An APY Lands Steering Committee was established following the final report of the Mullighan inquiry into child safety on the Aboriginal lands in 2013.
Comprising representatives from state and federal agencies and the APY Executive, it was set up as “an appropriate forum for the maintenance of strong interagency collaboration to guide initiatives relating to the safety of children on the APY Lands”.
The Steering Committee was to “have a lead role in service planning and coordination” in implementing the recommendations of the Mullighan inquiry.
But its unclear if it’s met to discuss child protection issues since it was established.
A letter from Education and Child Development Department chief Tony Harrison in response to a query from Uniting Communities earlier this year stated that “the committee met twice during 2014 and child safety did not form part of the agenda for these meetings”.
“I have asked that my senior departmental representative ensure that child safety and the commission of inquiry are key agenda items for 2015,” Harrison wrote in March.
However, it was revealed last week that the steering committee has not even met in 2015.
Nerida Saunders, executive director of Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation within the Department for State Development, told the “Paper Tracker” Anangu program on Radio Adelaide that there was a “general agreement in the second half of last year that the committee would go into recess until governance issues had been resolved in APY”.
The governance of the Lands has been in chaos in recent times, with federal funding withheld, an audit instigated and fresh elections after the APY board sacked seven general managers in the previous five years.
“So there’s been no meetings so far in 2015 (but) we are anticipating holding a meeting before the end of this year,” Saunders said.
But the revelation did not square with comments made to parliament on Thursday by Education Minister Susan Close, who insisted there was “relatively recently a very productive meeting with the leadership of the Anangu about ways in which some of those protocols will be reviewed and established”.
“There was a hiatus, as I understand it, but I understand that that is now ended,” Close said.
But under questioning from Opposition Leader Steven Marshall, Close conceded she may have got her facts wrong.
“My understanding was that there was a meeting recently,” she said.
“It may be that I have been misinformed and I will come back to the house and clarify.”
A spokesman for the minister told InDaily today she had been referring to a separate taskforce, which was concerned with “problem sexualised behaviour” on the Lands.
The spokesman said the APY Lands Steering Committee was the responsibility of Aboriginal Affairs Minister Kyam Maher.
After inquiries to Maher’s office, a Government spokesman sent the following statement: “This Government has made keeping kids safe on the APY Lands a priority and is convening a dedicated interagency group to guide initiatives relating to the safety of children on the APY Lands.”
“Meantime, the APY Steering Committee will reconvene in the near future and renew its focus on supporting implementation of APY Lands plans and agreements,” the statement read.
Asked last week whether she was satisfied with the Steering Committee’s oversight of child protection issues, Close said: “It partly depends on your standard of satisfaction.”
“The question of whether children are as safe as I would like them to be on the APY Lands…I don’t think I could hand on heart say that I am,” she said.
“There are a number of agencies and individual staff located on the lands who are working extremely hard; so, too, are the Anangu, and the Anangu leadership in particular (but) I will never be entirely satisfied without a sense that all children are safe across all of South Australia (and) that sets an almost impossible bar, given that we are dealing with private homes and private individuals.”
She refused to detail how mandatory reports had been made on the Lands since the Mullighan inquiry concluded, adding that “we do not report on geographic location of notifications”.
Marshall told InDaily the revelation undermined the Premier’s repeated claim that no Government in Australia had done more to bolster child protection.
“The Government has essentially dropped this issue…and failed people on the APY Lands,” he said.
“Its approach to this matter is…utter disorganisation.”
He said maintaining up to three ministers with oversight of child protection on the Lands “creates confusions and stifles useful reform in this area”.
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