1) You said you had been in consultation with the Moree Plains Shire Council (MPSC) about introducing the liquor accord - however we are under the impression that the only consultation had been with your staff, and not you personally.
. Have you ever personally spoken to MPSC about a liquor accord?
I have written to the Moree Plains Council regarding the work of the NSW Government to improve services and lives in Toomelah. One of these initiatives is the development of a joint Liquor Accord between NSW Police and licensed premises in Boggabilla and Goondiwindi. Early consultations with licensed premises and police are underway. Further consultation around alcohol management strategies will be held with the community and local council in the near future.
2) How do you think the liquor accord will help address the issues?
The aim of a liquor accord is to improve safety for residents, including children and young people, and reduce alcohol-related anti-social behaviour, offences and domestic violence.
3) A member of council informed us that they were not aware the possibility of the accord would be announced publicly, and that this had put the council in a difficult position as they had not had the opportunity to consult with any parties involved such as the community, liquor stores or licensed venues. How would you respond to this?
Extensive consultation will be held with appropriate stakeholders before any decisions are made on how to assist the community of Toomelah.
4) Do you think it was appropriate for the liquor accord to be announced in such a public way without MPSC knowing?
The issue of a liquor accord has been raised informally in local discussions about the needs of this community. Again, this is only one part of a much broader range of actions that will include extensive consultation with the Toomelah community, Moree Plains Shire Council and other relevant stakeholders.
5) On the 7.30 Report you said you had not visited Toomelah personally, but had spoken to residents on the phone and also the “experts”. When questioned on this you were adamant that was the best way of learning about the issues. Surely the government cannot come up with a resolution or an action plan based on other peoples’ opinions. Although we agree their advice may be important you cannot understand the real issues without seeing them for yourself. Have you now made any plans to visit Toomelah?
I take the advice of the experts and that means our caseworkers on the ground about the problems in Toomelah and how I can best help – and that’s what I did in Moree. I think it's better for me to let the professionals do their work. The most important thing for me to do was to get some action happening. That's why I spent so much time with our case workers.
I will visit Toomelah, with solutions and to help the building of trust with the community.
6) Of these "experts" that have been spoken to, did you meet with them personally in Moree and when?
I recently met with child protection caseworkers from the Moree Community Services Centre who briefed me on the ways they are responding to child protection issues and improving the way they work with Aboriginal communities including Toomelah. These staff are working closely with other frontline managers in the statutory agencies responsible for child protection and welfare (Community Services, Education, Police and Health) as well as our non-government partners. I also met with a senior manager from an NGO working with Aboriginal families in Toomelah.
7) Successive governments have been trying the same things over and over to address the issues in Toomelah. What do you plan to do that hasn't been done before?
We need to do things differently, as the Ombudsman repeated in a report last year, to improve services and lives in Toomelah. The NSW Government is leading a new approach in Toomelah with the support of the Federal Government, through FaHCSIA, that will properly engage the local community, to build both local responsibility and strengthened leadership. We are immediately mitigating any significant environmental health and child safety risks; work with the local community on a range of options for its future – particularly its young people and their educational and employment prospects; and promote mutual trust, partnership and responsibility between government and the local community,
8) Unemployment is one of the major issues. How do you propose this will be solved, when there is no opportunity for employment in the town and likely even the region?
Employment opportunities in small communities such as Toomelah are a challenge across NSW. The NSW Government is exploring training and employment opportunities with the Commonwealth Government to enhance the employment prospects of people living in Toomelah.
9) You said you would spend half a million dollars to build new houses, how do you think this will help? We have seen new houses built in this community and the occupants have destroyed them.
To improve the housing situation sustainably, the Aboriginal Housing Office is in final negotiations with the Toomelah Local Aboriginal Land Council and NSW Aboriginal Land Council to headlease properties for up to 10 years under the Build and Grow Aboriginal Community Housing Strategy. If approved, the Aboriginal Housing Office will sublease these properties to an approved Aboriginal Community Housing Provider. The Provider will be responsible for tenancy management, asset management, governance, protection of community investment and efficiency. This strategy is designed to build a sustainable and viable Aboriginal Community housing sector.
Additional funding is being provided by the Aboriginal Housing Office to fund the health and safety work in the community, not for the construction of new housing. This will commence towards the end of July and will include high priority plumbing and electrical work.
10) The community has said they want sovereignty but we are under the impression that the community is already ‘governing’ themselves. When the Champion visited the community on one occasion a police officer was visiting the town and a resident asked a teenager to climb in the back of a ute to drive down the street. When the resident was questioned by the reporter the resident stated "they (the police) can't do anything while they are here anyway." It is known people are meant to get permission before entering the community. What is you opinion on this?
The government is working closely with key community leaders on the development of initiatives to address the issues in Toomelah. The community has been very receptive in the discussions held and are working with key government agency representatives to progress these initiatives.
11) One of the suggestions to help solve the sexual abuse is to have caseworkers present in the community. Unless the town and its people are under constant surveillance how will it stop? The 7.30 Report said the emergency taskforce of caseworkers who were put in the community 24/7 did work. Why hasn't the government decided to put this back into place if it was shown to be effective?
Child protection caseworkers from the Moree Community Services Centre maintain a strong presence in the Toomelah and Boggabilla communities, in a statutory child protection role as well as a community engagement and support role. Caseworkers recently completed comprehensive risk assessments with families in Toomelah to ensure children and young people remain safe and work continues with a number of families.