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

My colleague over there is saying it was considered. It may have been considered but the consideration was simply to reject it. The minister at the time, Mal Brough, was single-minded in his approach to this. This was about winding back once and for all the permit system. This was doing exactly what the member for Warringah was talking about in an MPI not that long ago—opening up Aboriginal communities so that they can participate in the broader economic benefits of society. But it is not about doing what we set out to do with this intervention, which is to remedy things for the children and women in those Aboriginal communities.

The shadow minister for environment, heritage, the arts and Indigenous affairs has just indicated that the view of the police was considered. Since then, we have more law enforcement officers on the ground—there is no question about that. The Commonwealth has subsidised the seconding of police from other states and territories, and those seconded police have been distributed to Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. I had a discussion only yesterday with Mr Vince Kelly of the Northern Territory Police Association, who said that their position on the subject, if anything, has actually hardened. If the police and, therefore, I would have thought, the Crown prosecutors—all those on the ground who have the task of prosecuting the perpetrators of crimes against children and women in Aboriginal communities—are saying that those restrictions are a very useful tool, it would be madness to run in the face of that advice and say, ‘Everything else is okay up there as long as we can keep this unrestricted access.’

We will have access. It has been widely discussed during the passage of these bills that the minister will allow journalists, Commonwealth officers and others to have access to these lands. But they will be going there for a purpose. We as a community are not about to abrogate our responsibility for the wellbeing of people in Aboriginal communities for a bunch of journalists—you have got to be joking! That is what we have been asked by the member for Warringah to think about: the role journalism plays when it comes to law enforcement and protection.

I for one have a lot of time for journalists, but I do not think they should be considered the last bastion of protection for kids, women and law enforcement in communities. If that is truly their view, as it was the view of the member for Warringah, what does it mean—that we have failed, that we have already unfurled the white flag and said that we cannot do it? We have the means to do these things and we have the people to do these things. Sure there is an argument that more people are needed and that it may not be just those communities in the Northern Territory that are affected. We know that. We know we are going to have to put more resources in. That is a given.

We have a responsibility to the people in these communities and we should be exercising that responsibility. In doing that, we should be listening to those who are at the front line. I do not know whether many people who are going to participate in this debate have been to any of these remote communities—whether they have been to Ramingining or out to Port Keats. I have.


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