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Strategy One from the Cape York Partnership Anti-Subtance Abuse Strategy - Rebuild a Social, Cultural, Spiritual and therefore Legal Intolerance of Abusive Behaviour

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Of all possible strategies, this is the most important.  If we do nothing else, we must do this.  If we do everything else, and not do this, we will become as sounding brass; we will be nothing; we will get nowhere.


We will be tempted to stray from this path.  Soothing voices from inside and outside will mix truth with lies to seduce us.  Truths about our history of suffering and what is owed to us.  Lies about what we are now and what we need to do: lies that seek to make us believe that if we adjust this social parameter here and compensate for that injustice there things will start moving in the right direction. 


And we will be all tempted to choose any of all these roundabout roads that are said to lead to the goal.  We will be tempted to build a wall of self-deceptive “initiatives”, “summits”, “working groups”, “strategies”, “policies” and “programmes” – all well-funded and presentable in annual reports – between ourselves and the truth, and say: see all the things we do against domestic violence and for our children and for community development.  We will be tempted to do everything and anything except the direct confrontation with the evil in our midst.


This is nothing specific for Indigenous people.  This is the universal nature of addiction.  But addiction is so common among us, and spreading so easily, that our entire society is captive to addiction.  We have no “functional” social sector outside the vortex of addiction, whatever the apologists say about many Aboriginal people being sober.


While the goal of rebuilding intolerance is very clear, how communities do this is not easy to prescribe.  There are many ideas, programmes, projects, actions that could help families, extended family (clan) groups and communities to rebuild intolerance.  The rebuilding of intolerance must be a movement within and amongst the people of the community.  What needs to be done is common to all communities: to rebuild intolerance.  How this is done will be socially and culturally specific to the community.  The opportunities to develop this intolerance will vary from community to community, and the impediments, challenges and difficulties will also vary from place to place.


It may be most useful to go through each element of this strategy:


“rebuild”                                  It is not a matter of building intolerance, as if it did not exist before – it is rather a matter of rebuilding it.  We must harken back to the nature of our communities prior to the substance abuse epidemics taking over.  When we look back at the original social order that prevailed amongst our people and the intolerance for abuse that used to exist, we then start to reflect on how recent the breakdown of social and cultural standards is.  We need to look to the past to find inspiration and to remind ourselves that the current dysfunction and lack of standards is not endemic to our society.  We were not always this dysfunctional.  Ours was a society governed by law and respect.


                                                When we harken back to the past we look back to the time before the 1970s, when our people either lived in the mission or our people worked on the cattle stations.  Our families suffered from poverty and discrimination, but were strong and did not abuse each other, like we do today.  There was no suicide and homicide like there is today.  The cruelty and abuse was suffered at the hands of white society – the government, the missions, the people on the frontiers (whereas today we suffer at our own hands).  Our old people were strong, hardworking people with their own Aboriginal Law, and it was for this reason that we survived as a people through a harsh colonial history.


                                                We also harken back to the classical Aboriginal culture of earlier times, when Aboriginal Law governed Aboriginal society.  This Law (which survived, changed and continued after colonisation) was strong and established social and cultural standards amongst our people.  Did this Law tolerate abusive behaviour of the sort that we see in our communities today?  No.  Of course not.


                                                This is why we talk about “rebuilding”.  It is a matter of returning to our true culture and our true traditions.  And finding those values and standards and restoring them in our society.


“social and cultural

…intolerance”                        Grog has insinuated itself into Aboriginal social relations.  It has become part of the culture.  This was the courageous insight of the late Mervyn Gibson.  He has not been alone in this recognition – though public discourse about social problems and alcohol has generally failed to confront what is plain: grog has infected our social relationships and our culture.


                                                We have gone from a society and culture that has been intolerant of abuse, to one that is not only tolerant, but which actively supports, defends and facilitates abuse.  Denial, codependency and symptom theory have sunk deep into our social relations and culture.  Our very ideology is informed by this denial.


                                                For example, kinship has been commandeered by the substance abuse epidemics – to recruit relations to participate in abusive behaviour, to provide money for alcohol and drugs, to defend addiction and abusive behaviour.  Kinship (a good thing when substance abuse epidemics are not involved) is now a liability, a significant susceptibility factor for recruitment of young Aboriginal people to a life of destruction.  Unless the young man can stand at some distance from kin, it’s very hard not to be sucked into the destructive vortex.


                                                The imperatives of addiction must be recognised in our social relations and values – in our culture – and once recognised, must be eradicated.  We must learn to see how it is the addiction is operating (ie. we must recognise when the grog is talking – in codependent sober people as much as in the addicts).


“spiritual intolerance”            For the communities of Cape York, their history as Christian Missions means that religion is still important to them.  In fact religion was closely bound up with the authority, law and social order that precluded grog and underpinned a stronger Aboriginal society in mission times than today[1].


                                                The decline of church life in the communities has corresponded with a decline in social standards.  The association between such social standards and the Christian Missions that have been (rightly) criticised for their paternalism and abuse of authority – contributed to their decline.  Perhaps we “threw the baby out with the bathwater” when we threw the Missions out of their role as the secular, administrative authority over our communities.


                                                The churches and religious groups within the communities have an important role to play in restoring standards in the community against abuse.


“and therefore legal

….intolerance”                       The law that applies to behaviour in a community should give expression to social and cultural standards.  The law doesn’t just exist as a legislative standard – it encapsulates standards that reflect the values and expectations of the community.  The most effective laws are those that have social and cultural backing.


                                                If we just think that standards can be restored by simply leaving it to “the legal system” or “the state authorities” to promulgate and enforce laws – whilst our people remain passive – then these laws are likely to have limited success in raising standards.  Rather than “owning” the laws, there is a danger that a passive community feels alienated from the laws and feels no responsibility for upholding them.


                                                This does not mean, in a dysfunctional community racked by substance abuse, that the only laws that will work are those that are fully supported by everyone – including those who are not interested in tackling the abuse.  In such communities, it may be that moral, social and cultural standards are only held by a small group of old people, who are physically and politically weak.  It is their articulation of the social and cultural standards which the state authorities should follow in re-establishing law and order in such dysfunctional communities.  From the small spark of moral authority, the state can support the growth of a movement within the community of people who understand the need to restore standards, and to no longer tolerate abuse.


                                                The point is this: the black letter of the law and all of the institutions that surround it, are only part of the intolerance that is needed.  We also need to rebuild social and cultural intolerance, and the law must be the expression of this intolerance.


“of abusive behaviour”          Abuse means the abuse of substances as well as the behaviours that attend the substance abuse epidemics.  The substance abuse epidemics have generated abusive behaviours throughout Aboriginal society – on the part of sober people, youth and community leaders.  The collapse in standards caused by grog, means that there is abusive behaviour even where grog is not directly involved.  For example, the exploitation of women and old people for money, is a problem that is today not confined to grog.  Grog caused the problem, but grog is no longer the only problem.  All abusive behaviour must therefore be confronted.



Rebuilding intolerance of abuse is the same as rebuilding respect and care


There is another way to express our aim of “rebuilding intolerance of abuse”.  We could call our strategy “rebuilding the true care and respect of our ancestors”.  They both mean the same thing.  If we have care and respect for ourselves and for others in our community, then we will be intolerant of abusive behaviour.  If we refuse to put up with abuse, then we will ensure there is care and respect amongst our people.


The problem with us talking about rebuilding care and respect (rather than rebuilding intolerance of abuse) is that it ends up being empty and meaningless – the usual kind of romantic rhetoric.  Even as our Aboriginal society has fallen further and further into dysfunction, there has been no shortage of talk about “respect” and “Aboriginal people are caring and sharing people”.  While we have told ourselves and the world that our people are marked by our great respect for our elders and our great love for our children and families et cetera, there has been no talk about being intolerant of abuse.  We have to face up to the reality that for care and respect to be restored as a reality in our society, we must face up to and be intolerant of abuse as the first step.


Progressivist people evade the reality that intolerance of abuse is essential if there is to be true respect and care.  They will support us if we say that our strategy is to “rebuild care and respect”, because for them it is a good sounding platitude.  But they don’t understand that if there is true respect, then there must be intolerance of abuse.  Otherwise the “respect” that we end up being asked to show, is “respect” for abusive behaviour and “respect” for the addicts' rights to continue their abuse. 


The progressivists feel that they “understand” the reasons why people have addiction problems and they are “compassionate” for the addicts, and they do not wish to hold the abusers responsible for their behaviour because that would be “blaming the victims”.


Recommended strategies


Restore standards of Aboriginal Law through Community Justice Groups.


1.1             Develop Community Justice Groups with the primary aim of rearticulating and restoring standards and values of Aboriginal Law; ensuring that the Queensland legislation recognising Community Justice Groups:


·        provides the CJG with the powers and functions necessary to rebuild and to reinforce Aboriginal Law in the community


·        gives the CJG the role of developing and adopting an alcohol management plan for the community


·        gives the CJG the power of promulgating community bylaws dealing with alcohol and behaviour


·        empowers the CJG to issue formal orders:

·        to community members to attend mediation/dispute resolution

·        to community members to attend counselling in cases of apprehended family violence and relationships problems

·        to children to attend conferencing

·        to parents/guardians to attend conferencing where their children are involved in offences and disputes

·        to hold parents/guardians responsible for their children when they are involved in offences and disputes

·        to be delegated power under Commonwealth social security law to make arrangements for the management of income support payments and other income, where it is in the best interests of dependents and family members for all or part of the income to be managed

·        to community members who have breached substance abuse and behavioural laws to attend rehabilitation


·        ensures that the formal orders of the CJG are enforceable because failure to follow the order will constitute an offence of contempt of the Justice Group which must be brought before the Magistrates Court


·        protects the members of the CJG in the exercise of their authority


1.2             Ensure that no person who is a substance abuser is eligible to be member of a CJG.


1.3             Undertake capacity building programmes with the CJG to develop local bylaws and alcohol management plans, and to carry out their functions.


1.4             Establish a Cairns-based Community Justice Support Unit to provide support to CJGs, including:


·        Support administration and operation of CJGs


·        Planning and community development support for Community Justice Agreements


·        Development, drafting and gazettal of community bylaws


·        Organise training for people working in community justice


·        Convene regional forums and workshops on community justice


·        Provide an information network between CJGs working in different communities


1.5             Establish, under the forthcoming legislation, an independent, regional Community Justice Board comprising four people appointed by the Minister (2 from government, 2 from the community).  The Board should have the following functions:


·        To provide all of the administrative support[2] for the Community Justice programme


·        To be the employer of the Community Justice Coordinators in the communities


·        To direct the Community Justice Support Unit in its functions


Develop Community Justice Agreements between communities and State Government agencies to action law enforcement and justice strategies


1.6             Facilitate the development of Community Justice Agreements between the agencies of the Queensland Government and the community to provide law enforcement for the community’s substance abuse and behaviour management plans.


1.7             Cape York Partnerships and Apunipima Cape York Health Council (“Apunipima”) to facilitate the development of planning processes in the community relating to alcohol management and community justice action planning.  The aim being to prepare a draft action plan for discussion with State Government agencies.


1.8             Convene Community Negotiation Tables to discuss how the community’s plan for alcohol management and community justice can be actioned and what roles the community and agencies will play in the implementation of the action plan.  The outcomes of these Negotiation Tables are to be Substance Abuse Action Plans and Community Justice Agreements.


Work with groups to spread awareness of substance abuse and this strategy


1.9             Work with Community Justice Groups and other groups such as Community Councils, Women’s Groups, Men’s Groups, Youth Groups, Church Groups and other relevant health and welfare groups in order to:


·        develop an understanding of the nature of substance abuse epidemics – and to recognise how the substance abuse problems arose in their community


·        develop an understanding of this strategy and what they need to do in order to tackle substance abuse


·        develop laws and action plans to rebuild intolerance of abuse tackle substance abuse


Work with extended family (clan) groups


1.10         Develop a methodology for undertaking substance abuse awareness and codependency workshops with extended family (clan) groups on their traditional homelands so that:


·        family members can understand substance abuse and codependency


·        clan groups can make plans how they can support family members to rehabilitate – possibly by establishing homelands as dryout places


1.11         In the event that CJGs do not function properly and they are compromised in their ability to confront the substance abuse epidemics, then work with extended family groups will be especially important.  The optimum result would be for CJGs and extended family groups to work together to confront substance abuse (CJGs should be representative of these extended family groupings).  However if a consensus to confront substance abuse cannot be achieved amongst the CJGs, then work should begin with extended families.


Develop community specific reflection (historical, social and cultural surveys) and awareness of how substance abuse has become embedded in and has distorted local culture and social relationships – in order to restore true values and standards of Aboriginal Law


1.12         Develop exercises (projects, discussions, testimonial workshops) with particular groups (men’s groups, women’s groups, youth groups, rehabilitation groups), which encourage culturally and socially specific reflection and understanding of the way in which substance abuse has become embedded into the local culture and social relationships.  The aim should be to get the members of that community to recognise the social and cultural manifestations of denial and the defense of addiction (the three levels of denial discussed in part 3.1 of this Strategy.  In other words the aim is to “unpack” wrong thinking about substance abuse which the addiction epidemics have generated (the manipulation and the confusion).  By arming community members with the ability to recognise denial and the embeddedness of substance abuse in our culture and social relationships – we then have the ability to act to reject the manipulation and to eradicate it from our culture and social relationships.


1.13         The following elements are relevant to this strategy:


·        Disseminate this Strategy


·        Develop and disseminate related communications and educational materials


·        Educate people who can then help to advocate and to generate understanding of this Strategy


·        Develop community-specific communications and educational materials through engaging local people and local groups to develop these materials


·        Develop community-specific marketing strategies and promotional materials through engaging local people and local groups to develop promotions  (eg. television advertisements) and projects (eg. theatre) and to carry out this marketing.


Develop a new method of policing


1.14         Develop a new method of policing with Queensland Police Service, which more directly integrates the moral, social and cultural authority of the Community Justice Groups and those community members who wish to normalise respectful social and legal standards in the community, with the official authority of the Police.  This should include consideration of the role of the following groups in policing programmes in partnership with the State Police:


·        Community Justice Group members


·        Aboriginal Community Police employed by Community Councils


·        Night Patrols


·        Security Personnel employed by Community Councils


Institute zero tolerance measures for outsiders using illicit drugs


1.15         Government employees, contractors – all outsiders – be informed that any person who uses any form of illicit drug is not welcome in the community – and the community bylaws to provide that any person found to have used, possessed, produced, traded or otherwise handled illicit drugs will be removed from the community immediately.


1.16         Each government agency with staff living in the community be required to include the following conditions in their employment contracts:


·        That no person who uses or has been convicted of having used, possessed, produced, traded or otherwise handled illicit drugs is eligible to take contract work in the community


·        That employment contracts are terminated if the employee uses or handles illicit drugs


·        That employees will submit to drug tests when formally requested by the Community Justice Group or the Police


1.17         A requirement of every contract for work by outsiders in a community include the following conditions:


·        That no persons who use or have been convicted of having used, possessed, produced, traded or otherwise handled illicit drugs are eligible to take contract work in the community


·        That contracts will be terminated in the event that the contractor, or a member of a contracting team, uses or handles illicit drugs


·        That contracting staff will submit to drug tests in the event when formally requested by the Community Justice Group or the Police


Institute zero tolerance measures for staff of regional Cape York organisations using illicit drugs anywhere


1.18         All staff of regional Cape York Peninsula organisations (including ATSIC) be informed that any person who uses any form of illicit drug is not welcome to work for Cape York Peninsula organisations, and all employment contracts contain the following conditions:


·        That no person who uses or has been convicted of having used, possessed, produced, traded or otherwise handled illicit drugs is eligible to work for Cape York organisations


·        That employment contracts are terminated if the employee uses illicit drugs


·        That employees will submit to drug tests when formally requested by the Executive Director or Management Committee of the organisation


·        That employees visiting a community will submit to drug tests when formally requested by the Community Justice Group or the Police


Make abidance by alcohol management laws a condition of employment contracts and a condition of entry of all outsiders


1.19         It be a condition of entry onto a community land that outsiders working in a community, fulltime or visiting, government or non-government, that they abide by all of the alcohol management laws applying to the community.


1.20         Where an outsider breaches the alcohol management laws, in addition to their liability for any offence attaching to the breach, will be liable to termination of employment and will be required to leave the community.


1.21         These conditions be set out in employment contracts and in community bylaws.


Institute zero tolerance of illicit drug use within the community


1.22         Through making it a condition of employment with the Community Council, and through community bylaws, establish the following measures to attack any use of illicit drugs in the community:


·           Make clear the zero tolerance policy to illicit drug use which will be implemented in the community


·           The Police to conduct drug tests from time to time, either of all employees or randomly from time to time


·           Persons found to be using illicit drugs to be brought before the Community Justice Group for counselling to stop their drug use and to discuss the changes that he or she needs to make in his or her working or recreational life in order to stay away from drug use, including Compulsory Income Management


·           Persons found to be using illicit drugs must submit to tests at appropriate intervals afterwards to ensure that they are not continuing to use drugs


·           Persons found to be using illicit drugs be liable to any of the following:


·      Termination of employment


·      Fines


·      Compulsory attendance at rehabilitation


·      Compulsory Income Management orders


·           If the person found to be using illicit drugs is a visitor to the community, even if Aboriginal and even if related to people in the community, and even if a longterm visitor, he or she will be removed from the community by order of the Community Justice Group or the Community Council.


·           Provision be made in the community bylawss for people who are known to be producing or dealing drugs to be dealt with as follows:


·      Either on its own information or on information provided by any other persons, the Community Justice Group may formally advise the Police that a particular person or persons is under suspicion of producing or dealing drugs


·      That this formal advice will constitute all necessary authority for the Police to conduct regular searches of the persons involved, their property and their premises, for as long as they are suspected of producing or dealing drugs

[1]   It is testament to how bad the quality of life is in our communities today that we can say that life during mission times – when the missionaries were paternalistic, when institutional life in the Aboriginal Reserves was often inhumane, when people were often hungry, when people worked hard and received no pay or had their pay ‘managed’ (and stolen by the missions and the State), when people had no legal and human rights, when the missionaries and the State exercised such arbitrary power over the daily lives of people (including their “removal” from their families to another settlement such as Palm Island) – was better.  To recognise the strengths of life before substance abuse (particularly the absence of internally inflicted abuse – abuse by Aboriginal people of their own people, family members, children) is not to say that mission life was without terrible problems, and without its own legacy.  It is to say that in the mission times our people primarily suffered abuse at the hands of the white people – the state, the missions, the frontier society – whereas today we inflict abuse on our own people.  It is a fundamentally different kind of abuse.  We were removed and imprisoned by the Queensland Aboriginal Affairs system because of the system of arbitrary violence established and administered by white society to govern us.  Today we are imprisoned because we assault and kill our own people, invariably when we are intoxicated.

[2]  This is necessary to avoid the CJGs being unduly influenced by Community Councils (if they administer the program) and by the government (if a Queensland department administers the program).  A third option, of incorporating an independent body, is not a good solution for the following reasons:

·         The membership, eligibility criteria and rules of an independent incorporation will be uncertain and contentious.  There would be no uniform standard across CJGs and how are these various rules to be made coonsistent with the provisions of the legislation?

·         These incorporated bodies will become bogged down by community politicking around Annual General Meetings, elections, reporting requirements, financial administration etc

·         For members of CJGs to be involved in financial administration and employment issues will underline the role that these people should be performing in the community by involving them in organisational politicking etc

·         The costs of running an independent incorporated body are significant, whereas a statutory Board can provide a central financial and other administration service for all CJGs across the region

Created by youngmarxist
Last modified 2008-03-06 07:05 PM

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