House debates

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Questions without Notice

Indigenous Communities

2:08 pm

Photo of Dave TollnerDave Tollner (Solomon, Country Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is addressed to the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. Would the minister advise the House of the latest developments in the government’s intervention in the Northern Territory to combat the abuse revealed in the report entitled Little children are sacred?

Photo of Mal BroughMal Brough (Longman, Liberal Party, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for his question. Today the Commonwealth government, the Howard government, gave an unequivocal guarantee to the people of the Northern Territory of our commitment to do all that we can to protect the Indigenous children of the Northern Territory by committing to a $1.33 billion program over the next four years to change the circumstances in which they currently live and give them a brighter and safer future.

There are five elements to this plan that the Howard government is totally committed to. First of all, there is policing. There is simply no substitute for giving people security in knowing that there are adequate numbers of police in their midst. The women in particular in the Northern Territory have said long and loud to magistrate Dr Sue Gordon, who is chairing our task force, since she has been up there that nothing else will suffice other than giving them adequate police protection. To that end the Prime Minister has announced that the Commonwealth, beyond this initial phase in which we currently have AFP and Queensland police now on the ground, will provide 66 Australian Federal Police so that we can give a more permanent policing solution to these communities. They will work with the Northern Territory government but they will provide policing and security on the ground in the communities where needed. I want to take this opportunity to thank the AFP, who are doing a great job up there now, and the Queensland police who recently deployed. I would ask that the New South Wales, Tasmanian, Victorian and South Australian governments hasten the deployment of their own forces in the interests of these children. Those forces are desperately needed.

In relation to housing, the Commonwealth government is making the single largest expenditure of additional money for housing to the Northern Territory to change once and for all the circumstances in which these children and families grow up. It is simply not good enough that people grow up in what cannot be described as anything other than abject squalor. We are committing $800 million to the Northern Territory alone so that people can be provided not just enough homes but the right types of homes. We are looking at involving local Indigenous people in all aspects of the housing construction. First of all, those people who destroy their own homes will be part of rebuilding their own homes, people who are currently renting will have the opportunity to buy and people who are not paying rent at the moment will be expected to do so under new circumstances in which everyone will be treated the same. This is a growth from $279 million to some $800 million from the Commonwealth government.

In the area of jobs, the Commonwealth government has abolished CDEP but has replaced it with $90 million over the next three years to convert what were ‘pretend jobs’, CDEP jobs, into real jobs—jobs where people in those communities will have respect and where they will be able to do such things as we have now rolled out in Finke and Imanpa: home and community care workers, child-care workers, night patrolmen and municipal services. In addition, we are working with the NT government on a dollar-for-dollar basis to say, ‘We will put an additional $30 million on the table if the NT matches it dollar for dollar and takes those NT government services and provides real job opportunities for Indigenous people.’ We are talking about 2,000 jobs.

In relation to education, the Chief Minister told the Prime Minister and me just recently that there are some 2,000 school-age Aboriginal children in the NT who have never been enrolled in school. What they have now committed to, as they should, is ensuring that there are classrooms, books, desks and teachers for each of those students, and we will hold them to account in this matter. We cannot set some arbitrary figure; we must ensure that every Australian child has the opportunity for an education—English, numeracy and literacy—and that is what we are determined to do.

Turning now to the area of health, in my joint announcement today with the Minister for Health and Ageing, he announced an additional $100 million for more doctors, nurses, allied health professionals and specialist services as part of this emergency response. It is not good enough for us to simply acknowledge that there are ear, nose and throat problems, skin problems and nutritional problems. We as the Howard government are committed to recruiting and supporting the doctors and the allied specialists so that we overcome these problems and give these children the sort of future they deserve.

The people of the Northern Territory, and the Australian population in general, can be assured that this is an unequivocal commitment from the Howard government. There is no two bob each way, no saying one thing to one group of Australians and something else to others. It is not sending mixed messages about things such as cultural law.

Government Member:

No inquiries.

Photo of Mal BroughMal Brough (Longman, Liberal Party, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

We are determined, as just mentioned by one of my colleagues, to not have an inquiry to look into it. We are committed to action on behalf of securing the future, the health, the wellbeing and the success of Aboriginal communities throughout the Territory.