Katherine welfare agencies attacked

BIG CROWD: Commissioners Mick Gooda and Margaret White heard many passionate and tragic stories from Katherine and district people today.

BIG CROWD: Commissioners Mick Gooda and Margaret White heard many passionate and tragic stories from Katherine and district people today.

KATHERINE’S many welfare agencies came under sustained attack at the Royal Commission hearing today.

Indigenous community leaders said there were a multitude of agencies in Katherine being funded by government grants which had little understanding of core Aboriginal issues.

“There are so many organisations, none of us know them all, and no-one knows what they all do but they are taking away the money meant to help us,” one woman speaker said to applause at the hearing.

The inquiry into protection and detection of children made its first visit to Katherine today although Commissioner Gooda said it may come back.

Speakers told the Commissioners they would not hear from the people most affected by holding today’s hearing at the Godinymayin Yilar Rivers Arts and Culture Centre.

“The community people aren’t out here, all the people from the agencies are here, if you want to hear from the communities you will have to go out to them,” the commissioners were told.

Several speakers told of the importance of keeping Indigenous families together when current practice appeared to be to try and split them apart.

“We don’t want to hand our children over to organisations who have no love for them, our love comes from the heart,” one said.

The commissioner heard there was a critical shortage of foster carers and public housing in Katherine.

“These programs used by these agencies to try and help us have to come from the communities themselves or they don’t work.”

Another said: “We need to have other big meetings like this in Katherine with all these agencies here and we can try and figure what they all do.”

“We have (Indigenous) families in crisis because they don’t want to access these services because they fear their children will be taken away,” the commission was told.

Another speaker said government children’s services staff often suffered from a shortage of experienced case workers.

“White justice does not recognise Aboriginal law … there is no use for Elders any more, we need to strengthen Aboriginal law, not weaken it,” another said.

Commissioner Gooda said “many of the themes” raised at the Katherine community forum had been raised at previous forums “although in different ways”.

The commission moves to Nhulunbuy for another community meeting tomorrow.

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