House debates

Thursday, 20 March 2008

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

Second Reading

1:16 pm

Photo of Andrew LamingAndrew Laming (Bowman, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

The Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Emergency Response Consolidation) Bill 2007 is really the first litmus test of the Rudd government’s regime in 2008 and a litmus test of how much they support the intervention. I do not think there will be any point scoring today from either side because this bill is simply too important. If Indigenous communities were fully functional and working well, we could actually enjoy the intellectual banter that goes with discussing whether or not permits work. But we do not have that luxury. We will talk today about permits and pornography, and the community stores part, I think, is relatively non-controversial.

Before I begin, let us have some context. We would not even be having this debate were it not for the intervention that was proposed last year. I put it to those on the other side of the chamber that this would never have occurred under a Labor government—not in 10 years or in 20 years. It would probably never have happened. We have had this Coombs experiment for two centuries, where Indigenous people are seen as fundamentally different and have to be treated as such, and that is precisely what the essence of the permit system is. I think we would be wrong to devote most of our debate, as the member for Isaacs did, to the permit system. As someone who has had some experience in Central Australia, but certainly not an immersion for decades, cases can be made for and against. I think it is a little superficial to tie permits, as the member for Isaacs did, completely to the issue of land rights. If you pick up a telephone today and phone an intervention community and ask, ‘How’s it going without permits?’ they will say, ‘No different,’ or, ‘Kinda not different,’ or, ‘Haven’t noticed anything.’

When the member for Isaacs asks where the evidence is that removing permits does not exacerbate the problem or where the evidence is that it will lose it, he simplifies this debate. To say that we could have a double blind clinical study about the removal of permits is ridiculous. We do not have that. We have experience that associates permits with problems, with ‘the big men’—the elites—controlling movement in and out of communities. I wanted to take the member for Isaacs to task because the notion that child abuse filters in from the outside and can be stopped with permits is a little bit simplistic. The report itself, Little children are sacred, actually points out that it is the figures of authority, often within clan and family groups, that are most commonly involved. I do not want to draw too much attention to that, except to say that we are wrong to say that permits protect Aboriginal people by creating a separate culture for them that protects them from the evil outside. The great fear with the permit system is that will do some good and some bad. It keeps some evil out, but it also locks other evil in. I will give you a practical example of that. If I want to sell used cars in an Indigenous community, the first thing I do is give a car to ‘the big man’ and I say, ‘Don’t give a permit to anyone else who is selling motor cars.’ It is that simple. That is a very simple example of how you can lock in corruption using the permits system.

I will not lock myself in on this debate and devote minutes and minutes of my limited time to permits, because I am prepared to accept that permits being returned will not have an enormous impact on the intervention as we know it. Make no mistake: I am completely committed and dedicated to seeing this intervention work. We have got one chance to break the cycle that Noel Pearson has described—that is, the cycle of destruction that we have talked about so many times. It starts with not turning up to school and it leads to illiteracy and to two per cent graduation levels. It leads in remote communities to just a handful of students going on to high school each year. They cannot train, they are bored and of course that then leads to alcohol, cannabis and the DVDs—because there is nothing else. You all know that, but the cycle is a self-reinforcing one. After decades of trying these left-wing apologist approaches, we know that nothing has worked and we need a change. That is why there was surprisingly high support for the intervention from a number of unusual circles. We deserve to give this a go and it may well be our last chance for another decade. It has come decades too late for Indigenous Australia. This may just be another policy for you and me, but it has come decades too late. I am completely committed, as are all the members on this side of the chamber, to making sure that this intervention is given a fair go. I do not necessarily want to say, at such an early point in the new government’s office, that their shoulder is not to the wheel, but I suspect that over there, in the government party room, the embrace of the intervention is not that warm. I am sure that you will announce a review in 12 months. It will be an output review, where you count the number of heads treated, the number of people who have gone through the health clinic and the number of cases referred. That is an outputs analysis; it is not an outcomes analysis. You will be quite happy, I suspect, to see the intervention roll along and to give it lip-service, but where you have to make concessions for your left-wing core constituency you will do it—and that is what this bill is about today.

If you want any evidence of that, let us look at the third part of this bill, which is the legalisation of the transport of pornography through communities to bring it in line, ostensibly, with the laws on alcohol. If your shoulder were to the wheel on the intervention you would acknowledge, from page 201 and page 209 and page whatever of the Little children are sacred report, that supply of this material has a genuine role in normalising sexual behaviour and leads to the expectation that precocious sexuality is okay—there is not a causation but a correlation. Grooming children for sex is an example, and it is all in the report. It is a concern and we should not be making it any easier.

This is not about treating communities differently; this is about listening to the mums who are saying: ‘We live in multifamily households. We have 30 people. It is overcrowded. But there is a telly on the veranda and here is a chance to broadcast or not broadcast R18+ and you are rolling it back.’ These changes are genuine rollbacks for whatever well-meaning reason—such as that you should be able to carry some pornography through in the boot, along with the alcohol, because you are driving somewhere else. But that opens up an opportunity for every person who is holding a DVD to say, ‘I’m just transporting it,’ and the police will go on their merry way. That is in effect what you have done.

It is okay for the member for Bonner to read out the Police Federation report saying, ‘Permits kind of helped us.’ I will give you another report that says the opposite. We have a fifty-fifty argument on permits. As I have said, I am prepared to concede on that but not to have it completely locked in, as the member for Isaacs did, with a historical battle for land rights. You misunderstand the permit system if you think that is what it is all about. Go and talk to Central Australian communities. They have not been trampled by grey nomads and tourists not respecting traditional land. Surely you need only visit a Central Australian community to know that, the minute you arrive with ill intent, the whole community knows. They say: ‘Who is that bloke? Where is he from?’ They are sitting under a tree and they are watching. There is a raft of laws to intercept these people if the community wishes. It is not that hard to do. You do not need the permit system to do it.

I leave the permit system by saying it is a fifty-fifty argument, but in my heart I have the sense that the government is making concessions to its core constituency rather than worrying about what is going to reinforce and provide a floor to the intervention. I am not saying that returning permits will undermine the intervention, but I have concerns that it does create some small threats in certain situations.

I want to focus on practicality because I think Minister Macklin’s office is not fully around the issues of enforcing the 35 per cent and how that will be rolled out with pay TV provision of narrowcasting. Just go to a Central Australian community: the dishes are everywhere; the penetration is high. People who want to subscribe to adult channels are inbound customers—that is, they contact the provider and say, ‘Beyond my normal package, I would like to have either a one-off or a monthly fee to have access to the R18 channels.’ Of course, we know, as the member for Bonner pointed out, that SBS may well be caught up in this. That is true. Then let us get a more creative solution through legislation than this ridiculous 35 per cent level. Effectively, you are allowing providers to create a channel with 30 per cent R18+ pornography, which does not hit the minister’s screen, and making it ‘opt out’. You are putting communities in an extraordinarily difficult place, having to negotiate community-wide on blocking the provision of R18+. What is the government proposing—that the community phones up the provider and says, ‘Cancel the following subscriptions’? Is it going to somehow change what is broadcast in by satellite? Is it going to scramble a pin number? I do not know how it is going to do it. The problem is, when I read the explanatory memorandum, I see that the government does not know how it is going to do it.

Keep in mind that this intervention, proposed last year, was only rolled out over the two or three months before the election. It is disappointing to hear the member for Bonner say, ‘You never did anything about R18+.’ We gave the second reading speech in September and, had the election not been in November, we would have had a 100 per cent ban. Let it be recorded here: there would have been a 100 per cent ban on R18+. I have no problem with World Movies and SBS. We need a creative way for those mainstream channels to find their way into communities. It is not with a pathetic 35 per cent level.

Who is going to enforce it? Who is going to negotiate it? Who is going to get an entire community together when the big man wants to watch it? As the member for Kalgoorlie said, we should have an opt-in system. When the community is strong enough they can get together and say: ‘You know what, the intervention is working. It is yielding dividends, and two or three people would like to expand their subscription on pay TV. We have no problem with it. We have no problem with the local teacher doing it, the local councillor doing it and Mr and Mrs X doing it.’ And they opt in. It would have been far more sensible in this sensitised environment to have done it that way. But the government has not. Again, there has been a concession to the left-wing core constituency which believes they have to have everything that the mainstream have, without remembering that these are very different conditions where it is almost impossible to prevent minors from watching R18+.

I do not think anyone on this side is being a moral crusader about this. But we are saying that, if the government’s heart were in the intervention and its shoulder were to the wheel, this kind of amendment bill would not be put up within months; the first piece of Indigenous legislation would be these rollbacks. How can the other side of the chamber defend allowing pornography to be carried through communities? It is a loophole the size of a jumbo jet servicing bay for anyone who possesses the material. Mums are trying to stop it. They are saying: ‘What do we do to break the cycle and stop this material being bartered, traded, handed round and swapped for grog?’ And the government just cannot jump quickly enough into legalising it. That is disappointing.

It is disappointing that the government has not fully thought out exactly how pay TV will manage the 35 per cent. I can assure you it has already gone to the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. It is going to be looked at in the Senate. We will go through this like a dose of salts. The explanatory memorandum is not even clear on how this is going to occur. My great fear is simply this: the penetration is already large, anyone can order extra channels and the odds of hitting 35 per cent are almost zero. Sure, you can block a current adult channel, but you cannot block others and you certainly cannot reconfigure channels to broadcast this current material. In the end, you are undermining the intellectual essence of this intervention.

Noel Pearson described it so well. He described the cycle of positive social norms. I do not see pornography anywhere in that cycle. I am not talking about puritanical black-bans; I am saying give these 97 communities—and those four communities in Cape York—a chance for something good to take root. Just give it a chance. It starts with saying, ‘Let’s negotiate amongst ourselves about what is okay.’ The TVs are not switched off in these communities. They go all night. There is nothing else to do. The telly is on the veranda sometimes. They are all there with the dogs that they love and the blankets, and whatever the big man wants to watch is on the telly. Let us be realistic about this. You are not sitting in a family living room—except that you are, because the veranda is the living room. So there is no way of controlling that kind of access, even when the community wants to. A nice analogy is ‘cooking out of one pot’. Half of us are diabetic, but in goes the salt and in goes the sugar. There is no way of teasing this out. This is not mainstream Australia. Just keep that in mind.

These guys want solutions to superimposed Western challenges. Their traditional law of self-regulation on a community does not always work. It is not that easy. You do not simply say to people that are 14 and 15, ‘Go to bed; you cannot watch this,’ because they will say that is not their role in the skin group; it cannot be done that way. We need to bear that in mind when a community says, ‘We want to do it a different way.’ That really was the essence of the intervention. At school: ‘Let’s have less than three unexplained absences. If you don’t, you’ll hit the screen. You’ll have to come in and have a chat to a family commission.’ I remind the government that their own Queensland Labor government actually brought in family commission legislation on 28 February. They had the guts to follow up. Where are you leaving them now? They actually came through and made provisions to link up state services with Centrelink, so that there could be conditional income management and, where needed, welfare quarantine. It is the only way to get the fuel out of the system.

If you return CDEP, it will not be able to be quarantined and will be unconditional—just as royalties are unconditional. As long as someone can continually get their welfare, you are simply fuelling that destructive cycle involving school non-attendance, illiteracy, boredom, cannabis, alcohol, domestic violence, child abuse, unrestrained gambling and taking a cut—distribution through the black economy—all leading back again to unhealthy kids and not being able to attend school. It is that cycle we are trying to break. It is not rocket science. Here you have four communities in Cape York doing it and getting started, and this is the signal from the new government: let’s get permits back in quickly because we owe that to the people who came down on Sorry Day and made a big song and dance about it, but left behind all the guys that—


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