Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Fed Govt plans radical overhaul of Aboriginal -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

Fed Govt plans radical overhaul of Aboriginal townships

Reporter: Michael Brissenden

After years of alarming reports and horrifying anecdotal evidence, the Prime Minister today
declared the welfare of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory a national emergency, and
proposed a radical plan to solve it. The Federal Government response follows the report into the
sexual abuse of Aboriginal children released last week and picks up on the persistent calls from
some Indigenous voices for action to end passive welfare and break the cycle of despair in remote
communities. The federal plan will see widespread alcohol restrictions, the quarantining of some
welfare and federal aquisition of Aboriginal townships. The plan has been supported by Labor leader
Kevin Rudd.

Transcript

KERRY O'BRIEN: After years of alarming reports and horrifying anecdotal evidence, the Prime
Minister today declared the welfare of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory a national
emergency and proposed a radical plan to solve it. The Federal Government response follows the
report into the sexual abuse of Aboriginal children released last week in the Northern Territory
and picks up on the persistent calls from some Indigenous voices for action to end passive welfare
and break the cycle of despair in remote communities

The federal plan will see widespread alcohol restrictions, the quarantining of some welfare and
federal acquisition of Aboriginal townships. The plan has been supported by the Labor leader Kevin
Rudd. The Commonwealth says it expects the Northern Territory and even state governments to
cooperate. Political editor Michael Brissenden reports.

MANTATJARA WILSON, June 2006: I know that man sells petrol to children. This huge problem wasn't
started by the children. The problem was started by the people who sell petrol to get children
started on petrol sniffing and then to induce them to have sex with them for it.

JANE LLOYD, NPY WOMEN'S COUNCIL: They also target children who do not have strong families, who
come from dysfunctional families, so these men are not going to be challenged by the fathers, by
the uncles of these children.

JOHN HOWARD, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: Mr Brough and I have called this news conference to
announce a number of major measures to deal with what we could only describe as a national
emergency in relation to the abuse of children in Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: As the Prime Minister says, the response is dramatic and significant, it is
perhaps the most significant Commonwealth initiative in Indigenous affairs since Mabo. It comes in
response to the report into sexual abuse of Indigenous children.

The report titled "Little Children are Sacred", released last week, found abuse of children as
young as three was rampant.

Girls were bribed with drugs, children were found to be acting out scenes from pornographic films.
It described a horrific cycle of abuse fuelled by a river of grog.

PAT ANDERSON, REPORT CO-AUTHOR: It's killing people, spiritually, physically, psychologically,
there's a total breakdown in families when people are sort of drunk most of the time and everyone
around them, and children are not safe.

Where those conditions prevail, we know from the literature and certainly from our findings, where
there's unemployment, poverty, alcoholism, drug-taking, over-crowding, unemployment, you can
guarantee that those children at some point are going to be severely at risk and eventually going
to be sexually abused or abused in some way. The end of the final degradation of course, is sexual
abuse of children.

JOHN HOWARD: The duty of care to the young of this country is paramount and nobody who has any
acquaintance with that report could be other than appalled by its contents, appalled by what it
reveals, appalled by the cumulative neglect of many over a long period of time and frustrated in
the extreme of the inability of governments to come to terms with an effective response to deal
with this problem.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The federal response is extensive. It includes a widespread ban of the sale,
possession, transportation and consumption of alcohol in prescribed areas for an initial period of
six months.

The introduction of compulsory health checks for all Aboriginal children. A complete ban on x-rated
pornography, government income support and family assistance payments will be linked to school
attendance and 50 per cent of any government payments will be quarantined, in order to stem the
flow of cash going towards alcohol abuse.

The current permit system will be scrapped in some areas, and all the Aboriginal town camps will be
resumed by the Federal Government with special five-year leases.

JOHN HOWARD: It is interventionist. It does push aside the role of the Territory to some degree. I
accept that. But what matters more, the constitutional niceties, or the care and protection of
young children?

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The Federal Government says it's decided to act because the Territory
Government hasn't, even though the Territory administration has had the "Little Children Are
Sacred" report for more than eight weeks now.

This afternoon the Northern Territory's Chief Minister welcomed the Federal Government
intervention.

CLARE MARTIN, NORTHERN TERRITORY CHIEF MINISTER: But if you look at what the Prime Minister said in
the Parliament, he's called on all states, all premiers who have similar issues they're facing with
sexual abuse of Aboriginal children in remote communities, he's looking at everyone to take action.

And he did say in the Federal Parliament that we're taking some actions in the Northern Territory
because we can constitutionally. So we accept that, we accept it. It's a fact of life for the
Territory. We had our nuclear waste legislation overridden just last year. It's a fact of life for
the Northern Territory. I've got to be bigger than that. And what I've got to say is this is an
issue I want to tackle. We're committed to tackling and I'll work with the Federal Government in
any way that is practical and effective.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But not everyone in the Territory is happy.

CHARLIE KING, NORTHERN TERRITORY ADVISORY COUNCIL ON CHILD PROTECTION: I mean, this is another
attack on Aboriginal people. This is big stick approach that they've been worrying about for some
time. They trusted the Northern Territory Government to do something about that report. They gave
from their hearts, Aboriginal people. They sat down and they gave so much to that inquiry and a
great report was written about the inquiry.

There was much hope amongst Aboriginal people that something would be done. It took so long for it
to actually happen. This gave the opportunity for the Federal Government to storm in and they've
done just that.

And I think we'll see an uprising from Aboriginal people here. It'll be built on the fact that
their children have been abused in great numbers. It'll be fact on the fact their women have been
hurt so much and it'll be built on the fact that they trust and trust and trust but in the end
nothing everything gets delivered to them.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: There will no doubt be other critics, too. Some will see this as an overly
paternalistic approach. Many in the Indigenous community have been crying out for years for
something to be done.

Noel Pearson is probably the Indigenous leader who's been shouting loudest. Just a few days ago his
Cape York Institute produced a 350 page report of its own that recommended a number of radical
solutions to end the welfare dependence and social breakdown in his own community.

The Pearson plan called for specific targeting of alcohol and drug abuse and called for welfare to
be frozen if children were neglected or kept from school.

NOEL PEARSON, CAPE YORK INSTITUTE: We need the Federal Government to work with us to pass
legislation to attach conditions to welfare payments which hitherto have not had conditions
attached to it. These are basic conditions about basic responsibilities that individuals and
families in any normal society, including Aboriginal society, would fulfil if they weren't living
in a situation of passive welfare.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Noel Pearson's tireless advocacy over the years is proof enough that the abuse
and despair are not simply a problem for Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. This is
a problem all over the country, and John Howard made it clear today he expects the states to follow
his lead.

JOHN HOWARD: We don't have the power to do these things in other parts of Australia, but those
premiers do and I'm asking them to do what we have said we will do, and we will cooperate with it.
Let me make it clear, any additional expense involved in what I've announced, we will carry.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The premiers have so far had little time to digest the Commonwealth's move. But
on the whole they seem prepared to consider the details.

The NSW Premier Morris Iemma says that while he believes there are few one-size-fits-all solutions,
his Government will work carefully to develop a whole of government response to the Prime
Minister's initiatives.

In Western Australia, Alan Carpenter's response was much the same. But he did wonder why Mr Howard
has decided to act now.

ALAN CARPENTER, WESTERN AUSTRALIAN PREMIER: Well, it's certainly a national issue, there's no doubt
about that. Mr Howard, if he thinks it's an emergency, one could ask the question, why hasn't he
done anything about it for the last 12 years?

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: So is there a political motivation to this? After all, we are in a highly
charged political environment at the moment. If there was any attempt to strike a point of policy
difference, the Labor leader Kevin Rudd was clearly not going to provide it.

Just 20 minutes after the end of the Prime Minister's press conference, Mr Rudd used his first
question in the House to offer complete bipartisan support. A rare moment, but one that was
welcomed by the Prime Minister.

KEVIN RUDD, OPPOSITION LEADER: My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer to the Prime
Minister's policy announcement just before Question Time.

May I indicate to the Prime Minister that I will do whatever I can to work with him to address this
response, this response to the crisis of child abuse in Australian Indigenous communities. And on
that basis Prime Minister, would the Prime Minister and his minister provide an urgent briefing to
myself and the Shadow Minister on the proposals that he has put forward, their detail and the
funding attached to them subsequent to Question Time?

JOHN HOWARD: I'll be happy to facility a full briefing. I'll speak to my Minister. I welcome what
the Leader of the Opposition has said.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Well, you don't hear that much in Question Time. Savour it. I suspect you won't
hear it again for quite some time.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Political editor, Michael Brissenden.

(c) 2007 ABC