An Aboriginal health leader has expressed reservations about what the ACT's new Drug and Alcohol Court will mean for Aboriginal people in its initial stages, as the wait for a culturally appropriate residential rehabilitation facility in Canberra continues.
Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service chief executive Julie Tongs said she fully supported the idea of the new court because "what we've been doing doesn't work, and we need to try new things".
"All we've got is a whole lot of young people in juvenile detention," Ms Tongs said.
"Then these young people, when they turn 18, they end up in the [Alexander Maconochie Centre]."
But Ms Tongs said while the ACT still had no culturally appropriate drug rehabilitation facilities, it was unclear how the court would work for Aboriginal people in the first instance.
The Drug and Alcohol Court - which is part of the ACT government's strategy to reduce recidivism by 25 per cent by 2025 - is expected to be operational before the end of 2019.
"It will be intensive work," Ms Tongs said.
"People are going to be court-ordered to do urine tests, possibly two or three times a week, and access other services.
"Canberra hasn't got the best public transport, and unless you've got family that can actually support you to get there, or you've got services that provide that intensive support, I'm just concerned that vulnerable people may not get an opportunity."
Ms Tongs said the ACT desperately needed a residential drug rehabilitation facility for Aboriginal people.
At present, she said most Aboriginal people seeking drug treatment went to facilities like Oolong House in Nowra and the Weigelli Centre in Cowra. Others would go to Kempsey or Sydney.
Ms Tongs said she knew of two or three Aboriginal people currently in mainstream rehabilitation in Canberra, but the vast majority went elsewhere.
"The problem is that when you send people to interstate rehab, they do really well, but then they come back here into the dysfunction, which sets them back," she said.
"[They go interstate] instead of being here, where we could try and build support around them and give them the skills to know where their pressure points are.
"There are lots of people in the community that need to access proper care before they end up incarcerated, particularly a lot of young people."
She said Winnunga was set to be involved in the initial stages of work on a new residential drug rehabilitation facility in Canberra, following the ACT government's announcement in the 2019-20 budget of $300,000 to begin co-designing and planning the facility.
Asked how that work was going, Ms Tongs said the health service was "still waiting on the contract".
She said drug addiction issues were "getting bigger and bigger", and the Aboriginal community could not afford another long wait for a residential rehabilitation facility.
Then-chief minister Jon Stanhope, who now works with Winnunga as an adviser, announced funding in 2007 to create the Ngunnawal Bush Healing Farm as an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-specific alcohol and drug residential rehabilitation facility.
But 10 years later, the ACT government claimed it was never intended for that purpose, and eventually the government decided to create a separate facility.
An ACT government spokesman said the Drug and Alcohol Court would aim to "achieve long-term behavioural change by taking a holistic and culturally appropriate therapeutic approach to offenders who have serious issues with drug and/or alcohol use".
He said the court would be able to include, as part of treatment orders, participation in a culturally appropriate rehabilitation program.
The spokesman said ACT Health was in discussions with Winnunga about a "comprehensive model of care" for a new facility.
"We anticipate this work will be completed mid-next year, with design and construction work to follow."