Desert dream in danger

13 March 2015

Comment piece for The Centralian Advocate on Friday 13 March 2015 by MacDonnell Regional Council President, Sid Anderson.

With sadness in my heart I call on the residents of Alice Springs and their Town Council to join me in asking the Australian Government to rethink their funding decisions for the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS).

After the initial impact to businesses, from around 50 job losses across our communities and many more from other organisations, I fear for the social impact in our communities and Alice Springs when our youth services lose their funding.

I fear for the many costs if youth services are not maintained throughout Central Australia. I fear that the government didn’t think through all the financial and social costs to Central Australia when they made their decision to cut youth services in our remote communities.

Last week the Australian Government included MacDonnell Regional Council in the list of successful applicants for their IAS funding. This week we have learned what being on the “successful list” meant. The government expects that for only 8 per cent of our current budget we can maintain and expand our Youth Development program (MacYouth currently offered in 9 communities) to be provided in 12 of our remote Indigenous communities.

The main goal the government said they wanted from the IAS was to “get adults to work”. Their funding cutbacks will instead take 51 community people out of paid employment with MacDonnell Regional Council and put them on the dole.

Another goal the government wanted from the IAS was to “make communities safe”. By offering so little money to the MacYouth programs, they will be impossible to run. This will send communities to the sad old days that we all want to keep behind us, of substance misuse, violence and vandalism.

I fear for what our young people will do unless the Federal Government sits down to discuss the impacts of their decision.

I have spent a long time promoting football in remote communities because I know how much better young men feel when they have a positive focus in their lives. Because of this I know how much happier these people are when they are living on their communities. I also know how distracted they can become when they visit Alice Springs.

An aspect of our MacYouth program is similar. It offers sport and recreational opportunities that have a good effect on school attendance and educational achievement, but the program goes much further in helping our young people become adults. We have developed our MacYouth programs to steer people away from substance abuse and anti social behaviour, instead helping them to re-engage with their education, connect with their culture and develop future leadership

Aside from providing core local government services on our communities, MacDonnell Regional Council is proud to provide Community Services like MacYouth. Our Council engages with people throughout our communities. We have had elected local representatives meeting regularly in all our communities since the Council formed.

Recently we have started Youth Boards that work in a similar way through regular local meetings to inform our Councillors. They are a good platform for young people to be heard and are proving an important way to help our future leaders find their voice.

This all gives us a very good idea of what does work in our lives and what doesn’t. We think governments would do a whole lot better if they consulted with us more regularly, because we do consult with our people. Because we consult with our constituents we are well informed about getting adults to work, children to school and making communities safe.

Our communities are already living with a lost generation from many years of governments playing around with service delivery to remote Aboriginal communities.

As President of the MacDonnell Regional Council I have, with the full support of my fellow Councillors, looked for ways to keep supporting our young people to become strong community members. This is important so that we find ways to have our young people continue with school so they can get training, qualifications and employment, so they can feel good about their lives. Without these opportunities, our communities fear another lost generation and that is something Australia cannot afford.

Last year the Northern Territory Government was forced to reverse its decision to cut youth services in Alice Springs following the death of a one of our young people from sniffing. I fear similar devastation from this week’s Australian Government decision.

When young people are happily engaged in their communities they are not drifting into urban centres or threatening community safety through alcohol and substance misuse or doing harmful or criminal things.

Our Community Services and particularly the MacYouth program support our people’s dream for a quality desert lifestyle, in their communities, with their families.