Friday 22 June 2007 - Estimates Committee B (O'Byrne)

Friday 22 June 2007

Mr Dean
Mr Finch
Mrs Jamieson
Mrs Rattray-Wagner
Ms Ritchie
Mrs Smith (Chair)
Hon. Michelle O'Byrne , Minister for Community Development; Minister assisting the Premier on Local Government
Ministerial Office

6.5 Multicultural Tasmania - policy advice and community services

Mr FINCH - On page 10.34, Providing advice and assistance to the Stolen Generations Assessor regarding the eligibility of applicants, I want to ask a question about the stolen generation issue and whether there is money set aside to look after that process.

Ms O'BYRNE - You must have been out of the room when Mrs Rattray-Wagner asked that question.

Mr FINCH- Yes, I do not get to hear what goes on down that end of the table. I am just wondering how much has been spent. Did we cover that?

Ms O'BYRNE - Of the $5 million we will wait until the assessor makes his decisions but DPAC, as we have said, have support and structures around the process of the Stolen Generations office.

Mr FINCH - Thank you, I will check the Hansard . Under Major Issues and Initiatives, there is a reference to providing advice and help to address Aboriginal family violence. We know this is a big issue in northern Tasmania, we have been hearing in the news in the last couple of days.

Ms O'BYRNE - Northern Territory.

Mr FINCH - In the Northern Territory, yes, but I would assume that that is not the case in Tasmania and can you give us some idea how bad the problem is here and is family violence in Aboriginal homes any worse than in non-Aboriginal homes?

Ms O'BYRNE - I have to take a bit of time with this one, Chair, to do it appropriately, if that is okay?

Obviously, the issue of violence in Aboriginal communities is not a new issue; it has not suddenly appeared on the agenda. In fact, it has been raised as a national issue for over a decade, which makes me a little surprised to see this sudden realisation in the last few months. In early 2000 a women's group presented to the Ministerial Council for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs and it was then that the CATSIA recognised a national effort was required.

In the days of ATSIC the national round table on violence was held which called for a national effort and the recent violence summit in 2006 that Minister Brough convened also sought to ensure that it was a national priority and I attended that summit on violence in families.

It is a significant problem within the Tasmanian Aboriginal community. It is recognised as being a problem within the Tasmanian Aboriginal community, although it is much less visible than what we see in remote communities around Australia. Our emphasis has been on addressing the underlying causes of social dislocation - the things that make it harder for a community and lead to those sorts of despair and unhappiness that can often lead to family violence. We do that in a number of ways. Obviously land hand-back and stolen generation reparation are parts of those. We believe that enhancing a sense of cultural identity will grow confidence with the Aboriginal community and that is going to help break the cycle of disadvantage that often leads to violence. Obviously we do that through Safe at Home which is a whole-community family violence initiative and the three programs that we have specifically done in the Aboriginal community which is ya pulingina kani, the Good to See You report which we just tabled, Safe at Home and the COAG trial.

Ya pulingina kani's job is to identify ways in which the Aboriginal community itself can see ways to reduce levels of family violence. Safe at Home is a universal program that makes clear the reality that you should be safe in your home. We are working with ya pulingina kani through Safe at Home to do appropriate responses for Aboriginal communities within that and that is obviously in light of such issues as Aboriginal deaths in custody because Safe at Home is obviously a pro-arrest strategy. We have a dedicated Aboriginal court support officer who assists family violence victims. Because Safe at Home is essentially punitive - that is what it is about and it is after the fact - DPAC is actually working with other State and Commonwealth agencies and other Aboriginal communities to better integrate the COAG trial, ya pulingina, and Safe at Home to improve Aboriginal services to those experiencing violence in the Aboriginal community.

The COAG trial has been in progress for almost four years. That is helping us work with the State to identify issues. There has been a trial in the north-east that you would be aware of, Mr Finch. In 2006 the Intergovernmental Summit on Violence and Child Abuse in Iindigenous Ccommunities focused on law and order rather than the underlying factors leading to violence and child abuse. At the summit the Commonwealth expressed a particular concern about customary law and customary law being used as a mitigation for violence. We have no statutory references to customary law and the only references we have to cultural background in dealing with offenders are those that currently exist within the Youth Justice Act, so that is not an issue in Tasmania.

From the summit COAG agreed to adopt a collaborative approach to addressing particular issues of policing, justice support and governance. The key to that is obviously bilateral agreements between Commonwealth and State governments. We are yet to formalise a bilateral agreement with the Commonwealth mainly because we are progressing the COAG trial, ya pulingina kani and Safe at Home. In terms of the Federal Government announcement yesterday which leads from the report of abuse in communities that was released 10 days ago, we do not have any detail yet other than what we have seen in the media. It has been developed and announced without consultation. It is clearly directed at a particular set of circumstances in remote and isolated bush communities in the Northern Territory where the Commonwealth obviously has relevant head of powers.

I am aware that in order for the Federal Government to progress those initiatives they actually have a lot of legislative work to do. They are a long way at this stage from actually implementing any of things that they have announced in the media. They have said they have done an immediate response. I think they have done an immediate announcement and we shall see the effects of the response soon. We are seeking further information from the Prime Minister's office about what they are intending and how it will impact and as soon as we have that we will be able to provide some kind of formal comment on it. But at this stage we are, as most are, responding to what is in the media. In Tasmania the police maintain the data on family violence and any inquiry about statistics of family violence should be directed to the Police minister so I cannot give you anything more than that there is an acceptance that there are high levels of violence in Aboriginal communities.

CHAIR - Thank you. We will move to multicultural affairs