Kerri Carr, Sue Clarke and David Condliffe. Photo: ANDREW PERRYMAN

ON his first trip to Australia, a New Yorker who has many years of service within the non-profit, law and public service sectors spanning across decades in the Big Apple, proclaims his family has much to thank Bendigo for.

David Condliffe is in Australia to present to social health professionals at a Sydney conference a model of housing “created over the last 30 years that we are now expanding and replicating, housing for people leaving criminal justice incarceration, it is transitional, supportive and
affordable”.

While in Bendigo, Mr Condliffe spoke to community health professionals here on behalf of the Center of Community Alternatives of which he is an executive director.

Afterwards, he visited the grave of his great grandfather Alfred Bell, who died in Bendigo in 1899 after working as a craftsman potter and foreman from the opening of Bendigo Pottery.

John Bell Condliffe, David’s grandfather, was born and spent his primary school years in Bendigo, and also expressed a clear memory of helping his mother Margaret deliver milk.

“His father was killed when he was only seven, but there was a parish that gave my great grandmother a milk truck and he remembered for four or five years his mother being a single woman with three boys and no income, delivering milk,” he said.

His mother remarried and the family moved to Christchurch where John Condliffe began what was to become an esteemed career in international economics.

“He was knighted by the queen for his contribution at the League of Nations and Bretton Woods, and United Nations and the World Monetary Fund, he was part of their formation. His education was thanks to Bendigo,” Mr Condliffe said.

Of his own work with the CCA, Mr Condliffe said it had come to be defined as a matter of civil and human rights because of the disproportionate number of people of colour who were incarcerated in the United States.

“I am quite concerned, and I think everybody here seems to be quite concerned, about the amount of Aboriginal incarceration (in Australia),” he said.

“So the question becomes, are there community alternatives that are pragmatic, more cost effective as well as reduce crime more effectively than incarceration, and that is really what my organisation is about.

“Certainly cost effectiveness makes a big difference when it comes to the government, but understanding that people’s first concern is public safety.

“We have come to say very clearly that incarceration by and large creates more trauma and creates more crime than it reduces crime, it satisfies a public thirst for vengeance and that is about all.”

Mr Condliffe referred to a project in Harlem which the community initially opposed.

“What we did was we have former incarcerated people meet people in the community and they learned to see them for who they are now not who they were when they committed the offence,” he said.

“They have now done many community benefit projects together, building community gardens together and they have a halloween celebration that people send their children to.

“It is a dramatic example of what was perceived as a threat to the community is now perceived as a prime asset.”– Sharon Kemp