The committee's second report considered the impact of policies of the
Northern Territory and South Australian governments on the lives of Indigenous
people living in regional and remote parts of those states, after several visits
to both the Northern Territory and South Australia. Since the second report,
the committee has held public hearings in Fitzroy Crossing, Halls Creek,
Broome, Narrogin and Perth in Western Australia (WA) and in Sydney, New South
Wales (NSW). This chapter deals with the committee's findings in Western
Australia, while chapter five details the committee's findings in New South
The committee travelled to Western Australia in 2008, with site visits
to Fitzroy Crossing, Derby and Balgo. The committee returned to the region to
hold formal hearings and collect further evidence. These hearings were
conducted in Fitzroy Crossing on 24 August, Halls Creek on 25 August and Broome
on 26 August 2009. A hearing in Narrogin was held on 8 October and in Perth on
9 October 2009.
The committee heard evidence from a broad range of organisations,
government departments and businesses. The committee would like to express
their gratitude to all witnesses who appeared before the committee or provided
submissions. In the conduct of an inquiry in regional and remote areas, many
witnesses travel great distances and sacrifice their own time to assist the
committee. For this, the committee is grateful.
The committee would like to thank the Western Australian government for
their cooperation with the committee's inquiry. The committee commends the
Western Australian government agencies who participated in the inquiry for
their openness, willingness to discuss issues in a frank and honest manner and
for their timely responses to committee requests for information. The committee
is deeply appreciative to all of the officers who appeared before the committee
and to those who assisted the committee in the conduct of this inquiry.
The committee would also like to acknowledge Ms Daisy Andrews of
Karrayili Adult Education Centre for her welcome to country in Fitzroy Crossing
and Mr Ken Colbung and members of the WAITCH project for the very warm welcome
to country provided by the group at the committee's Perth hearing.
This chapter focuses on thematic issues that were raised consistently
with the committee, including: the justice system and high rates of
incarceration, municipal service delivery in remote communities, mental health,
recent alcohol restrictions in the Kimberley and the prevalence of Foetal
Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. These issues are discussed below.
Justice and the legal system
Western Australia has the highest adult Indigenous imprisonment rate in
Australia, with 3556.3 per 100 000 people imprisoned in 2008.
Chart 4.1 compares Indigenous and non-Indigenous imprisonment rates across
Chart 4.1: Imprisonment rates by state/territory, 2008
Source: Australian Bureau
of Statistics, Prisoners in Australia, 2008, catalogue no. 4517.0.
Chart 4.1 also shows the ratio of imprisonment rates in the Indigenous
and non-Indigenous populations. The Indigenous imprisonment rate is 25.6 times
higher than the non-Indigenous rate. This statistic does not take into account
the younger age profile of the Indigenous population. As younger populations
tend to have a higher rate of offending, the Australian Bureau of Statistics
(ABS) also calculates an age-standardised statistic, which is more useful for
comparing rates of imprisonment between Indigenous and non-Indigenous
populations as it removes the bias towards imprisonment resulting from the
younger age profile of the Indigenous population. The age-standardised ratio of
imprisonment rates between the two populations in WA is 19.8.
The Chief Justice of Western Australia, in a presentation to the
Department of Corrective Services in 2009, set out a series of worrying
one in 15 Aboriginal men in WA was in prison in June 2008;
one in 160 Aboriginal women was in prison at that time;
Western Australia has the highest rate of detention for
Aboriginal young people in Australia—approximately 700 per 100 000 in June
between 75 and 80 per cent of all young people detained in recent
years were Aboriginal; and
Approximately 70 per cent of Aboriginal men leaving prison
between 1 July 1998 and 30 June 2008 returned to prison by May 2009, compared
to 40 per cent for non-Indigenous prisoners.
Appearing before the committee in Broome, the Aboriginal Legal Service
of WA (ALSWA) elaborated further on recent juvenile detention statistics:
The statistics from last Friday indicate that 75 per cent of
children in custody in WA are Aboriginal. That means 96 out of 131 children in
custody at the moment are Aboriginal. The detention rate for Aboriginal
children in WA is the highest in the country. It is double the national rate
and 44 times higher than the non-Aboriginal rate. Superimposed over that, the recidivism
rates for Aboriginal kids are absolutely staggering: 79 per cent for male
Aboriginal juveniles and 64 per cent for female Aboriginal juveniles.
The committee recognises that the high level of incarceration is not
purely due to the justice system. It has its roots in poverty, lack of
education and other socioeconomic factors affecting the Indigenous population.
The committee received evidence from several organisations reflecting this
view. Legal Aid WA, in their submission to the committee stated:
...the disproportionate number of Indigenous people in WA in
custody, before the courts, and with children in State care is inextricably
linked to health, housing, education and training and welfare problems in these
communities. Improvements in the justice system will have reduced impact unless
they are part of a holistic approach drawing on the strengths of these
communities at the same time as well as addressing the problems in health,
education, and welfare.
ALSWA made the point that many juvenile offenders suffered from
dysfunctional backgrounds making it more likely that they would offend:
...a lot of Aboriginal juvenile offenders are victims
themselves. They are victims of dysfunctional family backgrounds, domestic
violence, and exposure to alcohol and drug abuse by parents and other family members.
They often suffer from serious physical illness or injury themselves, and they
in turn become immersed in a system which is completely ill-equipped to assist
The committee is of the view that the most obvious way to reduce
incarceration rates is to create enduring improvements to the lives and living
standards of Indigenous people. While recognising that the high incarceration
rate is due to many social and environmental factors relating to the offenders
themselves, the committee has also formed the view that the justice system
itself could be improved in order to reduce the overly high rate of
The evidence put before the committee suggests the need for a
recalibration of the justice system, with more investment in both custodial and
non-custodial programs that seek to address the causes of reoffending, rather than
a reliance on the deterrent effect of imprisonment.
The committee would like to thank the WA government departments who
engaged with the committee on issues of justice and corrective services. The
committee formed a high opinion of officials who provided information to the
committee during their WA hearings.
The following section considers issues raised by witnesses at the
hearings in Western Australia. They are not in order of importance, but rather
address each stage of involvement with the justice system.
Allegations of overpolicing
ALSWA was of the opinion that overpolicing in remote areas, particularly
since the introduction of Multifunction Police Facilities (MFPF) was an issue.
They called for more discretion to be exercised by officers in these areas:
We have a grave concern that permanent police presences in
some of these communities means that Aboriginal people get charged with any
number of minor offences, which brings them into contact with the system and, inevitably,
leads to increased imprisonment rates.
...the discretion that governs the decision to prosecute is structured
in a set of rules called the [Director of Public Prosecutions] prosecution
guidelines. ...They are rules that are reflected in a similar set of guidelines
that are published by the police force. So the guidelines are well-known. The
rules that should structure the exercise of a discretion as to whether or not
to initiate a prosecution or whether or not to continue with it have been
around for decades. It just seems that they are not being applied in practice.
We are not asking for a serious crime not to be prosecuted but simply for the
discretion at an early stage to be properly exercised so that inappropriate
cases are not being brought before superior courts, particularly with young
people who, when you look at their culpability and the gravamen of their
conduct, it just should not attract a criminal prosecution.
Inspector Jim Cave, of the WA police, responded directly to these
I heard this morning a concern raised by ALS in relation to
the overpolicing in remote communities. The WA Police strongly reject this opinion
and consider that the presence of police alongside a DCP officer working within
the community can only benefit the community...
Inspector Cave particularly addressed concerns of overpolicing of
...Yes, we do police the communities, and that is mainly
because of the serious and fatal crashes. The four main factors for those
crashes are speeding, alcohol, not wearing a seatbelt and fatigue. We need to
manage those; otherwise people are going to kill themselves. I reject the
comment from Mr Collins that we are just picking on people for the sake of it.
Acting Commander Darryl Gaunt emphasised that it was the policy of the
WA police to use discretion where appropriate in remote communities:
With the remotes, one thing I hammer into the troops out
there is that the focus out there is not to lock people up for driving under suspension
or to book work orders on cars. That is not our focus.
The committee recognises the responsibility of the police to maintain
public safety. The committee encourages Western Australian police to ensure
that the message of discretion advocated by the Acting Commander is well
understood by officers in the field, and that appropriate training and support
to police is provided in the application of guidelines that govern this
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth support the Western
Australian Police in continuing to ensure that the message to use greater
discretion in policing in remote communities is communicated to and well
understood by officers in the field and that they have the appropriate
guidelines, training and support to do so.
Legal Aid WA drew the committee's attention to the large number of
Indigenous people in WA coming into contact with the justice system through
driving offences. According to a report released in 2007, approximately 30 per
cent of the Indigenous prison population are there for offences relating to
drink driving and drivers licenses.
The imprisonment rate for driving offences is 12.5 per cent for Indigenous
people, compared with 2.9 per cent for non-Indigenous people.
The following excerpt from an address by the Chief Justice of Western
Australia describes the pattern of offending relating to drivers licenses:
There are significant structural issues at work which
contribute to these statistics. The remoteness of many of the communities makes
it extremely difficult for drivers licences to be obtained. Not uncommonly,
because of the lack of alternative means of transport in the areas in which
people live, young persons might be apprehended for driving without a licence
before they are legally eligible to obtain a licence. Sometimes that might be
because they had been directed to drive a vehicle by an older person who is
intoxicated. The consequence of their conviction is of course that they are
automatically disqualified from holding a licence for a period. Practical
necessity might prompt them to drive unlawfully again during that period, with
the result that another automatic disqualification follows. The result of this
tragic cycle is often that Aboriginal people living in remote communities have
no realistic prospect of obtaining a motor drivers licence in the foreseeable
future, under the current legal regime. By the time they get to their 13th, or
23rd, or even 33rd conviction for driving without a licence, imprisonment seems
the only appropriate penalty. By comparison to non-Aboriginal offenders who are
in prison for driving offences, there are more Aboriginal offenders in prison
for such offences who have never driven drunk or dangerously.
Legal Aid WA recommended to the committee that in some situations there
should be an amnesty around licenses, with ministerial discretion, in order to
end a pattern of offending relating to licenses that results in imprisonment.
A further problem related to driving offences is the application of
fines. Given the low incomes of many offenders in remote communities, they have
difficulty in paying fines. The application of a fine then leads directly to
the offender being taken into custody when payment of the fine cannot be met.
...with the sorts of fines that are mandatorily imposed by the
courts these days, people in these communities on CDEP or Centrelink do not
have the capacity to pay. They do not pay and, eventually, they end up in
custody for unpaid fines. Most of the Aboriginal women in custody in WA are in
custody for unpaid fines.
The Department of the Attorney-General in Western Australia informed the
committee that a fine repayment scheme has been implemented in partnership with
Centrelink that enables automated, gradual repayment of fines with the consent
of the individual who is subject to the fine.
The committee is pleased that this arrangement has been made available, but
notes that continuing to impose fines on people in remote communities is likely
to lead to a disproportionate number of offenders in custody.
The committee was pleased to hear that WA Police is making an effort to
support greater education and driver awareness to reduce the likelihood of
people having fines imposed against them, especially in relation to drivers
licenses and driving offences.
The reality is that in some of those communities you would be
lucky to find anyone with a drivers licence, and all you would do is perpetuate
a problem that already exists. It is not our focus. Family violence and child
abuse is our focus. Having said that, we will provide drivers licence
education, particularly at Warburton. We run classes...in the court house. We do
all that type of activity to help them get their licence. The major problem
that occurs is not so much in Warburton; it is when they decide to drive to
Laverton. The reality is that, once they go to a major town, they have to abide
by the rules, because that is where Aboriginal people kill themselves. They
kill themselves driving to those locations. Seat belt restraint is one of the
big issues. They quite often do not wear seat belts. There is a large education
push. What we did not want to do was lose the hearts and minds in the early
days of this rollout to the point of nabbing people for what are seen as minor
traffic offences when we are trying to develop their ability to normalise.
Acting Commander Gaunt went on to state that although police in remote
communities have a process in place to encourage people to get licenses and
abide by road rules, there were significant problems associated with people
driving in major towns.
As I tell all of the communities when I go and speak to them,
there will be a point where we expect them to lift their standard—because that
is why we are there. The state and the Commonwealth have made a significant investment
in having us out there and the return on that investment needs to be that they
have to raise the standard and their ability to get drivers licences and drive
roadworthy cars and abide by normal road rules. What we do not do, though, is
park at the stop sign at Warburton and grab them for driving through the stop
sign, because it is counterproductive...
In the regional locations—the Hall Creeks, the Lavertons et
cetera—they have to abide by the rules. It is a law-enforcement issue; it is
where they kill themselves, and just as they are overrepresented in other areas
they are also well overrepresented in fatal road crashes in those areas.
Issues associated with bail
The committee heard evidence from a variety of witnesses about the
difficulties associated with bail in regional and remote communities. Some
witnesses felt that there was a lack of discretion in granting bail.
In 2005 I acted for a 15-year-old boy from a place called
Onslow who had been in trouble in the past. He was charged with attempting to
steal a $2.30 ice-cream. He was refused police bail. He was refused bail by a
JP in Onslow and ended up spending two weeks in custody before he was finally
dealt with for attempting to steal a $2.30 ice-cream.
However, the committee recognises the difficulties faced by justice
officials in remote communities in some circumstances.
Police have a duty of care to victims and juvenile offenders.
It is difficult to contact a responsible adult to bail the child before he or
she attends court.
This issue is particularly significant in light of the recent death of
an Aboriginal elder who was denied bail after being charged with drink driving
and died while being transported to the regional prison. The coronial inquest
into the death found shortcomings in the understanding of the bail process by
police and the Justice of the Peace in question. The coroner recommended that
improvements be made to training for justice officials in remote areas to
ensure a full understanding of their responsibilities with respect to the bail
The case highlighted the problem of the justice system often
necessitating transportation of offenders over long distances and away from
family and community. ALSWA was particularly concerned for young people in the
Kimberley who are taken into custody a long way from their home communities.
Those problems with overrepresentation and incarceration
rates are compounded here because juvenile detention centres are in Perth. Kids
who either are refused bail or are sentenced to terms of detention are
transported all the way from the Kimberley to the two detention centres in
Perth. They are incredibly damaging experiences for Aboriginal kids. In
addition to that, kids who are sentenced or refused bail are sometimes held in
police cells here in Kimberley police stations. We have had cases where 12- and
13-year-old children have spent over a week in a police cell before being
transported south to juvenile detention centres. Some of the police cells here
are appalling—totally ill-equipped to safely house children.
Legal Aid WA recommended that the Bail Act 1982 (WA) should be
amended to include consideration of the effects of transportation in the
decision to grant bail.
The Department of the Attorney-General informed the committee that they
are currently making changes to the Bail Act and establishing video
conferencing facilities in Multifunction Police Facilities in an effort to
improve access to justice in remote areas.
The committee will follow this review of the Bail Act and the impact any
changes have on people living in regional and remote Indigenous communities.
Lack of innovative sentencing
options in regional and remote areas
The lack of sentencing options in regional and remote areas of Western
Australia appears to be a significant problem. Witnesses overwhelmingly pointed
to a lack of community based sentencing options, including effective court
orders, diversionary and rehabilitation programs or community service in remote
areas. Where options did exist, they were under resourced and less effective
than communities expected them to be.
...magistrates often do not have the same range of sentencing
options in remote areas that they have in metropolitan areas, and even larger
regional areas such as Kalgoorlie. That means that people might, for example,
get a fine when they may require a supervisory order to address the underlying
issue behind their offending, but that supervisory order is not available.
Even if they are put on orders, sometimes it is a really
brief intervention by the community justice officers because they do not
actually live in the community. It is a brief intervention when they go to the
community on a monthly or bimonthly basis, and the top-up on supervision is often
by phone. The counselling or program requirements for many orders are virtually
nonexistent in those remote communities. Even the community service work is
often not available in those areas, because of a lack of supervisors. Sometimes
the work, even when it is available, is not really meaningful work that helps
develop skills that might flow on to subsequent employment.
That is a significant issue. It means that the underlying
issues underlying the offending behaviour are not really being satisfactorily
This point was also made by ALSWA, using the example of Fitzroy
Fitzroy Crossing...is one of the 26 large Aboriginal
communities that is being targeted by the federal government with its new
funding policy. It has one drug and alcohol counsellor for the whole town.
There is no psychiatric or psychological diversion or rehabilitation program.
There is no sex offence program. There is no victim offender mediation. There
is a very limited capacity for the department of corrections or juvenile
justice to put adults or juveniles on work orders, particularly females. So
what it all means is that when a magistrate sitting in these jurisdictions is
sentencing a person and trying to craft a fair and just community-based order,
they have got no practical options which they can incorporate in those orders.
The unfortunate consequence on many occasions is that magistrates become
frustrated and turn to the next option in the line, which is a term of either
suspended or immediate imprisonment, and that just increases incarceration
The Department of Corrective Services was well aware of this issue,
We have to be completely honest with the committee and say
that remote delivery of programs is not happening in the short term due to lots
of logistical problems and the fact that it is an expensive option and also
that, in real terms, we do not have the staff or the skills to be able to
deliver those programs.
The department informed the committee that it was beginning to increase
the number of community programs, but that this was occurring from a very low
base and remained concentrated in metropolitan areas. They were unable to run
adult community programs in the Pilbara, the Kimberley or the Eastern
Goldfields as the requisite psychologists and social workers were not there in
The department indicated that group programs in particular were
logistically difficult to deliver in remote areas.
Generally, running a program involves eight to 10 people.
Having those people in the same place at the same time within a remote
community and then having the facilitators there is difficult. Some programs
that we run quite intensively within the prison system are 460 hours. The
reality is that the integrity and the logistics of such an intensive program
just do not happen.
The department also highlighted the cost and difficulty in attracting
staff to work in regional and remote areas as central to the lack of community
When people at public service levels, as in level 5 or level
6, are travelling out, apart from reimbursement of your accommodation and meals
there is no other incentive to do that type of work than passion for the job.
If you are travelling you are not paid an additional disadvantage allowance or
anything for being away from your family for that period of time. With respect
to program staff I have, we introduced in the last 12 months an Aboriginal
facilitation unit where they are travelling throughout the state, largely in
the north and across to Eastern Goldfields, delivering programs to offenders in
custody. They can be away from their families for up to 20 weeks of any one
year, but there is nothing that I can offer them as an incentive over and above
their standard wage for a programs officer which is the same wage as they would
get if they were delivering locally in Hakea or Casuarina prison.
This was in stark contrast to the incentive structure put in place by WA
Police that offered officers a senior rank, 40 per cent salary loading in lieu
of on-call and overtime payments, accommodation, an additional four weeks
holiday per year and funding to take their family to the coast for a holiday
twice per year.
Similarly, the WA Department of Child Protection reported a 25 per cent package
bonus including a vehicle, rent free accommodation and extra holidays for
The committee is concerned that there are no corresponding incentives
offered to staff of the Department of Corrective Services as compared with
other Western Australian departments to attract and retain staff to perform
challenging tasks in remote areas.
The committee notes that the appropriate remuneration of staff in remote
communities is essential to the attraction and retention of a skilled
workforce. The committee has found this to be the case in all remote
communities that it has visited.
The committee recommends that all Commonwealth, state and territory
government departments provide appropriate remuneration packages to staff in
remote communities in order to attract and retain a skilled workforce.
The Department of the Attorney-General was also aware of calls to
develop innovative sentencing options for regional and remote areas, stating:
We have currently got a review going of the state sentencing
act, which is the primary act around the sentencing of offenders. It is a
statutory review so it is looking at the existing act but, in the process, we
are also putting together a paper around other innovative sentencing options.
The key one is—we have had requests from our Chief Justice and other heads of
jurisdiction—can we come up with, or has anybody come up with, a community based
option that could work in regional and remote areas with a low overhead of
Non-custodial sentencing options may need to address actual causes of
reoffending if they are to have an impact on imprisonment rates. Evidence
presented to the committee by Dr Don Weatherburn, from the New South Wales
Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, suggested that unless measures were in
place to address reoffending, non-custodial sentencing options are merely
'another step on the ladder...that a person goes up before ultimately ending in
If you want to reduce Aboriginal imprisonment and Aboriginal
crime you really need to come up with alternatives to custody that are
effective in reducing reoffending. Those programs, on the international
evidence, have to address the underlying risk factors for involvement in crime.
For Aboriginal adults the number one risk factor is drug and alcohol abuse; it
is far more important than unemployment or financial stress or lack of social
support. All of these factors are important, however drug and alcohol abuse
stand out so far above the rest of the factors as predictors of adult
Aboriginal involvement in crime that unless you do something about that you do
not have too much hope of success.
Mr Jamie Elliot, of the Halls Creek People's Church described the
dilemma faced by a friend who had had contact with the justice system and the
need for diversionary programs to keep people in his situation from
He goes through a stage where he works all the time. Then,
after a while, things get tough and he gets back onto alcohol and goes straight
back in again. He is at a stage in his life where he can only make one mistake
and that one mistake means that—bang!—he is straight back behind bars. There is
very little margin for error right now. I thought: ‘What is there for him? He’s
someone who is crying out for help but just can’t get it.’ I cannot find any
really good program for young men or anyone in that situation.
Dr Weatherburn informed the committee that neglect and abuse were major
contributing factors for juvenile offending. He informed the committee that an
intensive program known as multisystemic therapy was being trialled in NSW. The
program involves a team of people working with the individual and parents over
a period of about six months, with intensive monitoring.
As a general rule you need to distinguish between programs
that are designed to reduce juvenile reoffending and programs that are designed
to reduce adult reoffending. You also need to distinguish between adults who
are, for example, coming out of jail and who may have a heavy amphetamine or
heroin dependence and where the appropriate response might be to place them on
a methadone program—although I should say in passing that I understand a lot of
Aboriginal people do not like methadone—or some form of treatment program to
address the drug addiction and programs that might, for example, in a rural community
do something to address the problems of spousal violence or family violence. I
do not see it as a single magic bullet that fixes all problems, it is a matter
of looking at the context, the resources available and the particular problem
that you have at hand.
The committee is aware that the provision of services such as drug and
alcohol rehabilitation or an intensive multisystemic therapy program in remote
areas is extremely expensive. However, there is reliable evidence to suggest
that incarceration is a much more expensive option over the long term.
For instance, the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia calculated
that the annual cost of imprisonment for each adult in WA in 2007–08 was
approximately $100 000.
The same figure for the detention of a juvenile was
The Department of Corrective Services informed the committee that much of the
annual cost of keeping an individual in prison was fixed.
The marginal cost differential of moving an offender from imprisonment to a
non-custodial program is thus not a straight trade off in the short term,
although it may be in the long term. The department informed the committee that
in terms of this kind of cost-benefit analysis, 'the equations have not been
The committee considers that there would be a tangible benefit in
undertaking a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether a shift of funding
from the prison system to non-custodial programs that address the underlying
causes of offending would be cost effective and deliver better correctional
outcomes. This would also have to take into account the long term social and
economic benefits of lower numbers of Aboriginal people in WA prisons.
The committee is of the view that a reliance on imprisonment does little
to address the underlying causes of offending and achieves little towards
decreasing crime in remote communities. As Assistant Commissioner Tang told the
committee at their Perth hearing:
Whether you are Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal and your
circumstances are so poor or you are living in such poverty, imprisonment
clearly cannot be a deterrent.
The committee recommends that the Western Australian government consider
conducting a comprehensive analysis of non-custodial sentencing options to
reduce the unacceptably high incarceration rates in regional and remote
Indigenous communities, with particular attention to the social and economic
costs and benefits of alternatives and the factors driving significantly high
rates of reoffending.
The committee notes the existence of initiatives of the WA government
such as Juvenile Justice Teams (JJT) that arrange meetings with the offender, a
responsible adult and the victim of the offence. The committee commends the WA
government on the implementation of such a program that seeks to intervene at
an early stage of offending by young people. The committee notes however, the
comments of Inspector Jim Cave concerning the lack of capacity of this program:
There has been a backlog of JJT meetings across the state and
across the entire Kimberley. At present there are 162 JJT matters that are
outstanding in the West Kimberley and 67 for the East Kimberley, which puts us
in a very difficult situation. Juvenile offenders who have not appeared before
the JJT are still offending, and the magistrates refer all offences back to the
JJT until they have passed on that process, so in fact they do not get dealt
with until they attend the JJT.
The committee is also pleased to note that the WA government provides an
Indigenous Diversion Program (IDP) in the Kimberley through the Kimberley
Community Drug Service Team. The committee was advised that:
IDP Diversion Officers travel on the Magistrate’s Circuit and
service all related courts. From the base in Broome the West Kimberley IDP
position services Derby, Fitzroy Crossing, Broome, Bidyadanga and Dampier
Peninsular. The East Kimberly IDP position, based in Kununurra, services
Kununurra, Wyndham, Kalumburu, Oombulgurri, Balgo, Halls Creek and Warmun.
The Indigenous Diversion Officers are court based and provide
immediate assessment and referrals to treatment programs. Offenders are
referred to IDP via magistrates, police and various other court stakeholders
including legal representatives. Self referral is also acceptable. Once
referred to IDP, the individual is assessed by the Indigenous Diversion Officer
and referred to suitable alcohol and drug services. IDP Officers are
responsible for providing treatment reports from agencies back to magistrates
Obviously for any initiative to be successful, it must be met with
adequate resourcing. Dr Weatherburn made the comment that this was an area that
governments often found difficult. To get results, programs needed to be large
in scale. However, it can be difficult for a government to make large scale
investments without evidence of results.
Across the country you will find programs that have been
introduced that are quite effective but which have no capacity to produce a
material reduction in crime because they are too small. That constrains
politicians as they are not able to claim success in reducing crime rates
because the measures they have taken win them votes in the short run but do not
have any lasting capacity to make a measurable difference to public safety. The
one thing that does is locking hundreds of people up every year. Well, if we
put as much resources into post-release programs for people coming out of jail
or even a fraction of the resources, you would see measurable effects on crime.
The committee is concerned that much needed programs such as the Juvenile
Justice Teams and Indigenous Diversion Program discussed above, fall within the
category of programs that Dr Weatherburn is referring to; that is they are
small in scale and may not have an immediate measurable impact on reducing
offending and recidivism.
Given the weight of evidence put to the committee on the need for these
programs and the importance of reducing Indigenous incarceration rates, the
committee considers that these programs should be continuously evaluated for
impact, and strengthened to ensure that individuals and communities are being
supported to arrest the cycle of offending behaviour.
Lack of rehabilitation programs in
Statistics on the extremely high number of Indigenous people in prison
are presented at the start of this chapter. The rate of recidivism by
Indigenous prisoners who have served custodial sentences is also extremely
high. For adults, the recidivism rate is almost 70 per cent for men and 55 per
cent for women. For non-Indigenous men and women, the rates are significantly
lower at approximately 40 per cent and 30 per cent respectively.
The extremely high rates of recidivism suggest that the custodial environment
is doing little to deter reoffending, particularly for Indigenous prisoners.
The committee heard from the WA Department of Corrective Services that
education and vocational training operated in each prison in the state.
The department has also moved to subcontract the delivery of some services in
regional prisons such as drug and alcohol rehabilitation and domestic violence
programs, although the committee has not received evidence as to the
effectiveness of this.
The committee notes a recent inspection report by the Inspector of
Custodial Services of Broome Prison, a facility with a majority Aboriginal
population, found that:
...there is an almost complete absence of culturally
appropriate programs that address offending behaviour for Aboriginal prisoners.
One consequence of this is the higher rate of recidivism (rate of return to
custody or community corrections) among Aboriginal prisoners, which
incidentally, is highest at Broome Prison
One positive innovation is the expansion of work camps that operate as
minimum security facilities to regional areas. The Department of Corrective
Services informed the committee that these minimum security facilities would
allow prisoners to work in communities while receiving on the job training. In
addition to developing work skills, the program would enable prisoners to
maintain a connection to home communities during their sentence. The department
intends to redevelop the Wyndham facility and construct new facilities in the
Wheatbelt and at Warburton.
The committee looks forward to following the progress of these
The committee recommends that the Western Australian government consider
undertaking an audit of the substance and scale of rehabilitation programs and
post-custodial release programs to address the unacceptably high rate of
Indigenous recidivism in the state.
The committee recommends that the Western Australian government consider
developing a comprehensive, culturally appropriate strategy to address
Indigenous incarceration rates and recidivism that is based on sound
international and domestic evidence.
At committee hearings held in the Kimberley and at a subsequent hearing
in Perth, the committee encountered widespread confusion about the roles and
responsibilities of organisations in delivering municipal services to remote
Indigenous communities. In metropolitan and even regional Australia, this role
would fall to local government. However, the unique situation of many remote
communities, which fall outside of local government areas, presents existing
local governments in these areas with a funding dilemma if they are to provide
services. Shires in the Kimberley do not take a uniform approach to dealing
with these communities and the communities themselves were often unclear about
which organisations were responsible for providing particular services. The
situation is further complicated by the roles of both state and Commonwealth
governments in funding arrangements. In the words of the Director-General of
the Department of Indigenous Affairs: 'To be honest, it is a confused place at
The committee found significant deficiencies in the provision of rubbish
tips, fire fighting facilities and road maintenance. These issues are addressed
The general confusion appears to arise from the Bilateral Agreement on
Indigenous Affairs between the Commonwealth and Western Australian governments
and signed in 2006. Under this agreement, municipal services, which had
previously been funded by the Commonwealth, were to be 'regularised' and handed
over to state and local governments:
The Governments agree as a priority to work together to
improve the delivery of municipal services to Indigenous communities in Western
Australia. To this end, the Governments will work cooperatively to progress the
transfer of activities currently undertaken through the Australian Government's
municipal services funding. It is envisaged that this will involve a
progressive transfer of responsibility and agreed levels of funding from the
Australian Government to the Western Australian Government and increased
involvement of local governments in service delivery to Indigenous communities.
The Commonwealth and WA governments agreed that transfers of
responsibility would not result in an overall reduction in effort by either
party, and the agreement acknowledged that increased involvement of local
governments required the development of mechanisms to augment the revenue of
The Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA) was critical of the
agreement, on the grounds that as a bilateral agreement, the decision to hand
over greater responsibility to local governments had been made without due
consultation with local governments themselves.
Several shires that gave evidence to the committee held a similar view,
expressing concern that they were being asked to take on liabilities and
services in the absence of agreed funding and responsibility:
I will go back to the bilateral agreement, which was
developed and signed off by the federal government and the state government
without any consultation with local government and certainly without any
consultation with any of the communities...
I acknowledge that it is now being handled under the COAG
agreement in a different format, but the issues arising are very similar... What
is the definition of municipal services? Who is providing these services
currently? Is it FaHCSIA , the Department of Indigenous Affairs or the
Department of Housing? Who is providing these services? In fact, what services
are required? No-one did an audit; no-one asked. What services are being
provided by whom and how are they being funded? That was a question we raised.
One exception was the Shire of Halls Creek, which considered that it had
a duty to provide services to all communities within its borders.
The Shire had undertaken an business plan assessing what the provision of
services might cost and suggesting a model for its delivery.
The committee asked the Western Australian government for a response to
the Shire of Halls Creek business plan, titled Regularising Local Government
Services in Halls Creek Shire. The government responded stating that the Halls
Creek study and a similar study by the Shire of Derby/West Kimberley were being
used to 'inform the continuing work of progressing the normalisation of local
government services to Indigenous communities under the National Indigenous
The net result of the confusion arising from the 2006 agreement appears
to be a reduction in the quality of municipal services. The more recent COAG
National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing contains a
provision for a report by December 2009 on a proposal for:
– clearer roles and responsibilities and funding with respect
to municipal services and ongoing maintenance of infrastructure and essential
services in remote areas.:
– a timeframe for implementation of new arrangements and for
these arrangements to be in place from 1 July 2012.
The committee looks forward to the release of the report and will follow
developments with interest in the next committee report in 2010. The committee
is concerned that the 2012 implementation date may mean that no progress is
made in the next two years. Given the poor condition of municipal services that
the committee encountered in the Kimberley, the committee considers this to be
an urgent priority.
The committee is also concerned that local governments consider that
they are not engaged in the COAG process, despite being asked to play an
integral role. Although the president of the Australian Local Government
Association (ALGA) is a member of COAG and a party to COAG decisions, this does
not appear to be translating into effective communication with or involvement
of local governments in Western Australia.
The committee recommends that COAG increase the level of consultation
and engagement with local governments in formulating its strategy to deliver
cost-effective and appropriate municipal services to remote communities and
develop an explicit communication strategy to ensure that local government in
Western Australia is aware of is responsibilities.
Evidence received by the committee on the state of municipal services in
remote communities suggests that there has been a decline in services following
the bilateral agreement. The committee also found confusion on behalf of local
organisations regarding where responsibilities for municipal services now lay.
Mrs Muir—A little bit of the confusion for us is...the funding
moves around between service providers and there is no communication with us,
for instance, so we do not actually know who holds the bucket of money that
looks after the tips or who holds the bucket money that looks after sewage
ponds and those sorts of things. Then there is a breakdown because, while our
team do their work, they do not know what the pathway is to get those services
done. That has been a significant problem for us, especially over the last two
years, because funding has been moving around between service providers but nobody
seems to know who is—
Senator SIEWERT—Why does it keep moving around?
Mrs Muir—The government seems to be moving things around but
nobody tells us where the money is and who is actually doing the job. As you
were saying, we might go to the [Indigenous Coordination Centre (ICC)] and complain,
thinking the ICC is responsible for a certain thing. I had a meeting with a [Centre
for Appropriate Technology (CAT)] lady last week and she clarified something
for me that I thought had been in place for the last 18 months. She said, ‘No.
CAT has had no responsibility for that over the last 18 months.’ Yet, we very
clearly thought that they did.
In correspondence to the committee, the Centre for Applied Technology
(CAT), a service provider based in the Kimberley, informed the committee that
funding for municipal services was provided by the Commonwealth Community
Housing and Infrastructure Program (CHIP) until recently. CHIP funding was then
administered by the WA Department of Housing and Works (DHW). Where previously
the funding had covered rubbish tip, internal road, firebreak and airstrip
maintenance, the funding has now been restricted to power, sewerage treatment
and water supply.
Centre for Appropriate Technology...currently provide municipal
services to 48 remote aboriginal communities in the Kimberley under a FaHCSIA
funding agreement. CAT have provided a similar service for many years. Over the
past two–three years, the FaHCSIA funded [CHIP] program has been administered
by the WA State's Department of Housing and Works (DHW).
Funding for Rubbish Tip Maintenance, Internal Road
Maintenance, Firebreaks Maintenance and Airstrip Maintenance from the [CHIP]
funding for the past few years through DHW has ceased. When questioned
regarding the funding for the above maintenance activities the response has
been that their focus is on housing and essential services (power, sewerage
treatment and water supply) only.
These maintenance activities, which have not been funded,
have resulted in the infrastructure coming into disrepair and requires
considerable funding to restore them to a serviceable condition.
In an answer to a question on notice about rubbish tip maintenance
provided to the committee by DHW, the department stated that they were
responsible for the maintenance of essential services (water, waste water and
power) under the Remote Area Essential Service Program (RAESP).
There are 93 RAESP communities where this service is
provided, generally based on population size. There is provision for
replacement of failed essential service infrastructure in non-RAESP
communities. The Department of Housing is not responsible for the provision of
Mamabulanjin Aboriginal Corporation, a service provider appearing before
the committee in Broome, was of the understanding that the municipal services
program had stalled as a result of the bilateral agreement.
It is the same with municipal funding. It is the same with
the federal FaHCSIA department. It is proven now that local government and the
state government will not take the housing allocation off the feds in WA
because it was never funded correctly. That has been proven because local
government is saying, ‘No, we’re not going to take on that role,’ and the state
is saying, ‘No, we’re not going to take that money because you never funded the
program properly.’ So the municipal program has had to be put on hold for the
last 2½ years, or even for three years, I think, because it was supposed to be
handed over three years ago to the state and it still has not been handed over.
The committee is concerned that the bilateral agreement and subsequent
developments have resulted in a situation where no level of government appears
to taking responsibility for municipal services in remote Indigenous
The sections below detail evidence provided to the committee on the poor
state of three specific municipal services.
A number of witnesses attested to the sorry state of rubbish tips in
small Indigenous communities in the Kimberley. There was some confusion in the
communities themselves as to who was responsible for the funding and
maintenance of rubbish tips. Kurungal Council, the representative body of
Wangkatjungka, Ngumpan and Kupartiya communities, informed the committee that
CAT handled the funding arrangements for municipal services such as rubbish
As mentioned above, CAT no longer receive regular funding to undertake
rubbish tip maintenance.
Complicating matters further for Kurungal Council, changes to Community
Development Employment Projects (CDEP) funding has left the Council with less
funding to pay the local workforce to undertake maintenance work such as
fencing around rubbish tips.
The Shire of Derby/West Kimberley informed the committee that the Shire
inspects tips on quarterly basis, however as the tips are not gazetted, they
are not required to comply with legislation and corresponding standards that
are required of communities that fall within gazetted areas.
For example, the Shire of Halls Creek informed the committee that the Health
Act 1911 (WA) did not apply to the land that many Indigenous communities
are located on.
The WA government confirmed that as the Health Act does not currently bind the
Crown, the Act does not apply to the many communities that are situated on
Nindilingarri Cultural Health Services explained that under the former
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), individual
communities used to receive funding to manage their own tips, with a local
Aboriginal organisation contracted to provide the service.
Karrayili Adult Education Centre was of the view that the new arrangements
precluded local employment, stating:
There is no ongoing rubbish tip maintenance. There is no ongoing
funding; it is sporadic, haphazard and uncoordinated, and people are not given
the opportunity to be involved in the selection of people who do those jobs.
There are plenty of good grader drivers and loader drivers within the valley
who could be employed to do this work themselves.
The Shire of Halls Creek explained that community maintenance of the
unsupervised tips was a major problem.
They have a level area, are fully fenced, have a good trench
and have signs that say, ‘Dump your putrescible waste in the trench and your
green waste here and your old fridges over here, and tyres.’ Unfortunately,
nobody is doing any of that and that is the problem. They have such good tips
that, if they were sorting the refuse, the putrescible waste trenches for
example would last for years.
The committee notes that in addition to more effective provision of
municipal services, successful management of tips will also require community
education and support for their ongoing maintenance.
The WA Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) informed the
committee that waste management in the remote communities fell under the
auspices of the Environmental Protection (Rural Landfill) Regulations 2002.
The regulations apply to landfill sites that receive more
than 20 tonnes of putrescible waste per year. Landfill sites in this category
and not exceeding 5000 tonnes per year of putrescible waste are required to be
registered with DEC, be managed appropriately, be fenced effectively and
subject to other requirements of the regulations.
It is estimated by the DEC that each person in a remote
setting generates around 900kg of solid waste per year. The proportion of
putrescible waste varies (25-45%), although it should be noted that in many
remote settings most household waste would be disposed rather than recycled.
The DEC entry point of 20 tonnes of putrescible waste would seem to imply that
communities with a population of or in excess of 50 people would generate
enough putrescible waste per annum to require a prescribed landfill site
registered with DEC.
The department advised that the management and maintenance of landfill
sites that were not registered with DEC was ad-hoc in nature.
The management and maintenance of landfill sites other than
those operated by local governments in WA or private contractors registered or
licensed through DEC is an ad-hoc approach. The involvement of key
personalities in local government, private sector contractors and Aboriginal
organizations is the driving force for much of the management of landfill sites
in remote communities. Dedicated local people recognize the need to do
something about landfill sites and get things done by whatever means and
resources they can muster. This is assisted by the occasional funding from the
Department of Housing or FaHCSIA to pay contractors to attend to crises when
identified by environmental health practitioners working with Aboriginal
communities, personnel from some participating local governments or community
DEC informed the committee that as the Health Act did not apply to
communities on crown land, public health standards were not applied to those
communities' rubbish tips. However, the Western Australian Department of Health
funded approximately 60 Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) and Aboriginal
Environmental Health Workers (AEHWs) across the state.
The Aboriginal Environmental Health workforce provides advice
and assistance to remote Aboriginal communities for all environmental health
affecting services (water, waste water, power, solid waste disposal, pest
control, dog health, dust suppression and emergency management). The advice
includes the technical understanding of management of these factors but it
should be noted that there is no access to machinery to effect many of the
changes. This is the responsibility of the infrastructure providing government
departments. EHO’s and AEHW’s that identify significant problems with
management of infrastructure including landfill sites can and do report them to
the regional contractors and, in the lack of a response, to the government departments
With respect to solid waste disposal, the difficulty is that
DEC do not build, manage or fund landfill sites. The AEH workforce must appeal
to Department of Health, FaHCSIA, local governments and any regional
contractors to effect remedies.
The committee is strongly of the opinion that a more direct government
chain of responsibility is needed to ensure appropriate environmental health
standards in remote communities.
Fire fighting capacity
The committee was concerned by reports of a lack of fire fighting
equipment in remote communities. The committee heard of two recent fires in
remote communities that highlighted the dangerous lack of any chain of
responsibility for emergencies in remote areas.
Last week there was a fire in Yiyili. I have had a number of
reports from that. We did not actually learn about it until it was all over but
apparently they rang [the Fire and Emergency Services Authority (FESA)] and
FESA said to ring 000, so they rang 000 and thought that some sort of fire unit
would be dispatched. They went up to the highway to wait for it and after a
while they gave up. They rang the police in Halls Creek, who promised to follow
it up for them. Presumably as a consequence of that they got a call from a
senior FESA officer to say that no fire unit had been dispatched nor would one
be dispatched and that it was a local government problem.
The lack of equipment and training in the communities themselves was no
We have fire hydrants at Wangkatjungka but no hoses, so if
there is ever a fire we virtually have to aim the fire hydrant and hope it
reaches the fire. We asked for fire trucks. There, again, CAT tried their
hardest to get funding. If Kupartiya ever caught on fire, we would never get
there in time to put it out. We have had a couple of fires at Wangkatjungka,
but we were lucky enough that Christmas Creek, the station next to us, came out
and helped the guys put it out with their little trailer. But it was not a huge
fire. If ever anything happened that was bad, we would never put it out.
The committee considers that the potential for a disaster to occur in
one of these communities is unacceptably high.
One of the major expenses of shires in remote areas is the maintenance
of roads. In Western Australia, there are approximately 9500 km of access roads
serving 287 communities. Two thousand nine hundred kilometres of these roads
are not serviced by local government.
These roads are ungazetted private roads. WALGA was concerned that the poor
condition of most of these roads would be a significant liability for local
government if it agreed to take responsibility for their maintenance under the
bilateral agreement. WALGA informed the committee that to upgrade these roads
to an acceptable standard would require $110 million over 10 years.
The approach taken to road maintenance by each shire varied. One shire
graded pastoral roads to the gates of pastoral properties. Where an Indigenous
community lay beyond the gate, they would then grade the extra distance to that
Another shire would only grade gazetted roads due to concern about public
The Shire of Halls Creek pointed to the economic benefit of well
maintained roads. This benefit included increased tourist visitation through to
better access for tradespeople and service providers. The Shire expressed its
frustration that the existing state government funding for road maintenance
would not give them the flexibility or scale of resources necessary to make
long term improvements to the road network.
As a matter of urgency, the committee recommends that all levels of
government clarify who is to provide municipal services to remote Indigenous
communities and arrange for the adequate resourcing of these services.
The committee heard that there is a strong link between mental and
physical health. Mr Darrell Henry, a psychologist working in communities in
both the north and south of WA, expanded upon this link, stating:
We cannot make any real headway, in my view, in the physical
health of our people without addressing this. I am sure that you are aware, but
even in an area like diabetes, the research is there: the pathways of stress
and distress and the neurological and endocrine system correlates of that and
its effect on diabetes are well known. Yet we are struggling just in that one
area. Unless we have a powerful therapeutic process around that as an issue you
cannot get people who are well...
...when you look at the great wheels that run through our
communities—wheels in terms of disturbance and hurt—there are family violence,
child sexual abuse and neglect, suicide, the endless grieving, the
dispossession and powerlessness, the multileveled layers of trauma that exist
for our people.
Mr Henry informed the committee that there was a need for therapeutic
programs to address this trauma, in addition to existing mental health services
that tended to focus on serious diagnosed psychiatric conditions.
I have just come from a conference of Australian Indigenous
doctors in Brisbane and the No. 1 priority they are putting forward, even
though they are all medicos, is mental health—the deep need for social and emotional
The committee heard that Warmun Community, in the Kimberley, had
employed Mr Henry to visit once a month in order to start trying to resolve
some of the underlying issues in the community related to mental health.
The committee has previously commented on the lack of mental health
services in Western Australia and in particular, the Kimberley, in its first
report in 2008. The call for more mental health services in remote communities
was repeated at public hearings in the Kimberley in 2009. The women's shelter
in Halls Creek expressed a desire for such services for women and children at
A large number of people here require counselling, and I have
had a lot of people coming to my doorstep saying, ‘Will you counsel me? I have
this issue.’ Just like people go to the doctor’s surgery up the road; I am wondering
if there could possibly be a counselling service where people could go if they
need help with anything. There are various counselling services but, for
example, our women would not necessarily go up to the alcohol centre, because
there are men there who are family men, and if they have just been in domestic
violence situation they do not want to go up there. There are a few blockages.
I think that a child psychologist is a real need...because we have children in,
and they often get swept under the carpet because we are dealing with the
parents’ needs. The children often just go along with the package. It would be great
if a child psychologist were to come.
The Commissioner for Children and Young People, Ms Michelle Scott, was
deeply concerned by the lack of mental health services for children in the
Kimberley in particular:
Just to give you one very simple example...in a community as
large as the Kimberley community, there is not one child psychologist employed
by mental health services for the whole of the Kimberley region, not one, despite
the trauma and complex social issues which those children and their families
The committee heard from several witnesses about ideas for therapeutic
mental health programs that were based on connecting individuals to traditional
culture, identity and country. One such model was the WAITCH project, a project
to construct a holistic health learning facility that would be incorporated
into a significant dreaming site. The project would build a traditional healing
network based in Perth that would provide therapeutic healing and education in
traditional medicine, counselling and other health areas. Participants from
across WA would be trained in Perth before returning to their communities to
pass on the knowledge. They would be kept in touch with the project through
video conferencing technology where possible.
In March 2009, the Director of Liquor Licensing imposed restrictions on
the sale of takeaway alcohol from outlets across the Kimberley. The sale of
liquor with an alcohol content of more than six per cent in packages larger
than one litre, and beer in glass containers larger than 400 millilitres is now
prohibited. In effect, this curtails the sale of cask wine and large bottles of
In addition, the sale of takeaway alcohol with a strength of greater
than 2.7 per cent was restricted in Fitzroy Crossing on 2 October, 2007 and in
Halls Creek on 18 May, 2009. In effect, this prohibited the takeaway sale of anything
stronger than light beer. Stronger alcohol is still served within licensed
premises in these communities.
A twelve month study into the effects of the Fitzroy Crossing alcohol
restrictions by the University of Notre Dame was published in June 2009. The
report found continuing health and social benefits arising from the
restrictions and a need for increased support services to take advantage of the
window of opportunity that the restrictions had created.
The committee's observations support these findings.
The Notre Dame report included quantitative data from the police station
in Fitzroy Crossing. In comparing the year prior to the restriction to the year
following its implementation, the police reported an 18 per cent decrease in the
average number of tasks attended per month and a 28 per cent reduction in terms
of alcohol related tasks.
The WA police presented data comparing the 14 weeks prior to the more
recent Halls Creek restriction to the 14 weeks after its implementation:
I can tell you that arrests are actually down 40 per cent,
the number of charges is down 50 per cent, domestic violence offences are down
39 per cent, nondomestic assaults are down 53 per cent, drink-driving is down
70 per cent, antisocial behaviour is down 27 per cent, reported offences are
down 22 per cent, overtime is down 53 per cent and tasking jobs are down 46 per
In addition to these statistics, several witnesses mentioned that the
restrictions had led to a restored sense of order in their towns:
Just the sheer noise level that used to happen when I first
came here—you could not go to sleep at night without hearing screaming and
arguing and that awful stuff of children screaming in the background. I was
forever ringing the police saying, ‘You’ve got to go and do something.’ But I
think the police humoured me at that point because it was always me who was on
the phone again. That stuff has changed a lot.
In Fitzroy Crossing, the hospital noted a 36 per cent reduction in alcohol
related emergency department presentations per month following the imposition
of alcohol restrictions.
As noted in the Notre Dame report:
Since the imposition of the restriction there has been a
significant reduction in patients presenting [to the Fitzroy Crossing Hospital
Emergency Department] with alcohol related injuries, down from the stated
maximum of 40 per night to perhaps a few alcohol related cases per night, and
sometimes none. Staff report much greater job satisfaction through increased safety,
both in the hospital and when on call-outs to communities. Staff workloads have
reduced in the acute treatment of alcohol related injuries enabling staff to
extend their skills into community health and preventative health care.
Dr David Shepherd presented similar statistics for Halls Creek for the
12 weeks following the restrictions, stating:
...there has been a 40 per cent reduction in rates of kids’
admission to hospital and a 25 per cent overall reduction in the number of
admissions to hospital. The coders do not tell us but I can tell you that there
has been a dramatic reduction in the amount of after-hours callouts for the
doctors and nurses, which were predominantly alcohol related injuries prior to
the grog restriction...
... In the 12 weeks before the restrictions were brought in we
had 57 presentations that required surgical intervention of some sort or
another. In the six weeks after the restrictions were brought in we had seven
The Western Australia Country Health Services (WACHS) noted that a
positive unintended consequence of the restrictions was improved staff
retention at Fitzroy Crossing Hospital.
In the times when there was a lot of alcohol being consumed,
people felt they were just stitching up and supporting an ongoing melee. Now
they feel as if they are making a contribution towards a health gain. That is
really what attracts people to work in these places.
Other health and community outcomes
The committee heard that, in addition to reduced emergency department
presentations, the restrictions at Fitzroy Crossing had encouraged greater
attention to healthcare in the community.
The other outcome is that the community is more interested in
health and there is an earlier intervention profile occurring. So the uptake of
medications to do with chronic disease and staying with those medications is
occurring now. In earlier days, we were seeing a far lower compliance and
therefore a progression of disease. Chronic disease refers to diagnosed mental health
as well as diabetes and the more classic description of chronic disease. These
are indicators, but we are seeing a significantly positive trend.
The women's shelter in Fitzroy Crossing saw a decrease in client numbers
following the restriction there, but numbers gradually increased over time.
However, the women had less injuries now:
We are seeing not a great lessening of the numbers at the
moment. We did initially, but those numbers have come up again. But the
injuries are different. They are quite a lot less. We are not seeing the same horrific
degree of injuries that women were coming in with. Women are leaving earlier—as
soon as there is grog around they are gone and they are into the shelter and
they support each other.
Dr Shepherd also mentioned that with the reduction in drinking, he
expected an increase in the number of mental health presentations due to
increased drug use and also because the increased levels of sobriety in the
community would unmask mental health conditions that were previously blamed on
The Notre Dame report also found evidence that children were better
supervised, sleeping better and attending school more regularly, suggesting
positive educational outcomes from the alcohol restrictions.
Ms Kathleen Bates, of the Halls Creek People's Church, told the
committee of a new sense of hope in the community that had seen improved care
of children and a new found desire to improve their lives in young parents:
I have been talking to some of the younger ones who used to
just spend every weekend drinking and not care about their kids or look after
them properly, because the grandmothers are the ones who usually care for the
kids who are around. But just this week I heard that some of the young women
are getting together and want to go camping out. They are asking us for a tent
so they can go out and camp with their kids out bush. It is really something
good that is happening since the grog stopped. We would like to help these
people like that and help them pull themselves together. Now they are able to think,
to do things in their home and to look after their schoolchildren and other
Yura Yungi Aboriginal Medical Services (YYAMS) noted a decline in the
number of female clients aged 14–45 identifying as regular drinkers since the
introduction of restrictions in Halls Creek. However, the incidence of
dangerous levels of drinking amongst those that did identify as regular
drinkers appeared to have increased. YYAMS thought it was too early to make any
conclusions from their statistics to date.
Mrs Olive Knight, from Marninwarntikura Women's Resource Centre, spoke
of the need for measures such as alcohol restrictions to be initiatives coming
from the community:
Mrs Knight—The intervention that recently happened with
alcohol here ... came from the grassroots. It came from a bush meeting where the
women felt that enough was enough because we were the sufferers. Our children
suffered and we suffered through domestic violence. We had to say, ‘Enough is
enough, so let us intervene in this situation.’ I know that it was not a
clear-cut choice for a lot of people. But it was a choice that came freely from
CHAIR—So an intervention to you means that someone else comes
and does it rather they you doing it yourselves?
Mrs Knight—That is right. When someone else comes in and
says, ‘We ought to do it this way or that way,’ and they begin to impose their
paternalistic attitudes and approaches on us it creates a victim mentality
amongst us as Aboriginal people, that is wrong intervention.
Drinking at licensed venues
The committee heard from some witnesses that the restriction of takeaway
alcohol had resulted in increased in drinking at licensed premises.
It has taken them to the pub—away from the home and away from
their kids. And they are spending more money. They are spending more money over
the bar than they would buying half a carton at the takeaway shop. So it has
just made it worse, I reckon.
The women's shelter in Halls Creek observed that after just 14 weeks,
alcohol consumption was on the rise, perhaps due to 'grog-running' but also due
to increased drinking at the pub.
We think the reason is that the alcohol is back, whether or
not it is through people bringing it back to Kununurra. I have also heard from
different people in the community, ‘Oh, we just buy light beer now and then we
go and top up at the pub to get drunk.’ That is the cheaper way to do it,
Importation of alcohol from out of
There was considerable evidence indicating that residents in Fitzroy
Crossing and Halls Creek are travelling to other towns to purchase alcohol and
either drinking there or bringing it back to their community. The committee
found that there seemed to be pattern whereby alcohol consumption decreased
dramatically immediately following the restrictions, before gradually
increasing again, albeit to a level below that prior to restrictions. For
instance, the Halls Creek Sobering-Up Shelter reported the following pattern of
We have had about an 80 per cent reduction in numbers
admitted to the sobering-up shelter since the restrictions kicked in which has
been a great turnaround. There has been a slight increase in the last month
where it would appear people are gradually getting supply lines for alcohol a
bit more in place. We went from, say, five to 15 a night on any given night
before the restrictions and are down to one to 1½ per night on average. In the
last month that has gone up to about two or 2½ on average.
Indeed, client numbers for both the Sobering-Up Shelter and the Night
Patrol had diminished so much, the staff, in conjunction with the Western
Australian Drug and Alcohol Office were considering changing the service to
more of a rehabilitation hub. The
committee strongly encourages this development.
The Ngaringga Ngurra Aboriginal Corporation Safe House also reported a
similar pattern in their client numbers:
We did notice, according to statistics, that our numbers
dropped remarkably when those restrictions came in. So it has had a very
positive impact in regard to fewer D[omestic] V[iolence] clients. For the first
month I was employed there were hardly any clients there due to alcohol related
domestic violence. In July the numbers increased slightly. In August they have
increased again. I do not really know the reasons for that except that people have
been able to obtain full-strength alcohol.
Western Australia Police confirmed that they had noticed an increase in
the number of cars transporting alcohol to Halls Creek:
At the moment we are running an operation to target
sly-groggers. To do that, we patrol the highway between Halls Creek and
Kununurra and Wyndham. We have been stopping a number of cars that are in fact
purchasing alcohol at Kununurra or Wyndham and then returning to Halls Creek.
We have not charged anybody at this point with sly-grogging, because we have
had insufficient evidence, but quite clearly people are travelling to Kununurra
and Wyndham, purchasing alcohol and bringing it back into the town. And they
seem to be more organised, yes.
There was also strong evidence indicating that people in communities
like Balgo, who had previously purchased alcohol in Halls Creek, were now
travelling across the Northern Territory border to purchase alcohol.
Relocation of drinking population
to other communities
It was argued by some witnesses that the alcohol restrictions had merely
pushed problematic drinking to other communities not covered by similar
restrictions. Some argued that the decrease in police arrests and hospital
presentations were more the result of a migration of the problem drinkers.
Yurra Yungi Aboriginal Medical Service was of the opinion that many of their
clients had shifted to other towns.
At the hearing in Broome, the committee heard some anecdotal evidence
that people were travelling from Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek to circumvent
There have been a lot of people coming into town. It is like
somebody said once: at certain times you will get a lot of people coming into
Broome anyway. But if you drive around the town there are a lot of people wandering
the streets and I wonder where they are sleeping, I really do.
We have seen that problem come to Broome definitely from the
Fitzroy mob and even the local mob. We know who our mob are around town and who
is from out of town—different people and stuff. But restrictions or dry
communities do not address the problem they just push it somewhere else.
Western Australia police statistics have not indicated that there is any
large scale migration of Halls Creek residents, although itinerant drinkers
from smaller communities may have returned to those communities:
Community members from Balgo, Billiluna and Mulan visited
Halls Creek and, while there, drank alcohol from the liquor outlets. Since the
liquor restrictions, some community members have returned home, whilst others
have travelled to Kununurra and Broome. There is an increasing transient
movement to those towns, but that has not increased the amount of offending to
any great extent. Since 8 June 2009, Kununurra police have kept records with
the origins of offenders and since that time there have been 306 people
arrested, of which 194 came from Kununurra, 32 from Halls Creek, 23 from
Kalumburu, 18 from Warmun, one from Balgo, six from Broome and five from Fitzroy
Crossing. Of the 306 arrests in Kununurra, only 10.6 per cent are Halls Creek
residents, which would be considered normal for a transient people.
The night patrol service in Broome had not observed a rise in Fitzroy
Crossing or Halls Creek people using their service as a result of the restrictions.
Finally, the Notre Dame report into the Fitzroy Crossing restrictions
did not find any significant increase in Fitzroy Crossing residents presenting
at emergency departments in hospitals in Broome, Derby or Halls Creek (prior to
Halls Creek restrictions).
The Chairman of the Liquor Commission of Western Australia expressed the
view that, to the extent that the migration of drinkers had occurred, this was
not such a bad thing as it could lead to economies of scale in rehabilitation
services in regional centres:
If you can move the main root of the problem to one place or
a succession of places—and I feel sorry for the people in Wyndham, Broome, Derby,
Geraldton and those coastal cities and towns that will have to bear the brunt
of this, no doubt, as a wave of prohibitions and dry areas pushes the danger
drinkers out into those places— but if they are concentrated in those big
population centres, then in my view action can be taken by the Indigenous
people themselves who run some very good programs in Kalgoorlie, Geraldton and
Broome. If you resource them, they can look after these people and do something
for them. They cannot do anything for them when they are stuck out Halls Creek,
Fitzroy Crossing and a lot of these remote communities.
The committee is concerned about the impact of individuals moving to or
purchasing alcohol in places where there are no restrictions. There are two
significant points that arise from this fact. The most important is the need
for support, rehabilitation and diversionary programs that take advantage of
the restrictions to make progress on the underlying issues of alcohol
addiction, mental health, employment and education opportunities. Secondly, it
may support the need for a regional approach to alcohol management that would
seek to ameliorate the shifting of problem drinking from community to
community. These points are discussed below.
Increased consumption of other
The committee heard evidence suggesting that following the restrictions
on alcohol, the consumption of marijuana in particular had increased.
...we have seen an increase in ganja recently. I remember the
question that you asked Warren. I have only heard anecdotally. With people in Halls
Creek that I know and respect I check out how they feel the liquor laws are
going, and they are very positive about what has happened as a result of the
new liquor laws. But they have said to me—and remember that this is
anecdotal—that they are seeing a major upsurge in the use of cannabis.
Dr David Shepherd informed the committee that he expected that the use
of illicit drugs may increase and that he had already noticed this to an
The Notre Dame report found anecdotal evidence of higher drug use in
Fitzroy Crossing but no concrete evidence to back the claim.
The need for diversionary programs
and a regional plan
The committee is firmly of the view that alcohol restrictions alone will
not deliver a permanent solution to alcohol abuse in remote communities.
Alcohol bans in some circumstances have worked but I think
some caution needs to be exercised before anyone gets too excited about them.
In my experience some of my clients have been extremely creative and determined
in circumventing them...
... while alcohol bans are laudable in many ways, I suppose the
flipside is that the utility of them is always going to be limited if there are
not the complementary programs on the ground to deal with issues surrounding
While the improvements to a range of indicators are impressive, the
committee considers that the restrictions provide breathing space only and must
be followed up as a matter of urgency with support, diversion and
rehabilitation programs that seek to break drug and alcohol dependency. The
Commissioner for Children and Young People, Ms Michelle Scott, voiced a similar
...alcohol restrictions alone are insufficient. We need a comprehensive
suite of services and programs that supplement, complement, reinforce and build
capacity in the community. A child psychologist is a critical ingredient when
you have families who are traumatised. Parenting programs are critical to that.
Safe houses are critical to that. Positive programs for kids—whether they are
before school, after school or holiday programs— are part of the suite of
programs that you need, as are alcohol and drug programs and employment
programs. From my point of view, as commissioner, on the ground that systemic approach
is absent and there needs to be much better cooperation between the state and
federal governments in delivering those sorts of reforms.
The committee is concerned that the level of service required is not
generally available and where services are present, they are under resourced.
For example, the committee heard the following from Nindilingarri Cultural
Health Services in Fitzroy Crossing:
Mrs Muir—Nindilingarri Cultural Health Services have a drug
and alcohol service. We are the only one in town. We get $350,000 a year to
deliver health promotion, disease prevention and all of the alcohol and drug
services here, in a valley that has around 50 communities spread over a 150
kilometre radius. We currently have [3½] people working in that service.
Obviously there is not much left in the way of resources once we pay wages,
accommodation, transport and things like that. And that is all that there is.
Mr Davies—Prior to that that [rehabilitation service] building
was a sobering-up shelter. That was a recommendation from the deaths in custody
report, as we all know. I think it is the same budget that we are playing with
right now. It was at the insistence of local people here in Nindilingarri that
we changed that service because it was just catering for a handful of people.
It was like having a revolving door; it was like a hotel. We wanted counselling
services and we wanted staff looking at developing rehabilitation services
because they were needed. It is only in its infancy stage too and that service
is very stretched. The sobering-up shelter is still operating on the same
Senator SIEWERT—So there has been no increase in the budget
since before the restrictions?
Mrs Muir—There has been no increase at all despite us
canvassing the drug and alcohol office consistently.
Mr Jamie Elliot, of the Halls Creek People's Church highlighted the need
not just for clinical, but social diversionary programs for young people that
would insulate them from returning to alcohol dependency:
I am working on incorporating a body called the Halls Creek
sport and community association. That is about taking advantage of the
opportunity that we have now that alcohol does not play a major part in our
community. We need to start, like Auntie Kathleen said, lifting ourselves up
and providing these activities so we can start being active. If alcohol comes
back in some form or if people go somewhere where there is alcohol, they will
be healthy and strong enough to say: 'I've been through that. I've started this
sort of life now. I'm not going to go back to that way.'
Mrs Dale Reichel, manager of the women's shelter in Halls Creek informed
the committee that residents needed to find entertainment that did not revolve
..the attitude of some people is that this town is no fun
anymore because there is no alcohol. So I think that support needs to be in
place to try and make some fun in town to bring the community together, not
necessarily with drunkenness.
One witness promoted the introduction of entertainment options to
encourage the responsible consumption of alcohol as a subsidiary to other
I personally think there could be canteens in communities in
a social setting where people can see that it can be used as a good social
thing. It could be mixed with activities like movies and people playing darts
in a friendly atmosphere rather than a whole mob of people sitting down and
drinking until the grog has run out and then they get into hits and stuff.
Ms Kathleen Bates, also from the Halls Creek People's Church expressed a
desire for a diversionary program that would take both young and old away from
the town onto country where they could rebuild self-esteem and learn life
Our parents had a station and we used to do a lot of horse
riding. I would like to see a place just like our home was when I was a child.
It would be way out of town where people could go and learn things again. They
could learn their skills again. A lot of people are hopeless and useless. They
are drug addicts and after grog and after living on grog for so many years they
have no hope. They are just walking around with their heads down. Maybe we need
some funding to start off this place somewhere, wherever it is possible, where
people can start living again...
...If we have a place out of town somewhere, people can go
there and learn how to do things again without the grog and how to build up
their self-esteem. Just the other day one of the young girls, one of my nieces,
said to me, ‘I wish there was a place where we could go where we can just build
up our self-esteem.’
One such existing program is the Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture
Centre's (KALACC) Yiriman youth diversionary program.
The basis of Yiriman is that the trouble with Indigenous
youth today is their disconnection with culture, their disconnection with their
elders and their leaders and their loss of identity. They do not know who they
are and in the absence of a strong sense of identity they turn to drugs and
alcohol and, when under the influence of drugs and alcohol, they come into
contact with the justice system
This program, with its intensive case management and incorporation of
traditional culture and identity may provide a useful example for agencies and
organisations of the types of programs suggested by Dr Don Weatherburn referred
to in paragraph 4.44 earlier in this chapter.
The committee is mindful of the evidence suggesting that alcohol is
being brought in from outside the restricted communities, that there has been
some relocation of drinkers to other communities. This, taken with the evidence
above on the need for rehabilitation and diversionary programs suggests that a
comprehensive regional plan is required to tackle alcohol abuse in the
This is a point made strongly by KALACC in their submission and comments
to the committee:
...this organisation strongly supports alcohol restrictions,
but you would have to think that the state government thinks that alcohol
restrictions in and of themselves are a magic bullet and a solution to all the
woes and all the ills in Aboriginal communities, and clearly they are not. We
were aware then that on 7 November last year the Queensland government, at the
cost of $109 million, instigated a Queensland Indigenous communities alcohol
management plan. On 19 November last year, we wrote to the state and
Commonwealth governments saying that Western Australia, and the Kimberley, in
particular needs a whole range of support programs and mechanisms to support
and to build on the positive gains that have come as a result of those alcohol
The committee is of the opinion that a regional alcohol management plan
that incorporates alcohol and drug rehabilitation and support services is a
necessary step that will build on the restrictions already in place. The
recommendation of such services also ties in to the committee's findings in
relation to the WA justice system listed above.
In addition to an emphasis on rehabilitation and diversionary programs,
a strategy that introduced harmonised liquor sales across the region would
address the problems of migration of drinkers and 'sly grogging'. The committee
is, however, also mindful that the restrictions in Fitzroy Crossing and Halls
Creek were introduced at the invitation of many community members. A regional
plan that imposed restrictions without community consultation and leadership
may not be as effective.
The committee has been advised by the WA government that a Kimberley
Alcohol Management Plan is close to being finalised and is just one part of a
"broader, comprehensive and coordinated approach".
The committee understands that the plan will deal with action on the following
Prevention and education;
Community capacity building and action;
Policing and legislation;
Monitoring, evaluation and communication; and
Treatment and support services.
The WA government anticipates that a longer term comprehensive plan will
be developed to "control alcohol availability, reduce alcohol demand,
reduce harms associated with alcohol and other drug use and improve access to
treatment and support".
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth work with the Western
Australian government to support the development of an explicit plan to ensure
that alcohol restrictions in regional and remote communities, including Fitzroy
Crossing and Halls Creek, be supported by adequate rehabilitation and community
support services to address alcohol addiction and problem drinking.
The committee further recommends that the plan include a consistent
approach to alcohol management that includes effective community consultation
and decision making.
Youth diversionary programs
The discussion above on justice issues and alcohol restrictions
highlights the need for diversionary programs for offenders and people
struggling with substance abuse issues in remote communities. The committee is
of the view that youth diversionary services are essential and need to be
adequately resourced. The committee was therefore dismayed to hear at its
Broome hearing that funding for youth diversionary programs in Balgo had ceased
and that petrol sniffing by young people in the community had recommenced. The
committee visited Balgo in August 2008 and had undertaken to support the
community in applying for funding for its youth service.
Father Digges—I am not sure what facilitated that, but the
key to stopping sniffing is that the police cannot do that; you need a
coordinated and sustained program of intervention by trained youth workers.
They have had that for the last three years. Interestingly, the efforts of
people at that community to obtain government funding for such a program were
not successful, and private funding was obtained for the last three years. The
Department of Community Development came on board at the eleventh hour to
provide a small amount of funding—less than four per cent of the total value of
Senator SIEWERT—But there is no funding left now.
Alcohol restrictions in Halls Creek had exacerbated the situation as
some community members were now travelling across the Northern Territory border
to obtain alcohol from the roadhouse in Rabbit Flat. As committee has
previously reported, the roadhouse in Rabbit Flat refuses to stock
(non-sniffable) Opal fuel.
This situation illustrates the need to adequately resource diversionary
programs for young people in remote communities, to insulate them against the
dangers of substance abuse. Where the funding of such programs is stop-start in
nature, the effectiveness of the service is severely compromised. The history
of youth services in the region around Balgo are an obvious example:
For nine years there was a youth service operating there that
battled for the first three years to get any funding. When funding was
provided, it was provided on an ad hoc basis on three separate occasions by
appeals of community people direct to politicians, really at times of great
crisis. One I seem to remember was directly after the attempted suicide of
three young men in one night. That service stopped and started, and of course
the problem with services in remote communities that stop and start is that the
forward momentum that has built up over a long time by people who have
struggled to make a base, struggled to get people on board, struggled to
survive in that community, which is often one not of their own culture, and
then they move out of the community and the forward momentum is lost. When you
restart the service you are starting from scratch again...When you have services
that are financed for two years and then they stop, it is really setting
agencies and setting communities up to fail. What I have noted is that many
people just opt out and they give up. Interestingly, the funding for that
service at Balgo stopped again on 30 June. Last night, just as I was getting my
thoughts together for today’s hearing, I was told that there were 16 people at
that time sniffing in the community, six of whom sniff every day.
The need for security of funding to ensure the effectiveness of programs
in remote communities is examined further in chapter 5.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth and Western Australian
governments work together to ensure that adequate and long term funding and
support for the for the youth service in Balgo is provided.
Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
The committee was keen to inquire further into the prevalence of Foetal
Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) at their hearings in Western Australia after
being very concered about the issue as described to them during their 2008
visit to the Kimberley. The committee heard from a variety of witnesses that
awareness of FASD was growing, but that a lot more needed to be done in order
to cater for children and adults affected by the disorder.
FASD relates to birth defects resulting from the consumption of alcohol
by the mother during pregnancy. It is
a broad diagnostic framework which covers a wide variety of physical, mental
and developmental responses to exposure to alcohol while in the womb. Significant
exposure to alcohol during pregnancy can cause a broad range of responses from
more subtle attention deficit problems to severe facial distortion and
inhibited mental and physical development. FASD is the umbrella term used to
cover these issues.
Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) sits within the framework of FASD, at the
most severe end. FAS is defined as ‘a suite of abnormal characteristics
including deficiencies in growth, abnormal morphology (especially in the face),
and central nervous system problems including microcephaly, mental retardation,
and behavioural hyperactivity.’
There are a number of characterisations which present in FAS affected children
and adults, including internal and external physical abnormalities and
At the milder end of the spectrum, children and adults may be diagnosed
with Alcohol-related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND). ARND babies can appear
to be healthy when born, but evidence of long term brain damage will become
apparent later in life. They present with Central Nervous System problems but
without recognisable facial distortion.
Children with ARND experience developmental delays, learning problems,
impulsiveness, problems getting along with others, hyperactivity and problems
controlling their behaviour. FASD affected children and adults appear to be
particularly susceptible to behavioural and psychological disturbances
throughout their life.
Dr David Shepherd, a doctor at the hospital in Halls Creek, informed the
committee that he believed around 30 per cent of children in the region
suffered from some symptoms of FASD, while 50 per cent of the children he
treated at the hospital had symptoms.
In Fitzroy Crossing, local organisations are collecting data on birth
metrics before and after alcohol restriction are in place.
The aim is to track birth cohorts into the future to determine the effects of
the restriction on the prevalence of FASD. WA Country Health Service elaborated
on the purpose of the research, stating:
...we were also aware that there was the huge potential of a
dual impact through both drinking in pregnancy and also children being affected
in early childhood by violence. The strategies and the investigation are quite
deliberate to pick up the impact of violence as well as of foetal alcohol syndrome.
The committee commends this endeavour and encourages governments to support
research into FASD in Australia. Mr Patrick Davies of Nindilingarri Cultural
Health Services spoke of the need for an accurate assessment of the extent of
the damage caused by FASD in order to provide an adequate level of support.
Mrs Olive Knight, from Marninwarntikura Women's Resource Centre, told
the committee of the need to adapt education methods for the large proportion
of children who suffered from FASD:
...there has to be a sea change where the education begins to
be more flexible and cater for children of this nature. One of the things I
have noticed beginning to emerge is that psychologists and other people have
noticed a lot of behavioural problems in children of FASD. These behavioural
problems have gone unnoticed in the past and there is a high level of incarceration
within our prison systems.
Unfortunately I get very emotional about FASD because it has
incarcerated a lot of my people and seen them gaoled without being noticed, and
all of these things have gone unnoticed. Australia is behind the times and has
not seen this very fact. Overseas, the United States and other people have gone
ahead, studied FASD and begun to research it, but Australia has been lacking in
all the research. I am not sure why this is so but while it has been happening
our people continue to flood the prisons because of unrecognised psychological
behaviours, possibly through excessive drinking previously.
Mrs Knight's statement has particular relevance to the committee given
the discussion of the need to address the underlying causes of offending in
Western Australia reported above.
The Commissioner for Children and Young People, Ms Michelle Scott,
agreed that FASD was not given enough emphasis in Australia and elaborated on
efforts by the state government in Western Australia:
Immediately after [a] visit to Fitzroy, I met with the director-general
about [the FASD] issue and also had conversations with the Telethon Institute,
who are also doing work. The health department has a health advisory network
which is developing a model of care. The department for communities here is
active to some extent on this issue. However, what was missing for me was a
concerted effort and also just very practical advice to parents or guardians
who might be caring for a child who has foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Mrs Knight informed the committee that the education department in WA
was slowly adapting to the needs of FASD children through the provision of
specialised workers and school psychologists. However, she saw that there was
still a long way to go in terms of providing an education environment that
could cater for children affected by the disorder. One of her personal
recommendations was the use of on country and open learning for the children.
Dr Shepherd also raised the special needs of children affected by FASD
There might be slight things you can do. The most important
one is that those kids need different teaching methods. They need much stricter
boundaries. They do not understand ‘one, two, three—time out’ because by the
second time they have forgotten what the first one was for. There are some
strategies around that that I think should be implemented.
The committee understands that FASD is not recognised on the national
disability register and it is therefore difficult to get the requisite
assistance for schools and carers to adequately support children with FASD.
This was confirmed by Nindilingarri Cultural Health Services:
...we cannot gain assistance for the school and families like
Olive’s who are dealing with those sorts of children. Because it is not a
recognised disability, that assistance is not out there. In terms of how well
children here do at school, it has been put out by Kimberley Population Health
Unit that something like 40 per cent of the children here are affected by FASD
or early life trauma. Those children’s ability to learn is severely inhibited
by the disability they carry with them.
In Fitzroy Crossing, Mrs Millie Hills spoke to the committee about the
need for the community to be aware of FASD and to counter it together:
We are in the process of getting a load of women together to
come up with ways to deal with foetal alcohol syndrome. That is something we
need to do ourselves. We do not need the government to tell us that; we need to
make it our own business to work on foetal alcohol syndrome, to talk to the
women if they are drinking when they are pregnant
Mrs Hills informed the committee that the various services and community
groups in Halls Creek were meeting together in order to develop a community
Yura Yungi Aboriginal Medical Service told the committee that they educated
expectant mothers about the dangers of FASD with pictures and pamphlets with
The high levels of suspected FASD which are being witnessed in regional
and remote Indigenous communities mean that these communities have requirements
specific to the issues surrounding the disorder. Individuals with FASD, whether
infants, children, adolescents or adults, require structured primary care and
various appropriate therapies to form a protective factor against severe
secondary disability. The requirements are practical and immediate, and, if
met, are likely to have a positive impact on the future of the FASD individuals
as well as the broader community. Appropriate care for those already affected
with the disorder is needed, as is education about the risks of maternal
alcoholism. Prevention of further instances is urgently required.
The provision of assessment by specialists or trained FASD health
professionals and an efficient diagnosis is necessary as a first priority
service to towns with suspected FASD cases, such as Halls Creek and Fitzroy
Crossing. Primary health care is needed for infants and children who may have
severe physical health dysfunctions affecting a range of organs, muscles, as
well as general physical functionality.
In order to limit the severity of secondary disability which results in
behavioural problems, structured support treatments are required. The services
provided to children with autism provide a good foundation, but certain
services are not required in FASD patients and do not need to be provided.
Also, in relation to the wide range of patient responses to prenatal alcohol
exposure, individually tailored treatments should be provided.
Educational resources, teachers trained to cope with FASD students and
schools equipped to deal with these children are a necessity when treating
children with the disorder. The learning difficulties of FASD children require
special education and understanding.
The committee considers that a focus on providing support rather than
laying blame on mothers for consuming alcohol during pregnancy is necessary in
order to break the generational cycle of FASD in Indigenous communities, as
affected children and adolescents require specifically structured behavioural
modification therapy as well as health care.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth considers the development
of a communication strategy to provide simple, practical advice to parents and
guardians caring for a child with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, and that
the status of FASD as a recognised disability is clarified to ensure that
parents, caregivers, schools and communities are able to provide adequate
support to children with FASD.
The lack of housing in regional and remote Indigenous communities
remains a significant problem. The health and education problems that arise
from overcrowded houses are well known.
Fifteen to 20 people can be in a house, kids included. It is
causing abuse and a lot of sickness in the houses. They are put into
substandard houses, houses that are in a poor condition.
The main issues here in town really are housing, housing and
housing. In Kevin Rudd’s apology speech he made mention of the fact that
Australia is the only developed country that has rates of trichoma that are
ridiculous, and it is the same with middle ear infections and rheumatic heart
disease. These things are nonexistent in Europe and America. We know that they
are simply caused by poor sanitation and overcrowding.
The committee has reported on housing issues in its first two reports.
In particular, chapter 4 of the first report listed housing as the number one
issue raised during site visits to the Kimberley in 2008.
The committee heard from a range of witnesses that the lack of housing
in remote communities was a major obstacle to the provision of services in
those communities. In Fitzroy Crossing, as in Halls Creek, many witnesses told
the committee that the lack of housing was a major barrier to recruiting and
Staff housing is the limiting factor to do with adding to
services. Services could be easily funded, but staff housing is the limiting factor.
This is my last week working in support of the mobile playgroup
because I do not have anywhere to live.
Not only are community members suffering because of a lack of
housing; service providers are as well because we are at capacity. Even if all
of our positions were filled we could not take on an additional staff member
because we could not house them.
The housing shortage also limited the possibility of new services in the
Next year we will have two lawyers that have been allocated
to us through the Attorney-General’s Department. They will be here full-time if
we can get housing. Attorney-General’s are saying, ‘If we can’t get housing’— and
they have investigated; they reckon they have tried everything—’they might have
to be located in Derby or Broome.’ That is ridiculous, because they will come
in for a few days, the same as we have now, and all the action happens after
they have gone.
In addition, local staff were often in substandard or unsuitable
housing. Providing accommodation to staff from out of town was potentially
perceived as unfair by the local staff.
Local people ask us that too: how come you are looking for
housing for everyone else and it is not for us? We absolutely agree with that.
There is no housing available to offer anybody.
For locals in public housing, gaining employment with a government
agency or other organisation may have the effect of disqualifying them from
remaining in that public housing. The committee heard that this acts a
significant barrier for recruitment by the Department of Corrective Services:
...most Aboriginal people in regional areas reside in public
housing. With the change in policy if you are earning a particular amount of
money, you lose that public housing. I think the committee would be aware that
the availability of housing in remote areas is almost non-existent and what is
available is extremely expensive particularly in the mining areas. So not only
are we expecting people to come and work for us for not much reward, but we
also penalise them by removing their public housing from them. It is a very big
problem for us.
The committee was advised that eligibility for employees in WA
government housing was governed by the Government Employees’ Housing Act
1964 (WA) (GEH Act) and the Government Regional Officers Housing (GROH)
policy. The GROH policy provides that employees who have been recruited locally
are not eligible for accommodation, unless special circumstances exist which
are supported by the employing agency and do not impede GROH’s ability to
fulfil its primary objective, which is to target government resources to house
government employees relocating to country WA.
The committee was advised by the WA government that allocation of
accommodation is at agency discretion, and may be provided subject to the
when the employing agency is experiencing difficulty in
attracting and retaining appropriate staff, which is affecting core business;
as a short term tenancy to meet an emergency situation; or
when a client agency is bound under an Industrial Agreement to
provide an employee with accommodation.
However, accommodation will not be provided when the locally appointed
employee or the employee’s partner or spouse owns accommodation in which they
might reasonably reside (as prescribed under section 28 of the GEH Act) within
commuter proximity (50km radius) to the employee's place of work.
Land tenure was another issue raised by witnesses. Mr Warren Olsen,
Chief Executive Officer of the Shire of Halls Creek, informed the committee
that land tenure affected the potential for housing and depot construction that
might enable service delivery:
There is another thing about the lack of land tenure which
affects the communities themselves. The Balgo community has no tenure at all
over of the land which it occupies; they are essentially squatting on
Aboriginal Lands Trust land out there. In the project that we recently did to
look at a business plan for trying to provide local government services to
those communities, one of the issues was that there was no land available.
There is no land available to establish a depot, for example, or an office or
to provide staff housing or any of those things, which I guess kind of limits
your options for how you are going to go about that.
The committee notes that water and other service provision also affected
the ability of governments to develop housing in remote communities. For
example, the future growth of the town of Halls Creek was limited to
approximately 100 houses because of the availability of water.
The committee notes that the provision of housing is a core element of
the COAG agenda for Indigenous Affairs and will closely follow how additional
housing is progressing in regional and remote communities throughout Western
Australia in their subsequent reports. The committee was advised by the WA
government that the Department of Planning and Infrastructure is currently
developing a document titled Planning for Aboriginal Communities Guideline for
the Provision of Housing and Infrastructure to Remote Indigenous Communities in
Western Australia. The WA government intends for all future capital works to be
"prioritised to communities that can provide a high standard of living for
residents and which maximise the returns to government and community residents
from future investment."
The committee understands that the Remote Aboriginal Communities Policy
Framework is currently being finalised by the Department of Indigenous Affairs
in WA to provide for the determination of investment priorities against a set
of assessment criteria.
The WA government also advised that in order for the housing program to
be progressed in remote Indigenous communities a set of factors has to be
satisfied. These include:
Land Tenure – To be eligible for capital funding provided by the
Commonwealth Government under the National Partnership Agreement on Remote
Indigenous Housing, communities must have suitable land tenure arrangements
that enable access to and control of the housing assets by the State.
Housing Management – the community must have agreed to a suitable
housing management arrangement with the Department of Housing.
Native Title issues need to have been resolved (or be capable of
resolution in a timely manner).
The community must have a demonstrated housing need.
The Commonwealth and State Government have agreed to target the
priority locations agreed by COAG under the National Partnership Agreement on
Remote Service Delivery.
The committee looks forward to reporting further in their next report on
how these policies are being operationalised in WA.
At the three hearings in the Kimberley, the committee noted evidence by
some witnesses that training and education opportunities were not translating
into employment outcomes following graduation.
...the government wants everybody to
be trained. We have a lot of people out there who have so many certificates and
still do not have a job.
...we have four training organisations
in town as it is. Everyone is getting trained but no-one is getting new jobs.
Mr Patrick Davies, of Nindilingarri Cultural Health Services, informed
the committee that despite ongoing training of environmental health workers,
there was no guarantee of employment upon graduation, despite the need for a
larger workforce in the communities.
Mr Davies—...There is a great opportunity in environmental
health work in the communities—looking after sewerage ponds, the water
supplies, the septic tanks and the housing. The overcrowding is causing all
this extra stress and wear and tear on hardware in the houses. You need that
constant maintenance in place. Who better to do it than the Aboriginal health
workers who live in the community? We need to engage them and employ them
properly. They have been training them for over 20 years in the Pilbara and the
Kimberley in this state... If you are going to talk about environmental health
training anywhere in this state, it was happening here in the Fitzroy Valley in
a big way. We had 20 to 30 students training every time we went out training in
the bush, and none of them have been employed.
Senator SIEWERT—That is the problem. None of them have been
employed. There is no funding for employment.
Mr Davies—Yes. We are training our young ones, but training
them for what? They are training for another job? That does not work in
Karrayili Adult Education Centre informed the committee of
disillusionment amongst Indigenous communities that efforts in training and
education did not seem to be leading to promised employment opportunities
within communities. Rather, an outside workforce continued to take contracts
for work within the community.
Increasingly, the ability for the community to have input and
to control what is happening is being diminished because of the different and
increasing administrative demands of different programs... [O]ne of the things
that really brought it to the forefront for me the other day was when William
came into my office to talk to me. He had just been out at his community,
Gilarong, and he said: 'This government's confusing me. There are people coming
from everywhere. What’s happening?' He said: 'Back in the 1980s we were told, "You
get the training and you'll be able to run your own organisation." That is
getting increasingly difficult to do. It is further away.'
We teach people basic plumbing tasks, but there are no jobs
at the end. The department of housing and works issues job orders all the time
for plumbing repairs, but our trainees cannot access that employment. There are
many jobs that we could have at the end of this training that are not
Nirrumbuk Aboriginal Corporation was of the opinion that existing
targets for Aboriginal employment by service providers needed to be enforced to
If you go to the communities a lot of the work is done by
outsiders. They rip in, rip out and there are no jobs. We are talking about
preferred suppliers which can be done. I know a lot of the stuff now has 20 per
cent Aboriginal involvement. That needs to be enforced, not just given lip
service to, because it has always been there but it has never been done.
Karrayili Adult Education Centre emphasised the importance of mentorship
as a useful tool to manage the transition from a training environment to normal
I think there needs to be a shift in the training or
education paradigm in going from the start with the individuals through to the
training with the mentoring which is all part of the whole. You do not have a
trainer separate to a mentor, separate to employment and following a case
management person. So you have multiskilled people like the old-fashioned
community workers used to be where you provide the social support alongside the
training and the follow through and mentoring. On-the-job training is also
effective therefore mentoring and support should be included in it.
The committee were therefore impressed by an apprenticeship program,
incorporating mentorship, run by the Plumbers Trade Employment Union (PTEU) in
Melbourne for young people in Western Australian, the Northern Territory and
Victorian Aboriginal Communities. A graduate of the program, Ms Tehani Mahony
appeared before the committee in Broome.
Under the terms of the program, apprentices undertook their training in
Melbourne with accommodation support and mentorship provided by the PTEU and
private businesses involved in the program. Ms Mahony informed the committee
that a company, NUDJ Plumbing Service, had been created through a partnership
by Nirrumbuk Aboriginal Corporation, the PTEU, Cooke and Dowsett Plumbing and
the Jarlmadangah community.
The company was set up to take in apprentices from the PTEU training program
ensuring that apprentices would have employment available for them in their
home communities. The committee considers that the holistic approach to both
training and employment adopted by this program is an excellent model.
The committee would also like to see positive programs such as this one
being included in the case studies proposed under COAG's National Integrated
Strategy for Closing the Gap in Indigenous Disadvantage discussed in chapter
two of this report.
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