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Monday, 15 September 2003
Page: 20046


Mr QUICK (4:55 PM) —Thirteen days ago I received an unexpected email from my brother who lives in New Jersey. I say that it was unexpected because he usually only contacts me about something of some significance. His email said:

Hi Ace, I have just sent an article from The Courier Mail that I read the other day, I was appalled by the story, having been involved with the island and people for so long we still try to keep up with the news from the area. I knew that things were bad but not that bad. I wonder what a Federal member of parliament, opposition or government thinks when a story like that bounces around the world, isn't it a part of the Governments responsibility to care for the welfare of its citizens regardless of their colour or race, as the expression goes in this country “ someone needs to step up to the plate”.

With the wonders of modern technology, I accessed the Courier Mail. Being from Tasmania I do not get to read it very often. I was appalled to read the article of 30 August 2003 headed `Next stop jail for child'. The article says:

A 13-month-old boy has been sent to jail because there is no safe place for him in his home town.

Mornington Island is so dangerous mothers in fear of their lives inside their houses and even at the women's shelter routinely put their children under street lights in the hope they will be safe.

Every child on Mornington was in urgent need of abuse rehabilitation, local MP and Police Minister Tony McGrady was told at a recent meeting of the Island's Community Justice Group.

Mornington Island, in the Gulf of Carpentaria almost 1900km north of Brisbane, is one of 20 remote indigenous communities crippled by alcohol-fuelled violence.

What has this got to do with my brother? Well, a few years ago he spent 14 years on the island as the person in charge of all the construction and maintenance on the island. He lived there with his wife, Sue, and their four children. He was determined that I should investigate this matter. The article goes on:

The 13-month-old, called Jarvin, was sent to Townsville's Stuart Creek prison on Thursday to share a cell with his mother.

She was jailed in April for 15 months for attacking another islander with a chair.

Jarvin's father is also in jail and his extended family is already overburdened with caring for other children.

Little Jarvin was handed from family to family before the Justice Group decided to send him to join his mother.

The Families Department has not been involved because there has been no dispute over custody. Jarvin briefly stayed with the only accredited foster carers on the island, Michael and Helen Rosser, but they already have 13 children in their three-bedroom house - 10 of them foster children. There is no full-time social worker.

Lawyer and Justice Group co-ordinator Meg Frisby said island children lived in fear.

“Do Queenslanders know that we have `lamp post children'—

an expression I have never heard before—

children as young as three sleeping under lit areas so that they are not sexually abused or beaten?” she said.

... ... ...

A Corrective Services spokesman said there were four children in the Stuart Creek prison. They either stayed with their mothers in a larger secure cell or in a special family house in the open custody area. It is understood Jarvin was taken to the family house with access to a playground.

The article goes on to say:

Almost 10 per cent of Mornington Island's population is in jail or on community service orders. As of last week, 28 men and women from Mornington were in Stuart Creek jail. At least 20 other Mornington men were in other prisons. A further 54 were on community work orders.

And here is the bit that really stumped me:

The population of around 1000 spend almost $5 million a year on beer at the council-owned canteen. A staggering 20,000 cans of beer are delivered each week.

Why do I raise this issue, apart from giving my brother some satisfaction that I am a hardworking member of the House of Representatives? I raise it because I was part of the Standing Committee on Family and Community Affairs that produced what is regarded as a blueprint for Indigenous health, and that is Health is life: Report on the inquiry into Indigenous health. The foreword to this report says:

In Aboriginal society there is no word, term or expression for `health' as it is understood in Western society ... The word as it is used in Western society almost defies translation but the nearest translation in an Aboriginal context would probably be a term such as `life is health is life'.

The foreword continues:

The continuing poor state of Indigenous health, and the many efforts of successive governments to address the issue, has seemingly left a nation at a loss to know what to do for the best on this issue. The Committee believes that many of the difficulties come down to these differing world views about health, about how it should be defined and about the sorts of services needed for good health.

We brought down 35 recommendations because the issue is so important. Recommendation 1 says:

The Commonwealth accept it has the major responsibility for the provision of primary health care to Indigenous Australians:

the Commonwealth must assume responsibility for developing, in collaboration with the States and Territories, an efficient, coordinated and effective mechanism for the delivery of services and programs which impact on the health and well-being of the Indigenous population.

In the first chapter there is a quote from The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, whose submission we received. The report stated:

Mental health and emotional well-being, is another major challenge facing the Indigenous community. It is linked to:

... the loss of loved ones, childhood trauma, alcohol and drug related misery, violence, ongoing racism, stereotyping and discrimination, and the accumulated loss of two hundred and eleven years of cultural destruction and dispossession.

The report goes on to look at the question of how we compare with other countries. It says:

The poor health status of Indigenous Australians stands in stark contrast to that of the Indigenous populations of New Zealand, Canada and the United States.

All reports are the result of the tireless work of the committees involved. This committee has just released a wonderful report on substance abuse, which took us three years to complete. I note that the member for Blair, Mr Cameron Thompson, who is in the chamber, was part of that inquiry. We expect governments not to shelve these reports or put them away as part of a collection but to work on implementing the recommendations. One of our recommendations was that there should be a capacity for reporting back to the House—not only for this government and this parliament but also for state and territory parliaments, who have joint responsibility for the Indigenous people in their territories and states. This report was brought down three years ago. My brother asked, `Ace, what is happening?' This story is circulating on the Net and going around Australia. We now have a new type of child: a lamppost child.

I do not wish to cast aspersions on the people of Mornington Island—I think I have visited just about every Aboriginal community in my 11 years in this place either as a member of the House of Representatives Committee on Family and Committee Affairs, as deputy chair of the House of Representatives Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs and as a two-term member of the Joint Standing Committee on Native Title and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Fund. I realise that there are huge problems facing our Indigenous brothers and sisters. But, surely to goodness, we have to look at this issue and come up with some serious recommendations to be implemented right now—not in three or five years down the track. We have Commonwealth and state ministers saying, `It's your responsibility; it's not ours.' We have people, Pontius Pilate like, washing their hands of this issue. Children as young as 13 months old are having to spend time in jail with their mothers because the system is absolutely stuffed. I am appalled and horrified. That is why I have raised this issue in the House today. It is pleasing to note that this is being broadcast around Australia, and I hope that someone somewhere will take up the challenge to address this issue immediately.