Adjournment Speech: Koreelah State Forest Audits and the NSW Forestry Corporation

I will speak about the management of New South Wales State forests and follow on from the speech made by Mr David Shoebridge about his visit to the North Coast. Along the Pacific Highway on the North Coast there used to be a Forestry Corporation sign that read, “Your forests are in safe hands”. Unfortunately, few people believed that because of the effective contribution made by members of the North East Forest Alliance who have for years gone into our State forests to check whether the prescriptions and protocols are being observed. The unfortunate reality is that the Forestry Corporation has not been observing the rules.

During seven court cases in the early 1990s the Forestry Corporation was found not to be meeting its legislative requirements in relation to the management of State forests. After 1995 when some protocols and prescriptions were changed and a new forest system was created we still did not see much of a change. Complaints were still made, evidence was still collected by the North East Forest Alliance and, upon inspection, breaches were found. That is a great disappointment to the people of the North Coast.

It was a pleasure to host Mr David Shoebridge on the North Coast on the weekend of 17 August and 18 August. On the Saturday in Byron Bay he spoke at a forum regarding the changes proposed to the State planning Act. People have considerable concerns about the issue, particularly those in the environment movement. The Friends of the Koala representative, Lorraine Vass, spoke with great concern about koala protection in relation to the management of public lands. On the Sunday Mr Shoebridge, members of the North East Forest Alliance, an expert ecologist and I visited the forest. As Mr Shoebridge mentioned, we entered an area that had not been inspected before to see if we could find evidence of koalas. As Mr Shoebridge also stated in his speech, it did not take us long to find the evidence. We found scratches on the trees and koala scats at the tree bases.

It shows how many koalas are in the area, and that takes us back to the question of whether the area should be a State forest. It was recognised a long time ago as being of high value, but it was not included in the reserve system perhaps because of its location at the time—a marginal seat for an Australian Labor Party member. At the moment, the Royal Camp State Forest is being logged without meeting the prescriptions—and we only know that because a group of volunteers and conservationists who care about the environment have gone out and checked. They have done what the Government should have done. Since our visit Mr Dailan Pugh of the North East Forest Alliance has sent a letter to the Acting Chief Regulator of the Environment Protection Authority, Mark Gifford, which says:

We are astounded that they are now denying they were able to find clearly documented breaches that were shown to them on the second site inspection. It is outrageous that they have blatantly lied about this and unjustifiably dismissed key evidence shown to, and discussed, with them.

That it has taken the EPA a year to produce such a simplistic, shoddy and inaccurate response to only some of our complaints a poor reflection on the organisation.

I call on the Government to follow through on this complaint and observe that the area is significant. This area of koala habitat is a significant concern. Also of concern is a V notch yellow-bellied glider sap feed tree that was identified and should have been investigated and resulted in a breach and fine. Those things should be observed because this is our natural heritage. We need to have this matter resolved.

 

 

RESPECT Multimedia Project

On 10 November 2011, Jan made a speech in the NSW Parliament in support of an exciting community driven multimedia project, auspiced by the Taree Indigenous Development and Employment (TIDE). The project engages 10 to 15-year-old at-risk Aboriginal youth in film-making. One of the recent films developed by the project, entitled RESPECT, was cast with 100% Aboriginal talent  and presents an uplifting real life drama about respect for the Elders in a contemporary Aboriginal community on Australia’s Mid North Coast.

The project has a number of partners but is currently seeking funding to continue to operate in TAFE across the region in coming years. To find out more about the project visit Forster Films at http://www.forsterfilmfestival.com.au/ (Project Coordinator Greg Smith). Copies of the DVD are available to community groups, donations of $10 for the DVD are encouraged to support the project.

Jan also hosted a meeting in NSW Parliament about the project earlier this year. Scroll down to see a copy of Jan’s Adjournment Speech!

Parliament Jubilee Room, 18 October 2011

Jan Barham MLC (third from right) with supporters of the RESPECT Project including (from left) Nathan Moran CEO Birpai Land Council , John Clarke OAM Chair Biripi Medical Centre, Chair Ganga Marrang, CEO TIDE; Sheree Drylie CEO Forster Land Council; Linda Burney MP; Dr Stephen Jurd Associate Professor Clinical Psychiatry Sydney University; Rosie Herbert PACE Coordinator TIDE; Chris Sheed OA Manager TIDE; Mark Rutherford Client Services Officer Probation and Parole Mid North Coast; Leah New Engagement Officer Forster Films

ADJOURNMENT SPEECH Legislative Council, 10 November 2011

The Hon. JAN BARHAM [6.05 p.m.]: The Respect Project is a multimedia project operating on the mid North Coast that focuses on 10-year-old to 15-year-old Aboriginal youth. It uses film-making processes to provide a way to address their real-life dramas. For several years the Respect Project has been engaging Aboriginal community members in the development of short films, providing insight into traditional Aboriginal stories and culture. The Respect Project is targeted at young people at risk and their families, especially those who have had contact with the criminal justice system. The project brings together local Aboriginal land councils, the police, Corrective Services, community development bodies and education providers, among others, with the support of non-government organisations such as Great Lakes Community Resources and the Forster Film Festival.

The project has most recently published a film and DVD resource entitled Respect, which features local Aboriginal actors. It focuses on issues such as drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, history, culture and respect within these communities. Respect has been shown and well-received in schools, detention centres, prisons and offender programs across the region. In relation to the film His Honour Judge J. C. Nicholson, SC, said, “The film ‘Respect’ does more in 30 minutes than I achieve in a two-hour summation in a six-year sentence.”

On 18 October I was invited by the Respect Project to host a discussion about the project. The Attorney General, and Minister for Justice and the member for Canterbury both attended the discussion to speak with members of the board of directors of the Respect Project about a proposed expansion into TAFEs across the mid North Coast. I thank them for their interest and ongoing attention to this project. I note that funding had previously been made available under the previous Minister for Community Services, the member for Canterbury. Local Aboriginal community representatives included Nathan Moran, the Chief Executive Officer of the Birpai Land Council; John Clark, OAM, the Chair of the Biripi Medical Centre and Chief Executive Officer of the Taree Indigenous Development and Employment; Sheree Drylie, the Chief Executive Officer of the Forster Land Council; and Mark Rutherford, the Aboriginal Liaison Officer with Corrective Services.

These people were amongst the project members who spoke eloquently at the meeting about the positive impact that the project has had on their communities. The mid North Coast region is amongst those in New South Wales experiencing a growing number of young Aboriginal people in detention. As a result of engagement with the project, these local organisations have been able to trace a significant decrease in antisocial behaviour and reoffending of young people in their communities. I have spoken before in this place about the power of art to bring communities together and to tackle difficult issues in a meaningful way. The Respect Project is an excellent example of this.

Members may also recall another highly successful multimedia project that worked with Aboriginal young people at risk called Koori Exchange, which operated in Cranebrook in western Sydney. It was recently profiled on the ABC’s 7.30 Report. By engaging young people in the research, writing, filming, acting, production and screening of short films, and by telling the stories that young people want to tell, projects such as the Respect Project build the leadership skills of these young people and help them front difficult issues. It also provides them with vocational skills and TAFE certification in some circumstances.

The Respect Project is also an excellent example of a community-government partnership, with resources for the project pooled from a number of different areas. Financial support for the project has included funding from the former Department of Community Services. The project has been successful because of the hard work and personal dedication of individuals. However, it is a sad reality that even highly successful projects find it a constant struggle to maintain funding.

A reduction in offenders leads to significant financial savings to a range of government services and prevents trauma to individuals and families who are impacted by violence. Other members in this place, including The Greens justice spokesperson, Mr David Shoebridge, have spoken about the importance of supporting justice reinvestment programs as a way to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. It is heartening to see the willingness of this new Government to consider such approaches. I urge members in this place to consider ways to ensure that projects such as the Respect Project are given the support they deserve. I offer the opportunity to any member who is interested in watching the film to contact me and I will make it available for their viewing.

SEA CHANGE TASK FORCE ADJ

The Hon. JAN BARHAM

The term “sea change” describes the migration of people away from metropolitan areas and larger regional cities to high amenity coastal localities. For many it is a metaphorical change of life, rather than a literal movement to the sea. Although to date, much of the migration away from metropolitan centres has been focused on the coast. Some of those other population movements are known as a tree change. The move to the coast is not a recent phenomenon, with significant population flows to non-metropolitan coastal communities beginning in the late 1960s. In 2001 more than 85 per cent of Australians lived within 50 kilometres of the coastline. Approximately 20 per cent of Australians now live in coastal towns and cities other than capital cities. Much of the population growth along the coast has been within a three-kilometre strip, particularly in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia.

Coastal communities around Australia are struggling to plan for rapid population growth driven by internal migration from metropolitan cities and inland areas. Increased population movements can present threats to the sensitive coastal areas to the environments, the coastal waters, dunes, wetlands and distinctive landscapes. Many coastal communities are surrounded by environments of national and international heritage importance, such as national parks, world heritage areas and increasingly marine protected areas. Those places are particularly vulnerable to inappropriate development that threatens biodiversity, cultural heritage sites, recreational and tourism values.

The social implications of sea change migration are also profound. In spite of new population growth, many non-metropolitan coastal communities are characterised by high levels of unemployment, lower than average household incomes and greater levels of socio-economic disadvantage, along with higher numbers of seniors than other parts of Australia. Therefore, producing ongoing housing stress, high unemployment and increasing population growth and development activity in these areas is not translating to long-term economic gains usually associated with population expansion. Social divisions are occurring between existing residents and newcomers and between wealthier, usually retiree, sea changers and those lower income groups who have been pushed out of expensive metropolitan areas.

Commonwealth, State and local policy and planning instruments addressing the sea change phenomenon focus on biophysical aspects, particularly environmental protection, and to a lesser degree, settlement structure and urban design. Social issues—such as building community cohesion, catering to the needs of ageing populations, housing affordability and cultural heritage—are not well addressed within the scope of current policy or planning instruments. This failure to integrate social and economic objectives and strategies within coastal policies and the land-use plans applying to coastal areas reflects broader difficulties associated with achieving the spectrum of sustainability goals. Given the evidence of social and economic disadvantage in sea change localities, and the likelihood that such disadvantage will continue without effective interventions, broadening coastal policy and planning processes to properly include social and economic dimensions is a priority.

In 2004 the National Sea Change Taskforce was established to represent regional coastal local government areas. This group has committed to fund significant research undertaken by the University of Sydney, Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning research centre. The taskforce holds annual conferences that bring together representatives from coastal councils, academics and interested community representatives to discuss these important issues. The Sea Change Taskforce has been instrumental in making submission to the State and Federal government inquiries and looks forward to the opportunity to comment in the current inquiry into barriers to effective climate change adaption of the Productivity Commission. The work of the Sea Change Taskforce is thoroughly supported by local government. The Hon. Paul Green and I have attended many of its conferences. We are very supportive of, and enjoy membership of, that group.

SOLVING THE JIGSAW ANTI-BULLYING PROGRAM

 Children who are bullied are three times more likely to develop depressive symptoms and have higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression, illness and suicide. Children who are supported, nurtured and empowered have increased resilience, which helps them live fulfilled lives. Many children grow up in a nurturing environment at home. Their views are encouraged and listened to and they feel special, unique and loved. The majority of children find their place and move through school without much hassle from their peers. However, 25 per cent of children and young people experience some form of bullying. This is any kind of abusive behaviour focused on an individual, including violence and other psychological interference.

The Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study found that the majority of teaching staff—67 per cent—felt that other teachers at their school needed more training to enhance their skills to deal with bullying. The Solving the Jigsaw Program was developed by Emergency Accommodation and Support Enterprise [EASE], a domestic violence support service based in Bendigo, Victoria. It was launched in 1997 into two local schools as an early intervention program aiming to address violence and bullying at school by changing a culture of violence and creating a culture of wellbeing. The course is now available in 54 Victorian primary and secondary schools and, since 2002, 25,000 children have been empowered by the program. New South Wales has only one fully trained Solving the Jigsaw facilitator, Byron Shire resident Jan Daly. Ms Daly is fully accredited and is implementing the program into a local school, Brunswick Heads Public School.

The program is integrated into school welfare support and policy and enhances the Department of Education’s current initiatives of changing bystander awareness and behaviour. Solving the Jigsaw operates under the assumption that bullying, violence, abuse and other traumatic experiences increase the risk of poor life outcomes. A way to address this is to increase the resilience of our young people and provide them with the time and the tools to reflect and grow. The program builds relationships, trust and understanding through a combination of weekly catch-ups that encourage connection, belonging and intimacy within the group. Structured activities provide opportunities for students to learn about key concepts, values, tools and challenges, and to explore their beliefs and practise problem solving. Although these activities are planned, the program is flexible and can respond to any important issues that might arise.

Solving the Jigsaw deals with bullying and violence by talking openly about violence and about its types, effects and where it occurs. The program explores concepts of the misuse of power, deliberate harming and the use of power to control and belittle. It teaches children, young people and teachers strategies for dealing with violence and bullying. Over 92 per cent of teachers indicated that the program had a significant impact on participating children. The Solving the Jigsaw Program has won many important awards, including the Excellence Award in School Based Programs, the National Association for Loss and Grief Award and the National Child Abuse Award for Community Development, Capacity Building and Strengthening. A documentary showing a group of children and their journey through their school-based Solving the Jigsaw program titled Kids Business won the Australian and New Zealand Mental Health Services media award. It also received a highly recommended commendation in the Human Rights Awards in 2009.

The Hon. Michael Gallacher recently stated in a response to a question by the Hon. Mick Veitch on the effects of cyber bullying on the lives of children that this Parliament and our community “must endeavour to educate our children about these matters in their early years” and “think more broadly in terms of protecting and educating our young people” about the potential damage that can be caused by bullying. Professor Ken Rigby from the Division of Education, Arts and Social Sciences at the University of South Australia stated:

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      … only on rare occasions is education about bullying incorporated into teacher training in a systematic manner.

He advised that the need to provide teacher training was a longstanding issue that had been raised in the National Safe Schools Framework. It identified key elements of successful approaches to address bullying, including ensuring that:

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      … appropriate pre-service and in-service training is conducted for all staff about bullying, violence, harassment and protection issues.

The New South Wales Legislative Council 2009 Bullying of Children and Young People report also recognised that the release of teachers to obtain the training is a resourcing issue. We are all aware of the harm that can be done to children and young people when they are bullied. Instead of managing the emotions of children after they have experienced bullying, we need to provide the training and personal empowerment so that they are able to understand themselves and others better. Providing young people with a platform that they can use to improve their life skills must be a priority. Supporting the implementation of the Solving the Jigsaw Program in New South Wales would be a positive step in changing the culture of violence to wellbeing.

BYRON BAY EVENTS

The Hon. JAN BARHAM [6.05 p.m.]: Events portray a community’s character. They present the culture of an area and are an important contribution to the social capital. They can also make a significant contribution to the economy, especially in tourist areas. On 10 September I attended the inaugural Sample Food Festival at Bangalow in Byron shire. The organiser, Remy Tancred, assembled more than 100 of the region’s growers, producers, restaurateurs, and art and craft suppliers from the region for a festival that celebrated and displayed the abundance and creativity of the North Coast. The event attracted approximately 8,000 people, who sampled and purchased the best and freshest of the region.

This event highlights the support for sustainable agriculture and the benefits of fresh, fine food. I raise this event and its success in the context of how the region maintains its attraction and diversity as a sustainable destination. There has been recent media focus on Byron Shire Council’s seeking to retain a degree of control of its identity and proposing to limit the number of large music festivals held in the area. Byron shire is an iconic tourism and event destination. The challenge is how to maintain a quality of life for the community while being economically and socially diverse.

Local events such as the Bluesfest and the Splendour music festival have attracted wide acclaim. The council and the community have been proud to host those events and the council has adopted a policy to support the continuation of two major music events annually. The aims of that policy are to recognise the contribution that events make to the diverse character and culture of the shire, to encourage event organisers to promote events that recognise and contribute to the evolution of this character and culture, and to manage events so that they do not adversely impact on the existing character.

The diverse talents and interests of the area embrace a broad platform of expression that is reflected in the range of events that continue to evolve. Local events are as varied as the community. They include the very popular and successful writers festival, film festivals, a billycart derby, a classical music festival, a vintage event, a kites and bikes event, underwater and surf festivals, a harmony event, a comedy festival, the woodchip event, the Starlight Wellbeing Expo, a triathlon, art expos, the Mullum Music Festival, the Bluesfest and, in past years, Splendour in the Grass. This is in addition to the activities that are part and parcel of the peak tourism period and schoolies week. Organisers deliver an average of three significant events each month that attract visitors, local and regional residents, and many from the large Queensland population to the north, just an hour away, who come over the border to enjoy our cultural diversity and natural landscape.

The community supports a tourism focus, but one which respects the host community. The shire has a small population of fewer than 30,000 residents and a visitor population of more than 1.5 million. The proposed festival site at Yelgun, known as North Parklands, is the subject of an application to establish a dedicated event site to host multiple music events, not only the widely renowned Splendour festival. The application is currently awaiting determination by the Government under part 3A. An application for a trial event at the site was approved by the council but overturned by the court after an appeal was lodged by a community group.

The proponents then made an application to the State Government. The Government has said much about returning planning matters to the local level, but that did not happen on this occasion. The community’s and the council’s concerns about the potential environmental and social degradation caused by multiple music festivals have been articulated as has their desire to maintain a broad cultural diversity. The concern is that the area will be characterised as a party town. Already there is wide community concern about alcohol-fuelled events and antisocial behaviour and how these might deter people from visiting the area.

The Byron shire has been at the forefront of environmental protection and sustainable development for more than 30 years and it is its distinctive character that makes it so attractive to locals and visitors. The event limit is recognition of the need to consider the future rather than simply to let market forces take control and perhaps define and diminish the overall character of the town. The shire does not want to be known as a music festival destination alone. It has so much more to offer and it seeks to maintain and develop a diverse cultural character.

It is recognised that there are positives in terms of economic and cultural benefits from large music events, but there is also potential for impacts on the social amenity and the environment. The community is concerned that the rich cultural diversity is maintained and that space is provided for more local events to emerge and seek the support of the community. The events policy seeks to restrict the number of large events that operate in the shire to allow the community to continue to define what and how we reflect our cultural identity. The potential for approval of a site that increases the number of large music events in the shire would present the shire as a music festival hotspot, which is not a desired outcome for the community.

Disability Services

Most institutions and government bodies loathe complaints. Many interpret complaints as a personal affront and attack on their integrity. We do not have a strong government culture of managing complaints. Departments and government agencies perceive complaints as a political wrecking ball leveraged to bring into question the competence of departments. Complaints and compliance regimes are not perceived as opportunities to discover deficiencies in services and avenues to continually improve government services.

Disability service is an area where the response to complaints can make or break a person’s human rights in a most profound way. Deficiencies in service provision transform into barriers that prevent social inclusion and community participation. It denies the right of people with disabilities to achieve their full potential and live fulfilling lives. With the stakes so high we cannot afford to have anything less than a world-class complaints and compliance framework to drive service improvements in the disability sector. It is evident from the Legislative Council Standing Committee on Social Issues inquiry that there is a noticeable level of dissatisfaction with Ageing, Disability and Home Care [ADHC] services.

The causes of dissatisfaction are complex and varied. Deficiency in funding causing unmet and undermet need, poor management and governance systems in Ageing, Disability and Home Care and inflexibility in service programs to deliver person-centred service are some of the root causes of dissatisfaction with the organisation. In other instances there are systemic issues in compliance with disability service standards. The Legislative Council Standing Committee on Social Issues considered the issue of complaints and compliance mechanisms in the inquiry into services funded and provided by Ageing, Disability and Home Care. The committee made three key recommendations relating to complaints, complaints monitoring and advocacy services: recommendation 46, Review of Ageing, Disability and Home Care complaints process; recommendation 47, establishment of an independent organisation to review complaints and compliance; and recommendation 48, funding of advocacy services outside of Ageing, Disability and Home Care services.

When one looks at the framework for complaints and compliance monitoring for disability services one sees that we have a fractured and inconsistent system without sufficient transparency and accountability measures. Improving and resolving breaches of policies in disability services based upon user feedback and complaints becomes fraught without a consistent complaints mechanism. Our current system of complaints and compliance in the disability sector is a maze that leaves those trying to navigate it disempowered and disheartened. The different complaint processes, reporting regimes and management obligations for Ageing, Disability and Home Care service providers and non-government service creates confusion that will only intensify with more flexible service provision. Isolation in data collection arising from the different complaint mechanisms means obtaining a full picture of deficiencies in service delivery is not attainable.

Understanding the broader picture of grievances and compliance in the disability sector is further complicated by the reporting of complaints by the Ombudsman and issues picked up by the Official Community Visitor Programs. Ability to seek judicial review of the provision of disability services in the Administrative Decisions Tribunal is far too constrained by section 20 of the Disability Services Act, leaving people with disabilities, their families and carers, and disability advocates without appropriate recourse to challenge decisions about disability services. There are some really simple options for improving complaints management. The first thing we need is to centralise complaint data.

The Disability Services Act and the Community Services (Complaints, Reviews and Monitoring) Act can be easily amended to require all non-government organisation providers and Ageing, Disability and Home Care services to forward all complaint data, excluding personal information, to the New South Wales Ombudsman. This way we can get the whole sector-wide picture of potential service deficiencies. I understand the Victorian Ombudsman operates in this way. Seeing the big picture in complaints will help address systemic problems. In terms of actual complaints management bodies it is clear that some complaints cannot be left up to the service provider. Some complaints are serious enough to warrant independent assessment and investigation. Maybe we need to investigate whether a model similar to the New Zealand Health and Disability Commissioner would be appropriate to manage complaints about disability services. It is clear we need to explore these options through a consultative process.

As The Greens spokesperson for disability services I believe we need a better compliance and complaint system. Without appropriate mechanisms we deny people with disabilities a voice in shaping the services that enable participation in society, personal development and social inclusion. We all remain in the dark about where our service system is failing without a coherent and robust system. Over the coming months I am meeting with people with disabilities, carers, disability advocates, service providers and people with experience in complaint systems. I am committed to working with stakeholders to find a better way to manage complaints and compliance in the disability sector so New South Wales can learn from its mistakes and start building innovative and compassionate disability services.

Homelessness

HOMELESSNESS
The Hon. JAN BARHAM:
 National Homelessness Week provides an opportunity to raise awareness across the community of issues surrounding homelessness and to provide activities and services for those working in the homelessness sector and those affected by homelessness. We are all aware of the public and tragic face of homelessness. We all pass the huddled figures in our streets every day—almost literally on our doorstep of Parliament House—curled up in sleeping bags in Martin Place or huddled on the steps of the State Library. They are just some of the estimated 3,559 people of New South Wales who sleep rough each night. National Homelessness Week is a chance for us to think about the less visible aspects of homelessness: the 10,950 people in our State who are forced to rely on family and friends for a bed each night, the 5,201 using crisis accommodation and refuges, and the 7,665 living in boarding houses on a medium-term to long-term basis

They are the harsh figures of homelessness in our State—in total at the last census in 2006, nearly 28,000 people in New South Wales were classified as homeless. But even that figure is probably an underestimate as one of the consistent challenges facing those working in the homelessness sector is the lack of reliable data. Accurate and credible figures are integral to understanding homelessness not only so we can measure the extent of the problem but also so we can also evaluate the effectiveness of services. I note this week that the Minister for Family and Community Services launched the Platform 70 Program in Woolloomooloo. I commend the Government for supporting that program which aims to provide housing and support services to 70 chronically homeless people in this area of Sydney. This concept of combining accommodation with essential support services is exactly what non-government organisations such as Mission Australia have been calling for.

On Monday Mission Australia detailed that its frontline staff spent more time helping people with mental health issues than helping people with homelessness issues. This has prompted calls for the model for shelters to be modified to incorporate the provision of essential services. This move towards shelters providing easy access to services is not new to me. I will give an example from my home Byron Bay area. In Byron Bay a house is used as a drop-in centre for homeless people. It is a joint venture of the Byron Bay Community Centre, the Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul and Byron Shire Council. The cottage provides a shelter, the safe storage of personal belongings and access to a variety of services. It is a case of the service providers coming to those in need rather than the expectation that those people make their way to the disbursed services in the area. This example could be replicated across the State, and I would welcome the opportunity to speak with other members about how it can be implemented while we await the long-term program of trying to provide housing for all people in New South Wales.

This move towards a coordinated and person-centred approach to homelessness is completely consistent with priority 6 of the New South Wales Homelessness Action Plan to streamline access to crisis accommodation and specialist homelessness services. This State Action Plan, named “A Way Home”, was released by the State Government in 2009 and lays out some ambitious targets, namely, a reduction of 7 per cent in the overall level of homelessness in New South Wales by 2013, a reduction of 25 per cent in the number of people sleeping rough in New South Wales by 2013 and a reduction of one-third in the number of Aboriginal people that are homeless in New South Wales by 2013. These targets are commendable and the strategies outlined to meet them centre around three key approaches: preventing people from being at risk, responding quickly and effectively to homelessness when it occurs, and ensuring people who have been homeless do not become homeless again.

There are many reasons why people find themselves in a position of homelessness—domestic violence, family violence, financial hardship, mental illness or sometimes an unfortunate run of hard luck. For those who find themselves in such a position it is more than just having no bed or food for the night; it is a lack of security and privacy, and a profound sense of isolation and disengagement. In conclusion, I wish to mark this National Week of Homelessness by thanking the hundreds of workers across our State—both paid and volunteers—who do their best every day to assist the homeless. Their patience, compassion and dedication are to be commended.

National Disability Insurance Scheme

NATIONAL DISABILITY INSURANCE SCHEME
 
The Hon. JAN BARHAM:
 
 Much has been said in recent times about the merit of a proposed national disability insurance scheme and a national injury insurance scheme. The Productivity Commission has strongly endorsed both schemes as a result of its recent comprehensive inquiry, Disability in Care and Support in Australia. I acknowledge everyone who took part, particularly those members of our community who live each day struggling with the heartbreak of life with a disability, either as sufferers themselves or as their carers. These people spoke bravely and passionately about the day-to-day obstacles of the current system and they pleaded for change at all levels. In recommending the implementation of a national disability insurance scheme and national injury insurance scheme, the Productivity Commission passed judgment on the current system, stating:

“Current arrangements are under-funded, inefficient and unfair. They also make it hard for carers to cope since the system relies too much on their informal support. We think that a new scheme is required and that the costs of the scheme are manageable and justified”

Two recent national awareness campaigns illustrate the importance of providing adequate support services to those in our community. The first is Brain Injury Awareness Week, which took place last week, from 15 August to 21 August. Acquired brain injury refers to any damage to the brain that occurs after birth. That damage can be caused by a motor accident, a fall, an act of violence, a work or sporting incident, a stroke, a brain infection, a tumour, a degenerative disease or the abuse of alcohol or other drugs. My colleagues in the House may be surprised to hear that over 500,000 Australians have an acquired brain injury. It affects young and old, with as many as two of every three people with acquired brain injury acquiring their brain injury before they turn 25. It can cause mobility problems, sensory loss, fatigue, epilepsy, and speech and language difficulties. Problems may also arise with thinking skills such as memory and concentration and changes in emotions, behaviour and personality. Those suffering a brain injury and their carers require a diverse range of services and support, depending on the severity of their injury. It is these people who would directly benefit from a national insurance scheme.

The second awareness campaign that aptly illustrates the need for adequate support services is Hearing Awareness Week, which is currently underway. According to the Australian Deafness Forum, 22 per cent of Australians aged 15 years and over have a hearing impairment. That is 3.55 million Australians. The theme for this year is “I am ready for anything, is anything ready for me?”—meaning that people with a hearing impairment are ready to be included. The challenge is to the community at large to be more inclusive. As the Deafness Forum rightly states, “Improvements in technology have minimised the barriers to communication and employers have more support than ever to make their workplace inclusive and accessible for Australians with hearing loss.”

The proposed national disability insurance scheme will bring some consistency as well as doubling the amount of funding to disability services and, most importantly, it will reform the care sector to a more person-centred system where individual needs are identified and funded. This is a much-needed and long-awaited development and is strongly supported by the disability services sector. I congratulate all those involved with the Every Australian Counts campaign. This initiative has done an amazing job of highlighting of the desperate situation faced by people with a disability and their carers. I also congratulate the Federal and State governments for their positive responses to the Productivity Commission’s report. Last Friday the Council of Australian Governments made arrangements to begin reform of the sector and I note Minister Constance’s offer to trial a national disability insurance scheme in the Hunter region. The State of New South Wales has already taken steps towards a more person-centred provision of care and I again commend the Government for the Living Life My Way consultation process. I encourage both levels of Government to commit to implementing the full national disability insurance scheme ahead of the Productivity Commission’s timeline of 2019, as we move towards an inclusive society where everyone is valued, regardless of varying ability and where disabled people and their amazing carers are genuinely supported by their community.

Foster Care Week

The Hon. JAN BARHAM 

 This evening I speak about foster care. For the majority of young people today, their journey to adulthood often extends into their mid-twenties. It is a journey from restricted to full citizenship, from a childhood status characterised by dependency to an adult status derived, in part, from choices. Such life-course choices from which adult rights and responsibilities flow are mediated by the impact of a person’s socioeconomic background, their ethnicity, their gender and any disability they may have. In contrast to the extended transitions made by most young people, the journey to adulthood for many young care leavers is shorter, steeper and often more hazardous. Yet, against many odds, some of these young people have succeeded. They have found fulfilment in their careers and personal lives. What has contributed to the resilience of these young people? How have they been prepared for and assisted during their journey?

Foster carers are people who voluntarily care for children and young people in our community who are unable to live in their own home, irrespective of whether that may be for a few days or until a child becomes an adult. Foster carers stretch their family circle to give children and young people the necessary care, safety and support they require during a very difficult time in their lives. The new Fostering NSW foster care recruitment drive has been a great success and shows how working together with non-government organisations can really make a difference. Around 60 per cent of all new inquiries about foster care during the campaign were prompted by television, magazine, newspaper or online advertising, demonstrating that these advertisements really made an impact on the intended audience.

People become carers for a variety of reasons, but the main motivation is that they love and enjoy the company of children and have the time and energy to provide a caring home for them. More than 9,000 Australians have taken up the challenge of foster care. Although many children are in care there is not much information about how these children view their circumstances. The Child Guardian Report 2006 followed a survey on the outcomes experienced by children and young people in child safety systems in Queensland. The survey represented the views of around 31 per cent of all children living in Queensland foster care and residential facilities. At the time it was a landmark survey because it provided the first large-scale, balanced view of out-of-home care through the eyes of those experiencing it. No other Australian jurisdiction has undertaken such a survey, and indeed such information is lacking internationally. The survey revealed that the majority of children and young people felt their lives had improved since coming into care, with around 90 per cent of them indicating they felt they were better off since entering care. Ninety-eight per cent of children and young people who responded to the survey indicated that they felt safe in out-of-home care. Some of the comments about why children and young people felt safe included:

  “No one harasses me here. No one annoys me here. I don’t get bullied, don’t get pushed and shoved. “This family is a very caring home”

Other positive responses were that 98.9 per cent of young people surveyed stated that they felt their foster carer treated them well, and 84.5 per cent of young people surveyed stated that things had improved for them in the past 12 months, saying things like:

“They have improved because I am placed with my current carer. “I am treated with more respect. I am happy most of the time”

In addition, around 95 per cent of young people and 93 per cent of children said the rules and discipline at their placement were reasonable, and 94 per cent of young people and 93 per cent of children said their possessions were treated with respect at their placement. Of those surveyed, nearly 23 per cent of young people and around 29 per cent of children identified as being Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander. This reinforces the need for us to stay focused on improving outcomes for Indigenous children and young people. The cultural appropriateness of placements for Indigenous children and young people is a particular concern. I encourage us all to remember the real and positive change that can occur in a child’s life because of good foster care. This is best summarised by one of the young people who responded to the survey. She said the best thing about her foster carer was, “I am not afraid to come home. She respects me with love. It feels like home and I am so happy here.” This kind of outcome that thousands of foster carers around Australia deliver is priceless.

Supporting Young People Leaving Care

CREATE Foundation, an advocacy organisation for children who are in state care or have been in state care, recently released a report into the outcomes for young people leaving out-of-home-care or foster care in New South Wales.

In the first year after leaving care, CREATE has found that when children who have been in the care of the Minister turn 18, these young people are less likely than those in other states to have a Leaving Care Plan and up to one third may become homeless after leaving care.

Care leavers are more likely to be unemployed than others in this age group and are also more likely to spend time in prison. Barnardos have found that one in seven young people leaving care are either pregnant or already mothers.

Leaving Care Plans should be available to all of these vulnerable young people so that they can make a start on developing the life skills they will need to look after themselves in the adult world. This should include an introduction to training, further education or employment.

All young people who turn 18, have had a care order and been in the care of the Department of Family and Community Services or a non government care agency such as Barnardos or UnitingCare Burnside, should be offered substantial assistance to prepare for transition to adult life.

Ideally, preparation begins at age 15 when living skills such as cooking, budgeting and making job applications are practised with the help of case workers and carers. By the age of 17, carers and case workers need to be helping young people to prepare a “leaving care plan” which stays in place until age 25. Young people with a disability need to begin planning a little earlier and can seek assistance from Ageing, Disability and Home Care (ADHC) who can follow through with care plans.

Care Plans are an entitlement and young people have a legal right to have them so why is it that so few seem to be in place? I have asked the Minister for Family and Community Services and the Minister for Finance and Services to provide me with information on what percentage of children in the care of the Minister have leaving care plans. Both Ministers have refused to provide details on the number of children and young people in care with leaving care plans. I would have thought transparency in fulfilment of statutory rights was the order of the day for this new government.

Most care leavers are also entitled to a one-off payment called Transition to Independent Living Allowance (TILA) but many young people do not seem to be aware of this. I congratulate the Department of Family and Community Services for their document entitled “Information for Young People leaving Care – Your Next Step”. It provides comprehensive information for this group of young people.

Planning for Leaving Care ideally should begin when kids in care are 14 or 15, and as recommended in the document just mentioned, they need to make sure they are aware of personal hygiene, know how to cook a simple meal, use a washing machine and dryer, can use an ATM and manage a simple budget. They also need to know how to get help in an emergency, be able to list some birth control options and explain the risks of drugs, alcohol and unsafe sex. This knowledge is of course important to all teenagers.

At around age 17 it is necessary for young people to begin to acquire further skills such as knowing how to budget for ongoing costs as well as unexpected emergencies that might arise; knowing how to arrange accommodation and how to sign a rental agreement. Having a tax file number, a resume and learning how to apply for a job and knowing how to enrol to vote are also important skills to acquire. All this information and suggestions are contained in the FACS document – Your Next Step – Information for Young People Leaving Care.

 However, this great information often does not seem to translate into action for this vulnerable group.  It would appear that many do not receive the information or assistance to access it and act on it. I understand that the work required for case workers to go through this process is detailed and time-consuming, and high case loads mean that the time is not always available to get all this information to the young people who would greatly benefit from it.

In developing a Leaving Care Plan, a 17-year-old would probably benefit from the help of an independent party in what is essentially a contract negotiation with a government department.

An example of this would be Barnardo’s leaving care services that aim to bridge the gap for children in care between leaving care and living in the adult world. Barnardos will help young people to develop the life skills they will need to look after themselves, including those listed in the FACS document mentioned as well as encouraging them to undertake employment, training or further education.

When they leave care, Barnardo’s helps the young people secure permanent accommodation and remains available to offer support and counselling if necessary. If this essential system is in place but actually not being delivered effectively to young people, then possibly enforcement mechanisms need to be in place.