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REDWatch Submission - NSW Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage Inquiry

This is the text of the REDWatch Submission to the NSW Legislative Council’s Standing Committee on Social Issues Inquiry into Closing the Gap – Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage made on 31st January 2008. This submission requests the Inquiry under its terms of reference to Inquire into the implementation of its earlier recommendations from its 2004 Inquiry into Redfern and Waterloo which the NSW Government said had been taken into account in their decisions to establish the Redfern Waterloo Authority and other decisions.

Basis for Submission

“REDwatch is a group of community residents and friends from Redfern, Waterloo, Eveleigh and Darlington who support the existing diversity in these areas and wish to promote sustainable, responsible economic and social development. REDwatch recognises the importance of the Aboriginal community to the area.

REDWatch has been formed to:

  1. Monitor the activities of the Government (local, state and federal), the Redfern Waterloo Authority, and any other government instrumentality with responsibility for the Redfern, Waterloo, Darlington and Eveleigh area, to ensure that: (a) The strategy benefits a diverse community, (b) Communication and consultation is comprehensive and responsive (c) Pressure is maintained on authorities
  2. Provide a mechanism for discussion and action on community issues.
  3. Enhance communication between community groups and encourage broad community participation”. (Objects of REDWatch Inc.)

REDWatch makes this submission with special reference to the inquiry terms of reference which asks the Inquiry to inquire into and report on “(c) previous Social Issues committee reports containing reference to Aboriginal people – and assess the progress of government in implementing adopted report recommendations”.

In 2004 the Legislative Council’s Standing Committee on Social Issues held an Inquiry into issues relating to Redfern and Waterloo (Redfern and Waterloo Inquiry). That inquiry had a strong focus on the Aboriginal people who live in Redfern and Waterloo and on government activities that impact upon them. That inquiry issued an Interim Report with 22 recommendations in August 2004 and a further Final Report in December 2004 with 38 recommendations. The progress of Government in implementing these adopted report recommendations should be assessed by the current inquiry under 1 (c) of its terms of reference.

We note that Redfern and Waterloo Inquiry Recommendation 37 proposed: “That a further parliamentary inquiry into issues in Redfern and Waterloo and measures taken to address them be conducted in 2006”. No follow up inquiry was conducted so this present inquiry provides an opportunity to re-look at aspects of the Redfern and Waterloo Inquiry that relate to Aboriginal people and a follow up Inquiry into all aspects of the implementation of the Government’s plans in Redfern Waterloo should be considered.

The covering letter to the Government response to the 2004 Redfern and Waterloo Inquiry stated: “The Government's plans for Redfern-Waterloo, which were announced in mid to late 2004 took into account issues raised through the course of the Inquiry. Accordingly, the Government's response is divided into seven sections, including: Policing in Redfern-Waterloo, Minister with responsibility for Redfern-Waterloo, Redfern- Waterloo Plan, Redfern-Waterloo Authority, Redfern-Waterloo Partnership Project, Human Services in Redfern-Waterloo, and the Aboriginal Housing Company and Redevelopment of the Block”. The Government’s progress in implementing the recommendations of the Redfern and Waterloo Inquiry in these areas in the response should at least be assessed by the current inquiry.

At the end of the inquiry in December 2004 the Government envisaged that:

  • “The Redfern Waterloo Authority will administer a Redfern Waterloo Fund and manage public infrastructure, land and properties in the area” (Premiers Announcement October 26 2004)
  • “The Redfern-Waterloo Partnership Program (RWPP) - to continue for the medium term, co-ordinating various government services in Redfern-Waterloo and implementing the findings of the Human Services Review” (Attachment to Letter sent by Minister Sartor December 2004).
  • The Minister responsible for the Redfern-Waterloo Authority will coordinate all State Government funding within the area.(Premiers Announcement October 26 2004)

Despite the Government agreeing in 2004 to extend the RWPP funding until 2008 and to restructure it (Final Report p 147), early in 2005 a decision was made to wind up the RWPP and to incorporate its functions and funding into the Redfern Waterloo Authority (RWA) effective as of 30 June 2005. Hence any recommendations in the Redfern and Waterloo Inquiry which refer to the Redfern Waterloo Partnership Project should now be applied to the RWA.

At the time of the Redfern and Waterloo Inquiry it was thought that the Human Services Plan and the Redfern Waterloo Plan would be separate plans. The inquiry recommendations reflect this. The Minister, after the establishment of the RWA, decided that the Redfern Waterloo Plan would be made up of plans for three separate areas. The Redfern Waterloo Plan currently has the following components:

  • Human Services Plan Phase One - December 2005,
  • The Employment and Enterprise Plan - May 2006
  • Built Environment Plan Stage One - August 2006.

A Draft Human Services Plan (Phase 2), covering services provided to older people, people with disabilities, homeless people and migrant communities, was exhibited in late 2006 but has not yet been approved by Government. A Built Environment Plan Stage 2 dealing with public and affordable housing is under preparation and is expected to be released for consultation in the first half of 2008.

The RWA is of the view that everything required of the Redfern Waterloo Plan will be met by these individual plans. REDWatch is of the view that key areas that should be in the Redfern Waterloo Plan are missing as a result of the Plan being constructed in this way. REDWatch is also of the view that interactions between aspects of the three plans have not been adequately addressed. REDWatch provided the RWA with a proposal for how the Plan could be prepared in consultation with the community in May 2005 but this was ignored. For proposal details see .

Redfern Waterloo is important to Aboriginal People

Redfern Waterloo is an important focus for Aboriginal people from around metropolitan Sydney, NSW and Australia. It was the birth place of many of the Independent Aboriginal Organisations such as the Aboriginal Medical Service, the Aboriginal Housing Company, the Aboriginal Legal Service and Aboriginal Children’s Services just to mention a few. This tradition continues, in 2007 Redfern action put the story of the neglect of Black Diggers on the national agenda. Redfern is the site of the Block, the first land purchased by Aboriginal people with funding from the Federal Government for housing for Aboriginal people.

With the gentrification of Redfern many Aboriginal people have been pushed out of the area as rents became expensive, leaving the present Aboriginal population living primarily in public housing. According to the city of Sydney website 2006 data shows 276 Indigenous people in Redfern and 369 in Waterloo-Zetland based on Australian Bureau of Statistics, Census of Population and Housing, 2006. While the Aboriginal population who reside in Redfern Waterloo is relatively small, Aboriginal people come to the area for services and to connect with friends and family. Redfern is usually the first port of call for Aboriginal people coming to Sydney from NSW and around Australia. Any decisions about the future of Redfern Waterloo need to involve the Aboriginal families and clans that are part of the community and the broad range of services which cater for those who visit the area.

The Aboriginal community in Redfern is not homogenous. It is made up of Aboriginal people from different tribal groups from throughout Sydney, NSW and Australia. This means that successful engagement with the Aboriginal community involves talking to a wide range of different people who are not represented by any one organisation or leader / elder. Government’s approach has tended to be to work with and support the parts of the community that are most easily identified or who think similarly to government and to ignore and deride those that they find difficult to deal with. The RWA’s involvement with the Redfern Waterloo Aboriginal community has not been immune from this, especially in their use of past disagreements between various parts of the community to try and stop the Aboriginal Housing Company’s Pemulwuy Project. Trying to play various groups off against each other didn’t work and the outcome was that many who had historical differences with those currently involved with the housing company have come out in their support.

Most in the Aboriginal community who live in Redfern Waterloo have had negative experiences in their interactions with various arms of Government, either first hand or through their kin. As some the most disadvantaged in the community, Aboriginal people’s everyday experience of how the federal and state systems work and interact with them should provide valuable input to Government in the task of improving government human services and in assessing what can assist in overcoming Indigenous disadvantage. Sadly the first hand experience of marginalised people is seldom listened to or valued by those exercising power over how assistance is delivered.

Each time the system is exposed as wanting, as REDWatch believes it currently is in Redfern Waterloo, we get a new study that digs up most of the same old facts and new policies that change some procedure to address the shortcomings. Seldom are the procedures taken back and tested against the experience of the service suppliers and the service users to see if they reflect their experience and address their concerns and priorities. On the occasions that input is sought, as it was in part in the preparation of the RWA Human Services Plan with Service providers, the input is often ignored or dismissed by government policy makers as irrelevant rather than taken seriously.

It appears that government departments only seem to refine service provision rather than finding long term ways to minimise the problems which cause people to seek such services in the first place. Any serious attempt to overcome Indigenous disadvantage has to involve the adequate provisions of services to meet existing human needs, early intervention to try and prevent problems at the earliest possible stage and strategies to assist people out of disadvantage rather than to just better servicing them in their disadvantage.

If the Inquiry into Closing the Gap – Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage is to produce results it will have to come to grips with a community like Redfern. It will have to understand how the Government’s policies and ways of doing business, both past and present, impact on the different parts of the Aboriginal Community both constructively and detrimentally. In looking at its recommendations it needs also to identify the factors that are specific to successful implementation in an inner city location like Redfern and Waterloo with a diverse Aboriginal population.

The Inquiry into Redfern and Waterloo in 2004 recognised the importance of Redfern to Aboriginal people and made many of its recommendations specifically on Aboriginal Issues and their interaction with the Government programmes in the area. Many others recommendations were equally applicable to Indigenous and non-Indigenous people as they apply to the provision of mainstream Government services to the whole community.

In this submission REDWatch will raise some general issues about Government involvement in Redfern Waterloo. Much of this relates across the community but it also impacts significantly upon Aboriginal people. If for example, Government does not have a robust process for discussing issues with the community this will impact even more on the Aboriginal community where literacy levels are lower and there is a cultural preference for face to face discussion rather than dealing in written reports and the preparation of written submissions.

The dispossessions of Aboriginal people creates unique problems that have to be addressed

While many aspects needed to overcome Indigenous disadvantage are similar to overcoming any form disadvantage, the committee has to remember that Indigenous disadvantage has a history of dispossession, of control and of repression which led to / created the loss of language, culture, identity and esteem. Recommendation 16 of the Redfern and Waterloo Inquiry proposed a commitment to a community healing strategy. This could well be a way of characterising the task of overcoming Indigenous disadvantage. How do you go about healing the results of 220 years of dispossession and demoralisation? How do you provide the confidence, the skills and experience for people who have had them denied or taken away? How do you heal the damage and reinstate to individuals and communities what has been denied to them over such a long time?

When the Settlement Neighbourhood Centre, which works with many of the youth from the Block, refused to make a submission to the RWA on its Draft Human Services Plan it was seen as being uncooperative and obstructive. The Settlement letter to the RWA, which is attached as Appendix 1 [The Settlement Human Services Letter], explained why the Settlement would not make a submission. The letter raises many of the issues which the RWA and your inquiry will need to address. It has to deal with justice and advocacy. It has to be about working with a diverse range of people and problems. It is about dealing with the effect of the 220 years of dispossession of everything held dear.

The Redfern and Waterloo Inquiry in its Interim and Final Reports made many recommendations about relations between the police and the Aboriginal community. This is a crucial area for this inquiry to investigate, not just because of the present extraordinarily high levels of Aboriginal incarceration and the problems this creates, but because of the historical role police have played in the dispossession of Aboriginal people. As the enforcers of past government policies Aboriginal communities grew up to distrust police and the system they represented. This legacy of distrust, which is not shared by any other group in Australia in the same way, has to be taken into account when dealing with Aboriginal Police relations.

This is the reason a police car chasing an Aboriginal teenager on a bike, police pulling a car over with an Aboriginal driver for a routine check or a strip search of an Aboriginal youth have much more significance and baggage within the Aboriginal community than there would be in the white community. It is crucial that police working with Aboriginal people have extensive training in racism issues and Aboriginal culture so that they do not perpetuate bad Aboriginal/ police relations into the future. After years of being on the receiving end of racism and abuse most Aboriginal people are well attuned to recognising racism, even if those who are accused of it are not aware that their actions could be interpreted as racist.

The Inquiry into Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage must look closely at how the NSW Police Aboriginal Strategic Direction Policy is being implemented within a community like Redfern and try to understand Aboriginal concerns about the police treatment of Aboriginal people. Only a full opening up of these issues can start to address past practices and the history of distrust to throw light on how that history is perpetuated and the distrust of police passes on to subsequent generations. As part of this it has to address incarceration levels by helping offenders out of what too often has been a cycle of incarceration leading to further criminal activity.

Along side this; the Inquiry into Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage will have to deal with the health impacts of loss of self identity and dispossession. It will have to deal with the high levels of drug and alcohol abuse and the domestic violence that often go with it. It is difficult to understand given the wide concern within the Aboriginal community as well as the broader community about domestic violence and child abuse why Mud-gin-gal, the Aboriginal Women’s centre in Redfern, has had so much trouble in obtaining support for projects to address such issues in Redfern Waterloo. The contribution from the RWA of $70,000 for In-home Family Support for Aboriginal Families barely scratches the surface of what needs to be done.

REDWatch has documented the Government and RWA’s Activities in Redfern and Waterloo

REDWatch as well as, many individuals and organisations have written many papers and submissions about the RWA and its Plans. Much of this material is available on the REDWatch website at and we do not propose to repeat it here. The most recent analysis by REDWatch of the RWA and its activities was “An Agenda for Redfern Waterloo Changes in 2007” produced in March 2007 for the NSW State election. This analysis is still valid and we have attached this document as Appendix 2 [An Agenda for Redfern Waterloo Changes.] for the Inquiry’s easy reference.

We have also attached as Appendix 3 an article in the Indigenous Law Bulletin No 47 by REDWatch spokesperson Geoffrey Turnbull in August 2005 entitled “Actions Speak Louder than Words: Redfern-Waterloo’s Recent Experience of ‘Consultation’“ [].  This article documents the initial experience of the community, including the Aboriginal Housing Company, of the RWA’s approach to Consultation.

REDWatch is happy to clarify for the committee any of the issues raised in these papers or in the rest of this submission.

For the remainder of this submission REDWatch wishes to bring to the attention of the Inquiry some of the recommendations for action from the Redfern and Waterloo Inquiry that have not been implemented by Government but which in our view should have been implemented.

The Missing Partnership in the Redfern Waterloo Project

The final chapter of the Redfern and Waterloo Inquiry Report dealt with the Future of Redfern Waterloo. Among the issues dealt with by the committee were: “Working with the non government sector and the community” and “community engagement”. From these sections the Inquiry made Recommendation 36 which states: “That the NSW Government, through the Redfern Waterloo Partnership Project and the Redfern Waterloo Authority, take all possible steps to achieve genuine partnership between State and Commonwealth agencies, the City of Sydney Council, the non government sector and the local community in order to address the issues facing Redfern and Waterloo”.

The absorption of the RWPP into the RWA marked the end of any notion of “partnership” involving the community and the non government sector. Promises made to the community about Community Engagement Proposals under the RED Strategy disappeared along with the RWPP Community Council and the promises of consultation made when the RWA Act was being negotiated through Parliament.

It was argued after the RWA was established that the area had been much studied and further consultation was not really required. It was seen by the RWA as more important to get plans drawn up rather than talk further with the community about the problems. There is of course some truth in this statement about the area being much studies but consultation is not just about identifying problems it is about testing what the reports found with the community to make sure that the problems are identified correctly and that plans and strategies adopted also cover community priorities and concerns.

The result of the RWA’s approach was that Plans were drawn up with minimal community input, signed off by Government Departments and Cabinet before they were ever seen by the community. “Community consultation” effectively became the opportunity to make a written submission on the plan during its exhibition period. This is a long way from the Partnership approach the community expected it would receive.

In April 2005 after the RWA was set up the Minister promised: “A Community Forum to meet at least four times a year will be open for members of the public to attend. The purpose of this Forum is to provide the Minister with advice on the broad strategic direction of the Redfern-Waterloo Plan and provides the community with a direct link to the Minister.” (RWA’s Redfern-Waterloo Plan #3, April 2005 – How Your Voice will be Heard) – Other than an early meeting specifically for Public Housing Tenants the Minister has never called or attended such a Community Forum in Redfern Waterloo. In the first six months of the RWA, the Minister did meet with members of local ALP branches but these also were seen as too problematic and ceased.

The only mechanism for ongoing community input, other than writing or ringing the RWA, is through the community positions on the three Ministerial Advisory Committees (MACs) which meet quarterly. Despite their name the Minister has never attended any MAC meetings and it is unclear how the Minister’s chosen community representatives who sit with representatives of Government Departments on these Advisory committees can advise the Minister. The meetings are primarily updates about what the RWA has done in the last three months.

As mentioned above, the formal exhibition of plans is what is called “consultation” by the RWA. By contrast the City of Sydney in drawing its proposals, including its Development Control Plans which are similar to the RWA’s Built Environment Plan, provides many opportunities for community input before a proposal goes to council and goes on public exhibition. There is a general community view that there is little use making submissions to the RWA as after the cabinet has already signing off on a plan there is little likelihood that new material will be included or proposals changed. REDWatch and others feel this view has been borne out with the lack of changes made to the RWA Plans exhibited to date.

In the early stages of the Human Services Plan preparation there were meetings of human service cluster groups to provide input, but many participants lost confidence in the Plan when their input and concerns were not reflected in the Draft Human Services Plan or the final version. In the case of the Built Environment Plan there was so much information missing from the exhibited Plan as well as conflicts between the Plan and the simultaneously exhibited SEPP that REDWatch asked for the Plan to be withdrawn, fixed and then re-exhibited. In contrast the RWA’s final Built Environment Plan included a lot of new material which had not previously been publicly exhibited because it was added in after the exhibition!

Final plans for Redfern Railway Station have been drawn up. Despite (at time of writing) the RWA website still saying that the RWA will “undertake community consultation on the resultant design options” no consultation has ever taken place. We are told the Station Design will not become public until after Government Funding has been agreed.

The RWA has had what it initially called a design competition for the concept plan for North Eveleigh. Based on this a firm was appointed to undertake the concept plan for North Eveleigh. If this concept plan follows the process that was used for Rachael Forster Hospital the community will not see the details of what the RWA propose for this part of our suburb until it appears on the Department of Planning Website with Director General’s Requirements.

REDWatch has consistently expressed its desire to work with the RWA in a cooperative way but we have found ourselves characterised as opponents rather than partners. From our perspective the RWA has not taken “all possible steps to achieve genuine partnership” with “the non government sector and the local community in order to address the issues facing Redfern and Waterloo” as requested in Recommendation 36. This failure to genuinely engage the community has led to a lot of cynicism about the Government’s and RWA’s real interest in Redfern and Waterloo.

Improved Government Co-ordination?

The RWPP and the RWA held out the promise that they could get Government Departments and non government organisations together to seriously tackle the area’s problems. In the Government announcement The Minister responsible for the Redfern-Waterloo Authority will coordinate all State Government funding within the area. The Redfern and Waterloo Inquiry Recommendation 30 was that “That the NSW Government ensure that the Redfern Waterloo Partnership Project, or a similar coordinating body, is extended beyond 2008, is adequately resourced, with appropriate performance measurement, so that the long term social disadvantage in Redfern and Waterloo can be addressed.”.

In the case of the Human Services Plan (Phase 1) initially there was some reason to believe that there has been some improved co-operation between departments at policy level. The Plan covers a range of Human Services delivered by a number of departments and it allocates responsibility for delivery and co-ordination to various departments. Encouragingly, given the Morgan Disney focus on NGOs, the first part of the Human Services Plan recognised that Government Agencies needed to improve the delivery of their services and that they needed to put in place proposals for early intervention to address the area’s problems.

Against the advice of Recommendation 9 of the Redfern and Waterloo Inquiry the RWA has made no request for additional funding to cover the additional cost of early intervention strategies. The community and NGOs have been told repeatedly that individual Government Departments are expected to find the increased resources from other activities within their existing departmental budget. Similar pressures have also now been placed on department budgets by the NSW State Plan which expects implementation to be made within existing budgets. Early intervention strategies require initial additional funding as existing services need to be maintained until the results of early intervention work their way through the system. In the long term early intervention will save on service delivery later, but if the extra money is not available to introduce early intervention it is difficult to see how the RWA Human Service Plan can be implemented.

REDWatch is unaware of any Human Service Review of Government Core activities being undertaken as covered by Redfern and Waterloo Inquiry Recommendations 7 and 23. REDWatch is also unaware of any audit of Government assets in Redfern Waterloo as requested by Recommendation 25. No report was made publicly available as requested by the recommendation. We agree with the recommendation that such a review should have been undertaken and the results made public to compliment the Morgan Disney Review.

Such information would have been crucial had the RWA adopted Redfern and Waterloo Inquiry Recommendation 32 which requested “That the NSW Government, through the Redfern Waterloo Authority and the Redfern Waterloo Partnership Project, establish short, medium and long term strategic objectives for the area and key outcomes associated with those objectives. In addition, the Government's performance against these objectives should be regularly reviewed and reported to the public.

No short, medium or long term objectives were established by the RWA. While the City of Sydney is looking at planning out to 2030, the RWA has not assessed what government services may be required in the area after the residential and working population is increased to the levels sought by the Government. REDWatch and others have argued that Government land should not be disposed of until there was a study undertaken of what public domain and services were required for the area in the future. On the sale of the school site REDWatch was told that if the Government needed space for a new school in 25 years then it would have to go into the market and buy the land for it. This lack of long term planning smacks more of a Government and Authority looking for short term gains than of any genuine attempt at long term strategic planning for the area.

Coordination between Government Departments on the ground has been even more difficult to obtain. Recommendation 20 of The Redfern and Waterloo Inquiry was “That the Department of Housing continue to seek ways to address tenant concerns in relation to maintenance, the physical environment of the estate, estate and tenant management, and security and safety.” Redfern Police recently undertook a Safety Audit of Waterloo Green. The audit found that inadequate maintenance by the Department of Housing was a major contributor to the poor safety on the Waterloo Green, which is Departmental land. While the RWA has facilitated a response to the Safety Audit local residents are concerned that little has happened and that the Department’s duty of care is still not being properly exercised. The major concern is that if such issues can not be addressed on existing Department properties what is the likelihood that such issues will be better addressed following the RWA and Housing NSW’s proposed renewal of public housing stock.

The Morgan Disney report on Redfern and Waterloo Human Services, which focused primarily on NGOs, set expectation that there was enough money already in the area. It expected to find savings by streamlining the way existing services operated which could be used to meet un-met needs in the area. Much of the Morgan Disney report is now widely dismissed and the RWA has been unable to find the savings expected by rationalising services and service providers. However what has eventuated is that while no savings have been found to be re-directed towards un-met need, neither has any new funding been forthcoming.

Non government agencies pointing out areas were funding is desperately needed to meet unmet need have repeatedly been told by RWA Human Services staff that there is no additional government funding for human services in the area. This creates an intolerable situation for service providers whose staff see needs increasing within the community, due in part to older and higher needs public tenants, but have no access to increased resources to address the needs. They are left in the invidious situation of not being able to accommodate new service users as they are already running at full capacity unless there is additional funding.

The Inquiry into Redfern and Waterloo also recognised the importance for the Government to be involved in capacity building within the Aboriginal (Interim Recommendation 3) and NGO communities (Recommendation 11). These important recommendations have not been undertaken by Government at the level required. During the preparation of the Human Service Plans NGOs, both Indigenous and non-indigenous, were expected to put time, for which they were not funded, into attending meetings and providing input to the RWA. There was considerable resentment that no resources were made available for this activity which was not funded by existing NGO funding agreements and took time from funded programmes. These concerns were compounded when the final plans came out and NGO’s found little of their input reflected in the final documents and felt there time had been totally wasted.

One of the issues in capacity building is that resources are needed for staff and committee training and development especially in NGOs that rely heavily on volunteer management committees. Because of funding constraints they also often have to employ relatively inexperienced staff who have greater training needs and require additional support. Good NGO Aboriginal staff are often enticed into better paying government jobs leaving NGOs to train up new Aboriginal staff and to deal with issues faced by inexperienced staff without any additional support. Most community organisations go through problem patches with staff or committees and capacity building to minimise such problems and to assist organisations through those periods can minimise these problems.

Another significant Recommendation which has also not been implemented is Inquiry Recommendation 22 which proposed “a community development strategy for the area, the primary focus of which is on community members and groups. The strategy should include provision for a small grants scheme to fund local community development activities”. What many of us understand as community development seems very much out of vogue in Government circles including the RWA. The fear seems to be that active community groups who are taking an interest in their communities and what happens to them create potential problems for government and should not be encouraged. If you need proof of this look at the way in which the website  “Community Engagement in the NSW Planning System” has gone from winning Planning awards in 2004 for best practice to now when the site is no longer being maintained or part of the mainstream Department of Planning website ( currently ).

The changes in the way the Government approaches planning are reflected in the way the RWA deals with the local community. REDWatch for example has been refused a link on the RWA site on the basis that we are political in a way that the Redfern Waterloo Chamber of Commerce and service providers are not! By contrast the City of Sydney maintains links to residents groups and Chambers of Commerce on their website.

One of the main problems for the RWA is that proper community engagement and capacity building, like early intervention, is a time consuming and expensive process and the return on investment is not immediate. The RWA has been in a hurry to be seen to deliver. With no real commitment to a robust community engagement process in developing its plans, resources were not made available to fund a proper community engagement process. The result is that “consultation” has become limited to the opportunity to make a submission on a plan or development proposal during the exhibition phase rather than an opportunity for community involvement in the development of the proposals in the first place.

Recommendation 13 of the Redfern and Waterloo Inquiry called for the reinstatement of the Youth Taskforce with a membership of Government and non government providers.  Recommendations 14 and 15 dealt with improved youth facilities and provision of weekend programmes. Little has happened in this area. The Fact tree still occupies the same premises. After an initial flurry of activity to reorganise Youth Services in line with the RWA’s Human Services Plan the Youth Taskforce has effectively stopped meeting and services continue to operate out of substandard premises. Funds have not been made available to expand operating hours. There are some prospects of improved facilities in a 1 to four year time span depending on funding being found but Human Services are largely on their own in finding suitable accommodation as services removed from the old Redfern School found out when it was being prepared for sale.

The demise of the Redfern Waterloo Street Team (RWST) has seen the Government quit service delivery in this sector apart from programmes run in association with Alexandria Park Community School. It was initially expected that the balance of the RWST funding would be allocated to local Youth Services programmes but this did not eventuate.

Currently the RWPP money is due to run out in mid 2008 and the indications are that the RWA will essentially quit the RWPP Human Services role it took over and leave that role to Human Service Agencies in co-ordination with the RWA.

Lack of Transparency

The final chapter of the Inquiry into Redfern and Waterloo also dealt with the need for transparency. This also continued to be a problem under the RWA. While the RWA makes available the component parts of The Redfern Waterloo Plan, other important documents including “accountability measures” covered by Recommendation 35 are not made publicly available.

The RWA drew up a set of Human Services Evaluation Framework and Performance Indicators in June 2006 and REDWatch has a “final draft” of these documents on its website but the final documents are not available on the RWA website. Helen Campbell from Redfern Legal Service served as a NGO representative on HSMAC until her term was not extended and the NGO representative position was dropped. She told REDWatch last year that as of mid 2007 the Departments had yet to established common base line data for assessment of the Human Service Plan. This was at the time when the 18 month assessment of the Human Services Plan was due.

It is impossible for those outside the RWA to assess if the various plans are being implemented and if they are having the expected effect. There are public Human Services and Employment and Enterprise Plans but no public basis for assessing their implementation other than general statement praising their work from within the RWA itself.
The RWA Annual Report shows it is making sizable grants to various organisations but this is the only information available to the community, there are no public grant guidelines, selection processes or evaluation guidelines. In a recent Estimates hearing in answer to a question about per capita funding levels the Minister said “Our main emphasis in Redfern is opportunities for people, rather than cash handouts. We do not do cash handouts.” (15 October 2007) and yet the RWA’s 2006-07 Annual report shows them making Sponsorship and Grant payments of $827,166.25. Surely there has to be some reporting on the effectiveness of this funding and how it compares with the service delivery of agencies like DoCs who normally handle such project funding. 

The Redfern and Waterloo Inquiry Recommendation 31 said: “That the NSW Government, through the Redfern Waterloo Authority and the Redfern Waterloo Partnership Project, ensure that the Redfern Waterloo Plan and the Human Services Plan contain an appropriate set of indicators and performance measurements by which the objectives of the Plans can be assessed. In addition, the Plans should be made publicly available; and regular evaluation and review should be undertaken and made public. Clearly regular evaluation and review, if they are being undertaken, are not being made public as recommended by the Redfern and Waterloo Inquiry. This Inquiry should ask the RWA to make public all evaluations and reviews.

With most RWA documents going to cabinet subcommittees it has been easy for the RWA to deny access on the basis that the document is a cabinet document. The original RED Strategy documents were denied release on this basis as has the evaluation report of the Redfern Waterloo Street Team (RWST). From what has been leaked to the media about the RWST evaluation report the main objective of not releasing this report seems to have been to avoid the embarrassment that this highly talked up government land mark programme had major problems (see government submission to the Redfern and Waterloo Inquiry as an example).

The importance of the RWST document to Redfern Waterloo is two fold. Firstly Youth Services were told that proposals in the Human Services Plan for way they were to be reorganised was based on what the government learnt from the evaluation of RWST, but without the RWST Evaluation release they are being deigned information that would help them to assess how it might be possible to improve their services. Secondly, according to media reports the main problem with the RWST was that it was set up by Government who thought they could deliver an on the ground service better than those that had worked in the area with youth for a long time. The effect was to make the situation worse. This attitude that Government knows best and we can’t learn anything from the local NGOs perpetuates itself in the RWA and increases the likelihood that similar problems will reoccur. We have attached the two media articles referred to for ready reference by the committee as Appendix 4 – Redfern plan backfires: report – SMH 20 Oct 2007 [] and Appendix 5 – FOI Controversy over street team – UTS Precinct South 4/2007 [].

Among the many Conflicts of Interest the RWA has is that it is responsible for promoting the area and increasing property values on Government Land as well as running programmes in the area. What the RWA publishes on its website and in its Newsletters and Annual Report seem designed to help promote and sell Redfern Waterloo rather than anything which allows their activities to be critically evaluated by the community.

It should come as no surprise then that Inquiry recommendation 28 that the Government should “ensure that all future commercial or residential development applications of scale are subject to a comprehensive social impact assessment process” has also not been adopted by the RWA and the Government.

Much has been written by the RWA about its Aboriginal training programmes but there is no public information available which allows these programmes to be assessed; either in terms of the employment effect, the proportion of Redfern and Waterloo people who are part of the training, or what, if anything, is being done to assist those with no culture of work prepare themselves to take up a training opportunity and making a successful transition to employment.

The RWA did commission a study on “Creating a Culture of Work in the Redfern Waterloo Area” which, while it does not appear on the RWA website, was released to REDWatch and is on our website. While there have been questions raised about aspects of the report, it does open up some important areas for further discussion and action. There is no publicly available information about what the RWA is doing to address the important but difficult problems of those with no personal or family work culture. The only public reference to this work on the RWA website disappeared recently.

One of REDWatch’s concerns about the RWA’s Aboriginal Employment and Enterprise activities is that they seem to be providing training opportunities for people outside the area rather than focusing on the difficult end of the employment market where lack of work culture, criminal histories or substance abuse make the transition from unemployment to employment a long and almost impossible process for many Aboriginal people alienated from the “whitefella’s” system.


REDWatch agrees with the Redfern and Waterloo Final Recommendation that “That the NSW Government take the lead in encouraging all political parties and independents to adopt an ongoing commitment to Indigenous issues and work cooperatively with the Aboriginal community to address the serious social disadvantage affecting Aboriginal people.”

Your current Inquiry is about this very thing but it has to have practical manifestations in the way the Government goes about things and have recommendations it makes implemented. Aboriginal people lived for a long time under the Mission Managers and in many respects Government still behaves this way towards the disadvantaged including the Aboriginal community. Government, and its Departments and Authorities, have to show respect for Aboriginal people and find ways of genuinely listening to their experience of the systems and then work with them to find ways to improving the systems to solve the underlying problems that give rise to many of the issues faced by the Aboriginal community.

Many in Redfern and Waterloo are disappointed that the opportunity for change held out by the Government’s intervention in Redfern Waterloo has been squandered. Where there was an opportunity to get Government Departments’ working together to address the area’s problems we have instead some high profile Aboriginal employment initiatives within the construction industry linked to the area’s real estate renewal and no real indication that the social issues will be addressed. In the end the community fear that we may end up with an even more polarised community as new residents come into a more Manhattanised Redfern and Waterloo and live in close proximity to higher needs public housing tenants who continue to deal with a non integrated human services system that doesn’t address their problems which require intervention from multiple agencies.

REDWatch encourages the Legislative Council Council’s Standing Committee on Social Issues Inquiry into Closing the Gap – Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage to look at the practicalities of what needs to happen to overcome Indigenous disadvantage in a complex inner city urban area like Redfern Waterloo. If solutions that will work within our community can be found then in all likelihood they will be transferable in large part else where and to other marginalised groups.

The current issues facing Redfern Waterloo are not just Aboriginal Issues. There are a large number of non-Aboriginal people, in public housing, who share a very similar experience of government services and like the Aboriginal Community are among the marginalised in our community. On the other side there are the new inner city renters and landowners who come to the area because of its proximity to the city, work and entertainment as it gentrifies. They have pushed out almost all low income private renters but are often unaware of the challenges of living side by side with the high needs people in the area’s public housing. They too need the human services systems to do their job and for Government to seriously address issues of disadvantage and inequality or the increasing polarisation of the community may lead to future incidents of conflict within the community.

If Government can not find workable solutions to address such problems in Redfern Waterloo then the well meaning Recommendations from this current Inquiry will join those from the earlier Redfern and Waterloo Inquiry and gather dust with the numerous other studies into Aboriginal and Redfern Waterloo social issues that have been undertaken over decades. The challenge for Government is to address the underlying issues which are the only way to lead to lasting change. To do this Government has to listen to the marginalised and their communities and make long term commitments to working in partnership with communities to overcome disadvantage. This is especially so in addressing Indigenous disadvantage.

Geoffrey Turnbull
REDWatch Incorporated
31st January 2008

Post:   c/- PO Box 1567, Strawberry Hills NSW 2012
Ph:       (02) 9318 0824


Appendices Attached


Further information about the NSW Legislative Council’s Standing Committee on Social Issues Inquiry into Closing the Gap – Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage can be found on the NSW Parliamentary website Overcoming Indigenous disadvantage Inquiry