Effectiveness of South Australian and Northern Territory government
So far during its inquiry the committee has visited regional and remote
Indigenous communities in Western Australia, New South Wales, South Australia
and the Northern Territory. The committee has also received submissions from
South Australian, New South Wales and Western Australian government departments
working in the area of Indigenous affairs in those states.
The committee has also held public hearings in South Australia and the Northern
Territory and has heard evidence from the South Australian and Northern
The committee has not as yet been able to hold public hearings in New
South Wales or Western Australia and is yet to visit or hold public hearings in
Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania. As noted in Chapter 1 the committee plans to
hold further public hearings in Sydney, the Kimberley region in Western
Australia and visit and hold hearings in Queensland before the tabling of the
next report on 26 November 2009.
In consideration of the committee's future planned visit and hearing
program, this report will concentrate on the jurisdictions of South Australia
and the Northern Territory in relation to the effectiveness of state and
territory government policies on the wellbeing of regional and remote
South Australian government policies
Segments of the South Australian government's submission and policy
initiatives were discussed in the committee's previous report, as it was
received in June 2008. Some of the areas discussed in the committee's previous
report included South Australian and Commonwealth government relations, primary
health care, child protection and employment.
In addition, since the last report the committee has had the opportunity
to visit the community of Amata in the Anangu Pitjatjantjara Yunkunyjatjara
(APY) Lands and hold a public hearing in Adelaide. There have also been
numerous submissions from organisations in South Australia.
Housing and accommodation facilities in South Australia
The South Australian government in its recent report, Progress on the
Lands: Update on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands,
identified housing as its number one priority, specifically:
To reduce overcrowding, and the social and health problems it
causes, by expanding the housing construction program to deliver more and
better quality housing to Anangu. Employment opportunities that exist in the
building and construction activities on the Lands should also be identified and
The committee notes that in October 2006 there was a $25 million APY Lands
housing construction program announced by the Commonwealth and South Australian
governments. Subsequently the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), as
noted in Chapter 2, agreed to the National Partnership on Remote Indigenous
Housing which has allocated $291.49 million over 10 years for new housing and major
upgrades and repairs in South Australia with the focus on the two priority
communities of Amata and Mimili in the APY Lands.
This housing package will be delivered by the South Australian government's Office
for Aboriginal Housing in the State Department for Families and Communities
(DFC). Both of these announcements for new housing have indicated that local
Indigenous people will be employed as part of the construction process.
The committee was advised by the South Australian government that
discussions were continuing between it and the Commonwealth government on
whether the original $25 million housing package would be subsumed into the
COAG housing partnership and clarification on this issue is expected within the
next few months.
The committee also inquired about the progress of the $25 million
housing package over the two and a half years since the announcement. The South
Australian government advised that:
At the moment what has happened is that all the leases have
been signed for the land that will be used to build the new houses. Agreements
have been reached with APY around what houses will be renovated. We have
traditional owner approval for the building of new houses.
UnitingCare Wesley Adelaide noted in its submission that although these
commitments had been made there were no identifiable targets or timeframes to
measure progress, especially in regards to training and employment
opportunities. UnitingCare Wesley Adelaide also noted that when the South
Australian government was asked what training and employment opportunities
would be provided as part of the program, the response in January 2009 was:
...that it was difficult to estimate the likely numbers of
fulltime and part‐time
jobs that would be generated through the program as a number of employment
strategies were still being investigated.
also asked the State Department of Further Education, Employment, Science and
Technology (DFEEST) for information on its efforts to deliver training in
housing construction and maintenance through APY TAFE. In a reply dated 22
January 2009, the Department noted that in 2008, no APY TAFE students had
obtained a housing construction and maintenance‐related
The committee also asked the South Australian government at the hearing
in Adelaide—given that past attempts to provide training and jobs through
housing packages have failed—how it is going to ensure that it happens with the
existing and new COAG housing packages, to which the government responded:
I think probably having stronger MOUs and stronger management
mean it actually will happen. For us in the department, we are very committed
to making that happen...that is something the Department of the Premier and
Cabinet...will certainly be monitoring really closely.
The South Australian government noted that it has been undertaking a
skills audit across the APY lands to identify people who have qualifications
and skills in order to match them against future projects, not just housing
projects, so that people are equipped with a variety of skills and have a
greater choice of employment.
A major component of the skills audit is to identify the gaps
in the projected service provision needs of communities across the lands. The
audit is about how needs match with existing skills and what training modules
need to be developed to ensure that we have a workforce that suits whatever
those future service needs are.
UnitingCare Wesley Adelaide however recommend in their submission that:
...the [South Australian] government's overarching goals for
training and employing Anangu in housing construction need to be broken down
into real and measurable targets and timelines and that transparent reporting
and evaluation processes should be established.
The committee is concerned that since the original announcement in 2006,
and with further new funding and housing to be delivered through COAG, that
there are no specific details available on the number of jobs and types of
training to be made available or over what timeframe these commitments are
expected to be delivered. Providing local employment opportunities and training
to Indigenous people through housing construction and maintenance is a vital
aspect of increasing wellbeing in regional and remote Indigenous communities as
well as providing the community with essential skills and greater
The committee also raised the issue of staff housing at the Adelaide
hearing. The South Australian government confirmed that a lack of staff housing
was recognised as an issue across all government departments. The South
Australian government stated that it is currently doing a housing audit to
establish the housing needs for government and non-government organisations in
order to provide accommodation for program staff, 'because that affects
everything you do on the lands'.
The committee will report on the findings of the audit once it is made publicly
The committee also notes that there has been some progress made with
providing transitional accommodation centres in South Australia with the
establishment of centres at Port Augusta and Ceduna. UnitingCare Wesley
Adelaide, although it welcomes the establishment of these centres, notes that
stated plans to establish:
...similar centres in Coober Pedy and Adelaide...have stalled as
the partnership funding from the Commonwealth has not been finalised.
The South Australian government, with funding assistance from the
Commonwealth, constructed a substance misuse facility in the APY Lands
community of Amata. The Commonwealth government contributed $3.3 million in
conjunction with $965 000 from the South Australian government for the
facility's construction with the South Australian government required to
provide annual recurrent funding of $1.4 million. The facility opened in August
2008 with the Commonwealth and South Australian governments stating in a joint
press release that:
...Commissioner Ted Mullighan's inquiry into child sexual abuse
had made it clear that tackling substance abuse was fundamental to keeping
children and families safe.
"Helping people overcome the scourge of substance abuse
is crucial to protecting children from neglect and abuse," Ms Macklin
...Mr Weatherill said the facility was another step in the
State Government's strategy to rebuild APY Lands communities, which began with
its intervention on the Lands in 2004.
"We are rebuilding communities by reducing substance
abuse and delivering better health and welfare services," Mr Weatherill
The South Australian government outlined the purpose of the facility at
the Adelaide hearing, stating that:
That facility has two functions. The facility provides a
residential component for up to 10 clients at any given time. The facility
actually has an outreach program. The outreach program will visit every one of
those communities over a period of time and will see clients in every one of
those communities. Once it is established that the client actually needs a
longer period of time for rehabilitation, it works with that client and then
the client can actually attend a residential program.
The committee had the opportunity to visit the new substance misuse
facility in Amata on the APY lands in March and was impressed with the
facility. The committee was advised that the design of the facility as well as
its location was decided in consultation with the local community. The
committee commends the Commonwealth and South Australian governments for
committing these funds to provide access to alcohol and substance abuse
rehabilitation facilities in remote areas. However some concerns were raised
during the inquiry over the delays with construction and the ongoing staffing
and running of the facility.
The Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women’s Council
noted at the committee's hearing in Alice Springs that:
...we do not think it is being used to its fullest capacity and
it is, unfortunately, only for South Australian residents...
...it has been hard for them to get staff there, which we
predicted. This is this issue of going around and asking people what they want
and where they want something to be without necessarily considering the
objective factors like whether you will be able to get staff, whether you will
be able to get anyone to work there and whether you should look at somewhere
out of Alice Springs or in Alice Springs. I think it was probably a little bit
ill thought out.
The Aboriginal Drug and Alcohol Council South Australia also noted
issues with staffing of the Amata facility as well as other remote
rehabilitation facilities, stating that:
When the government decided to go down the track of having
something in the north, albeit that it took quite a few years, we were quite
excited about that. Our issue is that the Aboriginal workers that I am talking
about that would be placed in these sorts of areas need to have some formal
...it is about having the skilled workers out there. Again, it
is a community person—who may be called a diversionary worker or the drug and
alcohol worker—and they might also run the youth service because they have not
got a youth worker out in the community at the time. So that person is
overworked. It could be a husband and wife who want to help but who end up
doing everything, such as driving the buses to all the carnivals or the
football on the weekend and things like that. So with the diversions, they are
there but they have not happened correctly—in the right manner or time.
Certainly, that is what I have seen in some of the communities out there...
The committee also notes that a recent newspaper article based on
information obtained by a South Australian parliamentarian under Freedom of
Information legislation revealed that since August 2008:
...only four patients have been admitted for an average of five
days. Another 39 people officially described as being "not in need of
substance abuse assistance" also have used the facility.
The committee notes that the South Australian government is in the
process of developing rehabilitation day centres in Port Augusta,
Ceduna and Coober Pedy.
The South Australian government also notes in its submission that additional
support from the Commonwealth government:
...would allow the South Australian government to provide alcohol
rehabilitation services and facilities in regional parts of the State, and
establish links with existing services such as the Aboriginal Substance Misuse
Connection Program operated by Drug and Alcohol Services SA (DASSA) and funded
by the Department for Families and Communities (DFC) and the Mobile Assistance
Patrol jointly funded by DFC and SA Health.
The committee believes that the establishment of the rehabilitation
facility in Amata so far serves as an example of the complexities involved in
providing rehabilitation services in remote Indigenous communities and
illustrates that the acceptance of the facility and its ultimate success can
not be expected immediately. The experience in Amata should be used to inform
future decisions on the location and construction of new rehabilitation
facilities as well as the expectations of how these facilities will operate and
be staffed. The committee urges all governments to continue to invest in
appropriate rehabilitation services as a large gap in access to these services
and facilities in regional and remote Indigenous communities remains, as the Aboriginal
Drug and Alcohol Council South Australia noted:
There really are not enough services, besides that one on the
Pit land. There are not a lot of drug and alcohol or rehabilitative type
services outside of Adelaide. Even when you come to Adelaide for
Indigenous-specific rehabilitation around, for example, illicit drugs, there is
none. It is difficult.
While in Amata, the committee also had the opportunity to visit the
Homemakers Centre. The committee was very impressed with the outcomes the
Centre has achieved in the community with very few resources or paid staff. The
centre's two main programs focus on nutrition to tackle the 'failure to thrive'
for infants and babies and providing meals and assistance for elderly members
of the community. The committee heard that carers and other family members were
attending regularly and that on average 16 babies a day were being seen at the
Centre. The committee was advised that before the Centre was established,
around six children a week were flown out of the community for malnutrition,
which is no longer the case.
At the committee's hearing in Adelaide the South Australian government
noted the importance of the role that the Homemakers Centres have:
There has been a lot of research done both here and overseas
around food security and we know that, between the time that babies get weened
and the time that they start walking, there is a gap where they cannot reach
for food themselves. The homemaker program provides a way that we can teach
young mums and dads about the necessity of providing high-quality food and also
increases the availability of food for that section of the community. There has
been a fair bit of research done overseas around food security and we are
starting to do some research in Yalata with the University of Adelaide. There
seems to be a link between young babies and really young people who had an
absence of food in their early years and type 2 diabetes.
The committee also notes that the Mullighan Inquiry into child sexual
abuse on the APY Lands concluded that the Homemakers Centres:
...appear to the Inquiry to be doing very good and important work.
Many witnesses and, indeed, Families SA, also praised their effectiveness. The
ultimate goal should be for individual communities and families to be
sufficiently empowered to take control of the issue of child sexual abuse.
The South Australian government also advised the committee that each of
the Homemakers Centres, as from April 2009, will employ two trainees funded
jointly by the Commonwealth and South Australian governments.
However, given the success and importance of these Centres there are
concerns with the ongoing funding of these services. Overall there are seven
Homemakers Centres on the APY Lands of which the committee understands only four
are 'operating at various levels of functionality'.
UnitingCare Wesley Adelaide raised concerns in their submission that the
Homemakers Centre program was to have a $300 000 funding shortfall due to the
cessation of Commonwealth funding in 2008.
The committee inquired about this shortfall at the Adelaide hearing and was
advised that the South Australian government would provide a $200 000 'top-up'
for the program.
The committee is concerned that there is still not enough funding for these
essential centres which provide people with important life skills. As
UnitingCare Wesley Adelaide noted:
...it seems ludicrous to be spending $25 million on new houses
and losing $300,000 for a homemaker program to give you the skills to live in
The issue of some of the employees in the Homemakers Centres being on
Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) payments was also raised with
the committee. The South Australian government advised that there were ongoing
discussions between it and the Commonwealth government in relation to:
...the CDEP program and how many of those CDEP participants
would be picked up in full-time employment under both Commonwealth and state
government responsibility. Those negotiations are happening, and
particularly—in our instance—in terms of what would be the state’s
responsibility regarding the number of people who would be converted into
full-time employment. Those conversations are also occurring in relation to
those employees being public servants.
That the Commonwealth and South Australian governments provide
additional funding and appropriate support to the Homemakers Centres in the APY
Lands so that all seven centres are operating at an effective level and that
the Commonwealth government consider supporting similar Homemakers Centres in
other remote Indigenous communities as a matter of priority.
Rural Transaction Centres
In 2003 seven Rural Transaction Centres were planned for the APY Lands
as part of the COAG Indigenous Trial initiative in the APY Lands. The committee
had the chance to visit the PY Ku centre in Amata. The Pitjantjatjara
Yankunytjatjara (PY) Media Aboriginal Corporation, in its submission, outlines
the process by which the PY Ku Network was established:
In early 2003 the Department of Health and Ageing funded the
APY Land Council to engage a consultant to develop a business case and funding
submission for the establishment of a Rural Transaction Centre (RTC)...
...At a General Meeting of Anangu Pitjantjatjara in August 2003, the decision was
made to name the proposed network the PY Ku Network (Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjaraku
– “for the people”).
The PY Ku Network was endorsed by the APY Lands COAG Steering
Committee as a formal COAG Indigenous Trial initiative in September 2003.
The proposed locations were at Iwantja, Mimili, Kaltjiti (Fregon),
Pukatja (Ernabella), Amata, Watarru, and either Pipalyatjara or Kalka. The aim of
the PY Ku Network was to provide:
a range of government and non-government services to communities;
training and employment for local Anangu;
public access internet facilities; and
office, meeting, conference, video-link, internet and
administrative support facilities for government staff and visiting
It was also intended that the PY Ku Network would improve access to state
government services, including motor vehicle registration and licensing, fine
payments, and accessing birth, marriage and death certificates.
PY Media, who manage the PY Ku network, noted in their submission that
the Commonwealth government has already spent over $4.5 million on the
establishment of the PY Ku Network, but that without a commitment to adequate
recurrent funding the PY Ku Network can not be sustained beyond June 2009.
Endorsement of PY Ku as a COAG initiative required the
commitment of a range of government departments across both levels to provide
an integrated approach to both establishing and operating the Network. There was
an expectation of a whole-of- government approach to providing recurrent
“foundation” funding during the operational development phase; a situation that
never eventuated. The Network’s infrastructure has been established and Anangu
staff are now employed.
Without the necessary recurrent funding PY Ku will fail and
Aboriginal staff will be retrenched.
For many years warnings have been issued to government
regarding the inability to develop fee-for-service business without the necessary
recurrent “foundation” funding. These warnings have been ignored and the PY Ku
Network has been expected to survive on occasional one-off fund injections.
Government agencies are reluctant to deliver services through an organisation
that cannot prove long term financial viability.
The Women’s Legal Service South Australia Inc provided an example to the
committee of the importance of the services that the PY Ku Network provides in
the remote APY Lands communities:
In the communities people cannot just access legal advice
easily. We have a free call number for anyone to ring us from the community but
they may not have access to a phone if the PY KU is closed down. Likewise, they
cannot call the police.
At the committee's hearing in Adelaide the committee inquired about
what work the South Australian government was doing with the PY Ku Network:
The rural transaction centres to date have basically been
managed by the Commonwealth and not necessarily the state. The Commonwealth are
currently working with PY Media and PY KU to look at how they can actually
develop those centres further. From your visit on the lands you would understand
that some are not fully functioning right now. There are probably two centres
that are currently open for an extended period of time. I think you are
absolutely right, Senator: there is a great deal of opportunity to use those
centres for a whole range of purposes, whether that is in developing Anangu
employment or getting a whole range of government services happening from those
centres. We are currently working with the Commonwealth and PY KU to see how
those centres can be better utilised.
The South Australian government's 2008 report on the progress on the APY
Lands also noted that:
Service SA is working with PY Media to provide access to a
range of state government services including applications for birth
certificates, driver’s licences, car registration etc. through the PY Ku
When asked about the PY Ku Network the South Australian Aboriginal
Affairs and Reconciliation Minister Jay Weatherill—as reported in a recent
newspaper article—noted that:
...service delivery in remote Aboriginal communities was
difficult. "That is why we are proposing a new regional authority to
improve the operation of services in the APY Lands."
UnitingCare Wesley Adelaide outlined its concerns regarding the delays
to the establishment of the Centres and the transfer of government services.
The PY Ku Network was originally scheduled to be up and
running by June 2006. After many delays and setbacks the first PY Ku centre
opened at Amata in late 2007. The sixth and final centre opened at Watarru in
...On 21 July 2008, PY Media confirmed that no State government
services had been transferred to any of the PY Ku centres and that Centrelink
services remained the only Federal government services accessible from the
...as of 13 February 2009, it was still not possible for Anangu
to access any State Government services from any of the PY Ku Centres.
has strong concerns that delays in transferring services to the PY Ku centres
are undermining the long‐term
viability of a flagship project that was originally supposed to provide ongoing
employment for up to 30 Anangu.
PY Media noted in its submission that it has now frozen all PY Ku
recruitments resulting in many positions, including supervisory positions, not
being filled. In addition, the Mimili PY Ku Centre will remain closed. PY Media
also noted the Network's importance in providing employment in the communities,
Over the last six months twenty-one Anangu staff have been
employed at various stages and have worked a total of 6,243 hours.
These Aboriginal staff will lose their positions.
Given that many of these staff are completing Level 2 and 3
Business Administration traineeships, losing them will be a shame.
PY Media recommend that one of the solutions is for funding to be
sourced from the COAG National Partnership on Remote Service Delivery.
The committee is concerned that employment and training opportunities
may be lost on the APY Lands if the PY Ku Network, or an equivalent Network, is
not provided with adequate funds and support to run Rural Transaction Centres.
The committee urges both the Commonwealth and South Australian governments to
look at funding possibilities for these Centres, as well as clarifying and
supporting strong governance structures.
Services for women and victims of
The Women's Legal Service South Australia made a submission to the
inquiry and appeared before the committee at its Adelaide hearing. Women's
Legal Service South Australia raised concerns about the large number of women
who are victims of crime on the APY Lands and the lack of safe houses, police,
an understanding of the court system and interpreters is negatively impacting
on their wellbeing.
I think probably the main challenge and the highest area of
need is for women who have been assaulted...There is a complete lack of services
for women and victims of crime on the Lands in terms of culturally appropriate
services and services that have the resources to provide interpreters to ensure
that women can get the appropriate advice at the end of the day.
NPY Women’s Council has employed an interpreter but that is
not necessarily on a full-time basis, and each time we attend on the Lands we
cannot be sure that there will be an interpreter there. People attending before
the Magistrates Court may not have an interpreter so they are faced with legal
issues without understanding. English may be the third or fourth language for
people in the Lands, so the issues are extreme.
The committee notes that although the South Australian government has
significantly expanded the police presence on the APY Lands, with some funding
provided by the Commonwealth government, the Women's Legal Service notes that
police number are still too low to cover the large distances and a lack of safe
houses and shelters in communities puts some women in a position where:
...they must flee communities because of fear of violence or retaliation
from family or other community members. Women have fled to the south from
communities for protection or north to Alice Springs and other communities in
the NT. Safe houses and protection of Police can not be taken for granted in
The Women's Legal Service also raised the issue of a concerning spike in
homicide figures on the APY Lands of women who have been killed or severely
injured by intimate partners. The submission stated that:
In the 12 years to 2006, 10 NPY women were homicide victims.
In the 17 months since May 2007, a further six NPY women were
In five of these six homicides, head injuries were the cause of
death and intimate partners are facing criminal proceedings in relation to the
Women from the NPY region are 67 times more likely to be a
domestic violence related homicide victim.
Fists, feet, iron bars, star pickets, sharp sticks, rocks, tyre
rims and tyre levers were used in 68 per cent of cases. The offender delayed
getting help for the victim in all cases.
The committee inquired into why there has been a recent spike in the
number of intimate partner homicides. The Women's Legal Service responded that
they were unaware of specific reasons which is why they wrote to the South
Australian state and Commonwealth governments calling for:
A Review of the Magistrates Court Circuit on the APY Lands; with particular
emphasis on processes to identify if these services meet the needs of the
victims of violence and if not, what changes may be required and how may they
An Inquiry into Violence against Women on the NPY Lands (giving consideration
also to the impact of violence upon children); and
A Death Review Panel to review deaths caused by Family Violence, with
priority directed to deaths of Aboriginal women, particularly those living
Further discussion of the situation in the Northern Territory regions of
the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara area and Alice Springs, as
well as a recommendation to for Commonwealth government on this issue, is
discussed later in this chapter.
That the Commonwealth Attorney-General's office undertake discussions
with the South Australian government with a view to the South Australian
government undertaking a review of the Magistrates Court Circuit on the APY
Lands to ensure its ongoing effectiveness.
While in South Australia the committee noted a unique service that
UnitingCare Wesley provides called the Anangu Lands Paper Tracker project. This
...the implementation of state and federal government
commitments to Anangu Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara peoples across South
Australia. In addition to the APY Lands it tracks government activities on the
Maralinga Lands, at Yalata community on the west coast and at the Umoona
community in Coober Pedy...the main goals of the project are to make it easier
for Anangu to talk with governments as equal partners, to make decisions for
themselves from a position of knowledge and strength and to participate in broader
debates about their future. We believe the project provides an independent
forum of accountability.
Since it began in mid-2007 the Paper Tracker project has
tracked progress made against more than 80 government commitments and areas of
identified need. Importantly, the project highlights both the good and the bad.
As well as posting comprehensive information on our website we distribute an
e-newsletter that now goes out to more than 700 subscribers. Last year, in an
effort to make it easier for Anangu to access the information we have
collected, we produced two radio shows in partnership with PY Media. Portions
of each show were broadcast in both English and the Pitjantjatjara and
The committee notes that this project provides a single source of both
South Australian state and Commonwealth government commitments and policies
regarding Indigenous people in South Australia. Given the high degree of
frustration people feel about the lack of information and apparent lack of coordination
between government agencies, the committee considers this to be a good
monitoring and accountability tool for Indigenous communities in South
Australia. The committee urges governments to consider supporting the
establishment and operation of similar independent government monitoring and
accountability projects in other states and territories.
Senate Select Committee on Regional and Remote Indigenous Communities in Amata, South
Northern Territory government policies
Although Chapter 5 of this report focuses on the Northern Territory
Emergency Response (NTER) and will discuss many of the issues in regional and
remote Indigenous communities, this Chapter discusses the impact of Northern
Territory government policy affecting the wellbeing of regional and remote
Indigenous communities that were raised with the committee and which are not
directly related to the NTER.
A Working Future policy
Released on 20 May 2009, the Northern Territory's A Working Future
policy focuses on developing 20 of the largest remote communities as 'Territory
Growth Towns' to provide 'services and amenities like any other similar-sized
towns elsewhere in Australia'.
Remote communities to be developed are: Maningrida, Wadeye, Borroloola,
Galiwin’ku, Nguiu, Gunbalanya, Milingimbi, Ngukurr, Numbulwar,
Angurugu/Umbakumba, Gapuwiyak, Yuendumu, Yirrkala, Lajamanu, Daguragu/ Kalkarindji,
Ramingining, Hermannsburg, Papunya, Elliott and Ali Curung. See Appendix 5 for
a map of the 'Territory Growth Towns'.
The Northern Territory government outlined the policy at the committee's
hearing in Darwin:
Working Future is a strategy and framework that will drive
government investment and activity to grow 20 identified communities into
well-serviced townships. The townships will operate as hubs, servicing many of
the nearby outstations and homelands. It is anticipated that 33,000 people,
24,000 people residing in towns and 9,000 people in residing in 300 small
communities and outstations located within a 50-kilometre radius will be
serviced through the Working Future.
This accounts for around 50 to 60 per cent of the territory’s
total Indigenous population and approximately 80 per cent of the Indigenous
population residing the territory’s urban centres. The policy also notes that remote
service delivery will be improved through ‘one-stop shops’ to be established
initially in 15 of the 'Territory Growth Towns' for both Northern Territory and
Commonwealth government services.
The policy also states that the Northern Territory government will focus
on remote service delivery.
Coupled with that is a national partnership agreement on
remote service delivery which targets 15 remote locations. This agreement is
with the Australian government in the Northern Territory and aims to improve
access to services, provide simpler access and better coordinated government
services for joint service delivery structures and local implementation plans
that identify service delivery priorities for each location.
It is hoped that these partnerships will substantially
increase economic and social participation in the communities. The 15 locations
that have been selected under this remote service delivery program are 15 of
the larger communities identified for substantial housing funding, and they are
also aligned with the Northern Territory’s 20 territory towns approach.
The policy outlines the Northern Territory government's intention to
reduce red tape through the employment of a Northern Territory Coordinator
General for remote service delivery.
The committee notes that this is a similar position to the recently announced
Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
(FaHCSIA) Coordinator General outlined in Chapter 2. The committee will monitor
with interest the improvements and effectiveness that both of these positions
may have on remote service delivery.
The policy also promises to improve funding arrangements and
acknowledges that the provision of funds on an annual basis makes planning
difficult. It undertakes to 'put in place a new way of allocating funding that
is fair and that provides certainty for communities'.
The committee welcomes this announcement and will monitor and report on any
funding changes and the effects the changes may have on service delivery. The
committee also hopes that this commitment to change from the Northern Territory
will further encourage the Commonwealth government to make a similar commitment
to the reform of funding cycles and the way that programs are administered by
The Northern Territory government has outlined in the policy document
that it intends to:
Work to increase employment and economic development through 'private
investment' including 'local people owning their own businesses and homes' and developing
a long-term Indigenous Economic Development Strategy;
Develop a Remote Integrated Transport Strategy; and
Commit to annually reporting against the 'Closing the Gap' targets
and implement a special evaluation of remote service delivery.
The Northern Territory government summarised its vision of the A
Working Futures policy at the committee's hearing in Darwin:
We think Working Futures is quite a sophisticated policy
platform. It picks up the land issues, economic development and the transport
strategies as well as the outstations and the townships. The whole focus behind
this is about working with the Australian government to maximise the impact of
the dollars that are coming into the Northern Territory and to make a
difference on the ground. In five years time, we want those towns to look a
whole lot different from the way they look now.
We want them to have a business centre, a motor vehicle registry
and we want students or children to have a real address—a house with an
address—and we would like to see a postal service in place. We would like to
see the rubbish runs being done really in the same way you would see in an
equivalent regional town elsewhere.
Part two of the strategy on outstations and homelands is discussed
Outstations and Homelands
On 20 May 2009 the Northern Territory government also announced its new
outstations and homelands policy as part of the A Working Future policy.
Previously the Northern Territory government, since self-government in 1978,
had responsibility only for major Indigenous communities with the Commonwealth
government retaining responsibility for outstations and homelands. However in
September 2007—as discussed in the committee's previous report—
a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Commonwealth and the Northern
Territory governments on Indigenous Housing, Accommodation and Related Services
was signed which provided $793 million in funding on the basis that the
Northern Territory government would take over responsibility for the delivery
of services to homelands and outstations.
The committee notes that there has been a considerable delay between the
Northern Territory government assuming responsibility for homelands and
outstations and the release of its policy.
In the policy statement the Northern Territory government noted the
importance of 'the contribution of outstations and homelands to the economic
social and cultural life of the Territory'. The Northern Territory government
states that existing homelands and outstations will have their funding levels
maintained however it will not develop any new outstations and homelands.
At the committee's hearing in Darwin the Northern Territory government
noted that the MoU with the Commonwealth government:
...provided $20 [million] to the territory for outstations for
each year for 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10 financial years. A funding
disbursement methodology is being determined as part of that outstations
policy. On top of the $20 million, there is additional funding which also is
set aside to support outstations through CDEP funds and also through Bushlight
However the committee also notes, as Greg Marks outlined in his
submission, the MoU did not include 'any requirement that any of this money
previously earmarked for outstations need be spent on outstations'.
The committee will monitor and report on the Northern Territory government's
funding of homelands and outstations in future reports.
The Northern Territory government has also stipulated in the policy
document this it will not be providing funding for additional housing—which the
committee notes the Commonwealth is not doing either—stating that as the land
is privately owned it is not suited for a public housing model and that owners
of houses on private and communal land will primarily be 'responsible for
repairs and maintenance of their assets, including water supplies'.
This policy position was reiterated at the committee's hearing in Darwin.
We are understanding that we need a really solid policy
platform that everybody understands and that we can stick to—creating towns,
not communities, and shifting away from communal housing to private ownership,
and saying to people on outstations that there is a limit to the resourcing
that is available and that while we are not going to shift you off the outstations,
we cannot continue to build resources and houses on what is essentially private
property. We have to target expenditure and that is a big change.
The committee notes that there was considerable confusion and fear surrounding
the release of the Northern Territory government's homelands and outstations
policy. Mr Greg Marks noted in his submission that:
It is clear that the Northern Territory has not sought
responsibility for outstations at this time and that it is concerned at its
capacity to cope especially given the backlog in infrastructure. It would also
appear from press reports that there is considerable disquiet in the Aboriginal
community about the transfer of responsibility for outstations to the Northern
At the committee hearing in Darwin the Laynhapuy Homelands Association
Incorporated noted that although the homelands schools were not under threat,
it was their view that the Northern Territory government's policy would
eventually result in the end of the homelands:
The discussions with the territory government earlier this
week and the agenda laid out in the National Partnership Agreement basically
say there is no scope for further investment and growth of homelands,
particularly in the area of housing. If you stop housing, you stop growth and
you condemn people to continued overcrowding. If you cannot invest in the
infrastructure and you cannot invest in the housing, those homelands have no
future. It may not happen tomorrow. It may not happen next year. That is the
effect that those decisions will have...There is no immediate threat, but it
raises big questions about the future.
The Ramingining Homelands Resource Centre Aboriginal Corporation
outlined their concerns about the availability of housing funding available for
homelands and outstations in their submission, noting that the benefits of the
Commonwealth funding will not reach them.
The Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure program
(SIHIP) introduced as part of the Emergency Response, has effectively
marginalized those Indigenous people who live in the Homelands rather than in
the "prescribed communities."
These people, who suffer the same problems of overcrowding
and inadequate levels of maintenance funding for their housing as those who
live in the communities are not to receive any of the benefits of the SIHIP. We
believe this to be patently unjust, if not discriminatory...Additionally, while
the Ramingining housing stock will eventually be brought up to an acceptable living
standard, there is to be no new houses built despite ample evidence of chronic
The committee asked whether any of the Laynhapuy Homelands would be
within a 50km radius of one of the 'Territory Growth Towns' or service hubs, to
which Mr Norton replied that out of the 25 permanently occupied homelands they
...there may be a couple that fall within 50 kilometres of a
major centre. I think Ramingining, Nhulunbuy and Bulman would fall within 50
kilometres of Gapuwiyak, but they are completely inaccessible during the wet
season. Amongst the older Laynhapuy homelands, Bawaka would be within that 50
kilometres, but again it is pretty inaccessible during the wet season and you
would spend about an hour and a half driving across sand to get there. All the
rest of ours fall outside that radius, so the idea of Yirrkala being a hub and
upgrading the road network is really not very practical.
Members of the Acacia Larrakia community that appeared before the
committee in Darwin were under the impression that the Northern Territory
government policy was going to stop funding to outstations and people are now 'worried
that they have to move into the town system'.
When in Ntaria (Hermannsburg) the committee also met with
representatives from the Tjuwanpa Outstation Resource Centre which supports 42
outstations around the Ntaria area. Questions arose as to who was responsible
for housing maintenance and repairs on these outstations. The committee wrote
to the Northern Territory government to inquire if they had responsibility for
repairs and maintenance. The Northern Territory government responded that it
does not accept responsibility for repairs and maintenance of houses in outstations
and homelands but it does currently contribute to maintenance and management through
grants to Shire Councils and organisations like the Tjuwanpa Outstation
Resource Centre. The Northern Territory government noted that in 2008/09, for
the 141 houses that Tjuwanpa Outstation Resource Centre manages, it received
$236 000 for housing maintenance and $70 500 for housing management. The
Northern Territory government anticipated that for 2009/10 it would receive a
similar amount but beyond this the new outstations policy is to dictate the
level of funding.
The committee notes that as the new policy states that owners of houses
on private and communal land on outstations and homelands are now responsible
for maintenance and repairs it is again unclear if this funding for housing
management, repairs and maintenance to the Tjuwanpa Outstation Resource Centre
The committee has observed and considered evidence that indicates a high
degree of uncertainty in relation to outstations and homelands. Residents are
concerned about their future. Now that the policy has been released the
committee encourages the Northern Territory government to implement a
comprehensive communication strategy to ensure that people living in outstation
and homeland communities and service providers understand the policy and its
The committee visited schools in both Ntaria (Hermannsburg) and
Milingimbi whilst in the Northern Territory.
The school at Ntaria has dramatically increased its attendance rates.
For example, the committee was advised that last year there were six secondary
aged students at school and now there are 60. While the committee acknowledges
that the increase in school attendance is a great achievement it has created
new challenges as the school does not have the facilities available to meet
this higher level of attendance.
The Central Australian Youth Link Up Service (CAYLUS) also noted in
...often remote schools are under-resourced and could not
operate effectively if all the youth of the community did attend. The NT
Education Department has a policy of reducing teachers at a remote school when
attendance drops. This means schools capacity to provide a stimulating
environment is reduced when it should be being increased.
The committee wrote to the Northern Territory government to inquire
about their plans to meet the increased resource requirements due to higher
attendance levels in Ntaria, a situation which the committee is pleased to
report is not solely confined to Ntaria. The Northern Territory government
provided detailed expenditure for Hermannsburg in their response:
Three classrooms provided since July 2008 as a
priority from the NTER funding for supplementary initiatives.
Various minor works including connecting paths, and
Installation of Relocatable ablutions facility
Acoustic treatment to primary classrooms
In progress by public
Capital Works item to;
- Expand the home economics area and;
- Expand the administration area and staff room;
- Comprises $401k NT and $100k AG funding.
Approved by Minister and
awaiting approval from Treasurer
Primary school building covered outdoor learning
area extensions to classrooms.
Application in Round 2 BER
funding. Decision expected late May.
Demolish older building and build new pre school.
Application in progress for
Round 2 BER funding. Decision expected early June.
Science Learning Centre. Note that this is a competitive bid process.
Will submit funding application as part
of the NT bid. Decision expected August.
Department of Education and Training, answers to questions on notice.
The Northern Territory government also outlined more general expenditure
on education in the Northern Territory through the 'Closing the Gap' funding
$6 million for classrooms;
$10 million for homeland upgrades or new schools;
$20 million to upgrade 15 Community Education Centres (or large
community schools) over 4 years;
$1.2 million for Counselling offices; and
$43 million for government employee housing (all employees including
teachers) over four years.
The Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous
Affairs also provided the committee with updated information on the education
services and programs available in communities in the Northern Territory. This
information is provided at Appendix 6.
The Northern Territory government advised the committee that it was
focusing on raising participation levels for Indigenous students in remote
schools for the National Assessment Program—Literacy and Numeracy Tests
(NAPLAN) tests. As the Northern Territory Department of Education and Training
(DET) noted at the Darwin hearing:
...we have really focused on literacy and numeracy and getting
students in our remote schools ready for the NAPLAN assessments. Our big focus
this year was on participation. When you have students with an ESL background
and who come from homes where they may not be speaking English a lot of the
time, they find it very hard to sit down and do these formal assessments.
Our staff out in the remote areas have been spending a lot of
time this year preparing the students and the communities for the assessments
which have just taken place. We are very hopeful that we will have a much
better participation rate this year. I am not sure about the results because
the experience has shown in Indigenous communities in the Kimberley, for
instance, when the participation rate in the national assessments went up, the
results went down because you had a lot more students who had never had an
assessment before and who were doing it for the first time.
Teacher/student ratios in remote
On its visit to Amata in South Australia, the committee observed the
success of the Amata School in securing adequate teaching staff. The committee
noted a relatively higher ratio of teachers to students in South Australia in
comparison to the Northern Territory. On this basis the committee wrote to the
Northern Territory government to inquire whether the student/teacher ratio for
remote schools took into account the English as a Second Language (ESL) needs
of students in these remote schools.
The Northern Territory government's response indicated that the
student/teacher ratio for remote schools is the same as for all other schools,
However remote schools are assigned Assistant Teachers for primary
classes on the basis of 1:22 students to assist the teacher and large remote
schools are allocated specialist ESL teacher positions based on student
achievement data against ESL scales, with a Curriculum Access factor is applied
to smaller schools, which generates extra teaching staff.
The Rivers Region Youth Development Service stated at the committee's
hearing in Katherine that:
We believe that education in remote locations is substandard,
and we do not understand why we accept this. Student-teacher ratios when
teaching English as a second language are set at 10 to one, whereas when you
are teaching in remote schools you have 25 students and one teacher, so
it is more than double the ESL student-teacher ratio.
The Northern Territory government's response also noted that the NTER
funded an additional 170 teachers across the 73 prescribed communities with a
view to decreasing the student/teacher ratio to 10:1. The committee notes that
a ratio of 10:1 is more than halving the current student/teacher ratio for
primary schools and if applied across the board in the Northern Territory it
would double the number of teachers teaching primary classes and substantially
increase the number of teachers required for the secondary years.
CAYLUS also outlined the importance of ESL teachers in remote schools
and suggested ways to provide more assistance:
Remote schools need experienced English as a second language
(ESL) teachers to be able to provide an education to youth who do not speak English
as a first, or even second language. Perhaps the NTER could look at encouraging
such teachers to spend some time in the remote schools, possibly on a
rotational basis the way some Health Services use doctors. This would not
require such a high level of commitment from the teachers, but would bring
vital skills into the region that could make a real difference to educational
Similarly, structured university student volunteer programs
could provide tutoring and other services in the remote communities, and
possibly develop a workforce for the future.
DET also noted that it is in the final stages of preparing a submission to
the Northern Territory government Cabinet on a student-based staffing
allocation system for introduction in 2010 which would provide for substantial
increases in allocations to schools with high proportions of ESL learners. The
response notes however that this proposal has not yet been considered by
Cabinet and is not confirmed.
The committee will monitor the situation with student/teacher ratios and
urges the Northern Territory government to consider increasing the ratio for
remote schools and areas with high ESL requirements.
Senator Moore at Ntaria (Hermannsburg) School in the
Outstation and homeland schools
There was also considerable discussion and concern regarding outstation
and homeland schools, especially in light of the newly announced Northern
Territory government policy initiatives.
The issue of the closing of homeland and outstation schools was raised
with the committee in Ntaria. The committee inquired about the reasons for
these closures given the importance of a school to maintaining outstation
The two homeland outstations that I think you are referring
to. Red Sandhill was one, which was closed in 2007 due to declining enrolments
and changes to the management of the school, and Kulpitharra is the other one,
and that was closed in 2006 after a six months period when no students had
presented to go to school. This was after several years of very low enrolments
The Laynhapuy Homelands Association Incorporated also noted the
importance of homeland schools in their submission:
Our members are very clear that they want their children to
be educated in schools in the homelands for as many years of schooling as is
Parents regard sending their children to Yirrkala or
Nhulunbuy as very undesirable as it takes them away from all the positive and
supportive family and kinship relationships, away from culture, law and the
structures for discipline...Sending children away to boarding schools has been
tried by some parents, but this has proven to not be very successful.
DET outlined at the committee's hearing in Darwin that they are
committed to homeland schools and that:
Where the facilities or the number of students and people in
the community has diminished, obviously we work with the community to come up
with a solution. We do not just barge in and close down a facility. I think the
last school that closed was Warrego...Yes, two years ago, next to Tennant Creek,
and that had four students.
DET also noted that:
Last year we also appointed a director of homelands
education. That is a completely new position. We have been aware that we need
to lift our game there. Our director is looking at doing a scope through all of
the homelands that have learning centres to look at the facilities but also at
the quality of the programs. He works in very close collaboration with the
Adult numeracy and literacy
The committee has noticed during the course of this inquiry that there
is a large deficiency in many remote communities in the availability of adult
education programs, especially those that provide basic literacy and numeracy.
This was also reported by the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs'
recent inquiry into petrol sniffing in central Australia.
The committee is of the view that there is a real need for adult
education classes and programs in regional and remote Indigenous communities in
the Northern Territory, as well as other states, as very often people need to
undertake literacy and numeracy training before they can undertake the formal
Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses. Senator Siewert outlined the
situation at the committee's hearing in Darwin:
...the issue that has been raised with us, which is not just a
Northern Territory issue, is that what people are finding is they need to do
some literacy and numeracy training before they even start some of the other
VET courses, but they are not able to get funding for provision of those
classes because they are not registered at any certification level. I have been
to various schools that are getting around this basically because they are just
going above and beyond and they are squeezing limited resources to run extra
classes at night and things like that. However, it is only for so long that you
can do that and that is not sustainable in the long term.
The Northern Territory government noted that they were extending the
provision of VET in remote schools, but there was no elaboration on whether
these programs would contain numeracy and literacy training or at what levels.
...our remote VET provision has been very successful in getting
some of the students who had left back to school. We are extending that across
the territory this year and next year across six communities. We are extending
it to 10 and then to 12 communities. It is a very expensive option but it is
The committee welcomes this extension of the VET in schools as the
Rivers Region Youth Development Service noted:
...yearly for the past few years there has been $7 million
worth of VET in Schools applications to deliver those vocational skills, but
there is only $2 million to go around the whole Territory, so there is a vast
shortage in delivering those skills within the school and the community.
The Laynhapuy Homelands Association Incorporated also confirmed the need
for such literacy and numeracy classes in their homelands in the Northern
Territory, stating that a skills audit by local literacy and numeracy trainers
...the average adult English literacy and numeracy levels on
the homelands are about Grade 3. The challenge to redress this basic adult
educational disadvantage, much less addressing vocational training needs, is
enormous. Unless there is a significant investment in enabling remote
organisations to recruit adult literacy, numeracy and oracy trainers, it will
take decades to overcome this disadvantage, and will consign at least two
generations to a lifetime of social exclusion and dependence.
At the committee's hearing in Darwin the Laynhapuy Homelands
Association further expended on the issue:
...we were looking at two groups of 30. The reality is, even if
you could get that level of resources, you are looking at about 24 or 25 years
before you could provide literacy and numeracy training to all the adults in
the homelands...The problem is huge. It is a massive issue and it will take
decades to solve and it will not be solved with $100,000 here and $100,000
there for 12-month projects...
...the literacy and numeracy is a critical barrier. We have a
number of construction trainees and apprentices. In the past we have had them
in our mechanical workshop. Very few of them can do certificate 3. They do not
have the literacy and numeracy. They might have the technical skills but they
do not get through the certificates.
CAYLUS advised the committee of some adult education programs they were
supporting at the moment:
...there is one we are also supporting in Harts Range or
Titjula. We are doing it in collaboration with a Victorian university who run a
SWIRL program, which is about literacy. They send people up to communities to
work with people on literacy...It is part of their uni course... They are, with our
help, placing two students in Harts Range for the year to manage a type of
internet cafe. It is not an internet cafe yet because Telstra still has not
delivered the dish even though it was ordered in November last year...[and] the
shire service manager has made it compulsory for all the CDEP people to do two
hours on the computers every day as part of their CDEP. It is a really sensible
thing to do: if you have the resource, direct people towards it.
The committee notes however that the Northern Territory and Commonwealth
governments' approach to the provision of adult education and numeracy and
literacy programs in remote communities in the Northern Territory is piecemeal
The Rivers Region Youth Development Service also noted the lack of
There are numerous programs that are not connected, and there
is no uniformity in how they are presented. We hear through different seminars
we go to about all these wonderful programs, and it is really hard to find out
if they will be available in all of our communities or some of our communities
and in what sort of time frame they will be able to service them. For example,
there is a work ready program that DET fund, Group Training Northern Territory,
but at the moment that is only in Darwin. They have increased their funding but
they have not had to increase the area that they service.
When DET was asked about this issue at the Darwin hearing it agreed that
it was aware of the issue and the need in communities. DET noted that even
though the schools within the communities are interested in providing these
services they can not get access to Commonwealth government funding available
for adult numeracy and literacy through the Department of Education, Employment
and Workplace Relations (DEEWR). This is because:
...as a territory government department we cannot access those
funds. Only a private registered training organisation is able to access those
funds. We cannot get any of our RTOs in the territory interested enough to be
able to go out, access those funds and work in the community...For instance, we
would love to get one of our RTOs to Min Min, but my understanding is that they
have to be private RTOs.
The committee is concerned that access to this funding is not flexible
enough to meet the demands of remote Indigenous communities where there are
fewer private Registered Training Organisation (RTO) operating. The committee
also notes that many of the local schools which are already working in
communities with established relationships may be best placed to provide
additional adult education classes.
The Victoria Daly Shire noted that they have been able to work with
DEEWR in obtaining funding for adult numeracy and literacy for people already
in employment, although the Shire noted that they are not currently running any
literacy or numeracy programs for unemployed people.
We are setting up a program through which people who are
currently in jobs but who are in jeopardy in those jobs will be mentored. They
may not have the skills to continue in their jobs. I do not mean that we would
terminate them but often, in our experience, people who are not ready for those
jobs resign very quickly because they find it too stressful and they do not
have the work culture to continue. So this program will enable those people to
be mentored. Part of the mentoring program is identifying their learning needs
and working with them through their employment to increase their numeracy and
literacy skills. The other part to that is that the new CDEP program will have
a training component which will include numeracy and literacy. In our night
patrol program all the patrol officers are doing a Certificate in Community
Services and, where people are identified who do not have the numeracy and
literacy required for those jobs, they will go through a numeracy and literacy
program to increase their skills. It will take them to a level they call
occupational numeracy and literacy, so it is enough to fill out a form et
The Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education noted that
basic literacy and numeracy skills were also affecting the efficacy of VET
training. This has been recognised in communities, as the Batchelor Institute
A lot of communities we have travelled to have virtually
asked for all of the different trade areas to actually incorporate literacy
with their programs so that they can understand the language of that profession
as well. That does not seem to be happening. You have a lot of RTOs that are always
keeping them separate in terms of the literacy programs running solely compared
with the other programs, and never incorporating both.
The Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education also raised a
further issue for the Northern Territory with the change to national VET
training packages. This has reduced the appropriateness and effectiveness of
VET training in the Northern Territory as the national training packages are
developed and delivered:
...these days, in Victoria for education and training in
Melbourne and other big cities. Five years ago, and even last year, there was
still the last of the NT training qualifications floating around in the VET
sector, and any Indigenous community training we did was largely an NT
qualification designed for the Aboriginal community context. NT government
stopped funding those, and the federal system has meant a national training
package that has overridden all of those qualifications. We have to do a lot of
work to make that sort of qualification fit into any of the world context of
the people we work with, and so there are some big gaps in assumed knowledge
that we need to overcome. A large part of it is for us to say, ‘How can we get
that skill base established through our training and how else can we include in
that the stuff that is necessary to be able to read the book, numeracy and
literacy?’ There does not seem to be enough funding associated with numeracy
and literacy training alongside skill development training...There is close to
zero flexibility in the VET sector nationally.
Given this scenario the Batchelor Institute recommends that there be an
increase in the funding in the Northern Territory of non-accredited training to
address the literacy and numeracy gaps.
The committee asked Mr Michael Zissler, the Commander of NTER Operations
Centre if he was aware of the need for adult literacy and numeracy classes in
remote Indigenous communities.
There are considerable resources around adult education but
different communities are doing things in different ways...[there] are a number
of programs that I have encountered, but whether it is consistent across the
board, again I could not comment...Some of them do have school Edukits, but town
camps clearly do not. I just do not want to deceive you there.
The committee was concerned that although it seems that all levels of
government are aware of the need for adult literacy and numeracy education—the
NTER Taskforce report also recommended that adults in remote communities have
access to literacy and numeracy programs—there
is no coordinated or sustained effort matched with adequate funding to provide
The committee notes that formal classes and classroom based programs
will not be suitable for everyone, and may in fact further reinforce negative
experiences of education. The committee is aware of a range of non-formal
literacy programs running all over the world that successfully and rapidly lift
literacy and numeracy levels. The committee encourages governments to
investigate the methodology used in these programs, to ensure that programs are
appropriate and run by qualified adult educators.
Recognising that access to numeracy and literacy training in regional
and remote Indigenous communities is limited but given that it plays a
fundamental role, the committee recommends that the Commonwealth government, in
consultation with state and territory governments, prioritise the
implementation of basic and appropriate adult literacy and numeracy programs in
order to address the current identified need.
Incarceration rates and Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services
The Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service (CAALAS) and the
North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA)—the two Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS) in the Northern Territory—raised
their concerns at the hearing in Darwin regarding the dramatic increase in incarceration
rates in the Northern Territory.
In June last year the rate was 568 per 100,000. That was
almost 3½ times the national average and the figures have continued to rise dramatically
since then. In the last quarter of 2008 the figure is already at 629 per
100,000 and we anticipate that the next quarter figures are going to be even
higher because in the December quarter of 2008 the daily average number of
prisoners was 993 and by early February 2009 the number of prisoners was
approximately 1,120. This is an extremely dramatic rise.
NAAJA and CAALAS note however that publicly available statistics do not provide
any definite answers as to why the rate has increased. However ABS statistics do
confirm that court lists have increased and that the increases in charges have
been for relatively minor types of offending. The main increase has been seen
in the following three types of offences in the 12 months to 30 June 2008:
offences against justice (breach of domestic violence orders,
breach bail, escape custody, breach of orders); and
public order offences.
In their supplementary submission NAAJA and CAALAS provided some
statistics on Northern Territory magistrates courts and the non-custodial
sentences they impose:
...68% of the 70% of non-custodial sentences are made up of
Fines (62%) and Good Behaviour Bonds (6%). That leaves community supervision
and community work as accounting for just 2% of all sentencing outcomes. This
rate dropped from 3% in 2007/08, which is the rate it had been since at least
NAAJA and CAALAS also provided some possible reasons as to why the
Northern Territory has such a high incarceration rate and why it has increased,
an over reliance by the courts in the Northern Territory on
custodial sentences, more than three times the national average;
very few community supervision and community work orders due to a
dearth of targeted, rehabilitative, non-custodial sentencing outcomes;
a lack of restorative justice options;
a change in bail laws; and
an increase in police numbers and therefore more prosecutions
(police files have increased 25 per cent since 2007/08 and 57 per cent since
and subsequently more custodial sentences;
NAAJA and CAALAS stated that the Northern Territory government has
promised increased funding for community courts to extend this restorative
justice option to a total of 10 communities. The Northern Territory government
stated in its Closing the Gap report that community courts are now operational
in Darwin, Nguiu, Milikapiti, Pularumpi and Nhulunbuy and have recently been held
in Galiwin’ku and Yuendumu and are planned to extend to Wadeye, Maningrida and
NAAJA and CAALAS stated that progress on this has been very slow.
NAAJA and CAALAS believe that it is possible to extend non-custodial
options including community based work orders, as CAALAS stated at the Darwin
There is scope for those to be used a lot more than they are.
I suggested some time ago to look at increasing community based options. There
was an attempt to expand the way that home detention orders could work, so that
people could serve them out within a community. There is a lot of scope for
that to happen, so that people can serve community based orders in the community
where they originate from.
The Northern Territory police agreed that more needs to be done to
support rehabilitation and reduce incarceration but that capacity was limited:
Rehabilitation services are something we just do not have at
the levels that we need. We do not have a capacity, or have not had a capacity
in the past, to even run basic anger management courses for people who are
prisoners in jail for less than six months for domestic violence offences.
These are the sorts of things that we need to start really thinking about and
investing a lot of money and energy into so that the solutions are broad, cover
a whole spectrum and deal with the whole range of issues but involve
interventions and rehabilitation. Locking them up and throwing away the key is
not a solution.
The Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission also stated that
rehabilitation is a key area that requires greater capacity in order to reduce
There needs to be rehabilitation aimed at offenders in their
communities and not outside the communities. I understand that there will be
offenders who need to be in jail for a long time and they will need to be taken
out of the communities, but the majority of offenders do not need to be removed
from the communities. They need to be rehabilitated...We just do not have the
resources in the Territory, in the correctional services, which is aimed at
those sorts of programs... having people locked up for long periods of time, the
whole of the criminal justice framework is towards not giving people bail easily,
keeping them on remand, keeping them in prison and giving them sentences with
minimum non-paroles that are high. Eventually people have to get out and they
have to be able to deal with the community from which they come. This is not
being addressed. We really need a lot more officers out in the communities
where people can do community work orders. I have not seen anyone do a
community work order for years. They just do not get them.
In their submissions NAAJA and CAALAS note that given the
increased workload as a result of increased incarcerations rates, Commonwealth
operational funding is inadequate and does not increase sufficiently each year
in order to cover increases in costs, which is exacerbated by the Northern Territory government’s
'refusal to provide any funding to an ATSIL'.
The committee notes the important work that the ATSIL services perform and are
pleased to hear that some additional funding has been allocated to NAAJA and
CAALAS through the $3.0 million Northern Territory Welfare Rights Outreach
Project, however at the time of writing their supplementary submission at the
end of May 2009 they had been unable to confirm what extra funding they had
received, which makes forward planning difficult.
The Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission also noted that the increase
in incarceration numbers has been a further drain on their resources:
The other problem that we see, from the commission’s point of
view and our resources, is the growing imprisonment rate and the
inappropriateness of long-term prison for a lot of these offenders. There
should be a much bigger focus on rehabilitation. I have been saying it for 30
years, but it really needs to be done out of jails and in the community.
Nothing happens very well in prison for all sorts of reasons, and our
Indigenous prisoners are there short term, mainly for driving offences and for
minor assaults. There is not enough time to turn them around on anything, but
it does increase the prison numbers. We have really felt that on our resources.
The committee believes that consideration should be given by the
Northern Territory government to a review of custodial sentences to ensure that
they are being used appropriately, and that magistrates and judges be provided
with sufficient non-custodial options available to them when sentencing. The
committee also believes that the resourcing of legal services in the Northern
Territory needs to be reviewed in light of the increase in arrests and court
This issue is also noted in Chapter 4 of this report in relation
to the NTER measure to increase the police presence in the Northern Territory.
The committee recommends that the Northern Territory government review
the high levels of custodial sentences in the Northern Territory and the
reasons for recent increases as well as determine whether the non-custodial
options available to magistrates and judges are sufficient.
Domestic violence and women's shelters
The Alice Springs Women's Shelter raised the issue of inadequate
resourcing for women's shelters in Central Australia.
Demand for our service has increased over the time of the
intervention in the last 18 months. Last financial year we saw a 30 per cent
increase in the number of children attending the shelter, and that trend has
continued this year, with a further 18 per cent increase in the second half of
last year. Unmet demand has also increased over that period of time. In the
second half of last year we were unable to provide support for 255 women and 122
children who sought support. This year the situation has got even more urgent.
In the first three months of this year we have already knocked back 158 women
and 100 children who sought the support of the Alice Springs Women’s Shelter.
The Alice Springs Women's Shelter also noted similar statistics to the Women's
Legal Service South Australia regarding the extent of violence against women in
Central Australia. The Women's Shelter noted that out of their clients:
The rates of physical assault are extremely high...We did a
recent file review which showed that 20 per cent of our clientele had received
a stab wound at some time in their life and that they are most at risk of
domestic violence homicide in Australia. It is also important to note that we
often work with women over long periods of time. Ten or 20 years is not unusual
period of time. We are starting to see the second and third generations of the
same families coming back to the shelter.
However, in contrast to the situation in the APY Lands, the Alice
Springs Women's Shelter stated that:
I would say that the severity of domestic violence has
decreased... We are certainly not seeing a decrease in the number of assaults as
far as I can see but we are certainly seeing fewer stab wounds and we have not had
the same level of homicides. But there was still one woman murdered last year
by her husband. It is still a significant risk for the women that we work with.
The NPY Women's Council also noted that the level of reporting of
domestic violence has increased:
Clearly, in our region there is much more of a willingness to
report than there was when the service started 14 years ago...You have also had a
domestic violence police unit in Alice Springs...I think the message is starting
to get out there and...Yes, the homicide rates in Alice Springs are
down—thankfully they are, because in the space of a year we had five women from
our region killed. Two of those homicides occurred in Alice Springs town camps
which our members consider to be extremely dangerous places. One woman was from
Mutitjulu and one was from Western Australia. In fact, the perpetrators, both
of whom were the partners of the women, have now been sentenced. We still have
another three or four homicide matters waiting to be finished.
The Central Australian Aboriginal Family Legal Unit informed the
committee that funding for programs for domestic violence perpetrators is also
lacking, noting that:
...insufficient Government programs have been set up to reduce
the prevalence of domestic violence in Indigenous communities. Whilst there are
some effective programs running, they are not frequent or widespread enough.
For example, whist the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (“NPY”)
Lands’ Cross Border Indigenous Family Violence Program, which services the
Papunya community, has proven to be an extremely effective model, it only has
the resources to run approximately ten programs per year with a maximum of 15
participants per program. Covering an area of around 450,000 km² with
approximately 10,000 inhabitants, ten programs providing for a total of 150
people per year is not enough to effectively address the high rates of domestic
violence occurring in Indigenous communities.
The committee inquired into what happened when the women's shelter
turned people away, and what the consequences of inadequate facilities and
resourcing were. The Alice Springs Women's Shelter advised that they have no
choice but to send women and children:
...back to where they were. There are really very few other
options. We try very hard, when we are full and we cannot take somebody, to do
a safety plan with them, to look at where they might be safe and what other
support they have in town. Access to other crisis accommodation has got even
worse in town over the last little while with the closure of Mount Gillen. The
Aboriginal hostels now have up to a month’s wait. Some of the other cheap
accommodation in town is very hard. It is very hard for us to access motel
accommodation. Yesterday we had to ring around for somebody that we wanted to
put into motel accommodation. On three occasions we were asked if the person we
were referring was Aboriginal and then we were told that they did not have a
room. We finally got accommodation for that woman. Trying to access other
accommodation is almost impossible. Often the best we can do is to provide
women with a taxi voucher, make sure they know how to call the police and send
them back to where they were.
The committee considers that to have a significant number of women and
children—158 women and 100 children so far this year, from the Alice Springs
Women's Shelter—turned away with a taxi voucher and returned to the unsafe and
violent situation they were seeking refuge from is grossly unacceptable.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth government coordinates,
in cooperation with the relevant states and territories, a review of the number
of deaths and serious injuries caused by family violence in Indigenous
communities as well as the current unmet need for appropriate facilities and
resources in the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara cross border
COAG Chronic disease initiative
The Central Australian Aboriginal Congress Northern Territory raised
concerns with the new COAG commitment designed to 'deliver more health
professionals to Indigenous communities, expand health services, and help
tackle key risk factors like smoking'
through providing a significant of amount of the money earmarked to General
Practice (GP) providers. Congress believes that COAG is taking a
one-size-fits-all approach to delivering these primary health services:
The problem that we have in the Territory is that a
significant amount of the COAG money has already been earmarked for private
general practice through new practice enhancement payments as well as through
divisions. COAG said that nationally 70 per cent of service to Aboriginal
people is delivered by private GPs. That figure is disputed. It might only be
50 per cent...In the Territory, it would be less than five per cent of services...and
that is almost all in Darwin...So why would you go down the road of investing in
divisions of general practice and putting all these initiatives in for private
general practice in the Northern Territory? It does not make sense.
Congress noted that it and the Northern Territory government are in
agreement that the COAG proposal is not appropriate for the Northern Territory.
We and the Northern Territory government are working in
absolute collaboration on this so that we achieve a needs based allocation to
whoever the provider is. If the provider is a state health department, they get
the money for primary health care; if the provider is a community, they get the
money. We achieve equity, irrespective of the provider...
...We have raised it with Nicola Roxon. We are trying to get
them to understand that geographically there is not a GP on every corner in
major centres...because in effect it is going to create another barrier to
access. They are going to have all this money given to GPs over here when
Aboriginal people live out there, so it is going to widen the gap.
The committee in concerned that Congress and the Northern Territory
government's established process for delivering primary health care in regional
and remote Indigenous communities may not be used to deliver substantial new
Commonwealth 'Closing the Gap' funds. The diversity between the states and
territories, as outlined in Chapter 3, illustrates that national statistics do
not necessarily reflect the situation across and within each state and
Aboriginal health workers review
While the committee was visiting the Western Aranda Health Aboriginal
Corporation in Ntaria it was made aware of the issue of Aboriginal Health
Worker (AHW) registration which now requires a Certificate IV level for which
many potential workers do not have the literacy levels to complete. The
committee asked whether the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress Northern
Territory, who deliver primary health services, were aware of this issue with
AHWs. Congress noted that this issue has been raised with them several times
and that the problems started when:
...Aboriginal health worker training, probably more than seven
years ago...became a part of the Australian national framework process where
there are certain literacy requirements and people have to have a base level of
literacy to be able then to enrol in the course. It is a Certificate IV course,
an 18-month program, and the nature of that training has substantially
contributed to a lack of health workers being able to reach accreditation. They
have to get accredited and then through the Certificate IV course. Once they
complete that, they then have to apply for registration through the Northern
Territory Health Care Worker Registration.
The committee notes that the Northern Territory is the only state with a
registration system for AHWs. Although being registered allows AHWs in the Northern
Territory to provide services on a ‘for and on behalf of’ basis under
particular items in the Medical Benefits Schedule—covering immunisation, wound
management, antenatal services and the monitoring and support of patients with
a chronic disease care plan—it
is also a barrier to increasing AHW numbers.
Congress advised the committee that the Northern Territory government
has commissioned an independent review into Aboriginal health worker training,
recruitment and retention in the Northern Territory which the committee
welcomes and will report on when the review is made public.
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