ALICE SPRINGS NEWS
July 12, 2007. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.
Taskforce settles in. By ERWIN CHLANDA and
Influential indigenous Labor MLA Alison Anderson has described the
Federal Government’s intervention in Aboriginal communities in the
Territory as a “once in a lifetime opportunity”.
The former ATSIC Commissioner particularly commended the government for
talking to “the little people on the ground”.
Speaking to Alice Springs News editor ERWIN CHLANDA at the Show
she said the intervention is “an opportunity we have to take with both
hands now so that we can make the future safe for Aboriginal kids and
our whole community, because the plan is talking about bettering our
education, improving our health, more infrastructure and it’s talking
about the protection of our children.
“I think that’s very, very important.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and we must work with the
Federal Government, but it has to be done with compassion and respect.
“And also it’s got to be long term and practical.
“I really urge the Commonwealth to work with Indigenous people and talk
to them and make sure it’s a journey we all travel down.
“And that it’s a long journey to improve things, the outcomes for
“If we’re talking about health checks on kids then do it with the whole
community, the parents and the grandparents. These people are willing
to take their children to be examined.
“In my going around all of last week to my Indigenous communities
people are really, really happy, you know, with the health checks, as
long as they’re informed.
“Education they’ve got no trouble with.
“They’d love to have more infrastructure and safer infrastructure.
“They want to protect their children, they want to make sure they talk
about child abuse.
“They know that this kind of stuff happens with drugs and alcohol, they
want to get rid of the drugs and alcohol as well.”
Ms Anderson says she had observed some of the government’s survey teams
in action and gave them a big tick: “In general what they do is outline
what the Commonwealth want, then they sit down in groups of ordinary
people, the little people on the ground, and they say what is it that
you want to see, what changes do you want in your life.”
This accords with what the Alice News observed at Amoonguna (see
separate report starting this page).
Said Ms Anderson: “Going out and talking to the people on the ground is
absolutely what we need, because they are getting down to the little
people on the ground.
“It’s those little people that live and breathe the problems, who need
to hear what the Federal Government is doing.
“I think what the Feds have done is absolutely wonderful.
“But they need more detail. It’s that detail that we are all waiting
Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough also spent time at the
Show, talking to locals.
Challenged about the impact of the intervention on the Territory’s
statehood aspirations, Mr Brough pointed to local government:
“Councils are a product of legislation by state governments and when
they don’t get it right, the state government appoints an administrator
and fixes it up.
“The Territory in my view has not got this right.”
He said he would not put “the niceties of the structures of who’s in
government or not” ahead of “the value of a child”.
He said the public are going to demand that “the same sort of outcomes
be achieved” in the states.
The Alice News asked him for clarity on health checks of Indigenous
Said Mr Brough: “These are the same protocols that occur not just
throughout the Territory, but throughout the nation.
“I asked the NPY women yesterday, I asked all of the community, all of
the leaders in Mutitjulu, explained the whole thing, everyone supports
“I believe that overwhelmingly, and I mean virtually 100% of families,
will want their child to be healthy and to have their checks.
“Therefore I don’t see compulsion being an issue. Where compulsion
becomes an issue it’s the same as in any other part of the community,
where a teacher, a health worker, anyone suspects sexual abuse, or any
sort of abuse, then you have provision for the child protection
services to be involved.
“Now there are no protection workers out permanently in these
communities. That’s something that needs to be addressed.
“And if parents don’t do the right thing, then a protected child can be
checked. That’s no different whether you are black, white or brindle,
or whether you’re in Darwin or Alice Springs or Mutitjulu.”
The News also asked for clarity on the quarantining of Centrelink
payments, whether that will apply only to people deemed to be doing the
wrong thing by their children.
Said Mr Brough: “In this emergency time, it is across the board in the
communities that have been designated.
“Over the 12 month period people can transition to the normal system
that will be applying around Australia: non-attendance at school, money
is quarantined; neglecting your children, money is quarantined.
“There are people doing the right thing, who are responsible with their
money but are getting enormous pressure, and in fact get abused if they
don’t hand the money over.
“To leave them in their community vulnerable to those sort of attacks
would be the most irresponsible thing.
“That policy has come directly from comments of elder women to
Legislation on this question will come out “in the next few weeks,”
said Mr Brough.
He said Magistrate Sue Gordon, chairperson of the taskforce, and her
group will advise on when a community can transition to the “normal
system,” but in the first instance, “we are making this blanket, so
that we can make a break and give breathing space to communities”.
Mr Brough said he specifically asked the community at Mutitjulu whether
there was an issue with the quarantining proposal: “They pointed out to
me that a lot of people already voluntarily do this, and the ones who
aren’t voluntarily doing this, some of those are the very ones who need
it the most.”
(According to Centrelink the Northern Territory has one of the highest
take-up rates in Australia of Centrepay, a voluntary bill-paying
service. Around 7000 Centrelink customers in Central Australia take
advantage of the option.)
Mr Brough said the grog ban on communities will remain in place “until
such time as the Territory Government not only legislates but can
demonstrate that the laws are being upheld”.
“Laws are no good unless they are being enforced and that’s what the
public are crying out for.”
On the future of the town camps in Alice Springs he is expecting the
Territory Government “to act to address that problem urgently”.
(The NT Government last week announced that the town camps will be
“I’m trying to work here in partnership but I will not stand by, or the
government will not stand by any longer, when we’ve been here for 18
“The NPY women explained to me that two more of their women have been
killed in those town camps in recent times, bashed to death.
“So when the hell are we going to put niceties aside and deal with the
health and well-being of other Australians?”
Will Tangentyere Council continue to be funded and if so at what level?
Mr Brough said Tangentyere received about $18m from the Territory
government and from numerous Federal bodies.
“So whether they are going to keep all of those funding options I
couldn’t tell you, because they will be [decided] on individual
“I’m not really interested in who funds what, I’m interested in the
health and well-being of children, not some nicety again of deciding
which body should benefit from funding.”
Getting to know eachother. By
There was no sign of the jackboot at Amoonguna when the Commonwealth
survey team arrived last Thursday: residents took their time to meet
with the team, the team waited patiently, and when the residents
arrived with their own agenda, the team listened, while also making a
start on explaining the government’s agenda.
The Alice News reported last week on Amoonguna Council’s anger with the
Commonwealth Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR)
over losing the contract to manage the community’s CDEP (similar to
On Thursday – with the team due to arrive, having had their visit on
Monday postponed – there were mutterings that DEWR reps would not
be welcome, but in the end their presence was accepted and the
opportunity taken to confront them.
Chairs had been set up in the open, outside the council office.
At first it looked like residents were indeed snubbing the meeting. A
few were coming and going at the store, next to the council office, but
none seemed interested in coming over to talk to the government reps.
Then the formidable Marie Elena Ellis arrived, with her sister
They climbed out of their vehicle with hand-painted posters in hand:
“Give us back our CDEP”; “We want jobs”; “Employment for us mob”.
“I told my sister we should have painted them yesterday, not today,”
Marie Ellis laughed.
Then, pointedly, as they were taping the posters to the fence: “We’re
not asking for much.”
Margaret Kemarre Turner had arrived with the survey team, as the
interpreter. She has previously lived at Amoonguna and has strong
family and personal ties there. A highly respected woman of great
warmth, her presence broke the ice.
“This place has really improved a lot,” she commented as she introduced
Marie Ellis to team leader, Richard Morris, manager of the Indigenous
Coordination Centre in Alice.
Ms Ellis made no apologies about the slow start to the proceedings,
explaining good humouredly: “We’re not on linear time, we’re on our own
As residents started to arrive she was heard to comment: “They
can come out to support us – their sons’ and grandsons’ jobs are on the
Mr Morris suggested that the CDEP discussion should start while they
Several of the survey team members were Alice Springs-based public
servants and some of them were already known locally, as various
friendly greetings made clear.
However the two DEWR reps, Karen Thorsen and Glenn Webber, were from
Canberra and did not appear to have been fully briefed about what had
happened to the Amoonguna CDEP.
Nobody had worked since the Friday before. Council staff had kept the
central areas clean but rubbish had begun to accumulate in other areas,
the Alice News was told. CDEP participants had received letters telling
them their pay would be suspended.
MS THORSEN: We’re here to talk about CDEP.
MS ELLIS: We need that so we can create jobs for our community. A CDEP
worker here has four to five kids. Without CDEP how can he put food on
the table? We’ve had enough of broken promises. It’s just not fair.
MS THORSEN: What we’d like to talk about is how we can create
opportunities for people to work. I understand Ingkerreke [Outstation
Resource Services, who have been awarded a three month contract to
manage Amoonguna’s CDEP] is keen to work with you. The only thing you
wouldn’t have would be the management, you’d still have activities. One
of the reasons we took CDEP management away from you is that you were
finding it difficult to get the numbers.
Richard Lesiak, deputy CEO of Amoonguna Council, joined in, declaring
that “DEWR has no credibility” in Amoonguna.
“We had to fight for six months to get our establishment money,” said
Mr Lesiak, listing the people to whom the council had written letters
of complaint, among them Minister Joe Hockey “who didn’t even reply”.
Ms Thorsen told him that she knew nothing about that.
Ms Ellis asked if she could guarantee that everyone in the community
would have CDEP.
MS THORSEN: People can have CDEP jobs but it won’t be under your own
MR LESIAK: In the previous five to six years, when we were under other
communities, nothing was achieved. In the 12 months since we’ve had it,
look at what we’ve achieved.
MS THORSEN: We want to help your community get jobs.
MS ELLIS: We had a meeting with DEWR.
MS THORSEN: Who was at the meeting? ... I’m unaware of a meeting held
to deal with the community’s CDEP.
MR LESIAK: I believe we could have had 70 to 100 [participants] if you
had stuck to the agreement.
He was referring to the alleged failure by Centrelink to withhold
benefit payments if people refused to work, a measure the community had
specifically agreed to.
(The Alice News asked DEWR about this: state manager Brenda Parkes said
her advice was that “several participation failures” had been applied
by Centrelink to residents of Amoonguna. She also said that not
everybody who had had their remote area exemption lifted went to CDEP.
“A lot of people took reference to Job Network” and a range of other
services, said Ms Parkes.)
The DEWR reps got out their mobiles then and, while they made their
calls, more residents arrived. Scheduled for 9.30am, the meeting
finally got underway at 10.40.
Mr Morris explained the purpose of the survey team’s visit, with Mrs
Sitting under the winter sun, in the tree dotted, well kept community,
with basic good will on both sides (despite the frustration over CDEP),
discussion about the nitty gritty of the Commonwealth’s intentions, and
the reasons for the intervention, felt awkward. Team members were keen
to avoid offence and confrontation.
Mr Morris, acknowledging traditional owners past and present, did most
of the talking on the government side: “We’re here to discuss the
outcomes of this [Little Children Are Sacred] report commissioned by
the Northern Territory Government. People are visiting lots of
communities, talking about young kids.
“The report said child abuse is widespread and often not reported. The
Prime Minister and Mr Brough [Indigenous Affairs Minister] read the
report and asked government agencies and others to work together to
respond to it.
“The government has asked us to talk to all communities about safety
issues. The report says in lots of communities women and children feel
unsafe because of violence, grog and child abuse.
“The government wants us first to see if the community feels secure.
“Our purpose is nothing to do with taking away children.
“We’ve come to talk about how to make families stronger, keeping
families and kids together.”
Mrs Turner said in English, “I got frightened too, I didn’t want my
kids taken away,” before translating.
MR MORRIS: “That’s why we wanted to come to this community straight
away, to reassure you that it’s not about that.
“The government has decided to do several things. One is to ban grog in
the communities for six months. A lot of communities are dry but the
government will pass laws that make it hard to buy grog and bring it
into communities. We know grog is one of the reasons why there is
violence on communities.”
At this point Ms Ellis spoke up: “We want that, but more than six
months. That’s just enough for detox. We want at least another six
months so people can get back on track.”
This was surprising, given her statements to the Alice News last week,
that alcohol-related problems at the community came from
Local man Glen Dixon, however, didn’t agree with her: “People will move
into town and make more issues there. Most people are all right here
“[With a ban] you’ll get drinking at the gate, more mess, fights,
they’ll cut down trees to make fires and keep warm.
“I don’t think it’s right.
“This is a really good place. We’re only 11 kms from town. What’s the
point? They’ll go in there to drink.
“We pay rent on our own houses – why can’t we drink there?
“The problems are mainly with people who abuse grog. We want to have a
social drink at home, we don’t want to drink in the scrub there.”
Mr Morris thanked him for the feedback, before moving on to talk about
income support: “We want to make sure it’s going to kids and families
for food and school.
“For those people who aren’t giving kids what they should as parents,
there’ll be a requirement that a certain portion is set aside.”
(This is not what Mr Brough is saying. He is quite specific that the
quarantining of Centrelink payments will be “across the board” in
prescribed communities during the emergency period – meaning all
community families will be affected. After that quarantining will apply
only to families where children are neglected, with the provision
applying across Australia, irrespective of race. See our interview.)
Mr Dixon spoke up again: “Parents are responsible to look after their
kids, to be role models.
“Most kids go to school here. We haven’t got a problem with child abuse
MR MORRIS: “The report doesn’t identify any community. So we want to
come to all communities to talk about the report.”
MS ELLIS: “You want feedback.”
Mr Dixon then raised the intended lease of the townships for five
“The government wants us to lease where we’re living for five years. I
don’t think that’s appropriate.”
MR MORRIS: “The government wants to fix up things and make sure they
stay fixed. In this report it talks about some very over-crowded
housing, run down, not repaired, not good living conditions for kids
“The government will provide the money but they don’t want to spend it,
and in two years’ time the communities say it’s run down again.
“So we want, if you like, to rent the township for five years – the
community will still own it.”
MR DIXON: “Our rent goes up.”
MR MORRIS: “There will be compensation. The community still own the
land. Government will fix up different things.”
Ms Ellis explained Amoonguna’s housing policies: “We’ve got our own
Amoonguna Construction team, which has built seven to nine houses,
employing our own young fellas.
“We’ve got a rent system, tenancy agreements – you pay a $50 deposit,
sign a contract, pay rent.
“There’s money for R&M [repairs and maintenance].
“This community has been successful [with] housing.”
MR MORRIS: “The community is doing well but the government will upgrade
houses if necessary during the five years.
“Some communities have lots of houses that need work, some houses have
15 to 20 people living in them.”
Ms Ellis asked how much rent they would have to pay, but this wasn’t
Mr Dixon tried to get the discussion back to what he saw as more
relevant: “We’re doing all right at the moment. We want to talk about
the issues that concern us.”
But Mr Morris soldiered on: “Kids attending school is the other part of
what the government wants to do, so that kids get an education and can
get jobs and have a future. For those parents whose kids don’t attend
school there’ll be an impact.”
MR DIXON: “The kids here go to school.”
Ms Ellis told the team that the school is in partnership with Gillen
School, that attendance and “outcomes” are good, but that the school
needs more workers, for instance, to provide a breakfast program. CDEP
could help, she said.
Mr Morris moved on: “We’ll have a person from government to work with
the community, in most cases to live in the community, to make sure
services meet your needs and are coordinated.
“The community will have someone from government all the time to talk
to, about kids going to school, being safe and healthy.”
This had Ms Ellis worried: “A government administrator here? We’ll lose
our CEO, he’ll be replaced by a government person to run the community?”
MR MORRIS: “No, no. The person will be responsible for responding to
He explained that under Territory Government reforms the host of small
community councils will be abolished and shires introduced, with
representation from each community.
MS ELLIS: “This is what Barry [Byerley, council CEO, absent from the
meeting] has been doing for us, he’s been helping us.”
MR MORRIS: “The changes to local government were announced long before
MR DIXON: “The administrator is doing a good job here.”
MS ELLIS: “ We don’t want to work with a recycled CEO.”
MR DIXON: “We’re happy the way we are. We want our administrator,
housing, and [CDEP] coordinator to stay.
“We don’t want another group taking over. We’ve put in hard work and
we’re doing really well.”
MRS TURNER: “It will be someone next to [working alongside] Barry.”
MR MORRIS: “We won’t replace Barry.”
MR DIXON: “He can work with Barry and see what we are doing.”
Close to an hour had gone by. The mostly white necks of the survey
team, sitting with their backs to the sun, were starting to burn.
Mr Morris asked whether people wouldn’t like to move out of the sun.
There was a ripple of laughter among the residents, with one of them
quipping that they were enjoying getting a tan.
Everyone stayed where they were.
The various agency representatives then introduced themselves.
The first was Craig Cross, regional manager of the Commonwealth’s
Department of Health and Ageing in Alice Springs.
MR CROSS: “I’m here to speak about child health checks.”
MS ELLIS: “For what?”
MR CROSS: “Health checks like the ones Dave [Evans, manager of the
Amoonguna clinic] has been conducting already.”
MS ELLIS: “What about them?”
MR CROSS: “Child health checks for children. Mr Brough’s proposal is to
bring in doctors and nurses ...”
MS ELLIS: “Be more specific.”
MR CROSS: “Ears, eyes, general health and well-being and a few other
That was as specific as Mr Ross was going to get, perhaps reluctant to
go into detail in a mixed public meeting, with some young children
(Mr Brough says he expects little resistance the protocols for
compulsory checks for sexual abuse will be the same as they are in the
wider community: they will only happen if suspected abuse is reported.
See our interview.)
Ms Ellis kindly changed the subject: “Thanks for the new clinic,”
referring to the brand new $1.7m community clinic nearing completion.
It was the military’s turn next. There were two soldiers present,
dressed in fatigues.
One, an Aboriginal man, was from Norforce, there to provide logistical
support; the other was Steven Smith, a hearty chap from Sydney,
who has been working with the Army Aboriginal Community Assistance
He told the meeting he was there to see what facilities they had
available, and what they may need.
Ms Ellis took him by pleasant surprise when she asked whether he’d
brought any application forms: “I want to sign my sons up!”
Other members of the team were from Alice Springs’ Commonwealth
agencies – Centrelink, the ICC, the Department of Education, Science
and Training. The NT Police was represented by two officers.
Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO), Albert Tilmouth, was well
known to the residents, being their current police liaison officer. He
told them that police are looking at have a full time presence in the
The meeting then broke up into small groups; some people drifted away,
others stayed to talk to the survey team members.
On Monday as the News prepared to go to press, Mr Lesiak said Amoonguna
Council had not heard anything further about CDEP. He said there had
been no contact from Ingkerreke.
Mr Lesiak said the DEWR reps told him last Thursday, after visiting the
community, they would recommend that management be returned to the
council but they didn’t think that a change was likely.
They encouraged the community to think about mainstream work-for-the
dole as an alternative.
Mr Lesiak said work-for-the-dole only does three month-long projects
“so you can’t plan for anything.”
He said on CDEP, if someone didn’t turn up, they wouldn’t get paid and
that money would be used to top up the others. That way more work would
get done – good for the community – and the individual would have a
consequence for not turning up.
He said he thinks the CDEP is likely to be scrapped altogether soon.
DEWR’s Ms Parkes told the Alice News that the three month CDEP
contracts had been issued to allow DEWR more flexibility “to respond to
the national emergency”.
Ms Parkes said DEWR staff were to visit the community yesterday (after
the News had gone to press) to explain the changes and their
She said “comprehensive transition arrangements have been put in place
to ensure that any impacts of the changes are minimised”.
STOP PRESS: The Federal Government will override the Territory
Government in relation to its proposals to tackle the “rivers of grog”
on remote communities. Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough and the
Prime Minister said NT Government proposals “are not satisfactory”.
Blanket bans will go ahead. Mr Brough and Mr Howard say restrictions
just near dry communities are not enough as drinkers will drive long
Herrick stands for Greatorex. By
Fire station chief Paul Herrick is contesting the by-election for the
Assembly seat of Greatorex on July 28.
A local of 16 years’ standing he says as an independent he won’t have
the burdens of an Opposition Member, nor those of a party member, and
will be able to devote himself exclusively to the issues of the
electorate and of Alice Springs.
“The town comes first,” he says.
The he issues are anti-social behaviour; the need to entice young
people to stay at school longer; and measures to give local business
more ready access to competent staff.
He says he hasn’t yet decided to whom he would allocate his preferences.
The CLP has announced Matt Conlan as its candidate.
Alderman Jane Clark may stand as an independent, and the ALP – at the
last election represented by Mayor Fran Kilgariff – had not made an
announcement by the deadline for this issue.
Mr Herrick (pictured) has a long involvement in community affairs: He’s
been a member and president of the Alice Springs Yacht Club, which
earned the town massive national and international tourism promotion by
being a competitor in high profile ocean races, such as the Sydney to
Hobart, and Fastnet and the Cows’ Week Regatta in England, whilst being
based so far from the sea.
Mr Herrick is also involved in cycling, Masters Games, Rugby League as
a referee and president of the Referees’ Association.
As the chairman of the Centralian Senior Secondary College he occupies
one of the town’s most vital voluntary positions.
Mr Herrick is married with four children. The younger two grew up in
The family lives in Greatorex.
Greatorex became vacant when Richard Lim (CLP) retired.
Neglect more serious than sex
abuse. COMMENT by NETTIE FLAHERTY.
Child sexual abuse is a serious issue. The Little Children are
Sacred report has highlighted that is also a significant issue in
Indigenous communities, although the extent of the problem is not
However, the most serious and significant issue facing Aboriginal
children is not child sexual abuse, but child neglect. Neglect is
arguably the most damaging type of child maltreatment with regard to
the long term consequences for the child’s cognitive, socio-emotional
and behavioural development and is particularly detrimental if it
occurs early in life.
In the Northern Territory it is the most prevalent form of
substantiated maltreatment among Indigenous children, with 44% of
substantiated cases being for neglect compared with 6% for sexual abuse
(Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2006).
Whilst child sexual abuse is underreported, research elsewhere
indicates that child neglect, even when reported, is minimised and
frequently not taken as seriously as other forms of child maltreatment.
So the figures for child neglect are also an underestimate of the true
The Little Children are Sacred report is replete with examples of child
neglect, and many informants to the report cite inadequate supervision
of children as a significant contributor to children’s vulnerability to
child sexual abuse.
In limiting the terms of reference to child sexual abuse, however
serious, the Little Children are Sacred report has failed to engage
with the more significant issue of child neglect.
Not all parents living in poverty neglect their children. Whilst
all children living in ‘socially toxic environments’ face risks imposed
by that environment, they do not do so equally. Simply put, some
parents do a better job than others.
A prime factor in how children respond to stressful environments is the
degree of support and care provided by their parents. Not all
Aboriginal children are destined to be abused or neglected, to fail at
school, to remain forever unemployable.
An overly deterministic view of risk factors does not acknowledge this
as a possibility.
It cannot explain, since it does not acknowledge, that there are
Aboriginal parents who are doing a good job of parenting, albeit often
under extremely difficult circumstances.
Although many of the recommendations, which focus on family support
services and other ‘upstream factors’ which contribute to poor child
health and well-being outcomes, will have an impact on issues around
child neglect, they will not of themselves assist children who are
being neglected today.
The report acknowledges this.
However, the report does not provide guidance to child protection
workers responding to notifications of child neglect involving
In fact, in the report’s focus on ‘upstream’ factors, the report
appears to regard poverty and child neglect as synonymous, asking, but
not answering, the question of how to assess child neglect in
situations of socio-economic disadvantage. This question is
critical, even more so when it involves children from disadvantaged
In April 2006 the Minister for Indigenous Affairs suggested that some
portion of welfare benefits received by parents who neglect their
children should be involuntarily quarantined to ensure children’s basic
needs were met.
The Minister articulated his belief that identifying problematic
families was straightforward in extreme situations, but acknowledged
that ‘where you lay down the line’ is complicated, especially in the
case of ‘attempting to lay down criteria for those that are
Drawing the line is the day to day work of child protection workers,
and like the Minister, they struggle with a concept that is vague and
ambiguous, and especially difficult in situations characterised by
social disadvantage and cultural difference.
Previous reports have suggested that the overrepresentation of
Aboriginal children is a consequence of cultural bias in the child
protection system. The implication is that child protection workers
apply standards that do not take account of differences in child
rearing in ways that acknowledge that different does not equal ‘not
But what if there are traditional ways that place children at risk in
The report tentatively explores this issue in relation to the alleged
greater degrees of autonomy granted Aboriginal children, suggesting
that if such autonomy is not provided within a context of ‘consistent
care’, the ‘children become highly autonomous and eventually rebel
against later intervention’.
The report recommends that dialogue needs to occur to determine the
strengths and weaknesses of traditional child rearing practices, since
many practices that evolved in response to a different time may no
longer serve the purpose of teaching and protecting children
Such dialogue is important. But for a child protection worker
responding to the needs of this child today, dialogue may not achieve
the goal of protection quickly enough.
Child protection work is frequently maligned. So too those who
work within this field. It is a highly stressful moral, ethical,
professional and political activity.
Responding holistically to identified family needs is only possible
within the context of well resourced health and welfare services.
Trying to ‘patch up’ families to enable children to stay at home is
fraught with risk. This risk is most often born by the worker and
Today it appears everyone has a view about the best way to respond to
the issues identified in the Little Children are Sacred report.
They have been galvanised by the issue of child sexual abuse, which, or
so it appears, demands an immediate response.
In the flurry of activity to provide this, let us not lose sight of
what is probably a more important issue regarding the long term health,
well-being and safety of Aboriginal children, that is, societal and
parental neglect. What are we prepared to provide as a nation as
basic minimum services to all children?
What is the level of care that parents provide which we consider good
enough and not good enough? Where cultural practices differ, what
standard should we use?
And what does the ‘best interests of the child’ really mean?
Nettie Flaherty is
a social worker practising in the area of child protection, with 11
years’ experience in Central Australia.
$2.3m show cattle sale. By ERWIN
Numbers were up and prices not bad, say the two stock agents in Central
Australia, Elders and Landmark, after their annual cattle sale last
week held concurrently with the Alice Springs Show.
Elders’ average live weight price per kilo was $1.65. Landmark’s was
Almost all the offerings went to feed lot operators in NSW and some for
live export via Darwin.
Landmark topped the sale with $1.85 per kilogram live weight for 62
milk tooth steers (average weight 339.4 kg) from Mt Riddock, and 32
from Tieyon Station (280 kg).
Elders got their top price of $1.83 per kilo on three occasions,
including two pens of Alcoota Santa Gertrudis steers (74 head, 454 kg,
that’s $831 per head).
Elders’ Jock McPherson says his firm yarded 2159 cattle for 14 vendors.
“It was one of the biggest yardings for a long time, perhaps 10 years,
and a large number of producers,” he says.
“Last year the numbers were down, and there was no sale the year
Landmark’s Tim McKean, who was first to sell on the day (the two firms
take it in turns), yarded 1820 head which sold at an average of $600
He says although the prices were down a little on last year, they were
line ball with those achieved achieved “anywhere else in Australia”.
Buyers were “feedlotters” Rockdale and Jindalee (both NSW) and live
exporter Ben Seidel.
Other Landmark vendors of milk teeth steers were Wallace Rockhole (38
head, 269.3 kg, $1.76), and Erldunda (49 head, 414 kg, $1.79).
Landmark also sold cattle from Victory Downs, Numery, Idracowra, Deep
Well and Neutral Junction.
Mr McPherson says the high value of the Aussie dollar is dropping
demand from Japan and the USA.
The prolonged drought in the eastern states means very few people were
buying lighter cattle “to put on grass”.
The feedlot industry is very particular about weight ranges and age,
and the sale was very well supported by feedlot operators, a good sign
for the efficiency of local growers.
“If the season had been better we might have had a better result with
younger and lighter cattle.”
All in all, Mr McPherson estimated the average this year was around 75%
of the best results over the last 10 years.
“The interest is rekindled.
“There was a huge crowd of buyers, but the market was too dear.
“There were a lot of lookers, with around 25 of the major buyers
Mr McPherson says the season started in drought conditions.
Good rains came in time for the sale, but mostly in the region north of
Elders’ sellers came from Dneiper, Alcoota, Napperby, Yambah, Hamilton
Downs, Garden, Bond Springs, Lucy Creek, Waite River (near Alcoota),
Murray Downs, Epenarra, Lyndavale, Suplejack and Umbearra.
Jindalee and Rockdale “feedlotters” were buying, along with Charlton
(Vic) and live exporters Wellard.
The gross turnover for Elders was $1,279,609, resulting in an average
price per head of $592.68.
Landmark’s total gross was $1,093,073.
Meanwhile show judge Joshua Wiltshire was full of praise for Central
“I was impressed with the quality of the cattle overall, especially the
commercial ones,” he says.
“They are up to stud standard.
“They are as good as anywhere in Australia.”
He hails from Meadows, Adelaide, and has a cattle property in the South
East of South Australia.
It was his first visit to Alice Springs.
“I was surprised how many Poll Hereford are up here,” he said.
“I was expecting many more Bos Indicus.”
(For the those whose Latin is getting a little rusty, these are
“tropical type of cattle suitable for tropical regions,” says Mr
Wiltshire, “such as Droughtmasters and Santa Gertrudis.” By
contrast “Bos Taurus is a cross of a Bos Indicus with a British Breed
which include Poll Herefords and Angus”.)
Says Mr Wiltshire: “I wasn’t expecting the overall fattening of the
cattle up here, and it was good to see.”
How would the Alice Show compare to a “southern” one?
Says Mr Wiltshire: “We don’t have pens of two, for example.
“We have larger pens of 60 or 70, or there would only be one steer or
heifer in a pen.
“And of course the weather up here is quite different to the South East
“You don’t have the hair on the cattle up here as we do down there.
“Apart from that, it’s pretty much the same set-up as country shows in
“I was very surprised with the quietness of commercial cattle at the
“They are a lot quieter that some of the cattle in the South East.”
Most the cattle from the South East, also grazing on pastures, go to
feed lots, mainly in NSW and Queensland.
Mr Wiltshire says these cattle are weaned at eight or nine months, and
sold straight to butchers and supermarkets as veal.
The age range for veal was previously six to seven months but has now
been extended to up to 10 months, known as the weaner domestic trade.
The “feeder steers” sold by pastoralists in SA to the feed lots are
between 12 and 18 months old.
In The Centre cattle are mostly turned off as two year olds.
The craze for organic food, already very strong in fruit and
vegetables, hasn’t quite affected the meat trade yet: “In the meat
industry it’s not a huge factor.”
But when the organic fad, domestically or internationally, hits the
meat eaters, The Centre will have a big advantage, says Mr Wiltshire.
“Cattle here don’t see people for a while. The resistance to disease
and its control is a lot better up here than down south.
“You don’t have the rainfall as we do all year.
“And you’ve got that space where you’re not close neighbors, next to
one another all the time.”
This limits the opportunities for transmission of diseases, worms and
ticks, reducing or eliminating the need for chemical treatment.
It’s a field of strong interest for Mr Wiltshire who has recently
completed a study in Holistic Psychology which he says is based on the
“mental, emotional, physical, and on belief systems.
“Food is a large portion in what affects mental capacity and physical
ability. I lean towards organic beef quite a lot, but it’s very hard to
get hold of down south. It’s easier to use chemicals.
“Organic beef isn’t a very important part of the market yet but
hopefully it will be.
“There are a few dairy farmers producing organic milk, so their farming
practices have changed.
“They are based on German practices. They won’t worm with drenches.”
The cattle managing without chemicals are used for breeding, “and
that’s how they build up their strain of resistance in the cattle,”
says Mr Wiltshire.
Territory cattle mostly don’t graze on pastures treated with chemical
Supreme Champion Bull: Chris Thompson, Yorketown, SA, Shorthorn.
Supreme Champion female: Department of Primary Industry NT,
Poll Hereford: Allandale.
Santa Gertrudis: Richard & Peter Fogden, SA.
Charolais: Murray Ferme, Chrystal Brook, SA.
Other Breeds: Auscan Stud, SA.
Champion cow & calf: Mt Riddock Station.
Champion led steer: Natalie Mahomet, Alice Springs.
Junior handlers – under 12 years: Nikita Hayes. Undoolya.
13 to 18 year old: Toni Braitling. Mt Doreen.
Robobank’s 8 to 15 years encouragement award went to Nikita Hayes.
And now let’s cane the government
for doing something. COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA.
I’ve spent much of my 33 year work as a journalist in The Centre
reporting on protests against government inaction on Aboriginal issues.
On Saturday I’ll be covering a protest against government action on
That “Day of Action” will focus not on the heinous crimes against women
and children put under the national spotlight by Pat Anderson and Rex
Instead, the subject will be an alleged land grab which the current
Minister of Indigenous Affairs, the first in three decades of my
observation to display resoluteness, has stressed will not be taking
In fact Mal Brough is taking over, to the extent necessary, for no more
than five years, areas which the land councils and governments, for 30
years, have failed to protect from maladministration, precipitating the
current sustained misery.
It will be interesting to see whether the protest on Saturday will give
voice to those whom MacDonnell MLA Alison Anderson (ALP) calls the
“little people on the ground”, including the grandmothers who are the
last bastion against total disintegration of families in the grip of
alcohol, drugs and savagery against the weak and vulnerable.
Or will the speakers at the protest be those whom Aboriginal writer
Merrill Bray, in our edition last week, called “self appointed, self
elected delegations of so called Aboriginal leaders, well dressed, well
fed, well educated, cashed up, home-owning Aboriginals whose children
and grandchildren are well protected and have a comfortable warm bed to
lie in at night and food to fill their stomachs three times a day”?
The speakers named so far are Kenny Laughton (Lhere Artepe), Heather
Laughton (Arrernte Council), Donna Ah Chee (Central Australian
Aboriginal Congress) and Barbara Shaw (Tangentyere Council).
Furthermore, the people who think the permit system has nothing to do
with the misery so long shielded from view are either kidding
themselves or have something to hide.
If your council doesn’t fix your footpath you urge the local newspaper
to do a story. You give them an interview. You get them to publish a
picture. A key element of democracy is launched into action.
The incompetent official or elected member is shamed and the job gets
That is not a privilege enjoyed by people on Aboriginal land, enduring
far greater troubles than a hole outside their front gate.
This is how it works for those citizens of Australia: A reporter needs
a permit. It takes time to get it and it can be refused. There is no
Traditional owners can issue permits but – wait for it – they can be
revoked by the land councils, no matter how senior that traditional
owner may be.
And another thing has changed: the thrust of the Brough initiative is
broadly supported by Labor in the NT and the nation.
So the current repetitive objections to the Federal task force may just
be the last gasp of the “A-team” whose taxpayer funded empires are
crumbling under the weight of tragic failures over an entire
Hilary Tyler (her day job is hospital doctor), of Alice Action, is
facilitating the rally on Saturday. She says there will be an open
microphone. It would be good if people go and use it – though if the
poorly attended NAIDOC rally in Alice is a guide, people may instead
vote with their feet and not turn up. That would be a shame because
free debate needs to return to the heart of our fair go country.
Yirara is "stabilising" college
at The Rock. By KIERAN FINNANE.
The Lutheran Church’s Yirara College will take over the management of
the troubled Aboriginal secondary school, Nyangatjatjara College, for
the next six months.
Nyangatjatjara has three campuses: at Mutitjulu, the community at the
foot of The Rock; Imanpa, on the Lasseter Highway, about 150 kms east
of The Rock; and at Docker River (Kaltukatjara) about 200 kms west of
The Rock, close to the Western Australian border.
Yirara College is a boarding school based in Alice Springs, with 220
students enrolled, and has a remote campus in Kintore, catering for 30
Yirara’s involvement with Nyangatjatjara is an interim measure in an
attempt to restore stability, says administrator of the Nyangatjatjara
Aboriginal Corporation (NAC), Eamonn Thackaberry.
He says the three communities have been consulted about the
arrangements and support them as an interim measure.
Consultation was done in language by an “experienced and trusted”
linguist, says Rev Mark Doecke, principal of Yirara since 1994.
Consultation over what communities want for the future of the college,
together with both Federal and Territory education authorities, will
continue over the next six months.
Nyangatjatjara’s boarding facility at Yulara – built at a cost of
$2.5m and opened to fanfare in late 2005 – remains closed, as it has
been since Term Four last year.
Making the facility compliant with fire regulations will entail either
repairs to the building or the installation of a sprinkler system.
Given the remote context, Mr Thackaberry says the length of time taken
by this process, which involves two periods of comment-seeking, has not
Whether the non-compliance with fire regulations is a design or
construction fault is being investigated, says Mr Thackaberry.
It is not likely that the boarding facility will reopen this year.
Rev Doecke says if the boarding house being closed “was really an
issue”, families of the children had options available to them,
including enrolling their children at Yirara.
Yirara has indeed received increased enrolments from the three
communities since last year, in particular from Docker River, where
some 25 students have enrolled.
NAC continues to be the funded entity for the operation of the college.
As NAC administrator Mr Thackaberry is contracting Yirara as a service
A CEO has been appointed to NAC. On day to day college matters he
will work closely with Rev Doecke, and on other matters to do with
NAC’s operations, he will work with Mr Thackaberry.
The college will continue to operate on its three campuses.
This year Mutitjulu students have been bussed to classrooms at Yulara,
but Rev Doecke says this is being reconsidered for Semester Two.
It may be better for the students and staff to remain in Mutitjulu, in
order for the college to engage more closely with the community and
There will be one teacher at each campus, “with good support”.
All are very committed to the stabilisation of the school, says Rev
Boarding facility staff, on contract positions, remain on the payroll.
Rev Doecke says once initial work is accomplished getting all three
campuses tidied up and running smoothly, the roles of the boarding
facility staff will be reviewed, with input from the communities and
depending on the future of the boarding house.
Current student enrolments are between 50 and 60. Last year they were
as high as 85.
Rev Doecke says the decrease is not solely due to troubles at the
college, but is in part influenced by families from the communities
moving into Alice Springs.
The upper figure is as high as he would expect the college to get if it
continues to draw its students only from the three communities.
Expanding the catchment is something NAC will consult with the
Rev Doecke says it would be “a pity” from Yirara’s point of view if
they don’t continue to be involved beyond the end of this year, but “we
went into it knowing that this was a possibility. Our motivation has
been to assist in whatever way we can. Our involvement has been very
demanding of Yirara’s resources”.
Nyangatjatjara has suffered from protracted instability of staff at all
levels, including (and most controversially) the leadership positions.
The problem predates the administration but has continued. The News
understands that there have been four individuals in six different
periods in the principal’s position since the administration began last
The News asked why Rev Doecke was confident about being able to
Being a bigger operation and experienced in the field is one reason, he
offered, and being a Christian organisation also influences the kind of
commitment that people bring to the job.
Will religious instruction be part of the program while Yirara is at
Rev Doecke says this will be up to each community to negotiate
with the teacher in each school.
“Our view is that if the community wants this to be done, it should be
done by a local community church representative or pastor and done in
the local language.”
The News asked whether the college’s model is a viable one.
Apart from Aboriginal community control, central to the model has been
the boarding concept: girls and boys separately on rotation; when they
weren’t boarding at Yulara, they were to attend school as day students
in their home community.
From all that has emerged over the past few years about trouble at the
college, governance has clearly been a problem, with a lack of clarity
about who has really been in charge, NAC (and within NAC, the CEO or
the board) or the various principals.
Rev Doecke says if Yirara remains involved, the college model in all
its aspects will be looked at in consultation with the communities. It
is possible aspirations in relation to the model have changed over the
12 years since the college was established, he says.
The News asked if the model is a very expensive way of delivering
education to these students.
“All Indigenous education, in whatever setting, is expensive,” says Rev
Doecke, but the cost per student at Nyangatjatjara College is similar
to that of a student at Yirara in Alice Springs.
He understands it is also similar to what the Western Australian
Government spends on the education of their remote Indigenous students.
With governments and service providers being willing to make the
investment, he says parents must take responsibility to ensure
attendance by their children every day.
He says most students at Nyangatjatjara College, similar to most
Indigenous students in the region, have missed out on a considerable
amount of schooling. Literacy rates are very low and in the next six
months that is what Yirara will concentrate on. He says the resources
in place are adequate to that task.
Good timing for SBS series.
REVIEW by KIERAN FINNANE.
Aaron Pedersen, Alice-born and raised acting talent and pin-up boy,
leads the cast of a new television mini-series, The Circuit, tackling
some complex issues in remote Indigenous communities in the Kimberley.
The current “national emergency” being played out in the Territory has
probably contributed to an eager reception for this SBS production.
Hopefully the value of the story being told will sustain that interest.
I was having my doubts as the first episode spent too long on settling
in its characters and their context, frequently resorting to a
travelogue style compilation of scenes, with middle-of-the-road musical
But the episode ended with a compelling scene on the court circuit that
will have me watching again next week.
Till then the caseload being dealt with by Pedersen’s character, lawyer
Drew Ellis, was treated with a few quick sketches, but in this scene a
complex family drama unfolded.
Ellis is representing a young mother, Debbie, on a charge of having
smuggled marijuana into prison for her husband.
She has a record for drug offences and assault and risks gaol if found
guilty. We learn that she has dealt with her own drug habit and has
been clean for a year.
The magistrate (Gary Sweet) has invited community elders to sit on the
bench with him, a seemingly progressive move.
But one of them is Debbie’s father-in-law. Ellis makes a point of order
about the appropriateness of his sitting on this case, which the
Ellis’s intuition is that Debbie has acted under duress from her
husband’s family and won’t give evidence in the presence of her
Despite Ellis’s desperate urging, Debbie remains silent, head bowed,
under the intimidating stare of her father-in-law (an outstanding cameo
by this Indigenous actor).
She is sentenced to eight months’ gaol and is led away with her
youngest child wailing and calling out to her. Her older daughter is
mutely angry and no doubt we’ll find out more about what happens to her
in a future episode.
Ellis, who is the son of a stolen generation man, in an angry outburst
accuses the magistrate of perpetuating a cycle of removal of children
from their parents.
The magistrate is furious and this will obviously have an impact on
their necessarily on-going relationship.
Pedersen plays a man with emotional baggage, a more challenging role
than the charmers that I’ve seen him play. I kept waiting for his
trademark winning smile but it didn’t break through often.
The director, Catriona Mckenzie (who directed Remote Area Nurse), had
him holding back, tense, frustrated.
Apart from my interest now in the story, I’m looking forward to seeing
how Pedersen develops this role.
Back to front page of the the Alice Springs News.