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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 76

Mr FAWCETT (2:12 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. Would the minister outline to the House the immediate steps the government will be taking on the scourge of alcohol abuse and child abuse affecting Indigenous children in the Northern Territory?

Mr BROUGH (Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Wakefield for the question. As a man who puts the family first in everything he does, he understands the significance when a family unit breaks down because of grog, because of marijuana, because of sexual abuse, or because of domestic violence, and knows that it is an issue of national significance and national emergency.

I refer to the very first recommendation of the report. It states: ‘That this be designated an issue of urgent national significance by both the Australian and the Northern Territory governments.’ I have likened this to the action we should take when a community is struck by a cyclone or a flood. Certain things have to be put aside. Certain normalities have to be discarded. You have to move boldly and you have to do it quickly. When I first came into this job, the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory said to me that the town camps in Alice Springs were her No. 1 priority. Here we are, some 16 or 17 months later and, unfortunately, I cannot report any significant improvement—in fact there is no improvement in the town camps. It has not been through want of trying. It has not been through lack of money, resources or will on behalf of the Howard government that it has not happened. What we are calling for here is not to delay another day. I could not live with myself and I know that not one member of this House would want to live with themselves knowing that we sat on a report like this for eight weeks and then said for another six or eight weeks that we would wait and try and come up with some answers and then start to implement them.

The children deserve and need us to implement things today. The first thing that we can do that does not require legislative change, that does not need the recall of the parliament, is for the premiers of the other states in this country to stand up, to come up to the plate, to come forward with the police resources so that we can have them sworn in as Northern Territory police and have them on the ground. We know for a fact that when police are on the ground people come forward. In Kulumburru, when the Western Australian government put a police station there, in very short order a young woman came forward and as a result of her evidence we now have 13 men who have been charged with child sex abuses. That is 13 males out of an adult male population of about 90. That is just unbelievable in this country. And no-one should think for a moment that that is the only community. Without police, without someone responsible to report that abuse to, it could not happen. We can do something about that now.

In the same way as this country responded to the tsunami—we had people up in the Indonesian archipelago and other places within days—we need that to happen here. We are prepared to stand by and have the military forces of this country provide their logistics, their vehicles and their communications, and the language skills of the Indigenous parts of our defence forces to support the men and women of the Australian police forces in their duty. That will give comfort. That will give real purpose to what we are doing. That is the first thing that needs to happen and it does not need to take weeks. I ask the state premiers to start working on this now in the interests of these children.

One other issue that I would go to, in the multitude of things that we are undertaking here, is the compulsory acquisition under just terms. We are doing that because we need to be able to ensure that people are living in hygienic conditions, so that the conditions that currently prevail where people are living in overcrowded houses, where there are no norms and where all of the abuse can take place can stop. But we need to have control over the homes—the condition they are in, who is in them and what is occurring in them.

We are asking for that now, so that we can do that and return normality over the next five years. There are three phases to what we are doing: (1) stabilisation, (2) normalisation and (3) exit. This will require the entire support of the Northern Territory government. Phase 2 will deal with the issues that many of you will think need to be dealt with. But, first of all, we have to stabilise. The grog has to be restricted. As a senior woman in Wadeye said to me, ‘Please stop the cash flowing into these communities because they are buying grog, they are buying gunga and they are then destroying our children, and this is money that we need to have.’ These are the steps we have announced today. These are the steps no less that will deal with the insidious crime against the children of our nation.