APY market gardens: messy answers, nothing planted

Posted on 27 June 2013 under Food Security & Watarru.
Tags: community gardens & parliamentary committees

Introduction

Watarru market garden, late 2011

Watarru market garden, late 2011

In December 2010, the South Australian Government announced plans to establish market gardens on the APY Lands as part of a “food production trial”.1

By August 2011, gardens had been established in Watarru and on the Railway Bore homeland and plans were afoot to establish “another four, possibly five gardens” in other parts of the APY Lands.2

The Government told ABC TV that the gardens would “produce high quality fresh fruit and vegetables for Anangu across the entire APY Lands” and employ a large number of people “not just in horticulture but also in the retail, in packaging, in machinery.”3 4

In 2012, a third garden was established at Sandy Bore homeland and an existing orchard in Nyapari was “reinvigorated.”5

In early 2013, the Railway Bore and Sandy Bore gardens were damaged by feral camels and horses, and the garden in Watarru had been “left to lie fallow over the hot summer months.”6

Watarru market garden, May 2013

Watarru market garden, May 2013

On 16 April 2013, the Government reported that:

  • “crops at all of the gardens” would “be replanted in the cooler weather”, and
  • the market garden program would “be consolidated with a renewed focus on supporting … school gardens.”7

Parliamentary Evidence

Six weeks later, on 28 May 2013, the Department of the Premier and Cabinet gave evidence to a Parliamentary Committee.8

In her evidence, the Executive Director of the Department’s Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Division (Ms Nerida Saunders) told the Committee that:

  • the replanting of the Sandy Bore and Railway Bore gardens had commenced, and
  • Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Division staff were “currently talking” with local APY communities – including school principals – about ways to align the Railway Bore and Sandy Bore gardens with “school garden areas”.9

In response to a series of questions from the Hon Tammy Franks MLC (Australian Greens), Ms Saunders explained that the Chief Executive Officer of the Department for Education and Child Development might not be aware of these developments because “the conversations would be occurring at the local community level.”10

Our questions and departmental responses

On 30 May 2013, the Paper Tracker asked the Department for Education and Child Development for some information on this matter.11

On 11 June 2013, the Department advised the Paper Tracker that it had “no plans” to expand its existing school garden program or “take on responsibility” for the Sandy Bore and Railway Bore gardens.12

Given that this advice appeared to contradict some parts of Ms Saunders’ evidence, the Paper Tracker contacted the office of South Australia’s Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation (Hon Ian Hunter MLC).

On 12 June 2013, we asked the Minister’s office:

  • when the Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Division had commenced its conversations with APY school staff,
  • in which communities these conversations were taking place, and
  • how much funding, if any, the Division was planning to contribute towards the cost of establishing or operating APY school gardens.13

On 14 June 2013, the Minister’s officer advised the Paper Tracker:

In a survey of local school principals on the Lands, a number indicated interest in pursuing the development of school gardens on their sites … Following on from this, [the Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Division] will continue discussions with [the Department for Education and Child Development]… to determine more specific arrangements such as infrastructure and program support options ahead of any further financial commitment.14 

On 17 June, the Paper Tracker sent a follow-up email to the Minister’s office which read (in part):

I am trying to understand the relevance, if any, of the survey mentioned in that advice vis-à-vis the evidence Nerida Saunders presented … on 28 May.

To assist me in this regard, I would be grateful if you could clarify the following points:

    • Who conducted the survey?
    • When was it conducted?
    • Did the survey include specific questions about either the market garden program or school garden projects?
    • How many [school] principals completed the survey?
    • Which of those principals expressed interest in developing a garden on their site?

The Paper Tracker’s follow-up email also sought to clarify the statements made by Ms Saunders regarding apparent community-level conversations about the market garden program. Specifically, the Paper Tracker stated that it was:

still keen to know when … these specific “conversations” with community-based [school] staff [started] and in which APY communities these are currently continuing?15

Although the Minister’s office advised the Paper Tracker that a response would be provided the following day (i.e. on 18 June 2013),16 more than a week later, none of the requested information has been provided.

In the meantime, however, the Department for Education and Child Development has advised the Paper Tracker that:

  • the survey (mentioned in the advice from Minister Hunter’s office) had been completed in mid 2012,
  • seven APY school principals had filled in the survey, and
  • “the majority” of these principals had expressed interest in developing a garden on their school site.17

Setting the record straight

On 17 June 2013, the Executive Director of the Government’s Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Division (Ms Nerida Saunders) wrote to the Parliamentary Committee “to clarify” some of the comments she had made in her evidence on 28 May.18

In her letter, Ms Saunders advised the Committee that:

  • the replanting of the gardens at Sandy Bore and Railway Bore had not yet commenced, and
  • “the most recent conversations” between staff of the Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Division and the Department of Education and Child Development had occurred “at a central level and not a community level as I [had] reported.”19

Our position

Food security on the APY Lands is an important issue that needs to be addressed. It requires a serious government response informed by strong, well thought through policy.

The Paper Tracker believes that the SA Government’s market garden program was misconceived from the start. Poor public policy, developed on-the-run, cannot be explained away by government waffle. The Government needs to talk straight about the failure of its market gardens, reflect on why this program has not worked and refocus its six-year APY food security strategy.

References

  1. Portolesi, G. 3 December 2010. “Securing Healthy Food for the APY Lands”, media release.
  2. Gage, N. 26 August 2011. “Remote communities dig in to solve a growing problem,” 7.30 South Australia, ABC TV. Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPvpUNryb4U. Accessed: 27 June 2013.
  3. Gage, N. 26 August 2011. “Remote communities dig in to solve a growing problem,” 7.30 South Australia, ABC TV. Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPvpUNryb4U. Accessed: 27 June 2013.
  4. By October 2011, the market gardens were generating, on average, around two-and-a-half hours of paid employment each week for 25 Anangu workers. See: Parliament of South Australia. 21 September 2011. Transcript of evidence presented by the Department of the Premier and Cabinet to the Budget and Finance Committee of the Legislative Council, p843. Also: Hallion, J (Department of the Premier and Cabinet). 21 October 2011, Letter to the Secretary of the Budget and Finance Committee, SA Parliament.
  5. Government of South Australia. April 2013. APY Lands Food Security Strategic Plan 2011-2016: Year 2 Evaluation Report, p16.
  6. Hunter, I. 7 February 2013. “Watarru Community”, Hansard, Legislative Council, Parliament of South Australia, p3094. Hunter, I. 20 February 2013. “APY Lands, Food Security”, Hansard, Legislative Council, Parliament of South Australia, p3174. Also: Martin, S. 19 February 2013. “Remote gardens wither” The Australian newspaper.
  7. Government of South Australia. April 2013. APY Lands Food Security Strategic Plan 2011-2016: Year 2 Evaluation Report, p16.
  8. The Budget and Finance Committee of the Legislative Council, Parliament of South Australia.
  9. Parliament of South Australia. 28 May 2013. Transcript of evidence presented by the Department of the Premier and Cabinet to the Budget and Finance Committee of the Legislative Council, p1747-1748.
  10. Parliament of South Australia. 28 May 2013. Transcript of evidence presented by the Department of the Premier and Cabinet to the Budget and Finance Committee of the Legislative Council, p1748.
  11. Nicholls, J (Paper Tracker). 30 May 2013. Email to P. Adams (Department for Education and Child Development).
  12. Hannon, K (Department for Education and Child Development). 11 June 2013. Email to J. Nicholls/Paper Tracker.
  13. Nicholls, J (Paper Tracker). 12 June 2013. Email to D. Heath (Office of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation).
  14. Webster, S (Office of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation). 14 June 2013. Email to J. Nicholls/Paper Tracker.
  15. Nicholls, J (Paper Tracker). 17 June 2013. Email to S. Webster (Office of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation).
  16. Webster, S (Office of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation). 17 June 2013. Email to J. Nicholls/Paper Tracker.
  17. Adams, P (Department for Education and Child Development). 21 June 2013. Email to J. Nicholls/Paper Tracker.
  18. Saunders, N (Department of the Premier and Cabinet). 17 June 2013. Letter to Secretary, Budget and Finance Committee, Parliament of South Australia.
  19. Saunders, N (Department of the Premier and Cabinet). 17 June 2013. Letter to Secretary, Budget and Finance Committee, Parliament of South Australia.
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