Chapter Seven

Safe and Strong Communities


A strong sense of identity - Elijah Douglas

AllGrid Energy

Co-designing solutions with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

"Aboriginal people, whether they live on their traditional lands or not, have lived on this continent for thousands of years. We have the knowledge, resilience and strength of culture passed on to us that when called upon will see us through difficult times and emerge stronger. The issue for those working with us is acknowledging that it is only if we address our issues ourselves, our way, will they be solved. Nobody else can do it for us. This is what we mean by self-determination and we know that self determination works." – CEO Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, Adjunct Professor Muriel Bamblett AM

MacYouth staff, Phyllis Rowe, Cheryl Ragget and Eunice Jack, with two female Elders and four young women from Mt Liebig

MacYouth staff, Phyllis Rowe, Cheryl Ragget and Eunice Jack, with two female Elders and four young women from Mt Liebig, Papunya and Haasts Bluff, at a camp at Ilpilli, 120km East of Kintore, aimed at engaging young women in traditional dance, cooking and storytelling to support them to reconnect with their land and culture.

Community safety a fundamental right

Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people, like all Australians, have the right to grow up and live their lives in a safe home and community.

The reality, however, is Indigenous Australians are significantly more likely to experience child abuse and neglect, family violence and other forms of violent crime and to be incarcerated than non-Indigenous Australians.

It is for this reason that ensuring communities are safe remains one of the Australian Government’s three priority areas in Indigenous Affairs.

The key to improving community safety for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people lies in addressing the entrenched disadvantage and underlying factors that drive violent and criminal behaviour and contribute to the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the child protection and justice systems.

Although states and territories have constitutional responsibility for the justice and child protection systems, including policing, courts and prisons, the Australian Government has a role to play in supporting the inherent strengths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, investing in prevention and early intervention activities and ensuring Indigenous people have access to justice. 

The Australian Government is working closely with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to co-design and implement a range of early intervention and prevention initiatives to improve the safety and security of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, families and communities.

Key points
  • Addressing high rates of violence, including family violence, in Indigenous communities is a key to improving outcomes in other areas across the life course, including achievements in education, employment and health outcomes.
  • A focus on safety in the early years and strengthening Indigenous families are critical to preventing Indigenous people from coming into contact with the child protection or justice systems in the first place.
  • Reducing the high rates of Indigenous incarceration requires a focus on addressing the key drivers of violent and criminal behaviour, including exposure to childhood abuse and neglect, poor school attendance and performance, unemployment, and drug and alcohol abuse.

What the data tells us

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are significantly more likely than the wider community to be hospitalised as a consequence of family violence. In 2014-15, the hospitalisation rate for family violence-related assaults for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander females was 32 times the rate for non-Indigenous females, and for Indigenous males the rate was 23 times the rate for non‑Indigenous males (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision 2016b, p. 4.98).

In 2016, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are almost 10 times more likely to be in Out Of Home Care than non-Indigenous children (Australian Institute for Health and Welfare 2017b).

In 2015-16, young Indigenous Australians aged 10-16 were 16 times as likely as non-Indigenous Australians to have contact with both the child protection system and youth justice supervision (Australian Institute for Health and Welfare 2017c).

As at 30 June 2017 there were 11,307 prisoners who identified as being Indigenous, representing 27 per cent of total prisoners (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017d).

  • The Indigenous imprisonment rate was 13 times the rate for non-Indigenous Australians and has increased by 39 per cent since 2007.
  • Nine in 10 (or 10,199) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners were male.
  • Rates of reoffending are high with 76 per cent of Indigenous prisoners having previously been under sentence, compared to 49 per cent of non-Indigenous prisoners.

Analysis using 2016 data showed the majority (63 per cent) of Indigenous Australians who were in prison were incarcerated for violence-related offences and offences that caused harm.

Over the five-year period from 2011-12 to 2015–16, rates of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous young people under supervision fell (Australian Institute for Health and Welfare 2017d). This decrease was proportionally greater for non-Indigenous young people, which resulted in an increase in the level of Indigenous over-representation.

In 2015-16, Indigenous young people continued to be overrepresented in the youth justice system:

  • young Indigenous people were 17 times as likely as non-Indigenous young people to be under supervision on an average day.
  • Indigenous overrepresentation was higher for those in detention (25 times) than for those under community-based supervision (15 times).
  • eight in 10 of young Indigenous people under supervision on an average day were male.

Translating policy into action

Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to reduce family violence

Violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities robs Indigenous children of their futures, presents a barrier to women’s economic participation, and has created an intergenerational cycle of violence that threatens to engulf communities.

The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022 represents a commitment by the Commonwealth, state and territory governments to reduce violence against women and children.

In October 2016, the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, released the Third Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children.

The Third Action Plan includes a $25 million investment in frontline Indigenous organisations and Family Violence Prevention Legal Services to address family violence experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children. The package is intended to deliver practical actions to prevent and reduce violence while also ensuring victims receive the support they need. Funding of $19 million has been invested in eight Indigenous community organisations to deliver a range of services including:

  • trauma-informed therapeutic services for Indigenous children affected by family violence to break the cycle of intergenerational violence;
  • services for perpetrators to encourage behaviour change and prevent future offending; and
  • intensive family-focused case management to address drivers and behaviours that lead to family violence.

Delivering on the Prime Minister’s commitment to work in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people when creating policy and programs, the Government embarked on an extensive co-design process to develop and deliver evidence-based and community-informed family violence interventions for Indigenous communities.

All Third Action Plan providers under the $25 million investment for Indigenous organisation form an integral part of the co-design team. The Government harnessed the expertise of an Indigenous business, Inside Policy, to lead and manage the co-design process. Inside Policy, working with the Government and providers, have brought their insights, input and advice from their communities and their organisational experience into the design process.

Building community capacity

In order to prevent family violence, it is critical to support communities to challenge the social norms, attitudes and behaviour in communities that support and enable violence to continue. The Australian Government is committed to assisting communities to challenge these views and support them to build capacity to find practical, place-based responses for tackling violence and abuse. 

The Building Better Lives for Ourselves (BBLFO) program aims to empower and equip Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to address and halt the effects of intergenerational trauma and violence in their communities.  Since April 2015 this project has delivered a series of trauma‑informed consultations, “think tanks” and workshops to a network of approximately 150 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. BBLFO aims to tackle the factors underlying ongoing violence and abuse of women and children using three approaches: community-driven development to build community ownership; use of a trauma-based approach to leadership training; building confidence, responsibility and personal empowerment to develop women’s leadership.

BBLFO has transformed the lives of the women who have participated in it and is expected to have positive flow-on benefits for their families and communities as these women apply their new-found skills and confidence to address issues of importance in each of their regions. This project is a great example of the powerful impact on communities of empowering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls.

In addition, the Government has invested in working with mainstream domestic violence organisations, White Ribbon and Our Watch, to adapt their tools and education material to better engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to protect children

The safety of Indigenous children is paramount and the Australian Government is committed to ensuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children grow up in families where they are safe, healthy and able to get an education.

The increasing number of children in out-of-home care, the amount of time they spend in care, and continuing instability in placements is of great concern for all governments. This is particularly the case, given many of these children are also at greater risk of coming under youth justice supervision.

The Australian Government is working closely with all states and territories – which have responsibility for child protection systems – and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and communities to address the underlying factors that lead to higher rates of contact with the child protection system and better support families.

National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020

The National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020 reflects the long-term commitment of all governments and the non-government sector to ensure the safety and wellbeing of Australia’s children. The safety and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children remains a priority focus for all governments under the National Framework.

To help progress towards this, the Third Action Plan 2015-2018 has an explicit cross-cutting focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families aimed at ensuring the five domains of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Child Placement Principle (prevention, partnership, placement, participation and connection) are applied to the implementation of strategies and actions under the plan.


A key priority for the Australian Government is to ensure that Indigenous families are provided with better access to earlier support to prevent them entering the child protection system.

Intensive Family Support Service

Responding to the Growing them strong, together report (the Bath Report) by the NT’s Board of Inquiry into the Child Protection System in 2010, the Government established the Intensive Family Support Service (IFSS) as part of a package of supports. Since the first IFSS services were established in 2011, the IFSS has expanded significantly and is now delivered by nine providers in 26 locations across the Northern Territory and Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands of South Australia. Five of the funded services are Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations.

The IFSS is an evidence-based prevention and early intervention program that aims to reduce child neglect by working intensively with vulnerable families to improve parenting capability and in turn keep children safe, at home with their families, in their communities and out of the child protection system.

Key elements of IFSS are its community development approach, including engagement with local communities in establishing new sites and a strong focus on local workforce development. Subject to extensive consultations with local communities and the Northern Territory Government to determine community need and readiness, suitable non-government organisations were selected to provide intensive support to parents and caregivers of children where child neglect is a concern.

Although the IFSS is available to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous families, the proportion of Indigenous families participating in it is consistently greater than 85 per cent. To ensure the IFSS is delivered with cultural sensitivity and in a safe way, the program has maintained a strong emphasis on the employment and training of local Indigenous staff.

Since its inception, evaluations of the IFSS have shown decreases in overall child neglect for children in the area of physical care and emotional development followed by improvements to parental supervision in the provision of health care to the child. This also includes increases in school attendance, resulting in better communication and respect between parents, caregivers and their children.

From 1 July 2016 to 30 June 2017, of the 161 families participating in the IFSS, seven children were removed into out-of-home care and 54 families exited the program due to achieving the set goals. This compares to 18 families that exited the program due to achieving goals in the period 1 January 2016 to 30 June 2016.

Family advocacy and support services

Under the Third Action Plan the Family Advocacy and Support Services (FASS) are designed to assist families moving between the state and federal court systems, complementing specialist services available in state and territory courts. Many families involved in family law matters have complex needs, and may be involved in matters across the family law, child protection and family violence systems. The FASS will prioritise clients who face additional barriers to accessing assistance, including Indigenous clients.

The Government has contracted an Indigenous-owned consultancy to evaluate the FASS nationally. The evaluation will consider the benefits of the service to clients and the courts and assess whether it has achieved its intended short-term outcomes. Early feedback from legal aid commissions is that the service is meeting a crucial need and that their lawyers’ enhanced ability to intervene early and liaise with social workers is helping them to better identify clients’ non-legal needs and support them to access other supports.

Legally-assisted and culturally-appropriate family dispute resolution in Family Relationship Centres

As part of the funding package to support the Third Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010 2022, $6.2 million was allocated towards piloting and evaluating enhanced models of legally-assisted and culturally-appropriate family dispute resolution (FDR) to vulnerable families, particularly Indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) families. The enhanced FDR pilots commenced on 1 June 2017 and conclude on 30 June 2019. The pilots are being delivered by eight Family Relationship Centres at Tamworth and Bankstown in NSW, Sunshine and Broadmeadows in Victoria, Toowoomba and Upper Mt Gravatt in Queensland, and in Perth and Darwin.

The National Centre for Indigenous Studies at the Australian National University will evaluate the pilots to determine whether they provide a safe and successful alternative to court, with particular emphasis on whether they assist Indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse families to better interact with the family law system.

Indigenous incarceration rates

Factors such as poor education and low employment contribute to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being overrepresented in the criminal justice system.

The Australian Government is investing in activities at the local level to tackle the underlying factors that lead to the high rates of offending and incarceration for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, the Government is investing $264 million across Australia in 2017–18 in activities aimed at improving community safety and justice outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

Alcohol and other drug treatment services

Alcohol and other drug misuse is a key driver of violent offending behaviour and addressing such abuse is critical to reduce violence and incarceration rates in the Indigenous communities.

Through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, the Australian Government funds more than 80 organisations across the country to deliver Indigenous‑specific alcohol and other drug treatment services. Overall funding for alcohol and other drug treatment services under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy in 2017-18 is around $70 million. This is in addition to alcohol and other drug services, including Indigenous-specific services, funded through the Health portfolio.

Prisoner throughcare

The Australian Government is committed to helping reduce the high rates at which Indigenous Australians reoffending and break the cycle of recidivism by supporting prisoners with targeted, holistic and intensive support using a throughcare model to address their specific needs and circumstances. Throughcare is a unique service delivery approach that provides individual case management to support rehabilitation and address the underlying causes of offending behaviour, including unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse and poor community engagement.

The Government is investing in a co-design process to enhance the existing model of adult throughcare which will strengthen service delivery standards, improve workforce development and support robust data and evaluation strategies to test the impact the throughcare services have on people’s lives. The Government is also investing in co-designing and trialling a specific model of throughcare for young people leaving detention, including those on remand, in recognition of a gap in intensive support services for young people leaving the youth justice system.

Custody notification services

Custody Notification Services (CNS) are a key way to provide holistic wellbeing support to people detained by police, including those in protective custody who are not being charged with an offence, in order to help end preventable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody. Although states and territories have arrangements in place to notify Aboriginal Legal Services when an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Australian is taken into police custody, there is no standard way this is applied and it is not a legislated requirement in most states.

To address this, the Australian Government has offered to work with state and territory governments to establish a more robust CNS model in every jurisdiction. The Government is offering to fund the initial three years of the CNS, contingent on each jurisdiction introducing legislation making use of the service mandatory and continuing to fund it into the future. The Government is working with interested states and territories to develop tailored CNS models that work within each jurisdiction.

Law and justice

The Australian Government is committed to improving law and justice outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

The Government is the primary funder of Indigenous legal services, while the majority of services are provided for state and territory criminal law matters. The Government’s Indigenous Legal Assistance Programme funds Indigenous legal services to support access to justice for Indigenous Australians, ensuring they receive the help needed to assist them to overcome their legal problems and fully exercise their legal rights as Australians. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS) in each state and territory are funded through the ILAP.

Over the past 10 years, funding has been administered under different programs. The overall aim has remained constant for ATSILS: to deliver community-based, culturally appropriate legal assistance services at permanent sites, court circuits and outreach locations in urban, rural and remote areas.


Although the states and territories are responsible for policing, the Commonwealth’s investments in police infrastructure and improving policing in remote areas supplement state and territory efforts to keep these communities safe.

The Australian Government is continuing to support remote policing in the Northern Territory by enhancing the remote police presence, providing police infrastructure, and funding for specialist units tackling substance abuse, domestic violence and child abuse. In Wadeye all infrastructure works have now been completed, including construction of staff housing and a new and expanded police station, and work will continue to provide both Ngukurr and Maningrida with new police facilities for their communities. The Government is also continuing to support Community Engagement Police Officers in the Northern Territory to promote crime prevention and community engagement. In the Torres Strait, in Queensland, Australian Government funding is supporting the upgrading of five airstrips to improve police response times.

Community night patrols

Community night patrols help keep communities safer by employing local people to serve their local communities through crisis and non-crisis support. Community night patrols operate in 81 communities in the Northern Territory, nine communities in South Australia and one in Western Australia. The Government funds 20 service providers through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy with total funding of $28.5 million being provided in 2016-17.

Last year, alone, night patrollers provided more than 245,000 incidents of assistance to their local communities. Patrollers also ensure that children are at home or in another safe location at night with a parent or carer so they are well rested and able to go to school every day. As well as making communities safer community night patrols create jobs. In 2016-17, 93 per cent of the 390 patrollers and team leaders delivering services on the ground identified as Aboriginal.

Online safety

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have the right – as do all Australians – to have safe positive experiences online.

The eSafety Commissioner is undertaking a number of key initiatives to enhance online safety for vulnerable groups. The Commissioner has recently begun working on a digital literacy and online safety training tool for people in remote Indigenous communities. This tool will support a digital tutoring program targeted at very remote communities. In addition, as a publicly available app it will be available for community members to download and use long after the training rollout has completed. This app will be tailored to the needs identified through targeted consultation. It is an innovative, new resource building on the work of the office in particular providing online safety guidance and support to vulnerable Australians.

This new Indigenous initiative builds on the Office’s resource, Be Deadly Online (BDO). BDO is a series of videos, resources and discussion starters to empower communities with strategies to better manage and address the risks of cyberbullying, social networking and sexting. This resource was created in 2013 with the input and guidance of the Geraldton, Carnarvon and Yarrabah communities.

Local solutions

Lajamanu group taking leadership role in community safety

Lajamanu Kurdiji Group members, from left, Peter Jigili, Lamun Tasman, Joe Marshall and, right back, Anthony Johnson.

Find out more about Lajamanu group taking leadership role in community safety.

More local solutions are available on the resources page.