10 Years – still no Indigenous D&A Rehab Facility

So the Ngunnawal Bush healing Farm has been opened. And in the press release, the Minister once again emphasised that this would not be an alcohol and drug residential rehabilitation facility. In fact, it will not even be a residential facility, with clients to be bussed in. Thirty minutes there, thirty minutes back from the Woden Town Centre. Everyday.

So after more than ten years of effort, and spending more than twelve million dollars, the property is to become little more than what the community has called a glorified day camp, running a very expensive non-residential day program, for people in the final stages of their drug and alcohol dependency recovery journey.

Ten years. When Jon Stanhope sent out a media release on October 13, 2007, he promised the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community $10.8 million for an indigenous drug rehabilitation centre. The services to be provided by the centre, would fill a gap, he stated. It would be in line with the then government’s determination to provide services which were culturally appropriate for the indigenous community.

Drug and alcohol abuse, he stated at the time, were complex health and social issues facing the indigenous community. It had become clear to him that there was a need for a range of culturally appropriate services and treatment options, which reflected the complexity and maximised the chances of helping these individuals and families overcome substance abuse.

The planned facility, a residential rehabilitation centre, would focus on taking a holistic approach, with therapeutic programs that would support those who needed the service through the rehabilitation and recovery process. Before making the transition back into their communities. It would link with existing services, including detoxification, diversion and existing methadone services.

The government committed 10.8 million dollars in capital funding, for the purchase of an appropriate property, and the building of a 16-bed facility.

When questioned about his intent, in a recent Winnunga newsletter, Jon Stanhope advised that his intention was that the facility would be a drug and alcohol residential rehab centre, as this was traditionally and commonly understood. That there was nothing ambiguous about his statement, and that his press release and budget papers meant exactly what they said.

Maybe this government failed to get the correct handover, from then Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher, who on releasing the design plans affirmed her commitment to the facility for (and I quote)  “ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples requiring alcohol and other drug rehabilitation”.

And so, ten years has gone by. In that time, a suitable property was located. A purpose-built building was erected, though not 16 beds as was originally planned, only an eight-bed facility was eventually completed. During that time,

  • The land was cleared of Asbestos – more costs.
  • The bridge was renewed – more costs.
  • A new egress road had to be built – more costs.
  • And – because this government further delayed the opening, security had to be installed, at the further cost of four hundred thousand a year – more costs!

More than twelve million has been spent. 10 years in the making, yet, the indigenous community still does not have a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre as originally intended. Not that we know exactly what it is, as a final model of care had not yet been released. But we do know, from the Minister’s press release that it is not “an alternative to alcohol and other drug treatment”.

In the last few months the government has sought to deflect responsibility for their own shortcomings by insisting that the Aboriginal community was “confused” or had “misunderstood” the intended purpose of the facility simply inflamed the situation. But it would appear from the outset, that the purpose was clear, as this property has always been referred to as a Drug and alcohol rehabilitation service.

In fact, in early 2016 Winnunga was approached by the Health Directorate, to engage them in a single select tender process to develop a service delivery model of care for the facility. I have of course spoken on this previously, but feel it bears repeating here.

In July 2016, ATODA and Winnunga were contracted and funded by ACT Health to prepare the model of care. The final model was submitted in October 2016. It was an evidence-based, robust proposal. At no time was there an understanding by Winnunga that the Rehabilitation Service, to be delivered from the Bush healing farm, would include a detoxification component, or methadone dosing on site. Clients who need this level of treatment were to be excluded and supported elsewhere.

In their comprehensive 120 page Model of Care document, Winnunga outlined the Mandatory specific eligibility for clients who could attend the facility. This was consistent with the evidence for those for whom residential rehab is indicated. It also outlined the exclusions for treatment, to ensure that the best possible implementation and outcomes were achieved for all.

These exclusions included Opioid Maintenance Therapy clients, and Clients whose behaviour presented an unacceptable management, or safety risk, within the Bush Healing Farm context.

Winnunga always had the best interest of their community uppermost in their mind – which is of course based on their extensive experience and expertise, and long history of working with their community.

But all of this is a moot point. We now have a facility that is not a drug and alcohol treatment facility, though we don’t know yet what it is. What we do know is that the services to be provided there, although they may include indigenous workers, do not currently include indigenous organisations.

Yet again no local indigenous groups have been contracted directly to provide services to the Indigenous clients at the farm. Instead the government is running programs from the CIT, ACT Parks and Conservation, ACT Health and Nutrition Australia ACT. No doubt all worthwhile organisations, but they fail the indigenous organisation test. They are not listed with ORIC and are not a Supply Nation Member organisation.

So let’s recap. We have a facility

  • that is not a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre,
  • that is non-residential,
  • that has cost the government upwards of twelve million dollars,
  • that does not have a service of delivery model which is only suitable for the final stages in the treatment of drug and alcohol dependency recovery, and
  • which has failed to include any indigenous organisations.

You may ask, of course, having the Ngunnawal Bush Healing Farm, is there still a need for anything further. The answer is a very loud and clear yes.

Yes, from the former Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope, who stated very clearly that this was always intended and the needs of the community demand it.

Yes, from the CEO of Winnunga, who stated and I quote from her Newsletter, “the need for an Indigenous drug and alcohol residential rehabilitation facility is nevertheless even greater now than it was in 2007.” And

Yes, from Ross Fowler and Jo Chivers, former AISIEB Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson, who requested that the ACT Government outline what it intended to do to provide an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Drug and Alcohol Residential Rehabilitation Service in the ACT. He went on to say – and again I am quoting here, “What we want from the government on behalf of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community is a commitment to a residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility that provides the clinical services our community so desperately needs”.

Why do they need such a service? Why is the need so great? There are currently only 105 residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation beds in Canberra through Karralika Programs, Directions ACT, the Ted Noffs Foundation, and the Salvation Army. None of these provide indigenous specific or appropriate care. And all of them are oversubscribed.

The result has been that many patients, including indigenous patients have had to travel interstate to seek care and support. Away from their families. Away from their community. Away from their lands. For example, those wishing to seek indigenous specific treatment must travel to somewhere like Nowra, a six hour return journey if family wish to visit. And as Ross Fowler stated, this is not working.

So what do we need the government to do? We need them to accept responsibility for failing to keep to the original commitment made on the 13th of October, 2007 by the then Chief Minister Jon Stanhope, to develop a drug and alcohol residential rehabilitation facility. And we need them to detail how they will deliver on a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre, committing to the construction and funding, as a matter of urgency, of an indigenous drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility.

A facility which has been requested and is much needed by the ACT indigenous community.

A facility that will provide an appropriate clinical model of care.

A facility which is run by indigenous organisations for the indigenous peoples of the ACT.