FRC Amendment Bill 2015

Mr ELMES (Noosa—LNP) (3.56 pm): I rise to speak for a few minutes on the Family Responsibilities Commission Amendment Bill 2015. I will not go into too much detail on the bill because the Treasurer and minister certainly set out the objectives of the bill very well, along with the history of it and where it is going with the amendments being debated today. As has been said, and it is worth repeating, there are a few triggers that already exist—that is, failing to send children to school, coming to the notice of the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services on account of alleged harm to children, an offence before the Children’s Court, a tenancy agreement breakdown or using the premises for an illegal purpose. This bill seeks to put in a specific clause with regard to domestic violence. Unfortunately, anyone who has spent some time in these communities knows that domestic violence is very prevalent and as such having a specific trigger coming under the FRC I think is a very much a step in the right direction. This applies to people who are on welfare so that income management can be taken into consideration.

This bill provides a domestic violence trigger and expands the scope for delegation to the FRC commissioners’ powers and responsibilities. Earlier this afternoon a couple of people mentioned David Glasgow. One could not debate this bill without mentioning David Glasgow, the Family Responsibilities Commissioner. I got to know Commissioner Glasgow very well in the time that I was the minister. It is certainly worth placing on the record that he is an outstanding individual who has put so much of himself into this role—and not just because he is paid to do it. The award Commissioner Glasgow received on Australia Day is very much due recognition of the excellent work that he and his staff have done over the years.

The other thing that excites me about this bill is the continuing empowerment of the commissioners. As I went around the four communities—Doomadgee came later in the piece—I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting the commissioners. At lunch time, I used to sneak out the back where generally I would find half a dozen women, or thereabouts, sitting under a tree, having a smoke and a chat. I would plant myself in the middle of a group of ladies and talk to them about their community, their expectations and the way they want things to go. When you talk to half a dozen women of a town, you get a good idea of their expectations and what they see as the problems in their
community. The commissioners, who are overwhelmingly women, do a fantastic job. The more that we can do to further empower them, as this legislation does, is a very good thing. We had an opportunity one night in Cairns to bring them together for a function. I think maybe 25 to 30 of the commissioners were present. As I said, overwhelmingly they are women. They are very keen and very strong willed in terms of where they see their responsibilities and what they want to achieve for the betterment of the communities in which they serve. I will come back to the empowering part of the legislation a little later on.

In the lead-up to the debate on the bill before us today, a couple of newspaper articles have appeared, as one would expect. On Saturday the Australian contained an article by Marcia Langton in which she and Warren Entsch had a bit of a to-do. I do not know about anyone else here, but I would not like to be between Marcia Langton and Warren Entsch for any period. The article highlights the degree of confusion that there is in some cases with quotations about the amount of money that is being spent, where it is being spent and whether it is hitting the ground. Unfortunately, in many instances with Indigenous spending the money does not hit the ground. Nevertheless, the article did contain information about school attendance figures. For me, kids getting an education has always been at the core of this matter, which is why during our term of government we included Doomadgee as one of the communities, as the school attendance figures in Doomadgee were tragic. Places such as Coen and, to a degree Aurukun, and so forth have their highs and lows. At the start of the year rates are pretty high, but they tend to whittle away as the year goes on. However, the ingrained problems in Doomadgee are very sad and have kept me awake at night, trying to figure out what we can do. We have done a lot to try to make things a little better than they were.

I have absolutely no doubt that the Family Responsibilities Commission is doing a lot of very good work, but we have to do more to address some of the problems that beset these communities and there are two main ones: alcohol and drugs. I have seen some figures. The member for Caloundra mentioned the arrest made over some sly grog that was heading towards Pormpuraaw. In Aurukun, a bottle of rum will cost between $250 and $300. Unfortunately, the sly grogging is being done by friends, neighbours, parents and brothers and sisters of people who live in the communities. They are feeding off the misery of those people. We were starting to work on an idea to clamp the vehicles or the boats used by people caught trafficking, with a three-step process that would eventually see the vehicle confiscated. Perhaps we need to look at that further. While all sorts of good things are happening through the FRC, we have to look outside of it. We have to look at what is happening not only in the five communities that we are talking about today, but also in all Indigenous communities. We have to look at how the problems, particularly alcohol and drugs, can be controlled.

One of the problems that I have talked to the mayors about is that too often there is a passing parade of ministers who come into communities and then disappear. In the last years of the Bligh government—and I am not apportioning any blame here; this is a matter of fact—every year there was a new minister. I was lucky enough to be there for three years. If it is not the minister, it is the government: after three years, a government can change and the priorities change. With Indigenous affairs, there is a genuinely bipartisan attitude in this place. We need to take a much longer view of what we do and how we go about it, so that when governments or ministers change, it is done fairly seamlessly because the plans that are put in place are there for a long period, not a short period, which burns a lot of money and certainly burns a lot of goodwill in communities. Progress is virtually halted while a new minister or a new government comes into play and tries to figure out their priorities. I have only eight seconds to go, so I close by saying that the FRC is working well and I recommend—
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