Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and other Legislation Amendment (Northern Territory National Emergency Response and other Measures) Bill 2007 – Second reading speech
Check against delivery
This bill complements the new principal legislation introduced by the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill 2007 and the welfare reform amendments provided by the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Welfare Payment Reform) Bill 2007.
In introducing the principal legislation, it has been noted that the government’s emergency response in the Northern Territory is all about the safety and wellbeing of children.
This bill deals mainly with banning certain pornography, issues to do with increased policing, Commonwealth and Northern Territory infrastructure, and access to Northern Territory Aboriginal land.
This is an emergency situation in the Northern Territory and we need to act quickly. Each and every day, children are being abused. We need strong powers so that we are not weighed down by unnecessary red tape and talk fests, and can focus on doing what needs to be done.
The cycle of unemployment and welfare dependency, alcohol abuse and violence, needs to be broken, so that we can go on to build sustainable, healthy communities.
Each of the interventions in the emergency response package is a critical component of an integrated response to the situation facing these Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory.
The measures in this bill generally apply to the same prescribed areas covered by the measures in the principal bill:
- land scheduled under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (the Land Rights Act);
- community living areas, which are located on a form of freehold title issued by the Northern Territory Government to Aboriginal corporations;
- town camps, in the vicinity of major urban areas, held by Aboriginal associations on special leases from the Northern Territory Government; and
- other areas prescribed on advice from our expert taskforce.
Banning prohibited pornographic material
This bill contains measures which ban the possession of pornographic material and advertisements in the prescribed areas.
The Little Children Are Sacred report revealed that the availability of pornography in Northern Territory communities is a factor contributing to child sexual abuse – being used to groom children for sex, and desensitizing children to violence and inappropriate sexual behaviour.
Put simply, this measure in the bill is intended to prevent children being exposed to pornography, by removing this material from homes and preventing it from entering communities. For the purposes of this bill, ‘pornographic material’ is described as ‘prohibited material’ and is defined as:
- X18+ classified films;
- Category 1 Restricted and Category 2 Restricted publications;
- films and publications that are Refused Classification;
- unclassified films and publications that, if classified, would be Refused Classification or X18+ or Category 1 or Category 2 restricted publications; and
- prohibited advertisements.
The bill makes it an offence to possess or control prohibited pornographic material in the identified communities.
Unlike existing offences in the Northern Territory, the complete ban also applies to possessing prohibited material without the intention to copy or sell the material.
Make no mistake, this government is hell bent on doing everything it can to protect innocent children. Children should never be exposed to this sort of material as they are on a regular basis in some of these communities.
To make sure that the ban on possession will be effective, this bill will also ban delivering or sending prohibited pornographic material into these areas.
And this ban applies no matter where material is being sent from – from within the Northern Territory or from other parts of Australia such as the ‘adult’ DVD industry based in the Australian Capital Territory.
We have to stop material at its source, by preventing mail order companies sending material into a community, as well as residents or visitors sending or taking material into a community.
Of course, Australia Post and other operators of postal and parcel services, who inadvertently transport prohibited material into a prescribed area during the normal course of service, will not be committing an offence. But those who use postal or parcel services to send prohibited material into a prescribed area will be subject to criminal penalties.
The Howard government also wants to ensure heavy penalties are imposed on those who are caught ‘trafficking’ pornography to at-risk communities.
This bill provides for heavier penalties for the supply of five or more items of prohibited material – the quantity is considered likely to indicate a commercial transaction rather than material solely for personal use.
These measures are about targeting the material and removing it, so police will have appropriate powers to seize material found in an identified community where a police officer suspects on reasonable grounds that it is prohibited. This will mean material can be immediately removed from communities.
Seized material will be returned, on application, if the responsible officer, or a magistrate, is satisfied on reasonable grounds that it is not prohibited material.
Repeal of certain provisions may be necessary, for example, if the Northern Territory government enacts legislation prohibiting possession of some or all of the material which is dealt with by the Commonwealth provisions.
Therefore, this bill provides for the Minister, by legislative instrument, to repeal some or all of the new provisions, without the delay involved in enacting repealing legislation.
We hope and expect the new rules to do their job in helping to stabilise the communities by the end of the five year intervention, as announced by the Government.
Therefore, these rules will end after five years through a sunset clause in this bill.
Re-establishing law and order
A top priority of the emergency response is to re-establish law and order so people can feel safe from the threat of violence, perpetrators of sexual abuse can be apprehended and prosecuted, and the new bans on alcohol and pornography can be enforced.
We have increased police numbers, including through secondments from the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the States, which will enable police to live and work in communities, or visit regularly.
This bill ensures AFP members deployed in this role, and appointed as special constables of the Northern Territory police service, can exercise all the powers and functions of the local police service.
Further amendments will allow the Australian Crime Commission Board to authorise the National Intelligence Taskforce into Violence and Child Abuse in Australia’s Indigenous Communities to have the Commission’s full coercive powers, and capacity to access relevant information held by State agencies, to support the operations of the Taskforce.
Retaining government ownership of facilities constructed on Aboriginal land (infrastructure)
This bill also provides for the Commonwealth and Northern Territory to have continuing ownership of buildings and infrastructure on Aboriginal land which are constructed or upgraded with government funding.
Each year, the Australian and Northern Territory Governments provide millions of dollars for the construction and upgrade of buildings and infrastructure on Aboriginal land across the Northern Territory.
In the past, the Australian Government has not usually retained ownership of the buildings and infrastructure, nor has it obtained an interest in the land on which they are constructed.
This has meant the government has been unable to protect its investment and has also led to very poor outcomes.
For example, despite massive investment in public housing in the Northern Territory, today there are fewer houses in the Indigenous housing stock than there were five years ago.
The Howard government is no longer prepared to invest public money in buildings and infrastructure on private land unless it can have a continuing interest over them.
The bill ensures that, in the future, the Commonwealth or the Northern Territory will own buildings and infrastructure which are constructed or substantially upgraded with their funding.
Any construction or renovation will be undertaken with the consent of the relevant Land Council under the processes of the Northern Territory Aboriginal Land Rights Act, which require traditional owner consent.
Access to Aboriginal land
The permit system for people entering Aboriginal land will be retained but permits will no longer be needed to access common areas in the main townships and the road corridors, barge landings and airstrips connected with them.
The current permit system has not prevented child abuse, violence, or drug and alcohol running. It has helped create closed communities which can, and do, hide problems from public scrutiny.
Improving access to these towns will promote economic activity and help link communities to the wider world.
It will also allow government services to be provided more readily – essential for the recovery of these communities.
The current permit system will continue to apply for the vast majority, or about 99.8 per cent, of Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory, including homelands. Sacred sites will continue to be protected.
In the townships and the road corridors where the permit system no longer applies, the Northern Territory Government will be given the power to restrict access, temporarily, to protect the privacy of a cultural event or to protect public health and safety.
The government has been considering changing the system since it announced a review in September 2006 and the changes follow the release of a discussion paper in October 2006 and the receipt of almost 100 submissions.
Over 40 communities were visited during consultations following the release of the discussion paper. It was disturbing to hear from officials conducting the consultations that numerous people came up to them after the consultations, saying that the permit system should be removed. They were afraid to say this in the public meetings.
The permit system in some communities has been used to help create a climate of fear and intimidation.
Residents have not felt comfortable to report abuse because of the fear of retribution.
A proper police presence, which is at the core of the stabilisation phase of the emergency response, will give people the confidence to report to the appropriate authorities sexual abuse and other violence.
A real police presence cannot be replaced by a piece of paper that determines who can come into the community.
The permit system has not stopped bad people coming into a community.
Visitors, including tourists, have been discouraged, leading to limited contact with the real economy.
More open communities will give people the confidence to deal with the outside world. An open town is a safer and more prosperous town.
Closed communities can create an environment where behaviours, including antisocial and criminal behaviours, attract little public attention. This is not healthy.
The bill provides for the removal of the need for permits for common areas of the major towns.
Common areas are the places in a town that are generally used by everyone. Visitors will also not need a permit to go to shops that are open or to visit residences if invited.
Government officials and members of Parliament will be able to enter and remain on Aboriginal land without a permit to do their job.
People will be able to attend Court hearings on Aboriginal land without a permit.
Both Land Councils and traditional owners can currently issue permits and revoke permits issued by another party.
This has led to confusion and conflict.
The bill therefore provides that Land Councils and traditional owners cannot revoke permits issued by another party.
The bill provides for temporary restrictions to the public access to common areas and access roads to protect the privacy of a cultural event or to protect public health and safety.
The Northern Territory Government is provided with the power to make laws on these matters.
The Howard government will use the time before the commencement of the changes to further explain the changes to the people of the Northern Territory.
We will explain to Aboriginal people the nature and extent of the changes to counter the hysteria and fear that has been unnecessarily provoked by some people.
The government will explain to the wider Northern Territory community that the changes only apply to common areas in towns, and access to those towns is not in any way a licence to wander over the vast bulk of Aboriginal land without a permit.
The permit changes are limited to areas that are in effect country towns and are not a threat to sacred sites or the Aboriginal estate more broadly.
Other land rights and lease amendments
Schedule 5 to this bill provides for several miscellaneous amendments to the Land Rights Act, including several minor changes to clarify some of the arrangements for township leases.
The Land Rights Act currently provides that, where there is a township lease in place, subleases may be granted. Since there will be circumstances where the grant of a licence is more appropriate than a sublease, the amendments clarify that licences may also be granted.
The amendments will also ensure that a township lease can only be transferred in accordance with the terms and conditions of the township lease.
The bill will have the effect of disapplying the Lands Acquisition Act 1989 to dealings related to township leases.
The bill also provides that the definition of estate or interest in land for the purpose of sections 70 and 71 of the Land Rights Act includes certain types of licences as well as the statutory rights that are conferred under the new infrastructure provisions in Schedule 3 to the Bill.
This bill will also extend the defence in relation to entering or remaining on Aboriginal land that is covered by a township lease to land that is covered by a five-year Commonwealth lease, which will enable people who have a valid reason for entering land subject to a five-year Commonwealth lease to do so without a permit.
The bills contain provisions that clarify the operation of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 and other anti discrimination laws.
The provisions of the bills for the Northern Territory national emergency response are drafted as ‘special measures’ taken for the sole purpose of securing the advancement of Indigenous Australians.
The impact of sexual abuse on Indigenous children, families and communities requires decisive and prompt action. The Northern Territory national emergency response will protect children and implement Australia’s obligations under human rights treaties.
The Government’s response will allow Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory to advance and enjoy the same human rights as other communities in Australia.
The Australian Government has made clear that it will do what needs to be done to protect Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory.
This bill is an important element of tying our measures together into a coherent package to break the back of the violence and dysfunction in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory.