State Plan: driver’s licences and Anangu

First posted on 3 February 2009 under Uncategorized.
This article has been updated and archived.
Tags: cars and drivers & State Strategic Plan

Summary

The South Australian Government is working hard to reduce the State’s road toll, in part by increasing the skills and experience of new drivers. Since 2005, anyone wanting to obtain a South Australian motor vehicle license has been required to complete a considerable number of hours of supervised driving. This requirement has made it much more difficult for Anangu to obtain a licence and may have unintentionally increased the rate of Aboriginal incarceration.

In May 2008, an international expert on public health recommended that the South Australian Government “develop alternative pathways for Aboriginal people to obtain a driver’s licence,” and monitor the success of any such development under the State’s Strategic Plan.[i]

On 14 April 2009, the State Government indicated that although it was “keen” to assist people living in Aboriginal communities to obtain their driver’s licenses, it had “no plans”, in the short term, to update the State Strategic Plan.

The Paper Trail

Introduction

In 2005, the State Government introduced a series of measures designed to provide new drivers “with better skills and experience” prior to obtaining their full driver’s licence.”[ii] The measures included:

  • requiring learner drivers to complete “at least 50 hours of supervised driving under a range of road conditions, including a minimum 10 hours at night.”
  • requiring the supervising driver to have held a full driver’s licence for at least two years and to have not been disqualified in the previous two years.[iii]

On 4 September 2010, further initiatives aimed at strengthening the skills and experience of novice drivers came into effect.[iv] These included:

  • increasing the amount of supervised driving that a learner driver is required to complete from 50 to 75 hours, and
  • increasing the minimum period of time that a person must hold a learner’s permit, prior to obtaining a provisional licence, from 6 to 12 months.[v]

Aboriginal People Travelling Well: a research project

In 2008, a group of researchers from Flinders University completed a major investigation into how “transport and transport safety issues” affect Aboriginal people living in South Australia.[vi] This included examining the processes that need to be followed to obtain a South Australian driver’s licence and Aboriginal people’s experience of those processes.

The researchers’ final report states:

Access to a driver’s licence is not straight forward. Problems with literacy and language often present barriers, as does access to vehicles and instruction. These barriers to licensing generate increased risk of Aboriginal people driving while unlicensed and this offence is one of those most often charged by police … There is a need to develop a system that encourages Aboriginal people to get a licence and that removes [these] barriers.[vii]

As part of their investigation, the researchers examined the transport and transport safety issues facing Yalata community. Among other things, they found that:

  • only an estimated 12 Aboriginal people living in Yalata held a driver’s licence.[viii]
  • the lack of a licence would prevent community members from obtaining employment as part of a nearby mining development.[ix]

The project concluded that in Yalata:

  • barriers to obtaining a driver’s licence include low literacy levels, lack of access to roadworthy vehicles and the lack of a pool of people to provide driver training.[x]
  • any move to increase the number of supervised hours that a learner driver is required to complete would only make it more difficult for community members to obtain a licence.[xi]

The Paper Tracker understands that many of the barriers experienced in Yalata exist in other Anangu communities. For example, as of January 2009, in one community on the APY Lands, more than 45 people held a learner’s permit but had not yet been able to complete the 50 hours of supervised driving. In most cases, those individuals had limited access to a potential supervising driver and/or a roadworthy vehicle.[xii]

The Paper Tracker believes similar conditions exist in other APY communities.[xiii]

Driving without a licence

An inability to obtain a driver’s licence can lead to unlawful behaviour.[xiv]

In November 2005, officers from the Ceduna Police Station highlighted “the relatively high numbers of Aboriginal people found to be driving without a current driver’s license and/or an unregistered vehicle.”[xv]

Three years later, the situation did not appear to have improved, with Ceduna’s weekly newspaper – the West Coast Sentinel – regularly reporting incidents in which people from Yalata, Oak Valley and other Aboriginal communities had been charged for driving disqualified or without a licence.[xvi]

In 2008, South Australia’s Supreme Court heard an appeal against the sentencing of a 42-year-old man from Yalata who had pleaded guilty to driving while disqualified. The man, who had received an eight-month sentence, had previously been charged for driving without a licence on more than 20 occasions.[xvii]

In a letter provided to the court, the man explained how he had come to be driving a vehicle that his step-daughter had purchased in Ceduna some weeks after giving birth to a child:

Now that I look back I realise [my step-daughter] was distraught and distressed. Buying the car was a way for her to get out of Ceduna (where she was miserable) and back to the peace and quiet of Maralinga (where she has always been happy).

If I could go back to that time and place I would not have driven the car. The reason that I did was because I felt guilty about not being there for her when she was pregnant.

At the point in time when I sobered up I foolishly decided to drive her in her car back to Yalata where I knew I could find a friend to drive her the rest of the way to Maralinga. At the time she was so miserable and unhappy I thought it best to get her back to Maralinga as quickly as possible so that she would be safe, happy and content. [xviii]

In the course of the man’s appeal, a psychological examination was conducted. A portion of the examination report reads:

[The man] recognises that he is too old to keep committing driving whilst disqualified offences and being imprisoned. He knows that in 2010 he will be eligible to re-apply for his driver’s licence again. He has decided he will no longer drive so he can maximise his chances of re-obtaining his driver’s licence during 2010. However, he realistically knows that not having a driver’s licence will create hardship for him and his extended family due to living in a geographically remote location where there is no reliable public transport.[xix]

At the time of the appeal, the man had spent about five months in custody. On 5 August 2008, Justice Gray upheld the appeal and reduced the sentence to one month (suspended).[xx]

The Paper Tracker acknowledges the complexities of the man’s situation, as well as the need for laws to be upheld and public safety maintained. At the same time, we note that a combination of isolation, lack of public transport, and family expectations all put pressure on individual Anangu to drive when they shouldn’t.

As the 2008 Aboriginal Travelling Well report states:

Kinship obligations may … influence an Aboriginal person’s decision to drive unlicensed. Pressures to drive come from a variety of sources, in some cases from people to whom it is culturally inappropriate to refuse, and for attendance at events that it is culturally important to attend.[xxi]

Thinker’s recommendation and government response

In 2007, Professor Ilona Kickbusch, an expert on public and global health, completed a ten-week residency in Adelaide as part of the State Government’s Thinkers in Residence program.[xxii] As part of her residency, Professor Kickbusch led a workshop “on driver licensing and young Aboriginal South Australians.” At the workshop, participants identified “enhancing the ability of young Aboriginal people to gain their driver’s licence” as a “strategic area for action.”[xxiii]

Professor Kickbusch’s final report on her residency was provided to the South Australian Government in May 2008 and released online in January 2009.[xxiv]

In her report, Professor Kickbusch recommends that the South Australian Government “develop alternative pathways for Aboriginal people to obtain a driver’s licence,” and track progress on this issue by adding a relevant target into South Australia’s Strategic Plan.[xxv]

On 14 April 2009, the then State Minister for Transport (Hon Tom Koutsantonis MP) advised the Paper Tracker that the Government:

  • recognised that the requirement for learner drivers to complete 50 hours of supervised driving “can prove onerous” on individuals, families and communities, and
  • was “keen to work with Aboriginal communities” wanting “to establish their own support mechanisms … to enable eligible community members to obtain driver’s licences.”[xxvi]

The Minister commented that “an essential characteristic” of any such alternative approach was that “the impetus should come from within the community itself, with support from the Government.”[xxvii]

Concerning Professor Kickbusch’s recommendation that progress in any alternative approaches to Aboriginal driver licensing should be monitored under the State Strategic Plan, the Minister noted that the Plan had been reviewed in 2007 and that there were “no plans” to update it “in the near future.”[xxviii]

Driver training on the APY Lands (updated 14 September 2010)

Since July 2007, Bungala Aboriginal Corporation (‘Bungala’) has delivered Community Development Employment Programs (CDEP) on the APY Lands.

On 1 September 2009, Bungala advised the Paper Tracker of its plans to help CDEP participants – particularly young people – obtain their drivers licences through the establishment of a “remote area driving school” on the APY Lands.[xxix]

In support of this initiative, Bungala reported that it would employ a “Driver Training Facilitator (or 2 part-time facilitators).” It also planned to “purchase a suitable vehicle and training aides.”[xxx]

Bungala indicated that the new driving school program would “incorporate numeracy and literacy training … along with training in basic mechanical procedures,” and commented:

It is recognised that the training involved in getting a licence is a practical and effective way of engaging Indigenous people in numeracy and literacy training. It is also recognised that the Indigenous people we are working with on the APY Lands enjoy learning about the basic mechanics of motor vehicles.[xxxi]

On 6 September 2010, Bungala provided the Paper Tracker with an update on this work. It indicated, among other things, that:

  • 68 CDEP participants had been referred to TAFE in 2009 to undertake training to obtain a learner’s permit, with another 32 participants referred in the first eight months of 2010;
  • 79 of these participants had obtained a learner’s permit and been referred to Bungala’s Driving School,
  • 19 participants had “completed training and … obtained their probationary licence,” and
  • another 38 participants were “still in the process of completing their [driver] training which includes practical hours through the log book process”.[xxxii]

This article has been archived and will no longer be updated. It will, however, remain accessible online as a source of background information for anyone wishing to undertake further research on this issue. Information included in the article was current at the time it was archived. Keep in mind, however, that Ministerial changes and names of departments, among other things, may have since changed.


[i] Kickbusch, I. May 2008, Healthy Societies: Addressing 21st Century Health Challenges, Government of South Australia, p51

[ii] Conlon, P. 20 October 2005, “Better Licensing System Set to Start,” news release.

[iii] Conlon, P. 20 October 2005, “Better Licensing System Set to Start,” news release.

[iv] Rann, M. 1 January 2009. “Rann Government strengthens GLS,: news release.

[v] Snelling, J. 3 September 2010. “GLS changes take effect from tomorrow,” media release. See also: Rann, M. 1 January 2009. “Rann Government strengthens GLS,: news release.

[vi] Helps, Y et al. 2008, Aboriginal People Travelling Well: Issues of safety, transport and health, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Australian Government, p5-6. Available at: http://www.infrastructure.gov.au/roads/safety/publications/2008/RSRG_1.aspx Accessed: 31 January 2009.

[vii] Helps, Y et al. 2008, Aboriginal People Travelling Well: Issues of safety, transport and health, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Australian Government, pvii & p15.

[viii] Helps, Y et al. 2008, Aboriginal People Travelling Well: Issues of safety, transport and health, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Australian Government, p41.

[ix] On this the report states: “A new mine is planned in the area near Yalata and some residents would like to seek employment. They are unlikely to succeed without a driver’s licence and preferably a heavy-duty vehicle licence. This requires a period of light vehicle experience before moving on to a heavier vehicle and the opportunity to practice on a heavy vehicle. There is a need to develop a system to support driver training including light, heavy and heavy passenger vehicles,” (Helps, Y et al. 2008, Aboriginal People Travelling Well: Issues of safety, transport and health, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Australian Government, p42).

[x] Helps, Y et al. 2008, Aboriginal People Travelling Well: Issues of safety, transport and health, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Australian Government, p42.

[xi] Helps, Y et al. 2008, Aboriginal People Travelling Well: Issues of safety, transport and health, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Australian Government, p42.

[xii] This information was provided to the Paper Tracker via email by one of its subscribers in late January 2009.

[xiii] In May 2005, a program operating in Amata reported that it had issued 200 learner’s permits to Anangu. (See: Parliament of South Australia. 2005, Annual Report of the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee 2004/2005, PP235, p42). The Paper Tracker understands that this program was not resourced to assist the recipients in completing the 50 hours of supervised driving in a roadworthy vehicle.

[xiv] Helps, Y et al. 2008, Aboriginal People Travelling Well: Issues of safety, transport and health, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Australian Government, p3.

[xv] Parliament of South Australia. 2005, Annual Report of the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee 2004/2005, PP235, p30.

[xvi] This newspaper regularly publishes a “Police news” article summarising police apprehensions and other activities. An article published in early January 2009 highlighted a number of driving offences that it would appear were committed by Anangu. For example: “on December 18, an Oak Valley man was arrested in Ceduna in relation to driving offences. … on December 18, a Yalata man was reported in relation to driving offences in Ceduna. … on December 20, Ceduna police arrested a 30-year-old Yalata male for driving a motor vehicle whilst under the influence of liquor and for driving whilst disqualified.” (“Police News,” 8 January 2009, West Coast Sentinel, p5).

[xvii] Peters v Police. 7 January 2009, “Reasons for Sentence of The Honourable Justice Gray,” Para 2 & 14. See also: Coates, R. 7 July 2008. Email to K. Peterson.

[xviii] Peters v Police. 7 January 2009, “Reasons for Sentence of The Honourable Justice Gray,” Para 14.

[xix] Peters v Police. 7 January 2009, “Reasons for Sentence of The Honourable Justice Gray,” Para 12, 13 & 15.

[xx] Peters v Police. 7 January 2009, “Reasons for Sentence of The Honourable Justice Gray,” Para 3.

[xxi] Helps, Y et al. 2008, Aboriginal People Travelling Well: Issues of safety, transport and health, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Australian Government, p3-4.

[xxii] The residency was conducted in two parts. The first part ran from 5 February to 16 March 2007. The second from 17 October to 27 November 2007. See: http://www.thinkers.sa.gov.au/ikickbusch.html. Accessed 1 February 2009.

[xxiii] This workshop was held in October 2007. (see: Helps, Y et al. 2008, Aboriginal People Travelling Well: Issues of safety, transport and health, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Australian Government, p68. Also: Kickbusch, I. May 2008, Healthy Societies: Addressing 21st Century Health Challenges, Government of South Australia, p51. Available at: http://www.thinkers.sa.gov.au/reports.html. Accessed: 16 January 2009.

[xxiv] Kickbusch, I. May 2008, Healthy Societies: Addressing 21st Century Health Challenges, Government of South Australia, p51. Available at: http://www.thinkers.sa.gov.au/reports.html. Accessed: 16 January 2009.

[xxv] Kickbusch, I. May 2008, Healthy Societies: Addressing 21st Century Health Challenges, Government of South Australia, p51

[xxvi] Koutsantonis, T. 14 April 2009, Letter to Rev. P. McDonald.

[xxvii] Koutsantonis, T. 14 April 2009, Letter to Rev. P. McDonald.

[xxviii] Koutsantonis, T. 14 April 2009, Letter to Rev. P. McDonald.

[xxix] Bungala Aboriginal Corporation. 2009, “Bungala Aboriginal Corporation Remote Area Driving School,” unpublished paper. This document was attached to an email sent to J. Nicholls on 1 September 2009 by E Woolford (Bungala).

[xxx] Bungala Aboriginal Corporation. 2009, “Bungala Aboriginal Corporation Remote Area Driving School,” unpublished paper.

[xxxi] Bungala Aboriginal Corporation. 2009, “Bungala Aboriginal Corporation Remote Area Driving School,” unpublished paper.

[xxxii] Woolford, E (Bungala). 6 September 2010. Email to J. Nicholls.

The Paper Tracker works hard to provide accurate and up-to-date information. We will correct any inaccurate information as soon as it is brought to our attention. Please contact us if you have additional information or can provide us with an update.