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This report outlines the results of a workshop that was held in Mildura, Victoria on 5 and 6 August 2008. The theme of the workshop was Policing substance abuse in Indigenous communities in urban, rural and remote areas.

The workshop was organised by the NSWPF and Victoria Police. It was funded by both police services as well as the NDLERF, which is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.

The workshop was attended by 45 staff from NSWPF and Victoria Police. Participants included sworn officers across a range of ranks, ACLOs and unsworn staff. The workshop was primarily facilitated by Dr Judy Putt from the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC).

The origins of the workshop can be found in two NDLERF research projects which examined the policing of illicit drugs and volatile substances in Indigenous communities. These research projects were reported in three NDLERF monographs:

Delahunty B & Putt J 2006. The policing implications of cannabis, amphetamine and other illicit drug use in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities. NDLERF Monograph no. 15. Adelaide: Australasian Centre for Policing Research

Delahunty B & Putt J 2006. Good practice framework—policing illicit drugs in rural and remote local communities. NDLERF Monograph no. 15A. Adelaide: Australasian Centre for Policing Research

Gray D, Shaw G, d’Abbs P, Brooks D, Stearne A, Mosey A & Spooner C 2006. Policing volatile substance misuse and Indigenous Australians. NDLERF Monograph no. 16. Adelaide: Australian Centre for Policing Research

The Mildura workshop followed previous workshops held in Cairns, Alice Springs, Darwin, Katherine, Nhulunbuy and Tennant Creek. A report of the Alice Springs workshop, and the three monographs cited above, can be downloaded from www.ndlerf.gov.au/pub.php.

The Mildura workshop provided an opportunity to disseminate the findings from the two research projects to key people directly involved in managing and providing the policing response to the issues covered in the reports. It also provided an opportunity for these personnel to share their experiences and to provide information, in the form of data and case studies, to help build a better understanding of the issues involved in policing substance abuse in Indigenous communities and to contribute to discussion and the development of further responses.

The workshop was opened by Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Steve Fontana. The Assistant Commissioner spoke of the severe social disadvantage which underlies many of the problems facing Indigenous communities. He discussed the implications for Indigenous people of Australia having been declared terra nullius and how this had led to the deprivation of land rights and a breakdown of Indigenous peoples’ spiritual relationship to the land. He discussed the importance of the rule of law, its universality and boundlessness and the need to preserve it for the benefit of all. At the same time, he acknowledged that colonisation imposed the rule of law on Indigenous people without recognising the existence of traditional laws and spoke of the need to understand Indigenous culture when working with Indigenous communities. Assistant Commissioner Fontana then set out the objectives of the workshop:

  • establish what the key issues are for police with respect to substance abuse in Indigenous communities
  • identify differences in policing illicit drug use in Indigenous communities compared with other communities
  • identify where police may be able to improve their response to these issues.

Following this, Brendan Delahunty (formerly of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and currently of the NSW Ombudsman’s Office) gave a presentation on the findings from the NDLERF study into policing implications of illicit drug use in Indigenous communities. Pat Ward, Manager of the Drug and Alcohol Coordination Unit, NSWPF and Annette Vickery, Manager of the Aboriginal Advisory Unit, Victoria Police then presented environmental scans from each of their jurisdictions. These presentations provided important background information on the types of illicit drug issues being experienced in each jurisdiction and some of the initiatives being undertaken to deal with them. Over two days, officers from both New South Wales and Victoria gave case study presentations that set out in more detail some of the initiatives that have been undertaken to deal with the illicit drug-related problems being encountered in their local areas. These presentations are summarised in the following section of this report.

Throughout the two days of the workshop, group work sessions were held involving all participants. These sessions used tools developed as part of the good practice framework in NDLERF Monograph no. 15A. Hypothetical scenarios contained in the monograph, reflecting practical situations police might encounter in Indigenous communities, were distributed to the groups, which were then asked to discuss how they might respond to each situation. The responses were then discussed with the whole workshop group. Groups were also asked to develop their own scenarios, again reflecting situations that might be encountered in daily practice.

Through group work sessions, participants also identified specific problems needing a strategic policing response. These covered issues such as drug and alcohol abuse in a particular remote local area, as well as among Indigenous youth more generally, improving cultural identification among Koori youth, the existence of problem premises that attracted illegal and anti-social behaviour and the development of better information collection and management systems. The groups then worked through these problems to identify their objectives in addressing them, strategies and activities to meet these objectives and the outcomes they would expect after a six and a 12 month period.

As a final exercise, participants completed a checklist drawn from the good practice framework, designed to assess how well participants felt a range of priorities and strategies were being progressed at statewide, regional and local levels. The checklist and the results of this exercise are presented in the ‘Hypothetical scenarios developed at the workshop’ section of this report.

Following this, Brendan Delahunty gave a presentation on sources of funding that could potentially be accessed to fund the kinds of community-based programs discussed during the workshop.

This report provides a way for the findings of the workshop to be captured and documented for the benefit of participants and their agencies and for a broader audience including other police services, practitioners and policy makers. This report also provides a way of conveying this information, and the issues it raises, to the NDLERF Board of Management and other stakeholders. In this way, the report seeks to draw on the efforts of participants to help police and others respond to the challenges that policing substance use in Indigenous communities brings.

Last updated
3 November 2017