Reconciliation Australia shares the community’s outrage at acts of criminal violence perpetrated against children who have the right, like all Australians, to be safe, and we welcome the sense of urgency reflected in today’s announcement by the Prime Minister.
The protection of vulnerable children requires an immediate response and so too do the actions of the perpetrators who must endure the full force of the law – this problem has been left to fester over many years and all the while Aboriginal people, particularly Aboriginal women, desperately calling for action have struggled to be heard. And together with the kind of emergency responses announced today, we remind Australians of successive calls for steady, consistent, properly resourced action that we and many other concerned citizens – Indigenous and non-Indigenous – have made over many years.
Otherwise, every couple of years, these stories of horror will shock the nation and the nation will once again respond to them with emergency measures that are only one step along the path towards building healthy Indigenous communities. The fundamental problems of dysfunction and despair that trigger antisocial behaviour in any society will be left to fester.
In 2001, just after Reconciliation Australia was formed, we responded to a flurry of concern about Indigenous family violence by saying: “the test of the current debate on family violence in Indigenous communities is whether it leads to a concerted national effort to address the issue as an essential element of the reconciliation process.”
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In a widely publicised address to the National Press Club in 2003, in which a range of reports by Federal and State governments detailing the extent of violence in Aboriginal communities were cited, Reconciliation Australia Director Mick Dodson said: “Here, in this forum I propose that the Aboriginal leadership, men and women together, call on the Australian Government to work with us in partnership, to acknowledge the centrality of violence induced by trauma and its debilitating effects, and to combat family violence as a national priority.”
Speaking after the Prime Minister’s summit on Indigenous family violence in 2003, Co-Chair Jackie Huggins said: “The summit on family violence should be seen for what it was – a highly significant symbolic act of reconciliation on the part of the Prime Minister towards Indigenous Australians. He says he’s serious about tackling this problem – we will hold the Prime Minister to his word.”
It comes as somewhat of a relief that the Federal Government seems to be saying today that “enough is enough”. But what remains to be seen is firstly whether having made this wide ranging announcement, the Government has the measures and properly trained people in place to make it work. Then we must hope that the Prime Minister, and all our leaders, will work to move Australia beyond serial crisis intervention to take the systemic, long term action consistently called for by fellow Australians living the horror. This will be the test of the sincerity behind today’s announcement.