Media Release by The Hon Mal Brough MP

First NT Emergency Response Taskforce Meeting

The NT Emergency Response Taskforce met today for the first time along with the Prime Minister and the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

The ‘Little Children are Sacred‘ Report detailed the shocking extent of child abuse and family violence in indigenous communities in the Northern Territory and alcohol abuse that is fuelling the situation. The magnitude of the problem has been known for some time and while there have been some attempts to address it, this has been clearly insufficient. The Taskforce recognises the urgent need for immediate intervention to lay the foundations for a longer term effort and ongoing commitment.

The purpose of the meeting was to provide more formal collective briefing on the Government’s intervention to protect Aboriginal children in remote parts of the NT, to settle the terms of reference for the Taskforce and to offer the first opportunity for the Taskforce to provide input into the operational priorities.

The Chair of the Taskforce, Magistrate Dr Sue Gordon, today said that the Taskforce had resolved its 100 per cent commitment to the vital task of providing emergency support to protect the affected children from abuse as the platform for building a better life for Aboriginal people in the NT.

Dr Gordon said that the Taskforce had:

  • Commended the Australian Government on the speed and strength of its commitment in the wake of the Little Children are Sacred Report and thanked State Governments who had pledged Policing support and other assistance to the NT.
  • Noted the commitment and support of the Northern Territory Government across a range of areas to assist the Taskforce achieve its objective.
  • Agreed that the number one priority for the operation was to facilitate safe, more stable communities to ensure children could live a secure life with reduced risk of abuse and to provide the platform for longer term success. The Taskforce said that these children should be able to aspire to the same opportunities as other Australians.
  • Agreed that an early priority was to tackle the high levels of alcohol abuse and violence in these communities.
  • Advised Government that assistance through and subsequent to the emergency response should avoid becoming another form of passive welfare. To that end it felt this should not be a Government commitment alone and that the local communities and parents had to assume their share of responsibility to protect children from those who would abuse them and to participate in improving their living conditions.
  • Agreed that, consistent with community shared responsibility, programs designed to promote activity for children and to engage the local labour force in tasks to contribute to community clean ups commence as soon as practicable – as would occur through local communities in any other emergency. To this end the Government should remove remote area participation exemptions in the prescribed communities to ensure all adults who were able to work make a contribution as part of their welfare conditions.
  • Agreed that it should be a whole of Australian community effort and that the Taskforce members should, as one of their roles, act as advocated within their professions to garner broader tangible community and business support to complement the emergency relief efforts of Government.
  • Asked the Government, as a matter of priority, to engage in local information campaigns to share information with the affected communities to provide comfort about the intent of the operation.
  • Subject to providing safety as the first order priority, requested the Government to come back to the Taskforce with details of proposals for the complementary parts of the emergency effort – before implementing them – namely measures to support school attendance and welfare reform and measures designed to provide for healthy well being and medical checks of children.
  • Agreed that regularising school attendance would help start the process of breaking the long term cycles of despair for the children themselves and was a critical measure of the level of neglect of children by adults in the community.
  • Emphasised that the proposed health checks are vitally important and agreed they should be implemented after the police presence is in place. It asked that health teams include not only medical practitioners but child protection officers and interpreters. It also called for a community education campaign to gain wide support for the health checks.
  • Agreed to support the whole of community engagement and urged the Government to conduct appropriate information campaigns to encourage broader participation and volunteering consistent with the operation’s needs.

The Northern Territory Emergency Response Taskforce

Terms of Reference

The Northern Territory Emergency Response Taskforce (NTERT) was formed in the wake of the ‘Little Children are Sacred’ Report.

The objective of the Taskforce is to oversight the response to deal with child abuse and family violence and remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory.

The emergency response is the platform for successful long term action.

The Taskforce’s Terms of Reference are:

  1. Provide expert advice to the Australian Government on the implementation of the emergency response;
  2. Provide oversight of the NTERT Operational Group;
  3. Promote public understanding of the issues involved;
  4. Alert Government to current and emerging issues that relate directly to the implementation of the response;
  5. Report to the Prime Minister and the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs on the progress of the response.