NACCHO #sosblakaustralia update :WA unveils radical plan for remote Aboriginal settlements

photo99

The Barnett government has unveiled a radical overhaul of services and spending in the state’s 274 remote communities, declaring the $4.9 billion rolled out each year on indigenous programs in Western Australia was like a “noodle nation” of duplication and waste that was delivering poor results. 

NACCHO Position statement on closure of remote communities

“Now we are seeing these poor policies from the past continue in Western Australia today with the closure of regional communities. It’s time to learn from the mistakes of past policies, listen to Aboriginal people and reverse this decision. It seems we are a long way off reconciliation if even our Prime Minister doesn’t know that Aboriginal people living on Country is not a ‘lifestyle choice’ but an integral part of identity and culture.”

Quote and picture above from Sandy Davies NACCHO Deputy chair  More Remote Communities like Yulga Jinna in Yamatji Country WA 60/70 People, small school, Children Happy. These Communities built in special places. Family Happy on Traditional Land

by: PAIGE TAYLOR The Australian

The remote communities plan, inspired by the way Hope Vale in Queensland’s Cape York was run, will take power from ­bureaucrats and install advisory councils of Aboriginal leaders.

Premier Colin Barnett confirmed he believed the process of reform would result in a significant number of community closures in coming years, though he did not repeat the estimate of between 100 and 150 that he volunteered in statements last November. Those comments triggered angst and protests across Australia and as far away as London,Berlin and New York.

photo

 

“You can find images of Aboriginal communities and say ‘that is third world, that is poverty’ and the images do reflect that,” Mr Barnett said yesterday.

“But it’s not through poverty or a lack of income.”

He said his government would not simply say what was “easy or nice”.

“We are going to confront the issues. We will do it in as sensitive a way as we can, respecting ­Aboriginal people and their cultures and their families but the time for turning a blind eye to this is gone,” Mr Barnett said.

He said the reform process was an opportunity to achieve genuine change.

“And yes, at the end of the ­process I expect there will be ­significantly less Aboriginal communities operating,” he said. “But I expect also opportunities for Aboriginal people and ­particularly children will be greatly enhanced.”

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Peter Collier said that, under the plan, the government would ­assess the employment, education, child protection and healthcare options available to Aborigines in remote areas to find ways to ensure those services were provided in the most efficient and effective way. “This is a long-term plan that will be put in place in close consultation with Aboriginal communities and local governments,” Mr Collier said. “That consultation process starts within weeks. There are about 12,000 ­Aboriginal people currently living in 274 communities in Western Australia, some with only one house and one family in them. That is simply not sustainable.”

Reform will be led by the state’s Child Protection Minister Helen Morton, who will oversee human services in the communities, and Regional Development Minister Terry Redman, who will oversee remote infrastructure and development. Both are members of Mr Collier’s subcommittee on Aboriginal affairs, which has been working on the plan for two years.

Yesterday they the federal government’s decision to hand responsibility for infrastructure, municipal and essential services in remote communities to the states had brought the issue to a head, but that the reforms had been coming anyway.

Yesterday the Barnett government revealed it was prepared to spend more than it currently did on some Aboriginal communities, partly through the multi-billion-dollar Royalties for Regions program that quarantines mining royalties for rural projects.

The government will soon call for nominations from Aboriginal leaders to join Regional Strategic Advisory Councils for the Kimberley and Pilbara, which will act as a liaison between government agencies and local communities.

The guiding criteria is to ensure all children go to school, that communities are safe places for children and that communities offer purposeful occupation. It is also meant to cut down on duplication, waste and what Mr Barnett yesterday described as “a confusion of services”.

Mr Barnett pointed to the example of Roebourne in the Pilbara where 206 services were delivered to 1400 people at a cost of more than $58 million a year. “(There is) lots of goodwill, lots of good intentions but very poor results,” he said. “Imagine the situation for an Aboriginal family (in Roebourne), it must be almost every day that someone is knocking on their door saying ‘we are here to help you’. That is inefficient, ineffective use of public money and totally confusing for the families in those communities.”

Mr Redman said the changes could bring transformational change to remote communities within a generation. He said he had been inspired by reforms on Cape York and visited Hopevale last weekend where he saw children whose education was not limited by their remote location.

He said the Hope Vale example, in which Aboriginal residents become commissioners who make rulings and important decisions about their community, had helped him also to see that there would be resistance from some.

“There’s a lot of organisations that provide service support for these communities that will have a vested interest in keeping the status quo so you would expect that you will have some rough roads in moving through a group or company that had some vested interests in service provision,” Mr Redman said

Have you got a good news story or comment to share with the 100,000 readers of our NACCHO Aboriginal Health Newspaper ?

wanted-stories

June/July edition being produced now

Download our Advertising rate card here NACCHO Newspaper Advertising Rate Card

or online enquiries and contact info CLICK HERE

 

NACCHO Prison Health News : Prisons are a poor substitute for primary and mental health care

 

photo

“An ongoing issue in Australia, which we have failed to reverse – just as we have failed to close the gap – is the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our prisons.

Nationally, the rate of imprisonment for ATSI people was 13 times higher than for non-Indigenous people at June 30, 2014. This figure covers a diverse situation across the nation. In Western Australia, ATSI men and women are 18 times more times likely than non-Indigenous Australians to be imprisoned in WA, whereas in Tasmania the rate is four times higher.”

From The Conversation state of imprisonment series more info

Aboriginal prisoners were at greater risk of chronic illness, mental illness and substance abuse.

photo1

We aim to solve these problems by looking at alternatives to prison for minor offences, reducing the rate of ex-prisoners returning to prison, and paving the way for ex-offenders to better integrate back into society, Prison should be treated as a last resort.”

NACCHO Deputy chair and GAMS chairman Sandy Davies Speaking at Prison health Conference WA last week

“As well as a bipartisan approach to reduce the use of remand, we need to lower our very high reoffending rates, which are higher than most other comparable countries. We need to make sure people in jail receive help. This especially applies to literacy and numeracy, and also with regard to alcohol and drug programs. Moreover, inmates ought to continue to receive assistance after being released.”

If that (mass incarceration) occurred, and as a result Aboriginal Australians had a similar incarceration rate as non-­Aboriginal Australians, just imagine the funds that would become available for improving the health and wellbeing of indigenous people.

From “Decriminalise personal drug use to reduce prison population” full article below

Ross Fitzgerald was for 20 years a member of the Queensland Parole Board and the NSW State Parole Authority.

Australia has reached a decade-high rate of imprisonment. The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ announcement of this last year created little impact or interest.

Across Australia, 33,791 persons were in adult corrective services custody at June 30 2014. That was a 10% increase from 2013. By the December quarter 2014, the average daily number of prisoners had risen to 34,647.

For both men and women in custody, the most frequent serious offence was an act intended to cause injury (21% for men, 20% for women).

The next most common offences differed according to gender. Men were equally likely to be in custody for a most serious offence of sexual assault, unlawful entry with intent and illicit drug offences (all 12%). For women, the next most likely reasons were illicit drug offences (17%) and offences against justice procedures, government security and operations (11%).

The circumstances that lead to imprisonment and the context of the crime cannot be ascertained from such data. It still raises important questions about the use of imprisonment for non-violent offences.

The number of people imprisoned in Australia continues to grow strongly. Australian Bureau of Statistics, CC BY
Click to enlarge

Indigenous Australians suffer punitive approach

An ongoing issue in Australia, which we have failed to reverse – just as we have failed to close the gap – is the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our prisons.

Nationally, the rate of imprisonment for ATSI people was 13 times higher than for non-Indigenous people at June 30, 2014. This figure covers a diverse situation across the nation. In Western Australia, ATSI men and women are 18 times more times likely than non-Indigenous Australians to be imprisoned in WA, whereas in Tasmania the rate is four times higher.

In 2013, Chris Cunneen articulated the concern in The Conversation that:

… too many Indigenous Australians will remain second-class citizens in their own country … remaining the object of law when it comes to criminalisation and incarceration.

The most recent statistics affirm that Cunneen’s predictions are unfolding with little sign of abating.

Prisons are a poor substitute for mental health care

An emerging concern is the recognition and realisation that mental illness and mental impairment are diagnosed at much higher rates within our imprisoned population than in the wider community.

Data on this issue is less easily accessed nationally. What we do know is that there is a “higher incidence of mental health problems in the Australian prison population than in the general population” and that “almost two in five prison entrants (38%) reported having been told that they have a mental health disorder”.

Prison is fast becoming a significant location for individuals with high mental health needs to be supported and managed. This reflects a national malaise, stemming from the responsibility we must all bear for decisions to remove so many of the support networks that were in place decades ago – and to remove them without any replacement or alternative. The result has been the criminalisation of an increasing number of people.

Public debate ignores need for change

This brief review of current data and trends raises several important questions: why is imprisonment being used, for what purpose, and to what ends?

This series aims to offer a snapshot of incarceration trends across Australia and to identify imprisonment policies and practices that we need to change.

Each state and territory has different issues of most concern. These may relate to rates of imprisonment of particular marginalised populations, or legislative changes resulting in remand rates skyrocketing and/or parole being virtually unobtainable.

While Australian trends in imprisonment can always be favourably compared to other nations such as the US, it is clear that current trends across the nation have significant short-and long-term consequences. Attracting public attention and engagement with these consequences is challenging in a political, social, and media environment dominated by law-and-order politics.

This series aims to provide a platform for public discussion via a critical mass of articles that take stock of the situation in each state and territory, and as a nation.

Should we decriminalise personal drug use to reduce prison population

Ross Fitzgerald was for 20 years a member of the Queensland Parole Board and the NSW State Parole Authority

The British established a prison colony in Australia in 1788 because they ran out of prison capacity in Britain, and America was no longer available after the 1776 revolution. But the fact incarceration had failed to dent Britain’s huge social and economic problems has not stopped successive Australian governments trying to solve our own problems by imprisoning more people.

It’s an admission of failure and a national disgrace. Recently in Australia, incarceration rates increased from 158.8 per 100,000 in 2004 to 185.6 last year. This is an area where growth is a serious problem. That’s a 17 per cent ­increase, and the situation is ­getting worse.

While Victoria has the highest percentage of privatised prisoners in the world, in NSW the number of adult inmates in prison is nearing a record 12,000. This represents not just an extravagant waste of money but also an enormous waste of human potential. At an estimated annual cost of at least $75,000 a prisoner, it is also a drain on the public purse when governments have been telling the community — some would argue incorrectly — that we are drowning in government debt.

The situation is much worse in the US, which imprisons a huge 754 per 100,000 — the highest in the world. This means that while the land of the free and the home of the brave has 4.4 per cent of the world’s population, it houses 22 per cent of the world’s inmates.

With 2.3 million incarcerated, there are more Americans imprisoned than in the military. Indeed, mass incarceration there gobbles up $US60.3 billion ($78bn) in ­annual budget expenditure.

In Australia, we urgently need to reduce the burgeoning numbers of our prison population, which is a direct result of “law and order auctions” at state and federal levels. This is promulgated by all major political parties, which — when crime rates are falling — try to outbid each other when it comes to tougher sentences.

 

This splurge on punishment is utterly unsustainable. But there are some clear-cut solutions that could save this waste. We should be looking to increase substantially the use of non-custodial ­sentences. And where our courts decide that they have no alternative except to send people to jail, in most cases we need shorter, not longer, sentences.

We also need to have far fewer people on remand. This is especially important as a significant number of these inmates — who comprise up to a third of our prison population — are eventually found not guilty.

As well as a bipartisan approach to reduce the use of remand, we need to lower our very high reoffending rates, which are higher than most other comparable countries. We need to make sure people in jail receive help. This especially applies to literacy and numeracy, and also with regard to alcohol and drug programs. Moreover, inmates ought to continue to receive assistance after being released.

More widely, we need to tackle structural inequality in our society. This is because the socially and economically disadvantaged sections of our nation have by far the highest rates of incarceration.

Without a doubt we need to reform our drug laws. In my opinion, this should be along the lines of Portugal, which in 2001 introduced laws that referred people found in possession of less than 10 days’ supply of any illegal drug for a health and social assessment and possible treatment. As a result, drug treatment fac­il­ities were expanded and improved. Not only has the crime rate fallen, but deaths from HIV and drug-use have declined markedly.

While a socialist government introduced the Portuguese scheme to decriminalise personal drug use, it was kept essentially intact when government changed hands. It has a high level of support across the political spectrum and throughout the wider community.

Importantly, in Portugal, all the huge savings made by reducing the costs of law enforcement and imprisonment are spent on public health.

To reduce the mass incarceration that occurs throughout Australia, we urgently need to adopt the Portuguese model. This especially applies to our disadvantaged communities, such as those in the Northern Territory.

The Portuguese scheme ought to be combined with raising the price of low-cost alcoholic bever­ages, which would reduce consumption significantly.

If that occurred, and as a result Aboriginal Australians had a similar incarceration rate as non-­Aboriginal Australians, just imagine the funds that would become available for improving the health and wellbeing of indigenous people.

Reducing the number of Australians behind bars is something that should appeal to all of us.

The savings in government expenditure would delight fiscal conservatives. People focused on social justice would be delighted to see less disparity between high and low-income groups.

Australians who focus on families would enjoy seeing fewer husbands and wives separated.

They would also rejoice in witnessing fewer parents and children separated and hence not caught up in a vicious cycle of crime and punishment.

In terms of meaningful solutions to mass incarceration we need look no further than the ideas of US Attorney-General Eric Holder. In a seminal article for ‘The Washington Post’ last month, Holder wrote, “a rare consensus has emerged in favour of ­reforming our federal drug ­sentencing laws”.

This presents, he argues, a historic opportunity to reform the criminal justice system in ­the US. Eighteen months ago, this enlightened federal official launched a “Smart on Crime” initiative that focused on reducing the use of draconian mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offences. It also involved ­substantial investment in alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs that reduced the likelihood of recidivism.

Preliminary results from this effort have been extremely encouraging. Remarkably, last year marked the first simultaneous ­reduction in crime and ­incarceration rates in more than four decades.

If they can do this in crime-­conscious America, there is surely nothing to stop us doing it here.

Author of 36 books, Ross Fitzgerald was for 20 years a member of the Queensland Parole Board and the NSW State Parole Authority.

The Weekend Australian, April 11-12, 2015, Inquirer, p 24.

NACCHO #justjustice Prison Health News :Conference aims to improve the health of Aboriginal prisoners and former prisoners

photo3

 Geraldton Aboriginal Medical Service [GAMS] conference being held this week aims at developing strategies to improve the health of Aboriginal prisoners and former prisoners

Reports by Sarah Taillier ABC

Follow on Twitter #justjustice

GAMS chairman Sandy Davies (pictured below) said Aboriginal prisoners were at greater risk of chronic illness, mental illness and substance abuse.

photo1

“We aim to solve these problems by looking at alternatives to prison for minor offences, reducing the rate of ex-prisoners returning to prison, and paving the way for ex-offenders to better integrate back into society,” he said.

Mr Davies said prison should be treated as a last resort.

“Prison’s there for a purpose, it’s to protect the community,” he said.

“I don’t want people to misconstrue that we’re wanting to get prisoners out of prison – it’s just that there’s so many people in there that could be doing other things.”

Mr Gooda said if Aboriginal people were represented in jail at the same rate as the general population, it would save the country about $800 million a year in incarceration costs.

“Here’s a way governments can actually save a bit of money; by not locking people up who shouldn’t be locked up,” he said.

Mr Gooda said practical changes within the judicial and policing system could reduce Indigenous incarceration rates.

“Really practical day to day things that we can go to government with, that doesn’t involve overturning the whole justice system,” he said.

“Things like notifying people of court appearances, people with cognitive disabilities – let’s not put them in jail, let’s put them in an appropriate facility.

“Those are the sort of things I think we should be starting to look at, because every one person we save one night in jail, we’re heading towards reducing this awful rate.”

The conference was supported by NACCHO chair Matthew Cooke and CEO Lisa Briggs

photo2

Aboriginal incarceration rates at crisis point, says social justice commissioner Mick Gooda

Aboriginal incarceration rates have reached crisis point and communities need to unite to address the problem, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner Mick Gooda says.

Figures from the Productivity Commission show a 57 per cent rise in incarceration rates among Indigenous men, women and children over the past 15 years.

Speaking ahead of a Geraldton Aboriginal Medical Service [GAMS] conference aimed at developing strategies to improve the health of Aboriginal prisoners and former prisoners, Mr Gooda said high Aboriginal incarceration rates and poor Aboriginal health were intrinsically entwined.

“If you think putting people in jail creates safe communities, we’re kidding ourselves,” he said.

“Stopping people offending creates safe communities.

“So that’s what we’re looking at now, how can we create safe communities.”

Mr Gooda said urgent action was needed to reduce incarceration rates.

“I’ve run out of adjectives, from emergency to urgent, to a catastrophe in the making, because the figures just keep climbing,” he said.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults are 15 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous Australians.

Mr Gooda said it was vital Indigenous communities were united on the issue.

“If you don’t have a unified voice, the government will do whatever they want because they’ve got permission to do it because people aren’t coming together,” he said.

“So it’s really important that communities sit down and start talking together

Inside Out: Indigenous imprisonment in Australia – documentary video

 

photo4

Filmed on the plains of north-western New South Wales, this documentary looks at one man’s fight against the scourge of Indigenous imprisonment in his community.

VIEW DOCUMENTARY HERE

Inside Out tells the story of a pastor and former prison guard, Uncle Isaac Gordon, whose dream is to see the numbers of Aboriginal youths heading to jail slashed. Gordon wants to build a ‘healing centre’ for troubled Aboriginal young people at risk of jail time, built on his family’s ancestral land near the towns of Brewarrina and Walgett. But will government bodies get on board?

NACCHO #SOSblakAustralia :Remote community residents frightened they will be forced off their land

 

photo99

People in remote Indigenous communities are panicking about their future, say an Aboriginal elder and MP, as the Western Australian Government maintains no community will close without consultation.

Last year, the WA Government announced plans to close up to 150 remote communities, but it remained tight lipped on which ones could be in the firing line.

This week’s revelation that the Federal Government identified 192 settlements as unsustainable back in 2010, has only fuelled the rumours circulating in remote WA.

Deputy Premier Kim Hames acknowledged the Government could have done things differently.

“I accept that dialogue has been significantly lacking; I accept that people are scared and I accept that our government has a very serious responsibility to get out and do something about it,” he said.

Dr Hames said he wanted to ease residents’ concerns.

“We are not closing Aboriginal communities as part of this program,” he said.

“We are not doing that. What we will do is work with those who are too small to be viable in their own right to see if they want to move.”

Dr Hames said some very small communities would lose funding for essential services and if people chose to stay on the land, they would do so without government support.

“I suspect some of the little ones that have two or three or four people will be told ‘sorry guys, keep the house, enjoy staying there, but from now on you need to look after yourself if you don’t want to come somewhere where the government can support you’,” he said.

The State Government insisted there would be extensive consultation with residents before any decision was made.

Kimberley MP says community residents are panicking

Kimberley MP Josie Farrer said those talks need to start right now, because residents in remote communities were panicking.

“I’ve been home on the weekend and people have asked me all sorts of questions. There’s a lot of angry people out there,” she said.

“People need to plan their lives, people need to know where they’ll be living.

“Does the Premier intend to travel to the Kimberley to discuss this issue this year? They’d all like to know if he’s going to go up there and sit down and talk to them.”

The original trigger for the closures was the Federal Government’s decision to withdraw funding to remote communities in mid 2016.

 

But the State Government said the closures were also linked to providing better health, housing and education for Indigenous people.

The Minister for Regional Development and Nationals leader Terry Redman said the changes were not financially motivated.

“This actually isn’t about money, it’s about getting better outcomes,” he said.

“It’s also not about forced closures of communities.

“If I’ve got anything to do with it I want to see a plan that’s clearly articulated and has the support of Aboriginal leaders and allows people to make choices and pursue opportunities.”

WA Opposition says Government failed to articulate reasons for closures

The Opposition’s Aboriginal affairs spokesman Ben Wyatt said the Government had failed to clearly articulate its reasoning for the closures.

“What other community in Australia would find themselves in a position where the Government of the day can say ‘you’ve failed as a community, we will close you on a yet to be defined set of standards?’,” he said.

“Initially it was the cost on the taxpayer, that’s now changed to rates of STIs, that’s changed now to literacy rates.

“And those remote communities stand there waiting for their verdict but don’t know what they’ve done to appear before the Liberal Government’s jury.”

Ms Farrer said while many Aboriginal people felt slighted by the Barnett Government, it had an opportunity to make amends.

“Let’s have a conversation about how we can make communities thrive and viable,” she said.

“There should be transparent communication between the Government and community members. After all, we are all people.”

Bobby West from the Kiwirrkurra community is hoping someone would visit soon to tell residents what was going on.

“I’d like to see them come out and talk about it. We don’t know what’s going on, it’s not fair,” he said.

“You can’t treat us like white people, to live like white people. We’re not ready yet.”