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Tuesday, 14 August 2007
Page: 68

Senator BOYCE (5:23 PM) —I do not have the depth or breadth of experience of Indigenous issues that some of our speakers this afternoon have, but I do have a lot of experience with vulnerable people and with doing my best to help protect them. It is on that basis that I rise to support the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill 2007 and related legislation this afternoon. Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the bravery and patience of the 65 submitters and the more than 200 people who attended meetings to give evidence for the Anderson-Wild report. Some of the comments made during those hearings included a man from Gunbalanya who said, ‘We have a 20-year history of six-month programs.’ An elder said, ‘We have been piloting pilots for long enough.’ It is not just the bravery and the patience of the people who contributed to the Anderson-Wild report that we should acknowledge, but we should also acknowledge those who have contributed in the past to the reports done by Bonnie Robertson and others. We have had dozens and dozens of reports. We have had dozens and dozens of pilots, and yet the issues have got worse rather than better.

When I first looked at the Anderson-Wild report I treated it with some hope and enthusiasm that it was going to be the report that changed things, despite the fact that its release by the Northern Territory government was rather late. One of its key recommendations was that education is one of the solutions to the problems—the endemic child abuse, the endemic violence, the endemic hopelessness. There is no way you could disagree with the idea that education is a key to answering these problems. But one of the key reasons it gave for education being a big positive was that children could not be sexually abused while they were at school. My blood ran cold at the idea that this is a reason for education. What on earth has happened to the social norms in a community where one of the big reasons for going to school is that you are safe from sexual abuse whilst you are there? This is not a situation that can be fixed in any normal way or with any normal measures. I believe, in keeping with Noel Pearson and the comments made earlier by Senator Heffernan, that we have to take some extraordinary measures to try and reinstate social norms in some of those areas, and I would like to acknowledge the initiatives of my Queensland colleague Minister Brough in getting this program up and happening.

I would also like to talk briefly about some of the comments that have been made around suggested changes to the permit system. People have suggested that this is the wrong way to go. I have spoken in other contexts about special places where we put special people—institutions, in fact. Any time that you have closed doors, a permit system or closed communities you encourage and you allow vulnerable people to continue to be exploited and abused. The history of reports into institutions very much reflects the sorts of reports that we are getting and that we have seen one after another into the problems in Indigenous communities. It was only when we bit the bullet and said that there is no way that any institution can be a good institution and that the only way anyone can be safe is to open up what happens to them to scrutiny and accountability that the lives of people who had previously been abused, exploited, terrified and treated as less than human in institutions began to improve. I applaud the idea of changing the permit system to at least allow open access to common areas because this is one of the few ways that we can see some sustainability in reducing abuse and violence and getting some long-term benefit.