The horror and degradation being inflicted on our APY Lands people through government inaction and waste now revealed for all to see
A recent article published by The Australian newspaper regarding the misappropriation of substantial government funding on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands is only the tip of the iceberg in regards to the demoralising, destructive conditions being experienced by the Traditional Owners, the Anangu. Nicola Butler prepared this special report.
The APY Lands cover more than 10 per cent of the South Australian land mass. Anangu hold the title to these lands under the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Land Rights Act 1981. More than 2000 Anangu live on the APY Lands.
Rob Lucas, a member of the State’s Liberal opposition, recently exposed the South Australian Government’s spend of $360,000 on motorbikes which were supposed to be used as part of a program for youths in the APY Lands area.
After they were purchased they then sat unused in a locked up shed in Marla, in the far north of the State.
The information only came to light after documents were obtained under the Freedom of Information laws Mr Lucas. It revealed the 30 motorbikes purchased for a now defunct program – a program that could have been a positive empowerment and suicide prevention program for young Aboriginal men and boys on APY Lands – had been acquired over a four year period since 2005.
Mr Lucas said the motorbikes were just one of a “series of dubious purchases” made by the State’s Department for Communities and Social Inclusion, which he claimed went on an end-of-financial-year “spending spree” in March last year.
But it does demonstrate an endemic problem – the waste and ineffectiveness of largely government funded programs in the APY Lands.
The particular documents in relation to this instance of financial misappropriation also showed that in the lead-up to the last State budget, the Department for Communities and Social Inclusion (DCSI) bought five heavy duty microwaves at a cost of $10,000 each; six washing machines at $10,000 each; five commercial food processors for $2300 each and four baby-change tables imported from the US costing $2400 each.
Mr Lucas also said information provided by whistle-blowers suggested this $150,000 spending spree was needed to reduce the department’s surplus before the budget allocation last June.
“It is an example of the financial mismanagement and waste in the area at a time when many other important programs and projects either haven’t been funded or have lost funding,” Mr Lucas said.
“This is a massive waste of taxpayer money.”
This is all really hard to comprehend when you read some of the stories that have been raised by respected Anangu Elder, George Kenmore over the past 18 months. These wasted funds on unused material possessions could have gone a long way to addressing some of his concerns if applied with a common sense approach, a think before you spend affirmative action.
Here are some of the issues extracted from a Letter to the Editor that was sent on 21 November 21, 2012 by George Kenmore a number of newspapers where he implored readers to take on a journey… a reality trip on the Lands if you will.
“A large number of your relatives live in community on their own property and you pay them a visit. The following scenes play out before your very eyes.
I wonder what you would do if…
Scene One – A young disabled cousin (who has a dedicated carer) has indicated she needs assistance with being helped out of her wheelchair. You carefully lift her and assist her to become comfortable; at the same time you become aware of maggots on your arms from where you have lifted her and then notice maggots on the seat of her wheelchair.
Scene Two – An elderly diabetic uncle is lying ill on the ground and as you approach him family members explain the kitchen is locked (the manager is away for a week and has not made arrangements to leave a key) and the staff who prepare the daily meals for the disabled and elderly have gone intrastate on a work conference for a week. Other elderly family members too are hungry waiting for their meal. An uncle quickly takes the appropriate steps to find food to feed these vulnerable people. The next day this same uncle uses bolt cutters to enable him entry to the kitchen to feed his sick and needy relatives. He then replaces the lock with a new one. He submits a report to the Director detailing the situation that had played out. The blame for this disgraceful state of affairs is then laid at the feet of Centrelink paid workers rather than the manager who is paid a very large salary by the government by the way.
Scene Three – Excited chatter is emanating from a group of female family members (they work for Centrelink payments) because they have just been advised of the staff Christmas lunch (as had been discussed and decided at an earlier senior staff meeting). As these low paid workers read on they discover they will have to travel about 200km to the chosen venue (company vehicles will be made available for this). The email goes on to say “all staff will be responsible for paying for the meal, drinks and accommodation. I realise this may change some people’s intentions of attending. To help you make the decision I have outlined the cost of the meal. A 3 course buffet style, all you can eat $60 per head. $25 for children. Free for children under 3 or their normal menu which starts from about $15. Accommodation: cabins, basic $60 for two people. $50 for one person. Motel room: $155 for two people. Camping available. Sleeping on the grass is an option if people don’t have tent/swags $7.50 per person.” This, I know is hard for you to believe however, you have a copy in writing from management of the email detailing the above and so you know it to be true.
Scene Four – An uncle who is well respected and trusted is the only family member with a full time job in the entire community (he has a contract). He attempts on numerous occasions to bring to the attention of the appropriate authorities the many hideous situations that he encounters. The end result is that his contract is not renewed, despite him being a 2012 NAIDOC Community Award recipient. There are copious other untold stories of abuse the uncle witnessed in this community and they are still occurring.”
The community Mr Kenmore is speaking of is the Aboriginal community of Mimili on the APY Lands in the far north of South Australia. Mr Kenmore has appealed for the help of many people over time including Ministers, Chief Executive Officers, Directors and many others from various government and private organisations but all to no avail.
In desperation Mr Kenmore is attempting to take these diabolical situations to his fellow Australians urging us all to raise our voices in unison at the injustices as described above.
“The white supremacist mind-set overrides any chance of positive change for Anangu,” Mr Kenmore said.
“Despite over 200 years of white intervention, enormous amounts of money plied into white man’s programs that haven’t worked Anangu are still being subjected to this same soul destroying regime and their children are paying the price.”
Against the backdrop of these terrible stories at Mimili the issue of the motor bikes that sat in storage all those years before being sold off when the program was closed down is minor but it reflects the problem of white governments dictating to Indigenous people how to run their own communities.
The motor bikes were supposed to go to the young Anangu men and boys on the Lands. The idea had merit because had the motor bikes been used as they were intended it had the potential to be soul saving. But the problem was the wrong people were engaged by the government department.
If those motor bikes had been in the hands of Indigenous people from the community there is no doubt they would have been used for the young men.
“I have grave concerns for the well being of our youth going forward,” Mr Kenmore said. “Some of these kids, as evidenced in communities across the lands and on the streets of Alice Springs, are lost in their own country as too are their families.
“They can’t help themselves let alone their children as they too are suffering the same fate of being oppressed and disrespected on their own land.
“Daily these kids are looked down upon and judged by non-Anangu. They know it. They react to it.
“Their future is in Australia’s hands. Please advocate for real jobs with real pay for Anangu so that they can flourish and prosper in the land that was theirs originally.”
Had this simple plea been heeded, taken seriously and enacted upon on the Lands, the funds wasted on the motor bikes may have been contributing positively to the self determination of Anangu, their children and their families.
And then there is this disgraceful act where a non-Anangu DCSI staff member who was responsible for providing lunch for aged care, infirm and disabled clients at Mimili on Friday, March 15.
“Clients were handed a plastic bag with a raw kangaroo tail as well as raw onions, raw potatoes and capsicum for these clients to cook for themselves,” Mr Kenmore said.
The clients Mr Kenmore is talking about included a wheel chair bound person, an intellectually disabled person and an Elder in her nineties to name just a few. None of these people were in a position to gather their own firewood to cook for themselves. Given this situation these clients had little choice but to either go hungry or seek family support (if any was available).
“Do Meals on Wheels provide their aged, frail and disabled clients with raw ingredients to cook for themselves in the city?” as Mr Kenmore wondered how many of his people went hungry on that particular day.
This is not an isolated incident and Mr Kenmore has been reporting such instances for many months now and feels it is all falling on arrogant, deaf ears.
Surely it does not take a rocket scientist to work out the amounts of money wasted year after year by government is happening through inappropriate policies and programs delivered by non-Anangu staff, many of whom have not been appropriately trained to a competent level of Cultural Knowledge to enable Cultural Safety for themselves let alone the Anangu people they serve (some find themselves on the lands without any knowledge of even basic Cultural Awareness).
Surely it should not take a rocket scientist either to realise with appropriate strategies to properly engage the Anangu community these same millions of dollars could have achieved a real solution, one that would and should have by now well and truly extinguished the deplorable conditions people still face on the Lands today.
If something is not done, if the right things are not done now, what will become of the children? Who will ensure there is a future to live for?
Who will enable our young children to grow and prosper with a renewed sense of hope that there will be opportunities to enable them to reach their full potential?
And here again is another example of a failed program when $250,000 was spent on the failed market gardens program set up in the remote Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands. These market gardens are no longer producing food, just two years after they were established to address food security concerns.
“This was an idea that had strong support in Adelaide but which was absolutely disconnected from the reality of food security concerns on the APY Lands,” Uniting Communities Aboriginal policy expert, Jonathan Nicholls said.
He also said the Aboriginal organisation that controls the lands wanted the government to focus on freight costs and community stores to address food security concerns and that the small homeland communities had requested the gardens only after the department had said it could do nothing about freight costs and community stores.
And what about the digital television installations that have just taken place? On the surface this can be seen as a good thing for the APY Lands and means Anangu are at least getting a television service the same as the rest of the population with connection to the outside world.
“We got a big mob of channels today, 17 channels! We’re happy now,” Jonathon Lyons said. “Anangu are in better contact with the world beyond the desert.”
More than 700 households in 15 communities have had individual satellites installed on their roofs, some of the programing is having a positive impact. “Some people are making good movies, some people acting really good, some people are cooking really good! So we’re learning.” Jonathon said.
John Walsh from Ethos Global Foundation, who facilitated the rollout of digital television for the Federal Government, said the APY Lands were a pilot program for large scale installation programs across remote Australia.
“The Government decided they needed to look at an initial region first and foremost and it’s taken about eight months,” Mr Walsh said.
But it’s not all good news. Several community television channels, which often provide content in local Indigenous languages, will not be upgraded to the digital system. As well as the loss of localised channels, Daniel Featherstone said there’s also no ongoing funding for maintenance of satellite dishes and equipment.
“The real cost in getting somebody to fix a satellite dish is to get somebody out form the nearest regional town, wherever that might be,” he said.
“In some cases that might be 1000 kilometers away and at $2.50 per kilometer, that’s $2500 each way. The actual technician cost is going to make it untenable for most people.”
So, is this also going to be another loss of funding to be racked up with the millions of wasted dollars that mainstream Australia will only receive half of the information about which will then lead to further damaging and demoralising stereotypes being bandied around across the country?
As a State Parliamentary Inquiry noted in June 2004: “Inadequate and insecure funding undermines the delivery of some critical human services on the APY Lands. What funding is available is often short term. Many key service providers remain reliant on annual or pilot-funding, with project staff being forced to spend an inordinate amount of time submitting additional funding applications and/or meeting the administrative and accounting requirements of short-term grants. Funding pressures contribute to staff burnout and the subsequent loss of expertise.”
The Government knows this stuff and even reports the finding in its own documentation and still it makes the same mistakes over and over again.
Here is the nub of the problem facing our peoples on APY Lands. It is a problem many communities face around the country and it comes down simply to white governments, white Ministers and white bureaucrats not being prepared to give the responsibility and the funding, the actual dollars to the communities the money was intended for in the first place.
Our people know what needs to be done. The problem is they are not being allowed to fix the problems because they have no control over the funding, how it is used and how it is implemented.
With no genuine effort and foresight going into the ongoing development, maintenance and succession planning for the manpower, technology and infrastructure going into the APY Lands, how can we ever see the benefits with a long term vision for sustainability, productivity and success?