Indigenous Abuse Our Katrina: PM
THE abuse crisis gripping Aboriginal communities is akin to the disaster
inflicted on the US by Hurricane Katrina, Prime Minister John Howard said tonight.
In a speech to the Sydney Institute, the Prime Minister outlined the
reasons for his government's dramatic decision last week to intervene
to stamp out child abuse and lawlessness in indigenous communities in
the Northern Territory.
The measures include bans on alcohol and pornography, the quarantining
of welfare payments, abolishing the Aboriginal permit system and mobilising
extra police and troops to keep order in remote communities.
"Many Australians, myself included, looked aghast at the failure of the
American federal system of government to cope adequately with Hurricane
Katrina and the human misery and lawlessness that engulfed New Orleans in
2005," Mr Howard said in the speech in Sydney.
"We should have been more humble. We have our Katrina, here and now.
"That it has unfolded more slowly and absent the hand of God should make
us humbler still.
"It's largely been hidden from the public – in part by a permit system in
the NT that kept communities out of view and out of mind."
The crisis in Aboriginal communities was not just a failure of government,
he said, but a failure of parents to take responsibility.
The extreme social breakdown in some communities warranted a highly
prescriptive approach centred on restoring law and order.
"Freedoms and rights, especially for women and children, are little
more than cruel fictions without the rule of law and some semblance
of social order enforced by legitimate authority," Mr Howard said.
The Federal Government-sponsored police and military involvement
represented the "recovery phase" for Aboriginal townships, which would
be followed by a rebuilding of communities through Commonwealth
control of township leases.
To tackle the crisis the Federal Government has established a panel
of experts, including magistrate Sue Gordon, the head of the Australian
Federal Police's Solomon Islands operation Shane Castles, former Woolworths
boss Roger Corbett and former Australian Medical Association president
Mr Howard said tonight the task force would meet for the first time in
Brisbane this Saturday, two days after the prime minister discusses
the plan with NT Chief Minister Clare Martin.
He acknowledged the rescue plan was not perfect, but it was a start.
"We are under no illusion that it will take time to show results and
that it will have painful consequences for some people. We will make
mistakes along the way," he said.
"The simple truth, however, is that you cannot make lasting change in
areas like health, education and housing while ever women and children
are petrified of violence and sexual molestation."
For too long state governments had neglected their responsibilities of
enforcing law and order, Mr Howard said, adding that the Commonwealth
did not have the constitutional power to extend its intervention to Queensland,
New South Wales and Western Australia.
He denied the plan was racist, saying that abuse existed in mainstream
society but not to the same extent and not in such appalling or inescapable
Mr Howard confirmed cabinet would soon consider a proposal to extend the
quarantining of welfare payments to the wider community where people were
abusing their children or failing to fulfil parental obligations.
Police To Begin Arriving In NT Today
FEDERAL police will begin arriving in the Northern Territory today as
part of a radical plan to stop child sexual assault in Aboriginal communities.
Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough hopes to have police
and troops in some of the worst-affected settlements within days.
Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers will begin scoping work with
their NT counterparts today.
More police, backed up by Australian Defence Force (ADF) troops, will
be in the territory within a week as part of the Federal Government's
sweeping attempts to restore law and order.
Prime Minister John Howard said making the communities safe and law-abiding
places to live was the first priority, followed by medical examinations of
all children under 16.
"Giving the women and children of these remote Northern Territory communities
a greater sense of physical security is essential before our initiatives in
health and education can be implemented," Mr Howard said in his weekly radio
"Throughout our nation there is a genuine desire to make sure that we respond
effectively to this national emergency. Our obligation to the vulnerable
children of the Northern Territory is absolute. We must not let them down."
NSW and Victoria have agreed to contribute 10 police officers each, but West
Australian Premier Alan Carpenter says his state does not have police to spare.