The best way to cut through all the conflicting commentary over indigenous children’s welfare in communities throughout Australia documented in the Little Children are Sacred inquiry is to read the report itself.

To follow are some extracts from the Report of the Northern Territory Board of Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse 2007 by Inquiry co-chairs Rex Wild and Pat Anderson:

  • 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 s-xual 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 s-xual 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 s-xual abuse. Our commitment to success should be aimed squarely at that target!
  • Our first two recommendations to government encapsulate our findings and we anticipate them here:

1. That Aboriginal child s-xual 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 s-xual abuse. It is critical that both governments commit to genuine consultation with Aboriginal people in designing initiatives for Aboriginal communities.

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2. That while everybody has a responsibility for the protection of all children, the Northern Territory Government must provide strong leadership on this issue, 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 wellbeing 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. We commend the report not only to the government and the people of the Northern Territory but to the government and people of Australia. Our hope is that the nation will work together for the sake of all its children.

  • The Inquiry has always accepted the assertion that s-xual assault of children is not acceptable in Aboriginal culture, any more than it is in European or mainstream society. But there is a major difference between the two branches of society. A breakdown of Aboriginal culture has been
    noted by many commentators. A number of underlying causes are said to explain the present state of both town and remote communities. Excessive consumption of alcohol is variously described as the cause or result of
    poverty, unemployment, lack of education, boredom and overcrowded and inadequate housing. The use of other drugs and petrol sniffing can be added to these. Together, they lead to excessive violence. In the worst case scenario it leads to s-xual abuse of children.
  • A number of common themes have emerged in the discussions, in the 65 submissions we have received from departments, organisations, communities and individuals, and in the 260 or so meetings we have had
    with individuals, public servants and non-government organisations. The themes of the meetings are reflected throughout Part I of the report generally. Those themes can be reduced to a number of key areas to
    which our recommendations are addressed. They are:
    • Alcoholism
    • Education
    • Poverty
    • Housing
    • Health
    • Substance abuse
    • Gambling
    • Pornography
    • Unemployment
    • Responses by government agencies
    • Law and justice
    • Rehabilitation of offenders.
  • We are utterly convinced that education (that properly addresses the needs of the local community) provides the path to success. We have been dismayed at the miserable school attendance rates for Aboriginal children and the apparent complacency here (and elsewhere in Australia) with that situation. We are further persuaded that unless alcoholism is conquered, there is little point in attending to any of the other worthwhile proposals in this report. It is a priority! The recommendations proposed in this report do not spring from “rocket science”. They are basic concepts and proposals. Nothing is novel or unexpected. Commentators have been calling out for them with increasing vigour in recent weeks and months. This leads to our first recommendations. The government must lead. There is an opportunity to start something which can have a hugely positive impact on the whole
    of Australia.

Read the full report here.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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