By ALEC SMART
On the week of Sorry Day, the national day to commemorate the mistreatment of Australia’s first peoples by European settlers, it was revealed that the NSW Govt plan to slash vital support funding to an Aboriginal welfare service that provides essential help to Indigenous children.
The Sorry Day, aka National Day of Healing, is an annual event that has been held every 26 May since its inception in 1998, to remember and commemorate the mistreatment of our country’s Indigenous peoples, as part of an ongoing process of reconciliation.
However, AbSec, the Aboriginal-run organisation in Marrickville that works to improve the care and support of Aboriginal children from the out-of-home care system, was told that the NSW Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services, Gareth Ward, will cut over half of their funding at the end of June.
According to Australian Govt’s ACNC website that monitors registered charities, the NSW-based ABSEC relied upon government grants for 89.2 per cent of its total gross income of $4,725,262.00 for the last financial year.
The Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Treaty, David Harris, reacted to the cuts announcement and said: “Sorry Day, the day that Australians pause to remember the Stolen Generations is this week. It is unconscionable that the NSW Government would be seeking to cut the funding of one of the organisations trying to keep Aboriginal children and young people out of care and with their families.”
Jo Haylen, Member for Summer Hill, added: “This is an offensive attack on the Indigenous community in Marrickville, and bad news for families and children across NSW.
“Absec is an important local community group and an important local employer. Cutting their funding is short-sighted and insulting at a time when we should be reflecting on how to better support Indigenous organisations working in out of home care.”
The AbSec Learning and Development Centre on Carrington Rd in Marrickville is a registered charity that “provides Aboriginal child protection and out-of-home care policy advice.” Formed in Dec 2012, they also “deliver the Aboriginal State-wide Care Support Service (ASCSS) which provides a free telephone advice and advocacy service for the carers of Aboriginal Children and also assist local communities in establishing Aboriginal carer support groups.”
The NSW Minister overseeing the cuts, Gareth Ward, is not ignorant of the desperate circumstances of Indigenous youth helped by charities in NSW. On 25 Oct 2019, Professor Megan Davis, Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales, sent Ward the 494-page final report of the Family is Culture: Independent Review into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Young People in Out-of-Home Care in New South Wales independent review.
Professor Davis finished her opening letter to Gareth Ward in the Family Is Culture review with the polite request: “It is my hope that this Final Report will assist you in addressing the issues that are unique to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in out-of- home care and their families, including reducing entries into care, increasing exits from into care and proper implementation of the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle.”
In Dec 2017 Professor Davis was appointed by the NSW Minister for Family and Community Services, Pru Goward, to chair the independent review into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Young People in Out-of-Home Care in NSW.
The Family Is Culture review’s aim was to identify and report on the reasons for the high and increasing rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Young People in Out-of-Home Care in NSW. They were also tasked to develop strategies designed to reduce that number, including improving pathways to family reunification.
At the time (and to this day), more than 40 per cent of children in out-of-home care were from Indigenous backgrounds, despite Aboriginal peoples making up only five per cent of the Australian population.
The Family Is Culture review analysed the case files of 1,144 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in NSW out-of-home care between 1 July 2015 and 31 June 2016.
The subsequent report, published in Oct 2019, made 125 recommendations, including: reforming the Children’s Court; a separate court list should be set up for Aboriginal children and their families; a new, independent statutory body be established to conduct care and protection litigation; that only specialist magistrates should hear matters concerning Indigenous youth care and protection; and that the court process should be made more meaningful and culturally appropriate.
The Family Is Culture report also found children and young people from Indigenous backgrounds continue to be over-represented in the care and protection systems in out-of-home care in New South Wales and they are ten times more likely to be in care compared to non-Aboriginal children. That percentage is increasing.
More alarming, the number of Aboriginal youths reported ‘at risk of serious harm’ continues to increase while the number of kids and families receiving professional and financial support decreases.
Appeal for help letter
On 2 March 2020, over twenty Indigenous and non-Indigenous child advocacy organisations wrote a letter to the NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, and the NSW Leader of the Opposition, Jodi McKay, pleading for urgent systemic reforms after the publication of the aforementioned Family Is Culture independent review.
The co-signed letter stated: “This is now over to you to demonstrate real action, real change for the thousands of Aboriginal children and young people impacted by the NSW child protection system. We cannot continue to stand by and witness the NSW Government continue to destroy the lives of Aboriginal children, families and communities.
“We are calling on you to ensure that implementation of all 125 recommendations in the Family Is Culture report commences from 1 July 2020, and as such, call on your government to demonstrate this by allocating resourcing in the 2020/2021 NSW Budget.”
Tim Ireland, CEO of AbSec, added “Aboriginal communities are frustrated by seeing report after report gather dust on Department shelves while the outcomes for our kids only get worse. The time for change is now, and that change must come from Aboriginal people.”
Gareth Ward’s department issued a statement in response to the joint letter, stating: “The recommendations of the Family Is Culture report will be considered carefully and in their entirety. The Department of Communities and Justice is preparing preliminary advice in relation to the recommendations, which is expected to be delivered in the first half of 2020,” expected by 30 June 2020.
Yet despite the urgent need for action, the NSW Govt is slashing the budget of AbSec by a reported 50 per cent.
Penny Sharpe, Gareth Ward’s opponent as the Shadow Minister for Family and Community Services, said: “More support for Aboriginal organisations which look after children and young people in out of home care is needed, not less. The NSW Government must immediately guarantee that funding for AbSec will continue.
“These cuts will mean that years of work by dedicated staff across NSW will be lost. Staff in regional NSW will lose their jobs and the work keeping families together and supporting children and young people in the care system will be gone.”
In response to the criticism, Gareth Ward’s department would not specify how the funding cuts to AbSec were decided upon and in what way they would impact AbSec’s specific care and client liaison programs, but instead released a statement: “The NSW Government will continue to work closely with AbSec to support Aboriginal children, families and communities across the state and will assess any emerging needs for the sector in coming months.
“A strong focus on seeing more children, improved practice and evidence-based family preservation programs has resulted in a 35 per cent reduction in the number of Aboriginal children and young people entering OOHC since 2015-16.
“The recommendations of the Family Is Culture report are being considered carefully. The NSW Government will respond to the report in the coming months.”
Naked nocturnal ambling
Gareth Ward, in Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s ministry since April 2019, is the MP whom City Hub readers will recall was twice found wandering on 11 March 2020 in a disoriented state around his Potts Point block of flats in the early hours of the morning. The first time, when he was discovered by police to be completely naked, he was allegedly trying to open a door that was not his own front door. The second time he was intercepted he was wearing a pair of underpants.
The same MP gained infamy in Aug 2017 when he claimed to have been the target of an attempted mugging while staying at the Intercontinental Hotel in New York, after ordering a $100 massage from an online website. At 10.30pm, two African-American men arrived and at some stage allegedly began filming him with a mobile phone in what Ward claimed was an extortion attempt. When the trio, one of whom claimed he was ‘underage’, relocated to the hotel foyer to withdraw money from a cash machine, Ward summoned the hotel desk staff for assistance and the two other men departed.
In Sept 2018, Ann Sudmalis, the popular former Liberal MP for Gilmore electorate, south of Kiama (Ward’s electorate), resigned and blamed Ward for her departure, claiming: “Bullying, betrayal and back-stabbing have been the hallmarks of one of my state Liberal colleagues, Gareth Ward, over the past six-and-a-half years…”
How City Hub reported Gareth Ward’s strange sleep-walking episodes: https://cityhubsydney.com.au/2020/03/naked-mp-sleepwalking/