A recent article published by The Australian 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.

Photo, adelaidenow.com.au

Photo, adelaidenow.com.au

The APY Lands cover more than 10% 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.

The breaking whistle blower article exposed the South Australian governments spend of $360,000 on motorbikes that sat unused in a locked up shed in Marla, in the far north of the state. Coming to light only after documents were obtained under the Freedom of Information laws by opposition frontbencher Rob Lucas, revealing the 30 motorbikes purchased for the now defunct program – A program that could have been a positive empowerment and suicide prevention program for young Aboriginal men and boys on the 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 department, which he claims went on an end-of-financial-year “spending spree” in March last year.

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 & 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 the article stated.

Mr Lucas also said information provided by whistleblowers 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 12 – 18 months, the issues he is talking about relate to basic human rights and the monies wasted on unused material possessions could have gone a long way to addressing some of his concerns if applied with a commonsense 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 2012 by George Kenmore to the Koori Mail, The Advertiser and The Australian he implored to take readers 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 ….

Scene One – A young disabled cousin (who has a dedicated carer) has indicated that 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 that 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.

Scene Three – Excited chatter is emanating from a group of female family members (they work for Centrelink payments) they have just been advised of the staff Christmas lunch (as had been discussed and decided at a senior staff meeting). As these low paid workers read on they discover they will have to travel approx 200km to the chosen venue (company vehicles will be made available for this). The email went on to say that “All staff will be responsible for paying for the meal, drinks and accommodation. I realise this may change some peoples intentions of attending. To help you make the decision I have outlined the cost of the meal 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 that 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 – 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.” He said.

Looking at the issue of the motorbikes that sat in storage all those years before being sold off at the extinction of yet another program – due to the wrong people being employed to engage young Anangu men and boys on the Lands – that had the potential to be soul saving, Mr Kenmore said “I have grave concerns for the wellbeing of our youth going forward. 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.” He said. “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 motorbikes may have been contributing positively to the self determination of Anangu, their children and their families.

And then this disgraceful act where a non-Anangu DCSI staff member was responsible for providing lunch for aged care, infirm and disabled clients at Mimili on Friday 15 March 2013. 

“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.” Said Mr Kenmore

The clients he is talking about included a wheel chair bound person, an intellectually disabled person and an Elder in her nineties, to name just a few, who are not 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 were available).

Mr Kenmore questioned “do Meals on Wheels provide their aged, frail and disabled clients with raw ingredients to cook for themselves in the city?” wondering how many of his people went hungry on this 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 that the amounts of money wasted year after year 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) – that with the appropriate strategies to properly engage the Anangu community these same millions of dollars could have spelled out 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 in The Australian another $250,000 spend on the failed market gardens program set up in the remote Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands. Market gardens that are no longer producing food, just two years after they were established to address food security concerns.

Uniting Communities Aboriginal policy expert Jonathan Nicholls said “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.” 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 made the proposal.

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 that Anangu are at least getting a television services the same as the rest of the population, connection to the outside world. “We got a big mob of channels today, 17 channels! We’re happy now.” Said Jonathon Lyons “Anangu are in better contact with the world beyond the desert.”

Now more than 700 households in 15 communities that 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, says 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.”

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 says 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.” Report of the Select Committee on Pitjantjatjara Land Rights, 2004, Parliament of South Australia, pp218, p13.13

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.

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?