7th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Environmental Health Conference Kalgoorlie, WA

Supporting Animal Management in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Governments

Page last updated: December 2010

Clayton Abreu & Andrew D’Addona,Tropical Population Health Service, Queensland Health

On behalf of presenters Andrew and Walter we would like to acknowledge the traditional owners; the Wongatha peoples and that the organising group for allowing us to speak at this conference. We will talking about supporting animal management in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Local Governments, the Queensland story.

There will be three presenters; Andrew myself and Walter. I will be talking about the background and history of the program.

Prior to March 2008 in Queensland we have 34 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Councils. After the amalgamation this has reduced to about 16 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander local government, Torres Strait Islander Regional Council consists of 15 separate Island communities and the Northern peninsular area that which is right on the tip of Cape York consists of five separate communities. Although the one local government area we still support an animal management worker on each community. A bit of history, animals have significant cultural and social relevance with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Animals present, health and safety risk in all communities. A review of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander environmental health program emphasises that this matter with community members, councils that are raising animal management as a significant issue in need of addressing. Part of the reasoning behind having this program if that local governments have the responsibility to manage their own animals in the communities under certain different legislation, the public health act, public health risks, land and protection, pest and stock management. All local government had to have a pest management plan. This includes feral animals, the animal care and protection act that bio security and DPI look after and there are local governments themselves who enforce local laws. Recently, the passing of the Animal Management Cats and Dogs Act 2008.

These councils have limited capacity and resources to handle these matters. So why do this program?

  • There were heaps of reports of numerous dog attacks.
  • Alleged animal neglect.
  • Problematic animal numbers.
  • The death of the child in a community from a dog attack.
So in 2006 Queensland Health elevated a cabinet submission requesting funding to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities with animal management. I’ll pass you on to Andrew to talk about what we received from the cabinet submission.

Andrew: I would just like to start by acknowledging that the traditional owners of the land on which we are presenting today. So as Clayton said Queensland health put up a submission for funding for animal management, and although we didn’t think we would get you we did. It was topical at the time as it was very close to when the child’s death occurred from the dog attack. I guess that became a political topic, and therefore they chose to fund a program. So Queensland health, in partnership with Department of Primary Industry, Biosecurity Queensland secured funding to support animal management in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The initial budget was $2.73M that was to get it set up, see this provide some funding for capital infrastructure and develop the program. In 2007/2008 financial year it was $1.69M and ongoing about $2M to support the program. At that time all 34 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Council were invited to apply for that funding. Obviously in getting money we came across quite a few challenges in developing and delivering the program. So I will run through a few of those.

The initial planning, what we were intending to do with this money? Was one of the questions that was asked. We put in the submission with some very general ideas of what we were going to use it for. However, when it actually came down to working out what we are going to do. There were a few clashes defining the roles between different government agencies. As soon as you get the money, everyone wants to be part of it, because getting the money is so hard to get. So we had to work out exactly what I wanted to deliver. Was going to do what. The provision of support for the community is obviously having 34 communities to support with very limited staff with the knowledge and skills to be able to get out there and do there was a definite challenge for the program and one we are still dealing with. Working in with so many other programs; natural resource programs even knowing they exist, working in with them can be a significant challenge.

Recruitment and retention of staff, I think we all know that that can be really difficult. Finding the right type of people to work on community in their own communities. The ability to fulfil their study obligations. The ability to fulfil the role in community can be quite trying role at times, and not one that everyone enjoys. Therefore, finding the right people is really important; inevitably you will go through a few staff in certain communities and to find the right person.

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The local government themselves, understanding the funding and their roles and responsibilities with it. Honestly, when you go to a Torres Strait Island local government and say we’re going to give you $70,000 they would jump at that because it’s money. But making sure they really understand what it is therefore what their roles and responsibilities in delivering appropriate animal management in the community, and what it actually is meant to be spent on. And that’s something that we have had problems with. Our animal management focussed feedback to us has been “they employed me but I haven’t seen any of my equipment” or “can’t access the vehicle” or “ where has my money gone?”

Queensland Health is not normally a funding agency so this is a big challenge for us as we have never done this before, we have never actually been a funding agency. Trying to monitor the funding, to get reports back from councils has been huge challenge for us. And talking to the actual funding agencies. It’s a huge challenge for them as well so it’s something that we’re having to deal with.

Selection and recruitment of a veterinary services. We heard in the presentations this morning that we really have to get the right types of vets with the right attitude to working those communities. And without making it sound to bad some vets seem to think it as 5a money making venture as well. So trying to get the right people, and I’ll acknowledge AMRRIC as we have run a training course with AMRRIC for vets working in communities that Clayton and some of our other colleagues presented at and did a fantastic job. That was about when vets do come into communities that they are aware of the program and that there are aware of how the program is supposed to work and the aware of their role within the program. So it’s about minimising surprise value, if they haven’t been to a community before.

In Queensland for some reason we have real trouble with the legislation and allowing our guys to do some of the animal health services between vet visits and been authorised to use Ivermectin and that sort of stuff is a real issue for us, which is something we are still working on. And obviously developing appropriate resources for using in community. We have done a lot of work at workshops. Negative media is quite important to us some of the communities are nearby to major centres. It doesn’t matter how much good work is happening in the community it only takes one negative article to put doubts over the whole program because the politicians see this and say “What the hell are you doing?”, “How come this is still happening?” The reality of this is that it can and undo a lot of your good work because people in community or the staff you’re working with can say “Why are we wasting our time. If they never going to put a positive story out there about us?”

I said at the start, it was a bit of a decision to work out what we have to do with his money. So we came up with a plan or the Queensland government action plan for supporting animal management by Indigenous local governments. We had a few aims; to coordinate the animal management program, to improve health and welfare of animals, to provide capacity for councils to deliver sustainable animal management which I think is one of the key deliverables of it, to facilitate a whole government support network and council is to meet accountability and sustainable animal management.

The key for us, is being able to provide support to community. It is not up to us to be doing this is not our role, it is not what we want to do. Communities can do this, they just need some support and resources, educational or whatever it might be and that is our role in this program.

So, what was funded? As part of the funding agreements we gave councils. Obviously a major factor and one of the State government’s major goals is providing employment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The funding was there to employ an animal management worker; full-time funded wage. It was also there to develop and deliver a training program for animal management workers. And partially fund, the construction of central animal management infrastructure in community. Obviously the huge cost of infrastructure in community meant that we could not fund the whole lot, but it was there to try to help communities out with the building of things such as pounds and various other things. The purchase of essential equipment for animal management workers, contracting veterinary services where needed and provide support to council was an animal management workers to develop and implement animal management programs.

So, what are we actually delivered with this funding, so far? firstly, there was no actual management training program for animal management workers. So as a part of this we contacted in a training provider, a broker and developed a training course called ‘Certificate II in rural operations and animal management in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities’. That was the first step. Anyone who isn’t involved in training, and then tries to get involved realises it’s a nightmare; all the rules and regulations and setup. That’s why we got an external agency to for us; people that know what they are doing, they had all the contacts they know how to get funding. The training course is very expensive but we have had something like a 90-95% completion rate. It’s about delivering in community one on one or in community in group settings, it is a fantastic program, and all feedback has been fantastic. So far we’ve had 31 employees graduate from the Cert II course.

Photo of graduates
Photo of graduates

We have started to develop a Cert III and Cert IV course in animal control and regulations to build a career framework for these guys to move on and further develop the skills of those people want to. So far we have 29 staff employed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander councils as animal management workers. In the 2008-2009 financial year. We funded $1.9 million, and we put that into the program so far. And approximately $550,000 has gone into infrastructure.

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Clayton: The program needed support and Queensland Health employed an animal management project adviser. He, Scott McIntyre, was based in Cairns and he covered from Cherbourg up to the PNG border. His role was to coordinate the project activities, from the outcomes of the action plan. He built an internal relationships state-wide. So we had to ensure that and networks were maintained and developed so that project worked in with other programs, and so it was more of a coordinated approach. The position also provided strategic, technical and operational advice to not only the guys on the ground, but to Queensland Health staff are and other government agencies. Also in that position we had to make sure that we could monitor the program so he collected on the existing animal management before the program came into place, assisted on ground activities in community; making sure that they were getting the operational equipment and other stuff that they needed and make sure that communities were able to develop and maintain programs.

Other than that position there was other on ground support, and it was delivered by not only my position in Queensland Health, but district coordinators based in Weipa and the Cape, Torres Strait on Thursday Island in Townsville and he covered Mount Isa and the Gulf and other area coordinators based in Rockhampton and Toowoomba. Also during the training we had student mentors to work on how to be a student. That was pretty successful, with a high completion rates of students passing the course. The RTA’s acted as trainers and also as support.

Walter: When a dog comes to the pound, there is no holding period of five to six days in which time people can go to the council office and bail their dog out for a $25 fee. Not only is there a dog program on the island, but there also a horse and dumping problem. In fact, we have a lot of injured horses on the island mainly from dog attacks. Out of the budget we purchased uniforms for the staff to wear so that everyone knows their role, and it is a promotion for the work they do.

Q: I have a question about the Queensland Government funding for the Aboriginal environmental health workers. Was that full funding for wages?
A: Yes

Q: For how many workers for each community?
A: We have funding for all 34 communities and the environmental health worker program. So they are fully funded one position per community. Some communities such as Palm Island has employed an environmental health manager and has an environmental health team under him, they choose that funding from their own grant funding that they get from the Queensland government.

Q: I asked the question because with the changes to CDP and some workers are on CDP money, so was it difficult to get the money through Queensland government?
A: This was something that I was lately part of. But before that there were strong advocates in Queensland, Stuart Heggie who is a director of Environmental Health in Tasmania was a strong advocate. He went to see the Western Australia model and brought it back to Queensland in the early 90s. But we didn’t get fully funded positions until late 2001, and that was the Cape York pilot program, and from that we had the expansion program to all the communities and from that funding we got the animal management funding as well back in 2006. Back to the programs we have the environmental health worker program, which we have fully funded position for and then we have the animal management worker program which we have a separate funded position for. Basically what he got paid back from the review of our environmental health workers, was the animal manager was such a huge part of it that you are either do animal management or you do other stuff. That brought about coping with the two roles and two separate funding bases.

Q: You mentioned that people were doing Cert III and IV does that mean that people have an increased in wages after they have done those?
A: That is a good question. Thank you for your question.

For those of you who don’t know me my name is Michelle Howcroft. I am the new manager after the Torres Strait islands, I look after 15 communities. What I am currently working on is an incentive program so that through the study an AMW or EHW does they can progress and get better pay, and also attend more conferences. So it does encourage them to work harder towards their career. Your point before about the CDP, I can see that being a huge problem for us in the Torres Strait because we do get a lot of assistance with our EHWs we rely on them a lot to you assistance in doing a lot of programs, like cleaning out drains to stop stormwater issues is something that I am currently working on, so I’m interested to see what happens with the changes to that program because it will impact us a lot.

Andrew: One thing we did come across was what award do we put these people on? Once again we are learning as we go. These are issues that we come across are still working through in some circumstances and funding is semi-finite, and as you say, if people going up on qualifications and stuff, does the funding cease with an increase in wages or not?

The workers are employed by councils. We provide the funding and we provide a wage component and an operational component but we can’t actually dictate to Council what their pay should be. We can provide recommendations but councils direct how they pay their workers.

Q: Matthew Lester: This links into the career pathway. Is there any view to expanding this training in the Cert II, III, IV to other environmental health units with a view to getting Batchelor as the next extension to a degree. That is probably a long-term goal, but that is a pathway which could lead to a difference in pay because there is a difference in the qualification.
A: We strongly support the environmental health workers and that pathway, and we’re trying to link in the animal management workers and to look at environmental health as the next step for another pathway. Some may not use that way, some might go into other areas - it’s up to individuals and individual councils.

Q: Is there a part where you can support council in upgrading our wages?
A: I’m not really able to answer that question.

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I fully understand and I have been told all my life that size doesn’t matter. And I am a firm believer in that. It’s not enough that we are only a small group of people. This is a perfect opportunity to raise on our website for advocacy for our people for wages, better support and training, and it’s the ideal avenue to promote this issue. It is an indigenous issue, always has been always will be like the land. We need to support ourselves and push advocacy for ourselves on this issue and be vocal about it. Don’t just listen and be told that you are just a small group. We are not a small group we're a great race and a large people and the problems are just as big if we rest and splinter and let it go at a state level and I apologise gentlemen. United we stand divided we fall, that’s why we’re not getting anywhere, that is why we have a national conference we only had every two years, and at least with the website it’s an everyday thing it doesn’t stop and it’s sustainable at the present next three years so it’s important that we all raise these issues in that forum, not being rude gentlemen, and I appreciate all the support and work that you have done for us over the years but now is the time to utilise the support each other for decent wages, decent training and progression of these issues for our people.

For more information

Clayton Abreu
Indigenous Environmental Health Program Officer
Tropical Population Health Service Environmental Health
Queensland Health
19 Aplin Street, Cairns, QLD 4870
Ph: 07 4050 3622 Email: clayton_abreu@health.qld.gov.au