Family Violence in the Torres Strait (with special emphasis on causal factors)



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One Police Officer had noted when they were present in a community, albeit only for short periods, it had a strong positive impact. He gave the examples of staying three nights each at Murray Island (for a Native Title meeting), at Darnley Island (for a Sports Carnival) and at Badu (for the Sports Carnival). “We receive many comments about the community being very quiet when we do this.”

Child Protection Investigation Unit (CPIU) Response

This was described earlier under ‘Child Safety Response’.

Indigenous Police

The Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Police (QATSIP)

Badu is the only T.S.I. community that has stationed QATSIPs on it. Badu was selected as a Pilot project for QATSIPs for two or three years, and had continued to be very successful. All interviewees were of the view it needed to be supported on an ongoing basis. The QATSIPs were said to run Badu better than the Police could run T.I.. The QATSIPs were not constrained by local politics or their Council (as CPOs were). The ideal was said by local Police to have QATSIPs throughout all the islands with Police Stations and vehicles but this would require funds beyond the current Police budget.

QUATSIPs have more power than CPOs and were viewed as being far more effective – they can arrest, detain and issue traffic tickets; but they cannot carry weapons. A QUATSIP may study at the Police Academy and become a full Police Officer. QUATSIPs were said to have good communication skills – they often talked offenders down. A D.V. Outreach Worker in the Mid-Western Islands said that at Badu, F.V. victims mainly go to the QATSIP, but this was not the case in the other communities where there were CPOs x

Community Police Officers (CPOs)

In the late 1990s, McFarlane (1998) reported that supporting the members of the Queensland Police Service (QPS) based in the area were 65 Community Police Officers (CPOs) employed under the provisions of the Community Services (Torres Strait) Act, who have restricted powers under each Island’s by-laws, and who can address some policing issues until the arrival of QPS members, including the preservation of crime scenes and the security of exhibits. (McFarlane 1998:4.)

The CPOs were under the employment and supervision of their Community Councils at the time of the research. At this time, thirteen T.S. Islands had CPOs who were brought in once a year to T.I. for a conference and/or training by a conventional Police Officer . The CPOs were required to submit reports by facsimile machine to the Police at T.I. or Horn Island and phone in if there was an emergency in their community. Some interviewees were of the view that this fax-back system did not work so effectively from outer islands x [A police] Officer said that CPOs obtained night information which was an important source of intelligence x

Problems with the CPO Service

During the author’s survey, there were widespread criticisms of the CPOs’ services: “CPOs administer a community service, but have no arresting power. There are no deterrent measures in the CPO system. The [F.V.] victim is reluctant to talk to a CPO.” x A[nother interviewee] x said: “CPOs don’t do anything, and are ineffective; the Chairperson tells CPOs about underage drinking but they do not do anything” . One Police Officer characterised the problems as follows: “CPOs are influenced by Councils and families; they receive not much more pay than CDEP. If Chairman is driving around drunk, how do you [as a CPO] charge the boss?”

One . Counsellor said that “Need people other than the CPO, the Priest, and the Council for intervention” . For example, at St Pauls it was said that the CPOs did not work at night or on weekends – at this time one could not get help; except maybe from the Priest – there was nobody else. The Health Clinic Administrator at St Pauls was also of the view that the Police service at St Pauls needed to be much stronger. He said when trouble occurred the CPOs were hard to find; one had to go looking for them. In July 2007 a team of one male and one female CPO at St Pauls had just reduced to only one with two or three CDEP helpers. During the time of the study (October 2007) the St Pauls CPOs had all resigned, and obtained other jobs. The Kubin CPOs would not respond to St Pauls problems because they considered it inappropriate, unless it was something very serious.

A D.V. Outreach Worker by way of contrasting the effectiveness of the CPOs, emphasized the need for strong policing. She said: “must charge offenders. If you don’t fix it when it’s still small, it will happen again, then who will be responsible? Must send to court. Do not use community fines or community service. The Council is not strong enough to administer their punishments.” x

Service gap: There is a need to review the CPO system and replace it with a more effective T.S.I. Policing system (e.g. QATSIPs). At the time of the survey there was said to be such a review in progress within the Queensland Police.

Police Responses to Outer Islands

As well as monthly police visits to island communities, the regular police are dispatched to an outer island if a serious incident occurs, travelling either by boat or plane in such emergencies. Assaults and drug smuggling were said to be the main problems and constituted the main work in the islands.

At the time of the research, the Police plane came from Cairns to work in the T.S. only two weeks per month which limited the extent of possible Police work. “Have to get a charter plane if an emergency; if it is really serious when no plane” . If it is after dark, a helicopter is sometimes chartered from either Coast Watch or Customs The outreach Police service was described by one Police Officer as follows:-

“Police plane comes up from Cairns every two or three weeks. If a matter is serious enough we will always go out; we will charter a flight. We addressing a recent x suicide problem involved a charter flight. A[nother] suicide incident was done with a rescue chopper which the Health Department organized. It was a mental health issue.”

A Police Officer explained that the CPOs submit reports of offences to the T.I. Police who then take all the offence reports out on their monthly visit…thus delays occurred in dealing with matters; could be one or two weeks. The problem then was that the victims wanted to withdraw their complaints. Influential family members became involved and possibly mediated with the perpetrator. [But this Officer agreed that an alternative reason might be intimidation of victim.]

One Officer had a less positive view of the outer Island response: “We hardly visit islands. Only if Priority 1 jobs. If critically injured, then Police charter a flight. Even then get a big delay. May have to walk from the airport into the Village. Unless we can use a chopper. Some new procedures recently – can use a chopper after business hours for Priority 1 jobs.”

One Police Officer said that individuals run into the bush when the Police plane came, which was a fairly common response; they could identify the plane. They hid in mangroves or rainforest. There were thus many outstanding warrants for the outer islands and unpaid fines. The Police Officer continued, “Some are often compliant once we do catch up – they explain they couldn’t get to court – so they are happy to come in to T.I. and get sorted out in court re the unpaid fines” .

[Another police officer] x said of their island outreach work: “One job usually takes a whole day’s travel and then one may have to go back again to get a result” x The x Officer also commented on the CPIU visits to NPA: “If we go to NPA for a day, we take the one and only Police car at Bamaga” , indicating the reduction in local capacity when this occurred. She explained that her team had to go to Shellbourne Bay and Wenlock River in the NPA area using the Bamaga Police vehicle, but there was only one vehicle for four Policemen stationed at Bamaga. These visits thus impacted negatively on the local service. Bamaga also had five or six CPOs, whereas New Mapoon had two CPOs. Injinoo had a Night Patrol and Security Officers.

One x. Police Officer commented: “Torres Strait is very hard to police.” However it was said that the outer island service would soon improve because a new Police plane and a pilot were coming soon, to provide a faster response from Horn Island.

A police service gap – proactive policing

A number of interviewed police were of the view they should be more proactive in the community. “We [only] do Blue Night Discos and ‘Be strong; be heard’ program stuff. The rest of our work is responsive.” Several Officers recalled when the T.I. police had an “adopt an island” approach for each Police Officer by which that Officer would carry out a range of pro-active services in a targeted community, e.g. identify and collaborate with inter-agents, help with programs, etc; it was said to be a good initiative. One Officer spoke of going to Mabuiag School, holding Blue Discos there, and passing drivers licenses.

A x. Police Officer said that the ‘Adopt-an-island project’ policy obtained more positive exposure for policing. But it ceased after a six-month rotation scheme of Officers from Cairns was introduced. [She] explained, “then there were two-month gaps until the next couple came up. In earlier years one could volunteer to stay on at T.I.. No rapport [with communities] is built up with short-term team stays.” However . [these officers] said they themselves had permanent police positions at Thursday Island. Nevertheless this raises another service gap of insufficient Police Officers on duty.

Service Gap – Shortage of Police Officers to improve response times

Several T.S. Police Officers at were of the view there were not enough Officers to police the Torres Strait properly. They said the Thursday Island Police Station had been on a skeleton staff for four years. Full Police staff at Thursday Island is 28, but the Station was operating on less than that, with only 10 to 15 Officers in October 2007. There were four Officers at CPIU and four at CIB (down to three), the Water Police was down to two and General Duties at front desk had six vacancies. Bamaga was meant to be a six-man station, but was running on four. “It burns out those that are there.” x x “The voice of the community must request more Police; Justice Groups should make a noise”

There was concern about the Police response time on F.V. matters expressed by some (non-Police) interviewees: “Torres Strait Islanders should have the privilege of the Police getting there in 15 minutes - we get punished because we live in remoteness and governments only listen to statistics. Response time causes loss of faith in Police. This is not a 24-hour station at Thursday Island.” Another view was “you need the presence of the law there to stop it [F.V.] happening” [i.e. via intimidation by police presence]

One Police Officer explained night calls to the T.I. Police are however screened by the Police in Cairns and prioritised as to whether there should be an urgent response. A work instruction may not filter out till the next day.

Members of the NPA Women’s Shelter Board gave their views on the lack of adequate Police servicing at NPA:-

“Only three State Police here which is not a very good service. Not responding to many calls. Phone often rings through to Cairns especially on the weekends, when everyone in the community is drinking [the worst time for problems]. Cairns Police then decides if it is serious enough matter to call out a Police Officer on overtime. If you ring [Cairns] a few times you get branded a nuisance”

Kuki Patrol, Thursday Island

The Kuki Patrol was run by TRAWQ (an NGO) and was a hybrid Night Patrol/Security Patrol. There were plans to expand Kuki Patrol, as a paid service, with security licenses. Kuki intervened to prevent D.V. incidents escalating to a police matter.

A Police Officer provided an appraisal of the Kuki Patrol at T.I. which was run by local people, but was not exactly a Night Patrol as they were known on mainland Aboriginal Australia. He said the Kuki Patrol was more or less a security patrol. If they heard an argument or saw a crime they informed the Police. “They have been helping us a lot. Their presence is respected in the community. Police don’t want to lose the Kuki Patrol.” There was an issue of getting a speedy message through to the police as there was no radio contact between the Kuki Patrol and the Police. x

Further single-gender group responses

Women’s Shelters were serviced earlier under ‘Women’s Services’; however there are additional gender-specific services that are focused on the people of the Torres Strait region.

Thursday Island Men’s Group

At the time of the author’s research, a Thursday Island Men’s Group had been formed, but had only held a few meetings (one of which was with the author). Its composition was mainly dominated by committed T.S.I. male leaders (membership was not on the basis of being a perpetrator). Senior T.S.I. leaders in this group included the Social Worker employed in the Healing Centre , a senior Church Leader, the Mayor of the Torres Shire Council (also a church leader), the Recognized Entity employed by Department of Child Safety (also a Church Pastor), and a senior employee of the Department of Health. One internal issue was the relative composition of younger men versus Elders and their respective leadership roles in the T.I. Men’s Group.

Service gap: A Men’s intervention and alternate sentencing Facility

The author participated in a T.I. Men’s Group meeting (15/10/07) where the idea of a Men’s Facility was discussed. This was loosely conceived as some sort of a half-way house that was an alternate sentencing option. Due to the high rates of recidivism amongst young men, it was argued that the Justice system was not working – young men were said to be going in and out of jail. Hence there was a call for alternate sentencing. x

A discussion ensued on strengthening [teenage] initiation but in a biblical sense. And an agreement for the need to have spiritual healing, but it was conceded that applying for funds for such were a problem. [Note reference to a problem of being unable to mention hymns in grant applications – the government has told T.S.I. men making funding applications in the past, to simply refer to hymns as songs.]

An issue is where to take such young offenders. x [A] member of the Men’s Group recalled as a young man in 1996, when he was amongst a group of 22 who were taken to a coastal camp [in the vicinity of T.I.] where they “made spear and got fish; otherwise we would have been here, bust[ing] windows in town”

Other key issues are: How to reintroduce perpetrators back into the community? And, should there be a reconciliation process with the family of their victim(s); or a form of restorative justice?

Service gap: A lack of active role models

The T.I. Men’s Group had a discussion on the importance of Indigenous role models for young people. Potential male examples mentioned included Tony Mundine, Michael Bani (a footballer) playing for Manly), and x [one interviewee] himself who had a role model profile in the community x

[One interviewee] also had an idea about re-building pearling luggers, whereby youth could work the seas [to engage youth in diversionary activity.] He said there was a need for the equivalent of the ‘Young Endeavour’ project to sail around the T.S. Islands and spread the word to the younger generation .

St Pauls Women’s Group

In August 2007 the author was shown where the Women’s Group at St Pauls had a meeting hall (the old Ibis office behind the school). Here they did weaving and other craft work and had also held a fashion parade. When they gathered together the women discussed the current Family Violence issues and problems and attempted to informally seek strategic solutions.

St Pauls Men’s Group

In August 2007 the author was informed of a Men’s Group starting at St Pauls who met for prayer on certain Saturdays, a combined Anglican/Pentacostal group. Nine men were said to have come for a recent meeting upon the blowing of a shell trumpet.

NPA Men’s Group

Members of the NPA Women’s Shelter spoke of their efforts to obtain services for men in the NPA. They said there was nowhere in the community for men to go – overcrowding was everywhere. The Board members said their services were not just for women. Men were to have equal rights of access to obtain and use services. The Board had a male Counsellor and a male D.V. Educator. The D.V. Educator went to men’s work places to disseminate information. Men’s Court Support Workers had also been employed in the past.

Members of the NPA Women’s Shelter Board decided to implement the NPA Men’s Group by first obtaining funds to employ a Men’s Worker: “Men never seemed to get going; no follow through. They were putting in submissions and reaching for the stars; but had no track record, so they were always knocked back. So the Shelter put in for a Men’s Project Worker x

The general aim was to get a parallel set of services for men. The emphasis of the approach had not been about segregating men and women in service delivery, but rather about families being brought together to talk about problems. An outside clergyman from T.I. commented on the bridging between the two gender groups: “At Old Mapoon they have a separate Men’s and Women’s Groups meetings, then they join up for tea”

[One interviewee] x said he had been working as the NPA Men’s Group Coordinator for seven months when he was interviewed (started April/May 2007). His first task was to get the Men’s Group together, and meet once a week. Many of the members had been in or out of incarceration or were on court orders; thus it was clearly composed of perpetrators. He said a lot of support came from the three Aboriginal communities in NPA (Umagico or Alau, Injinoo and New Mapoon). More men from the Aboriginal NPA communities were getting into trouble than in the Island communities; but it was noted that those men from the Aboriginal communities were of mixed island blood. [He] x said all of the Community Chairpersons supported the idea of the Men’s Group, and very positive feedback had been received from every community. [He] said he had developed a close connection with male Elders in each community.

It was aimed for the Men’s Group to grow into a regional group, not just a community group – partly because the problems can be regional, but also to reduce duplication of services. [He] x was of the view that men feel they could tackle issues better, if in a wider regional group. A few men had come from Thursday Island to attend a recent meeting, including high profile leaders who were also members of the T.I. Men’s Group.

Aims of the Men’s Group included working on inter-group conflicts, achieving long-term employment and improving men’s health. The Men’s Group was also working on taking a leadership role to make a safe environment in the community; showing by example, by beginning with the individual. [He] also helped men with information on finance and obtaining loans x The men who were going through the courts, were also being counselled and supported by the ATODS Worker . An early men’s event was staging a convoy of vehicles through the NPA communities, covered with posters, and advertising men’s power and promoting men’s behavioural reform. Another initiative was getting boys and fathers together for activities, in order to address truancy problems and benefits had been noted by a local School Principal in NPA.

Service gap: Insufficient diversionary programmes in T.S. and NPA communities.

Service gap: There is a need to foster the development of Men’s Groups in all communities of the T.S. region in order to address F.V. amongst other goals.

Corrective services

The Department of Corrective Services had established an office at T.I. in early 2007 [In October 2007, [this office] had a staff of [three]: a [District Manager], a combined Court Officer and Probation Officer for the T.S.I. region , and a male officer who was the Probations Officer for the NPA and also did the client inductions and assessments x. This Office received (i) all those who were exiting prison, and (ii) anyone who was placed on a community-based Work Order by the Court.

[An interviewee] x. described the situation of exiting prison clients from Lotus Glen (all offenders from the T.S.I. were said to go to this prison which is near Mareeba inland from Cairns). She gave the case of a typical male offender receiving a three-year sentence for D.V.. He served (perhaps) two years and then became eligible for parole. Typical parole conditions were:

- One cannot re-offend and go to Court for anything, even for a speeding ticket if it went to Court.

- One must report as directed, eg once a fortnight is normal (but an intensive correction order involves reporting twice a week).

- Some may also receive twelve hours of community service every week.

- Another condition maybe to “remain dry”, i.e. no alcohol.

- Also to attend a program or counselling.

The offender remained on parole for (perhaps) one year in the community. [She] noted that it could be traumatic back in the community on parole. It was said, by contrast, to be ‘deadly’ [i.e. enjoyable] in jail; some want to go back to jail. There is a problem of learning anti-social and criminal skills in jail, but on the other hand the training facilities were good in jail e.g. could get a TAFE Certificate 3 in Carpentry. [She] counsels them: “you can be social again; not an offender or a loser”, but most say “I’m an offender, I will re-offend.” (If they did serve the whole three years of their sentence, they came out and there was no parole.)

Note that other interviewees made similar comments about Lotus Glen Prison. For example one Police Officer said: “jail teaches them new tricks; they do weights, watch TV, get three meals a day, and then make claims to the Discrimination Board about the quality of the soap”

If on probation (parole), they have to phone in to the T.I. Office, to report every fortnight; but this is not really a strong deterrence to conform to good behaviour. All Island Councils had a video conferencing facility which could be used for this purpose, although they were not necessarily all functioning. Even then they have to get off the couch and bed to go and report and are often reluctant to do this. [She] x discussed the problem of them being provoked by their spouses (or some other person) whilst on parole. “We try to get them to contact the Police and not to respond themselves. It may not work. It only takes once when the Police don’t respond and then they revert [to D.V.].” The male needs to be able to recognize the respective symptoms in both himself and/or his spouse, and know who then to talk to about it.

[She] then discussed the second category of offenders who do not go to prison but only receive a D.V. Order. Corrective Services do not get the offender until he has breached that Order, twice. They are then sent to the Corrective Services Office at T.I.. They will recycle to Court if there are further breaches – maybe this could happen up to five times. They are put on probation (but [she] x commented that “it is not working”). Then finally if they continue to offend, they go to jail.

There was a need to do counselling with many of these persons, but there was negligible service capacity at T.I.. There was a Men’s line, a service based down south whereby one could get phone counselling. The Office used the T.I. Regional Healing Centre intensely where their clients were counselled by the Social Worker, x It was said “their relation builds with [the Social Worker] and they continue to visit him.”

[She] said that only a minority of hardcore perpetrators say “she [their spouse] deserved what she gets”. The majority were remorseful, but alcohol was a problem. [She] x commented: “alcohol and D.V. go hand-in-hand.” In these sessions, discussions occurred with perpetrators on how they thought F.V. impacted on their children and on the community. An important aspect of the approach was their being asked to look at “what are you teaching your children”. This usually struck a chord, and was referred to as a ‘turning-corner’ trigger.



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