Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Mullighan Inquiry into child sexual abuse on the APY Lands


JENNY MACKLIN: Thanks very much everyone for being here. You’d all be aware that the South Australian Government has just received a major report, the Mullighan Committee of Inquiry Report on sexual abuse in the APY Lands in South Australia. The South Australian Premier has just tabled the report in the South Australian parliament. It contains shocking stories and a shocking picture of life especially for children in these lands in South Australia.

It’s yet another indication of just how serious the levels of child abuse are in many parts of Australia, and in this occasion it’s in a very remote part of South Australia.

I’ve decided that the Australian Government will act immediately in cooperation with the South Australian Government to respond to some of the recommendations in this Mullighan Inquiry. We’re announcing today that we’re going to put an additional $19 million into a range of different initiatives to start addressing these shocking levels of child abuse. In the first instance we’ll provide the capital funding to build an additional police station, we’ll also provide funding to build housing for the additional police officers and child protection officers that the South Australian Government will provide and who will be stationed on the lands.

We’re providing additional funding to expand an accommodation facility at a residential school in Adelaide so that more children can go to school in Adelaide and be housed at this residential facility and we’re also proceeding with the money that has been provided to make sure that we have additional housing for people as quickly as possible on the lands.

These are very very serious circumstances that especially children face on the APY Lands and we have acted with the South Australian Government to do an immediate response. What we will also do is now move forward in a taskforce with the South Australians to make sure that the other recommendations of the inquiry are addressed.

QUESTION: How does this report compare to the [Indistinct]

JENNY MACKLIN: It demonstrates yet again just how serious the levels of child abuse are in many different parts of Australia. We’ve had similar reports, similar inquiries done in Queensland, in New South Wales, in the Northern Territory of course. You’d be aware of similar reports in some parts of Western Australia. This is yet another indication of just how serious the levels of child abuse are in many parts of Australia, particularly in indigenous communities and it requires us to act urgently and in this case with the South Australian Government so we can see some improvement because the damage to these children is just horrific.

QUESTION: Would you consider implementing some of the measures that we’ve seen in the Northern Territory, most specifically the forced quarantining of welfare payments?

JENNY MACKLIN: We will be discussing this issue of welfare payment reform with the South Australian Government. You’d be aware that this is a path that we’re proceeding down with the Western Australian Government in the Kimberley and certainly we are in discussions with the South Australians on the issue of income quarantining.

QUESTION: Should taxpayers’ dollars be spent propping up communities where there are no jobs when that’s one of the reasons this sexual abuse is happening in the first place?

JENNY MACKLIN: I do think that employment is a critical issue and when you have a look at the report you’ll see that one of the descriptions that the Commission of Inquiry sets out for the lands is a sense of hopelessness. And I do think that addressing this sense of hopelessness is in part only going to be addressed by people having employment. So one of the things that we’re working with the South Australian Government on is to make sure that with our housing investments we’re creating employment opportunities. We do want to make sure that wherever we can we get people into long-term jobs that give them a chance to get out of this cycle of hopelessness.

QUESTION: But are there any industries in these communities that are going to provide a long-term economic future for them and if not why is taxpayers’ money being spent putting houses there?

JENNY MACKLIN: Because this is where people live and we have an obligation to these children to make sure that they have safe homes to live in, that just like in other parts of Australia that there are police and child protection workers there to make sure that their communities are safe.

QUESTION: Given that none of the sexual abuse victims were prepared to give evidence, what sort of a difference is an extra police station going to make?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think one of the important things that both police and child protection officers make to all of us at different levels of Government, people like those who were working on the Commission of Inquiry, is the importance of building trust. If we are to get people to come forward and bring evidence of child abuse then that’s only going to happen where they have the trust of police, where they have the trust of the child protection staff. So it is extremely important that both children and adults are able to bring forward their concerns about child abuse in communities.

We also know that there are other issues; violence, drug and alcohol abuse, all of these issues will be better addressed if we have police in these communities.

QUESTION: Further to Sue’s question if you can’t find employment opportunities for some of these communities will you actively move to encourage people to shift into other communities as I think Amanda Vanstone talked about a few years ago?

JENNY MACKLIN: What we’re doing here today is addressing a very very serious issue, a very serious report that demonstrates very high levels of child abuse. That’s our priority here today, it is to make sure that we work urgently with the South Australian Government to deliver additional police facilities, additional homes for child protection officers to live in. We have an urgent responsibility to act in response to this inquiry and that’s what we’re doing.

QUESTION: Commissioner Mullighan has said that child sex abuse is not confined to APY Lands. Is there a case for extending the scope of the inquiry to look into other remote communities?

JENNY MACKLIN: That would be one option but I would also say that I think what this report demonstrates and the other reports from elsewhere around Australia, is that we have many of the same tasks to implement in other parts of remote Australia. So making sure that there are enough police, making sure that there are child protection workers on the ground, making sure that people have a decent home to live in.

So I think the recommendations from this report are similar to those that we’ve had in other parts of Australia, let’s make sure that the sorts of protections that we expect in cities and towns are available also to people in remote parts of Australia.

QUESTION: Is the Government paying millionaires the baby bonus?

JENNY MACKLIN: I’m not going to get into any of the questions that you might be leading me to in relation to the budget, Sue, and I don’t think you would expect me to go down that path.

QUESTION: But you’re the Families Minister and you oversee these payments, and a number……

JENNY MACKLIN: And there’ll be a budget next week and we’ll answer all of those questions next week.

QUESTION: Can we talk about paid maternity leave today? There’s a proposal that we introduce a levy of about $5 per worker to fund a scheme that would give women six months at their normal rate of pay. Do you think that has merit?

JENNY MACKLIN: You’d be aware that the Government has asked the Productivity Commission to conduct a major inquiry into paid maternity leave. They’ll be reporting next February and I look forward to the report.