This afternoon, John Howard called a news conference to respond to Little Children are Sacred , the report into s-xual abuse of indigenous children in the Northern Territory. Here is the full transcript – listen to the audio here:
Well, ladies and gentleman, Mr Brough and I have called this news conference to announce a number of major measures to deal with what we could only describe as a national emergency in relation to the abuse of children in indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.
Anybody who’s read or examined the report prepared by Pat Anderson and Rex Wild entitled, Little Children Are Sacred , will be sickened and horrified by the level of abuse. They will be deeply disturbed at the widespread nature of that abuse and they will be looking for the responsible assumption of authority by a government to deal with the problem.
We are unhappy with the response of the Northern Territory Government. It is our view that if it hadn’t been for the persistence of Mr Brough in elevating this as an issue, the inquiry conducted by Rex Wild and Pat Anderson would never have been commissioned. The report was in the hands of the Northern Territory Government for some eight weeks before it was released.
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And subsequently the Chief Minister has indicated that they would have a response in a period of six weeks and it’s only today that I’ve received a letter from the Chief Minister and Mr Brough has, indicating that there is a desire on the part of the Northern Territory Government to work with us to deal with the issue. We’re very happy to work with the Northern Territory Government, but it will need to be on the terms that I am about to announce.
We regard this as akin to a national emergency. Mr Brough’s put it to me this way; that if this set of circumstances had been disclosed as taking place in the suburb of Dickson, can you imagine what the local response from police, from medical authorities and from the State Government would have been? It would have been horror and immediate action and a demand by the community that something be done.
That has not happened in relation to the Northern Territory and we therefore believe that the action I’m about to outline is totally justified and warranted, given our overarching responsibilities for the welfare of children throughout Australia.
These measures are going to be overseen by a taskforce of eminent Australians. It will include logistics and other specialists and child protection spec… experts. The measures involve a number of actions.
Firstly, in relation to alcohol, the intention is to introduce widespread alcohol restrictions on Northern Territory Aboriginal land for six months. We’ll ban the sale, the possession, the transportation, the consumption and broader monitoring of takeaway sales across the Northern Territory.
We will provide the resources and we’ll be appealing directly to the Australian Medical Association to assist, but we will bear the cost of medical examinations of all indigenous children in the Northern Territory under the age of 16 and we’ll provide the resources to do with any follow up medical treatment that will be needed.
We’re going to introduce a series of welfare reforms, designed to stem the flow of cash going towards [coughs], excuse me, alcohol abuse and in — to ensure that the funds meant to be used for children’s welfare are actually used for that purpose.
The principal approach here will be to quarantine as from now, through Centrelink, to be supported by legislation. Fifty per cent of welfare payments to parents of children in the affected areas, and the obligation in relation to that will follow the parent wherever that parent may go, so the obligation cannot be avoided, simply by moving to another part of Australia and effectively, the arrangements will be that that 50% can only be used for the purchase of food and other essentials.
We’re going to enforce school attendance by linking income support and family assistance payments to school attendance for all people living on Aboriginal land. We’ll be ensuring that meals are provided for children at school with parents paying for the meals.
The Commonwealth Government will take control of townships through five year leases to ensure that property and public housing can be improved and if that involves the payment of compensation on just terms, as required by the Commonwealth Constitution, then that compensation will be readily paid. We’ll require intensive on-ground clean-up of communities to make them safer and healthier by marshalling local workforces through Work for the Dole arrangements.
We will scrap the permit system for common areas and road corridors on Aboriginal lands. We’re going to ban the possession of X-rated pornography in the prescribed areas and we’re going to check all publicly funded computers for evidence of the storage of pornography.
Law and order will be a central focus of the measures I’ve announced. There will be an immediate increase in policing levels. They’re manifestly inadequate. The existing laws, even with their shortcomings, are not being adequately enforced.
We’ll be asking each state police service to provide up to 10 officers, who will be sworn as police in the Northern Territory. We will provide the additional cost, and we will provide special incentives and bonuses for the police around Australia to participate in this activity.
We’re going to provide additional resources to set up an Australian Government s-xual abuse reporting desk. And we’ll appoint managers of all government businesses in all communities.
And there are two other very important actions. Next Thursday, there will be a meeting of the Inter-Governmental Committee on the Australian Crime Commission to formally — and at that meeting, I’m sorry, our minister will ask the ministerial council to formally refer this issue to the Australian Crime Commission to allow the Crime Commission to locate and identify perpetrators of s-xual abuse of indigenous children in other areas of Australia.
And this will be a precursor, we hope, to the effective prosecution of those people by the relevant state and territory law enforcement authorities.
I should also indicate to you that Mr Brough is bringing to Cabinet at its next meeting some proposals to further extend the conditionality of welfare payments to all Australians receiving income support to ensure that these payments are used for the benefit of their children.
I should indicate that, if necessary, Parliament will be convened during the winter break for a special session to deal with the legislation that will be needed to give effect to the announcements I have made. These announcements will involve amendments to the Northern Territory land rights legislation. And also amendments to the Territory self-government legislation.
They do represent very dramatic and significant Commonwealth intervention. We’re doing this because we do not think the Territory has responded to the crisis affecting the children in the Territory, and we believe that our responsibility to those children overrides any sensitivities of Commonwealth Territory relations.
In the end, the duty of care to the young of this country is paramount, and nobody who has any acquaintance with that report could be other than appalled by its contents, appalled by what it reveals, appalled by the cumulative neglect of many over a long period of time, and frustrated in the extreme at the inability of governments to come to terms with an effective response to do with this problem. We are dealing with children of the tenderest age who have been exposed to the most terrible abuse, from the time of their birth, virtually. And any semblance of maintaining the innocence of childhood is a myth in so many of these communities.
And we feel very strongly that action of this kind is needed. It is interventionist. It does push aside the role of the Territory to some degree. I accept that. But what matters more: the constitutional niceties, or the care and protection of young children?
We believe the latter is overwhelmingly more important. We hope that the Northern Territory Government will cooperate and see the wisdom of working with the Commonwealth Government.
But our resolve to implement these measures is firm, and we intend to set about them from the time of this announcement. I — can I pay tribute to Mr Brough for the way in which he has identified this issue and pursued it, and as a result, ensured that the Northern Territory Government appointed the inquiry. And his contribution to this has been immense, and without his efforts, I wouldn’t be making the announcement that I just have. Any questions?