A Tasmanian teenager says he’s still trying to get over the six months he spent at a Northern Territory program for troubled kids run by Allan Brahminy.
- Tasmania is the only state currently sending children to a program for troubled youth run by Allan Brahminy in the remote NT
- Mr Brahminy claims to have been abandoned as a baby and adopted by an Aboriginal family, but multiple people have challenged that story
- Tasmania’s Department of Communities is reviewing the program in light of recent claims, but the Minister said the program is working well
The program is located on a remote property near Batchelor, about 122 kilometres from Darwin, and Tasmania is the only state sending children there.
Last week, the ABC revealed allegations that Mr Brahminy had fabricated a story about being adopted by an Aboriginal family as a baby.
A number of Tasmanian children who had attended the program also made claims of mistreatment when they misbehaved.
Luke*, who is now 17, said he attended the program in 2018.
“I would have preferred to be in the Risdon Prison as a 12-year-old child,” he said.
When Sharon saw her ex on TV, she was ‘horrified’
Allan Brahminy claims he was abandoned on a riverbank as a baby and adopted by an Indigenous family, but there are accusations he is not who he says he is.
The teenager, who is on a care and protection order, said he was not sent to the NT due to violence or bad behaviour, but because he had declined a group home placement.
Luke said his mother couldn’t care for him and his father was out of the picture.
He claims if he misbehaved he was mistreated, verbally abused, scruffed and pushed around, and made to sit in isolation on a milk crate for hours of end.
“Anger would most likely be the normal trait for Allan Brahminy on most days,” Luke said.
The teenager said he could not believe the Tasmanian Government was not bringing home the six children who remain in the program despite all the allegations.
“It’s just horrifying that they’re still up there,” Luke said.
The ABC has made numerous attempts to put the claims about the program and his identity to Mr Brahminy, who declined to comment.
On Friday, Tasmania’s Human Services Minister Roger Jaensch gave his first interview on the complaints about Mr Brahminy’s program and the accusation he’d fabricated his Aboriginal origin story.
He told ABC Radio the program was working well.
“The program run by Allan Brahminy and his organisation has been getting results for these kids where other programs have failed,” he said.
“We’ve got to stay focused on what’s in the best interests of the children and there’s six young Tasmanians up there right now who my department staff have visited within the last month who are safe and well.”
He said the complaints had been made by former participants.
“As I understand it they’re not necessarily relating to kids that are there right now,” he said.
He said the Government was, however, taking the allegations at face value and investigating them thoroughly.
Mother outraged by Minister’s comments
A Hobart mother, whose son is on a care and protection order and has been in Mr Brahminy’s program for more than 18 months, said she was outraged.
Sarah*, whose real name cannot be used, said she was notified in February that a care concern investigation had been launched by the Director of the Child Safety Service, looking into the use of restraint, general care and wellbeing, and access to family and privacy for each child.
“I feel like the minister is trying to say my concerns aren’t valid,” she said.
She said she was angry the children were not being brought home while the review was underway.
Sarah said she could not believe the accusations about Mr Brahminy’s past would not be reviewed by the Tasmanian Government.
“That’s not OK, it’s shocking to be quite honest,” she said.
The Department of Communities said the program was reviewed independently of government in 2017, and again in December 2019 by Tasmania’s Child Advocate to ensure it was adequately meeting the needs of the young people who engaged with it.
In a new statement over the weekend, Mr Jaensch said: “Without clear evidence to the contrary, removing these children from the program would involve returning them to other forms of care that have not worked for them in the past, which would not be in their best interest.”
Former manager backs program but feels betrayed
Dan Punnell from Queensland said he was drawn to Mr Brahminy’s program in 2009, with the hopes of making a difference.
He had no prior professional experience in youth work, but said he very quickly progressed to manager.
“It was a very raw program without a lot of technical things, it was more about getting the kids out in the bush, getting back to basics and in that remote setting was really the big drawcard and working with the extreme-needs kids,” he said.
He believes the program was working when he was there 11 years ago.
“I can’t comment on what’s happened since then, but definitely while I was there, the program I saw I truly believe in,” he said.
He still backs the wilderness model and believes it can work.
But, Mr Punnell said he left the program after about nine months due to concerns about a lack of staff and Mr Brahminy.
“I had a bit of resistance from Allan, he didn’t like people visiting very often, he didn’t like to talk to the government agencies very much and that’s what had me doubting the longevity of the program,” Mr Punnell said.
He described recent allegations about Mr Brahminy fabricating his Aboriginal heritage as appalling.
“I was dumbfounded and I actually felt a little bit betrayed, and I’ve spoken to some of the other people who were there at the time, and we all have the same sort of feeling of betrayal,” he said.
“We were led up the garden path in terms of the credibility of Allan.”
*Names have been changed for legal reasons