Senate debates

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Statements by Senators

Indigenous Australians

1:02 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples countries such as Australia are obliged to:

… consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples … in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.

Further, it is now well recognised in this country that, to effectively deliver measures in Aboriginal communities, they need to be developed, led and delivered by First Nations communities. There needs to be ownership, responsibility and expertise recognised from First Nations communities. First Nations communities need to have ownership and also responsibilities under that process. Under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which outlines the special rights that children have, any decision that is made that may affect children must prioritise the best interests of the child, every child has the inherent right to life and children are experts in their own lives and should be consulted on the decisions that affect them.

Good community structures are those that enable community members to take control of their lives and aspirations. This includes enabling First Nations communities to lead in the development and implementation of the policies, programs and services that affect them. Community control and ownership is at the heart of self-determination for communities. This means giving communities a genuine say over their lives through participation in decision-making and the ongoing delivery of programs. We know that community ownership also strongly corresponds with improvement in community wellbeing. During the August non-sitting period I visited two communities where very different approaches are being taken to the way they handle issues affecting their communities, their regions and their towns. Both towns, I think it's fair to say, have had their fair share of issues.

I visited Bourke, in New South Wales, a couple of weeks ago. Bourke is a town where, as I said, it's fair to say that they've had some significant issues. Bourke has for a number of years been embarking on what is in Australia a unique project. They have been engaged in a process of justice reinvestment. They're part of a process called Just Reinvest New South Wales. The theme for Bourke is 'Growing Our Kids Up—Safe, Smart, Strong'. They're taking a life-course approach within a justice reinvestment model. This is an Aboriginal-led place based model. They have a tribal council that includes elders and key people from the community and that is genuinely involved in decision-making. They have their Aboriginal-controlled hubs that are easily accessible. They have three now, catering to all the sorts of services that are required for the community. All services are required to meet the goals that have been established by the tribal council. They have a wraparound-service approach.

The community has a daily checking process—with services, with police, with those from juvenile justice, with the education system, with service providers—every day of the week, not on weekends. It sometimes lasts only about half an hour. I attended, and I thank the community very much for enabling me to attend the checking. They talk about what has happened during the day and overnight. For example, if a child's been out on the street, that issue is brought up at this meeting and the services talk about who's going to pick that child up and look into the issues around that child. Or if something else has occurred, they will talk about it. They won't talk about the person in general; that's confidential. But a service will pick up the issue and report back the next day. In other words, nobody falls through the gaps. There are these wraparound services, and the services are very impressive, I've got to say. The police are very active participants in that checking process and are working as part of this approach. They have a full suite of services.

I'm not saying everything is perfect here. There's still a lot to do, because housing is an issue, as it is in many other communities. The services are genuinely working together. They have diversionary processes in place. The state government is actively involved. They have ongoing funding; they don't have to fight year on year for funding. They have gradually had access to their own data, and more and more access—although they did have problems, as many communities do. They have a very active program about supporting young people in learning to drive. They have genuine wraparound services. They have an overall strategy about what they want to achieve. They are empowering and supportive.

The results have been reviewed by KPMG, and they've increased family strength. They have had a 23 per cent decrease in police-reported incidents of domestic violence and comparable drops in rates of re-offending. On youth development, they've seen a 31 per cent increase in year 12 student retention and a 38 per cent reduction in charges across the top five juvenile offence categories. In terms of adult empowerment, there's been a 14 per cent reduction in bail breaches and a 42 per cent reduction in the number of days spent in custody. You can see that this an empowerment based model.

Then I went to Ceduna, last week, where they have what I would suggest is a deficit model. They have an MOU in place with people who were not selected by the community; they are more self-appointed. The MOU was:

… to trial an approach to reduce levels of community harm related to drug and alcohol abuse and gambling through the implementation of a Cashless Debit Card …

You can see the difference already: the Bourke approach is genuinely community led and is also focused on children growing up strong and healthy from an empowerment based approach and from a life based approach.

The Ceduna approach is about a deficit of dealing with drugs and gambling without a vision for how children should grow up. It's led by government. It's not a model that empowers people; it's a top-down approach. People have been put on a cashless debit card, where the government quarantine 80 per cent of the money to only spend on certain things. They do have a drop-in hub, which seems to work very hard and is well-respected in the community. That hub supports a number of people, particularly in helping to sort out the constant and ongoing issues with the cashless debit card and in referring them to other services. But there's not that 'let's make sure that no-one falls through the gap approach', because they're not funded to do that.

People in Bourke know about the tribal council, but nobody knows who's on the secret community panel in Ceduna. There's not that openness or that transparency; it's a punitive approach. They don't have access to baseline data. People feel stigmatised and demonised. They feel 'angry, upset and stressed'—those are the very words they used about what's happening. There's no overall strategy that I can pick up and look at like I can in Bourke, and I'd like to thank the Bourke community again. I'd also like to thank the Ceduna people and people in Ceduna who spoke to me.

There's a very different approach in Ceduna. The Bourke approach is empowering and engaging and is having very clear results that aren't being spun. The Ceduna approach is through the cashless debit card, where there's no overall strategy and they're not focused on the children growing up safe and strong. They're not looking at people's life courses, and people feel demonised. We need to be relooking at the way we support communities in this country.