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Truckers accused of sexually abusing young Ab -

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Truckers accused of sexually abusing young Aborigines

The World Today - Friday, 14 March , 2008 12:10:00

Reporter: Daniel Hoare

ELEANOR HALL: To the latest on the revelations of child prostitution in country New South Wales.
The Australian Trucking Association has condemned those truck drivers who are alleged to have
solicited sex from Aboriginal girls, saying they belong in gaol and not behind the wheel of a
truck.

But the Association is defending the bulk of its members, saying the allegations of child sex abuse
are limited to a small group of drivers. Several Aboriginal girls from the communities of
Boggabilla and Moree in north-western New South Wales told the ABC's Lateline program about the
child prostitution, saying they use the money to buy drugs.

And local police have told The World Today that while it's difficult to gather evidence about the
allegations, drugs have become a significant problem in the area.

Daniel Hoare has our report.

DANIEL HOARE: The allegations centre on a series of busy truck stops along towns in northern NSW.
There's no suggestion that there's an organised prostitution ring, but rather that young Aboriginal
girls are taking it upon themselves to sell their bodies to truck drivers.

Some truck drivers are accused of requesting sex with girls who are younger than 16 and there's
suggestions that one girl started having sex with drivers when she was just eight years old. The
girls say they do it for money so they can buy drugs.

The World Today spoke to local police about the allegations, but they didn't want the interview
recorded. They say that drug and alcohol abuse is as significant a problem in Moree and Boggabilla
as it is in the capital cities of Australia.

They say they've been aware of "whispers" about child sex for some time, but there's little they
can do about it because few people are prepared to cooperate. One officer described the girls as
"willing participants" and said there was insufficient evidence about the allegations to convert
into court evidence.

The trucking industry is outraged by the claims.

STUART ST CLAIR: We as an industry are horrified by these allegations. Child prostitution is just
an absolutely reprehensible crime.

DANIEL HOARE: Stuart St Clair is the chief executive of the Australian Trucking Association.

STUART ST CLAIR: Trucking operators and drivers out there are fathers and mothers and brothers and
sisters of, you know, families. It's an family-orientated industry and these sorts of things
unfortunately by very few, as the allegations may have, need to be investigated very thoroughly by
the police.

DANIEL HOARE: Is there anything you can do in particular to weed out any possible offenders if
these allegations are true?

STUART ST CLAIR: Look, today's trucking industry is about safety and profession driving. And that
is the most significant thing to us is to ensure that the professional level of drivers - and the
vast proportion are - continues to grow.

There's no place ... you know, people who commit child prostitution, whether they're truckers or
anyone else, those sort of offences belong in gaol. They certainly don't belong behind the wheel of
a truck.

DANIEL HOARE: The trucking association's Stuart St Clair says his organisation will do it can to
help police investigate the child sex claims.

STUART ST CLAIR: Truck drivers have traditionally worked with law enforcement officers across
Australia. There is a close relationship between professional drivers out there on the road and law
enforcement officers in all states and territories in Australia. And I know that if there are
things that are going on that are either illegal or in turn, are suspicious, then we know that the
vast majority of professional drivers out there would be talking to the authorities.

DANIEL HOARE: Dick Estens has lived in Moree for 30 years and works closely with the local
Aboriginal community.

In 2004, he was awarded the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's Human Rights Medal for
setting up the Aboriginal Employment Strategy, which he's now been running for 11 years.

DICK ESTENS: It's absolutely driven by drugs.

DANIEL HOARE: Are these allegations something that have been known to the local communities there?

DICK ESTENS: Generally, the Aboriginal community knows what's going on within the community, more
so than what the non-Aboriginal part of the community would.

DANIEL HOARE: We're you aware of these allegations before they aired last night?

DICK ESTENS: No, not really. I knew there was a bit of an issue in Boggabilla but I didn't think it
was an ongoing issue in Moree until it was aired last night.

DANIEL HOARE: How disturbing are the allegations and what do you think needs to be done now that
they've come to light?

DICK ESTENS: Well, I guess it's, you know, it's a fair bit up to the trucker's association to, you
know, power into and having a look at it. You know, there's a limit ... it's hard for governments
to do things about. You know, police can certainly be more on the ball.

But generally I'd say they're ... in all these rural towns where you've got, you know, large
Aboriginal populations, drugs are fairly rife through all the communities, and I imagine
prostitution for drugs generally is, you know, not even counting the trucking side of it.

DANIEL HOARE: Some of the local police have said to me there's little they can do about it because
they don't get cooperation from the girls who are involved, and secondly they find it difficult to
gather evidence that could be used in a courtroom. What do you make of that? Where do the police
play a role in a situation like this?

DICK ESTENS: That's generally what happens, you know. Five years ago you wouldn't get Aboriginal
people stepping out at all. But nowadays in Moree, there are quite a few stepping out, and what's
changing Moree to a big degree. It's the peer pressure coming off the 50 per cent of Aboriginal
people going forward, back on to the mob.

And ultimately, that's what will change a town. You know, getting jobs for Aboriginal people,
creating opportunity for Aboriginal people and building that, you know, middle-class part of the
community greater than a 50 per cent.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Dick Estens from the Aboriginal Employment Strategy in Moree, ending that
report from Daniel Hoare.