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New ATSIC Board commits to action against family violence.

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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission

26 March 2003

New ATSIC Board commits to action against family violence

"This Board accepts that it has a mandated responsibility to act against family and sexual violence," ATSIC Chairman, Geoff Clark, said today. "We recognise also that we are leaders in our communities and so are committing ourselves personally to stand up against violence and to help reduce its extent, in partnership with our people."

At its first full meeting, ATSIC's fifth Board of Commissioners made a strong and personal commitment to action against the "escalating and unacceptable levels" of family violence in Indigenous communities and to upholding the rights of women and children. The new Board, voted into office as a result of the October 2002 elections, adopted a

Family Violence Policy Statement enshrining this commitment and setting out principles and strategies for action.

Mr Clark acknowledged widespread concern about the extent and consequences of violence in Indigenous Australia.

"Recent research shows that Indigenous people are four and a half times more likely to be victims of violent crime, and that three quarters of these victims are women," the Chairman said.

"In making its commitment, the new Board has declared that family and sexual violence are not part of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander culture, and that we will help break the silence that has surrounded this issue by empowering our people to speak out without reprisal."

The Board also drew attention to the amounts ATSIC already spends on combating violence.

"ATSIC has created and funded a network of Family Violence Prevention Legal Services in areas of high need around Australia. Reforms to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services achieved over recent years have also resulted in better services and legal representation for women.

"At least $8.3 million of ATSIC's annual budget is spent directly on violence services. In addition, our largest program, Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) sponsors community-based intervention. The estimated contribution made by CDEP to this issue is over $55.3 million."

The Policy pledges to use ATSIC's influence and resources to: * advocate for action on violence at all levels, followed up

by monitoring and reporting on progress, in line with the Commission's obligations under the ATSIC Act; * develop formal partnerships with governments and the community to achieve a "responsible, coordinated and holistic approach to bring about change and healing"; * deliver locally appropriate strategies through the regional plans required under the ATSIC Act; and * support capacity building in communities "building on their strengths and resources".

The Family Violence Policy is based on the work of the National Indigenous Working Group on Violence (NIWGV), convened by ATSIC as a result of a series of roundtable meetings on violence in 2001-02. The NIWGV operated from February to December last year and, through its report to the Board, played a key role in developing the principles and strategies outlined in the policy document.

Violence in Indigenous communities has also been a priority area for the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) and the Ministerial Council for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs (MCATSIA). The latter is sponsoring an audit of existing family violence services, managed and funded by ATSIC.

"The new Board shares the concerns expressed across the Australian community," Mr Clark said.

"To underline our personal commitment, each of us will be signing the Family Violence Policy Statement which will be distributed to our communities, government agencies and non-government organisations across Australia.

"This signals our determination to translate our words into actions."

ATTACHMENT: Family Violence Policy Statement

Media contact: Paul Molloy on 02 6121 4961 or 0419 690 926

Board of Commissioners

Family Violence Policy Statement

Family Violence has a deep and lasting effect on us physically, mentally and spiritually. All Indigenous people have the right to enjoy life and security in our own country, free from violence, fear and conflict. Our extended family, as the basis of our culture, is entitled to the widest possible protection and assistance in relation to family violence.

Indigenous people hold the key to stop family violence through self-determination, ownership and empowerment at the local, community and family level. Urgent interventions must take place to ensure the well-being and safety of our children so that they can take their rightful place in Indigenous Society.

This Board of Commissioners of ATSIC accepts its mandated responsibility to take action against family and sexual violence and as leaders we declare that:

* Family and sexual violence is not part of the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander culture.

* We will stand against it in our families and communities and personally commit to changing and reducing its escalating and unacceptable levels.

* We must help break the silence by empowering our peoples to speak out and at the same time protect them from reprisals.

* All interventions must focus primarily on the child and provide protection under both lore and law, and therefore must be culturally appropriate.

* Women and children have the same rights as men before the law and their interests must be represented equally in public policy.

* At the national, community and state level we will advocate for action and actively monitor and report on progress to achieve a significant reduction in the incidence of family violence, in line with our statutory obligations.

* We will formally engage Federal, State and Territory Governments, non-government and community in developing a responsible, coordinated, partnership and holistic approach to bring about change and healing for Indigenous family violence.

* We will place the highest priority on delivering locally appropriate strategies through ATSIC regional plans.

* We will engage all levels of our communities through

capacity building and collaboration, building on their strengths and resources in advocating action to eliminate the underlying causes of family violence, for example, lack of employment and overcrowded housing.