Justice Reinvestment

Justice Reinvestment is a program that has been developed with indigenous people in Australia, US, Canada and other countries to look at cultural methods of handling juvenile incarceration amongst Indigenous youth.


One of the main Aboriginal Australian groups involved in piloting the program is Murdi Paaki out western NSW.


Also see their report data on p75 http://www.mpra.com.au/uploads/documents/mpra_regional_plan_fin_mps.pdf –

A general fact sheet on the Reinvestment program


https://www.indigenousjustice.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/mp/files/publications/files/rb21-justice-reinvestment-schwartz-et-al-2017-ijc-webv2.pdf – includes overseas models> good comment bottom of middle column p.6

Some attitudes against – https://www.idahopress.com/news/local/lawmakers-law-enforcement-spar-over-justice-reinvestment-impacts/article_7d5609c0-e99c-53a5-a35b-1be879ec59b6.html

It is clear from these articles that the success of the program depends how it is administered


If you come from law, this may be interesting http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/UNSWLRS/2015/56.pdf

Treaty or not?

There has been many years of consultation with Aboriginal communities, culminating with the meeting at Uluru of the 2017 National Constitution Convention. As a result this statement was produced and agreed to by most participants:


The Referendum Council presented its final report https://www.referendumcouncil.org.au/. However the Prime Minister at the time refused to follow these guidelines as the way forward on recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia.

So where to from here? What does the Aboriginal community want, and what would benefit all Australians most going forward? Hre are some differing views: https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp1617/Quick_Guides/UluruStatement

Clearly the present situation is fraught and the increasing suicides in remote communities amongst youth is only part of the effects of this. There is also the fact that language speakers are disappearing for many languages, where these languages hold much information about the country of the people speaking them. There is ongoing monitoring of the living situation for Indigenous people in Australia shown in the Close the Gap statistics: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports-statistics/health-welfare-overview/indigenous-health-welfare/overview

Will a treaty or Makarrata solve these issues, if so how?

Does all the Aboriginal community support this process, if not what are the reservations?

There are many comments in the media worth reading, such as https://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/indigenous/indigenous-treaty-nothing-to-be-afraid-of-says-commissioner/news-story/b1edc4f32640c014bfdd0f651d25f855



Basics Card

The Basic Card was introduced in 2007 by the Federal Government as part of Income Management with the aim to prevent people spending money on grog and drugs. The card can only be used at prescribed stores and for prescribed items. Most of the money received by people on government benefits is through this card. The card has been rolled out in the NT, and various place-based trials (2014):

  • Bankstown (167)
  • Shepparton (348)
  • Playford (588)
  • Rockhampton (467)
  • Logan (949)

However in many communities the level of violence and drinking has not gone down, in fact has gone up in some areas. So presumably people are circumventing the spending restrictions and other issues are affecting the outcome.

The  Evaluating New Income Management in the Northern Territory: Final Evaluation Report (2014) conducted for the government provides the following table on the misuse of the Basics Card:

Ways of use of BasicsCard and related questions, LSNIM Wave 2, 2013 p 135.

Proportion reporting that event occurred Urban (%) Town Camp/ Settle-ment (%) Non- urban Comm-unity (%) Other (%) CIM Indig. (%) CIM non-Indig. (%) VIM (%) Total (%)
Do you/anyone in your family:
Share/swap BasicsCards when shopping with others 32.9 26.5 42.9 22.2 37.1 30.5 31.5 34.7
Let others use BasicsCard/PIN on behalf 41.6 34.5 55.3 11.1 48.5 32.0 45.3 44.1
Let others use BasicsCard/PIN for self 34.2 18.1 44.7 11.1 38.6 25.8 30.7 34.4
Swap food/groceries for money, alcohol, tobacco 23.1 4.9 8.0 11.1 14.4 22.7 8.1 15.5
Swap cards for money, alcohol, tobacco 19.6 2.4 7.6 11.1 12.4 18.1 8.2 13.2
Cash from taxis 16.7 3.6 10.8 11.1 14.0 11.4 9.7 12.8
Gamble using BasicsCard 3.2 0.0 3.8 0.0 3.7 2.4 0.0 2.8
Get stores to sell tobacco and alcohol on BasicsCard 10.4 0.0 3.7 0.0 6.3 10.4 1.4 6.6
Did you:
Pay more because using BasicsCard 38.9 26.0 39.4 12.5 41.3 33.1 23.5 36.7
Couldn’t buy something on BasicsCard 72.7 35.1 42.0 100.0 55.7 80.2 33.3 59.0

There are also other probable social effects, such as the willingness of people to circumvent the laws they do not respect and interferes with their independence and self-worth.

Government Policy

A summary of this new policy approach is here. And a very good summary of the statistics, and comment on the lack of comprehensive data collection or analysis is here.

To quote from interview with Elise Kline, Lecturer in Development Studies,
University of Melbourne (ABC RADIO ADELAIDE 9.10-9.18)
Topic: Possible cashless welfare card trial for Port Augusta after success
in Ceduna
(Clarke: Elise Kline … why do you think the cashless debit card actually
causes harm?) … I¹ve been following the trial in the east Kimberly that
was started at the same time as the Ceduna trial … our research has
shown some really concerning trends with the introduction of the cashless
debit card … because it¹s compulsorily targeted, so anyone that is
getting a payment from the Government, except if you¹re getting aged
pension or veterans allowance, but any other payment you are included in
this program … there is quite a big group of people that are included in
that … there¹s some very serious ramifications because … people are
finding it hard to manage their money on the card … it seems to not be
getting at the issues that it¹s meant to be getting to … targeting
people with all the same brush. (Clarke: … some of the statistics we¹ve
seen from the Government indicates that drug use is down … purchasing of
alcohol and gambling is down as well …) … the Government¹s numbers
also show that 49% of the people on the card reported that it made their
lives worse and 20% of the people on the card said it actually made their
children¹s lives worse … the Government¹s research also showed that
crime has gone up and there¹s questions around the impact on domestic
violence … I think the report that the Government put out when it
extended the trials had a whole lot of numbers in there that weren¹t
addressed and the analysis was quite concerning to researchers that have
been watching this space … need to focus on is the compulsory way in
which this card is targeting anyone that¹s receiving government benefits,
except for aged pension and veterans allowance … we¹re talking about
carers, we¹re talking about … youth … people having parenting payments
you know all being targeted with the same brush as having some vice, which
I think is a real issue … people receiving these benefits are receiving
them because they need financial support … having a piece of plastic
that¹s managing or trying to manage your income is actually … managing
people¹s finances a bit more difficult is what we¹re finding.

Checking data

The use of “double accounting” techniques are important for checking data, and there are simplified techniques that can be easily adapted to new topics. These techniques aim to approximate the result you would expect from the known situation, then compare it to the one given by the “authority”.

Techniques are: grouping or pattern matching to count in blocks; consider different cases as blocks and handle separately; simplifying the calculation by rounding; considering if the result seems likely.

Apply this to government policy in Aboriginal area – e.g. the proposal that the Basics Card will stop drinking and gambling.

The media reports that various individuals support the program, that they ‘have seen a decrease in violence in their community’. The program has been running for a while, so what are the figures?

There are firstly the issues around the children, who are the initial focus of the report. Is school attendance up as promised? Is better food being purchased from stores, especially community stores which are the main buying site for remote areas?

You can get figures from the police and family violence refuges – has drinking and domestic violence gone up since the introduction of the card in different regions? Some indigenous DSS and HACC data here

The data here shows number of people on the card – interesting there is no “unknown” just Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal groups.

Beyond the direct data

Firstly, there are questions about whether is fair to impose such
controls over the majority of people compulsorily on the card who have not
had such problems, secondly there have been new services funded in both
communities that could well be the cause of  reduced damage, but the
research cannot separate the effects of the card v services.
There are no clear official statistics that make clear connections between
the implementation of the card and behavioural changes. There are dubious
responses from a survey with people claiming they have reduced
consumption, but few would tell interviewers they had not.
There are concerns raised that crime has increased in some areas and lack of access to stores in remote areas and to second hand shops. Note there are different implementations of the Income Management system, such as the Basics card and Cashless Welfare Card

Consider the health effect on people of being denied control of their own (severely limited) finances. Studies have been done with employees of the British Civli Service and showed health effects from difference in pay scale results as those on a lower pay than those around them feel less control over their lives.

You can see some other issues arise from the data, such as the lack of practicality in its implementation, the vast majority of card holders are in NT, while there are few stores accredited there for them to purchase from.

For the latest report, see:

Evaluating the Cashless Debit Card Trial in Ceduna and East Kimberley: A Briefing Note by Dr Janet Hunt, Senior Fellow CAEPR, ANU

and the Greens Minority 2017 report to Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee

These summarise the concerns over the method of data collection, and its analysis, when reviewing the effectiveness of the basics card against the criteria for which it was created


The Basics card is not an effective response to protecting Aboriginal children and Aboriginal people’s wellbeing

The NT Intervention

The Intervention or the NT Emergency Response  was a policy enacted by the Federal Government in the NT as a reaction to the Little Children are Sacred Report, but did not seem to follow many of its recommendations:

The package was the Federal government’s response to the Territory government’s publication of Little Children are Sacred, but implemented only two out of ninety-seven of the report’s recommendations. The response has been criticised, but also received bipartisan parliamentary support. The then Prime Minister Julia Gillard has and continues to support the response, though her predecessor (and successor) Kevin Rudd did make some adjustments to its implementation. The Emergency Response has since been replaced by the very similar Stronger Futures Policy.

Also see the UN Special Rapporteur report – Anaya, James (February 2010). “Observations On The Northern Territory Emergency Response In Australia” (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 April 2013.

This report by the Rapporteur is based on the same data (figures, policies and community submissions) as is available to the Australian government when their reports were developed. Also see the Australian Human Rights Commission report. Yet the government continued the program in the face of this opposition.

This exercise is about being blind to possible interpretations of data.

Since the start of this program, much work has been done to expose the effect of this action and request better data collection to enable evaluation. Also there are requests to change the policy of intervention to one of consultation. See an economic analysis of the measure by Jon Altman that deals with government prejudice and inability to listen to the communities

He points out that the second report in 2009 from the NT Government on the effect of the Intervention. Some of the misuse of data is described in his report are:

…not all measures are given multi-year comparative coverage. But for those that are, some of the findings are extremely disappointing. For example:

  • On health, child health care referrals are down, as are specialist audiological and dental follow-ups from referrals and reported child malnutrition is up despite the 85 licenced stores, the 15,000 BasicsCards and the $200 million income managed;

  • On education, total enrolments and school attendance rates are marginally down despite the school breakfast and lunch programs and more and more police are working as truancy officers;

  • On promoting law and order, alcohol, drug and substance abuse incidents are all up (p.32–33); domestic violence related incidents are up (p.33); and breaches of domestic violence orders are up (p.33) despite a far greater police presence. The most disturbing data are contained in Table 4.4.1 on p.35 which reports personal harm incidents reported to police: all categories are up except for sexual assault reports that are slightly down

First and foremost, they are comparative pre- and post-Intervention in prescribed communities, but they are not comparative with any other group in Australian society so it is hard to say how relatively bad outcomes are. All that is clear is that where time series information is provided almost without exception things have gotten worse.

Second, the quality of the Report is highly variable so in some key areas like land reform and especially welfare reform and employment there is the standard reporting of current outputs and no comparative analysis. And in the area of income quarantining there is still fraught methodology so it is store operators rather than customers that are surveyed, so while 68.2 per cent of store operators report more healthy food purchased, it is unclear if this ‘more’ is in dollar terms or quantity; and who is doing the purchasing? Interestingly, store operators report no change in tobacco purchase. (p79-80)

Consider the alternative approach suggested by the people the Intervention is supposed to “help”.

However this evidence is overridden in favour of personal stories that ministers or Aboriginal leaders have collected on the topic.

For example here:

Jenny Macklin cited so-called “evidence” on this matter in a press release last July when she said there was some evidence of an improvement in the consumption of fresh food. It turned out this “evidence” was based on phone calls to ten stores. Six said yes when asked if sales of fresh food had increased, without supporting evidence; one said no, and three were unknown.

So much for evidence-based policy replacing ideology.

A more academic article on the issue.

National Library resources

The National Library has put these links on the website to help investigate this issue:

Statistics related to Australia’s Indigenous population, including health and social issues, can be found on the Australian Bureau of Statistics website. Use the ‘Past and Future releases’ tab to find statistics for previous years. The downloadable reports include statistics on child abuse and neglect.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has a statistical overview of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia including child protection.

There are also a number of websites that provide reports and other information about the Northern Territory National Emergency Response, or intervention. Many of them describe the development of the program and others provide supporting documents and evidence such as statistics.


The Northern Territory Intervention is justified on the basis of community stories. Is there an alternative that you can support with evidence?

Population and Identity

Aboriginal identity is an important topic. Firstly there are many stereotypes about who are Aboriginal people, where do they live and what do they look like. So we need to consider what is the true variety of Aboriginal  people. As an example we will consider Aboriginal identities in terms of where people live.

Government statistics of location from the National Survey in 2011 are here and for  interesting figures on population of the suburbs in Sydney data look here.

To understand identity around location we want to look at how the location spread changes over time

Moving population

These figures change over time. Blacktown used to be the highest population of Aboriginal people, now Mt Druitt and Campbelltown are higher than Blacktown – where is the highest?

Many people  were forced out of the Sydney basin areas in 1780’s by death and loss of livelihood.

But then in the 1900’s people came from all over the country looking for work in Sydney, living in Redfern and its surrounds. In the 1990’s people were moved out of Redfern to Mt Druitt and Campbelltown during the gentrification of Redfern.

But there is another effect on Aboriginal identity, which has led to a rapid rise in the proportion of Australians registered as Aboriginal in recent years.

Changing population

The effect of births, deaths on population and maybe changes in the population pattern overtime, plus interstate and oversea migration is discussed here

In discussion of this data the  Bureau of Statistics article here mentioned the improved coverage of the data collection and the reduction in ‘unknowns” in terms of Aboriginality, but also a more important issue of identity is raised. Aboriginal people have not felt safe to identify for many years, and are increasingly able to do so, when their parents and grandparents may no have.

It is an interesting array of issues that come up when looking at survey data over time. The social aspects behind the data are important as they form not just the identity of Aboriginal people, but the identity of Australia as a nation, as our Indigenous people become more confident to claim their heritage.

Here is a pamphlet put out in WA describing some of the ways census figures were used and changed over time to re-present Aboriginal population data

What is Aboriginality?

So what do people who identify as Aboriginal  look like? What is it that creates their identity? If it is not colour, or facial features, what are Aboriginal people proud of, and what is the culture that is valued so highly in the Aboriginal community? Why do Australians often not value their non-Aboriginal ancestry as highly?

One factor may be effect of the removal of children and the denial of their Aboriginality, that in the long run created the opposite effect. If the children had the opportunity to return to their people. See the extract from the Bringing Them Home Report

How is Aboriginality established?

In the early 19080’s the definition developed was:

An Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is a person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent who identifies as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and is accepted as such by the community in which he [or she] lives.

This is called the three-part definition  of Aboriginal identity(descent, identify and community acceptance) and was soon adopted by all Commonwealth departments.


What does Aboriginal identity mean to you and what ways can data evidence be used to strengthen this community?

Kidney Disease

One issue that is of concern for Aboriginal people is the higher rate than average of kidney disease in the population. However if the government is to close the gap in such health issues, there needs to be evidence based research into the causes and possible mitigation.

Factors leading to kidney disease

In  a quote from www.CreativeSpirits.info

“The reasons for these high rates are complex and likely due to several factors, including increased susceptibility to kidney damage, higher rates of diabetes and obesity, being born prematurely with small kidneys, constant infections, high blood pressure, poor access to good food, substandard housing or limited education [12, 13].”
[12] ‘Kidney disease hits harder in the bush’, The Tracker 17/10/2013
[13] ‘Patrick Tjungurrayi: Bringing the gift of better health’, The Australian 16/4/2015

Kidney disease is linked to later onset of diabetes, and this has been shown to be much higher in indigenous communities around the world.

Quoted from here:

Type 2 (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes mellitus is a complex disease that afflicts people from all ethnic backgrounds. However, it is now common in American Indian populations, and the Pima Indians of Arizona have the world’s highest prevalence

An interesting summary of the data on from Kidney Health is given here. The original Indigenous data from the Department of Statistics  show that Kidney disease is correlated (and maybe related) to other issues such as stress. The comment  here shows that kidney disease, diabetes and heart disease are the main concerns for Aboriginal health, so it is important to deal with this issue.

The Kidney Health Australia site provides a repository of reports on the issue

Key finding 2004-5 is 2% with kidney disease and 6% diabetes and 2012-3 put kidney disease at 1.8% of population and 8% with diabetes. More related statistics around smoking, diet, education and employment are here. Indigenous researcher stress that in discussing specific issues for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people we need to consider the whole picture, which includes social issues that lead to difficulties in adherence to health plans, for instance the lack of dialysis facilities near many communities where people live.

The figures show some reduction in kidney disease over time which may be the result of better understanding, while the increase in diabetes may be the result of reporting – note this links also to the issue of Aboriginal people identifying as such in surveys.

However the prevalence of other stress factors see here  and here show much greater stress levels amongst Aboriginal people. This suggests it may not be sufficient to look at individual illnesses in isolation.

Also closing the gap report gives further data



The Federal and State governments should take a new approach to Closing the Gap in indigenous health for kidney disease

Aboriginal ancestry

For a broader description of the culture that lived here for 50,000 years, read The Dark Emu, by Bruce Pascoe. This book is largely based on evidence from the diaries of early Europeans in Australia and provides a very different picture to that taught previously.

Another approach to this is the genetic testing of ancestry, both of people and the development of agrarian food supply, which is a growing field of opportunity, but there are risks involved.

Quoted from here:

There are issues around how reliable the conclusions made based on genetic tests are. The tests look for variation amongst a population that has married the Europeans who came here recently, and that variation from the rest of the population will be the “Aboriginal component”

Genetic make up of an individual is important in Australia and North America in defining a person as Aboriginal, which gives them access (or not) to special services, benefits and membership of the Indigenous community.

Many issues are raised in this article, including the reliability of data developed for the US gene pool and the need for Indigenous people to control how any data is used. Most importantly in Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity relate to community engagement as well as blood line.

In general, geneticist have had a bad reputation with Aboriginal people since tests were made without permission in the 1990’s. The theft of genetic data, and more recent research made with proper authorisation raised concerns about undermining the relation of Aboriginal people to land.

However the research results recently claim to show that Aboriginal people came here in one wave with no other people coming to settle until 1770, although the data is small. This suggests the Aboriginal link to Australia is much stronger than just being “the previous wave of immigrants”.

The access to this data and its use is of concern for Aboriginal people. Collecting data on people that is beyond their experience to understand how it is analysed, what it means or how it is being used (eg this material is available for any future research work) is contentious. See concerns from Indigenous Americans

Some of these studies have raised questions about tribal control and regulation of research, assessing risks and benefits of research participation, and implications of participating in genetic research for tribes.

Quoted from this article

In Aboriginal communities this ancestral information is kept in oral memory. Particularly women will discuss this regularly to update and check their relationship to anyone they have not seen for a while, or new children.

We are all fascinated with our ancestry, but for Aboriginal people this also signifies the area of land they have links to. Recent research has shown that the link to a specific area of land for Aboriginal people goes back 50,000 years:

Remarkably, we find evidence for the continuous presence of populations in discrete geographic areas dating back to around 50 ka, in agreement with the notable Aboriginal Australian cultural attachment to their country.

See the ABC article for a good discussion of how the genetic data was used to develop the theory.


Is the theory that Aboriginal people have lived in specific areas of Australia for 50,000 years significant and and how might this cause their knowledge to differ to other people’s knowledge systems

Testing of genetic effects on health

Consider the advances in genetic analysis that enables the development of genetic testing for the provision of health services.  For this discussion you need to understand what genetic testing is, and the aspects of human genome that it is isolating as the distinguishing features in people.

The issue is that even when you can collect data, should you collect it is another issue.

First consider that medical decisions are now being proposed on the basis of genetic make up. Such as the specific drug that may be most effective for a disease can depend on the genetics of the individual. Also the likelihood an individual will develop a disease is linked to genetic testing. This new approach to health services raises issues of:

  1. How to handle the telling of news about ‘bad genes’ to patients
  2. Does this information really mean anything, it is just a probability they will develop the disease
  3. Will insurance companies start to use it to adjust personal insurance rates
  4. Drugs that work for a small group will be too expensive. When is it established that there is only a small market for them, the larger market drugs will be prioritised

You can look at the Genetic test registry site and consider how the genetic test data is being used. Also there is a file of all the DNA tests relating to health 

Genetic testing and Indigenous peoples

“Indigenous peoples have the inherent and inalienable right to freely determine what is best for them and their future generations in accordance with their own cultures and world views.” (www.treatycouncil.org).

Effect of history

Genetic testing relating to Indigenous people is sometimes considered controversial because of previous attempts at establishing racial differences which were linked to theories of inferiority. Furthermore there are issues of ownership, patentability, benefit sharing and perceived disregard for free, prior and informed consent when working in different cultural frameworks and across language barriers.

Considering that many Aboriginal Australians do not use English as their first language, and do not always identify as an individual over and above their identity within a community, the understanding of what a genetic test may entail can be sketchy amongst Aboriginal people.

Those relying on genetic data should consider the concerns of Indigenous peoples about the laws and ethics of genetic testing, as well as the spiritual and historical issues, from Berg K, (2001) – The ethics of benefit-sharing. Clinical Genetics: 59(4); 240.

An ethical approach to genetic testing for Indigenous peoples (and in fact all populations) requires:

  • protection from racial discrimination
  • preservation of human rights
  • prior informed consent of individuals
  • retention of a population’s cultural self-determination

from  Mgbeoji I (2007)


Is ths use of genetic testing for specific health issues, the right purpose for this technology? Could we develop tests for other variations that would be more helpful and less contentious.



Hidden bias in statistics

The Bureau of Statistics has done some thorough analysis of employment data comparing Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal engagement in employment. Often their analysis involves some form of estimation so they provide a thorough explanation of how this is carried out.

For example:

It is possible to remove the effect of the differences in age structures through age-standardisation [or age adjustment]. However, the estimates in this publication have not been age-standardised. For this reason caution should be used if a comparison of Indigenous and non-Indigenous estimates is made. This is especially relevant in comparisons of rates and ratios, such as the participation rate, of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations.

Another reason for caution when comparing Indigenous and non-Indigenous estimates is the geographical distribution of the two populations. One quarter of Indigenous people aged 15 years and over lived in Remote areas in 2011. In comparison less than 2% of non-Indigenous people aged 15 years and over lived in Remote areas in 2011

By looking at how reliable organisations report on data you can gather some idea of the types of biases that can enter data in any prediction or modelling process.


How does your hidden biases relating to the people you are researching effect your research? How can you find the hidden biases of other researcher’s work?