The Powers That Be

on Monday the 28th of September I met with DECD CEO Tony Harrison, Jane Johnson (another CEO of a different nature but similarly titled – deputy to Tony Harrison and with a specific personal interest in APY education, allegedly) and Tim Ryan, Chief of Staff to Susan Close (no relation) The Minister for Education and Child Development. Tim and I have spoken at length and I believe him to be sincere in his desire to listen and learn and help drive some meaningful change. I was somewhat underwhelmed by Jane and Tony – I found them to be somewhat condescending and defensive. When the broader issues were raised he basically suggested that he wasn’t optimistic that anything they could implement would have a demonstratable difference. At this I was aghast. Also, at the very least I expected an apology for the grievous lack of disclosure of what my family would encounter, and for being sexually assaulted in my capacity as a DECD employee and on DECD grounds. Apology does not imply guilt, Mr Harrison. In fact, when I challenged him on the fact that My husband was denied a compassionate transfer which led us to the union, then lawyers, then finally some action; he claims he had no idea. He claimed that he doesn’t read every document that comes across his desk. I call bullshit. He was very clear in that my case was “unusual” (note the undertone of disbelief) and that he did not believe that things like this are happening in lands schools. To then suggest that he didn’t read a document from a leading Educational solicitor which detailed the events surrounding our time in Amata and threatened to embarrass the government. A document which entailed our demands, and those demands were met unequivocally and almost instantly; to suggest he didn’t read it is, I would suggest, not the case. If it is, Mr Harrison probably ought to examine his underlings. And on this point, about the “unusual” nature of our circumstances; I say this. Staff are assaulted; staff are bullied; staff are traumatised. They don’t make reports because of a deeply entrenched culture of bullying, silence and oppression.

Tony asked if I had any reccomendarions. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that he was genuine, rather that appeasing me or hoping to suggest that I wasn’t part of the solution. I had a list prepared. Since then, I have expanded on, and sent this list to Tim Ryan; who was sincere in wanting to hear my ideas, in the hope that together we can enact some change. In the interests of transperancy, something I’ve campaigned for all along; I’ve included this list here. Please feel free to add any ideas that you might have in the comments. Together we can be the change. 
1) CAMHS needs to have a permanent (or at the least, school term) presence in each community. Communities that have higher levels of dysfunction, family violence and sexual abuse call for more workers. 
2) higher police presence, higher presence of community constables for night patrols and diffusing violence and getting kids off the street at night. It is unacceptable that when incidences of violence, theft and trespass occur and the police are called, that they were 300kms away and the call was answered in Port Augusta. Changeover days need to occur in such a way that there is no period in which there are no police in community. Furthermore, police need to work WITH the community in a positive way – lots of positive interactions at the school and in the community. Currently they are in a gated compound, with their houses inside the compound and they only leave if they need to. There needs to be a drastic overhaul in the cultural competence of police officers that work on the APY, and they need to be strenuously assessed as appropriate for this type of police work. Currently, and I have anecdotal evidence from within SAPOL HR, that the officers going up are only going up for the money, and certainly my own experiences lead me to believe that racism is endemic within the officers on the lands. 
3) one literacy support officer per class. Anangu kids in the APY can speak Pitjantjatjara and English but cannot read or write either language. They are not treated as EALD students and are not afforded the same literacy support as children who have just immigrated to Australia and speak English as another Language or Dialect. This needs to change so that we can improve students ability to report abuse.
4) we need to recognise and value the cultural knowledge of Anangu Education Workers and pay them as Advanced Skill Teachers. Whilst I acknowledge that some AEW’s are not registered teachers (although some are and are not remunerated as or employed as), they have immense amount of cultural learning and behaviour management skill to impart. Just because they don’t have a western view of education and pedagogy does not mean that they can’t be viewed as Anangu Teachers in their own right. AEWs are priceless – they are currently paid at AEW1 and AEW2; less than a first year teacher with no scope for increase in wage with years of service and no locality allowance; which is particularly relevant when you consider the cost of living in a remote community. This needs to change. More emphasis needs to be placed on AEW’s as educators and pirinpa (non-Anangu) teachers, there for duty of care and to help link Anangu teachings back to the Australian Curriculum. 
5) The Anangu Coordinator needs to be the voice of leadership in the school and respected as such by pirinpa leadership (ie school principal). He or she should be viewed hierarchically as above the principal and remunerated as such. 
6) ensure all training for staff (AEW, pirinpa, Anangu) is regularly available in schools and not once a year in Umuwa or Adelaide.
7) significantly overhaul the CARL (child abuse report line) for lands schools in particular. Employ phone staff, on the ground staff, even set up an office in Umuwa. There is multiple cause for mandated notification EVERY DAY. It is unacceptable for teachers to be expected to make mandated reports if they have to wait up to 3 hours on hold to speak to someone. I believe that this has contributed to the entrenched culture of acceptance of sexualised behaviours among Anangu children. Only the worst of incidents are being reported because teachers cannot make multiple reports in one day because they don’t have the time. I believe that this reason alone has led to less serious incidents being viewed as more trivial and not reported, and this is putting children at risk. 
8) significantly raise funding for and to the NPY women’s council. Female Elders are the voice of change in communities. They are driving some amazing initiatives but are hamstrung by a lack of resources and funding. 
9) significantly raise funding for the PYEC (Pitjantjatjara, Yanunytjatjara Education Council) so that the decisions they make around Anangu education can be implemented. Funding also needs to be made available to enable more school representatives to be able to travel to Umuwa to put forward ideas. Where else do we expect people to travel 300km on dirt to attend discussions about educational future without renumerating them to do so. Petrol is expensive on the Lands, and as we all are well aware in this post-Tony Abbott era; living in remote communities is not a lifestyle choice. 
10) begin discussions around the use of homelands as classrooms, with different family groups teaching different aspects of Anangu learning. We directly observed that the best learning does not occur in the classroom – it occurs on country. 
11) increase school funding specifically for excursions so that more “on country” learning can occur. Let’s give Anangu kids the knowledge that learning is important, valuable and relevant. The most challenging kids in the classroom are often the best teachers when on country. The schools are viewed as embassies, ie: not on country – get the kids out in the bush and link on country learning to the Australian Curriculum.
12) there is little scope for lands schools who are struggling financially to improve their balance. Revisit the lands schools funding model as a partnership, to ensure that all schools have effective funding given that students and families are transient across the lands. With effective funding and effective funding allocations, better school decisions can be made around student welfare. 
13) ensure all schools do not have dirt play areas. 3-corner-jacks (prickles) are prolific in community, and it forces kids to play in less appropriate areas and less visible areas which can put them at risk of sexual abuse
14) ensure all schools have separate junior and senior toilets. Toilets are a haven for sexual assault and abuse. Currently the toilets are part of teacher yard-duty, to check and make sure that no students are being molested in the toilets – this needs to change. Make the toilets clearly visible, remove the ability for senior kids to enter junior toilets, and remove the ability for anyone to be able to climb over or under the doors and lock themselves in with another person. 
 15) link EDSAS, ED155 and CARL data together so that if a mandatory report is made on the hotline, the District Director cannot claim that an incident didn’t occur because there was no ED155. Make this transparent and accountable. This is not about shaming – we need to have accurate data to be able to work together to fix this. Skewing the data to protect oneself does one thing and one thing alone – it puts kids at risk.
16) pornography absolutely and categorically cannot and must not be able to be accessed on school computers. IT needs to be drastically overhauled such that it has the most strenuous of filters so that this Just. Doesn’t. Happen. The overwhelming majority of computers with Internet access in communities are IN THE SCHOOLS. Therefore, they are a beacon for those wanting to access pornography. This is a relatively simple thing that we can do to help protect Anangu children. It needs to be so that there are no “incidents of filter malfunction” and if pornography is ever found on DECD computers in the lands, it needs to then involve SAPOL, because this is against the law. Deleting it does nothing to protect Anangu; it does us a grave disservice. DECD MUST recognise that they are a conduit to the Internet and therefore to inappropriate material and with this comes the responsibility to filter it with appropriate funding available to have reliable technology and IT staff to ensure that breakdowns don’t occur. 
17) there needs to be more support for staff in schools. The APY lands is another world. It’s not like teaching in a mainstream school. You leave everything behind and that places strain on staff. Access to:


-access to leave

– more PRT’s (permanent relief teachers) 

-greater incentives to go (currently there is the misguided belief that going to the lands guarantees you permanency or your choice of schools. This is not the case).

-protection for whistle blowers

-more access to EAP
18) there is a culture of bullying in the APY lands schools and it is deeply entrenched and goes right up to senior leadership. This needs to change. This must be investigated and systems put in place to protect teachers from workplace bullying. Workplace bullying in the APY is particularly harrowing. It isn’t like in an urban setting. In the APY, despite walking out of the building at the end of day, you never really leave; workplace bullying extends into the home. This is exacerbated by share-housing. 
19) teachers must be able to access private spaces. Share housing for adults post-tertiary education is unreasonable. Housing is expensive and I acknowledge this. There are houses standing empty at the now deserted community of Wataru – relocate the houses and give services providers a safe and private place to withdraw to. 
20) less of other roles for teachers in leadership. The principal in Amata was required to (and I’m not sure if he was remunerated for doing all of these roles or if he took them on willingly, my understanding is that he willingly took on some or all of these  roles to increase his wage) but repairs and school maintenance, cleaning toilets, mowing the lawns, inspecting the houses, refilling the gas bottles should not fall on the principal. Surely, student welfare and the wellbeing of his staff should be of greater importance. 

I’m sure there are more and I’ll forward them on as I think of them. I look forward to discussing them with you.


Elizabeth Close 


8 thoughts on “The Powers That Be

  1. I taught in Port Augusta in 1978 and several of your points were made then, too. I can remember a School Health Nurse (but I can’t remember how often she was at the high school). More than once, we got groups of girls together for “hair washing” which really was an opportunity for girls to mingle in a less stressed environment. They certainly identified the toilets as a concern. Toilets have long been recognised as dodgy areas. Separate the age groups. Maybe stand alone booths are more appropriate. I am sure that if a group of girls and women today spoke out, they would identify this as an urgent need? Schools have a Governing Council. If these ideas come from the community, can’t they be recognised?

    Any circle or cycle of abuse, bullying etc needs to acknowledge that is it a long term process. Find chinks to break that cycle. In the 70s, the Malaysian government talked about every business or worksite needing to be 30% Bumiputra (ethnic Malay or similar people). This was challenged as being discriminatory. But now, 50 years later, there are many more ethnic Malays in positions of responsibility. I really like the idea that AEW and teachers in APY lands be recognised as being responsible to mentor others as well as teaching.

    At one stage, there was a “kitchen garden” approach in one SA community. Promoting health. Building responsibility. Acknowledging the knowledge of local people. Similar to a mentor program, or an apprenticeship I guess that system works only as long as a skeleton staff underpins it. As people move around, there would need to be back up support. Also, as food is so expensive, could a refrigerated route be subsidised and promoted?

    Aligning standardised reporting systems might help administrators count notifications, but if they are a daily occurrence, how do we step outside that cycle? I don’t know if the Wiltja program still exists, but in the 80s i spoke to several mothers who wanted to pull their children away from the lands. Now, that is a drastic. And an admission that schools aren’t working. A school should be a safe place.

    There are ways to check IT use. Even random sweeps of internet history can monitor how long a person accesses an inappropriate site.

    I wonder if teachers could get similar support that SAPOL lists – rent free housing, paid electricity etc. page 45.


    • DECD staff absolutely get free housing and utilities but their wage and locality allowance is roughly half of what nurses and police officers are getting! The Wiltja program absolutely still exists and it has it own set of unique challenges. Initially I would have brushed off suggestions that Wiltja is the only means for students who want to complete their SACE. Now, with Amata having its 4th year in a row of not having a single graduate, one has to wonder…


  2. “Jane Johnson (another CEO of a different nature but with a specific interest in APY education)” – she’s the Deputy.

    Wrong. She’s just a career bureaucrat, doesn’t give a sh1t specifically about APY education or else things would be different to what they are now.

    “condescending and defensive” – correct!

    Liked by 1 person

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