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More than 140 Aboriginal people have gained their drivers licence and New South Wales' (NSW) first Indigenous driving instructor, Bucky Robinson, is employed due to a free driving program provided by Adult Community Education (ACE) Community Colleges. Despite this success, and a national Crime and Violence Prevention Award, the Aboriginal driving programme, does not have consistent, secure funding.
Representatives from the Department of Attorney General and Justice visited the Lismore college and the Balund-a residential diversionary facility to hear first hand how the impressive program is improving many people's lives. The department's senior Aboriginal project officer, Jason Lonesborough, and two of his colleagues spent three days talking to people who had participated in the project.
‘The feedback we got was incredibly positive: there are some great stories,' he said. Mr Lonesborough has asked ACE Community Colleges to submit a business case and is hopeful for a positive response from the department for more funding. He is also keen to make the program available to others across the state in the future.
Driving instructor, Geoffrey McClelland, is clearly passionate about people getting their licence. Mr McClelland teaches Indigenous people to drive in Lismore and, as an outreach program, at Balund-a residential facility, travelling to the students, helping to break down isolation and reduce road offences by making the licence process accessible.
'Some students have been driving illegally for such a long time. Just knowing they are legal when they drive past the police is sort of unbelievable to them,' says Mr McClelland. 'Once they have a licence, they can get a job; they can start to live: they have independence, legally. It gives them satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment, of achievement. It builds their confidence up. There are so many reasons why it's important.'
Mr Lonesborough expects to have a clear idea about funding by April and Jan Levy, Outreach Programmes Coordinator from ACE Community Colleges, is waiting for a positive outcome for a program that she believes creates real and lasting change in Aboriginal communities.
‘This is an important program that makes people feel welcome, where we recognise Aboriginal people learn differently to others and can't always be expected to take part in the rat race. We're sensitive to that, it's a very culturally appropriate program,' Ms Levy said. 'We're hoping for at least three years of funding so we can really make an impact. The Road Traffic Authority and the Attorney General's office want to stop people going to jail, to stop the high rate of incarceration in this region, and, with funding, we can do that without a doubt. Plus we can put young people through our program and begin to break the cycle of re-offending and unnecessarily sending people to jail for traffic offences. These are not bad buggers. We're not talking about horrible crimes - a lot of the time they're driving just to fulfil family commitments.'
Source: The Northern Rivers Echo
Outreach Programmes Coordinator
ACE Community Colleges
59 Magellan Street
Lismore NSW 2480
PO Box 526
Ph: (02) 6621 6777
Mobile: 0429 423 116
Fax: (02) 6621 9917