The committee's second report considered the impact of Commonwealth,
state and territory government policies on Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander people living in regional and remote areas of the Northern Territory
and South Australia. The committee's third report considered the impact of
policies on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in Western
Australia and New South Wales.
In gathering evidence for this report, the committee visited Queensland,
holding a range of site visits and meetings in Weipa, Napranum, Bamaga and
Cherbourg. The committee also held public hearings in Cairns and Brisbane.
The committee heard evidence from a range of community organisations,
local councils, government agencies and departments and businesses. The
committee would like to thank all witnesses who provided evidence to the
The committee would particularly like to thank Mr Mike Fordham, Mr Tony
Martens, Ms Michelle Torrens and Ms Sharryn Howes from the Cairns Indigenous
Coordination Centre for their support in Weipa, Napranum and Bamaga. The
committee would also like to thank Dr Tim Reddel from the Queensland Department
of Communities who assisted the committee in arranging the Brisbane hearings.
This chapter addresses evidence on the Cape York Welfare Reform trials,
education, employment and enterprise opportunities, mental health, alcohol and
substance abuse, housing and justice.
The committee notes that the issues in this chapter are interlinked and
interrelated. It is therefore difficult to adequately discuss these issues separately.
Where appropriate, sections have been cross-referenced. Taken together, the
various issues suggest a high level of under-development in regional and remote
Indigenous communities. This situation has long historical roots, but suggests to
the committee that there is a strong need to rehabilitate and empower communities
and improve community leadership. To do this, communities, governments,
non-government organisations and the private sector need to work together in a
spirit of mutual cooperation. Communities need to be given the ability to take
responsibility for their futures.
In Queensland, 127 600 or 3.3 per cent of Queensland’s population
identify as either being from Aboriginal (77 per cent) or Torres Strait
Islander (14.4 per cent) origin. Of these, 72 per cent of Indigenous
Queenslanders are located in regional and remote Queensland.
The Department of Communities is the agency responsible for human
service delivery in Queensland. They have a particular role in providing
overall policy and coordination through the office of the Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander Services (ATSIS):
ATSIS...has a unique whole-of-government role facilitating and
driving work to close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage, with a mandate to drive
whole-of-government Indigenous reforms, coordinate improvements to services for
Indigenous Queenslanders, gather and facilitate access to Indigenous
information, provide expert advice on Indigenous engagement and demonstrate
leadership and vision on Indigenous issues.
Quarterly Reports on Discreet
The committee heard that the Queensland Government produces Quarterly
Reports on key indicators in Queensland's discrete Indigenous communities. The Quarterly
Reports outline the government's actions to improve the lives of Indigenous
Australians in selected regional and remote communities.
The committee visited three of the identified 16 communities in its visit to
Queensland: the Northern Peninsular Area (Bamaga); Napranum and Cherbourg.
The Quarterly Reports provide statistics across a range of indicators
including information about services and initiatives for the quarter and data
in relation to community wellbeing. The six indicators are:
hospital admissions for assault-related conditions;
reported offences against the person;
breaches of alcohol restrictions;
new substantiated notifications of harm;
new finalised child protection orders; and
The Department of Communities indicated that the most recent Quarterly
...highlighted some good news for a number of communities,
showing a decrease in the level of some key indicators, such as hospital
admissions for assault related conditions, and there were some other notable
issues in terms of improvements in school attendance in communities such as
In Chapter 2 the committee outlined its concern with the lack of
baseline data in many areas of the COAG Closing the Gap initiative. Accordingly,
the committee was impressed by the Queensland Government's efforts to develop Quarterly
Reports outlining key indicators.
The Cairns Indigenous Coordination Centre (ICC) also commended the
production of the Quarterly Reports. The ICC commented on how they utilise the
information in the report on a day to day basis:
...it enables us to at least have something of an honest
conversation with people and then say, ‘What do you think we should be doing to
try and address this?’ Because a lot of the stuff that we are talking about is
not something that I as a public servant can do. I am not Houdini and nor is
any of my staff, although Tony is pretty good! It is about personal
responsibility and it is about family responsibilities and so on. It is about
what we can do: what settings have we got to put in place; what services and
programs can we provide to get there? In some cases, that is not necessarily
even well recognised by local leaders themselves. They just do not see the
importance of it perhaps. I think Queensland is leading it, largely, compared
to the other states, just by publishing that data and having it there. It is
extremely useful for us.
The committee considers that all jurisdictions should produce Quarterly
Reports. If this were to be done, real data could accurately measure national
progress in closing the gap in Indigenous disadvantage.
The committee recommends that all state and territory governments
consider the publication of a Quarterly Report in line with that published by
the Queensland Government and that this information feed into the Council of
Australian Governments baseline data collection process.
Closing the Gap – Progress Report
As part of the COAG-led Closing the Gap initiative, the Queensland
Government also develops an annual progress report. The Department of
Communities advises that the second annual progress report for the period 2008–09
outlined the following outcomes:
The 2007–08 Queensland Closing the Gap Report presented significant
gaps between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous people
across almost all of the indicators associated with the COAG targets.
The committee notes that this is consistent with the Prime Minister's annual
Closing the Gap statement which is discussed in Chapter Two. The outcomes
reflect that despite some very positive achievements, there is relatively slow
progress in the government's efforts to close the gap on Indigenous
The Queensland Department of Communities outlined that a key challenge
remains service delivery to extremely diverse communities in a variety of
regional and remote areas of Queensland.
Cape York Welfare Reform Trials
One issue that is unique to Queensland is the implementation of the Cape
York Welfare Reform trials.
The Cape York Welfare Reform trial commenced on 1 July 2008 and is
intended to run until 1 January 2012.
The trial operates in four Cape York communities: Aurukun, Hope Vale, Mossman
Gorge and Coen. The project is intended to address passive welfare dependency
and to assist communities to resume responsibility for community wellbeing,
including school attendance, child safety reforms, alcohol and drug abuse,
gambling addiction, family violence and tenancy management.
Mr Noel Pearson, Director of the Cape York Institute for Leadership and
Policy, informed the committee that the philosophy behind the trial was drawn
from international economic development literature that highlighted the
importance of personal incentives and property rights:
The international literature on development was the starting
place for our thinking. The literature seemed to suggest a number of critical
ingredients that are needed and that were present when places like Singapore
and Malaysia and places in India and so on moved along the road to development.
The ingredients were good governance, incentives to benefit from work, good
health and education provisioning, the rule of law, social order, good physical
infrastructure and a system of property rights...
The trial uses conditionality of welfare payments as a means of
enforcing social obligations:
Putting obligations on welfare, inserting some basic
conditionality: send your kids to school, abide by your housing tenancy
agreement, abide by the laws of the community in which you live and keep your
children free of neglect and abuse.
In order to facilitate this process, the Family Responsibilities
Commission (the commission), a statutory agency, was established. A feature of
the commission was the appointment of Indigenous Elders and respected people in
each of the targeted communities as local commissioners:
Probably the most rewarding aspect of what we do is work with
the community members on the ground and with our local commissioners, who are
local elders or respected people who have been appointed by the Governor in
Council of the state of Queensland. Those commissioners are critical to the
success of the commission and they are the people who make the work that we do
very valuable and very rewarding.
The committee notes evidence from witnesses suggesting that the
empowerment of local commissioners under the terms of the trial is crucial in
ensuring that the legal framework is aligned with the establishment of local
authority and ownership of the social norms, as desired by the scheme.
The way in which the commissioners conduct themselves and the
fact that they are formally recognised by the law are very important parts of
the design of this thing.
The section on justice includes comments by the committee noting the
importance of community members feeling a sense of ownership and engagement
with justice procedures as a fundamental basis for mutual cooperation, respect
and community cohesion. The committee considers the local commissioner model
used by the Family Responsibilities Commission to be a model worthy of further
examination. Local commissioners also play a crucial role in bringing local
knowledge into the process, including for example family and individual
The commission works with welfare recipients who are not living up to the
behavioural standards requested under the trial. The commission receives
notifications from a range of government departments, authorities and
Magistrates Courts if:
a person's child is absent from school three times in a school term,
without reasonable excuse;
a person has a child of school age who is not enrolled in school without
a person is the subject of a child safety report;
a person is convicted of an offence in the Magistrates Court; or
a person breaches his or her tenancy agreement.
Persons who are the subject of one of the above notifications are issued
a notice to attend a conference. This conference may include individuals,
parents or one or more families depending on the circumstances.
Ms Tammy Sovenyhazi, Registrar of the Family Responsibilities Commission
described the nature of the conferences in the context of a school attendance
The commissioners are quite firm and frank with the attendees
at the conferences and they explain to them that for the children to have any
sort of future life they need to get the education and, if they do not get the
children to school, they are not going to get the education. In Aurukun in
particular, most of our conferences are held in Wik, which is of huge benefit
to the community members because most of them do not have English as a first
language. The commissioners will converse with them in Wik and then translate
for Commissioner Glasgow and a decision will be made. Effectively they ask the
parents: ‘Why is it that you are not getting your children to school? Is there
a valid reason? Is there not a valid reason?’ ... The options that you have are
to work very closely with the attendance case manager and they will help you
through all the challenges that you have. If you fail to comply with what you
are asking you to do, we will conditionally income manage your welfare
payments.’ We use welfare quarantining as a last resort.
The conferencing process includes the tailoring of a case management
plan, including referral to other support services such as parenting programs
or drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
We might find out that the parents have a drug or alcohol
issue or someone else in the house does, so it might mean a referral for that
particular person off to the Wellbeing Centre to deal with those issues because
it is affecting the ability of the parents to get the child to school. We make
referrals to whatever services seem appropriate in the circumstances. We will
try and get the parent to enter into an agreement and, if they agree to do
those things that the commissioners have said, that is great and we will get
them to sign an agreement. If they do not, the commissioners may make an order
and then they will institute a decision. From there we monitor the parents’
compliance with the case plan over the 12-month period. We will often bring
them back in for a review where we might be receiving information back from the
community support services saying that they are not complying or they are not
attending. We will either ask them to show cause if it seems to be a serious
breach or alternatively, if it just seems like they need just a little bit more
assistance or a little bit more reassurance, then we will just bring them back
in for a case review.
Ms Sovenyhazi noted that there had been approximately 1700 of these
conferences over the past 18 months.
As a result of this process, there are currently 98 people who have their
income managed. By way of comparison, the commission has a caseload of 517
clients, from a total population of 3000 across the four communities.
Ms Sovenyhazi informed the committee that approximately six people had
voluntarily requested income management, and that some of those who were
compulsorily managed were asking to remain on income management after the initial
12 month mandated period.
Some of those 98 people currently on orders are asking to
remain on income management once their 12-month order ceases to exist. We do
not actually think that is a good thing. The commission’s attitude to that is
that within that 12-month time frame people should be learning through the
family income management regime as well as with Centrelink’s assistance how to
manage their funds better.
Because people are seeing the benefit of income management in
the sense that they have got savings, they have bought whitegoods and household
furniture, the kids have clothes and there is food in the house as they need
it, people are getting comfortable with it. It is good in the sense that it is
working to the degree that people are saving money and getting clothes for
their kids and food but the commission in general does not think it is valuable
for people to constantly stay on income management, because they are not
The committee notes that persons subject to income management are
provided with financial management training, including budgeting skills,
Centrelink arrangements and internet banking.
The committee heard that there had been successes as a result of the
scheme, particularly in terms of improving social responsibility. However, the
committee heard that the intention to provide greater opportunities to people
in the four communities had not yet translated to the outcomes desired. For
instance, Mr Noel Pearson informed the committee that:
Two-and-a-bit years into it, I have to say that I am kind of
positive about the social responsibility side of the agenda that we set. I am
pleased with increased school attendances and so on. But the opportunity side
of the equation has very much lagged behind. We have not gone very far with
homeownership and we have not gone very far with employment or enterprise
development. So if I was asked to give a broad account of where we are at,
halfway through the trial, I would say we are going strong on the obligations
side but not so strong on the opportunity side.
This was a view reflected in comments made by Mr Tim Reddel, Queensland
Department of Communities, who stated:
The area we need to focus on now, on which all stakeholders
would agree, is the opportunity side of the equation: economic opportunity,
employment and issues such as home ownership.
The committee notes that an independent evaluation of the welfare reform
trial has been commissioned from the consulting firm KPMG. The committee
understands that the first implementation review will be publicly available by
the end of May 2010.
The committee awaits the release of this report with interest.
The committee recommends that the evaluation of the Cape York
Welfare Reform trial be made public to inform other governments about the results
of the program and its applicability to other regional and remote Indigenous
Queensland Government Closing the
Gap Education Strategy
The Queensland Government's Closing the Gap Education Strategy outlines
its approach to meet the COAG Closing the Gap targets. These targets include
halving the gap for Indigenous students in reading, writing and numeracy within
a decade and halving the gap for Indigenous students in Year 12 attainment or
equivalent attainment by 2020.
Entitled Q2: Tomorrow's Queensland, the Strategy frames a vision
for education in Queensland by 2020 consisting of the themes of strong; green;
smart; healthy and fair education outcomes. The Strategy aims to:
deliver clear, concise messages for regions and schools;
specify a number of targets based on the COAG and Toward Q2 Outcomes;
contain a small number of evidence-based service lines, priority areas
and initiatives designed for sustainability.
The committee heard from the Department of Education and Training (DET)
that there were over 200 schools with Indigenous students in Queensland to
which this Strategy would apply.
DET advised that the 'children are right across the state and if we are to
close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous outcomes, it is the
business of every school.'
The committee is impressed with the focus of the Queensland Government
in developing a strategy that can be utilised by all 200 education
institutions, especially those with a majority of Indigenous students. The
committee considers that DET's overall approach provides a clear and
understandable document that sets out a theoretical framework to reduce the gap
in Indigenous educational disadvantage. However, the committee is of the
opinion that the real test of such strategies is in the implementation stage,
which it is not in a position to assess at this stage.
Not all states and territories have developed specific strategies to
improve Indigenous education outcomes and the committee encourages other
jurisdictions to look at the Queensland strategy as a good example of a state
based approach that responds to the national COAG targets.
The committee heard evidence that the strategy may be of greater benefit
if communities also developed their own educational strategies supporting
implementation at a local community level:
I think we need to have an education council to lift our
education standards and to support issues like attendance policies, behaviour
management and all that stuff. Maybe we should have a document that says ‘these
are the standards that have been identified through data’...I think we as a
community need to own the education strategy and build into the education
system what is required by the education department. As chair of the education
council we have established, I think we need support from the government. We
need government to listen to the local issues because reality sits with us as a
The committee heard a range of evidence in Queensland from educators,
parents and the government. The committee is of the view that three issues were
parental engagement in education;
strong school attendance including options for alternative attendance;
the need for a single point of accountability for student's wellbeing.
The committee also heard a range of other issues including the success
of the aggregated community college model and some boarding facilities as well
as adequate training and support for teachers.
Parental Engagement in Education
All teachers that the committee spoke with outlined the fundamental
importance of parental engagement with a child's education. They indicated that
those students with strong parental support were obviously more likely to
succeed at school.
The Queensland Government's Closing the Gap Education Strategy referred
to above outlines parental engagement as an overarching goal and DET indicated
that it was an 'absolute overarching strategy'.
The committee notes the focus of the strategy is for parents to become
engaged in their children’s learning and to develop their own literacy and
numeracy skills in order to support the literacy and numeracy development of
their preschool and young school age children.
The committee further notes the work at the national level to engage
parents in child care, early learning and parent and family support programs
through the COAG Closing the Gap initiative (Chapter 2 refers).
Parents as First Teachers
Mr Jeffrey Aniba, a councillor for the Northern Peninsula Area, informed
the committee that 'education starts in the household. That is where you
prepare your kids for education.'
The committee heard that DET has developed an initiative called 'Parents as
First Teachers' to support the early years of development. The department
advised the committee that the strategy is about:
Parental involvement on a door-to-door basis. But getting
parents into the school has been a challenge. A number of the communities have
active P&Cs but a number of the P&Cs are a slog. But there are some
interesting strategies out there. I would point to the strategy that was in
place in Aurukun for the last few years of zero suspensions and exclusions, so
not suspending and excluding children, but insisting that children who
misbehave—sometimes it is a bit more severe than misbehaviour—come back to
school in the company of their carers. That is the ultimate parental
engagement: the parent must be in the classroom with the child.
Parental Engagement Program
The Napranum Preschool Parents and Learning Group drew the committee's
attention to their parent engagement program which was developed to prepare pre-school
children for successfully transitioning to primary school. The program involves
the parents working with their child in their own home environment at their own
pace. This is achieved through the provision of a kit delivered once a week during
the school term which generally links to school learning with activities.
The committee was impressed with the ability of this program to support
both the children's education but importantly, the education of the parent. The
committee heard that, in addition to kits for parents to support home learning,
the program provides home tutors and behavioural support.
The committee was also told that the practical outcomes from the program,
in terms of the children's capability, was significant, demonstrating the effectiveness
of early childhood education as a step to future opportunity:
They know the concept of how to read a book—what comes first
and what comes second—and what you do with a book. They also know patterning
and the early steps of mathematics. Concentration is better than children who
are not in the program, and the whole idea of school stuff. They are prepared
to listen, they will show the other children what to do.
The committee heard that the community had followed a cohort of
preschoolers and parents who had undertaken this program and were now in year
nine. They noted that the program had been shown to yield positive results:
The first lot of [Parents and Learning (PaL)] kids are now in
grade 9. There was some data collected for those kids on where their literacy
and numeracy is compared with the rest of the kids who were not doing PaL. Attendance
is great for those kids, and the parents support them.
We have found that it really gave confidence to the parents
to go out and look at other options in the community—not just to be happy with
being here in Aurukun and doing the same old things that everybody else does.
They have actually gone out to look for bigger, better jobs. Some have even
left to do further study and things like that.
Early Childhood Education Model
In a submission to this inquiry, Community Child Care called for further
support for an integrated community owned model offering the essential service
of early childhood education and care.
This model offers flexibility for communities and offers children and families
access to services and professionals in culturally safe and non-threatening
The committee heard about an example of a similar model in Aurukun where
a parenting centre approach is being trialled, combining a number of related
services along with support for families.
As this centre is in its early days, the committee looks forward to hearing
further reports on the outcomes of the model.
The committee also notes the work being developed across Australia
through the implementation of the 35 COAG children and family centres. The
committee considers the utilisation of pre-school and early education programs
that involve parents should be encouraged and further supported by the
Commonwealth, state and territory governments.
Parental Involvement in Primary and
The committee also heard positive evidence about parental involvement in
primary and secondary education.
Mr Noel Pearson outlined that in Aurukun and Coen, the Cape York Academy
strongly focuses on engaging parents in their children's education:
The work that informs the Cape York academy that is running
in Aurukun and Coen was based on work that we did to engage parents in their
children’s education. The hook that was used was the community’s anxiety about
their kids being able to maintain their languages and their culture. One of the
parents explained that culture is the hook to draw the parents through the door
and participate in the school program, but then the parents came to see that
there were a whole lot of things that they could do, even if they were
illiterate themselves, to support their children with their general education.
It was a very effective way of engaging parents in taking an active interest in
their children. Of course we needed an education department that was open to
throwing the doors open to parents participating in the school, and that did
happen under Don Anderson’s leadership. The school opened its doors to the
The committee also heard evidence in Cherbourg where teachers are
actively encouraging strong parental involvement in their children's education:
The success we have had obviously is built very strongly on
parental‑community collaboration. That is based on building up
accountability for these boys in terms of direction for their lives.
The committee is pleased to note that parental engagement is a key
principle outlined in the draft Indigenous Education Action Plan developed by
the Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth
Affairs. The committee encourages the Commonwealth Government, together with
state and territory governments, to build policy that supports parental
involvement in Indigenous children's education.
The committee was pleased to note signs that progress has been made in
improving attendance in Queensland.
My School website data and other statistics show attendance has been
historically low. A recent Centre for Independent Studies report indicates that,
nationally, Indigenous students demonstrated poor results in the 2009 National
Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN):
Failure rates of 40 to 50% are common in Indigenous schools and
rise to more than 70% in the Northern Territory. If schools are ranked by
NAPLAN results, almost all the bottom 150 schools in such a notional list are
Indigenous schools. There are few non-Indigenous schools in this bottom
grouping and only a few Indigenous schools above this grouping. About 20,000 of
Australia’s 150,000 Indigenous students are enrolled in these Indigenous
The committee heard that improving school attendance remains an ongoing effort
in many schools:
That is an ongoing battle for every community. Our attendance
has gone up—we do a report every year and we find that our attendance has gone
up—but then it drops down mid-term sometimes, and that is just family
transitions throughout the different communities around here.
One witness in Bamaga also commented that they have children who are in
Year 11 that are reading at a Year 2 level which was largely due to lack of
However, in every community that the committee visited, there seemed to
be some level of improvement in school attendance. The committee also notes the
resolve of school principals and teachers that the committee met with, who
indicated that they were not content with the current level of attendance and
were striving for enhanced school attendance.
The committee heard that in some places such as in the Western Cape
College and the Northern Peninsular Area College there were significant
increases in the amount of students attending school and reaching Year 12 or at
least Year 10 levels. Nevertheless the committee was concerned with evidence
that there are still large cohorts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
children not attending school. As Mr Don Anderson said:
Obviously there were hundreds of Indigenous students living
in this area who were not engaged in formal education to the end of year 12.
That is still the case in Aurukun, but in the Napranum, Weipa and Mapoon area
it has significantly improved. Basically, people believed you could not get a
decent education here, but ... there has been a dramatic improvement.
Witnesses informed the committee of a variety of reasons why children
are not attending school including:
the shame of having no food or clothes;
higher than average levels of sickness;
having better things to do;
faking sickness so that they get suspended and do not have to turn up
for school; and
causing disruptive behaviour to get suspended.
The committee heard that parents are often 'scared of the embarrassment
of having their child ask a teacher for food at school; they are scared of
bringing shame upon their family.'
The committee also heard evidence about a range of mechanisms designed
to improve attendance targeting the reasons listed above. For example in Coen,
the Student Education Trust Scheme encourages parents to provide for essential
services for students:
Four or five members of a family will deduct money out of
their accounts—say, $5; $20 a week; $1,000 a year. Every kid under the age of
18 has got an account, and I think the average figure in those accounts is
about $1,000. So it will pay for the tuckshop, and for school uniforms,
excursions and so on. It is voluntary and there is 100 per cent take-up by
In Cherbourg, the committee heard evidence that the pre-school program
has good attendance rates because they provide a whole range of services
We also provide them with a good nutritional program. They
come to our centre and they get four meals a day. We have a full-time cook, and
they get roast dinners, salads and everything. That is all at the centre. We
provide the children with their own hats and we provide sunscreen.
The committee also heard that that at many schools, if a particular
child is having financial difficulties, the schools assists:
There are all these sorts of issues. I try to work around
them. So we supply some food at school. We have got some shoes there as well
that we will give children, especially now that the colder months are coming
in. We have got a medical centre down here that has a program going whereby, if
families are having difficulties, they can give some of these children shoes.
So I am trying to overcome some of these problems, slowly. Shoes are a big
problem here because they get cut feet, and if they get cut feet then they get
boils and all that sort of stuff.
The committee heard from multiple sources that school attendance rates
were increasing across the selected communities under the Cape York Welfare Reform
process. Mr Noel Pearson noted positive improvement in school attendance rates,
In the trial communities there is now, as there used to be in
the past, a general acceptance by everybody that Monday to Friday your kids are
in school. That is kind of just a normal acceptance.
Coen is a place riddled with the normal social problems of a
small Aboriginal community, but the kids get packed up every Monday morning and
they go to school. I think the norm in relation to school attendance is
solidifying at this stage of the game.
A key part of this success would appear to be a strong role for
attendance case mangers who are on the ground working to get children to attend
The critical part of the school attendance is the work that
the attendance case managers do. They will sit in the school in the morning,
find out what children have not attended school, based on the roll, and then
immediately go to the houses of those families and either get the children to
school or find out why the children have not attended school. An enormous
amount of work happens on the ground every single day to try and get these
children to school. As I mentioned earlier, I think the increases to date are
very, very pleasing. There is still quite a long way to go but I think, given
the time that we have had, that the school, the attendance case managers and
the commission should be fairly proud of where we have gotten to so far.
The committee notes the success of the trial in increasing attendance
but the committee also notes the significant cost implications arising from
this trial. The committee considers that while this approach has proven
successful, it is unlikely to be financially viable in every community.
Family Support Officer/Truancy Officer
Some schools that are not part of the Welfare Reform trials have also
engaged family support officers, or truancy officers, to improve attendance.
Their responsibility is to visit families whose children were truant from
school. In Bamaga, these officers were making progress:
We have an education attendance policy which we have just
implemented through the school. We have employed about five family support
officers, and that gave us support on attendance. We had 62 per cent attendance
in 2008. We have just raised it by another six per cent, but we still sit at
In Cherbourg the committee heard that an Indigenous teacher often goes
with the truancy officer if there is some concern with a particular student or
family because as he indicated:
I am a local boy—I was born and bred here. I still live out
here. I know all the children. I know their parents. I know their grandparents.
So I am well into it. I know it all as far as the family tree goes. That in
turn helps me a great deal because I know the backgrounds and so I will know
what has gone on the night before. If there are two families fighting down the
road, I will know it because I live there. People talk. And when we get to
school, I will know that there is going to be an issue with that child because
he will have been up late the night before. So I can then let people know what
to look for and what sort of behavioural issues will come from that family.
The committee notes that while government strategy is important,
policies that work with individuals at the local level be it through truancy
officers or local commissioners will obtain the greatest results.
The committee heard that there is often a lack of transport options to
support student's attendance at school. The Family Responsibilities Commission
indicated that in Aurukun during the wet season, if children come to school and
they are wet because they have walked to school in the rain, they are sent home
because they cannot sit with wet clothes in a classroom that has air
The committee heard evidence in Napranum about the transport of over 190
students to Weipa (some 7 kilometers away). This was also the case in Cherbourg
where the school bus provides transport and has improved the levels of school
attendance with financial support from the Commonwealth Government:
With DEEWR we are working on programs around school buses and
making sure we have got parents, tutors and support to get the kids on the bus,
manage the situation—unruly behaviour and so on—and get them into the school.
DET indicated that the issue with providing buses and transport to
support increased school attendance is vexed.
Recalling his own experience, Mr Ian Mackie indicated that:
Having actually driven those buses myself I can alert you to
the fact that it is incredibly frustrating. You turn up to be told, ‘No, come
back in five minutes. I have not had a shower yet.’ You come back in five
minutes and are told, ‘No, I still have to have a shower.’ It can be incredibly
frustrating for schools, given that there is no better than a kilometre in many
of the communities by way of walking distance. When we talk about reciprocity,
getting the children to walk a kilometre is probably not too big an ask. But
there are cases where there is a distance to homelands. I recently visited the
Jabiru Area School where bussing is quite a feature. But I take your question
for the import that it delivers.
The committee considers that there needs to be a level of reciprocity
and mutual obligation on behalf of the school to ensure that there are options
for students to be able to travel to school in a healthy, safe and secure
manner. The committee is of the view that more could be done to ensure adequate
transport options for students attending school in regional and remote
Mr Don Anderson suggested that schools also need to consider alternate
modes of delivery to support optimal learning outcomes for these students:
There is no business sense to this whole concept of
Indigenous education delivery and outcomes. If you are behind in any other
business, you give more time to it or you put more effort into it, don’t you?
If a kid has 40 or 20 per cent attendance, what are the consequences? There is
no capacity for them to make up that time. So we do not have a structure that
makes any business sense. In the Torres Strait I was strongly pushing the
concept of 1,000 hours. Why do we measure attendance and get really excited
about attendance, when there are no consequences for poor attendance and we
want to do something about getting the business back on track? If your house
building is behind or your mining is down, you buy bigger machines and you do
it for longer.
The committee notes the logistical and budget implications arising from
implementation of such a proposal. Nevertheless, the committee considers that further
consideration should be given to a mechanism for students to can easily catch
up on missed school attendance.
The committee heard one example of reintegration was the development of
re‑entry programs for students who have not been at school for long
periods of time. The example that the committee heard was a program that ran
from 8:50am to 9:50am in the morning, focusing on literacy to try and speed up
the reintegration process through focused learning.
The committee is concerned that devoting energy to increasing attendance
alone will not be effective unless it is accompanied by a plan to reintegrate
students who have missed a large amount of schooling and require special
attention in order to reengage successfully.
The committee recommends that the Ministerial Council for
Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs expand the policy on
attendance currently in the draft Indigenous Education Action Plan to include
the need for measures that facilitate reintegration of students who have missed
large amounts of schooling but recommence attending school as the result of
DET drew to the committee's attention the need for a stronger level of
accountability with one person for educational outcomes:
We have the particularly strong view that they need to be
from preschool to year 12 and include one point of accountability for the life
journey of children so that one person can be held to account for the total
education service delivery and then employment of that particular group of
children. It is case and place based management. Again I refer to that powerful
concept of no child being left behind and very much tailored to the case and
Noting the difficulties with this proposal, the committee sees merit in
providing a mechanism for stronger accountability with one person in student's
futures; otherwise it is easy for students to slip through the gaps. Indeed,
the committee heard evidence that results were achieved in one school because
of the strong belief from teachers in what they were doing:
You asked me, ‘What do you reckon is making the difference?’
The best line I had was from the deputy principal. He said, ‘I believe that the
kids believe that we are taking their learning seriously.’ I reckon the average
Aboriginal child knows that we have been half gammon about their teaching. We
have not had a great belief that they are capable of learning and we have not
been rigorous and said, ‘The fun of this is about achieving and learning.’ Why
do people do jigsaw puzzles and that sort of nonsense? There is fun in learning
and achieving. I think we undervalue that.
At the Northern Peninsular Area College, the committee heard that each
student in Year 11 and 12 is individually case managed with a teacher
supporting their education throughout these two years. Teachers also follow student's
progress for two years post school and offer support and advice to encourage
further training or employment.
This was also the situation in the Western Cape College. In larger regional
centres, the committee heard it was somewhat more difficult to keep track of
students once they had left school.
The committee considers that there should be greater accountability for a
student's achievements with one person, particular for senior level students
(years 11 and 12). A single person who is able to dedicate time to be a mentor;
adviser or tutor would allow for greater support for student learning.
Importantly it would also support post educational training and employment. The
committee recognises the limitations in terms of budget and time for teachers
but considers that this is one area for further consideration.
The committee further heard evidence that there needs to be a change in
the attitude about education. Mr Don Anderson indicated to the committee that there
is a strong need for an attitude of learning and education to occur and that it
is unacceptable for students to not be accountable and skip school to go to the
'swimming hole' instead of learning:
Senator BOYCE—What is the mechanism for dealing with this? I
am thinking of one particular example where we were told that there was no
point in trying to run the school when the swimming holes were full, because
that is where everyone was going to be all day. What is the mechanism for
dealing with that issue within your suggestions?
Mr Anderson—Get rid of the people who said it. I think
Senator Macdonald’s comments link to that. We have had too much romance about
what schools are about for too long. All of us could have said what we might
have preferred to do with schooling, but most of our parents never gave us that
option. Even if that were true, where does that conversation take us? No, we do
not accept that it is too good to go fishing and we have to change the school
year because they are swimming. The bottom line is that, if you want to get
ready to get a decent job, you have to work out that you do not go swimming
when you are a nine-year-old because that is what you would like to do. I think
there has been far too much romance and too much accommodation—we can teach you
how to be an engineer by not coming to school, not being good at English, by
going swimming in the swimming hole. We have to be a bit honest and say, ‘No,
there is a consequence to you doing that. We cannot do that.’ Some teachers,
and there have been plenty of them in the past, have said, ‘If you had children
you wouldn’t blame them for wanting to go.’ I have heard it a thousand times.
Of course you would want to go swimming. We have to make sure that the teachers
who are saying that say, ‘That’s good. You go to Kenmore or one of the other
flash schools in Brisbane, or a private school in Brisbane, and you tell that
to the kids who have got the same DNA, the same kid-like wants as any other
kid, and apply it there.’ You do not get away with that sort of nonsense in a
fee-paying school or the higher achieving schools.
The committee considers that there should be a high priority placed on
learning and education including the establishment of firm rules and
consequences for those who do not attend school. The committee considers that
enhanced accountability with one person, such as a teacher, would encourage
this environment. The committee notes the inherent challenges and difficulties
in implementing such an approach but notes that a strong investment in
children's futures is a fundamental prerequisite for future success.
Early Childhood Education
One of the key priorities of the Queensland Government's Closing the Gap
Education Strategy is a focus on early childhood education and care.
Chapter 2 also outlines the work on the COAG-led National Partnership on
Indigenous Early Childhood Development.
The Queensland Indigenous Education Strategy seeks to increase Indigenous
participation in pre-school and thereby increase school readiness for
Indigenous children as they enter primary schooling.
The committee heard evidence about the success of some early childhood
programs in Napranum, Bamaga and Cherbourg. The Gundoo Day Care Centre in
Cherbourg, for instance, provides a service for children to be involved in
early childhood education and care from the very young age of six weeks. The
committee heard that the centre provides culturally significant early childhood
education whilst also providing for early integration from childcare to primary
We cater for individuals. We do individual programs. We do a
lot of cultural work. We bring in our elders. Having some males within our
centre makes a big difference as well. We have managed to increase to about
four males in the outside school hours care program. We have one male
permanently in our long day care program. He has just completed his certificate
III, so he is eligible to be a group leader. The kids love him. We have a
couple of the outside school hours care males come over a couple of mornings a
week and they paint didgeridoos with the children, they do painting and they
play games, and the children love having that male aspect to the childcare
area. I am sure that my committee have backed that up. It has been very good.
The committee considers that this service is evidence of a successful
approach designed to integrate young children into the discipline associated
with attending school every day; learning as well as building early childhood achievement
and confidence. The committee considers that more culturally appropriate day
care services are needed in regional and remote Indigenous communities. The
committee is of the view that pre-school services are an essential precursor
for success in primary and secondary schooling. The committee is of the view
that pre-school services should be available for each and every child in
Given the evidence received in Cherbourg, the committee also notes the
value of culturally appropriate programs designed to develop and support early
The committee also heard evidence from proponents of the college model
that places smaller remote schools into larger schools. This has demonstrated
successful results with a resulting structure focused on leadership, economies
of scale and the concept of a cohesive college environment.
Development of colleges and cluster arrangements to create Pre-school to
Year 12 (P-12) models and frameworks in regional and remote settings is also a
recommendation of the Indigenous Education Alliance in its submission to the
The Department of Education informed the committee that they also support
the college model, stating:
We are very much supportive of P-12 college models and would
be happy to receive questions about college constructs because we understand
education systems across the nation are working with college constructs.
The committee notes the importance of resource allocation to larger
schools and the diversification of learning that can occur with larger
regionally based schools and therefore supports the development of the college
model if it achieves substantial changes in education outcomes.
Boarding Facilities and Hostels
The committee heard from the community in Weipa about the plans for a
120 bed hostel. The committee noted that there was a degree of community concern
about the lack of consultation about the hostel.
Nevertheless the committee was pleased to hear about the positive impact that
this hostel could have on outlying regions, enabling them to send their
children to the Western Cape College. Managed appropriately, the hostel should
have a significant impact on the attendance rates of school children in the
The Principal of the Peace Lutheran College in Cairns outlined that
there are a range of predicators of school success for students from remote
communities succeeding in boarding facilities and those are:
a pattern of strong attendance;
a strong peer group support;
an ability to manage transition from community life to school life; and
a stable and functional family background.
This evidence not only demonstrates the pre-requisites for students
travelling to attend school, but in the committee's view, underpins the
requirements for educational success for students in general.
In previous evidence, the committee heard about the difficulties for
students travelling between different cultures. The committee heard that one of
the ways that the Peace Lutheran College was managing the transition between
school life and community life was the development of a cultural passport. This
'passport' essentially provides skills students can use in moving between their
communities and Western cultural environments.
The committee supports the development of aides and tools, mentoring,
and technological solutions to support students that need to travel to attend
DET commented that there is a strong need for the very best teachers be
placed in regional and remote communities. For instance, in Cape York, the Torres
Strait and the Gulf, DET advised that they encouraged the best graduate
teachers to go to these areas. The department informed the committee that they
had sought to make remote locations into prestige opportunities, stating:
[DET] put up a barrier and said 'you cannot come into these
locations unless you are the very best teacher or the very best graduate.' We
did say to some people, 'nobody is preferable to you.'
The committee supports the efforts by DET to encourage the very best
teachers to regional and remote Indigenous communities.
Support and Training
The committee heard evidence that there needs to be more support,
training and investment in teachers if there is to be a significant change in
the education levels of students.
Mr Don Anderson was critical of the training that is provided to
teachers, indicating that there was not enough support for teachers to learn
the art or trade of teaching:
I just do not think we do enough teaching. I think there is
far too much romance about the actual teaching. Some of you may be teachers.
You go into a class and you have got kids who have poor attendance, they are
possibly a multi-age group, academically they are very low, they probably speak
English as their second language or maybe their third. You are beginning
teaching, you are away from home and family, you have gone there because you
have got a job and you can get a relocation to a favourable spot in two years.
You may be facing some fairly extreme behavioural issues, and then you decide,
‘Beauty! I am going to start learning you up!’ What do you teach? How do you
teach? The average person coming out of university is not taught the trade to
get somebody to be literate. You actually need to know that fact and then you
spiral up. What are those knowledge components you need to get so that you can
write a grade 12 essay? What are the learning steps?
Mr Anderson was also critical of some of the current approaches to
teaching. He indicated that training needs to refocus on the foundations of
There is a trade of teaching and we should be proud of the
trade of teaching. If you want to teach somebody to read or spell or write or
be good mathematically, there are building blocks. Children need to know those
building blocks and grow from those building blocks. It is a nonsense to say
you are going to get it from exposure or the environment. 
The committee is concerned about the overall level of support for
teachers and their ability to both be culturally appropriate and at the same
time achieve appropriate educational outcomes. Indeed as one principal
In my experience—and the experience has been costly—it is
easy in trying to please everyone to end up tying yourself in knots and making
yourself and your institution ineffective. Something I have learnt in five
years at Peace is to stop doing that.
The Indigenous Education Alliance has recommended that a comprehensive
induction program be implemented in regional Indigenous school settings for a
period of one to two years.
The committee agrees that there should be significant support for an extended
period for new teachers to regional and remote communities and for teachers who
work extensively with Indigenous students from these communities.
The committee also heard that there is a lack of focus on sharing of
information between school teachers. The committee heard from one school that
the network of teachers was informal and very much dependent on being 'in the
system' for a period of time before you establish a support network.
However, the committee heard that there are some networks for Indigenous
teachers. The committee is pleased that this is the case but notes that there
needs to be enhanced networking between teachers in schools so that
professional support, advice and continuous development is supported. The value
of formal teachers networks was summed up by one Indigenous teacher in
Cherbourg who noted:
As a teacher, if I was not part of the Indigenous teachers
network, I would not have contact with any other teachers.
English as a Second Language
The committee found that there was also a general lack of training for
teachers in Queensland to deliver English as a Second Language (ESL) learning
programs for those with English as their second or third language.
Professor Babacan indicated that 'we see problems with access to
education pathways; mainstream schooling not accommodating the learning needs
of Indigenous students. We see that English language is a problem; students do
not speak appropriately.'
Many school teachers indicated that ESL training was essential. The
committee heard from multiple teachers that their schools did not have the ESL
expertise that they need.
The committee considers that additional training should be provided to
selected teachers in each regional or remote school that has large numbers of
students whose first language is not English.
DET informed the committee that under the Remote Area Teacher Education Program
(RATEP), Queensland has trained 127 teachers in their home communities to teach
The committee heard evidence in places such as the Northern Peninsular
Area College regarding efforts to get Indigenous teachers trained through James
Similarly in Cherbourg, the committee heard that the RATEP program 'worked
really well with the school because those people are working as teacher aides
in our school. They are getting that expertise and then they go across to study
in the afternoon and they can pull the practical and the theory side of it
together. It has really helped.'
The committee encourages programs that actively support increasing
Indigenous teachers in regional and remote Indigenous community schools. As
noted above, Indigenous teachers who are born and bred in local communities can
play a strong role model and leadership role in schools and creative a positive
learning environment for many students in particular schools. The committee
also considers that Indigenous teachers are well placed to support cultural
education and youth connections with Indigenous elders through the school
One of the problems that the committee heard about is the high teacher
turnover in regional and remote Indigenous schools. In Weipa, one witness
I understand that both teaching communities have virtually
rolled over in the last 12 months as well; I think probably one third in
Aurukun have remained. I know that the parents of the children are upset with
that as well.
In Bamaga, the Northern Peninsular Area College also reported that one
third of teachers left each year, causing a major problem with
The committee notes that this situation is not unique to Queensland. In
the communities that the committee has visited throughout Australia, the
difficulties of attracting high quality teachers particularly to remote schools
is difficult. The committee did not have any evidence about the remuneration or
salaries of teachers or credit points and the committee therefore notes this as
a problem for further consideration.
Employment and Enterprise
The committee’s fourth term of reference concerns employment and
enterprise opportunities in regional and remote Indigenous communities. In its
first report, the committee outlined that employment and enterprise development
had been slow and that the Indigenous unemployment rate was over three times
higher than the rate for non-Indigenous people.
In the three hearings in remote Indigenous communities in Queensland and
in evidence provided in Cairns and Brisbane, the committee heard that progress
in employment and enterprise development was of serious concern. Some witnesses
commented that this was the number one issue of concern in their community.
Indeed in Bamaga, the committee heard from the council that there was up to 70%
unemployment in some areas.
The committee also heard that there were a number of challenges to
achieve higher levels of employment, particularly in the communities that were
still highly dependent on the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP).
As noted in the section on the Cape York Welfare Reform trials above, Mr Noel
Pearson informed the committee that despite strong improvements in social
obligations, the opportunity side of the reforms including employment and
enterprise development has not made significant progress.
Mr Noel Pearson, writing in the Weekend Australian following his
appearance before the committee, noted that economic development would require
the harnessing of self interest, or the 'intangible engines of human
Mr Pearson expressed his concern that government neglected the need for
mainstream economic development in regional and remote Indigenous communities
due to a fixation on passive service delivery.
Conversely, the committee also heard evidence about the range of options
that have been and could be undertaken in remote Indigenous communities to
improve employment and enterprise development across Queensland.
Queensland Government Employment and Economic Development
The Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and
Innovation (DEEDI) outlined to the committee that the Queensland Government's
policy on Indigenous employment and enterprise aims for full economic
employment. They department indicated that they consider it is their key
responsibility to provide opportunities for Indigenous Australians to:
...participate fully in the economy is the most effective way
for people to close the socioeconomic gap. Having a job is the best way in
particular so a sustainable one is the best insurance against exclusion. We
have taken that as a sort of axiomatic thing to say but I think it is an
important starting point.
The committee heard that between 1 July 2007 and 31 December 2009, the DEEDI
had assisted 13 000 Indigenous job seekers (25 per cent of all job seekers) with
employment and training programs. The department advised that they spent $17.7
million on Indigenous specific employment projects with 57 per cent of this expenditure
occurring outside South East Queensland (i.e in more regional and remote areas).
The department also advised that in 27 cases, they helped promote Indigenous
businesses to grow.
Despite these efforts, the department acknowledged that notwithstanding
recent improvements to the employment rate for Indigenous Australians in
Queensland, more needs to be done because the unemployment rate is ‘higher than
it ought to be.'
The department indicated that addressing Indigenous employment and
enterprise issues is even more important because the general characteristic of
the Indigenous population in Queensland is becoming more youthful than the
general population. The committee heard that between 2006 and 2016, 37,000
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Queenslanders will reach labour market
The committee heard that there were a number of pre-requisites prior to
entering into the workforce.
The committee heard from Rio Tinto Alcan about some of the
pre-requisites that they require for successful employment within their
company. The committee considers that the challenges that were articulated by
Rio Tinto Alcan exemplify some of the challenges of Indigenous employment and
have broad applicability across a range of businesses and sectors. Rio Tinto
Alcan indicated that the following were obstacles for Indigenous employment:
a low level of literacy and numeracy;
the lack of driver education and licences;
alcohol and other significant addiction problems;
health problems from living community life;
significant family pressures;
a lack of life skills such as good nutrition;
a bank account; and
understanding of the work environment.
Mr Christopher Foord, Bamaga Enterprise Limited, informed the committee
that one of the biggest challenges to overcome is 'a mindset or a work ethic to
want to do a five-day week job.' He further commented that this has a practical
impact on businesses saying that 'if we, for instance, roster five people in
the restaurant here or in housekeeping, we expect three to turn up.'
The committee notes that there are significant challenges between
traditional cultural obligations on employment, but considers that these challenges
are not insurmountable. The committee did not heard any evidence about how
traditional culture and full time employment can work reciprocally but
identifies this as an area for further enquiry.
The committee heard from some witnesses that the lack of support
services were also a major obstacle for successful employment in regional and
remote communities. The lack of public transport, for instance, precluded many
Indigenous people from easily leaving their communities to undertake full time
employment in close regional centres or other communities. One witness
indicated that a number of people in Yarrabah were looking for work
opportunities but the lack of transport infrastructure and the need for a
personal private vehicle precluded most from working in the nearby regional
centre of Cairns.
The committee further heard from one employer in Cherbourg (Gundoo Day
Care Centre) that because Cherbourg has no public transport options, they
provide transport for their staff.
Indeed, as outlined in the mental health section below, some young people do
not have the self esteem or confidence to leave their communities and travel to
other communities to seek employment.
The committee also heard that a number of mothers in Napranum would like
to work and have the skills to be able to contribute to a full time job but
there is a lack of child care options. Ms Sonia Schuh from the Napranum
Preschool and Kindergarten said 'we do not have child care. We have a preschool
for kids from three to five, but we do not have child care. The mums of most of
the little ones want to work.'
The committee heard from a range of people about some of the options
that could be advanced in Indigenous communities in Queensland. These options
included: enhanced training and development; stronger pathways from school to
employment; mechanisms to improve life skills and a range of business
enterprises. The committee also heard a range of views on the Community Development
Employment Projects (CDEP).
Training and Development
The committee heard from Rio Tinto about their Indigenous training and
development team that is currently developing innovative approaches to improve
the level of Indigenous employment in the mining sector. The committee heard
that this includes a significant pre-work component that helps with any life
skills or work skill issues that they might have prior to bringing Indigenous
Australians entering into the Rio Tinto workplace:
One thing we are currently working on is looking at whether
we can address some of those outside-of-the-gate challenges more effectively.
So we are looking at how we can put together programs that are, essentially,
almost pre-work. We are looking at people coming into the Destinations program.
We have not had a huge success rate from that. We think that it is a great
program, but there needs to be preparatory work before they come into the
The committee heard that there were opportunities for stronger partnerships
between government, schools and the private sector to develop training options
that are appropriate for business needs:
If we get government support at the right level we can
actually think about and look at innovative programs, not the same old: ‘Let’s
do some pre-work development,’ or get a chainsaw ticket or whatever. No, that
is actually not helpful to get people into paid, long-term employment.
The committee considers that the focus on pre-work readiness programs is
extremely sage advice and encourages a strong Commonwealth/state government
partnership with industry representatives. The committee notes that some of the
programs listed in the section on social and emotional wellbeing would assist
in facilitating work-readiness or the ability to undertake more specific
Pathways from School
As outlined in the discussion on education above, many schools and
colleges are case managing their senior school students from education into
employment in regional and remote parts of Queensland.
The committee heard that in many schools in Cape York, there has been a
service guarantee that essentially means sticking by senior students until they
achieve further education, training or employment:
The service guarantee means that, if you complete grade 12,
we will guarantee that you will either get a job or get into university or
formal training. It also guarantees that you will be supported with your
cultural knowledge and cultural learning. If you have got a learning difficulty
or you are a special needs students, you will have an individual plan developed
for you. So it has those five components. The service guarantee is for
everyone. The service guarantee still applies as long as you finish year 12. It
does not mean that you have to go to university or employment with Rio.
DET informed the committee that they were looking to make sure that
'no-one is left behind' and that 'every child gets a place at the table'.
The committee was impressed with the efforts by the Queensland Government, and the
individual schools that the committee spoke with, to provide pathway for
students into future employment through the service guarantee.
Mr Don Anderson spoke of the need to align education with
employment outcomes in his evidence to the committee:
We can blame the employers for not doing the right thing, but
I can tell you what, as the person who is accountable for delivery of the
product to the employer, we were no innocents; we had lots of things that we
were not doing appropriately and hence the concept of service guarantee, and
where we have gone there.
The committee strongly supports the concept of a service guarantee and
the support for students following their education into further pathways. During
the third reporting period, the committee heard from a variety of organisations
in the Kimberley that it was the pathway between training to actual employment
that was most often lacking. Supporting a definitive path from training to
employment is an important part of encouraging employment in regional and
remote Indigenous communities.
The committee also heard that a Careers Expo is held annually in Bamaga
to showcase the types of employment that are available for students leaving
The committee heard that schools are actively developing partnerships with
business to support those students with an interest in various businesses,
police, the military or further education opportunities. For instance, Rio
Tinto, the biggest employer in Weipa has a very active program of engagement with
the local school 'to ensure that we are doing everything possible to design
effective school-to-work pathways, and we are seeing quite a lot of success
from that particular focus.'
Social and Emotional Wellbeing
The committee heard from the Cairns Institute, which is utilising
alternative mechanisms to try and encourage a culture of learning and
engagement. The organisation is aiming to accomplish this through improving
social and emotional wellbeing, facilitating life skills and individual
ambition. Dr Bainbridge detailed the types of programs that they are running in
Yarrabah to engage children into education and employment for example through
building and constructing bikes.
Other elements of the program are detailed in the section on mental health and
social and emotional wellbeing below.
Challenges of small business in
regional and remote communities
The committee heard about the frustration felt by some witnesses as a
result of governments coming to communities with the promise of
micro-enterprise and small businesses creation. Councillor Peter Lui stated
that 'there is a fatigue from communities about government officials telling
them about economic development opportunities.' He argued that governments
...stop using that as a myth
in Indigenous communities. Have the government really look at putting those
economic development programs into the communities. Stop coming here and
telling us, I suppose, what we want to hear. Help us solve some problems. I
have been a councillor since I was 26 and I have heard the term ‘economic
development’ just being used over and over again. We have talked about housing
and overcrowding. I come from an overcrowded family and I now have a family of
my own that is in an overcrowded situation, so it is just going over and over
The committee also heard the irritation by many witnesses about the lack
of support for business enterprise and the lack of a business case for many
types of businesses in communities with smaller population bases:
In a community such as this you cannot do that because there
are not enough industries and businesses here to employ everybody. You can say,
‘Let’s create new jobs.’ Where are you going to create them? If you open a
coffee shop, how many cups of coffee do you have to sell a day with a
population of 3,000 in the community? It is very difficult with a limited
population to get the demand to drive a new business.
The committee heard about some case studies of small businesses
that had shut down due to the difficulties in trying to make a profit. As an
example, Billy's Lagoon, which was a cattle ranch in Cape York shut down
because it was unprofitable. 
The Queensland Government has indicated that 'if a business cannot
fundamentally fly then we cannot keep them on life support'.
Nevertheless, DEEDI said that 'the labour market in remote areas is almost by
definition small and more difficult to get into. But that does not mean we
should kind of give up.'
The department informed the committee that where a problem is identified, their
staff members are working with businesses and individuals to identify training,
employment or enterprise options.
The committee strongly encourages the Australian and Queensland
Governments to get behind the Queenslanders for Work schemes and other
respective mechanisms to ensure that there is a strong focus on improving the
enterprise situation in regional and remote Indigenous communities in
Examples of options for small business in regional and remote communities
The committee heard that there are a range of possibilities for
enterprise and employment in regional and remote Indigenous communities but
these ideas needed to be supported by funding. For instance, the Cairns Institute
highlighted a range of possible enterprise opportunities:
(a) growing alternative crops and diversifying the agriculture base;
connecting tourism with cultural tourism; and
development of Indigenous creative arts.
Dr Bowers from the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health Queensland
described her work in trying to sustain and extend art initiatives. Dr Bower
We have also been fairly creative in applying to the Department
of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations for an Innovation Fund grant
to see if we can sustain and extend the art initiatives, which is not just
about people drawing; it is about community engagement. It is looking at other
forms of art, like weaving ghost nets and all sorts of other things, where
there is an opportunity to build an enterprise and a livelihood.
DEEDI indicated that they have been engaging with regional and remote
Indigenous communities in Queensland and utilising these communities to run
pilot projects as a priority:
We think that that means in very practical terms that these
groups need to be prioritised for inclusion in the many pilots that Centrelink,
and the federal government generally, have got underway. That is certainly
something we are doing in our own pilot work and something where we are looking
to work closely with federal colleagues to share experience and see if we can
develop effective models that can be used more widely. Of course we need to
ensure that we have suitably qualified Indigenous staff and service providers.
That is a challenge too and something that our department (a) takes seriously
and (b) where the department co-leads on wider targets across the Queensland
The committee witnessed first hand the lack of qualified tradesmen in
remote Indigenous communities. In Bamaga, for instance, the committee met with
the Northern Peninsular Area School where the air-conditioning was broken and
the Principal indicated that it would likely be some weeks before a repairer
could come and fix the problem. Similarly, in the Bamaga Centrelink office, the
committee heard that the air conditioning had been broken for 10 weeks.
Certainly in bigger regional centres there remain some opportunities for
trade based employment as one witness said: 'There is a big employment base
waiting to be tapped. I moved to Cairns three months ago and it has taken me
two months just to get a door put in the house. So services and trades are
crying out for people, but it is about the connection and pathways for the
community to get employment in a trade role.'
Indigenous art and craft
Boystown demonstrated practical examples of the work that they are doing
on a micro-enterprise level with Indigenous communities in Western Australia
such as screen printing. Boystown advised that they will be in the community
for the long term to help the Indigenous women to start their own small arts
The committee was also impressed with the work of the Cherbourg
Aboriginal Shire Council which has identified agriculture as a particular area
where they can create jobs. The Barambah Health Centre indicated that Cherbourg
had community produce in the shops that was fresh and cheap and that people
were purchasing it.
The committee saw this example as a dual benefit – creating jobs and
contributing to a healthy lifestyle.
The committee heard from one Indigenous Elder who was brimming with
ideas for small business enterprise but required a small amount of seed funding
to make these ideas a reality:
We are business minds. We have to be; otherwise, we would not
survive. We want to be given a chance. With government sending money to
centralised places down here or to subregional or regional centres that speak
on our behalf and cut the money out from us, we have nothing. That money needs
to be streamlined down to give us an opportunity to think for ourselves in
terms of getting businesses up and running—for example, tourism. We cannot do
tourism in our centralised towns. We can promote tourism on our homelands. We
can do ecotourism and stuff like that—set up camp grounds and employ rangers or
caretakers and get artists from that area who can do the art that belongs to
that area. We need to market it, manufacture it and sell it from our homelands.
We cannot sell it from a town, because we do not have ownership.
The committee considered that this was a practical idea and use of homelands
to encourage and support the development of enterprise. The committee was
impressed by the infrastructure that Mr Claudie outlined his community has
developed as the start of a possible tourism venture, including: solar power;
access to telecommunications infrastructure; education support via school of
the air and an airstrip.
The committee heard from a range of witnesses that one of the areas
where there is a less than optimal rate of Indigenous employment is in the
professional services industries such as health, education, police and armed
The committee heard about the chronic shortages of health professionals
in a range of places that it visited. For instance, in the committee's
discussions with Bamaga Hospital, they heard that there were 15 to 20
The committee heard that this shortage was largely precipitated by the
inability to house health professionals in Bamaga which is discussed below.
Nevertheless, this is an example of a professional service which is likely to
be growing over the next few decades as Australia's population ages.
The committee heard from both Cherbourg State School and the Northern
Peninsular Area about the training of Indigenous teachers from the local
In Cherbourg, for instance, Mr Bevan Costello said:
We have a RATEP program working in our school. At last count I
think there were four people who are now out teaching and we have another one
just about ready to graduate now. It works really well with the school because
those people are working as teacher aides in our school. They are getting that
expertise and then they go across to study in the afternoon and they can pull
the practical and the theory side of it together. It has really helped.
The committee was encouraged by the efforts to train and teach local
teachers to remain in the school communities as role models and community
leaders and to make a positive change to the levels of Indigenous employment in
regional and remote communities.
Role of Armed Forces, Cadet
Programs and the Police
The committee also heard positive stories about the role the Army cadets
have played in Bamaga. The committee heard that this program is tied into the
school and the Police Citizens Youth Club to encourage young people to have a
structure for their lives and 'taking that stepping stone out of the community
and coming out of their comfort zones, looking at career paths'.
The committee heard about the positive aspects of leadership, planning,
confidence, problem solving and working in a team that can result from
participation in Army cadet programs. Most of all, the committee heard that the
Army provides a potential career option for current students that they might
otherwise not have thought about.
The committee further heard evidence about the recruitment of police and
police liaison officers in Indigenous regional and remote communities:
We support that as much as we possibly can. When the
recruiting drives are on we make sure that our police liaison officers are out
working with those people. We have even changed the title of police liaison
officers within our operation to community support coordinators. That makes a
difference to why they believe they are there. In Cooktown we have two police
liaison officers and they see the police liaison officers as tools of the
operational police. My police liaison officers as community support
coordinators go out and assist people in doing applications and assist them to
know how they can get through. Sometimes a lot of the barrier is knowing where
to go. We have had some successes with that.
Community Development Employment
The national policy on CDEP is outlined in Chapter 2. This also includes
a brief commentary of the positive and negative views of the program across
Australia. This section outlines the issues that the committee found with CDEP
Each of the committee's reports have considered the impact of CDEP on
employment opportunities in regional and remote Indigenous communities. In
every community that the committee has visited there have been both proponents
and opponents for continuation of CDEP in regional and remote Indigenous
communities. The committee has previously found that the quality of the CDEP
outcomes depends on the competence of those responsible for implementing it and
the effectiveness of the mechanisms put in place to monitor its administration.
The committee heard also heard both positive and negative commentary on
the role of CDEP in local communities in Queensland.
Queensland's policy on CDEP
DEEDI indicated that the official policy of the Queensland Government in
relation to CDEP was as follows:
The Queensland Government supports the changes to the
Community Development Employment Project’s program but when it is implemented
in the Torres Strait we think there will be a real challenge finding
sustainable alternative employment. We are concerned that people may have
underestimated the extent to which private business and council business will
become frankly unviable at that point. I just thought we would make the point
that we would like to see some further detailed economic and social impact
assessment; we should look before we leap.
Criticisms of CDEP
Witnesses commented on the negative aspects of CDEP and the impact that
it has had on communities. For instance, Ms Sonia Townson, PCYC, stated:
I do not really want to go away from this table without you
hearing what I have to say about CDEP. We failed that program, and that program
has failed us. When the CDEP initiative first came in it was a funded program
that went to your council to have our young people to go onto that program to
be trained in that field and come out with a ticket at the end of the day and
then work and give something back. We failed. Our people who have gone onto
CDEP have the money and live day-to-day on that money, and from fortnight to
fortnight. It is an absolute joke. I would be happy for it to go tomorrow, because of what been going on.
Counsellor Peter Lui
commented that CDEP has a ongoing impact on the desire of young people to work
and enter into full time employment because the cycle of handouts is too hard
Yes, it has helped build these communities and, yes, we do
have issues with work ethic. But in some cases CDEP is the problem that causes
this lack of work ethic. If you are just out of school, you are signing up for
work and the only work that they give you is a couple of days, what kind of a
message is that giving to a young bloke? That young bloke or that young lady
now begins to get used to the system. They are stranded there for a number of
years and it becomes the norm. They can live off two days of work. All of a
sudden, someone like Mr Foord gives a young kid a break but, because they have
only been working two days for the last four or five years, that cycle is now
too hard to break.
Councillor Lui went on to say that some CDEP workers had been turning up
for work for 10 to 15 years every day without any sign of graduating to a
mainstream position of employment. He informed the committee that in his
opinion, CDEP had become merely a wage subsidy.
Support for CDEP
Other witnesses before the committee commented that CDEP was effective
and provided a valuable mechanism to develop local infrastructure and provide
skills for its participants:
It was working perfectly here. It was certainly helping the
community move forward. If you look around the town, all the fencing, paving
and landscaping was done through the CDEP. It worked very well. All the CDEP
employees with council, builders, carpenters and electricians were doing their
work and learning a trade. They were not just sitting and doing nothing.
Anybody who was any good always got a full-time job.
In its meeting with the Family Resources Centre in Bamaga, the committee
also heard that CDEP was a positive mechanism for creating almost one hundred
percent full time employment in the community and to develop public works and
they had concerns about the fact that CDEP may be discontinued.
Mr Christopher Foord, Bamaga Enterprise Limited, also indicated that
CDEP was a success for many people and provided significant support to business
to employ locals:
Although CDEP has a bad name, it works in communities. Also,
although it is not supposed to be this, CDEP has in fact operated as wage
subsidy for Bamaga Enterprises because the government is paying $16 out of $20,
shall we say, of the hourly rate. That has helped Bamaga Enterprises establish
itself and make substantial profits which go back into the community. Bamaga
Enterprises Ltd is a community owned company that is non-profit, tax-exempt and
all of our money is reinvested back into the community.
The committee was concerned to learn from Queensland Police that there
was likely to be a reduction in community police numbers resulting from any
changes to CDEP:
Correspondingly, though, due to rearrangements regarding the
CDEP funding, there has been a reduction in the number of community police and
that is of significant relevance to us. Whilst the community police were
employed by the council and were never under the control of the state police,
the reduction in their presence is an issue. The current policing model in Queensland is a mix of sworn state officers and police liaison officers. The expansion of
the police liaison officer model to the Indigenous communities to replace the
community police would be a very expensive proposition, and obviously part of
that would involve the provision of housing. 
This was confirmed in Cherbourg where the community noted a significant
deterioration in the situation with community police:
Twelve months down the track we had to get rid of the
community police because, with all due respect, it was not viable.
Moving forward from CDEP
In Cherbourg, the committee heard of one enterprise, the Gundoo Day Care
that used to have CDEP workers but have now trained people to take their place
in full time salaried employment through an amended allocation from the
Commonwealth Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations:
We used to have CDEP workers within our centre, but DEEWR
changed it whereby they add so many dollars to our budget so that we can employ
other people in our centre who we normally employed under the CDEP scheme, and
we train them. At the moment we have four carers in each of our care areas
where regulations stipulate two. We used to work with three carers but when we
started constructing our new centre there last year we took on an extra four
trainees under this scheme whereby the department has given us more money to be
able to employ those people.
The committee acknowledges that many people will face challenges if CDEP
ceases. The committee is advised that the Queensland Government's regional
staff are working with businesses to try and understand what impact the
withdrawal of the CDEP might have.
In particular the Queensland Government has developed a program call JobsAssist
...to build up a diagnostic capability to go and look at firms
and look essentially in accounting terms at the way their net current assets
are moving, whether money is bleeding out of the business or beginning to flow
in, and looking to see if we can put assistance programs in place to help firms
in that position to, firstly, manage themselves better—that can be
significant—and, secondly, to access working capital if that is appropriate.
As noted in Chapter 2, the committee is of the opinion that where there
were adequate pathways from CDEP to employment, CDEP worked well. However, the
committee is of the view that CDEP did not provide a transition to jobs in many
instances, resulting in prolonged subsidised work. This often led to a
disincentive to work. The committee notes that there needs to be a strong
commitment by all governments in transitioning CDEP workers into employment or
A Role for Governments
One suggestion for improving employment options was for government and
industry to enter into specific partnerships to produce employment outcomes.
Rio Tinto, noted that currently there were difficulties arising from existing
short term funding models and short term outcomes.
Mr Kamball Schafferius, Rio Tinto, stated:
Certainly the funding model for some of the agencies is
linked to outcomes, but the outcomes are for a shorter period of time, maybe a
12-week commitment. Generally people can get through three months—that is how
long our mine operator induction takes, for example. What we want to see are
long-term, sustainable behavioural change and long-term employment. Certainly
there would be an opportunity there, and we are working around building better
partnerships with those agencies to see how we can tailor their work and their
activities to be more aligned with mining related requirements, particularly
around drivers licence, alcohol and other drugs and those sorts of things, to
ensure that people are ready and also committed over a longer period time.
The committee also heard from the Cairns Institute about their work
through the local chamber of commerce, which can be a useful voice in the
community and can assist in the construction of positive connections, including
with state and federal governments.
The Cairns Institute also raised the idea about the need for a regional
development plan for areas that are facing economic difficulties.
The committee considers that this would be valuable as it would allow for
regional centres and outlying remote areas to create long term plans for
economic development and the supporting infrastructure and services that will
be required in different communities.
The issue of native title also has a range of implications relating to
businesses in regional and remote Indigenous communities in Queensland. The
committee notes that on 25 February 2010, the Wild Rivers (Environmental
Management) Bill 2010 [No.2] was referred to the Senate Standing Committee on
Legal and Constitutional Affairs for inquiry and report by 30 June 2010. The
Bill seeks to protect the interests of Aboriginal traditional owners in the
management, development and use of native title land situated in wild river
areas. It does this by requiring the agreement of traditional owners to the
development or use of native title land in wild river areas regulated by the
Wild Rivers Act 2005 (Qld).
Due to this inquiry, the committee has not covered the issue of native title
and its linkages to employment and enterprise options.
The committee considers that are significant challenges to improving
Indigenous employment and enterprise development in regional and remote
communities of Queensland.
The committee therefore considers that the Queensland Government, in
partnership with the Commonwealth Government and job network providers continue
their work to:
build strong partnerships with industry;
focus pilot projects on regional and remote Indigenous communities;
develop mechanisms to encourage Indigenous Australians into professional
strongly support the employment and enterprise aspects of the Cape York
Welfare Reform trials.
Mental Health and Social and Emotional Wellbeing
The committee's third report identified a need for social and emotional
wellbeing programs beyond clinical health services. Furthermore, the committee
also identified the need for enhanced children's services such as child
psychologists. The evidence that the committee obtained in Queensland
reinforces this view. The committee has chosen to focus on these aspects of
health in this section of the report, noting that there are broader health
issues that this report does not cover.
The available evidence on mental health in Indigenous communities
suggests that it is a major issue and is related to poor physical health, high
rates of criminal offending, substance abuse, family violence and community
The committee notes that many Indigenous communities prefer to use the
term 'social and emotional wellbeing' when discussing what may traditionally be
referred to as 'mental health'. The term is considered by some as better
describing the Indigenous conception of 'mental health' while emphasising
positive wellbeing, as opposed to the sometimes negative connotations attached
to the term 'mental health' and 'mental health issues'.
For example, Ms Debra Malthouse, Wuchopperen Health Service, described why her
organisation preferred the term social and emotional wellbeing, stating:
We provide a comprehensive healthcare service in relation to
primary health care as well as social and emotional wellbeing services to
families dealing with social and emotional problems which most mainstream
organisations call mental health. We tend not to use that term because it has
implications for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in relation to
being a bad thing as opposed to the fact that sometimes their issues are around
dealing with past history, government polices and things to make their lives
today a little bit better. So we tend not to use the term ‘mental health’,
although I understand that some of the things you guys are looking at are
around mental health. If I tend to use ‘emotional wellbeing’ and ‘social
health’ that is what I am referring to, and I appreciate your accepting that
from my point of view.
Indigenous mental health and social and emotional wellbeing was not a
discrete part of the first National Mental Health Plan endorsed in 1992. It was
not until 2004, with the publication of the National Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander Social and Emotional Wellbeing Framework, that Indigenous
conceptions of mental health and how this should be approached were addressed
at a national level.
As such, it remains an evolving field requiring ongoing attention, discussion
The term captures not just the health of individuals, but may include
concepts such as the general wellbeing of the community, relationships between
individuals, cultural identity and connection to the land. In a review of the
literature on social and emotional wellbeing, Mr Darren Garvey (2008) notes:
The integrity of relationships between people and spiritual
entities and the clarity of connections between people and land contribute
greatly to the [Social and Emotional Wellbeing (SEWB)] of Indigenous people.
Conversely, ruptures to significant relationships and markers of identity
including access to culturally significant sites and socially significant
persons can serve to compromise the quality of an individuals' or a community's
Ms Alanah O'Brien, appearing before the committee in Weipa on 12 April
2010 elaborated on the concept of social and emotional wellbeing, noting that
the term served to bring together separate health areas under a single
The term ‘social and emotional wellbeing’ has its genesis in
a lot of different areas, but has come to mean a wholeness of health and
wellbeing rather than an absence of mental illness. You will probably be
familiar with some of these concepts because they have been out there in the
public dialogue for awhile. Within communities here it is an accepted term
around a feeling of community and social inclusion and having a sense of
personal agency and connectedness with one’s important others. In that sense we
use it within Health to understand a broader concept of health than just
different areas of health like good coronary health, good mental health or good
maternal and child health.
Ms O'Brien informed the committee that the concept of social and
emotional wellbeing formed a useful starting point for universal health
promotion and intergovernmental cooperation.
I think the focus on social and emotional wellbeing is a
starting point, for universal health promotion and prevention is where we need
to target our energies and resources, and we need to incorporate that into all
areas, not just within mental health services or just within a particular
government department that might have responsibility in that area. It has to be
an integrated part of all human services and a recognition of the various
social determinants like housing and education and how they impact on people’s
social and emotional wellbeing. A lot of the work that has been done across
government departments looking at base funding and at program development is, I
think, a positive move. The more energy we put into bringing all that
altogether is, I think, going to be useful.
For the purposes of this chapter, the committee has taken social and
emotional wellbeing to refer to a positive state of mental health and wellbeing
resulting from positive relationships, activities and lifestyle. Social and
emotional wellbeing programs therefore seek to promote happiness and 'positive'
mental health and general counselling or recreational activities. The committee
makes the distinction with clinical mental health services which treat mental
illnesses, which could be considered as treating 'negative' mental health. The
committee understands that this may be too narrow a distinction for some, but
seeks to outline the terminology used in this chapter in an attempt to
facilitate discussion and avoid confusion. This terminology may not be in
accordance with that preferred by some Indigenous people, but has been so
defined to avoid misunderstanding by a general audience.
The committee also notes that making a distinction can cause problems in
coordinating the two types services which is an issue addressed below. The
situation bears some similarities with the relationship between health
promotion and treatment.
The Burden of Mental and
Results from the 2004–05 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Health Survey indicate that Indigenous people aged 18 years or older are twice as
likely as their non-Indigenous counterparts to feel high or very high levels of
In addition, the results indicate that the higher levels of psychological
distress are consistent with a greater frequency of stressors reported by the
Indigenous population. Forty-two per cent of Indigenous people reported the
death of a family member or friend in the previous year, while 25 per cent
reported alcohol or drug related problems. The proportion of people reporting
these and other specific stressors was higher in the Indigenous population.
Table 3.1 Proportions (%) of
Stressors Reported in Previous 12 Months, by Indigenous Status, Year and
Stressor Type, Australia, 2004-2005 and 2006 (ABS/AIHW)
Indigenous status / year
Type of stressor
Death of a family member or friend
Serious illness or disability
Not able to get a job
Alcohol or drug related problem
Overcrowding at home
Member of family sent to jail/in jail
Witness to violence
Trouble with police
Evidence put to the committee in Queensland also suggested the link
between stress and mental health problems. Ms Gloria Wallis, a council member
from Napranum, was asked whether substance abuse was a major cause of the high
incidence of mental disorders. In reply, she stated:
I believe so. And there are also the social factors in our
communities: we do not have the services that other communities have; we just
have to make do with what we have got. Forever and a day we have had
overcrowding, communicable diseases, domestic violence—you name it. That is
what sits in our community and festers...
The Western Australian Aboriginal Child Health Survey, a large scale,
scientifically rigorous survey that included questions about developmental and
environmental factors influencing child social and emotional well-being found
- 24 per cent of Indigenous children were rated by their parents as
being at high risk of clinically significant emotional or behavioural
difficulties compared to 15 per cent in the general Australian population;
- 70 per cent of Indigenous children were living in families that
had experienced three or more major life stress events (such as a death in the
family, serious illness, family breakdown, financial problems or arrest), with
22 per cent experiencing 7 or more of these stressors in the previous year;
- 16 per cent of Indigenous young people aged 12–17 years had
seriously considered ending their own life in the previous year; of these, 39
per cent had attempted suicide; and
- children of Indigenous carers who had been forcibly separated
from their families were 2.3 times more likely to be at high risk of incurring
clinically significant emotional and behavioural difficulties and had twice the
rate of both alcohol and other drug use.
In 2005–06 Indigenous males and females were almost twice as likely to
be hospitalised for mental and behavioural disorders as other Australians. In
particular, rates of hospitalisation for Indigenous people diagnosed with
‘mental disorders due to psychoactive substance abuse’ were 4.5 times higher
for Indigenous males and 3.3 times higher for Indigenous females than for their
Mortality from mental and behavioural disorders is also much higher in
the Indigenous population. Indigenous males were 5.8 times more likely to die
from mental and behavioural disorders and Indigenous females 3.1 times more
likely than their non-Indigenous counterparts.
The mortality rate for ‘mental and behavioural disorders due to psychoactive
substance use' was 14 times higher for Indigenous males and 12 times higher for
The Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council notes in its
submission to the committee that more than one-third of mental disorders in
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can be attributed to alcohol,
illicit drugs, child sex abuse and intimate partner violence.
They also note that social and economic disadvantage in remote areas can be
linked to Indigenous experiences of mental ill-health and mental disorder and
increased risk factors, citing research by the Australian Institute of Health
Though these headline statistics are invaluable in understanding the
prevalence and nature of mental health issues in the Indigenous population, the
committee heard that there was still a lack of a strong evidence base upon
which to build policy.
Sadly, there is very little actual information about the
mental health and wellbeing of Indigenous people in Australia, despite the fact
that they represent more than two per cent of our population. We know that one
in five Australians have a mental disorder in any 12 months and that 45 per
cent of Australians will experience a mental illness. We presume that the rates
are the same, if not higher, for Indigenous communities, but quite frankly we
do not know. The epidemiological evidence has not been collected to tell us
What we do know from some work that has been done to try to
tell us some indicators is that Indigenous people are more likely to be more
distressed than the normal population when you look at scales such as the
Kessler scale. We know that they are also more likely to be anxious and they
are more likely to represent having a number of different problems than
non-Indigenous populations. Whether that equates to having depression or
anxiety, as non-Indigenous people would actually understand it, is actually
unknown and there is a belief that some of this comes from a number of other
issues that confront non-Indigenous people, rather than for example the
presence of mental disorders.
The committee is of the view that the given the prevalence of stress and
mental illnesses in regional and remote Indigenous communities, both the
treatment of illnesses and disorders and the promotion of mental health and
wellbeing is essential in improving the overall health, welfare and
functionality of Indigenous communities. The importance of access to a variety
of mental health services was raised in the committee's third report, and
remains an issue of importance for the community, warranting further enquiry.
Alcohol and Substance Abuse
Alcohol and substance abuse is a major cause of mental health problems
in regional and remote Indigenous communities, either as a contributor to
violence and other stressors or as a primary cause in itself. Dr Hunter noted
the central role of alcohol, stating:
I do not think that there is any question that alcohol is a
major, if not the major, substance causing problems in the far north. I think
that there have been very significant improvements in the aftermath of the
alcohol management program. There are difficulties and problems with that.
However, Dr Hunter also emphasised that marijuana was also a major cause
for concern, contributing to rising levels of psychosis:
I would like to underline in bold that cannabis is an
enormous problem. Cannabis is a devastating problem. The reason ... that we have
significant increases in the disability associated with serious mental illness
relates to the impact not just of cannabis on people who have serious mental
illness, but the devastating impact on their development prior to the onset of
their serious mental illness, that is not just in terms of their own use, but
the impact on the wider family. Cannabis cannot be emphasised sufficiently as a
This point was echoed by Dr Arlene Laliberte, North Queensland Health
Equalities Promotion Unit, who outlined evidence of an increase in marijuana
usage following alcohol restrictions and noted that this was perhaps
contributing to an observed rise in the level of psychosis:
...there is a lot of anecdotal evidence of communities that
become dry having other problems like sly grogging and marijuana use, and there
is some anecdotal evidence around hospitalisation data and the rising rates of,
for example, psychosis. A lot of speculation is around the effects of marijuana
use. That is what we are seeing in the hospitalisation data. So there is that
data, but the rest is speculation.
Dr Marion Drennan, a visiting psychologist for the community of
Cherbourg noted that existing trauma was compounded by substance abuse, in this
case solvent abuse, leading to problems of dual diagnosis.
Many of the people that I see have been very seriously
affected by both direct trauma and intergenerational trauma that is passed on.
So there is often a lot of work to do just on the trauma basis. There is also
the response so many people take to the distress, which is to use illicit
substances. In addition, one of the major problems here is the inhalation of
paint fumes. Thee incredibly damaging effects of those substances, whether they
be legal or illegal, are quite profound. I see a lot of people in this
community who suffer from psychotic illness. At this point in time, I cannot
say, ‘This person would’ve had schizophrenia if they had not been exposed to
these substances,’ but they do meet the criteria for that diagnosis.
Queensland Health informed the committee that as a result of the strong
connection between mental health and substance abuse, the agency was in the
process of merging the mental health and alcohol and drug services together
under the same administration.
Suicide and the Changing Pattern of
Mental Health Issues
The committee heard from Dr Ernest Hunter that Indigenous mental health
was a changing field, with a discernible pattern over the last four or five
decades. Dr Hunter informed the committee that:
One of the difficulties that I have as a clinician...is that
the area that I am working in is changing by the decade. Indeed, if we go back
to the 1960s and 1970s we saw a dramatic increase across Indigenous Australia
in problems with alcohol and the behaviours associated with that. In the
eighties and later in the nineties we saw an increase in suicide. Both of those
did not have precedents. We are now seeing significant increases in people
being hospitalised with serious mental illness.
In particular, Dr Hunter noted a changing pattern in regards to suicide
in these communities.
I mentioned that suicide really only started to increase
dramatically in the 1980s across Australia. I was working in the Kimberley then
and subsequently here. We have seen a change in the pattern when suicide began
to occur at that time, at least in the Kimberley. It tended to be older men who
had some chronic problems from substance use and who were in their thirties and
forties, and then in the late-eighties and early-nineties that changed dramatically
and we have the picture that is most common now, which is young adult men who
have taken their lives whilst intoxicated, often in the aftermath of some kind
of confrontation which on the surface may have seemed trivial.
Across Queensland, Indigenous people had a 1.8 times higher risk of
suicide that non-Indigenous people between 1994 and 2006 (1.9 for males and 1.4
for females). The highest suicide rates in the Indigenous population were among
the 15–24 and 25–34 age groups, while the highest suicide rate in the
non-Indigenous population was amongst the 25–34 year age group.
Queensland Health informed the committee that Indigenous suicide rates
in Queensland had stabilised during the last 15 years, but remained high.
However, the committee heard that a recent development was the rise in child
suicides, with Aboriginal child suicides being twice the rate of non-Indigenous
children. Dr Hunter cited research suggesting that a common factor in
Indigenous child suicides was that they came from communities where suicides
had previously occurred, and these children were witness to behaviours
associated with suicide.
Statistics provided by the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health
Queensland corroborate this evidence:
Of special concern is the high and increasing number of
suicides among Indigenous Australian children and adolescents. In 2006 ‑ 2007,
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and adolescents accounted for
approximately 39% of youth suicide victims, despite comprising only 6% of the Queensland’s
youth population. The rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian
children and adolescents aged 10 – 17 years who suicided over the four year
period 2004 – 2007 was almost six (6) times higher than other Queensland youth
During site visits to communities in Queensland, the committee also
heard evidence that child and juvenile suicide was a major problem. In the
Northern Peninsula Area, the committee was informed that in 2009, three
children had committed suicide within the space of two weeks, with many in the
community viewing it as a copycat-type situation.
The committee is deeply disturbed by this trend and notes that it will
require increased resources targeted at child psychiatric and counselling
services. The committee notes that a child and youth branch of the Remote Area
Mental Health Service is being established in Cairns.
The committee also noted the need for child psychiatrists in the Kimberley, following
evidence by the Western Australian Commissioner for Children and Young People.
The high levels of suicide in regional and remote Indigenous communities
is remains a significant national problem. The Senate Community Affairs
Reference Committee is currently undertaking an inquiry into Suicide into
Australia, including in Indigenous communities, and is currently due to report
back to the Senate on 24 June 2010.
Mental Health Policy in Queensland
Queensland Health informed the committee that as part of its mental
health service delivery strategy, it prioritised the role of Indigenous Mental
Health Workers, with 90 full-time equivalents currently employed in a range of
services including mainstream mental health services and justice programs. The
committee heard that the agency's target was to employ 150, or one per 1000
Indigenous people in the state.
The expansion of the number of Indigenous Mental Health Workers is part
of the Queensland Government's 10-year mental health plan, endorsed in 2008. In
addition, the government intends to construct a Indigenous mental health hub
facility in Brisbane that will be responsible for driving forward Indigenous
mental health service delivery across the state in a coordinated manner.
The committee also notes statements by Queensland Health that as part of
the Closing the Gap initiatives in Queensland, the state government is
developing training tools for cultural competency, appropriateness and
safeness, and that some of this will be compulsory for all non-Indigenous
mental health workers in Queensland.
Furthermore, the committee is pleased to see that a program using
registrar positions is providing on-the-job training for mental health workers.
I think it is important to provide a sufficiency of
background information, so for registrars there is now a set of online modules
around Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander mental health which is being created
by the College of Psychiatry and is on their psychiatry website. There is a
series of training lectures that registrars have to attend. For those
registrars who come north, all of the registrars operating in the service have
considerable exposure to Indigenous people in their work at Cairns Base
Hospital and in the communities nearby, Mossman, Yarrabah and Innisfail.
The training system was strengthened by the addition of year-long senior
registrar program. Many individuals who have passed through this program have
remained in the Indigenous mental health field, and the position has become
Finally, Queensland is the only jurisdiction that operates a dedicated
Deafness and Mental Health Service in Australia.
The committee was not in a position to inquire further about this particular
service, but notes that the high levels of hearing loss in Indigenous
communities means this type of service is essential.
The committee considers these initiatives to be positive steps forward. However,
the committee notes the need for improved coordination of traditional mental
health services with community-based social and emotional wellbeing programs, a
point discussed further below. Additionally, related government and
non-government activities also require better coordination according to
evidence put before the committee.
Finally, the committee also notes that compared to other states,
Queensland could consider more investment in alcohol and drug treatment
This is particularly important given the bulk of evidence presented to the
committee suggesting that alcohol abuse is a core issue of concern in many
regional and remote Indigenous communities.
Promotion of Social and Emotional Wellbeing
As noted by the committee above, the promotion of social and emotional
wellbeing can be accomplished through a number of activities and avenues. In
this section, the committee presents some evidence on types of programs that
could be considered.
Queensland Health noted the importance of culture as a protective factor
against mental health problems, and a promoter of social and emotional
We know that inherently Indigenous people have an incredibly
strong and vibrant community and culture that is very protective for them.
However, we know that in a number of communities, and in particular the
ex-DOGIT communities in Queensland, for a number of different reasons those
issues are no longer protective and provide resilience for Aboriginal people.
The consequence of that has often been high levels of mental health service
usage, hospitalisation and, sadly, of higher rates of suicide than in the
The committee notes the importance of culture and community in promoting
positive mental health outcomes. In recent trips to Queensland it came across a
range of positive examples. For example, the committee heard about a successful
Social and Emotional Wellbeing Week in Napranum recently:
Ms Wallis—...I saw from our community that it was well overdue
to have something like that to promote social and emotional wellbeing. It was
something that our community really, really grasped. We had people attending a
children’s psychologist from Townsville. A fellow came up and did one-hour
workshops with all the agencies because our kids from our community are in
Cleveland in Townsville, sent out to juvenile detention centres, and all the
agencies attended those sessions. We had the same with mental health first aid,
a two-day workshop in that week. We had clinics with the young kids on
self-esteem at the school and in the clinic, and then we had Mary G as an
entertainer for the last night. We had well over 500 people attend. That
euphoria, that feeling of emotional wellbeing just—
Ms O’Brien—Everybody kind of came and did things. We turned
up on the last night and all of the women were there. They cooked all this
fabulous food. Nobody had really asked them to. Everybody just did these
things. It was wonderful.
Ms Wallis—In our community we joined in to entertain the
entertainer. It stirred something in our community. When somebody in crisis is
going through a rough time, it is just a matter of putting your hand on their
shoulder to hold them while they wait for help to come. That was an eye opener
for our mob.
The committee notes that this type of program aims to build community
cohesion. This clearly links to the Cape York Welfare Reform trial's stated aim
of rebuilding social norms in these communities. The committee feels that community
cohesion is a necessary preamble to the ability of a community to defend
positive social norms as a whole.
The committee was similarly interested to hear from the Cairns Institute
about the Family Wellbeing Empowerment Program. The committee understands that
this program, first developed by a group of Aboriginal people in Adelaide,
provides personal development to build trusting relationships, think about
personal needs and aspirations and develop the life skills needed to attain
personal goals, with a subsequent community focus.
The Cairns Institute informed the committee that their Family Wellbeing
and Empowerment Program facilitated the involvement of individuals in other
programs and community life.
It gives people the capacity to be able to grasp other
opportunities in life. You do not know what you do not know. People have not
got the relationships. Some people in Yarrabah have never left in their life.
They have not even come over the hill. They do not know what that is like to
make outside connections. They do not make connections with the school, and
that is even within their own community. Family Wellbeing facilitates that
process and gives them a sense of self-esteem and self-worth. They are the
fundamentals of life. You can throw all the money, all the policies, all the
programs—they cannot grasp those programs without that first. I think that is
the significance of the Family Wellbeing program. ...It becomes an ethics of
morality and care for humanity rather than just existing in your own little
isolated group. Many Aboriginal people do not have an understanding of their
position in the world. They do not know what caused them to be in the
environment they are currently in. It is a facilitating tool; it is not a
solution to everything, but it is a facilitating tool for other programs that
The Cairns Institute informed the committee that it was difficult to
gain any access to government policy making in order to inform that process
through sharing the success of programs such as the Family Wellbeing
Initiatives often come and we hear it with the announcement;
we do not always get to hear it at the time of development of a particular
policy or program. Then when we go in with the research it is too late, because
they are already on a path. ... So it is sometimes very difficult to get into the
policy cycle and get the voices of the community heard in that. Hopefully, we
[as the Cairns Institute] are going to be a bit more of a conduit.
The committee reported on a similar project that was proposed through
the Western Australian Indigenous Traditional Culture and Healing Project in
its third report and is of the opinion that governments should support these
One area that the committee hopes a social and emotional wellbeing
program could assist is in building constructive partnerships between rival
families which as been a significant issue observed by the committee in its
visits to regional and remote Indigenous communities.
Siloed Services Between Mental Health
and Social and Emotional Wellbeing
The committee heard that the coordination of clinical mental health
services with the more holistic social and emotional wellbeing programs was problematic.
Queensland Health noted that the delineation of responsibility between the
Commonwealth and state governments potentially led to gaps in service:
We recognise the extraordinary importance of social and
emotional wellbeing and how that gets addressed. You have probably been to see
some of the centres that are up in the northern peninsula when you were up in
Bamaga. We value them very highly. We think that they are an important part of
what we would probably consider to be a primary care approach to mental health.
One of the difficulties the state has often struggled with is the relationship
between the Commonwealth and the state in funding and the expectation that the
state provides specialist mental health services and that the Commonwealth
provides other services. We are somewhat convinced that there is a gap there
which we fill when it comes to social and emotional wellbeing.
To cut a long story short, it tends to be a juggle between
those resources that we have that we provide for clinical services often being
used to provide social and emotional wellbeing centres or social and emotional
wellbeing programs at the expense of clinical programs. Our intention is to try
to have both operating. It would be much nicer if there were some clarity
around how to move best between all levels of government to do that. It is a
Dr Hunter noted that the development of the two streams had political
I think it is a poorly defined territory. It has a historical
background and there are political implications to the reasons that these two
fields emerged, but we have people who are employed through those programs and
in Cape York.
The committee heard a similar view expressed by clinical psychiatrists
working in the field. They indicated that in a community such as Cherbourg,
with extensive clinical mental disorders, it was difficult to progress beyond
reactive treatment to take proactive steps to address social and emotional
At the moment the mental health service is only operating at
a direct clinical level. We do not have, and have not had, the capacity to take
a community development and a wellness approach to the community, which clearly
the community needs. We are really only responding to clinical referrals.
The committee heard that the community controlled health organisation in
that community, Barambah Health Centre, did provide some social and emotional
wellbeing programs, such as Bringing Them Home Counsellors, health promotion
and youth diversionary programs.
Mrs Jennie Anderson, Chief Executive Officer, noted the scope for cooperation
between the two services, as was already occurring on an ad-hoc basis.
Dr Ernest Hunter, a psychiatrist based in Far North Queensland, noted
that practioners could facilitate cooperation on an individual basis.
In terms of how I operate as a practitioner, I work in
communities where the [Royal Flying Doctor Service] are now running wellbeing
centres and what I do is I try to put aside a half a day in each community to
spend with the wellbeing centre, staff and try to look at issues where there is
overlap between our services and also to facilitate the communications between
both. Even when we have facilities that are collocated in the same space, as is
the case for instance in Aurukun, that does not mean that we necessarily have a
The committee considers that a formalised policy of cooperation between
clinical mental health services and social and emotional wellbeing services, be
they government or non-government is needed. Dr Aaron Groves, Queensland
Health, informed the committee that the two types of service needed definition
and clarification at the community level in order to resolve responsibilities
and facilitate cooperation:
In fact, one of the important things that we are doing is
making sure that it is clear what that sort of more primary mental health care
and social and emotional wellbeing interface is and exactly where clinical
services sit with that, because sometimes there is a difficult sitting together
of those two processes. For some of the communities clinical services are
something that they are reluctant to accept unless everything else has actually
been thought through. For others there is a much greater awareness to get
clinical involvement. That is something that is difficult, to have one
particular approach that suits every community.
The committee has therefore formed the view that mental health and
general wellbeing can be improved by the integration and cooperation of services
across the mental health spectrum. The committee notes the confusion in this
area and considers that national consistency is required.
The committee recommends that the Australian Health Ministers
Conference develop a framework specifying interoperability between social and
emotional wellbeing services and clinical mental health services.
The section above notes the major role that alcohol and other substance
abuse plays in poor mental health and wellbeing in regional and remote
Indigenous communities. It is a primary cause of anti-social behaviour, and
hence a major cause of the high level of offending and incarceration of
Indigenous people in Australia. Alcohol and drug abuse is also a major cause of
poor physical health, suicide, family violence, poor education outcomes for children
and low levels of community safety.
The committee examined the effectiveness of alcohol restrictions in
Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek in its third report, noting significant
improvements across a range of indicators.
However, the committee recommended that the Commonwealth work with the Western
Australian government to support the development of an explicit plan to ensure
that alcohol restrictions be supported by adequate rehabilitation and community
support services to address alcohol addiction and problem drinking.
Additionally, the committee recommended that such a plan includes a consistent
approach to alcohol management that included effective community consultation
and decision making.
The committee was therefore interested to collect evidence on
Queensland's Alcohol Management Plans (AMP) during visits to communities in
that state. Since 2002, 19 of Queensland's discrete Indigenous communities have
been declared as alcohol restricted areas under the Liquor Act 1992.
The AMPs vary across communities. For example, in the Northern Peninsula
Area it is an offence to be in possession of more than two litres of
unfortified wine and a single carton of beer/pre-mixed spirits or any amount of
stronger liquor. It is an offence to drink in a public place, as it is
generally across Queensland. In the NPA, a household can apply to have their
home declared a 'dry place' and hence make it illegal to drink on the premise.
By contrast, in Napranum, which was also visited by the committee, no alcohol
is permitted within the Napranum Shire at all. The maximum penalty for a first
offence under these laws is $37 500.
Community Ownership of Alcohol
The committee heard a range of opinions regarding these alcohol law reforms.
In particular, several witnesses noted a perception in the affected communities
that the restrictions had been imposed rather than implemented in accordance
with the community support. The committee is concerned by the prevalence of
these perceptions, as it is the committee's opinion that for alcohol management
to work, the community must be on-board and preferably be driving the process,
as was largely the case in Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing in Western
The Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council did not support the Alcohol
Management Plan for Cherbourg on the grounds that it was never going to be
possible to adequately police the restrictions given the proximity of Murgon, a
community that was not subject to restrictions.
Unless the ‘why’ factor is addressed—why do people drink?—you
are never going to stop alcohol. Where was the AMP for the First Fleet? As long
as you have alcohol you are going to have alcoholics.
Mr Roy Chevathen, Mayor of Napranum Aboriginal Shire Council, felt that
the AMP in that community had been imposed, and the promised support services
had not materialised:
Some of you may know that the alcohol management plan was
imposed on us in about mid-2003, but nothing happened in terms of support for
the community, really, when they imposed it. There was no alcohol reduction or
diversionary program set up. Even with the rehabilitation, they have been
talking about it for over 12 months now and we still have not got anything
concrete back. If it is going to happen we would prefer it to happen in our
Similar comments were made by Mr Steven Christian in Bamaga, who felt
that the restrictions unfairly curtailed the rights of individuals in that
The alcohol management plan needs to be thrown out or
reviewed, because I feel that it is not only an injustice but a bit of a racist
thing. It is a bit of a sham on behalf of the government not being able to
handle the situation. The rights of individuals within a community have been
The committee is of the view that alcohol restrictions are a useful, and
occasionally necessary tool in reducing alcohol abuse in communities, however
without community support, the perceptions listed above are likely to
significantly undermine the operation of the initiative.
Mr Noel Pearson, Director of the Cape York Institute for Leadership and
Policy, felt that this was a failing in the way the laws had been introduced:
One of the areas where I am disappointed and where we need
different action is in breaches of the alcohol management plans. A key part of
our thinking was that when we think about social norms the people themselves
have got to own and defend the standards that they want for their community. In
addition to that social ownership of the norm you have to make sure that the
incentives support the norms, because if the incentives run contrary to the
norms that you want they severely undermine them.
We also had to get alignment from the law. The law helps to
buttress norms as well. The laws and the incentives are now in alignment. What
we are struggling with in relation to, say, alcohol is a very mixed story in
terms of community leadership on alcohol. There is no consensus amongst
community leaders about the impact of alcohol, harm levels in the community and
so on, and there is no consensus about what should be done in relation to
alcohol. There is no strong ownership by community leaders of the alcohol
management plans. I think that is a consequence of poor introduction. We did
not introduce alcohol management plans in the optimal way to get community
ownership around those plans.
Mr Pearson was of the opinion that gathering the necessary consensus for
alcohol management in the community in order to ensure ownership of the plan by
communities was beyond the ability of a bureaucratic process. Instead, there
needed to be leadership and advocacy from the community. This accorded with the
committee's own understanding following an examination of the alcohol
restrictions in the Kimberley. In both those cases, restrictions were introduced
by processes initiated by community groups.
Mr Pearson went on to describe to the committee how electoral incentives
discouraged strong leadership on alcohol control from local councils and
One thing I would urge the Commonwealth parliament to think
about is that there are no incentives at community level leadership. There are
no incentives for them to make the reduction of harm levels resulting from
alcohol part of their leadership. There is nothing. In fact, if you want to get
re-elected, you had better go quiet on alcohol restrictions. The electoral
incentives are against you. Nothing in terms of budgets and supports you
receive from government is related to whether you are doing a good job or a bad
job in reducing harm levels. It makes for disconnected leadership, because
government support comes whether you have high levels or low levels of
harm—whether you are really working hard to reduce the levels of harm. We made
a proposal to the Queensland Government and the Commonwealth through our own
process. We started a discussion 18 months ago or two years ago. We said that
there ought to be very explicit connections between government support and
community performance on bringing down the harm indicators.
The Department of Communities responded to criticisms of the engagement
process regarding the AMPs, stating:
In terms of the consultation process, both with the initial
roll-out of the AMPs and then the review several years ago of those alcohol
restrictions, there was engagement with each community. As I know with the
establishment of the Cape York Welfare Reform trial and the FRC, as you
mentioned, there will always be people that say that they were not consulted
enough and often that might be because their views were not the views that were
finally determined about alcohol restrictions. There was certainly engagement
in terms of discussions with people about the restrictions but also,
importantly, what the support services were. In the review undertaken several years
ago that was recognised as a critical factor that we needed to address and, as
part of that, in 2008 we committed $66.4 million for improved services across
the discrete communities who have alcohol management plans to improve service
delivery in diversionary services.
The ability of certain communities to minimise antisocial behaviour such
as alcohol abuse was demonstrated by evidence provided by Mr David Claudie, from
the Chuulangan Aboriginal Corporation, who informed the committee that the
autonomy associated with his homeland community meant they had more control
over behaviour of individuals in that community:
You are away from alcohol, you are away from drugs and you
are away from all the other stuff that is in those centralised places. Out
there, we control our own people in that field, so we are right on top of it.
It is not an issue on the homelands.
Mr Claudie noted that the community-imposed ban on alcohol was so widely
known and respected that individuals travelling from AMP imposed dry
communities would not enter his community under the influence of alcohol.
The committee considers this further evidence of the need for
communities to develop the ability to defend social expectations of good
behaviour in the community.
Circumvention of Restrictions
The committee heard anecdotal information that the introduction of
alcohol restrictions in the Northern Peninsula Area had led to highly dangerous
trips in small boats to the Torres Strait and Papua New Guinea in order to
bring in alcohol, while the incidence of binge drinking of higher alcohol
content beverages and methylated spirits had increased.
As previously noted, the Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council did not
support the Alcohol Management Plans, feeling it was meaningless as alcohol was
freely available in the nearby community of Murgon, which was not subject to
The Department of Communities noted that the government could not achieve
enforcement acting alone, and that community leadership was also important:
There is obviously an enforcement function that is needed to
identify people that are undertaking those illegal activities. In referring to
some of my earlier comments, that can go so far. The role that we are
increasingly seeing is not only those communities in the cape, but other
communities where local people have taken up a leadership role in identifying
and addressing at the local community level, through community justice groups
as well as more informal groups and leadership groups, the council and others,
people who are breaking the law and having those activities addressed.
The Queensland Commissioner of Police also informed the committee of the
inherent tension between the need for tolerant policing and discretion over
minor offences versus the need to enforce alcohol restrictions:
Certainly, though, there is a challenge with the necessary
enforcement of the alcohol management plan or the alcohol restriction type
legislation versus the significant degree of dependency and importance that is
associated with alcohol; there is a real tension in respect of that. That links
back to that relationship with the community, which is important, of course,
The Commissioner noted that the smuggling of alcohol would always be a
problem under alcohol restrictions, but noted that overall, the AMPs had been a
success. The Commissioner used improvements in Mornington Island as an example,
Before the AMP, on a Friday night on Mornington Island, there
would be lots of children in the street until three, four and five in the
morning. Sometimes they were in the street because they just felt unsafe. There
would be noise and loud music. Now, on Mornington Island on a Friday night at
10 o’clock, 11 o’clock or midnight, it is quiet; the only thing you will hear
is the odd dog barking occasionally. I think life is better now than before in
almost all communities where the AMP has been introduced. That is not to say
that it is ideal and there is not a long way to go, and it is certainly not to
say that the problems of sly grog and home brew—which is a huge problem—are not
there. In fact, there may be some consequence in terms of that; that is, those
problems have obviously become worse because of the AMP.
The committee heard evidence suggesting that the alcohol restrictions
have resulted in a migration of people to areas free of the restrictions. For
instance, the Weipa Town Authority informed the committee that it had observed
a greater number of people were coming to Weipa to drink, either during shopping
trips or particularly during social carnivals. The Authority noted that they
had not yet received the support necessary to cope with this problem such as a
proposed residential rehabilitation facility.
Rio Tinto had also observed a rise in the number of people coming to
Weipa as a result of the alcohol restrictions, and that this presented a
problem for their Indigenous employees:
The alcohol reforms that occurred in this part of the country
over the last few years have certainly meant that we have a lot of migration
into Weipa because Weipa is a community where you can freely access alcohol. If
you have a family member who is currently based in Weipa for work purposes,
family will think that that is okay for them to come and impose on that family
member. That gives that employee quite significant issues because they have to
manage the behaviour of their family, which is often not an easy thing for them
to do, but we require them to have good behaviour themselves—so they cannot
indulge in parties and lots of drinking if they have to work. They have to
present to work sober. Also, they cannot have other people coming into the
community to disrupt other people’s sleep patterns et cetera, because other
people have to be able to come to work fit to work and be able to perform their
duties. So there are a range of social issues that have arisen over time as a
result of some of those changes in the alcohol reforms.
The committee is aware of similar issues about relocation of problem
drinkers as a result of the alcohol restrictions in the Kimberley. The
committee does not consider this to be a reason to discontinue restrictions,
but notes that it is an important issue to manage and for governments to
consider in the event of future alcohol restrictions.
Support Services Accompanying Restrictions
The committee has previously emphasised the need for support services
such as rehabilitation and detoxification facilities and services and
diversionary programs for community members. The committee was therefore
pleased to note that in 2008 the Queensland and Commonwealth governments
announced $102 million in funding over four years for complementary services,
- new alcohol and drug treatment services;
- new programs like 'Cell Watch', sobering up facilities and
support for community patrols;
- extra police and support from officers from the Office of Liquor,
Gaming and Racing to enforce alcohol restrictions;
- more programs focused on literacy, before and after school
activities and PCYC programs;
- parenting programs, household management and budgeting programs
and increased support for vulnerable families; and
- more support for local activities, such as men's and women's
The Department of Communities informed the committee that over 100
services have been implemented in the 19 communities subject to AMPs, including
health treatment services, diversionary services and sport and recreation
services. This had led to improvements in the communities:
Since 2002 and 2003, there has been an overall improvement in
some key indicators across all communities. However, with the small populations
and the quarterly fluctuations for wet seasons and community events, it is
difficult to discern the longterm trends at this point.
The committee was made aware of a range of services that are provided in
Queensland, particularly the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs (ATOD)
counselling teams. The committee also notes that as part of the welfare reform
trials in Cape York, four wellbeing centres have been constructed in the four
target communities in order to provide alcohol and substance abuse
The committee also notes comments by Dr Ernest Hunter, who informed the
committee that rehabilitation services were not a standalone answer, stating:
I might say that having done a lot of research into alcohol
use in the Kimberley, there is a role for rehab, but the majority of Indigenous
people who give up, do so because they make decisions on their own to give up;
they do not give up because they have gone through rehab services. In the
research that we did in the Kimberley a third of males over 40 who were
drinkers had given up and the vast majority of those had given up for
particular reasons which related to health services particularly, and to
family. A proportion of them went through rehab.
The committee notes that alcohol restrictions and support services to
assist individuals to overcome addiction are important in reducing alcohol
abuse. However, the reasons for people drinking, including lack of employment
and opportunity will need to be addressed in any long term solution to alcohol
abuse. The committee notes for instance, comments by Mr Steven Christian in
...with a growing population and the number of children
finishing school or hoping to finish school there is nowhere to go. So
education is an issue and employment is an issue. At the end of the day they
end up drinking or fighting or what have you. They start a family and the
merry-go-round these people are on just goes around and around. I do not know
what can be done, but I can tell you something needs to be done.
Creating or providing opportunities and a future for individuals in
these communities will be a necessity in reducing the harmful alcohol and other
Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
The committee considers the prevalence of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum
Disorder (FASD) to be a major issue in regional and remote Indigenous (and
other) communities and has previously made recommendations about raising
awareness of the condition and developing strategies to look after afflicted
During its visit to Queensland, this view was reinforced by further
evidence of the prevalence of FASD. In Napranum, Ms Sonia Schuch, Recognised
Entity, informed the committee that up to 80 per cent of children were
About 80 per cent of our children are showing symptoms of
foetal alcohol syndrome in many different areas—lack of concentration and all
of that kind of stuff. We are having someone in on Wednesday to give us some [Personal
Development] on it because none of us are trained in foetal alcohol syndrome.
Ms Schuh noted the need to raise awareness about the condition so that
parents and teachers could accommodate the special needs of these children in
preparing them for education.
I do not want to point fingers, because I am not trained in
that kind of stuff. I can see that foetal alcohol syndrome has touched most of
the children; it is just a question of to what level. We are talking about
three-, four- and five-year-olds, so their concentration is not all that great
anyway. But trying to prepare some of the kids for formal schooling can be
difficult when we do not have the kind of stuff we need to be giving them or
supporting them with—even being able to give the parents the kind of
information they need to have but also some of the strategies they need to use
to prepare their kids, even at home, for these kids to be active members when
they go to formal schooling.
Representatives of the Cherbourg State School also noted that previous
surveys of their student population suggested 86 per cent had prenatal exposure
to alcohol and were therefore at risk of FASD. The behavioural problems
associated with the condition presented a challenge for classroom education.
Witnesses in Bamaga felt that, through education campaigns in that
community, awareness of FASD issues was quite high.
We run the Australian Nurse-Family Partnership that is funded
through the Department of Health and Ageing. It is a relatively new program.
While it is a nurse led program, we also have what we call family partnership
workers. They are Indigenous workers who partner the nurses in working with the
young mothers or first-time mothers that the program works with. That program
follows the mother and child for two years. I think it is from when they are
four months pregnant to the time when the child is two years old. They work
with the parents, the family and the extended family to give the child the best
chance at life and to help the family deal with when they are new parents. The
FAS stuff for us comes up occasionally. We do see a number of children who have
had those issues, but I cannot tell you exactly what that might be for us. I
know that our Australian Nurse-Family Partnership Program is a key component at
this point. It has been in operation for around 18 months.
The committee is deeply concerned by reports of the prevalence of FASD
in regional and remote Indigenous communities and the ramifications in terms of
employment, justice and general social disadvantage and considers it a top
priority for future enquiry.
The section below on justice issues details the strong link between FASD
and antisocial and risk-taking behaviour, resulting in increased contact for
these individuals with the criminal justice system.
The committee heard that solvent abuse, particularly petrol sniffing is
a current problem in Cherbourg. The committee is concerned that witnesses are
of the opinion that as petrol sniffing is not illegal, local police are
powerless to intervene:
Petrol sniffing: Council got one of the best legal minds in
the state, a barrister by the name of Michael Limerick, who does a lot of work
for the state government. We sat down and changed our bylaws. We wanted to make
petrol sniffing an illegal activity and we wanted to charge people by having a
clear boundary and saying, ‘This is what happens if you participate in this
action.’ The kids know that it is not illegal. That is the first thing they say
to the cops. We had a meeting here where a senior sergeant got up and said,
‘People could get into trouble if they took the bottles off the kids. They
could have them up for stealing,’ which is a farce when you are talking about
preservation of life and providing for our future generations. No-one has been
game enough to charge anyone under that law but as long as it sits there, there
is a dog in the yard.
The committee notes that under the Queensland Police Powers and
Responsibilities Act 2000, police have the power to search a person and
seize potentially harmful things if an officer reasonably suspects the person
to have ingested or inhaled or be about to ingest or inhale a potentially
harmful thing. The officer may ask the person why they are in possession of the
substance, and if a reasonable answer is not forthcoming, seize the substance.
The committee notes that a 2003 media release explaining the new powers listed
petrol as one such substance dangerous to children and teenagers.
The committee is concerned that local police in Cherbourg may not be
exercising these powers, but was not able to seek evidence from Queensland
Police regarding this matter in time for this report. The committee encourages
the Queensland Government to work with the Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council
to ensure that local authorities are able to play a proactive role in
preventing solvent abuse in that community.
The committee notes the March 2009 Senate Standing Committee on
Community Affairs inquiry entitled 'Grasping the Opportunity of Opal: Assessing
the impact of the Petrol Sniffing Strategy' that made a range of
recommendations in relation to Opal fuel and petrol sniffing 
The committee heard a range of views about housing in regional and
remote Indigenous communities in Queensland. These views were consistent with
the committee's previous evidence from Western Australia,
and the Northern Territory.
In Queensland, the committee heard a range of views on housing issues.
The committee was told that:
many houses were far too expensive with low levels of homeownership;
there is a chronic shortage of appropriate housing and houses were far
the quality of many houses is deteriorating;
the government's implementation for additional housing was slow or was
conducted without appropriate consultation; and
there were limited if any houses for support service workers.
Lack of Homeownership
The committee noted that there was not a high level of homeownership in Queensland's
regional and remote Indigenous communities or indeed across Australia. As Mr
Noel Pearson indicated, the challenge for government and the community is to
develop 'an agenda for homeownership—moving from social housing to
Mr Pearson indicated that a large reason that homeownership is not on the
agenda is because governments are all about service delivery:
...governments think in terms of service delivery when we are
trying to think in terms of supporting self-help. It is really hard for us to
break the government way of thinking, which is: disadvantaged people need
services delivered by government and NGOs. How does government instead change
its way of operating to supporting people taking charge? I just do not see that
policy conversation taking place, really.
The committee agrees that there needs to be a stronger focus on
Indigenous homeownership in regional and remote Indigenous communities. The
committee also considers that home ownership, education and
employment/enterprise issues are inextricably intertwined and inter-dependent.
The committee therefore postulates that the lack of homeownership in regional
and remote Indigenous communities is an overall indictment of total community
Cost of Houses and Housing Shortage
The committee heard from multiple witnesses about the high cost of
housing in regional and remote communities both due to the distance required to
bring in housing materials to communities and due to the lack of skilled labour.
In Weipa in particular, the committee heard about the excessive price of
housing which results in high rental costs. Mr Shane Bousen from the Weipa Town
Authority commented on rent prices:
I was looking at them on the weekend. They range in price
from $350 for a one-bedroom flat to $550 for a three-bedroom house that is 40
years old. I think my rates would be less on Bondi Beach than they are here. I
think food is definitely cheaper and petrol is definitely cheaper in Bondi
Beach than it is up here. So it is very expensive to live up here. If you were
to buy a cup of coffee in Hamilton in Brisbane, which has the highest income
per capita in Queensland, it would be cheaper there than it is here.
Even communities quite far from the larger mining areas of Queensland
have felt the cost of the housing increase because of the mining boom:
All the mining boom has done is put ridiculous prices on
houses and renting. I do not know who can afford to pay before $400 or $500 a
week in rent when they move to a new place.
The committee also heard evidence that the booms of previous eras had
left a dearth of housing due to the unavailability of labour:
In saying that, in Indigenous communities, and especially in
these remote Indigenous communities, it is very costly to build a house...It
was very hard to get labour sometimes, and especially in own housing booms of
the 1980s and 1990s it was very hard to get builders up here unless you paid
top dollar, and then houses cost too much. And I think the Queensland state
government’s housing output was not crash-hot in the 1990s and early 2000s.
The committee continually heard that there were serious and chronic
problems with overcrowding in houses:
Overcrowding is rife in all Indigenous communities. It is
rife throughout Cape York and it is rife throughout the Torres Strait. I
imagine it is rife throughout the rest of Australia as well.
Councillor Joseph Elu, Mayor of the Northern Peninsula Area Regional
Council, outlined the significant impact that overcrowding has on regional and
remote Indigenous communities and the part that overcrowding plays in the
deterioration of other elements of peoples lives:
If children are in a good stable home, they have a room in
the house for themselves, that is good for education, but if there is
overcrowding it will affect their education. I think antisocial behaviour is
derived from overcrowding, not enough space for people to have time out. So we
say that everything is intertwined.
Councillor Elu said that overcrowding in regional and remote Indigenous
communities has become inter-generational:
I come from an overcrowded family and I now have a family of
my own that is in an overcrowded situation, so it is just going over and over
The Family Responsibilities Commission indicated that the complexity of
the family arrangements in many communities results in two or three families
often living in the one house, causing overcrowding and other social problems.
Slow Government Implementation of
The Queensland Department of Communities indicated that an amount of
$1.16 billion over 10 years to 2018 has been allocated under the National
Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing. The department said that
these funds will provide, for remote Indigenous communities, approximately 1141
new dwellings, 1,216 upgrades to existing houses, repairs and maintenance and
tenancy management, consistent with public housing standards.
In Napranum, the committee heard about the slow pace of the government's
implementation of housing programs that were announced in 2009 and due for
completion by 30 June 2010, a mere ten weeks from the date of the committee
The committee heard from the Napranum Aboriginal Shire Council that the
Government had not even started building the houses. The committee was
extremely concerned at the slow pace of the construction. They commented that:
That is becoming an issue, because they are saying it needs
to be done by the 30th but what type of houses will they be putting up? Are
they going to be worth it?
The committee was also concerned to learn that the council had to
proactively ask if they could build some of the houses as a community to create
local employment. The committee heard that the Napranum Aboriginal Shire
Council was ready to start construction:
We want to start them now, because we are very conscious of
the employment and training program that should go with this money. We have
identified the program which we would need to deliver it, and we would like to
have that bedded down so we can give continuity of employment and training to
those apprentices and trainees.
The Commonwealth Government's response to this situation was provided to
I sit on the joint steering committee for the delivery of the
program. As you know, Minister Macklin is very conscious of the need to get the
funding and the program rolled out. The targets that were set for Queensland on
a state-wide basis were for 65 houses this financial year, and that is
essentially what is going to be rolled out this financial year. And the Queensland
Government is committed as a delivery agency to deliver on them. The first part
of that process is to secure the land. I think most communities by now have
signed up to either this year’s program or the whole of the rolling program.
And so, as to those 18 houses—and I could not confirm that now, but I can down
the track—if it is five this year then that is part of those 65 to be rolled
out this financial year.
The committee noted that the Commonwealth did build houses within ten
weeks in Aurukun and looks forward to following up with the Commonwealth Government
on 30 June 2010 to see if the houses in Napranum have been completed.
In Bamaga too, the council complained about the slow pace of housing
You asked about housing. We are still three years behind. We
have a housing program that is three years in the delivery. When we were Legacy
councils we had a $10 million budget given to us. We started planning as five
individual councils. Those houses are yet to be built. I know it is not part of
your thing—it is Queensland state government—but it is one bucket of money that
we are playing with here. I said to Jenny Macklin a couple of months ago when I
saw her in Canberra that we have to fast-track the housing program. The new
housing program is going to require 40-year leases. We have just found out
that, for native title purposes, they have to have ILUAs before they build on
the blocks, and that is all coming from Brisbane. Nobody is talking to us here;
it is all coming through departmental officers. I said to them: ‘Why doesn’t
the housing minister fly up here and have a talk to council? Maybe we could
then counsel native title holders and government could get together and bypass
this longwinded process and have a local solution created here in these five
communities.’ As I said, our communities are growing and our kids are growing
up. We have got 12 to 15 kids coming out of high school every year. It is small
area but those 15 will find a girlfriend in a couple of years and they will
want a house and want to move out from mum and dad. Statistics show that our
average family is five or six but housing is 11 to 12 per house. There are some houses with fewer, but overall there are 11 to 12 people per house.
The committee also heard about the need to provide local employment, as
well as community participation and consultation when building housing in
remote communities. Boystown commented that:
...if the Commonwealth government believes there is value in
social enterprises and in skilling up local people and in local people owning
and contributing to their community, then contracts and tenders need to reflect
those outcomes. 
Boystown indicated that they currently conduct tenders to refurbish
housing, but they provide support services to ensure that the development of
houses takes into account a whole of community wellbeing and economic
...employment, numeracy and literacy and health and wellbeing
and the whole flow on. I think what does need to be taken into consideration is
how organisations can demonstrate within the confines of the tender what are
the value-adds that come with that.
The committee notes the slow progress of government housing construction
and the frustrations that this causes in some communities. The committee
therefore considers that enhanced consultation should be taken on a continual
basis with communities to ensure that they are both:
consulted about proposed developments and have adequate input into the
that government considers the broader skills that will be developed
through the tendering process.
The committee also notes evidence from Cherbourg that indicated the need
for infrastructure considerations to be part of housing planning:
If we start building new houses and we increase the size of
the community, I am not too sure that our sewerage system, which was built in
1958, would handle any more people. There has been no work done to it since
1958, just minor repairs to keep it operational. It does not meet Queensland
Government requirements under the EPA because it is too close to the
residential area and also the overflow runs straight into Barambah Creek, which
then supplements both the Murgon and Wondai townships’ water supplies, so they
have been drinking recycled water since 1958. The state government has known
about it now for probably six or seven years, but they keep putting us on the
Housing for Essential Service Staff
In the committee's last report, it found that housing was the major
obstacle to the provision of services in those communities. The committee heard
that 'staff housing is the limiting factor to do with adding to services.
Services could easily be funded, but staff housing is the limited factor.
In the committee's recent evidence in Queensland, the committee heard from
literally dozens of organisations that housing is a key issue in regional and
remote Indigenous communities. The committee heard that it prohibited
employment of additional staff to provide essential services at hospitals,
schools and police stations.
In Bamaga, for example, the hospital outlined that they need an
additional 20 staff but there are no houses to support recruitment of any
At the moment, for us to recruit health workers we need at
least another 20. We do not have the capacity here. There is no one trained,
because whoever we have trained we have employed, or they are old or they have
moved on—whatever it may be. So if we try and get a good workforce up here of
effective workers who know their stuff and the first thing we say is, ‘Sorry,
we can’t give you accommodation,’ then of course they are not going to come.
Therefore, we are surviving on just above half a workforce at the moment. We
are limited, but we are still moving on. We just did four or five weeks of
For the Queensland Police Citizens Youth Club it was also an issue:
Housing is a major issue for us, and I think it is for every
government and non-government department in these locations. We cover four
major aspects of sport, recreation, culture and welfare. Sometimes we bring in
people in those areas and we find it very hard to house them even for a short
period of time. When we developed Doomadgee, a new location, one of our major
priorities was that the sergeant had a house. We employ our police liaison
officers from the local community, so they have normal residences. Housing for
us is a major issue.
Security of Staff
The committee further heard that maintenance and security of housing was
also an issue for staff in regional and remote areas. The committee notes
evidence from the Northern Peninsula Area about possible areas to improve staff
An example is the maintenance of security spotlights. I am
not making this personal, but I will use the example of where I live. People do
walk around quite a lot at night. I keep a Rottweiler because I do not trust my
security lights. My front lights are broken. As soon as they are fixed I can
guarantee that the other two sets will be broken. And I have had someone break
into my house. I do not live on the hospital grounds. There is no guarantee
that they can be fixed within 24 hours, which is what the policy states.
The committee is concerned by this evidence and will follow up on this
issue in its next report.
The committee is concerned about the overall lack of housing for
essential staff in regional and remote Indigenous communities, particularly for
health and police staff. The committee considers that further funding is likely
to be required to ameliorate this situation otherwise the committee fears that
the situation will ultimately get worse.
The committee's third report included discussion of Indigenous justice
issues in Western Australia and New South Wales. This section follows on from
that discussion incorporating new evidence put to the committee during its
visits to Indigenous communities in Queensland.
The third report noted the high social and economic costs of the growing
Indigenous imprisonment rate. The committee therefore recommended that the
Western Australian government consider increasing the availability of
non-custodial sentencing options and the provision of therapeutic and
rehabilitation programs to treat the causes of offending and recidivism in
regional and remote Indigenous communities.
As a follow-up action to these recommendations, the committee wrote to
justice agencies in each jurisdiction requesting information on innovations in
criminal justice that seek to address the high rate of Indigenous imprisonment.
The responses to this request are available from the committee's website.
Indigenous Imprisonment Rates
Nationally, the imprisonment rate of Indigenous adults is 2310 per 100
000, or approximately 1 in 43.
rate of imprisonment of Indigenous adults is 14 times higher than the rate for non-Indigenous
Indigenous Australians account over a quarter (up from 20 per cent in
1999) of Australia's total prison population despite representing approximately
2.5 per cent of the Australian population.
The Indigenous imprisonment rate has risen significantly over the last 10
Indigenous males are the most overrepresented group in prisons in
Australia at a rate of 4230 per 100 000.
For certain age groups, it is even higher. The imprisonment rate for 25–29 year
old Indigenous men is 6974.6 per 100 000.
This equates to approximately 1 in 14 Indigenous men in this age group being
imprisoned across Australia.
A discussion paper prepared by the committee secretariat highlights
available data and research on Indigenous interaction with the criminal justice
system and is available from the committee's website. The paper highlights the
importance of violence, alcohol, mental health issues and social disadvantage
in contributing to the high rates of offending and imprisonment in the
Offending from A Young Age
Alleged offender data collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics
from police databases indicate a high level of offending by Indigenous people.
In Queensland, 10 858 per 100 000 Indigenous people were proceeded against
by police through a formal charge, diversion or caution in the 2008–09 calendar
As with the non-Indigenous population, young people were the most highly
represented. 16 615 per 100 000 Indigenous young people in the 15–19 year
old age group were proceeded against by police in that same year, which is
approximately one in six.
The Queensland Department of Communities informed the committee that
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people make up 34 per cent of
juvenile offenders in the Queensland youth justice system. During 2008–09,
Indigenous young people represented 53.5 per cent of all young people remanded
in custody and 72 per cent of all young people admitted with detention orders.
The number of Indigenous young people coming into contact with the police in
Queensland, however, declined by 17.4 per cent between 2006–07 and 2008–09.
The Need for Diversionary Activities
for Young People
Witnesses in Cherbourg drew attention to the large amount of
unstructured free time that children in that community experienced, directly
linking this with substance abuse and antisocial behaviour.
What we are looking at here is the pulling power on 14- and
15-year-olds and up to 18-year-olds and their vast amount of unstructured
time—so the opportunity to interact with people who are engaged in at-risk
behaviours, one of them being substance abuse.
The committee heard that peer pressure was a major risk factor for
substance abuse in particular, undermining the controlling influence of
A lot of the kids who we found were doing it [petrol
sniffing] before that were only doing it because the ringleader would say,
‘Come on, let’s go,’ and if they did not listen they would get a hit. We found
there was some violence behind it as well. The parents and other family members
of some of those kids decided to take them out of the community and move away
for a bit. We kept in contact and the families said, ‘They are doing really
well; they are finally putting their head down, doing the work at school and
enjoying school and playing sports.’ One family who had four sons under the age
of 12 who were doing it moved to Dalby. They found that once they moved away
and the parents had more responsibility for looking after their kids they
seemed to improve in the home.
The committee has previously outlined the need for youth services to
keep children occupied and away from the opportunity for risky behaviour,
particularly as the result of boredom. The committee is pleased to note the
existence of a variety of youth services in Cherbourg, including the
Police-Citizens Youth Club and South Burnett CTC Youth Services. However, the
committee understands that engaging parents in these services is likely to be
of benefit, noting comments by Barambah Health Service:
...it is hard to empower community members because, when there
are a lot of these programs and these agencies who are willing to help, I find
that they are not really empowering our people to do things themselves. In our
community people are pretty much taking advantage of the services and not
really being responsible.
The committee also heard that diversion, be it recreational activities,
employment or any other activity, is not just needed by children. Ms Gloria
Wallis, a councillor in Napranum, noted:
When they pass the juvie age and go on to 18, they now go on
to marijuana or drinking rather than petrol-sniffing, because they are at that
age. We see them sitting idle and say, ‘Okay, we need to do something to get
them engaging in the community and so they can feel important,’ so that they
are not just waiting around to do another criminal act.
Evidence provided by the Queensland Police-Citizens Youth Welfare
Association (PCYC) in Cairns also suggests that recreational activities that
reduce boredom for both children and adults can achieve significant reductions
This evidence is discussed below.
Early Childhood Intervention
The committee also notes evidence from Cherbourg and Napranum stressing
the importance of early intervention as a means of reducing offending
The committee heard evidence from Gundoo Day Care Centre in Cherbourg
suggesting that the cohort of children who had been through the centre and
prepared for school were more likely to achieve strong educational outcomes and
less susceptible to substance abuse and criminal behaviour.
It stands out like anything, especially in the juvenile
justice system. You find that there are very few of the children who have
started off at Gundoo Day Care at six weeks old who have gone through it. They
usually go [through] their schooling, they go through their high schooling and
they stay out of the juvenile justice system. It is only a very small minority
of our children that end up in it. That is mainly because of that school
readiness and all that it is built into children: the social skills and everything.
We also provide them with a good nutritional program. They come to our centre
and they get four meals a day. We have a full-time cook, and they get roast
dinners, salads and everything. That is all at the centre. We provide the
children with their own hats and we provide sunscreen. All the child has to do
at Gundoo is come along with a change of clothing, with Kimbies if they are
still in them and with formula for while they are there if they are babies. You
can see just how beneficial it is for our children to have quality early
education and care, and every child in Cherbourg should be able to have that.
But they are not, and they are the ones who end up not wanting to work and not
having built up that self-esteem. Our children are proud of themselves, and we
try to instil in them pride in their Aboriginality as well. A lot of the
parents of the children...have sent them on to private schools. They then go on
to university and things like that. That all starts back with early childhood
education and care.
Similarly, the committee notes that the Napranum Parents and Learning
Group, which facilitates early childhood learning based on parental engagement,
demonstrates another good model for early childhood intervention. The program
would appear to be leading to strong educational outcomes, which is a
protective factor in terms of offending. However the facilitation of a stronger
bond between parent and child would also act to improve family life and social
control. The need for programs to encourage parent-child interaction has also
been discussed in a previous section on education.
The committee notes that the Department of Communities will invest
$8.5 million into early intervention and family support programs in
The committee has noted in previous reports the importance of youth
services and diversionary activities, particularly in the context of protecting
against substance abuse.
The committee feels that these services and activities are also essential in
reducing criminal behaviour by young people.
Positive Social Norms
The subject of social norms was raised by Mr Noel Pearson, Director of
the Cape York Institute who noted the power social expectations in communities
had on individual behaviour, above and beyond any service provided by governments.
What ultimately produces change, more powerful than any kind
of service support you get, is the moral expectation of those who are most
important to you. I will comply with the moral expectations of the people who
are valuable and important to me. That is a stronger determinant of how I
behave than having access to support services and so on.
Let me tell you about card gambling and the social norm in
relation to card gambling, which is a horrific problem in our communities in
Northern Queensland. I will tell you about my home community. It has all of the
social problems of typical communities: marijuana, alcohol and a range of
social problems. The one thing they do not do at Hope Vale is card gambling.
You cannot find a card gambling school. There are very aggressive horse betters
when the races go on in Cooktown, and there are pokie machine pullers. There
are gambling addicts in Hope Vale. There are card gamblers in Hope Vale who go
down to Wujal Wujal, Yarrabah or Laura to do cards, but they do not do cards in
Hope Vale. It is an unwritten cultural and social rule that nobody is allowed
to set up card gambling schools in this community.
I give that example as an illustration of the power of a
social norm if it is in place and is defended. The reason why it is still in
place is that whenever it was challenged—it was challenged on a number of
occasions by young cousins coming back from Yarrabah and trying to set up a
gambling school down the street—the challenge was shut down. The norm was
The committee notes the importance of social norms and expectations of
behaviour as a means of reducing criminal behaviour in regional and remote
Indigenous communities. As Mr Pearson noted, the establishment and defense of
positive social expectations requires community leadership. The committee is of
the opinion that government policy needs to support the process of the
reestablishment of positive social norms in communities.
Once people identify with the expectations that people have
of them, you have something that does not need to be policed by laws, policemen
and so on; it is policed by social expectations.
The committee notes that where enforcement of behaviour by social norms
and enforcement of the law by police is aligned, communities are likely to
experience much lower levels of antisocial behaviour.
The committee has previously noted in this report the importance of
appointing local commissioners to support the work of the Cape York Welfare
Reform trial. The vesting of government authority in locally respected figures
appears not only to have facilitated case management using local information,
but more importantly, has helped to rebuild the authority of elders and
respected people, in turn improving the ability of the community to control antisocial
behaviour. The committee considers that this represents the alignment of
traditional Indigenous and mainstream authority.
Relationship Between Police and Community
Two approaches employed by Queensland police in order to bridge a
perceived divide between Indigenous communities and the police have been the
establishment of Police and Citizen Youth Clubs and increases in the number of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people employed in the police force.
These initiatives are discussed below.
Police and Citizen Youth Clubs
The committee was impressed by the activities of the Queensland
Police-Citizens Youth Welfare Association (PCYC)
in regional and remote Indigenous communities in Queensland. The Queensland
PCYC first moved from a largely metropolitan base in 1996, establishing a
presence in Yarrabah in response to high levels of youth suicide and juvenile
The activities of that centre won national and state awards and led to the
establishment of further centres in Palm Island and Mornington Island. Each of
these Indigenous PCYC centres is assigned a sergeant and two Police Liaison
Officers (PLO) and employs local staff.
In 2004, the organisation developed the Community Activity Programs
through Education (CAPE) program to provide a presence in smaller communities
including Wujal Wujal, Hope Vale, Napranum and others.
PCYC noted that in the first 12 months of the program operating in Wujal Wujal,
juvenile crime dropped by 67 per cent, although this may not have been due to
the PCYC alone.
Because Wujal was seen as a highly volatile area, that is why
the Queensland police service has put a police station there for 300-odd
people, one of the focuses was if we reduced the boredom for not just the
children but the adults and we had a lot of adults programs there—we had
partnerships with the Bloomfield school and other areas—that crime hopefully
would reduce. The front page of the Cairns Post through the release of
statistics from the assistant Commissioner of the day, not my statistics, shows
that we reduced juvenile crime whilst we were there. We cannot say that we did
it all; all we can say is that, for the period 12 months before that versus the
12 months that we were in there and looking at the six months that led up to
it, juvenile crime reduced by 67 per cent.
Another example given to the committee was the operation of a recreation
program over the Christmas period in Mornington Island. By keeping the large
number of students returning from the mainland or out of school during the
holiday period occupied, Mornington Island's rate of indictable offences by
juveniles dropped to zero.
These examples serve to highlight comments made above by witnesses in
Cherbourg, who explained that long period of unstructured time, boredom and
peer pressure combine, resulting in a greater risk of antisocial and criminal
The organisation had also run programs that sought to bolster cultural
identity and respect within communities. Ms Sonia Townson, the CAPE PCYC
manager in Bamaga, informed the committee about a youth clean-up program that
connected young people and elders in her community through voluntary work for
the elders, such as cleaning yards:
That was a good interaction between the youths and the elders
and it had never been done before. There are always educational programs and
projects in the school where elders do take part, and that is where you do see
that transition happen between the two groups, the youths and elders, but it
has never been done in a community like that before. They were really uplifted
and our program went very successfully. Now I am finding myself structuring in
my calendar one week of every month going to servicing that aspect of our
Additionally, out of the many programs run by that PCYC, several
incorporated cultural events such as weddings, initiations and a tombstone
Mr David Bird noted that the PCYC encountered difficulty in funding
facilities that were required to comply with certain government regulations.
For instance, the breakfast program in Napranum had been closed due to health
regulations that specify, amongst other things, the need for a third sink.
The committee understands the need for regulations, but is concerned
that in certain circumstances, the appropriate balance between regulation and
the need for community programs is not being met. The committee is of the
opinion that there is a need for discretion in cases such as these that takes
into account local needs and conditions on the one hand and the need for
regulation on the other. In addition, this situation highlights a common
finding of the committee, which is that funding arrangements by governments
need to take into account the need for adequate resources to ensure regulatory
standards can be met.
Indigenous Police Employment Initiatives
The Queensland Police Commissioner informed the committee that the
recruitment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander police officers was a
priority for the service:
I want Indigenous people, whether they be Aboriginal or
Torres Strait Islanders, to join the Police Department. I do not mind whether
they join as sworn officers, civilian staff members or police liaison officers.
What is important is to have them join the Police Department.
The Commissioner noted that it was sometimes difficult for Indigenous
recruits to work in Indigenous communities that they were not from,
particularly as a Police Liaison Officer (PLO).
...there are real challenges in someone from outside a
community going into that community as a police liaison officer. There are
challenges within community because most of the communities, as you are well
aware, are not natural, in the sense that they were formed by missionaries
years ago with different clans and tribes being brought together. So there is
that conflict internally with most anyway. But then, to take someone from
another family group and community entirely and say, ‘Well, you go to Aurukun
and be a police liaison officer,’ is a big ask.
The Commissioner's preference therefore was to employ PLOs from the
community itself where possible.
The committee heard that there are currently 152 PLOs, most of whom are
Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
They are highly valued. In fact, quite interestingly, in some
recent work and research we have done, our police liaison officers were found
to be amongst our most highly engaged employees. Some of them are just
outstanding and wonderful people who have been with us for a very long
time—almost from the start of the program.
The Commissioner was concerned that another element of Indigenous
policing would suffer as a result of the removal of CDEP from communities. Many
regional and remote Indigenous communities have employed community police
through the CDEP program, which has ceased or is due to cease, depending on the
Some communities had up to 10 community police. Now they have
none and there will be no police liaison officer there, so there is a real
disconnect in terms of those numbers. With respect, the community policing
model had its problems: they were employed by the local councils—and that is
not even, as you know, normally a council responsibility. I mean, it is not
roads, rates and rubbish. Most councils are not expected to employ law
enforcement type officers. But it was better than nothing, and it is a real
concern to me. ... it is a particular concern in the Torres Strait because, if
the CDEP funding fails there and the community police are withdrawn, we only
have a police presence on two of the 17 islands.
The committee noted in the section on employment above that the
withdrawal of CDEP may result in some serious community consequences if the
transition is not appropriately managed.
The committee is aware, through evidence provided to the Senate Standing
Committee on Community Affairs, of the potential for hearing difficulties to
exacerbate problems associated with sentencing and court order compliance, with
the potential to increase imprisonment of Indigenous people.
For instance, a submission to that committee's inquiry into hearing loss
in Australia provided by the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA)
noted that 90 per cent of Aboriginal prisoners in the Darwin Correctional
Centre had some level of hearing impairment.
NAAJA's submission traced poor educational outcomes as a result of
hearing disorders to increased criminal behaviour later in life. Additionally,
the ability to participate in court proceedings and to understand and abide by
court orders or parole terms is potentially compromised by the widespread
existence of hearing disorders in the Indigenous population.
A submission by Dr Damien Howard, Phoenix Consulting, to the Community
Affairs inquiry notes that some of the anti-social behaviour of Indigenous
people is related to widespread hearing loss. Additionally, the communication
barrier resulting from hearing disorders can severely compromise the
relationship Indigenous people have with police or other authorities,
particularly where that hearing disorder is unrecognised and the lack of
communication is attributed to language, intellectual or other difficulties.
The Queensland Commissioner for Corrective Services informed the
committee that all people entering the corrective services system in that state
are assessed for criminogenic needs. The committee considers this to be a best
practice approach. However, the committee was concerned to hear that adults are
not routinely screened for hearing loss.
Given the statistics presented above, the committee recommends that hearing
assessment be added to the routine screening process, at the very least for
convicted felons, but preferably prior to court proceedings. In the case of
screening by Queensland Corrections, the committee notes that this could be
incorporated into the disability strategy currently under development.
The committee recommends that Queensland Corrections consider
including routine hearing assessments in the induction and assessment process
for persons newly entering the corrective services system.
Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
The committee has previously noted the prevalence of Foetal Alcohol
Spectrum Disorder (FASD) in regional and remote Indigenous communities.
The committee notes that the behaviour exhibited by individuals suffering from
FASD would tend to increase the exposure of these individuals to the criminal
justice system. A submission from the National Organisation for Fetal Alcohol
Syndrome and Related Disorders (NOFASARD) notes international research
indicating an overrepresentation of individuals with FASD in the criminal
justice system and prisons.
A Canadian study of 287 youths remanded for a forensic
psychiatric/psychological assessment found 67 of the young offenders (23.3%)
had an alcohol‐related
diagnosis. Children and youth with FASD are at increased risk for maladaptive
behaviour because of the constellation of brain based disabilities such as poor
impulse control, poor reasoning and judgement, abstraction, adaptation,
socialisation and their inability to alter behaviour.
A paper by Associate Professor Heather Douglas provided to the committee
cites research suggesting that FASD sufferers are less able to recognise and
understand cause and effect, empathise with others or restrain impulses.
The cognitive, social and behavioural problems associated
with FASD often bring sufferers to the attention of the criminal justice
system. It has been estimated that approximately sixty percent of adolescents
with FASD have been in trouble with the law. Impulsive behaviour may lead to
stealing things for immediate consumption or use, unplanned offending and
offending behaviour precipitated by fright or noise. As a result of their suggestibility,
FASD sufferers may engage in secondary participation with more sophisticated offenders.
Lack of memory or understanding of cause and effect may lead to breach of court
orders; further enmeshing FASD sufferers in the justice system.
In addition to a tendency to exhibit anti-social behaviour, Dr Douglas
notes that individuals who suffer from FASD may be disadvantaged in police
questioning due to inherent suggestibility, while the condition may affect the
individual's fitness to plea.
The committee notes that FASD sufferers are thus more likely to both offend and
more likely to be disadvantaged in their interactions with the criminal justice
Statistics collected by the ABS NATSISS survey suggest much higher rates
of contact between police and Indigenous people and particularly young
Indigenous people. This is a fact corroborated by police proceedings data.
Cunneen (2008) suggests that zero-tolerance policing or initiatives such as
'move‑on' powers in New South Wales compound Indigenous anger and
mistrust of the criminal justice system. A study of police search powers in NSW
found that in Bourke and Brewarrina, both towns with large Aboriginal
populations, between 90 to 95 per cent of searches were unsuccessful. Cunneen
believes that the unnecessary anger and mistrust of police, arising from what
is perceived as harassment, has a criminogenic effect by reducing the influence
of social norms, such as respect for authority and the justice system.
The Queensland police informed the committee that they had increased the
number of police in regional and remote Indigenous communities by 29 officers
since the Palm Island tragedy.
The Queensland Police Service was aware of the need to avoid over policing as a
I think also there is now a greater awareness by police on
the communities of the need to be very, very generous, I guess, in not
enforcing relatively minor legislation and in trying to avoid people being
placed into custody—that is with public order, public nuisance and traffic type
offences. I think that tolerance does need to exist. Certainly, though, there
is a challenge with the necessary enforcement of the alcohol management plan or
the alcohol restriction type legislation versus the significant degree of
dependency and importance that is associated with alcohol; there is a real
tension in respect of that. That links back to that relationship with the
community, which is important, of course, obviously.
I think there are real challenges, though, in terms of
community engagement. Currently—and I am not being critical of this; it is
necessary—the police population ratio on communities is very high. In some
communities there might be 800 people and 10 police; that is one to 80. I think
the Australian average is around one to 430. So there is already a
disproportion there. However, we are conscious, I hope and believe, of not
having overenforcement because of that disproportion, and I think we have moved
beyond that claim.
The committee notes similar comments by the Western Australian Police Service,
which encourages officer level discretion as a means of avoiding over policing.
The committee has previously recommended that the Commonwealth support the
police in that state to ensure that the message of discretion is clearly
communicated to officers in the field. The committee notes that all
jurisdictions could benefit from a clear policy in this regard.
Cautioning, Conferencing and
Data collected by states and territories indicate that, compared with
non-Indigenous juvenile offenders, a smaller proportion of Indigenous juvenile
offenders were diverted from court by formal cautioning or referrals in each
State and Territory for which data was available.
In Queensland, Indigenous young people were 2.9 times less likely than
non-Indigenous young people to be cautioned rather than going to court, two
times less likely to undergo police conferencing compared to going to court and
1.5 times less likely to be cautioned rather than undergoing police
This result took into account prior records and seriousness of offence,
controlling for factors other than Indigenous identity. The authors noted a
range of possible explanations for this disparity including racial bias,
differences in the proportion of Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth pleading
guilty, and hence being eligible for diversion, and more informal contact with
police outside of the statistics recorded in the study.
The Queensland Department of Communities were of the opinion that
diversion of juveniles was occurring effectively, where young people came into
contact with the youth justice system. The department provided some further
statistics on the matter to the committee:
...research does show that Indigenous children who come into
contact with the criminal justice system do so at a much earlier age than their
non-Indigenous counterparts. Also, recent research commissioned by our
department indicates that 29.9 per cent of Indigenous Queensland children are
cautioned initially at the age of 10 to 12 years of age. Cautioning and
conferencing are typically available to first-time and non-serious offenders;
and we know that young people, when they do come into contact with our youth
justice system, are being diverted effectively. Youth justice conferencing
gives a young person and young people who have offended an opportunity to
repair the harm that they have caused and it holds the young person accountable
for their actions. Research does demonstrate that our Queensland conferencing
efforts result in young people who participate in conferencing having at least
a 15 per cent to 20 per cent less likelihood of re-offending.
A statistically significant discrepancy in the likelihood that
Indigenous young people will be diverted from court relative to non-Indigenous
young people has been found in Western Australia, South Australia and New South
The Queensland Department of Communities also noted that Indigenous
juveniles in that state were at greater risk of being remanded into custody
than non-Indigenous juveniles. However, the department considered that this was
not evidence of systemic bias, but was due to the lack of supports and bail
supervision in regional and remote Indigenous communities. To counter this, the
department informed the committee that the Queensland Government was investing
in accommodation facilities and programs to assist young Indigenous offenders
to meet their bail conditions.
Corrective Services in Queensland
As of April 2010, there were 5700 prisoners in Queensland, of which 1689
were Indigenous, or almost 30 per cent. Of the almost 16 000 individuals in
community-based corrections, 3420 were Indigenous, or just over 20 per cent.
Community-Based Corrective Service
The committee was pleased that under the Queensland Government justice
strategy, the government has committed to keeping people in the community and
under community supervision wherever possible. Part of this strategy has been
the location of probation and parole officers in several remote communities,
particularly in Cape York, to facilitate non-custodial sentencing options.
The committee heard that corrective service staff are offered a $7000 bonus and
free housing as an incentive to work in remote locations.
The committee notes from its previous report that the availability and
viability of community-based corrections in remote communities is of prime
consideration in making sentencing decisions. In the absence of alternatives,
imprisonment can be one of few sanctions available to a court.
Court-Ordered Parole Program
The committee heard that one of the key policy innovations in Queensland
has been the introduction of court-ordered paroles. The Commissioner for
Corrective Services described the process, stating:
...it is an assessment by the court that the person can be held
in the community but that the matter is so serious that it deserves more than a
community based order, like a probation order. So they are saying, ‘This is a
serious matter and it deserves a term of imprisonment. We’ll say that that is
satisfied as of today. You can go straight to parole.’ What makes this
different is that that parole order is then administered by the Parole Board,
which means that any breach or sanction can be dealt with very, very quickly
and is not then returned to court and adjourned and adjourned and adjourned. So
there is a very immediate kind of relationship.
The parole term is treated similarly to a term of imprisonment, in that
participants are assessed and placed into various programs on the basis of
criminogenic needs. Though the Commissioner expected approximately 1000
individuals to enter the court-ordered parole program, 3000 individuals had
passed through or were currently participating in the program. The Commissioner
informed the committee that this had played a significant part in arresting
growth in the Queensland prison population. The committee was not able to
assess the exact number of Indigenous individuals serving court-ordered parole
The Queensland Commissioner for Corrective Services informed the committee
that in addition to a range of programs offered to prisoners in that state,
there were three that had been developed specifically for Indigenous offenders.
These were an Indigenous sex offender program, an Ending Offending program
related to drug and alcohol use and an Ending Family Violence program. The
Commissioner noted that due to the success of these programs, the Families
Responsibilities Commission had approached Queensland Corrections with the
possibility of partnering and providing those programs to clients in the
welfare reform trials.
The Commissioner noted that the three Indigenous programs were of high
intensity, with the Indigenous sex offender program, for example, taking six to
Undertaking rehabilitation programs in prison improves a prisoner's chance of
parole, providing an incentive to participate. Participation is voluntary, on
the basis that uninterested participants would be disruptive in group work. The
three specific programs were supplemented by various community-based
initiatives, such as a program addressing dangerous driving in Weipa or binge
drinking awareness courses.
The Commissioner was asked what transition services were provided to
facilitate reintegration into the community upon release from prison. Two
transitional programs assist with ongoing support for health and mental health
needs, accommodation and potential employment.
However, only 126 Indigenous prisoners took advantage of these programs in
In addition to programs for adult offenders, the Department of
Communities, Youth Justice, informed the committee that they run a range of
programs for juvenile detainees. These included an intensive 10-week Aggression
Replacement Therapy program that teaches social skills, anger management and
moral reasoning and the Changing Habits and Reaching Targets program, also
designed to reduce offending.
The Department of Communities also noted the importance of effectively
transitioning detainees back to the community, noting the Youth Opportunity
Program which provided culturally appropriate support to young people and their
families. This included parenting skills, supporting young people to make
positive lifestyle choices and assisting them to link with positive peer
The committee considers the provision of assistance following release
from the community or custodial corrections to be essential in addressing the
high level of recidivism by Indigenous offenders noted above. The committee is
particularly supportive of the concept of 'throughcare' which seeks to provide
a single stream of support both inside and outside of corrections. This
necessitates the close cooperation of service providers inside and outside of
the justice system.
The committee notes comments by the Queensland Aboriginal and Islander
Health Council, who noted that the intermittent nature of mental health care in
remote communities made the provision of throughcare difficult or impossible.
For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are
experiencing co-occurring mental disorders, as with substance abuse or alcohol
misuse problems, or who are in the process of rehabilitation post contact with
the criminal justice system, these lapses or voids in treatment can contribute
to perpetuating the cycle of ill-health, which in turn holds ramifications for
family and community and the health and wellbeing of others around them. The
inability of services around the individual to deal adequately with the
patient’s mental disorders, co-morbidities and the risk factors that might be
connected back to family and community means that sustainable health
improvements become difficult and risk of re-exposure to negative influences
and behaviours often remains high and unresolved. 
The committee notes that the re-exposure of returned offenders to remote
communities and the same environment in which they originally offended poses a
major obstacle to the rehabilitation aims of the corrective services system.
Action to reduce offending and re-offending will need to occur both in the
community and in the corrective services environment to be effective.
Senator the Hon. Nigel Scullion
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