NACCHO Aboriginal Health : Pat Anderson AO 17 th Vincent Lingiari Lecture ” Our Hope for the Future: Voice. Treaty. Truth “

 

” When delegates from the Dialogues assembled at Uluru in May this year, the exhaustive deliberations and informed participation through the Regional Dialogues led to a broad consensus, as articulated in the Uluru Statement from the Heart which was adopted by the Convention.

Specifically, Australia’s First Peoples overwhelmingly rejected any purely symbolic changes to the Constitution, such as through a ‘statement of recognition’.

……..Dialogue participants and the Uluru Convention showed significant agreement.

There was overwhelming consensus around three proposals.

First, for a constitutionally established representative body that would give First Nations a Voice directly to the Federal Parliament.

Second, for the establishment of a Makarrata Commission to supervise the making of Treaties with us.

Third, for a process of local and regional Truth-telling which could form the basis for genuine reconciliation.”

Ms Pat Anderson AO  delivered the 17th Annual Vincent Lingiari Memorial Lecture at Charles Darwin University on Wednesday, 16 August.Full Text and video below

The lecture commemorated the historic walk-off from Wave Hill Station by Indigenous stockmen and their families, planting the seeds for Aboriginal land rights in Australia.

For her lecture titled: “Our Hope for the Future:  Voice. Treaty. Truth” Ms Anderson reflected on her personal history and experience as an advocate for social justice during the last half-century of struggle for the recognition of the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Chair of the Lowitja Institute and co-chair of the former Prime Minister’s Referendum Council, former Chair of NACCHO and CEO of Danila Dilba ACCHO and AMSANT ,  Ms Anderson is a campaigner for advancing the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in education, health, early childhood development, and violence against women and children. She is an Aboriginal advocate for social justice and winner of the 2016 Human Rights Medal.

Watch NACCHO TV Video of full speech

Or full speech transcript download in 16 Page PDF or read below

patanderson-lingiari-lecture-final2-16-august-2017

Ms Pat Anderson AO delivered the 17th Annual Vincent Lingiari Memorial Lecture at Charles Darwin University on Wednesday, 16 August, which commemorated the historic walk-off from Wave Hill Station by Indigenous stockmen and their families, planting the seeds for Aboriginal land rights in Australia.

Good evening everyone,

I acknowledge and pay respects to the Larrakia people, traditional custodians of the land on which we are meeting tonight.

I want to thank Charles Darwin University for asking me to deliver this Lecture. This is huge honour for me. It’s always hard presenting in your home town.

I was feeling a bit anxious about that because you all know everything about me.

I would like to acknowledge Wendy Ludwick who I think put my name forward for this honour.

We are here to honour the memory of Vincent Lingiari and his leadership in the 1966 Wave Hill strike.

I will return to that story, and to the place of the Gurindji in the contemporary struggle for the rights of Australia’s First Peoples shortly.

But first, I’d like to share another story with you, a personal story.

This story is from the 1950s, a decade before the Wave Hill Walk Off, and is set at Parap Camp a few miles from here (in the suburb now called Stuart Park), where I and my sisters grew up with our mum and dad.

For those who don’t know the history, Parap Camp was home to many Aboriginal and some Torres Strait Islander families in those harsh post-War years.

Many of those families had a Stolen Generations heritage, with the parents of Parap camp families having grown up in the nearby Kahlin Compound. Kids were rounded up from all over the Territory.

My mother was one of those, taken as a young girl sometime in the 1930s by white men on horseback from her Alyawarre family north east of Alice Springs.

She was brought here to the Compound, fifteen hundred kilometres away.

After growing up at Kahlin, she was sent to work as a young teenager on a farm on the other side of the Darwin harbour, near Belyuen.

Later, she met my dad, a Swedish merchant seaman who had jumped ship in Fremantle, and made his way to Darwin.

They married and settled at Parap Camp.

My story is from when I was about 9 or 10 years old, when I was in Grade 3 or 4 – like almost all children from Parap Camp, I and my sisters attended school without fail.

School attendance was non-negotiable in those days – we all just went.

Every year the class would have a Christmas Party at the end of the final term, and the idea was that all the kids would bring food from home for the party.

I was excited because I knew my mum made the best sponge cakes ever: great high, fluffy things.

I pictured myself taking one of these cakes into school – I was a bit vain, and wanted to show off what a great cook mum was.

But when I asked her to make the cake, she flatly refused.

No matter what I said, how I nagged at her, she just said no.

Finally, in frustration, I just burst out: “But why mum? Why won’t you make one of your cakes and let me take it to the school party?”.

She hesitated for a moment.

And then she said quietly: “I don’t like white people eating my food”.

I knew immediately from the way she said it that not only was this the end of the argument, but also that she was telling me something more.

I can still see her face and hear her voice.

I haven’t forgotten this: although I didn’t understand how at the time, it was clearly important.

And so I had to trudge off to my Christmas party with a packet of store bought biscuits, while all the other kids brought scones, cakes and biscuits baked by their mothers – none of which, I might add, were as good as what my mum could have made.

This sounds like an ordinary domestic, family event.

And it is.

But like so many stories that are part of every Aboriginal family in this country, there is a lot packed into this little scenario.

For a start, how did my mum get to be so good a cook?

I see now that her skill with cooking was something she had learnt from the white women she worked for as domestic, unpaid labour.

Her ability to cook a beautiful sponge cake was a direct consequence of the policy of assimilation by which all Australian governments aimed to eradicate us as distinct cultural groups.

At the same time, there were other skills that were withheld from her and so many other Stolen Generations.

Most importantly, growing up in Kahlin Compound she was never taught to read or write.

Despite the rhetoric about Aboriginal children being taken away to improve their chances in life, literacy was one skill that the administration clearly thought was of no use to a young Aboriginal woman.

That much is clear from our history.

However, on a personal level, much about my mother’s motivations in the story about the cake remains curious to me.

Did she not want white people to eat her food as an act of defiance?

Was it a reluctance – or a refusal – to place herself in a situation of being judged by them?

Was it her own brand of passive resistance?

I don’t know.

However, I do know it was a profound moment in our relationship as she revealed something of herself to me.

This moment has stayed with me over all these years.

And I believe this little incident points to the great gulf in experience between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australia.

It points towards an experience carried by so many of our families: the experience of having been treated unjustly, but of that injustice not being acknowledged.

This experience has been analysed by Jill Stauffer in her 2015 book, Ethical loneliness: the injustice of not being heard1.

Stauffer describes the profound isolation and loneliness that arises as a consequence of such an experience.

Calling it ‘ethical loneliness’ she says that it is a condition undergone by persons who have been unjustly treated … who emerge from that injustice only to find that the surrounding world will not listen to or cannot properly hear their testimony. … ethical loneliness is the experience of having been abandoned by humanity, compounded by the experience of not being heard.

There is something of this ethical loneliness in my mother’s experience, and even in the story of the cake she would not make.

I believe that experience is common to many if not all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.

It stems from the complex, often damaged and damaging relationship between our First Nations and those who colonised this place from 1788 onwards.

Much of that damage remains embedded in the relationship between black and white Australia.

This nation has never properly dealt with that damage.

It has never properly acknowledged it, and acted upon that acknowledgement.

I believe we now, in 2017, all of us over the age of 18, this generation, have an historic opportunity to do that, to begin the process of repair, to re-set that relationship on a foundation of equality, justice and truth.

That opportunity is presented by the prospect of genuine and substantive reform to the Australian Constitution, and that is the topic I want to talk to you about this evening.

I would like to take you on the journey that I have been recently on as a member of the Referendum Council, which was tasked with making recommendations to the Federal Government on constitutional reform.

I would like to share with you our experience of the unique regional Dialogues with First Peoples and communities, and what we heard in them, culminating in the National Convention of First peoples at Uluru in May this year, and the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

And most importantly I want to describe the three essential demands to come from this process, which I summarise with these three words:

Voice.

Treaty.

Truth.

Before we trace that journey from the world of the Parap Camp in the 1950s, to where we stand today in 2017, I would like to acknowledge the importance of the Wave Hill Walk Off in 1966 in our history.

Mr Lingiari and the other Gurindji men and women first walked off their jobs on the Wave Hill station to demand fair pay and conditions, but ended up sitting down at Wattie Creek and demanding the return of their traditional lands.

They were demanding proper acknowledgment of the injustice done to them, and proper restitution of the harms done.

In doing so, they began the modern land rights movement.

But they were also re-asserting the struggle for self-determination, as summed up so elegantly by Mr Lingiari himself when he said:

“We want to live on our land, our way”

In those nine words, he captured the essence of what have been and continue to be the central demands of our First Nations since 1788.

First, recognition of our sovereignty, never ceded, of the land, of Country.

Second, acceptance of our right to continue in our unique and diverse cultures.

The Gurindji and Mr Lingiari powerfully re-asserted those demands, just as our First Nations have done since the beginning of the colonisation of Australia, and just as we have continued to do since.

This year, 2017, is a year of anniversaries of events which built upon and extended the rights of First Peoples as so clearly stated by the Gurindji.

It is

• 50 years since the 1967 Referendum;

• 25 years since the Mabo decision overturned the lie of ‘terra nullius’ in 1992; and

• 20 years since the Bringing Them Home Report in 1997.

It is also, crucially, 10 years since the Intervention was unleashed on our communities here in the Northern Territory.

The Intervention was the counter-revolution, the attempt to turn back the clock to the times before the Gurindji and Wave Hill, and the 1967 Referendum, and all the other achievements.

The Intervention was the attempt to take us back to the world of Parap Camp in the 1950s, when the powers of the nation-state reached into every aspect of how we lived our lives.

Now, ten years on, it is clear how profoundly and utterly the Intervention and the thinking behind it has failed.

It continues, however, to create much heartache and pain.

As John Lawrence in his recent Castan Centre Address3 has stated, tem years on, the Northern Territory gaols more people per capita than any country in the world.

The overwhelming majority of those incarcerated are Aboriginal.

The number of children being removed from their families is soaring: it rose by an average of 16% per year between 2011 and 2015.

This frightening increase is entirely due to the removal of Aboriginal children from their families4.

Family violence is out of control.

These figures – which many of you will know – are profoundly disturbing.

They demonstrate the tsunami of anger, frustration, despair and sadness that is engulfing our communities and families.

These type of figures are echoed across the country.

They reflect the kind of Intervention-thinking that has informed policy making over the last ten years, based on the idea that the nation-state knows best what is good for us.

Let us remember that the Intervention was trumpeted by its instigators as necessary to protect Aboriginal women and children.

It marked a shift in policy-making not just here but across the country.

Intervention-thinking sees self-determination as a failed idea, and blames us for the situation in which we find ourselves.

It believes that we do not have anything to offer, that we are at best ‘risks’ to be managed.

It ignores or condones or covers up the abuse of young people in detention, or our lack of housing or access to education.

I say again: it has utterly failed.

We can see this through the statistics, but more importantly through visiting many of our communities and listening to the experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples over these last few months.

I’ve been working in this field all of my adult life, and I can say honestly say that I have never seen things so bad.

This has to change.

We now sit in 2017 at what I believe is a critical junction in our history, not just for the First Nations of this country, but for the nation-state as a whole.

Six weeks ago, the Referendum Council of which I was Co-Chair handed a report to the Prime Minister, recommending what constitutional change should look like if it is to be acceptable to our First Peoples.

The report documents what we were told in a series of regional dialogues with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities across the country.

Going out and talking to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was our first priority under our terms of reference.

These twelve regional Dialogues were held from Thursday Island to Hobart, from Perth, to Ross River outside Alice Springs, to Sydney and Melbourne. People from across the regions came to these centres.

We also held a one-day information session in Canberra.

Each Dialogue was attended by around one hundred people, including Traditional Owners, representatives of local organisations, and individuals.

Each was held over three days to allow full consideration of a number of proposals for Constitutional reform. It was the same format and same agenda for each Dialogue. We needed a methodology which could, in some way, be empirically measured.

The reforms that each Dialogue considered had been inherited by the Referendum Council from the work of the Expert Panel on the Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution (co-chaired by Patrick Dodson and Mark Leibler) and the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples (co-chaired by Senators Ken Wyatt and Nova Peris).

They were:

• first, a statement acknowledging us as the First Australians, either inside or outside the Constitution;

• second, amending or deleting that part of the Constitution which empowers the Commonwealth to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;

• third, inserting a guarantee against racial discrimination into the Constitution; and

• fourth, deleting that part of the Constitution which contemplates the possibility of a state government excluding some Australians from voting on the basis of their race.

The Dialogues also considered a fifth option, that of a First Peoples’ Voice to be heard by Parliament, and the right to be consulted on legislation and policies that affects us.

The Dialogue process was unprecedented in Australia’s history: never before have we as First Nations sat down across the nation in such an intensive, structured manner to deliberate on constitutional matters.

It was a passionate process.

Delegates grappled with the technical and legal implications of these proposals, as well as with their political viability.

There were disagreements, there were even arguments: how could it be otherwise when 1,200 people from all the diversity of our Nations were brought together to talk about matters so closely connected with the experiences and history of their families, clans and communities?

But there was also an extraordinary level of agreement on some matters.

When delegates from the Dialogues assembled at Uluru in May this year, the exhaustive deliberations and informed participation through the Regional Dialogues led to a broad consensus, as articulated in the Uluru Statement from the Heart which was adopted by the Convention.

Specifically, Australia’s First Peoples overwhelmingly rejected any purely symbolic changes to the Constitution, such as through a ‘statement of recognition’.

There were two reasons behind the rejection of this narrow model of Constitutional recognition.

First, there was a concern that formal recognition in the Constitution might interfere with sovereignty – and all Dialogues were steadfast in asserting the fact that we as First Nations had never ceded our sovereignty.

In re-asserting the fact of sovereignty, the delegates echoed the conclusions of the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples five years ago, which stated that5:

The … occupation of the country … proceeded on the fiction of terra nullius. It follows that ultimately the basis of settlement in Australia is and always has been the exertion of force by and on behalf of the British Crown. No-one asked permission to settle. No-one consented, no-one ceded. Sovereignty was not passed from the Aboriginal peoples by any actions of legal significance voluntarily taken by or on behalf of them.

Second, and more simply, participants in the Dialogues and at Uluru simply did not trust the likely process for drafting a constitutional statement of recognition

The concern was that by the time the lawyers were through with it, such a statement would end up being so bland as to be incompatible with the duty to recognise the difficult truths of Australia’s past.

Instead, our mob wanted substantive change, structural reform, for their communities on the ground.

And if it didn’t fit that criteria, they weren’t interested.

And this is where Dialogue participants and the Uluru Convention showed significant agreement.

There was overwhelming consensus around three proposals.

First, for a constitutionally established representative body that would give First Nations a Voice directly to the Federal Parliament.

Second, for the establishment of a Makarrata Commission to supervise the making of Treaties with us.

Third, for a process of local and regional Truth-telling which could form the basis for genuine reconciliation.

These three things – Voice – Treaty – Truth – were the key consensus demands that arose from the Dialogues, were captured in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and form the core of the Referendum Council’s report.

I’d now like to turn to each of these three crucial concepts and unpack them, give you my view why they are important, what they might mean, and how they might provide a pathway out of our current situation.

These are not abstract notions, or intellectual constructs.

Changing the Constitution, many of us believe, is the only place left for us to go.

We have sat on the Committees, we have set up our own organisations, we have changed national policy agendas, but we still haven’t been able to achieve the substantive change demanded by our communities.

As Marcia Langton said at Garma recently, we have been Royal Commission-ed out, we have been committee-ed out, and we have been panel-ed out.

We still have to rely on other people’s good will.

And that is not good enough anymore.

We need more than that.

We need once and for all for our sovereignty to be recognised and our voices to be heard.

The recommendation for substantive constitutional change was for the establishment of a “representative body that gives Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander First Nations a Voice to the Commonwealth Parliament”.

We believed – following the consensus at Uluru – that this is the only constitutional reform which would accord with the wishes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Why is this important?

Establishing such a body in the Constitution has both substantive and symbolic value.

Symbolically, it recognises the unique place of First Peoples in Australian history and in contemporary Australian society.

It formally acknowledges our place here.

In asking Australians to vote ‘yes’ to such a proposal we would be asking us all to reflect on who we are, on what values and principles we hold dearest.

It would establish a significant national narrative about working together – about a genuine two-way conversation.

But such a body will also provide substantive benefits.

A constitutionally entrenched Voice to Parliament could address Australia’s poor history of consultation with our Peoples by government.

All too often we have been excluded from the key decisions that are made about our lives.

The Intervention itself is a key example, designed over three days6, in some offices in Canberra by people who took little account of the evidence, had no understanding of the realities of our lives and most significantly didn’t talk to any of us.

(No wonder it has failed!)

The Voice to Parliament would ensure we have input at the highest level into the policy-making that affects us.

It could also play a valuable monitoring role.

Properly resourced, it could hold Government to account, regularly reviewing and reporting on the implementation of recommendations from the host of inquiries and reports from the Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths In Custody onwards.

It could also monitor the use of the Constitution’s ‘race power’ or attempts to suspend racial discrimination legislation so that measures like the Intervention could be properly scrutinised before their implementation.

Embedding the establishment of the Voice to Parliament in the Constitution is vital because the body’s existence would not then be at the whim of whichever government was in power in Canberra.

You know, every time there is a change of government, or a new Minister, or even a Head of Department, we all have to troop down to Canberra yet again and justify our existence. Pretty much, start all over again.

The Voice to Parliament would be a permanent and enduring feature of the nation’s body-politic.

It could only be abolished by going back to you, the people, in a new referendum.

To date, all our national organisations have disappeared with the stroke of a Minister’s pen.

We would be, at last, in the main building, not in the demountable out the back.

Of course, the details of how to establish such a body would need to be carefully negotiated with Parliament once its establishment was agreed through Referendum.

My vision – and that of many people we spoke to during the dialogues and at Uluru – is for a body that include representation from all the diversity of First Nations across Australia.

It would be a place for dialogue, a meeting place for us and with us.

And in my opinion, it is this diversity that would enrich the body-politic.

After 65,000 years or more on this continent, with all our different languages, histories and cultures, I think we would have something powerful and unique to offer the nation-state through such a body.

Let me turn to second proposal to come from the Dialogues and from Uluru: Treaty.

Australia is one of the few liberal democracies around the world which still does not have a treaty or treaties or some other kind of formal acknowledgement or arrangement with its Indigenous minorities.

It is something we have demanded since at least the mid-nineteenth century.

Despite the hard-won gains, such as through the Land Rights Act following the Gurindji Walk Off, and the Native Title Act sparked by Eddie Mabo, there is unfinished business that we need to resolve.

We used the word ‘Makaratta’ to describe this process of agreement or Treaty-making.

Makaratta is the process that guides the Yolngu Nation in North East Arnhem Land through difficult disputes, and its workings have been recently described by Galarrwuy Yunupingu in this way7:

… each party, led by their elders, must speak carefully and calmly about the dispute. They must put the facts on the table and air their grievances … The leaders must always seek a full understanding of the dispute: what lies behind it; who is responsible; what each party wants, and all things that are normal to peacemaking efforts. When that understanding is arrived at, then a settlement can be agreed upon.

Following the Uluru Statement, this means the establishment of a ‘Makarrata Commission’ to set up a national Framework and principles for negotiating treaties, and a possible a national settlement document.

A Treaty is a pathway to the recognition of sovereignty and to the achievement of self-determination.

It is an agreement between equals.

Such treaties could be regional or State-wide, and it would be the Makarrata Commission’s job to provide a national framework for, and supervise, these two-way processes.

Critically, treaties are inseparable from the third demand from the Dialogues and Uluru: Truth.

You cannot make a lasting and effective agreement unless you have a shared, truthful understanding of the nature of the dispute, of the history, of how we got to where we stand.

The true story of colonisation must be told, must be heard, must be acknowledged.

Because, this is still not the case.

This is difficult and painful territory – for us as well as for mainstream Australia.

It can be hard to hear.

As Jill Stauffer says in her book ‘Ethical Loneliness’ that I quoted from at the beginning of tonight:

Responding well to others, especially survivors of wrongdoing, may require that we open ourselves to hearing something other than what we expect or want to hear

But hearing this history is necessary before we can come to some true reconciliation, some genuine healing for both sides..

I was reminded of this just last month when I read media stories about an online digital map of more than 150 massacres developed by Professor Lyndall Ryan at the University of Newcastle8.

Through meticulous examination of the records, the map seeks to provide the evidence for those who still question whether massacres happened.

Professor Ryan has started documenting these facts for the eastern coast of Australia but plans to extend this to the rest of the country.

This is important work.

But I question how it is that we have had to wait until 2017 for this?

Why is this not part of the national conversation?

Our communities know about the massacres.

Our families know about the children being forcibly removed from their families.

But it seems that there is a need for many in mainstream Australia to pretend that all this didn’t happen, that it’s all just part of a ‘black armband’ view of history, made up to make you feel guilty.

One of the most moving episodes in the regional dialogues for me personally came at Ross River near Alice Springs.

There the Elders spoke of the distress they felt at the recent placement of a statue of the explorer John McDouall Stuart in Alice Springs to mark the the 150th anniversary of his attempt to reach the Top End from Adelaide.

The statue was shown holding a gun.

The Elders felt legitimately that this showed a painful lack of respect, given the fact that Stuart’s journey led directly to a series of massacres in the region as control of the land was wrested from the traditional owners.

Let me be clear: this process of truth–telling is not about guilt.

Guilt is a debilitating emotion that stops us moving forward or doing anything.

What I’m talking about is respect and acknowledgment.

As one participant in the Regional Dialogues in Broome said:

[We are] people who worked as stockmen for no pay, who have survived a history full of massacres and pain. We deserve respect.

And of course, this is not just the history of our First Peoples – it is the history of all of us, of all of Australia, and we need to own it.

Then we can move forward together.

The Dialogues opted for the development of a ‘Declaration of Recognition’ to be passed by all Australian Parliaments.

This declaration – outside the Constitution – would be free to articulate that difficult shared history.

It could provide a unifying statement about the three waves of people who make up the Australian story:

• our ancient First Peoples (65,000 years or more),

• those people who came in 1788 and after,

• the peoples who have come from out of Europe and Asia and who continue to try to come us today, often fleeing persecution and seeking a better life.

Three waves of people.

So, this where we stand now in 2017.

The unprecedented process of deliberation by Australia’s First peoples, through the regional Dialogues and at Uluru, led to the formulation of three clear demands:

Voice.

Treaty.

Truth.

Some commentators and others have expressed concern that these are new proposals, the examination of which will need yet more new processes to consider.

I respectfully disagree.

None of these issues are new.

We have been talking about these things for a long time.

Other commentators believe that these are impractical, left-field proposals.

Again, I respectfully disagree.

I believe these changes are challenging but achievable, and are proportionate to the level of distress, anger and powerlessness being felt in our communities.

In the international landscape of recognising Indigenous peoples, what we are asking for is modest, conservative even.

Many of our First Nation communities and families are plagued by a myriad of challenges including poverty, suicide, youth detention, family breakdown, and all kinds of health problems.

Worse, in my view, than any of this, is that too many of us feel hopeless.

To reverse this and to take our rightful place in this country, we need to create new places, new ways by which we can speak and get things done to deal with our complicated 21st century lives.

At the same time we will strongly and even fiercely guard who we are and our right to be different.

We need to create a future when we, and our children and grandchildren, are recognised as having something powerful and unique to offer this nation.

This needs to happen now, and not just for us as First Nations.

This is about the social and emotional wellbeing of the country as a whole.

It is a time of reflection, a time for all Australians to consider what kind of a society we are today, what are our values and our principles.

Surely, we are not the same people as we were in 1901 when the Constitution was drawn up.

Eventually we will have to sit down together, black and white in this nation, and deal with this.

For the truth is that this is our place.

We, the First Nations, are not going anywhere.

They can put it off for another ten years, twenty years fifty years.

But eventually you will have to sit down with as respectful equals and sort out this relationship.

But right now, we have an opportunity, a roadmap for doing that.

Simply this:

Voice.

Treaty.

Truth.

And I want to add:

Justice.

Hear us. Acknowledge us.

Thank you all for coming.

 

Aboriginal Health and Children in detention #NTCOSS2017 Speech @NTRoyalComm Mick Gooda reports ” What children have told us “

 

” There is a strong perception that that the system of detention in the Northern Territory is failing. It is failing our young people, it is failing those who work in the system and it is also failing the people of the Northern Territory who are entitled to live in safer communities.

We have heard that where detention systems are effective they are smaller centres with a therapeutic focus.

An approach that is appropriately child centred for children and young people, who at this critical time of their development, including their brain development, are not mini adults and should not be treated as such.

If a child must be removed then they must be provided with the care, support and stability that any child is undeniably entitled. “

Speech to the NT Council of Social Service 26 September 2017 Commissioner Mick Gooda see in full Part 2 Below

Read over 48 NACCHO articles NT Royal Commission #Dondale

 ” Yesterday we published a booklet which gives voice to the children who have experienced the child protection system – they have told us their stories either in evidence or by way of recorded story.

When we asked one boy  about what he had experienced and we asked him if there was any place out there that would be suitable for you to be placed into care?

He simply told us I only want to be with my Mother “

Download ” What children told us -Child protection  It’s time our children’s voices were properly heard.”

voices-what-children-have-told-us

Part 1 SNAICC calls for a response to the voices of children in the Northern Territory

SNAICC welcomes the recent report from the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory for its ability to promote the voices of children and young people affected by a child protection system that is in crisis, which, vitally, provides an insight into the real impact of ongoing failures of government to appropriately respond to children in need.

The report, Voices: What children have told us – Child Protection, captures what is often lost in discussions about the best interests of our children – the voices of our children.

What these powerful stories demonstrate is a pattern of denial of basic rights, ongoing policy and practice failures from successive NT governments, and – bluntly – an uncaring approach to caring for our most vulnerable children.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children make up 89.1 per cent of all children in out-of-home care in the Northern Territory. This is completely unacceptable.

The experiences courageously shared by children and young people interviewed by the Royal Commission further evidence the extensive reform that is required in the NT child protection system, echoing recommendations from SNAICC’s submission to the Royal Commission submitted in February 2017.

This is the time for genuine partnership between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the Federal and Northern Territory Governments.

We are hopeful that the voices captured in this report go someway to inspire an authentic response to the calls of children to create a new system that enables them to thrive, replacing the current system that perpetuates harm.

Part 2 Speech to the NT Council of Social Service 26 September 2017 Commissioner Mick Gooda

Thanks for that nice introduction Wendy and really thanks for making time for us to come along today and talk to NTCOSS about the Royal Commission.

We are now entering the phase leading into the handover of the report when a lot of work is coming together and gelling towards a set of recommendations that we hope will change the whole nature of how we treat children in the Northern Territory and hopefully like Wendy said show the way for the rest of Australia.

I acknowledge the Larrakia people the traditional owners of this place we now call Darwin, both personally as a Gangulu fella from Central Queensland and on behalf of the Royal Commission for making us welcome to base our work on your country.

I wasn’t here for the Welcome to Country but I saw the young ladies outside and isn’t it great to see the young people do a Welcome to Country.

It is a handing over of that particular ceremony, and I was reminded of a tweet the other day about the only thing we do in Australia that represents any cultural aspect of Australian culture is the Welcome to Country.

And I thought about that and again it shows that if we pay respects to Aboriginal people we pay respects to everyone in Australia.

I’d like to think of Australian culture as being a bit more than football, meat pies and Holden cars.

Like I said we are about eight weeks away from our reporting date of the 17th November and it is time for us to bring people together to talk about how we have done our work as a Royal Commission.

The first thing we found is that our Royal Commission isn’t remarkable.

There have been more than 50 inquiries, reports and reviews on issues of child protection and detention that go to the things we’re looking at.

Commissioner White and I understand that people are cynical and fatigued.

They told us that in pretty clear and unambiguous terms.

Once again another Inquiry had arrived to look at issues of long standing when the overwhelming experience of other inquiries had only seen the situation worsen.

Yet this community has continued to provide us with information, to attend community consultations, community forums and meetings.

During our time we have witnessed a tremendous desire of people not only to ensure that there is reform, but also as communities to accept responsibility for ensuring the safety of our children.

Commissioner White and I were taken aback when we had a meeting with the full Councils of the Northern Land Council and the Central Land Council where half of our time was taken up by communities getting up and saying we’ve got to stop blaming government, we’ve got to start taking responsibility for what we have contributed to as parents.

And that tells me that there is a great appetite within the Aboriginal community for change and to take responsibility.

As we head to that 17th November deadline we are focused on presenting a pathway for children, families and communities across the Northern Territory.

A plan – with a big caveat – if implemented, that will deliver the necessary widespread reform and change for which Territorians have waited for so long.

Since the Commission was established we have:

  • held three months of public hearings in Darwin and Alice Springs covering both youth detention and child protection
  • heard from over 210 witnesses
  • received more than 480 witness statements and more than 430 personal stories
  • received over 250 submissions
  • taken site visits to detention centres
  • visited and engaged with communities including via our community engagement team
  • held open and private forums and meetings including with victims of crime, youth justice officers, police officers, foster carers, care and protection workers, organisations and peak bodies.
  • heard hundreds of stories from children, families and communities who have had firsthand experience of child protection and detention in the Northern Territory.

Commissioner White and I thank everyone who has provided information to us because without this we would not have been able to fully investigate and ultimately to formulate our recommendations.

We have to make particular mention of those children and young people who have had experiences of the youth detention and child protection systems who have courageously shared their experiences with us.

Their evidence, and that of their families, frontline workers and worker and others involved in the system, has at times been very confronting.

I think this Commission has changed all of us.

I was talking to Tony McEvoy our first Aboriginal QC the other day and he told me of a recent experience where just the issue of child protection in another jurisdiction just made him tear up at the memories of what we went through up here, people like us, imagine the young people inside that system.

So we’re committed to ensuring that their voices are heard throughout our report.

Earlier this year we published a booklet which set out what we were told by communities when we met with them last year.

Yesterday we published a booklet which gives voice to the children who have experienced the child protection system – they have told us their stories either in evidence or by way of recorded story.

This booklet is available on the ( NACCHO )  website.

Please feel free to distribute it far and wide.

It’s time our children’s voices were properly heard.

It comes as no surprise that one of the first things we say is that the detention and child protection systems appear to be broken

    • Chief Minister Gunner has publicly acknowledged that the systems are broken
    • Those in the frontline – current and former youth justice, case workers, foster carers, lawyers, judiciary, representatives and agencies and government past and present – as well as the children, families and communities impacted, have told us detention and child protection in the NT is failing.
    • In our Interim Report in March we said –

“There is a strong perception that that the system of detention in the Northern Territory is failing. It is failing our young people, it is failing those who work in the system and it is also failing the people of the Northern Territory who are entitled to live in safer communities”

All the evidence we have received indicates that locking children up in Don Dale like conditions does not lead to good outcomes.

It doesn’t rehabilitate young people, it doesn’t reduce recidivism and it does not make our community safer.

What we have seen is that if you pursue a punitive based approach, these goals of rehabilitation, of reducing recidivism and safer communities, are likely to be unattainable.

What we have also found is that we cannot fix the problems within detention centres if we don’t fix the pathways into those places.

What we have heard is that many young people can be diverted from this ‘inevitable path’ through changes to legal processes, early intervention and more young people going into diversion programs when they first encounter the youth justice system.

Not surprisingly the first contact a young person has with the justice system is generally with the police and is one of the first opportunities to set them on the right path.

We have heard that if their initial contact with police is handled appropriately, the young person can be guided towards rehabilitation rather than towards a detention centre.

That doesn’t mean a go easy approach – what it does mean though is recognising that the chance is there at an early stage to change the course of a young person’s life for good.

For the small number of children who will need to be kept in secure detention, we have heard about very different models to those which currently operate in the NT.

Experts here in Australia and overseas have told the Commission that purely punitive approaches are no longer effective nor successful in managing young offenders.

Further, we have heard that where detention systems are effective they are smaller centres with a therapeutic focus.

An approach that is appropriately child centred for children and young people, who at this critical time of their development, including their brain development, are not mini adults and should not be treated as such.

Commissioner White and I have said before that we will not be recommending to the Northern Territory Government that they build another big detention centre.

For the small number of children who require secure detention a different approach is needed – with education and training at its core, that provides well-resourced health and wellbeing programs for the children, so that when they do re-enter the community they are more likely not to reoffend.

Just as a new approach is needed for youth justice and detention what we have heard during the Commission about the child protection system in the Northern Territory also signals the need for a paradigm change.

The Commission has heard much evidence from those with experience of the child protection or welfare system – both personally and professionally.

From the children and families we have heard about the impacts of separation from culture, family and kin, resulting from the placement of children into care.

DF – one of our Vulnerable Witnesses – as a matter of fact the last witness to this Royal Commission – told us in out last public hearing he and his siblings were placed into care when he was the age of 10.

At the time he was removed he understood he would be placed into respite care for just two weeks – he was told it would be just enough time for his Mum to get a house and make some arrangements.

He described the heartbreak at the prospect of being separated from his Mum for two weeks. He didn’t know at the time but it would be much longer.

DF told us that some months after going into respite he found a ‘care order’ in his foster carer’s house. He said he took it into his room and read it.

It was the first time that he understood that he wouldn’t be going back to his mum any time soon. The order placed him into protection until the age of 18.

He told us that no one had bothered to speak to him, not his carer, not his case worker, not anyone. He found out about this life changing decision accidentally.

Not surprisingly, he absconded from care many times, he was reported to police just a many times.

So the system that was set up to protect him actually facilitated his entry into the youth justice system.

When we spoke to him about what he had experienced and we asked him if there was any place out there that would be suitable for you to be placed into care?

He simply told us I only want to be with my Mother.

Challenges in communication, with multiple placements, changes in foster and respite care arrangements, separation from families, interruption to education and a lack of continuity of case management are just some of the issues we have heard.

We have heard also of experiences which suggest that the placement into care has delivered poorer outcomes than if a child had remained within their community and within their family.

We also heard of cases where we were told that a child, in the care of the CEO, was in need of care.

If a child must be removed then they must be provided with the care, support and stability that any child is undeniably entitled.

We know that those who enter the child protection system have a higher chance of ending in the detention system – we call them the ‘Cross Over’ kids.

This speaks to the need for early intervention and to seek to close off that seemingly inevitable pathway.

Our goal should be to help prevent children entering protection by having greater capacity to identify the triggers that indicate a family is in need, that needs support early and well before the statutory system intervenes.

It is the early actions which will have the greatest impact for them and their communities.

For example, it has been found that pathways into juvenile justice can often stem from childhood trauma that remains unaddressed.

There are huge demands on child protection systems across Australia and too often children end up languishing in such systems and any assistance is provided too late.

And successive inquiries have repeatedly found that child protection systems are based on out of date assumptions yet we have failed to see reform efforts that are based on an understanding of the scale of child abuse and neglect.

We have had experts analyse the Niland Report Inquiry and they tell us the kids that were screened out for intervention in that State mostly me the benchmark for intervention.

We are also told that it is easy to translate those figures to the Northern Territory.

From our perspective that means that there is this great wave of children out there and families out there in dire need of support.

And the statutory child protection system, no matter how good you make it, won’t be able to cope.

The emphasis on early intervention and early support will be the cornerstone of our recommendations.

The goal for us all must be a system that is child focused, community involved, evidence based, locally tailored and providing support for children and families as early possible.

It is fitting I close with what a couple of stories from children and I’ll go to the second one first.

And they are positive stories and I think we have to be positive.

Commissioner White and I decided early in this Commission that if we can’t think positively about the future of children we should resign and let someone else do this job.

Because we have got to remain positive because if we don’t remain positive then I think it is all lost.

In all the negative stories we got told about child protection one young woman described her case worker taker her out to lunch and talking with her for about an hour.

This was apparently such an unusual occurrence for this young woman that it stuck in her mind for years.

Commissioner White and I made a habit of ensuring that we ask every vulnerable witness who came before us, particularly in the youth detention system, were there any good guards?

Were there any good youth workers?

Because we had heard plenty abut the negative youth workers.

And every one of those children said of course there were good youth justice workers and they were in the majority.

And then we asked a follow up question – what made a good youth justice worker?

And every one said the same thing.

They spoke to us, they treated us like humans.

And what does that tell us about the needs and wants of young people?

They just want people to talk to them and treat them like humans.

I have to end by acknowledging the work of the hundreds of people and organisations – many represented here today – who have contributed to the work we are undertaking.

Like I said we received more than 320 submissions from individuals, community organisations, peak bodies, academics, government, non-government and other organisations.

In the face of the challenges that children and young people confront in the NT, this is so encouraging and shows Commissioner White and I that there are so many people willing to work towards change and improvements in the system.

And indeed put the kids of the Northern Territory in the centre of all of our considerations.

Thank you Ladies and Gentlemen

NACCHO Aboriginal Children #SNAICC2017 : Download : UN Report Recommends : Reducing rates of Indigenous child incarceration and removal

 ” The United Nations has criticised Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s government for the soaring rates at which Australia locks up Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

In her new report, the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, said “the routine detention of young Indigenous children” was “the most distressing aspect of her visit” to Australia.

The report found that Australia locks up Indigenous children, as young as 10 years old, at 24 times the rate of non-Indigenous children.”

Download the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 

UN The Australia Report

 ” The lack of progress to improve education, health and employment standards for Indigenous people had fuelled “escalating” rates of incarceration and child removal.

The Special Rapporteur’s report said a plan of action to address high rates of Indigenous incarceration was a “national priority”.

The current claim by the Government that matters relating to incarceration remain the sole prerogative of states is untenable in the severe “

See ABC Report Part 3 Below  Australia’s progress on Closing the Gap ‘woefully inadequate’, UN says

 ” Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services have achieved remarkable success in delivering culturally appropriate services for primary health care.

However, the Special Rapporteur was informed by multiple stakeholders during her visit about inequalities in the resources available for rural and remote service delivery and of cuts to community managed primary health care, which play an essential role, for example in the prevention of chronic diseases.”

See Part 2 Below Close the Gap and ACCHO Health Services

Update September 20

CTG Press Release : Australian governments urged to act on scathing UN report

The Close the Gap Campaign urges Australian governments to act on the recommendations of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Special Rapporteur, Ms Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, said it is “woefully inadequate” that, after more than two decades of sustained economic growth, governments have failed to improve the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The co-chairs of the Close the Gap Campaign, Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar and National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples Co-Chair, Mr Rod Little, call on Federal, State and Territory governments to make Indigenous health reform a top priority at the next COAG meeting and in their 2018 Budgets

Download the CTG press Release HERE CTG Special Rep MR Final

Ms Tauli-Corpuz emphasised that PM Turnbull’s Government, not states and territories, is responsible under international law for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s “national detention crisis”.

She called for the Federal Government to adopt a National Action Plan to address the crisis.

Tammy Solonec, Indigenous Rights Manager at Amnesty International Australia, said today:

Download Report from Amnesty Amnesty Aboriginal Austrlia

“Locking up Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids in children’s prisons is a national shame. Children are being abused not only in Don Dale in the NT, but in Cleveland in Queensland, in Bimberi in the ACT, in Banksia Hill in WA. This problem is nationwide.”

“The good news is that we already know what will keep Indigenous kids out of children’s prisons and safe in their communities.”

“PM Turnbull must commit to a National Action Plan to fix the youth ‘injustice’ system. That plan must fund Indigenous-led community programs, which are the best at keeping Indigenous kids safe and thriving.”

 Other concerns and recommendations in the Special Rapporteur’s report include

  • The application of criminal responsibility as low as at the age of 10 years across the country is deeply troubling and below international standards. This situation is aggravated by the failure to apply diversion measures and community programmes and the placement of children in high-security facilities.
  • It is wholly inappropriate to detain children in punitive, rather than rehabilitative, conditions. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are essentially being punished for being poor and, in most cases, prison will only perpetuate the cycle of violence, intergenerational trauma, poverty and crime.
  • Allegations of serious abuses, including violent strip-searches, teargassing, hooding and prolonged isolation committed against Aboriginal children in custody.
  • The focus urgently needs to move away from detention and punishment towards rehabilitation and reintegration. Locking up people costs tax payers vast amounts of money. For instance, the Special Rapporteur was told that detaining a child costs between $A170,000 and $A200,000 per year.
  • The Government must ensure that community-led early intervention programmes invest in families, rather than punish them, in order to prevent children from being in contact with the child protection system.

 

Part 2 Closing the Gap strategy

  1. The “Closing the Gap” strategy has been in existence for nearly a decade. However, in its 2017 report on health, education and unemployment targets,17 the Government recognizes that only one of the seven targets — to halve the gap in Year 12 attainment rates — is on track. The Government did not expect to meet targets to close or reduce the gap in the remaining six targets, including on life expectancy, infant mortality, education and employment. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples continue to die on average 10 years younger than other Australians, with no major improvements being recorded. In the Northern Territory, the life expectancy of Aboriginal people is the lowest in the nation and the gap between the non-indigenous population is 16 years for men and 14 years for women.
  2. It is woefully inadequate that, despite having enjoyed over two decades of economic growth, Australia has not been able to improve the social disadvantage of its indigenous population. The existing measures are clearly insufficient as evidenced by the lack of progress in achieving the “Close the Gap” targets.

Health services

  1. Social and cultural determinants explain almost one third of the health gap between indigenous and non-indigenous people. In 2015, nearly 45 per cent of indigenous peoples reported having a disability or long-term health condition. Understanding the impacts of intergenerational trauma and racism are essential factors in order to address the health situation of indigenous peoples effectively.
  2. The Government has taken steps to improve the health of indigenous peoples through the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013-2023, and the Special Rapporteur notes as positive that the plan adopts a human rights-based approach informed by the Declaration.18
  3. In order for the Implementation Plan for the Health Plan to be successful, the Government must invest in partnerships that recognize the leadership of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. The workforce of indigenous Australian medical professionals has expanded in the past decade and developed valuable expertise. However, parity is still lagging as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders still make up less than 1 per cent of the national health workforce. Support for training more indigenous health professionals is therefore required.
  4. Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services have achieved remarkable success in delivering culturally appropriate services for primary health care. However, the Special Rapporteur was informed by multiple stakeholders during her visit about inequalities in the resources available for rural and remote service delivery and of cuts to community managed primary health care, which play an essential role, for example in the prevention of chronic diseases.
  5. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders also told the Special Rapporteur about their feelings of powerlessness, loss of culture and lack of control over their lives. Suicide rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are escalating at a shocking rate and are double that of non-Indigenous Australians. The current situation was described to the Special Rapporteur as a suicide epidemic. While visiting the Kimberley region in Western Australia, she learned about youth-developed and -driven projects to prevent suicide among Aboriginal adolescents. She strongly urges that such initiatives be supported and replicated. Adopting a holistic approach to social and emotional well-being that recognizes the need for cultural connection is essential to achieve sustainable improvement in health indicators.
  6. Aboriginal-led health research capacity has been established and should be drawn upon to inform policies. Strengthened financial and political support for Aboriginal- and Torres Strait Islander-led expertise, professional development and research is crucial in order to close the gap in relation to key health inequalities faced by indigenous peoples. In order for such measures to be sustainable, longer-term funding agreements are necessary.

Part 3 Australia’s progress on Closing the Gap ‘woefully inadequate’, UN says

The United Nations has described Australia’s lack of progress on Closing the Gap as “woefully inadequate”, saying the over-incarceration of Indigenous people is a major human rights concern

Key points:

  • The UN supported the call for a referendum to establish a First Nations advisory body in the constitution, the report said
  • It also recommended the Federal Government adopt new targets to reduce the rate of Indigenous incarceration
  • A plan of action to address high rates of incarceration was a “national priority”, it added

UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz visited Australia earlier this year, and today released her report detailing her concerns on the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Ms Tauli-Corpuz said it was unacceptable that despite two decades of economic growth, Australia had not been able to improve the social disadvantage of its Indigenous population.

She said the United Nations supported the call for a referendum to establish a First Nations advisory body in the constitution and urged the Federal Government to establish a treaties and truth-telling commission.

“Such measures would carry momentous significance to resetting the relationship with the First Peoples of Australia,” Ms Tauli-Corpuz said.

The Special Rapporteur’s report also recommended the Federal Government adopt new targets to reduce violence against women and rates of incarceration and child removal.

Ms Tauli-Corpuz said the detention of young Indigenous children was “the most distressing aspect of her visit” to Australia.

“Detention of those children has become so prevalent in certain communities that some parents referred to it as an achievement that none of their children has been taken into custody so far,” she wrote.

“The extraordinarily high rate of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, including women and children, is a major human rights concern.

“There have been allegations of serious abuses, including violent strip-searches, teargassing, hooding and prolonged isolation committed against Aboriginal children in custody.”

She said the lack of progress to improve education, health and employment standards for Indigenous people had fuelled “escalating” rates of incarceration and child removal.

The Special Rapporteur’s report said a plan of action to address high rates of Indigenous incarceration was a “national priority”.

“The current claim by the Government that matters relating to incarceration remain the sole prerogative of states is untenable in the severe,” she said.

Ms Tauli-Corpuz praised the Children’s Koori Court in Victoria, which brings young offenders in front of a panel of elders and aims to reduce imprisonment and recidivism.

“Such culturally sensitive processes could significantly reduce recidivism rates if extended to other jurisdictions,” she said.

NACCHO Aboriginal Health and @MHPNOnline free webinar : Reducing the mental health impact of Indigenous incarceration

NACCHO Member Alert speaker update August 30

 ” Our CEO Pat Turner and NACCHO staff would like to invite all health workers to be a part of this free webinar: Reducing the mental health impact of Indigenous incarceration on people, communities and services.
 
Developed by NACCHO and produced by Mental Health Professionals’ Network (MHPN) the webinar features Q&A with a panel of experts and will explore the key issues and the impact that incarceration has on individuals, families and communities.”

Download FLYER HERE and share /promote this free webinar

No need to travel to benefit from this free PD opportunity.
Simply register and log in to participate from your home, work or anywhere you have a computer or tablet with a high speed internet connection.
 
Register now to attend this free webinar for health practitioners on
Wednesday 13 September 2017, from 4:30pm – 5:45pm AEST.
 
NACCHO also invites all Member services to ask staff to register now to access a free Mental Health Professionals’ Network webinar for their own professional development.
 
The Indigenous interdisciplinary panel will explore and discuss ways of reducing the mental health impact of Indigenous incarceration on people, communities and services.
 
This professional development opportunity is free and the previous webinar conducted by the MHPN had 680 participants across Australia.
 
The webinar features a Q&A with a panel of experts and will explore the key issues and the impact that incarceration has on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The panel will discuss strategies to enhance cultural awareness and develop responsive services for Indigenous communities affected by incarceration.

WHO’S ON THE PANEL?
 
Julie Tongs OAM : CEO Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service ACT
Dr Louis Peachy : QLD-based rural medical advisor
Dr Marshall Watson : SA-based psychiatrist
Dr Jeff Nelson : QLD-based psychologist
 
Facilitator: Dr Mary Emeleus (QLD-based general practitioner and psychotherapist).
 
Simply register and log in to participate from your home, work or anywhere you have a computer or tablet with a high speed internet connection.
Registrations close at midnight on Tuesday 12th September, 2017.
 
Please find attached a flyer about the updated webinar and it would be appreciate if you could distribute this to your local network.
 
 

NACCHO Aboriginal Health #NAIDOC2017 : Recognising the communication gap in Indigenous health care

 ” The communication gap between health professionals and Indigenous Australians has a significant impact on health outcomes

Limited health literacy is not confined to Indigenous people, but it is greatly magnified for speakers of Indigenous languages in comparison, for example, to non-English speaking migrants from countries where a scientific approach to medicine is practised and where these health concepts are already codified.”

Dr Robert Amery Medical Journal Australia NAIDOC Week 2017

 

Introduction Press Release

Communication gap puts Indigenous health at risk

The need for health professionals to have a stronger focus on communication with Indigenous people has been highlighted by the University of Adelaide’s Head of Linguistics, who says some lives are being put at risk because of a lack of patient-doctor understanding.

In a paper published (Monday 3 July) in the Medical Journal of Australia coinciding with the NAIDOC Week theme of Our Languages Matter – Dr Robert Amery has raised concerns not just about language but also a lack of cultural awareness that also impacts on good communication with Indigenous patients.

Dr Robert Amery, who heads Linguistics within the University of Adelaide’s School of Humanities and is a Kaurna language expert, says poor communication can lead to “mistrust and disengagement with the health sector” among

Indigenous patients, leading to a lack of compliance with treatment, and ultimately poor health outcomes.

He says there’s a 16-year gap in life expectancy for Indigenous people living in the Northern Territory compared with non-Indigenous Australians. Of these Indigenous people in the NT, 70% live in remote areas, and 60–65% speak an Indigenous language at home.

“While many speakers of Indigenous languages living in remote areas can engage with outsiders and converse in English about everyday matters, they often have a poor grasp of English when it comes to health communications and other specialised areas,” Dr Amery says.

Miscommunication can be subtle, and previous studies have shown that while both parties think they have understood each other, they can in fact come away with very different understandings.

“Miscommunication isn’t just about language. Some of these difficulties also arise from the interface of communication and culture, which are often derived from differences in worldview,” he says.

“For traditionally oriented Aboriginal people living in remote areas, understanding of disease causation is fundamentally different. Serious diseases, even accidents, are often attributed to sorcery. Germ theory and the immune system are foreign concepts.

“Silence plays an important role in Indigenous cultures. Indigenous people often respond to questions after a prolonged pause, a concept foreign to those doctors who see silence as impolite in their own cultures.

They compensate by filling the silence and disrupting Indigenous patients’ thoughts. There is a simple solution: pause and allow the patient to think.”

He also suggests healthcare professionals avoid the use of “intangible” conceptual English words and vague sentences, instead focusing on factual communication; that they demonstrate how a medical procedure works; and use simple diagrams to explain medical issues.

“These examples may seem plain and obvious, but astoundingly, despite the many hours dedicated to communication in medical education, such concepts are not taught,” Dr Amery says.

“An investment of time in the consult will have immense payoffs over the long term.”

 Download MJA paper here MJA Dr Robert Amery

Published with permission from Robert Amery and Medical  Journal Australia

 See website for references or PDF

The communication gap is most pronounced in remote areas where cultural and linguistic differences are greatest. The close interdependence of language and culture amplifies the gap, such that communication difficulties in these communities run deeper than language barriers alone.

Life expectancy for Indigenous Australians living in remote areas is considerably shorter than for those living in rural and urban areas.6 Figures are not available for the life expectancy of native speakers of Indigenous languages as a cohort, but the gap in life expectancy exceeds 16 years for Indigenous people living in the Northern Territory,7 70% of whom live in remote areas, and 60–65% speak an Indigenous language at home. The life expectancy gap is, of course, multifactorial, although most studies focus on causes of death.8 The communication gap as a contributor is under-rated and under-researched.1,9

An understanding of the Indigenous language landscape is critical to improving communication. In the 2011 Australian census, 60 550 people, or 11.8% of Indigenous respondents, claimed to speak an Indigenous language at home, and 17.5% claimed not to speak English well.10

More have difficulty with specialised language, with common terms such as infection, tumour, high blood pressure, stroke and bacteria often misunderstood. Native Indigenous language speakers communicate in over 100 different traditional languages and live primarily in the NT, the Kimberley region of Western Australia, northern South Australia and northern Queensland, including Torres Strait.

None of these languages have more than 6000 speakers, and many are now reduced to a mere handful, yet each of these languages is a vast storehouse of knowledge built up over thousands of years. It can be daunting to enter a large English-speaking hospital if you communicate in a language spoken by so few people.

Speakers of some languages have shifted to dominant regional languages, such as Murrinh-Patha (Wadeye, NT), while others have shifted to a creole language, such as Kriol (the Kimberley region and the Barkly Tableland area of the NT and North West Queensland).

Aboriginal people often speak distinctive varieties of Aboriginal English that differ from mainstream English. For most Aboriginal people in remote areas, their Aboriginal English is an inter-language variety, in the same way that Japanese speakers have their own distinctive accent and turn of phrase in English, which may be a challenge for medical personnel to understand.

Data might suggest that only a small proportion (less than 10%) of Indigenous adults under 60 years do not speak English well, and that communication issues would therefore not be significant (Box 1).

However, while many speakers of Indigenous languages living in remote areas can engage with outsiders and converse in English about everyday matters, they often have a poor grasp of English when it comes to health communications and other specialised areas. In a study on comprehension of 30 common legal terms (assault, bail, guilty, warrant, etc),11 200 Yolŋu people (north-east Arnhem Land) were surveyed with over 95% unable to correctly identify the meaning of these terms (Box 2).

A parallel health study has not been conducted, but it is likely that understanding of common specialised health terms would be no better. Personal experience supports this view. In 1990, I taught a short course in medical interpreting to a group of Yolŋu students. In teaching the difference between idiomatic and literal language, I introduced an example (“He chucked his guts up”) that I thought everyone would understand. The Yolŋu students interpreted this idiom literally, thinking he ripped out his intestines and threw them in the air. Even simple little things that might be said, such as “let’s keep an eye on it”, can be baffling, because these expressions are often taken literally.

Proportion of Indigenous Australians who speak an Indigenous language and who are reported to speak English “not well” or “not at all”, 2006 and 2011*

Yolŋu comprehension of 30 common legal terms*

Misinterpretations also arise from the interface of communication and culture, here derived from differences in worldview rather than linguistics. In the 1980s, I talked with Tjapaltjarri (skin name, now deceased), a senior Pintupi Aboriginal health worker, about the location of a relative’s house in Alice Springs. Tjapaltjarri referred to various landmarks such as trees and rocks. I asked him about prominent street names including Bloomfield Street. We conversed with full understanding, but I could not follow Tjapaltjarri’s directions. I never paid attention to these landmarks, he never noticed street names. This was not a linguistic issue. It was literally a matter of different worldview. Extrapolate from this example to appreciate the difficulties first language speakers of Aboriginal languages might have in following medical explanations, even when they seemingly speak good English.

These communication gaps are confirmed in health settings. A study of Yolŋu patients undergoing dialysis in Darwin2 identified, through exit interviews, significant misunderstanding of test results despite both patient and renal nurse having revealed that they were satisfied with the communication.

Trudgen9 discusses a Yolŋu patient suffering from severe diabetes and renal failure who was able to avoid dialysis once his condition was explained to him in meaningful terms, and goes on to estimate that 75–95% of communication with Yolŋu patients fails, even with an Aboriginal health worker involved. Aboriginal health workers are not necessarily trained interpreters, nor is interpreting their primary role, although they are often expected to interpret.

How do we improve? Surprisingly simple communication methods, which are easy to teach within mainstream medical education, can help. Trudgen demonstrates how to explain to a Yolŋu patient their 2% residual renal function.9 Many Yolŋu and speakers of other Indigenous languages do not understand the concept of percentages. A picture of a kidney was drawn, shading in the 2% still functioning and showing the remainder, which was sclerosed (Box 3). The patient responded in shock and, no doubt, with better dialysis participation.

Box 3

Template to explain residual renal function of 2% (hatched area) in an otherwise sclerosed kidney (dots)

Aboriginal patients may not be as trusting of medical implements as others. Refusal of an ear examination, for example, may be overcome by allowing such a patient to look through the otoscope to understand how it works. Silence plays an important role in Indigenous cultures.9,12,13

Indigenous people often respond to questions after a prolonged pause, a concept foreign to those doctors who see silence as impolite in their own cultures. They compensate by filling the silence and disrupting Indigenous patients’ thoughts. There is a simple solution — pause and allow the patient to think.

Studies1,2,3,4,14 have identified a widespread belief among Yolŋu people that information is deliberately withheld, mirroring culturally based misconceptions that lead many professionals to believe that Aboriginal patients do not want to know or that they do not experience pain.15

However, several studies1,4,14 clearly demonstrate the desire of Aboriginal people, both from the Top End and from Central Australia, for information about their illnesses and treatment. Effective communication methods, including the use of interpreters, are grossly underutilised, and frequently there is a failure to recognise that patients do not understand.

In a study of 41 Yolŋu people, only 11 found explanations about diagnosis and treatment satisfactory.4 Other studies have shown that even when patients are satisfied, gross misunderstandings may still exist.2 Trudgen9 again gives an example of how this may occur. A doctor explained to a patient that he “could not tell conclusively why [the patient’s] heart was enlarged”. The patient subsequently interpreted this to be that the doctor had no idea why his heart was enlarged and decided not to engage in treatment. Had the doctor avoided use of “intangible” conceptual English words and vague unrevealing sentences, instead focusing on factual communication, this error could have been avoided.

A failure to develop an adequate understanding does run deeper than words. For traditionally oriented Aboriginal people living in remote areas, understanding of disease causation is fundamentally different. Serious diseases, even accidents, are often attributed to sorcery.16,17 Germ theory and the immune system are foreign concepts.

Traditionally oriented Aboriginal people typically have detailed knowledge of anatomy from hunting, butchering and observing nature,9,18 but the perceived function of the kidneys, lungs, pancreas and other internal organs may be quite different. Finding common ground between these understandings is no easy task, but it is important to understand that it may play into medical treatments in the same way as having insight into the use of alternative medicines does in other cultures.

These examples may seem plain and obvious, but astoundingly, despite the many hours dedicated to communication in medical education, such concepts are not taught. Some strategies are provided in Box 4. There is an urgent need to pay more attention to communication needs of remote Aboriginal people.

Communication strategies

A refusal to take Aboriginal languages seriously not only results directly in less than optimal medical outcomes, but also in mistrust and disengagement with the health sector and non-compliance with treatment regimens.3

An investment of time in the consult will have immense payoffs over the long term. We cannot expect our medical students and colleagues to adapt without teaching.

Concepts are simple to grasp with knowledge of the languages and cultures. Is effective establishment of the Aboriginal patient–doctor relationship not one of the more teachable aspects of communication for generations of doctors?

Education is the way forward to a practical and high impact population of medical staff who contribute to the health and pride of the people who are Australia’s national treasures.

NACCHO Aboriginal Health : #NTIntervention: Ten years on and what has been achieved?

 

” The intervention was a “debacle” and a new attempt with Indigenous involvement “couldn’t do any worse .

I suggest a “mark two of what was attempted under the intervention”: a 10-year “Marshall plan” between federal and territory governments but with Aboriginal people as expert advisers on a planning, oversight and implementation committee.

It’s not enough to pay us the cursory privilege of being consulted, where our voices are not listened to and where we have no role in decision-making,” she said. “We couldn’t do any worse than what’s being done today, surely.”

Olga Havnen, the chief executive of the Danila Dilba Aboriginal health service see Part 2 story below

 “I  describe the intervention as “a complete violation of the human rights of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.

The legacy is that Aboriginal people were completely disempowered.

They had the Army going into communities in their uniforms. They had no idea why the Army was there. People were terrified that they’d come to take the kids away.”

National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation chief executive Pat Turner see story part 3 NT Intervention: Australia’s most costly ‘political stunt’

As the national representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples calls for a fundamental reset of government and community relations with us, beginning with the implementation of the Uluru Statement resolutions for constitutional reform. Congress stands ready to fill the role of the advisory body to parliament.”

“We also call for the immediate implementation of the Redfern Statement, which provides a roadmap for how governments can work collaboratively with us to develop efficient and effective programs”

Congress press release Part 1 Below

Part 1 The Northern Territory Intervention: Ten years on and what has been achieved?

As a federal election loomed a decade ago, facing disappointing polls the government of the day was scandalized by sexual abuse in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities and proposed an intervention to improve the life chances of Aboriginal children.

The program won bipartisan support and continued under a new name, Stronger Futures, when the government changed. Closing the Gap targets were announced and hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to improve the health, education, housing and employment status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people around the country, and especially those living in remote communities.

A decade on, it is timely to consider results:

  • The annual Closing the Gap report shows that six of the seven targets are not on track.
  •  We understand that there has not been a single prosecution for child sexual abuse as a result of these programs.
  •  Aboriginal men have been stigmatized as drunken, irresponsible pedophiles.
  •  Provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act have been ignored to allow the Intervention to proceed.
  •  Communities have been weakened by the downgrading of local self-government. Those who presume to know what is best for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have had their way.
  •  Tax payers are askance at the shocking waste of public monies on ineffective programs, for which many blame Aboriginal people.
  •  Most notably in the Northern Territory, but in the states as well, shocking abuses of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander juveniles have been uncovered.
  •  Incarceration rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, women and children have sky rocketed.
  •  United Nations representatives have issued reports critical of the Intervention and of government relations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  • The 97 recommendations of the 2007 Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle (Little Children are Sacred) report have been ignored.

A longer list would add to the inevitable conclusion that there is a crisis in Indigenous Affairs.

“The rationale for the Intervention was to protect Aboriginal children and to provide them with a better future. Health, education and well-being statistics demonstrate failure of the Intervention. There have been very few positive outcomes to show for the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent on the Intervention and related programs,” he said.

Part 2 NT intervention a ‘debacle’ and second attempt should be made, commission told

from Helen Davidson The Guardian

A 10-year Northern Territory intervention “mark two” could address the failings of the first one, which has seen most of the money “squandered”, the Northern Territory royal commission has heard.

Olga Havnen, the chief executive of the Danila Dilba Aboriginal health service, said the intervention was a “debacle” and a new attempt with Indigenous involvement “couldn’t do any worse”.

Havnen, who is also a former coordinator general for remote services in the NT, made the comments before the royal commission into the protection and detention of children on Thursday.

The hearing has coincided with the 10-year anniversary of the federal government’s emergency intervention into the region, which has been criticised as draconian and removing self-determination from Indigenous communities while failing to address Indigenous inequality.

Havnen told the hearing the NT was still reliant on federal funds and still failing to involve Indigenous people and organisations properly.

This week the commission heard the rates of child protection cases and notifications has more than doubled in the 10 years since the intervention. Separately, NT budget estimates revealed the number of children in out of home care had tripled, while the proportion in had dropped 20%.

Havnen said many government contracts were still procured without proper assessment of whether the organisation had the capability to work with Indigenous communities.

“These arrangements are absolutely stunning and I think are largely a legacy of the intervention supposedly committed to improving Aboriginal communities,” she said.

“By any measure the vast majority of that money has been squandered, and the people who made those decisions need to be held to account in my view.

“Just on the very cursory amount of information we have access to, you have to go: what the hell is actually really going on here and why does this continue to happen?”

Earlier this week the commission heard evidence a private business, Safe Pathways, had charged the Northern Territory government $85,000 a month to run a residential home for a maximum of four children.

A former Safe Pathways manager, Tracey Hancock, told the commission the amount would include staff wages but she didn’t have any further information on what the money was for.

Safe Pathways reportedly told the ABC the charges had been approved and accepted by the NT government.

“We get held up to be accountable as Aboriginal service providers and our level of accountability and transparency – every dollar we spend and commit, including performance outcomes, is well and truly documented,” Havnen said on Thursday.

“But you go and look at these websites for a lot of these NGOs running out-of-home services, there’s no detail about their governance arrangement, there’s no annual report, there’s no financial transparency or accountability. How is this good for anybody?”

Havnen earlier told the commission governments treated large non-Indigenous organisations as equal partners more than they did Indigenous organisations. She also said there were Indigenous organisations across the NT that were “well placed” to provide services currently contracted to non-Indigenous NGOs.

Aboriginal health services across the NT would be asked by the department to provide client medical records when there was an investigation “and yet we seem to be completely invisible to them as a capable partner and potential resource” to assist the department and vulnerable families, she said.

She said it seemed ironic and suggested the commission look at where remote Aboriginal health services were located. “Many of them are in those communities where we know large numbers of Aboriginal children are being removed from.”

Story 3 NT Intervention: Australia’s most costly ‘political stunt’

THE Federal Government’s radical plan to forcibly intervene in Aboriginal communities and impose restrictions on individuals was a billion dollar “political stunt”, a former political head has said.

WATCH SKYNEWS COVERAGE

The Northern Territory Emergency Response, known as “the Intervention”, was launched unilaterally by the Howard Government 10 years ago today.

It saw widespread alcohol bans and other restrictions imposed on 73 remote indigenous communities, as well as forced land leases, and changes to welfare under the Northern Territory Response Act 2007. The Racial Discrimination Act was suspended by the Commonwealth so thousands of indigenous people could have their welfare payments put onto “basics cards” for essential items. The Army, federal police and medical professionals were deployed to the communities for logistical support and health checks. The community development employment projects (CDEP) scheme was disbanded which limited job prospects for locals and an already limited support of bilingual education was cut off.

Communities that boasted distinctive ways of life as the oldest living culture in the world were suddenly referred to as “prescribed areas”, then “towns”, with individuals in need of reform.

Mr Howard said the Commonwealth had “responded” because the NT government of the day had failed to take action as recommended by the Little Children are Sacred report on child sexual abuse in NT indigenous communities.

The Intervention has cost Australian taxpayers more than one billion dollars but has largely proved ineffective in making a positive impact on the lives of those it denigrated.

NT’s first Labor chief minister Clare Martin said it was nothing more than a “political stunt” that was rolled out without her consultation when she was in power.

“(Then Prime Minister John Howard) didn’t ring me to say ‘can we talk about a possible intervention’, he rang me and said ‘there is an intervention taking place, I’m not going to talk to you about it, and it’s a done deal’,’ she told Sky News earlier today.

“I was stunned. I had no idea it was going to happen. I don’t think most people in the Territory — Aboriginal people who were the subject of it — they didn’t know it was going to happen, and very quickly you worked out it was mostly a political stunt.”

Ms Martin told the program she offered to fly to Canberra to discuss the plan but Mr Howard told her he was ‘too busy’ to meet.

“I thought for six years I had worked reasonably well with John Howard,” she said.

“I wasn’t in the same party as John Howard, but we always seemed to manage to sort things out, and then to be used as a political strategy like it obviously was, I just felt really deflated.

“My first thought when Howard rang me was to say expletives and resign and then I thought ‘well that’s just not mature’, but I did after that plan when I would leave.”

Ms Martin kept her position in the 2007 federal election then resigned as chief minister in November of the same year.

But she wasn’t the only one critical of the Intervention with the full scale of the blunder quickly revealing itself. It has widely been criticised for not directly involving Aboriginal people and instead giving rise to a remarkable spurt of government-funded activity that went on around them.

Twenty thousand Territorians are now on income management, despite the scheme not meeting its aims, according to a report.

Earlier this week, royal commissioners were told child protection notifications, substantiations and out-of-home placements had all more than doubled since 2007.

About 50 per cent of indigenous children in the NT now come to the attention of the child protection system by the age of 10, the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory heard on Monday.

Aboriginal women from the remote Central Australian community of Ampilatwatja performing at a public ceremony in 2010 to protest against the Northern Territory intervention. Picture: Chris Graham.

Aboriginal women from the remote Central Australian community of Ampilatwatja performing at a public ceremony in 2010 to protest against the Northern Territory intervention. Picture: Chris Graham.Source:Supplied

Signs — like this one outside Alice Springs — were erected in many Aboriginal communities following the rollout of the NT Intervention.

Signs — like this one outside Alice Springs — were erected in many Aboriginal communities following the rollout of the NT Intervention.Source:News Limited

New figures by the Menzies School of Health research that were presented to the Royal Commission indicated the intervention has not made a difference.

“The data that we have shows that since the intervention rates of child protection notifications, substantiations and out of home care have all doubled and so if that’s an outcome we’re looking at, the intervention has really failed to make a difference for that particular outcome,” school spokesperson Sven Silburn said.

Professor Silburn said the lack of proper community engagement, which he said might have given the Intervention a better chance of success, was a “great mistake”.

Footage of children detained at Don Dale recently sparked a royal commission into the maltreatment of youths in detention. It came as the Territory’s incarceration rate hit a 15-year high — the highest per capita rate in Australia — with one per cent of the population behind bars and more than 85 per cent of inmates indigenous.

Federal indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion recently said the Intervention was flawed.

“I think it would have been far better to do some of the same things with the full compliance of the community rather than the community having the sense that it was imposed on us, so yes of course we could have done it better,” Mr Scullion said during a recent visit to the central Australian community of Mutitjulu, which was at the front line of the Intervention.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, community, families have to be at the centre of the decisions, if we’re going to make substantive and sustainable change.”

Central Australian Aboriginal leader Bess Price has been vocal about the high level of violence in central Australian indigenous communities and supported the Northern Territory intervention.

Central Australian Aboriginal leader Bess Price has been vocal about the high level of violence in central Australian indigenous communities and supported the Northern Territory intervention.Source:Supplied

 

Some high profile indigenous politicians and community members have expressed support for the Intervention.

Former Chair of the Northern Territory’s indigenous Affairs Advisory Council, Bess Price previously said the Intervention has “had an impact on the grog, the alcohol, and it’s made life a bit better for the children”.

“It’s gonna take years to fix not everything, but right now, it’s done a huge amount of, you know, change in the way people have thought about children as well in regards to their health and wellbeing,” Ms Price told the ABC in 2011.

Ms Price later came under attack for her comments from indigenous lawyer Larissa Behrendt who used her Twitter account to describe watching bestiality on TV as “less offensive than Bess Price”.

News.com.au has contacted Ms Price for comment.

megan.palin@news.com.au

NACCHO Aboriginal Health : NT Government invests in safer and healthier families / communities: cuts grog to problem drinkers

Budget 2017 is delivering on the Territory Labor Government’s election commitments, investing $33 million in our communities and tackling the causes of domestic, family and sexual violence to ensure that Territorians feel safe

“The Northern Territory has the highest rates of domestic and family violence in Australia, and that comes at an enormous social and economic cost.

Minister for Territory Families Dale Wakefield (see article 1 below )

 ” The BDR supported police in stopping alcohol related crime and antisocial behaviour and its return will make a difference. Police previously described it as one of the best tools for combating antisocial behaviour.

“We know that 60% of domestic violence incidents are alcohol related – this is simply unacceptable and cutting grog to problem drinkers will help address this blight.”

Chief Minister Michael Gunner today said returning the Banned Drinker Register (BDR) on September 1 is the number one thing the Territory Labor Government can do to tackle antisocial behaviour and crime – including the devastating rates of domestic violence.         (see article 2 below )

 ” The Territory Labor Government says the new Banned Drinkers Register will help ease pressures on frontline health workers by reducing the supply of alcohol to those who cause so much harm.

We’ve listened to concerns from medical professionals and community that critical resources are being diverted to deal with alcohol related harm and violence.

While every Territorian is entitled to have a drink and enjoy that responsibly, we know too many people are drinking at dangerous levels, harming themselves, their families and their communities.”

The Minister for Health Natasha Fyles ( See Article 3 below )

Article 1

More than $33 million will be invested in frontline services, infrastructure and strategies to support the prevention of domestic and family violence that will help keep Territorians safe.

Minister for Territory Families Dale Wakefield said Budget 2017 acknowledges the cost and serious impact that domestic and family violence has on our society, and today’s announcement will improve services and facilities for Territorians.

“Budget 2017 is delivering on the Territory Labor Government’s election commitments, investing in our communities and tackling the causes of domestic, family and sexual violence to ensure that Territorians feel safe,” Ms Wakefield said.

“The Northern Territory has the highest rates of domestic and family violence in Australia, and that comes at an enormous social and economic cost.

“This budget will address both infrastructure and policy issues to ensure we have the necessary foundations to firstly reduce the rates of domestic and family violence, but also to provide victims essential support.”

This includes:

  • $6.2 million to continue current domestic violence services in the Territory, left unfunded by the CLP government
  • $3 million to refurbish Alice Springs Domestic Violence Court to improve the safety, experience and outcomes for people affected by domestic and family violence
  • $6 million for the replacement of the Alice Springs Women’s Shelter, so that women can establish independence and recover from trauma
  • $1 million to establish a remote women’s safe house in Galiwinku.

The Territory Labor Government is restoring trust in Government, creating jobs, investing in children and building safer, fairer and stronger communities – right across the Territory.

The Minister also reaffirmed additional investments being made right now into domestic and family violence programs that allow for community led solutions, including:

  • $700,000 over two years to expand the “NO MORE” violence prevention campaign
  • $350,000 to Charles Darwin University and Menzies School of Research to review key domestic and family violence reduction programs in the NT, particularly their impact and effectiveness in remote communities
  • $150,000 to NTCOSS to build the capacity of the domestic and family violence sector
  • $80,000 to improving services provided by the Gove Crisis Accommodation service
  • $30,000 to NPY Women’s Council towards a sexual violence research project.

Minister Wakefield said Budget 2017 is investing in the Territory’s future through jobs, children and community.

“We are going through a challenging economic period – everyone knows this and we have been very upfront about it,” Ms Wakefield said.

“This budget will create and support jobs, deliver on our election commitments and be a fair plan for our future

Article 2 : A BETTER BDR TACKLING SECONDARY SUPPLY AND CUTTING RED TAPE

Chief Minister Michael Gunner today said returning the Banned Drinker Register (BDR) on September 1 is the number one thing the Territory Labor Government can do to tackle antisocial behaviour and crime – including the devastating rates of domestic violence.

Mr Gunner today announced that the new BDR would address weaknesses in the old version by better addressing the problem of secondary supply and cutting red tape.

“We have listened to Police, the community and local businesses and taken action – we will introduce tougher punishment for secondary suppliers to banned drinkers,” Mr Gunner said.

“It will now be a criminal offence to intentionally supply alcohol to a person known to be on the BDR. Once charged with this offence police have the power to place the secondary supplier on the BDR. The offence can also carry significant fines.

“Another improvement cutting red tape is that once given a Banned Drinker Order, a person will go straight onto the BDR and will not require a tribunal hearing or appearance.

“Importantly, Banned Drinker Orders issued by Police will be automatically processed through the Integrated Justice Information System to immediately place problem drinkers on the BDR. This will happen within 48 hours which will help both Police and victims in urgent domestic and family violence situations.”

Mr Gunner said the Territory Labor Government introduced the BDR in July 2011 and the chaotic CLP Government scrapped it in 2012 for political reasons.

“Territorians hated that the chaotic CLP Government scrapped the BDR and they want it returned because it worked – we have listened and taken action,” he said.

“The BDR supported police in stopping alcohol related crime and antisocial behaviour and its return will make a difference. Police previously described it as one of the best tools for combating antisocial behaviour.

“We know that 60% of domestic violence incidents are alcohol related – this is simply unacceptable and cutting grog to problem drinkers will help address this blight.”

Mr Gunner said alcohol related crime and antisocial behaviour in our city centres is an issue facing many businesses and is hindering efforts to revitalise these areas.

“We want to make our city centres a vibrant place and the BDR will combat antisocial behaviour, in turn encouraging tourists and locals back into these areas,” he said.

“Undoing the CLP’s failed replacement scheme and bringing back the BDR is a significant piece of work and new legislation will be introduced into Parliament in May we are working as fast as we can because we know this will make a difference.”

Mr Gunner said Government is taking action on the causes of crime because every Territorian has the right for them and their homes and business to be safe.

He said measures including the recent $18.2 million overhaul of the broken youth justice system (which includes 52 Youth Diversion Workers, more funding for boot camps, supporting the enforcement of bail conditions and victims conferencing), greater powers for police (including electronic monitoring bracelets), more police officers and better training for staff in youth justice facilities showed his Government was taking crime very seriously.

Article 3 FRONTLINE HEALTH WORKERS TO BENEFIT FROM BDR (NT)

The Territory Labor Government says the new Banned Drinkers Register will help ease pressures on frontline health workers by reducing the supply of alcohol to those who cause so much harm.

The Minister for Health Natasha Fyles said Territorians have the right to access the high quality services our hospitals offer.

“We’ve listened to concerns from medical professionals and community that critical resources are being diverted to deal with alcohol related harm and violence,” Ms Fyles said.

“We’re empowering Territorians by creating more pathways to the BDR.

“The new BDR unveiled this week will have new provisions allowing medical officers, families and carers to refer problem drinkers to the BDR and to the rehabilitation they need.

“While every Territorian is entitled to have a drink and enjoy that responsibly, we know too many people are drinking at dangerous levels, harming themselves, their families and their communities.

“Our paramedics and hospital staff are dealing with the highest rates of alcohol related harm and injury at rates not seen in any other jurisdiction across the country

“The Territory continues to have the highest rates of alcohol related injury and disease in the nation – the number of deaths related to alcohol in the NT is three times the national average.

“Alcohol related harm costs the Territory more than $642 million a year and that is continuing to grow.

“The BDR was scrapped by the chaotic former CLP government in 2012 – delivering a sharp spike in alcohol related harm over the two most violent years on record.

“Department records show alcohol related Emergency Department presentations peaked at over 3000 across the Territory in 2013.

“We made an election promise to Territorians that we would bring back the BDR and we are delivering on that promise

“Seventy per cent of alcohol sold in the Territory is takeaway, so we know cutting supply to problem drinkers is a key way to curb alcohol fuelled violence and crime.

From September 1 the BDR will be reinstated, with Territorians and tourists having to show ID to purchase takeaway alcohol.

Those identified as being on the BDR won’t be able to buy takeaway alcohol.

More than a thousand people will be automatically included on the BDR from day one.

That figure is expected to grow to around 2500 by Christmas.

The legislation will be introduced to parliament next month.

 

 

NACCHO Aboriginal Health Closing the Gap #justjustice : PM overturns Government’s opposition to target Indigenous imprisonment

             This post contains 7 articles on the issue of reducing Indigenous Incarceration rates  #JustJustice

“I am pleased that COAG has agreed to progress renewed targets in the year ahead.

A cornerstone of the refresh will be engaging meaningfully with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and organisations, including at a local level to make sure the agenda reflects their needs and aspirations for the future.”

 

1.Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has overturned his Government’s staunch opposition to establishing a target for reducing Indigenous imprisonment rates.

 ” The Labor Party is encouraged by reports today that the Prime Minister might finally overturn his government’s ridiculous opposition to implementing justice targets under the Closing the Gap framework.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has long ignored the calls for justice targets, despite repeated urgings from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and expert bodies.

If Malcolm Turnbull is ready to accept that his Minister is wrong, and to adopt Labor’s policy, that is excellent news.

National justice targets will allow us to focus on community safety, particularly the protection of women and children, preventing crime and reducing incarceration rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

2.The Hon Bill Shorten LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION SHADOW MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS or read in full below

Download Press Release 25 March Labor CTG Prison Rates

 

 ” Lives can be changed, hope can flourish and outcomes achieved but the helping hand is needed – pre-release and post-release. As a society we should be doing everything possible to keep people out of prison – and not everything we can to jail people, but where incarceration is the outcome, then everything must be done to help the people within them.

“They look at us like we are nothing or we are animals,” Former prisoner

It is better I am here so my children can have some hope,” Prisoner

“There is nothing for us to do inside except to keep our heads down and avoid trouble,” Prisoner

We need to invest in education opportunities while people are incarcerated in Juvenile Detention and in adult prisons and from effectively as soon as someone is incarcerated. What is on the outside can also be on the inside – prisons do not have to be vile dungeons of psychological torment. They can be communities of educational institutions, places of learning, social support structures.

3.Transform Australia’s prisons by Gerry Georgatos from Stringer

4.NACCHO

NACCHO Aboriginal Health and #prisons #JustJustice : Terms of references released Over-representation of Aboriginal peoples in our prisons

 ” It’s a record, but not one to be proud of: one in four prisoners in NSW jails are Indigenous, a statistic that has risen by 35 per cent since the Coalition government came to power in 2011.

The Minister for Corrections David Elliott conceded “it is a tragedy”. Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders represented 24 per cent of the prison population in October 2016, up from 22 per cent in March 2011 “

5. NSW See Article here

” We know being incarcerated affects someone’s health and yet it is not one of the Closing the Gap targets. It’s Close the Gap Day and the Close the Gap Campaign Steering Committee’s Progress and Priorities report 2017 has been released.

The 2017 report calls for a social and cultural approach and covers many issues, including justice. This is the forth report from the Steering Committee to call for Justice Targets.

Since 2004, there has been a 95 per cent increase in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody. Over the same time, we have seen the crime rates decrease across the country.

Urgent action is required to reduce incarceration if we are ever to see life expectancy parity between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians.”

6.Summer May Finlay from Just Justice Croakey : Read Full report HERE Or Below

7.Dan Conifer for ABC TV reports from here

Despite making up just 3 per cent of the general population, about a quarter of Australia’s prison population is Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

The Greens, Labor, the Australian Medical Association, lawyers and other groups have long urged the Coalition to add a federal justice target to the Closing the Gap goals.

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert last month renewed her push in a letter to Mr Turnbull.

Mr Turnbull recently replied, indicating the target would be considered amid a current review of the decade-old targets.

“I am pleased that COAG has agreed to progress renewed targets in the year ahead,” Mr Turnbull wrote.

“A cornerstone of the refresh will be engaging meaningfully with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and organisations, including at a local level to make sure the agenda reflects their needs and aspirations for the future.

“I have invited the Opposition and the crossbench to participate, particularly all of our Indigenous members of Parliament.”

Conspicuously, Mr Turnbull did not rule out the target.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has repeatedly rejected the idea of a federal justice target.

“The Commonwealth can’t have a justice target,” Senator Scullion said in September last year.

“It does absolutely nothing because we have none of the levers to affect the outcomes in terms of incarceration or the justice system but the states and territories do.”

Mr Turnbull reports to Parliament every year on seven Closing the Gap targets, such as Indigenous school attendance and life expectancy.

Senator Siewert said she was now more hopeful of change.

“I’m a little bit more optimistic that in fact they’re now looking at it a bit more favourably and see the sense in having a justice target,” she said.

“I hope they move swiftly on it and I’m looking forward to progress.”

Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander young people are over 20 times more likely to be in jail than their peers.

The rate of Aboriginal women going to prison has more than doubled since 2000.

And fresh statistics from New South Wales show there has been a 35 per cent increase in Aboriginal inmates in the state’s prisons since 2011 — from 2,269 to 3,059.

‘I find it embarrassing’: Wyatt

Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said he was glad the door had been opened to the idea.

“That’s very heartening, especially as we go through a [youth detention] royal commission process,” he said.

“We are talking with the Commonwealth about what that may mean as a future investment into the broken youth justice system here in the territory.”

Mr Gunner said if a federal target was not implemented, the Territory would go it alone.

West Australian Labor’s Ben Wyatt is the nations’ first Indigenous Treasurer.

He has backed the federal target, but knows it is states that control the levers which make a difference.

“I would support anything that focuses the mind of a Government to reduce the rate of Indigenous incarceration,” he said.

“Western Australia is the worst in the nation, we need to have a strong, powerful look at how we go about reducing the number of Aboriginal people we have in our prisons.

“I find it embarrassing and personally distressing that my state continues to do that.”

2.TURNBULL MUST ACT ON INCARCERATION RATES & SUPPORT JUSTICE TARGETS : Labor Press Release

The Labor Party is encouraged by reports today that the Prime Minister might finally overturn his government’s ridiculous opposition to implementing justice targets under the Closing the Gap framework.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has long ignored the calls for justice targets, despite repeated urgings from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and expert bodies.

If Malcolm Turnbull is ready to accept that his Minister is wrong, and to adopt Labor’s policy, that is excellent news.

National justice targets will allow us to focus on community safety, particularly the protection of women and children, preventing crime and reducing incarceration rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

The targets should be developed in cooperation with state and territory governments, law enforcement agencies, legal and community services, and guided by community leaders, Elders and Aboriginal representative organisations.

There has to be as much focus on the factors that can help prevent the high levels of incarceration, as well as what happens to individuals once in the criminal justice and corrective services system.

A young Indigenous man today is more likely to go to jail than university, and an Indigenous adult is 15 times more likely to be imprisoned than a non-Indigenous adult.

These appalling numbers demand action, including the reversal of the Government’s cuts to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, further examination of noncustodial options and alternatives to mandatory detention, as well as a focus on justice reinvestment.

We call on the Prime Minister to urgently confirm this report, and work with Labor to make justice targets a reality.

The Turnbull Government can’t keep ignoring the Indigenous incarceration crisis. It must start showing national leadership and confront this challenge. Business as usual will not work. If we continue with the same approach, we’ll get the same results.

SATURDAY, 25 March

6.What gets measured gets managed

Summer May Finlay writes:

We know being incarcerated affects someone’s health and yet it is not one of the Closing the Gap targets. It’s Close the Gap Day and the Close the Gap Campaign Steering Committee’s Progress and Priorities report 2017 has been released.

The 2017 report calls for a social and cultural approach and covers many issues, including justice. This is the fourth report from the Steering Committee to call for Justice Targets.

Since 2004, there has been a 95 per cent increase in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody. Over the same time, we have seen the crime rates decrease across the country.

Urgent action is required to reduce incarceration if we are ever to see life expectancy parity between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians.

Despite the urgency of the need, and the calls by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations for an urgent response to this need, there has been no indication that governments are responding with the level of urgency required.

While governments fail to measure justice targets at the national level, there can be no management of the issues.

It’s been 25 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and very few of the recommendations have been implemented. It should be no surprise then that in the four years the Close the Gap Steering Committee have been calling for Justice targets that the Federal Government is moving at a glacial pace.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion had resisted the calls for Closing the Gap justice targets. Until late 2016, there appeared to be no consideration that the federal government might even have a role to play in reducing incarceration.

In September 2016, Minister Scullion said he would push the states and territories to introduce Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander justice targets. He said it is a state/territory responsibility and that the Federal government doesn’t have any of the levers to reduce Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander incarceration. This demonstrates a clear lack of understanding of the issues that drive incarceration, such as violence rates, including social determinants such as poverty and socio-economic disadvantage.

We have yet to hear whether Minister Scullion was able to work with the states and territories and see them introduce targets.

The Steering Committee reports are not the only reports which address the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander incarceration rates.

Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull was handed the Redfern Statement by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders at a breakfast at Parliament House last month. It calls for a focus on targets addressing incarceration and access to justice.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders want to see solutions which are evidence-based with a focus on prevention and early intervention.

Despite the Prime Minister being handed the Statement, the Federal Government do not appear to even seriously consider the inclusion of a justice target. At the Redfern Statement breakfast, the Prime Minister said:

“My Government will not shy away from our responsibility. And we will uphold the priorities of education, employment, health and the right of all people to be safe from family violence.”

He made no mention of incarceration and justice.

The Redfern Statement represented the unified voice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders in health, justice, children and families, disability and family violence sectors. Eighteen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations were the drivers. These organisations have a wealth of knowledge and experience that should not be dismissed. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations’ core business is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs. They know what works in our communities.

The Federal Government can act quickly when they want on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander justice issues. After Four Corners aired video footage of an Aboriginal boy Dylan Voller hooded and strapped to a chair in the youth detention centre Don Dale, Prime Minister Turnbull initiated a Royal Commission into youth detention and child protection in the Northern Territory.

Our people are continuing to die way too young and one of the contributing factors is incarceration; the Federal Government is either ignoring the issue, or hoping someone else deals with it.

How many more people do we need to lose before they look to address all factors contributing to a reduced life expectancy, including #JustJustice?

• Download, read and share the 2nd edition of #JustJustice – HERE.


 

3.Transform Australia’s prisons

The more west we journey across the nation the higher the arrest rates, the higher the jailing rates. In the last two decades Australia’s prison population has doubled. The national prison population is nearly 40,000. More than 85 per cent of inmates have not completed a Year 12 education, more than 60 per cent have not completed Year 10, while 40 per cent did not get past Year 9. More than half were not in any paid employment when they were arrested, while half had been homeless.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2015), Tasmanian prisons incarcerated 519 inmates, the Australian Capital Territory 396, NSW 11,797, Queensland 7,318, Victoria 6,219, South Australia 2,732, the Northern Territory 1,593 and Western Australia incarcerated 5,555. There are 5 prisons in Tasmania, one in the ACT, 34 in NSW, 10 in Queensland, 13 in Victoria, 8 in South Australia, 4 in the Northern Territory and 16 in Western Australia.

As the prison population has increased so has the number of privately managed prisons – 2 in NSW, 2 in Queensland, one in South Australia and 2 in Western Australia. The national prison population may double again but it appears this will only take ten years. Privately managed prisons will increase. The majority of the prison population is comprised of males but the female prison population is increasing. Ten per cent of Queensland’s prison population is comprised of women, 9 per cent in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

More than 10,000 inmates are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders – 28 per cent of the total prison population. 94 per cent of the Northern Territory prison population is comprised of Aboriginal peoples, 38 per cent in Western Australia, 32 per cent in Queensland, 24 per cent in NSW, 23 per cent in South Australia, 19 per cent in the ACT, 15 per cent in Tasmania and 8 per cent in Victoria. Non-Aboriginal Australians are incarcerated at less than 200 per 100,000 adults but Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders adults are incarcerated at 2,330 per 100,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults. It is worst in Western Australia where Aboriginal adults are incarcerated at close to the world’s highest jailing rate – 2nd highest at 3,745 per 100,000. But Western Australia enjoys the nation’s highest median wage – one of the world’s highest but not so for its Aboriginal peoples. If you are born Black in Western Australia you have a two in three chance of living poor your whole life.

If you are born Black in the Northern Territory you have a three in four chance of living poor your whole life. One in 8 of the nation’s Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders have been to jail. One in 6 has been to jail in Western Australia and for the Northern Territory. Poverty, homelessness, racism sets up people for failure, for prison, for reoffending. The situational trauma of incarceration is compounded by its ongoing punitive bent – and the majority of people come out of prison in worse condition than when they went in.

Art programs alone and some recreation will not transform the lives of the majority in the significant ways that matter. The prison experience is one of dank concrete cells, of isolation, of a constancy of trauma and anxieties, of entrenching depression and for many a degeneration to aggressive complex traumas. Australian prisons are not settings for healing, trauma recovery, restorative therapies, wellbeing, educational opportunities and positive future building. But they should be and can be.

Lives can be changed, hope can flourish and outcomes achieved but the helping hand is needed – pre-release and post-release. As a society we should be doing everything possible to keep people out of prison – and not everything we can to jail people, but where incarceration is the outcome, then everything must be done to help the people within them.

They look at us like we are nothing or we are animals,” Former prisoner

It is better I am here so my children can have some hope,” Prisoner

There is nothing for us to do inside except to keep our heads down and avoid trouble,” Prisoner

We need to invest in education opportunities while people are incarcerated in Juvenile Detention and in adult prisons and from effectively as soon as someone is incarcerated. What is on the outside can also be on the inside – prisons do not have to be vile dungeons of psychological torment. They can be communities of educational institutions, places of learning, social support structures.

There are 10, 11 and 12 year olds in Juvenile Detention facilities – child prisons – and the situational trauma of incarceration should not be allowed to degenerate these children into serious psychological hits. These are critically at-risk children who need support and not the rod. The majority of the children will respond to the helping hand, as long as they are validated and not denigrated.

With Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children, nearly 80 per cent will be jailed again after release from their first stint in Juvenile Detention. The punitive with all its associated denigrations is not working. The psychosocial self has been humiliated, debilitated, stressed by traumas. It is positive that there is an increased onus on post-prison mentoring, healing and education and work programs. There should be much more of this but we should not be waiting for this as post-prison options only and that all this should be in place from the commencement of incarceration. This would assist in reducing depression, anxieties and the building up of a sense of hopelessness. I am advocating for all so-called correctional facilities to be significantly transformed into communities of learning and opportunity. This is what any reasonably-minded society would support.

In NSW, 48 per cent of adult prisoners released during 2013 returned to prison within two years. In Victoria, 44 per cent returned within two years. In Queensland it was 41 per cent. In Western Australia it was 36 per cent. Western Australia incarcerates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders at 17 times the non-Aboriginal rate while for Queensland, NSW and Victoria it is 11 times. In South Australia 38 per cent of adult prisoners released during 2013 returned within two years. South Australia incarcerates Aboriginal people at 13 times the non-Aboriginal rate. In Tasmania 40 per cent were returned within two years. In the ACT 39 per cent were returned and Aboriginal people were 15 times more likely to be incarcerated. In the Northern Territory 58 per cent were returned and Aboriginal people were 14 times more likely to be incarcerated. Australia’s prisons – no different in my experience with child protection authorities – carry on as if people cannot change. Australian prisons are administered by the States and Territories and therefore the onus for change must be argued to them although the Commonwealth can galvanise change and argue an onus on the humane, educative, transformational instead of the punitive which has led to the building of more ‘correctional facilities’ and the filling of them.

 

“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons,” Fyodor Dostoyevsky

As soon as we are locked up there should be plans for us to better us,” Former prisoner

Too many of us come out with less hope than ever before,” Former prisoner

NACCHO #IWD2017 Aboriginal Women’s #justjustice :Indigenous, disabled, imprisoned – the forgotten women of #IWD2017

 

” Merri’s story is not uncommon. Studies show that women with physical, sensory, intellectual, or psychosocial disabilities (mental health conditions) experience higher rates of domestic and sexual violence and abuse than other women.

More than 70 per cent of women with disabilities in Australia have experienced sexual violence, and they are 40 per cent more likely to face domestic violence than other women.

Indigenous women are 35 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of domestic violence than non-Indigenous women. Indigenous women who have a disability face intersecting forms of discrimination because of their gender, disability, and ethnicity that leave them at even greater risk of experiencing violence — and of being involved in violence and imprisoned

Kriti Sharma is a disability rights researcher for Human Rights Watch

This is our last NACCHO post supporting  International Women’s Day

Further NACCHO reading

Women’s Health ( 275 articles )  or Just Justice  See campaign details below

” In-prison programs fail to address the disadvantage that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners face, such as addiction, intergenerational and historical traumas, grief and loss. Programs have long waiting lists, and exclude those who spend many months on remand or serve short sentences – as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people often do.

Instead, evidence shows that prison worsens mental health and wellbeing, damages relationships and families, and generates stigma which reduces employment and housing opportunities .

To prevent post-release deaths, diversion from prison to alcohol and drug rehabilitation is recommended, which has proven more cost-effective and beneficial than prison , International evidence also recommends preparing families for the post-prison release phase. ‘

Dying to be free: Where is the focus on the deaths occurring post-prison release? Article 1 Below

Article from Page 17 NACCHO Aboriginal Health Newspaper out Wednesday 16 November , 24 Page lift out Koori Mail : or download

naccho-newspaper-nov-2016 PDF file size 9 MB

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day, this week  I think of ‘Merri’, one of the most formidable and resilient women I have ever met.

A 50-year-old Aboriginal woman with a mental health condition, Merri grew up in a remote community in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. When I met her, Merri was in pre-trial detention in an Australian prison.

It was the first time she had been to prison and it was clear she was still reeling from trauma. But she was also defiant.

“Six months ago, I got sick of being bashed so I killed him,” she said. “I spent five years with him [my partner], being bashed. He gave me a freaking [sexually transmitted] disease. Now I have to suffer [in prison].”

I recently traveled through Western Australia, visiting prisons, and I heard story after story of Indigenous women with disabilities whose lives had been cycles of abuse and imprisonment, without effective help.

For many women who need help, support services are simply not available. They may be too far away, hard to find, or not culturally sensitive or accessible to women.

The result is that Australia’s prisons are disproportionately full of Indigenous women with disabilities, who are also more likely to be incarcerated for minor offenses.

For numerous women like Merri in many parts of the country, prisons have become a default accommodation and support option due to a dearth of appropriate community-based services. As with countless women with disabilities, Merri’s disability was not identified until she reached prison. She had not received any support services in the community.

Merri has single-handedly raised her children as well as her grandchildren, but without any support or access to mental health services, life in the community has been a struggle for her.

Strangely — and tragically — prison represented a respite for Merri. With eyes glistening with tears, she told me: “[Prison] is very stressful. But I’m finding it a break from a lot of stress outside.”

Today, on International Women’s Day, the Australian government should commit to making it a priority to meet the needs of women with disabilities who are at risk of violence and abuse.

In 2015, a Senate inquiry into the abuse people with disabilities face in institutional and residential settings revealed the extensive and diverse forms of abuse they face both in institutions and the community. The inquiry recommended that the government set up a Royal Commission to conduct a more comprehensive investigation into the neglect, violence, and abuse faced by people with disabilities across Australia.

The government has been unwilling to do so, citing the new National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Quality and Safeguard Framework as adequate.

While the framework is an important step forward, it would only reach people who are enrolled under the NDIS. Its complaints mechanism would not provide a comprehensive look at the diversity and scale of the violence people with disabilities experience, let alone at the ways in which various intersecting forms of discrimination affect people with disabilities.

The creation of a Royal Commission, on the other hand, could give voice to survivors of violence inside and outside the NDIS. It could direct a commission’s resources at a thorough investigation into the violence people with disabilities face in institutional and residential settings, as well as in the community.

The government urgently needs to hear directly from women like Merri about the challenges they face, and how the government can do better at helping them. Whether or not there is a Royal Commission, the government should consult women with disabilities, including Indigenous women, and their representative organizations to learn how to strengthen support services.

Government services that are gender and culturally appropriate, and accessible to women across the country, can curtail abuse and allow women with disabilities to live safe, independent lives in the community.

Kriti Sharma is a disability rights researcher for Human Rights Watch

 

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How you can support #JustJustice

• Download, read and share the 2nd edition – HERE.

Buy a hard copy from Gleebooks in Sydney (ask them to order more copies if they run out of stock).

• Send copies of the book to politicians, policy makers and other opinion leaders.

• Encourage journals and other relevant publications to review #JustJustice.

• Encourage your local library to order a copy, whether the free e-version or a hard copy from Gleebooks.

• Follow Guardian Australia’s project, Breaking the Cycle.

Readers may also be interested in these articles:

NACCHO Invites all health practitioners and staff to a webinar : Working collaboratively to support the social and emotional well-being of Aboriginal youth in crisis

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NACCHO invites all health practitioners and staff to the webinar: An all-Indigenous panel will explore youth suicide in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. The webinar is organised and produced by the Mental Health Professionals Network and will provide participants with the opportunity to identify:

  • Key principles in the early identification of youth experiencing psychological distress.
  • Appropriate referral pathways to prevent crises and provide early intervention.
  • Challenges, tips and strategies to implement a collaborative response to supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth in crisis.

Join hundreds of doctors, nurses and mental health professionals around the nation for an interdisciplinary panel discussion. The panellists with a range of professional experience are:

  • Dr Louis Peachey (Qld Rural Generalist)
  • Dr Marshall Watson (SA Psychiatrist)
  • Dr Jeff Nelson (Qld Psychologist)
  • Facilitator: Dr Mary Emeleus (Qld GP and Psychotherapist)

Read more about the panellists.

Working collaboratively to support the social and emotional well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth in crisis.

Date:  Thursday 23rd February, 2017

Time: 7.15 – 8.30pm AEDT

REGISTER

No need to travel to benefit from this free PD opportunity. Simply register and log in anywhere you have a computer or tablet with high speed internet connection. CPD points awarded.

Learn more about the learning outcomes, other resources and register now.

For further information, contact MHPN on 1800 209 031 or email webinars@mhpn.org.au.

The Mental Health Professionals’ Network is a government-funded initiative that improves interdisciplinary collaborative mental health care practice in the primary health sector.  MHPN promotes interdisciplinary practice through two national platforms, local interdisciplinary networks and online professional development webinars.