Even in the capital city, Indigenous
Australians suffer disproportionately

Despite adequate resources and general goodwill, ‘significant improvement’ continues to elude Indigenous Australians, even in the national capital, Aboriginal Justice leader Brendan Church writes. He provides a 10-point list of ways improvement is possible.

eEven in central Canberra, coordination bedevils Indigenous programs

From a speech by Brendan Church, CEO of the  Aboriginal Justice Centre ACT, at the launch of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Law and Justice Services Guide for the ACT, August 2010.

As we are all aware, the ACT faces many challenges to see equality between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the broader population.

While we are the capital of Australia and are living within an urban environment, there are still many issues that are directly affecting a large number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals and families.

Within the ACT we have disproportionate levels of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the:

  • criminal justice and child protection system,
  • we have lower levels of school participation and completion,
  • we have inadequate housing …. and the list goes on.


Over the years there have been many reports, papers, frameworks and agreements that have been developed to help address the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with these problematic areas

Throughout these documents, there are many recommendations made, many performance indicators developed, but still we have not witnessed any significant improvements in the lives of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within the ACT.

While I support the development of such documents to underpin the line of work we are all undertaking, we must begin to set real and meaningful targets, factor in accountability measures, and learn to work seamlessly with one another towards the common goal of bettering the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within our community.

In the ACT I’m sure we can all agree that we have adequate resources. We have multiple service providers across the majority, if not all, of our problematic areas. We have commitment from the ACT Government, and support from the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. We have the commitment and goodwill of all our staff working on the front line.

So why aren’t we seeing significant improvement?

The answers are quite simple:

  • We are not working effectively
  • We duplicate services rather than complementing them
  • We over-assess and under-work cases
  • We aren’t holding each other accountable
  • We shy away from innovation
  • We set strict parameters and eligibility criteria in regards to accessing programs (what I often refer to as ‘exclusion measures’)
  • We work independently and like to take individual ownership about effective programs
  • We aren’t following key recommendations of reports and research papers
  • We don’t work directly with the problem
  • We don’t provide intensive practical support to individuals


Today we are here to launch the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Service Guide, which features over 30 key services that provide support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the law and justice system. This is another positive initiative that will:

  • improve interface between providers
  • provide clarity around roles and functions of staff in the sector
  • Identify programs and services who provide support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and
  • More importantly, help facilitate access to services for individuals and families within our community.


Through the dissemination of this services guide and through ongoing networking across agencies, services in the ACT need to break down the barriers, identify the real issues and work positively together.

We still have a long road ahead and that these initiatives and agreements are only tools in which we can all utilise to make our own practice more effective. They are very much a foundation and should be used to build on, to develop innovative approaches to addressing our needs within our community

We are a long way off addressing many of the problematic areas within our community; however I am optimistic that resources such as this will continue to guide us in the right direction towards overcoming Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage.

Over the past six months there has been a number of meetings which have been attended by a number of agencies across the ACT. These agencies include both law and justice providers and also agencies within the community sector.

Through these meetings, we have been able to have many open discussions and we have identified a number of strategies and alternate models we intend on implementing within our community in the near future.  These strategies will include a number of preventative and diversionary programs, engagement with families and the community and developing an intensive transition model for our community members exiting from custody.

We as a community have the skills, knowledge, resources and commitment to developing community-focused strategies which will lead to more improved outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the ACT.

– Brendan Church, Chief Executive Officer, Aboriginal Justice Centre ACT
Web: http://www.actajc.org.au

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