Thursday, 13 May 2010
Regional and Remote Indigenous Communities Committee; Report
At the request of Senator Scullion, I present the fourth report of the Senate Select Committee on Regional and Remote Indigenous Communities, together with the Hansard record of proceedings and documents presented to the committee.
Ordered that the report be printed.
That the Senate take note of the report.
In relation to this particular Senate inquiry I congratulate Senator Scullion, all of the members of the committee and the secretariat staff for the very significant work they have done on this report. I know Senator Scullion is very keen to speak to the report and its recommendations and will certainly take the opportunity to do so later on. There are a number of very significant recommendations, all of which seek to improve the situation of Australia’s Indigenous people.
I had the privilege of being able to attend some of the committee’s hearings—in particular, the hearing held at Weipa in the Cape York Peninsula area of Queensland. The evidence given made it quite clear that, in spite of motions to say sorry to Indigenous people by Mr Rudd earlier in the term of this parliament, as with most things with Mr Rudd, they were just words. It is again a hallmark of this government that there is plenty of talk but very little action. Indigenous people who gave evidence to this inquiry clearly made that point.
Another case in point is the wild rivers legislation in Queensland which imposes a huge impost on the ability of Indigenous people to usefully use their lands. It is legislation that has been widely condemned by Indigenous people in North Queensland. Mr Abbott has moved a quite significant private members bill to overturn Queensland legislation to avoid the provisions of the Queensland wild rivers legislation and to make sure that any decisions made by the Queensland government in relation to this matter are only taken with the full consultation and consent of Indigenous people.
Mr Rudd had an opportunity to indicate to Australia and to Indigenous people that his words of saying sorry meant more than just words. This was an instance where Mr Rudd could have turned those words into action. Regrettably, so far he and his colleagues in the Labor Party have opposed this private members bill, and I think that is indicative of the approach that the Rudd government has taken towards Indigenous people generally.
As I indicated, there are a number of significant recommendations made by the committee. I commend those to the parliament. Senator Scullion as chair will be addressing this report at a later period. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
I too would like to comment on this report. I am a member of this committee and I think committee members get a very good insight into some of the issues that Aboriginal communities need to deal with. We travel around each of the states and territories as much as we can. We visited a number of communities, as Senator Macdonald has indicated. Unfortunately, I was not able to make it to Weipa—which I was most distressed about—due to other committee commitments. However, I did join the committee for the rest of the hearings in Queensland and I learnt some very valuable information.
Several of the recommendations you will see in this committee report address the issues of the Cape York Family Responsibility Commission. There is a review of that process and an ongoing evaluation, which I think is very important. You will see that several of the recommendations relate to ensuring that results from that evaluation of the Cape York trial are very seriously reviewed. I think that is particularly important. We heard from the Cape York Family Responsibility Commission, who gave us some very valuable information. I was also in the position of having heard representatives of the commission talk at an ACOSS conference the week before in Canberra, so I have had the opportunity to hear about this trial on several occasions.
A very important point to make here is that this trial is significantly different from many of the other trials that are going on around Australia about income management. A lot of people hold up the Cape York income management trial as an indication of the success of income management. The point that is very clear from the inquiry and from talking to representatives of the family commission is that they take a very holistic approach to the way they deal with the issues of disadvantage in Cape York—the issue of not attending school and the other issues that affect family dysfunction. That is, they put a lot of effort into case management. This trial has cost around $40 million. There are many people pointing to the success of the trial. About 450 people have been through the process. Only 98 of those have been income managed and towards the end of the process. What happens is that you get case managers and case workers working with the families to look at what is going on in those families—how they can help, whether it is the kids’ nonattendance at school, how you encourage attendance at school, whether there is domestic violence and the other causes of disadvantage—and start to address those and walk people through the process.
The point is that, of those 400, only 98 at the time we heard the evidence had been income managed. That was a much more consultative process. As you can see, $40 million into a trial of that size is a substantial amount of money. I am not for one minute criticising that. The point is that there is a lot of effort going into case management to help people to genuinely change. I very strongly support the recommendation the committee has made about looking at the results. The key is that we need to look at the success factors, if overall it is judged to be successful.
We raised a number of issues in the report about housing. There was a lot of ongoing criticism about the SIHIP process and a motion was passed in this place this morning dealing with that. We raised a lot of questions about that program. You can be sure that there will be a lot more focus on that issue, I would suggest in this place anyway, in estimates and in the committee’s ongoing work. That is an absolute key, as we all know, to addressing disadvantage in Aboriginal communities.
The other issue that we covered, particularly in Queensland—we had a particular focus on Queensland this time; senators may remember that we had a focus on Western Australia and the Northern Territory last time—was criminal justice issues. We had a very useful discussion on that issue with correctional services and the Attorney-General’s Department in Queensland. Aboriginal incarceration is a very significant issue that certainly I and the committee have been looking at very carefully. I believe there will be further work done by the committee on the issues surrounding incarceration. A discussion paper has been produced by the committee on that very clear issue, which we need to focus on very strongly. I am very hopeful that the committee can continue to look at that, in the same way that I am hopeful that other agencies will start to look at the very high number of Aboriginal people who are incarcerated in the criminal justice system and its causes.
One of the issues that came up in this inquiry—and the matter is dealt with in the report that I am going to table next in this place—is that of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system who have poor hearing. In Queensland, it was acknowledged that Aboriginal people are not screened for hearing problems as they go into the criminal justice system. One of the recommendations in the report is for the Queensland government to have a look at that issue and consider screening Aboriginal people for hearing impairment as they go into the criminal justice system. I very strongly commend to the chamber that recommendation as well because I think it will start to address some very important hearing and health issues for Aboriginal Australians. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.