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Wednesday, 8 August 2007
Page: 16

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Senator SCULLION (Minister for Community Services) (10:44 AM) — I» «move» :

That these bills «be» «now» «read» «a» «second» «time .

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

SOCIAL SECURITY AND OTHER LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (WELFARE PAYMENT REFORM) BILL 2007

The Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Welfare Payment Reform) Bill 2007 is another important step in the government’s reform of the national welfare system.

Australians are rightly proud of the strong safety net provided by our income support system.

The fact is that the vast majority of people receiving welfare use this support wisely, in the interests of themselves, their partners and, very importantly, their children.

Sadly, however, this is not true of everyone.

The government believes that the right to welfare comes with obligations.

It is only reasonable to expect those who receive this support to meet some basic obligations to society in return.

Over the last decade, the Howard government has moved to tackle the scourge of passive welfare and to reinforce responsible behaviour through the establishment of our mutual obligation framework.

We have strengthened the important principle that those on welfare who can work should seek work, and asked those receiving welfare for longer periods to re-engage through work for the dole.

This bill builds on these important directions by extending the mutual obligation framework and reinforcing an appropriate balance between entitlements and responsibilities in our society.

One of the most important obligations a person can have is responsibility for the care, education and development of children.

Welfare is not for alcohol, drugs, pornography or gambling - it is for priority expenditures such as secure housing, food, education and clothing - things that are considered a child’s basic rights.

This bill outlines five welfare reform measures to promote socially responsible behaviour aimed at protecting and nurturing the children in our society and offering them the opportunities that a supportive family, a solid education and a healthy and safe environment can provide.

In developing this approach, it has become clear we are facing two very different situations in Australia.

For most of the country, the parental behaviour the government is concerned about occurs relatively infrequently and is limited to a relatively small number of families.

The behaviour of these parents is clearly against normal community standards and is a focus of child protection and other state authorities.

To address this circumstance, the government will introduce three nation-wide measures that link the receipt of income support to school attendance and enrolment, and which assist state and territory child welfare authorities in the prevention of child neglect.

Parents who fail to provide for their children will have their payments income managed, to ensure that priority needs are met and to encourage better parenting behaviours.

These measures are a step forward in Commonwealth-state relations and offer an additional tool that will be of assistance to states and territories in meeting their responsibilities for child welfare and schooling.

The second situation involves some remote Indigenous communities where normal community standards and parenting behaviours have broken down.

In these communities, there is little economic activity and welfare is by far the most common form of income.

The combination of free money (in relatively large sums), free time and ready access to drugs and alcohol has created appalling conditions for community members, particularly children.

Our emergency response in the Northern Territory, including the welfare reform and the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) program changes included in this bill, is targeted at this second context.

The bill also provides for the implementation of our recently announced Cape York Welfare Reform trial, which is based on a comprehensive plan developed in partnership with Mr Noel Pearson’s Cape York Institute.

As with the national measures, income management will be applied in both cases to ensure that priority needs are met and to encourage better social and parenting behaviours.

Income management model

While there are differences in the approaches to each of the measures outlined in this bill, there are common elements to the way we will apply income management.

The bill outlines the broad framework under which the management of a person’s welfare payments is to occur.

While the government is ensuring welfare payments are spent on the priority needs of a person and his or her family, its objective is for the person to take responsibility for their own welfare and for the welfare of their family.

This bill makes it quite clear individuals will not lose any of their entitlements.

All managed income will initially be placed into an individual’s income management account, and will be for use by the relevant person only.

To ensure this, it will be special public money under section 6 of the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997.

This arrangement ensures the money is regarded as having been paid to the person, so that there is no unintended change to taxation or child support liabilities.

People will be fully aware of what funds are available to them.

Individuals will receive statements of the credits and debits to their account and of the balance of their account.

The government wants individuals to take control over their lives.

It wants individuals to work with Centrelink to identify their expenses and manage their priority needs.

This bill establishes as priority needs things such as food, clothing, housing, health, child care and development, education and training, employment and transport.

It enables a person to receive an amount of discretionary cash and there are no restrictions placed on how that amount can be spent.

However, Centrelink must ensure the remaining managed income is used to meet the current and reasonably foreseeable priority needs of the person and their family.

If Centrelink becomes aware of unmet priority needs, it must take action to address those needs.

Once Centrelink is satisfied current and reasonably foreseeable priority needs are met, it cannot unreasonably refuse a person access to their entitlements for another purpose, provided the funds will not be used to purchase excluded items - alcohol, tobacco, gambling and pornography.

The bill provides flexibility in the methods available to meet people’s priority needs.

The mechanisms include vouchers, stored value cards, the payment of expenses, payments to various accounts (including stores, debit cards and bank accounts).

The government will be working to establish appropriate mechanisms in Northern Territory communities in the short term and then more generally throughout Australia to support the national income management measures contained in this bill.

Child abuse and neglect

The abuse and neglect of children is not new and occurs in all societies, but that does not mean as a society we have to accept it.

Every child has the right to health and wellbeing and a life free from violence.

Preventing child abuse and neglect is everyone’s responsibility.

Neglect includes failure to provide adequate food, shelter, suitable clothes, medical attention or education.

The Australian government is greatly concerned about the continuing increase in the number of children being reported as neglected or abused.

The main data available on child abuse and neglect in Australia is for children who have come to the attention of child protection authorities in each state or territory1

These figures are likely to represent only a proportion of the true prevalence of abuse and neglect.

Over the last five years, the number of child protection notifications in Australia has almost doubled from 137,938 in 2001-02 to 266,745 in 2005-06.

Some of this increase reflects changes in child protection policies and practices in different jurisdictions.

It could also reflect a better awareness of child protection concerns in the wider community and more willingness to report problems to State and Territory child protection services.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are clearly over-represented in the child protection system, being almost five times more likely to be the subject of a substantiated case than other children.

Australia wide, 29.4 out of 1,000 Indigenous children have been the victims of substantiated abuse or neglect compared to 6.5 out of 1,000 non-Indigenous children.

The rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care is over seven times the rate of other children.

1Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Child Protection, Australia, 2005-06, cat. no. CWS26, AIHW, Canberra, 2007.

We know that young children who are exposed to violence, abuse or neglect, are among the most vulnerable of children and likely to experience problems later in life.

Their developing ability to trust and enter into mature, healthy relationships is damaged.

Stressful events during the early years, such as abuse and neglect, have also been shown to adversely influence nervous system responses to stress for the rest of a child’s life.

Abuse and neglect can leave children with lasting physical damage, health issues, and developmental and emotional delays and problems.

Responsibility for child protection services rest primarily with each state and territory government.

Notwithstanding this, there is no doubt the best outcomes for children will be achieved if the Australian government and the state and territory governments work together.

The measures being introduced in this bill will provide another tool to be used by the child protection authorities in states and territories.

State and territory governments will be given the option of notifying the Commonwealth that a person be placed on income management where a child is found to be at risk of neglect.

Under income management, up to 100 per cent of a person’s welfare support payments can be set aside and directed to appropriate expenditure.

This approach will help ensure income support is used to provide shelter, food and clothing for children at risk of neglect.

Income management will remain in place for the family until the child protection authority withdraws or revokes the notice requesting income management.

We will work with each of the states and territories to establish agreements guiding the operation of this tool, with the aim of commencement from 1 July 2008.

School attendance and enrolment

There is a clear and unequivocal link between educational outcomes and other important life outcomes such as employment, income and community participation.

Education greatly increases a child’s chances of future success and helps them develop important skills and attitudes.

Helping to ensure children reach their full potential at school will also help reduce the risk of longer-term welfare dependence.

The arguments for adopting an early intervention approach in cases where children are not enrolled at or attending school are irrefutable.

Children and young people who are chronically absent or excluded from school are severely educationally disadvantaged.

Research commissioned by the Dusseldorp Skills Forum shows a correlation between school non-attendance and under-achievement at school, criminal activity, poverty, unemployment and homelessness.

Strong literacy and numeracy skills are critical foundations for school completion and longer-term success.

The importance of literacy and numeracy achievement has been highlighted in a Longitudinal Survey of Australian Youth (LSAY) research report that looked at the relationships between literacy and numeracy achievement in junior secondary school and a range of education, training and Labor market outcomes at age 19.

Job seekers with weak numeracy and literacy skills are also more likely to experience long-term unemployment.

More generally, poor literacy skills impact on a person’s capacity to be a productive worker in today’s workforce.

The government will tackle the social risks of poor education via two measures, which target school enrolment and school attendance.

Income management of up to 100 per cent of payments will be used as a tool to assist state and territory governments to meet their responsibilities in relation to these two areas.

In relation to school enrolment, if a parent is receiving income support, has care of a compulsory school-aged child and the child is not enrolled at a school, then both parents could be subject to income management.

If children are not enrolled at school, Centrelink will notify parents and carers that they need to take action to enrol their children and provide proof of enrolment within a specified period with a warning of the consequences of a failure to do so.

Centrelink will consider any ‘reasonable excuse’ for a failure of a parent to provide the documentation (such as events beyond the person’s control, changes in the level of care which might relate to particular children and foster care arrangements) and, where no reasonable excuse exists, a period of income management could be immediately applied.

Both parents can also be subject to income management if their child does not attend school sufficiently and there is no reasonable excuse as to why the child is not attending school.

The government is proposing a national benchmark for attendance of not more than five unexplained absences each school term.

Before parents are subject to the income management regime due to exceeding the national benchmark, parents will be given a formal warning.

Parents and carers who do the right thing - consistent with community expectations - by enrolling their children and getting them to school will not be affected by income management.

For those who do not, this measure will serve to encourage them to take more responsibility for, and be more involved in, their children’s education.

These measures will come into affect in the following phases:

  • The school enrolment and attendance measure will commence as soon as possible in the Northern Territory to support the government’s emergency response.
  • From the start of the 2009 school year, the school enrolment and attendance measure will be implemented nationally for parents of primary school-aged children.
  • From the start of the 2010 school year, the school enrolment and attendance measure will be implemented nationally for parents of high school-aged children.

For this to occur, the support of the States and Territories and the non-government school sector is needed, to assist in providing the necessary information, and the government will be undertaking consultations to achieve this.

These measures will provide an additional support to states and territories to help them meet their responsibilities for, and our common goal of, improving the educational outcomes of Australian children.

Northern Territory

In the Northern Territory, as the recent Little children are sacred report made clear, there is a national emergency confronting the welfare of Aboriginal children.

In these cases, the provision of welfare has not had the desired outcome; it has become a trap instead of a pathway.

Normal community standards, social norms and parenting behaviours have broken down and too many are trapped in an intergenerational cycle of dependency.

The government’s emergency response aims to protect children and make communities safe in the first instance, and then to lay the basis for a sustainable future for Indigenous Australians in the Northern Territory.

The welfare reforms outlined in this bill will help to stem the flow of cash going toward substance abuse and gambling and ensure that funds meant to be for children’s welfare are used for that purpose.

Fifty percent of the welfare payments of all individuals in the affected communities will be income managed for an initial period of 12 months during the stabilisation phase

This broad-based approach is needed to address a break down in social norms that characterise many of our remote Northern Territory communities.

In particular, this approach is essential to minimise the practice known as ‘humbugging’ in the Northern Territory, where people are intimidated into handing over their money to others.

If certain groups, such as the young and old, are excluded from this measure, it could leave them potentially even more vulnerable.

Income management will be introduced in the Northern Territory on a progressive basis across communities as part of the Australian Government’s emergency response to the crisis confronting the welfare of Aboriginal children.

Several factors will be taken into account before commencing income management, including stability and security in the area, and opportunities for individuals to discuss the operation of income management with Centrelink, including their expenditure needs.

The availability of suitable payment mechanisms for people to buy food and groceries will also be taken into account.

With some very limited exceptions, all individual residents in a community who receive income support payments will be subject to income management at the same time.

Any individuals who move into the community will become subject to income management when they move there.

Income management will generally apply in the community for an initial period of 12 months.

The amount to be set aside for income management will be 50 per cent of income support and family tax benefit instalment payments.

Advances, lump sums and baby bonus instalments will all be subject to 100 per cent income management.

The new arrangements may follow an individual even if they move out of the prescribed community to ensure they cannot easily avoid the income management regime.

Income management will continue until the initial declaration of 12 months expires or until it is revoked.

The government’s intention is to transition communities to the national welfare reform measures over time, as communities are stabilised and normalised, so a consistent approach exists across the country.

It is important to acknowledge that this bill will not take one cent of welfare from individuals or families in these Indigenous communities, but simply limits the discretion that individuals exercise over a portion of their welfare and prevents them from using welfare in socially irresponsible ways.

It should also be noted that we have developed a comprehensive and integrated plan in the Northern Territory.

The welfare reforms just outlined are supported by the legislative reforms that will provide improvements to community stores for people living in affected communities.

This will assist in ensuring payments can be used to buy quality goods from reputable stores.

Changes to the CDEP program which will be implemented in the Northern Territory are included in this bill.

The Little Children are Sacred report found that lack of employment opportunities has had a significant negative impact on self esteem and personal relationships and created an environment of boredom and hopelessness.

While CDEP has been a major source of funding for many Northern Territory communities, it has not provided a pathway to real employment, and has become another form of welfare dependency for many people.

Instead of creating new opportunities for employment, it has become a destination in itself.

It has also in too many cases been used as a substitute for services that would otherwise be the responsibilities of governments - services that should be provided through full-paid employment.

To support the Australian government’s Northern Territory emergency response, the CDEP program in the Northern Territory will progressively be replaced with real jobs, training and mainstream employment services.

CDEP participants will be assisted to move into real jobs, to training or onto income support, through work for the dole or other appropriate benefits instead of CDEP payments.

In the coming months, the Australian government will work with CDEP providers across the Northern Territory to develop a comprehensive plan for each CDEP organisation to implement these changes.

Participants will progressively transition to the new arrangement. The transition will be completed across the Northern Territory by 30 June 2008.

These changes will support the current emergency intervention in the Northern Territory and support the improvement of services and the creation of new jobs within Northern Territory communities.

The Australian government will work with all government agencies to turn CDEP positions, which are substituting for government services, into real jobs.

In addition, an audit of job opportunities in 52 Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory conducted by the Local Government Association of the Northern Territory (LGANT) identified 2,955 current real jobs, only 44 per cent of which are occupied by Aboriginal people.

Training will be provided to capture these jobs for local people.

The phasing out of CDEP participant payments will happen on a community by community basis.

To ensure that there is no financial loss for some individuals moving from CDEP to income support, existing CDEP participants in the Northern Territory may be eligible to receive a Northern Territory CDEP Transition Payment.

Centrelink will calculate the payment on an individual basis.

This payment will make up the difference between the average earnings on CDEP and the payments made under income support arrangements and will be available till 30 June 2008.

The payment will assist participants to manage any changes in income and will be capped at the maximum allowable CDEP earnings.

The payment is directed at current participants. New participants who join CDEP after 23 July 2007 will not be eligible for this transition payment.

Changes to the taxation law will allow for the Northern Territory CDEP Transition Payment to be subject to the Beneficiary Tax Rebate, as is the case with current CDEP participant payments.

Where income support payments are to be subject to income management, so will the Northern Territory CDEP Transition Payment.

Moving CDEP participants on to income support will allow a single system of income management to apply to welfare payments.

The level of funding currently provided to the Northern Territory through CDEP will not diminish under the new arrangements.

The appropriation bills also introduced in this package provide the funding required for these initiatives in 2007-08 for the stabilisation phase of the Response, and the government will be developing a longer-term approach with costs in the next budget process.

Cape York

The Australian government has committed to support and fund a proposal by the Cape York Institute to trial a new approach to welfare in four Cape York Indigenous communities: Hope Vale, Aurukun, Coen and Mossman Gorge.

This bill provides the platform for this to occur.

The government’s decision is a response to the recommendations of the report by the Institute From Hand Out to Hand Up, provided to the government on 19 June 2007.

This report contained a comprehensive plan to tackle welfare dependency in the Cape York region.

It is backed by strong on-the-ground leadership from the Cape York Institute, particularly Noel Pearson.

A major feature of the trial to be introduced in Cape York is the introduction of a set of obligations which welfare recipients would be expected to meet.

As for the other national welfare measures, these obligations include requirements that parents send their children to school and protect them from harm and neglect.

There will also be reforms to tenancy arrangements, and obligations on tenants to comply with lease conditions.

The bill provides for the recognition of a new body to be established under Queensland law.

This body will have authority in relation to the income management of welfare payments to encourage compliance with the obligations.

Subject to state legislation, the body will have the authority to obtain information from State child protection authorities, courts and schools to assist it to determine whether there has been a breach of one of the obligations.

This new body may issue a notice to Centrelink, requiring that some or all of a person’s welfare payments be subject to income management.

The body will work with families and communities to deal with issues such as drug and alcohol dependency, violence, child neglect and truancy, gambling, and poor money management.

The body will also work with the communities participating in the trial to rebuild social norms and ensure welfare money is not misused to fund alcohol, drugs or gambling.

Subject to the support of the communities and the passage of legislation by the Queensland government, it is intended that the trials will commence at the beginning of the 2008 school year and continue until the end of 2011.

The trials aim to promote engagement in the real economy, reduce passive welfare and rebuild social norms, particularly as they affect the wellbeing of children.

This initiative is an expression of the desire of people in Cape York to ensure their children grow up in a safe home, attend school and enjoy the same opportunities as any other Australian child.

The Australian government will be providing funding of $48 million for the trials.

The Australian government’s commitment includes significant funding for complementary initiatives to support the trials and assist people to meet their obligations.

In addition, the Australian government will contribute $5 million towards the cost of employing case managers who will support people referred to the Commission and provide a fund from which they will be able to purchase specialist services for families, for example, relationship or violence counselling.

The trials will provide a vehicle to assess the effectiveness of such an approach, which may offer lessons for the future and inform our approach to tackling Indigenous welfare dependency.

The Australian government will work together with the Cape York Institute and the selected communities throughout the duration of the trials.

The leaders of Cape York should be commended for their determination and commitment to improve their lives and provide a safe and prosperous future for their children.

Conclusion

These changes are designed to benefit Australia’s children.

They are practical and targeted responses to real issues within our society.

The government’s aim is to extend the principle of mutual obligation beyond participation in the workforce to a range of behaviours that address, either directly or indirectly, the welfare and development of children.

None of the measures outlined in this bill will result in a reduction in entitlements, and they will only apply to the minority of people who are behaving inappropriately.

The vast majority will remain unaffected by these changes. But a better future will be provided for those children who will now have their basic rights to things like food, shelter and an education met.


NORTHERN TERRITORY NATIONAL EMERGENCY RESPONSE BILL 2007

This bill—the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill 2007 (and the other bills introduced in the same package)—are all about the safety and wellbeing of children.

When confronted with a failed society where basic standards of law and order and behaviour have broken down and where women and children are unsafe, how should we respond? Do we respond with more of what we have done in the past? Or do we radically change direction with an intervention strategy matched to the magnitude of the problem?

Six weeks ago, the Little children are sacred report commissioned by the Northern Territory government confirmed what the Australian government had been saying. It told us in the clearest possible terms that child sexual abuse among Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory is serious, widespread and often unreported, and that there is a strong association between alcohol abuse and sexual abuse of children. 

With clear evidence that the Northern Territory government was not able to protect these children adequately, the Howard government decided that it was now time to intervene and declare an emergency situation and use the Territories Power available under the Constitution to make laws for the Northern Territory.

We are providing extra police, we will stem the flow of alcohol, drugs and pornography, assess the health situation of children, engage local people in improving living conditions, and offer more employment opportunities and activities for young people. We aim to limit the amount of cash available for alcohol, drugs and gambling during the emergency period and make a strong link between welfare payments and school attendance.

We have been able to do some things immediately, without legislation.

The Northern Territory Emergency Response Taskforce has been established. Magistrate Doctor Sue Gordon chairs this small group of distinguished and dedicated Australians. Major-General Dave Chalmers is in charge of operational command headquartered in Alice Springs.

We have begun to provide extra federal police to make communities safe. The States have committed to provide police and the Australian government has agreed to cover their costs.

All 73 townships that have been identified for intervention have been visited by advance communication teams. The follow up survey teams have visited 47 townships. These visits are meant to explain to local people the steps being taken, to listen to their views, to answer questions, and to assess the state of play in terms of infrastructure and services.

Almost 500 health checks have been conducted for Aboriginal children under 16. Not surprisingly, some cases have been referred to child protection authorities and the results of some initial tests have been referred for further testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

This is a very encouraging start after a few short weeks. But Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory will never be safe and healthy without fundamental changes to the things that make communities dangerous and unhealthy places.

We need to dry up the rivers of grog. We need to stop the free flow of pornography.

We need to improve living conditions and reduce overcrowding. More houses need to be built and we need to control the land in the townships for a short period to ensure that we can do this quickly.

We need to make sure money paid to parents and carers by the government for feeding children is not used for buying grog or for gambling.

We need to make sure local shops stock good, affordable food for growing children.

We need to show people that there is hope of a life beyond welfare so that going to school is seen to be worthwhile.

We need to show people that it is possible to own and control your own house, which can only happen when you have a lease over the land that it is built on.

The government has faced a lot of questions since the announcement of the intervention. Some people have asked how the various parts of the response are connected to the welfare of children, and to each other.

With no work and no hope of getting a job, many Aboriginal people in these communities rely on passive welfare.

In an environment where there is no natural social order of production and distribution, grog, pornography and gambling often fill the void.

What do viable economies and jobs have to do with preventing child abuse? Unemployment and welfare dependency may not cause abuse, but a viable economy and real job prospects make education meaningful and point to a life beyond abuse and despair.

Currently, there are too few jobs in these communities and land tenure arrangements work against developing a real economy. The Community Development Employment Projects program has become the destination for far too many.

Banks will not lend money to start up small businesses because a committee decides what tenure arrangements will apply. People cannot even borrow to buy their own home because they cannot own or lease a block of land. And, to cap it all off, these towns have been closed to outsiders because of the permit system.

After consultation, the government has decided on balance to leave the permit system in place in 99.8 per cent of Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory.

But in the larger public townships and the road corridors that connect them, permits will no longer be required.

Closed towns mean less public scrutiny, so the situation has been allowed to get worse and worse.

Normally, where situations come to light which are as terrible as the child abuse occurring in the Northern Territory, solutions are pursued relentlessly by the media.

But closed towns have made it easier for abuse and dysfunction to stay hidden.

Closed towns also prevent the free flow of visitors and tourists that can help to stimulate economic opportunity and job creation.

These are among the reasons why it is not enough only to turn off the grog.

Our response in the Northern Territory means making important changes which simply cannot happen under current policy settings.

The living conditions in some of these communities are appalling. We cannot allow the improvements that have to occur to the physical state of these places to be delayed through red tape and vested interests in this emergency period.

Under normal circumstances in remote communities, just providing for the clean up and repair of houses on the scale that we are confronted with could well take decades. The children cannot wait that long. To deal with overcrowding, we need to remove all the artificial barriers preventing change for the better.

Without an across the board intervention, we would only be applying a bandaid to the critical situation facing Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory, when what is needed is emergency surgery.

The interventions proposed will work together to break the back of violence and dysfunction and allow us to build sustainable, healthy approaches in the long term.

The measures in this bill generally apply in Northern Territory communities on:

  • land scheduled under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (the Land Rights Act);
  • community living areas, which are located on a form of freehold title issued by the Northern Territory government to Aboriginal corporations;
  • town camps, in the vicinity of major urban areas, held by Aboriginal associations on special leases from the Northern Territory government; and
  • other areas prescribed on advice from our expert taskforce.

Alcohol restrictions

The authors of the Little children are sacred report described alcohol abuse as the ‘gravest and fastest growing threat to the safety of Aboriginal children’.

One of the key measures in this bill provides for widespread alcohol restrictions. The government was not satisfied that the proposals put forward by the Northern Territory government were anywhere near adequate.

A number of these communities have already been declared dry. But, despite that, alcohol remains a major scourge. Much more needs to be done.

The restrictions enabled by this bill will help stabilise communities and give them a chance to recover.

When it comes to a choice between a person’s right to drink and a child’s right to be safe, there is no question which path we must take.

To dry up the lethal rivers of grog, this bill will enable the government to introduce a general ban on people having, selling, transporting and drinking alcohol in prescribed areas.

At the same time, our measures apply tougher penalties on people who are benefiting from supplying or selling grog to these communities.

Through very harsh penalties and more police, we are sending a clear message that, if you run grog into these vulnerable places and put the lives of women and children at risk, you will face a severe penalty.

This bill will require people across the Northern Territory to show photographic identification, have their addresses recorded and be required to declare where the alcohol is going to be consumed if they want to buy a substantial amount of takeaway alcohol. This requirement is a small impost on Territorians during the emergency period but will be their contribution to solving this long-running problem.

This will allow us to identify where people are buying up grog to take back to communities where bans are in place, and to investigate and prosecute as needed.

Some licensed premises on Aboriginal land will still be able to operate, but only if they have strict alcohol management rules in place. These licences will be reviewed within one month of proclamation. Current permits to consume alcohol on Aboriginal land will also be subject to review.

Computer audit

The destructive impact pornography can have on the lives of children has already been mentioned.

A ban on the possession and dissemination of prohibited pornographic material is addressed in another bill in this package.

But sexually explicit and other illegal material can be accessed using the Internet through misuse of publicly funded computers as well. This bill includes a requirement to undertake regular audits of publicly-funded computers, and to provide the results to the Australian Crime Commission. Failure to undertake these audits will be an offence.

The Australian Crime Commission will be able to use the results of an audit, or may pass it on to a relevant law enforcement agency, where investigation of a possible criminal offence is necessary.

An audit must also be undertaken if there is a suspicion that a computer may have been misused, and the outcomes will provided to the Australian Crime Commission.

Five-year leases

This bill provides for the Australian government to acquire five-year leases over townships on Land Rights Act land, community living areas and over certain other areas.

It provides for the immediate and later acquisition of these leases to correspond to the roll out of the emergency response.

The acquisition of leases is crucial to removing barriers so that living conditions can be changed for the better in these communities in the shortest possible timeframe.

It must be emphasised that the underlying ownership by traditional owners will be preserved, and compensation when required by the Constitution will be paid.

This includes provision for the payment of rent. Existing interests will be generally preserved or excluded, and provision will be made for early termination of the lease, such as when a 99-year township lease is granted.

This is not a normal land acquisition. People will not be moved from their land.

The areas to be covered by the five-year leases are major communities or townships, generally of over 100 people, some of several thousand people.

These communities are not thriving; some are in desperate circumstances that have led to the tragedy of widespread child abuse.

The leases will give the government the unconditional access to land and assets required to facilitate the early repair of buildings and infrastructure.

The most significant terms and conditions of the leases are provided for in the legislation. However, additional terms and conditions will be determined and these will be in place when the leases start.

The area of land for the five-year leases is miniscule compared to the amount of Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory. It is less than 0.1 per cent. There are no prospects for mining in these locations.

This is no land grab, as some have tried to portray the emergency response. It is only a temporary lease and just compensation will be paid for that period. We are not after a commercial windfall here—there is none to be had.

It must be stressed that any native title in respect of the leased land is suspended but not extinguished.

It is important to mention that there is provision for the five-year leases to be terminated early.

If the Northern Territory Emergency Response Taskforce reports that a community no longer requires intensive Commonwealth oversight, then the minister can decide that the lease over the community should end.

The Australian government looks forward to working with the land councils of the Northern Territory in the implementation of this important measure.

Town camps

The bill also provides for the Australian government to exercise the powers of the Northern Territory government to forfeit or resume certain leases, known as ‘town camps’, during the five year period of the emergency response.

Improved living conditions in the town camps are important to the success of the emergency response.

The poor living conditions in these camps have made many of them places of despair and tragedy. Alice Springs has been described as the murder capital of Australia.

It is Australian government policy that these camps should be treated as normal suburbs. They should have the same infrastructure and level of services that all other Australians expect. Second best is no longer good enough.

We will not accept that the major urban centres in the Northern Territory continue for another 30 years to be fringed by ghettos where Indigenous people receive second or third class local government services.

The Northern Territory government has announced that it will not resume or forfeit the town camp leases. It has again walked away from its responsibilities for the Indigenous citizens of the Territory. That is why this bill provides for the Howard government to do what the Northern Territory government has shamefully refused to do.

When land tenure is settled, the Howard government will begin the process of improving housing and infrastructure dramatically.

The bill also provides an option for the government to make a long term investment beyond the period of the emergency response in improving town camps and, if necessary, the Commonwealth can acquire freehold title over town camp areas.

If the government acquires town camp property, then compensation required by the Constitution will be paid. Native title will not be extinguished.

The government has been in negotiations with the Alice Springs town camps for some time, and we remain hopeful that they will agree to sublease the housing areas of their land to the Northern Territory for 99 years to be run as normal public housing. Negotiations currently underway in Tennant Creek are very promising.

The bill also provides for regulations to remove listed town camp land.

This will enable town camp leases to be exempted from Commonwealth action to forfeit the leases, or resume or acquire the land, where the association subleases all, or a substantial part, of its lease for 99 years.

Government Business Managers

This bill contributes significantly to improving the way communities are governed, by providing appropriate powers to support the appointment of Government Business Managers, who will manage government activities and assets in the selected communities.

Government Business Managers will work with local people to help things run smoothly, implement the emergency measures and ensure government services are delivered effectively. Local people will be able to talk to the Australian Government direct.

Powers introduced to support their role include powers:

  • to terminate or vary Commonwealth funding agreements;
  • to give directions on the carrying out of government-funded services and the use of assets to provide those services;
  • to give an authorised person a position as a non-voting observer on bodies carrying out functions or services; and
  • to place certain bodies in external administration for failures relating to the provision of government-funded services.

Government Business Managers will work cooperatively with communities and existing organisations within these communities, as well as the Northern Territory government.

It must be stressed that powers in the legislation for Government Business Managers will only be exercised as a last resort in situations where normal processes of discussion and negotiation have failed, or where community organisations are unable, or unwilling, to make the changes that are needed.

These are serious and important powers and will only be delegated to senior Departmental officers or held by the minister.

These powers will apply to any further areas over which the government takes a five-year lease under the legislation and will only be exercised for the five-year period of the Northern Territory emergency response.

Bail and sentencing

In 2006, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed that no customary law or cultural practice excuses, justifies, authorises, requires, or lessens the seriousness of violence or sexual abuse. All jurisdictions agreed that their laws would reflect this. COAG also agreed to improve the effectiveness of bail provisions to support and protect victims and witnesses.

The Commonwealth implemented the COAG decision through bail and sentencing legislation in relation to Commonwealth offences. This bill ensures that the decisions of COAG will also apply in relation to bail and sentencing discretion in the Northern Territory.

It is the government’s intention that, if the Northern Territory enacts sufficiently complementary provisions, the bail and sentencing provisions contained in this bill will be repealed.

Community stores

The community store is a central amenity for any small community, and the store operator is a critical member of the community in remote Australia.

Poor quality food is a major contributor to poor health.

There are examples of stores that are serving a good range of products and where the people who use the store are treated with respect.

But there are many cases where the store operator pays no attention to the need for healthy food and has little or no training in how to run a retail business. Some make unreasonably high profits at the expense of local consumers who have no choice but to purchase from the one store available in their community.

Our community survey teams have found that stores in some quite sizeable communities have closed, which often forces the residents to get whatever food they can from the nearest roadhouse, or to travel large distances to another community or commercial centre for the basic necessities of life.

Over two-thirds of the communities surveyed have either no store or have a store that has poor retail practices or which does not sell quality healthy food.

Bad store practices will undermine the government’s efforts to improve the lives of Aboriginal people, and especially children, in the Northern Territory.

That is why we want to put more emphasis on stores meeting certain basic criteria around food quality and financial integrity. The introduction of income management for welfare recipients makes this all the more important.

A substantial slice of welfare payments will be quarantined for food and other necessities during the emergency period. If a store wants to participate, they will be required to be licensed to do so, meaning that they will need to meet certain standards. Otherwise, they will face the prospect of competition from other retailers including from ‘Outback Stores’—an initiative of the Australian Government.

The small number of stores that are known to have appropriate financial and retail practices will be considered for a six-month licence shortly after the bill has been enacted.

In other cases, it will be necessary to undertake a detailed assessment against each of the assessable items before a licence can be issued.

Conclusion

The government is committed to protecting children in the Northern Territory and is prepared to spend the money necessary to achieve this.

The appropriation bills also tabled provide the money required in 2007-08 for the stabilisation phase of the response.

The need is urgent and immediate and the government is stepping up to the plate to provide the necessary funding now for additional police, for health checks, for welfare reform and the other measures necessary to achieve these outcomes.

But we also recognise that longer-term action is required to normalise arrangement in these communities. Funding for housing in remote communities received a major boost in this year’s budget. Separate funds will be provided for other longer-term measures in the next budget process.

Funding for existing programs will also be examined for ways to use money more effectively to provide greater benefit to Indigenous people in the Northern Territory. For example, we have announced that CDEP will be replaced with more effective employment services in the Northern Territory.

The money is important but it is not by itself the answer. Success will be determined by the extent to which the local people are engaged in tackling their own problems. Our approach is fundamentally about empowering local citizens, releasing them from fear, intimidation and abuse. The overwhelming majority of these people desperately want the best for their children and we must encourage them every step of the way so that they can begin to hope for a better future.

The government has been tremendously encouraged by the overwhelming support for this emergency response from ordinary Australians. There have been hundreds of people volunteering to help. Police across Australia are volunteering their services. The Australian public want to see real change and are willing to put their shoulder to the wheel when they feel that finally they can help to improve the lot of their fellow Australian citizens—the first Australians.

This is a great national endeavour and it is the right thing to do.


FAMILIES, COMMUNITY SERVICES AND INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS AND OTHER LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (NORTHERN TERRITORY NATIONAL EMERGENCY RESPONSE AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2007

This bill complements the new principal legislation introduced by the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill 2007 and the welfare reform amendments provided by the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Welfare Payment Reform) Bill 2007.

In introducing the principal legislation, it has been noted that the government’s emergency response in the Northern Territory is all about the safety and wellbeing of children.

This bill deals mainly with banning certain pornography, issues to do with increased policing, Commonwealth and Northern Territory infrastructure, and access to Northern Territory Aboriginal land.

This is an emergency situation in the Northern Territory and we need to act quickly. Each and every day, children are being abused. We need strong powers so that we are not weighed down by unnecessary red tape and talk-fests, and can focus on doing what needs to be done.

The cycle of unemployment and welfare dependency, alcohol abuse and violence, needs to be broken, so that we can go on to build sustainable, healthy communities.

Each of the interventions in the emergency response package is a critical component of an integrated response to the situation facing these Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory.

The measures in this bill generally apply to the same prescribed areas covered by the measures in the principal bill:

  • land scheduled under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (the Land Rights Act);
  • community living areas, which are located on a form of freehold title issued by the Northern Territory Government to Aboriginal corporations;
  • town camps, in the vicinity of major urban areas, held by Aboriginal associations on special leases from the Northern Territory Government; and
  • other areas prescribed on advice from our expert taskforce.

Banning prohibited pornographic material

This bill contains measures which ban the possession of pornographic material and advertisements in the prescribed areas.

The Little children are sacred report revealed that the availability of pornography in Northern Territory communities is a factor contributing to child sexual abuse—being used to groom children for sex, and desensitizing children to violence and inappropriate sexual behaviour.

Put simply, this measure in the bill is intended to prevent children being exposed to pornography, by removing this material from homes and preventing it from entering communities. For the purposes of this bill, ‘pornographic material’ is described as ‘prohibited material’ and is defined as:

  • X18+ classified films;
  • Category 1 Restricted and Category 2 Restricted publications;
  • films and publications that are Refused Classification;
  • unclassified films and publications that, if classified, would be Refused Classification or X18+ or Category 1 or Category 2 restricted publications; and
  • prohibited advertisements.

The bill makes it an offence to possess or control prohibited pornographic material in the identified communities.

Unlike existing offences in the Northern Territory, the complete ban also applies to possessing prohibited material without the intention to copy or sell the material.

Make no mistake, this government is hell bent on doing everything it can to protect innocent children. Children should never be exposed to this sort of material as they are on a regular basis in some of these communities.

To make sure that the ban on possession will be effective, this bill will also ban delivering or sending prohibited pornographic material into these areas.

And this ban applies no matter where material is being sent from—from within the Northern Territory or from other parts of Australia such as the ‘adult’ DVD industry based in the Australian Capital Territory.

We have to stop material at its source, by preventing mail order companies sending material into a community, as well as residents or visitors sending or taking material into a community.

Of course, Australia Post and other operators of postal and parcel services, who inadvertently transport prohibited material into a prescribed area during the normal course of service, will not be committing an offence. But those who use postal or parcel services to send prohibited material into a prescribed area will be subject to criminal penalties.

The Howard government also wants to ensure heavy penalties are imposed on those who are caught ‘trafficking’ pornography to at-risk communities.

This bill provides for heavier penalties for the supply of five or more items of prohibited material - the quantity is considered likely to indicate a commercial transaction rather than material solely for personal use.

These measures are about targeting the material and removing it, so police will have appropriate powers to seize material found in an identified community where a police officer suspects on reasonable grounds that it is prohibited. This will mean material can be immediately removed from communities.

Seized material will be returned, on application, if the responsible officer, or a magistrate, is satisfied on reasonable grounds that it is not prohibited material.

Repeal of certain provisions may be necessary, for example, if the Northern Territory government enacts legislation prohibiting possession of some or all of the material which is dealt with by the Commonwealth provisions.

Therefore, this bill provides for the minister, by legislative instrument, to repeal some or all of the new provisions, without the delay involved in enacting repealing legislation.

We hope and expect the new rules to do their job in helping to stabilise the communities by the end of the five year intervention, as announced by the government.

Therefore, these rules will end after five years through a sunset clause in this bill.

Re-establishing law and order

A top priority of the emergency response is to re-establish law and order so people can feel safe from the threat of violence, perpetrators of sexual abuse can be apprehended and prosecuted, and the new bans on alcohol and pornography can be enforced.

We have increased police numbers, including through secondments from the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the states, which will enable police to live and work in communities, or visit regularly.

This bill ensures AFP members deployed in this role, and appointed as special constables of the Northern Territory police service, can exercise all the powers and functions of the local police service.

Further amendments will allow the Australian Crime Commission Board to authorise the National Intelligence Taskforce into Violence and Child Abuse in Australia’s Indigenous Communities to have the Commission’s full coercive powers, and capacity to access relevant information held by State agencies, to support the operations of the Taskforce.

Retaining government ownership of facilities constructed on Aboriginal land (infrastructure)

This bill also provides for the Commonwealth and Northern Territory to have continuing ownership of buildings and infrastructure on Aboriginal land which are constructed or upgraded with government funding.

Each year, the Australian and Northern Territory governments provide millions of dollars for the construction and upgrade of buildings and infrastructure on Aboriginal land across the Northern Territory.

In the past, the Australian government has not usually retained ownership of the buildings and infrastructure, nor has it obtained an interest in the land on which they are constructed.

This has meant the government has been unable to protect its investment and has also led to very poor outcomes.

For example, despite massive investment in public housing in the Northern Territory, today there are fewer houses in the Indigenous housing stock than there were five years ago.

The Howard government is no longer prepared to invest public money in buildings and infrastructure on private land unless it can have a continuing interest over them.

The bill ensures that, in the future, the Commonwealth or the Northern Territory will own buildings and infrastructure which are constructed or substantially upgraded with their funding.

Any construction or renovation will be undertaken with the consent of the relevant Land Council under the processes of the Northern Territory Aboriginal Land Rights Act, which require traditional owner consent.

Access to Aboriginal land

The permit system for people entering Aboriginal land will be retained but permits will no longer be needed to access common areas in the main townships and the road corridors, barge landings and airstrips connected with them.

The current permit system has not prevented child abuse, violence, or drug and alcohol running. It has helped create closed communities which can, and do, hide problems from public scrutiny.

Improving access to these towns will promote economic activity and help link communities to the wider world.

It will also allow government services to be provided more readily—essential for the recovery of these communities.

The current permit system will continue to apply for the vast majority, or about 99.8 per cent, of Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory, including homelands. Sacred sites will continue to be protected.

In the townships and the road corridors where the permit system no longer applies, the Northern Territory Government will be given the power to restrict access, temporarily, to protect the privacy of a cultural event or to protect public health and safety.

The government has been considering changing the system since it announced a review in September 2006 and the changes follow the release of a discussion paper in October 2006 and the receipt of almost 100 submissions.

Over 40 communities were visited during consultations following the release of the discussion paper. It was disturbing to hear from officials conducting the consultations that numerous people came up to them after the consultations, saying that the permit system should be removed. They were afraid to say this in the public meetings.

The permit system in some communities has been used to help create a climate of fear and intimidation.

Residents have not felt comfortable to report abuse because of the fear of retribution.

A proper police presence, which is at the core of the stabilisation phase of the emergency response, will give people the confidence to report to the appropriate authorities sexual abuse and other violence.

A real police presence cannot be replaced by a piece of paper that determines who can come into the community.

The permit system has not stopped bad people coming into a community.

Visitors, including tourists, have been discouraged, leading to limited contact with the real economy.

More open communities will give people the confidence to deal with the outside world. An open town is a safer and more prosperous town.

Closed communities can create an environment where behaviours, including antisocial and criminal behaviours, attract little public attention. This is not healthy.

The bill provides for the removal of the need for permits for common areas of the major towns.

Common areas are the places in a town that are generally used by everyone. Visitors will also not need a permit to go to shops that are open or to visit residences if invited.

Government officials and members of Parliament will be able to enter and remain on Aboriginal land without a permit to do their job.

People will be able to attend Court hearings on Aboriginal land without a permit.

Both Land Councils and traditional owners can currently issue permits and revoke permits issued by another party.

This has led to confusion and conflict.

The bill therefore provides that Land Councils and traditional owners cannot revoke permits issued by another party.

The bill provides for temporary restrictions to the public access to common areas and access roads to protect the privacy of a cultural event or to protect public health and safety.

The Northern Territory government is provided with the power to make laws on these matters.

The Howard government will use the time before the commencement of the changes to further explain the changes to the people of the Northern Territory.

We will explain to Aboriginal people the nature and extent of the changes to counter the hysteria and fear that has been unnecessarily provoked by some people.

The government will explain to the wider Northern Territory community that the changes only apply to common areas in towns, and access to those towns is not in any way a licence to wander over the vast bulk of Aboriginal land without a permit.

The permit changes are limited to areas that are in effect country towns and are not a threat to sacred sites or the Aboriginal estate more broadly.

Other land rights and lease amendments

Schedule 5 to this bill provides for several miscellaneous amendments to the Land Rights Act, including several minor changes to clarify some of the arrangements for township leases.

The Land Rights Act currently provides that, where there is a township lease in place, subleases may be granted. Since there will be circumstances where the grant of a licence is more appropriate than a sublease, the amendments clarify that licences may also be granted.

The amendments will also ensure that a township lease can only be transferred in accordance with the terms and conditions of the township lease.

The bill will have the effect of disapplying the Lands Acquisition Act 1989 to dealings related to township leases.

The bill also provides that the definition of estate or interest in land for the purpose of sections 70 and 71 of the Land Rights Act includes certain types of licences as well as the statutory rights that are conferred under the new infrastructure provisions in Schedule 3 to the Bill.

This bill will also extend the defence in relation to entering or remaining on Aboriginal land that is covered by a township lease to land that is covered by a five-year Commonwealth lease, which will enable people who have a valid reason for entering land subject to a five-year Commonwealth lease to do so without a permit.

The bills contain provisions that clarify the operation of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 and other anti-discrimination laws.

The provisions of the bills for the Northern Territory national emergency response are drafted as ‘special measures’ taken for the sole purpose of securing the advancement of Indigenous Australians.

The impact of sexual abuse on Indigenous children, families and communities requires decisive and prompt action. The Northern Territory national emergency response will protect children and implement Australia’s obligations under human rights treaties.

The Government’s response will allow Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory to advance and enjoy the same human rights as other communities in Australia.

Conclusion

The Australian government has made clear that it will do what needs to be done to protect Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory.

This bill is an important element of tying our measures together into a coherent package to break the back of the violence and dysfunction in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory.


APPROPRIATION (NORTHERN TERRITORY NATIONAL EMERGENCY RESPONSE) BILL (No. 1) 2007-2008

There are two Supplementary Estimates Appropriation Bills being introduced as part of the government’s national emergency response to protect Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory. They are: Appropriation (Northern Territory National Emergency Response) Bills Numbers 1 and 2. I shall introduce Bill 2 shortly.

These Supplementary Estimates Bills follow on from the Appropriation Bills that were introduced into the House on the occasion of the 2007-2008 Budget. They seek appropriation authority from Parliament for the additional expenditure of money from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, in order to implement the first stage of the emergency measures to protect Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory from abuse and give them a better, safer future. The measures in the emergency response aim to protect and stabilise communities in the crisis areas. This is the first stage in a longer term approach to improve the welfare of Aboriginal children and their families in the Northern Territory.

The bills are required to facilitate timely implementation of the Emergency Response initiatives.

The total appropriation being sought through the Supplementary Estimates Bills is in excess of $587.3 million. The total appropriation being sought in Emergency Response Bill (No.1) is almost $502 million.

I now outline the major items provided for in the Bill.

An increase of $91.25 million will be provided to the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations to implement a range of employment and welfare reform measures in the Northern Territory as part of the emergency response. This includes expediting the removal of all Remote Area Exemptions across the Northern Territory by 31 December 2007. This will provide that all Indigenous people in the Northern Territory with the capacity to work are taking part in activities that will improve their ability to gain employment. Accelerated removal of Remote Area Exemptions is also required to ensure that:

  • clean up activities related to the Northern Territory Emergency Response are available and that job seekers can be compelled to participate in these activities; and
  • job seekers take advantage of job opportunities already available in the Northern Territory.

Failure to remove Remote Area Exemptions within this time-frame will mean many job seekers in the Northern Territory will not be required to look for work or be able to be compelled to participate in activities in return for their income support payment.

This funding will also provide for Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) to be replaced progressively with jobs, training and mainstream employment services across the Northern Territory. Support will be provided to existing Community Development Employment organisations to ensure they can continue to play a role in their communities. This measure includes a transition payment to maintain income levels for former Community Development Employment participants as well as support to create jobs from current placements and new places in employment services. The move from CDEP to training and mainstream employment services will result in offsetting savings of $76.3 million to the overall costs of this measure (these savings are not reflected in this Bill).

In addition an amount of $24.21 million is provided to Indigenous Business Australia for investment and community initiatives in the Northern Territory, which includes $18.9 million to provide for an expanded network of outback stores as well as support for existing community stores in conjunction with welfare payments reform. An additional $10.1 million is also provided to Centrelink to fund the activities for the implementation of welfare payments reform, including the deployment of staff to the targeted communities.

A total amount of $212.3 million is provided to the Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs to implement a wide range of measures in support of the Government’s Northern Territory Emergency Response, including welfare payments reform, housing and land, additional services for families and children, law and order and administrative and logistics support for the response.

Of the measures included in this funding, $16.2 million is provided to fund a package of necessary services for children, young people and their families. Families and children will need to be supported throughout the Emergency Response and afterwards. Additional children’s services such as childcare and other early childhood services will be provided in the targeted communities. This funding also includes an Alcohol Diversionary programme to support young people, primarily aged 12 to 18, living in remote communities to provide an alternative to drinking and other forms of substance misuse.

The Government will also provide funding through the Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs of $25.9 million for land surveying and upgrades to essential utility services infrastructure in the targeted communities. Housing will also be provided for the staff of a number of agencies in the affected remote communities. The Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs will be provided with $13.9 million to provide temporary staff housing in remote communities for the staff deployed in support of the emergency response.

Finally, to coordinate and manage the Northern Territory Emergency Response and deliver effective outcomes, the Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs will be provided with $71.4 million to establish the Northern Territory Emergency Response Taskforce, the Operations Centre, the deployment of Government Business Managers to the communities and logistics support. This amount also includes funding for Volunteers, Indigenous Community Engagement and other Departmental corporate activities.

As part of the immediate emergency response, $63.1 million will be provided to support law and order initiatives, including:

  • $7.4 million to the Australian Federal Police to deploy to the Northern Territory;
  • $25.7 million will also be provided to the Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs to fund additional police deployments and provide police stations and police housing in the Northern Territory;
  • $4 million to the Australian Crime Commission to gather intelligence and analyse Indigenous child abuse in Australia;
  • $15.5 million to the Department of Defence for logistics support for the initial roll out; and
  • $10.5 million to the Attorney-General’s Department to fund additional legal services for Indigenous people and additional Night Patrol Programmes in 50 communities through the Indigenous Solutions and Service Delivery programme.

The Department of Health and Ageing will receive an additional $82.9 million to introduce health checks for all Aboriginal children in each community targeted under the measure. This entails:

  • an assessment of the health needs of each community targeted;
  • the rollout of teams of volunteer doctors and other health professionals to conduct health assessments of Indigenous children aged up to 16 years of age;
  • the promotion of child health checks to Indigenous communities;
  • the establishment of teams of Drug and Alcohol workers to provide outreach support to families and communities affected by the withdrawal of alcohol;
  • the development, management and coordination of the Department’s contribution to the emergency response; and
  • to provide clinical assessment and treatment to abused and traumatised children.
  • The Department of Education, Science and Training will be provided with $16 million to:
  • build teacher workforce capacity, by attracting and retaining experienced teachers;
  • provide 24 additional classrooms to accommodate anticipated demand at schools in the prescribed communities; and
  • strengthen curriculum offerings to ensure that children are engaged productively on returning to school and are gaining skills in literacy and numeracy.

The Department of Education, Science and Training will also be provided with $6.4 million to deliver a breakfast and lunch programme to school aged children in schools in the targeted communities in the Northern Territory.

The balance of the amount in Appropriation (Northern Territory National Emergency Response) Bill (No. 1) relates to other minor measures associated with the response.

I commend the bill to the Senate.


APPROPRIATION (NORTHERN TERRITORY NATIONAL EMERGENCY RESPONSE) BILL (No. 2) 2007-2008

Appropriation (Northern Territory National Emergency Response) Bill (No. 2) provides additional funding to agencies for expenses in relation to grants to the Northern Territory, and capital funding.

The total additional appropriation being sought in this appropriation bill is $85.3 million.

The major components of the bill include:

An additional $14.5 million to the Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs to provide grants for the employment of child protection workers in the Northern Territory, and the provision of safe places for families escaping domestic violence.

In addition, the Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs will also be provided with an equity injection of $34.3 million to address the short term accommodation requirements of Australian Government and other staff in support of the response.

Total capital funding of $17.7 million is provided for Indigenous Business Australia, which includes funding of $10.2 million to provide for an expansion of Outback Stores as well as provide support for existing community stores, in conjunction with welfare payments reform.

Finally, Centrelink will receive capital funding of $14.3 million to enhance its information technology and service delivery capacity to implement welfare payments reform.

The remainder of the amount in Appropriation (Northern Territory National Emergency Response) Bill (No. 2) relates to other minor measures associated with the Response.

I commend the bill to the Senate.