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Public hearing 16: First Nations children, Virtual - Day 6

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CHAIR:  Good morning, everybody, and welcome to the sixth and final day of Public Hearing 16 on First Nations children with disability in out of home care.  I shall invite Commissioner Mason to commence with the Acknowledgment of Country.

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Thank you, Chair.

We acknowledge the First Nations people as the original inhabitants of the lands on which this hearing is sitting.

Nganana tjukarurungku kalkuni Anangu kuwaripa tjara nyinantja tjuta ngura nyangangka.

We recognise Meeanjin, Brisbane.

Nganana ngurkantananyi ngura.

We recognise the country north and south of the Brisbane river, as the home of both the Turrbal and Jagera nations.

Nganana ngurkantananyi karu panya Brisbane River nya alintjara munu ulparira Anangu nguraritja tjuta nyinantja munu kuwari nyinanyi Turrbul nga munu Jagera nya.

We pay respect to the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation.
Their land is where the city of Sydney is now located.

We also pay respect to the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, where the City of Melbourne is now located.

We pay deep respects to all Elders, past, from and future and especially Elders, parents, young people and children with disability.

I would now like to read the First Nations content warning.  This hearing will include evidence that may bring about different responses for people.  It will include accounts of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of First Nations children with disability and their experiences with child protection systems across Australia.  First Nations viewers, please note that the evidence may describe trauma, including removal, and if the evidence raises concerns for you, please contact the National Counselling and Referral Service on 1800 421 468.  You can also contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Beyond Blue on 13 224 636, or your local regional and medical services for social and emotional wellbeing support.  Thank you.

CHAIR:  Thank you.  Just before commencing with the evidence, I would like to note that, as I have mentioned previously, this week is the International Week of the Deaf, it is the last working day of that International Week, and it is also Australia's National Week of Deaf People.  The theme for 2021 is Celebrating Thriving Deaf  
Communities, and today, Friday, 24 September, the theme for today is "Intersectional Deaf Communities".

Yes, Mr Crowley.

MR CROWLEY:  Thank you, Chair.

Commissioners, this morning we will be hearing evidence from Ms Catherine Liddle and Dr Paul Gray, who are the co chairs of Family Matters.  Family Matters is the national campaign to end the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out of home care.  Ms Liddle is also speaking in her capacity as the CEO of SNAICC, the Secretariat for the Natural Aboriginal and Islander Child Care.  SNAICC is the peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child and family services.  Together, they will give evidence as a panel and provide evidence on systemic issues experienced by First Nations children with disability in out of home care systems across Australia.

Commissioners, there is a copy of the joint statement of Dr Gray and Ms Liddle in the Tender Bundle Part B at Tab 27.  I tender that statement and ask that it be marked as Exhibit 16.30.

CHAIR:  Yes, the joint statement can be admitted into evidence and marked as Exhibit 16.30.


MR CROWLEY:  In addition, Commissioners, Ms Liddle has also provided a further statement in her capacity as the CEO of SNAICC.  A copy of that statement is in Tender Bundle Part B at Tab 28.  I tender that statement and ask that it be marked as Exhibit 16.31.

CHAIR:  Yes, Ms Liddle's statement will be admitted into evidence and given that marking, thank you.


CHAIR:  Dr Gray and Ms Liddle, I understand that you will each take an affirmation.  Before doing that, I thank you for coming to the Royal Commission to give evidence today and in your case, Dr Gray, the statement and in your case, Ms Liddle, the statements.  Thank you for that.  If you would be good enough to follow the instructions of my associate, he will administer the affirmation to you.




CHAIR:  Thank you very much.  Now Mr Crowley will ask you some questions.


MR CROWLEY:  Ms Liddle and Dr Gray, can you hear me okay at this end?


MR CROWLEY:  Could you start by introducing who you are, where you are from, what your current positions are and what your background and experience is that has led you into the position of being co chairs of Family Matters.  Ms Liddle, can I ask you please if you could go first.

MS LIDDLE:  Yes.  Catherine Liddle.  I'm currently sitting on Boon Wurrung country which is part of the awesome Kulin Nation.  I'm an Arrernte/Luritja person by birth and I grew up in the Central Australian desert regions in and amongst my community, both in the regional settings but also in the very remote settings as well, so I have lived on outstations and communities, but also lived in cities.

By trade I'm a journalist, so I'm a person that has spent my life immersed in Indigenous affairs and listening to the stories of our people and their ambitions and their hopes and their dreams and their challenges.  As part of that career journey, I have looked for other ways to be able to share those stories and to be able to, I guess, try and change the dialogue on what we see and get a better understanding of society as to how we might move forward collectively.

Most recently, obviously, I am the Chair, also the CEO of SNAICC, which is, as previously mentioned, the national peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families.  Our job is sector and policy reform, but we also spend a lot of time in consultation with communities right across Australia, so there would not be a week where I'm not in some form of forum with our members on the ground listening to their concerns for our children and their needs for their children.

I think, as part of that role, I inherit the position of Co Chair of Family Matters, which is our national campaign, and that national campaign is informed by over 150 different organisations and peoples who bring their willingness to contribute to the conversation about how we change the trajectory for children in out of home care and to reduce the number --- that massive overrepresentation that we see, which is  
currently sitting at 20,000 nationally, by 2040.  So we work with all those voices that come to the table, and we consolidate what they are saying and we bring them into rooms like this.

What we know as part of that is, without fail, the generosity of our mob to come to the table and to share their stories is unwavering, it doesn't matter how many times we have these conversations, how many forums, they keep coming back, despite the distress that is often part of that, because when we are talking about evidence, it's actually our lived experiences and it's the experiences of our families and our communities and sometimes directly our children, as well as our mothers and fathers and grandparents.

So I would like to acknowledge, really, on behalf of SNAICC and Family Matters, all the mob that have come into the room this week.  We know that it takes something every time we walk into these rooms, and sometimes it is very distressing, yet we come back and do it again.  As part of that, I would also really like to acknowledge that we have Commissioner Mason in the room.  What an extraordinary tool of security that is for us, to know she is there and she is listening.  I would also like to acknowledge, as a Aboriginal person, some of this is really hard for her as well, so thank you for hanging in there.

MR CROWLEY:  Thank you, Ms Liddle.

Dr Gray, if I could ask you if you could introduce yourself and tell us about who you are, where you are from, and what your particular areas of interest are in your field.

MR GRAY:  Absolutely.  My name is Paul Gray, I'm a Wiradjuri man.  My family comes from the Central New South Wales area, the Galari River.  I would like to acknowledge the country that I'm on today, the Tharawal country on the outskirts of Sydney and New South Wales, and also thank Commissioner Mason for her acknowledgement of country.  I share Catherine's views about the importance of being represented by Commissioner Mason on this important Commission, but also the strength and courage of witnesses that have come forward prior.

I am currently an associate professor at UTS Jumbunna, where I lead their Indigenous Child Protection Hub.  I joined Jumbunna in April 2020, following a relatively long career in a sense.  I have been working in child protection since 2007.  I have held roles in government and non government in that sector, including previously working as a psychologist for the Department of Communities and Justice in New South Wales and leading the policy strategy and evidence portfolio for the New South Wales Aboriginal child and family peak, AbSec.  I have undergraduate qualifications in psychology and sociology from the University of Sydney, and I also completed a doctorate in experimental psychology from the University of Oxford.  So that is my qualifications but also my professional background.

I have a significant interest and focus on reimagining child protection systems and addressing the overrepresentation, the disproportionate targeting of Aboriginal and  
Torres Strait Islander families and communities by child protection systems and addressing not only the disproportionate burden but the poorer outcomes achieved for our kids and families.

CHAIR:  Dr Gray, what was the topic of your doctoral thesis at Oxford?

MR GRAY:  That was in experimental psychology, where I worked with developmental psychopathologists, looking at the impacts of early experiences of maltreatment, and how they affected cognitive and social processes in adolescence.  We worked with a group of young people in out of home care and explored a range of issues including attention related, threat biasses, interpretation of ambivalent social cues, emotion regulation, all those sorts of things, to try to understand what sorts of experiences place young people on suboptimal trajectories and what sorts of things we might be able to do to help them out.

CHAIR:  Thank you.  Yes, Mr Crowley.

MR CROWLEY:  Thank you, Chair.

Each of you has spoken briefly about your role as Co Chairs of Family Matters.  Ms Liddle, you spoke about the particular target that the Family Matters campaign has, which is to end overrepresentation.  I wonder if you could speak a little bit about what the Family Matters campaign is directed towards in achieving that particular goal, the key features of the campaign, what it seeks to address.

MS LIDDLE:  Yes.  I guess in looking at how we might address it, we have got a few principles.  I think there are six in total.  The idea is that we need to be looking at how we apply a child focused approach, and that is, how do you put the needs of a child first?  What is it that they need to be able to thrive?  The next principle revolves around ensuring that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations participate in and have control over the decisions that affect their children.  That is really critical because it is something that we hear right across the nation, that a lot of decisions are made for our families and for our children without us even being in the room.  The other    

CHAIR:  Ms Liddle, can I encourage you to speak a little more slowly.  You are not, I should say, the first witness we have had.  This is a common issue.  But we do have to translate for Auslan and also for the realtime transcript.  So just a little bit slower would be good.

MS LIDDLE:  A bit slower.  Absolutely.  I guess the next principle resolves around protecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children's right to live in culture.  So that's our right to our communities, our right to be produced proud of who we are, and a reminder that it is an awesome culture to belong to, and one that has incredible features that enable our families and our children to be strong and proud.

The next principle revolves around pursuing evidence based responses, and that is  
evidence that we consider relevant.  What is it that we need to be pursuing?  We also focus on supporting, healing and strengthening families.  So what is it that your family needed in the first place to be strong?

The next principle revolves around challenging systemic racism and inequality, so those things that are structural and institutional that you don't see, the things that you can't see, the things you can't put your finger on.  In order to be able to do that, we have four building blocks, and each of the four building blocks is interrelated.

The first of which is that all families can enjoy access to quality, culturally safe, universal and targeted services and those are the services that are necessary for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to thrive.  So do you have the support that you need.  The next building block is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations participate in and have control over the decisions that affect their children, so they are the people driving the decisions.  The next building block is that law, policy and practice in child and family welfare are culturally safe and responsive.  The fourth, and again this is something that we hear right across the nation, is that governments and services are actually accountable.  So not just fund, but actually accountable for the outcomes that you deliver, and that you get or that you don't get.  So that is essentially how the Family Matters campaign works.

We have a report that is consolidated once a year as well, that does a checklist across all the jurisdictions to say how each State or Territory is performing in its quest to reduce the number of children in out of home care.  That will give best case examples, but it will also identify where we have concerns and give governments, I guess, a roadmap for how they might approach this differently.

MR CROWLEY:  Yes, thank you, Ms Liddle.  In your statement, together you have recognised and identified the overrepresentation of First Nations children in out of home care.  For the purposes of this hearing and the work of the Commission, we are focusing upon, of course, First Nations children in out of home care, being children with disability.  We are looking at the instances or risk exposure to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

I wonder, perhaps, Dr Gray, if you might lead into this to talk to us about the importance of data and collecting and having accurate data available to know what exactly is the extent and number of children that might be in that category.

MR GRAY:  As you mentioned, child protection systems continue to disproportionately intervene in the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.  And for many in our communities, child protection systems represent an ongoing system of violence against our families and communities.  It is the most recent iteration of forced intervention by the State in the lives of Aboriginal families.  There is also a sense that child protection systems disproportionately intervene in the lives of children and parents with disability, and our concern is that the intersection of those two things actually compound and it becomes a very specific challenge for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families with disability.

As you mentioned, it is difficult to get to the bottom of that without very clear and concrete data.  There are and remain significant data limitations, particularly as it relates to both parents and children with disability, and their trajectories through the system.  For all children, but as we said, we are particularly focused on the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children with disability here today, and their trajectories through, and certainly the sense we got from our conversations with Family Matters representatives across the country was that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children with disability in out of home care are overrepresented and they do --- they may be more likely to, for want of a better word, escalate to less preferred placements and interventions, so going through placement instability into things like residential care.

But without clear data, it makes it very hard for us to understand those trajectories, in which case it makes it very hard for our communities     and governments, I suppose also     to develop and design those systems to respond more effectively to the needs of those kids.  So as Catherine mentioned, two of our key building blocks are about communities being able to control decisions in terms of design and delivery of service systems, and about accountability with governments and services, and that's very hard to do without clear and robust data.

MR CROWLEY:  As for what needs to be the subject of data, I want to ask you about that.  This morning, Ms Liddle was able to cite a figure of 26,000 children in out of home care, First Nations children in out of home care as at today.  There are data reported that we do have access to.  But what are the limitations, particularly in respect of First Nations children in out of home care who are children that have or may have disability?

MR GRAY:  I think, from my understanding of the recent Child Protection Australia report, there is some data out there about the prevalence of disability for children and young people with disability in out of home care.  But we know that a significant proportion of those, disability is not stated, which means that we simply don't know whether or not --- if I recall correctly, that's about one third of children and young people in out of home care nationally, have their disability status not stated in that.  Obviously, there is a very big distinction between "not stated" and "no disability", and I suppose it makes it very clear the importance of identifying as soon as possible the holistic needs of children and young people who enter out of home care or even come to the attention of child protection systems because if we are not doing our --- taking reasonable steps to identify those needs, including disability needs, then it makes it very hard to mobilise the sorts of supports that families need to keep their children safe at home or to mobilise the sorts of supports that carers might need to meet the needs of the children and young people in their care.

So the fact that we have almost a third of those kids, if I recall correctly, where their disability status is not stated --- and as I understand it in some jurisdictions not stated is assumed to mean no disability, and is counted together, in the ACT, I think, for example.  And that makes it very difficult to both understand the size of the problem  
in terms of where we don't know, and to do something about it.

MR CROWLEY:  Following from that, Ms Liddle, I want to ask you if you could comment, where there is data veil and we can count or know the numbers perhaps of First Nations children in out of home care recorded as having a disability, are there limitations then on the breakdown of the disability type, and without that type of information, if that is the case, how does that impact upon particularly early interventions and supports that might be provided?

MS LIDDLE:  There is absolutely problems with how that data is collated, and how it is applied, and what people are actually looking for.  FASD, or Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, and autism are ones that come up all the time.  So in each of the jurisdictions, what you are looking for, what the data sets are, are slightly different.  For example, if you go to Western Australia, there has been a lot of work put into FASD and how you might train doctors and services to be able to look for FASD, and then what you need in order to be able to support the child and the family so that any adverse behaviours from that disability don't put you into an environment where you might be at risk of being put into out of home care.  But that's where they are specialising in it.  What you will see in the data sets is that right across the country there is very limited numbers of children with FASD identified, and that means we are not looking for that in the first place.  If we don't have the data, then the services can't follow and the supports can't follow.

There are also challenges when talking to our families about what the child's needs might be.  Certainly in our remote and regional areas, often, disability for Aboriginal people isn't recognised.  You just are who you are.  So if you are asking someone if their child has a disability, what does that mean if it's not something that you recognise?  I think the other issue that we find is, again, when we have talked about the need for Aboriginal families and children to be central in any discussions talking about what their needs are and what services they might need to be able to access, they are often not the people being consulted, it's often other people making those decisions for them in rooms that they are not able to access.  And we have heard significant evidence coming through from our national consultations where they have said, in actual fact, while we might not identify a disability, while we might not have this service available, if you were to put a family in a room and say, "What does your child need?"  That family would be able to tell you what they need.  But the environment where that is available to them does that exist.  When it does exist, the services don't exist.

MR CROWLEY:  There are a couple of things that you have identified there that may be leading to limitations in the data and particularly the breakdown of disability type.  One of them that you have both highlighted so far is inconsistency or different definitions that are used by those who collect the data and record figures.  In that respect, is there a need, do you see, for a consistent definition or approach that would be applied in all jurisdictions to what is disability for the purpose of data collection?

MS LIDDLE:  I think it would certainly help, but I would put a caveat on that and  
I would say that even with a standard criteria, there would still need to be a significant amount of training so that people understood what that criteria actually was, and how you would actually look for it, so that it didn't just become a tick and flick.  We have heard evidence from our members that where Aboriginal community controlled services have identified what they believe could be a child with FASD, when they have gone off for a referral the doctor assessing that child didn't have a good enough and comprehensive enough understanding of what FASD was to be able to identify it.  And that meant that there were breakdowns in how quickly services could be, I guess, accessed for this particular --- for a particular child.  So, yes, standardising some of that criteria would be good, but it needs to be supported by adequate criteria, adequate training, and then of course I think underneath that again, there needs to be something that is nuanced for being able to understand what might be happening in a localised environment at the same time as well.

MR CROWLEY:  The second point I was going to raise from your earlier answer --- I might ask you, Dr Gray, if this is something that you might also be able to contribute to --- the question of assessment and who is doing the assessments according to the particular criteria to meet the disability definition.  Are there issues that you are aware of, through your work and Family Matters, with respect to that that might be addressed by a more consistent or an approach which is more resourced and funded?

MR GRAY:  Yes.  We know, for example, under the     target 12 of the Closing the Gap, it has been clearly identified that we need to develop the data set as it relates to parents and children with disability in the out of home care space.  I think it is really important, so there is some work to be done around how we make the minimum data set more robust and standardised across the country.  I think it is important that that is led by our communities and people with the relevant expertise in those areas in our communities because we also heard there is significant concern about how data is used, about our communities and the way it is kind of absorbed by government, and then not always perhaps used in ways that community would consider as being in our best interests.

To go to your question of assessment, in a whole range of these areas we know there are challenges in how assessments are done, both the skills and the physical environment of assessments was something that was raised with us, that might not be suited to understanding the child's experiences, and also --- and I understand that the Commission has heard evidence about this previously, the cultural validity of various definitions and assessments tools.  I noticed the statement from Dr Tracy Westerman talking about this and I think she has covered those issues extremely well and is extremely well versed in those things.  But it remains, to put it simply, the sorts of tools that we have available to us to engage with our children and families, about issues such as disability, are not designed by and for our communities and so there are questions about validity, and we need to put some more effort into developing up both the tools that we need but also, as Catherine has mentioned, the skills that people need, and increasing the coverage and scope of that skill set, so there are  
specialised people in every community who have access to the tools that are necessary to identify needs of kids and their families, and that that is then backed up with some actual delivery of the services that are needed, so that kids can thrive.

So there are issues around the validity of tools.  There is need for greater training in the administration of assessments, to make sure we can engage with families about these issues and get a very clear picture about the ways that these different issues impact on the likelihoods and the full enjoyment of their lives of children and young people with disability.

MR CROWLEY:  Thank you.  I am going to come back in a little while to the question of assessment and diagnosis.  Just sticking at the moment with the data topic, you mentioned in that answer then, Dr Gray, about concerns or issues with respect to the use of the data.  One of the things that you have both spoken about in your statement is Indigenous data, sovereignty approach to not only the collection, use and dissemination of data but also the design and decision making about what data is collected and when and why and by whom.  I wonder if you could speak about that, please, and identify for us what are the matters from your perspective about Indigenous data sovereignty.

MR GRAY:  Exactly.  We think Indigenous data sovereignty is something that Family Matters absolutely supports.  As I mentioned earlier, there are two key elements for that.  One is about making sure that service systems are accountable to our communities and that we can actually demonstrate the positive impact that these approaches are having, and where they are having not as positive impacts, that we can identify that early and do something about it.  The other part is, as you mentioned, data for governance, so that communities can make responsive decisions on the ground about how they organise the services and the resources that they have to meet the needs of people in their community.  We know that needs change over time, so it is really important that we have close and --- as close to time, immediate access to data as possible, so that we can --- so that communities can make those responsive decisions.

It is important, as part of that, that the kinds of things that we count --- and certainly, to put it in simple terms, what we consider to be success --- are defined by communities themselves, so that our data systems are aligned to the perspectives, to the priorities and to the aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and the sorts of aspirations that we have for our kids, because that's the, if we consider that in any other context, the idea of distinct peoples making those decisions for themselves is self explanatory.

So for us, it is about making sure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are what counts as success, defining how we measure success, and to have that data in their hands, to make good decisions about how we go about achieving success and how we go about building that so our kids can thrive according to what our communities think about when they think of children thriving.

The concerns raised were around be things like the way that data has been historically used by governments and the way this also creates a sense of nervousness or fear of communities, that feeds into this concern that communities have about government surveillance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families as part of child protection systems that we know disproportionately intervene in our lives, which has then the opposite effect of what we are looking for, right, because if people are concerned about --- and this is something we hear about a lot --- if Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families are concerned about seeking supports, putting their hand up when they need help, approaching services because they worry that they will be flagged on some sort of system and data about them will be gobbled up into these surveillance systems, then they are less likely to put their hand up for help and they are more likely to try to struggle along by themselves.  We want service systems where families who are experiencing crisis and who need assistance can feel safe seeking help, and can do so early and get the help that they need, because that is a critical part, and so it is important that our data systems reinforce the trust of communities and are seen as legitimate by communities, so there can be trust and people can get the help they need when they need it.

MR CROWLEY:  Ms Liddle, if I can come back to you, one of the things you have mentioned already is about the importance of early intervention and, with that, the need for accurate and timely assessment and diagnosis, so I want to take that up with you now.  One of the things in the statement that you have spoken about is the challenges or difficulties in being able to obtain for First Nations children in out of home care with disability, diagnosed or undiagnosed, access to and provision of timely assessments and diagnoses of that disability and the needs of the child.  If you could perhaps, on that topic, identify for us what Family Matters considers to be those difficulties with getting that type of assessment and diagnosis.

MS LIDDLE:  Some of it Paul has already touched on.  In terms of, I guess, having --- how do you get the diagnosis in the first place?  Across the country, what we hear in our national consultations at SNAICC, also through Family Matters, is that the families don't have a lot of access to information.  So if you have a child, it is just a child.  If that child is exhibiting behaviours that are challenging or on likely to indicate that they have complex needs, if you are not aware of what there might be, you don't know how to respond to it.  So across the country we are hearing that there are significant problems in getting enough information to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to indicate and to help them assess whether or not their child is developing at a rate or in an appropriate manner.

Again, if we get back to what Dr Gray was saying around the data sets, one of the interesting things about data sets is the other thing we can see when we look at them is what is wrong.  Again, if we refer back to the Closing the Gap agreement, where we had indicators saying, let's get our kids into preschool and it looks like it's all on track, so that creates an incorrect picture and story, which then impacts on where investment goes or when Aboriginal people started looking at what that data was, we said, what about the number of children that are actually experiencing developmental delays?  So in order to be able to pick up the developmental delays, we needed a  
policy and a framework that actually articulated it and said, listen, this is where it is, so going forward we are looking at what we need through Family Matters and through SNAICC, we are identifying a different way to pick up developmental delays that work with families understanding the needs of --- a child's development and what it is you might be able to access in your child's development.

We have heard that a lot of the time when children are coming into contact with the out of home care system, what is actually being picked up and described as neglect has actually been --- or trauma has actually been a misunderstanding of what's actually going on in that family environment.  So whether or not that's the underlying poverty or lack of access to information, or lack of service delivery, might be exhibited as a parent that is having a tough time or aggressive, when in actual fact what you are looking at is distress and the impacts of transgenerational trauma.  A lot of families who are coming into contact with the out of home care system, again we don't have the data sets that indicate which of those family members might have themselves have a disability that is impacting in this area.  So that compounds what you potentially are looking at and what the complications in assessing children might be, which goes to, I guess --- again what Dr Gray was talking about --- the need for a different form of service delivery that works, that comes from a culturally informed and healing perspective.  We often talk about the need for greater investment into our Aboriginal community organisations, and that's because by default they don't --- they work in an allied sense, they are looking at all the different tools that might be required to be able to pick up a child and pick up a family before an intervention is actually needed, because they have had access to services, they have had access to the information that they need, and they understand what it is to explore what a normal developmental trajectory might look like, and what you might need, should your child not be on that.  Again, that needs to be culturally informed because our children often develop differently, given what their environment is.  So if you are out in the bush, you might not be able to speak English but you might be able to speak another five languages fluently.

So those things --- and I know it sounds silly in that day and age that we are still talking about that, but it is true there are still issues with how we measure children's development, and that again impacts on the ability to access the service, and that impacts on the ability to put investment into the sector and having enough people in order to be able to respond, and having services with the infrastructure that is able to respond to specific environments.

MR CROWLEY:  Dr Gray, can I come to you.  On this issue about the assessment and diagnosis and what are some of the identified points at which there may be difficulties with obtaining early assessments and proper diagnoses, in paragraph 46 of your statement together, you have identified some matters which include lack of continuity of care or continuity of the carers or case workers, and also the ability to identify disability when particular features are known.

Those matters, and also the turnover or the number of practitioners that might be involved are all matters that together you have identified as reasons why there might  
be a failure to properly assess and diagnose.  What I was interested if you could help us with then is what might be something that could address those types of issues.  Is there something that you can tell us that might be done to improve that type of continuity and ultimately the assessment and diagnosis.

MR GRAY:  Sure.  Just to pick up on some of the things that Catherine was saying in terms of the assessment front, if I may.  Catherine spoke about issues of access, and we certainly heard about issues of long waiting lists or prohibitive expenses to get an assessment, and that in some cases it required significant and ongoing advocacy to get that moving forward.  Advocacy that often falls on the shoulders of families and aunties and grandmothers who do so much of the heavy lifting in this space.

As well as issues about misattribution of trauma, I want to touch on that briefly because I think one of the things that bothers me about that, in a sense, is the way that a lot of the assumptions that we place around these things locates the problem within either the individual child or young person or in their family, rather than taking a broader holistic perspective about how children and families exist within broader social structures and the ongoing challenges in our social systems that routinely under deliver for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people so I just wanted to touch on that, and it is why addressing systemic racism is one of the principles by which Family Matters operates.  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people take a much broader view of wellbeing that locates the individual within broader social and collective connections, and so that's a really important part of our consideration.

To get to your question about issues of diagnosis, we heard a lot about continuity of care, both in terms of how children's relationship with their carers and multiple placement changes.  By and large, the sense that we got from hearing from our representative members was around the strain placed on families by a failure to address those needs early, then leading to some of that instability.  It means that a lot of the information about children and young people and their experiences gets lost with each placement change.  So creating a coherent picture about their experiences and their trajectory.  Particularly when we are talking about some of the cognitive disability, for example, that kind of emerges over development and becomes more obvious as young people get older, if we are missing --- if we lose some of that information because of placement instability as things go forward, then when we try to do those assessments down the track we are only getting (audio dropped out).

CHAIR:  We seem to have lost Dr Gray.

MR CROWLEY:  Yes.  I'm not sure of the issue, Chair.  We will see if we can investigate what's happening there.

CHAIR:  Let's just pause a moment, but we won't formally adjourn.  Let's see if that can be corrected rapidly.  Where is Dr Gray physically?

MR CROWLEY:  He think he's giving evidence from his home in Sydney, outside of  

CHAIR:  I thought we might be having a problem with remote connections.  But Sydney seems to be a reasonably large metropolitan area, I understand.

MR CROWLEY:  Chair, we could continue with Ms Liddle, or    

CHAIR:  Yes, I think we should continue.  It is unfortunate that Dr Gray has been sheet out temporarily but we can come back to Dr Gray once connections have been restored.

MR CROWLEY:  Yes, I was going to propose a break in between in about 10 minutes in any event, but we can use the time now to continue the evidence with Ms Liddle.

CHAIR:  Yes, please do.  That's fine.

MR CROWLEY:  Ms Liddle, just while we're waiting for Dr Gray to return, I want to take up with you an issue that you've mentioned in your statement about your statements about the level of support provided to carers.  In your statement at paragraph 65, your joint statement with Dr Gray, from that point onwards you have identified a particular issue that Family Matters representatives have brought into the national forum about inadequate or incomplete support being provided to carers, particularly family or kinship carers, for First Nations children with disability in the out of home care system.

I wonder if you could tell us about that, what are the concerns or issues and how that impacts upon the children and their experiences in that system.

MS LIDDLE:  Absolutely, and again this is one that comes up in every conversation that we have, regardless of the jurisdiction.  So without fail, what they have told us is there is a significant lack of support for kinship carers and in the assessment of kinship carers.  Part of that is what support is actually available within the system; part of that is, as I have already identified, access to information.  So a foster carer often knows more about what they might be able to access for support than a kinship carer would have.  We also know that when our kinship carers take on a child with disability, they often have a number of other children they are responsible for, yet there is no wrap around support to meet that extra need.  We also hear that the solutions for working with that kinship carer family might not recognise Aboriginal constructs of family, so the ability to connect broader to the uncles and aunties that also support this family is not there, or people that might be able to have better access to information, they are not adequately connected into that space, so the carer is often feeling isolated and feeling this enormous burden of care, without the supports that you might expect a general foster carer to be able to access.  This again is compounded by the fact that there are significant entrenched socioeconomic disparities that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience.  So we know that in line with what we have already spoken about, a lot of our kinship carers are  
members of the Stolen Generation themselves or have had family members who have been removed and that means that they are anxious about seeking help in the first place, because that's often --- they feel that's interpreted as them not coping, which in turn will lead to those children being removed from their care and possibly even escalating to residential care.  So we know that there is an urgent need to be able to provide these supports to families and carers, to reduce these strains, so that we can actually focus on what we need to do, and that is give the best possible environment to our children to thrive.

MR CROWLEY:  Ms Liddle, some of the things that you have spoken about in your evidence, but in your statement in particular were the types of supports that might be needed to assist family and kinship carers with their care of children with disability.  They seem to be basic practical everyday types of things, which might assist; for example, transport or shopping and respite care is another one.  Are you able to tell us perhaps then what might be done to better provide those types of supports to a family and what differences those sorts of things would make in the overall care for the children?

MS LIDDLE:  I think the first thing is to put the family at the centre of the decision making, so an easy way to describe that would be Aboriginal family led decision making, and that is where you identify what it is that that family --- what are the current challenges for that family and what are the current concerns, and then mapping out where you might be able to access that particular support.  So is it a transport issue, in which case is there already a member in the family able to do that?  Or is it like any other foster care system where potentially there is some sort of subsidy available to be able to use it, or a case worker that actually might be able to step in and help to get a child to school, or to an appointment and those sorts of things?  So for example, if you have a child with complex needs needing to get to an appointment, and that appointment is a long way away, how do you get there?  If you were coming from a socioeconomic environment that is already challenged, you might not have those extra dollars for a taxi and getting a child on to a bus might be incredibly challenging, particularly if a child has complex needs and you might have other children around you that need your support.

We have also heard, for example, that where you have a child     where you have taken in a child and that child might have behaviours at school that see that child being suspended more regularly and you are a parent trying to work, there is no leave available for you to be able to take time off work to be able to care for that child, should it be suspended.  So we have heard evidence that families have lost jobs because they have been unable to keep up with the demands of looking after a child with complex needs.

So there are significant efforts that could be done to wrap that family around, in the supports that are required.  We also heard evidence that when supports do come in, there is often multiple case workers --- multiple case workers.  We had one story where there were more than 20 different case workers working with a particular family, and each of those case workers had a different case management plan, and no  
one could work out why this family, the terminology used to describe this family was "disengaged".  But how on earth can you do that?  There is a lack of consideration of what it might look like if you have a child with complex needs and there are case workers potentially supporting you, and they turn up in their white cars --- and I'm sure you have heard reference to white cars throughout the hearing --- and there are two or three of those white cars that turn up to your home, come in to your family and start asking you questions, and how confronting that is, and what it means, and how confronted you feel that your neighbours are observing white cars converging on your home.

CHAIR:  I think Dr Gray has rejoined us.

I'm sorry, we lost you for a few minutes, Dr Gray.  I hope you don't mind but we continued in your absence.  You were in mid flight when you disappeared.  Perhaps Mr Crowley might resume from where you left off, if he can manage to spot the point.

MR CROWLEY:  I will, Chair.

I just wanted to ask Ms Liddle first to follow up something in the answer you just gave.  You talked about the family led decision making as being a positive and centring the decision making around perhaps the constant here with the child, which is the child in the family unit, as opposed to a turnover of case workers.  From what you said in your earlier evidence, there seems to be a tension between involving the family and family being a part of that process to come forward to identify issues and asking for help, with the concern that if one comes forward to do that, then the Department might focus in upon something that is not happening in a deficit or risk type of way.  I am wondering if you might be able to help us with how that type of positive, the family led decision making, might work in that situation with that type of concern.

MS LIDDLE:  Yes, absolutely.  As it is structured at this point in time, there are families that actually do reach out for help and they say, "Where is this help?"  What they tell us is that it is not until your family unit is in significant distress that you are actually able to access a service, so there is something wrong with how service delivery is structured in the first place, in that you are already in trouble before the service system is able to respond to you.  So there is that level.  And that means if you are already in trouble, then there are interventions that are going to be applied.  So that obviously has --- that obviously creates an environment of distrust and lack of reaching out.

When we also see and what we also hear from our members is that people, in trying to respond to how complex the environment is, non Indigenous services and governments are very good at understanding that, yes, we do need to start connecting these pieces, but the frameworks are developed outside and system wide, and the idea being that each of these systems connects up, and each of these systems has a conversation about who shares your data, and then technically pushes down on a  
family as opposed to having environments say, for example, like what we see in our multi disciplinary Aboriginal child care centres, where you go in with your child into this particular service and sit down and have of tea, sometimes you might have a meal, because some families just need a meal, and as part of that environment, you say, "I'm actually having a bit of trouble at the moment, I might need some help", and those services are able to care for your child but also start working with you on what other services you can access, so that the response comes from the family itself and their ability to access services, as opposed to services responding to them.

MR CROWLEY:  Thank you.  Dr Gray, I'm not sure where you got to with your answer or when you realised that we were no longer able to connect to you, but the point that I had raised with you initially, and that you were in the middle of responding to, was I was asking about you about the types of things that might be done to better improve the assessment and diagnosis and identification of issues in the context of some of those systemic matters about continuity of care, continuity of who is involved with the child and the family, from worker, practitioner, et cetera.

MR GRAY:  Thanks.  My apologies, Chair and Commissioners, for that slight technical mishap.  I hope I had made the point around some of the points there, and I apologise for dropping out.

About what we can do to change, I think two key elements.  One is about better supports across people within the system.  So we have talked a lot about better supports for families in the first instance and throughout, and I think that's a key part of the reasons that Catherine has gone on to mention.  But also better supports for practitioners within the system, to prevent burnout, which remains a significant problem.

Part of that is about how we attack systems of support, and I know that organisations working in this space think a lot about that, and we should continue to do so and to develop those systems.  But I think part of it too --- and this is in part informed by a colleague who came over when I was with DCJ to talk about some of these issues, he's a practitioner from Canada --- part of his insight was that burnout is associated with unjust systems and the burden of working within systems that people --- that practitioners feel are unjust.  I think that is particularly concerning for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander practitioners who work in child protection.  So I think doing some of the transformational systems change that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have been calling for, for a significant amount of time, will go some way to addressing some of the burn out of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander practitioners who have to work in the space.

If I can go to the kinds of assistance that we can provide to families, and who some of those comments Catherine was making when I was able to join back in, it reminded me of a model that has been developed by the Centre on the Developing Child at Harvard, that talks about how to make breakthrough impacts for children and families.  They really orient around three key points.  One is about relationships, relationships being of course a critical foundation of development for children, but  
also a critical foundation of support for the people who care for children, about issues of addressing external sources of stress, and Catherine talked about a range of those stressors that families feel and how having a child with complex needs in your care can compound some of that stress, particularly in the absence of necessary services and supports.  Their third element is about skills around emotion regulation that we impart to children through development.  It strikes me that supporting a young person with complex needs requires a very specialised skill set, and parents and others need support in developing those skills, but we know it is very hard to develop skills when you are isolated and when you are under significant strain, and it is very hard to apply those skills in those circumstances.  As Catherine has mentioned, both for parents and for carers, having a young person in their care with complex needs can be extremely isolating, it can be extremely stressful, so it is actually working against the sorts of things that we know are necessary to providing families the support that they need, and I think that is part of what can contribute to the breakdown as well.

So I think if we keep those sorts of models in mind and think about how do we wrap systems of support around not only children and young people but the people who love them, how do we work with families to reduce the sources of stress --- whether that is housing stress or more day to day living strains --- and on how do we help them develop the skills that they need to raise young people with complex needs effectively, and provide them with an environment where they can demonstrate those skills.  Because I don't want to take a deficit approach of families, but we know that it is really hard to demonstrate those skills when you are under significant personal stress, because that's just not how our brains work, and so it's important that we make sure we create the space for families to provide enriching care for children and young people.

MR CROWLEY:  Thank you, Dr Gray.  Chair, if that is a convenient time now, could we have a short break before we continue the evidence of Ms Liddle and Dr Gray?

CHAIR:  Yes, certainly.  Shall we resume at 11.25?

MR CROWLEY:  Yes, thank you, Chair.

CHAIR:  We will resume at 11.25.

ADJOURNED    [11.10 AM]

RESUMED    [11.26 AM]

CHAIR:  Thank you, Mr Crowley.

MR CROWLEY:  Thank you, Chair.

Dr Gray and Ms Liddle, I want to refer to another topic area which you have referred to in your statement and touched on already in your evidence, which is what role Aboriginal community controlled organisations may have in each of the matters we have touched upon today about assessment and diagnosis service support and delivery.  If I could ask you, Ms Liddle, if you could commence with that discussion.  In paragraph 84 and onwards the statement, just for reference, you have each identified this with respect to the types of reforms that might be done to improve things for First Nations children with disability in out of home care and their families and carers.  I wonder if you could speak about the importance of how you see community controlled organisations being involved in that form.

MS LIDDLE:  Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations are built around the principle of self determination.  They are built around an understanding that Aboriginal people work as a community, not as an individualised one parent or two parent unit.  So they have revolved around their own traditional laws and their own traditional way of doings things.  I often talk about grandmothers law, and that was the law under which I was brought up, and that is if every child is cared for, and if you love every child as though that child was your own, and if every child has a full belly and every child knows where to go for help, that child will grow up strong.  Our Aboriginal community controlled services are built end those types of frameworks and those types of principles, just intuitively.

We know that the Family Matters building blocks, for example, they do provide a whole of system reform roadmap.  Again, those road maps, those building blocks, they were built on evidence from the our Aboriginal community controlled sector but also from our incredible academics, like Dr Gray, who is in the room with us today.  So they have already been built around the need for universal and targeted supports, and the services --- and I think I have alluded it to it already, those supports respond to the needs of the families, and that might even be the needs of the parents.  We believe this is the most consistent model.  It has to have self determination as its cornerstone and it has to be noticed that family is culture, and that if we can appropriately apply the principles of self determination, enabling our families to be at the centre of this, but it also looking at what public accountability looks like as well, because at this stage what our families and members report back to us in consultations is that when something goes awry, something goes wrong, as families we are punished, as services we are punished, and yet government services don't seem to have the aim accountability on them.  If you miss a target, if the trajectory keeps getting worse and worse, where is the accountability for that, who is responsible for that, who gets into trouble for that?

So we know that it requires changing the system, and again, Dr Paul Gray spoke to the need for systemic and transformational change, so fundamentally changing the way the system is weighted to service delivery that impacts on us, and putting the people who are affected by the system at the centre, and the communities that are impacted by the system at the centre.  So we know that we need the investment in  
family supports, and that those family supports need to be tailored not only to the child but to the family.

We know that investment needs to change.  Investment actually needs to start going into the Aboriginal community controlled sector so that they can build their infrastructure, so that they can build their workforce, so that we can start looking at where the cadetships need to go, so that we can recognise the nuances of Aboriginal expertise and find the room, find the pathway that brings the expertise around grandmothers law into those rooms, which is a whole different way of healing and trauma informed responses that you don't need to go to university to learn, you know it inherently has an Aboriginal person.

We know that is a big systemic shift.  We know that, again, where it has happened, we are already seeing incredible changes in the trajectory, and these are emerging trends.  So, for example, we know that in Victoria, where we have already got delegated authority in the Aboriginal community controlled sector, those agencies that are now working with families are seeing more rehoming of children in out of home care, and that includes children with disability.  We are seeing less critical interventions and we are seeing less contacts with the justice system.  So those data sets historically have not been developed, so the ability to show just how incredible the Aboriginal community controlled sector is at responding to need again is not appropriately measured and some more work needs to be done on saying, how effective is it, and what is it that --- what is different about it, and how can we apply this more systemically would be good.

Certainly we know that we want --- we have talked about it already, the development of those core principles and standards for service delivery, particularly for children with disability in out of home care.  So we need to know that there is a criteria of success, there is a criteria that is culturally informed, we need it to be trauma responsive and we need to know that the people making those assessments know who we are, preferably are us, and therefore they are going to respond to what is actually happening as to what they might deem fits a criteria.

So there is a lot of work to be done in the short term in building the skill sets of the existing workforce, but in the long term expanding that workforce to ensure that our mob are able to actually work in these roles and deliver the services themselves.  We know that our services need to be adequately resourced; what does it cost to deliver this service?  It should not just apply to one funding framework that says, "Well, we believe this is what your outputs should be and therefore you can only deliver against these KPIs"; it is about saying we need to be more clever in how we fund multifunctional centres, we need to understand that service delivery isn't designed in Canberra, it is designed by communities.

MR CROWLEY:  Thank you, Ms Liddle.

Dr Gray, just on that last point, following up what is in the statement that has been provided at paragraph 85 about drawing the distinction between  
community controlled organisations as being simply providers of government services, but instead shifting to those organisations being involved in developing and delivering responsive culturally based services, could you speak about that and how that type of transition --- why it would be important and how it might be done?

MR GRAY:  Sure.  Really, the point that that is reflecting on is the way that funding and commissioning models can be used to constrain the sorts of flexible service delivery that communities would like to deliver in their communities, and so it becomes about being funded to deliver a particular model, for example, regardless of whether or not the community feels that that model is the one that is best suited to that community.

Really, what we are talking about there is making sure, as Catherine said, that that principle of self determination is at the heart.  We know that is critically important, it has been a consistent feature of reviews of the child protection system and its disproportionate impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, at least since Bringing them Home, more than 20 years ago, around the reason it keeps getting repeated is not only is it a critical foundation to achieve better outcomes, but it's also one of those things that governments have not done yet, despite it being a consistent feature.

We know that, as Catherine mentioned, community controlled organisations are characterised by community governments, and as part of our building blocks that we have talked about, we mentioned the importance of a universal and targeted service system.  Communities want that because not only do they take the holistic view of health but, as Catherine mentioned, it's about providing that critical baseline so that all children can thrive, but there are also the key community connections that allow us to identify when children or families might need some additional supports and to be able to deliver that in a responsive way.

In terms of how we would go about doing that, there are lots of different possible approaches.  One that we have been talking about or that we talked about when I was at AbSec in New South Wales was about fundamentally changing the commissioning framework, so aligning commissioning to outcomes, which is not a new idea, it is an idea that governments have grappled with for a little while now.  Aligning them to outcomes that are defined by Aboriginal communities, coming up with a resourcing model that identifies what it costs to deliver services in a particular area, so we are not shortchanging our regional and remote communities as well where things might be more challenging to deliver services.  And that we are considering our funding based on identified need in those communities but allowing communities to develop and continuously improve what their service system looks like, bringing us back to that key point of having timely data so that we don't have to invest in an approach for five years to work out that it is not working.  We can have ongoing conversations, informed by data, about: is this approach achieving the outcomes that we want?  If it is not, communities can change it.  Because they are the ones that have skin in the game, as it were; they are the ones that have to live with the consequences of these systems.  And really, that is the whole point of us wanting to position  
decision making close to the ground, because those are the communities who --- those are the people who understand the challenges best, and are best placed to think about the ways to solve them.  That is where organisations like SNAICC and other peaks, but also collectives of community controlled organisations, frequently come together to share their own experiences and their own evidence to learn from each other about what's working.  Again, though, that's not to impose a particular model on a community, but to inform communities about different approaches so that they can make informed decisions about what's going to work for them.

MR CROWLEY:  Just to pick up something that you have mentioned in that answer and elsewhere in your statement, you've talked about not shortchanging some communities.  One of the points that's raised is the differences between the location of where a community is based, between obviously an urban, regional or remote community, and you have spoken in the statement about a need for an equity of outcome as opposed as opposed to an equality of funding or equality of expected outcome.

Could you tell us, with respect to that point, how that might fit in with what you have just talked about with a shift to the community controlled organisation?

MR GRAY:  I'm not sure exactly how to respond to that.  I'm mindful --- the point that we were trying to make is about explicitly challenging inequities in our system.  We don't want to create a system that produces different outcomes for people based on things that --- based on where they live, what jurisdiction they are in or what challenges they are facing.  It is about creating a system that allows all children to thrive, and so that is what we are talking about in terms of a funding model that is oriented towards equity in what comes out the other end.  Because we know that there are differences in what it takes to deliver services in different areas, and those things should be considered in the funding model and in how we do things.

We also know that the relative needs of different communities are very different.  Our communities are extremely diverse, and so to paint them with a single brush would not deliver the outcomes that communities are looking for.  I suppose it is just about taking the diversity of our communities into account, and being really focused on achieving equity in the outcomes for children and young people.

MR CROWLEY:  Ms Liddle, in relation to the community led model, you have spoken about self determination being the core principle, at the heart of those types of organisations and services which are provided.  One matter that you have also touched on in your statement is the importance of access to those services enabling families and First Nations children with disabilities in the out of home care system to be able to remain in the community from which they come and remain connected to family, kin and culture.  I wonder if you could speak about that and how that fits with the model you are talking about, and the importance of that in a holistic wellbeing sense.

MS LIDDLE:  Where to come in on this one?  If I very quickly speak to --- we run  
an event called Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children's Day, and that day is on 4 August, and historically that is the birth date that was given to members of the Stolen Generation who were removed from their families before anyone had a chance to tell anyone what their birthdays were.  So it's an extraordinary date, and there are a lot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders today who have that birth date.

As part of the centenary in 1988, when people were marching, they identified something was really critically wrong in Australia, and that is what that we had this --- our children came from this remarkable culture that keeps you strong, keeps you proud, enables you to be able to sit in rooms like this because you understand who you are, so all the pillars, all your foundational pillars are intact, and yet for a lot of our kids, because of past generational practices, you were told that your communities were not safe, you were told that your families were not good enough, you were told that your culture needed to be overrided with another culture, and subsequently in comes the SNAICC and its members said "We need a day that celebrates it."  It reminds our children and reminds the rest of Australia how awesome it is to belong to this particular culture.

So if I place that into this context, it is about understanding that at some point in time, a child in out of home care is going to wonder where they came from, and want to know who their mum and dad was, and are going to want to know what their dreaming was, and what their language was, and to not know it is incredibly painful.  There is significant international evidence that shows --- and I think Dr Paul Gray referred to it earlier in the evidence --- that the impact of those things on your development as a person, and what we know is that children who are connected to their families and their communities and their culture actually have better long term life outcomes, without fail.  They are more likely to be set on a trajectory for success and they are more likely to have all their needs met because there is an entire community, an entire family that wraps up and supports them, and reminds them that you have something to be incredibly proud of in a society that is still coming to terms with some very, very complex conversations and history.

MR CROWLEY:  Thank you.  The final question I want to ask each of you, in the statement you have provided, you have talked about the importance and the support there is for a peak body for children and families with disability.  I wonder if you could tell us about why that is important, what would be the purpose and import of having that type of body.

MS LIDDLE:  Peak bodies are at this moment in time playing an incredible role.  I know --- again, if I refer to what was talked about earlier, how do we get these changes?  We know that the Closing the Gap agreement embedded four new priority reforms, and those priority reforms were about transformational change, and some of that is what around self determination, ensuring that we are in the rooms negotiating what funding contracts should actually look like so that we can get the transformation that looks at equity in service delivery, ensures that remote service delivery is adequately supported, and has enough resources to be able to deliver what  
it needs.  So, technically, those structures are now starting to come into play.  Those structures were negotiated by the peaks because they come with collective impact, they consolidate the voices of entire sectors, and then they help frame what it might look like in policy.  So someone has to be able to put these very complex concepts into the boxes that actually then drive government reform.  So there is that element, that transformational sector reform, but then there's a whole heap of work that needs to be done that then involves what we have talked about, access to information, access to data, where are the gaps, where do we put the investment in the first place?

And then there is something to be said for what Paul talked about earlier, is when we are in the room, peak bodies get people in the room and they share their stories so we know where the challenges were, we know where the successes were, and we know where the opportunities are and we can apply them in different contexts so we can see different emerging themes, and different ways of doing business.  So at this point in time SNAICC is the children's peak, so we are horizontal right across the spectrum, and we do a lot of work in this space.  But what we know about peak bodies in general is across the nation there is no consistent funding model for the peak bodies despite this incredible work that they do, and the incredible amount of strain on the peak bodies at this point in time as they negotiate the Closing the Gap reform pieces, and plans and activity plans, and strategies and frameworks that are coming out of this incredible document.

For example, if I were to apply it to the SNAICC context, we don't get base funding.  It's often referred to as "block IAS funding".  We exist on a model that has to go and look for projects and our core operations, our base operations, are paid for by that 10 per cent that you are able to extract out of your administration.  That very much like --- I think we have spoken about it before --- doesn't have a consistent funding stream to it, so some of your funding streams are one year, some of your funding streams are two years, some of them one off grants, and some of them are through the generosity of philanthropy.  So there does need to be something that looks at how we support the peaks appropriately, because without the peaks and their ability to do those structural shifts at the highest policy levels, none of the other reforms that we need can drop out of that space to enable our community led decision making experts and our communities to flex and respond to what it is they actually need on the ground.

MR CROWLEY:  Thank you, Ms Liddle.

Chair, those are the questions that I have.

CHAIR:  Thank you.  Dr Gray and Ms Liddle, thank you for your evidence.  I will now ask my colleagues whether they have any questions that they wish to put to you.  I will start with Commissioner Mason and ask Commissioner Mason if she has any questions for you.


COMMISSIONER MASON:  Ms Liddle, I would like to ask you a question from your statement as CEO of SNAICC, at Tab 23, around supports and linkages between service systems.  You explain there about the data gap around the removal of children or notification being made to parents and families, and then also the subsequent removal that may happen in placing that child in out of home care.  As an area of data gap where currently we don't know the supports being given to the child and the family at that point of notification, but also at that point of removal, I just wanted to know if that particular area of data has been raised with governments by SNAICC or by any of its members?

MS LIDDLE:  Yes.  Anything that would be in our statement would be something that we push consistently, both through the Family Matters reports but also in the rooms that SNAICC enters into.  So that would be with social services and education, primarily.

COMMISSIONER MASON:  You are saying that that continues to be a data gap?


COMMISSIONER MASON:  Even though with advocacy, there continues to be a data gap?

MS LIDDLE:  Yes, so I think it comes down to --- and this again gets back to the need for the peaks and the need for effective policy, because in order to be able to get traction on any of these particular conversations or data gaps, there needs to be some sort of leverage point or lever or hook that we are able to tie onto.  What we know now is there is a significant amount of work that needs to be done into sector strengthening for all of the priority areas of the Closing the Gap framework, and one of those has been around, "Well, how do we now start identifying where the research needs to come from and how do we actually apply, what do we look for, how do we actually apply it?  In and of itself comes the next barrier, and that is that any research takes money, where do the dollars come from in order to be able to support that?  So there are a number of different boxes that need to be met in order to just get a study up and running in the first place.

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Thank you very much.

CHAIR:  Commissioner Galbally?

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  Thank you very much for your evidence, that was really helpful.  You mentioned Victoria, Ms Liddle, as leading to really promising outcomes.  Could we get more detail about that from you and follow that up, because that was really striking?

MS LIDDLE:  Victoria is absolutely stand out at the moment, but so is Queensland,  
and I didn't get a chance to speak to Queensland.  They are also seeing an incredible shift in     they're already public     the State Government has already announced a transition of services to the Aboriginal community controlled sector, but it has 33 child and family wellbeing centres that are already seeing significant changes in the trajectory of children needing additional supports, so they are identified early, and then that little pipeline that they start moving on, they are blocking it essentially, they are stopping the out of home removals.

There is also emerging trends in some of the New South Wales services as well, but certainly Victoria has actually moved delegated authority to the Aboriginal community controlled sector, and this is just fundamental in the change of its approach.  It has come up with services like Nugel --- so if I point directly to the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, its Nugel response has a different way of engaging with families.  Again, it speaks to what I was saying before, that it goes out and works with the strengths of the family and says, "What is it that you need?  How do we support you?"

That just is enabling families to understand, "What you are dealing with right now is a bit tough, but there is a way we can help you, we just need to stay in contact with you", as opposed to bringing in interventions.  So it is quite remarkable.  But it is a fundamental shift in the way service delivery is done, it means transferring millions of dollars --- millions of dollars --- that would have gone into major other non government service providers, and has been a history and a legacy of investing in those particular services, as opposed to building the capacity of our Indigenous community controlled services.  So it takes a level of bravery in your approach to structural reform, and it takes, I guess, a level of bravery in understanding change doesn't happen overnight.

But there are also another couple --- two really critical points --- actually, it is one, with two outcomes --- that both Victoria and Queensland also have an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children's Commissioner, and we have seen that those jurisdictions that have the Commissioners in place are getting a lot more traction in being able to advocate for the rights of children, and to ensure that our responses to children are child focused.

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  Are they also assisting families to get NDIS packages and to go through that process?

MS LIDDLE:  There is a lot of movement from the Aboriginal community controlled sector to better understand the NDIS and the NDIS service delivery.  So yes, there is a level of that.  I don't know anyone at this point in time --- and this could be a gap in my own knowledge here --- that has put their hand up and says, "We have nailed it."  But certainly there is a movement to trying to understand how do we use NDIS, and how do we ensure that our families are getting the supports that they need through the NDIS, and tailoring it appropriately to what is happening on the ground.


CHAIR:  The question Commissioner Galbally asked and your answer raises something that I want to ask about in any event.  Some evidence that we hear --- and parts of the evidence of each of you, to a point --- could be understood as suggesting that government departments and agencies are adamantly opposed to making the Cchanges that are required in order to get to the point that you want to reach.  Your answers indicate, and it reinforces if I may say so, my impression from some evidence we heard at Public Hearing 8, particularly about New South Wales, that a number of state agencies, departments, governments, are not at all resistant to some of the ideas that are being put forward, and that this carries implications for the Commission.  The implications are that in formulating recommendations about how some of the issues that you and others have raised might be addressed, we don't necessarily need to nor should we assume that governments are going to be irretrievably opposed to whatever is being said.  I think that the answers you gave support an approach that looks at governments as being willing in many cases to change their approaches, to implement innovative ideas, to address the kinds of issues that I think everybody in the community, not only First Nations people, want to address and remedy to the maximum extent.  So that's really by way of a comment, but if you want to comment on my comment, please do.

MS LIDDLE:  I can see Paul would like to respond as well, but I will get in very quickly.  We know that negotiating things like priority reforms that go to structural transformation, that is an incredible point in time, so we understand that this point in time means that we are potentially able to negotiate a different way of going forward, and certainly Dr Gray and I were both involved in negotiating some work on the child successor plan, which we could not have got through prior to the reforms in the Closing the Gap agreement.  But we also know, there does appear to be a willingness to change the way that we work, there is an acknowledgment from government that doing the business the way it has always been done is not getting the outcomes that we need, but changing a system is hard work and will not happen without significant momentum behind it, and that, I would say, is where recommendations from the Royal Commission would be another --- I guess another ---

CHAIR:  Impetus is the word, I think.

MS LIDDLE:  Absolutely, it would add impetus.  Because we have to change the way we work, and changing the way we work is tough because we tend to go back into our old --- we say we want to do it and then we end up back in the corner doing the things the way that we used to do.  For example, we say, yes, we are going to work on this piece of work together, and yet one group goes away and works on it and then gives it back to you as a fait accompli, and then you have got seconds in the scheme of things     it's not seconds, it might be 24 hours     to turn around a piece of work that is major policy, and that's just, yes, you understand impetus, but at the same time it is unrealistic.  What would have happened if you were actually in the rooms at the same time working on the same document, so that you were able to adjust it in realtime, understand what the issues government might need to work on  
are, what the blockages are, what the tension points in potential use of language is, what might be underlying a decision that has been put into it, so is it something to do with the actual funding cycle, the actual process itself, and if you are sharing more information about that, you are better able to adapt.

So there does appear to be a willingness.  Willingness is not enough.  Policy is not enough.  But I'm sure Paul would like to say something.

CHAIR:  I'm pretty sure he does.

MR GRAY:  Thanks, Catherine.  I think, just on my reflections from the various positions I have held in this space, I think there is a lot of language and commitment around reform, and in particular about recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities exercising greater authority in these matters that affect us so deeply.  But what I think we tend to see is that governments, when it comes to the crunch, have really trouble letting go.  And I think I would direct --- urge Commissioners to have a look at, for example, the recent Families Culture Review that came out of New South Wales, led by Professor Megan Davis.

CHAIR:  We are familiar with that.  That was in evidence at Public Hearing 8, we have had the opportunity to read and consider that.

MR GRAY:  I think the observation that Professor Davis made about ritualism and the facade or the rhetoric of reform, but then a real reluctance to engage in the actual structure of reform, continues to be the sticking point for many communities, and I think that's why those are the features that we see prominently represented in the priority reforms within Closing the Gap.  We have seen this consistently, as I say, for at least the last 20 plus years, where Bringing Them Home made a very strong recommendation around not only some of the structural reforms about the drivers of kids coming into contact with out of home care, but also the need to transfer jurisdiction to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to exercise that authority.

So while I think there is this language of reform, we are 20 years down the track and we still haven't seen it.  So we are still definitely in our communities continuing to turn up for that concession, but I think it is really important that we really get to the hard work of the structural reform.

If I can just bring it back, I guess, to the children and young people with disability that we have been talking about for the last couple of hours, the thing that struck me across all the evidence provided by, and the conversations we have with our jurisdictions, is that really what we are --- the observation was that a failure to provide the services that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families need in the first instance not only led to a disproportionate number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people with a disability entering care, but also then the ongoing failure to provide those services continued to see, I suppose, a disproportionate risk of them escalating to residential care or care criminalisation, those sorts of things.

So when we are talking about addressing the structural drivers and making the structural and systems change, we are focusing on the disproportionate future burden that is carried by people with a disability across their life course by that failure to respond appropriately early.  And if we are able to do that, we can prevent a whole lot of harm, a whole lot of heartache in people's lived experiences.  I think that is the transformation that communities have been asking for, for a long time, and we are certainly keen to work with governments to make that happen, but it is important that we address that with some urgency, because we continue to see the gap between --- in terms of the overrepresentation of our kids in these systems, they continue to grow, so we need to address it with that level of urgency.

CHAIR:  Two points arising out of those responses --- not to challenge anything you have said.  One is, this is not easy, this is a complex process.  You most of all, I would imagine, know how complicated and difficult it is.  So one of the dangers the Royal Commission faces, I think, may be to oversimplify what needs to be done and how easy or difficult it is to come up with solutions.  You can have transformational change that takes time to come about; in fact transformational change very rarely comes about within a very short timeframe.  Sometimes it can happen with astonishing events, but mostly it doesn't happen like that and it takes, as Ms Liddle said, a great deal of work, a great deal of cooperation between governments and in this case First Nations communities and organisations.  But it applies also, doesn't it, to changes within First Nations communities themselves?  Isn't that an important part of this?  And how do we harness the energy within the communities to bring about the changes so that self determination actually works in practice?

MS LIDDLE:  Investment, that's a good one.  Actually seeing the investment move into the Aboriginal community controlled sector, enabling those community led decision making forums to start moving, is as you said, there is --- and as we have identified, we continue to come to these rooms even though we have seen numerous Royal Commissions where there's bits and pieces of our story disseminated and dissected and then recommendations made, but very few recommendations actually being implemented, even though they match what was said in the last forum.  So we know that what our people are saying is, "How do we trust, when we know that we have given information over and over again and we have consistently said exactly the same thing?  Our story actually hasn't changed, what we have asked for hasn't changed, the reforms that we need hasn't changed."  The reason it hasn't changed is, the change never comes.  What we needed never comes, so I think    

CHAIR:  Just pausing, is it true that it never comes?  Is that really true?

MS LIDDLE:  Never comes.  When I speak, I'm telling you what our members are telling us.  So there are some movements, and obviously we have got the priority reforms and we have never had them, so that is transformational.  In order to trust what the priority reforms are, people are going to want to see some change.  That means moving these big, slow moving processes, changing the way we work.  We don't have time to rest on that.  It has to keep moving.  If you apply it to children in  
out of home care, while this is specific to children with disability and we know that we don't have the exact numbers of our kids in out of home care that actually genuinely have a disability, we do know that, yes, currently 20,000 in out of home care, we know that without urgent, urgent transformation, that means actually doing what we said we are going to do, that number is set to double.  That's what the modelling shows, that number will double within 10 years, as opposed to reduce by 45 per cent, which is what we have asked for in the Closing the Gap agreement.  But to get our communities to trust this means something has to fundamentally shift, they have to see the changes starting to come on the ground.

CHAIR:  Ms Kerr did tell us yesterday that the numbers of First Nations children in out of home care in the Northern Territory had decreased in each of the last four years, as I understood her evidence.

MS LIDDLE:  Yeah, I think that it is a funny thing, so I think ---

CHAIR:  I would have thought, if it's correct, it's a good thing.

MS LIDDLE:  If it's correct.  That's why I say data is a funny thing.  It's one of the reasons we say, we want to know how you got that data and we want to know what the actual story was.  We also know that in the Northern Territory, the number of children in juvenile detention has increased.  What we also know, if we were creating a story, that a number of children in juvenile detention actually came out of the child protection system, and we also know a number of children in the child protection system had disabilities.  So we don't know what that actual story looks like, if it's true, and I'm sure some of it is true, that's a good thing.  But I would be very cautious of any data that said too many good things.

MR GRAY:  If I can chime in there, I think to me, the bottom line with respect to some of those data changes is looking beneath the data, as Catherine has suggested, and understanding what that means for the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families.  We can have a reduction of children in out of home care, for example, and that could be for a whole number of reasons.  It can be an increase in the number of children being placed on third party orders.  If that is the case, that's a kind of different sort of change.  But in terms of the lived experience of the young person, one might ask to what extent that is the case.

We also have to put individual measures in a broader context.  We might have reductions in the number of children and young people entering care, but that might also happen in the context of ongoing increase in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children notified at risk of significant harm.  So then we have got to look through that data to try to understand what has happened in terms of systems changes, and in particular, what does that mean for the lived experiences of children and families?  Is it that we are actually responding more effectively and preventing children from coming into care or increasing the number of children going home safely, or is there other explanations that might be behind this data?

I think it's about seeing all of the data and, as Catherine said, understanding what that means for children and young people behind it.

If I can go back to your point, Chair, I absolutely agree that this is hard stuff.  It is very difficult to make the sorts of changes.  One thing that strikes me in terms of the advocacy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over a sustained period of time is the importance of changing the nature of the conversation between our communities and governments, and doing that on a much more equal footing, changing the nature of dialogue, getting away from this cycle of reviews, and then recommendations and then debate about whether those recommendations are implemented or not, and then we have another review down the track, and actually having more of an ongoing dialogue between First Nations and government about the changes --- about what is happening, what is the lived experience of our communities and what do we need to do next to improve that?

I think one of the things that we can and should be very clear about is what is the goal.  Which horizon are we actually setting out towards?  And having a very clear idea --- we might not know what the system --- the end result system that we wish to design looks like, but I think we can probably come together around some very clear principles that would characterise such a system and a process --- in a way, I think that's what the Closing the Gap National Agreement has attempted to do --- providing a very clear way of having ongoing dialogue towards what that goal should look like.

I think it's not the --- I agree with you that it was hard, and it looks like it's a long way off at the moment but it's really important that we get walking towards that horizon.

CHAIR:  Thank you.  I should say that from the point of view of the Commission, the "it" is actually related to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability, and in this situation that means First Nations people with disability and specifically First Nations children with disability.  So as much as we would like, I'm sure, to solve all of the problems that get raised one way or another at hearings, we do have constraints imposed upon us by, mercifully, I should say, by our Terms of Reference, which are broad enough in any event as we have all experiencing.

I will inquire whether anyone wishes to ask questions.  Mr Dighton seems to have appeared on the screen.  I don't know whether that is ominous or not.

MR DIGHTON:  It is not ominous, Chair.  Thank you.  It is to raise one issue at this juncture, that is that the statement of Ms Liddle was received by the Commonwealth last night, so there has been limited time to work through a number of issues that are relevant to the Commonwealth.  As we apprehend the situation, there is an intention that Counsel Assisting will seek that parties with leave be afforded an opportunity to provide any further responsive material to issues raised within the hearing in a period after the hearing    

CHAIR:  We can address that after lunch.  I understand there have been some discussions between Counsel Assisting and the various parties, so we will have to sort out what needs to be done post hearing.

MR DIGHTON:  Yes, if that is the intent to be done on that basis, we do not seek to cross examine the witnesses now.

CHAIR:  I assume nobody has any questions of Ms Liddle or Dr Gray.

In that case, thank you very much for your evidence, both in written form and your oral evidence today and thank you for the very interesting discussion we have had during the course of the morning.  Thank you very much.


CHAIR:  Mr Crowley, do we now adjourn until 1.15?

MR CROWLEY:  Chair, we are proposing, we have the evidence of Maggie on pre record.

CHAIR:  Now?

MR CROWLEY:  Yes, but we need to have to have a short break to change over the interpreter, and to have a short break while that happens.

CHAIR:  Is it better to have lunch and come straight back to it or should we deal with it now?

MR CROWLEY:  I'm inquiring what is the most suitable in terms of the logistics.

CHAIR:  It may depend upon whether Commissioner Galbally wants a snack or not.

MR CROWLEY:  At this end, I think the interpreters are asking that it would be preferable to have the break now and resume at 1.15.

CHAIR:  We will take a short break and come back and have the pre recorded evidence.

MR CROWLEY:  Chair, I'm sorry, the interpreters have requested whether we could have the lunch break now.  Could we resume at 1.00 pm?

CHAIR:  Yes, well, let's make it 1.05 pm.  We will resume at 1.05 pm.  Thank you.

ADJOURNED    [12.18 PM]

RESUMED    [1.05 PM]

CHAIR:  Ms Tarrago, please go ahead.

MS TARRAGO:  We will now be hearing pre recorded evidence of "Maggie", a First Nations grandmother who is located in New South Wales and whose grandson "Elliott" is currently in out of home care.  You will find a copy of the transcript of Aunty Maggie's pre recorded evidence at Tender Bundle Part A, Tab 337.  I tender this pre recorded statement into evidence and ask that it be marked Exhibit 16.16.

CHAIR:  Yes.  That can be done.  Maggie's statement will be admitted into evidence and become Exhibit 16.16.


MS TARRAGO:  There are also 23 accompanying documents annexed to the statement produced by the National Disability Insurance Agency.  Commissioners, you will find this material in Tender Bundle A, Part A, tabs 338 to 360.  I tender this material into evidence and ask that it be marked Exhibits 16.16.1 through to 16.16.23.

CHAIR:  Yes, those documents may be admitted into evidence with the markings that Ms Tarrago has indicated.


MS TARRAGO:  Commissioners, the State of New South Wales has provided a statement of Ms Tracey Stokoe, Executive District Director of the Illawarra Shoalhaven and Southern New South Wales District Department of Community and Justice, and three accompanying annexures referred to in the statement in respect of the experiences of Aunty Maggie's grandson Elliott.  Commissioners, you will find this material in Tender Bundle Part A, Tabs 477 to 480.  I tender the statement into evidence and ask that it be marked Exhibit 16.45.

CHAIR:  Ms Stokoe's statement will be admitted into evidence with that marking.



MS TARRAGO:  I also tender the accompanying annexures into evidence and ask that they be marked Exhibit 16.45.1 through to 16.45.3.

CHAIR:  Yes, that too can be done.  Thank you.


MS TARRAGO:  In tendering these materials, I draw the Commissioners' attention to the pseudonym direction which is CTH DNP 00099 that is in place in relation to the identities of certain witnesses, including Maggie and Elliott.  Could the operator now please play the prerecorded video of Aunty Maggie, which is located at IND.0116.0001.0002.


MS TARRAGO:  So thank you, Aunty [Maggie], for joining us today.  I am Avelina Tarrago.  I am one of the barristers engaged by the Royal Commission to assist with hearings and we've invited you today to tell us your story, particularly around your care with your grandson, [Elliott].  But before we do that I might just ask you if you could tell us a little bit about yourself.

AUNTY MAGGIE:  I'm [Maggie].  I am a Wiradjuri woman, proud Wiradjuri.  My clan are people like Evonne Goolagong, who is my cousin, Latrell, Stan Grant, all those, so the Grants and the Goolagongs.  My dad was a Kamilaroi man and a boxer who won Golden Gloves.  I was brought up in a loving family.  They are passed on now, my mum and dad.

I used to live in Griffith, seasonal worker.  The principal there, because I had a good relationship with the school when my kids were young, they'd call me in.  Then I moved to Nowra because my kids wanted the beach.  I believe sharks live in beaches, in the water, not me, so I don't go in the ocean.

I became an AEO, which is Aboriginal Educational Consultant, many years ago.  I worked with them for 22 and a half years with children with disability and non disability, Indigenous ones, plus non Indigenous.  I used to help out in the classrooms.

Then later in life I turned around and I ended up leaving my workplace about nearly four years ago due to [Elliott] with his complex ways, six emerging mental health problems.  I set up a lot of stuff for him before because DoCS, when I first took [Elliott] on, I didn't know that DoCS paid you for it, so for three months I didn't get  
paid anyways, I just worked and did it.  That was me in an eggshell.

MS TARRAGO:  Okay.  And what about is [Elliott] currently living with you?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  No, he's gone to Bourke.  Because of the toxicity between the family that is here, I have a son that supports me and his wife.

MS TARRAGO:  And what's the connection with Bourke, is there a large amount of family in Bourke?
AUNTY MAGGIE:  There is family there on my dad's side, there is family there on my sister, I have two sisters there, and they moved there because her husband is a pastor in the church, and she moved there with her children years ago, and my other sister and her husband that used to live there.

MS TARRAGO:  And I just wanted to know a little bit about [Elliott] as a person.  Are you able to describe who he is as a young person?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  He can be a boy that loves skating, loves boxing, loves school to a capacity.  He turns around and if he has a little trigger, it could elevate to a big trigger.  So that was very daunting, like the last time, when I let him go this time to Bourke, it was just the simplest of things where he'd gone inside after punching me in the chest, knocking me on the road and coming in, smashing my house with over 11 holes in my walls.

MS TARRAGO:  Okay.  I might just ask you some questions about how [Elliott] came to be in your care initially.  Can you tell me when that started to happen.

AUNTY MAGGIE:  I was at work, I received a phone call from my daughter     oh, no, it started before that.  That night it had started where she was sitting in a gutter and the stepdad that was of [Elliott], not the dad, had taken off with [Elliott].  Police were called.  They searched for over an hour and when the police come back, [Elliott] was at the front of the motel with the door open and they were stoned out of their brains and on the bed asleep and that's where their journey had started.

MS TARRAGO:  And how old was he at that time?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  Seven months old.

MS TARRAGO:  And were the Department of Communities and Justice, or DCJ, were they involved at that stage?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  They were called because he was     by the time I got to ring and find out what was going on, the next day I contacted the local police up there and they put me into the right department and everything.  They had contacted     [Elliott] had been placed with non Indigenous people up in Sydney and the journey started from there.

From 7 months old a lady that was a police officer come with me.  She retired from the police, she was only young, retired and gave the police force up and went into an organisation called Waminda.  She supported me to go to Campbelltown Courts to fight for [Elliott].

So we went, we got [Elliott].  They granted him to me.  I come home.  I bought him a cot, I bought everything that he needed before he got here and then DoCS delivered him.

As he grew and he got older, and when he started escalating more after the incident with the fire and the fighting of the other child that was here and then that retaliation turned on to me, turned around what had happened was I was told to put in a review by a person     I'm not going to mention her name, she doesn't come from Nowra office     she said, "Put in a review for [Elliott] and his payment for medication and so forth," because he does take medication for it all.

Turned around I done that, and he was granted $800.  But it wasn't about the money for me.  It helped, but it wasn't about the money because this was my grandchild, my child that had all these problems and no one was helping me, bar an organisation here in town.  All the doctors' reports I'd set up, the works.

MS TARRAGO:  And how old is [Elliott] today?


MS TARRAGO:  Okay.  And when did you get a formal diagnosis about his disabilities?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  Westmead gave it to me.  It would have been when he was about 7 years old.  They were checking his eye because the muscles weren't working properly on his eye and they noticed     they must have noticed the symptoms     and someone had said, "Why don't you have him checked for FASD?"  And I said, "He ain't got it."  I didn't believe it because I didn't know much about FASD and what it all represented.

So turned around, what I did was talk to the paediatrician and the paediatrician knew that I went to Westmead quite a lot and he referred me to the FASD section there which is connected with Melbourne's FASD person higher up, so they did the assessment on that.  For emerging psychosis, that was done by Austin Woods, which is a psychologist.  For ADDHA and O, was done by Dr Greenacre before he retired.  Depression and anxiety was done by Austin Woods.  So I had all the specialists there to do it and that was before DoCS was even involved in helping in any way.

AUNTY MAGGIE:  When I had a triple bypass here in Nowra, DoCS ended up putting William Campbell in to support me, but it was over done and the more I told them, from 6 in the morning until 7 at night.

You know I was doing okay, I was cooking his meals and everything, but the ones they put in took over the cooking, took over the showering of him, took over having him all day, seven days a week until 7 o'clock at night.
MS TARRAGO:  And how did you feel about that?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  Hurt.  It was like my child     grandchild was being taken away.  He would hardly let me cuddle him in the end.

MS TARRAGO:  And that experience you were describing before about the support worker coming in and taking over meals, what did that mean for your role as grandmother culturally?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  Culturally, all I'd get is a kiss goodnight, that was it.  During the day, couldn't even dress him for school because at that stage he was     you've got to set out his clothes with this kid and turn on the shower, everything like that.  That was all taken away.  There was nothing there left to do, and that hurt.  That hurt me as a parent.

MS TARRAGO:  And did the support services ever get your input about what his care needs were?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  Did they ask?  No, they didn't.  They just assumed and said, "This is what's going to happen," when thing.  Because even his counsellor from Waminda turned around and said, "He is getting too much support," so  

MS TARRAGO:  Did you find the level of support was culturally inappropriate or appropriate?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  To me, it was inappropriate.  Not culturally, because there was no culture in it.  So I organised, to get a bit of culture, a young guy called [redacted] Ashby that plays the didge, and [Elliott] had already known him, because DoCS would do nothing about it.  And turned around, [redacted] took him on doing didge and never asked for any money out of it, the NDIS.

MS TARRAGO:  And just specifically about those carers that were coming in the seven days a week, were any of those workers First Nations?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  No, none of them.

MS TARRAGO:  Were any of the other support services that you had, were there any First Nations staff that were working with you?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  There was one called [redacted], but he moved on because he allocated up in Queensland before everything with COVID, and then the ones sent to go on, they'd worked in Koori organisations, his counsellor, and they had learnt how to do it, but they still weren't good.

MS TARRAGO:  Why was it important to you to have a case officer that was First Nations?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  The non Indigenous ones that are in there, when they talk to you they don't have eye contact, they don't explain it in our lingo and I know I'm lucky that I understood a lot, but if it was someone that didn't understand a lot, they'd be confused by the acronyms, and I wanted that person because I knew that with [Elliott] it'd be able to talk to, relate to and have a voice through DoCS.

Not only that, I believe that ours have a different way of approach an Indigenous of respect and culture compared to Indigenous people.  With our Indigenous, we acknowledge that this person is Indigenous.  Non Indigenous will look at you, "Oh, she's Koori, we'll just deal with it," that's it.

There is so many perspectives out there.  I believe, that non Indigenous have about Koori people.  Some, not all of them, I don't believe that.  I believe there is some good out there, but there is a big number of these people taking over control of us and trying to tell us when we're saying, "No, you're not doing the right thing.  You're not listening.  You're not giving that child a voice," and that is why I asked for an Indigenous one.

I even asked Deb as a worker for Indigenous disabilities to be an advocate and she mentioned it to them.  Nuh, said they haven't got one, and then I found out that they did have one, they had a couple.

MS TARRAGO:  When did you find that out?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  At a planned meeting for [Elliott].  I knew there was DoCS workers that actually worked in DoCS here, Koori ones, from the department when I worked for education and I knew a couple of them back then, and then I found out there was a guy that worked here as a Koori person, and his name was [redacted] but, yeah, he was never involved in it.

MS TARRAGO:  And how long ago was that, do you remember?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  I'm trying to think.  Earlier this year.  Would have been January, might have been late last year so, yeah.

MS TARRAGO:  And did you feel that the Department of Communities and Justice understood [Elliott]s disability?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  I think they     they knew about it, but I don't know if they really understood the complexity of it.

MS TARRAGO:  I just wanted to ask you some questions about [Elliott]'s disability support package.  Can you tell me about that journey and how old [Elliott] was when you went to get the package and what it involved.

AUNTY MAGGIE:  Sorry, but worked on it about two years ago.  Thought you had to walk in and just get the papers for NDIS, fill them out yourself, not have the doctors' reports or anything and hand them in.  8,000 later, that's all I was offered.

I know a professor in Sydney that worked with it and he explained the process, so I got two AMS workers, knew a lot about NDIS but didn't know fully what was needed for it, and they were Koori.  So we used to sit down, write down strategies, what we needed and so forth and it took a good, say six months, to get it all completed with all the reports, psychologists, police.  Everyone did reports.  Put the package together, put it in, ended up with 150,000.  That's what they offered me.

Then 12 months later, it would have been May this year, he was due to have a review and turned around and started collecting papers and that, and turned around and DoCS said, "No, we've got an NDIS worker.  She will do it.  We have NDIS kids in DoCS and we will put it together for him."

So they did the review.  I still don't know today how much was the package deal and what the majority of it is being used for because a big majority of it was used for, when I got it, behaviour therapist, OTs, speech, counsellors and it was used in a package deal of having that.

MS TARRAGO:  And so when you were talking about 8,000, that's $8,000 initially that he was given as part of his package and you managed to get that increased to 150,000.  Is that right?


MS TARRAGO:  And when the review was taking place and DCJ said that they would do it, which office?  Was that Bourke or Nowra?


MS TARRAGO:  And to this day you don't know what that package review resulted in?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  No.  I offered to do it, to make sure, because I had the professor behind me to help me get everything, document it properly and everything and I quoted that to them.  Nuh, didn't want it.

MS TARRAGO:  And just going back, you were talking about the AMS, so the Aboriginal Medical Centre.


MS TARRAGO:  What difference did it make when you mentioned you were working with two Koori workers?  What difference did it make to work with First  
Nations people?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  The difference was at least they listened.  They sat down and we done it as a team.  You were included and we did all the strategies together, we'd have meetings and we'd have a secretary there to document everything, what we'd talked about in that meeting and what we were doing to put it together, where the cultural component was going, where was the therapy going, where was the respite going.

All that was documented so that I could learn and I was put in the loophole to be able to say, "Oh, but how about if we did such and such?"  And they'd put that down, so I was given input into it and structure towards it.  Where in the DoCS office where I wanted to get it done and had the support help of this professor, "Nuh, we've got DoCS     NDIS DoCS workers, we will do it," and no information at all.

MS TARRAGO:  Do you know if they ever asked [Elliott] whether he wanted to give input about his package?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  Nope.  Never asked.

MS TARRAGO:  And when you had initially got the package and you were talking about respite, how often was that happening for you?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  Respite, week days he'd get a lady in the afternoon, from 3 to 5 in the afternoon there times a week, a Monday, a Wednesday and a Friday, or there for a while when I got punched in the chest, they put a Saturday in and took the Wednesday away and had the Monday, Friday and Saturday where he could help [Elliott], and I didn't know at the time that you could take money out of NDIS to give to that person and say, "Here is some money for him to go to the movies," and then they said, "No, we don't need that.  That can be used for something else.  We get that from NDIS already," and that's why it didn't [inaudible] with us because we were all kept in the loop with everything.

MS TARRAGO:  And now do you know what services [Elliott]'s still receiving now he's in Bourke?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  Not all of them.  I know they got a psychologist.  I don't know when the psychologist sees him.  They've got a guy called [redacted], he is Indigenous and my sister and my niece said that he's not bad.

They said     before they put [redacted] on and they turned around and didn't contact him until, if they even contacted him now about it, and they just put [redacted] on, yep, and they didn't even know if he was Indigenous or not.  They didn't do their own work to ask that.  They just heard [redacted] was a guy that works with kids and that and what they've heard is good reviews and didn't and they said, "I think he is already Aboriginal," but didn't say it because they didn't ask.

In the meantime, I've been in contact with my niece and asked, "Is he Aboriginal?"  And he is, and he works a couple of days a week with him in the afternoon, and on Saturday he turned around, because he knew [Elliott] was a bit stressed out, he come around Saturday and didn't even put it on the NDIS.

MS TARRAGO:  Why is it important that [Elliott] has some cultural connection as part of his NDIS package?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  The reason is because he already has a lot of culture with dancing that he used to do, he made his only little didge with his grandfather, so he's helped paint it to his design.  He plays his didge, a kid that has been playing since about 8 years old with a didge.  He is getting a bigger one as he grows.  Another reason is he needs     if you are Koori at heart and you grow up as a Koori, you need to know who your connections are, where your mob comes from and what your mob is about in culture in that area so you can learn it.  That is why it's so important.

MS TARRAGO:  And, Aunty [Maggie], do you feel that culture is linked to wellbeing?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  Yep.  Because with culture, like the thing is you can be having the shittiest day going and you get alone and then you can have a bit of anxiety or depression and you'll be thinking     I believe because of the way that I was brought up, I believe that the spirits are with you and they put energy into bringing you back and there's always a little sign of the spirits being around.

You could be sitting out the back and then as you walk all of a sudden you'll see either a little thing that will remind you, "It's time to go home.  It's time to know this," and it just gives you, like, those endorphins and all that just seem to release from your mind because he is a kid that used to sit and you'd make two breakfasts, one for him and one for his mate that was sitting there from the emergency     emerging psych     emergency     surging thing emerging, sorry, I can't even think of it at the moment.

DEBBIE:  Psychosis.

AUNTY MAGGIE:  Psychosis.  But I mean he still hears some voices and they'll be there for many years to come.  As he gets older, the rules are going to change and that's why having the police and his culture to fall back on, he'll know and he'll build strength like I have.  My strength don't come from me, my strength comes from my ancestors, my culture and that gives me energy and that is what I want for that child and I believe he's getting it.

MS TARRAGO:  Thank you, Aunty [Maggie].

MS TARRAGO:  So, Aunty [Maggie], can I just ask some questions just around DCJ and their involvement, and I acknowledge that you say there's a lack of support.  How much engagement do you have with the office in respect of [Elliott]'s care?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  Now, not much at all, because they don't ring me unless I engage.  I know with the mother they are meant to contact her every month to give her a rundown how he's going.  Nuh.  I fill her in.  They call me a controller, that's what they've got in affidavits about me and, honestly, nuh, the only time they stepped in and they did it wrong.

They failed this family.  Never had Indigenous workers.  Nothing.  Even asked for an Indigenous worker.  Nuh.  "None, can't do it," or they haven't got enough workers there.  Turned around, they had an answer for everything.
For [redacted], I asked recently about because they're in a rural, isolated area and could they register [redacted] car, that's all it needed, because she's struggling     she doesn't even get paid from DoCS yet     and asked could they register her car for her.

He's already had one accident and it was an accident where him and cousin was climbing this tree in the backyard and as they climbed the tree they, if they'd fallen in next door's yard, there was big, vicious dogs in there.  But as he come down, I don't know how he done it, but it was coming down the tree that his hands got cut and it was close to the tendons and he ended up with 11 stitches.

Not once has Bourke DoCS been out there to see her about that, to see how she's going and coping and I mean it's wrong.  It's wrong because if you're going to make this successful for any carer, not just me, you've got to engage and at least once a week ring.  I know it's a lot of phone calls, but they get a good budget, and they don't     they do not engage in the carers.  They do not do it with compassion.

I had it asked at the last episode because I'd put in a complaint about them and I got Deb to send it off as an email, and what had happened was about a bit over a week later one of the DoCS workers rang me and asked me, "Oh, what's the complaint?  I thought we were getting along good?"  So I mean, nuh, I'd never trust them.

MS TARRAGO:  So your experience from a long time ago, do you feel that's influenced also now your relationship?
AUNTY MAGGIE:  I think in a way partly.  There's no trust there, there's none whatsoever.  Because the Stolen Generation is another thing.  I had not known a thing about it years ago, back in     it would have been 1990 when I first moved to Nowra that I learnt that Bomaderry Homes was the Stolen Generation.

Then my mother had turned around and told me to look for a cousin that was in that home.  She'd never spoke about it when we were kids, and this is similar to what those people, family, those kids went through is what [Elliott]'s going through now.

DoCS recently wanted him to go to Tasmania because the last carer, me daughter, wanted him to go over there, to Tasmania, to another niece.  He doesn't know that niece, he does not know that family on his pop's side.  They are brought up by Italian because they're Italian father and he would not have survived in that environment.
I have seen [Elliott] when police have come at all ages.  He has jumped up and down  
on a single bed when he's gone off, holding two big knives and trying to stab the police.  One copper had lost it and said, "I'm sick of this," so it turned around, that's when the ACLO actually worked with me with other police and we set up a profile on the computer so that when they'd come out, all the ones that did know him, he'd walk in a mall, like Stocklands or Coles mall in Nowra, they'd walk up and high five him, have a good little chat, and even sometimes buy an ice cream or a drink for him, that way it kept the respect towards the police when they come.

So that program, I spoke to Bourke because DoCS here hadn't done it, I spoke to the police here and I spoke to the ones at Bourke, a constable called [redacted] or something, and I told them about the programs, so they got in contact with Nowra.  So Nowra is working with them to set up a similar program for [Elliott] for if he was to go off out there.

MS TARRAGO:  And if I could get you to explain what the importance of the role of grandmother is culturally for someone who didn't know coming from Aboriginal society.  Could you explain the importance of the role of a grandmother.

AUNTY MAGGIE:  How I was brought up was     I was brought up on a mission out of Condobolin and with my mother.  I never knew my grandmother.  I never knew both my grandmothers, but I got told by Aunties and so forth that, "You are there     when you get older and you have children, you still respect your Elders and you teach those children to do the same.  You say to those children, 'Just because I'm your grandmother, sure enough you love me, but I am also an Elder, an Elder that loves you dearly,'" and that's where culture of an Indigenous nan comes from.

MS TARRAGO:  And do you feel that any of the support services that you worked with understood your role as a grandmother and an Elder to [Elliott]?


MS TARRAGO:  And what about the Department of Communities and Justice, did they understand your role as a grandmother and Elder?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  No, and I still don't     I still believe that they don't, by the way they speak, by the way they act and what they do.

MS TARRAGO:  Can you explain a little bit about how they speak and act towards you.

AUNTY MAGGIE:  If they're trying to get close to you for a reason, you'll have the sweetest person and you can always pick up, but if it's not, they turned around and they talk to you in a sense of, "Oh, look, what do you need now?"  Not, "What would you like?"

It would have been appropriate to change some of the tones and look at a person that is there Indigenous in them or is there not to be able to place yourself in that Elder's  
position and see what we go through.  A lot of us are taking on children, our own grandchildren and others, but they think it's just, "Oh, well, this one's taken on so get her out of the way, sign her up, go from there.  Do nothing."

MS TARRAGO:  Thank you for explaining that.  I just wanted to ask some questions about     and you were talking about it earlier about the First Peoples Disability Network and Debbie supporting you     can you tell me about how much it's changed things for you to have Debbie and the FPDN involved.

AUNTY MAGGIE:  Oh, look 

DEBBIE:  Do you want me to go out of the room?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  No, you're right, Deb.  She's being respectful.  To me it was a journey of     because there's some good cops around and some of the cops here, I do a program such as youth that get into trouble, and I go in as cell support for them and support them also.  But I used to get torn between that, torn between [Elliott] and a lot of things, but I didn't have anywhere really to release it and then Deb     I got to meet Deb and Deb has been a ray of light, a light coming to the end of the tunnel, support, keeping me calm without losing it, and I mean if I didn't have Deb at my side, I know that she's here in spirit because her spirit connects with my spirit and the people that she helps.  I'm not saying it because Witchypoo's sitting beside me, but I'm saying it because of the compassion, her being an Indigenous strong woman and the journey that she gave [Elliott] helping me.

MS TARRAGO:  And what kind of things did you get help from Debbie and for [Elliott] and yourself?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  With DoCS.  She became an advocate in the end where I was not being listened to and Deb would email them, Deb would be a part of my conversations with DoCS at times and she'd turned around and spoke to them on their level where because I know so much but I don't have the knowledge what youse have got and what she has.

So to be talking about human rights and listening to me practically cry at times, the comforting words.  I mean I don't know how she does it, but she does it, and they are the things     she even come back to Nowra the last court case and sat with me and then we find out that no one had notified us about [Elliott] not going to court that day here in Nowra, was up in Port Kembla.  So I mean it's been strength after strength and that is what's helped me.

MS TARRAGO:  And does it make a difference to have a First Nations specific disability NGO?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  Definitely.

MS TARRAGO:  And do you think that without it you wouldn't have had the support  
and advocacy that was needed?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  I honestly believe that I would not have had the advocacy due to the fact that because with [Elliott] I could be bashed in the main street or anything, DoCS was never there.  They didn't come in, so they weren't an advocacy for him.  Deb, when she come on board, I could just dial her number and rant on and on and she would listen.  She must have been tired half the time to actually be there listening after work because she does long hours.  She deals with a lot of people, not just me, because I know out there there is more than me that goes through this.

I've heard people like the ACLOs say, "I deal with one up in Wollongong."  She goes up there at least twice a week, or she goes down towards Narooma or she's over at Goulburn, and I mean to hear that from Deb too to say, "I've got a client up here," or, "I'm way down at Eden," or whatever, can you imagine just the driving, then organising everything that you need for that next day with that client.  It is daunting, it is a strength where I don't know where she pulls it from, with a smile.  DoCS don't do that.  Never.

MS TARRAGO:  And, Aunty [Maggie], can you tell me what you hope for [Elliott]'s future.

AUNTY MAGGIE:  For [Elliott]'s future my own thoughts is that he is not in a toxic scene, like here in Nowra.  That he stays out at Bourke because of the environment and the environment has stayed the same where he'll go yabbying, he'll get into football, he'll get to meet his cousin, Latrell, because Latrell and his mum lives out that way 'cause Latrell's just bought a house for his mum, [redacted], out there and she's moved into it.

The Indigenous First People have a way of speaking and it's not just like, "Oh, yeah, mate, what do ya think you're doing now."  It's, "Eh mate," and it's always got a little kink on our voices and you can always pick up when you're talking to an Indigenous person to a non Indigenous because not only their tones and that, it's their accent and their expressions that they put into it and that is what comes across and that is what I want for [Elliott].

[Elliott] one day could be a cop, one day an ambulance driver, or a motorbike rider where he races motorbikes or drives cars, but he won't get it here in Nowra because if he's in a toxic scene he won't get it.  But if he's in an environment that ain't toxic, he's got a good personality of getting that education to be able to do all that and that's all I ask.  I don't want anything.  I want him to have it.

I want a life     I know he's going to have his challenges, but if he's got the right sort of people that'll sit down and say to him, "Look, mate, we've got to build a trust.  You are able to come to me any time of the day and tell me about you and what you want," and that's what this carer is doing because if she weren't, my sister would tell me and I'd be chucking holy hell again.

But now they want to uproot him and put him somewhere else, so I'm up for another challenge.  And I'm not saying my body ain't tired from fighting all these battles all these years, but I won't walk away from a kid, especially my grandson that needs that done.

So I hope he comes to me and says, "Nan, I love you.  I'm doing the IPROWD Police Force Scholarship because there's a program to be in the cop shop under Indigenous called IPROWD and the kids go through that way and they go to Dubbo.  They learn Wiradjuri culture, they go to Sydney, do the water thing, the lot.

If he doesn't do that because he's changed his mind, he might have wanted to do the army, and that's got the structure in those two components.  But one thing with his career that he will carry is the lessons of what he's learned from a young age to be able to help someone else from his trial and errors and how to stand up for someone and give back what he's got to have to deal with, and that's all I ask.

He can be broke as me and lucky to have two bob half the time, but if he's got love, he's got contentment, he understands what is wrong with him but knows you can overcome it by doing something yourself, he can teach that next person behind him and that would make me so proud of what he's achieved.

MS TARRAGO:  Thank you for sharing that.  Some people can make recommendations to the Royal Commission.  Is there anything that you would like to say to the Royal Commission about what needs to change for people like [Elliott]?

AUNTY MAGGIE:  For DoCS, they have got to listen.  They have got to listen to the child, listen to the carer and say, "What do you recommend?"  And then they can suggest what they reckon might help if they've done their homework, and turn around and say anything they want to and believe them because they're a child.

Don't turn around and walk away and thinking, "Oh, he's only bullshitting, he wants a tantrum," because disability kids, they rarely lie because they're lied to, they're pitied, they're not understood.  All they need is to understand them and if they haven't got that training, they haven't got their compassion, Indigenous or not, they need to learn it and have them courses in there for them kids because disabilities are growing from the ice, to the pot, to the alcohol, to the domestic violence, it is all there that affects that child and once people out there like you have come forward for someone like me and others to tell our story, to hear his story that you're not allowed because why would they not let him?  Are they afraid?  They believe, "Sit 'em there, shut 'em up.  We tell them what to do," like herding up sheep.  It can't happen like that anymore.

These ones have got the disability, these ones need that support and they need to be believed and understood and that is what I'm hoping will help him and others like him.  There's places like the police, if they haven't had training     I'm just lucky that I had mates in the police force here in Nowra and the PCYC that would listen and went to the commander and they turned around and they got their system up and  
running with me with the ACLO.  There's others out there that are screaming out for the same help as I did for this disability boy.  If you had something like that even in the system of the police force, the corrections centre and especially DoCS, these kids would have a better life to look forward to.  Thank you for everything.

MS TARRAGO:  No, thank you.  Thank you for sharing your story and we'll share that space with you today.


CHAIR:  Yes, Ms Tarrago.

MS TARRAGO:  Commissioners, now that we have concluded the course of the oral evidence of this hearing, I'd like to take the opportunity to deal with some documentary matters.

CHAIR:  Yes.

MS TARRAGO:  With respect to the residual tender bundle and corrections to that tender bundle.  I seek to make the residual tender bundle of documents that we have not tendered into evidence for a variety of reasons over the course of the week, and these documents are set out within Tender Bundles A, B and D.

If I could turn to tender bundle A, firstly, Mr Glenn Mace, who gave evidence on Tuesday with respect to "Leah" and "Connor", produced a further statement to the Commission which you can find at Tender Bundle Part A, Tab 335.  I tender the supplementary statement into evidence and ask that it be marked Exhibit 16.48.

CHAIR:  The supplementary statement of Mr Mace will be admitted into evidence and become Exhibit 16.48.


MS TARRAGO:  Raymond Brunker from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health SDervice in Brisbane provided a statement in respect to the evidence of "Ivy".  Commissioners, you will find this statement is in Tender Bundle Part A at Tab 578.  I tender this material into evidence and ask that it be marked Exhibit 16.49.  There's also a number of    

CHAIR:  That is the statement of Mr Brunker; is that right?


CHAIR:  The statement of Mr Brunker will be admitted into evidence and become Exhibit 16.49.


MS TARRAGO:  There are also four additional documents that were produced by the State of Queensland in relation to "Megan's" case study.  You can find those documents at Tender Bundle Part A, Tabs 579 to 582.  I tender that material into evidence and ask that those be marked as Exhibits 16.17.116 to 16.17.119.

CHAIR:  Yes, those additional documents can be admitted into evidence with those markings.


MS TARRAGO:  Additional documents relating to the evidence of "Leah" and the case study of "Connor" are at Tender Bundle Part A Tabs 583 to 587, including a letter from foster care agency Wanslea Limited, responding to the witness statement of Leah.  I tender this material into evidence and ask that documents at tabs 583 to 586 be marked Exhibits 16.12.250 to 16.12.253, and that the letter of Wanslea be marked Exhibit 16.50.

There are also a number of additional documents that have been produced by the Northern Territory in respect of "Miriam's" case    

CHAIR:  Sorry.  The first batch you wanted to be marked as Exhibit 16.12.250 to 16.12.253; is that right?


CHAIR:  Then the letter to which you referred, do you want to be introduced into evidence with what number?

MS TARRAGO:  16.50.

CHAIR:  So that will become Exhibit 16.50.  That letter --- and I have not read that as yet --- I take it that is from Wanslea, is it, and that is the response to Leah's evidence?


CHAIR:  Yes, all right, thank you.



MS TARRAGO:  Additional documents with respect to Miriam's case have been produced by the Northern Territory.  They can be found at Tender Bundle Part A at Tabs 588 to 623.  I tender this material into evidence and ask that it be marked as Exhibits 16.7.105 to 16.7.140.

CHAIR:  Yes.  These documents relating to Miriam's case can be admitted into evidence and bear the markings 16.7.105 to 16.7.140.


MS TARRAGO:  With respect to Tender Bundle Part B, Ms Donna Ah Chee, the CEO of the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, prepared a supplementary statement for her oral evidence on Monday.  That supplementary statement is located at Tab 24 of Tender Bundle Part B and I ask that it be tendered into evidence and marked Exhibit 16.51.

CHAIR:  Yes, that statement from Ms Donna Ah Chee can be admitted into evidence and become Exhibit 16.51.


MS TARRAGO:  Commissioners, there are also a number of context witnesses who have provided written evidence to the Royal Commission but who did not partake in oral evidence.  This includes Dr Sharynne Hamilton, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow of Aboriginal Health at the Telethon Kids Institute.  You will find a copy of Dr Hamilton's statement at Tender Bundle Part B, Tab 29.  I tender that and ask that it be marked as Exhibit 16.32.

CHAIR:  Yes, Dr Hamilton's statement can be admitted into evidence with the marking of Exhibit 16.32.


MS TARRAGO:  There are also five annexures to Dr Hamilton's statement that can also be found at Tender Bundle Part B, tabs 30 to 34.  I tender that material into evidence and ask that it be marked Exhibits 16.32.1 to 16.32.5.

CHAIR:  Yes, that can be done.


MS TARRAGO:  The evidence of Ms Maeve Kennedy from children and young people with disability has also provided a statement on behalf of her organisation and relating to her experiences as a respite and foster carer for First Nations children with disability in Victoria.  Commissioners will find a copy of the statement at Tender Bundle Part B, Tab 35.  I tender that statement and ask that it be marked as Exhibit 16.33.

CHAIR:  Yes, Ms Kennedy's statement will be admitted into evidence with the marking of Exhibit 16.33.


MS TARRAGO:  A further four annexures to Ms Kennedy's statement are also found at Tender Bundle Part B, Tabs 36 to 39.  I tender those documents into evidence and ask they be marked as Exhibits 16.33.1 to 16.33.4.

CHAIR:  Yes, that can be done.


MS TARRAGO:  At Tender Bundle Part D, Commissioners, this tender bundle contains ancillary State and Territory evidence as well as materials with respect to data.  In that respect you will find the statement of Jo Wood of the ACT Community  
Services Directorate, and that is located in Tender Bundle Part D, Tab 1.  I tender this statement into evidence and ask that it be marked Exhibit 16.34.

CHAIR:  Yes, did you say "Woods" or "Wood"?

MS TARRAGO:  Wood.  Jo Wood.

CHAIR:  The statement of Mr Wood will be admitted into evidence with the marking of Exhibit 16.34.


MS TARRAGO:  Next, Commissioners will find two statements from representatives of the Northern Territory Department of Territory Families, communities and housing.  This includes the statement of Mr Ken Davies, CEO of that Department, which is located at Tender Bundle Part D at Tab 2.  I tender the statement into evidence and ask that it be marked Exhibit 16.35.

CHAIR:  Mr Davies' statement can become Exhibit 16.35, bundle D.


MS TARRAGO:  A further statement of Jeanette Kerr in Tender Bundle Part D at tab 3, I tender the statement into evidence and ask that it be marked Exhibit 16.36.

CHAIR:  When did each of these statements come in?

MS TARRAGO:  Chair, I don't have that information before me.  There's a variety of dates, I have been informed.

CHAIR:  First of all, I will admitted the last document which you referred to.  This is the further statement of Ms Kerr.  That is the Ms Kerr who gave evidence; is that right?


CHAIR:  That additional statement will be Exhibit 16.36.


CHAIR:  This seems to be a vast amount of documentation.  What does it all relate to?  Is it just lots of pieces of paper or should we do something with it?

MS TARRAGO:  There are various responses.  At this stage, with respect to the residual Tender Bundle, it is to ensure that all of the material is before the Commission and can be considered.

CHAIR:  That sounds like an enticing prospect!

MS TARRAGO:  Some of the evidence relates to oral evidence that has been heard during the course of the hearing, Chair.

CHAIR:  Yes, all right.

MS TARRAGO:  With respect to Ms Kerr's further statement, there are also 19 ---

CHAIR:  Can we just pause.  I'm looking now at Tender Bundle D, which has 47 tabs.  Are we going to go through these one by one?

MS TARRAGO:  It's only in respect of the further statements that need to be formally entered into evidence.

CHAIR:  How many of them are there beyond those that we have gone through?

MS TARRAGO:  There are 11 more that need to be formally tendered, Chair.

CHAIR:  Plus a number of annexures and so on?

MS TARRAGO:  That includes the annexures.

CHAIR:  Why don't you do a job lot?  Why don't you put in a piece of paper on Monday which asks for these documents to be put in evidence and if appropriate I can sign the authorisation of them being admitted into evidence, rather than going through them one by one.

MS TARRAGO:  That can be done.

CHAIR:  All right, thank you.  I think that might be a better way of dealing with it.

MS TARRAGO:  Thank you, Chair.

There is another matter with respect to discussions with New South Wales and the reading of Ms Stokoe's statement on to the record.

CHAIR:  Which statement is that?  I think there might have been two statements of Ms Stokoe.  In any event, which is that statement, where do we find it?

MS TARRAGO:  Chair, I will deal with this first one, which relates to the evidence of Aunty Maggie, who we just heard with respect to the prerecord.  That document is STAT.0445.0001.0001.  I will get some instructions as to where in the tender bundle that sits.

CHAIR:  Yes.

MS TARRAGO:  It is intended to read that particular statement, which is dated 16 September 2021, in its entirety, which is 33 paragraphs.

CHAIR:  You are going to read this now, are you?

MS TARRAGO:  That has been requested, and following discussions with Counsel Assisting, that's the position.

CHAIR:  All right.  I was hoping to get home before the grand final tomorrow night.

MS TARRAGO:  It's a matter for the Chair.

CHAIR:  Anyway, if you have got an agreement to read the statement, please do.

MS TARRAGO:  Just to indicate, there is a further statement of Ms Stokoe, dated 8 September 2021, which relates to the prerecorded evidence of Aunty Audrey   

CHAIR:  That was referred to the other day.

MS TARRAGO:  Yes, and just certain paragraphs with respect to that statement.

CHAIR:  All right, go ahead and read what it is that you need to read.

MS TARRAGO:  Certainly.  With respect to the statement on 16 September 2021, Chair, that can be located in Tender Bundle A at Tab 477.  Yes, I have that document, thank you.


[Elliott] was born in June 2010 and entered care at 7 months old and was shortly after placed in the care of his grandmother ..... On ..... May 2011 the Children's Court at Campbelltown .....

CHAIR:  Tell me what paragraph you are reading from, please.

MS TARRAGO:  Paragraph 6.

CHAIR:  Is this Ms Stokoe's statement of 8 September?

MS TARRAGO:  16 September.

CHAIR:  Carry on.


In ..... May 2011, the Children's Court at Campbelltown made final orders allocating all aspects of parental responsibility to [Auntie Maggie] until [Elliott] attained the age of 18 years.

Until recently, [Elliott] lived with [Aunty Maggie] in Nowra.  [Aunty Maggie] held the legal decision making responsibilities of Elliott.  The Department paid an allowance to [Aunty Maggie] as his guardian and assisted with supports such as respite, referrals to services and casework support when needed.  The Department did not have a decision making role with regards to [Elliott] during this period.

[Maggie] sought to relinquish guardianship of [Elliott] in early January 2021 and the secretary of the Department assumed his care on [redacted] January 2021.  A care application was filed in the NSW Children's Court for Elliott, and on [redacted] January 2021 interim parental responsibility was granted to the Minister for Families and Communities, and Disability Services.

Since then, a number of family placement options have been explored and [Elliott] is now in the care of his Aunty ..... in Bourke.  His Aunty was approached on a recommendation from Aunty Maggie.

A Section 90 application to the Children's Court is currently before court to rescind all guardianship orders to [Maggie].

Since [Elliott] has moved to Bourke, a new case plan has developed and is currently being approved by the Department.  [Elliott] has indicated that his goal is to live with his grandfather ..... At the moment, [Elliott] is unable to live with his grandfather but will visit him in Nowra during school holidays.

His case plan has been developed in a way that aligns with Elliott's NDIS plan.

[Elliott's] current Cultural Support Plan is being developed with his family by an Aboriginal case worker from the Aboriginal Cultural Support Team.  [Elliott] participated in this process, along with his grandparents and other family members.

The Department has worked together with a large number of Aboriginal services to ensure that [Elliott] has had access to culturally appropriate supports.  A list of culturally appropriate services the Department has sought to provide and arrange is contained at document [NSW.0061.0001.0001].

On 5 July 2021, [Elliott] was transported to his maternal cousin .... in Bourke  
by the [out of home care] case worker and [Elliott's] maternal grandfather .....

An interagency services meeting was conducted on 7 July 2021 with Birrang NDIS service coordinators, Bourke Youth Police Liaison Officer and Aboriginal Community Liaison Officers of New South Wales Police, Catholic care families support services, Live Better and Nowra and Bourke CSC casework staff.  The purpose of this meeting was to discuss Elliott moving to the area and the services available in Bourke to support [Elliott and his carer].  It was agreed a number of referrals would be put in place to provide intensive support.

On 13 July 2021, a follow up interagency meeting was held and it was agreed referrals would be accepted by Catholic Care for mentoring with an Aboriginal mentor, cultural support and family support, and a Birrang Support Coordination, to assist with NDIS support coordination and referral to a psychologist linked to this service.  [The school] staff also attended to assist with the enrolment process and to discuss supports [Elliott] would require at school.  A copy of the meeting record is contained at [NSW.0061.0002.0001].

On 14 July 2021, the Department contacted ANALA regarding providing ongoing behavioural support, occupational therapy and speech pathology via skype given the lack of services are that are in Bourke.  ANALA agreed to remain involved with [Elliott] and his positive behaviour support practitioner, and has maintained ongoing communication with [his carer] and [the school] to provide support and strategies to manage [Elliott's] behaviours.

On 14 July 2021, Bourke CSC case workers conducted a home visit to his carer, to check how she and [Elliott] were faring.

On 23 July 2021, a caseplan meeting was held with Birrang, and representatives from his school, [his carer] and the Department.  [Elliott] actively participated in the caseplan development and was open in discussing how he was feeling and what he wanted to include in his caseplan.  The families' views were invited after the meeting, to avoid [Elliott] feeling challenged by any family member during the meeting.  A copy of the meeting record is contain at [NSW.0061.0003.0001].

On 26 July 2021, Elliott began his enrolment at [the school] and was undertaking 2 hours a day partial attendance to allow him to settle into the new school.

On 2 August 2021 [Elliott] began engaging with a Cultural Mentor ..... It was intended that [the cultural mentor] would spend two afternoons a week and one Saturday a fortnight with [Elliott].  [Elliott] is engaging well with [the cultural mentor].

On 9 August 2021, a meeting was held with Elliott's mother and [grandfather]  
and the Department at the home of [the grandfather].  The meeting was to discuss family time arrangements between [Elliott's] mother and [Elliott], and her long term plan to work towards restoration of [Elliott].

[Elliott] commenced psychological counselling on 10 August 2021.

Arrangements have been made for [Elliott's] mother to spend four days, supported by Movement Five, with [Elliott] in Dubbo to begin developing positive independent relationships between them.

In addition to the mentoring provided through Birrang, the Department is seeking to provide a further mentor recommended by [Aunty Maggie].  Mentoring through Bush to the Beach will complement the mentoring provided through Birrang as they will have greater capacity to work with [Elliott] on the weekend, including overnights.  Supports through Bush to the Beach have been delayed as a result of COVID.

[Elliott] has been diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactive disorder, foetal alcohol spectrum disorders and depression.  He has a current NDIS plan.

During the period in which [Aunty Maggie] had parental responsibility for [Elliott], [Aunty Maggie] maintained responsibility for [Elliott's] NDIS plan.  Since [Elliott] came into the care of the Minister in January 2021, the Department has assumed responsibility for his NDIS plan.

When his plan was due for review, the Department requested and was provided an Aboriginal planner.  [His] previous planner was non Aboriginal and [Elliott's] caseworker also consulted the Department's Engagement and Family Services ..... team.

The current vision of [Elliott's] NDIS plan, developed while he was in Nowra, is modelled on the plans developed while he was in the parental responsibility of [Aunty Maggie].  The plan contains the same capacity building goals, however, one of the service providers was changed by the Department.

The reason for the change in services from Interchange to another provider, Movement Five, was that it was hoped that this would support [Elliott's] further growth.  A significant factor was that Movement Five was able to offer both one on one and small group support.  This was seen as important because the NDIS plan had identified the need to support [Elliott] with his social skills and emotional regulation, and it was believed that small group work would provide this opportunity.  While [Aunty Maggie] was initially unsure about this change, I understand that the new provider is working well with [Elliott] and improvements are being observed.  [Elliott] himself has indicated that he wants to continue to access support through Movement Five, as identified during the development of his most recent case plan.

Most of the supports funded through the NDIS plan are provided by Aboriginal organisations.  These services were in place in earlier NDIS plans arranged while [Elliott] was in [Aunty Maggie's] care and were retained in the current player arranged by the Department.  While [Elliott] was still living in Nowra, he continued to receive support coordination and healing counselling through Waminda and ANALA continued to provide behaviour support, occupational therapy and speech pathology.

[Elliott] will continue to spend school holidays with his family in Nowra.  While in Nowra, he will continue to have access to supports through Movement Five and Movement Five will continue to take Elliott on camps with a small group of children, which Elliott has indicated that he wants to do.

That's the first statement, Chair.  I will take Commissioners to ---

CHAIR:  Just before we leave that, paragraphs 6 and 7 indicate that on [redacted] May 2011 the Children's Court at Campbelltown made final orders allocating all aspects of parental responsibility to Aunty Maggie until Elliott attained the age of 18.  Paragraph 7 then says that aunt Maggie held all legal decision making responsibilities for Elliott, but the Department paid an allowance and assisted with support such as respite, referral to services and casework support.

Are you able or is someone able to tell us in what capacity the Department did that?  Was the Department in any sense --- did the Department in any sense have care and control of Elliott or was this pursuant to separate arrangements, for example, that may be available for First Nations children through the state or for children with disability?

MS TARRAGO:  Perhaps this is something that Ms Furness can address.

MS FURNESS:  I might take that on notice, if I can, Chair.

CHAIR:  I would be grateful if that could be clarified.  I'm sure there is an explanation, I'm just not quite sure what the legal position is.  Thank you.

MS TARRAGO:  Chair, if I continue ---

CHAIR:  I should make it clear that the statement you have just read is actually Exhibit 16.45, that was admitted into evidence earlier this afternoon.  You are now going to read from the 8 September statement, are you?

MS TARRAGO:  That's correct, Chair, just certain paragraphs.

CHAIR:  Which paragraphs are they, so I can follow it?

MS TARRAGO:  Commencing with paragraph 23 to 24.  Would you like them in bulk at the start?

CHAIR:  I'm sorry?

MS TARRAGO:  Would you like the paragraphs in bulk at the start?  There are other paragraphs to follow.

CHAIR:  Read those and then tell us where you are when you go to the next lot.

MS TARRAGO:  Certainly.

On 21 August 2020, [Brandon's] caseworker made a referral to the Department's Engagement & Family Support ..... team for support with accessing the NDIS for [Brandon].  EFS is a specialist team that works with frontline staff to build their understanding of disability and the NDIS, including how to engage with the NDIA on behalf of clients.  Capacity building includes:

a) the development of information and training resources for case workers who are not familiar with the processes of engaging with the NDIS

b) supporting First Nations people who may not identify as having a disability

c) participating in complex case panels, serious case reviews and group supervision to provide support around disability and NDIS issues.

On 25 November 2020, a member of the EFS team attended [Brandon's] NDIS planning meeting with the NDIA.  Support was provided to access the NDIS and prepare for this meeting.  The EFS is available to provide support at any time requested by [Brandon's] case worker.

I now take the Commissioners to paragraphs 29, 30 and 31, which is page 6.

CHAIR:  Yes.

MS TARRAGO:  Just in respect of delivery of culturally appropriate disability services to First Nations children and young people, to equip them to manage their NDIS plans.

The casework staff that have worked with [Brandon] have been provided with expert advice from Aboriginal consultants in the lead up to [Brandon's] NDIS plan, and since it has been established.

Training and supports provided to [Brandon's] case workers in relation to the delivery of culturally appropriate disability services to First Nations children and young people

An Aboriginal caseworker from the cultural support team went to a home visit to see [Brandon] on 13 October 2020, and took part in a pre assessment  
consultation for [Brandon's] initial NDIS meeting.

An Aboriginal planner was not available for [Brandon's] NDIS meeting, initially scheduled for 15 October 2020.  Therefore the meeting was rescheduled for when an Aboriginal planner was available.

Commissioners, if I could then take you to paragraphs 43 and 44 on page 9:

Details of which, if any, supports provided to [Brandon] under his current NDIS plan have been or are provided by Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations

[Brandon's] NDIS support coordinator is Illawarra Aboriginal Corporation ..... which is an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation.

Details of the current support coordination provider engaged under [Brandon's] curbed NDIS plan, when the Department appointed that support coordination provider, and when the support coordination provider started providing services to [Brandon is detailed] .....

On 25 November 2020, the Department appointed IAC as [Brandon's] NDIS support coordination provider.

I will take the Commissioners to paragraphs 47 to 65:

[Brandon's] NDIS plan is in addition to his iCare plan that he receives through lifetime care.  [Brandon] receives support from iCare following a motor vehicle accident that left him with a brain injury in 2014.  iCare provide the following supports for [Brandon]:

a. rehabilitation and medical specialist's appointments

b. respite through Disability Trust.

c. psychological assessment and reports.

d. ongoing psychiatrist appointments.

e. case management consisting of weekly home visits.

[Brandon's] NDIS plan has been created to provide [Brandon] with supports that are not funded in his case plan with iCare.  [Brandon's] NDIS goals are focused around building his independence and access to communities.

The plan can be found at NSW.0060.0007.0001.

From 26 May 2020 to 29 July 2020, iCare engaged the services of Aboriginal  
Counselling Services ..... to provide mentoring to [Brandon] over a 10 week period.

In August 2020, the Department agreed to cover some of these costs temporarily until the development of [Brandon's] NDIS plan.

The Department requested ACS provide session reports regarding the mentoring.  Several emails were sent to [Brandon's] case worker, to --- sent by [Brandon's] case worker to ACS requesting session reports.  None were received.

The email can be located at NSW.0060.0008.0001.

In November 2020, a referral was made to Gumurra Aboriginal Cultural Experience and Education, a local service provider, for mentoring.  [Brandon] was allocated to [redacted]. [Brandon's] development case worker understood that [Aunty Audrey] was initially happy for [Brandon] to be mentored by [redacted], however, this service was ceased by [Aunty Audrey] before the service commenced.

The referral can be found at NSW.0060.0009.0001.

On 21 August 2020, [Brandon's] caseworker team consulted with the Department's EFS team for expert advice on accessing the NDIS, and support with preparation for [Brandon's] NDIS planning meeting.  At the time, a representative of this team agreed to attend [Brandon's] NDIS plan development meeting with the NDIA.

On 29 September 2020, the Department facilitated [Brandon's] NDIS workers planning meeting.  The purpose of this meeting was to gather information in preparation for [Brandon's] NDIS planning meeting.  This meeting included [Aunty Audrey's] nominated support person ..... as [Aunty Audrey] chose not to attend.  The meeting included a discussion of what iCare could offer to [Brandon] and suggestions for what the NDIS may be able to offer.  It was at this time that Ms Leigh recommended the Illawarra Aboriginal Corporation ..... as the support coordinator for [Brandon's] NDIS plan.

A record of the meeting can be located at NSW.0060.0010.0001.

On 25 November 2020, the Department facilitated [Brandon's] NDIS planning meeting with the NDIA.  Present at the meeting were the NDIS planner, [Aunty Audrey] and Ms Lee, a coordinator and case manager from iCare, [Brandon's] Departmental caseworker and manager casework, and a representative from the Departments EFS team.  At this time, it was jointly discussed and confirmed that IAC would provide NDIS support coordination for [Brandon's] NDIS plan.

A cop 
y of that record is NSW.0060.0011.0001.

[Brandon's] Departmental caseworker contacted IAC on 2 December 2020, 22 December 2020 and again on 2 March 2021 to arrange a meeting to look at [Brandon's] NDIS plan and discuss the best way of supporting [him].  The caseworker discovered that the identified IAC coordinator no longer worked there .....

And that contact is located at NSW.0060.0012.0001.

On 19 April 2021, the caseworker contacted the NDIA by telephone after difficulties in engaging IAC in the support coordination role.  The NDIA advised that a data entry error had occurred in relation to [Brandon's] plan, with the NDIA marking the plan as 'NDIA Managed' instead of 'Plan Managed'.  Due to this error, the plan had not been sent to the IAC for plan management.  This was corrected by the NDIA at this time, who sent [Brandon's] plan to the IAC.

That documentation can be seen at NSW.0060.0013.0001.

On 24 April 2021, the caseworker contacted the IAC to confirm that they had now received [Brandon's] NDIS plan from the NDIA.  At this time, the caseworker began planning with the IAC to complete the initial meeting with [Brandon] and his family.

This can be located at NSW.0060.0014.0001.

On 24 April 2021, the caseworker contacted [Aunty Audrey] to discuss the initial meeting with the IAC regarding support coordination of [Brandon's] NDIS plan.  It was confirmed in this conversation that the IAC was appointed following the NDIS planning meeting, where both [Aunty Audrey] and [Brandon's] caseworker agreed they were the appropriate organisation to manage [Brandon's] NDIS plan.  Initially [Aunty Audrey] was reluctant to attend this meeting however agreed to come as IAC were going to be present and she was familiar with the organisation.

A file note of this is located at NSW.0060.0014.0001.

On 28 April 2021, the initial meeting with the IAC took place.  This meeting included [Brandon] and his grandparents (including his grandmother .....), IAC and the Department.  [Brandon's] views were obtained in this meeting, where he shared his future goals.  The outcome of this was that the IAC would explore NDIS supports that could be provided to [Brandon].

A copy of this record can be located at NSW.0060.0015.0001 and again at NSW.0060.0016.0001.

On 12 May 2021, the Department's caseworker contacted IAC.  IAC advised they were yet to start providing supports, as [Brandon's] plan was still marked by the NDIA as "agency managed" which restricted IAC's ability to access funds.

A file note of this is located at NSW.0060.0017.0001.

On 12 May 2021, the caseworker contacted NDIA and explained IAC were unable to access funds as the plan was marked as "agency managed".  The NDIA representative advised that they would need to change this through their system to reflect IAC having support coordination.

A file note of this is located at NSW.0060.0018.0001.

On 27 May 2021, the Department's caseworker contacted IAC advising they had received further information from the NDIA that IAC were not registered with the NDIS for providing plan management, and therefore a plan manager needed to be allocated.  The Department's caseworker inquired with regards to whether the IAC have a plan manager that they normally work with or whether they required the Department's caseworker to assist with arranging one.

A file note of this is located at NSW.0060.0019.0001.

On 28 May 2021, the Department's caseworker contacted IAC.  IAC advised that they had a plan manager who they normally work with and agreed to contact them to arrange a contract.

A file note of this is NSW.0060.0020.0001.

On 20 July 2021, the Department's caseworker received an email from IAC advising that they had contacted [Brandon] and [Aunty Audrey].  [Aunty Audrey] had requested a Support Worker to be engaged to connect [Brandon] to Warrigal Employment to assist [Brandon] with vocational training and education as well as assisting with driver's licence training.  [Aunty Audrey] had also requested the engagement of Aboriginal Counselling Services ..... who had agreed to provide four hours of mentoring per fortnight, as well as an annual respite camp.  A referral has been made to ASCO Transition to Work provider.  Its commencement has been impacted by COVID restrictions.

The proposal for engaging the ACS was declined by the Department due to the previous concerns related to their unwillingness to provide plans, progress reports or documentation regarding the mentoring.  The Department has made referrals for [Brandon] to other local Aboriginal mentoring programs.

This documentation is located at NSW.0060.0009.0001, and NSW.0060.0023.0001.

Those services have not commenced at [Aunty Audrey]'s request.

That concludes those statement passages, Chair.  If I could invite Mr Crowley to address you with respect to the closing.

CHAIR:  Thank you.  Yes, Mr Crowley.

MR CROWLEY:  Thank you, Chair and Commissioners.  That brings us to the end of the formalities for the evidence in respect of this Public Hearing.  I am now in position to provide Counsel Assisting's closing address.

CHAIR:  Yes, please go ahead.


MR CROWLEY:  Commissioners, in closing this hearing, I want to thank all of the people who have provided statement that is have been received into evidence and those who gave oral evidence over the last six days.  We particularly want to thank the four young people with disabilities who in different ways, including through their artwork, who told of their experiences:  "Brandon", "IL", "Miriam" and "Connor".  We acknowledge the courage that is required by young people with disability to give permission for their story to be told in a public forum such as this.

We also want to thank "Ivy", "Audrey", "Maggie", "Grace", Doreen McCormack, Elaine, Kumalie Kngwarraye Riley and Winnie Woods.  Each of these women gave powerful evidence of their experiences of supporting First Nations young people with disability, as grandmothers, mothers or as carer for those young people.

One voice speaking of the First Nations experience of seeing young people with disability going into care or custody came from a member of the Strong Grandmothers Group, Kumalie Kngwarraye Riley, who said:

..... I think my perspective is that the system do failure people, our kids and our kids in custody and our kids with disability.  Disabilities come in many forms and even taking away our country, taking away our Stolen Generation, take away what's right and also there are things that     there are a lot of blockage from us, you know to have our strong voices to be heard about our children, and about our people, and it's about time, you know, our First Nations voice has got to be listened to and be strong and supported by the Government .....

We heard pre recorded evidence from first grandmothers about their experiences, kinship care, caring for their grandsons with complex disabilities.

We heard from [Aunty Audrey], a Djangadi woman from New South Wales, who shared her experience of sharing for her grandson [Brandon].  She told the hearing that she had cared for [Brandon] from 2years of age and he is currently 16.  [Aunty  
Audrey] shared her journey supporting Brandon with his disabilities which she told the hearing included ADHD and acquired brain injury, following an accident he had when he was about 9 years old.  She spoke about the difficulties of getting culturally appropriate mentoring for [Brandon].

[Brandon] also shared his story during the hearing and spoke of his love of football and how he enjoyed the hope of getting a white card so he can do scaffold work.  [Brandon] told the hearing that he would prefer to have a First Nations caseworker as they would understand him more and he would feel more comfortable.

Aunty Winnie Woods, a Ngaanyatjarra woman from the NPY Lands, shared her story of her grandson Josiah who has been in and out of home care since the age of 8 or 9.  She told the hearing that Josiah has autism and cannot speak.  Aunty Winnie spoke about her sadness for Josiah not being able to return to country and in particular not being able to attend his mother's funeral.  She also spoke about the importance of law and culture and the role of grandmothers and senior ladies in the community.

We heard Aunty Maggie's experience today about her experience of caring for her grandson Elliott.  A Wiradjuri woman from New South Wales, she shared her story of raising Elliot from 7 months old until recently due to health issues and supporting him with his multiple disabilities, including ADHD and FASD.  Aunty Maggie was concerned about the need for culturally appropriate supports for Elliott.

The stories of these grandmothers and the importance of roles they play as grandmothers in their communities, and the importance of culture, were stressed in the evidence that they gave, of being connected, for their grandsons, for their wellbeing and as First Nations children with disability.

The Royal Commission heard from direct lived experience with Ms "Ivy", who shared her experience and that of her daughter Megan.  The hearing heard who heard that Megan, who has an umbrella diagnosis of cerebral palsy, had been removed from Ivy's care when she was 4 years old.  Ivy spoke of the lengths she went to obtain an NDIS package for Megan, and how she wished to have been able to participate in providing care for her daughter.

The hearing also included evidence from "Grace", a non First Nations woman and her role as a foster carer for "Miriam" and the lack of supports and investigations into potential diagnosis for Miriam, due to exposure to sexual abuse and trauma ma and risk factors of FASD.  Grace told the hearing of her understanding of Miriam's experience in a group home as a seven year old child.

Commissioners, I should note that it is intended, Counsel Assisting will invite the Commission to make factual findings in respect of Grace's story, having regard to the matters raised in evidence with Ms O'Brien from Territory Families, who gave evidence about Miriam's case.

We also heard from IL, a First Nations young person with disability, who gave pre recorded evidence from the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre.  IL shared his experiences of being in care from a young age, and having multiple care placements and caseworkers that he has had throughout the period of his time in care.  He spoke of his frustrations and feelings of lack of supports of carers and caseworkers to assist him in the community.  He also spoke about him wanting to do more programs and activities in the community to support young people, and of his hope for the future, wanting to work with other young people to navigate the system.

"Leah", a non First Nations woman from Perth, who commenced as a respite carer and then became a foster carer and then eventually the court appointed legal guardian of two First Nations boys, "Connor" and "Dylan", with the support of the boys' family, told the story of Connor, who had been diagnosed with various conditions, including FASD, ADHD, autism, ASD, neurodevelopmental trauma, and the difficulties she faced with the Department in obtaining disability assessments, education and learning supports for Connor.

Again, Commissioners, Counsel Assisting will submit that factual findings should be made in respect of Connor's case, having regard to the evidence, including the evidence we heard from Leah, as well as the evidence from the Western Australian Department of Communities' witnesses, Mr Mace and Ms Samuels.

We are aware of how challenging it can be for some lived experience witnesses to revisit difficult events in their lives and the lives of the young people with disability for whom they care.  We again thank each of these witnesses for the courage to share their stories with the Royal Commission.

Some of the recurring themes that have arisen from the evidence we have heard about with respect to First Nations children with disability in out of home care systems over this past week have included: First Nations children with disability and particularly First Nations children with disability in out of home care are overrepresented in the systems, particularly in residential care systems; the impacts of personal intergenerational trauma upon First Nations children with disability in out of home care and upon their families and communities; the underidentification of disability of First Nations children in out of home care and the lack of access to assessments, particularly culturally appropriate diagnostic assessments, which has consequent risks of lack of diagnosis, misdiagnosis or underdiagnosis; inability to access and receive the provision of timely and culturally appropriate disability services and supports for First Nations children with disability in out of home care, as well as for their carers and their families; and the lack of adequate data and research in relation to First Nations children with disability in the out of home care systems.

The Commission also received evidence from leaders from SNAICC and the Family Matters campaign today, Ms Liddle and Dr Paul Gray.  The matters they spoke to were from the perspective of a national picture across all jurisdictions.  They spoke about the need for transformation and reimagining systemic change, and how they  
considered that that may be achieved.

Matters that have arisen in the evidence also are reflected in the data that has been received, particularly the data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare on First Nations children with disability in out of home care.  The data showed that a large proportion of children in out of home care have an unknown disability status, which is concerning as it is likely there are children in that cohort with disability whose disability related needs are not being met.  It showed that First Nations children with disability with more likely to be placed in residential care, with disability indicated as a driving factor.  It showed that First Nations children with disability are less likely than other children to be placed with kin or relatives.  It also showed that First Nations children with disability experience more placements than other children in out of home care, suggesting that they are more likely to experience placement breakdown and instability.  Finally, First Nations children with disability, according to the data, are less likely than other children to be reunified with their families in out of home care.

This hearing heard evidence from two Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services in the Northern Territory: the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress and the Danila Dilba Health Service.

The witnesses from those organisations gave evidence of a range of matters, including the advantages of Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services delivering multi disciplinary assessments and therapeutic services to First Nations children with disability, including those in out of home care, services that are integrated in holistic and comprehensive primary healthcare setting.

They also spoke of the need for children to access assessments for developmental delays and vulnerabilities before they are 6 years of age, to ensure that they can access supports and services at a critical time period in their early development.

They spoke of the essential need for early assessments to access funding for supports which can be difficult to obtain later in time when the child is older, and the critical need for culturally appropriate assessments tools that have been validated for First Nations children.

They also spoke of the success of the use of the ASQ TRAK assessment tool, including access for children to be assessed to access ECEI, early childhood early intervention plans, although they noted there was continuing need for age group validation to require further funding.

They spoke of the challenges of Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations of obtaining long term funding for their programs and service delivery.

The hearing has also explored Secure Care models in Western Australia and Northern Territory, through hearing from government witnesses and from the  
Western Australian Aboriginal Legal Service and the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, as well as some evidence from Family Matters.

The Royal Commission has received information as well, in a statement in the Northern Territory Legal Aid, and a statement from New South Wales Legal Aid on the different models for Secure Care programs which operate in those jurisdictions.

The evidence in the hearing has shown there is a general acceptance for a Secure Care service within out of home care systems as being a necessary feature for young people who, in extreme circumstances, exhibit acute, potentially harmful behaviours or emotional dysregulation.  However, there are different views on how that service is to be delivered, what its purpose is, what its purpose should be and how it should address the needs of some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children in out of home care, those being First Nations children with disability.

The evidence we heard explored other important questions concerning Secure Care, including: what means, according to what criteria should a child be involuntarily placed in Secure Care --- should it be the subject of a judicial decision or a administrative decision; what the minimum and maximum length should be for a child permitted to be placed in Secure Care; what the aims of purposes of a child placed in Secure Care were or should be, what assessments or therapeutic interventions should form part of the child's time in Secure Care.  And, noting the very high proportion of First Nations children and children with disability being placed in Secure Care, was the Secure Care model trauma informed and culturally safe for their children?  Finally and importantly, what step down or transition options should exist between out of home care options and Secure Care?

These are challenging questions which Counsel Assisting will address in written submissions that will follow this hearing.

However, what may be said is that although the numbers may be small in respect of this particular focus of the hearing, deprivation of the liberty of a child must be a matter of last resort, and State and Territory authorities should ensure that there is a need for ongoing evidence based assessment of the benefits and detriments of the systems of Secure Care.  This is particularly important for First Nations children, no matter the number.

A number of government witnesses also gave evidence.  We are grateful for their contributions and the work those witnesses and other government employees perform in preparing detailed statements and providing documentary material.  A number of those witnesses have also taken questions on notice on important issues, which will aid the Royal Commission in its understanding of the experiences of First Nations children with disability in out of home care.

In addition to that evidence given by government witnesses, we wish to highlight and acknowledge the important voices we have heard, and the evidence that we have received from people who are committed to the advocacy and support of young First  
Nations young people and disability in the out of home care system.

In addition to noting the contribution from the Family Matters Co Chairs, we wish to thank the witnesses from the WA Aboriginal Legal Service, North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, and to acknowledge the assistance provided to the Commission by both the NT and NSW Legal Aid Commissions and Children and Young People with Disability Australia.

In carrying out the work of the Royal Commission, we have a strong commitment to hearing the voices of people with disability, to understand their experiences of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation, as well as their proposals for change.  This has meant that we have listened to confronting stories from witnesses during this hearing.

The Royal Commission encourages those involved in or following Public Hearings to seek support if they feel the need to in response to this hearing.  I remind everyone connected to this Public Hearing of the support structures which are available: the Royal Commission has an internal counselling and support services team made up of social workers and counsellors who can provide counsel support to people engaged with the commission; the Australian Government has also funded the Blue Knot Foundation, a specialist counselling support and referral service for people with disability, their families and carers, and anyone affected by the Commission.  Their hotline number is 1800 421 468.  There is also a range of legal and advocacy services that have been funded by the Australian Government.  There is a legal financial assistance scheme to assist with meeting the cost of legal representation associated with formal engagement with the Commission.  National Legal Aid and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services also deliver free legal advisory services for people engaging with the Commission.

Further information about these services can be found on the Commission's website or by contacting the information line, which is 1800 517 199.

Commissioners, following the second hearing of the Commission into the specific experiences of First Nations people with disability, the work of the Royal Commission will continue as it progresses to examine the life course of First Nations people with disability and their experiences of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation, including the cross generational effects and long history of systemic abuse and neglect of First Nations people with disability.

The Royal Commission's next Public Hearing, Public Hearing 17, will examine the experiences of women and girls with a focus on family, domestic and sexual violence.  It will commence on Wednesday, 13 October.  The hearing was intended to be held in person in Hobart over five days, from 13 October.  The COVID pandemic has also impacted on this hearing.  The ongoing travel restrictions for the Royal Commission and many witnesses means we cannot hold the hearing in person.  However, we will start with an online hearing on 13 and 14 October 2021 and continue the hearing in person in 2022 when the travel for witnesses and Royal  
Commission staff can hopefully resume.

On 13 and 14 October, the Commission will hear evidence from witnesses who will participate in panel discussions to address a range of issues, including the gaps in services for women and girls with disability, experiencing family and domestic violence, the inconsistent coverage in Australian laws for family and domestic violence, which fail to provide rights to women and girls with disability, the reproductive rights of women and girls with disability, and specific issues for people with disability in the LGBTIQA+ community.  Some parts of the hearing may be conducted in closed sessions on 14 October.  More details will be provided in the coming weeks and can be accessed on the Royal Commission's website.  Thank you, Commissioners


CHAIR:  Thank you very much, Mr Crowley.

As Mr Crowley has just said in his closing address, I too wish to express my appreciation, and that of Commissioners Galbally and Mason, to all of the witnesses who have given evidence at this hearing over the six days of the hearing.  We include in our expression of appreciation those who have given oral evidence, pre recorded evidence in whatever form, written statements or any combination of these.  As became clear this afternoon, we have no shortage of material to consider.

We particularly express our appreciation to the First Nations people who have given evidence at this hearing.  Mr Crowley has mentioned each of them.  We know it is not an easy task for anyone to give evidence in a Public Hearing like this, but perhaps it is particularly daunting for First Nations people and of course people with disability.  We are also extremely grateful to the young people with disability who allowed us to see their art work.

Thank you too to the First Nations people who were kind enough to welcome us to country and to conduct the smoking ceremony that we saw onscreen.  As I said on the first day of the hearing, we are all very sorry that we are unable to observe or participate in the ceremonies in person in Alice Springs.  We hope, though, that perhaps during the life of the Commission, there might be another opportunity to do so in person.

I also want to thank everyone who has been responsible for this hearing being conducted so smoothly, or indeed conducted at all, in view of the obstacles that have to be overcome.  It has required a great deal of organisation and reorganisation at very short notice to conduct a virtual hearing.  As we know, only one witness was able to give evidence in person in the Brisbane hearing room; everybody else gave evidence remotely in one form or another.

We also express our appreciation to the very many people who have assisted in preparing the pre recorded evidence.  Although it appears to be something that is perhaps not all that difficult to do when presented in a very nice, neat package, in fact it requires a great deal of effort, support for the people who are giving evidence, and a great deal of technical know how.  We are grateful for all that to have been done so well.

This has been a long hearing that has raised a significant number of issues concerning First Nations children with disability in out of home care.  I will try to be brief.  I just want to make four points.

First, as we heard in Public Hearing 8 and in the evidence that has been given at this hearing, the removal of First Nations children from their parents, families and communities is a matter of great practical and symbolic significance to all First Nations people.  Much of the evidence at this hearing showed, once again, the taking --- that taking First Nations children into care may mean not only a severing of ties with family and community, but of ties to culture, heritage and knowledge.  The evidence of Leah demonstrates that perhaps this need not always be the case, even where a child is placed in out of home care with a non First Nations family.  But Leah's extraordinary efforts to maintain Connor and Dylan's links with family, community and culture are by no means typical.

The link with the Royal Commission's Terms of Reference is that not only are First Nations children grossly overrepresented in the child protection system or the out of home care system, but a very large proportion of First Nations children taken into care have a disability, particularly an intellectual disability.  Dr Webster said in his statement that through his work at Danila Dilba Health Clinic, he observed that:

The vast majority of children coming into youth detention in the Northern Territory are in out of home care prior to their detention and the vast majority will have a diagnosed or undiagnosed disability.  Nearly 100 per cent of these children are First Nations people.

We heard similar evidence to this effect in Public Hearing 8.  The Royal Commission's Terms of Reference require us to investigate, among other things, what governments, institutions and the community should do to prevent and better protect people with disability from experiencing violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.  Of course, this includes First Nations children with disability in out of home care.

Secondly, focusing on the experiences of First Nations children with disability in out of home care, including their experiences in Secure Care Facilities, should not obscure the fact that this phase of their lives is part of what Dr Webster described as a continuum.  As Dr Webster and many other witnesses have pointed out, many factors influence the high rates of First Nations children with disability in out of home care.  These include the long history of trauma, dispossession and colonisation, all of which contribute to poorer parental and mental health outcomes,  
and those outcomes of course have a flow on effect for First Nations children.

Without attributing any blame to parents or anyone, First Nations children who find themselves in out of home care might have experienced what authorities could regard as neglect in utero, when they are later diagnosed with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.  The circumstances that lead to intervention by child protection authorities can cause or exacerbate significant intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, as can the process of being taken into care itself.

Of course, we understand the force of evidence, for example, given today by Dr Gray and Ms Liddle that the presence of disability in parents or family members is a risk factor, increasing the likelihood of statutory intervention to remove children into out of home care or to move them into out of home care.  We also understand the significance of evidence about the culturally appropriate supports that family and kinship carers require to allow First Nations children with disability to thrive.  These include, as the evidence reveals, effective health checks to identify and diagnose disability at an early stage, through the use of culturally appropriate and trauma informed assessments.

No child should be subject to abuse or neglect in out of home care or for that matter in any other setting.  As many witnesses have said, the principal objective should be to prevent First Nations children being removed from their families and communities in the first place.  The issues associated with out of home care cannot be seen in isolation from other stages in the trajectory of lives of First Nations children with disability.

Thirdly, as was discussed with witnesses this morning, the problems identified in this hearing and in Public Hearing 8 are complex.  There are no simple or quick solutions to the consequences of historical injustices and entrenched disadvantage.  Much work and innovation are required in many settings by many sectors of Australian society, especially First Nations people themselves.  The principle of self determination is plainly critical but it is not self executing.

We have heard a great deal of evidence at this hearing about Secure Care for First Nations children in out of home care.  A specific illustration of the complexity of the policy issues that arise concerns the length of time a First Nations child with complex needs who is deemed a threat to himself or herself should remain in Secure Care.  On one view, this time should be as short as possible, since the child is being detained in a secure facility, not as punishment but for their own protection and wellbeing.  A longer period in detention prolongs the period during which the child is effectively incarcerated.  This is the view that has largely prevailed in Western Australia, despite Dr Thompson's recommendations.

An alternative view is that it is not feasible to assess a child coming into a secure facility or to provide the therapy and support required to address the child's complex needs and disabilities.  As Ms Kerr explained, while a longer period in a secure facility implies greater restrictions on the liberty of the child, those restrictions can  
be ameliorated as the child's therapy and support diminish the risks.

This is the view that has prevailed in the Northern Territory, although it appears that to date only three First Nations children have actually been placed in the Northern Territory secure facility.  Of those three children, one has a confirmed diagnosis of disability and the other two children are undergoing assessment.

My point is simply that these are not necessarily issues that are easy to resolve and there will be differences of opinion as to how best to approach them.

Fourthly --- and this is my own view, I don't necessarily speak on behalf of others --- it is important not to assume that child protection agencies in the states and territories are irretrievably averse to addressing the pernicious legacies of the past.  Deficiencies in departmental practices that lead to abuse or neglect of children with disability in out of home care need to be exposed and remedied.  But the evidence at Public Hearing 8 and at this Public Hearing suggests that some agencies, if not necessarily all, are very much aware of the complexities of the challenges they face and of the urgencies of confronting those challenges.  Ms Liddle this morning, for example, explained that significant changes in policy and practice have taken place in Victoria and Queensland and that these changes have supported a greater decision making role for First Nations organisations and communities.

This means that the Royal Commission in framing recommendations will need to take into account that many official agencies are not necessarily opposed to all reform proposals and may be willing to do whatever is necessary to prevent violence, abuse, neglect or exploitation of First Nations children with disability.

I mention only one further point.  Mr Crowley correctly pointed out that we should be holding a hearing in October on issues concerning women and girls with disability.  There will be a hearing of one day next week, 30 September, for Commissioners to hear oral submissions in Public Hearing 14.  Public Hearing 14 took place in Adelaide and included, among other things, an examination of responses to the tragic death of Ann Marie Smith in Adelaide that occurred some time ago.  So that is the next occasion upon which there will be a hearing, although it will only be of one day.

It is now appropriate to adjourn the hearing.  I thank again everybody who has been connected with the preparation and presentation of this hearing.  We will adjourn until next Thursday for the oral submissions in Public Hearing 14.

MR CROWLEY:  Chair, before adjourning, there is a question of directions.

CHAIR:  I'm sorry, you are quite right.  I have overlooked that.  I apologise.  I have received a direction.  Is that direction, Mr Crowley, to be made by consent of all relevant parties?


MS FURNESS:  No, it's not.

CHAIR:  No, it's not made with consent.  Ms Furness, what is it that you want to say?

MS FURNESS:  The directions provide us with two days to deal with the list of documents that Counsel Assisting intends to tender, which is in paragraph 3, and then in paragraph 4 we have got two days to provide any additional documents we want, including identifying redactions.  We say two days is not enough.

CHAIR:  How long do you want?

MS FURNESS:  A week, thank you.

CHAIR:  In each case?

MS FURNESS:  If a week is given, then paragraph 4 will read 22 October, and then there will obviously need to be consequential changes.  We would say --- and I understand that my learned friend has some additional submissions to make --- that paragraph 4 should be 22 October, paragraph 5 should be ---

CHAIR:  Sorry.  That allows nine days, doesn't it, after 13 October?

MS FURNESS:  The 13th is Counsel Assisting.  Yes, it does.

CHAIR:  I thought you said you wanted four days?

MS FURNESS:  I said a week but I'm perfectly content with nine.

CHAIR:  I'm sure you are!  Let's make it the 20th, shall we?

MS FURNESS:  Certainly.

CHAIR:  Then Counsel Assisting will tender those documents into evidence which he considers appropriate in chambers.  What date should I substitute, Mr Crowley, if 20 October is placed in direction 4?

MR CROWLEY:  If we make that 27, Chair.

CHAIR:  27?  You don't need a week to do that.

MR CROWLEY:  It's a Monday.

CHAIR:  How about 24 October?

MR CROWLEY:  Yes, 24.

CHAIR:  Very good.  Then that won't alter the date you want to provide written submissions, will it?

MR CROWLEY:  No, Chair.

CHAIR:  Very good.  With those changes, Ms Furness, are you content with that?

MS FURNESS:  That will give us three weeks to provide submissions in reply, by paragraph 7, which I am content with, although others who perhaps have a bit more work to do than the State of New South Wales may have a different view.

CHAIR:  I will take you as having indicated the general contentment of New South Wales.  If anybody else has anything to say, I'm sure they will.

MR CROWLEY:  Chair, I just wanted to correct the date in direction number 5.  Could we have the 25th.  The 24th is a Sunday.

CHAIR:  Alright.  I will be celebrating someone's birthday on that day --- not mine.

Someone else wanted to say something.

MS BULLER:  Yes, Chair.  From Queensland.  We propose direction 7 be four weeks after Counsel Assisting's submissions are due, so we would say 10 December.

CHAIR:  I think that depends upon whether you will actually do it.  I do not think 10 December is a problem.  What is a problem is if we get to the 8th or 9th and then any of the parties then says, "We can't do this" and then we will be running over beyond the Christmas period.  What I think is crucial is that we get the material in before Christmas, so that we are not in a position of having to consider the submissions and, if there is to be a Commissioners' report, trying to do that some months after the hearing.  So I'm not opposed to 10 December but on the basis that it is a date that should be adhered to.  That I think is really very important.  I don't want this going over Christmas.  We all know what happens when timetables are not observed and then we go off into February and it's a whole new system.

On the basis that 10 December --- and that will apply to all of the parties --- as long as 10 December is clearly understood to be a date --- and of course it does assume that Counsel Assisting's submissions will be provided by 12 November, as the directions provide --- the understanding is that 10 December is the last date by which submissions in reply should be served.  On that basis ---

MS BULLER:  Thank you Chair.  That's why, given the time of year, we think it prudent to have 10 December.  But I think it should be pointed out that we have adhered to time limits with submissions previously, we have not run over time.

CHAIR:  I was not suggesting you had.  No such inference should be drawn from my  

MS BULLER:  Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR:  Ms Furness, did you want to saying in else?

MS FURNESS:  No, Chair.  The only thing I wanted to affirm is that that date is of course dependent upon Counsel Assisting's submissions being on time, which I'm sure will be the case.

CHAIR:  I believe I did say that, but thank you for reinforcing it.

Ms Chalmers, did you want to say something?

MS CHALMERS:  Yes, thank you, Chair, a couple of matters.  There has been some correspondence between my instructors and the solicitors assisting the commission that there may be combined submissions with respect to this public and also Public Hearing 8.

CHAIR:  You should not assume that that will occur.

MS CHALMERS:  Thank you, Chair.  We only have one question on notice, that was for Ms O'Brien.  Is she able to deal with that in a supplementary statement to be included under direction number 4, rather than doing two separate statements?

CHAIR:  I don't see any difficulty with that.  Do you see any difficulty, Mr Crowley?

MR CROWLEY:  No problem, thank you Chair.

CHAIR:  There is not a problem with that.  Thank you, Ms Chalmers.

MS CHALMERS:  Lastly, to confirm that direction number 4, although it refers to documents, will also include the two supplementary statements that our witnesses are providing.

CHAIR:  Which ones are they, other than the one that has just been mentioned?

MS CHALMERS:  Ms O'Brien and Ms Kerr.

CHAIR:  Ms Kerr has already had a supplementary statement, hasn't she?

MS CHALMERS:  No, Chair.  That second statement was to do with a pre hearing notice.  The supplementary statement will address a small number of issues that emerged from the Danila Dilba and Congress evidence.

CHAIR:  All right.  Then I will note, and it will appear on the transcript, that direction 4 will cover the supplementary statements to be provided by Ms O'Brien  
and by Ms Kerr.  And you indicate, I think, that both of those statements are likely to be brief?

MS CHALMERS:  Yes, as brief as we can make them, Chair.

CHAIR:  I have belatedly become a convert to brevity in this hearing.

Does anybody else want to say something?

MS BULLER:  Ms Bullar, appearing for the State of Western Australia.

CHAIR:  Yes.

MS BULLER:  The Commission may be aware that we received the proposed directions at 5.55 am Western Standard Time this morning, so we have had little opportunity to confer and seek instructions in relation to the proposed directions.  We have written to Solicitor Assisting outlining the state's concerns.  The timeframes issue, we thank the Royal Commission for extending those timeframes, and WA is happy with those.

The second issue that I do wish to raise is the procedural fairness issue, specifically in connection with the case of Connor, where Counsel Assisting has now indicated that the Royal Commission is being invited to make factual findings which are likely to be adverse to the State of WA and the Department of Communities.

We haven't been given an indication of what particular matters are likely to be the subject of adverse factual findings.  That is in circumstances where the evidence that the Royal Commission heard went beyond any notice of adverse evidence that was received and also beyond the three matters that Mr Mace was asked to address in his statement.

So, in light of that, we would seek to have notice of any proposed adverse findings of fact in the case study of Connor and the opportunity to respond by filing an additional statement.  It would be from Ms Melanie Samuels and it would be confined to those matters of adverse findings of fact.

CHAIR:  Mr Crowley, it does seem to me to be appropriate that if there are adverse findings of fact sought then notice should be given to Western Australia what those findings are.  One way of doing it would be for the findings that are sought to be made, of course, to be included in the written submissions.  The difficulty with that is if that is the first time that Western Australia hears of it and Western Australia then wants the opportunity to adduce further evidence or otherwise deal with the submissions then that is going to create complications for a timetable and also make it rather difficult to deal with those matters in an orderly fashion, if I can put it that way.

Can we please build into this timetable a further notice of adverse findings that you  
seek against the interests of Western Australia and, if there are any other adverse findings that you seek against any other party, can that be built into the timetable so that it come in earlier than 12 November?  What do you think is the earliest that you could produce such documents as may be required to identify the adverse findings that you intend to make?  By that I don't mean necessarily adverse findings framed in completely precise terms that would be reflected, if accepted, in a report, but a fair --- obviously satisfying procedural fairness requirements, indicating the nature of the adverse findings that you seek the Commission to make?

MR CROWLEY:  Just pardon me for one moment, Chair.

CHAIR:  Yes, certainly.

MR CROWLEY:  Could we have, Chair, until 8 October?

CHAIR:  Yes.  I don't think there's a problem about that.  Does that meet your needs?

MS BULLER:  Yes, thank you, Chair.  Would that alter the timetable in terms of providing any additional material that has now been amended to 20 October?

CHAIR:  That gives you in Western Australia, since you are up at 5.50 each morning, ample time to produce any additional documents.  If there are good reasons for you to seek extra time in the light of the findings that are sought, you can make an application.  But let us leave the timetable as it is and let us hope and expect that the 12 days should be enough.

MS BULLER: Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR:  I will include as paragraph 2(a) a direction that Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission provide to any party against whose interests adverse findings are sought to be made a notice giving the substance of the findings that are sought to be made against the interests of that party.  That covers Western Australia.

There is another party, is there not, against whom such findings might be sought?

MR CROWLEY:  Yes.  That would cover the Northern Territory as well.

CHAIR:  That covers the Northern Territory.  All right.  Let me inquire, who do we have from the Northern Territory?

MR CROWLEY:  Ms Chalmers.

CHAIR:  Does that satisfy your concerns, if you have any, Ms Chalmers?

MS CHALMERS:  Yes, thank you, Chair.

CHAIR:  All right.  That will be built in as direction 2(a).  Let me go through them.

The directions made are these:

1.  Any witness who took questions on notice during Public Hearing 16 should provide his or her answers in writing to the Office of the Solicitor Assisting the Royal Commission by 8 October 2021, unless questions on notice are being answered by way of a statement or addendum statement, in which case they are to be provided as set out in direction 4.  Those answers should be targeted and concise and not address additional or unnecessary matters.

2.  Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission may tender those responses into evidence.

Direction 2(a) I have already indicated and I won't attempt to repeat what I said; it will be on the transcript.

3.  By 13 October 2021, Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission will provide a list of documents he wishes to tender into evidence, including responses to questions on notice, on a confidential basis to the parties with leave to appear at this hearing.

4.  Parties with leave to appear at Public Hearing 16 shall provide any additional documents they wish to suggest for tendering by Counsel Assisting by 20 October 2021.  At the same time, they should identify any parts of those documents they consider need to be redacted before the documents are public.  I have noted that there are two statements that will be included within the leave given under direction 4.

5.  Counsel Assisting will tender those documents into evidence which he considers appropriate in chambers by 25 October 2021.

6.  Counsel Assisting will provide written submissions on a confidential basis to parties with leave to appear by 12 November 2021.

7.  Any responses to Counsel Assisting's submissions must be sent to the Office of the Solicitor Assisting by 10 December 2021.  The responses should be concise and should not include any additional evidence.

Those directions then are made.  Is there anything else, Mr Crowley, that should be done before we adjourn?

MR CROWLEY:  No, thank you, Chair.

CHAIR:  Thank you very much.  We will adjourn.  As I have indicated, the Commission will reconvene next Thursday, 30 September, to hear oral submissions arising out of Public Hearing 14.  Thank you.