Political gimmicks, Welfare Tourists & the Continuing Farce of the Commonwealth Response to the Wild/Anderson Report

Politics is about the art of the possible. It’s about spinning on the tip of a pin, having no principles and constant reinvention to suit the circumstances of the day. But there is one thing that you cannot hide in politics and that is pure emptiness of policy. The sight of the latest welfare tourists from Canberra in Aboriginal communities conveys just how empty the Howard-Brough incursion into the Northern Territory is.

And one of the things I think we should have learned by now is that you can’t solve these things by centralized bureaucratic direction. You can only educate children in a school at the place where they live. You can only give people jobs or get people into employment person by person. And I think my own view now is that the lesson we’ve learned is that you need locally based action, local resourcing, local control to really make changes.
• But I think governments persist in thinking you can direct from Canberra, you can direct from Perth or Sydney or Melbourne, that you can have programs that run out into communities that aren’t owned by those communities, that aren’t locally controlled and managed, and I think surely that is a thing we should know doesn’t work.
• So I am very much in favour of a model which I suppose builds local control in communities as the best of those Native Title agreements do, as has been done in the Argyle Diamond Mine Agreement, as is being done in Kununurra. Not central bureaucracies trying to run things in Aboriginal communities. That doesn’t work.
• They’re locked into systems which require central accounting, which require centralised rules and regulations. They’re not locally tailored. The great thing about working with a mining company in an Aboriginal community is that the mining company has the flexibility to manage towards outcomes locally with that community.
• The great thing about the education projects in which I’m involved is that we can manage locally for the outcomes that we want to achieve locally. Once you try and do it by remote control, through visiting ministers and visiting bureaucrats fly in, fly out – forget it. Fred Chaney
The thrust of our recommendations, which are designed to advise the Northern Territory Government on how it can help support communities to effectively prevent and tackle child sexual abuse, is for there to be consultation with, and ownership by the communities, of those solutions. The underlying dysfunctionality where child sexual abuse flourishes needs to be attacked, and the strength returned to Aboriginal people.

Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle  Little Children are Sacred Report into Child Sex Abuse, Rex Wild & Pat Anderson, co-chairs, p. 21

Politics is about the art of the possible. It’s about spinning on the tip of a pin, having no principles and constant reinvention to suit the circumstances of the day. But there is one thing that you cannot hide in politics and that is pure emptiness of policy. The sight of the latest welfare tourists from Canberra in Aboriginal communities conveys just how empty the Howard-Brough incursion into the Northern Territory is. What makes it even more empty is that it contrasts with one of the best reports ever prepared on child abuse in Aboriginal communities. But it seems that to read all of the words of the Wild Anderson Report  “Little

Children are Sacred” dooms one to be a nay sayer and a prevaricator out of touch with the needs of remote Aboriginal communities according to supporters of the Howard government. To understand that a multi-faceted, long term cooperative approach centred on leadership within communities is needed is somehow shameful. To criticize the ill thought out, arrogant response of the Federal Government is thought to be somehow against welfare reform. The truth is that unfortunately Aboriginal issues are once again caught up in a haze of political posturing. The Federal governments’ likening of Indigenous child abuse as a Hurricane-like catastrophe is totally inappropriate. Child abuse is not an overnight catastrophe nor can it be solved by fly in fly out storm troopers of police, army personell or bureaucrats in a force led by a Peter

Cosgrove figure. Child abuse as a symptom of many larger problems in remote Indigenous communities requires long term investment, patience and, as the NT report makes clear, a fifteen year effort of sustained efforts. In the NT report’s parlance the issue is one of national significance which requires a deliberative and thoughtful response.

“Put simply, the cumulative effects of poor health, alcohol, drug abuse, gambling, pornography, unemployment, poor education and housing and general disempowerment lead inexorably to family and other violence and then on to sexual abuse of men and women and, finally, of children. It will be impossible to set our communities on a strong path to recovery in terms of sexual abuse of children without dealing with all these basic services and social evils. Even then, the best that can be hoped for is improvement over a 15 year period - effectively, a generation or longer. It is our earnest hope that no Aboriginal child born from this year on will ever be the subject of sexual abuse. Our commitment to success should be aimed squarely at that target!”

The Limits of Policing

The most obvious shortcoming of the Howard government’s response to the NT government’s report is its assumption that, against the very tenets of the NT report, fly in fly out police or army or doctors or bureaucrats are thought able to come into a small community identify abusers, children who are in danger and somehow fix the circumstances which  have led to the problems.

Even in the best circumstances a good small country town policeman or woman works with and through the community. During the local show or rodeo a good country policeman may visit the houses of the show committee to make sure that while the chief volunteers are doing their work everything is ok back

home. A good country town policeman will patrol the school speeding zones when school starts or ends. He or she will regularly walk in and around and through the local pubs as a friendly presence.  All this builds up trust, cooperation and confidence. But even in the best of communities there are problems that no policeman or no professional can easily detect or prevent. A policeman is not the best person to ensure that a child goes to school.  A policeman is not the best person to determine whether a family is functioning well. A policeman searching bedrooms or kitchens or backyards must have very good reason for doing so. These things are well known. A good country policeman will know where he or she cannot patrol. But if police are trusted by community, they will invariably know when someone is in trouble or when trouble is likely to arise. Often they won’t have to ask, they will be told. When there is a need for intervention trusted police will have the full support of the community behind them.

Working within a small community in a trusted way is the whole basis of good policing. But even in the most affluent and stable of country communities it only takes one move from a newcomer into a community to lose trust and support. Trust has to be slowly built up and carefully nurtured. Sadly in some communities it may take years to build up. In such communities we see intractable problems where policing has no useful purpose other than intervening after the fact. Once this pattern emerges, intervention will invariably be too late. 

This culture of distrust and intractability is of course well known to Aboriginal Australia, one might even say it is a norm of remote communities that many courageous people try to change. Into this culture plunges Prime Minister Howard and Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough with their heavy handed police, army and bureaucratic army of child abuse detectors? Have Howard and Brough and their supporters actually read the Wild Johnson Report which, above all, calls for trust to be developed between community workers and police?

Even the best policemen in the most supportive of non-Indigenous communities struggle with problems that fall in the private or family realm. Even the most respected people can have dark problems that are not easily detectable or known. Even when it is known that a man or a woman has suffered from a lack of care or has suffered from family neglect or has a long history of abuse it is impossible to re-write history and it is often impossible to act. Even when a man or woman is slightly out of control or causes a potential threat to children or other adults, until that person transgresses the law, then a policeman is often powerless to act. The whole weight of bureaucracy and law and order emerges when harm is done and can be proved to have been done. Only then, even in the best of communities, is action taken.

Whether in strong or weak communities people on the cusp of the law learn the line which they cannot cross. They may be punished, confined and all sorts of orders may be put in place, but chronic wrong doers and abusers who have deep psychological motivations for their actions cannot be policed by policemen or bureaucrats. Nor can the whole array of funded health and community bureaucrats effectively police their behaviour. Nor are prisons big enough to house these problems once they take hold. Good policing and the prospect of healing troubled people comes from the whole community, from families and from people in all levels of life. A good country policeman works within that large domain of human good and as a result can be effective. This has been recognized in many communities, including significantly, many Aboriginal communities, where lay people and elders act as police supporters and liaison workers and sit alongside

magistrates in judging and sentencing wrong doers. Similarly a good community worker knows that the family and the community are the strength for making change and progress with seemingly intractable problems. In the best communities one hopes that a good country policeman will know of the likely trouble spots, and will invariably be prepared, as much as one can be, to take action to stop harm being done. But it is the community that makes good policing. It is the community which ultimately protects its children.

“What is required is a determined, coordinated effort to break the cycle and provide the necessary strength, power and appropriate support and services to local communities, so they can lead themselves out of the

malaise: in a word, empowerment!”

Investing in Community Leadership

To do its job of supporting the policing of harm and ill health and bad behaviour the community itself must be strong and healthy. At minimum a community needs a sound economy in order to ensure that people have jobs and income to support families. There must be strong infrastructure – governmental – schools, health care, training institutions, roads, water, sewerage and garbage collection and sanitation  and private – markets, enterprises, equipment and preferably the private sector will be much bigger or at least as big as the government sector.

None of these conditions currently apply in many remote Aboriginal communities. Even basic necessities such as housing, fresh food, water, electricity and fuel may be in short supply. For many, many years, but

particularly during the Howard years, these communities have been out of sight and out of mind for the whole Australian community. Conservative reformers often argue that such communities should be simply closed down and one gets the feeling from Howard, Brough and Abbott that they would like this to be done in many Northern Territory communities. Meanwhile we have created a monumental 3 billion per annum Aboriginal bureaucracy in Canberra that, beyond CDEP and one-off capital grants for bright spark projects, has never effectively invested in remote Aboriginal communities. It is a real joke that the ATSIC leadership was seen to be the nub of the problem.  The truth is that the real culprits got off scot-free and now live happily in the mainstream government departments much more unaccountable and much more invisible. Probably they are now in planes en route to some Aboriginal community. Meanwhile the up and coming Indigenous leadership coming through the ranks of ATSIC in the regions were sacked, denuded of funding and left to fend for themselves. When you visit ATSIC’s former offices in towns and regions they are empty or filled with generally non-Indigenous staff.

The Federal bureaucracy is not only to blame. The same story of inability to invest in remote regions applies to the hundreds of millions of dollars in the State and Territory bureaucracies in the capital cities of our States.  State and Territory funding frequently never touches the ground in Aboriginal remote communities. Moreover the monuments to poor bureaucratic decision making abound in remote communities all over Australia.

The chief problem is that the decisions were made by experts who decided what was needed without consultation or awareness of Indigenous community needs. A major billion dollar investment is needed back into the leadership of local Aboriginal communities and regions. But that is not going to happen while John Howard is Prime Minister. Adding insult to injury, into this awful governance schmozzle of remote and regional Aboriginal communities we are now sending a new wave of welfare tourists, Federal police, the army and an army of bureaucrats to try to identify and stop child abuse. It is as if three months before election 2007 we are at Ground Zero. It is as if the 97 recommendations of the report that was allegedly the major motivation for Howard-Brough are to be ignored. It is as if all of history can be swept away. It is as if Canberracan sweep away a township or camp. Even more astoundingly it is as if the complicated psychological pattern of child abuse does not exist. Most importantly abrogation of the travesty of

Commonwealth Indigenous governance is swept away and the larger economic social and infrastructure problems that are the primary responsibility of the Federal government are also swept away.

I wonder how any small country town would react if, after the identification of chronic child abuse in some family or part of the community, police, army personnel and an army of centre-link personnel were sent in to police the town and identify other offenders. At first some might welcome the initiative. But resentment would also emerge and it would not be long before any savvy community realized that deep seated complicated human problems were not going to be solved by police or bureaucrats, let alone those who were funded for a six month exercise or by a government facing an election. Sooner or later individual community members would have to live with and deal with, once again, the abusers. Deep trust is the glue that holds the potential of solutions together.  Child abuse cannot be solved by outside troops. Solutions

lie within the community and must be solved in a multi-faceted way as a community. In a strong white community we wouldn’t have to wait long for the people whom yesterday were labelled “naysayers” to came forward to suggest that there are other ways to solve deep seated human problems than sending in

police, army and bureaucrats. There are better ways of using resources. There are more appropriate personnel who are needed. Furthermore there are things within the community that might be funded to strengthen its ability to take action itself. Presumably the Federal government and its supporters will now take up these naysayers suggestions as if they had already thought of them, just as they have re-thought the prospect of compulsory medical checks. Perhaps they might also read the NT Report which calls for all these naysaying measures to be given some credence.

But in regional and remote Aboriginal Australia, communities have become savvy about regime change. They are so used to not being able to control the decisions that are made in Canberra or the State and Territory capital cities, that they are unlikely to waste their efforts in consultation. Nor is Canberra on the eve of an election likely to want to hear much more than can be splashed on the frontpage of The Australian. “Children saved from horrors of inequity”. The reality is that smart communities, and smart Premiers like Peter Beattie, simply use the latest outrage or fashion to get things that are needed. But it is extraordinary that when criticism is heard it is branded as ‘nay saying’ and ‘willing things to fail’. It is even more extraordinary that people who have worked in the communities and who have expert knowledge of child abuse are characterized as big city dwellers whose children sleep safe at night and do not understand the urgency of the problems of remote Aboriginal communities.

The reason why the nay sayers need to be listened to is that the current incursion will make things worse not  better in remote Aboriginal communities and may in fact make these problems of child abuse become more hidden and more deeply disguised. After Howard and Brough, what the elders and women in communities told the recent Northern Territory Report may never come to light in a way that will enable action to be taken.

The truth is that this current incursion is deeply political and is motivated by being seen to get things done on some ideological plane, but it has little to do with practical action that will bring about lasting change. The government, like the recent speaker at the Cape York Institute, may wish that Indigenous people did not exist as a separate group and that camps and homelands could be closed down, a predominant instinct for over 200 years, but it will not occur. Tommorrow the deep seated issues that face us will still be there, demanding long term patient solutions.

As the  Little Children are Sacred Report makes clear, stopping child abuse in Aboriginal communities and non-Aboriginal communities can be abolished completely in a relatively short period of time, but it will require years of patience, co-operation and trust. None of which is currently being exhibited by the Howard government.  Prime Ministers’,  Labor and Liberal, seem to wait until the end of their tenure to have some emotional awakening about Indigenous Australia. It is too late at the end of a Prime Ministerial term of office to do anything but make symbolic gestures. One hopes though that soon we will have a new Prime Minister who will remember this bi-partisan lesson and start to act to attack and solve these problems at the beginning of his term of office and not leave it until his last three months of public life. One hopes that the first thing thing on Prime Minister Rudd’s desk will be the 97 recommendations of the Little Children are Sacred report.


Rex Wild Pat Anderson  Little Children are Sacred Recommendations


1. That Aboriginal child sexual abuse in the Northern Territory be designated as an issue of urgent national
significance by both the Australian and Northern Territory Governments, and both governments immediately establish a collaborative partnership with a Memorandum of Understanding to specifically address the protection of Aboriginal children from sexual abuse. It is critical that both governments commit to genuine consultation with Aboriginal people in designing initiatives for Aboriginal communities.

2. That while everybody has a responsibility for the protection of all children, the Northern Territory
Government must provide strong leadership on the issue of child sexual abuse, and that this be expressed
publicly as a determined commitment to place children’s interests at the forefront in all policy and decision-making, particularly where a matter impacts on the physical and emotional well-being of children.
Further, because of the special disadvantage to which the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory are subject, particular regard needs to be given to the situation of Aboriginal children.

3. That the Northern Territory and Australian Governments develop long term funding programs that do not depend upon election cycles nor are limited by short-term outcomes or overly bureaucratic reporting conditions and strictures.

Government responses

4. That the government develop a Child Impact Analysis for all major policy and practice proposals across Government.

5. That the government develop a whole-of-government approach in respect of child sexual abuse. Protocols should be developed as a matter of urgency to enhance information sharing between agencies and the development of a coordinated approach in which all agencies acknowledge a responsibility for child protection. The approach might build on the work of the Strategic Management Group and Child Abuse Taskforce but needs to extend well beyond those initiatives.

6. That all Northern Territory Government agencies adopt policies, procedures or guidelines that promote
child safety (e.g. reporting child abuse, appropriate recruitment and selection practices of staff and volunteers who work with children, including screening processes wherever appropriate) and further that agencies ensure that compliance with such policies, procedures and guidelines relating to child safety are a requirement of all funding agreements they enter into with non-government organisations.

7. That a senior executive officer be designated in each Northern Territory Government agency which has
any contact with or responsibility for children to coordinate that Department’s response to ongoing child protection issues in conjunction with Family and Children’s Services (FACS) and Police, and to facilitate
interagency collaboration and communication on child protection and related issues. A suggested designation
for such officers could be “Director of Child Safety”, and this group of officers to report to the Deputy Chief
Executive in the Department of the Chief Minister.

8. That employment screening be mandatory for all employed persons and volunteers working with children as described in the draft Care and Protection of Children Bill 2007.

9. That a position of Commissioner for Children and Young People be established, with duties and responsibilities as described in the draft Care and Protection of Children Bill 2007. The Inquiry further
recommends that: a. The Commissioner should have a broad role not limited to individual complaints handling
with the power to conduct inquiries into any issues affecting children and young people in the Northern Territory, but with an emphasis on child protection and child abuse prevention
b. The Commissioner to have specific responsibility for the wellbeing of Aboriginal children.

10. That a child death review process as described in the draft Care and Protection of Children Bill 2007 be
established. In addition, the Inquiry recommends that the Child Death Review and Prevention Committee’s
terms of reference be extended to also enable case specific reviews of serious child abuse cases (where the child has survived) for the purposes of improving policy and practice and to make recommendations to government as necessary. That the Committee be adequately resourced to perform these functions.

Family and Children’s Services

11. That FACS maintain a role in responding to cases of extra familial sexual abuse, develops and evaluates
therapeutic support plans for the child, family (and community, where necessary).

12. That FACS be a division in its own right within the Department of Health and Community Services with
its own Assistant Secretary.

13. That there be further government investment (and continued real growth beyond the current child
protection reform program) to enable significant planned reform of the statutory child protection

14. That a separate branch be established within FACS with a specific focus on the provision of parenting
and family support services designed to prevent the occurrence of child abuse and neglect. This branch should also manage the professional and community education programs recommended by the Inquiry.

15. That the Department of Health and Community Services (DHCS) urgently implement the FACS Child Protection Reform
Agenda and the 2006 FACS Child Protection Workforce Strategy. The Inquiry recognises
these are key strategies to support the delivery of consistent, high quality and timely investigation and response services by FACS and a coordinated therapeutic interagency response to children and their families.

16. That FACS and Police undertake greater liaison with family or clan groups when conducting investigations,
including the conduct of post-case debriefings, and utilising trained community brokers where appropriate.

17. That DHCS lead the development of enhanced information sharing between FACS, health (hospitals
and health centres, including Aboriginal medical services) and community services (mental health, alcohol and other drugs, aged care and disability), Police and Education in support of more effective coordinated case management practices.

18. That FACS explore the possibility of providing confidential feedback on the progress and outcome of investigations to key service providers and notifiers, with a view to increasing communication and effective partnerships between FACS, Police and professional notifiers in particular.

19. That the number of child protection workers be increased and there be enhanced training and support for workers, including implementation of the following initiatives:
a. use of imaginative incentives to encourage staff recruitment and retention (and in particular the recruitment and retention of Aboriginal staff), given the national competition for skilled staff and the crisis in FACS staffing
b. enhanced FACS training programs, combined with more ongoing professional development, support and supervision
c. FACS staff must have access to cultural experts who can provide them with cultural advice generally and in relation to specific matters.

20. That there be more strategic, planned investment in local community workforces through: a. more Aboriginal personnel (e.g. Aboriginal Community Workers, Aboriginal Community Resource Workers, Aboriginal Health Workers) to be trained and located in remote communities and towns for family support, community development and to act as local brokers. These positions to be provided with continuing and adequate professional support and mentoring, and to be integrated with health and family support programs delivered on a drive-in/drive-out or fly-in/fly-out basis as applicable
b. establishment and support for a network of community volunteers to work in communities to help make children safe - similar to the Strong Families program where community members are trained to assist in the prevention of domestic and family violence. It is noted that such a network of volunteers will require ongoing management, coordination and regular training.

21. That urgent action be taken to expand and upgrade the facilities occupied by Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARC) in all locations, with an increase in staffing and capacity to respond to sexual assault cases across the Territory.

22. That SARC services across the Northern Territory be based on an integrated response model and that the effort to improve the coordination of hospital-based medical care to child sexual abuse victims continues including the development and adoption of a protocol for the management of victims of child sexual abuse (medical response) to ensure an appropriate standard of care.

23. That victim and community support programs be developed in remote Aboriginal communities as well as urban settings that:
a. reduce the risk of a child subsequently acting out sexually
b. prevent re-victimisation and/or the likelihood of the child subsequently offending at a later time
c. provide case coordination for those children who require ongoing support.

Health – crisis intervention

24. That appropriate guidelines and training on the management of sexual health of children and young people be provided to government and nongovernment primary health care providers and relevant FACS staff on a regular basis.

25. That, in respect of mental health services, consideration be given to putting in place comprehensive child and adolescent mental health services with a focus on the provision of increased services for young people with a mental illness whose behaviour is indicative of significant trauma and distress resulting from their abuse. Police, FACS, prosecutions and the victim

26. That FACS and Police work to better integrate the Child Abuse Taskforce (CAT) with other local joint Police/ FACS responses, and further develop local coordinated, culturally appropriate multi-agency responses (such as the Peace at Home program) which can improve the statutory and therapeutic response for children, families and communities.

27. That the Child Abuse Taskforce be made permanent and provided with necessary additional funding for the existing seconded staff to ensure it is adequately resourced in terms of personnel, vehicles and other tangibles so as to recognise its importance. Consistent with this, CAT to be provided with further funding to include:
a. a complement of specialist child interviewers (see also Recommendation 31)
b. a permanent Intelligence Officer
c. a specially-equipped 4WD for use on CAT operations.

28. That the Police actively recruit more Aboriginal police officers, Aboriginal Community Police Officers and Police Auxiliaries and to station more female officers in remote communities with a preference for Aboriginal female police officers.

29. That the Police conduct effective, meaningful and ongoing consultations with individual Aboriginal communities with a view to developing protocols for working with the community and supporting each community’s own efforts at maintaining peace, law and order.

30. That, taking note of the Evidence of Children Amendment Bill currently before the NT Parliament, it is recommended the Department of Justice conduct a review of all legislation relating to court procedures for vulnerable witnesses and child victims of alleged sexual abuse following the first 12 months of operation of the new legislation. This review is to be conducted within a period of six months of that time and is to include consideration of the recommendations of the Commissioner of Police and Director of Public Prosecutions to the Inquiry.

31. That all Police receive ongoing training and education on child abuse including indicators, procedures for reporting, and support to persons affected by such abuse. Police and prosecutors involved in the investigation of alleged child sexual abuse to receive training similar to that recommended in the Asche Report (1999) and that no later than from 1 July 2008, child interviews in such cases be carried out only by those members or other authorised persons who have received training in the conduct of such interviews.

32. That the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions be provided with sufficient resources to allow a permanent Witness Assistance Service officer to be located in Katherine.

33. That, following the conclusion of a prosecution of an offence involving child sexual abuse, a full de-briefing take place in the relevant community dealing with all issues emerging during the complaint and prosecution process. The aim of this process would be to achieve, as far as possible, healing and reconciliation in the community. The CAT to be responsible for arranging such de-briefing in conjunction with a Witness Assistance Service officer and the local community justice group.

34. That the government invest in the recruitment and training of Aboriginal Interpreters – a proportion of whom must be trained and supported to enable them to work in the areas of child protection and criminal investigations of abuse.


35. That section 24 of the Bail Act be amended to include a new sub-section which provides that where an offence is alleged to be a sexual offence committed against a child, the court when determining bail, take into consideration the protection and welfare of the child having regard to:
a. his or her age at all relevant times
b. the age of the alleged offender
c. the familial relationship between the child and the alleged offender
d. the present and proposed living accommodation of the child and the alleged offender
e. the need, as far as possible, to allow the child to remain in their existing residence and/or community
f. the emotional as well as physical wellbeing of the child
g. any other matter which to the court appears relevant

Offender rehabilitation

36. That the government provide more sex offender rehabilitation programs with adequate resourcing and in particular that:
a. wherever possible the court should structure sentences for sex offenders to provide the opportunity for community-based rehabilitation
b. Correctional Services must provide ongoing sex offender rehabilitation programs in jail (irrespective of length of sentence) and for persons on remand, including culturally appropriate programs
c. supervision of parolees must be meaningful, and include:
i. attendance at an offender rehabilitation program
ii. time back in their community
iii. written reports from the parole officer to the sentencing Judge.

37. That the government provide community-based rehabilitation programs for those at risk of sex offending, convicted offenders whose offences are suitable for a community-based order and/or as part of probationary arrangements. These should be culturally appropriate and delivered with the involvement of the community.

38. That the government to provide youth-specific, culturally appropriate rehabilitation programs for juvenile sex offenders in detention, and for those on parole or subject to community-based orders.

39. That the government to commence meaningful dialogue as soon as possible with Aboriginal communities aimed at developing alternative models of sentencing that incorporate Aboriginal notions of justice and rely less on custodial sentences and more on restoring the wellbeing of victims, offenders, families and communities. Further, where these models can demonstrate probable positive outcomes within the relevant community that are suitable to the needs of victims, provide rehabilitation to offenders and promote harmony within the broader community, the government commit to the ongoing support of such programs and to legislative changes necessary to implement such programs. Any model which is developed may only be utilised with the consent of the victim.

Prevention is better than cure

40. That the Northern Territory Government work with the Australian Government in consultation with Aboriginal communities to: a. develop a comprehensive long-term strategy to build a strong and equitable core service platform in Aboriginal communities, to address the underlying risk factors for child sexual abuse and to develop functional communities in which children are safe b. through this strategy, address the delivery of core educational and Primary Health Care (PHC) services to Aboriginal people including home visitation and early years services (see chapter on Health).

Health – a role in prevention

41. That a maternal and child health home visitation service be established in urban and remote communities as soon as possible.

42. That there be an increased focus on pre-natal and maternity support leading into early childhood health development for the 0-5 year-old age group, to be supported collaboratively by health centres and health practitioners, as well as other agencies whose focus is on children and families.

43. That, in order to provide access to comprehensive quality primary health care, DHCS advocate for increased Australian Government funding and continue as a matter of priority the roll out of the Primary Health Care Access Program.

44. That PHC provider roles in protecting children from harm be strengthened by:

a. providing relevant protocols, tools, training and support, including the development of a multidisciplinary training course for PHC providers: “Child Protection: principles and practice for PHC practitioners”

b. use of PHC centres as service “hubs” as part of the development of integrated health and welfare responses in remote communities.

45. That, as soon as possible, the government, in consultation with Aboriginal communities and organisations, develop, implement and support programs and services that address the underlying effects of both recent and “intergenerational” trauma suffered in Aboriginal communities and enhance the general emotional and mental wellbeing of all members of those communities.

Family support services

46. That in order to prevent harm and reduce the trauma associated with abuse, it is vital there be significant investment in the development of family support (child and family welfare) infrastructure, including: a. funding by both the Northern Territory and Australian Governments to create much needed family support infrastructure (services and programs) targeted to support vulnerable and/or maltreated Aboriginal children and their families in urban and remote settings. This must be a longterm investment - short term or pilot program funding should be avoided unless it is addressing very specific, time limited problems or situations b. that efforts be made to support community-based non-government organisations to provide recovery and support services following child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities across the Territory c. that the Aboriginal Medical Service Alliance Northern Territory health services and other Aboriginal-controlled agencies be supported to establish family support programs for Aboriginal children and families in urban and remote settings d. the establishment of multi-purpose family centres or “hubs” in remote communities and regional centres to provide an integrated holistic approach to working with families. These will be a focal point for the provision of a range of local and visiting programs and services including prevention programs, child and family services, specialist services (e.g. SARC) and public education programs. They will also be a focal point for reporting and action, strengthening and incorporating positive aspects of culture, to assist local workforce development and provide male and female workers “gender security”.

47. That, as soon as possible, the government in consultation with Aboriginal communities and organisations, develop and support youth centres and programs in Aboriginal communities that are independently run, staffed by qualified male and female youth workers and adequately resourced to provide a wide range of services to Aboriginal youth.

48. That the government support community efforts to establish men’s and women’s groups (and centres) – where there is a focus on developing community education and community-led responses to child sexual abuse, family breakdown and other social issues.

49. That the government actively pursue the provision of new services, and better resource existing services, for the counselling, healing, education, treatment and short term crisis accommodation of Aboriginal men in regional town centres and remote communities.


50. That, given that children and young people who chronically non-attend or are excluded from school are severely disadvantaged and that there is a correlation between school non-attendance and criminal activity, poverty, unemployment, homelessness, violence and sexual abuse, the government must as a matter of highest priority ensure: 1. the Department of Employment, Education and Training (DEET) implements the attendance strategies set out in the Education Chapter and any other strategies required to ensure all children of school age attend school on a daily basis, in accordance with DEET’s responsibilities to provide compulsory education for all school-age children 2. every child aged 3 years by 1 February 2008 should attend, on or about that date, and continuously thereafter, a pre-school program 3. every child aged 5 years by 1 February 2008 should attend, on or about that date, a full-time transition program and, in this regard, DEET to re-visit recommendations No. 80-86 of the Learning Lessons Report (1999) and complete their implementation.

51. That by reference to the very considerable work already done as part of the Learning Lessons Report and by the Learning Lessons Implementation Steering Committee (2002-2005) and the review which resulted in theIndigenous Languages and Culture in Northern Territory Schools Report 2004-2005, the Inquiry recommends DEET examines issues such as:

a. pedagogy

b. how best to deliver the same outcomes for Aboriginal students as other students

c. flexibility in the timing of the school year

d. smaller class sizes especially in lower grades

 e. remedial classes for students who have been out of school for some time

f. separate classes for boys and girls aged 12 and above

g. employment of Aboriginal and Islander Education Workers (AIEW) in all schools

h. cross-cultural training for Aboriginal children on “dominant culture” and all children to be taught about Aboriginal people’s history and culture.

52. That, with reference to the wealth of existing knowledge and reports such as Learning Lessons and Indigenous Languages and Culture in Northern Territory Schools coupled with the need to have good teachers, healthy and secure students and ownership of the educational system by the local communities, DEET:

a. introduce a universal meals program for Aboriginal students (breakfast, morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea) with parents to contribute to the cost of providing meals and the community or volunteers to undertake food preparation

b. appoint a full time home-school liaison officer for every school

c. appoint 20 additional school counsellors to service those schools currently without such counsellors i.e. the major remote towns, the town camps in the regional centres, and one in each group school (i.e. those schools in remote areas which supply services to a number of smaller schools in the area)

d. encourage the utilisation of schools after hours for purposes such as community centres, supervised homework rooms, community meeting rooms, adult education and training courses

e. appoint an AIEW Coordinator to enhance the role and functioning of AIEW staff to recognise they are significant members of the school support team e.g. review their role within the school community, enhance recruitment and develop their capacity

f. consider the introduction of teacher employment initiatives such as remote teacher incentive packages to encourage teachers to remain in remote communities for three years or longer.

53. That, notwithstanding that Northern Territory schools have a single curricula framework, DEET is to ensure all teachers in remote schools consult with local communities as to any appropriate modifications, consistent with Recommendations 100, 102, 106, 107 and 108 in the Learning Lessons Report. 54.

 That DEET urgently implements the outcomes of the Indigenous Languages and Culture Report.

55. That early consideration be given to the provision of additional residential schools for Aboriginal students, designed specifically for them and being located within reasonable proximity to their country to enable maintenance of family and cultural ties, taking into account prospects for the involvement of the non-government sector and for Australian Government funding.

 56. That in order to foster and support a culture that values learning throughout life and provides for those people who identify a need or desire for further education, the Government acknowledge the importance of adult and community education and provide more opportunities for Aboriginal people in regional and remote locations to access that education.

Community education and awareness

57. That the government drives a fundamental shift in family and community attitudes and action on child sexual abuse by:

a. developing appropriate resource information on sexual abuse and conducting regular media campaigns that explain sexual abuse as described in Recommendation 94

b. expanded delivery of mandatory reporting training to professionals including school staff

c. high profile Aboriginal men and women to provide positive, proactive leadership on the prevention of sexual abuse and the setting of appropriate community norms for sexual behaviour d. expansion of parenting education and parenting skills training for young people (the next generation of parents) and those already caring for children e. engaging in a dialogue with communities to discuss the particular education that might be needed in a specific community and how that education can best occur f. recognising the appropriateness of messages being in language and delivered through a number of mediums g. ensure sexual health and personal safety programs are in all schools as part of the curriculum.

58. That the government establish an Advice Hotline (perhaps expanding the role of the existing 1800 Central Reporting Number) to provide advice to both community members and professional service providers about the options available to them if they are concerned about possible child sexual abuse. The Advice Hotline must be culturally accessible for Aboriginal people and adequately resourced to ensure the advisory service does not affect the timely and appropriate responses to child protection reports.

59. That the government actively support Aboriginal men to engage in discussions about, and address, child sexual abuse and other violence in communities.

60. That a community and parent education campaign be conducted on the value of schooling and encouraging a culture of community and parental commitment to sending children to school. Alcohol

61. That the government continue to implement the Alcohol Framework as a matter of urgency and focus on reducing overall alcohol consumption and intoxication and not just on “visible” or “risky” drinking.

62. That, as a matter of urgency, the government consults with all Aboriginal communities with a view to identifying culturally effective strategies for reducing alcohol related harm that are incorporated in individual community alcohol management plans.

63. That, as a matter of urgency, the government makes greater efforts to reduce access to takeaway liquor in theNorthern Territory, enhance the responsible use of takeaway liquor, restrict the flow of alcohol into Aboriginal communities and support Aboriginal community efforts to deal with issues relating to alcohol.

64. That the government develops a “best practice” model of a “community drinking club” and apply that model across the Northern Territory to existing community drinking clubs and any new such clubs that may come into existence. This model should be designed to avoid, as best as possible, both the obvious and insidious effects on the community of alcohol consumption.

65. That the Licensing Commission be required to take into account advice from the Police and DHCS when considering all liquor licence applications and that the Police and DHCS have a specific responsibility to provide advice in respect of all applications.

 66. That the Licensing Commission be required to call for and consider community and child impact statements, to be prepared by relevant government agencies, when giving consideration to liquor licence applications. Further, that consideration be given to the proposal that licence applicants be required to gather and submit information as to the community impact of their application at the time of making their application.

67. That the new liquor legislation currently under consideration by government include the following features:

a. significantly increase the ability of the Licensing Commission to take into account the social impact of granting a liquor licence

b. require the Licensing Commission to give substantial consideration to both the social impact and the economic benefits of granting the licence c. require the Licensing Commission to take into account a wide variety of views when considering whether to grant, or when reviewing, a licence including those:

i of the Police

 ii. of the Department of Health and Community Services

iii. reflected in submissions from any community or sector of the community that may be affected by the grant of a licence

iv. reflected in community and child impact statements relating to any significant negative impact on children by the grant of a licence

d. make it mandatory for both the Police and DHCS to provide input to the Licensing Commission in relation to the granting of and the review of a licence

e. significantly increase the ability of the Licensing Commission to review liquor licences at any time on any reasonable grounds with potential reasons for such review to be broader than a breach of the licensee’s conditions and to include evidence of any significant negative social impact or any significant negative impact on children

f. allow the Police, DHCS, the Department of Justice or any Aboriginal community governing body to recommend to the Licensing Commission that they conduct a review of a liquor licence

g. provide for clear guidelines for reviewing licences, including that the Licensing Commission must consider:

i. the social impact on the community

ii. the impact upon children

iii. the effect on the drinking patterns of the community and consequences of those drinking patterns

h. significantly increase the power of the Licensing Commission to revoke or modify licences following a review.

68. That, in consultation with Aboriginal communities, a significant media campaign for Aboriginal communities be designed to both promote healthy alternatives to drinking alcohol and to convey information about the negative impact of alcohol with an emphasis on the relationship between excessive consumption and the increased incidence of child abuse and other family violence.

69. That options for delivering alcohol counselling to Aboriginal communities be explored and implemented including consideration of visiting counsellors for smaller communities and resident counsellors and local rehabilitation centres for larger communities.

Other substance abuse

70. That government develop and implement a multifaceted approach to address the abuse of illicit substances in Aboriginal communities, in particular cannabis abuse, including prevention, intervention and enforcement strategies which recognise: a. the geographic context of substance abuse, that is, urban and remote locations and the implications this has for effective prevention, intervention and enforcement b. population-based, youth-focused prevention and intervention strategies that integrate substance abuse, mental health, and other health and welfare concerns into youth programs.

Community Justice

71. That, as soon as possible, the government facilitate dialogue between the Aboriginal law-men and lawwomen of the Northern Territory and senior members of the legal profession and broader social justice system of the Northern Territory. That such dialogue be aimed at establishing an ongoing, patient and committed discourse as to how Aboriginal law and Northern Territory law can strengthen, support and enhance one another for the benefit of the Northern Territory and with a specific emphasis on maintaining law and order within Aboriginal communities and the protection of Aboriginal children from sexual abuse.

 72. That, based on the dialogue described in the recommendation above above, the government gives consideration to recognising and incorporating into Northern Territory law aspects of Aboriginal law that effectively contribute to the restoration of law and order within Aboriginal communities and in particular effectively contribute to the protection of Aboriginal children from sexual abuse.

73. That the government commit to the establishment and ongoing support of Community Justice Groups in all those Aboriginal communities which wish to participate, such groups to be developed following consultation with communities and to have the following role and features:

Role of Community Justice Groups

a. Set community rules and community sanctions provided they are consistent with Northern Territory law (including rules as to appropriate sexual behaviour by both children and adults)

b. Present information to courts for sentencing and bail purposes about an accused who is a member of their community and provide information or evidence about Aboriginal law and culture c. Be involved in diversionary programs and participate in the supervision of offenders

d. Assist in any establishment of Aboriginal courts and provide a suitable panel from which Elders could be chosen to sit with the magistrate

e. Be involved in mediation, conciliation and other forms of dispute resolution

 f. Assist in the development of protocols between the community and Government departments, agencies and NGOs

g. Act as a conduit for relevant information and programs coming into the community

h. Assist government departments, agencies and NGOs in developing and administering culturally appropriate local programs and infrastructure for dealing with social and justice issues, particularly child sexual abuse

i. Any other role that the group deems necessary to deal with social and justice issues affecting the community providing that role is consistent with Northern Territory law.

Features of Community Justice Groups

a. Group membership that: i provides for equal representation of all relevant family, clan or skin groups in the community and equal representation of both men and women from each relevant family, clan or skin group ii reflects, as far as possible, the traditional authority of male and female Aboriginal Elders iii is subject to screening and a criminal history check.

b. Flexibility to develop its own structures, functions, processes and procedures to deal with social and justice issues provided these allow and encourage input from the rest of the community

c. The ongoing assistance of a government resourced “cultural broker” to facilitate meetings, assist with administration and provide general advice.

74. That, having regard to the success of Aboriginal courts in other jurisdictions in Australia, the government commence dialogue with Aboriginal communities aimed at developing language group-specific Aboriginal courts in the Northern Territory.

The role of communities

75. That the government actively encourage, support and resource the development of community-based and community-owned Aboriginal family violence intervention and treatment programs and any other programs that meet the needs of children and are designed to respond to the particular conditions and cultural dynamics of each community and commit to ongoing resourcing of such programs.

76. That the government, in conjunction with communities, develop violence management strategies for each Territory community, with a core services model to be developed based around the existing services and infrastructure available to run night patrols, safe houses and other related services available to Territory communities.

77. That, following on from Recommendation 76, a plan be developed to: a. assess the quality of current family violence approaches and safe place approaches in the Territory b. increase the number of communities with safe house/places for women and children fleeing violence. The Overarching Agreement between the Australian and Northern Territory Governments may be an avenue for funding the construction of safe places.

78. That the government support community efforts to establish men’s and women’s night patrols in those communities which identify a need for these services.

79. That each city, town, region and community through an appropriate body develop a local child safety and protection plan to address indicators of high risk in the area of child sexual abuse, prevention of child abuse generally and sexual abuse specifically. Such plans could be incorporated into community plans developed by local Boards established by the new local government shires and monitored through the Shire Plan, or alternatively in remote communities these plans might be prepared by the local community justice group.


80. That further work be undertaken by DEET in regard to the development of innovative employment training options for Aboriginal communities in such areas as the creation and support of local industries, use of cultural skills and knowledge, community leader roles, and brokerage/liaison with external agencies, and that this be supported through adequately resourced adult education and training.

 81. That efforts be made to develop a local workforce to address health and welfare issues within communities to provide a base of continuity for more transient professional responses, and linking professionals to mentor and support these workers.

82. That Government provide support for the development of Aboriginal people as local community development workers (with either defined or generic roles) to improve capacity, problem-solving and administrative self-sufficiency within communities.

83. That the NT Public Sector, led by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Employment and DEET, make renewed efforts to increase the level of Indigenous employment in the Northern Territory Public Sector and in the non-government and private sector respectively.


84. Given the extent of overcrowding in houses in Aboriginal communities and the fact this has a direct impact on family and sexual violence, the Inquiry strongly endorses the government’s reform strategy of critical mass construction in targeted communities, and recommends the government take steps to expand the number of communities on the target list for both new housing and essential repairs and maintenance in light of the fact that every community needs better housing urgently.

85. That, in recognition of the importance of community employment in addressing the existing dysfunction, and the need for more community housing, an intensive effort be made in the area of training and employment of local Aboriginal people in the construction and repair and maintenance of houses in Aboriginal communities, with input from DEET as appropriate.

86. That further consideration be given to: a. the concept of cluster housing in communities to accommodate extended family groupings as a culturally functional living arrangement b. flexible accommodation options for single men, single women and older people where this concept is needed and desired by communities.


87. That an education campaign be conducted to inform communities of: a. the meaning of and rationale for film and television show classifications b. the prohibition contained in the Criminal Code making it an offence to intentionally expose a child under the age of 16 years to an indecent object or film, video or audio tape or photograph or book and the implications generally for a child’s wellbeing of permitting them to watch or see such sexually explicit material.


88. That an education campaign be conducted to target gambling in Aboriginal communities, showing the impacts of gambling and especially the risk posed to children who are unsupervised while parents are gambling.

 89. That options for delivering gambling counselling to Aboriginal communities be explored and implemented including consideration of visiting counsellors for smaller communities and resident counsellors for larger communities.

90. That further research be carried out on the effects of gambling on child safety and wellbeing, and that consideration be given to the enactment of local laws to regulate gambling as part of the community safety plans to be developed pursuant to recommendation 79.

Cross-cultural practice

91. That compulsory cross-cultural training for all government personnel be introduced, with more intensive cross-cultural capability training for those officers who are involved in service delivery and policy development in respect of Aboriginal people. Specifically, government to introduce: a. a comprehensive Aboriginal culture induction program for all new teachers to the Territory and for existing teachers about to take up positions in remote schools (it is recommended this program run for three weeks full time) b. training in Aboriginal language concepts for those teachers already teaching in or about to commence at remote schools to promote an understanding of the nuances of Aboriginal society.

92. That government personnel who are working closely with Aboriginal people be encouraged to undertake relevant language training and such encouragement should be accompanied by appropriate incentives.

 Implementation of the Report

93. That the Chief Minister to release forthwith for public scrutiny and consideration this Report in its entirety, subject only to the time taken for its printing and publication, and that the Overview section be translated into the nine main Aboriginal languages in the Northern Territory, published in an appropriate format and distributed to communities throughout the Territory.

94. That a public awareness campaign for Aboriginal people be introduced forthwith to build on the goodwill, rapport, and awareness of the problem of child sexual abuse which now exists in Aboriginal communities, and that this campaign: a. include public contact, meetings and dialogue with the communities and service providers with the government to be represented by a suitably senior officer or officers b. acquaint leaders of communities and, as far as possible, all members of those communities with the key elements of mainstream law in relation to such issues as the age of consent, traditional or promised brides, rights of the parties within marriage, individual rights of men, women and children generally, rights of parents and/or guardians to discipline children, and of the recommendations contained in this Report and the proposed implementation of it c. be conducted with advice being sought from community leaders as to the most effective and culturally appropriate manner in which to convey the messages, utilising local languages wherever appropriate.

95. That the government promote a vigorous campaign to educate and alert the general public to the tragedies and traumas experienced by victims of sexual assault, particularly children, the means of identifying such cases and the necessity to report such cases.

96. That the Commissioner for Children and Young People as proposed in Recommendation 9 be given responsibility and resources to monitor and report six monthly on progress made in implementing the findings and recommendations of this Inquiry.

97. That in respect of monitoring and reporting on the implementation of this report, as an interim measure until the proposed Care and Protection of Children Bill is enacted and the Commissioner for Children and Young People is appointed, that the Deputy Chief Executive of the Department of the Chief Minister assume responsibility for monitoring and reporting to government on the implementation of the report.