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Indigenous affairs minister Mal Brough speaks -

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Indigenous affairs minister Mal Brough speaks to Insiders

Reporter: Barrie Cassidy

The Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, speaks to Insiders about this week's announcement
of a radical Federal Government response to child sex abuse in Aboriginal communities.

Transcript

BARRIE CASSIDY: And we'll go straight to our program guest now, the Minister for Indigenous
Affairs, Mal Brough who, along with the Prime Minister, announced the radical federal government
response to child sex abuse in Aboriginal communities.

Mal Brough joins us this morning from Sydney. Minister, good morning.

MAL BROUGH, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS: Thanks Barrie, good to be with you.

BARRIE CASSIDY: How quickly do you plan to move on this in an operation sense?

MAL BROUGH: Well I've had preliminary talks with defence because they are the ones that will
provide the logistical support for the police that will be coming out on the ground, or being
deployed on the ground. AFP, New South Wales and Victorian police have already committed a minimum
of ten troops, but the military will be paramount to be able to provide the communications and the
logistic support such as vehicles.

They will be ready to move the first elements of those early next week, so from tomorrow, so within
a couple of days from there. The AFP will be in the Northern Territory doing scoping work with
their NT counterparts, and from there, I expect to have troops deployed with the military, sorry,
military deployed with the police, within about a week's time.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And where will this activity happen tomorrow?

MAL BROUGH: Well look, Mutitjulu has of course been something of a hot spot, and we built a police
station there with federal government money, only to find that it wasn't occupied.

You may have seen the Lateline program last week, a caller from Mutitjulu saying that after the
Government lost its appeal in the courts about having an administrator, that elements were back
drinking, breaking into houses, threatening people again. So I want to have some sort of support
for those people in Mutitjulu as early as Monday or Tuesday of next week. I don't think its
feasible that I will be able to have a police presence, a strong police presence there, but showing
that we care and that we support them, and knowing that the police are only a matter of days away
will send a clear message to those elements that want to disrupt that community again.

It is a scared community, and it's one that deserves our support.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Well given that you feel there's a sense of urgency there, I guess you'll learn
something right off the back, depending on how it all goes there?

MAL BROUGH: Well that's right, and the difference there is that we actually have a police station
with accommodation and communications ready to go, but of course since we opened that police
station, it has not had an adequate police presence and quite often it has been closed.

So it sort of was almost living a lie to the people of Mutitjulu to put this bright shining new
police station, but not give them the human element that actually gave them the protection. So they
know now that we are serious, and that's the starting point.

We have a lot of area to cover. We have a meeting this morning with senior bureaucrats including
head of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Dr Shergold, here in Sydney, and we'll be fleshing out in great
detail what we need to do, the first steps which are all about stabilising these communities.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And of course the task group that will help oversee this, the magistrate Sue Gordon
is on it, who else should be part of that?

MAL BROUGH: Well over the weekend I have been contacting a number of people, and I can announce
this morning that we have two very key people coming on board: former Assistant Commissioner of the
AFP, Shane Castles, who just recently retired. He was the Commissioner in the Solomon Islands for
two years, he set up the international deployment forces for police. He is a man of great
experience and understanding of these sorts of issues. He has agreed to be on the task group and
will have a key role. And former AMA President, Dr Bill Glasson.

We've had a fair bit of commentary about the issue of health checks. He has also agreed to come on
board and his assistance will be invaluable.

BARRIE CASSIDY: What about your own Indigenous advisory group though? They don't seem to have been
involved in the run up from this. Will they be involved from now on?

MAL BROUGH: They were fully briefed at the same time we were announcing this. Sue Gordon and I had
briefed previously and taken her advice. Clearly they will be. I've also been in discussions since
with Noel Pearson and we will continue to deal with people, but people shouldn't get hung up about
leaders that are a long way away from what's occurring on the ground.

What we need to do here is to assure and reassure and engage with people on the ground who are
living these circumstances today. You only do that with face-to-face contact. That means us having
managers on the ground working with Indigenous communities and with the NT.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Quite apart from bringing those communities into it you're obviously trying to
build a bipartisan response to all of this. Would it have helped if you'd been the Federal
Opposition into it earlier? The first they knew of this was when we were watching your news
conference?

MAL BROUGH: No, I don't believe so. We are charged with being responsible for this nation as the
government of the day and the executive. We actually received this report officially only minutes
before we made our announcements and of course, we pulled it down off the net on the Friday.

Literally myself and the senior bureaucrats and my staff worked day and night to pull together this
initiative. I think that if we'd gone further afield, what we would've ended up with is a lot of
speculation, scaremongering and potentially not the magnitude of response that we've been able to
achieve here.

BARRIE CASSIDY: What about the Northern Territory Government? Obviously you were disappointed that
they hadn't responded to the report, but why didn't you go to them and say "This is what we have in
mind. Are you in or out"?

MAL BROUGH: We tried to contact the Chief Minister, both my office and the Prime Minister's...

BARRIE CASSIDY: There was only one attempt, I think.

MAL BROUGH: That was unsuccessful. But let's just be realistic about this. When I raised these
issues more than 12 months ago, it was said in the media or said in the media by the Chief Minister
and her other ministers that I was grandstanding, put up or shut up, there's two comments that come
to mind. They reluctantly came to our summit.

They refused to provide even the most minor detail about the disposition of their police numbers,
which was for our independent police investigation run by Mr Valentine. All of things could've
helped and would've shown the NT was serious about this.

I don't believe they really accepted the depth and breadth of this problem. Today they do and I'm
only too willing to work with the Chief Ministers and all of her ministers and we had a hook up
tomorrow morning with three of them.

MAL BROUGH: But the did commission this report after all. In some of the correspondence that's gone
backwards and forwards between your office and the NT government, it's pretty clear that they
support a lot of these initiatives?

MAL BROUGH: They do now, that's right. Let's go back a little way. 15 months ago, there were two
police in Wadeye, and the Chief Minister stood next to me in a press conference and said "That's
quite adequate." At the time there were 300 people rioting, 25 houses destroyed, a man had been
speared in the leg and that was ongoing.

Today Wadeye is a much safer, more secure, happier community. It has a long way to go. That was
done without some of these other initiatives such as the welfare reform we will be bringing in
place. In Galawinku, I was told when I first came on board that there was no need for police there,
it was a safe community. A community of 3,000 people, Barrie, with not one policeman. Today the NT
says it's their highest priority and the Commonwealth Government will pay for a police station,
three police houses and a police launch.

That's the sort of distance we've come, but quite frankly, it was at a snail's pace if you're
really going to make a difference for those children on the ground. Those children may be getting
helped in those two communities, but we're talking about at least another 60 communities. How long
would it have taken for us to roll out the initiatives necessary to make a difference in their
lives and protect them?

BARRIE CASSIDY: Let's go through some of the practicalities of it all now. We'll start with the ban
on alcohol. Is there a danger, and Peter Beattie has pointed to this, that they will simply move on
to Alice Springs and Darwin as they did in Cairns when a similar situation was introduced in
Queensland?

MAL BROUGH: Well Peter Beattie has it wrong on two accounts. One, he has been long and loud saying,
"This is just six months, it's just to get you past an election." Our commitment is to make these
commitments, these legislative changes, for a period of six months or until such time as the NT
government can demonstrate that they are actually stopping the rivers of grog. Not just laws,
because they have laws in some of these places, but actually having them policed.

Secondly, he's right that people can move. But we're also, by restricting the amount of cash
available, that effectively restricts people's capacity to buy alcohol and to buy drugs, and
finally, the flaw in the Far North Queensland, with his alcohol management plans, is that you can
drive down to Cairns or Cooktown, put a pallet of alcohol on the back of the ute, not show any
identification and drive straight back to the Cape. That's exactly what happens. And that's why
we've had this implemented entirely across the entire area of the NT.

BARRIE CASSIDY: The permit system now, some communities fear that with this free access to a lot of
these towns, they'll bring with them a fresh amount of problems?

MLA BROUGH: Well, I mean, that is just absolute garbage. Let me just tell you what actually
happened during the consultation. People were sitting around being told in public that the permit
system needs to stay. And you know, the notes were taken. At the conclusion of those meetings not
on one occasion but numerous occasions the same people would come up to the people doing the
consultation, and say "Look, I can't say this publicly, but privately, this thing's got to go. The
reason is because there is too much fear and intimidation here and the permit system is aiding
that." In one community it was made very clear that the white workers, the teachers and doctors,
felt so intimidated that if they spoke up, they would be removed or their right to a permit would
be removed.

Now, even if it's not possible because teachers don't require permits it's the fear factor. So if
you've had paedophiles, alcohol, petrol sniffing and drugs running in with a permit system, and
that has been the only protection instead of police, isn't it time that we actually protected those
children with real police forces rather than an inadequate piece of paper?

BARRIE CASSIDY: And on the quarantining of the welfare, the 50 per cent quarantining for
essentials, are you thinking about applying that across the board?

MAL BROUGH: The Prime Minister has made it clear that I will be back in Cabinet in a couple of
weeks. On another morning program on a Sunday about 15 months ago, I flagged this idea, that I felt
that any parent throughout this nation that is abusing their children, neglecting their child, by
not using the financial assistance that the taxpayer provides to benefit that child, we should be
looking after the child's interest. If it's going on drugs, alcohol or gambling, then that's
inappropriate.

So I have been working with the State Governments on a range of issues to do with school
attendance, as well as those that have been in contact with their child protection agencies. And I
will be taking some of these issues to Cabinet in less than a fortnight.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Isn't that problem here whether it's in a black or white community, if people turn
up with food stamps they might as well have branded all over them 'irresponsible parent'?

MAL BROUGH: Well if they are irresponsible parents, what's more important? The child or the
parent's state of mind? If you're not actually providing clothing or housing for your child, but
not quite seriously enough for the child protection services to remove you, shouldn't we do all you
can? On the stigma issue. If you go to America, even aged pensioners over there have food stamps as
they are known, but they are an electronic EFTPOS system which has no stigma attached to it. It
only allows those people with that sort of income support to have those items paid for by the
welfare.

I'm not suggesting this for aged pensioners. It's for parents that are doing the wrong thing by
their children and we have a responsibility to do what we can to give those kid as better chance.

BARRIE CASSIDY: On compulsory health examinations for kids under 16, what do you do if the parents
refuse, because presumably these examinations will be quite invasive?

MAL BROUGH: A lot of people seem to have been pointing to that these are somehow just genitalia
type examinations. That's wrong. The AMA has stated for a long time that there needs to be a much
greater emphasis on health and well being of Indigenous people. It starts with the children. It
starts with knowing their entire health needs. This is a health check for children across the board
per se.

Now, why would people refuse to have their ear, nose and throat checked, their heart, their well
being, all of the other issues that that go with good health? They'd only do that if they're
intimidated, if they're concerned about what might come up. We won't be doing these checks until we
have secured the environment, people feel confidence that there won't be retribution if their child
actually participates in a check.

And we will be very conscious of the issues of culture and the other issues associated with
obviously any medical intervention.

BARRIE CASSIDY: The Catholic Bishop of Darwin, Ted Collins, said overnight, "Don't go into this
with a bully boy attitude." What would your response be?

MAL BROUGH: I agree with him entirely. Some people have tried to paint this as a bullyboy. A
bullyboy is a standover merchant, not someone that stands by you and protecting you and looks after
your child. What I'm looking for here is a group of people, some of whom will be volunteers, who
will actually work to help their fellow Australians to actually get out of the circumstances that
they're in, and most importantly, by keeping the focus on the child, and the life that we want
these young Australian children to have, the I think we can galvanise the Australian... the whole
Australian nation to do their bit to see a better future. I think that's what everyone wants,
that's not about being a bullyboy, that's about giving a hand up.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Have you taken advice on this, are you satisfied none of this will be in breach of
the Racial Discrimination Act?

MAL BROUGH: I don't pretend to be a lawyer but we've had advice by eminent QCs, the AG's department
and I'm totally convinced that everything we're doing is within the Constitution and we have the
powers to enact the laws we've proposed.

BARRIE CASSIDY: It's also in your constitutional powers because of the referendum in 1967 is it
not, for you broaden this out and implement this in the States. You don't need to wait on the
Premiers?

MAL BROUGH: Look, I've heard that said twice now. I haven't taken advice on that at this point. I'm
acting mostly under Section 122 of the Constitution, which gives the Commonwealth the powers to act
in Territories. It's an interesting concept that you raise. I have been very disappointed,
disgusted in fact, in New South Wales' inaction on its reports for the last nine months.

You only have to talk to the leaders in the Cape to know this is not isolated to the NT, and
Kalambura with 13 males out of a population of 90 being charged in the last two months with child
sex offences points the finger right across this nation. It is not just the NT.

And I'm hopeful that this will be the bunger underneath some governments to actually act, if you
like, in the most decisive manner. They can see the public will support them. There won't be any
sort of push back, but they want genuine engagement and they want a genuine attempt to overcome the
problems that these families and children are dealing with on a daily basis.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Minister, thanks for your time this morning.

MAL BROUGH: Thanks, Barrie.

(c) 2007 ABC