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Community Affairs Legislation Committee

ADAMS, Superintendent Allan, District Superintendent, Kimberley Police District, Western Australia Police Force

BENNING, Mr Lawford, Chairperson, MG Corporation

WEDDERBURN, Mr Allan, Chief Executive Officer, MG Corporation

Evidence was taken via teleconference—

CHAIR: Could you all please confirm that information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you.

Supt Adams : It has.

Mr Wedderburn : Confirm.

Mr Benning : Confirm.

CHAIR: Thank you. I now invite you to make a short opening statement, and at the conclusion of your remarks I will invite members of the committee to put questions to you. Mr Benning, would you like to start?

Mr Benning : Yes, I would like to provide you with an opening statement. Firstly, thank you for the opportunity to appear before this committee in relation to the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017. I am a Miriuwung man, locally born and bred here in Kununurra in the East Kimberley. As we've agreed, for ease of reference, instead of saying Miriuwung and Gajerrong could you say MG for short. I represent MG people through my role as the chair of MG Corporation. I also represent MG people through my role as a director of Binarri-binyja Yarrawoo Aboriginal Corporation (Empowered Communities, East Kimberley).

My people fought hard for their native title rights. It took us over a decade of litigation before the courts finally recognised MG people as the native title holders of this region. MG country includes Kununurra, which is one of the trial sites selected for the CDC—the cashless debit card. MG Corporation's mission is to achieve a healthy, wealthy and culturally strong MG community. Extension and expansion of the CDC undermines our mission and we, therefore, object to the passing of the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017. I don't shy away from the fact that I was one of four local leaders who publicly advocated for the CDC trial in Kununurra. My involvement with the implementation of the CDC in Kununurra is the very reason for my opposition to its extension and expansion. I witnessed firsthand the government's top-down approach to the imposition of policy on Aboriginal Australians.

As detailed in our submission, the Minister for Human Services, made various commitments to me prior to the introduction of the CDC trial in Kununurra, none of which were delivered on time or as promised. This simply reflects the continuation of the government's approach of the last 200 years, an approach characterised by exclusion. The government's commitment to empowering Aboriginal Australians does not seem to extend to matters of substance. I have spoken to my people and the vast majority do not support the cashless debit card. There are a few who support the card with changes and some who support the CDC as it currently stands. Generally, those who support the CDC are not on the CDC.

I also have concerns about the evaluation methodology used to justify the extension and expansion of the CDC. I am not an expert in this field and, as noted in our submission, many specialists have cast doubts on the evaluation methodology used by Orima Research. The CDC is intended to tackle social problems faced by my community associated with drugs, alcohol and gambling. These issues must be tackled by MG people not in their absence. I welcome any questions the committee may have in relation to our submission.

CHAIR: Mr Wedderburn, do you have anything to add?

Mr Wedderburn : No.

Supt Adams : The Kimberley police district has the highest rates of violence per head of population in the state of Western Australia. I strongly believe that they would probably be in the top five police jurisdictions in the country. For the Kimberley police district, it is not unusual to have more domestic assaults reported in the Kimberley with a population of 34½ thousand people in a week than for some of our more highly populated metropolitan police districts in the state of Western Australia. Violence and alcohol related violence in the Kimberley is at extreme levels and it's a WA Police view and my strong view that any effort to reduce the amount of alcohol related harm to protect women and children in particular across the Kimberley needs to be supported.

We know that from the domestic violence rate within the Kimberley, 75 per cent of those incidents are influenced by alcohol with either the victim or the perpetrator. When you consider the fact that last financial year finishing 30 June 2017, there were over 2,600 domestic assaults reported in the Kimberley, when you consider that there is a victim, a perpetrator and, on average, 0.8 of a child directly impacted by those incidents and when you consider that across the population of the Kimberley, we are in a position where we need some significant and, at times, controversial change with respect to our alcohol consumption. I fully respect the views of Lawford and the MG people around aspects of the card. But, from a policing end and a broader community safety end, as a police superintendent of this police district, I stand by the claim I made earlier that any effort to reduce the amount of alcohol related harm needs to be supported and will receive the support of WA Police.

CHAIR: Thank you. Superintendent Adams, there has been some evidence collected as to the success of the program in the Kimberley. Do you have any data or anecdotal evidence you could add as to the impact of the CDC?

Senator SIEWERT: It would be good to have actual data rather than anecdotal. We've got lots of anecdotal.

Supt Adams : My frontline officers tell me that they've seen a reduction in public open space drinking. They believe that that's linked to less money being available to purchase alcohol. I heard the comment around anecdotal evidence versus evidence. That is certainly anecdotal. I have no evidence base on which to provide that other than the feedback by my police officers.

It's been difficult to fully assess the value of the card from a violence perspective, in the sense that, on 1 May 2016, the Kimberley district significantly revised their approach to domestic violence across the entire Kimberley, to include a more thorough first response to reports of domestic violence, and we saw across the Kimberley a uniform significant increase in the reporting of domestic assaults. That was consistent from Kununurra, Wyndham and across the whole Kimberley.

I know that, from an alcohol end, we see, as I said earlier, 75 per cent of those incidents of domestic violence related to alcohol. It's been difficult to determine whether the cashless debit card has reduced crime, because we've never known, from a violence end, particularly, where the upper echelon sat with a full view of violence in the Kimberley. As we know, domestic violence is the most underrated crime type there is across Australia. So, never really understanding the full picture of domestic violence in the Kimberley, we've never been able to tell whether there has been an increase or a decrease, but we certainly saw an increase in reporting since 1 May, based on our more thorough response to those incidents.

There was an initial increase in volume crime when the card was rolled out, but similarly, for the period of May to September this year, we have seen a significant drop away of that volume crime. Again, I don't think that there's been clear correlation around whether the card has influenced that type of behaviour in Kununurra. In Wyndham, though, 100 kilometres down the road, where the card has been introduced, they had an increase in violence reporting—assault based offences. But, contrary to Kununurra, they saw a significant reduction in their property based crime. That was during the rollout of the card. From an evidence end, from a crime perspective, that's pretty much where I stand.

CHAIR: Mr Benning, you mentioned that you were a vocal, strong supporter of the CDC when it was originally proposed. Can you briefly explain at what point your mind changed?

Mr Benning : My mind changed when the minister, Alan Tudge, lost contact with us. What I mean by that is: he was quick enough to come to Kununurra, flying in every second-odd weekend to meet me and the other leaders, and we were, on our weekends, coming and meeting him at hotels and discussing this in a more progressive way, and I feel that, once we signed what we signed and gave him our support, we never saw him after that. We made attempts, via his local worker in town, to make it happen. Rather than talk to the ground soldier, we said, 'He was good enough to come and meet me on a weekend and get me away from my family, so I want him now on a call, with all of us, as needed, to discuss the many deficits that we believe there are in our discussion.' When I talk about the deficits, I mean where we were talking about the wraparound support services having the delegated authority to put people off if we think they fit the criteria, and also giving us the delegated authority to review local service providers who were in receipt of the wraparound support funding, which didn't come till about eight months after the card being rolled out. So that's where I stepped away from my position of support, because I felt I was being used and abused as one of the media here in Kununurra.

Senator SIEWERT: Superintendent Adams, I am wondering if you could provide the latest statistics to the committee. If I understood what you said correctly, it was that although there had been an increase in Kununurra, between May and September there's been a decrease.

Supt Adams : From May 2016 through to April 2017 there was definitely an increase in our property-related crime—burglary, steal motor vehicle, theft itself and damage. There has been a significant decrease since May. Unfortunately the data I have in front of me only goes to 30 August. The September data has only just come out. I haven't had the opportunity to go through that yet. Over that May to August 2017 period, compared to May to August 2016, when the card first arrived, burglaries went down by 21, from 54 down to 33. That was 22.6 per cent below the five-year average. Stolen motor vehicles went down eight, from 20 down to 12. That was 3.2 per cent above the five-year average. Theft itself—basic stealing offences—went down from 136 to 60. That 60 represents 23.4 per cent below the five-year average. Damage went down from 128 to 89, which is a reduction of 39 offences. So over that four-month, comparing 2016 to 2017, we've seen a significant drop from those 2016 figures.

Senator SIEWERT: Some of those are seasonal effects, though, aren't they?

Supt Adams : I am comparing May with August for both those years, so the climatic seasons were similar, but certainly the previous year was an unusual dry. It was my first dry season up here. I was told it was warmer and a bit wetter during the dry season than during this current dry that's just finished.

Senator SIEWERT: Can you provide those figures in a table that gives us the comparison over the year? I already have a table that we got through the state parliament, but it doesn't contain those and it's split up differently to May to September. Could you provide the same table with the updated figures, please?

Supt Adams : Absolutely.

Senator SIEWERT: In terms of domestic violence and family violence, can you provide the figures so that we can make some comparisons?

Supt Adams : I have that all sitting in front of me, taken from our business intelligence portal. When you say the comparison, do you mean across the entire Kimberley?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, so we can compare it across the entire Kimberley, so that we can see those results for Wyndham and Kununurra. Can you provide that on notice, because it's a bit difficult to take down the figures and it also takes a lot of time. Could you provide those on notice? I've been trying to get those details for a while.

Supt Adams : I have the 12-month figures to 30 June 2017. That incorporates 12 months of the first 13½ months of the card being rolled out. I can also provide the last four months from 1 July 2017 to 30 September 2017.

Senator SIEWERT: Obviously I want to be able to compare it to before the card. Can you provide figures prior to that but with an explanation of the changes that were made. I understand what you said about how you've changed the way it was reported. Can you provide that with an explanation so we can compare like with like or at least understand why there's a difference there caused by the different reporting?

Supt Adams : Absolutely. I've got that right in front of me. The 12 months to 30 June 2017 saw 508 domestic assaults in Kununurra. For the 12 months previous to that, 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2016, there were 319. I have that data for every location within the Kimberley available for you.

Senator SIEWERT: That would be appreciated along with that explanation of the change.

Supt Adams : Of course.

Senator McCARTHY: Superintendent Adams, how many rehabilitation centres are there in the Kimberley?

Supt Adams : My understanding is there is Milliya Rumurra, which is the main centre that sits about 10 kilometres out of Broome. I understand there might be a centre around Wyndham. But at Milliya Rumurra, a gentleman by the name of Andrew Amor is my main go-to person around issues of alcohol dependency and drug dependency. I am not 100 per cent sure of the rehabilitation centre numbers.

Senator McCARTHY: You wouldn't be able to give us the number of beds and people accessing the service?

Supt Adams : No, unfortunately, I don't have that available. I could get them through Andrew.

Senator McCARTHY: No, we can do that. Given that much of the evidence today centres around alcohol, I think it is important for the inquiry to understand just what access there is for anyone who has issues and problems with alcohol to receive support.

Supt Adams : Absolutely. It is an interesting conversation around alcohol. I've been in the district for about 20 months now and after a short period of time I had this vision in my head that there was a significant amount of alcoholism. But talking to Andrew, he says that alcoholism is only a small amount; it's actually the alcohol abuse. It is that binge-drinking culture that is a significant proportion of the problem that is experienced in the Kimberley. The discussions I have had with him have indicated it was more behavioural as opposed to sickness. I know that Milliya Rumurra are stressed in respect of being able to deliver the services that they are paid to deliver across the Kimberley.

Senator McCARTHY: But even with the behaviour there needs to be a service that can provide assistance in that regard, surely?

Supt Adams : Yes, that's the emphasis on the fact that Milliya Rumurra are stressed around being able to provide those services.

Senator McCARTHY: Lawford, you spoke about how you did support the trial and then you chose not to as a result of your disappointment with the minister. Did the government or the minister commit to you to fulfil these promises when the original consultation about the card was taking place—promises such as the local Indigenous community will be provided with sufficient support, that they will be empowered to have wraparound services? Was this your understanding?

Mr Benning : Yes. As a black fella, when we talk to people about changing, leading or making a difference with our community, we read people's body language. We Aboriginal people really trust in a conversation, especially when we are standing up for the word 'leading'. At that time, I was really convinced and felt that this man was really genuine with his leadership and ours, and took my leadership and the others at a high level. When we stood up in our community and said why we did what we did and how we did what we did, I really, truly felt that the government was nowhere near us. When we talk to people, we trust people, especially when 99 per cent is our commitment, our assistance and our persistence to really make a change in our community. I truly believe, as I said—and I stand by my words—I've felt that come across from him. Sitting across from him and laughing, joking, smiling, touching—all those things—I said, 'Alan, this is the strongest—you're going to get leadership in this community.' It's still here. The leadership is still strong. I said to him, 'You have to really commit to your words, and this is where you, as the federal government, have to take the risk with us Aboriginal leaders and somehow get our state government on board to really tackle all these issues.' Can I say at the outset that what I said to Minister Alan Tudge was: 'We really need to tackle education. Education is the key to our problem we have in the Kimberley.' I said, 'Our education system is failing our children,' and I didn't say this—

Senator McCARTHY: Can I be heard, please. Lawford, I have to step in here. Just in relation to the promised $1.3 million in wraparound services, was that delivered?

Mr Benning : Sorry—$1.3 million?

Senator McCARTHY: Yes.

Mr Benning : It was delivered but, again, it wasn't to our expectations.

Senator McCARTHY: So are the wraparound services working for the local community?

Mr Benning : I personally don't feel it's working.

Mr Wedderburn : With the wraparound services, I believe the promise that was made to Lawford Benning was that the wraparound services would be delivered first and then the CDC would be introduced later. It happened in reverse, and there was a gap of around six to eight months before the wraparound services were put in place.

Senator McCARTHY: Thank you.

Senator LINES: Lawford, on the second point that you made in your submissions, about locals accessing and reviewing local service providers, how is that process being conducted now?

Mr Benning : It's not.

Senator LINES: So that's not happening?

Mr Benning : It wasn't even implemented.

Senator LINES: Okay, it's not implemented and it's not happening. On your third point, about the local first nations community having the power to be able to remove people from the card, why did you think that would be useful?

Mr Benning : It's about community uniting us—all of us together tackling this issue as the community, black, white, pink and yellow. I believe that, by that, not only were we shown that we were bringing in something that we believe was going to work but we want to have the authority to remove people who were doing great. I looked at the CDC at that time as a tool. Having this tool, we wanted to have the delegated authority to move it and shift it when we believed we needed to.

Senator LINES: Fair enough. If those three issues that you raised in your submission were resolved, would you consider supporting the continuation of the trial for a further limited period?

Mr Benning : I've got burnt now, so I don't support any government with any kinds of things they bring to my community, other than that I'm just going to lead with my community for us as the Miriuwung and Gajerrong people.

Senator LINES: Do you think the card should be removed from the community entirely?

Mr Benning : I reckon the card should go.

Senator LINES: Is it your view that the majority of the community don't support the card?

Mr Benning : I can tell you there are a lot of people in this town and I've never tripped over anybody that's said they're supporting it—put it that way.

Senator LINES: Okay. Do you think there'd be any negative consequences in the local community if the cashless card trial were abandoned altogether?

Mr Benning : The question could be: what are we trying to control here, and who are we trying to control? That's the question I'd like to put back.

Senator LINES: Okay, so what's your answer to that question?

Mr Benning : I don't reckon it will.

Senator LINES: The question you've put back is: who's it trying to control?

Mr Benning : I reckon we should really look at it fundamentally and systemically. Who are we really trying to control here?

Senator LINES: On the sobering-up shelter in Kununurra, is it true that it only has six beds for women?

Mr Benning : Look, in fairness, I don't think I can answer that, because I don't work with them directly.

Senator LINES: Fair enough. Superintendent Adams, is there an impact between the CDP and the CDC across the communities that you're responsible for?

Supt Adams : The CDP, I know, is not popular amongst Aboriginal communities. Again, I'm probably a little limited in the time that I've spent in the Kimberley. I understand that they advocate very strongly for the program that was present in the Kimberley prior to that, where the communities had greater control over the provision of payment to community members.

Senator LINES: If you don't know enough, I'll move to the next question—and it's certainly no reflection on you. You said 75 per cent of domestic violence incidents were related to alcohol. What restrictions on alcohol exist in the communities that you're responsible for?

Supt Adams : It varies, and I've been very vocal around a way forward with alcohol. I probably need to say—because there are some things there that Lawford and I are in furious agreement around—really, the only sustainable way forward for the Kimberley is through housing, health, education, jobs and strong culture. But, when you have this spiral of alcohol-related abuse, it's very difficult, I've seen, across the Kimberley for people to extract themselves out of that alcohol-induced lifestyle to take advantage of those social fabrics that I've just spoken about. If you're trying to take advantage of that broader framework that you and I take for granted, we've got to get people out of those alcohol-related issues that they suffer—a large number suffer up here. I think both systems have to run at once: reduce the amount of alcohol available to individuals across the entire Kimberley, and address those really systemic opportunity issues that we all take advantage of, except for large swathes of the Kimberley community.

Across the Kimberley, the liquor restrictions vary, as I said. I will use the beer restrictions, because there are a number of different restrictions on different alcohol types. In Kununurra and Wyndham, currently it is two cartons per person per day. That's currently in front of the director of liquor licensing, with an application made to halve that down to one carton of beer a day. When you go to Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing, they have the strongest takeaway alcohol restrictions in the state; it's light beer only. There are no wines, spirits or ready-to-drink, which are your bourbon-and-cola type, cans available in those two towns. I think the alcohol limit is below 2.7 per cent per container. Then you get to Broome and Derby. There are no restrictions per se, but you can't buy the four-litre box of wine or the old colloquially called king browns, the 750-mil bottles of beer. So it's quite disparate—

Senator LINES: Thanks, Superintendent, but the chair's just indicated that other senators have to be given an opportunity.

Senator HANSON: Superintendent Adams, you did state that crime levels have actually gone down—initially they didn't, but they did go down. Do you think that the card has worked?

Supt Adams : I'm a fan of the card. With anything that reduces the amount of alcohol consumption in a high-alcohol-harm environment, such as the Kimberley—and it's strongly represented in a town like Kununurra—I think there is massive advantage for that community. I look at those survey results around the number of people drinking less alcohol. I think there are fantastic outcomes for the health and safety of that community. I don't argue with Lawford's opinion around the way it's been rolled out, and that's obviously impacted his decision around supporting the card. But, coming from a fundamental community safety perspective, I'm a very strong supporter because I do think anything that reduces the amount of alcohol has to work when you look at the high levels of alcohol abuse that occur across the Kimberley.

Senator HANSON: There is a limit of two cartons of beer a day. How can anyone afford to buy two cartons a day, or even one carton?

Mr Wedderburn : The problem with the cashless debit card is that people will use other mechanisms to obtain cash to buy alcohol through sly grogging processes, so people who are already disadvantaged will be further disadvantaged. Only this morning I was consulting with members of the MG Corporation, the board of the group, and although there was no support for the cashless debit card everyone was very vocal about not being in favour of sly grogging. It seems like people are trying to link the two. They are not linked. The people who are on welfare do not necessarily agree with sly grogging et cetera. The problem with sly grogging is that people who have limited funds have to pay three or four times the amount to get alcohol after hours, on weekends et cetera. There is a huge amount of support for the liquor restriction and cutting out sly grogging—

Senator HANSON: If you have a single person who is on around $400 a fortnight, under the card that gives them $90 cash per fortnight. Then if you have families, as stated here they could be getting $2,000 a fortnight. That would give them $400 cash to buy alcohol under the card. That is correct, isn't it? They would have the money to spend on alcohol anyway.

Mr Wedderburn : If people want to drink, they will make the means to do so. The cashless debit card doesn't solve the problem. As a non-Aboriginal person who is not on the cashless debit card, I can order as much wine as I want through the postal system. The liquor restrictions don't apply to me. If you are trying to link the liquor restriction to the cashless debit card, you are doubly disadvantaging people.

Senator HANSON: Superintendent Adams, has the social behaviour in the area improved?

Supt Adams : From the feedback I get from my police officers and members of the community, certainly the public aspects of drunkenness have reduced. We are still not immune to disturbances within the house, and I have given some numbers previously around domestic assaults which largely do occur within the confines of houses. Certainly the visibility of public drunkenness and the associated public disorder that comes with that has certainly reduced. That is the feedback I have received from those who live and work in the area.

CHAIR: We are going to have to move on.

Senator SIEWERT: Superintendent Adams, I have two questions on notice. Have you had a look at the analysis that has been done of the wave 1 and wave 2 evaluation reports, and if you have could you give us your opinion. If you have not, would you look at it and give us your opinion. Secondly, in terms of the feedback from your officers, which you said earlier was anecdotal, could you provide details on which areas you are talking about. Is it just the centre of Kununurra or is it over the whole area? If you could take those questions on notice, that would be appreciated.

Supt Adams : Of course, Senator.

CHAIR: Thank you to all the witnesses.