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Intervention plan using poor tactics: Indigen -

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Intervention plan using poor tactics: Indigenous group

Broadcast: 10/07/2007

Reporter: Ali Moore

The Combined Aboriginal Organisation (CAO), which represents more than 40 community and Indigenous
organisations in the Northern Territory, has released its response to the Federal Government's
radical plan to curb child sexual abuse. A co-ordinator of CAO, Olga Havnen, says the emergency
measures lack insight into effective child protection interventions.


ALI MOORE: For the past three weeks the Federal Government's radical plan to curb child sexual
abuse has been rolled out in remote Aboriginal communities throughout the Northern Territory, and
its implementation has polarised politicians, health workers and Indigenous leaders.

Today the CAO - the Combined Aboriginal Organisation, representing over 40 community and Indigenous
organisations in the Territory - released its response to the plan. The organisation asserts that
on the face of details explained so far, the emergency measures lack insight into effective child
protection interventions needed to address the crisis.

Olga Havnen is a coordinator of CAO as well as a board member of ACOSS - the Australian Council of
Social Service. She's worked with the Fred Hollows Foundation and is a former principal policy
advisor to the NT Government, and she joins me now in our Sydney studio.

Olga Havnen, as I just said, in this report released today, it says "the Government's emergency
measures lack insight into effective child protection interventions". Why? In what way?

OLGA HAVNEN: I think the main concern that we have about the current approach by the Government has
been a failure to understand that there are some really deep-seated, underlying structural issues
that need to be addressed. Principal amongst those will absolutely be the need for adequate
housing. It's great to have the police on the ground, it's great to have the medical intervention
there and the health checks happening, but in the longer term it's actually about having better
access to a whole range of services which are currently not there.

ALI MOORE: But isn't the Government recognising that, that what we're seeing at the moment is the
preliminary response. We're seeing the health workers on the ground, the police on the ground, then
they come up with the longer term plan for the secondary response?

OLGA HAVNEN: Well I'm not sure that that longer term plan and that longer term commitment has been
quite clearly worked out. The commitments that are there at the moment seem to me, on face of it,
to be rather short-term. We're talking about people being out there as volunteers, police presence
perhaps, you know, for periods of six months, and insofar as the administrators and their
appointments, we're talking about 12 month appointments. I think what we're needing is a much
longer term, comprehensive, detailed plan of action that's really going to address the needs of
people in remote communities.

ALI MOORE: One of the key points in your report is the call for the inclusion of local communities.
You say that if there's no community consent and ownership, the risk is that the problems will be
driven underground and these initiatives will be resisted. How in the context of an emergency do
you get consent and ownership without starting a whole new talk fest?

OLGA HAVNEN: Well, I think the document that we released today has been put together by a range of
Aboriginal organisations and other community sector organisations with some real expertise in these
areas about child protection and child safety. We also know, too, from the work that a lot of our
organisations do at a local level, organisations like Tarungjira (PHONETIC) Walcha (PHONETIC), for
example, Congress which is a medical service in Alice Springs, all of those organisations have been
working, I think, you know extremely hard for a very long time trying to provide positive parenting
programs, safer families, safer community kinds of programs. The unfortunate part is that for too
many of those programs their funding is very much short term, it's ad hoc, and it's really never
been the right kind of investment to make the sort of impact that we believe can be done. If you
don't have the active involvement of Aboriginal people, the individuals, the families, the victims,
the perpetrators, and the community at large, then it's really unlikely that any of this can
possibly work.

ALI MOORE: I think though the Federal Government would acknowledge that, wouldn't they? It's a
question, though, of getting some consensus and quickly on exactly what needs to be done. Can that
consensus be got without a huge debate?

OLGA HAVNEN: Look, I think that's absolutely the case and the fact that so many of our
organisations have come together as quickly as they have and been able to provide the level of
detail and thoughtful contributions that we contain in our proposal, I think that's a clear
demonstration of our ability that this isn't just about more talk, it's actually coming up with
some practical solutions. In fact, our proposal identifies a two-stage approach. One is that there
is an emergency response, things that can be done immediately and over the next three to six
months, but more importantly, it's taking that longer term plan to really make sure that we can get
best value for money, to make sure that we do protect our kids properly, and that we get much
better outcomes for, you know, community well-being across the board.

ALI MOORE: In some aspects, though, is there the potential that it's too late? If you look at what
the Prime Minister said today, business managers have been appointed to six communities, the
process is well under way, and one of the very points made in your report is that those takeovers
of communities is not the right way to go. It's already happening.

OLGA HAVNEN: Well, it might already be happening and in some ways it doesn't necessarily imply that
it has to be too late. I think the potential and the opportunity, therefore constructive engagement
and dialogue with people, has to be there. This isn't something that police or outsiders on their
own can possibly solve.

ALI MOORE: So who should run this? Who should have carriage of it for the longer term?

OLGA HAVNEN: Look, ideally we'd very much like to see the Prime Minister, whoever that may be, you
know, now and into the future, I think we have to have bipartisan support and really the lead
agency should rest within the Prime Minister's department itself.

ALI MOORE: Why? Why the Prime Minister's Department?

OLGA HAVNEN: Because I think that's probably the only level within the bureaucracy that has the
ability to bring together all of the other responsible agencies in a coordinated way with some very
focused tasks and identified actions and planning. Until we get that level of concrete thinking,
very clearly identified plans, some serious commitments about the kinds of resources that we need,
then I'm not sure that much of this is going to change.

ALI MOORE: If we look at some aspects of this plan. I mean, certainly, the ban on alcohol, everyone
agrees alcohol is the problem - has the Government got that right?

OLGA HAVNEN: Well, again it was a curious kind of approach to suggest the need for bans on alcohol
in remote communities. Most of our communities are already dry, and in fact out of some 600
communities that we have in the Northern Territory, this is discreet Aboriginal communities, I
think only about eight or nine of them have any form of licensed takeaway alcohol sales.

ALI MOORE: The problem is what goes on around them?

OLGA HAVNEN: It's what goes on around them. I mean, Alice Springs for example has been in the news
constantly for the last decade and longer about the difficulties there in applying all kinds of
alcohol restrictions. The number of liquor outlets and the availability of alcohol in Alice Springs
and some of our major towns is just a disaster.

ALI MOORE: Clare Martin, the Northern Territory Chief Minister, says that she will challenge the
move to remove the permit system and also to seize control of some 70-odd Aboriginal communities.
Will you as a group, the group behind this report, support a challenge to those two aspects?

OLGA HAVNEN: Look, I think we really need to wait to see the detail of what comes down in any kind
of amending legislation. I think there's been quite a lot of debate about, you know, whether or not
the permit system is a good or a bad thing. There are those that argue that the existence of a
permit system somehow inhibits the ability of government agencies and others to deliver services.

ALI MOORE: And hides the problems.

OLGA HAVNEN: And that's not the case. There's absolutely no impediment to the Northern Territory
Government or other bureaucrats from getting access to Aboriginal communities. But I think the
positive side in all of this, and it's interesting, it comes from the police and the Police Union
themselves, together with the Northern Territory Government, to suggest that perhaps the retention
of the permit system provides a degree of control, if you like, particularly with, you know, the
move of alcohol, with other substances and other drugs. So I think, you know, this is something
that probably does need to be thought through much more carefully, because the last thing you'd
want is. you know, the unintended consequences, that is, opening communities up further to that
kind of substance trade.

ALI MOORE: Finally, briefly, optimistic? Can it work?

OLGA HAVNEN: Look, I think with some genuine goodwill, bipartisan support and the engagement of
Aboriginal people in all of this, it can be done. This is not something that's insoluble. I think
we can make some real inroads here but it does require some, you know, partnership building and
good trust.

ALI MOORE: Olga Havnen, thanks for talking to us.

OLGA HAVNEN: Thank you.