House debates

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Emergency Response Consolidation) Bill 2008

Second Reading

10:56 am

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Werriwa, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

This government is committed to the intervention in the Northern Territory. It must net the results that were originally intended. This is something a number of us spoke upon in the last parliament. We did work, as much as possible, in a genuine bipartisan way to address issues that had emerged, that were brought to public attention firstly in the report Little children are sacred and then secondly in various publications—which have been alluded to earlier in this place—by the Crown Prosecutor in the Northern Territory Nanette Rogers. I will come back to that. The Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Emergency Response Consolidation) Bill 2008 makes a number of necessary amendments to the special measures to protect Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory, following the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007 and the Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Northern Territory National Emergency Response and Other Measures) Act 2007.

This package of legislation contains provisions for welfare reform and changes to land and housing arrangements and provides law and order thereby improving the safety and wellbeing of children and their families in those Indigenous communities. Schedule 1 of the bill deals with the R-rated content of broadcasting. Schedule 1 amends the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007 to require that particular pay television licences not provide TV channels that contain large amounts of R-rated programming in certain areas prescribed under the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007. The cessation of television services would occur only on request of the community and after consultation with the community and an assessment having been done that it would be to the benefit of Indigenous women and children in particular.

Schedule 2 of the bill deals with the transportation of prohibited material. The bill permits prohibited material to be transported through a prescribed area to a place outside the prescribed area. In other words, this addresses material that would otherwise not be prohibited but is prohibited within the prescribed area when the purpose is simply to transport it through that area. Under the measures proposed in Schedule 2, this amendment will ensure that content which is prohibited when it is in the prescribed area would not be capable of being seized by police or other law enforcement agencies.

Schedule 3 deals with the access to Aboriginal land. This bill makes amendments, which come into force from 17 February 2008, to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 to repeal the permit system amendments that gave access to certain Aboriginal lands. I will come back to that in more detail a little later. Schedule 4 of the bill addresses the issue where a roadhouse within a community is in fact acting as a community store. It will be treated for the purposes of the act as being a community store and will be subject to required licensing standards that are prescribed for community stores within prescribed Aboriginal communities. I support each of these amendments. Each of these amendments has been addressed quite thoroughly in consultation with the wider community, but the amendments in addressing those very significant issues achieve the initial intention of the intervention and do not do things which have simply become circumstantial.

The part I really want to address in my contribution today is access to Aboriginal land. You will recall, Madam Deputy Speaker, that when the former government introduced its legislation for the intervention one of the things that it was absolutely committed to and would not vary was the winding back of the permit system. The member for Warringah has just made an impassioned plea about bipartisanship in this respect. His argument to date has been that we should be opening these communities up—we should be widening the communities—as if that is going to be the panacea for looking after children in rather distressed circumstances, which is what, fundamentally, the Little children are sacred report addressed. We believe, as discussed in the last parliament, that the provision of the permit system—the restriction of who can access Aboriginal lands and the fact that you need to establish approvals to go there—is actually a net benefit for Aboriginal communities. It is not about locking things up. It is not about being able to protect perpetrators of crimes against children within a closed community. It does actually have the effect of restricting who can access these communities.

Before coming to this place, as most people know, I spent some time representing the interests of most police in both states and territories throughout the country, and I did take it upon myself to have a discussion with them about the provision of access. I spoke to the President of the Northern Territory Police Association. I also spoke to the Chief Executive Officer of the Police Federation of Australia, Mr Mark Burgess. His organisation represents all of the 50,000 police throughout Australia. Apart from them being very forthcoming with their views about policing in remote Aboriginal communities, I also discovered that they made a detailed submission dealing specifically with the Northern Territory intervention to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs on 9 August last year. The submission was made by Mr Mark Burgess, the Chief Executive Officer of the Police Federation of Australia, on behalf of his organisation. He says:

In relation to the long-standing permit system for access to aboriginal communities, the PFA is of the view that the Australian Government has failed to make the case that there is any connection between the permit system and child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities. Therefore, changes to the permit system are unwarranted.

He goes on to say:

We note that the Government has decided, on balance, to leave the permit system in place in 99.8 per cent of Aboriginal land.

He goes on to say:

Operational police on the ground in the Northern Territory believe that the permit system is a useful tool in policing the communities, particularly in policing alcohol and drug-related crime. It would be most unfortunate if by opening up the permit system in the larger public townships and the connecting road corridors as the Government intends, law enforcement efforts to address the ‘rivers of grog’, the distribution of pornography, and the drug running and petrol sniffing were made more difficult.

The Police Federation—hardly a maverick organisation; after all, they do represent police officers in the Northern Territory—are specifically saying that they consider this restriction a useful tool in policing. It restricts not only the number of people who come in for activities in relation to children but also, as I understand it, the number of people who want to go in and sign Aboriginal people up to lines of credit. I have been advised that under the current arrangement, whereby there is unrestricted access, a number of second-hand car salesmen are going in and signing people up to debt arrangements. The permit system has been used to keep out people not only who are going to perform criminal acts and prey on the children but also who are going to prey on people in Aboriginal communities generally.

The view that has been advanced on the other side of the argument is that if we do not open up these communities they will not be able to participate in the economic prosperity of the nation. This intervention is not about establishing first and foremost the redistribution of wealth into Aboriginal communities; it is about addressing something very specific and something that shocked everybody when they read the Little children are sacred report. We were all taken aback when we heard the responses and commentary of the Crown Prosecutor, Nanette Rogers, on the allegations against and prosecutions of Aboriginal men over their criminal activities with children. That is what this is about. It is not a panacea for all ills within a community; it is doing something as quickly as we can, specifically to address the issue that women and children are at risk. We should not lose focus and broaden this into a wider economic argument. This is something that we have a responsibility for. This is something that we are committed to doing—and I think the commitment is bipartisan. This is something where it is absolutely essential we get results.

We need to bear that in mind and listen to what has been said by the police—the people on the ground who not only arrest the perpetrators of these crimes but go out and collect the information to prepare a brief for the Crown Prosecutor. I think it is only appropriate that we at least pay due regard to the view of the police, as the primary law enforcement agency, on the application of law enforcement in Aboriginal communities. After all, they are there. The police made a detailed submission to the former government. That was not considered.


No comments