NSW Response a Start – More Resources Needed
Acting Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister John Cobb today welcomed the overdue New South Wales Government response to the report of the Aboriginal Child Sexual Assault Taskforce but was concerned that the plan will not be backed up with additional resources.
‘The report highlighted the fact that abuse of Aboriginal children is widespread and not limited to the remote communities of Northern and Central Australia. While this was often denied at the time, it was the widespread nature of the issue and the need to protect victims that led to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs Mal Brough inviting all States and Territories to participate in the Summit on Violence and Abuse in Indigenous Communities in June last year.
‘I welcome plans for tougher bail restrictions because protection of victims and witnesses is important in providing people the confidence to report abuse and violence. Increasing police surveillance, tackling truancy are also important initiatives. These are the sort of fundamental measures that the Australian Government put on the table at the Summit.
‘We have already legislated to remove customary law as a mitigating factor in sentencing, established the National Indigenous Violence and Child Abuse Intelligence Task Force and are currently conducting an audit of police numbers in remote communities. The Northern Territory Government has also proposed changing aspects of their justice system and now New South Wales is recognising that lax bail provisions can put victims at risk,’ Mr Cobb said.
‘The Australian Government recognised that if we were to make a real difference that additional resources were required and we put $130 million as our contribution to the effort subject to matching funding from the states and territories. This was an area of attempted cooperation in law enforcement in a policy area that States have undisputed legislative responsibility and in several aspects there is good progress.
‘Unfortunately, as had leaked several weeks ago, it appears that New South Wales Treasurer Michael Costa has got his way and that the NSW government will not find new money to support the plan. This is disappointing. While law changes and attitude changes are essential, if these worthwhile reforms are to succeed adequate resourcing will be needed to police and enforce them. Enforcement and following up reporting is an area most State authorities struggle with.
‘The prolonged response and the lack of resources demonstrates that despite the cries of victims Labor Governments often put ideology before practical measures. They delay responses until they are forced by public pressure and even then rarely match their rhetoric on Indigenous affairs with real and targeted resources to deal with the actual problems,’ he said.
Mr Cobb said this response is better late than never. And, to the extent that NSW has recognised the problem and is making some positive steps forward I welcome it – but I do ask Premier Iemma to overrule Treasurer Costa and find some additional resources.