July 20, 2016

Day 1006 – The outback

So, after six weeks of job hunting I managed to land not one but two jobs.  I got a position as a crisis worker for an organisation in Canberra and a counsellor position for an organisation in Alice Springs.  Both were a little different but equally rewarding and unique. I was torn between the two and understood that there was no wrong decision; I could choose either and would benefit greatly.  Canberra appealed to me because I have two friends there so I would have somewhere to stay but more importantly I would be amongst some familiar faces.  On the other hand, Alice Springs offered the outback experience.  Whilst I had heard a great deal about Alice and I met many backpackers who ventured out there, I had not had the chance yet.  I had some friends point out how Alice Springs was the real Australia and my experience there would be very different to any other city in Australia. It was hard for me because up until this point, I had never been offered two positions at the same time.  So, I was left in a rather unique position, one which I was not familiar with.


After some analysing and deep thinking, I decided to take the position in Alice Springs.  I had some friends who were more excited than me than I was heading to the red dirt centre.  Other friends were worried I would struggle in the outback as, according to them, there was little to do.  I have very few friends who have ventured to Alice so, their opinions were more based on hearsay and material they had read. I wasn’t too worried about Alice being a small town as I lived in Encarnacion for ten months and loved it.  I don’t have to live in large cities which, yes have a buzz and energy to them but also tend to be busy and have a faster pace of life. I much rather smaller towns which, tend to have a slower pace, are less busy, have a community spirit and appreciate the little things in life that sometimes go a miss in large cities. I decided to venture to Alice as I was keen to live and work in the outback.  I have been fortunate enough to have visited many cities but none really compare to the outback.


When I accepted the position in Alice Spring, the CEO of the organisation explained that the town was very different to other cities in Australia and I should expect the unexpected.  She informed me how in the northern territory, domestic and family violence was higher than any other state in Australia.  Furthermore, she explained that their client group was more Aboriginal and Indigenous women as opposed to white Australians and that many of these women slept rough.  I felt my previous role had prepared me and developed my understanding of Aboriginal culture.  I wasn’t however prepared for Alice being a police state.  I wasn’t aware of the large divide between Aboriginals and white Australians.  The divide was far more evident in Alice as was the discrimination numerous Aboriginals experienced.


What I struggled with most was the fact that police are prosecutors in court.  I was later informed that in several parts of Australia, such as Melbourne for example, police officers are prosecutors in court. This didn’t sit right with me as back home, we have the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) which, is very different and independent form the police force.  The CPS presents cases in court and most if not all have a legal background.  I came to learn that not all police officers who are employed as prosecutors in parts of Australia, have a legal background or understanding.  I believe it is imperative to be legally trained and qualified to prosecute a case in court.  I feel without such a base it is not possible to do justice to the position.  More so, if police arrested suspects, then charge them and prosecute them; then they may as well be the judge.  The lines are already blurred and given police want to increase their conviction rate, of course they will prosecute suspects with vigour.  And this arguably can be great for victims however, it becomes difficult when a victim wants to drop/withdraw charges and does not support the prosecution.

In addition, I struggled to come to terms with mandatory reporting.  As an independent domestic violence advocate for three years in West London, we didn’t have this scheme so the women we worked with were under no pressure to disclose incidents to the police.  In Alice though, if she is in immediate risk of further abuse or if someone is likely to cause harm to someone else, then we have a responsibility to report this.  So not just workers, practitioners but also friends and family members.  As a counsellor, I imagine women would not disclose all of what their experienced as I appreciate many do not wish to have police involvement.  I understand the benefits of mandatory reporting and accept her safety is paramount however, it also prevents women from disclosing incidents.  This was the first time for me as a worker to work under such legislation and I knew it would be hard.


Whilst back home we have a Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC), here in Alice, I came to learn about the Family Safety Framework (FSF). Both appeared to be similar and in essence had the same purpose however, I came to learn of the many shortcomings of the FSF.  Perhaps if this is further developed and chaired by an independent worker as opposed to police, it would be more beneficial.  I understood the importance of MARAC and the difference it made to a case and I feel that this could achieved with the FSF in Alice.


I realised upon accepting the position at Alice and starting work that my experience would for sure be very different to my previous experiences.  I welcomed this and embraced the differences as much as possible for how often is it that one is employed as a counsellor in the outback?