APY Lands, State Government Services

September 14 2011

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:22): I move:

That this council calls on the government to:

1. Take note of concerns voiced in recent media by members of the federal government and I ndigenous leaders that the current administration of state government services across Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands is lacking and despite efforts in the past to address these issues, coordination and resourcing for essential services, food security, education, housing and employment and health are still inadequate;

2. Use this criticism as an opportunity to rise to the challenge of closing the gap and ensuring Anangu are listened to and empowered and resourced to lead the way in meeting this significa nt and important challenge; and

3. Provide this council within one month of details of the urgent steps that will be taken to guarantee Anangu living on APY lands good health and opportunities of a standard fitting Australia ' s status as a developed nation and how these will be measured and monitored in a transparent and open manner.

I move this motion today as members may be aware that the APY lands have actually been in the media in past weeks—and not for all the right reasons. I move a motion not of condemnation of this state government but urging them to take the bad news that we are seeing on the pages of The Australian and The Advertiser and on our radio waves as a challenge to rise to.

We have heard over past weeks not only leaders such as Noel Pearson, former ALP president Warren Mundine, and a spokesperson for Jenny Macklin but also Lowitja O'Donoghue and many others who have raised their concerns. Most pertinently, I understand that minister Portolesi (the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation) is meeting with Lowitja O'Donoghue at some stage today in response to that Indigenous leader's statement that the Rann government, in fact, buried a report that she wrote in 2004 in conjunction with World Vision chief Tim Costello. That report exposed failings in the management of remote South Australian Aboriginal communities on the APY lands.

Ms O'Donghue has gone on record saying that she was 'unhappy there has been no proper action taken and I want to deal directly with the people who were supposed to be running programs in the APY lands'. At the time the Premier appointed her, together with Tim Costello, to advise and review the APY lands, they of course replaced former Senator Bob Collins who, due to unforeseen circumstances, was unable to complete that report.

They did a report, quite duly, for this state government. They visited the lands, in fact, in August 2004, and I have a copy of the report here. I note that in this nine-page report, which of course would not take a great deal of time to read, on pages 8 and 9 are key recommendations. The recommendations deal with clarifying governance confusion, mediating family and clan disputes, getting rid of the various silos of government departments and petty clan bitterness, and creating coherent authority to manage essential services at a level that would both 'protect lives and give minimum standards for lands occupants'.

The report has several recommendations and, in fact, offers the services of both Ms O'Donoghue, a very respected Aboriginal woman, and Tim Costello from World Vision, who is also incredibly respected in our community, to help implement the recommendations and undertake a process where a whole-of-government approach could be supported and the philosophical issues debated; in fact, both of them offered their services at this time. I draw members' attention to that because today in question time minister Portolesi, having said that she met with Ms O'Donoghue this morning, in response to a question noted that, while she had enormous respect for her, she understood that most of the issues raised in the report, 'because they did not provide recommendations per se', were somehow being addressed.

I have grave concerns about a minister who meets with Lowitja O'Donoghue to discuss criticisms of the Rann government's mishandling of the APY lands overall, clearly has not read the whole report—a good nine pages thereof—and simply does not understand that there are recommendations not only at the end of that report but also an offer to implement and facilitate the consultation that was necessary to undertake that. It is little wonder then that we are copping such criticism in this state for the management of Aboriginal affairs. It is an opportunity—and I will keep repeating that—and I hope that Labor members and members of the government, whoever they be in future governments, will see these things as a challenge to rise to and not a responsibility to shirk from.

The reason we have had a media spotlight shone on this issue is actually reasonably ironic. A few weeks ago, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs took an embedded journalist trip off to the APY lands to show off her gardens she has as part of her so-called food security strategy. That food security strategy was launched by the minister as the centrepiece of her work so far in this portfolio. It was announced last December and contains three main prongs: two gardens (although it may be three) which serve less than 5 per cent of the total population of APY lands; a 'come and cook with kids' cooking class demo, something which NPY Women's Council and organisation of some 30 years' standing has been running for quite a while (and I understand many other NGOs already run to capacity); and engaging nutritionists, again something that is already being done on the lands and was seen as an unnecessary added extra.

I have been critical of this so-called food security strategy because I do not believe that that is food security. I believe some market gardens that serve very few people are a food supplement, and that is a great thing. Gardens and access to good, fresh, healthy foods are a fine thing, but they are in no way food security, and they should not be treated as something that is, in fact, proving to be a vital contribution to establishing food security for people on APY lands.

One of the communities that the minister visited was the community of Watarru, which has some 59 people according to the Census figures to come, I understand, having spoken to the Census worker who counted that community just earlier today. What was quite sad was that that community—which is to gain from one of these gardens—has a local community store and, while the minister was there, that store was in crisis.

Journalists were not informed of this. They were not informed that only days earlier the store manager had disappeared and that the store had been closed and that there was no access to general food, health hardware and other necessities of life for the people of Watarru. The organisation, Mai Wiru, stepped in in that emergency and assisted one of the local women to get that store back up and running. There was no assistance from this government for either that local community or for Mai Wiru, which is an Anangu-led organisation which came out of Nganampa Health some 10 years ago.

Meanwhile, the minister was happily having photo opportunities a few hundred metres away, showing off her garden, with its marjoram and parsley, while the shop was in crisis. I find that one of the most offensive things that I have uncovered so far in this job. I hope I will not hear stories like that again.

I think that the embedded media approach has actually led to this backlash against the Rann government that we are seeing in the pages of our media at the moment. I hope the Rann government learns its lesson and does not go for press releases and photo opportunities in the future but looks at the hard policy yards.

The minister, in her defence, has made some statements, and I would like to raise them here at this time. She has published an opinion piece in the pages of The Advertiser in the last few days. There is some merit to her claim that, for the first time, we have permanently stationed police officers, social workers and child protection officers on the lands. However, the piece avoids the embarrassing fact that one of the two children's protection officer positions that were established in response to the Mullighan inquiry has actually been vacant since July 2010—over a year—and that the staff house for this position, funded by the federal government, has also stood empty in Umuwa for more than a year, while other services and programs have struggled to find housing for their staff.

The minister's statement also does not acknowledge that two of the six APY social worker positions that she mentions are currently vacant, and that the position in Mimili—supposedly one of the two priority communities—has been vacant since January, that is, for the whole school year. Nor does the minister's statement mention that the majority of 10 community constable positions are currently vacant, and have been for more than five years. The absence of community constables continues to hamper the effects of the sworn police officers, who often lack the language skills and cultural understanding required to effectively and efficiently manage complex incidents.

The minister's article—or opinion piece—states that Indulkana is the largest community on the APY lands, but it does not mention that no police officers are stationed in that community; that the community has not had a social worker for more than four months; that it has not received any new money for community housing under the national partnership agreement, and it is not expecting to receive any for the next three years. Needless to say, she is also incorrect when she says that it is one of the largest communities on the APY lands; several communities are actually significantly larger.

Moving on to the food security strategy. I look forward to December when we expect our first annual evaluation report about the life of this plan. I ask the minister why she has continually excluded both Maiwiru and NPY Women's Council from being engaged in the implementation of her so-called food security strategy?

They are two of the organisations, along with Nganampa Health, that are key to ensuring that we have food security on our lands. They are the experts in this. They have been doing it for decades. Their expertise and wisdom is not only being ignored, it is being deliberately ignored, because despite repeated requests to be involved in the Executive Action Team (EAT) for the APY, they have been shut out.

I also look forward to hearing about progress on the APY lands as a result of this bad media coverage. We used to hear about progress on the APY lands. We certainly receive responses in this chamber to questions without notice informing us that this government has made significant progress. In fact, in March 2005, over five years ago, the first Progress on the APY Lands report was published.

That report was put on the Department of the Premier and Cabinet's website, but for the better part of three years it accounted for the work that was being carried out on the APY lands, and I do congratulate the Rann government for that, however, we have not seen one since May 2008. So, I call on the government—when it started to do these reports it promised that they would be twice a year—to start reporting again and perhaps we will see actual achievements and significant progress on the lands continue.

Everyone here knows that if something is not counted, it does not count. If there is no commitment to providing ongoing regular reporting, then we know that these issues will be put in the too-hard basket and there will be no concerted government approach to it, which gets me onto something that the Rann government absolutely loves, which is planning, and strategic plans.

I note that in this past week we have had the latest incarnation of the State's Strategic Plan launched. I am quite a supporter of the State's Strategic Plan. I think that some of the work that goes into the consultations is quite good work. What does disturb me though is that for many years now we have had promises of an Aboriginal strategic plan, I think the first was in 2008. Certainly, over the past three years we have been told that the South Australian Aboriginal strategic plan is in process, under consultation, almost ready to be released.

The South Australian government has now had three years to work on this plan and has told us and assured us that it is, in fact, beavering away working hard to release the Aboriginal strategic plan with urgency and, not only that, it has set up mechanisms of regular reporting, monitoring and feedback. As I say, if we are not counting it, it will not count. It is something that this government says it has already committed much work to, so it should not be too hard to bring it out and shine a light on its great progress.

It is no wonder that this government has recently come under fire when of a $25 million-plus housing project with federal money, we saw $900,000 of that having to be given back to the feds because of the slowness of building work. Then, when those houses were finally completed, we saw that there were no furnishings or furniture in them. Heaven forbid that they are also equipped with things like washing machines and fridges to ensure food security and good health.

Members may have missed the article in The Advertiser about a week ago—because it was buried on about page 30—which showed that the feds had coughed up some money to pay a local community group in the northern suburbs, the Playford Community Fund, to create furnishings for these dwellings. The first delivery was undertaken and completed by that community group and given to Housing SA in December 2010. They estimate that they built over 50 dwellings' worth of beds, mattresses, kitchen suites, etc., which they gave to Housing SA, who promptly put them into storage where they disappeared, because they certainly were not there when these houses were allocated to residents.

If Housing SA (as a reflection of this Rann government) cannot—with federal government money that has been used to build the housing and furnishings—actually manage to organise getting the furniture into the houses, then the old joke about a piss-up in a brewery is not too far off the mark. I think it is a crying shame that, with a lack of coordination, state and federal bureaucracies do not have their act together enough to fulfil the basics.

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