By ERWIN CHLANDA
A new Indigenous-led statutory authority is needed to change the NT’s corrections system, the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory has been told.
The suggestion that “Indigenous considerations must be mainstreamed” came from Keith Hamburger (pictured) whose testimony took up the first two days this week, calling for “a properly constituted board … in close consultation with communities. A properly constituted board [that would be] driven by Aboriginal leadership”.
It became clear that the Queenslander’s ideas were not based on a great deal of local research.
Counsel Assisting Tony McAvoy put to him: “You said earlier that … you didn’t get the opportunity to have the types of discussions with the Aboriginal communities that you would have liked to?
Mr Hamburger replied: “That’s correct.”
He is the author of a report, commissioned by the NT Government, earlier this year into the Department of Correctional Services and he is a former Director General of Corrective Services in Queensland.
He claims that solutions need to come from the communities whose young people are “among the most marginalized in Australia given their experiences of childhood neglect, poverty, violence and social adversity, [a] client group that’s coming from the socially dysfunctional and economically disadvantaged communities”.
This is part of Mr Hamburger’s evidence to the commission about how he expects the changes to work:-
“The families and communities do want to have their young people close to them and they do put a lot of value in the capacity of time on country to develop and implement healing programs and other training activities to help young people into the future.
“Typically, the way government tends to operate in servicing Aboriginal communities is that the government lets contracts to non-government organisations, including some Aboriginal organisations, to provide some services.
“But the contract is back with the government. Our model turns that, I guess, on its head a bit in that we would argue that, if you took a particular community that required services, you want to put that community in control of it.”
It is a “quite horrendous reality, that 85% of the prison population in the Northern Territory and 95% of the juvenile detention centres are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“And so we have a minority white population in our justice system, and yet basically Aboriginal people are pretty disempowered from that system. Northern Territory has somewhere near the world’s worst imprisonment rate. That alone is obviously a huge indicator of social and economic failure for remote communities.”
And yet Mr Hamburger advocates that these struggling communities should play a decision-making role in “activities like managing Aboriginal housing, like providing input to the state education system, like working with the NGOs to make sure that when the person comes out of the justice system there’s a joined up service there that they can actually access that supports them and their families.
“So the enterprise grows into a bigger community strengthening model.
“If we’re looking at a therapeutic community, you can imagine a whole different form of physical constriction, you could imagine the capacity for young people maybe to have pets and animals of various time types there.
“You could imagine nice recreational areas where they could relax.
“You could imagine family visiting group areas, where people could have family strengthening type meetings and so forth. You have to build a purpose-built therapeutic community.
“We are suggesting … a lot of smaller community based facilities on traditional land … this sort of approach requires a lot of consultation.
“The model that we are pushing, of course, is that these facilities are operated largely by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. So we have to look at the resources available in their communities to do these sorts of things. So talking to the service providers would have been an asset in that regard.
“In the model that I’m thinking of, the Aboriginal people would bring the land to the enterprise, their traditional land; they would bring human resources to actually work in the enterprise; they would, through the enterprise, fund the provision of infrastructure and the government would support them in a number of ways.
“The government could provide intellectual property in terms of how the facilities were to function … the Aboriginal enterprises might buy services from the government under this partnership where they would get certain specialised services provided but it is still the Aboriginal enterprise.”
Mr Hamburger said every prisoner costs $310 a day to the Queensland Government.
“Let’s say that we felt that we could deliver on a particular community for a particular number of prisoners for $280 a day, so – and in that there would be a profit margin which would be reinvested back into the community, but that community would tender to the government and say, ‘right, we will look after 606 of these prisoners for $280 a day and that’s the service fee’.
“We will be looking here something like 15 year contracts with three year key performance indicators that get renewed and so forth. So that’s the sort of model.
“We envisage that the culture of these facilities we are setting up will be nothing like a prison.
“When people arrive as clients … there will be a welcome to country, there will be smoking ceremonies, there will be a particular approach adopted in terms of setting out the values and ethos of the organisation to which they are coming and the behaviours that are expected, and it will be nothing like the very cold and clinical approach that’s adopted in correctional centres.
“Because of their small size we can move very, very quickly into rehabilitation … a cultural healing program. When people arrive at jail they are normally traumatised [but] in a small centre like this, on traditional land with Aboriginal staff … they will learn bush tucker program, they will be involved in a cognitive change program.
“It will be a totally different ethos; it will be like a therapeutic community specifically designed, culturally appropriate for Aboriginal people.”
Mr Hamburger said: “I don’t know the Northern Territory indigenous communities, I’ve never visited any as such in the Territory, so whilst we’ve put that in our report, that way to go, if we had had a chance in our review to actually go and talk to, say, a couple of potential communities that might have been interested in this to get a feel as to whether this is possible.
“There’s a big issue around getting services to those sorts of facilities, and we would have been interested to talk about the practicality of that again in the Northern Territory of the service providers that are working in the field, how best to do that.”
Hamburger with the lot
By ERWIN CHLANDA