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Operation Flinders

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY ( 15:35 ):

I rise to speak about Operation Flinders, which is an organisation that works with at-risk youths. Operation Flinders was established in 1991 and has engaged with over 7,000 participants over its 25 years of operation. Fourteen to 18 year olds who may leave school or engage in criminal offending, drug and/or alcohol abuse and self-harm are identified as being at risk and nominated for the program.

Groups of eight to 10 participants undertake an eight-day trek through the Northern Flinders Ranges, during which time they will cover over 100 kilometres. They are required to carry a 10 to 15 kilogram pack, which includes their food, shelter and sleeping gear. They are supported by a team leader, assistant team leader and two support staff who are often already known to the participants.

Some teams are also supported by a peer group mentor, who are young people who participated in previous exercises and have been identified as having leadership skills. These young people are invited back to assist with future exercises and sometimes act as a crucial buffer between the young people and the leadership team.

For most participants, the experience is something completely foreign to them. Many have not been exposed to the wilderness before and are pushed out of their comfort zone to improve or discover their confidence, self-esteem, respect, discipline and even cooking skills. This is not done through punishment or a boot camp type of environment but rather through positive experiences, teamwork, responsibility, encouragement and a sense of achievement. Five operations are run each year, with approximately 40 base and field support staff, including two exercise commanders, South Australian ambulance paramedics, communications, logistics and operations officers, cooks, drivers and a general hand.

It is worthwhile noting that Operation Flinders has over 400 volunteers without which the program could not run. They are some of the most skilled and passionate volunteers I have ever encountered and are a credit to the organisation. Team leaders are highly skilled in bush survival and navigational techniques, which are then passed on to participants. Most importantly, team leaders are given training to support young people with the emotional and psychological effects of the program.

A relatively new initiative is the ReBoot program, which is a partnership between the state government, Hyper, Red Cross and Operation Flinders. ReBoot sees young people who have had interactions with the juvenile justice system undertake the exercise with the hope that it will act as a diversion program to direct them away from criminal behaviour. I am pleased to hear that the five ReBoot participants from this most recent exercise were reported to have been engaging well with the program and demonstrated some of the best behavioural turnarounds from the participants.

Independent studies have shown that Operation Flinders is meeting its objective is a crime prevention strategy. The cost of funding a participant, which is approximately $3,300, is considerably less than the cost of incarceration, which is approximately $200,000 per year. Clearly, this is a good investment not only in a financial sense but also for the community to have positive members of society.

Operation Flinders would not be able to exist without the generosity of their sponsors, supporters and the state government. I strongly encourage everyone to support them where they can. I congratulate everyone involved in Operation Flinders, from the participants, volunteers and staff to the sponsors and supporters. I hope this fantastic program continues to have the support of the government for many years to come.