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Tag Archives: truancy officers

Closing your ears on closing the gap

In 2008, Opposition indigenous affairs spokesman and ultimate opportunist, Tony Abbott, told The Age:

“When we were in government we could decide whether an apology (to the Stolen Generation) happened or not, but in opposition all we could decide was an attitude to an apology which was ultimately in the hands of others. My own view was if an apology was going to happen anyway why not make the most of the situation and at the very least not rain on the parade.”

It’s all about the look isn’t it Tony?

In 2011 Tony was interviewed by Chris Uhlman about the Northern Territory intervention:

“Well, I think that for too long there has not been the expectation that Aboriginal kids would go to school or the expectation that Aboriginal adults would take work. Now, we’ve got to break that expectation and one of the very encouraging things is that we now have senior, highly articulate Indigenous advocates, like Alison Anderson and Bess Price, who are saying things have got to change, our people have got to take responsibility, and at the heart of that is being normal Australians, at least in that respect. Our kids go to school and our adults go to work.”

And who better to advise the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs on how to “normalise” Aborigines than one of his favourite minority, “older, private school-educated, conservative white men”.

Billionaire mining magnate Andrew Forrest, was given the task to report on ways to improve training and education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Forrest has no particular expertise in this area apart from a compassionate interest and a personal record in looking for innovative ways to promote Indigenous employment.

The Forrest Review makes 27 recommendations, including that all welfare payments other than age and veterans’ pensions, be paid into an account which can be accessed with a new Healthy Welfare Card.

The card would only allow spending on goods and services deemed by the government to support a healthy lifestyle and would block the purchase of drugs, alcohol, or gambling.

The report also recommends financial penalties for parents whose children fall below a 90 per cent school attendance rate.

“I’m afraid over the last decade or so the truancy laws have effectively become a dead letter,” the prime minister said.

“I don’t say that welfare quarantining in these circumstances is necessarily the only answer. But I am absolutely determined to have some form of sanctions where the kids aren’t going to school.”

“There has to be consequences for sub-optimal behaviour.”

“If the states and territories aren’t prepared to do this or aren’t prepared to do it in what I think is a reasonable time-frame – with enough decisiveness – I will look at what we can do at a federal level to make this a reality.”

Russell Marks commented in The Monthly:

“Forrest’s report goes well beyond his brief, and advocates a return to the paternalistic and punitive welfare models of centuries past for not just Indigenous welfare recipients but hundreds of thousands of others. There are echoes of the “poor laws” of British mercantilism in his proposal to punish parents for their children’s non-attendance at school. His proposal to extend “income management” – that attempt at controlling how welfare recipients spend their money which has proven so divisive among Aboriginal communities – harks back to the trust accounts of past decades.

Like the Audit Commission’s report, Forrest’s report will be a bridge too far for the government, which begs the question: why does it persist in asking wealthy businessmen to report on matters outside their expertise?”

Eva Cox was also critical of Forrest’s report:

“This step backwards fails to accept that recognising and respecting the civilisations and contributions of Indigenous peoples is necessary to unravel the damages of long-term cultural dominance, which strips away communal strengths and well-being.

Nowhere does the report make any serious acknowledgement of systemic exclusion of both Indigenous knowledge and cultural competencies. It offers no recognition of the value of language diversity and the maintenance of cultural identity.

Missing too from the report are the data that show the failure of many of the proposed programs such as anti-truancy measures. Having children at schools that do not meet their needs does not improve outcomes.

Forrest dismisses oral cultures and languages, and all other learning that cannot be applied in job seeking. He ignores the importance of community and focuses on fixing individuals.”

In light of the very poor results in the recent Closing the Gap report, Tony’s comments on Australia Day 2012, the day the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra staged a 40th Anniversary celebration, sound even more out of touch:

“Look, I can understand why the tent embassy was established all those years ago. I think a lot has changed for the better since then. We had the historic apology just a few years ago, one of the genuine achievements of Kevin Rudd as prime minister. We had the proposal which is currently for national consideration to recognise indigenous people in the Constitution. I think the indigenous people of Australia can be very proud of the respect in which they are held by every Australian and, yes, I think a lot has changed since then and I think it probably is time to move on from that.”

And he wonders why they were offended.

The Closing the Gap report identified high levels of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with undetected treatable and preventable chronic conditions that impact significantly on life expectancy. The nation has the ability to make relatively large health and life expectancy gains in relatively short periods of time by focussing on access to appropriate primary healthcare services to detect, treat and manage these conditions.

They stress that good health is important to employment, education and community safety. Further, the health sector is the biggest employer of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and increased investment in health services will result in increased employment.

Evidence shows health services controlled by the Aboriginal community are outperforming others in the detection and treatment of health issues.

This is because they know that everything is connected. In health services controlled by the Aboriginal community, doctors, nurses and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers treat each person in a holistic, culturally appropriate way. They spend longer with their patients, know their history and know how to deal with the complex issues they face daily – homelessness, food shortages and mental health issues.

The report also expresses concern “that hard won Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health gains could be negatively impacted by proposed measures contained in the 2014–15 Budget.”

Over the next five years $534 million will be cut from Indigenous programs administered by the Prime Minister and Cabinet and Health portfolios.

More than $160 million of the cuts will come out of Indigenous health programs. The health savings will be redirected to the Medical Research Future Fund.

Funding for Indigenous language support announced in the last budget will also be cut by $9.5 million over five years.

The Government failed to make any commitment to the National Partnership Agreement for Indigenous Early Childhood Development which, without extra funding, is likely to see 38 Indigenous childhood development centres across the country close.

There will be changes to the National Partnership Agreements that have controlled how the states and territories share spending in specific areas in Indigenous affairs.

The agreement on remote service delivery will be replaced by a new Remote Community Advancement Network and bilateral agreements with each state and territory.

The Closing the Gap report specifically warns against devolving responsibility to the States:

“The Campaign Steering Committee emphasises the need to ensure that potential changes in Commonwealth-State relations do not have the unintended effect of undermining the Closing the Gap Strategy. While recognising that all jurisdictions have a responsibility to contribute, the Campaign Steering Committee firmly supports the Australian Government’s continuing leadership role in an overall national approach.”

But the federal government thinks otherwise.

The Commonwealth has withdrawn responsibility for funding about 180 remote Aboriginal communities in WA in a move the State says could cost $10 billion over 20 years and threaten the health of vulnerable residents.

The latest Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report shows rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment increased by 57 per cent between 2000 and 2013.

“It is scandalous that while ­Aboriginal and Torres Strait ­Islander peoples comprise less than 3 per cent of the Australian population, we now account for almost 30 per cent of the prison population,” Mr Cubillo said.

The Abbott government has stripped funding from the peak Aboriginal legal aid organisation and its state affiliates, but has moderated the extent of cuts to services at the coalface following an outcry from the indigenous community.

The cuts to NATSILS and all law reform and policy officer positions within each state and territory ­affiliate will save $9 million over three years

The budget did outline some new expenditure on Indigenous affairs – or perhaps a redirection of funding.

This includes a school truancy officer program in 74 schools at a cost of $18 million; $54 million over four years to build seven new police stations in remote communities; $2.5 million over four years to employ Community Engagement Police Officers in the NT; $6.8 million in 2014–15 for non-government schools with more than 50 Indigenous boarding students or where 50 per cent of boarding students are Indigenous students from remote or very remote areas; and $26 million for Indigenous teenage sexual health programs.

Far from self-determination, this government’s approach is to impose sanctions for what they perceive to be “deviant” behaviour. The ultimate nanny state will punish people into getting healthy, getting a good education followed by a job, “even if it is picking up rubbish”.

We have plenty of money for more police and truancy officers, and more gaols, but none for legal assistance, domestic violence programs, culturally relevant education, or preventative health initiatives.

Worse still, we show little respect for the knowledge and abilities of the original custodians of this land. Tony Abbott may think Australian history began with the First Fleet. In so doing he ignores the wisdom of the people who have the oldest continuous culture on the planet.


Home, home on the range

On August 4th, Minister for Social Services Kevin Andrews launched 2014 Homeless Persons Week where he “reinforced the Coalition’s commitment to help those without safe and secure accommodation.”

Help them with what, I wondered, as every sign to date has indicated that this government is hell bent on increasing the number of homeless people and cutting off all support. In the hope that I may have missed a new announcement, or was misunderstanding all the funding cuts, I read the media release to see what help was being offered.

Mr Andrews wants to “raise awareness of people experiencing homelessness and the surrounding issues.”

“On any given night in Australia, homelessness is a reality for over 105,000 Australians and these disturbing statistics represent individuals from all walks of life,” he said.

Perhaps it is Kevin’s awareness that needs some work because that figure comes from an ABS media release in 2012 titled 105,000 people homeless on Census night 2011. Awareness was raised some time ago so I read on to see how this awareness would translate into action.

Mr Andrews said the Australian Government is committed to adopting a considered, methodical and measured approach to addressing the complex issue of homelessness.

I am growing to hate the word methodical. It usually presages committees and consultants and coloured papers and millions spent on reviews with little achieved. But I read on still clinging to the idea that a media release surely contained something concrete.

“We have made a good start with all states and territories signing the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, which will allow us to start working collaboratively to achieve a lasting legacy of helping all Australians find appropriate housing.”

What Mr Andrews fails to point out is that the states and territories already had a signed deal with the previous government and he had to be dragged kicking and screaming to renew the commitment, and in so doing, he cut $44 million that was to be spent on capital works.

Chief Executive of The St Vincent de Paul Society National Council of Australia, Dr John Falzon, said “The uncertainty remains despite the Government’s recent announcement that it will extend the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH) for another year. Although the NPAH extension was welcome, the spending cut of $44 million to the capital works program aspect of the agreement was not. A commitment to addressing homelessness should be bipartisan. It is homelessness itself that we must cut, not the spending on homelessness.”

With the crisis in youth unemployment, and the government’s focus on “earn or learn”, they also made the inexplicable decision to cut funding to the Youth Connections program which provides funding to local youth services to support young people at risk of disengaging from education and work.

“This is a highly successful program, supporting 30,000 young people each year. When we have national youth unemployment at 12.2 per cent and many regions as high as 20 per cent we cannot afford to end assistance now,” Youth Connections National Executive Officer Rebekha Sharkie said.

“What’s more, 93 per cent of young people in the program who had reconnected with education, training or employment for at least 13 weeks, were still working or studying six months after Youth Connections. That’s an extraordinary level of success and shows that this programme is too important to face the chopping block.”

Jobs Australia CEO David Thompson said the service was needed more than ever and should be extended or replaced with a similar service.

“There is a growing crisis in Australia of youth unemployment and disengagement. Some young people need a lot of support to successfully overcome the challenges and issues in their lives that are holding them back,” Thompson said. “Cutting this program makes no sense from an economic perspective: with an ageing population, we need more young people participating in work. It makes no sense from a social perspective: because if we don’t make the effort to keep young people engaged in education and work, then there’s a greater risk that they’ll engage in anti-social behaviour. And it makes no sense from a Budget perspective because giving up on young people means more of them will end up on the dole, costing the Government money, rather than paying taxes. Youth Connections fills a critical gap in services and with youth unemployment at crisis levels in some areas, it’s just not the time to be cutting a programme like this.”

One service that will lose funding because of this decision is the Oasis Youth Centre in Sydney. Run by the Salvation Army, it provides accommodation, case management, and a school which offers tailored programs for its 33 students.

“Students who come into our Oasis Youth Centre have a whole range of complex needs and they can’t attend normal school because of these complex needs they have. We work with them, we tailor the program to suit. Three young ladies who will complete their HSC this year, we have another 19 completing year 11 and then the rest are completing year 10 or completing basic numeracy and literacy classes.

The Youth Connections program, the education program we provide here is very important. So important that we’re going to look at how we can continue this Youth Connections program, the school right here, even after the funding is cut. That means we’ve got to look at the others services we’re providing and just see how we can continue to do this because we see education as an important part of stopping this endless cycle of homelessness. Around 44,000 young people every night homeless, and we’ve got to end this.”

Also affected by the cuts will be the Brimbank/Melton Local Learning and Employment Network which plays a vital role in brokering partnerships and fostering a strategic whole-of-community approach that supports young people’s education, training, transitions and employment outcomes in Melbourne’s west. Key objectives include improved retention rates and educational outcomes, and improved transition outcome and development of work-ready skills in young people.

The Abbott government has cut $128 million in funding to youth connections, partnership brokers, and the national career advice programs—programs designed to assist young Australians finishing school and getting work.

These three programs are aimed at getting young people into the education and training they need to get a job and then getting them work. Youth Connections has been a fantastically successful program. It’s helped more than 100,000 people already and 80 per cent of people who go through Youth Connections are still in work or training 18 months later.

The average cost of putting a young person through a Youth Connections program is just over $2000. Youth Connections works, it’s cost effective and it makes absolutely no sense when the Government’s talking about reducing unemployment to cut the very programs that help unemployed young people into the training they need or into the jobs that they can stick to.

Determined to read to the end of Kevin Andrew’s media release, I finally came to his “plan”.

“In the year ahead we will review housing and homelessness policies and programmes to examine ways to improve housing supply and affordability. This review will feed into the Government’s White Papers on Reform of the Federation and on taxation.”

And there we have the strategy. Tanya Plibersek warned in her speech during the week that

“The Government’s got a White Paper on Commonwealth-State relations that says basically that housing’s none of the Commonwealth’s business so what happens to public housing funding after June next year, who knows. We know that there were 10,000 more national rental affordability scheme properties to be built. This Government canned them in the most recent Budget as well so that’s 10,000 affordable homes that would have been available under existing funding except this Government has ended that program.”

Victorian Premier Dennis Napthine has warned that the national partnership on homelessness, which provides family violence services and accommodation for the homeless, including the government’s flagship ”Youth Foyers” program in Warrnambool and Ballarat, would be at risk without additional money from the Commonwealth.

When talking about the importance of education in breaking the cycle of homelessness, Tony Abbott made much of his decision to spend $30 million on truancy officers to keep aboriginal kids in school. He did not mention that his government cut $1.6 million in funding in November for a school bus service that transported students from town camps to five schools in Alice Springs.

Add to this the cuts to legal aid and family violence programs, the closure of many refuges, and the withdrawal of any support for young people for half the year, and it is clear that this government has no concern about a growing problem and are instead exacerbating the situation of our most vulnerable citizens.

Mr Andrews concludes by saying “National Homeless Persons Week is a time for us all to reflect on what we can do to achieve long-lasting results in helping people stay out of chronic homelessness.”

It appears he is reflecting on how to abrogate any federal responsibility by passing the buck to the states.