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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 127

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (9:42 AM) —I rise this morning to talk about the distressing issue of child abuse in Australian communities. Last week the Northern Territory report on child abuse, Little children are sacred, was released. Alarmingly, the report found that high levels of child abuse that are common in Aboriginal communities. Other issues of concern include sex trades, juvenile prostitution and white workers preying on young Aboriginal women. The report revealed the abysmal circumstances that young Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory are growing up in. This is shameful and tragic and it is about time the Australian community fronted up to its responsibilities. They are shocking and appalling findings.

The problems that underpin the high levels of child abuse are complex and are compounded by isolation, community structures and lack of appropriate services. Although Labor’s approach is different from Noel Pearson’s, Labor has targeted the same areas as being essential for change. It is the responsibility of all levels of government on both sides of parliament to try to make a hard assessment of the findings of the report and work out in a cooperative way how we make progress on this very challenging front in association with the leadership of Indigenous communities. I refer to the fact that this week Noel Pearson appeared on The 7.30 Report to discuss possible solutions to child abuse in the Cape York Peninsula. Essentially, Pearson proposed that child abuse must be stopped by reducing alcohol abuse and by providing better education for kids and better job opportunities.

I think it is also appropriate that we acknowledge, because some people want to forget it, that child abuse is not exclusive to Aboriginal communities. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that child abuse has risen dramatically and is rising consecutively every year. Between 2001 and 2005 the reported rate of child abuse almost doubled, from 137,000 to 266,000. The institute points out that the rise in abuse is partly due to increased reporting and awareness of child abuse. The number of children being abused is an absolute national disgrace.

In the past three months, three babies were tragically dumped, with one newborn, sadly, found dead in a rubbish bin last week. There is little known about the circumstances in which these babies were dumped. However, one thing is clear: the people involved did not have adequate support. The challenge to all tiers of government in the Australian community is to work together, both in Indigenous and in non-Indigenous communities, to overcome a huge problem confronting Australia—child abuse. We all have a responsibility to put aside politics in Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities and solve our problems and give the necessary support to assist these people who are finding it very difficult. (Time expired)