When John Howard and Mal Brough announced the “national emergency” over child s-xual abuse it was seen by many people as an appropriate call to arms.
What has the result been so far? How many children have been saved from abuse? Has the presence on remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory of the army, extra police [including federal police], and an increasing horde of Canberra bureaucrats resulted in the kinds of results Howard and Brough promised the Australian public?
“Within six months,” they claimed.
Don’t forget, “saving the kids” was what 500 pages of emergency legislation, the suspension of the Race Discrimination Act, the abolition of the permit system and compulsory leases over “prescribed communities” was all about.
We are about half way through the six months, and the result? Not much.
Northern Territory Police Commissioner Paul White admitted to ABC Radio on Friday that not a single matter had been referred to the child s-x abuse task force as a result of increased police resources under the Intervention.
“They’ve made somewhere around 80 arrests or reports overall since that time, but none for child s-x abuse,” he said.
“(The arrests) relate to issues around motor vehicle, registration issues, around outstanding warrants, liquor into prohibited areas, breaches of the Firearms Act, again as we hear so often, domestic violence and assaults.
“So all matter of things that police would ordinarily do in the course of a day.”
Of course White went on to say what any health professional or child protection worker would have been able to tell Brough and Howard from day one, if they had been asked: “child s-x abuse issues (are) very complex issues”, and that it would take time.
He’s right, they are complex, but this hasn’t stopped the propaganda. Back on 8 August, Howard darkly suggested that health checks on 500 Aboriginal children were already yielding results, that the dire predictions of widespread abuse had been substantiated, and that it was all worth it.
“I’ve been told that those screenings have led to a number of referrals to the child protection authority,” Mr Howard told ABC TV.
“Whether that leads to police action, I don’t know.
“I also know that some of them have led to further checking for s-xually transmitted diseases, the outcome for those checks I do not at this stage know.”
A central Australian source has told Crikey that a week or so after Howard’s statement, and after another couple of hundred checks, there was a total of four referrals as a direct result of the “national emergency” child health checks under Item 708 of the Medicare schedule.
More than 700 checks, a total of four referrals.
Two related to child s-xual abuse; one to an allegation of neglect and the fourth was for a family support referral.
According to the source, the extremely low results are not surprising. The kinds of health checks being administered are not solely designed to detect child s-xual abuse, and being dealt with by ‘outsiders’ like the health check teams is not designed to build confidence in such a complex area.
“It should be remembered that the teams are barely getting to two thirds of the child population – a lot less on some of the larger communities.
“But even so, the numbers are far lower than the hysteria of the emergency would suggest.”
Of greater worry to health professionals in central Australia is that the federal health check teams are only “skimming” the children’s health profiles, with absolutely no guarantees by the Commonwealth of follow up, let alone a long term approach to primary health care in the bush.
“The teams are not picking up the levels of childhood illness we know already are out there.
“It’s a fraud – you couldn’t have designed a better system to sweep illness under the carpet. All the hoopla gives the public the impression that something real is being done.
“In fact by understating the real levels of chronic diseases on communities – which anyone can see in the rates of hospitalisation and early death – it lets the Commonwealth off the hook in terms of really increasing health resources for Aboriginal people.
“It won’t even lead to a band aid solution.”