Recommendation 33: safe houses

First posted on 29 August 2008 under Mullighan Inquiry.
This article has been updated and archived.
Tags: child protection & domestic violence

Summary

In April 2008, the Mullighan Inquiry recommended that a number of safe houses should be built in APY communities “for Anangu, particularly children who need short-term sanctuary from abuse.”[i]

In July 2008, the South Australian Government announced that it would build and operate a regional safe house at Umuwa.[ii] Two years later, however, the Government reported that it would not be proceeding with the Umuwa safe house. Instead, additional funding would be directed to existing services and supports, including a safe house in Coober Pedy.[iii]

In late 2009, the NPY Women’s Council recommended that “safe accommodation” for women and children “escaping violence or suspected abuse” should be located in Alice Springs.[iv] As of November 2010, the South Australian Government was “working with the Commonwealth and Northern Territory governments to identify funding options” for this purpose.[v]

The Paper Trail

Overview

In June 2007, the South Australian Parliament established an Inquiry into the incidence of child sexual abuse on the APY Lands. The final report of the Mullighan Inquiry – completed in April 2008 – concluded that until people:

are safe from violence and intimidation there can be no effective measure to reduce the incidence of child sexual abuse and to protect and assist people who have been sexually abused as children.[vi]

The Inquiry recommended that fully operational police stations, staffed by an adequate number of sworn police officers, should be established in all of the main communities on the APY Lands. In addition, it concluded that “as soon as the permanent police presence has been established in communities,” safe houses should be established as “a priority.”[vii]

Safe houses

The Mullighan Inquiry received “a substantial body of evidence” that “strongly supported” the establishment of safe houses on the APY Lands. Some of this evidence called for safe houses to be based in local communities, other evidence supported a regional facility.[viii]

On the basis of the evidence received, the Inquiry concluded that “safe houses are essential for children who are being abused.” Such children, it continued:

need to be able to escape the abuse and have a sanctuary from where support, counselling and treatment may be arranged. Adults, particularly women, also need safe houses to be safe from abuse.[ix]

The Inquiry advised that prior to setting up any safe houses on the APY Lands:

  • local Anangu leaders and all of the “main agencies providing services on the Lands” would need to consider the proposal,
  • SA Police would need to have established a permanent sworn police presence in that particular community, and
  • Families SA would need to have placed a social worker in the community.[x]

The Inquiry also commented that the safe houses:

should not be used to accommodate Anangu adults and children on a permanent basis but only for as long as is necessary for arrangements to be made for their safety.[xi]

On 30 April 2008, the Mullighan Inquiry formally recommended (Recommendation 33) that the State Government’s Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Division (AARD), with the assistance of the Department for Families and Communities (DFC), should:

establish safe houses for Anangu, particularly children who need short-term sanctuary from abuse, after consultation with Anangu leaders in communities, Families SA, Nganampa [Health Council], [Department of Education and Children’s Services] staff and SA Police.

As part of this recommendation, the State Government was called upon to “adequately resource the safe houses with suitable staff, services and facilities.”[xii]

Government Responses to Recommendation 33 of the Mullighan Inquiry

On 24 July 2008, the South Australian Government tabled its Preliminary Response to the Inquiry in State Parliament. As part of that response, the Government confirmed its support for Recommendation 33 and stated:

The Government will build and operate a safe house at Umuwa specifically for children at risk of abuse.  The safe house will provide children and their family members who need to be removed from the community with safe accommodation and support while other protective action is taken.

This facility will also have the capacity to provide transition accommodation, support and a safe return to community for children following child protection assessments and medical intervention.[xiii]

On 13 August 2008, the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs (Hon Jenny Macklin MP) announced that her government would provide $4.5 million for the construction of a complex of buildings at Umuwa. The Minister stated that a safe house to be located within the complex would be run by the South Australian Government and that it would attend to the needs of “people escaping actual and potentially dangerous or abusive situations.”[xiv]

On 30 October 2008, the South Australian Government reported that it expected the Umuwa safe house to be “operational by the end of 2010.”[xv]

The following day, the State Department for Families and Communities advised the Paper Tracker that the safe house would:

be used specifically for children who are the subject of child protection notifications, and in need of child protection assessment and medical assistance (where necessary).[xvi]

The Department indicated that it was “currently developing a Service Model for the operation” of the Umuwa safe house and that “Anangu family structure and cultural needs” would “be a significant consideration” in the development of that model.[xvii]

It noted that the Service Model, once developed, would include information on:

  • the number of clients that it will be possible to accommodate at the safe house
  • client pathways in and out of the facility
  • partnership arrangements with key agencies/groups
  • defined timeframes for client emergency accommodation and support services
  • the types of support services that will be provided
  • the required professional skills and competencies, and
  • the facility’s staffing structure.[xviii]

Proposed service model and government responses

On 14 September 2009, the South Australian Minister for Families and Communities (Hon Jennifer Rankine MP) advised the Paper Tracker that the NPY Women’s Council had been engaged to develop “options for a service delivery model for a Safe House.”[xix]

The Minister’s letter continued:

This work is due to be completed later this year and will provide the State and Commonwealth Governments with advice regarding location and operation of such a service for the APY Lands. Following an appropriate consultation and a tender process, construction is … expected to commence.[xx]

On 2 December 2009, the Minister advised State Parliament that:

  • “a draft document entitled Proposed Preferred Models for Safe Accommodation Services for Women and Children from the APY Lands [had been] finalised in October 2009″,
  • the Premier’s Taskforce would discuss this document before the end of 2009, and
  • planning for the establishment of the safe house would “be undertaken in 2010.”[xxi]

The NPY Women’s Council’s research report was finalised in December 2009.[xxii]

Click here to download a scanned copy of the report (file size: 916KB)

On 12 May 2010, the State Department for Families and Communities advised the Paper Tracker that the research report prepared by the NPY Women’s Council “did not support a safe house on the [APY] Lands” but had rather “identified the need for a broad model of safety and protection that builds on existing services and strategies.”[xxiii]

The advice continued:

Following consultation within the Department … with other relevant government agencies and with reference to the report … a proposal was developed to improve the safety of women and children on the APY Lands.

The proposal is that additional funding will be provided to increase case management services to women and children on the APY Lands and to provide transport to leave the Lands and to support them whilst they are off the Lands.

Increased funding will also be directed to the Safe House at Coober Pedy to augment its capacity to assist women and children from the APY Lands who are escaping violence and to assist them to access transport to return to the Lands when appropriate…

The need for additional infrastructure at the Coober Pedy Safe House will be assessed in response to the level of service demand.[xxiv]

On 25 February 2011, the Department reported that:

  • 92 women had been accommodated at the Coober Pedy Safe House during the 2009-10 financial year,
  • another 58 women had been accommodated at the facility since then, and
  • the facility’s management estimated that “at least” 15 to 20% of these women and accompanying children “had arrived directly from the APY Lands.”[xxv]

The Alice Springs option (updated 16 May 2011)

As mentioned earlier, in 2009, the NPY Women’s Council examined options for providing “safe accommodation” for women and children on the APY Lands “escaping violence or suspected abuse”.[xxvi]

This research did not support the establishment of a safe house at Umuwa and indicated that the service delivery model of the Coober Pedy Safe House was unsuitable “for the majority of APY women and their children.”[xxvii] On the basis of these findings, the NPY Women’s Council called for the establishment of “a safe accommodation place in Alice Springs that specialises in women and children’s health care.”[xxviii]

On 24 November 2010, the South Australian Government informed State Parliament that it was “working with the Commonwealth and Northern Territory governments to identify funding options” for this purpose.[xxix]

On 20 December 2010, the Paper Tracker asked the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs (Hon Jenny Macklin MP) to consider redirecting a portion of the funding provided – in mid 2008 – for a complex in Umuwa towards the cost of providing safe accommodation in Alice Springs.[xxx]

In a reply dated 31 January 2010, the Federal Minister advised the Paper Tracker that:

  • the original funding had been provided “for the sole purpose of the construction of a Court and Administration Centre in Umuwa”,
  • the “approved objective of the funding is to implement recommendations of the Mullighan Inquiry relating to child protection and community safety on the APY Lands”,
  • the Federal Government intended to spend the funding “in accordance with this recommendation”, and
  • it was “currently in discussion” with the South Australian Government about how the unspent funds would be spent “in the APY Lands”.[xxxi]

On 30 March 2011, the Federal Government advised Senator Rachel Siewert (Australian Greens) that it had not allocated any funding “in the last three years” – i.e. since the Mullighan Inquiry was completed – “towards the capital cost of safe accommodation for women and children from the APY Lands.”[xxxii]

As of May 2011, the Paper Tracker remained concerned that more than three years after the Mullighan Inquiry called for safe houses to be established “for Anangu, particularly children who need short-term sanctuary from abuse,”[xxxiii] no such facilities had been built.

This article was last updated in May 2011. It 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.

Please note: earlier editions of this webpage reported that Federal funding provided in 2008 to build a complex of buildings in Umuwa included funding for a safe house. Our statements relied on a press release issued by the Federal Minister of Indigenous Affairs (Hon Jenny Macklin MP) on 13 August 2008. The Paper Tracker has confirmed that the press release contained a number of inaccurate and/or confusing statements. For example, it claimed that the Federal Government had contributed funding “towards construction” of a safe house in Umuwa. This was not the case. In fact, the “Performance Funding Agreement for the Court and Administration Centre in Umuwa” does not contain any references to the safe house. On 11 April 2011, the Minister’s office confirmed that “at no time” did the Government’s “funding include the provision of a Safe House in Umuwa.”[xxxiv]


[i] Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry – a report into sexual abuse, pxxvi.

[ii] Government of South Australia, July 2008, “Response by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation to the ‘Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands Commission of Inquiry: A report into sexual abuse’,” p[34].

[iii] Mazel, J (DFC). 12 May 2010. Letter to Rev. P. McDonald.

[iv] Lloyd, J. December 2009, “More than bricks and mortar: proposed preferred models for safe accommodation services for women and children from the APY Lands,” report, p15-16.

[v] Rankine, J. November 2010. Second Annual Report to the Parliament of South Australia by the Minister for Families and Communities on the ‘Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands Commission of Inquiry – A Report into Sexual Abuse,” p6 and p44.

[vi] Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry – a report into sexual abuse, pxvii.

[vii] Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry – a report into sexual abuse, p224.

[viii] Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry – a report into sexual abuse, p156. In its submission to the Inquiry, Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) suggested that the “establishment of safety houses as exist in mainstream communities with training and support for house operators” would assist people to feel more comfortable about disclosing incidents of child sexual abuse (Singer, B. February 2008, Letter to Commissioner Mullighan “Re: Children on the APY Lands Submission,” p2.) In response this suggestion, the Inquiry reported: “this type of initiative should be seriously investigated as a matter of urgency. It will, no doubt, require appropriate funds to train and resource the appropriate staff. Such an initiative is likely to give a further sense of empowerment to the people of the Lands and a feeling that the Anangu community itself is beginning to take control of measures to reduce the likelihood of child sexual abuse” (Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry – a report into sexual abuse, p156).

[ix] Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry – a report into sexual abuse, p224.

[x] Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry – a report into sexual abuse, p224.

[xi] Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry – a report into sexual abuse, p224.

[xii] Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry – a report into sexual abuse, pxxvi.

[xiii] Government of South Australia, July 2008, “Response by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation to the ‘Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands Commission of Inquiry: A report into sexual abuse’,” p[34]. The Paper Tracker notes that the Preliminary Response did not indicate whether the Government had consulted with Anangu leaders and specified departments and agencies, as Commissioner Mullighan recommended, prior to deciding to establish a regional facility at Umuwa. Nor did the Government’s response offer any explanation for the decision to establish a regional facility at Umuwa as opposed to setting up community-based safe houses, as recommended by Commissioner Mullighan. Finally, the response did not include any information on how the Government intended to “adequately resource” the safe house in terms of “suitable staff, services and facilities,” as recommended by the Commissioner.

[xiv] Macklin, J. 13 August 2008, “$4.5 million for infrastructure on the APY Lands,” media release.

[xv] Government of South Australia, 30 October 2008, “Implementation Statement by the Minister for Families and Communities to the Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands Commission of Inquiry,” p54.

[xvi] Mazel, J. 31 October 2008, Letter to Rev P. McDonald

[xvii] Mazel, J. 31 October 2008, Letter to Rev P. McDonald

[xviii] Mazel, J. 31 October 2008, Letter to Rev P. McDonald

[xix] Duigan, A (Office of the Hon Jennifer Rankine MP). 14 September 2009. Letter to A. Duigan.

[xx] Duigan, A (Office of the Hon Jennifer Rankine MP). 14 September 2009. Letter to A. Duigan.

[xxi] The Minister’s report continued: “The Department for Families and Communities (DFC) is exploring options for the ongoing management and operation of the safe house. DFC’s preferred model is to fund an appropriate non-government organisation to manage the safe house. However, if an appropriate organisation is not identified the Department will consider undertaking the ongoing management and operation of the safe house.” See: Rankine, J. November 2009. First Annual Report to the Parliament of South Australia by the Minister for Families and Communities on the ‘Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands Commission of Inquiry – A Report into Sexual Abuse,,” p90-91. Minister Rankine tabled the report in State Parliament on 2 December 2009.

[xxii] Lloyd, J. December 2009, “More than bricks and mortar: proposed preferred models for safe accommodation services for women and children from the APY Lands,” report. On 24 January 2011, the South Australian Government provided the Paper Tracker with a copy of this report (Portolesi, G. 24 January 2011. Letter to Rev. P. McDonald).

[xxii] Mazel, J (DFC). 12 May 2010. Letter to Rev. P. McDonald.

[xxiii] Mazel, J (DFC). 12 May 2010. Letter to Rev. P. McDonald.

[xxiv] Mazel, J (DFC). 12 May 2010. Letter to Rev. P. McDonald.

[xxv] The Department’s advice was provided in response to questions about the number of women and children from the APY Lands who had been accommodated at the Coober Pedy Safe House since 1 July 2009. This advice states (in full): “In total 92 women were accommodated at the Coober Pedy Safe House during 2009-10 with a further 58 women accommodated since 1 July 2010. During this time however it has not been a requirement of the service to report on family numbers or the number of individual numbers of accompanying children. It is also difficult to identify which of these women and children are specifically from the APY Lands given the Aboriginal people do not identify where they are entering the service from in the same way that non Aboriginal people do. It is estimated by the Coober Pedy Safe House management that at least 15% – 20% of the women and children entering the service during this time had arrived directly from the APY Lands; however Aboriginal women and children will move between the APY Lands, Alice Springs, Port Augusta, Ceduna and Coober Pedy.” (see: Mazel, J (DFC). 25 February 2011. “Minute forming Enclosure to the Hon R Lucas MLC, Chairperson, Legislative Council – Budget and Finance Committee”, p20-21.)

[xxvi] Rankine, J. November 2010. Second Annual Report to the Parliament of South Australia by the Minister for Families and Communities on the ‘Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands Commission of Inquiry – A Report into Sexual Abuse,” p6.

[xxvii] Lloyd, J. December 2009, “More than bricks and mortar: proposed preferred models for safe accommodation services for women and children from the APY Lands,” report, p50.

[xxviii] Lloyd, J. December 2009, “More than bricks and mortar: proposed preferred models for safe accommodation services for women and children from the APY Lands,” report, p15.

[xxix] Rankine, J. November 2010. Second Annual Report to the Parliament of South Australia by the Minister for Families and Communities on the ‘Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands Commission of Inquiry – A Report into Sexual Abuse,” p6 and p44.

[xxx] McDonald, P. 20 December 2010. Letter to Hon J. Macklin, MP.

[xxxi] Dillon, M (Office of the Hon Jenny Macklin MP). 31 January 2011. Letter to Rev. P. McDonald.

[xxxii] Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. 30 March 2011. Reply to question on notice asked by Senator Siewert during the 2010-11 Additional Estimates Hearings, Question No. 183 (link to question and answer).

[xxxiii] Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry – a report into sexual abuse, pxxvi.

[xxxiv] Dillon, M (Office of the Hon Jenny Macklin MP). 11 April 2011. Letter to Rev. Peter McDonald.

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