A former senior indigenous bureaucrat has accused the federal
government of using child sex abuse as a smokescreen to resume control
of Aboriginal lands in the Northern Territory.
More than 90 individuals, indigenous groups and community
organisations have put their name to a letter delivered on Tuesday to
Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough, warning him that the
government's plan to tackle child sex abuse will not work.
Prime Minister John Howard last week announced plans to seize control
of more than 60 NT Aboriginal communities, banning alcohol and
hardcore pornography and putting in place conditions on welfare
payments and compulsory health checks for children.
Pat Turner, a former head of the now defunct Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander Commission and a former senior bureaucrat in the
Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, warned that Mr Brough was
drawing too heavily on his military background to implement the
"What the prime minister and his minister Mal Brough are proposing is,
in the view of the combined Aboriginal organisations in Alice Springs,
totally unworkable," she told reporters.
"Mal Brough is drawing too heavily on his military background to swoop
into our communities and do a quick fix."
A key issue for Aboriginal leaders is the plan to scrap the permit
system, which restricts non-Aboriginal access to indigenous land.
"We are totally against tying serious social need to our hard-fought
land ownership and land tenure," Ms Turner said.
"We believe that this government is using child sexual abuse as the
Trojan horse to resume total control of our land.
"No compensation will ever, ever replace our land ownership rights."
The letter says while the commitment to tackle abuse in indigenous
communities is welcome, solutions must be developed with the
communities, not prescribed from Canberra.
It also warns the measures could weaken families and disempower
"The proposals go well beyond an emergency response and will have a
profound effect on people's incomes, land ownership and their ability
to decide the kind of medical treatment they receive," the letter says.
"Some of the measures will weaken communities and families by taking
from them the ability to make basic decisions about their lives, thus
removing responsibility instead of empowering them.
"In their present form the proposals miss the mark and are unlikely to
Greg Phillips, a population health expert at Melbourne University,
warned that victims of abuse could face additional trauma if they were
forcibly examined as part of compulsory health checks.
"If children and adults ... have been abused and are forced to take
medical examinations then significant psychiatric literature and
practice shows that victims are likely to be retraumatised," he said.
"This is of paramount concern to those of us in the public health field."
Mr Phillips said there was evidence to show that Aboriginal ownership
of their lands helped promote good health.
"Land is essential to Aboriginal cultural identity, sense of
spirituality and is therefore protective of good health," he said.
"There is no need to tie sexual abuse interventions with land tenure,
it's too much of a stretch for this nation to take and the government
is lying through its teeth to do so.
"You do not have to take children away and you do not have to take
communal rights to land away to deal effectively with sexual abuse and
Meanwhile, Tasmania has agreed to send police to help enforce the
federal government's indigenous child abuse plan, but will provide
only two instead of the 10 requested.
Labor Premier Paul Lennon told state parliament that Tasmania had
rejected Mr Brough's request for 10 officers, but would provide two
"The Tasmanian government will be responding positively to the federal
government's request on a pro-rata basis and our Police Minister David
Llewellyn will be speaking with Minister Brough today to further the
necessary arrangements," Mr Lennon told parliament.
"We have got a problem here that needs to be addressed where children
are at risk and governments have a responsibility to act."
But Mr Lennon said it was unreasonable for the federal government to
expect Tasmania to make the same commitment as NSW and Victoria.
"New South Wales has a police service of over 15,000 in strength
compared to Tasmania's police service strength of 1,200," he said.
"I think it unreasonable, therefore, to expect us to be in a position
to maintain policing responsibilities in Tasmania and to make the same
strength commitment to the Northern Territory as the state of New
South Wales which has a police service of 15,000, compared to our 1,200.
"Or, indeed, to the state of Victoria where the police strength is
Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre legal director Michael Mansell said the
state government was putting politics before people.
"Sending two or 200 police officers is neither here nor there," Mr
"This is open approval by Paul Lennon of John Howard's over-the-top
invasion of Aboriginal communities.
"The premier's move puts politics before people because he is trying
to cover the back of his mate Kevin Rudd, who has also endorsed this