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Australia Service providers, including Centrelink and Medicare staff, allegedly barred from APY Lands

07:40  14 february  2020
07:40  14 february  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

Centrelink, welfare staff barred for months from Aboriginal land

  Centrelink, welfare staff barred for months from Aboriginal land The workers, which included those from the Australian Electoral Commission, were barred from the South Australian land over a dispute with a land rights holder.The revelation is the latest in a series of controversies affecting the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjar (APY) Lands Council, which receives about $2 million a year in state funding to manage matters relating to SA’s Land Rights Act for about 2500 indigenous Australians.

The workers, which included those from the Australian Electoral Commission, were barred from the Centrelink and Medicare staff were blocked from visiting remote indigenous communities in South Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show the APY Lands Council last year

Centrelink and Medicare staff were blocked from visiting remote indigenous communities in South Australia for several months because of a stand-off with the region’s governing body about access permits. The revelation is the latest in a series of controversies affecting the Anangu Pitjantjatjara

A complaint has been lodged with South Australia's Ombudsman surrounding allegations Centrelink staff were improperly blocked from entering remote Aboriginal communities.

a sign on a cloudy day: Permits are required to enter and travel on the APY Lands. ()© Provided by ABC NEWS Permits are required to enter and travel on the APY Lands. () The allegations centre on new access rules for the state's APY Lands, which cover more than 100,000 square kilometres and receive approximately $2 million in State Government funding each year.

The complaint was made after documents were released by the Federal Department of Human Services (DHS) under Freedom of Information (FOI), showing a stoush over access to the state's remote Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands.

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The documents show repeated attempts by the DHS over several months from late 2018 to gain access permits for employees of Centrelink, Medicare and the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC).

But these attempts were rebuffed as a result of a "tightening" of access requirements.

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"In previous years the Department of Human Services have been given an exemption and not required to obtain individual permits for their remote servicing teams to deliver Centrelink services on the APY Lands," a DHS employee wrote in an email to the APY executive.

"Is it possible to get an organisation permit, which will cover all DHS staff, we have at times professional staff, e.g assessors, social workers, come from interstate to assist and would not be able to arrange a permit in time.

"Our remote servicing staff can also change last minute and again we would struggle obtaining a permit."

The request was denied, with APY requesting a $22 payment, individual applications and evidence of a current police check for each staff member planning to access the lands.

  Service providers, including Centrelink and Medicare staff, allegedly barred from APY Lands © ABC News APY general manager Richard King told the ABC the decision to tighten permit requirements was made by the APY executive three months ago to "protect some of the most vulnerable people in Australia and also to protect their culture".

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Mr King said APY was previously "taking on face value" people applying for permits.

"This is about bringing our due diligence up to the same standard as Government does for their employees," Mr King said.

"Pauline Hanson said yesterday Closing the Gap is not happening because Aboriginal people aren't taking responsibility for themselves and here we have the Aboriginal executive board taking responsibility and others trying to call that into question."

Aboriginal man Trevor Adamson lodged the complaint against Mr King with the ombudsman, saying he was concerned the changes were unwarranted and impacted on families' access to essential support and basic needs such as money and food.

"We are concerned for our community and the family and the kids that are going to school, and we want them to be happy," Mr Adamson told the ABC.

By-law introduced to ease entry requirements

The Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara [APY] Lands are in central Australia.© ABC News The Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara [APY] Lands are in central Australia. Under a landmark 1981 law securing their land rights, traditional owners of the APY Lands have the right to determine who accesses their lands, with the APY executive board responsible for the administration of the law.

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The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) is a non-departmental public body of the Home Office of the United Kingdom. The DBS enables organisations in the public, private and voluntary sectors to make safer recruitment decisions by identifying candidates who may be unsuitable for certain work

However, amid claims in 2010 service providers were experiencing delays or denials of permit applications, the State Government introduced a by-law that eased entry requirements for federal police, federal ministers, public servants, and journalists.

At the time, the then Aboriginal affairs minister Grace Portolesi said the changes were "driven and drafted by the APY executives".

The ABC sought comment from Premier Steven Marshall, who is now responsible for Aboriginal affairs, about allegations the by-law had been breached.

In response, a State Government spokesperson said "the matter has not previously been brought to the attention of the Premier because the administration of permits for access to the lands is a matter for the APY executive board and not the State Government".

APY executive board minutes from August state that APY wrote to the Premier about proposed changes to rules governing access to the lands.

Continued controversy over administration of APY Lands

Revelations over the stand-off between the APY executive and the DHS follow continued controversy over the administration of the APY Lands, including recent adverse findings about Mr King's conduct.

The complaint included Mr King's decision to lodge a Supreme Court challenge against Mr Adamson and ombudsman Wayne Lines regarding an investigation into the functioning of the APY executive.

The independent investigation ordered by Mr Marshall recommended Aboriginal leaders consider suspending Mr King — a recommendation that was ultimately rejected by the APY executive.

Mr King was first appointed as the general manager of the APY Lands in 2015, following a revolving door of general managers, with eight appointed over the course of five years.

He was recently reappointed to his role for a three-year term.

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