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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 Bill Glasson.
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 circumstances.
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.

AAP (25-6-2007)
David Crawshaw

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 address.
"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.

AAP (25-6-2007)

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