Illicit drug use is a problem for Indigenous communities in New South Wales and Victoria, though it is largely overshadowed by the prominence of alcohol as a contributing factor to much Indigenous offending. Participants at the Mildura workshop indicated that information presented at the workshop, through the findings of the NDLERF research and environmental scans, had made them aware that illicit drug use may be more of an emerging issue than they realised. If the workshop helped to raise police awareness of the potential for illicit drugs to become a problem in their area and contributed to a more proactive approach to this issue, then it was a successful exercise.
It appears there is a range of differences between urban, regional and remote communities when it comes to policing illicit drug use. Wide variations in the proportion of Indigenous people in a given community, the extent of their cultural identification, family and kin relationships and activities of Indigenous organisations, services and community representatives, as well as non-specific services, can change the nature of crime and justice issues and how police shape their responses. To the extent possible, police must ensure that their responses take into account the needs of the whole community and recognise those elements of offending by Indigenous people that are not necessarily linked to their Indigenous status. In urban communities, Indigenous residents may not have strong cultural identification or affiliation and the underlying causes of their offending may not be different from those of non-Indigenous residents of the same community. The response to illicit drug use and other behaviours among these Indigenous residents may not be different from the response to other residents.
The differences in policing responses to illicit drug use in urban Indigenous communities highlighted by this workshop suggest a strong need for further research in this area. The inclusion of police from urban locations enabled the workshop to explore the links between urban and non-urban Aboriginal drug use and distribution. The workshop highlighted particular issues and patterns of use among urban Aboriginal drug users and some of the particular difficulties experienced in targeting urban Aboriginal illicit drug use. Group discussions provided opportunities to build on material presented by police from Melbourne and Sydney and suggested there would be value in conducting research to look further into urban issues. The NDLERF Board of Management may wish to consider funding an extension of the previous research to build a greater understanding of illicit drug use patterns and issues in urban Indigenous communities and develop a good practice framework for these communities.
The Mildura workshop provided a good example of research being operationalised and put into practice. As was the case with previous workshops in Darwin, Cairns, Nhulunby, Katherine, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs, it provided an excellent opportunity for those directly involved in managing the subject issues to share information, experiences, strategies and good practice. It was clear that there are commonalities in the approaches taken by police and that these are consistent with the good practice framework in Monograph 15A. At the same time, it was apparent that operational police and personnel, such as ACLOs from different areas, have a great deal they can learn from one another and that the opportunity to network and share with others stands to produce great benefits. Following on from the success of the previous workshops, it is suggested that the NDLERF Board of Management may wish to consider funding other such workshops in the future.
Having the authors of the research and framework facilitating the workshops helped to make it directly relevant and applicable. Their independence from policing operations was also beneficial. If further workshops are to be held, it is recommended that Mr Delahunty and Dr Putt again act as facilitators.