Media Release by The Hon Mal Brough MP

Howard Government getting on with the job of protecting children in the Northern Territory

Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, today released details of the legislative package for the Howard Government’s response to the National Emergency in the Northern Territory.

“The Howard Government is getting on with the job of protecting children in the NT from abuse,” Mr Brough said.

“The legislation will be introduced to Parliament tomorrow, in the House of representatives at 12.30pm.

“As I announced earlier today, I expect the legislation to be voted on by the House by tomorrow night before it moves to the Senate, where I am hopeful debate will be concluded this week.

“The legislation reflects the commitments made by the Government since the announcement on 21 June 2007 of the measures needed to protect children, restrict access to cash and control alcohol.”

The legislation comprises five Bills, including two appropriation Bills which provide for spending in excess of $500 million in 2007-08.

“The extent of the Government’s financial commitment to these measures is indicative of the seriousness with which the Government views the situation in the NT,” Mr Brough said.

The legislative package includes:

The Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill 2007 supports the Howard Government’s national emergency measures targeting the protection of Indigenous children, through:

  • Alcohol restrictions to stem the instances of family violence and sexual abuse of children;
  • Computer audits to detect prohibited pornographic material;
  • Five year leases to better manage investments to improve living conditions in townships;
  • Allowing for land tenure changes so that town camps can become normal suburbs;
  • The appointment of Government Business Managers in Aboriginal townships to manage and implement the emergency measures;
  • The removal of customary laws as a mitigating factor for bail and sentencing conditions; and
  • Better management of community stores to deliver healthier and more affordable food to Indigenous families.

“Restricting alcohol is fundamental to tackling abuse in indigenous communities,” Mr Brough said.

“The ‘rivers of grog’ was highlighted as a key issue by the authors of the Little Children Are Sacred report.

“Leasing the townships for five years will allow us to immediately improve conditions in the townships without the encumbrances that have undermined housing and infrastructure investment in the past.”

The Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Welfare Payment Reform) Bill 2007 combines three elements; welfare reform specific to the NT; welfare reform specific to Cape York and the broader welfare reform package announced last month by the Prime Minister.

“None of these measures will cause families to lose any of their payments,” Mr Brough said.

“The Government will quarantine various income support payments and direct them to provide basic necessities such as food, clothing and shelter for their children, rather than supporting substance abuse and gambling.

“The measures relating to the NT are critical to reducing the amount of ready cash available in communities for alcohol, drugs and pornography.”

The Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Northern Territory National Emergency Response and Other Measures) Bill 2007 amends existing legislation to support and complement the legislation and welfare reforms in the previous two Bills.

The reforms under this Bill include the imposition of bans on pornography and changes to the permit system.

“Having considered carefully submissions to a review on the permit system, the Government has decided not to scrap the system, but rather lift the requirement for permits in townships and access roads and airstrips,” Mr Brough said.

“The permit system has not protected communities from the ‘rivers of grog’ and children from abuse.

“It has helped create closed communities which can, and do, hide problems from public scrutiny.

“The permit system will continue to apply to more than 99 per cent of Aboriginal land, including sacred sites and homelands.”

Mr Brough said the legislative package represented the most important policy initiative in Indigenous Affairs in decades.

“The Little Children Are Sacred Report highlighted horrific abuse of children in remote communities,” Mr Brough said.

“I was astounded that the report’s authors provided no recommendations designed to immediately secure communities and protect children from abuse. The legislative measures being introduced tomorrow will achieve that.

“As I’ve said from the start, the Government’s approach to the emergency in the NT is in three phases; stabilising; normalising and then exiting.

“The legislation gives expression to many of the things that need to be achieved in the first two phases of our response before communities have established the key outcomes required for the emergency response to be withdrawn.

“Further, long-term measures will still be required by all parties; the Australian Government, the Northern Territory Government and the communities themselves to ensure that all these measures provide sustainable long-term benefits to Indigenous people in remote communities in the NT.”