National emergency response to protect Aboriginal children in the NT
Press release from The Hon Mal Brough MP, Australian Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs.
In response to the national emergency confronting the welfare of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory, the Australian Government today announced immediate, broad ranging measures to stabilise and protect communities in the crisis area.
The immediate nature of the Australian Government’s response reflects the very first recommendation of the Little Children are Sacred report into the protection of Aboriginal children from child abuse in the Northern Territory which said: “That Aboriginal child sexual abuse in the Northern territory be designated as an issue of urgent national significance by both the Australian and Northern Territory Governments….”
All action at the national level is designed to ensure the protection of Aboriginal children from harm.
The emergency measures to protect children being announced today are a first step that will provide immediate mitigation and stabilising impacts in communities that will be prescribed by the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.
The measures include:
- Introducing widespread alcohol restrictions on Northern Territory Aboriginal land.
- Introducing welfare reforms to stem the flow of cash going toward substance abuse and to ensure funds meant to be for children’s welfare are used for that purpose
- Enforcing school attendance by linking income support and family assistance payments to school attendance for all people living on Aboriginal land and providing meals for children at school at parents’ cost
- Introducing compulsory health checks for all Aboriginal children to identify and treat health problems and any effects of abuse
- Acquiring townships prescribed by the Australian Government through five year leases including payment of just terms compensation
- As part of the immediate emergency response, increasing policing levels in prescribed communities, including requesting secondments from other jurisdictions to supplement NT resources, funded by the Australian Government.
- Requiring intensified on ground clean up and repair of communities to make them safer and healthier by marshalling local workforces through work-for-the-dole
- Improving housing and reforming community living arrangements in prescribed communities including the introduction of market based rents and normal tenancy arrangements
- Banning the possession of X-rated pornography and introducing audits of all publicly funded computers to identify illegal material
- Scrapping the permit system for common areas, road corridors and airstrips for prescribed communities on Aboriginal land, and;
- Improving governance by appointing managers of all government business in prescribed communities
The national emergency response will be overseen by a Taskforce of eminent Australians, including logistics and other specialists as well as child protection experts. Magistrate Sue Gordon, chair of the National Indigenous Council and author of the 2002 Gordon Report into Aboriginal child abuse in Western Australia has agreed to take a leadership role on the Taskforce.
The issue will be placed on the agenda for next week’s meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee on the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) to formally refer the issue to the ACC to allow it to identify and locate perpetrators of sexual abuse of Indigenous children in other areas of Australia. If required, a special sitting of Parliament in July will consider legislation to implement the Australian Government measures.
The Northern Territory Government will be expected to:
- Increase its efforts and resources to ensure the servicing and protection of its citizen in the range of areas of State and Territory responsibility and support, within the scope of its resources, the national emergency response
- Develop a comprehensive strategy to tackle the ’rivers of grog’ across the Territory
- Resume all special leases over town camps in the major urban areas where lease conditions have been breached. The Australian Government will act in this area if the NTG fails to do so
- Remove customary law as a mitigating factor for sentencing and bail conditions
The situation facing children in Indigenous communities is a national emergency and the immediate action of the Australian Government is an appropriate response to the crisis highlighted by the Little Children are Sacred report.