Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Bath Inquiry into the Northern Territory child protection system

The Australian Government will immediately commit more than $34 million to boost measures to protect children from neglect and abuse in the Northern Territory (NT).

The Growing them strong, together Report, released today, reviews and makes recommendations about the child protection system in the NT. The Report by the NT Board of Inquiry has found the system is consistently failing children.

While state and territory governments are responsible for statutory child protection, the Australian Government will continue to work with the NT Government to increase the number of parents on child protection income management, provide additional family support services, boost child protection workers in remote communities and strengthen alcohol controls.

The protection of vulnerable children is one of the greatest responsibilities of all governments.

All children, no matter where they live, should be able to grow up safe, healthy and happy.

Child protection income management and additional family support services

As part of the current roll out of the new income management scheme in the NT, the Australian Government has introduced child protection income management to improve parental responsibility.

Income management ensures that welfare is spent, first and foremost, in the interests of children on food, clothing and housing.

NT child protection workers now have the authority to instruct Centrelink to income manage 70 per cent of parents’ income support and family payments to ensure welfare is spent in the interests of children.

The Australian Government wants this measure to be used by NT child protection workers in cases of child neglect.

To support and encourage this measure, the Australian Government will provide an additional $25 million over four years for new family support services in remote communities.

This funding is dependent on the NT Government’s increased use of child protection income management.

Families referred to child protection income management will now receive additional family support, including home visits and one-on-one parenting advice.

By 2013-14 this funding will support around 100 additional community-based family support workers in expanded and newly funded services.

This commitment builds on the Australian Government’s $14.7 million investment in the NT for early intervention and prevention services, including supported playgroups and programs to develop parenting skills.

We are also investing more than $42 million to establish five Children and Family Centres at Gunbalanya, Maningrida, Ngukurr, Yuendumu and Palmerston by 2012.

Additional child protection workers

The Australian Government welcomes the NT Government’s commitment to substantially increase investment in the child protection system as part of its response to this Report.

We will support this commitment by funding a new mobile child protection team, with 15 child protection workers who will travel to regional and remote communities to investigate reports of child neglect and abuse and conduct assessments of children reported to be at risk of harm.

The new team will work alongside the current mobile child protection team that has been operating since early 2008.

A recent evaluation found the team has supported up to 1000 child protection investigations between July 2009 and August 2010.

The Australian Government will also fund an additional 22 remote Aboriginal family and community workers across the NT. There are currently 16 of these workers in 12 communities.

In total, the Australian Government will deliver $7.6 million over two years to fund the new mobile child protection team and the additional remote Aboriginal family and community workers.

Tackling alcohol abuse and strengthening alcohol controls

We will continue to work with the NT Government to tackle alcohol abuse in Indigenous communities.

The Report highlights alcohol as a major contributor to child abuse and neglect.

Alcohol management plans are now in place in a number of Northern Territory towns and communities, including Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Katherine and Groote Eylandt.

In partnership with the Northern Territory Government, the Australian Government will provide $1.5 million to expand ID card technology to ensure alcohol restrictions can be enforced across the NT.

The system recognises most forms of ID (such as a drivers licence) and identifies if the purchaser is banned from buying alcohol by a court order or, if in remote areas, does not have a permit to buy alcohol.

Expansion of the ID card system will complement the Australian Government’s alcohol management initiatives, including the alcohol management plans and the buy-back of liquor licences to reduce the supply of alcohol in communities.

Since coming to Government, we have taken strong action to improve the health and safety of children in the NT.

We have committed an additional $1.2 billion to the Northern Territory Emergency Response since 2007. Over the last three years we have delivered an extra 62 police, 80 night patrols in remote communities, 7000 meals to school children each school day, 22 safe houses, over 10,600 health checks for children and more than 19,000 follow-up specialist services.

Eighteen new temporary police stations are now operational and we have committed more than $50 million dollars to upgrade five permanent police stations in remote communities.

We have also committed $1.7 billion over ten years to address the huge backlog in remote NT housing.

We are on track to deliver on our commitments of 750 new houses, 230 rebuilds of existing houses and 2,500 refurbishments across the NT by 2013. The Report makes clear that decent housing is a fundamental part of keeping children safe.

As at 11 October 2010, 82 new houses have been completed and work is under way on another 101. In addition, 645 refurbishments and rebuilds have been completed and another 105 are underway.

We remain determined to improve the lives of NT children and tackle entrenched disadvantage. These are complex and difficult issues that require sustained efforts from the NT and Australian Governments together with the community.

The Australian Government will carefully consider the recommendations of the Bath Inquiry in coming weeks.