Settling the issues on the NBHF

The motion I brought before the Assembly today, although lengthy, was not complex. And the actions I called on the government to take were not difficult , and with a bit of will and a bit of cooperation from members of the other side, it was possible. For these are matters that need to be resolved, and urgently. The issues surrounding the Ngunnawal Bush Healing Farm have gone on for too long.

As we know, in the last few weeks, the matters at the Ngunnawal Bush Healing Farm have come to a head. I spoke to the Assembly in the last sitting, setting the matter straight on behalf of the indigenous community, who were wrongly accused of being confused about the nature of the facility. I called on the government then to apologise for their mistakes in this matter. That this has not yet happened is a matter of shame for them. Reconciliation week has just passed, and now is a good time for the government to take that step to reconcile with the community and move forward.

In my discussions with the indigenous community, I have found that the Ngunnawal Bush Healing Farm has become iconic to them – as a beacon of hope. However, it has become yet another example of how this government has failed them. When it was first mooted, the facility was conceived as a therapeutic community property. It was to be a holistic centre in rural ACT, where indigenous elders would work with the youth of the community, who had come out of drug addiction.

The focus of the facility was on rehabilitation with an emphasis on Aboriginal spirituality, culture and principles through recreational pursuits. At some point in the long history of the Bush Healing Farm, people started to refer to it as an Alcohol and Drug Residential Rehabilitation centre – including by members of the government opposite. And maybe this is where the problem lies.

There is no doubt that such a centre is urgently needed by the community. There is a growing number of incarcerations due to intoxication and drug use, up some 30% over the last couple of years. These are worrying numbers. And something needs to be done about it. I had one member of the community share with me that she had lost 2 sons due to drug overdose – and then demanded to know what the government was going to do about it. There can be no doubt that the matter is urgent.

And no one can blame the indigenous community for being irate! Considering the time spent – almost 15 years from when the United Ngunnawal Elders council first approached the ACT government with the concept of a Bush Healing Farm in 2003!. It then took 6 years before the purchase of a suitable property. Then there was the land lease challenge, the finding of asbestos on the property, and the bridge debacle. Now we hear that they failed to build an egress road! And so, the saga continues.

It begs the question how much money has been spent on the development of the property? We know from recent Annual Reports, that a revised project value of almost $12 million dollars was reported, a far cry from the original project value of just under $7 million, in fact almost double.

Is this another case of the government’s inability to bring projects in on time and on budget? We should know the true costs of the project and call on the government in this motion to table a detailed timetable of costs, on all areas. And this must include the costs associated with the model of care that will be implemented at the facility.

Four models of care have now been developed for the facility. Four! The first one was published in 2010. This model was developed after extensive work by many, together with the advisory group on the project, which included the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives. Developing this model included – according to members of the community whom I have spoken with – the visiting of like facilities overseas. It would be interesting to know just what the final cost for developing all these models of care will be. The model of care at the centre of the current controversy was developed by Winnunga and ATODA, at the behest of the Health Directorate. They requested Winnunga to develop a short term – or twelve week, Drug and Alcohol Residential rehabilitation model of care, based on the National Drug and Alcohol Clinical Care & Prevention model – their words!

It is no wonder then, that the very comprehensive model developed included a clinical component. Not a detoxification component, nor would methadone be administered on site. But in keeping with the model of care requested, a GP and a Dual diagnosis nurse, as well as ten Aboriginal Social Health Team Workers, would be employed, all to provide a holistic service. This would include the provision of psychotherapy – also in the original model, comprising a mix of cognitive behaviour, interpersonal and narrative therapies. This model was rejected, without notice or warning, and a fourth model of care developed and presented to a small select group of people without explanation on the 8th of May this year. The health directorate must have nothing better to do with its time or money?

Eventually we reached the truth when the Director-General of Health gave us the explanation that this model of care could not be delivered on the site. The shame of it is, that at no time was this made explicit to the community, throughout the many years that building of the facility was in progress.

And why this government went out to tender for a service to run the NBHF - as  an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Alcohol and other Drug Rehabilitation Service – if they already knew that it could not be used for the purposes requested – is beyond understanding. It was therefore even more inexplicable that the Chief Minister and the Health Minister should blame the indigenous community for the confusion, when their own directorate did not seem to understand what was allowable or purposed.

Did the Health Directorate apply due diligence in order to ascertain whether their requested model was consistent with planning regulations?

The truth is that Winnunga and ATODA should be commended for developing a model of care, which both includes the original intent of the facility, but also met the requirements of the brief.

The frustration of the indigenous community is palpable. For almost 15 years they have waited for the Ngunnawal Bush Healing Farm to be completed and opened to meet the urgent needs of the community. And then – so close to the completion – they are met with the news that yet again, due to the incompetence of the Health Directorate, the facility would not be opened. As one member of the community, speaking to me on the ongoing failure of this government to meet the needs of the community, said, “We now have

  • An Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Alcohol and other Drug Rehabilitation Service that really isn’t Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Alcohol and other Drug Rehabilitation Service;
  • The debacle of Boomanulla oval – that’s had its gates closed for the past three years with no sign of opening anytime soon; and
  • An Aboriginal community controlled health service and Youth Service with buildings that are not fit for purpose

I am becoming more cynical by the day I am sick and tired of the rhetoric and I want action.”

Madam Speaker, we now reach the crux of the matter. What matters most at this time is the opening of this facility. The Ngunnawal bush Healing Farm is crucial in ensuring that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the ACT get the help they need for their young people, for those in their community who are addicted to drugs and alcohol and need help. No-one in this place, I believe, disputes this being the case. Politics aside, I urge all members in this place to support my motion today. A lot of money, time and effort have gone into building the facility, and developing a comprehensive model of care. It is time for the government to stop the rhetoric and give the community action on this matter – as a matter of some urgency!