made.

31.3.21 Too often we have heard of cases where diagnosis was inadequately made owing to language differences, perhaps the most obvious type of communication barrier. In the case of Jimmy Njanji, his inability to speak or understand English (he was an older tribal man from

the desert country on the western edge of the Pilbara region of Western Australia) contributed to the failure to reach a correct diagnosis. In evidence relating to this case, Ms Maureen Kelly, a Community Development Officer with the Western Australia Alcohol and Drug

Authority, reminded us that a particular word may have different meanings for different people:


[O]ne of the points I made very clear was that when you are speaking to an Aboriginal person and you ask him does he understand you and he says 'Yo' you might think he is saying 'Yes' but he is not he is saying 'I hear

Page 233

Towards Better Health 31

you, I am listening'. That is a lot of times mistaken. 18

31.3.22 Even with a correct diagnosis, effective communication is essential for the implementation of a successful management strategy. At the simplest level, this involves following short-term treatment regimens for the diagnosed condition-for example, a course of antibiotics for an infectious process. Given a correct diagnosis, a successful treatment regimen requires an acceptance by the patient of the correctness of the diagnosis-in itself not automatic given possible differences in health

belief systems-successful transmission of the details of the treatment regimen to the patient, and adherence to the regimen in terms of amount, frequency and duration. Even commencement of the treatment requires successful delivery of the pharmaceutical agent to the patient. Submissions have noted that this does not always occur, as some Aboriginal people experience difficulties in having a prescription filled by a pharmacist, because they feel 'alienated and intimidated' .19

31.3.23 It is known that strict adherence to treatment regimens is doubtful even for patients who share the same cultural beliefs as the doctor, so the potential problems for many Aboriginal people are obvious. And, of course, adherence to long-term treatment regimens, such as those required for the management of high blood pressure or epilepsy, are even more problematic.

31.3.24 Without doubt, communication difficulties contributed to a number of the deaths considered by the Commission. This emphasizes the need for the effective training of health professionals working in the mainstream services used by Aboriginal people. Also emphasized is the need for skilled interpreters-not simply people from the same language group-to be available where Aboriginal people with limited English language skills are using the services. These problems are exacerbated by the chronic shortage of funds available to many health services, both mainstream and Aboriginal community-controlled. Staff members are frequently so overworked that they simply do not have sufficient time to provide the personal attention that patients need.

Communication Between Health Care Services 31.3.25 · Another area of communication difficulty brought to the Commission's attention relates to communication between different areas of health service provision. The Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, for example, noted that better communication between the Alice Springs Hospital and Aboriginal community-based health services 'would improve the quality of care considerably'.w The level of communication between hospitals and primary health workers undoubtedly presents some problems not restricted to Aboriginal patients. However, with the added health care problems related to cultural differences, it is crucial that effective mechanisms be established for communicating vital information

Page234 Vol4

31 Towards Better Health

about patients, between the mainstream and community-based services. Of course, this must be done in an ethical manner, preserving the confidentiality of personal information and with the informed consent of the patients involved. Furthermore, such communication should be a two­

way process. It can enhance the effectiveness of transfers of patients from the community services to, for example, mainstream hospitals. In the other direction, such communication can be important for patients' effective post-hospital management.

Specialized Medical Facilities 31.3. 26 Another area of weakness of the mainstream services, as they relate to Aboriginal people, is the absence, in some areas, of certain specialized diagnostic and other medical facilities needed by sick and

injured Aboriginal people, as well as by the broader community. For example, until recently, no cr scanner was available at the Alice Springs Hospital. Computerized tomography (CT) is a radiographic technique which is particularly valuable in the diagnosis of intracranial bleeding, as

may occur following a head injury in the form of a life-threatening subdural haematoma. People in Alice Springs requiring a CT scan had to be sent to Adelaide or Darwin.

31.3.27 The limited availability of specialized medical equipment, including resuscitation equipment, contributed to a number of the deaths examined by the Commission. For example, Deidre Short suffered a heart attack at Lockhart River, North Queensland. The specialized medical

equipment and treatment that would have been. necessary if she were to have survived the heart attack-assuming that her condition were discovered early enough for treatment to be instituted-were not available at the local community hospital. Similarly, in the case of Darryl Gar lett,

the Commission was advised that the lack of sophisticated resuscitation equipment at the Wooroloo (Western Australia) District Hospital was a factor that militated against his survival. However, the whole issue of the availability of specialized diagnostic . and management facilities, and of

health professional staff, is difficult. Inevitably, there will be greater availability of facilities and staff in the more populated areas of Australia. On the other hand, I argue that the inequalities of access to services and facilities must be minimized, and that the greater needs of Aboriginal

people be fully recognized by .the responsible authorities in their consideration of staff and equipment requirements.

Design of Health Care Facilities 31.3.28 The physical design of health care facilities also contributes to Aboriginal people's frequent reluctance to use mainstream services. For example, a number of submissions have commented upon the difficulties

some Aboriginal people have in accepting the structure of the current Royal Darwin Hospital. The building was designed without any apparent consideration of its suitability for patients-particularly Aboriginal

Vol4 Page 235

Towards Better Health 31

patients-in the Top End. This hospital was modelled on the multi-storey Royal Canberra Hospital South-formerly Woden Valley Hospital. The building is fully air conditioned: patients in the wards have no access to fresh air. Its multi-storey structure limits patients' access to the outside and does not lend itself to the presence of family members; an aspect likely to be important for the morale and recovery of at least some Aboriginal patients. It is not surprising that such an alien environment contributes to the reluctance of some Aboriginal people to be admitted to, and stay in, hospital. I have little doubt that similar difficulties occur in other health care facilities throughout Australia, and indeed the same question was raised with me in Ceduna (South Australia) and acknowledged by some of the hospital staff.

31.3.29 This situation may be contrasted with that of the Leonora, Western Australia, Hospital. At least part of the hospital is designed and operated in a manner responsive to Aboriginal people's needs. Dr R. Roberts, Medical Director of the Kalgoorlie Regional Hospital, described it in these terms:

There is a hospital in Leonora run by the only Aboriginal matron of a hospital in Western Australia, and I think throughout Australia, and that is one Matron Sadie [Canning] ...

She has a special ward there which she insisted on having. She had to battle with the Health Department to allow it-but it's a special ward where she nurses Aboriginal patients, particularly elderly Aboriginal patients. They're nursed on the floor. They have a

mattress on the floor-they don't like to lie in beds ... If they want to get warm, they have a fire outside and they sit around the fire. That's a completely different sort of hospital care to what we're used to but it seems to work. 21

31.3.30 The implication is clear. A responsibility rests with those developing and operating mainstream health services to ensure that they are developed and managed so as to optimally serve their intended clients and patients. Particularly where high concentrations of Aboriginal people are found, their special needs must be taken into consideration in the physical design and methods of operating health care facilities.

31.3.31 Among other things, the inappropriate design of health care facilities would be minimized if Aboriginal people were involved in the design processes. At the hospital level, this has been clearly recognized in the National Aboriginal Health Strategy, which recommends that each State(ferritory adopt as a policy that hospitals in communities servicing a

Page236 Vol4

31 Towards Better Health

significant Aboriginal community aim to have at least two Aboriginal community representatives on the hospital Board of Management. Of course, the need for Aboriginal involvement relates to much more than hospitals. I have received little evidence that there is any real involvement

of Aboriginal people in decision-making roles in the mainstream services used by Aboriginal people. I view this as a major deficiency of the current health services, one which ought to be redressed.

The Handling of Specific Health Conditions 31.3.32 A consideration of the adequacy of general health services would be incomplete without reference to the handling of specific health conditions, as this has been a consistent thread throughout our enquiries

into the deaths in custody. In dealing with Aboriginal health issues, health professionals require an awareness of the possibility of encountering the presentation of unusual health conditions and of unusual presentations of common conditions. From the cases examined by the Commission, it

appears that the symptoms and signs of acute alcohol wl.thdrawal and delirium tremens, both life-threatening conditions, can be considered as unusual health conditions for many health professionals. Certainly, in a number of the deaths investigated, these conditions were poorly managed.

Part of the explanation for the poor management lies in the stereotyping of Aboriginal people and of people with chronic alcohol problems; I discuss this below.

31.3.33 Although not an unusual condition, at least among the cases examined by the Commission, chronic alcohol dependence is also a condition generally poorly managed by mainstream health services. This applies to the handling of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. I

consider the problems involved in this area in Chapter 32, but draw attention here to the 'masking' of other conditions by alcohol and other

31.3.34 A number of conditions and diseases, such as leprosy and trachoma, although not directly implicated in any of the deaths examined by the Commission, are very uncommon among non-Aboriginal Australians. Their prevalence is far greater, however, among Aboriginal

people. One result of their uncommon status in the places where medical and other health professionals are .trained is that health professionals are poorly trained in their diagnosis and management.

31.3.35 Furthermore, some conditions which occur in the general population may have different presentations among Aooriginal people. An important case in point is the .exaggerated impact of some infectious agents in malnourished people. At least part of the difficulty in the case of Jimmy

Njanji was the general disbelief of the doctors caring for him that an apparently minor wound could have such a dramatic presentation, eventually leading to his death.22 In the case of the man who died in

V014 Page 237

Towards Better Health 31

Perth's Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, the delayed diagnosis of miliary tuberculosis, an unusual condition in Australia today, led to his death from tuberculous meningitis. The extent among young Aboriginal people of advanced ischaemic heart disease, a health problem relatively uncommon among young non-Aboriginal people, is something about which health professionals are perhaps largely unaware.

31.3.36 Another matter of concern, arising directly from the deaths investigated by the Commission, is the adequacy with which emergency situations were handled. The particular vulnerabilities of those in custody are considered in detail in Chapter 23, so it is sufficient here to note that heart attacks, epileptic fits, hypo- and hyper-glycaemic episodes, head injuries, alcohol withdrawal-including delirium tremens-and severe asthma can all pose immediate threats to life.

31.3.37 I have no doubt other examples exist of the presentation among Aboriginal people of unusual health conditions and of unusual presentations of common conditions, and of urgent, life threatening conditions. Until the training of health professionals enables them to cope

successfully with these conditions, I believe it must be said that the general health services are not adequately addressing these aspects of Aboriginal health. My recommendations on the training of the health services workforce are particularly pertinent here.

Other Issues in Mainstream Health Services 31.3.38 A number of cases demonstrated stereotyped attitudes of some health professionals to Aboriginal people. The case of Mark Quayle is perhaps best known, owing to media publicity, as one where responsibility for the death fell on nursing and medical personnel as well

as on police officers. Commissioner Wootten, in his report on the case, referred to the 'shocking and callous disregard' for Quayle's welfare on the part of the staff, and pointed out that this unacceptable behaviour reflected 'the dehumanizing stereotype of Aboriginals so common in Australia' .23

31.3.39 Another stereotype which adversely affected the treatment of a number of those who died in custody relates to chronic heavy alcohol users, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. I can understand the frustration of those involved in the health care of people who keep reappearing for treatment for alcohol-related problems, and who are difficult to manage in hospitals and other health care settings. As I pointed out in Eddie Betts' case, however, health professionals 'should not let

their frustration interfere with their professional judgement. They must be trained and train themselves to maintain a professional standard in frustrating situations'. 24

31.3.40 Sadly, these stereotypes are deeply imbedded in Australian

Page 238 Vol4

31 Towards Better Health

society. They can be partly addressed through effective staff selection and supervision, along with pre-service and in-service education. They can also be addressed through clear instructions by employing authorities to the effect that such stereotyping of Aboriginal people and those with drinking problems will not be tolerated in the health care setting.

31.3 .41 The Royal Commission's Interim Report referred to concerns that Commissioner Muirhead identified which related to procedures at hospital accident and emergency or casualty units. He recommended that 'hospitals that are regularly attended by Aboriginal people should review

existing procedures in casualty, in consultation with Aboriginal Medical Services, to reduce the likelihood of Aboriginal patients receiving ineffective diagnosis and treatment' .25 I note that at least one jurisdiction, New South Wales, has conducted such a review in response to the recommendation and, although the review team's report has apparently not

been published, its contents have been supported by the New South Wales Task Force on Aboriginal Health.26 The review team recommends, among other things, greater use of standard assessment and management protocols for patients presenting at casualty units, especially in the more

remote areas where nursing staff have a high level of responsibility in handling the patients. I urge the other States and Territories to review their casualty units' procedures, and to act to implement the outcomes of such reviews.

31.3.42 The matter of Aboriginal staff in mainstream services deserves comment. First, it has been put to me that the placing of Aboriginal staff in mainstream services undermines Aboriginal community progress by removing from Aboriginal organizations the people with sorely needed

skills. While this inevitably happens, and is detrimental to those organizations, their presence in the mainstream services is advantageous. Secondly, it can create personal tensions for the individuals involved, and can alienate them from the community. They may find themselves torn

between responsibility to their employers and responsibility to their communities. TJ

31.3.43 I am certainly conscious that having a small number of Aboriginal people working in a large, bureaucratically structured hospital or other health facility will not have much impact, on its own, on such institutions. I am not arguing, however, that Aboriginal people should not

be employed in mainstream services. On the contrary, I feel that their involvement is essential for such agencies to serve their Aboriginal clients and patients effectively. My point is that their involvement must be well thought out, be at appropriate levels, and be structured so that they

contribute effectively with the minimum amount of role conflict.

Vol4 Page239

Towards Better Health 31

31.3.44 On the positive side, I am encouraged by the fact that, in recent years, a number of Aboriginal people have graduated as doctors. Some of these have benefited from special programs at the Universities of Newcastle and Queensland. I commend these programs, and moves which I understand to be underway in other universities to set up similar programs, possibly involving special entry provisions as well as special

support services for Aboriginal medical students. While recognizing that some, perhaps most, of the newly graduating Aboriginal doctors may choose to follow careers within the general health care system, rather than focusing on Aboriginal health, I believe that the value of such role models

should not be under-estimated.

31.3.45 Similar comments can be made about the increasing number of Aboriginal people being trained in nursing and other health professions.

31.3.46 The last issue that I will raise in this brief review of

mainstream services is the common experience of Aboriginal people's late · presentation to and early self-discharge from hospitals, and their lack of compliance with medical advice. These are certainly not features of Aboriginal people alone, but are particularly worrying in the case of Aboriginal people owing to their generally poor state of health and poor living conditions. These concerns have been highlighted in the report of our Queensland Aboriginal Issues Unit, with reference to late presentation to health care services of pregnant women at Doomadgee. The women explain that they are most reluctant to comply with the requirement th at they leave their community to give birth in' alien, distant hospitals, and are calling for the establishment of a birthing centre in the community.

31.3.47 I have already pointed to many of the reasons underlying late presentation to and early self-discharge from hospitals, and lack of compliance with medical advice, which can be quickly summarized as inappropriate aspects of the services. My impression is that the problem is not as great as it was due partly to some improvements in services and some growing familiarity with the services on the part of patients. In this respect, I refer later to the importance of Aboriginal hospital liaison officers.

31.3.48 · It is essential, therefore, that health professionals working with Aboriginal clients and patients in mainstream services understand that the behaviour which they so often label as lack of compliance with expert advice is explained by both the inadequacies of the mainstream services themselves as well as the knowledge, attitudes and previous experiences of the patients. A high level of 'lack of compliance' by Aboriginal people should be a warning sign to health care service delivery personnel and administrators that problems may exist in their own styles of operating.

Page240 Vol4

31 Towards Better Health


Rationale: · Appropriate Primary Health Care 31.3.49 The important role of the Aboriginal community-controlled health services, recognized in the National Aboriginal Health Strategy and discussed in some detail in the report of the National Aboriginal Health

Strategy Working Party, has been stressed in submissions and evidence presented to the Commission. It has been put to me that these services, controlled locally by Aboriginal people, provide one of the best demonstrations in this country of the World Health Organization's ideal

for the delivery of primary health care. The Declaration of Alma-Ata, which encapsulates international thinking about the primary health care concept, describes it as follows:

Primary health care is essential health care based on practical, scientifically sound and socially acceptable methods and technology made universally accessible to individuals and families in the community through their full participation and at a cost that the community and

country can afford to maintain at every stage of their development in the spirit of self-reliance and self­ determination. It forms an integral part both of the country's health system, of which it is the central function and main focus, and of the overall social and

economic development of the community. It is the first level of contact of individuals, the family and community with the national health system bringing health care as close as possible to where people live and

work, and constitutes the first element of a continuing health care process.28

31.3.50 I have presented this quotation in full as I believe that it encapsulates the undeniable strengths of the Aboriginal community­ controlled health services, which I will call, for convenience AHSs­ Aboriginal Health Services. To _ the extent that they meet the criteria

implied in the Alma-Ata Declaration's definition of primary health care, they overcome many of the deficiencies, as far as Aboriginal people are concerned, of the general community or mainstream health services discussed in the previous section. At the heart of their strength is the fact

that the control by and participation of local Aboriginal people ensures not only that the services are attuned to local health care needs but, also, that each service recognizes specific social and cultural aspects of health and illness, and of the appropriate responses to them.

Vol4 Page 241

Towards Better Health 31

Functions 31.3.51 As noted earlier in this chapter, even though the main reason for the establishment of AHSs was to provide an accessible, acceptable medical facility for Aboriginal people, many have become much more than a simple medical service, providing a wide range of services, including those oriented to health promotion and disease prevention. As well, many perform a range of other functions, including playing an important advocacy role for Aboriginal people and serving as an important training centre, thus contributing to Aboriginal community development-an aspect which is likely to be crucial for real improvement in Aboriginal health.

31.3.52 Many AHSs go further than this, asserting that they seek to change the basic processes through which Aboriginal people are oppressed, in the context of health care. AHSs draw links between the social and environmental conditions which they perceive as common to Aboriginal experience, and the continuing poor health status of Aboriginal people.

31.3.53 The Queensland Aboriginal Co-ordinating Council has suggested that AHSs should be comprehensive in scope, recommending that:

Hospitals or medical aid outposts on communities could be turned into complete health centres with in-patient and out-patient treatment, community health, health education and environmental health all operating out of the one building. The Aboriginal Health program teams on the communities could also be integrated into the health centres. 19

31.3.54 Furthermore, I am of the view that, in areas where Aboriginal people are concentrated and the State or Territory Governments provide or intend to provide a particular health service or range of services to Aboriginal people, Alx>riginal community-controlled AHSs could usefully consider negotiating, with that government agency, contracts for the provision of primary health care services to Aboriginal people, and also, where appropriate, to non-Aboriginal people. I note that I have been advised that AHSs currently provide services to non-Aboriginal people in some localities.

31.3.55 The AHSs play an important role in raising the self-esteem of Aboriginal people-as do other organizations. They represent the capacity of Aboriginal people to handle their own problems; they represent self­ determination in practice, at a particular level; they represent an attack on that disempowerment which is one of the sources of Aboriginal ill-health, both physical and mental.

Page242 Vol4

31 Towards Better Health

Evaluation Processes 31.3.56 It is clearly beyond the scope of the Royal Commission to seek to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the approximately seventy AHSs in operation throughout Australia. Indeed, no agency has done so. Those who have written on the matter have generally had to be content

with describing the functions and roles of the services, to recognize the appropriateness of their breadth, and to suggest concepts and strategies for more rigorous evaluation.

31.3.57 The National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party gave consideration to this matter. It concluded that:

While there is a lack of sufficient hard evidence the Working Party believes that the Aboriginal controlled Aboriginal health services have made a significant contribution to the improvement in the health status of Aboriginal people ... [T] he existence of such services

resulted in Aboriginal people actively seeking medical assistance before the condition became acute ... [A]necdotal evidence was presented to demonstrate the effect that easy access has had in improving the health

status with communities. 30

31.3.58 In their submissions to the Commission, however, a number of services have indicated that, to maximize the effectiveness of their programs, they need to undertake appropriate evaluations. In the past, the former Department of Aboriginal Affairs has sought some evaluation but

generally has not provided the necessary additional funds to allow this to be undertaken, and has been suspected by many AHSs of seeking the evaluations to justify reduced funding. The ill-fated attempt to impose inappropriate performance indicators on the services is an example. While

not suggesting that the Aboriginal community-controlled health services should be exempt from public accountability, it will be necessary to develop appropriate measures to be used both in program evaluation and in the assessment of overall performance. Funding agencies need to

recognize that, as part of the resources allocated to the services, enough funds must be provided to allow them to evaluate their various programs.

31.3.59 This begs the question of how program evaluation is to be perceived, implemented and used. I hold the view, one which Commissioner Dodson has put forcefully in discussions with me and others, that program evaluation should be a participatory, action research­

oriented activity. It should not be something done to AHSs by (non­ Aboriginal) outsiders. Undertaken properly, program evaluation cari contribute to building the skills and self-confidence of Aboriginal policy makers, managers and service delivery personnel. It can and should

Vol4 Page 243

Towards Better Health 31

contribute to the development of services, and not be simply a tool for distant bureaucrats to justify-or decrease-levels of funding.

Other Issues 31.3.60 As discussed in Chapter 24, some Aboriginal community­ controlled services are providing a valuable service to some Aboriginal people in custody, and this type of service could well be extended to other areas. Such a service is, of course, not without cost. (Of course, there may be savings in mainstream services to prisoners.)

31.3.61 A number of submissions received have commented on the relative paucity of adequate accommodation and other facilities available to the Aboriginal comrrmnity-controlled services. Although I am not in a position to make a definite statement in this regard, I suggest that funding agencies need to examine closely these complaints, and ensure that Aboriginal community-controlled services are fully equipped to provide the standard of care expected in Australia today.

31.3.62 According to the National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party, and as has been submitted to the Royal Commission, a substantial level of unmet demand for new and significantly expanded AHSs exists. The Working Party took the view that this demand should be met, recommending that 'there be a significant increase in the number of Aboriginal health services and priority in funding new services be given to the more remote and isolated areas'. 31

31.3.63 Enough evidence has been presented to the Commission to allow me to support this recommendation. It is my assessment that AHSs, adequately resourced and in other ways supported, are effective both in improving the health of the people they serve and in assisting Aboriginal people to regain the power to shape their own lives. These services have the capacity to avoid or overcome the drawbacks of the mainstream services that I described above. I commend the Aboriginal community­ controlled health services for their achievements and support current pressures to expand the number of services available and to increase the level of resources provided to existing services. An adequate level of funding, along with an increased degree of security of funding, should result in higher quality services to the patients and clients of the AHSs.


31.3.64 I believe that the current and potential contributions that Aboriginal health professionals are making and can make to Aboriginal health improvements are only just starting to be fully appreciated. Aboriginal health professionals include traditional healers as well as

Page244 Vol4

31 Towards Better Health

western-trained Aboriginal health workers (including hospital liaison officers), nurses, doctors and other health professionals.

31.3.65 The outcome of a number of the cases considered by the Commission-may have been different if the deceased had had access to a traditional healer. An important component of increased cultural awareness should be a recognition of potential differences in

understandings of health and disease aetiology. In this context, there may often be complementary roles for traditional healers and western-trained doctors in treating Aboriginal people, in and out of custody. We have seen examples of this among the cases investigated. For example, prison

records for Kim Polak reveal that he was treated in prison, with positive results, by Aboriginal healers, for afflictions that would be considered to be psychiatric conditions by western medicine. This happened on at least two occasions.32 In the case of Bobby Bates, the Commission was told of

instances when traditional healers were used, successfully, within the Eastern Goldfields Regional Prison, to counteract the effects of 'singing'. Such a course of action is dependent upon the 'sung' person requesting this assistance33 , but it is also important that the authorities are aware of,

and able to assist in, providing this option.

31.3.66 As suggested by the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress in its submission, funds need to be provided for the appropriate use of traditional healers by Aboriginal community-controlled health services and other health service agencies. I concur with this proposal; it highlights the

fact that the AHSs can provide health care which is qualitatively different from that provided in mainstream health services.

31.3.67 There is clearly also a need for more AHWs, in their various roles: clinical, health promotion, counselling, support, social development, environmental improvements, etc. The Commission was presented with ample evidence of the important roles that Aboriginal health

workers can fill. Their importance has been recognized in my recommendation to expand the use of these workers in caring for Aboriginal people in custody, and in my recognition of the varied and positive roles they perform for Aboriginal people in the general

community. Expanded opportunities for both formal and on-the-job training for AHWs are important, and their employing agencies need resources to make this possible. - In the further development of such programs, the need for AHW s to have skills in both the clinical and social

development fields should be recognized.

31.3.68 In view of the number of cases in which it was reported that the deceased was either reluctant to attend hospital for treatment or left prior to the normal completion of treatment, I also strongly support the extended availability of Aboriginal hospital liaison officers. The ready

availability of a supportive Aboriginal person in a somewhat threatening environment should go a long way to ensure that Aboriginal patients

Vol4 Page 245

Towards Better Health 31

receive the best possible hospital care. It is crucial that the person be seen and used as a respected member of the therapeutic team; not simply a low status adjunct to non-Aboriginal medical and nursing staff. Their special skills need to be developed, recognized and rewarded.

31.3. 69 I illustrated this matter in my report on the case of Eddie Betts, where I noted that, since his death in Port Lincoln, South Australia, the local hospital had appointed an Aboriginal hospital liaison officer. 34 He had been found to be a valuable team member. His roles include helping Aboriginal patients to adjust to the often alien environment of the hospital, to maintain their continuity of treatment (including admissions to hospital and outpatients department attendance when required) and to provide a link between the hospital and the Aboriginal community. As I noted in my report, 'without exception, people spoke highly of the work of this officer'. It is gratifying to see that the importance of his contribution is recognized through his involvement in the management of the hospital as a member of its Board of Management. 35

31.3.70 At present, specialized Aboriginal mental health workers are generally not available, but I believe that the support of such workers is a priority. As a matter of some urgency, consideration should be given to the training of Aboriginal mental health workers and the provision of funds to enable them to be employed in the Aboriginal community­ controlled and other health services. I discuss Aboriginal mental health services more fully later in this chapter.

31.3. 71 I believe that greater efforts need to be made to formalize the roles of Aboriginal health workers within the total health-care system, perhaps along the lines followed in the Northern Territory. As I noted above, the Northern Territory legislated some years ago to recognize legally the work of AHWs through its Health Practitioners and Allied Professionals Registration Act. That jurisdiction also has a well­

articulated career structure for AHW s, one that enables them to advance in that specialist field. This is far preferable to having to move out of the AHW role, into nursing or health administration, for example, as is required for career advancement in most other jurisdictions. The

accreditation of AHWs should go a long way to recognizing the very special contributions they can and do make to Aboriginal health.

31.3.72 I note that the further development of training programs, which should accompany the formalization of the AHW profession, will require adequate resources, perhaps along the lines of the special funds provided by A TSIC to Queensland which I have described above. Furthermore, the development of industrial awards covering the different grades of AHWs,- as is currently being discussed in some jurisdictions, will also help to formalize the roles and career advancement prospects for AHWs.

Page246 Vol4

31 Towards Better Health

31.3.73 In acknowledgement of the varied roles of AHWs, it is important that a number of different types of training programs are developed. Also, some consideration should be given to the titles used for the various roles, as the present general designation, Aboriginal health

worker, can lead to some confusion.

31.3.74 Finally, it should be recognized that AHWs face at times difficult situations, in that there may be different expectations held by their employer on the one hand and their community on the other. I think that employers should appreciate that the workers have an obligation to the

community as well as to the employer and that they are unlikely to be very successful in their roles without that feeling of community accountability.


31.3. 7 5 Earlier in this chapter I described the special Aboriginal health programs being run by the State and Territory Governments, differentiating them from both the Commonwealth Government's activities and those of the Aboriginal community-controlled health services. As

summarized in Chapter 23, since the early 1970s there have a number of improvements in Aboriginal health status, including significant reductions in the level of mortality experienced by Aboriginal infants. While recognizing the difficulties in relating death rates to the availability of

services, it is not coincidental that these improvements occurred in parallel with the expansion of programs (mostly State and Northern Territory programs) directed to the welfare of Aboriginal mothers and their babies. As well, improved neonatal care facilities improved the survival of all

babies, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal.

31.3.76 The effectiveness of other components of the special State and Territory Aboriginal disease prevention and health promotion programs is, I am informed, less readily measurable; and indeed it is put to me that there is a virtual absence of process and outcome evaluation of those

initiatives. I am unable to comment beyond recording this observation.

31.3.77 However, given the important role that aspects like lifestyle (including diet and nutrition) play in a number of significant causes of Aboriginal morbidity and mortality (for example, heart disease and diabetes), it appears desirable to me to expand health promotion and disease prevention programs, with an essential evaluation component built

in. It is important that these programs allow for full involvement and participation, as well as being closely co-ordinated with other aspects of the health care system serving Aboriginal people, particularly the Aboriginal community-controlled health

Insufficient action is taking place in the area of health and

disease prevention among Aboriginal people, despite its central role tn the primary health care concept and the long-term benefits that it provides.

Vol4 Page 247

Towards Better Health 31

31.3.78 With regard to the special State-run curative services for Aboriginal people, I am informed that there has also been little scrutiny of their adequacy. In Queensland, a recent internal review of State services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities recommended substantial improvements, particularly in the level of Aboriginal involvement and in the provision of suitably trained staff. It is understood that these recommendations are currently being considered by the Queensland Government.

31.3.79 Our Aboriginal Issues Units have pointed out that, in some States, Aboriginal people are dissatisfied with the functions allocated to the Aboriginal health programs' staff. I cannot assess just how general this concern is, but recommend that the State and Territory Governments give close attention to the mix of services provided to Aboriginal people, and to the appropriate roles of the special Aboriginal programs.


31.3.80 What can be said about the provision of appropriate health services can also, to a large extent, be said about mental health services. It is apparent, though, that mental health is a specialized area, and consequently there are less services available for Aboriginal people than in other areas of the health care system. As with other specialized health

services, to provide an appropriate and fully utilized service there is a clear need for Aboriginal involvement and consultation.

31.3.81 It is apparent from the description of existing mental health services for Aboriginal people, presented in the early part of this chapter, that present services are far from adequate. This is well recognized in the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists' Draft position statement: psychiatric services for Aboriginal people. It states, inter alia, that:

The network of psychiatric services in Australia is designed to meet the needs of the mentally ill who present in the European manner. Consequently, there are no special psychiatric services, no culturally appropriatefacilities,few specially trained workers, and

no specific policies for the diagnosis and treatment of Aboriginal people with mental illness. 36

The experience of the Royal Commission confmns this conclusion.

31.3.82 Many critics of current services, such as Sr Pat Swan of the Redfern (Sydney) Aboriginal Medical Service, go much further, calling for a fundamental re-orientation in the thinking of mental health

Page248 Vol4

31 Towards Better Health

professionals and the development of a framework by which Aboriginal mental health problems can be usefully understood. In particular, she argues that this framework should acknowledge the historical and cultural situation of Aboriginal people.

31.3.83 As discussed in some detail in Chapter 23, part of the difficulty confronting conventional mental health services in dealing with Aboriginal mental health problems is the lack of an adequate cross-cultural perspective on the part of the non-Aboriginal health professionals

involved. Aboriginal people do have mental health needs which require psychiatric expertise, yet the conventional psychiatric model does not offer an adequate socio-cultural perspective with which to deal with these needs. Particularly in relation to mental health, the need for a cross-cultural

perspective is being increasingly recognized but not acted upon. Ideally, of course, services should operate in a 'within culture' framework. This means a service which is specifically attuned to the cultural imperatives of the community involved, rather than applying a 'cross-cultural

perspective' which so often means, in practice, a dominant cultural perspective being applied more, or less, sensitively to another culture.

31.3 .84 At present, in terms of both a cross-cultural perspective and 'within culture' input, mental health services for Aboriginal people are particularly poorly developed. To overcome these deficiencies, priority needs to be given to complementing the appropriate training of

psychiatrists and other non-Aboriginal mental health professionals with the development of a cadre of AHWs with appropriate mental health training. The integration of the two groups, both in their training and in mental health service delivery, should receive close attention.

31.3.85 Another aspect concerning present mental health services is that, with the exception of the Victorian Aboriginal Mental Health Network, they are poorly linked, if at all, with community-based Aboriginal organizations. For mental health practice to be effective it must

be placed within a model that allows effective participation of Aboriginal people. This is particularly true for those mental problems that do not require highly specialized psychiatric care, probably the majority of the mental distress experienced by Aboriginal people.

Service Delivery Models 31.3.86 No doubt reflecting the relative neglect of Aboriginal mental health problems, a number of specific proposals in this area were submitted to the Commission for consideration. I will comment briefly on

these proposals.

31.3.87 Earlier in this chapter, I noted that in South Australia there was · a proposal to establish an Aboriginal youth mental health team. This proposal, developed by the Adelaide Children's Hospital in consultation

Vol4 Page 249

Towards Better Health 31

with Aboriginal people, involves linkage of the Aboriginal community­ controlled team with mainstream services and co-operation with the State Government's Aboriginal Health Organization. 37

31.3.88 The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists has suggested a mainstream 'linking' facility along the lines of the South Australian Management Assessment Panel.38 The Management Assessment Panel is comprised of 'experts' who attempt to develop a plan of management for those individuals who are not catered for by mainstream services . . In particular, the Panel attempts to make up collaborative programs whereby a number of services are drawn together to assist the person concerned. Advice is sought from professionals and non-professionals, including family and friends, on what would be the ideal plan of management for the person concerned. This approach has the advantage of bringing together a number of mainstream services to maximize service delivery.

31.3.89 The Central Australian Aboriginal Congress in Alice Springs has outlined a possible treatment model for people with disturbed behaviour in more remote communities. The Congress notes that an Aboriginal run and owned station like Utopia-north of Alice Springs­ could act as a live-in facility to assist people with disturbed behaviour. Alternatively, family based facilities close to existing mental health services would also be appropriate. 39

31.3.90 Mr Richard Wilkes, the Aboriginal Welfare Officer for the Multicultural Psychiatric Service in Western Australia, points out that tribal differences mean that traditionally-oriented Aboriginal people would feel more comfortable being treated among their own people, thus maximizing the effectiveness of treatment. He suggests that a number of mental health centres run by local Aboriginal people, along the lines of the Aboriginal community-controlled health services, should be established immediately. Properly funded centres would be serviced by a visiting psychiatrist, trained nursing staff (ideally Aboriginal) and local health workers. Such a model could well be for remote-living Aboriginal people what the Victorian Aboriginal Mental Health Network is for urban-living Aboriginal people.40

31.3.91 Professor John Cawte, who has had many years experience in the area of Aboriginal mental health and who was the founding editor of the Aboriginal Health Worker journal, has proposed the establishment of a cross-cultural mental health research centre utilizing the infrastructure of Prince Henry's Hospital in Sydney. Professor Cawte's proposal is modelled to a degree on a United States cross-cultural research centre, the National Centre for American Indian and Alaska Native Mental Health Research. This American Centre has provided much information facilitating community-based, culturally informed, indigenous mental health programs.4t

Page250 Vol4

31 Towards Better Health

31 .3. 92 I take the view that, while there is a need for more research into the area of Aboriginal mental health, a proposal to locate research at one site must be carefully considered. A centralized model has the advantage of having research data bases in one place, and such a centre

could also provide specialist training for non-Aboriginal mental health workers, including psychiatrists. On the other hand, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists has proposed a more decentralized approach, 'encouraging small projects with local solutions rather than attempting global solutions' .42 An advantage of decentralized

research is that it can link directly with the communities it serves, and recognizes that diverse needs exist within and between Aboriginal communities.

31.3.93 The work of the Victorian Aboriginal Mental Health Network could well be expanded to undertake more research for Aboriginal people living in an urban environment. A different model, perhaps linked with the service structure proposed by Richard Wilkes, may be required for

more remote communities.

31.3.94 In conclusion, I believe that the Commission is not sufficiently informed to make firm recommendations about how the States and Territories, the Commonwealth and community organizations should go about organizing and implementing mental health services for Aboriginal

people. I have seen ample evidence, however, to convince me that Aboriginal people experience a high level of mental health problems: at least as high as in the non-Aboriginal society and probably higher in some strife-ridden communities. Furthermore, little is being done to prevent and

treat these problems. The services now available are non-Aboriginal dominated, an approach particularly problematic in the area of mental health, owing to its cultural overlays. I have offered above descriptions of a number of approaches or models that are being, or could be, applied.

While I am not in a position to favour strongly one above another, I offer the following suggestions as criteria to be considered when governments and others are further developing Aboriginal mental health services: (1) Aboriginal people, including Aboriginal health care providers,

need to be involved both in the discussions concerning the best models of research and training to be set up and in the identification of needs, policy development, staff training, service delivery and program (2) Since it seems very clear that, to one degree or another, problems

of Aboriginal mental health (including conditions of distress) are linked to external social factors as well as to cultural factors, and since both the social and cultural factors differ markedly for Aboriginal people in many parts of the country, locally oriented

services are more likely to be successful. (3) There should be a clear connection between the Aboriginal mental health services and the general Aboriginal health services and it may well be found that one of the best qualifications to become an

Vol4 Page 251

Towards Better Health 31

Aboriginal mental health worker is to have been an AHW, particularly given a broad conception of the AHW role already held in many services.

31.3.95 I do not suggest that this list of criteria for service development is exhaustive. It is clearly beyond the scope of this Commission to reach definitive conclusions on matters like these. I am of the view that much more needs to be done in the Aboriginal mental health field, and suggest that the relevant community organizations and official authorities examine the various options, and initiate appropriate action as a matter of some urgency. I recommend that this be undertaken as part of the developing national mental health strategy, in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been identified as an 'at-risk' group. ATSIC could have a central role in this process.


31.3.96 I do not attempt to assess here the adequacy of the services provided to Aboriginal people by the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) and the other aerial medical services referred to earlier in this chapter, but a number of points arise from submissions tendered to the Commission and from evidence heard in a number of the cases that deserve some attention.

31.3.97 In addition to the general points made in Section 31.2, which justify consideration by the management of the aerial services, special mention must be made of the difficulties associated with making medical diagnosis and decisions at a distance, such as by radio or telephone. The cases of Mark Quayle and Monty Salt illustrate the ever-present problem of reaching the correct diagnosis when relying on incomplete information. The risk of mis-diagnosis could be reduced if distant consultations were guided by standard protocols to ensure that all relevant information was both sought by and provided to the person with the ultimate responsibility for a patient's care. I suggest that the relevant agencies, and State and Territory health authorities, review the options available in this area.

31.3.98 The general points made in relation to Aboriginal involvement in health services, both in management and in service delivery, apply to the RFDS and the other aerial medical services operated by governments and charitable bodies. As noted earlier, two-fifths of the patients cared for by the RFDS are Aboriginal people. Despite this high proportion, I understand that very few Aboriginal people are employed by the RFDS, and almost none are in policy and decision-making roles. Clearly, a need exists for more Aboriginal people to be involved at all levels. Similarly, the Northern Territory Aerial Medical Service, while also having a high proportion of Aboriginal patients, is controlled by the Northern Territory Department of Health and Community Services, and Aboriginal input into its operations is only indirect.

Page252 Vol4

31 Towards Better Health


Research Funding 31.3.99 The National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party recognized the need for research into a wide variety of Aboriginal health issues, and, as the Joint Ministerial Forum agreed, part of the National

Aboriginal Health Strategy is 'that the NH&MRC give priority to funding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled health research projects' .43 The Joint Ministerial Forum, which has agreed to the National Aboriginal Health Strategy, is discussed in some detail in Section 31.4,

below. I have been advised that the National Health & Medical Research Council (NH&MRC) has not, over the years, funded a great deal of Aboriginal health research reflecting, perhaps, the relatively small number of researchers interested in this field. I support the Ministers' decision,

and invite the Council to actively stimulate research in this field, particularly research that involves Aboriginal people at both the development and implementation stages.

31.3.100 In this regard, the Working Party highlighted the need for Aboriginal people to actively participate in the research process, starting from the determination of research priorities: 'Aboriginal research, rather than reflecting the fancy of the individual researcher, needs to become

problem oriented and Aboriginal people should be defining the problems' .44 An example of this in practice is the study of stress and destructive behaviour among Aboriginal people in Adelaide, a joint research project of the Flinders University of South Australia and the

Aboriginal Education Foundation of South Australia. This co-operative approach is consistent with the overall thrust of the Royal Commission's view of research, mentioned in a number of places in this report.

31.3 .1 0 1 The Working Party summarized a wide range of research areas and topics, but did not attempt to establish priorities among them; nor will I. To ensure that adequate funds would be available to undertake research, the Working Party recommended that 'the NH&MRC should annually set

aside a fixed proportion of research monies it administers for research projects in Aboriginal health' anq, additionally, .that 'the Commonwealth Government set aside $2m per annum for research projects conducted by, and specific to, Aboriginal communities and Aboriginal community­

controlled organizations' .45 The report also noted that the Commonwealth Department of Employment, Education and Training should provide funds to assist Aboriginal people to develop and enhance research skills. I suggest that these are matters of detail that the proposed Council of

Aboriginal Health could consider and negotiate upon with the relevant bodies. The principle underlying such consideration should be, in my view, the degree to which the resulting research will benefit Aboriginal people themselves.

Vol4 Page 253

Towards Better Health 31

Research Ethics 31.3 .1 02 The Working Party also the need for ethical

approval for all research into Aboriginal health. Following its 1986 conference on 'Research Priorities in Aboriginal Health', the NH&MRC has been developing guidelines for the conduct of research in the area of Aboriginal health. Pending the finalization of firm guidelines, the NH&MRC, and other bodies, are using as a guide the document 'Some advisory notes on ethical matters in Aboriginal research', released by the NH&MRC in 1988. I endorse the principles enunciated in that advisory note. Compliance with it, particularly its requirement for informed approval from the Aboriginal people affected by research projects, should be a condition of research funding.

Aboriginal Health Statistics 31.3.1 03 As noted in Chapter 23, the assessment of current Aboriginal . health status is limited by the lack of comprehensive data. The need for national Aboriginal health statistics has been recognized for many years, but until recently little real progress has been made. In response to the slow progress, a high level Commonwealth Task Force on Aboriginal Health Statistics was established in 1984. The Task Force reached agreements with all States and Territories except Queensland-which it did not visit-to identify Aboriginal people in a number of 'priority' health statistical collections, including birth and death registrations, hospital morbidity and maternal/peri-natal collections. Of course, these are only some of the health statistics required.

31.3.104 In fact, the Working Party highlighted a wide range of other statistics required for the monitoring and evaluation of health programs and services. These included statistics relating to health services delivery, systems infrastructure and inter-sectoral collaboration, environmental and social health, family health and sentinel health events (i.e. conditions that may be used to monitor changes in population health levels), in addition to the statistics identified as priorities by the Task Force. These additional statistics were not included among the National Aboriginal Health Strategy recommendations agreed to by the Joint Ministerial Forum in June 1990:

'that each State and Territory Government nominate a senior person in the relevant Department to be responsible for implementation of recommendations of the 1985 National Task Force on Aboriginal Health Statistics' and 'that an appropriate level of resources be made available to the Australian Institute of Health to enable comprehensive Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health statistical data collection, analysis and reporting'. 46

31. 3.105 Although it was hoped that much more could be achieved in the development and dissemination of Aboriginal health statistics, progress may be slower than desirable. Not only is there no agreement to proceed

Page254 Vol4

31 Towards Better Health

with the other statistics recommended by the Working Party but I understand that only three staff members are to be available to the Australian Institute of Health to undertake the collection, analysis and reporting of the 'priority' statistics. The level of commitment by the States

and Territories still has to be established.

31.3.106 Aboriginal health statistics should be treated, in my view, like research projects. If their collection, analysis, dissemination and use will enhance the health of Aboriginal people, then such action should proceed. Aboriginal people should be involved in each of these stages.

Furthermore, I suggest that appropriate Aboriginal health bodies, such as the proposed Council of Aboriginal Health, consider developing an expanded role in this area, perhaps in an advisory capacity to the Australian Institute of Health. The aim of this involvement would be to

ensure that priority is given to the collection, analysis, dissemination and use of those Aboriginal health statistics most relevant to Aboriginal advancement.


31.3.107 The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has provided two useful submissions to the Commission. The Association points out that it is well placed to represent the opinions and interests of the Australian medical profession, although the Commission recognizes that many

medical practitioners are not members of the Association and that a number of other professional associations represent other views within the medical profession. Nevertheless, I am encouraged by the interest in the work of the Royal Commission exhibited by the AMA, and note, in particular, that

it has a formal policy on Aboriginal health. I am advised that this policy was last reviewed and approved by the Association's Federal Council in August 1987. Since it covers many of the areas which I have discussed in this chapter, and is the policy of a prestigious and influential body in the

medical field, I set out here the AMA's Aboriginal Health Policy in full:


The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has a long history of interest in Aboriginal health and of commitment to influencing governments and society so as to improve Aboriginal health. In its role as an

advocate of public healih measures, the Association is concerned at the persistence of third-world levels of mortality and morbidity among Aboriginal people. The AMA considers that the chronic state of Aboriginal ill­

health remains poorly documented and that the activities of government health authorities targeted at this problem have been relatively uncoordinated.

Page 255

Towards Better Health


The AMA has formally adopted the following policies which are either directly or indirectly related to Aboriginal health ...

• Special efforts are needed to raise the health status of Aboriginal people to that of the rest of the Australian community.

• The cultural beliefs and practices of Aboriginal people which relate to health and health services must be an integral part of the design and implementation of Aboriginal health care problems.

• Aboriginal people must be able to determine the type of health services best suited to their needs and available resources, and be involved in the planning, provision and delivery of health services.

• Medical and other health professionals involved in the provision of services to Aboriginal people should develop an increased awareness of Aboriginal culture.

• Appropriate orientation courses should be conducted for medical practitioners and other health workers who are not themselves Aboriginal people but who are to serve Aboriginal comm.unities.

• The curricula of university medical schools, nurse training and other appropriate tertiary institutions should contain a component dealing with Aboriginal health and related cultural issues both at the undergraduate and postgraduate level.

• Aboriginal people should be encouraged and assisted to attain educational standards which will allow them to qualify for access to training in all the health professions.

• Medical practitioners should be prepared to participate . in the formulation of Aboriginal health programs and the education and training of Aboriginal health professionals.

• Undergraduate medical education should provide opportunities for students to develop an awareness of different cultural backgrounds in Australian society.

• Adequate postgraduate education should be considered as having a component relating to cultural and ethnic differences in Australian society.



31 Towards Better Health

• The Australian Medical Association recognizes the need for suitably qualified medical practitioners to work in the field of Aboriginal health and supports reasonable initiatives directed at achieving such an


• The Australian Medical Association recognizes that in remote areas of Australia, special conditions of service for medical practitioners may be necessary in order to ensure an adequate supply of suitably

qualified and experienced doctors.

• Because cultural and environmental factors have a powerful influence on health, and are affected by the decisions and policies of those in authority, medical practitioners have a responsibility to ensure that

relevant authorities and the public are fully informed of the implications of such decisions on the health of the community .47

31.3.108 The policy goes on to identify action that the AMA itself can take to advance the broad acceptance of this policy. I commend the Association for its attention to Aboriginal health concerns.


Recommendation 247: That more and/or better quality training be provided in a range of areas taking note of the following: a. Many non-Aboriginal health professionals at all

levels are poorly informed about Aboriginal people, their cultural differences, their specific socioeconomic circumstances and their history within Australian society. The managers of

health care services should be aware of this and institute specific training programs to remedy this deficiency, including by pre-service and in­ service training of doctors, nurses and other

health professionals, especially in areas where Aboriginal people are concentrated; b. The rotation of staff through country hospitals means that many professional staff are ill­

prepared to provide appropriate health care services to Aboriginal people. Staff on such rotations should receive special training for their rural placements, and resources to make

this possible should routinely be provided as part of the operating budgets of the relevant facilities;

Page 257

Towards Better Health 31


c. The primary care approach to health

development zs highly appropriate in the

Aboriginal health field, but health professionals are not well trained in this area. The pre­

service and in-service training of doctors, nurses and other health professionals should provide such staff with a firm understanding of and commitment to primary health care. This

should be a special feature of the training of staff interested in working in localities where Aboriginal people are concentrated; d. Health care staff working in areas where

Aboriginal people are concentrated should receive specific orientation training covering both the socio-cultural aspects of the Aboriginal communities they are likely to be serving and the types of medical and health conditions likely · to be encountered in a particular locality. Such orientation programs must be complemented by appropriate on-the-job training; e. Effective communication between non­

Aboriginal health professionals and patients in mainstream services is essential for the

successful management of the patients' health problems. Non-Aboriginal staff should receive special training to sensitize them to the

communication barriers most likely to interfere with the optimal health professional/patient relationship; and f. Aboriginal people often present to mainstream

health care facilities with unusual health

conditions and unusual presentations of common conditions, as well as urgent, life­ threatening conditions. The training of health professionals must enable them to cope

successfully with these conditions.

Recommendation 248: That health departments, academic institutions and other relevant training authorities monitor the proposed Monash University/Victorian Aboriginal

Health Service's Aboriginal Primary Health Care Unit, with a view to learning from its experiences and that those interested in this field study the




Towards Better Health

philosophies and methods of operation of the

Aboriginal community-controlled health services.

Recommendation 249: That the non-Aboriginal health professionals who have to serve Aboriginal people who have limited skills in communicating with them in the English

language should have access to skilled interpreters.

Recommendation 250: That effective mechanisms be established for

communicating vital information about patients, between the mainstream and Aboriginal community­ based health care services. This must be done in an ethical manner, preserving the confidentiality of personal information and with the informed consent of

the patients involved. Such communication should be a two-way process.

Recommendation 251: That access to health care services and facilities, including specialised diagnostic facilities, in areas of Aboriginal population should be brought up to

community standards. The greater needs, for the time being, of Aboriginal people should be fully

recognized by the responsible authorities in their consideration of the allocation of staff and equipment.

Recommendation 252: That hospitals that are regularly attended by

Aboriginal people should review existing procedures in casualty, in consultation with Aboriginal Health and Medical Services, to reduce the likelihood of Aboriginal patients receiving ineffective diagnosis and

treatment. The usefulness of standard protocols in such situations should be explored in the reviews.

Recommendation 253: That the physical design of and methods of operating health care facilities be attuned to the needs of the intended patients. Particularly where high

concentrations of Aboriginal people are found, their special needs in these regards should be taken into

Page 259

Towards Better Health 31


consideration. The involvement of Aboriginal people in the processes of designing such facilities is highly desirable.

Recommendation 254: That health departments and other mainstream health authorities accept as policy, and implement in

practice, the principle that Aboriginal people should be involved in meaningful ways in decision-making roles regarding the assessment of needs and the

delivery of health services to the Aboriginal

community. One application of this principle is that efforts should be made to see that Aboriginal people are properly represented on the Boards of hospitals serving areas where Aboriginal patients will be a significant proportion of hospital clients.

Recommendation 255: That the holding of negative stereotypes of both

Aboriginal people and people with drinking problems be addressed through effective staff selection and supervision, along with pre-service and in-service education, to reduce the ignorance, and through clear instructions by employing authorities that such stereotyping of Aboriginal people and those with drinking problems will not be tolerated in the health care setting.

Recommendation 256: That more Aboriginal staff be employed through affirmative action programs as health care workers (and, indeed, in other capacities such as support

staff) in those mainstream health care facilities which serve Aboriginal clients and patients and that their involvement must be well thought out, be at

appropriate levels, and be structured so that they contribute effectively with the minimum amount of role conflict.

Recommendation 257: That special initiatives now in place in a number of tertiary training institutions, such as medical schools, to facilitate the entry into and successful completion




Towards Better Health

of courses of study and training by Aboriginal

students be expanded for use in all relevant areas of health services training.

Recommendation 258: That in areas where .Aboriginal people are

concentrated and the state or territory governments provide or intend to provide a particular service or services to Aboriginal people, the governments invite community-controlled Aboriginal Health Services to

consider negotiating contracts for the provision of the services to Aboriginal people and also, where

appropriate, to non-Aboriginal people.

Recommendation 259: That Aboriginal community-controlled . health services be resourced to meet a broad range of functions,

beyond simply the provision of medical and nursing care, including the promotion of good health, the prevention of disease, environmental improvement and the improvement of social welfare services for

Aboriginal people.

Recommendation 260: That: a.



Funding bodies should facilitate program evaluation of Aboriginal community-controlled health services, not with the aim of making

decisions on levels of funding, but with the aim of assisting the services to operate most

effectively and efficiently; Representative$ of the Aboriginal community should be invited to participate in the control of the evaluation research activity; and

Performance indicators should be drawn up co­ operatively between the managers of the

services and the funding bodies.

Page 261

Towards Better Health 31


Recommendation 261: That the use of Aboriginal hospital liaison officers be expanded in hospitals which serve Aboriginal patients and that they be seen and used as respected members of the therapeutic team.

Recommendation 262: That the States recognize the contributions of

Aboriginal Health Workers and in so doing review the Northern Territory's experience of the establishment of appropriate career structures and the registration of them.

Recommendation 263: That where there is a high level of non-compliance by · a range of Aboriginal patients with advice tendered to them by health professionals, the health professionals should examine their styles of operation with a view to checking whether those styles can be improved.

Recommendation 264: That: a. There be a substantial expansion in Aboriginal mental health services within the framework of

the development, on the basis of community consultation, of a new national mental health policy; b. There be close scrutiny by those developing the

national policy of the number of models that exist for such expansion; and c. Aboriginal people be fully involved in the

policy development and implementation process.

Recommendation 265: That as an immediate step towards overcoming the poorly developed level of mental health services for Aboriginal people priority should be given to

complementing the training of psychiatrists and other non-Aboriginal mental health professionals with the development of a cadre of Aboriginal health workers with appropriate mental health training, as well as their general health worker training. The integration of the two groups, both in their training and in mental




Towards Better Health

health service delivery, should receive close attention. In addition, resources should be allocated for the training and employment of Aboriginal mental health workers by Aboriginal health services.

Recommendation 266: That the linking or integrating of mental health

services for Aboriginal people with local health and other support services be a feature of current and expanded Aboriginal mental health services.

Recommendation 267: That aerial medical services and the appropriate authorities review the effectiveness of practices relating to medical diagnosis at a distance, for

example by radio or telephone, and consider the

implementation of standard diagnostic protocols, where they are not currently being used.

Recommendation 268: That the National Health and Medical Research Council actively stimulate research into health concerns identified as priorities by appropriate Aboriginal health advisory bodies (such as the

proposed Council of Aboriginal Health), particularly research that involves Aboriginal people at both the development and implementation stages.

Recommendation 2()9: That compliance with the National Health and Medical Research Council's Advisory Notes on Aboriginal health research be a condition of Aboriginal

health research funding from all sources.

Recommendation 270: That: a. Aboriginal people be involved in each stage of

the development of Aboriginal health statistics; and

Page 263

Towards Better Health 31


b. Appropriate Aboriginal health advisory bodies (such as the proposed Council of Aboriginal Health) consider developing an· expanded role in this area, perhaps in an advisory capacity to the Australian Institute of Health, and that the aim

of this involvement should be to ensure that priority is given to the collection, analysis, dissemination and use of those Aboriginal health statistics most relevant to Aboriginal health development.


31.4.1 The report and recommendations of the National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party have been referred to many times in this chapter. The Working Party comprised leading members of the Aboriginal community, experts in their own right, who undertook an exhaustive process of consultati on with Aboriginal people and others around Australia. Accordingly, I present in this section of my report a summary of the currently emerging National Aboriginal Health Strategy. I refer to

the work of the Working Party and to the Joint Ministerial Forum and Officers' Development Group which considered its report, along with the Commonwealth Government's initial responses to the recommendations put to it.

31.4.2 First some background. In 1973, a National Plan for

Aboriginal Health set the target of the 'improvement of the health of Australian A borigines up to at least the level of non-Aboriginal Australians', to be achieved within ten years.48 However, the Plan was, at best, a stateme nt of intent and included some patently unattainable goals, such as the eradication of tuberculosis-something which has not been achieved anywhere in the world.

31.4.3 In the years following the release of this Plan, governments throughout the country pursued, with varying levels of commitment, programs aimed at improving the health of Aboriginal people. It was not until December 1987, however, that a combined meeting of Commonwealth, State and Territory Ministers for Health and Aboriginal Affairs agreed to develop a National Aboriginal Health Strategy. Initial work on the development was to be undertaken by a National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party, with its implementation to be oversighted by an ongoing Joint Ministerial Forum on Aboriginal Health.

Page264 Vol4

31 Towards Better Health

31.4.4 The terms of reference of the Working Party, comprising a majority of Aboriginal people and chaired by Ms Naomi Mayers, the Administrator of the Sydney's Redfern Aboriginal Medical Service, were: 1. to r_ eport on funding arrangements for Aboriginal health services

and programs;

2. to develop strategies to achieve improvements in Aboriginal health; 3. to develop strategies to maximize the involvement of Aboriginal people in their own health care;

4. to consider inter-sectoral co-ordination; and 5. to develop a mechanism to monitor progress towards achieving health targets.

31.4.5 The Working Party provided a comprehensive report to the March 1989 meeting of the Joint Ministerial Forum. The Forum gave the task of developing specific implementation plans to an Aboriginal Health Development Group, comprising government officials and Ms Mayers, the

chairperson of the Working Party. Although the Development Group reported in December 1989, endorsement of the strategy did not occur until the Joint Ministerial Forum met in June 1990.

31.4.6 The National Aboriginal Health Strategy, endorsed by the Joint Ministerial Forum, envisages a new era in addressing Aboriginal health needs through a so-called tripartite commitment of Aboriginal communities, and Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments.

Nationally this will be achieved through the establishment of a Council of Aboriginal Health as a standing committee reporting to the Australian Health Ministers' Conference and the Australian Aboriginal Affairs Council. Similar tripartite groups are to be established in each State and

Territory. The Council of Aboriginal Health will be supported by an Office of Aboriginal Health, to be set up within A TSIC.

31.4.7 The Strategy also embodies the concept of Aboriginal community control in health programs, wherever possible, thus maximizing the involvement of Aboriginal people at all levels of policy and program development, implementation and evaluation. In its report to the

Ministers, the Development Group noted that 'community control of services provision to Aboriginal communities is a very significant aspect of increasing Aboriginal rights and self-esteem, of providing more effective services, and is one of, if not the most crucial aspect for

Aboriginal advancement' .49 The Joint Ministerial Forum agreed to the establishment of new Aboriginal community-controlled health services and to increase the level of resources allocated to existing services, in cases where the need has been endorsed by the relevant State or Territory

tripartite forum. The need for a national Aboriginal community-controlled health body was referred to the A TSIC Commissioners for consideration.

Vol4 Page 265

Towards Better Health 31

31.4.8 The third major, and most costly, component of the Strategy aims to alleviate the substandard level of Aboriginal housing, water, waste disposal, roads, power and communication facilities. The Development Group estimated that this component alone would require $2.5 billion over a ten-year period.

31.4.9 In the provision of health services by States and Territories, the Joint Ministerial Forum noted a number of recommendations: 1. That the States and Territories, as a matter of urgency, expand, and where necessary introduce, Aboriginal and Torres Strait

Islander hospital liaison staff in areas where Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander utilization of services is high, or where there is specific need in an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community, and that the liaison staff be provided with adequate resources to fulfil their tasks effectively; 2. That each State{ferritory adopt as a policy that hospitals in

communities servicing a significant Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community aim to have at least two Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community representatives on the hospital Board of Management; 3. That States and Territories review the provision of specialist

services to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have access to appropriate specialist services where necessary; 4 . That State/ferritory Governments require, or negotiate with, their

mainstream agencies to develop appropriate procedural protocols to be followed in the course of those agencies' interactions with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; and that model procedural protocols be developed and circulated by

State/ferritory Governments as a matter of urgency; 5. That rationalization of the health services provided to the Torres Strait region occur as a matter of urgency; 6. That consideration be given to establishing a National Aboriginal

Substance Abuse Task Force to address substance abuse in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities as recommended by the Interim Report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. This consideration is to be undertaken by the Council of Aboriginal Health after examination of the report currently being compiled by Commissioner P. Dodson of the Royal Commission; 7. That State and Territory substance abuse services give priority to

in-service staff training courses which include content relevant to working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to be available to both government and non-government substance abuse workers; 8. That appropriate resources be provided in each State and Territory

Page266 Vol4

31 Towards Better Health

for the establishment of Link-Up Services and other . similar services which undertake to re-unite Aboriginal families; 9. That ATSIC, the States and Territory Governments and

community representatives examine alternative models for the provision of psychiatric services to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities; and 10. That discussions, which include the Commonwealth Department

of Employment, Education and Training, continue in the national and State{ferritory tripartite forums to address the education and training recommendations of the National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party report.

31.4.10 The recommendation on the Substance Abuse Task Force (6, above) was referred to the Council of Aboriginal Health and the others to the State!ferritory tripartite forums.

31.4.11 With regard to substance abuse, health statistics and research, the Joint Ministerial Forum agreed to the immediate implementation of recommendations that: 1. The National Campaign Against Drug Abuse (NCADA) give

priority to funding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled substance abuse education and preventive projects; 2. Each State and Territory Government nominate a senior person in

the relevant Department to be responsible for implementation of the recommendations of the 1985 National Task Force on Aboriginal Health Statistics; 3. An appropriate level of resources be made available to the

Australian Institute of Health to enable comprehensive Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health statistical data collection, analysis and reporting; and 4. The National Health and Medical Research Council give priority

to funding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community­ controlled health research projects.

31.4.12 While it is not possible to estimate total costs for the implementation of a Strategy along these lines, partly because of the need for the States and Territories to reach specific decisions on a number of recommendations, the recommendations approved by the Joint Ministerial

Forum would cost at least $2,630m over a ten-year period.

31.4.13 In December 1990, the Commonwealth Government announced its decision: a Strategy costing $232m over a five-year period ($46.4m per annum), less than a fifth of that estimated as being needed by the Development Group comprised almost entirely of government

officials. Even then, the actual level of Federal funding will depend to some degree on the States and Territories making 'substantial

Vol4 Page 267

Towards Better Health 31

contributions'. Around three-quarters of the $232m will go to improvements in housing, water, waste disposal, roads, power and communication facilities, with a further one-fifth being allocated to the establishment of new Aboriginal community':"controlled health services and to improving the facilities of existing services.

Recommendation 271: That the implementation of the National Aboriginal Health Strategy, as endorsed by the Joint Ministerial Forum, be regarded as a crucial element in addressing the underlying issues the Commission was directed to take into account, and that funds be urgently made available to allow the Strategy to be implemented.


31.5.1 Following the June 1990 meeting of the Joint Ministerial Forum, at which Commonwealth, State and Territory Ministers for Health and Aboriginal Affairs agreed to establish the country's first National Aboriginal Health Strategy, the Commonwealth Ministers for Aboriginal Affairs and Health noted that the Strategy 'offers hope to people who have suffered for too long from unacceptably low health levels'. 50

31.5.2 The Strategy certainly does represent a major step forward, embodying as it does 'an unprecedented direct involvement for Aboriginal people in the formulation of Aboriginal health policy' .51 However, the initial phase of its implementation, announced in December 1990, has led, understandably, to much disappointment. The Strategy having been accepted by the Commonwealth and States and the government officials having estimated the cost at $2,630m over a period of ten years, the initial response of the Commonwealth of a contribution of $232m spread over the first five years, albeit with 'substantial contributions' from the States and Territories, appears very small. I cannot know what inbuilt allowances for inflation were made in the estimate of cost, or whether the estimates were based upon differing projected levels of concentration over

the period. But making all allowance for such factors, it seems hard to reconcile the projected five years expenditure, on the one hand, with acceptance of the Strategy, on the other.

31.5.3 Many of the conclusions reached by this Royal Commission and set out in this report are similar to the components of the National Aboriginal Health Strategy. As with the Strategy, the Commission recognizes the absolute necessity for Aboriginal people to have control over their own destiny.

Page268 Vol4

31 Towards Better Health

31.5.4 The Council of Aboriginal Health and the State and Territory tripartite forums clearly provide the opportunity in the determination of programs and services, but changes also need to be made within the services at the local level. For example, Aboriginal people need to be

involved on ·the Boards of hospitals and other agencies delivering services to the Aboriginal community.

31.5.5 I agree with the vitally important role of the Aboriginal community-controlled health services in the delivery of services to Aboriginal people, and support current moves to expand the number of such services and to ensure that existing services are adequately funded.

31.5.6 At the same time, I recognize that mainstream health agencies will continue to provide many services to Aboriginal people, and it is imperative that all staff employed by such agencies gain an understanding of the specific cultural, historical, socioeconomic and political realities of

Aboriginal people. In this regard, much more needs to be done in terms of staff education: in their basic training, in orientation programs and in continuing on-the-job education. Particular attention needs to be paid to the training of mental health professionals, to enable them to deal

appropriately with Aboriginal mental health problems.

31.5.7 The training and use of Aboriginal health professionals needs to be expanded. It is important that existing Aboriginal health worker programs and career structures, in all their variety, are formalized. As well, the use of Aboriginal hospital liaison officers should be expanded, in

line with the agreements of the National Aboriginal Health Strategy. New programs need to be developed to prepare Aboriginal health workers for the important roles they can fill in tackling Aboriginal mental health problems.

31.5.8 To guide programs and services, there is a clear need to

undertake appropriate research into Aboriginal health issues, to develop statistics to monitor progress, and to build in an evaluation component. The involvement of Aboriginal people in these areas is crucial.

31.5.9 Necessary components of a successful National Aboriginal Health Strategy relate to improvements in the physical environments in which many Aboriginal people live. These components are covered in detail elsewhere in this report.

31.5.10 In the final analysis, the attainment by Aboriginal people of a standard of health equal to that of non-Aboriginal Australians will require substantial improvements in the status of Aboriginal people in all aspects of their lives. Some of these aspects are covered in other chapters of this report, involving similar options to those canvassed here. Unless

governments, and the Australian people, demonstrate a real commitment to achieving social justice and self-determination for Aboriginal people, it is

Vol4 Page 269

Towards Better Health 31

likely that Aboriginal people will continue to suffer from unacceptably low levels of health.

G. Briscoe, 'The Development of Aboriginal Medical Services', Panacea, 13, 1982, pp. 5-8; G. Foley, 'Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services: A Short History', Aboriginal Health Project Information Bulletin, No.2, 1982, pp. 13-15

2 National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party, A National Aboriginal Health Strategy, Report of the National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party, [Department of Aboriginal Affairs], Canberra, 1989, p. 59

3 National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party, p. 27

1:. The first such program was established in 1982.

5 Mental Health Working Party, Mental Health Discussion Paper: A Discussion Paper Presented to the Australian Health Ministers'Advisory Council in October 1989, AGPS, Canberra, 1989, p. 9

6 P. Eisen and K. Wolfenden, A National Mental Health Policy: Report of The Consultancy to Advise the Corrunonwealth, State and Territory Health Ministers, Department of Community Services and Health, Canberra, 1988

7 B. Cresswell, 1986, 'The Royal Flying Doctor Service and Aboriginal Health Care', Medical Journal of Australia Special Supplement, 1986, 144, s2-s3

8 Australian Institute of Health, Australia's Health 1990: the Second Biennial Report of the Australian Institute of Health, AGPS, Canberra, 1990, pp. 1-5

9 Australian Institute of Health, p. 5

10 National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party, p. ix

11 S. Bailey and others, Victorian Aboriginal Issues Unit, Report, p. 35

12 Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, Submission, RCIADIC Exhibit G/23, 1989, p. 35

13 D. J. O'Dea, Regional Report of Inquiry Into Individual Deaths in Western Australia, AGPS, Canberra,1990, p. 766; RCIADIC Transcript, Carnarvon, 19/1/89, p. 392

14 National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party, p. 90

15 O'Dea, Regional Report, p. 767

16 Australian Medical Association, Aboriginal Health Policy, 1987, p. 1

17 National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party, p. 90h

18 O'Dea, Regional Report, p. 769; RCIADIC Transcript, Port Hedland, 5/4/89, p. 277

19 Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, RCIADIC Exhibit NT/2/G5, 1988, p. 4

20 Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, p. 3

21 O'Dea, Regional Report, p. 765; RCIADIC Transcript, Kalgoorlie, 20/6/90, p. 57

Page270 Vol4

31 Towards Better Health

22 D. J. O'Dea, Report of the Inquiry into the Death of Jimmy Njanji, RCIADIC W/8, AGPS, Canberra, 1989

23 J. H. W Report of the Inquiry into the Death of Mark Quayle, R CIADIC N/6, AGPS, Canberra,· 1991, pp. 1-2

24 E. F. Johnston, Report of the Inquiry into the Death of Edward Betts, RCIADIC S/8, AGPS, Canberra, 1991, p. 29

25 J.H. Muirhead, Interim Report, AGPS, Canberra, 1988, p. 57

26 New South Wales. Task Force on Aboriginal Health, The Last Report, Report to the New South Wales Minister of Health [Department of Health], Sydney, 1990, pp. 19-25

27 Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, Appendix 4, 1990, p. 69

28 World Health Organization, Primary Health Care: Report of the International Conference on Primary Health Care, Alma-Ata, USSR, 6-12 September 1978, World Health Organisation, Geneva, 1978, pp. 3-4

29 Aboriginal Co-ordinating Council, RCIADIC Submission, 1990, p. 68

30 National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party, p. 68

31 National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party, p. 68

32 D. J. O'Dea, Report of the Inquiry into the Death of Kim Polak, RCIADIC W/18, AGPS, Canberra, 1989

33 D. J. O'Dea, Report of the Inquiry into the Death of Bobby Bates, RCIADIC W/31, AGPS, Canberra, 1989, p. 23

34 Johnston, Edward Betts

35 Johnston, Edward Betts, pp. 34-5

36 O'Dea, Regional Report, p. 790

37 Aboriginal Youth Community Mental Health Team, The Adelaide Children's Hospital Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services 1989!90 Initiative Proposals Initiative Priority ( 4 ), South Australia, 1990

38 Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, Psychiatric Issues Relevant to Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Report to the President RANZCP, RCIADIC Submission, 1989

39 Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, p. 22

40 Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, p. 7

41 J. Cawte, RCIADIC Submission 5/12-UI, 1990

42 Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, p. 4

43 National Aboriginal Health Strategy, Joint Ministerial Forum of Ministers for Aboriginal Affairs and Health, Brisbane, 10 June 1990, Recommendation No. 21

44 National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party, p. 208

45 National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party, pp. 212-13

46 National Aboriginal Health Stategy, Joint Ministerial Forum, Recommendation No. 18 and No. 19

47 Australian Medical Association

48 Australia. Department of Health, The National Plan for Aboriginal Health, Submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs Inquiry into Aboriginal Health, 21 October 1977, Hansard, p. 43

Page 271

Towards Better Health 31

49 Aboriginal Health Development Group, Report to Commonwealth, State and Territory Ministers for Aboriginal Affairs and Health, 1989, p. 3. Emphasis in original report

50 Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Agreement Reached on National Aboriginal Health Strategy, media release, 10 June 1990

51 Minister for Aboriginal Affairs

Page272 Vol4


One of the factors which too often interacts with the limited economic opportunities of Aboriginal people and the experience of welfare dependency, discussed in the previous chapter, is the use of alcohol and other drugs. Indeed, the topic of alcohol use, in particular, permeates this

report, as the harmful use of alcoholic beverages is one of the most important factors in Aboriginal people being placed in custody and dying there.

In Chapter 15 I provided information about the extent and nature of the use of these substances, the consequences of their consumption and the factors that help explain harmful use . Here I build on that material, focusing on what is being done, and what could be done in the future , to help redress

the problems identified. Commencing with alcohol, the drug most seriously implicated as an issue underlying Aboriginal deaths in custody, I discuss strategies and programs which aim to prevent the development of harmful alcohol use, and then consider early intervention and treatment

initiatives. Petrol sniffing and other drug use are covered briefly, and the chapter includes a number of specific recommendations for action which needs to be taken in this area. I suggest that the emerging National Aboriginal Health Strategy provides a framework for further concerted



32.1.1 More than once in this report I have pointed to the devastating impact that alcohol and, to a lesser extent, other drugs are having on the health and well-being of Aboriginal individuals, families and communities. I have been impressed, however, through the course of my inquiries, by

the fact that much is being done to redress the situation. I have formed the finn view that the Aboriginal people of Australia, sometimes acting independently, and sometimes in partnership with agencies of the broader society, have the knowledge, skills and initiative to achieve substantial

greater improvements. For this to become a reality, they need the support

Vol 4 Page 273

... Alcohol and Other Drugs: Strategies for Change 32

of the non-Aboriginal society. Support should not be offered or provided grudgingly, but should be forthcoming as part of Australia's commitment to redressing the wrongs of the past two centuries.

32.1.2 It is clear that alcohol and other drugs contribute to Aboriginal deaths in custody in two direct ways. First, alcohol and other drugs are involved in many of the offences committed by Aboriginal people that lead to their being placed in custody and to being held in protective custody owing to drunkenness. Secondly, alcohol (especially) is a major cause of chronic and acute illness among Aboriginal people, contributing to their high rates of death from injury and disease which, when combined with their high levels of over-representation in custody, lead to their high levels of death in custody. Furthermore, alcohol and other drug use contribute less directly to deaths in custody through their impact on family and community relationships, employment, housing, educational achievements, etc. These factors interact to produce the serious situation of Aboriginal people and alcohol observed today in many parts of Australia.

32.1.3 This chapter seeks to review and evaluate, briefly, the policies, programs, services, etc., that aim to prevent, minimize the harm arising from, or alleviate the harm caused by alcohol and other drugs among Aboriginal people. It is clearly beyond the scope of my report to do this in detail or in depth, but I hope that my comments and conclusions will stimulate further action and, in particular, effective action to improve the situation. I eschew simplistic explanations and solutions based solely on ideology, such as prohibition, recognizing that balances must be found between the ideal and the feasible. Nevertheless, sufficient examples of effective prevention, intervention and treatment initiatives exist to encourage one to recommend that they be expanded. Other processes and programs exist that I feel are counterproductive and must be changed.

32.1.4 I will conclude these introductory remarks by noting that I have been advised by experts in the drugs field that is is usually not appropriate to differentiate between different drug types, e.g. alcohol, tobacco, pharmaceutical products, petrol, kava, currently illicit drugs, etc., when describing policies and programs, as polydrug use is common throughout most of Australian society. Nevertheless, my main focus here is on alcohol, as it was in Chapter 15 where I discussed the harmful use of alcohol and other drugs as an explanation of the disproportionate custody rates of Aboriginal people. I focus on this drug as it is the one which causes most harm to Aboriginal people at both the individual and community level. Petrol sniffing and illicit drug use are mentioned specifically towards the end of the chapter. I tum now to describe prevention, early intervention and treatment initiatives. Although I will deal with them separately, I recognize that any particular program may contain one, two or even all three elements.

Page 274 Vol 4

32 ... Alcohol and Other Drugs: Strategies for Change


32.2.1 When alcohol and other drug problems were first being addressed as major social concerns, attention was focused very much on the individual, especially upon the individual who had developed problems. More recently, however, emphasis is being placed on

prevention programs (often called 'primary prevention'), namely, programs which aim to prevent or slow down the development of the problem.


32.2.2 The public health model, referred to in Chapter 15, provides a framev;ork for understanding and shaping policies and programs. That model suggests that problems arise from an interaction . of three factors: host, agent and environment. With regard to alcohol, prevention strategies

can focus on the drinker (the host); her or his knowledge, attitudes and behaviour would receive attention. The focus can be on alcoholic beverages (the agent), in which case the emphasis would be on their availability and promotion. Thirdly, the focus could be on the physical

and social environments within which drinking occurs and within which the drinker lives. 1 Consistent with all of these approaches is the contemporary concept of health promotion: 'the process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve, their health'.2 This closely

parallels one of the themes of my report: the empowering of Aboriginal people to control the forces that determine how they live.

32.2.3 The public health model places alcohol-related problems, and their prevention, squarely at the community level. It reminds us that research evidence clearly demonstrates the relationship between per capital alcohol consumption and the level of alcohol-related problems in society,

and that the availability of alcohol is one of the key determinants of levels of consumption.3 This is the basis upon which I stress the need for policies and programs which on the problems broadly, not simply on individuals who may be labelled problem drinkers.


32.2.4 I have already pointed out that the availability of alcoholic beverages is one of the key determinants of the levels of consumption and of alcohol-related problems. A number of factors determine the levels of availability, including the age at which people can lawfully drink in

Vol4 Page 275

... Alcohol and Other Drugs: Strategies for Change 32

licensed premises or purchase take-away liquor, the number and type of liquor licences in a particular locality, trading hours and other restrictions on sales. Another dimension of availability is the price of alcoholic beverages to the consumer, determined, in part, by levels of excise, taxation and licence fees.

32.2.5 The Royal Commission has received strong representations in favour of reducing the availability of alcoholic beverages to Aboriginal people. This has come most forcefully, perhaps, from Central Australia, especially from Alice Springs, which is notorious for its proliferation of licensed premises, including licences authorizing take-away sales. The Royal Commission's Northern Territory Aboriginal Issues Unit has reported that, in Alice Springs, 'there are roughly 70 liquor outlets for a population of only 26,000 people, or one for every 300 people' .4 The N orthem Territory Liquor Commission's licensing processes are seen, by many Central Aboriginal people, to be associated with this

proliferation, although commercial profit is understood to be the driving force.

32.2.6 In the light of the evidence available to me, I have formed the view that it is essential that the people most affected by a decision to grant, renew or terminate a liquor licence should have all reasonable opportunities to influence such decisions. This means in practice that, when Aboriginal people make up a large proportion of a population and are being adversely affected by the availability of a licence, there is a strong argument, it seems to me, that they should be able to have a direct influence on the determination of the conditions of the licence, as well, of course, as having the right to object to the licence.

Restricted Access to Alcohol 32.2. 7 A second approach to limiting the availability of alcohol to Aboriginal people is the use of so-called 'dry areas', localities in which the possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages are prohibited or

subject to significant restrictions. These are primarily found in areas where Aboriginal people have obtained land rights and State or Territory legislation has been passed which empowers them, or an external body on their behalf, to limit the availability of alcoholic beverages on their lands. The Expert Working Group convened at my request by the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, Australia, to report on Aboriginal alcohol use and related problems-! have described its background and methods of operating in Chapter 15-has reviewed the position in the following terms:


Dry areas legislation has been a major approach to reducing the availability of alcohol in some Aboriginal communities. For example, the South Australian Pitjantjatjara Land Rights (Control of Alcoholic Liquor) Regulations (1984), proclaimed under Section 43( 1) of

Vol 4


Vol 4

... Alcohol and Other Drugs: Strategies for Change

the Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Act ( 1981) effectively imposes total prohibition on the Pitjantjatjara Homelands, with the approval and at the request of the controlling body, Anangu Pitjantjatjara. The Northern

Territory Liquor Act ( 1978) empowers the Racing and Gaming and Liquor Commission to declare, at community requests, restrictions or prohibition on the possession and supply of alcoholic liquor within certain

(restricted' or (dry' areas. By 1989, more than 50 Aboriginal communities, together with their associated outstations, had become such dry areas. The Western Australian Aboriginal Communities Act ( 1979) provides for Western Australian Aboriginal communities to

declare themselves (dry'. By 1986, when a review of this legislation was conducted, five communities were participating in the Act. Section 132 of the South Australian Liquor Licensing Act ( 1985) makes it an

offence to possess or consume liquor in a public place on which a prohibition has been placed, while Regulation 25 of the Act makes provision for local councils to apply to have particular places within their jurisdictions declared dry. A number of public places in

which Aborigines formerly met to drink in Port Augusta and Ceduna have been thus declared dry.

Analysis of the efficiency of these control policies has been attempted by O'Connor ( 1984b), Larkins and McDonald (1984) and d'Abbs (1989), while additional comment is found in Brady ( 1988). A key issue is

whether the dry area legislation enables or disables Aboriginal communities in their attempts to control the use of alcohol. A second issue is what effects the legislation has on the lives of people within and outside

those areas. D' Abbs ( 1987) argues that the South Australian Section 132 model is simply a deterrent against public drunkenness, and quotes the SA Council for Civil Liberties branding it as discriminatory and

adding to difficulties already experienced by Aborigines. In the case of the Western Australia Aboriginal Communities Act ( 1979), d' Abbs points out that, because responsibility for enforcing the restrictions is

left to the communities themselves, the level of enforcement is low. Under the Northern Territory Liquor Act (1979), an attempt is made to combine community control with statutory authority, in that the

request for dry area status emanates from the community, but is underwritten and enforced by State

Page 277

... Alcohol and Other Drugs: Strategies for Change

Authority, a situation mirrored in the Pitjantjatjara Homelands (Hedges, 1986).

In a review of dry areas legislation in the Northern Territory, d' Abbs ( 1987) reported that in some cases, Aborigines living in dry communities · had moved into towns in order to drink. On the other hand, some people moved to dry areas to escape from alcohol. Larkins and McDonald ( 1984:61) reported positive benefits of Northern Territory dry areas legislation:

(in) many communities an immediate and marked improvement of the quality of life (occurred) following the prohibition of alcohol in their areas. Improvements in the health and well-being of children have been an outstanding consequence.

It would appear that, if desired by the community and adequately enforced, dry area legislation can be a qualified success and is thus worthy of further support and study. 5


I agree with this conclusion. Aboriginal people living in discrete communities should have the power to make decisions on matters that substantially effect their quality of life and the availability of alcohol is one of these.

Community Clubs 32.2.8 Liquor availability may also be controlled on Aboriginal communities through the use of community clubs or wet canteens. Typically they limit the types and amounts of alcohol that people can buy and consume, and operate under the authority of either local authority by­ laws or State liquor licensing legislation. Various approaches are used, such as limiting hours of sale, setting quotas, or restricting sales to individuals who have been granted a permit.

32.2.9 There is evidence that, in general, this approach does not achieve the goal of limiting excessive alcohol use. Indeed, wet canteens may facilitate destructive drinking. For example, Commissioner Wyvill reported that, at Aurukun on Cape York Peninsula, where an Aboriginal

Council-controlled beer canteen operates 'alcohol consumption dominates social life' and 'regular and heavy drinking becomes the norm for the overwhelming majority of men' but not of women. 6

32.2.10 Quota systems are rarely effective, with non-drinkers providing their portions to drinkers and with future quotas being used as

Page 278 Vol 4

32 ... Alcohol and Other Drugs: Strategies for Change

gambling assets. 7 Furthermore, daily quotas are frequently very high.

32.2.11 It is obvious from my inquiries that there are tensions within communities about this and other questions concerning alcohol. Ultimately, -these questions can only be solved by Aboriginal people themselves and the community with the assistance of more general

education about alcohol abuse.

Other Controls on Availability 32.2.12 A range of other initiatives exist which may be used to limit the availability of alcoholic beverages, with the aim of reducing the adverse consequences of their use. These include:

the firm enforcement of legislation prohibiting underage drinking on licensed premises and the sale of alcoholic beverages to young people; restricting the types of beverages sold to those with lower alcohol

content; restricting trading hours; Aboriginal organizations purchasing licences and not operating them or doing so with tight controls;

communities negotiating with licensees to restrict sales to their people, etc. I will not discuss these in detail but draw attention to the fact that all can be effective in contributingto a reduction in the availability of liquor, in reducing its consumption and therefore reducing the problems too often

attendant upon alcohol consumption by Aboriginal people.


32.2.13 I do not consider it within my function to discuss the question of alcohol in the community at large. The National Health Policy on Alcohol in Australia is in place. There is a very strong case for funding to assist those who are attempting to prevent this problem developing in

Aboriginal communities.


32.2.14 Commissioners have observed the benefits that can flow from individuals and communities having available alternatives to alcohol and other drugs. In particular, many Aboriginal youths are observed to drink far less when enjoyable recreational pursuits are available. For other

people, meaningful paid employment is important in this regard.

Vol 4 Page 279

... Alcohol and Other Drugs: Strategies for Change 32

3 2. 2.15 The Queensland Aboriginal Co-ordinating Council has pointed to the needs in this area in its submission to the Commission. It argued that alcohol-free sporting and cultural events should be organized in Aboriginal communities and that encouragement should be given to traditional and other arts and crafts activities. It recommended that governments provide funds to community councils to employ recreation officers who would, in turn, train local people in recreation development programs. The Council went on to suggest that these recreation officers

'should promote alcohol-free family activities _c:amping, fishing, hunting and a wide range of activities for men and women, young and old'. 8 These types of alternatives to drinking can be useful preventive activities, provided they are part of a broader prevention program, rather than isolated, 'one-off' events.


32.2.16 A well-established national Employee Assistance Program exists to offer early intervention services to people in the work place who are developing personal problems (including those related to alcohol and other drugs) that affect their work performance. These programs generally undertake case finding, counselling and referral to other helping services and are established jointly by management and unions as a preferred alternative to disciplinary action or dismissal for employees who are experiencing problems at work. The employers generally fund such programs, as they are cost-effective to businesses when implemented well.

32.2.17 At the time of the 1986 census some 40% of Aboriginal men and 23% of Aboriginal women aged over fifteen years were in employment. Very few would have been covered by employee assistance programs. Accordingly, in the light of the demonstrated effectiveness of

such programs I recommend that organizations which employ a reasonable number of Aboriginal people-including Aboriginal-controlled organizations--develop employee assistance programs. The funds necessary for this intervention should be built into any external financial support for such organizations.

32.2.18 A second work place issue is the sanctioned use of alcohol in Aboriginal organizations. Pamela Lyon, a consultant to Tangentyere Council in Alice Springs, has argued that 'if Aboriginal organizations are serious in their concern about the destructive effects of drinking, they should strive to set an example by making their premises "grog-free" zones'. 9 A number of Aboriginal organizations have already done this; others have chosen not to do so.

32.2.19 I invite Aboriginal organizations to consider whether or not the prohibiting of drinking on their premises and at their functions would

Page280 Vol 4

32 ... Alcohol and Other Drugs: Strategies for Change

serve a useful symbolic function and set an example of responsible behaviour.


32.2.20 I understand that community workers, whose activities focus specifically on Aboriginal alcohol and other drugs problems, are working in some States, including Queensland and Western Australia. Some are employed by government departments, others by Aboriginal

organizations. In this regard, it is worthy of note that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) has a policy, inherited from the former Department of Aboriginal Affairs (DAA), of supporting community-based programs which focus on non-residential prevention

and intervention activities. This includes the appointment by Aboriginal communities of alcohol and other drug community workers. Unfortunately, few of these positions have been funded and, so far as I am aware, only limited training resources exist to provide the necessary

skills to Aboriginal people who can fill such roles. The Commonwealth provides no such training although some of the States do. A TSIC should consider reviewing the policy it has received from DAA and, if appropriate, develop a strategy to enable it to be implemented effectively.

Recommendation 272: That governments review the level of resources

allocated to the function of ensuring that the holders of liquor licences meet their legal obligations (in particular laws relating to serving intoxicated

persons), and allocate additional resources if needed.

Recommendation 273: That consideration be given to legislating for the appointment of community workers who would have the power to inspect licensed premises to ensure that

licensees comply with the applicable legislation and licence conditions.

32.2.21 Overseas and Australian research suggests that a relationship exists between the availability of alcoholic beverages, consumption levels and levels of alcohol-related harm. Availability includes such factors as the number of licences in a locality, licence types, hours of sale, etc. In a

number of locations in Australia where high concentrations of Aboriginal people are found, there are many more liquor licences (especially take­ away licences) than is socially justifiable.

Vol 4 Page 281

... Alcohol and Other Drugs: Strategies for Change 32

Recommendation 274: That governments consider whether there is too great an availability of liquor, including too many licensed premises, and the desirability of reducing the number

of licensed premises in some localities, such as Alice Springs, where concentrations of Aboriginal people are found.

32.2.22 Often there are few opportunities for Aboriginal people to drink on licensed premises because of dress or other restrictions. Street drinking prohibitions often prevent Aboriginal people from drinking in the places of their own choosing, and in Alice Springs an application for a liquor licence for an Aboriginal organization to operate a social club has recently been refused.

Recommendation 275: That the Northern Territory Government review its liquor legislation in the light of the size of the

Aboriginal population of the Territory and its needs, and include in such a review the desirability of

appointing at least one Aboriginal person to be a member of the Northern Territory Liquor


Recommendation 276: That consideration be given to the desirability of legislating to provide for a local option as to liquor sales trading hours, particularly in localities where there are high concentrations of Aboriginal people.

32.2.23 Members of the community have a basic right to influence the decisions that affect their quality of life and the granting of liquor licences is one such category of decision.


Recommendation 277: That legal provision be available in all jurisdictions to enable individuals, organizations and communities to object to the granting, renewal or continuance of liquor licences, and that Aboriginal organizations be provided with the resources to facilitate this.

Vol 4

32 ... Alcohol and Other Drugs: Strategies for Change

32.2.24 Discrete Aboriginal communities often wish to control the availability of liquor on their lands through the use of prohibition, beer canteens, permits, etc.

Recommendation 278: That legislation and resources be available in all

jurisdictions to enable communities which wish to do so to control effectively the availability of alcoholic beverages. The controls could cover such matters as whether liquor will be available at all, and if so, the

types of beverages, quantities sold to individuals and hours of trading.

32.2.25 Many Aboriginal people and police officers have complained that great difficulties exist in enforcing restrictions on the availability of alcoholic beverages, especially 'dry areas' provisions. The restrictions are often broken through the actions known as 'sly grogging'; taxi drivers and others are implicated in this. Commissioners have noted that 'sly

grogging' is widespread and that existing laws are not adequate to deal with this problem.

Recommendation 279: That the law be reviewed to strengthen provzswns to eliminate the practices of 'sly grogging'.

36.2.26 The Royal Commission notes that many Aboriginal communities are concerned about the impact of beer canteens on their communities and seek assistance in identifying and resolving difficulties in this area.

Vol 4

Recommendation 280: That ATSIC and other organizations be encouraged to provide resources to help Aboriginal communities identify and resolve difficulties in relation to the

impact of beer canteens the communities.

Recommendation 281: That Aboriginal communities that seek assistance in regulating the operation of beer canteens in their communities be provided with funds so as to enable

effective regulation, especially where a range of

social, entertainment and other community amenities are incorporated into the project.

Page 283

... Alcohol and Other Drugs: Strategies for Change 32

32.2.27 Mass media communication channels can be powerful shapers of attitudes and have a role in alcohol and other drug education. It is essential, however, that their messages be culturally appropriate.

Recommendation 282: That media campaigns and other health promotion strategies targeted at Aboriginal people at the local and regional levels include Aboriginal involvement at all stages of development to ensure that the messages are appropriate.


32.3.1 I do not have the specialist knowledge necessary to make a full presentation in this area. Such details are found, however, in the papers of the Royal Commission, and I record here central elements from the material placed before me and draw it to the attention of people working in the relevant fields.

32.3.2 Early intervention programs include those which have been introduced in a number of hospitals, e.g. the Royal Darwin Hospital, the work place programs, the local community interventions, and a variety of issues relating to treatment. These are discussed in the report to which I have earlier referred (that produced by the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, Australia) and in much other literature. I do not think that I can usefully add anything as to those matters.

32.3.3 However, in view of the great importance of the topic, and in view of the very earnest, and in many cases anguished, matters that have been put to me by Aboriginal people and organizations, and the stress which is laid on the problems by the reports of all the Aboriginal Issues Units (Allis), I think that I should set out three general conclusions which appear to me to have a solid foundation:

1. It seems to me that it is established that there is no clear, single preferred approach to treatment for persons who are engaging in a high level of destructive drinking of alcohol. The evidence is very clear, however, that there are large numbers of Aboriginal people who, having become dependent upon alcohol at some point in their lives, overcome that dependence and either stop drinking alcohol or drink it in moderation. I have spoken to many such people and heard of many others, and it seems that it is not possible to define any particular sort of experience,

Page 284 Vol 4

32 ... Alcohol and Other Drugs: Strategies for Change

challenge, event or occasion which has led to the change. Something in the life of the individual has lead to a change of attitude and behaviour, but that something can be infinitely various. '

It also seems to be the situation that where this change does occur, it occurs at something like the age of thirty years or a little older. From these matters I draw two general conclusions:

First, all possible efforts should be made to persuade younger people not to adopt the lifestyle of excessive, harmful use of alcohol. Secondly, where that lifestyle has been adopted, and the persons concerned have reached more mature years, a range of

treatment approaches are available. Many people will benefit from brief, non-residential treatment, emphasizing, for example, training in relapse prevention. In many other cases, where the problems are deeply entrenched, the best general way of

approaching treatment may be to encourage those concerned to take up residence at some centre which is sufficiently remote from the places where alcohol is consumed. In such a setting it is to be hoped that they are not exposed to peer and other pressures to

drink and can, in an atmosphere free from alcohol, be encouraged to think about and consider their position. Such facilities should not be so remote, however, that the residents cannot, from time to time, see their families. Bush situations would appear to commend themselves for many Aboriginal people.

It seems to me that the inculcation of narrow ideological standards, as a treatment approach, is unlikely, except in very rare circumstances, to bring about long term positive effects. It may be that it is more a matter of providing an environment in

which the person concerned can, with some encouragement and with the advantage of being able to talk to others, be able to consider his or her own position and learn new ways of coping with the pressures of life. It is important that the treatment be

matched to the needs of the individual, rather than the individual being forced into a rigid treatment regime.

2. Secondly, as has already.been observed in this report, the group of Aboriginal people-as well as non-Aboriginal people-who most frequently come before the courts are young adults. Most of them come before the courts because of actions taken under the

influence of alcohol, and quite a proportion of them are people who are either highly dependent on alcohol or are in the process of becoming so. They are not yet of that age, which I mentioned earlier, at which quite a number of Aboriginal drinkers decide

spontaneously, as it seems, to change their life styles in respect to alcohol use.

Vol 4 Page 285

... Alcohol and Other Drugs: Strategies for Change 32

Page 286

Magistrates have been encouraged, in appropriate cases, to release such people on bonds containing the ,condition that they attend some centre for counselling or otherwise for the treatment of their dependence on alcohol. My impression is that there is not a very high success rate achieved in these instances. In the sense that the behaviour of the person is permanently affected, I have heard about at least two programs in South Australia (one of which I had the opportunity of visiting) and three programs in the Northern Territory (two of which I had the opportunity of visiting). My impression as to the success rate of these and related programs was gathered from talking to a variety of people, those concerned with these programs, lawyers who have acted for the people who have re-offended, magistrates, etc. Regardless of the long-term levels of success, in my opinion it is important that these efforts be continued.

The Foundation of Rehabilitation With Aboriginal Alcohol Related Difficulties (FORWAARD) establishment in Darwin is one of those programs I visited. I express my thanks to the staff and residents. This program is normally organized on a duration of several months. According to my information, and it squares with what I was told in respect of other such programs, there was quite a high degree of success in the residents abstaining from alcohol use during their period of residence. There were also many positive spin-offs, such as training in and developing living skills which many of the residents had not previously acquired because of their life styles, assisting with meal preparation, shopping, managing money, attempts to line up jobs for when their term of residence finished and many other practical matters. The costs of such programs are not enormous because the people admitted to the programs almost invariably receive social security payments and carry those payments into the programs as a contribution towards their suppOrt.

The fmancial costs have to be seen against the temporary financial gains, as well as other gains, even if there is no great long term success rate. An interruption of several months in destructive drinking may mean many savings in such areas as policing costs, damage to property, hospitalization costs of the person concerned or others, all of which become eventually costs to the society. Even if a relapse occurs after a not very lengthy interval, the treatment experience is unlikely to be absolutely devoid of longer term useful effects. It may assist at a later stage the decision to effect a change in life style. I would urge, therefore, that the funding of such programs be extended and that the courts be given every encouragement to release offenders on condition that they attend such programs where the nature of the offence will

Vol 4

32 ... Alcohol and Other Drugs: Strategies for Change

permit such an approach, and that volunteers also be received into the programs. No doubt an accumulation of experiences can lead to the devising of ways and means and approaches which may lead to some improvement in success rates, but I do not think that

high levels of success rates should be a precondition of continuing and extending the present range of programs.

3. The third point is the most important. It is plain that Aboriginal people are, in great numbers, recognizing the dangers of alcohol use to their societies, their culture and in some cases the very existence of their communities. Many of them are desperately

anxious to do something about it. The question of what to do and how to do it is hard to answer.

32.3.4 My observation is that many communities and organizations are coming up with plans to tackle the problem in a way which fits in with their situation and with Aboriginal sensibilities and aspirations. I could point to dozens of such initiatives.

32.3.5 Roebourne is an Aboriginal community with very serious problems. As I was conducting my enquiry into the death of John Pat, I met a few people who were trying to do something about them. Not long after I left Roebourne, I heard that a range of community-based initiatives

had been developed by local people to do something about 'the grog problem' there. A very successful 'grog free' concert/talent night was held on 10 November 1990, operating under the theme 'Respect Yourself'. It is intended that this become a regular event. A local drug

and alcohol organization has been developed, and a range of government officials, including police, community welfare staff and school teachers, along with bank officers and others, are working in partnership with the Aboriginal community to maintain the impetus created around the concert.

A local group take people from the lockup on fishing trips, and talk to them about their drinking problems. This community, which has experienced serious problems in the past, problems in which alcohol was heavily implicated, has demonstrated that improvements can be made

through concerted community development work against 'the grog problem'.

32.3.6 In the Northern Territory, the rock band concerts are very well known. In Darwin there is a festival lasting several days that attracts much admiration from both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities. Many of the bands participating in such functions insist on 'grog-free'

shows. In Alice Springs, Tangentyere Council has developed a wide­ ranging program to 'beat the grog' and has gained considerable support for many elements of the program. One aspect of the Tangentyere program is to assist the people to gain some employment and thereby

stop the boredom, giving people something to do. One level of 1s the introduction of the Community Development Employment ProJects

Vol 4 Page 287

... Alcohol and Other Drugs: Strategies for Change 32

(CDEP) scheme into Alice Springs, for a limited number of unemployed people, for the first time. ·

32.3.7 In many other places, Aboriginal people are coming up with proposals. Inevitably they are rather diverse and particular to the situation. I think it is these programs which ought to attract support. Inevitably they are programs which involve matters other than alcohol use since many people; while seeing alcohol as a problem in its own right, also see it as a problem which has its impetus in social and economic conditions. Many such programs, therefore, link the fight against 'the grog' with efforts springing out of the community itself to change social and economic conditions. These are genuine movements among the people themselves and, therefore, have considerable potential for success.


32.3.8 It will be clear from my comments so far that I favour both special programs for Aboriginal people requiring treatment for alcohol­ related problems and the use by Aboriginal people of mainstream services. For this mix to be useful for the clients or patients of such programs a number of matters require attention.

32.3.9 First, mainstream services need to be physically and

functionally available to Aboriginal people. That means that the style of operation of the services should dovetail with the social and cultural expectations of Aboriginal people. If they do not-and most now do not-Aboriginal people will not be able to use the services effectively. Functional accessibility will be enhanced by the treatment organizations

adopting an explicit policy of enhancing cross-cultural awareness amongst staff and the implementation of training programs for all staff in contact with Aboriginal people. It also means employing Aboriginal people in key positions and using their special expertise.

32.3.10 Secondly, effective programs of training in treatment models and techniques are needed. Most Aboriginal programs are based on models which are now considered outdated and less effective than contemporary approaches. Rarely are treatment services tailored to the needs of the program client; they most commonly reflect the ideological stance of the service provider. Compulsory attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings is an example.

32.3.11 As the Expert Working Group has pointed out, it is

insufficient, indeed counterproductive, to assume that Aboriginal people simply by virtue of their Aboriginal will work

effectively in the alcohol area. Pre-service and traimng, .and ongoing support to staff, are needed. The Expert Working Group reminds us that:

Page 288 Vol 4

32 ... Alcohol and Other Drugs: Strategies for Change

Too often, Aboriginal people working alone in culturally unfamiliar environments become (burnt out' because they do not have access to appropriate professional and personal support systems. Unfortunately this is often

interpreted by their white co-workers to mean that they are unsuited to this type of (professional' work. 10

32.3.12 These problems of supporting Aboriginal peoples' professional status can be overcome by appropriate training programs for both Aboriginal and non- Aboriginal staff.

32.3.13 Thirdly, the meaningful involvement of Aboriginal people in treatment programs at all levels is essential. This includes policy setting, program planning, program implementation and program evaluation. Treatment programs which have a firm base within an Aboriginal

community and receive firm support from it, rather than being a creation of an external agency, are desirable. Adequate staff training, along with the setting of realistic program goals, are essential for this to become a reality.

32.3.14 Finally, I wish to refer to traditional Aboriginal treatment approaches, a topic which has been raised in a nutnber of contexts. Explicitly articulated treatment programs based upon traditional, indigenous healing methods and carried out by traditional healers are now

well developed overseas, especially in Canada and the USA.

32.3.15 In Australia, a number of Aboriginal alcohol treatment programs incorporate traditional elements, such as helping the clients of the programs to achieve an increased sense of Aboriginal identity and connectedness with the broader Aboriginal society and world view.

Sometimes this involves living off the land and learning, or relearning, responsibilities towards it. Rarely, if at all, does it involve traditional healers engaging in explicit treatment for alcohol problems, such as detoxification, psychological therapies and training in relapse prevention

as occurs in North American traditionally oriented programs.

32.3.16 I do no seek to explore this issue further, other than to note that at least one Aboriginal organization (the Doonooch Self Healing Association) is currently seeking financial support to establish a traditional healing based program (as distinct from simply a dry coi?munity) the

Illawarra region of New South Wales. Perhaps the potential of traditional healing techniques is an area which requires research. A .may care to consider this topic if it reviews the Commonwealth's Abongtnal alcohol treatment policy.

Vol 4 Page 289

... Alcohol and Other Drugs: Strategies for Change 32

Recommendation 283: That the possibility of establishing early intervention programs in Aboriginal health services and in

hospitals and community health centres with a high proportion of Aboriginal patients be investigated. This would include the training needs of staff in intervention techniques.

32.3.17 Policies and programs concerning the use of alcohol in the work place illustrate employers' and employees' perceptions of the position of alcoholic beverages in society.

Recommendation 284: That Aboriginal organizations consider adopting alcohol-free workplace policies and be encouraged and given support to develop employee assistance programs.

32.3.18 Experience in some States has demonstrated that multipurpose Aboriginal drug and alcohol community workers have in many cases provided an effective service.

Recommendation 285: That Aboriginal organizations and Councils (including ATSIC) be encouraged to give consideration to the further implementation of programs to employ

multipurpose Aboriginal drug and alcohol community workers, and that appropriate assistance is sought in the training of Aboriginal people to fill such roles.



32.4.1 In Chapter 15 I indicated that petrol sniffing, like illicit drug use, is a rare event among Aboriginal people. Indeed, Ms Maggie Brady has estimated that there may be something in the vicinity of six hundred known, habitual petrol sniffers in Western Australia, South Australia and

the Northern Territory, a very small proportion of the age group­ primarily ten to twenty-four years-in which the practice is concentrated. 11

Page290 Vol4

32 ... Alcohol and Other Drugs: Strategies for Change

32.4.2 Ms Brady's outstanding study Heavy Metal: The Social Meaning of Petrol Sniffing in Australia concludes with a summary of aetiological considerations which I have found useful. As with all drug use, she argues that it is unreasonable to look for any single 'cause' of

petrol sniffing or for any single 'solution' which would flow from such a cause and result in the eradication of the problem.

32.4.3 She argues that we should be addressing the inhibitors of the management and control of petrol sniffing, not focusing on petrol sniffing behaviour itself:

There must be compelling and competing activities available to combat petrol sniffing. People abandon drug use when it begins to interfere with too many other valued aspects of their life. If there are no other valued

aspects to life, then there is simply no compulsion to abstain. The degree to which this is true is evidenced by those sniffers who say simply that they want to die. 12

Prevention and Intervention Programs 32.4.4 While numerous small, 'one-off' prevention and intervention projects have been mounted in various locations, two concerted projects have been brought to my attention. They are the Petrol Sniffing Working

Party's activities in the Eastern Goldfields/Central Reserves area of Western Australia and the Healthy Aboriginal Life Team's activities in Central Australia.

32.4.5 The Central Reserves, Western Australia, project has been documented by Lang and Kickett. Operating since 1987, it aims to

assist Aboriginal people obtain a level of self-esteem and self-confidence. This is achieved by involving them in the process of developing and implementing their own strategies to combat what are believed to be the

underlying causes of petrol sniffing-namely, social and cultural breakdown leading to the erosion of peoples capacity to respond to their own problems .13

32.4.6 The project is implemented by involving the people in an ongoing series of community workshops presented by the Working Party. The causes of petrol sniffing and intervention strategies based on them are identified in the workshops. They are supported, in turn, by a community

education program targeting both children and adults. Lang and Kickett conclude that:

While it is too early to claim the program has made any

Vol4 Page 291

... Alcohol and Other Drugs: Strategies for Change

significant inroads into reducing the incidence of petrol sniffing, the indications are encouraging. The Ngaanyatjarra people have, from the outset, acknowledged that to combat petrol sniffing among their young they must take full responsibility for developing

their own programs. The success of this is clear, as evidenced by their continuing support for, and participation in, the program they helped devise. This, and the widespread acceptance of, and support for, the

education program, is also the clearest indication to date that the program is on the right track. 14


32.4.7 The Healthy Aboriginal Life Team (HALT) project also applies community development techniques. It was established in 1985 as the Petrol Sniffing Prevention Team, operating from Alice Springs, with financial support from the Northern Territory Department of Community Development and the DAA, and later developed its current title to more

accurately reflect its expanded scope. It worked initially at Yuendumu, Northern Territory, and later expanded its activities to Kintore, Ernabella and a number of other communities.

32.4.8 The program has been documented in some detail by members of the team 15 and by external evaluators from the Menzies School of Health Research. 16 Its theoretical orientation is the view that

petrol sniffing [is] primarily ... a problem of family functioning and adult authority. Thus, family counselling and recruitment and training of Community Workers to engage in surveillance and counselling are

seen as essential to HALT's programs. Equally important is HALT's commitment to discontinue what they describe as an acquired dependency of Aboriginal people on externally-conceived and -resourced solutions

to petrol sniffing. HALT's theory of community action is thus also an argument for restructuring the way that welfare agencies interact with Aboriginal people who aspire to be self-determining .11

32.4.9 Franks indicates that the HALT approach can be summarized as involving four broad steps, some of which operate concurrently: • talks with the community President and Council; • community support agreements; • individual and family counselling; and • appropriate communication including indigenous symbolism in

paintings and diagrams. 18

32.4.1 0 Finally, the Menzies School of Health Research Evaluation,

Page 292 Vol 4

32 ... Alcohol and Other Drugs: Strategies for Change

conducted for A TSIC who were then reviewing HALT's funding, describes the marked reduction of petrol sniffing at Yuendumu and at Kin tore and discusses the degree to which the HALT intervention was the cause or precipitator of this, and the degree to which the community

members and HALT personnel's perceptions of the processes involved actually coincide. The evaluators point out that HALT's recent expansion into the Pitjantjatjara Lands has been less successful; harnessing local support there has been more difficult. The evaluation concludes by

supporting the continuation of the program, but recommends that it focus more tightly on petrol sniffing prevention rather than dilute its activities into broader aspects of health education; to improve the documentation of its work; and to assess more realistically the potential of community

workers involved in the project.19

32.4.11 I have nothing to add to the Menzies School of Health Research evaluation of the HALT project, but commend their report as a high quality evaluation. It should be of interest to readers concerned with the application of community development techniques to addressing a

serious social problem in the context of traditional Aboriginal social systems and using traditional Aboriginal communication techniques.

32.4.12 While petrol sniffing is uncommon, it can cause serious disruption to community life where it occurs, as well as serious acute and chronic illness and, occasionally, death. Both of the programs described here seek to assist Aboriginal communities and families to resolve the

problem themselves. These and related programs should be operating within a broader policy and funding framework than exists at present, with adequate support of all kinds, but not control or interference from external government agencies.


32.4.13 I have insufficient evidence before me to make any substantial observations or recommendations about controls on over-prescribing. Nevertheless, I draw to the attention of the relevant authorities the fact that Aboriginal people, especially young people, are sometimes obtaining

dangerous quantities of therapeutic drugs and using them recreation ally, in contravention of legislation, and to the detriment of their health. Too often this has resulted in overdose and death. I invite .the relevant authorities to review the mechanisms that are- currently in place for the control of the

prescribing of dangerous drugs.

,Vol 4

Recommendation 286: That the Commonwealth Government, in conjunction with the States and Territories Governments and non­ government agencies, act to co-ordinate more

effectively the policies, resources and programs in the area of petrol sniffing.

Page 293

... Alcohol and Other Drugs: Strategies for Change 32


32.5 .1 I have referred to a range of prevention, early intervention and treatment approaches and particular programs and services that demonstrate the positive side. Much is being done, but the fact remains that hannful alcohol use is widespread among Aboriginal people; that a disturbingly high proportion of the Aboriginal people who drink do so at dangerous levels; and that harmful drinking behaviour has become integrated into normal patterns of social life for far too many Aboriginal individuals and communities.

32.5.2 I offer no simple solutions. I do not accept the claims of some that Aboriginal people's obtaining land rights, for example, will automatically cause a significant reduction in harmful alcohol and other drug use.

32.5.3 I emphasize, however, that poverty, oppression and relative powerlessness provide an environment within which harmful patterns of alcohol and other drug use can readily develop and, indeed, flourish. When people are poor their opportunities are limited. Their power to shape the forces that determine how they live is limited. Real alternatives are not available to them. Social development, by which I mean here Aboriginal people's being meaningfully involved in daily activities-and I do not mean paid employment alone-that enhance their feelings of self-worth, along with better physical living conditions, will contribute substantially to the obtaining of a lower level of harmful alcohol and other drug use among Aboriginal people. The extent of harmful alcohol and other drug use among wealthy people reminds us that affluence, alone, does not eliminate these problems.

Programs 32.5.4 The types of initiatives that I have referred to under the headings of prevention, intervention and treatment can and do contribute to keeping Aboriginal people out of custody and from dying in custody. On the other hand, poorly conceptualized or implemented programs are wasteful of resources and, in some circumstances, can even promote alcohol and other drug use.· I have referred to the argument that the current illegal status of some drugs actually causes more harm than it prevents.

32.5.5 Much is known to researchers and skilled program managers about what works best. Unfortunately, as the evaluation of the first triennial of the National Campaign Against Drug Abuse (NCADA) found,

Page294 Vol 4

32 ... Alcohol and Other Drugs: Strategies for Change

far too many programs are ineffective and wasteful of resources as they do not follow the approaches revealed by evaluation research to be most effective. Many avenues exist to resolve this, and I have referred to some of them, including better communication, training, funding and priority


32.5.6 I have pointed out that, while individually-oriented services for people experiencing problems with alcohol and other drugs (such as detoxification and active treatment) are important, they cannot be expected to impact heavily on the extent of hannful alcohol and other drug use at the

community or society level. Furthermore, although drug education programs, especially for the young, are essential components of a comprehensive approach, they also have very limited scope, on their own, for actually causing change in alcohol and drug use. This returns us to the

public health model, emphasizing that real and measurable benefits can be expected to come from strategies which limit the availability of alcohol and which minimize the harm caused to those who choose to drink. It also emphasizes the importance of the intervention strategies that I have

discussed in this chapter.

Special Aboriginal Programs 32.5.7 I have raised the issue of 'mainstreaming' both in this chapter and elsewhere. My conclusion is that Aboriginal people will continue to use mainstream services in the prevention, intervention and treatment areas. They need to be responsive to Aboriginal people's special needs.

At the same time, specific Aboriginal services will be required; the need for this mix of services is recognized in the National Aboriginal Health Strategy. Regardless of the policies of particular organizations, however, it is a fact that very few Aboriginal initiated and implemented programs

operate in the drug and alcohol field, and many of those that do exist are of limited effectiveness.

· 32.5.8 Many people in the alcohol and other drugs field expected that the National Campaign Against Drug Abuse, initiated in 1985 as a joint program between the Commonwealth, the States!ferritories and the non­ government sector, would lead to a substantial expansion of services run

by and for Aboriginal people. This has not happened to any substantial degree; few Aboriginal projects have been funded under the Campaign. This is, in fact, contrary to the NCADA's stated policy that 'account will be taken of the different patterns of [alcohol and other] drug use with ...

specific groups, for example, women and Aboriginals' .20 The Task Force which evaluated the Campaign's first three years considered the position of specific Aboriginal programs in the following terms:

Vol 4

It is clear ... that Aboriginal people should receive special attention because they have been relatively underserved in the past, they have different patterns of [alcohol and other] drug use and misuse from other

Page 295

... Alcohol and Other Drugs: Strategies for Change

sectors of the community, and sectors of the Aboriginal community are at particularly high risk and face substantial problems of access to services. (It must also be noted, however, that the Aboriginal community is not homogeneous and that special services frequently need to be provided to special groups of Aboriginal people, depending on cultural, locational and other factors.)

We conclude, therefore, that special services are required for Aboriginal people, separate from those serving the community at large, and in addition that the services available for all Australians should be sensitive to the special needs of Aboriginal people (as well as the needs of people of other cultural backgrounds).21


32.5.9 On the basis of this conclusion, I suggest that it would be useful for the management of the NCADA to reconsider its implications for the priorities of the Campaign's funding and other activities.

Policy and Co-ordination Arrangements 32.5.10 I turn now to consider the arrangements for policy

development and program co-ordination in the Aboriginal alcohol and other drug field. In the Commission's Interim Report Commissioner Muirhead expressed the view that the alcohol problem is so serious as to warrant concerted action by governments and health professionals. He recommended that:

All governments should combine to set up a national task force to examine the social and health problems created by alcohol and confronted by Aborigines in many localities, to assess the needs and the means to fulfil the needs, including legislative action, and the

establishment of facilities for short and long-term care, education and training. The Aboriginal Health Services and other medical resources should be well represented in such a project which should be essentially health­ oriented. 22

32.5.11 So far as I am aware, no action has been taken on this recommendation. In Chapter 15 I recommended that ATSIC consider the implementation of this recommendation in the context of the National Aboriginal Health Strategy. The Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy­ the body which sets the policy and implementation framework for the NCADA--could also be involved. Furthermore, I invite A TSIC to consider giving high priority to supporting, through money and other resources, drug and alcohol programs as part of the National Aboriginal Health Strategy, and urge the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy to redirect NCADA resources to Aboriginal programs, one of the areas of

Page 296 Vol 4

32 ... Alcohol and Other Drugs: Strategies for Change

greatest need in Australia in the alcohol and other drugs field.

32.5.12 Increased efforts need to be made to stimulate the development of programs initiated and managed by Aboriginal people, to support and facilitate the improvement of worthwhile existing ones, and to make mainstream drug and alcohol services more accessible to Aboriginal

people. Any expansion of services should take place in such a manner as to maximize the power of Aboriginal people to manage their own affairs, rather than become increasingly dependent upon the sources of funding. Finally, in expanding alcohol and other drug services, cost-effectiveness

needs to be taken into account, but a degree of modesty and realism is needed on the part of funding bodies as to what drug and alcohol programs can realistically be expected to achieve, given the generally poor standard of living of Australia's Aboriginal people.


Recommendation 287: That the Commonwealth, States and Territories give higher priority to the provision of alcohol and other drug prevention, intervention and treatment programs for Aboriginal people which are functionally

accessible to potential clients and are staffed by

suitably trained workers, particularly Aboriginal workers. These programs should operate in a manner such that they result in greater. empowerment of

Aboriginal people, not higher levels of dependence on external funding bodies.

Recommendation 288: That all workers, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, involved in providing alcohol and other drug

programs to Aboriginal people, receive adequate training. Priority training needs include: a. Relevant cross-cultural awareness and

communication training for non-Aboriginal workers such as health and welfare staff who provide services to Aboriginal people; and b. Skills training for Aboriginal alcohol and other

drug treatment workers, particularly those who have recovered from alcohol problems

themselves but have no formal training in the area.

Page 297

... Alcohol and Other Drugs: Strategies for Change 32

I. French and N. Kaufman, (eds.), Handbook for Prevention Evaluation: Prevention Evaluation Guidelines, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Rockville, Maryland, USA, 1981, pp. 3-4

2 International Conference on Health Promotion, Charter for Health, World Health Organization, Ottawa, 1986

3 J. Rankin and M . Ashley, 'Alcohol-related health problems and their prevention', irt Last, J., (ed.) Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1986, pp. 1058-59

4 M. Langton and others, Too Much Sorry Business, Northern Territory Aboriginal Issues Unit, Alice Springs, 1990, p. 40

5 K. Alexander (ed.), Aboriginal Alcohol Use and Related Problems: Report and Recommendations Prepared by an Expert Working Group f or the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody , Research paper vrepared for RCIADIC, Canberra, 1990, pp. 64 -6

6 L. F. Wyvill, Report of the Inquiry into the Death of The Young Man Who Died At Aurukun on 11 April1987, RCIADIC QB, AGPS, Canberra, 1990, pp. 7-8

7 Brady, quoted in Alexander, p. 66

8 Aboriginal Co-ordinating Council, Submission from the Aboriginal Co-ordinating Council, by B. Miller, 1990, p. 72

9 P. Lyon, What Everybody Knows About Alice: A Report on the Impact of Alcohol Abuse in the Town of Alice Springs, Tangentyere Council, Alice Springs, 1990, p. 152

1 0 Alexander, p. 102

11 M. Brady Heavy Metal: The Social Meaning of Petrol Sniffing in Australia, Report to the Research into Drug Abuse Grants Advisory Committee, Commonwealth Department of Community Services and Health, 1989, p. xiii

1 2 Brady, p. 209

13 E. Lang and M. Kickett, Programme to Combat Petrol sniffing in Aboriginal Communities in Western Australia, National Centre for Research into the Prevention of Drug Abuse, Perth, 1989

14 Lang and Kickett, n.p.

15 For example, C. Franks, 'Preventing petrol sniffing in Aboriginal communities', Community Health Studies, 13(1), 1989, pp. 14-22

16 S. Bryce and others, HALT: An Evaluation, Menzies School of Health Research, Alice Springs, NT, 1990

1 7 Bryce and others, p. i

18 Franks, pp.14-22

1 9 Bryce and others

20 National Campaign Against Drug Abuse: Campaign Document Issued by the Special Premiers' Conference, Canberra, 2 Apri/1985, AGPS , Canberra, 1985, p. 4

21 National Campaign Against Drug Abuse Task Force on Evaluation, National Campaign Against Drug Abuse 1985-88: Report of the NCADA Ta sk Force on Evaluation, Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy, AGPS, Canberra, 1988, p. 215

22 J. H. Muirhead, Interim Report, AGPS, Canberra, 1988, p. 31

Page 298 Vol 4


Chapter 16 reviewed levels of Aboriginal participation and achievement in school systems throughout Australia. It supports the findings of numerous reports and investigations which found that Aboriginal people are subject to significant educational disadvantage. It also noted some

level of improvement in educational participation and performance in recent years. In the present chapter I discuss a variety of programs and strategies which have been reported to the Commission as having played some part in improving educational prospects for Aboriginal people. It focuses on innovations in the areas of program design and service

delivery, curriculum modification, financial support and training for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal education workers. A central theme is the mechanisms which have developedfor increasing the influence or control which Aboriginal communities and representative groups can exercise over

the content, delivery and organization of schooling for Aboriginal children. These possibilities for self-determination in the area of education are highlighted in the context of the recently implemented National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy.


33.1.1 Numerous submissions and representations to the Royal Commission have reiterated the calls made by Aboriginal Education Consultative Groups throughout Australia for greater Aboriginal participation at all levels of the school system. One speaker put this view forcibly and succinctly: 'You need more black faces in those schools to

encourage those kids' .1

33.1.2 When questioned about what could be done to improve education for Aboriginal people, the Aboriginal heads of households surveyed by Hall and Jonas2 advocated solutions that would be: • as self-reliant and self-managed as possible;

• adequately funded;

flexible in terms of service delivery; • responsive to Aboriginal wishes in the formulation of policy.

Vo14 Page299

Educating for the Future 33

3 3 .1. 3 These aims underpin all major policy statements expressing aspirations for the future of Aboriginal education in Australia. They have already been the basis of some significant changes to the design, delivery and control of educational services within the various States and education systems.

33.1.4 They are also, however, the source of a considerable dilemma when we consider the enormous diversity of locations and contexts in which Aboriginal people live, and the variable levels of control which they are able to exercise over the circumstances of their lives. It is far easier to picture how an Aboriginal controlled school may operate in an incorporated Aboriginal community occupying its own freehold land than it is to imagine how Aboriginal people in towns and cities can exercise control over the schooling their children receive in mainstream classrooms. What Aboriginal people have said to me is that they require a means of influencing whatever the circumstances are in which they find themselves. What Aboriginal people have asserted to this Commission is that they require a means of having their aspirations for the future acknowledged · and facilitated, regardless of whether they are living on Aboriginal land, in town camps, in rural towns or metropolitan cities.

33.1.5 In many ways, schooling represents a double bind for Aboriginal people. As I have noted in Chapter 16, schooling is a means by which specific types of knowledge and certain values are reproduced. For the most part, these are derived from non-Aboriginal society.

Schooling is therefore almost inevitably assimilationist in the sense of providing Aboriginal people with ideas, attitudes and values which are not derived from their own culture. If, however, they do not participate in schooling they are denied access to many of the skills and resources which are required for building the type of future which many Aboriginal people say they want-a future in which they have a much greater control over the circumstances of their lives.

33.1.6 In consultations, submissions and hearings, Aboriginal people have conveyed to me their strong conviction to manage both sides of this double bind-that is, to maintain and strengthen their own culture whilst at the same time acquiring, through education and training, the .skills and expertise required to manage their own communities, organizations and enterprises. I believe that the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy (NAEP) faces up to this dilemma and that the spirit of its objectives should provide the basis for sustained improvement in educational outcomes for Aboriginal people.

33.1. 7 In particular, I believe that rigorous and sensitive commitment to the first NAEP long-term goal can significantly assist Aboriginal people get what they want from education, without severely compromising their aspirations for self-determination and cultural maintenance. The goal is worded as follows:

Page 300 Vol4

33 Educating for the Future

To establish effective arrangements for the participation of Aboriginal parents and community members in decisions regarding the planning, delivery and evaluation of preschool, primary and secondary

education services for their children. 3

33.1.8 The NAEP goes on to state that an immediate priority is to establish effective arrangements for the involvement of Aboriginal people in decision making regarding the planning, delivery and evaluation of education services at institutional and system-wide levels, and for

appropriate consultative mechanisms to be in place in each educational sector before 1992. By this means I would hope that schooling in the future can be carried on in such a way that it does not present Aboriginal people with the double bind choice between assimilation and control. I

would hope that, by careful and dedicated application of the principles which inform the NAEP, Aboriginal people will have achieved the degree of influence or control which they consider appropriate to their circumstances and needs.

33 .1.9 The important thing is that Aboriginal people are allowed to choose a direction for themselves-they need this freedom and opportunity to explore what shape schooling can take and then how it can be used to the benefit of their communities. The only chance for

improving education as a social resource for Aboriginal people will come as a result of Aboriginal people deciding for themselves what it is they require of education and then having the means of determining how that end is to be achieved.

33. 1.1 0 The various examples of schools and programs I present in this chapter are merely illustrative of what has been attempted in many different parts of Australia. They include not only independent Aboriginal community schools, but also urban schools such as Kauma Plains,

mainstream institutions such as Preston East Technical School and adult education institutions such as Tranby College, all of which operate successfully in wider non-Aboriginal environments. These various examples provide an indication that the dilemma posed by schooling can

be tackled with positive results. It should also be noted that they do not limit the possibilities of what might yet be achieved.


33.1.11 Significantly lower levels of Aboriginal participation and achievement across all levels of the formal education system (see Section 16.4) mean that an encouraging and supportive introduction to school is an · imperative for all Aboriginal children. Preschool programs which act as a

'bridge' to full participation in formal schooling have been identified as an important way of increasing the chances of educational success:

Vol4 Page 301

Educating for the Future

The Committee believes that the major advantage of preschool education is its potential to foster in Aboriginal children the emergence. of educational and other skills that will enhance the probability of their success in subsequent stages of schooling. A satisfactory preschool program for Aboriginal and Islander children should aim to provide or expose the

child to those skills that will be required to progress into the primary school system with as few problems as possible. In a sense, preschooling acts as an important bridging program for Aboriginal children as they enter

their first year of primary school.4


33.1.12 The Royal Commission heard how the Swan Hill Aboriginal Education Committee has established an Aboriginal play group in response to a perceived absence of facilities and services for children aged from birth to five years of age. Its aim is to provide some of the skills which it · is assumed every child will bring to primary school, but which many Aboriginal children have never had the chance to acquire:

[W]e developed the play group because our kids weren't even going to preschool, they were just in their own family environment ... they weren't getting out and mixing with other kids. So that's why we developed the

play group, to get the kids together and to start them drawing, claying, things like that, general things that other people take for granted when kids start primary school. So we get them ... those skills, because teachers are sometimes shocked that they can't do these basic things. 5

33.1.13 The group seeks to address issues of cultural difference. It recognizes Aboriginal children's autonomy and independence, and seeks to support Aboriginal parents' preferred nurturing roles. The group also seeks to counter specific cultural and educational disadvantages in the areas of reading and speaking.

33.1.14 When I spoke to the preschool teachers at Port Lincoln in South Australia they emphasized the enormous need Aboriginal children in that community have for help with language. They suggested that at age three or four the Aboriginal child has about half the English vocabulary of a child from a non-Aboriginal family. This is a community in which English is the major language spoken by Aboriginal adults, and children grow up with it as their first language. Even given this situation, Aboriginal children are entering preschool with a significantly reduced vocabulary. The Port Lincoln preschool teachers regard extending the vocabulary of Aboriginal students as a very important part of their work.

Page 302 Vol4

33 Educating for the Future

Preschooling is obviously vital to increasing the skills-linguistic and otherwise--of Aboriginal children before they get into the school system. It provides an important opportunity to begin countering the deficit with which many Aboriginal children enter school and which often hampers

their progress thereafter.

33 .1.15 I wish to convey my support for the priorities identified for preschooling in the South Australian Aboriginal Education and Training Strategic Plan for the 1990-92 Triennium, but which I suggest have a much wider application. These include:

• greater participation of Aboriginal parents and communities in preschooling and the encouragement of parental awareness; • development of more appropriate curriculum resources and materials for all children in this age group;


the recruitment of significant numbers of Aboriginal staff, to offer them opportunities for professional development and to provide them with peer and organizational support; increase the number of Aboriginal staff engaged as community

workers or supplementary preschool assistants to undertake a liaison role between preschool centres and Aboriginal families. 6

Recommendation 289: That: a.


Governments, State Aboriginal Education Consultative Groups and local AECGs should pay great attention to the fact that the scope of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait

Islander Education Policy extends to

preschooling programs and that it should be recognized that to a considerable extent the success of the whole NAEP will turn on the

success of the preschooling initiatives; and Preschooling programs should have as a major aim the involvement not only of the children, but of the parents or those responsible for the

care of the children.

Page 303

Educating for the Future 33


3 3 .1.16 Aboriginal community representatives in 'Cowra told the New South Wales Aboriginal Issues Unit that school policies in the area of curriculum, as well as discipline, tended to force Aboriginal students to leave school early.7 Inappropriate curricula were seen by the Western Australian Aboriginal Consultative Group as a direct cause of reduced self­ esteem and educational achievement amongst students in the Kimberley region: 'A lack of Aboriginal language and culture in school curriculum was .. . the main reason for an identity crisis suffered by many young people' .8

33.1.17 The development of Aboriginal studies curricula as a central element of strategies to combat low educational achievement amongst Aboriginal students is recognized in numerous Aboriginal reference group statements, research reports and Commonwealth, State and Territory policy documents. In 1988 the Aboriginal Education Policy Task Force recommended:

That the government provide curriculwn reform aimed at the cultural relevance of curricula and teaching materials and the development of cultural studies programs for Aboriginal students. Aboriginal studies programs across primary and secondary school curricula remain a major policy issue for the Aboriginal community and

these should provide the base for such reform. It is hoped that these programs will also provide information for a concerted attack on racism. 9

33.1.18 The report which included this recommendation-the 'Hughes Report'-became, in 1989, the basis of a signed agreement between the State and Territory governments and the Commonwealth in the form of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy (1989). This policy identifies the development of curricula in Aboriginal studies as a common, agreed goal. 10 The Aboriginal Education (Supplementary Assistance) Act 1989 (Section 7(j)) specifies 'education enabling all

Australian students to understand and appreciate traditional and contemporary Aboriginal culture' as an objective to which State funding is tied, and which must be publicly reported on. Mr Kevin Keeffe has reviewed the diversity of opinion with respect to strategies and content which surrounds the process of curriculum change in this area, and predicts that: 'Developing an appropriate Aboriginal Australian Studies curriculum is .. . a key task in the 1990s for education systems and schools across Australia' .11 Those initial steps which have been taken emphasize approaches which are local and particular.

33.1.19 The South Australian Education Department has developed and implemented Aboriginal studies courses from Reception through to Year

Page 304 Vol4

33 Educating for the Future

12 for all students in all schools. These are not compulsory, but are supported by the most comprehensive set of curriculum materials produced to date in Australia. Guidelines for teaching Aboriginal studies have been published and distributed to all South Australian schools.

Aboriginal perspectives have also been written into Social Studies, Religious Studies, Australian History and Australian Studies courses. 12 According to the Department, discrete courses in Aboriginal studies, the inclusion of Aboriginal perspectives across the curriculum, the writing of

Aboriginal student newsletters and National Aboriginal and Islander Day Organizing Committee (NAIDOC) celebrations and displays are some of the means by which South Australian secondary schools have attempted to raise the self-esteem of Aboriginal students.

33.1.20 Various curriculum developments in north Queensland were reported to the Commission. These included: preschool programs designed by the Early Childhood Curriculum Development Unit; language programs for Years 1 to 3 to replace the Van Leer program; Torres Strait

English program for Years 1 to 7; mathematics for Torres Strait Island schools; and social, cultural and environmental education for Years 1 to 7. 13 A Kala Kawa Ya language program was reported to have begun in 1989, with a program in Meriam Mir also being developed.

33 .1.21 Evidence presented to the Commission suggests that the provision of Aboriginal studies courses in Queensland schools depends on the interest and will of principals and teachers, and that these courses remain electives rather than core curricula.H The failure to support

Aboriginal studies as a core curriculum unit was also reported to the Commission from Victoria15 and Western Australia. 16 A recent editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald charges that a policy announced in 1987 making Aboriginal studies mandatory in New South Wales schools has

been virtually neglected by school principals. 17 In an attempt to restart the initiative the New South Wales and Commonwealth Governments have agreed to fund study courses on Aboriginal history and culture from Year 7 through to the Higher School Certificate as part of a $21m scheme aimed

at increasing educational opportunities for Aboriginal students.

33.1.22 Suzanne Kenney, in material prepared for the Royal Commission, reported on a recent program which used Aboriginal artists to give focus to Aboriginal studies in New South Wales schools. 18 In 1988 and 1989 the Aboriginal Education Unit of the Department of Education ran a successful Artist in Residence program employing

Aboriginal artists to work with teachers and students for periods of twenty days. Most of the schools involved were ones with Aboriginal enrolments, but artists worked with both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students and teachers. In 1988 fourteen artists-including storytellers,

painters, illustrators, sculptors, dancers, choreographers and musicians-. were involved in visiting various primary and secondary schools In Bidwill, Cardiff, Forster, Griffith, Collerenebri, Newtown, Narrabri,

Page 305

Educating for the Future 33

Wilcannia and Petersham. In 1989 another seven schools were involved in the program. According to Ms Kenney, the artists and the work they did were enthusiastically received in school communities, unlike many other initiatives designed to include Aboriginal perspectives in the curriculum. The program provided a direct and effective way of incorporating Aboriginal people and Aboriginal culture into the school:

Importantly, Aboriginal cultural activities of this kind are more directly accessible to Aboriginal students than perhaps any other school-based activity, and allow opportunities for the direct involvement of the Abo rig ina/ community in their education--a factor

which helps ensure success. Aboriginal students with no previous background and formal training in the arts have been able to demonstrate their abilities and skills through these programs in ways which are often deeply meaningful to them personally, and which afford opportunities to succeed and be appreciated at school. Another feature of the program was that the work produced by the artists and students tended to remain

visible at the school for a long time after the artist's visit-in the form of murals, library displays, etc.­ which feature Abo rig ina! designs and artwork prominently. These things help make the school

environment more inclusive of Aboriginal students and their communities, as well as usually being visually interesting and attractive. The personal fulfilment, sense of satisfaction and increased confidence and self esteem which are observable outcomes of the Artist in Residence program show that these models are worth

considering for the basis of further planning if we are serious about the need to make education more accessible to Aboriginal students. 19

33.1.23 The New South Wales Department of Education no longer makes this program available to schools. I suggest that such initiatives as the Artist in Residence program are a valuable means to give form and content to Aboriginal studies for all students in Australian schools, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. Similar initiatives should be developed and implemented.

33.1.24 In a statement to the Commission, the District Inspector of Schools with the Education North Office of the Queensland Department of Education articulated the Department's policy in respect of bicultural education:

Page 306

The general policy behind our educational efforts is to provide the individual with the options to choose a life style which does not exhibit disadvantages. For the


33 Educating for the Future

Aboriginal or Islander child, this means the confidence to act effectively in either the mainstream or the traditional society.20

33.1.25 Four areas of essential 'competence' were specified in the statement: • the language of society; the example given was standard

Australian English; • the measurement system; the example given was the mathematics of mainstream Australian society; • the information exchange system; the example given was

newspapers and directories; and • the social system; the example given was the norms of social interaction such as manners.

33.1.26 It is notable in this list that the criteria by which basic skills, language and knowledge are measured are those which are assumed to prevail in mainstream-that is, non-Aboriginal-society. It is clear that an attitude such as that expressed can lead to assimilationist tendencies unless

balanced by strong input of an Aboriginal perspective.

33.'1 .27 The Royal Commission heard of a new curriculum introduced to Northern Territory community schools specifically focused on drug and alcohol problems:

[W]ith the adoption of a new curriculum in the Education Department, health education curriculum, drug and alcohol issues figure ... right from Year 1 through [to] Year 12 and that syllabus has been adapted by Aboriginal people-Aboriginal teachers-for use in Aboriginal communities. 21

33.1.28 The Royal Commission's Northern Territory Aboriginal Issues Unit conveyed criticism of the rate of implementation of this curriculum, given its 'urgent need'. The Unit also noted 'An oft-repeated complaint ... that such education programs as existed were often short

term, or folded after a short time because of a lack of continued resources being allocated to them' .22

33.1.29 The Aboriginal community at Y alata has requested that a similar program of preventative education dealing with alcohol and drugs be made available in South Australia.23 At Mutitjulu in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Lands the community asserted:


The schools should be educating our children about the bad effects of alcohol by showing them pictures and teaching them in a way they can understand what the

Page 307

Educating for the Future 33

dangers are.1A

33.1.30 In its submission to the Commission, the Northern Territory Aboriginal Issues Unit also conveyed a request from many communities that legal education courses be introduced in community schools. 25 The Unit reported on a proposal by the Barunga School Action Group to develop a community-based curriculum on police and courts. 26

33.1.31 A similar proposal has been formulated by a group of concerned Aboriginal people in Western Australia:

The Youth Legal Service under the 'Kids and Crime Package' offer a reasonably successful Law Lecture Program for minor or first offenders referred from the Courts. Such a package should be introduced to Primary and Secondary students and be ongoing. Benefits would be that children learn from an early age

what the Law is and how it affects them, their family and the victims. 27

33.1.32 The same calls have come from all over Australia. The South Australian Aboriginal Issues Unit conveyed the view of the Southern Combined Aboriginal Women's Business Enterprise:

Drugs, alcohol, health, employment, welfare and the legal system should be all part of the education system to assist Aboriginal children who live in a double standard world with low self-esteem, loss of their identity and loss of their land. 28

33.1.33 The Davenport community and Pika Wiya Health Services in Port Augusta submitted that:

Page 308

Educational courses on legal procedures also require attention for a better understanding of the legal system and how to deal with it. 29

Recommendation 290: That curricula of schools at all levels should reflect the fact that Australia has an Aboriginal history and Aboriginal viewpoints on social, cultural and

historical matters. It is essential that Aboriginal viewpoints, interests, perceptions and expectations are reflected in curricula, teaching and administration of schools.


33 Educating for the Future

Recommendation 291: That: a. In designing and implementing programs at a

local level which incorporate Aboriginal viewpoints on social, cultural and historical matters local schools should, wherever

possible, seek the support and participation of the local Aboriginal community in addition to any other appropriate Aboriginal organizations or groups; and b. In engaging local Aboriginal people to assist in

the preparation and delivery of such courses at a local level, school principals and the relevant education departments accept that in recognition of the expertise which local Aboriginal people

would bring to such a program, payment for the services of such Aboriginal people would be appropriate.

Recommendation 292: That the AECGs in each State and Territory take into account in discussing with governments the needs of the Aboriginal communities in their area, and that

local Aboriginal Education Consultative Groups take into account when consulting with school principals and providers at the local level, the fact that many Aboriginal communities and organizations have

identified the need for the education curricula to include a course of study to inform students on social issues such as the legal system-including police and Courts-civil liberties, drug and alcohol use and sex



Abstudy 33.1.34 Aboriginal students are encouraged to participate in post­ compulsory schooling through the ABSTUDY -Schooling and ABSTUDY-Tertiary schemes. These are administered by the

Commonwealth Department of Employment, Education and Training (DEET). Under new arrangements from 1 January 1989, ABSTUDY­ Schooling comprises the following main elements: living allowances and

Vol4 Page 309

Educating for the Future 33

living away from home allowances; payment of fees and fares; direct educational assistance; education and vocational guidance programs; orientation and special purpose visits. 30 ABSTUDY'-Tertiary allowances include: living allowances, living away from home allowances; additional payments for dependents; incidentals allowance for fees, books and equipment; administrative charges; fares and other ancillary assistance. The amalgamation of ABSTUDY and ABSEC in 1988 was accompanied by some further changes, including: • Higher rates of assistance to Aboriginal students and trainees

twenty-one years and over in award courses, other courses leading to entry to award courses and other courses assessed by the Commonwealth Public Service as having employment outcomes. • Increased allowances linked to rates of unemployrnent benefits to

create incentives to remain in school until Year 12. • Payment of an education supplement by term for under sixteen­ year-olds living at home (instead of fortnightly payments as · before). • Income testing on some allowances. 31

The number of recipients and allocations in ABSTUDY for the period 1989-91 are given in Table 33.1.



ABSTUDY Recipients

Expenditure on Allowances

Source: DEET, Programs 1990-91, p. 80.

42 301


1990-91 (Estimate)

45 169


3 3.1.35 The failure of ABSTUDY-Tertiary allowances to provide adequate financial support to Aboriginal adults engaged in further education was an issue raised in hearings before the Commission. Specific problems included the cost of relocation to an urban centre, the cost of tertiary fees, and the need to support a family whilst studying. 32 .A group of Aboriginal people in Western Australia have recommended that additional funding be provided to Aboriginal tertiary students who are forced to move away from their communities to study:

Page 310

With the growing numbers of young Aboriginal people seeking to further their education a new and urgent problem has emerged for them-financial pressure. Under DEET ABSTUDY-Tertiary the Means Test and

level of funding has meant young Aboriginals who


33 Educating for the Future

move from their own area to study are experiencing extreme financial problems which inevitably result in their choosing to withdraw and return home. Various agencies have assisted with cheaper accommodation and

other supports but lack of finance for youth

Employment, Education and Training remains the biggest single issue for young Aboriginal people wishing to advance themselves. 33

33.1.36 A similar criticism was reported by the New South Wales Aboriginal Issues Unit, which noted that one of the reasons Aboriginal students from the far south coast of New South Wales often failed to complete post-secondary or tertiary studies was the prohibitive cost of

accommodation away from home. In order for them to continue their courses they had to live in virtual poverty. 34

33.1.37 Aboriginal people from Deniliquin voiced their complaint of inadequate services being provided by DEET to the New South Wales Aboriginal Issues Unit. They said that the DEET officer responsible for the region has too large an area to cover, and feel as a consequence that

they are under resourced by the Department. They stated that it is not uncommon for payments to Aboriginal students-such as ABSTUDY-to be as long as four to five weeks late. In many cases this causes both Aboriginal parents and students to lose faith in the system. Moreover, late payments mean that Aboriginal students may not be able to purchase the requisite clothes, books or other equipment, and that many will not tum up

to school until such time as they can feel that they are neither

disadvantaged or different from other students. I submit that such delays in the payment of student assistance allowances are unacceptable and should be the subject of Departmental review.

33.1.38 A further problem with the payment of ABSTUDY allowances has been drawn the Commission's attention with specific reference to Aboriginal people in receipt of unemployment benefits who seek to enrol in adult education courses. This problem of delays experienced by

Aboriginal people getting off unemployment benefits and onto ABSTUDY was noted as being of 'particular concern' in · a report by Don Williams and Barbara Chambers submitted to the then Commonwealth Department of Education as long ago as December 1984.35 The report noted a point

made by the Institute for Aboriginal Development (lAD) in Alice Springs that delays in the payments of allowances were a major source of concern:


Some students undertake several course over a number of years and every time they start a new course they have to fill in ABSTUDY application forms and the same processing procedure is followed. Often this

involves the same problems of getting students off some form of Social Security, placing them on ABSTUDY, then returning them to Social Security at the end of the

Page 311

Educating for the Future

course. Under these circumstances delays in payments are almost inevitable.36


33.1.39 The lAD reported to the Royal Commission that its continued efforts to effect some action on this problem-including meetings with DEET officers in 1988 at which undertakings were made by DEET to commence discussions with the Department of Social Security (DSS), and letters to the respective Commonwealth Ministers-have failed. The lAD proposed to DSS and DEET that enrolling students who are DSS

beneficiaries be permitted to remain DSS clients for four weeks on 'Study Experience', during which time their ABSTUDY applications could be processed. At the conclusion of this period, students would be assessed for full admission into an lAD course. The lAD found that the pressures of embarking on a new course of study, combined with these financial problems, caused many students to withdraw. If these various complaints from a number of quite different areas are correct and ongoing then

strenuous efforts should be made to overcome them. No doubt they reflect administrative difficulties, but not ones that are insurmountable.

3 3 .1.40 I am also of the opinion that Aboriginal people who undertake adult education courses in accredited institutions which are related to 'personal' or community development should be considered as having an equal entitlement to allowances as those undertaking training for more mainstream labour market skills. I discuss the value of such courses in more detail below-see Section 33.3.

33.1.41 I raise the following further matters relative to ABSTIJDY: • Problems relating to changes from receipt of social security benefits to ABSTUDY should be immediately addressed. • That there are different rules applicable to the receipt of

ABSTUDY depending upon the age of the student. The rules relating to ABSTIJDY entitlement should not be age-related. • I understand that ABSTUDY has been either withdrawn, or in other cases is under threat, for courses which relate to community

or personal development compared with courses providing general labour skills, or else courses which result in a degree or diploma. In my opinion ABSTUDY should apply to both personal and community development courses provided by accredited institutions, as well as to those courses which lead to a diploma or degree.

Aboriginal Student Support and Parent Awareness Program 33.1.42 The Aboriginal Student Support and Parent Awareness Program (ASSPA) is a component of the Aboriginal Education Strategic Initiatives Program (AESIP) by which DEET seeks to supplement

Page 312 Vol4

33 Educating for the Future

mainstream educational funding according to priorities established in strategic and operational plans-see Section 33.5, below.

33.1.43 ASSPA provides funding on a per capita basis for excursions, cultural lessons by community members and other innovative projects in order to increase Aboriginal parent and community involvement in schooling. The funds are to be administered by locally based ASSP A

committees comprising school staff and parents of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. The allocation to ASSPA from the general Aboriginal Education Strategic Initiatives Program funds over the 1990-92 triennium is $8.799m in 1990, $9.276m in 1991, and $9.68m in 1992.37

33.1.44 At Royal Commission hearings in Darwin an officer of the Department of Education raised criticism of an Aboriginal community in which support for an ASSPA committee appeared to be lacking: 'there is this difficulty of getting people to appear, ... to make representation, to

express what they feel is of concern to them'.38 The factual accuracy of the observation was not questioned. But, Commissioner Dodson did question the Department's assumptions about a policy and program which is implemented without adequate community consultation, negotiation and

support. He suggested that any program, no matter how well formulated on paper, is unlikely to be successful if Aboriginal people do not feel some sense of ownership of and commitment to it. Such difficulties-from an administrative perspective--of involving Aboriginal people in committees

and school councils are clearly shaped by parents' own alienation from the school system; an alienation which in most cases is founded on their own negative experiences of schooling-and in some cases, no doubt, an absence of experience.

33.1.45 The New South Wales Aboriginal Issues Unit reported from Brewarrina that Aboriginal parents were upset by the 'attitudes and expectations of teachers-attitudes which encouraged Aboriginal students to seek exemptions from school prior to the completion of Year 10. It was

the demonstration of this lack of commitment to Aboriginal students, and an unwillingness to actively engage with the Aboriginal community, which caused parents to avoid taking a role in the school:


It is these attitudes, parents claim, which make them reluctant to have any involvement in school activities and/or Parents and Citizens Association. Some parents said that the administration of the school give little or no

heed to Aboriginal concerns in relation to education, which they said was shown by a program which had been introduced to deal with nutrition in the school. This particular program literally provides a breakfast for

children going to school. The parents said that this program was set up without any consultation with them

Page 313

Educating for the Future 33

and that they had no notice of it prior to its

commencement. They feel that in doing this the school is taking away from the Aboriginal parents the responsibility to care for their children and the fact that this has gone ahead without their consultation emphasises their belief that the school administration gives no thought to the feelings of Aboriginal people in Brewa"ina. 39

33.1.46 This example is valuable in that it shows again that even an ostensibly beneficial program such as the provision of breakfast to Aboriginal students will not be successful if it fails to take account of the wishes and support of Aboriginal parents, who, as I have noted elsewhere, have very unhappy memories of various programs aimed at

'benefiting' Aboriginal children. Most importantly, the example highlights the need for processes of negotiation which allow Aboriginal parents a genuine influence on what happens to their children at school. Until this influence becomes a reality, parents are going to remain unwilling to become involved in the present systems of decision making. The New South Wales Aboriginal Issues Unit noted that in Broken Hill, Dareton, Wentworth and Wilcannia few if any Aboriginal parents have become actively involved in the education system. In those towns, no Aboriginal people are involved in a Parents and Citizens Association, nor do they attend the school regularly with the exception of Aboriginal Week.40 I further discuss some historical and cultural factors affecting parents' involvement with schooling in Section 16.5, above.

33.1.47 The 'tokenism' of much Aboriginal participation in school­ based decision-making groups is also criticized in Commissioner Dodson's Royal Commission report:

As one Aboriginal person said of being on an education advisory committee: (I get the feeling that really ... when you are put in those advisory roles, consultant roles, that you are really just token blacks.41

33.1.48 Commissioner Dodson has stressed how important it is that consultation with Aboriginal parents about education needs and priorities go beyond the area of government grants such as ASSPA to that of school policy itself.

Page 314

Recommendation 293: That the introduction of the Aboriginal Student Support and Parent A ware ness Program be

commended as being an appropriate recognition of the need for the participation of Aboriginal people at a local level in the delivery of school programs. The Commission notes, however, that the success of the program will be dependent on the extent to which the Aboriginal community is guaranteed adequate


33 Educating for the Future

consultation, negotiation and support in devising and implementing this program.

Aboriginal Tutorial Assistance Scheme 33.1.49 The Aboriginal Tutorial Assistance Scheme (ATAS) is the second component of the Aboriginal Education Strategic Initiatives Program. It replaces previous tutorial assistance under ABSTUDY from 1 January 1990. Assistance is provided through the scheme for Aboriginal

students, including primary students, to participate in formal tutorial sessions with registered tutors covering aspects of their school or post­ school course work. Assistance is also provided for the homework centres which have developed in many communities and schools through

Australia. The high success rate of Aboriginal students at Kyogle High School-where in recent years virtually all students who have commenced high school have completed Year 12 with creditable passes in the Higher School Certificate-is in part attributed to the homework centre. It caters

mainly for primary school students and the community feels that it is giving students better skills with which to adjust to high school studies. Parents also play an active role in the Kyogle homework centre.42

33.1.50 The allocation to AT AS over the 1990-92 triennium is $10.985m in 1990, $13.5m in 1991, and $14.2m in 1992. An estimated 17,000 students will be assisted through AT AS in 1990.43


Educating Aboriginal Teachers 33.1.51 The Commission was presented with evidence of a significant innovation in the training of Aboriginal teachers at Batchelor College in the Northern Territory. The College aims to provide a culturally-appropriate,

community-based teacher education program for Aboriginal people from remote communities. The teacher education course at Batchelor College represents a model of significant innovation in the areas of service delivery, curriculum negotiation and teaching practice.44

33.1.52 The urgent need for off-campus models of tertiary education­ particularly in the area of teacher training-for 'traditional' communities was identified by the National Aboriginal Education Committee in 1985.45 Batchelor College's Remote Area Teacher Education (RATE) program has

for some years allowed Aboriginal people to do their first year of training in their own bush communities, with subsequent years spent on campus. The decentralization of this program is now allowing

Aboriginal students the option of undertaking all of their training in a community setting. Dr McClay of Batchelor College told the Commission:

Vol4 Page 315

Educating for the Future

Our teaching methodology is to use workshops. People will come into Batchelor College or .to the regional centre at Tennant Creek or at Alice Springs or Nhulunbuy and will do a workshop for 2 or 3 weekS and then they will return to their home communities where they will engage in prac teaching or community research. Then that cycle repeats During that period when they're in the communities, hopefully they are supported by tutors ... and their lecturers visit them. 47


33.1.53 Under the terms of strategic and operational plans negotiated with the Northern Territory Department of Education as a result of the National Aboriginal Education Policy, the College has secured the appointment of twenty tutors to support the RATE program.48 These will be located in Aboriginal community schools throughout the Territory to support students in the teaching course from September 1990.

33.1.54 There are two levels of qualification offered in the RATE The first is a three year Associate Diploma of Teaching

(Aboriginal Schools) which is equivalent to two years teacher training but is lengthened to accommodate specific learning difficulties and lower academic qualifications on initial entry. Graduates with this qualification may be employed by the Northern Territory Education Department as a Northern Territory Teaching Service Band 1 teacher in an Aboriginal community school. The second qualification is a four year Diploma of Teaching. Graduates with this qualification may be employed by the Education Department as a Northern Territory Teaching Service Band 1 teacher anywhere in the Northern Territory Teaching Service, and may also be considered for promotion positions.

33.1.55 The number of graduates from the RATE program has increased dramatically-from five in 1983 to forty in 1990 in the Associate Diploma course, for example (see Table 33.2)-and some concern was expressed by the Northern Territory Education Department about the ability of schools to absorb them. 5° TABLE 33.2: GRADUATES FROM TEACHER TRAINING COURSES AT


Stage 1 Stage 2 Associate Diploma BA (Ed)


1985 32 15 6

1986 43 14 8

1987 19 15 2 3

1988 40 19 6 9

1989 16 24 12 11

1990 (est) 73 27 40 12 1

Source: Batchelor College, Draft Reaccreditation Document, p. 11.

Page 316 Vol4

33 Educating for the Future

33.1.56 Batchelor College has obtained agreements with the Northern Territory and Commonwealth Governments to a plan which includes the following strategies for employment of its teacher graduates:

Expansion of the Principal's Mentor Scheme by which Aboriginal staff receive specific on-the-job administrative experience which will allow them to assume management of a community school.

• Increase the number of Aboriginal communities with Aboriginal Principals to ten by the end of 1992.

• Continuation of the policy of employing all Northern Territory qualified Aboriginal teachers who seek employment in Northern Territory government and non-government schools.

Increased employment of Aboriginal teaching assistants, Aboriginal language assistants, and Aboriginal Home School Liaison Officers from 389 to 500 by 1992.51

33.1.57 Plans are also laid for extension of the RATE program through eastern Arnhem Land, the Barkly Tablelands and the southern region of the Northern Territory.

33.1.58 The Royal Commission heard of a similar program started in north Queensland in 1990. The Remote Area Teacher Education Program (RATEP) is jointly administered by James Cook University, Cairns College ofT AFE and the Queensland Department of Education. Like the

RATE program it provides for the training of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers 'on-site' in their communities. The first two years of training are provided by the T AFE College and result in either certificates of teaching or Associate Diplomas. The final two years training are

provided by the University and result in a full Diploma of Teaching, allowing graduates to teach in any school in the State. 52

33.1.59 Another innovative program available in Queensland is the Aboriginal and Islander Teacher Education Program (AITEP), also run by James Cook University. Students may gain special entry to this program without a Tertiary Entrance (TE) score. Special entry entails several tests,

including a mathematics test and the writing of an essay, as well as an interview. Unlike RA TEP, which trains teachers for community schools only, AITEP provides training which will allow graduates to go into mainstream non-Aboriginal schools, although they may also choose to

teach in community schools.

33.1.60 AITEP is a seven semester course, in comparison with six semesters for a mainstream teaching diploma. The additional semester is dedicated to introducing Aboriginal and Islander students to study at a tertiary level, imparting strategies for textbook use and essay writing, and

Vol4 Page 317

Educating for the Future 33

helping them with literacy skills generally. All other parts of the course are the same as other teaching diplomas offered by James Cook University.

33.1.61 These examples emphasize that Innovation in the training of Aboriginal teachers is possible. Moreover, these innovations can take a variety of forms, from community-based options such as the RATE program, to a mixture of community-based and institution-based courses as in RA TEP, to courses which allow special entry and have support programs as in AITEP. Other examples could be drawn from around Australia. The Western Australian College of Advanced Education had by the mid-1980s established regionalized enclaves for Aboriginal teacher training in Broome and Carnarvon, and there were special entry programs at Mt Lawley. The South Australian College of Advanced Education­ now the University of South Australia-has had a long history of such developments, beginning in 1978 with the Aboriginal Teacher Education Program (ATEP) which was enclave-based and led to a full diploma of teaching. The College's Underdale campus developed an enclave support system which still operates as abridging program to prepare students for entry into award courses. A TEP was followed by the Anangu Teacher Education Program (ANTEP) begun in 1984. The latter allows Anangu

(Pitjantjatjara) students who want to teach in their own communities to study with an on-site lecturer at Ernabella in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Lands. The South Australian College of Advanced Education achieved national recognition as a Key Centre for Aboriginal education.

33.1.62 I suggest that continued development of such innovative and sensitive programs will substantially increase the number of Aboriginal graduates available to teach in Australian schools, which in tum will have a considerable influence in the schools, on the students generally and especially on the morale and self-confidence of Aboriginal school children.

33.1.63 I make one further point. The practice of all these institutions shows the need for special provisions to facilitate students being prepared for their studies. This in itself is eloquent testimony to past Aboriginal disadvantages in education and shows the great need for bridging courses and funding for such courses.

33.1.64 Although I have referred to Batchelor College at length I do not mean to infer that it is the only institution doing important and innovative work.

Page 318

Recommendation 294: That governments and Aboriginal Education Consultative Groups take note of the methodology employed in such programs as that at Batchelor

College, Northern Territory in the training of

Aboriginal teachers and others for work in remote communities.


33 Educating for the Future

Educating non-Aboriginal Teachers

33.1.65 )"'he Western Australian Aboriginal Education Consultative Group conveyed severe criticism of the attitudes, teaching methods and knowledge of Aboriginal culture brought by teachers to schools in the Kimberley region:

There was general concern that teachers going into the Kimberley region were almost totally ignorant of local Aboriginal culture and aspirations. Many people commented on what they saw as the destructive effects

of young, city-bred teachers bringing with them inappropriate attitudes and inappropriate teaching methods.53

33.1.66 Numerous submissions and representations to the Royal Commission have emphasized the need for an Aboriginal studies component in all teacher training courses. The South Australian Aboriginal Issues Unit has submitted to me that an Aboriginal cultural

awareness program should be a compulsory unit for all trainee teachers. Commissioner Wyvill has suggested that this need extends beyond general knowledge acquisition to the provision of induction programs which give teachers some background in the culture, history and contemporary

situation of the particular community in which they are to work. 54 Such a program would offer a significant role for community members and parents in educating teachers about the needs of their children. The Aboriginal community of Bourke offered a similar suggestion, stating that

teachers should be given greater training in Aboriginal awareness and communication, or be given the opportunity to spend some time with Aboriginal organizations and community groups in order to establish some form of rapport with, and understanding of, Aboriginal students in places

such as Bourke. 55 Commissioner Dodson has advocated the use of a trial period for teachers in remote areas, and a contract for teaching which would give the local community a greater sense of responsibility for their children's education. 56

33.1.67 In South Australia, courses in Aboriginal Studies and the Teaching of Aboriginal Studies are available through the South Australian College of Advanced Education. Neither are compulsory. A perceived lack of knowledge and confidence on the part of teachers has prompted the

South Australian Department of Education's Aboriginal Education Section to establish Aboriginal Studies teams in each of its five regions. The teams consist of teachers and Aboriginal Education Workers and have as their major role the implementation of Aboriginal Studies courses in

schools through in-service training.57 The Department conducts a 21-week

Vol4 Page 319

Educating for the Future 33

induction course for teachers newly appointed to Aboriginal Schools. It also conducts a four week intensive program for staff appointed to Anangu (Pitjantjatjara) schools. 58

33.1.68 In Queensland, a Graduate Diploma in Aboriginal Education is available in Townsville. Other institutions offer only elective subjects in Aboriginal studies and teaching. The Commission was told: 'As a general rule all teachers are not required to do studies in this area'. 59 The Education North Office attempts to counter this perceived deficiency in teacher training by way of various in-service programs, consultancy services and resource services. 60

33.1.69 In the absence of specific training to teach in Aboriginal communities, a District Inspector of Schools in north Queensland reported on a process by which teachers may, to some extent, 'self-select' their placement in community schools. He described a 'recruitment drive'

started in 1985:

We would prefer to have volunteers rather than conscripts go to the community schools ... In order to have schools staffed all over Queensland it's necessary for us to have a compulsory transfer scheme but rather

than have people compulsory [sic] move to the schools we try through a week of lectures and talks and discussions to try to prepare people in that group to decide for themselves that they will go. That's been quite successful. We have been receiving lots of teachers who've been approached through that process and they are volunteering to go and serve in those places. 61

3 3 .1. 7 0 In the absence of professional training and preparation, much knowledge has to be gained 'on the job'. The Royal Commission was presented with evidence of significant difficulties in maintaining teacher continuity. This manifests itself in the problem of getting teachers to stay long enough in community schools, or mainstream schools with Aboriginal enrolments, in order for them to pick up appropriate experience. A speaker told the Commission that two years was the average length of service in Queensland community schools, citing geographical and professional isolation as major factors in the high turnover rate. 62 This echoes the concern expressed by members of the Barunga community about the itinerancy of teachers, as reported by the Northern Territory Aboriginal Issues Unit:

Page 320

[T] hey seem to stay in a community for a couple of years and then get moved to another community. This can cause of lot of difficulties with the stability and teaching in a community. 63


33 Educating for the Future

33.1. 71 Commissioner Dodson has also reported on the high turnover of teachers, particularly in remote areas. He cites an example from the Kimberley region in which there was a turnover rate of about one in three teachers in the Catholic Education system for 1990. In Broome there was

a turnover of teachers at the District High School of between 21% and 34% for the years 1985-89.64 These turnover rates pose significant problems for providing appropriate, culturally-sensitive training and follow-up support for large numbers of teachers, many of whom may stay

in the arena of Aboriginal education for only a short time.

33.1.72 Mr Peter Lenz, a sessional supervisor with the New South Wales Probation and Parole Board, has advocated the use of contracts in order to enhance the continuity of teaching. In public discussions in Wilcannia, Mr Lenz told Commissioner Wootten that

it seems the only way that you could get teachers to stay here for a longer period would be to have them on contracts and that would mean that you would have to select experienced teachers to start with and they would

then have to stay for say a period of 3 to 4 years so as the kids get continuity of teaching. You see, we've got a bit of a paradox here. We've spent 4.1 million on a school ... and then we can't provide decent.teachers to

teach the kids. Kids are leaving school without the Qbility to read or write or have proper numeracy skills.65

33.1.73 In the 1986-87 financial year the Commonwealth Government introduced a national scheme for the placement of teachers in Aboriginal schools. Its aims were to improve the quality of teaching in schools with significant Aboriginal enrolments-including independent Aboriginal

schools-and to increase Aboriginal community involvement in teacher selection and placement. 66 The scheme initially provided funds to Education Departments in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia, the Western Australian Catholic Education Commission,

and a number of independent Aboriginal schools. Queensland began participation in the scheme in 1989. The funds financed a range of activities including induction and in-service courses, professional development programs, trainee-teacher placement, and the training of

school boards in teacher-selection techniques.

34.1. 7 4 The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy contains an agreement to support 'professional development of educational personnel, including specific programs to sensitize non­ Aboriginal teachers and administrators'. 67 These programs are to be

developed by the States and Territories as part of triennial operational plans; the Policy does not specify particular initiatives.

Vol4 Page 321

Educating for the Future 33

Recommendation 295: That: a. All teacher training courses include courses

which will enable student teachers to understand that Australia has an Aboriginal history and Aboriginal viewpoints on social, cultural and historical matters, and to teach the curriculum

which reflects those matters; b. In-service training courses for teachers be

provided so that teachers may improve their skill, knowledge and understanding to teach curricula which incorporate Aboriginal viewpoints on social, cultural and historical matters; and c. Aboriginal people should be involved in the

training courses both at student-teacher and in­ service level.

33.1.75 The Commission has noted proposals put forward by the former Minister for Education in the Northern Territory for the development of community education plans at local level in remote communities. These plans would enable the local community to tailor

systems, curriculum, timetables and programs to suit the local community and would provide a record of agreed list of goals, priorities, preferred methods of delivery and other issues of importance to the local community. The community education plans would be provided to teachers before taking up appointment to a community school.

Page 322

Recommendation 296: That: a.


AECGs consider such processes which might allow communities and teachers to negotiate and agree upon the role of teachers at local

community level; and Governments, AECGs and, where appropriate, unions explore processes which will enable teachers, pupils and parents to negotiate

guidelines for the teaching of Aboriginal

students and the employment and conditions of teachers on local communities.


33 Educating for the Future


33.1.76 -The positive effect of Aboriginal Education Workers (AEWs}---also known in various States as Aboriginal Teaching Aides or, as in New South Wales, Aboriginal Teaching Assistants-on the social environment of schools is emphasized in material prepared for the Royal

Commission in Victoria:

One of the most important effects of employing Aboriginal Educators in schools may well be their role in {policing' racism, since their very presence may deter the more overt racist practices. The importance of

Aboriginal Educators to the success of Koorie Education cannot be overstressed.68

33.1.77 In South Australia the role of AEWs is to link the school with its client Aboriginal community and to bring that community's aspirations into the school and its programs. Sandy Mason, an AEW in the Port Adelaide area, has described her job in the following terms:

When I took on the position of an Aboriginal Education Worker, I looked back to my days at school and how I hated being there every day and how I found it easier not to go at all. So I decided that I would work hard at

making things easier for the Nunga kids who came to my school. I would set an example for them and would be there when either they or their families needed to talk or needed some help. I decided that I would chase them

up when they started truanting because I knew how easy it was to get into the pattern once it was started. I hoped that if I chased them enough times then they would know or start to realize that someone cared. I feel that

care is the key word here. Aboriginal students need someone based in the school, someone who will advise, support and care enough about them to help them through these difficult years at school. 69

33.1.78 AEWs are a specia(resource to the school and its teachers, most particularly in the area of Aboriginal studies, assisting teachers in the planning and teaching of all units in the Aboriginal Studies curriculum. Sandy Mason has described this aspect of her work:


Aboriginal [Education] Workers are an asset to any school that is doing Aboriginal Studies, because they can go to the old people in the different communities and gather their stories about life on the reserves and how

they grew up and the stories that were handed down to

Page 323

Educating for the Future

them from their fathers, mothers and grandmothers. They can then come back and teach it as it was, to the students in their schools. This information a lot of old people don't like to tell the white teachers about, and

therefore it could be lost to our next generation. Lost to students who really do need to learn of their background and culture. These workers have also helped, through talking to the old people, in getting families and foster children back together again.70


33.1.79 AEWs frequently form individual relationships with students and their families and act as counsellors and home/school liaison officers:

In doing home visits, it's not just a matter of going to the home when kids are acting out or missing from school. It's continuous visits to let parents or the family know how their children are going at school. It's more fun when you've got something positive to report. The

visits aren't just in and out. It's more of a social visit with a cup of tea and a good yarn being shared (like how our football and netball teams are going or just catching up on the latest gossip). 71

33.1.80 Each administrative region in South Australia is responsible for training its own group of AEWs. This usually involves half a day a week. A Departmental officer was seconded for 1990 to develop a model for training AEWs. The South Australian Education Department reported to the Royal Commission that it anticipated its training model will be in operation in 1991.72

33.1.81 Aboriginal Education Workers play a vital role in addressing reasons for non-attendance by working with students on their feelings of non-acceptance, of shame and poor self-esteem-see Section 16.6. They also work with parents of school-refusing children in an attempt to resolve difficulties arising from conditions at home. The Western Australian Aboriginal Consultative Group (W AAECG) warns, however, that in some areas-such as the south-west of Western Australia-there are too few AEWs to deal with the number of truancy and disciplinary problems which arise. 73 An absence of resources, status or responsibility can limit the effectiveness and place enormous stress on these workers. In Dubbo the Royal Commission heard of an Aboriginal Education Assistant with responsibility for two hundred primary school students.74 The Victorian Aboriginal Issues Unit summarizes the restrictions which can be placed on AEW s in that state:

Page 324

Lack of resources, including time and transport, effectively restricts Koori educators from covering their entire area. Some Educators work in several schools


33 Educating for the Future

and are required to use their own cars for work. However, they cannot get any travel allowance because their cars are not comprehensively insured. This, as in the case of administrators of Koori organizations, puts

the Educator in a position of having to work for their community without the full entitlements. It also affects the delivery of this service to Koori students.75

33.1.82 The WAAECG has noted a diversity of opinion about the role of Aboriginal education support staff. 76 Whilst in some regions their role had been worked out to the satisfaction of most Aboriginal people, in others there was dissatisfaction and conflict. The main issues to emerge

were: • unclear lines of authority and accountability-to the school, the Superintendent and/or the Aboriginal community; • the extent of teaching responsibilities;

• the extent of counselling responsibilities; • their status in the school hierarchy.

33.1.83 The WAAECG recommends that the role and responsibility of Aboriginal education support staff be clarified, and that Aboriginal communities be accurately informed of these. 77 It also stresses the need to employ both female and male AEWs, particularly in traditionally-oriented communities.78 The Catholic Education system in Western Australia

employs AEW s under the title 'Teaching Assistants', but they play an active role in the teaching and assessment of students. It is said, however, that there are too few such positions to be effective.

3 3 .1. 84 The absence of clearly defined roles for AEW s was reported to the Royal Commission from a number of areas. The New South Wales Aboriginal Issues Unit, for example, conveyed the concern of Aboriginal Education Assistants in Wilcannia that they regarded their duties as set out

in their duty statements as inadequate and as not allowing them to operate effectively in their roles_79

33.1.85 Hearings before the Royal Commission in Swan Hill raised other problems faced by AEWs, including low wages and a lack of accreditation. The training which these workers receive, and the consequent improvement in their skills and self-esteem, often results in a

drift to other organizations-particularly Aboriginal organizations--or to identified positions in the public sector:


[ A]fter getting the training they feel more confident about themselves. They might go to a higher paid job, they might have to go to Melbourne for higher paid jobs, into Aboriginal organizations because the wage is fairly

low for what an Aboriginal educator does

Page 325

Educating for the Future 33

33.1.86 The Commission heard how, in Swan Hill, participation in local training programs had led two Aboriginal education workers, who had themselves achieved only Year 8 schooling, to pursue further teacher training. 81

3 3 .1. 8 7 Another speaker emphasized that whilst the training received by Aboriginal Education Workers in Swan Hill is tailored to the needs of the local community, it is not an officially recognized or registered qualification. 82 The training of Aboriginal Education Workers in Victoria was criticized in documents prepared for the Royal Commission:

The special bridging course for Aboriginal students which ran during the early 1970s at Shepparton TAPE and facilitated Koorie entry to teacher training was terminated in 1975, and a similar course was not restarted until 1980, at Bendigo CAE, although other States were increasing their levels of Koorie intake to tertiary institutions rapidly during that period. 83

33.1.88 The Western Australian College of Advanced Education (WACAE) offers an Aboriginal Education Worker Program in conjunction with the State's Ministry of Education. Under this program, AEWs employed in schools are released half-time to study in a Bachelor of Arts course in Education. The course is offered in external mode at Off Campus Centres, so there is no need for students to leave their communities or jobs. The Ministry assists in the selection of AEW s to participate in the program, and provides funds for their half-time replacement. 84

33.1.89 Whilst it is clear that significant benefits have followed from having AEW s in schools, Commissioner Dodson has pointed to the urgent need to go beyond simply employing more Aboriginal aides and assistants to having more adult educators, teachers and role models:

Too many Aboriginal people are employed in schools as gardeners, cleaners or assistants of various sorts. Their skills and contributions to that of education are often undervalued and need to be recognized and developed. It is important that more Aboriginal adult educators,

counsellors and liaison persons in schools become accountable to the local Aboriginal community who, through the establishment of local committees, have more authority and are more involved in local policy making for Aboriginal students. 85

3 3 .1. 90 The role of AEW s has developed in different ways in different areas. In fact, their role is an evolving one which draws on the developing

Page 326 Vol4

33 Educating for the Future

experience of schools and principals, as well as of individual AEW s. For this reason I believe the duties of AEWs should not be too closely defined or restricted.

Recommendation 297: That: a. The vital role which Aboriginal Education

Workers-or persons performing a similar role but with another title-can play in ensuring effective Aboriginal participation in the

education system be recognized; b. Aboriginal Education Workers be given the

recognition and remuneration which their role merits and that it be recognized that they suffer from conflicting expectations of community and Department as to their role; and c. It be understood that there is a need for them to

have accountability to the Aboriginal community as well as to their employer.


33.1.91 As part of the National Inquiry into Teacher Education conducted in 1979, the National Aboriginal Education Committee established an initial-and conservative-target figure of 1,000 Aboriginal teachers to be in Australian schools by the year 1990 . .8..2 Even by the

middle of the intervening decade this target was not realizable:

Current Aboriginal and Islander teacher education programs will produce only some five hundred additional teachers in schools by 1990,n leaving our society grossly under-represented in the teaching force.

Unless urgent action is taken and firm government commitments are forthcoming the estimate of 5,518 graduates by the Year 2000 will be ·impossible to attain.88

33.1.92 Evidence was presented to the Commission that of the graduates, only a proportion are now to be found as classroom teachers. The following breakdown of Aboriginal teacher placements in Queensland was presented to a Commission hearing.

33.1.93 Of the 154 Aboriginal and Islander teachers who had

Vol4 Page 327

Educating for the Future 33

graduated in Queensland by 1989, 73 were employed by the Queensland Department of Education; 2 as preschool officers, 54 as primary teachers, 9 as secondary teachers, 2 as guidance officers, one as a remedial teacher and 5 were on Head Office staff..a.2 Thirty-seven of the 154 were employed in education, but not by the Department. Of these, 11 were employed by Commonwealth DEET, 11 by the Department of Employment, Vocational Education and Training and T AFE, 6 in kindergarten and preschool teaching, 5 in the Catholic Education Office, 2 in Colleges of Advanced Education and Universities, and 2 were independent primary teachers. Forty-four of those graduate teachers were not currently in employment or had moved interstate. 90

33.1 .94 Material prepared for the Royal Commission in Victoria raises the issue of a disparity between the number of Aboriginal people who have trained as teachers, and the number presently employed in the teaching profession or other areas of education. Moreover, projected increases in

the number of Aboriginal teachers are seen as insufficient to cover an expanding number of clients and programs. Under National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy initiatives,

there are only 18 more positions (90 compared to 72) than the initial A[boriginal] E[ ducation] Sf ervice] program in 1975, for an increasing population and an increase of responsibility to include the TAPE and Adult

Education Sectors. Where have all the Kooris who undertook teacher training gone? 91

33.1.95 A witness before the Royal Commission in Perth confirmed a similar trend in Western Australia whereby a proportion--estimated at 20 to 25o/o--ef Aboriginal teachers are being absorbed into other government agencies rather than teaching in classrooms. 92 Commissioner Dodson reports on an increase of West Australian Aboriginal teachers from 14 to 95 in the decade 1979-89; 20 of these teachers graduated between 1987 and 1989.93 He also notes, however, that there are only 53 qualified Aboriginal teachers working within the various West Australian education systems in 1990 and that 'many qualified Aboriginal teachers are not choosing teaching as a career' .94

33.1.96 I imply no criticism of Aboriginal teachers entering non­ teaching jobs, nor of governments or other employers taking on teacher­ trained people. There are plenty of jobs in government and elsewhere in which training as a teacher is a useful accomplishment. There is no reason why people, including Aboriginal people, should not go to those jobs or why departments and employers should be criticized for accepting them. The point that needs to be made, however, is that in order to produce a pool of Aboriginal teachers you have got to train more than the number envisaged and produce a larger group of graduates.

Page 328 Vol4

33 Educating for the Future


33.1.97 Independent Aboriginal schools have developed out of a desire by Aboriginal parents and communities to direct their children's experience of education:

A small number of Aboriginal communities and groups have established their own schools as independent alternatives to the existing schooling system because they perceive the general schooling system as being

irrelevant to their childrens' educational needs and as not enabling them to have sufficient say in the running of the school. These schools generally have established educational programs which emphasise teaching in

accord with Aboriginal social and cultural values. Aboriginal parents have a significant involvement in the running of these schools.95

33.1.98 Independent Aboriginal schools are thus an arena in which Aboriginal people have sought to take some control over the processes and structures of schooling. They are perhaps the clearest expression of a desire for self-determination in the realm of education.

33.1.99 The Select Committee noted the following justifications for the establishment of independent Aboriginal schools: • the right to choose an education which is in accord with cultural values and life styles, as has historically been the right of

religious groups in Australia; • as an expression of Aboriginality, ensuring the perpetuation of Aboriginal culture, norms and values; • as the most appropriate educational and social environment for

Aboriginal children alienated by other monolingual and monocultural institutions.96

33.1.100 The majority of Australia's Aboriginal independent schools are located in Western Australia with the largest coJ)centration to be found in the Fitzroy Crossing area.21 The W AAECG reported the following positive aspects of independent Aboriginal schools in the Pilbara Region:

high parental involvement; innovative curriculum, especially bilingual and bicultural programs; relatively high rates of attendance; and generally sympathetic teachers.98 They also noted the difficulties which attend the establishment of such schools. These included: lack of support and

commitment by various government departments and their officers; difficulties in attracting experienced and knowledgeable teachers prepared to work in remote areas; and delays in establishing basic facilities such as electricity and water supply. Community leaders conveyed feelings of

Vol4 Page 329

Educating for the Future 33

frustration and powerlessness experienced in their dealings with distant bureaucracies, and were uncertain of the government's continuing support for community schools.

33.1.101 There are now a number of innovative Aboriginal schools operating in different parts of Australia, together with various dedicated programs within otherwise mainstream schools. Examples which have been brought to the attention of the Commission include Yipirinya in Alice Springs, the Wangetti Education Centre in Queensland, Kaurna Plains in Adelaide and the Preston East Technical School in Melbourne. Each of these schools-along with many others I do not mention-has demonstrated what can be achieved through the use of culturally-sensitive curriculum, the employment of Aboriginal staff, the presence of members of the Aboriginal community or organizations in the classroom, and the cultivation of a caring and supportive environment addressed to the needs of Aboriginal students. I offer these illustrations by way of example and to indicate what is possible to achieve given vision, will and hard work. The continued exploration and development of such alternatives is to be encouraged.

33.1.102 It has been reported that the operation of Yipirinya, an independent Aboriginal-controlled school in Alice Springs, has had a considerable impact on the educational participation of the children of town campers.99 Between 1979 and 1987 the percentage of town campers that never attended school fell from 29% to 15%. The provision of multilingual education at Yipirinya is considered to have made a significant contribution to this improvement in participation rates and in changing the nature of the education provided to many Aboriginal children.

33.1.103 The Wangetti Education Centre north of Cairns is the only independent Aboriginal senior secondary school in Australia. It offers an alternative Grade 11 and 12 program for Aboriginal students. Until 1984, students in this Transition Education program were usually drawn from the Clifton Beach Home School, an independent school for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students in Grades 8, 9 and 10. The Wangetti Centre was established in 1983 on a three-acre site purchased by the Home School.

3 3 .1.1 04 ·Two of the people who died in Queensland had experience of this school. Perry Noble attended the Clifton Beach Home School in Grades 8, 9 and 10. David Koowootha attended the Transition Education program at Wangetti in Term 1 of 1983.

33.1.1 05 After the Home School closed at the end of 1984 the Transition Education program at Wangetti continued as a separate independent school. The Centre teaches only non-Board subjects-that is, registered subjects which are school-based and not directly administered

by the Board of Secondary Studies, together with independent school-

Page 330 Vol4

33 Educating for the Future

initiated subjects. Students attending the Centre cannot obtain a Tertiary Entrance (TE) score. ATE score is normally required for entrance to higher education institutions. The present Principal of Wangetti, Mr Graham Hooper, notes, however, that positive discrimination policies

allow Aboriginal students to apply for tertiary places without aTE score. 100

33.1.106 Core subjects in the curriculum are Maths, Science, English and Cultural Studies. These are registered with the Board of Secondary Studies, but are more flexible than the equivalent courses offered as Board-administered subjects in other schools. The Cultural Studies program is a composite social science program which includes history and

geography, with strong Aboriginal history and Aboriginal issues components. Core school subjects-which are not registered with the Board-include Peer Support, Self Awareness, Careers, and Health. There are many optional subjects including Mechanics, Welding,

Woodwork and Building, Music, Pottery and screen printing, Personal Development, Home Skills, Sewing, Media Studies, Computing and Typing, Art, Drama and Dance. Aboriginal representatives from local organizations such as the Legal Aid Centre and the Health Team are invited

to the school to provide information and act as role models. The Centre has recently started a Business Studies program. Mr Hooper reported that some students are choosing to repeat Grade 12 in order to focus on business studies rather than the standard curriculum. The school has a

tutoring program which employs six non-Aboriginal tutors under the Aboriginal Tutorial Assistance Scheme (AT AS) discussed above. All teachers also work to give tutorial assistance to individuals or small groups of students.

33.1.1 07 As an independent school and a boarding school, students at Wangetti are required to pay fees. Student fees are covered by the Commonwealth government through ABSTUDY. Total board and tuition fees in 1989 were $6,060 per student per year. Most of the students are

aged sixteen to eighteen years. In 1989 these students received ABSTUDY entitlements of $6,974. The School also receives direct funding from both the Queensland and Commonwealth Governments. In 1988-89 the Commonwealth Government contributed $640,000 for school

buildings. This allowed construction of a science laboratory and a manual arts workshop. According to its Principal, the Centre has had difficulty financing its physical infrastructure costs. Until 1989, when the school had sufficient buildings to enable all classes to be held indoors for the first

time, many classes were held outdoors wherever there was shade to be found.

33.1.108 The Centre is administered by a School Board and a School Authority. Approximately one-half of the School Authority-a body of thirty to forty interested people with responsibility for policy making-are Aboriginal. There are some students but no parents on the . School

Authority. The School Authority elects the School Board. There IS also a

Vol4 Page 331

Educating for the Future 33

Student Representative Council which has input into the running of the Centre, reviews school rules and discusses appropriate punishments for breaches of discipline.

3 3.1.1 09 All students attend the Centre because they want to be there. All are over the minimum school leaving age of fifteen years. They can, if they wish, leave the Centre at any time. As a consequence, Mr Hooper reports that the school does not have attendance problems. Students attend class every day.

3 3 .1.11 0 Class sizes at W angetti are small, averaging from six to fifteen students. In 1989, one of the six teachers was of Aooriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent and one of the two sets of house parents were an Aboriginal couple. Mr Hooper reported that his attempts to employ more Aboriginal teachers, by writing to Aboriginal teacher graduates asking them if they were interested in a position at the Centre, have not proved successful. Attempts to attract Aboriginal Teacher Aides have also been unsuccessful and attributed by some of the staff to the physical isolation of the Centre. Wangetti is 42 km north of Cairns and 35 km south of Mossman. Staff members, who do not live at the Centre, need to have access to private transport. A similar problem attends the involvement of parents in the school-they need access to private vehicles to visit the Centre.

3 3.1.111 Students must be at least fifteen years old to attend the Centre. They come from all over the Cape York Peninsula and from the Northern Territory. A special English as a Second Language (ESL) program is in place for students, particularly from the Northern Territory, who require additional help with English. When students first enrol at the school they attend an induction program which includes an assessment of their literacy skills. On the basis of this assessment they are then placed in an appropriate literacy stream. Mr Hooper observed that Wangetti provides an alternative type of education to the more mainstream academic emphasis of the Slade boarding school in Warwick to which many Cape York and Northern Territory parents also send their children.

33.1.112 In line with what I have noted in Section 16.5, Mr Hooper reports that many of the students at Wangetti suffer from hearing and sight problems. As in the case of Craig Karpany who would not wear a hearing aid, Mr Hooper reports that some children with prescription lenses will not wear them.

33.1.113 The Kaurna Plains School in Elizabeth, a northern suburb of Adelaide, is an urban Aboriginal school of enormous interest which I visited during the course of my South Australian inquiries. It demonstrates that potential does exist for the development of innovative, Aboriginal education in an urban setting, and under the auspices of a State Department of Education with an Aboriginal Principal, a number of

Page 332 Vol4

33 Educating for the Future

Aboriginal teachers and a program and methodology to which the Board of Aboriginal parents make a big contribution. It represents one possible response to the dilemma, already noted, of how Aboriginal people living in towns or cities-where they are perhaps a minority--can assume some

level of control over the education of their children, in line with broader political and cultural aspirations. The Multicultural Education Co­ ordinating Committee's submission to the Parliamentary inquiry which looked at the establishment of Kauma Plains addressed this problem

explicitly. The Committee noted that various forms of discrimination

are more severe where the students are isolated or represent a very small proportion of the total school population. Under these circwnstances the children's cultural values, personal identity, language, social

security, self-concept and learning suffer enormously.

Until our school systems develop a strategy to overcome these problems it is important that action be taken to endeavour to meet the special needs of the children involved. This can be justified in terms of the children's

human, social, cultural, educational and language rights.

Failure to take appropriate action will result in the ruin of the children concerned, the demise of their languages, cultures and traditions and the loss of the opportunity for all Australians to benefit from a cultural and linguistic diversity .101

33.1.114 A proposal for the establishment of an independent Aboriginal school was initiated by Aboriginal parents in the area, who met with representatives of the South Australian Education Department in 1984 to discuss alternatives and options to achieve more successful outcomes for

Aboriginal students. The results of a survey showed that many Aboriginal parents would use the facilities of an independent Aboriginal school if it were established. After much publicity, some fierce opposition and a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works inquiry, the school

opened in 1986. Kaurna Plains caters for Aboriginal students from Reception through to Year 12 and, in addition, has recently had a child­ care and preschool centre built.

33.1.115 The aims of the Kauma Plains School are directed at reversing the negative experiences that so many Aboriginal students have of school--experiences which lead to low academic achievement, low self­ esteem, behaviour problems and high levels of non-attendance. They include:


To develop and reinforce in Aboriginal students a sense of personal worth and a strong Aboriginal identity.

Page 333

Educating for the Future 33

• Ensure that the curriculum takes account of the specific needs, interests and strengths of Aboriginal children.

• Actively involve Aboriginal people through consultation and participation in making the learning environment relevant to the needs of Aboriginal children.

• Ensure an awareness and respect for the Aboriginal child's own language.

• Understand cultural values and differences with sensitivity and interest so that the teachers, students and parents form a mutually supportive relationship.

• Develop in all students the knowledge, understanding and apprecia,tion of Aboriginal heritage and culture.

• Provide and support classroom opportunities for all students to examine, compare and clarify the values, attitudes and beliefs that they have assumed about their own culture, and other cultures.

3 3.1.116 As a consequence of its urban setting, the Aboriginal families who form the clientele of Kaurna Plains are a diverse group of people. They include people from the far west and north-west of the State; former residents of reserves and missions such as Koonibba, Nepabunna, Point McLeay (Raukkan), Point Pearce and Gerard; and others who have come to Adelaide from rural towns such as Ceduna, Coober Pedy, Oodnadatta and Port Augusta. Such a diversity of parents have obviously had different degrees of association with traditional communities and with non­ Aboriginal communities and organizations. The school does not assume, therefore, that Aboriginal students come from a homogeneous cultural background. Curriculum and management practices acknowledge and cater for these differences.

3 3.1.117 Aboriginal parents have been actively engaged at all levels of decision making within the school-from the development and implementation of school aims, to representation on the School Council and participation in the teaching program. Aboriginal organizations are invited to send speakers to the school as a way of disseminating information and providing positive role models for Aboriginal students.

3 3.1.118 Even though Kaurna Plains is a part of the South Australian education system and it works in close co-operation with Elizabeth High School, which secondary students attend for much of their program, the majority of its staff is Aboriginal, and it maintains a clear, political commitment to principles of self-determination. According to the 'Belief Statement' supplied to me by the Principal, Alice Rigney:

Page 334 Vol4

33 Educating . for the Future

The school community sees education as the most important strategy for achieving realistic self­ determination of the Aboriginal people of Australia. Education is not seen as a method of producing an

anglicised Aboriginal but rather as a means of creating an informed community with intellectual and technological skills, in harmony with Aboriginal cultural values and identity.

33 .1.119 I commend the work of all those parents, students and staff associated with Kaurna Plains School and offer it as an illustration of what can be achieved, even within the administrative structures currently in place.

33.1.120 Other innovative ways of accommodating the special needs of Aboriginal students within mainstream schools are emerging out of local experience and the dedicated work of teachers, parents, principals and students. Preston East Technical School in Victoria is just one of many

possible examples. 102 It employs two Koori teachers to offer assistance to students and their parents and to serve as role models. The school reports an increase in Koori students staying on to Year 12, with some going on to higher education. A Koori student won the school's Parents' Award for Excellence and Achievement in 1990, and another is a student representative on the School Council. So successful has the school

become in helping Koori children realize their potential that Koori parents from across Victoria and Australia have begun to enrol their children there. One student is from Arnhem Land, another from Queensland. In 1989, Preston East Technical School had twenty Koori students. In 1991 it has

nearly sixty.


33.2.1 The challenge of self-determination and self-management requires an increase in the number of Aboriginal people enrolled in the full range of professional studies available in higher education institutions and an increase in the pool of Aboriginal graduates.

33 .2.2 Between 1985 and 1989, Commonwealth funding for Aboriginal participation in tertiary education was provided under the Aboriginal Participation Initiative (API) and the Tertiary Education Program for Aboriginals (TEPA) schemes. API provided direct funding

to universities and Colleges of Advanced Education to provide student places for Aboriginal people. By 1988 almost 2,000 Aboriginal students were enrolled in higher education institutions. TEPA funded a range of special courses, either at tertiary institutions or within Aboriginal or

community organizations. These included bridging programs, and

Vol4 Page 335

Educating for the Future 33

courses related to health worker training, teacher training, literacy, numeracy, community management, office skills, applied science and visual arts. Responsibility for these programs has transferred to the Commonwealth Department of Employment, Education and Training, and funding is provided under the ABSTUDY Special Courses element. 103

33.2.3 The institutions and courses which have been funded under TEPA or the ABSTUDY Special Courses element include the Bachelor of Aboriginal Teacher Education at Deakin University in Victoria, the Aboriginal and Islander Teacher Education Program at James Cook University in Queensland, the Aboriginal Studies and Teacher Education Centre's Anangu Teacher Education Program and the Associate Diploma in Aboriginal Studies at the South Australian College of Advanced Education; the Remote Area Teacher Education Diploma, the Associate Diploma in Community Management, the Certificate in Office Administration and the Associate Diploma in Applied Science (Community Broadcasters) at Batchelor College in the Northern Territory, and the Traditional Aboriginal Teacher Education Program, the Off Campus Teacher Education Program, the Advanced Education Entry Certificate and the General Education Certificate at the Western Australian College of Advanced Education. 104

33.2.4 The Aboriginal institutions and organizations which have received funding from TEPA or ABSTUDY Special Course element include Tranby College, and the Aboriginal Training and Cultural Institute in New South Wales; the former Koori Kollij in Victoria; the Aboriginal Community College in South Australia and the Institute for Aboriginal Development in the Northern Territory. These organizations conduct numerous courses related to numeracy, literacy, basic education skills, business studies, health worker training, early childhood development, tertiary preparation and community management skills. Funding to State institutions provided support for courses in general education, work preparation, welfare, teacher education, certificate entry and vocational training in a number of TAFE Colleges. 105 Non-institutional courses conducted through State Offices of the Department of Employment, Education and Training have covered Aboriginal culture and language, general skills, home-maker training, self-assertion and music.

33.2.5 Significant innovations in the provision of higher education services for Aboriginal people have developed at individual colleges and universities throughout Australia. These have included the establishment of more appropriate entry procedures, student support services, and opportunities for genuine Aboriginal involvement in institutional decision making by way of Aboriginal advisory boards. The Department of Employment, Education and Training and the National Board of Employment, Education and Training 106 have identified the following strategies for increasing the involvement of Aboriginal people in higher education:

Page 336 Vol4







Educating for the Future

Special Entry arrangements Many Aboriginal people do not gain access to higher education institutions because of the difficulties they face in completing high school. Therefore, flexible entry arrangements that focus on the

alter_native methcxis of assessing the potential of Aboriginal applicants are needed. Special selection tests, bridging courses, interviews and recognition ofT AFE and other formal studies are elements of alternative entry arrangements.

Bridging Courses linked specifically to entry to award courses Too few Aboriginal students who complete bridging courses ever gain access to award courses. 107 Greater emphasis on bridging courses that are specifically linked to entry to award, including

certificate and diploma, courses is needed. Increased access to bachelor programs require development and expansion of bridging courses.

Promoting off-campus study and alternate study modes Higher education institutions, particularly those designated as Distance Education Centres, need to develop strategies in co­

operation with Aboriginal communities to provide greater off­ campus access. Greater co-operation between T AFE institutions is required to provide bridging or supplementary programs using on-site tutors for people in remote areas. More innovative course

structures are required. Models include the Remote Area Teacher Education Program at Batchelor College, the health course at Cumberland College of Health Sciences in New South Wales, or the community management course at Curtin University of

Technology in Western Australia. The Department of Aboriginal and Intercultural Studies at the Western Australian College of Advanced Education has historically been in the forefront of providing preparatory and access studies in alternate modes such

as off-campus and external study . .l.Q.5.

Aboriginal support units Aboriginal support units (or enclaves) have contributed significantly to successful participation in higher education. As well as promoting course awareness, these units provide essential

academic and personal support for both academic and peer group activities. They help to overcome isolation, develop familiarization with the higher education environment, and aid the development of essential study skills such as time management.

Page 337

Educating for the Future 33



Supplementary study units concurrent with award courses Institutions should provide supplementary programs designed to help students with study, literacy and numeracy skills and pre­ requisite course knowledge. Institutions need to structure courses appropriately and provide flexible course progress rules in order to allow Aboriginal students to undertake supplementary units. The Western Australian College of Advanced Education has noted the possibility of supplementary units being given credit as part of a higher education award. 109

Reviewing higher education curricula There needs to be consultation with the Aboriginal community and Aboriginal students so that curricula and teaching methods are reviewed and developed to reflect sensitivity to the needs and circumstances of particular communities. The Department of Employment, Education and Training and the National Board of Employment, Education and Training have identified the following stages of such a review:

• reviewing curricula for racist content; • reviewing areas in which Aboriginal culture could be incorporated as an integral part of the curriculum; • developing Aboriginal perspectives across curricula; • developing specific Aboriginal studies units as

elective or core units. 11 o

These strategies appear to me to be well directed and should be pursued.


33.3.1 Improved provision of education for Aboriginal adults, particularly in the areas of literacy and numeracy, have been reported from throughout Australia. Such courses represent an important 'second chance' for adults seeking to develop the skills required to administer tbe services and organizations within their communities, and to negotiate on an equal footing with the representatives of government and other bodies as to the affairs of their communities. It is obvious from my discussions with many Aboriginal people that they regard these matters as fundamental to beginning to regain control over their lives. In a comprehensive survey of adult education needs in New South Wales, Dr Griff Foley and Rick Flowers conclude:

Page 338 Vo14

33 Educating for the Future

Aboriginal people clearly see their future lying with economic and political self-determination. This means building of Aboriginal organizations and identifying and acting on economic opportunities. The overwhelming

majority of Aboriginal respondents in this research expressed the need for adult education that would assist them in these tasks. Ill

33.3.2 Adult education is also required to help Aboriginal parents participate confidently in the education of their children because, as the Institute for Aboriginal Development submitted to me, only Aboriginal adults can solve the socio-political obstacles faced by Aboriginal children in their learning process.112

33.3.3 Commenting on the growth of educational programs for adults in the Perth Metropolitan area, the Western Australian Aboriginal Education Consultative Group has written:

[ A]dult education represents one of the bright points for urban people. The programs include teacher education at the Mt Lawley campus; academic courses at Curtin University and the WACAE; and the Ministry of

Education Aboriginal Access courses run in TAFE institutions ... Aboriginal adults stressed to the research teams that programs such as Aboriginal Access should be developed andexpanded. 113

33.3.4 Improved access to adult education was also witnessed in the regional centre of Carnarvon, where, as I have already noted, a teacher training enclave of the Western Australian College of Advanced Education has been an important innovation. In the South West Region the

Consultative Group reported a revival of interest in the N yungar language which is reflected in the success ofT AFE adult education language classes held in Bunbury. Language classes were also available at the Catholic school in Moora. As in the metropolitan area, the Consultative Group

conveyed a recommendation for increased support for such programs. They also advocated greater flexibility in the delivery and design of such courses:


Nyungar adults spoke highly of the personal benefits they had gainedfrom attending TAFE Aboriginal Access classes. These were sometimes described in terms of 'changing our lives'. It was strongly recommended that

the number of these classes be increased and that they be pitched towards adults who may have been denied formal education in their childhood. In other words, some students may require longer than two years to

Page 339

Educating for the Future

attain the required literacy and numeracy skills, and allowance should be made for this. 114


33.3.5 Material prepared for the Royal Commission in Victoria reports a similar enthusiasm for adult education in that State:

[S ]ubmissions indicate that where adult literacy classes are run for Kooris, attendance is high. In Bairnsdale 50 adults were attending a special Koorie adult education course run by the TAPE-more than the area enrolment for secondary school (42). The TAPE Liaison Officer at

Lakes Entrance noted that 50 per cent of Koorie adults had to take oral driving tests as they were functionally illiterate, but that adult literacy courses at Lakes Entrance and Lake Tyers were proving very successful ... At Shepparton 22 people were attending adult literacy courses in 1989, with between 80-90 others already having taken the

33.3.6 The New South Wales Aboriginal Issues Unit reported that the most popular courses run for adults at the Lismore College ofT AFE has been small business courses. Adults working at Boorabhee have attended these courses after working hours. The Unit also reported that the majority of the approximately four hundred students enrolled in the Moree T AFE College were over twenty-one years of age. Approximately 80% of

these students were studying the Certificate of General Education course or the Certificate of Adult Basic Education course. The remainder are studying Carpentry, Secretarial Studies and Motor Mechanics. Similarly in Bourke, the T AFE College offers a number of courses which are well attended by Aboriginal people, in particular the General Certificate of Education and the Certificate of Basic Education which have students ranging in age from eighteen to fifty. 116 The Issues Unit also reported that in Bateman's Bay on the New South Wales south coast a number of older Aboriginal women are enrolling in TAFE courses. Some community members and parents said that they hoped this may encourage more Aboriginal children to stay in school. 117

33.3. 7 In South Australia, the Aboriginal Community College provides an example of independent adult education conducted with particular sensitivity to the needs of Aboriginal people seeking an alternative or 'second chance' option. The College was established in

1973 to provide an opportunity for adults who, for whatever reasons, had not benefited from mainstream education. Aboriginal people were involved in its establishment and continue to participate in all levels of decision making. Since 1981 the College has been under the control of an all Aboriginal council. Located in Port Adelaide, the College's broad aims are to provide time, space and resources to Aboriginal people that will allow them to make discoveries about themselves, their heritage and their

Page 340 Vol4

33 Educating . for the Future

environment and to move in directions that they establish as relevant to themselves and their community. The Aboriginal Community College considers its programs successful if students have been able to restore confidence, self-esteem and take pride in their identity, and at the

same time improve their literacy, numeracy and other skills. The programs are designed to provide Aboriginal people with the skills to pursue employment or undertake further education, including tertiary studies, if they wish to do so. Over 1,000 students have graduated from various courses at the College since its inception. About fifteen students

per year go on to further study at a variety of institutions.

33.3.8 In discussions before the Commission, the Chairman of the New South Wales Central Aboriginal Lands Council stressed the need for greater community involvement in adult and skills education, including use of local people in preference to consultants contracted by DEET:

[l]nstead of bringing outside agencies or private consultants in, they should be aiming at community­ based educators that actually live in the towns, that live in those communities to do this because ... they know

what's going on and they can deliver a far more effective education system that the people could use. 118

The Chairman affirmed that there were already suitably qualified people in the Dubbo community, as well as others who could be employed on completion of their tertiary studies.

33.3 .9 The Aboriginal Education Task Force noted that the Australian Government has attempted in recent years to expressly link education and training to economic development. This has had significant consequences for all sectors and levels of education in this country. This policy direction

piaces enormous emphasis on Aboriginal youth and adults gaining access to a sufficient range of education and training opportunities to enable them to participate in the Australian economy.119 Given such a perspective, education has been closely linked to the needs of community

administration and enterprise. Whilst I acknowledge the importance of programs specifically targeting opportunities in employment and economic development, I suggest that such a view of education is too limited. There are many avenues of education which, whilst not directly geared to the

labour market, are a significant source of skills and self-esteem for Aboriginal people. I include here many varied 'personal development', language and cultural programs, as well as basic literacy and numeracy courses. Such programs have enormous potential for improving the quality of Aboriginal peoples' lives, as well as building their confidence to

go on to formal education or employment if they so desire. It is my

opinion that the valuable work of independent Aboriginal adult education institutions in offering such courses be recognized and encouraged.

Vol4 Page 341

Educating for the Future 33

3 3. 3.10 I also support the expressed desire of Aboriginal people for education and training which will support their aspirations for self­ determination. The South Australian Aboriginal Issues Unit conveyed to me the following comment from the community at Y alata which I suggest is representative of a widely. held view:

There is a great need for Aboriginal people to obtain their own skills to maintain their community. What is happening now is they're dependent upon non­ Aboriginal people who have those skills and this is not satisfactory to the community because when those people leave the community the skills are lost. 120

33.3.11 This is clearly unsatisfactory, and needs to be remedied by a concerted and comprehensive commitment to the development of appropriate education and training programs which are accessible, both geographically and culturally, to the greatest number of Aboriginal people possible.

33.3.12 Research conducted by Dr Griff Foley and Rick Flowers in New South Wales revealed strong demand for adult education in five broad areas: • adult basic education;

• community development; • community organization and small business administration; • employment and enterprise development; • trades and other technical skills.

33.3.13 They note, however, that despite the expansion of adult education provision during the 1980s, attempts to 'mainstream' Aboriginal services and the deliberate restriction of enrolments in non-fee paying courses in State-sponsored programs continue to reduce educational opportunities for Aboriginal adults. 121 The usefulness of mainstream courses to Aboriginal people depends on the extent to which they accommodate Aboriginal needs and interests. Foley and Rowers point out that two related factors make a crucial contribution to the development of effective adult education programs for Aboriginal people: • clear, open and flexible consultation between the education

provider and Aboriginal people; and • the involvement of individuals from the Aboriginal community. 122

33.3.14 Aboriginal control of adult education is limited throughout Australia. Those institutions which do exist claim, at least in a number of cases, to be under-resourced and subject to bureaucratic control. Notable successes such as Tranby College provide a clear example of how Aboriginal-controlled adult education can provide courses which respond

Page 342 Vol4

33 Educating. for the Future

directly to the expressed needs of Aboriginal communities, but the College has also allegedly run into conflict with T AFE over the control of its courses.

33.3.15 Tranby College has been a pioneer in Aboriginal adult education. 123 The College was started in 1958 by Alf Clint, an Anglican priest, who worked with Aboriginal communities to set up co-operatives, including a fishing co-operative at Lockhart River and a bakery at

Y arrabah. It became a fully Aboriginal-controlled organization in 1962, when control was handed over from the Australian Board of Missions Christian Co-operative Ltd. Tranby' s initial task was the training of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in running co-operatives. It

was not until 1982 that the College began to receive government funds to develop its courses and take on more students.

33.3.16 Tranby has an all Aboriginal Board of Studies who aim to determine the educational direction of the College and carry out regular community consultations. Because it is independent the College has been able to follow its own directions in developing methods of adult education

which will best suit different Aboriginal groups. Courses at Tranby have come from what Aboriginal people have wanted, and it has pioneered courses that have later been taken up by other institutions, such as tertiary preparation, site curator courses and Management Training for Aboriginal Land Councils.

33.3.17 Tranby does not receive direct funding from the

Commonwealth Department of Employment, Education and Training (DEEn. Instead the bulk of DEET funding for Tranby goes indirectly to the College through the T AFE system. This means that T AFE controls the funding and is able to influence the way the College plans and manages its courses.124 According to Foley and Flowers, this arrangement has been a

constant source of friction between Tranby and T AFE. This was exemplified in 1989 when T AFE directed Tranby to modify its curriculum so that the College's courses would fall within mainstream T AFE guidelines. T AFE also wanted Tranby to stop offering courses which

were already provided in the mainstream T AFE sector. Tranby disagreed with the proposed changes and TAPE funding was consequently cut. Foley and Flowers point out, however, that Tranby does offer a real alternative because it has shown itself to be highly responsive to

Aboriginal needs and learning styles. Even if duplicate course are offered by T AFE, Aboriginal people feel more at home at Tranby, because it is an Aboriginal organization. This is of great importance at a time when Aboriginal people are trying to catch up on past disadvantage.

33.3.18 Foley and Flowers present other evidence of bureaucratic inhibitions to accreditation and funding for independent Aboriginal education initiatives:

Vol4 Page 343

Educating for the Future

For the last five years the Aboriginal Medical Service has been conducting a one year Aboriginal Healthworker Certificate course. · It is not accredited and is poorly funded and under resourced. Aboriginal health

practitioners have been campaigning for accreditation and more resources for several years. The Aboriginal and I slander Dance Theatre conduct an accredited Associate Diploma program but are currently [ 1990] engaged in efforts to have the harsh accreditation requirements relaxed. Students of the Aboriginal and Islander Dance Theatre are required to complete five years of full-time study, compared to students at mainstream institutions who are required to complete 2-3 years, before graduating with an Associate Diploma award. 125


3J.3.19 The Institute for Aboriginal Development (lAD), another independent adult education provider, has submitted to me a similar complaint in respect of accreditation:

We have ... now.been placed in the position of obtaining accreditation for our course through mainstream providers like TAF E. This is in direct opposition to the whole existence of the independent providers who offer

courses in response to the need of the community they serve. If courses · have to be accredited formally this accreditation should be done by an Aboriginal accreditation board. 126

33.3.20 I find these various constraints unacceptable and reiterate my support for the valuable work of independent Aboriginal adult education.

33.3.21 The Adelaide Aboriginal Community College, which I have described above, is subject to the same pressures. Its foundation course is under threat.

33.3.22 I find it inappropriate that Aboriginal controlled adult education institutions are not funded merely because T AFE institutions are delivering similar courses. The Commission has observed that it is frequently the case that the attendance of Aboriginal people is much higher in the former institutions, which can set out to present their courses with a greater regard for Aboriginal sensibilities and needs, and in a way that Aboriginal students find attractive. I consider it appropriate that Aboriginal students enrolling in such institutions should be entitled to the same level of financial support through ABSTUDY as those students attending similar courses, or for equivalent time, at mainstream institutions such as T AFE colleges.

Page 344 Vol4

33 Educating for the Future

Recommendation 298: That: a. _ Governments support Aboriginal community controlled adult education institutions and other

institutions which provide a program of courses which have the support of the Aboriginal

community; b. Governments accept that courses delivered by such institutions should be regarded as courses entitling students to such payments or

allowances as would be their entitlement in the event that they were participating for the same or equivalent time in a TAFE course; and c. It be recognized that owing to the substantial

historical educational disadvantage which Aboriginal people have experienced, a course for Aboriginal students may necessarily be longer than might be the case if the course were

provided to non-Aboriginal students.


33.4.1 The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy (N AEP) is based on a set of goals and educational principles which have been endorsed by Commonwealth, State and Territory governments and Aboriginal education groups. These agreed goals are underpinned by

Commonwealth legislation in the form of the Aboriginal Education (Supplementary Assistance) Act 1989. The Policy commenced on 1 January 1990. Its four main purposes are: • to ensure Aboriginal involvement in decision making;

• to provide equity of access for Aboriginal people to educational services; • to raise the rates of Aboriginal participation in education to those for all Australians; and

• to achieve equitable and appropriate educational outcomes for Aboriginal people.

33.4.2 The NAEP specifies twenty-one National Policy Objectives across all education sectors. The Policy aims to improve co-ordination between the Commonwealth, States and Territories, across education

Vo14 Page 345

Educating for the Future 33

sectors, and between programs.

33.4.3 Under the terms of the policy, each State .and Territory must formulate triennial strategic and operational in consultation with the Commonwealth and Aboriginal consultative groups. All education providers must be encompassed by these plans, including Catholic Education Commissions, individual non-government institutions and higher education institutions. Each education provider is required to develop its own operational plan within the framework of State!ferritory plans.

33.4.4 Funding is negotiated between the States or Territories and the Commonwealth Government. Triennial forward funding is provided under the Aboriginal Education Strategic Initiatives Program (AESIP). The AESIP will allocate $69.98m in 1990, $79.364m in 1991 and $80.386m in 1992. The number of students in all sectors that will be assisted by AESIP in 1991 is estimated to be 82,000. 127 Under this funding arrangement the States and Territories retain their independence in respect of policy and resource allocation.

33.4.5 Some considerable criticism of the NAEP has been raised before the Royal Commission. At the heart of this criticism is the issue of 'appropriate' outcomes, and who should define and control them.

33.4.6 Dr H. C. Coombs, in a letter to Commissioner Dodson, initiated the criticism-and subsequent debate-by charging the NAEP with being 'assimilationist and potentially destructive of Aboriginal culture' .128 Dr Coombs asserts that the foundation of Aboriginal identity

'is the socialisation of the young by their elders and by the process of living in their company and in their environment day by day in the Aboriginal way'. Whilst acknowledging that traditional Aboriginal education has been compromised by the demands of contemporary life in a

'bi-cultural' society, Dr Coombs asserts that

if Aborigines wish their children to grow up as Aborigines they must design alternative ways to socialise their young; at least to modify the ways the bi­ cultural society is socialising them. [l}n effect this means that Aborigines must control the education of their young; to determine its content, the personnel who deliver it, the style and methods of teaching and learning it employs; and most importantly the relationship between those who organize and conduct it and the family or group from whom the young

3 3 .4. 7 This letter was written in the context of a report being prepared by Dr Coombs and Dr Helen McCann on the development of education in Anangu (Pitjantjatjara) homelands using contemporary technologies and

Page 346 Vol4

33 Educating for the Future

methodologies which are 'subordinated' to the purposes of Aboriginal parents and communities. It does reflect, however, a criticism made earlier and more generally:

Aborigines receive an education designed consciously and unconsciously (but unsuccessfully) to assimilate them into the wider society; an education which is not congruent with their own cultural values. This lack of

congruity is evident in the curricula, in the social relationships required in the school, in the style and methods of instruction, in the attitude towards language and in the way performance is assessed ... [T] hese failures are likely to persist until Aborigines themselves

exercise a significant control over their schools, until Aboriginal children are confronted in the classroom by teachers and other sources of knowledge from their own community and society, until the style and content of

instruction express the Aboriginal desire for continuity with the past in the development and adaption of their culture .130

33.4.8 The issues of independence and control raised by Dr Coombs are taken up and amplified in a submission by the Institute for Aboriginal Development (lAD) in Alice Springs. Like Dr Coombs, the lAD perceives the NAEP as a threat to Aboriginal controlled education, and to Aboriginal

culture generally:

Independent Aboriginal controlled education institutions arose because of the fact that mainstream educational institutions were not meeting the educational and training needs of the Aboriginal community, and to a large

degree aren't responding to this need. There will be a loss of control and decision making as a result of the implementation of the NAEP, and the main threat to the independent providers is not just the question of funds

and how much, but more the survival of Aboriginal culture .131

33.4.9 Under the terms of NAEP the lAD must become registered as a Private Provider by the Northern Territory Government in order to obtain future Commonwealth funding. In the lAD's view, this represents a transfer of funding responsibility to State and Territory authorities which

threatens its independence:


This in turn will mean that /AD may be forced to rely on [the] NT Department of Education for funding, and relationships between the two groups have always been

Page 347

Educating for the Future

far from ideal. The NT Government has never accepted any responsibility for providing funds to /AD and similar organizations, because they have never: agreed to the right of these organizations to exist and to offer courses to Aboriginal people in what they consider to be in opposition to the courses offered by their own institutions. 132


33.4.10 As I have already noted above, the lAD has also been required to obtain accreditation for their courses from mainstream providers like T AFE. These processes are seen by the lAD as a form of

'mainstreaming', and therefore as assimilationist. According to the lAD:

No substantial progress towards 'fixing' Aboriginal education can be made unless Aboriginal education is placed under Aboriginal community control. 133

33.4.11 The main focus of the NAEP is strategy planning, funding arrangements and program co-ordination. It does not specify curriculum content or course outcomes, and maintains the importance of 'developing Aboriginal languages and further developing bilingual and bicultural programs' as a policy direction. 134 Of itself, this cannot be seen as a policy of assimilation. What it has set in place, however, is a structure which ties education provision much more closely to the plans of States and Territories. It is the relationships of power which are entailed in this process which have caused concern to such independent providers as the lAD, at a time when many Aboriginal people are seeking to assert self­ determination, maintenance of culture and maintenance of their historical identity as a people.

33.4.12 As the findings of this Commission demonstrate, these issues of control, independence, influence and power are both fundamental and complex, having a long historical genesis and a widespread impact on all areas of contemporary Aboriginal life. There is a wide diversity of opinion as to the nature of the influence and independence being sought, and the strategies by which they are to be obtained. In respect of education, Kevin Keeffe has commented:

Page 348

Strategies that are viewed by some Aboriginal education decision-makers as absolutely fundamental to improving school achievement (for example, bilingual education) are viewed in other places (or perhaps by other people in the same place) as holding students back from mainstream school achievement, thereby denying

students access to valued powerful, externally-derived knowledge. 135


33 Educating for the Future

33.4.13 This same diversity was evident in statements made to Royal Commission hearings. In one, a former Aboriginal teaching aide and school counsellor voiced the opinion that:

I believe the community school curriculum is inadequate. It is my opinion that the . curricula at community schools should be the same as those in mainstream schools .136

33.4.14 In another, Dr McClay of Batchelor College echoed Dr Coombs' assertion that Aboriginal education must grow from within the family, the community and the Dreaming. Conveying the pivotal concerns of W arlpiri people at Lajamanu, Dr McClay told the


They were saying, {We want to live through family, through our extended families, in this particular social way. We want to live under the Law, under the Aboriginal Law ... and we want to live free from white

domination'. Those are the three elements .137

33.4.15 These views are all aspects of the dilemma which education poses for Aboriginal people that I discussed at the beginning of this chapter-see Section 33.1. They are indicative of the range of opinions held by Aboriginal people with respect to this topic, and reflect the diverse

positions from which Aboriginal people must work in order to determine the type of education which best suits their needs.

33.4.16 In Aboriginal incorporated communities it should be possible under the NAEP for the community to achieve maximum control over educational services and delivery-including control over the timetable, the curriculum and the style of teaching. But in those places where

Aboriginal children attend school with other non-Aboriginal children-and where they may in fact represent a minority in the school as well as the community-the highest priority should be given to involving Aboriginal parents and students in consultative and decision-making processes. This influence over education is guaranteed by the NAEP, but will require rigorous commitment on the part of administrators, principals, teachers,

parents and students to develop appropriate mechanisms for its realization.

33.4.17 What I suggest is most important about the concerns of the lAD is its emphasis on Aboriginal input into every aspect of schooling, including curriculum. I note that the independence of the lAD is recognized and supported by the Northern Territory's NAEP Agreement

with the Commonwealth. I note also, as I have above, that the effective involvement of Aboriginal people in the planning, delivery and evaluation of educational services is an immediate priority and the first goal of the NAEP.

Vol4 Page 349

Educating for the Future 33

33.4.18 The preparation of community education plans-as are required by the Northern Territory Operational Plan, for example-would appear to go a great deal of the way towards self-determination in this respect. The move is somewhat compromised, however, by a continuing emphasis on core subjects and a requirement that educational attainment be

assessed by a Territory body applying across-the-board methods of evaluation. I believe that these are matters which can be addressed by sincere negotiation between government and an independent Aboriginal Education Advisory Committee. I have the strong impression that the voiced opposition to the core subject concept is not to the core subjects as

such, but to the fact that in a speech by the former Minister-which was in many respects remarkable for its newness of approach and its insistence on a decisive Aboriginal input-the core subjects were presented as afait accompli.

33.4.19 The ability or desire of Aboriginal parents to become actively involved in the decision-making processes of schools is not adequately addressed in the NAEP. The reluctance of parents to become involved in school activities and the general cultural insensitivity of schools as institutions have been addressed several times in this report-see Sections

17.5 and 33.1, above. A policy directed at providing more structures of consultation and decision making does not, of itself, change the relationships of power and inequality which have so far alienated Aboriginal people from the education system. Specific attention must be paid to this relationship, and to devising appropriate and sensitive mechanisms for transforming it.

33.4.20 The innovation of triennium planning and funding is to be commended. The Aboriginal organizations to which I have spoken universally complained about the effects of annual funding. Aboriginal people working in various areas of educational planning and administration have called for triennial funding for some time. I regard it as a tremendous advance in that plans are not subject to being overturned year by year, and resources are more profitably managed. I would hope that this arrangement is instigated in a number of other areas.

33.4.21 I believe that the legitimate concerns of some Aboriginal people-and expressed also by Dr Coombs and others-can be met by the rigorous adherence to the first long-term goal of the NAEP. As I have suggested, this must have different application in different circumstances, ranging from effective control in schools on Aboriginal communities to consistent and meaningful consultation-backed by strong government and departmental support-in schools where the students are mixed.

33.4.22 Aboriginal control of curriculum, arrangements and methods of teaching should extend to Aboriginal preschool centres and to Aboriginal adult education providers.

Page 350 Vol4

33 Educating for the Future

33.4.23 If the principle of the first long-term goal of NAEP is rigorously defended I think that the Policy can lead to a strengthening of Aboriginal culture and not to assimilation. It can lead to great improvements in community relations as non-Aboriginal people, on the

one hand, learn more about Aboriginal history and culture, and Aboriginal people, on the other, come to understand that non-Aboriginals desire to share their culture and skills while respecting those of the original people of the country.

33.4.24 I believe that adherence to this goal-which will require commitment and goodwill amongst all parties and the development of appropriate strategies for its realization-can provide Aboriginal people with the appropriate level of influence which they seek in respect of

educating their children. Moreover, I suggest that the principles encoded in this goal are applicable to the diverse range of settings in which Aboriginal people find themselves, whether a distinct Aboriginal community or as part of a general population in towns or cities. The point

is that there is now a policy in place which commits all of the States and Territories to provide the means by which Aboriginal people can influence the various education systems. This at least gives Aboriginal people options, allowing Aboriginal communities to decide on the type of

education they want, and giving Aboriginal people an effective influence over the direction of education in this country.

Recommendation 299: That: a. At every stage of the application of the National Aboriginal Education Policy the utmost respect

be paid to the first long-term goal expressed in the policy, that is: To establish effective arrangements for the participation of Aboriginal parents and

community members in decisions regarding the planning, delivery, and evaluation of preschool, primary, and secondary

education services for their children. b. It be recognized that the aims of the Policy are

not only to achieve equity in education for

Aboriginal people but also to achieve a

strengthening of Aboriginal identity, decision making and self-determination; and c. It is unlikely that either of these aims can be

achieved without the achieving of the other.

33.4.25 The Commissioners have had the advantage of reading the State and Territory strategic plans prepared for the first triennium of the

Vol4 Page 351

Educating for the Future 33

operation of NAEP. The plans have many interesting features too numerous to refer to here. However, we found one particular aspect of the Victorian Strategic Plan to be of much interest. The Plan sets out very clearly the role of the independent Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Inc. (VAEAI) and its local constitution groups in the following terms: • The Victorian Aboriginal Early Childhood Development Group

will be recognized as the primary source of policy advice to the Minister for Community Services. • V AEAI will be recognized as the primary source of policy advice to the Minister for Education. • The V AEAI constituent units, the Local Aboriginal Education

Consultative Groups (LAECGs), will participate as equal partners in the planning and operation of the programs at the local level, with a particular focus on encouraging parents of Koori students to become involved with the schools their children attend. 138

33.4.26 The parties to the Victorian NAEP Strategic Plan 1990-92 are to be commended for their manner of setting out the relations between government and the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Inc. and its subsidiaries.

RCIADIC Transcript, Dubbo, 21{3/90, p. 22

2 M. R. Hall and W. I. Jonas, Almost Out of Sight, Almost Out of Mind: Aboriginal Reports of Aboriginal Needs, New South Wales, 1983, Department of Geography, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, NSW, 1985 p. 201

3 Australia. Department of Employment, Education and Training, NaJional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy : JoinJ Policy Statemenl, Canberra, 1989, p. 14

Page 352 Vol4

33 Educating for the Future

4 Australia. Parliament. House of Representatives Select Committee on Aboriginal Education, Aboriginal Education, AGPS, Canberra, 1985, p. 85

5 RCIADIC Transcript, Swan Hill, 7/4/89, p. 143

6 South Australia. Deparunent of Aboriginal Affairs, Education and Training Co-ordination Section, South Australian Aboriginal Education and Training Strategic Plan: Triennium i990-92, [The Deparunent, Adelaide], pp. 1-2

7 New South Wales Aboriginal Issues Unit, Report-Education, p. 35

8 Western Australian Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, The Aboriginal Voice in Education, Aboriginal Education Resource Unit, Perth, 1987, p. 16

9 Australia. Deparunent of Employment, Education and Training, Report of the Aboriginal Education Policy Task Force, AGPS, Canberra, 1988, p. 25, Recommendation 13

10 Australia. Deparunent of Employment, Education and Training, Policy Task Force, pp. 8, 11

11 K. Keeffe, Aboriginal Education, Culture and Power, AlA TSIS, Canberra, 1990, p. 174

12 South Australia, Deparunent of Education, Aboriginal Education Curriculum Unit, Response to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, 1990, pp. 3, 19-20

13 RCIADIC Transcript, Y arrabah, 16/5/89, p. 458

1.1 An example is the Traditional Studies program available as an elective to Year 9 and 10 students at Yarrabah. See RCIADIC Transcript, Yarrabah, 5/5/89, p. 261

15 C. Evermore, The Aboriginal Experience of the Victorian Education System, Background paper prepared for RCIADIC, 1990, p. 41

16 P. Dodson, Regional Report of inquiry into Underlying issues in Western Australia, AGPS, Canberra, 1990, p. 576

17 'Black education needs a strategy', Sydney Morning Herald, 29 Dec. 1990

18 S. Kenney, The Scope and Significance of the Arts in Aboriginal Culture: an Overview, Research paper prepared for RCIADIC, 1990, pp. 22-3

1 9 Kenney, p. 23

20 RCIADIC Transcript, Yarrabah, 16/5/89, p. 458

21 RCIADIC Transcript, Alice Springs, 10/10/88, p. 715

22 M. Langton and others, Too Much Sorry Business, Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Northern Territory Aboriginal Issues Unit, Alice Springs, NT, 1990, p. 59

23 R. Hanunond and others, South Australian Aboriginal Issues Unit, Report, 1990, p. 113

24 South Australian Aboriginal Issues Unit, Report, 1990, pp. 127-8

25 Langton and others, pp. 122-3

2 6 Langton and others, pp. 164-6

2 7 N. Phillips, co-ordinator, Juvenile Crime : Concerned Individual Aboriginal Peoples' Submission to the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Crime Prevention, WA GE0/29, 1990, p. 17

28 South Australian Aboriginal Issues Unit, Report, 1990, p. 125 .

2 9 South Australian Aboriginal Issues Unit, Report, 1990, p. 121.

Vol4 Page 353

Educating for the Future

3 0 Australia. Parliament. House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, A Chance for the Future: Training in Skills for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Community Management and Development, AGPS, Canberra, 1989, p. 97

3 1 Australia. Parliament. House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, A Chance for the Future, p. 98

32 See RCIADIC Transcript, Swan Hill, 7/4/89, p. 120

33 Phillips, p. 15

34 New South Wales Aboriginal Issues Unit, Report-Education, pp. 38-9.

3 5 D. Williams and B. Chambers, An Evaluation of the Aboriginal Study Grants Scheme, Report to the Commonwealth Department of Education, 1984, p. 219

3 6 Williams & Chambers, p. 211

3 7 Australia. Department of Employment, Education and Training, Aboriginal Deaths in Custody: Submission to the Royal Commission, 1990, p. 34

3 8 RCIADIC Transcript, Darwin, 9/10/90, p. 136

3 9 New South Wales Aboriginal Issues Unit, Report-Education, p. 4

40 New South Wales Aboriginal Issues Unit, Report-Education, p. 9

41 RCIADIC Transcript, Roebourne, February, 1990, p. 542; quoted in Dodson, p. 570

42 New South Wales Aboriginal Issues Unit, Report-Education, p. 17

43 Australia. Department of Employment, Education and Training, Submission, p. 34


44 Batchelor College School of Education Studies, Draft Reaccreditation Document for the Associate Diploma ofTeaching (Aboriginal Schools) & Diploma ofTeaching, The College, Batchelor, NT, 1990, pp. 18-21

45 National Aboriginal Education Committee, Policy Statement on Teacher Education/or Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, AGPS, Canberra, 1985, pp. 18-24

4 6 A re-accreditation process is expected to make the Batchelor Teacher Education Course (aspects of which are known as RATE) available from 1991

4 7 RCIADIC Transcript, Darwin, 9/10/90, p. 162

48 Northern Territory Department of Education, Operational Planfor Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education /990-1992 Triennium, NT/Educ/G4, Attachment 1, p. 3

1.2. Batchelor College, p. 10. All four stages of the teacher education course are recognized

by an award. Stage One graduates are awarded an Assistant Teacher Grade 1 certificate and are recognized as employable by the Northern Territory Education Department at the Assistant Teacher Grade 1 level. Stage Two graduates are awarded Assistant Teacher Grade 2 certificates and are employable at Assistant Teacher Grade 2 level. Stage Three graduates are awarded the Associate Diploma of Teaching (Aboriginal Schools). Stage Four graduates are awarded the Diploma of Teaching. The four stages of the course would normally correspond to four years full-time study, or its equivalent.

50 RCIADIC Transcript, Darwin, 9/10/90, p. 164

51 Batchelor College, p. 12

52 RCIADIC Transcript, Yarrabah, 16/5/89, pp. 458, 492

53 Western Australian Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, p. 16

54 RCIADIC Transcript, Yarrabah, 16/5/89, p. 477

55 New South Wales Aboriginal Issues Unit, Report-Education, p. 30

Page 354 Vol4

33 Educating for the Future

56 Dodson, pp. 578-9

57 South Australia. Department of Education. Aboriginal Education Curriculum Unit, p. 21

5 8 South Australia. Department of Education. Aboriginal Education Curriculum Unit, Response ... , p. 18

59 RCIADIC Transcript, Yarrabah, 16/5/89, p. 475

60 RCIADIC Transcript, Yarrabah, 16/5/89, pp. 458, 475

61 RCIADIC Transcript, Yarrabah, 16/5/89, p. 477

62 RCIADIC Transcript, Yarrabah, 16/5/89, p. 458

6 3 Langton and others, p. 166

64 Dodson, p. 578

65 RCIADIC Transcript, Wilcannia, 1/2/89, p. 102

66 Australia. Department of Aboriginal Affairs, Current Issues: Education, The Department, Canberra, 1989, p. 7

6 7 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy, p. 18

6 8 Evermore, p. 14

69 S. Mason, 'Aboriginal Education Workers', in L. Hall, (ed.), The Unfenced Land, Commonwealth Schools Commission Participation and Equity Program, n.d. p. 8

7 0 Mason, p. 9

7 1 Mason, p. 9

7 2 South Australia. Department of Education. Aboriginal Education Curriculum Unit, Response ... , p. 19

73 Western Australian Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, p. 21

74 RCIADIC Transcript, Dubbo, 21/3/90, p. 22

7 5 Victorian Aboriginal Issues Unit, Report, p. 28

7 6 Western Australian Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, p. 24

7 7 Western Australian Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, p. 26

7 8 Western Australian Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, p. 19

79 New South Wales Aboriginal Issues Unit, Report-Education, p. 27

80 RCIADIC Transcript, Swan Hill, 7/4/89, p. 130; see alsop. 140. See also Phillips, p. 16 writing of Western Australia: 'No planning for advancement or permanency is given and experienced people end up leaving to find security for their families due to lack of funding'.

81 RCIADIC Transcript, Swan Hill, 7/4/89, p. 120

82 RCIADIC Transcript, Swan Hill, 7/4/89, p. 142

83 Evermore, p. 14

84 Western Australian College of Advanced Education, Department of Aboriginal and Intercultural Studies, RCIADIC submission, Mt Lawley, WA, p. 2

85 Dodson, p. 568

8 6 For a discussion of this target and the figures used to calculate it see National Aboriginal Education Committee, Policy Statement on Teacher Education for Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, pp. 11-13. Further projections based on

Vol4 Page 355

Educating for the Future 33

population growth and increased demand for Aboriginal teachers resulted in a target of around 5,500 by the Year 2000 .

.8.1 Additional, that is, to the 200 identified Aboriginal teachers employed in primary and secondary schools to the end of 1985.

8 8 National Aboriginal Education Committee, p. 13

The regional distribution of those Aboriginal teachers employed by the Queensland Department of Education reveals their conce