By ERWIN CHLANDA
Bushmob Aboriginal Corporation has withdrawn from its agreement with Territory Families for running a youth camp at Loves Creek Station 90 km from Alice Springs.
CEO Will MacGregor says: “Despite numerous attempts to resolve the issues, including through our lawyer and again today, Territory Families expected us to run their trial program for high risk young people without a reliable phone communication system, lighting, security cameras or basic fencing nor access to adequate water and power supply.
“This is unacceptable by anyone’s standards.”
He says these shortcomings contributed to the absconding of five youths who are alleged to have broken into the Ross River Homestead tourism resort and stolen a car, cash and alcohol on Friday.
Territory Families Minister Dale Wakefield told the Alice Springs News Online on Saturday that Bushmob would need to upgrade its security.
But Mr McGregor says Bushmob had called for an urgent meeting with Territory Families on Friday to discuss “ongoing inadequacies with the infrastructure and occupational health and safety issues at the Territory Families facility.
“Territory Families were unavailable to meet until today. The meeting took place but discussions failed to resolve the issues with the Territory Families facility at Loves Creek Station which became operational in early 2016.”
Says Mr MacGregor: “Bushmob agreed to join the Territory Families pilot program at Loves Creek Station on the understanding there would be appropriate safety and security infrastructure.
“Bushmob had no control over the infrastructure at the Territory Families Loves Creek Station facility. All we asked for was the same infrastructure as any other residential facility in the Territory to overcome issues like blind spots at night and to respond in emergencies.
“Bushmob is not walking away from the need for alternatives to locking young people up. It will work with any government that is commited and fair dinkum about developing appropriate alternatives such as Bushmob’s Alice Springs program and the pilot Apmere Mwerre camp.
“It is extremely sad that these issues have overshadowed the good work of the dedicated Bushmob team, local Indigenous people, and the traditional owners running the camp and the efforts of the many young people who benefited and excelled during the pilot.”
PHOTO from Bushmob website.
Mr MacGregor says Bushmob will return to Territory Families money not yet expended for the program: “I don’t know anyone who has done that.”
This morning’s meeting with the department had provided no prospect for immediate improvements: Nothing was likely to happen before December, he says he was told, when tenders may be called, “no change, no upgrade, no security till then.
“And contrary to what Minister Wakefield says, security infrastructure is not our responsibility.”
The Apmere Mwerre (Good Place) program had been going for a year, developing from initiatives started under the Giles Government as the beginning of restorative justice processes.
Some of the 32 young people who had been to Loves Creek had been referred by Correctional Services, the courts or the department, “in trickles of referrals” of low risk offenders, some as part of bail conditions.
Of these 12 have “graduated,” says Mr MacGregor, being “re-integrated” with families or entering boarding schools.
But he says some would clearly require more of the care that Bushmob is committed to providing, “therapeutic treatment, medical problems, chronic health issues, not seeking appropriate help”, problems that had accumulated over “four generations”.
He says Bushmob has 20 beds in its Priest Street campus (pictured), which is running smoothly, and 10 at Loves Creek.
He says Bushmob never as been a lock-down facility. “We are not allowed to restrain and nor would we want to, but we need some basic infrastructure to be able to intervene at some level, when things go haywire ”.
He acknowledges that some “habitual hard core guys need to be in secure care.
“Nobody approves of breaking in and throwing rocks and stealing cars. I’ve been on the rough side of town as well, as have many of my staff, until someone said to me, you’re a dickhead. It all began to make sense, that you could move forward with your life.”
Territory Families staff have little interest in how Loves Creek works, he says: “We chain our cars to our demountables, like a horse because there is no vehicle compound nor other basic infrastructure around risk mitigation.”
The camp is staffed mostly by Aboriginal families, traditional owners of the area, land trust members, who “put their heart and soul into that. They do take responsibility. We work 24 hour, four day shifts, two teams.”
The Alice Springs News Online is seeking comment from Territory Families Minister Dale Wakefield who, says Mr MacGregor, has never been to Loves Creek, and neither has Indigenous Affairs Minster Nigel Scullion, although his chief of staff had said the Senator would “be out there as soon as possible”.
Families Minister Dale Wakefield provided the following comment: “It is disappointing that Bushmob have chosen to no longer deliver their youth camp program, despite funding and regular support from the Department of Territory Families.
“They have been provided with $2.4m over an 18-month period to deliver the program, and I’m disappointed that they feel they can’t effectively run the program.
“Territory Families is working with Bushmob on an exit strategy and the best way to ensure that the kids referred to Bushmob are able to complete the program. We will be seeking a new service provider which will be determined through the tender process.”