House debates

Thursday, 20 March 2008

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

Second Reading

Debate resumed from 19 March, on motion by Ms Plibersek:

That this bill be now read a second time.

10:45 am

Photo of Tony AbbottTony Abbott (Warringah, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Families, Community Services, Indigenous Affairs and the Voluntary Sector) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to continue the contribution that I began last night on this important legislation, the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Emergency Response Consolidation) Bill 2008. I had made a few remarks about the government’s proposals to restore the permit system in this legislation, and I will come back to that point in a moment. I had begun talking about the government’s watering down of the former government’s proposal to totally ban pornographic material from the remote Indigenous townships of the Northern Territory. The Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, in her second reading speech, said:

The 2007 legislation included prohibitions on the possession, control and supply in prescribed areas of pornographic material. This bill addresses a further area of concern expressed by Aboriginal people in the Little children are sacred report about R-rated material available through pay television subscription.

A casual reader of this second reading speech would think that this bill goes further than the legislation introduced into the parliament by the former government last year. In fact, this bill very significantly waters down the legislation introduced last year. The legislation introduced last year totally banned all pornographic material in the prescribed areas, including pay TV porn. This bill effectively allows pay TV porn. In fact, it overturns the former government’s restrictions on pay TV porn.

Let us return for a moment to the Little children are sacred report. The report made it very clear that pornography, including pay TV porn, was a very important contributor to the degradation of these townships. It said that pornography, including pay TV porn, was readily available to children and that exposure to pornography played an important role in ‘grooming’—that was the expression used in the report—children for inappropriate and unfortunate activities.

Unfortunately, this legislation puts a Clayton’s ban on pay TV porn, because pay TV porn will only be banned under this legislation if the community asks for a ban, if the minister thinks that a ban is in the public interest and if the pay TV porn channel comprises at least 35 per cent pornographic material.

There is another issue with this bill—and the office of the Leader of the Opposition has been pursuing this with the minister in question. It is a drafting issue—that is, whether the 35 per cent provision in this bill applies to a specific channel or to the entire service. If it applies to a specific channel then there is little doubt that pay TV porn channels would, at least, potentially be coverable by this legislation. But, if it applies to the entire service, no existing pay TV porn channel would in fact be covered by this legislation. So the legislation would be completely useless, as opposed to being merely utterly ineffective, in banning pay TV porn from these areas.

As I said at the beginning of my remarks yesterday, I believe that the government is sincere, notwithstanding the stated opposition of some of its members. I think the government at senior levels is sincere in wanting the intervention to work and in wanting to continue to prosecute the intervention. But this legislation is not the way to do it.

I now wish to return to the question of permits, given a recent development in this area. According to the minister’s second reading speech, once the bill is passed the government will ‘by means of a ministerial determination ensure that journalists can access communities for the purpose of reporting on events in communities’. In other words, under the restored permit system that the government is currently proposing, no journalist will be able to visit a remote Northern Territory township without an express ministerial permit.

I ask members opposite: do they really think it is acceptable to ban the media from wide swathes of our country, except on the issue of a ministerial permit? If a riot breaks out in, Wadeye, Port Keats, for instance, should coverage of those events be dependent upon the issuing of a ministerial permit? Even if the minister in question is totally committed to free speech and utterly committed to the widest possible journalistic access to what is happening in our country, what if the minister is out of the country? What if the minister is tied up with other matters? As we know, when events happen the media have to be there as quickly as possible. And, even though ministerial permits are to be given automatically, the fact is that the requirement for them means that there will be, in effect, a news blackout in these remote townships and that is just unacceptable.

I noted this morning in the Australian newspaper that the award-winning journalist Paul Toohey, who has personal experience in this area, has handed back his Walkley award because the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, formerly known as the Australian Journalists Association, has supported the requirement for ministerial permission before journalists have access to these remote townships. I will quote now not Mr Toohey but Mr Warren, the secretary of the union, who said the proposed code—and this is an AJA code meant to work in conjunction with ministerial approval of journalistic visits—was meant to be:

…situational, and attempts to take into account the particular cultural sensitivities presented when operating on Aboriginal land.

I know that Australian journalists are not the most sensitive of people. I know that sometimes they can go blundering—and they are a little bit like Australian politicians in that respect—but the fact is we have got to let them in. If our democracy is going to survive, we have got to let the media know what is happening because, I say in this chamber, evil thrives in darkness. It is precisely because the Australian people have not, by and large, known what has been going on in these remote townships that the terrible things revealed in the Little children are sacred report have tragically been flourishing. We have had too much sensitivity and not enough truth in this area and that is why this particular provision of the government’s legislation is so objectionable. I say again that I applaud the sincerity of the government in its support for the intervention. I respect the decency, compassion and goodwill of the minister. I know that the Prime Minister really meant it when he said in his First 100 Days booklet that one of the achievements of the government was the banning of pornography in the Northern Territory but, I do regret to say, that is not the effect of this legislation and I do ask members opposite, in the spirit of bipartisanship, to please think again.

I will be moving second reading amendments, and in the committee stage I will be moving some specific amendments to the legislation. I hope the government will consider those amendments, which I believe have been in circulation for some time now. If the government would like to talk to the opposition about a better way to of doing what the opposition has proposed then I would welcome that. If the government would like to take the amendments on notice and consider them in the Senate, I would be prepared to accept that. But what I will not accept, speaking on behalf of the opposition, is an unamended bill because, while the bill does reflect a government which wants to do the right thing, it does not actually do the right thing. In the end, it is the job of an opposition not to say ‘me too’ to whatever a government proposes but to be constructive and, where necessary, to point out the flaws in what the government is doing. That is what I hope I am doing today. I move:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:“the House questions the approach reflected in this bill and:

calls on the Federal Government to impose a blanket ban on all pornographic material in prescribed areas;
calls on the Federal Government to prohibit the transport of pornographic material through any prescribed area; and
urges the Federal Government to leave in place the permit system amendments that have enabled access to public land.”

Photo of Janelle SaffinJanelle Saffin (Page, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

Photo of Don RandallDon Randall (Canning, Liberal Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

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.

Photo of Sharman StoneSharman Stone (Murray, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Environment, Heritage, the Arts and Indigenous Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I think it was, and the police were part of that.

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.

Photo of Sharman StoneSharman Stone (Murray, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Environment, Heritage, the Arts and Indigenous Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I spent more time there than you have.

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

I have been there. People talk about what can be done about the rivers of grog and the illicit drugs being imported into these areas. One of the things we need is greater access to law enforcement. We have been saying that for some time. I was very pleased that the former government did decide to put more money into seconding police for the Northern Territory. We supported that. But, in supporting those measures, we were not going to say, ‘Let’s use that as an excuse to wind back the permit system once and for all’—something that the other side always wanted to do—‘to get rid of the issue of access.’

I support the bill and would hope that it will be passed on a bipartisan basis. I hope the other side does not want to enter into an ideological argument about access to Aboriginal lands. I would hope that in this debate people will actually start to think what this is about and what this has always been about—about what was stated in The little children are sacred report. This is about the kids and the women, and ensuring they are not subject to crimes in those areas. This is about trying to address those matters. I commend the bill to the House.

11:17 am

Photo of Sharman StoneSharman Stone (Murray, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Environment, Heritage, the Arts and Indigenous Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Emergency Response Consolidation) Bill 2008. This bill introduces amendments to consolidate the special measures protecting children in the Northern Territory which the John Howard government enacted in 2007. Amongst the very important elements of the emergency response which we introduced was a prohibition on the possession, control and supply of pornographic material in the prescribed areas. The then minister Mal Brough introduced legislation in September 2007 to ensure that the pornography that was available through paid television was also banned in these prescribed communities. Unfortunately, the parliament was prorogued before this legislation passed through both houses. This was legislation restricting pornography access via pay TV. This remained unfinished business and I am pleased that the Labor government has picked up that unfinished business to address pornography available through paid television. As I will say further along in my remarks, however, we are not pleased that, instead of a total ban on beaming pornography into the communities via pay television, what is being allowed is something quite different: only a ban if more than 35 per cent of that paid television in a week contains pornography and only if the community asks that the banning occurs.

Also in the period of the John Howard government, we introduced legislation to include the licensing of roadhouses, along with of course community stores, to ensure that where the roadhouses were offering food and beverage they could also then be utilised by those who had quarantined welfare and were using a special card to buy groceries and so on. Again, that remained unfinished business when parliament was prorogued, so this bill makes sure that roadhouses are reintroduced as another way for these Indigenous communities to buy their food, drink and other necessities. In fact, we support that particular element of this bill. It simply echoes what we were intending.

This bill also addresses the permit system. We just heard the most extraordinary remarks from the previous government speaker. He was trying to justify the permit system by saying it was okay because the police say the permit system was okay. Unfortunately, if the permit system was so amazingly good, if it so served the interests of the policing in those communities, how come we have some of the worst prevalence of criminal behaviour of any communities in the world in these prescribed communities, under the veil of silence brought down by the permit system?

Another element of this bill introduced by Labor is allowing the pornography that is purchased by someone to be transported through or past a prescribed community. They do not intend that should be a criminal offence. We understood very clearly how that could be used as an excuse in those areas to avoid criminal sanctions and so we intended that all pornography, including that which is carried through a community, be banned.

Let me go back to the beginning. In April 2007 there was yet another shocking report on the life experiences of some Indigenous Australians, and this report was delivered to the Northern Territory government. The report, produced by the Northern Territory Board of Inquiry into the Protection of Children from Sexual Abuse, was rigorously researched, and it presented a compelling and compassionate case for immediate and comprehensive intervention to stop Indigenous child sexual abuse in some communities. Of course, the facts were not news to the Northern Territory government, and they were also pretty familiar in Queensland, Western Australia, parts of South Australia and parts of New South Wales. So it was not news to the Northern Territory government. The Northern Territory government was more than familiar with the conditions described by the report; they had existed for decades. Unfortunately there had been a failure to act by the Northern Territory government over a very long period of time.

On behalf of the Australian nation, the Howard government stepped in, declared an emergency and introduced special measures and resources so that this time the victims—Indigenous men, women and children—might be saved from a life of abuse and degradation. We knew, because this report and the victims themselves told us, that we had to break the cycle of unemployment, welfare dependency, poverty, poor housing, poor school attendance, alcohol, drug abuse and violence which included one of the most heinous crimes in human society, and that is the sexual abuse of babies and young children. The report described the incessant and relentless exposure to degrading pornography that groomed little children and teenagers by allowing them to come to the view that what they saw and heard on DVDs and on television was normal and acceptable human behaviour. There was really no chance for children to avoid this constant exposure, because of the overcrowding in the houses and the lack of privacy.

Some excellent investigative journalism took up the Little children are sacred report and helped bring the facts of this appalling situation into the homes and minds of mainstream Australians. The cry went up. How could this situation of appalling living conditions continue—with child rape by adults, child rape by children, incest, physical violence and emotional abuse? How could this have been happening while Melbourne and Sydney were vying to be the world’s most liveable city? Quite simply, it was happening and it had been happening for several generations, because a permit system was in place forbidding access to towns and communities in what are now prescribed regions. The permit system was in place in Indigenous communities and it required that you had to apply to a land council or to a local community to get permission to travel through or to stop and stay.

The permit system ensured that, other than the victims and perpetrators of these crimes, only a small band of Northern Territory government officials and the police were aware of the shameful conditions and crimes. We know that little was done about the criminal behaviour and the appalling infrastructure in these places—which the permit system in no way stopped or even slowed down. In fact, many have argued that the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ situation served the purveyors of grog, drugs and pornography. It gave them an open field—freedom, if you like—and it allowed police inactivity or ineffectual policing practice to continue. Quite self-evidently, we had to do something to lift the veils of secrecy and silence that were allowing such behaviour to be a part of Australia’s living conditions.

One of the first emergency responses of the John Howard government was to normalise access to the Northern Territory prescribed communities. We did not say, ‘It’s open slather now.’ We normalised the situation by saying, ‘What is acceptable and commonplace in the rest of Australia should apply here.’ In other words, when you go to a town or an Indigenous community, where you would expect to go to a shop, an art gallery or a public place, you can do that in all parts of the prescribed areas all through the Northern Territory. Only 0.2 per cent of the whole of the region under the permit system was to become accessible to the traveller: the grey nomad passing up the highway, the journalist, the person who wanted to see if they wished to live in that community too, or perhaps apply for a job, or the person who wanted to stop and buy something at the store. It was only 0.2 per cent of the area that was to be no longer requiring a permit to visit, but we thought that was of incredible importance.

Let me say too that one of the foremost Indigenous leaders in the Northern Territory, Central Australian Aboriginal Labor politician Alison Anderson, is absolutely in favour of removing the permit system for Aboriginal communities, because she believes it works towards shielding predators and exposes women and children to abuse. In commenting today in the Australian on a code that the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance has tried to impose on journalists, she says that the code is ‘absurd’. Today on the front page of the Australian there is a report of a most extraordinary situation. Paul Toohey, an award-winning journalist who works for the Australian, has handed back his Walkley Award in protest against the journalists union trying to put further constraint on journalists being able to freely report what is happening in these Indigenous communities. Mr Toohey was named Australian Journalist of the Year in 2000 for his reporting from Northern Australia. He won a Walkley award in 2002 for an article about petrol sniffing in some Indigenous communities. He says that the code shows, surprisingly, a profound ignorance of how journalists work to require them to get a permit from the minister of the day, from the police or some other government agency to be allowed to go into these communities in order to report what is really there.

I think it is absolutely necessary for this government to rethink their plan to reintroduce permits right across the board in these areas. I have to wonder: is it their intention to simply honour the promises made by the member for Lingiari, who when campaigning for his re-election in that area perpetrated such untruths about our permit system changes that had Indigenous Australians out in those regions thinking they were going to have tourists trampling on sacred sites? People in these communities told me personally that they had been told by the member for Lingiari that if this permit system was changed their sacred sites would become camping sites for people in caravans and their houses would be entered by the public without their permission. What nonsense. What untruths they were. But I suppose now this government is trapped and it has to follow through on what the member for Lingiari said during the heat of the campaign. I think the government should pay very careful attention to what the Little children are sacred report understood and reported, and that is that the veil of secrecy and the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ conditions of these communities have perpetuated generation after generation of abuse and substandard conditions.

Obviously our opposition intends to try to have you amend the legislation, to reinstate the 0.2 per cent of area removed from permit requirements so that these different communities can have more commercial opportunities—and that is a very important consideration too—and will also have their conditions exposed to the greater Australian population and not be left in an apartheid type of situation.

Let me also say that in the Little children are sacred report there was a great deal of emphasis on the shocking outcomes of extraordinary exposure to pornography. The inquiry detailed the prevalence and impacts of heavy alcohol and drug use—the violence, the family breakdown and the weakening of the traditional and cultural values in modern Australian society that were to be found in the communities that were investigated. The report highlighted the impacts on unemployment, low school attendance, poverty and dysfunctional behaviour. But at the heart of the report was the prevalence—and, so, the complete and utter degradation endured by many Indigenous Australians—with the pornography affecting small children and those who were grooming those small children, hoping they would become available to them for rape or sexual assault.

We felt that our banning of all pornography was the only appropriate way to address this problem. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, we intended to include paid television pornography broadcasting. That was in the legislation we introduced into the House. We are incredibly concerned that, with the amendment before us, services cannot be declared as banned unless they transmit more than 35 per cent of R18+ program hours over a seven-day period and communities cannot have their access to this television service restricted unless they are in a prescribed area in the Northern Territory. The Indigenous affairs minister is satisfied that the community concerned wants the services restricted, following proper consultation, and it is appropriate to do so.

One of the things that the Little children are sacred report emphasised again and again was the powerlessness of the victims in this shocking situation—the mothers, the teenagers, even the men and boys who were themselves victims of rape. They are often not in a condition to stand up and challenge the purveyors of this pornography or those whose business is grooming the children to become their victims in the years ahead. It is a nonsense to say that now we are going to ban the R18+ paid television pornography only if the community steps forward and asks for this material to be banned. How are they going to do that? Are they going to wait for a letter in the mail? Is the minister going to wait until she gets 51 per cent of the community putting its hand up? Does she accept deputations? How is this to be done in a way that is going to protect the victims of the pornography that has caused and is causing such enormous breakdown of traditional cultural practice and that has led to such a sense of hopelessness and low self-esteem, especially amongst the young men? What is being proposed is absolute nonsense.

The idea, too, that it is not a crime to transport the materials through a prohibited area on the basis that the destination for the pornography is ultimately outside the prescribed area just gives those who make a profit from this material an out. We do not think that that is sensible at all. The bill proposed in the House today states that an offence for possession or supply:

... does not apply if the person proves that the material was brought into the prescribed area for the sole purpose of transporting it to a place outside the prescribed area.

So if you do not get caught it is okay but, if you are caught with a bootload of porn, you can always say that it was destined for Alice Springs, or up the road, or back where you came from. We think that that is a nonsense. Why would you allow that to be an acceptable non-criminal offence when what we are trying to do is save the next generation of victims—children and women, but men too—from this sexual abuse which is destroying their lives?

You must take notice of our amendments, which were introduced in the House by the shadow minister for families, community services, Indigenous affairs and the voluntary sector. We want the government to support a continuation of the permit lifting, which we introduced in the House and which allows 0.2 per cent of the area to no longer be hidden from view—from  journalists or from ordinary Australian men and women—so that the apartheid system can be ended. We also ask that the pornography that is to be found in these areas on paid television be banned outright. On the other hand, we do not believe it is acceptable to let those who have a bootload of pornography off the hook if they say, ‘Well, we actually weren’t going to drop it off here; we are moving down the road.’ But we do support the inclusion of roadhouses and community stores that are licensed as having appropriate nutritional food. We support the roadhouses being included in the new arrangements so that better nutrition and more food is available in these prescribed communities.

We do not want to see any watering down of our emergency response at all. I cannot understand how this government, whom we supported in standing up and saying sorry for the stolen generations—this government that plays lip-service to the health and wellbeing of Indigenous Australians—could have before us this amendment bill which waters down the emergency response and exposes the women and children but also the young men to further degradation and violence. (Time expired)

11:37 am

Photo of Mark DreyfusMark Dreyfus (Isaacs, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There is no watering down in this legislation. I rise in support of the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Emergency Response Consolidation) Bill 2008, and wish to say straightaway, in response to the repeated suggestions that were made by the member for Murray—suggestions that were also made earlier today and on Monday night in this House by the member for Warringah—that the legislation waters down the Commonwealth response in respect of the present difficulties being faced by Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, that those suggestions are wrong.

In particular, I wish to support the restoration of the provisions of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 which are directed at ensuring that Aboriginal people can decide who can enter their land. I want to make four main points. First, these calls that are being made repeatedly by the opposition to persist with the scrapping of the permit system—and that is the phrase that was used by the former minister for Aboriginal affairs, Mr Brough, last year—are being made without the slightest evidence that scrapping the permit system will do anything at all to assist in the elimination of child sex abuse in Aboriginal communities. Not only is there no evidence that the removal of the permit system would do anything to assist with child sex abuse; there is every likelihood that the removal of the permit system would in fact exacerbate the problems, because it would make it more likely and more possible for perpetrators to enter Aboriginal land in the first place.

The second point that I wish to make is that it needs to be understood that the position adopted by the former government, and still being adopted by them in opposition, that the permit system should be scrapped is in fact an ideological position, one which is not in any sense directed to present problems faced by Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. It involves the removal of property rights. It is, to some extent, a smokescreen to talk about the scrapping of the permit system because, properly considered, the permit system is no more than an invitation for people to visit Aboriginal land. I expand on that by making the point that the form of title that exists under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act is a communal inalienable title. It recognises the ownership by Aboriginal people of their traditional lands and gives effect to that ownership within the Australian legal system. It is, of course, an absolutely vital aspect of ownership, recognised in all forms of land ownership in this country, that the owner be able to invite onto that land those whom they wish to invite and exclude those whom they wish to exclude. Aboriginal people, in owning the land, as they do under the land rights regime in the Northern Territory, are exercising no more than those ordinary rights of ownership.

It is important to understand that the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act, as introduced by the Fraser government in 1976 with the support of the then opposition—the legislation of course having been produced following on from the Woodward royal commission, instituted under the Labor government—recognised ownership. It need not have established a permit regime at all, any more than there is a permit regime for the other half of the Northern Territory that is not Aboriginal land. The other half of the Northern Territory that is not Aboriginal land is pastoral lease or freehold title, and no permit system exists for that land. But recognising, quite practically, the form of communal title that the Aboriginal land rights act involves, this parliament in legislating for that regime established a permit system which, as I said earlier, operates as an invitation and a form or a means of seeking permission to go onto Aboriginal land. It is vital that we recognise that calls for the scrapping of the permit system have nothing to do with expanding access, and they have even less to do with dealing with the scourge of child sex abuse in Aboriginal communities, but have everything to do with attacking, for ideological reasons, the form of ownership of land that the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act sets up.

It is worth reflecting on the history of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act in the Northern Territory and how it is that the present regime exists. One of the great problems in Aboriginal affairs for many years in this country has been that successive governments, when faced with problems in Aboriginal affairs, have forgotten the lessons of the past, forgotten the steps that have been taken and forgotten previous government programs, and have pretended that there is some magic answer ‘here and now’. It is very important that anything that is done by the Commonwealth government in relation to the Aboriginal people of this country not proceed on the basis that nothing was ever done in the past and that there have not been various programs in the past. It is certainly important not to forget the history.

It is a good starting point to recall Sir Edward Woodward’s comments in his royal commission reports. Starting in 1973 with his first report, Sir Edward Woodward said:

I am convinced that an imposed solution to the problem of recognising traditional Aboriginal land rights is unlikely to be a good or lasting solution. Although a result reached, so far as possible, by process of consultation and agreement will undoubtedly take longer to achieve, it is far more likely to be generally acceptable and to have a permanent effect.

There you have, in 1973, Sir Edward Woodward calling for and endorsing the process of consultation. In his final report in 1974, Sir Edward Woodward said this:

One of the most important proofs of genuine Aboriginal ownership of land will be the right to exclude from it those who are not welcome.

That was the basis for the legislation that was ultimately put to this House and enacted in 1976.

I can leap forward to 1999 because the permit system through the balance of the 1970s—and I have direct personal experience, having worked with Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory in 1979 and 1980 at the time that the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act was being introduced and implemented—and through the 1980s was seen to work well. There were no calls for its abolition—far from it. In 1998, there was a report done in the Northern Territory by John Reeves. I will not go to that report—it is not necessary to do so—other than to say that it is a report which suggested that there might be changes to the permit system and suggested that the changes could involve the introduction to Aboriginal land of the provisions of the Trespass Act in the Northern Territory. The Reeves report was the subject of a detailed inquiry by this House’s Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, which reported in 1999 to this House on it. Appropriately, the committee called before it Sir Edward Woodward, the author of the two seminal royal commission reports of 1973 and 1974. Of course dominated by members of the former government, that committee recommended against changing the permit system. Those last year in government, now in opposition, who are so keen to see the permit system scrapped, have completely ignored what the then government dominated committee said in 1999. This is the committee’s record of what it was told by Sir Edward Woodward:

Sir Edward Woodward told the Committee that the permit system is a practical and symbolic extension of granting land rights to Aboriginal people. For Aboriginal people not to have the capacity to control entry onto their own land, he believed, would have made a mockery of land rights.

The committee went on to say this—and this is in 1999:

Indeed, the vast majority of Aboriginal people told the Committee that they wanted the permit system to remain. It provides them with mechanism to control entry onto their land and it respects Aboriginal tradition to some extent by requiring that permission to visit Aboriginal land is obtained from the relevant traditional owners.

The 1999 report of this House’s Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs quoted from many Aboriginal groups, all of whom were in favour of the retention of the permit system. I am just going to quote a couple. The Ramingining Community Council had some very strong views. Ramingining, for honourable members who may not know, is in Central Arnhem Land and located on the Arafura Swamp, where the well-known film Ten Canoes was recently made. The Ramingining Community Council told this House’s standing committee in 1999:

This is why, when faced with the Reeves recommendation to abandon the permit system, we get very upset. Because we not only want to keep the permit system, but we would like to make the permit system even stronger if we could. To us, it’s a matter of survival—of the Yolgnu culture and the Yolgnu people themselves.

Other community groups expressed similar sentiments, and I would commend that report to members of this House. It is the case that the former government was not interested in consultation, not interested in the views of Aboriginal communities.

I do not have to stop with the 1999 report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. One can go to a report by the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in 2007. This was a report dealing with the government’s legislation from last year. Again, it seems that, in its quest to pursue its ideological agenda, the opposition, just as it did in government, is very happy to ignore the views of Aboriginal people, very happy to ignore the views of anybody that expresses a view that is different to its own. There is some extraordinarily selective listing going on in the speech that we have heard from the member for Warringah and in the speech that we have just heard from the member for Murray, who choose to quote only from voices that agree with theirs and ignore the very, very many voices that have been raised in defence of the permit system and the very many voices that have been quoted in several reports. I will go to the Senate committee report in 2007. It referred to submissions, arguing:

... strongly against the proposed changes to the system. In a general sense, these submissions and witnesses suggested that a number of key measures in the bills, including the removal of land permits, are not related to the ‘national emergency’; and their inclusion in this package of bills as a measure to address child abuse is not justifiable.

It is a curiosity that the proposal announced on 21 June 2007 by the former Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and the former Prime Minister to scrap the permit system sprang not from the Little children are sacred report by Pat Anderson and Rex Wild but rather from the ideological agenda of the former government, expressed in a discussion paper—one has to do a bit of detective work on this—published in October 2006 by the former minister. That discussion paper is a very thin document. It falsely claimed:

The permit system is a vestige of the former protectionist system of Aboriginal reserves ...

It was not, as I hope the little excursion into the history of this matter that I have just made makes clear. The discussion paper called for responses, but the responses to that discussion paper of the former minister for Aboriginal affairs were never made public. One would have to say that that is typical of the dictatorial and secretive approach that the Howard government took to its approach to Aboriginal affairs in the Northern Territory.

As it happens, the inquiry by the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs called for submissions on the legislation and many of the submissions that had been made to the discussion paper of the former minister for Aboriginal affairs in 2006 were resubmitted to the Senate inquiry. It is apparent, if one examines those submissions, that that is what happened, because submitters often said, ‘We submitted this to the former minister on his October 2006 discussion paper and we are resubmitting it to you, the Senate standing committee, because it will be of assistance.’ I am going to quote from a couple of those submissions. This is the Police Federation of Australia expressing its view to the Senate about why the permit system should not be scrapped:

In relation to the long-standing permit system for access to Aboriginal communities, the PFA is of the view that the Australian Government

and it is speaking there of the former 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.

The Senate committee received a whole range of submissions from Aboriginal communities opposing the plan. In view of the time, I will not read out too many of them, but this was the Central Land Council’s comment:

Aboriginal people are totally against forced changes to the permit system because the permit system complements their responsibility for country under Aboriginal law and custom and is consistent with the land title they hold under Australian law.

I will read out what the Milingimbi Community Council said, because of the affection I feel for the Milingimbi community, on the central Arnhem Land coast. I worked with the community in 1980. The Milingimbi Community Council said:

The removal of the Permit System is a cause of great concern. The system allows the community to monitor those who live in or visit the community. Milingimbi is very much an ‘open’ community and legitimate requests to visit are almost always granted. Will the Federal Government guarantee that it will provide the appropriate level of law enforcement to ensure that the removal of the Permit System does not lead to ‘rivers of grog’ flowing into this community?

Of course, no such guarantee was ever forthcoming from the former government. In another of the submissions, ANTaR said:

No evidence has been provided to support the Minister’s claims that scrapping the permit system will help overcome child abuse. In fact, Australia’s leading expert on child abuse in Aboriginal communities, Professor Judy Atkinson, considers that scrapping the permit system may actually increase the risk of child abuse by restricting the ability of communities to remove suspected paedophiles from Aboriginal land. Fears have also been expressed that removing the permit system will make communities more vulnerable to grog running.

Those opposite, in the pursuit of their ideological agenda, ignore the evidence about the incidence of this problem. One can say very quickly that there are many Aboriginal communities in other parts of Australia and particularly in Northern Australia—not in the Northern Territory—where, regrettably and shamefully, child sexual abuse has occurred. They are communities in Queensland and Western Australia, where there is no permit system. The permit system as has existed should be properly viewed as an invitation to visit Aboriginal land. As I said, it is not anything other than a mechanism to allow people who wish to visit to seek permission. The existing permit system cannot be linked to the instance of child abuse and, indeed, it is very likely that if it were to have remained scrapped, as those opposite would wish, that would have led to an increase in child abuse.

It is regrettable that those opposite have persisted in conducting the debate in relation to this matter by spreading misinformation. There was a notice of motion in this House on Monday night spreading misinformation about what we are debating. The member for Warringah and the member for Murray engaged in that this morning. It is becoming a hallmark of the opposition. This morning the member for Warringah claimed that journalists will require express ministerial permits to cover events in communities. This is simply incorrect. The proposed authorisation will be a standing authorisation for a class of persons—namely, journalists—to access Aboriginal communities and to report on events. It is going to be a standing authorisation which will be a once-only authorisation to cover all journalists. The particular piece of misinformation from this morning is something that needs to be put directly and immediately to rest.

We had some more of that on Monday night from the member for Warringah, who told this House about a case that had been reported in the Northern Territory News in which, the member for Warringah claimed, again incorrectly— (Time expired)

11:58 am

Photo of Scott MorrisonScott Morrison (Cook, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the amendment to the bill, put forward by the member for Warringah, to impose a blanket ban on all pornographic material, to prohibit transport of that material and to leave in place the removal of the permit system. As the title suggests, the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Emergency Response Consolidation) Bill 2008 relates to an emergency response. In considering this bill, we must not lose sight of the urgency that attached to the initial measures which this bill seeks to amend. Some months later, some can lose sight of the urgency: the shock, the dismay, the tragedy that triggered this emergency response. Some can retreat into previous positions—positions they were unable to credibly sustain at the time that these measures were first introduced. The Australian community reached the point where there was universal recognition that previous efforts had failed, that it was time to take a new approach to provide an emergency response. What we have in this bill is a cooling off by the government on their sense of urgency on these matters. We have a retreat and a revision from the government, rather than the resolve that is needed to follow through.

The government’s representations on its actions in this bill are deceitful, more Ruddspeak from a government convinced of its ability to hypnotise the Australian public. In announcing the introduction of this bill, the government presented itself as ‘cracking down on the exposure of R-rated material to children’. In the minister’s media statement on 21 February, she proclaims:

The Bill addresses concerns expressed by Indigenous people to the Little Children are Sacred inquiry about exposure of children to R-rated material available on pay television.

On 5 March, the truth of this matter began to be revealed. On that day, the Australian reported the comments by the member for Warringah that what was actually being offered in this bill was not a championing of the Little children are sacred report or the next bold step in the Northern Territory intervention but, as the member for Warringah was reported as saying, Labor ‘going soft on the trafficking of pornography’. In relation to this bill, the member for Warringah was further reported to say that ‘this was never previously articulated by Labor and watered down the bans introduced last year’.

The government has been selective with the truth on this matter. In this case, the devil of this bill is truly and literally in the detail of it. In clause 16, we read the government’s changes to provisions relating to the declaration of prescribed areas. This measure previously defined prescribed areas where a blanket ban on pornographic material should be applied in Indigenous communities on an absolute basis—no exceptions, no discussions; a clear and uncompromising ban on pornography in these areas. This was a tough but necessary measure as part of an emergency response to break the hold of this evil influence on our Indigenous communities.

However, in this bill we learn that, in the case of cable television, communities will not be protected from pornography as of right. We learn that under this bill the provisions for cable porn have been watered down. They have been compromised. Under the government’s proposals, the community must now agree to accept these restrictions before they can be imposed. In other words, this government is happy to legislate a veto power to give Indigenous communities access to porn whenever they want it, and it has the front to pitch this to the Australian community as cracking down—the next step—and as protecting children. It may be the government’s next step, but it is not a forward step in the way that it is currently drafted. This government has come to this place demanding the right for Indigenous communities to have access to pornography. That is what the bill is doing. However the government may seek to dress it up, that is what the government is doing.

We strongly support and encourage measures that enable pay television pornography to be restricted in Indigenous communities. It is the next step. It is the unfinished business that must be undertaken. But, in the same action, by changing the process for defining how a community is to be protected, to make such protection discretionary is a seriously retrograde step, a classic case of one step forward and three steps back.

This bill sets out criteria by which an Indigenous community’s right to porn can be upheld. It says the minister must have regard to the wellbeing of people living in the area—as if access to pornography could actually add to that wellbeing. The minister must have regard to whether there is reason to believe people in the area have expressed concerns about being victims of violence or sexual abuse in the past 12 months or expressed concerns about the risk—placing the onus of proof on the abused and the vulnerable. The minister must have regard to whether there is reason to believe that children living in the area have seen R18 programs during the past 12 months—giving the benefit of the doubt to those who want the porn, rather than the children who may become exposed to that porn. And the minister must have regard to the extent to which people, in particular, women and children living in the area, have, during the past 12 months, expressed the view that wellbeing will be improved if R18+ programs are not providedagain, placing the onus on the abused to speak out to state the obvious about why they should be protected.

The simple question must be asked: why should such considerations and questions even be necessary? On what possible basis can the government walk into this place, parading as moral crusaders for Aboriginal people, and make a case for such issues to be considered? Why are the government seeking to provide a backstop measure to keep pornography in Aboriginal communities? Furthermore, why are they making it harder for those most vulnerable to the impacts of this evil trade, the women and children who suffer at the hands of abusers, who have also become victims of this insidious material—to keep the porn in Indigenous communities?

Last weekend, in the Good Weekend magazine, there was an insightful article that I refer members to. It referred to the victimisation of Indigenous women powerless to speak up about the abuse that takes place in these communities. The article recounted the following testimony:

A non-indigenous Wik Mungkan speaker told me how a few years ago she was flown to a Cairns court to interpret for a girl who’d been dragged around the community and raped multiple times. In court the girl clammed up, the case was dismissed, and the girl and her assailant flew home to Aurukun on the same plane. “So much goes unreported because of the threats, the price you pay if you tell. There is real fear,” she said.

In this parliament, we must be the voice of the voiceless. The voiceless women and children in Indigenous communities are saying, ‘Remove this poison from our communities.’ They should not be forced to make their case, as this bill requires. They should not have to run the risk of further abuse to make their point. They should expect the protection of this parliament. They should expect that this government should do what it promised—support the Northern Territory intervention, and the spirit of that intervention, not water it down as it seeks to do with the measures outlined in this bill.

Only a month ago, we stood in this place and, rightly, provided a profound and heartfelt apology to Indigenous Australians. On that occasion, the Leader of the Opposition rightly stood here and reminded the House of the prevalence of sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities, and he was derided for doing so. The actions of the government in this bill show that the Leader of the Opposition was right on the money. We cannot allow ourselves on any occasion to enter into a sense of denial about the reality of these issues. It was the stark reality of these issues that so effectively prompted the government into the emergency response actions that were the original subject matter of the laws this bill now seeks to amend. So today I remind the House of the comments by the Leader of the Opposition, lest we forget as we consider these matters. He said:

… sexual abuse of Aboriginal children was found in every one of the 45 Northern Territory communities surveyed for the Little children are sacred report. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, driving the Howard government’s decision to intervene with a suite of dramatically radical welfare, health and policing initiatives … the Alice Springs Crown Prosecutor, Nanette Rogers, with great courage, revealed to the nation in 2006 the case of a four-year-old girl drowned while being raped by a teenager who had been sniffing petrol. She told us of the two children, one a baby, sexually assaulted by two men while their mothers were drinking alcohol. Another baby was stabbed by a man trying to kill her mother. So too a 10-year-old girl was gang-raped in Aurukun, the offenders going free, barely punished. A boy was raped in another community by other children. Is this not an emergency, the most disturbing part of it being its endemic nature and Australia’s apparent desensitisation to it?

Yet it seems that these reminders are not enough. Within weeks we have a bill reopening the door for pornography to be let back into Indigenous communities. Increasingly, the studies reveal the link between pornography and abusive sexual behaviour, reinforcing rape myths and desensitising human responses to aggressive sexual behaviour. But, seriously, do we need the research to state what is obvious? I make these comments not to judge, not to moralise, but simply to warn. Pornography is a seductive and evil influence on our community, not just in Indigenous communities. None of us are immune from its ability to entice and negatively affect the health of our own sexuality. It has been a scourge on the lives of millions of human beings the world over, particularly men. It has destroyed lives, marriages and families. It has exploited our daughters, our sisters and our mothers. It is the enemy of our community. This may be a permissive and free society, but such freedoms are no substitute for virtues that underpin healthy families and strong communities—virtues that should be equally protected in this place.

Those opposite may argue that they are seeking only to consult, with the provisions contained in this bill, and that such a requirement is a necessary and virtuous addition to the emergency measures. But such an argument completely misses the point. We are talking about pornography that is contributing to abusive criminal behaviour, and the government wants to have a chat—a chat! The original measures understood what was required. This bill, sadly, however well intentioned the member for Warringah suggested the government may have been on this matter, does not do this. The government would rather appeal, I believe, to the political correctness that has enslaved Indigenous communities than protect the women and children who have the most to lose from the government’s spinelessness on this issue as portrayed in this bill.

We are living in a post-apology world. What took place in this place some weeks ago fundamentally changed the nature of this debate and how we go forward—and, more importantly, what happens practically on the ground and how we respond to that. We are now dealing with the cold reality of the present and the fragility of the future faced by women and children in Indigenous communities. The time for symbols and rhetoric has passed. These women and children should not have to make their case for porn to be excluded from their communities; they should receive that protection as of right.

There should be a blanket ban on pornography in these communities in relation to pay TV—no ifs, no buts. There should be a total prohibition on the transport of such material through prescribed areas—no compromises. There must be a guarantee that the consultation measures outlined in this bill are not a precursor to a further watering down of measures relating to other forms of pornography prohibited in the original bill. I would hate to think that this is some thin end of the wedge. I would hate to think that, and I am not necessarily suggesting it. But if this is the path we are going down, where we are going to now provide serial rights of veto on these important and quite strict measures, then I am seriously concerned for the welfare of those Australians living in these communities. I seek an absolute guarantee from those opposite that this will not be repeated in relation to any other measures—and, in fact, that they would withdraw such a requirement as currently proposed in this bill, as suggested by the member for Warringah.

The bill must also provide, as the member for Murray said, greater clarity on the 35 per cent rule regarding content. This rule should, firstly, ensure a higher benchmark than the current 35 per cent. But, secondly, it must be crystal clear that it applies on a channel-by-channel basis, not as a percentage of the entire package. These things are unclear as currently drafted. They must be made clear, particularly as it is outlined in the explanatory memorandum. These things are not clear; they must be crystal clear—otherwise, the bar will be set so low that anything could get through. And there should be no consultation when it comes to any right of veto on these sorts of requirements.

The other feature of this bill, one that has principally occupied more time of those opposite in speaking on this matter, is the issue relating to the reintroduction of the permit system. I believe that this is another retrograde step. And I notice that the government does not believe that Indigenous communities should be given the right of consultation in relation to the re-introduction of the permit system. They have not been given that right on this occasion. They have not been asked, or will not be asked in the course of moving forward on this measure, whether they think it should be reintroduced or not. There is no opportunity for communities to raise their voices, as the government demands in relation to pornography. So it is fine to go out there and consult on the issue of pornography but, when it comes to reintroducing the permit system, there will be no consultation—it is coming back, whether people in those communities like it or not. This ban on access is absolute.

So, we have a government that is happy to leave the door open to porn but shut the door on external scrutiny, economic opportunity and engagement with the positive influences of the broader community. The Good Weekend article I referred to earlier quotes linguist Peter Sutton, described as someone who retains a strong kinship tie with the Wik people. The article states that Peter Sutton has said:

... the best thing that could be done for Aurukun was to “endow its children with as much mobility as possible” so that they might “orbit” between Aurukun and the wider economic world as adults.

You cannot orbit if you cannot get lift-off. The permit system is designed to ground Indigenous children and to lock Indigenous people away from view, away from contact, away from opportunity and away from the broader Australian community.

As though it was not good enough to reintroduce the permit system, we read today—as other speakers have observed—in the Australian that the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, better known as ‘the union’, wants to apply a further code of conduct for journalists entering and reporting on Aboriginal communities. This was a code described by the prominent and award-winning journalist referred to earlier as ‘working against media freedoms in favour of what is mistakenly believed to be the interests of Aborigines’. The key point here is that the inspiration for this code did not come from the union, as reported today. The inspiration for this bill came from the Rudd government’s decision ‘to wind back the previous government’s changes to the Northern Territory Land Rights Act’. Those opposite say there is no watering down, but there it is. They have acted in response to the Rudd government’s decision to wind back.

Sadly, the dominos are falling on the Northern Territory intervention. Whether that is by design or by neglect, we will wait to see—but the dominos are falling. This is a Jekyll and Hyde policy from the government driven, I fear, by marginal agendas that comprise the internal constituency of those who sit opposite, who have found their voice again. Originally, at the time of the introduction of these measures, this voice was drowned out by the voice of common sense, purpose and resolve. As the former member for Longman said, on the introduction of the Northern Territory emergency response bill—and I pay tribute to the former member for Longman for his single-mindedness and his resolve on this issue:

When confronted with a failed society where basic standards of law and order and behaviour have broken down and where women and children are unsafe, how should we respond? Do we respond with more of what we have done in the past? Or do we radically change direction with an intervention strategy matched to the magnitude of the problem?

The previous government responded with resolve. This government, I fear, through this bill, will return Indigenous policy to the autopilot of the failed past. Symbols are not enough to close the gap. Radical action as undertaken by the former government is what is needed to address a radical problem. The community still supports such a response; in fact, they demand such a response.

I conclude by referring once again to the article in the Good Weekend magazine, wherein Aurukun Shire Councillor Jonathon Korkaktain said:

Back in my day, the elders fought for our rights—for money, for beer, for land, so we could live in our own world and be ourselves. We thought that was what we wanted, but it meant that our children could never have more than us—only the same or less. The elders didn’t understand that we had to take a step out of our world in order to give our kids a chance of a better life. They need one foot in both worlds. That is the big picture I see. That is our great mistake.

That also is the great mistake of this bill. I commend the member for Warringah’s amendments to the House.

Photo of Peter SlipperPeter Slipper (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I take this opportunity to remind the House that the correct means of referring to the occupant of the chair is ‘Mr Deputy Speaker’ or ‘Madam Deputy Speaker’, as the case may be, not ‘Acting Deputy Speaker’.

12:17 pm

Photo of Kerry ReaKerry Rea (Bonner, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today also to add my comments to the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Emergency Response Consolidation) Bill 2008. The amendments being proposed in this legislation are very significant in terms of this government’s commitment not only to continuing what is an effectively bipartisan approach to the elimination of sexual abuse of children in Indigenous communities but also to ensuring that that approach includes Indigenous communities and restores the respect to Indigenous communities that they deserve, particularly in the Northern Territory.

The previous speaker, the member for Cook, quite rightly said that this is a post-apology world. However, he went on to imply that this was a world where only rhetoric and words were being thrown around. A post-apology world is actually a world in which this government and this community work in partnership with Indigenous communities to ensure that the outcomes for them and their children and for generations to come are much better, greater and more significant than the fairly damning history of the outcomes of those communities in the past.

As I said, these particular amendments are about ensuring that the scourge of child sexual abuse in Indigenous communities is eliminated. It is not about ideological difference and it is not about playing politics; it is about ensuring that this hideous crime is eliminated from these communities—as, indeed, it should be eliminated from all societies. What these particular amendments do though, I believe, is restore respect for Indigenous communities and for the process by which we can eliminate this particular scourge. It restores respect for the inalienable title of Aboriginal land rights through the permit system. It restores respect for the Racial Discrimination Act, which was so clearly dismissed in the original legislation that was introduced by the previous government. And, of course, it restores respect to those Indigenous communities, particularly in prescribed areas, by giving them the opportunity to contribute, to be consulted and to inform the processes that will lead to the outcomes we want.

There are three key elements in this bill and I wish to focus in particular on two, which seem to be obsessing the opposition at the moment. One is the restoration of the permit system and the other is the changes to pornography provisions, particularly those in relation to pay TV licences. Previous speakers on this side of the House have very eloquently outlined the significance of the permit system as it existed in enshrining the respect and the honouring of land title for Aboriginal communities. Clearly, the permit system came out of the land rights acts that have come into force. These acts saw Aboriginal communities and Aboriginal people as having inalienable title over their land; they enshrined the cultural significance of the connection between Aboriginal people and the land upon which they live; and they ensured that they were able to manage, honour and conduct their cultural activities and to survive and develop as a community on the land which they hold so dear.

I refer to the report by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs in response to the Reeves report. A particular quote from the Marngarr Community Government Council reads:

In our culture you have to obtain permission to enter other people’s country; you cannot just go where you like. Indeed, I don’t think it is much different in any culture; there has to be respect for other people’s country.

The similarity of this quote to a quote from a previous Prime Minister of Australia was glaringly obvious. I remember the words: ‘We will determine who comes to this country and the circumstances under which they will come.’ I am sure the previous Prime Minister in this House would then have to clearly agree with the restoration of the permit system because he obviously so clearly respected the right of those people who belong to a particular country or a particular land to determine the circumstances under which others come into that community.

It is not just a question of cultural significance and it is not just question of acknowledging the significance of the permit system in terms of land rights; it is also a question of acknowledging the practicality of this proposal when it comes to dealing with the emergency response. Many on the other side have said that removing the permit system will increase the level of abuse in these communities, that it is a retrograde step, that it will take the emergency response backwards. I fail to understand how allowing Indigenous communities to have some level of control over the people that come through their communities, over the people who come through their areas of land, can increase child sexual abuse.

But I do not have to ask the question. I would like to quote once again from the Police Federation of Australia, who have said quite clearly in their submissions and their reporting on this amendment that they support the permit system:

Operational police on the ground in the Northern Territory—

the police on the ground, who are actually seeing this legislation enacted—

believe that the permit system is a useful tool in policing the communities, particularly in policing alcohol and drug-related crime ...

If we are talking about eliminating child sexual abuse and if we want to look at the issues that cause that abuse to occur, I do not think anyone in this House would disagree that abuse of alcohol and drugs would have to be one of the leading contenders in the reasons why young children are being sexually abused in these communities and are also subject to terrible violence. I go on to quote:

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 of Australia are not simply saying the permit system will increase child sexual abuse. What they are saying is that the lack of a permit system will have significant impact on them and on members of those communities being able to deal with this very serious issue.

There has been much made also by the opposition of the amendments to pornography legislation. Their original legislation, by the way, only dealt with X-rated material. There was no reference to R-rated material in the original legislation. This government is introducing restrictions around R18+ material for the first time. I know the opposition will say: ‘But we were going to do it. We intended to do it. We were going to go further. We were going to have a blanket ban on R18+.’ The reality is it did not happen. It was not introduced in the original legislation so, whatever they say they were going to do, they did not actually put it into action. In some ways, I am quite pleased because the ramifications of a blanket ban on R18+ would be quite significant. I note that members opposite who have spoken on this bill have been very critical of the formula that is introduced in this measure: at least 35 per cent of material must be classified as R18+ before a request can be made to the minister to have that particular channel taken out of a prescribed area.

There are a number of reasons, but one very significant reason, why the government has introduced such a formula, apart from the fact that we know, historically, blanket bans have not necessarily always been the best way to approach an issue. In this case a blanket ban on R18+ material would mean that the television channel that has probably done the most to support, to honour and to inform the general community about Indigenous culture and about the problems facing Indigenous communities in Australia would not be able to be broadcast in those areas of the Northern Territory. I am referring to the channel SBS. If we wanted a blanket ban on R18+ material, SBS would not be able to go into those communities.

I am a regular watcher of SBS. I find it one of the most incredibly informative television channels that we can watch. I also think that no-one in this House would disagree that, in terms of content that looks at, examines, promotes and informs Australian society about Indigenous communities and Indigenous culture, there could be no better television channel than SBS. I believe that if young Indigenous children, young people in those Indigenous communities, people who are trying to find a way out of the very problematic and difficult situations that they live in, were not able to watch a channel like SBS it would definitely be a retrograde step. There are programs which give them hope, there are programs which give them information, there are programs which celebrate their culture, and—unlike probably any other television station, perhaps with the exception of the ABC—SBS actually allows young Indigenous children to feel that they are part of this community because they can watch their people on television and feel connected to what those programs are trying to achieve. For that reason alone, I believe it is very important that the government continue with the formula that they have developed to deal with R18+ material.

Of course, there has been a lot of comment as well that this is watering down the ban on pornography, because it requires a request from members of those communities. Not only do I think that engaging with, dealing with and forming partnerships with members of those communities is actual a very practical, reasonable and logical step, it is actually a requirement under the Racial Discrimination Act. There is very clear advice that the original legislation, which was introduced by the previous government, could well have been subject to quite successful legal challenges under the Racial Discrimination Act because they had not actually addressed the special measures provisions, which include time limits and consultation with the particular community where it is proposed to introduce these measures.

Once again, we see the moral high-ground rhetoric from the opposition who believe that we are watering down measures or in some way allowing an increase in child sexual abuse. They have covered it all up without actually respecting or accepting the very practical measures and outcomes that come with these amendments. There are genuine, practical reasons why the government has gone down this path. What it really reflects overall is that this government is much more committed to the outcomes and the achievements of this particular piece of legislation than it is to simply conducting a window-dressing exercise that says: ‘Look at us; aren’t we wonderful? We are doing something about child sexual abuse in Indigenous communities but, in fact, we are really not going to worry too much about the practical elements which will ensure that outcome.’ What it shows is that the original legislation was very hastily put together. It was clearly rushed through this House without any meaningful debate being engaged in. But, most significantly, it was clearly rushed through without any real consultation with those people directly affected by this legislation—that is, the Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.

I commend this bill to the House because it restores respect to Indigenous communities and addresses the practical realities of some of the issues that are contained within the original legislation. It means that the pornography ban goes further, but not to the extent that channels like SBS are not able to be broadcast. It fundamentally restores recognition of and respect for Aboriginal land rights and the role of the Racial Discrimination Act as a very powerful legal force in this country. For those reasons, I think this legislation is very worth while and worth supporting.

I am pleased that the government’s intention to deal with this very serious problem does not just stop with these amendments. It is clear that, between the original legislation and the initiatives being put forward by the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and the Minister for Health and Ageing, further practical measures will see real outcomes for young people in those communities. There will be 200 extra teachers and three new boarding schools. Education was never even talked about in any real, meaningful way when the previous government first introduced the legislation. What more practical way is there to give young children who are being subjected to some of the most heinous crimes in this community an opportunity to not only live in a safer and more secure environment but also be able to build a better future, which gets them out of the cycle of violence and drug and alcohol abuse that they have seen their parents and grandparents subjected to? What better way is there to give a child a future than to give that child an education? There is no child in this country, whether they are Indigenous or not, who should be deprived of that right. Two hundred extra teachers and three new boarding schools will enable much greater access to secondary school education.

Not only do these amendments address eliminating child sex abuse, they work in conjunction and in partnership with initiatives from this government to see those children move out of that cycle of violence and abuse to somewhere more positive and more productive. Increased access to education will also enable them to be much greater contributors to broader society. Of course, it works in conjunction with the initiatives from the health minister to be serious about health checks, to ensure that health checks are done and followed up and to ensure that, in particular, women and children in these communities have the sort of health support that they need to lead a better quality of life. It is not just talking about health checks or saying that we are going to do this; there are actually real, practical measures which ensure not only that those health checks happen but also, most importantly, that, whatever the results of those health checks are, anything that needs medical treatment is followed up.

I applaud the minister for introducing these amendments. I believe they go a long way in this post-apology world to restoring respect, to dealing with the issue of child sexual abuse and to giving Indigenous communities some hope that the future will be much better than the past.

12:36 pm

Photo of Barry HaaseBarry Haase (Kalgoorlie, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Infrastructure, Roads and Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

I have listened very carefully, in this debate on the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Emergency Response Consolidation) Bill 2008, to the comments of and the contribution by the member for Bonner. I am concerned, however, that the member for Bonner perhaps does not have the experience necessary to be authoritative in this regard. In my electorate, of course, 14 per cent of my constituents are Indigenous. I have in excess of 200 Indigenous communities in my electorate, which covers 91 per cent of Western Australia.

The evidence that was exposed in the report Little children are sacred brought to light, for all Australia to see, those issues that I have been far too well aware of in my last nine years in this place. I have spent a lifetime in association with Indigenous people and for the last nine years I have worked hard to change some of the circumstances under which they live. You can imagine how impressed I was, and how personally gratifying it was, when the Hon. Mal Brough, as minister in the last government, finally brought to the House legislation that was going to make a very substantial impact on the lives of those underprivileged Indigenous people. The intervention was going to create, for the first time, a set of circumstances where the predators in communities—often in positions of authority if not of overall leadership—were going to be curtailed in their activities at law. Bans were put in place in relation to alcohol. The system of needing permits to enter and scrutinise communities was lifted. And the question of pornography was addressed, albeit in an incomplete manner.

But the people of Australia must understand that since that intervention there has been a change of government. Prior to the change of government, the Australian Labor Party under the leadership of Kevin Rudd was only too pleased to cooperate with the government of the time in the introduction of the legislation. During the course of the last election that position was qualified to a degree. But we did not expect to have, after the election, a roll-back of the removal of the permit system. We did not expect to have a government that would go soft on the existence of pornography in these communities. We did not expect that we would find a new government that was going to effectively roll back the measures that had been deliberately put in place to save the next generation of Indigenous people in those communities.

So what are we to do? We are now confronted with legislation that flies in the face of the hard work I put in the last nine years, and of the very effective, albeit incomplete, legislation and measures introduced by the Hon. Mal Brough. What are we to do? We know the government has the numbers. We know that the government will push this legislation through. But what do we say to the mothers of the small children in these communities who looked to the government for the first time with a sense of hope? It was the first time they could look to the government of Australia and say, ‘Yes, this government of Australia really cares about us, our immediate safety and the future of our children.’ When this legislation is passed, those mothers, those children, will once again despair that they have nowhere to turn to, because members of the government like the member for Bonner seem to be immune to any sense of compassion for these people. I see these people suffering every time I go into any community that is purely Indigenous. I see it too often—

Photo of Mark DreyfusMark Dreyfus (Isaacs, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Then why didn’t you do something over the last 10 years?

Photo of Barry HaaseBarry Haase (Kalgoorlie, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Infrastructure, Roads and Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

The interjection suggests: what has happened in the last 10 years? In the last 10 years—

Photo of Peter SlipperPeter Slipper (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The honourable member for Isaacs ought not to interject out of his seat. It is disorderly.

Photo of Barry HaaseBarry Haase (Kalgoorlie, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Infrastructure, Roads and Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

There is now an attitude, it seems, whereby Indigenous people can perhaps look to the presence of state and territory police to assist them. Maybe they should believe that the once-every-six-weeks patrol into so many of these communities is going to be a solution! I ask you, Mr Deputy Speaker, if you were the perpetrator of these heinous crimes, taking advantage of children or abusing women, would you hang around in the community on the day you knew the state or territory police were to arrive to inquire into these matters? No, you would ‘go scrub’. And the victims remaining in the community would surely not be stepping up to those state and territory police officers and saying, ‘I am the victim of abuse’, because they would know all too well that in the next 24 or 48 hours that police presence would leave, the perpetrators would come back in from the scrub and, if there were even a whisper that the perpetrator had been ‘dobbed’, there would be even more frequent abuse and even more violent acts.

So this is not just a solution that has been proposed by a federal government and is hoped to be successful. I know very, very well that what is required additionally here is the greater intervention of state and territory police. They are in abysmally small numbers, on the ground, in permanent residency, within these communities. The levels of permanent police force in these communities is abysmal—absolutely abysmal. And we all expected that—with the introduction of a Labor government federally, this new-found abolition of the blame game and the support of Labor state colleagues—we were going to see an increased police presence in communities, because that is what it is all about. If perpetrators in isolated communities know that they will have no heavy hand of the law curtailing their heinous activities, those heinous acts will simply keep on happening. And if the agencies that go out from these state and territory governments into communities do nothing more than tick boxes, as they have done in the past, where do the victims turn to?

In case there is any doubt about whether the people who know what is going on have a point of view about the permit system, for instance, I will quote from the Australian today. I will quote extensively from the article by James Madden because the people of Australia need to know just what is going on under this new Labor government:

AWARD-WINNING journalist Paul Toohey has handed back his prestigious Walkley Award to protest against a push by the journalists’ union to make media representatives outline their intentions to authorities before being granted access to Aboriginal communities.

In other words, it’s: ‘Tell us what you’re going to expose in our community and what you’re going to report on and if we think it’s going to allow us to continue with what we are doing now we’ll give you a permit. If we think you’re going to be critical and if we think you’re going to tell the wider community of Australia what’s going on in our community, we won’t give you a permit.’ I quote further:

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, led by federal secretary Christopher Warren, last week released an additional “code of conduct” for journalists entering and reporting on Aboriginal communities.

The article continues:

Toohey, who was named Australian Journalist of the Year in 2000 for his reporting from northern Australia and won a Walkley Award in 2002 for a magazine article on petrol sniffing in Aboriginal communities, said yesterday that the MEAA “was now actively working against media freedom in favour of what it mistakenly believes are the interests of Aborigines”. “It shows, surprisingly, a profound ignorance of how journalists work. And of how Aboriginal communities work,” said Toohey, The Australian’s chief Darwin correspondent.

“Would the MEAA suggest to correspondents in China that they should first consult authorities before seeking out Tibetan dissidents? What if the journalist wants to do a story about the local police, or corruption in the local council? Since when does the independent media announce its intentions to the state?”

The whole crux of the removal of the permit system is to allow greater transparency to allow the public of Australia to have a greater knowledge of and understanding about what is going in part of their nation. The article continues:

Central Australian Aboriginal Labor politician—

a Labor politician—

Alison Anderson yesterday described the MEAA’s proposed “code of conduct” as a sham.

Ms Anderson, who favours the removal of the permit system for Aboriginal communities because she believes it works towards shielding predators and exposes women and children to abuse, said the code was “absurd”. “Communities have to be opened up like every other town. And we have to be treated like equals. Journalists don’t ask police in country Victoria for permission to speak to someone in that town,” Ms Anderson said.

The MEAA, which runs the Walkley Awards, developed this revised code of conduct for journalists following the Rudd Government’s decision to wind back the previous government’s changes to the Northern Territory Land Rights Act ...

This is a woman who represents Indigenous people. She is not some blow-in from some capital city on the coast, and she knows what is going on. I know what is going on, and I was very confident that the interception moves made by the last minister for Aboriginal affairs, the Hon. Mal Brough, were going to be effective in the long term. I do accept, as the member for Bonner said, that additional work was required, but we were on the right track and for the first time the women and children that are currently being abused—and not just them—had some hope. That hope will be dashed with the introduction of this legislation without amendment.

The whole issue of community life is so poorly understood by the Australian public. Sure, we had the Little children are sacred report, which made so many people aware of what was going on. The government of the day acted because of that report. The opposition of the day cooperated and agreed broadly to the content of the legislation. Then we had a change of government and now, as I have just said, hope is dashed.

This government is now going to make it legal for the transportation of R18+ material through the Northern Territory. Why? Is it so that those who are found in possession of this material in communities can simply suggest it was in transit? I just do not know where the legislators are coming from. They are supposing that a community can request to opt out if it does not want material with a greater than 35 per cent R18+ content coming in on, for instance, pay-TV. I wonder if those opposite understand the leadership structure of communities. I wonder if they understand just how any request to opt out would be formulated, how it would ferment in the community and eventually lead to a position whereby that material was banned from the community. Given their belief in that—as they do believe—in formulating this legislation, I think I can infer from that that the tooth fairy and the other one at the bottom of the garden are very real. That is said with apologies to the legislation staff, by the way. They are led by this Rudd government and they have no option but to come up with these crazy ideas that will now see this loophole abused ad nauseam and without interruption. If there is going to be some sort of opt-in/opt-out arrangement, why not maintain the ban for R18+ material and have communities opt in? Let the community leaders of today put their hand up and go through the formal process of opting in for the broadcast of this material in their communities.

Is it perhaps that the opposition, contrary to their constant publicity about overcrowding in housing and the lack of opportunity for children to be segregated from adults—even believing that those circumstances exist—have an idea that this R18+ material will be viewed exclusively by those who are over the age of 18? Maybe they figure that, with the introduction of this legislation, all of the housing problems—the overcrowding and so on—will change. For the life of me I cannot understand how they can possibly believe that in reality—and we are talking about the reality of practical outcomes, as quoted by other speakers. Do they really believe that this material, which is designed and legal for viewing by persons over the age of 18, will only be seen by people over the age of 18?

There is a lot of evidence that says that pornographic material is deleterious. The Anderson-Wild report concluded that pornography was one of the main factors that led absolutely to family and other violence and then on to sexual abuse of men and women and finally of children. The report noted further that children in Aboriginal communities are widely exposed to inappropriate sexual activity, such as pornography, adult films and adults having sex within the child’s view, and this exposure can produce a number of effects, particularly resulting in the sexualisation of childhood and the creation of normalcy around sexual activity that may be used to engage children in sexual activity. It may also result in sexual acting out and actual offending by children and young people against others. In the Northern Territory we have had numerous cases of such action going before the courts. As a result, we have had accusations made and all manner of payback and disruption within the community.

Why not keep the pornography out? Why not accept legislation? Why not write legislation, in the first place, that bans 18+ material, because of the nature of community living, and allows communities to opt in if they are brave enough to put their hand up and say, ‘We need a regular diet of pornography, 18+ material’? That would make a little bit of sense. But creating this blanket acceptance of the existence of pornography in communities and then suggesting that communities should go through the process—believing that they possibly could go through the process effectively—to opt out is a nonsense. That is why I cannot accept this legislation and why I support the amendment. We need to show the Indigenous people of Australia that we as a parliament respect the women and young children in these communities. We need to be seen by Australia as doing something that will give hope and a future for these people so they can enjoy additional educational facilities. The last speaker spoke of an increased number of teachers in boarding schools. That is a wonderful initiative, but until such time as kids have a future and they know that they will get a job as a result of education and that they have the support of the people of Australia, and specifically this parliament, they despair. (Time expired)

12:56 pm

Photo of Damian HaleDamian Hale (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with a great deal of pleasure that I rise to speak on the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Emergency Response Consolidation) Bill 2008. I acknowledge the custodians of the land, past and present, on which I stand today. I also acknowledge the Larrakia people whom I represent in my electorate of Solomon. I think we were all shocked at the Little children are sacred report. It highlighted to people the problems that had occurred in Aboriginal communities over a long period. What we are proposing is a toughening of pornographic laws in relation to R-rated material. The member for Warringah’s allegations are completely wrong. The government remains strongly committed to protecting children from sexual abuse and violence. The previous government’s bans were the start, but we needed to get tougher in cracking down on the exposure of children to pornography. That is why we are expanding these bans to R-rated material. Any suggestion by those opposite that the government has watered down pornography bans implemented by the previous government is mischievous and wrong in the extreme.

The member for Kalgoorlie put out his credentials for being able to speak on Aboriginal issues. I will draw him back to something that he said last week about centralising Aboriginal communities but, before doing so, I wish to put out my credentials as a person that can speak with some authority on Aboriginal communities. When I was growing up we moved from Queensland to Maningrida. I grew up in Maningrida. We were there for a bit over 12 months before moving to Katherine, where Aboriginals are a very high proportion of the population. We moved to Darwin in about 1979. It often breaks my heart when I look at old photo albums and see people that we met at Maningrida. Mum used to point to them and say, ‘Finished one,’ ‘finished one,’ ‘finished one,’ ‘finished one,’ as she went down the page. My father taught David Gulpilil, who used to come in from Ramingining to go to school in Maningrida. It is very sad when you see that many of the boys that dad taught in year 7 are no longer with us. They died in their mid-40s, if not earlier, due to substance abuse on many occasions. My wife happens to be a Larrakia and I have five Indigenous kids living in my house—two are at Melbourne Grammar on football scholarships.

I have a great friend, Stewart O’Connell, and he actually worked on the Little children are sacred report. I remember sitting with Stewart on a plane, going down to Alice Springs, and him telling me stories of what they were finding in Aboriginal communities. I remember tears swelling in my eyes as he spoke to me about what they were finding. ‘Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle’, when translated from Aboriginal language, means ‘Little children are sacred.’ I know my five children are sacred.

Removal of permits was not part of the recommendations of that report. There were 97 recommendations and not one was about removing permits. The removal of permits was never discussed with communities during consultations. That acknowledgement comes from a man, Stewart O’Connell, a senior project officer involved in the Little children are sacred report. While the other side love to state ‘People have said this’ and ‘Reporters have said that’ and ‘This reporter said this’, here is a quote from a guy who was a senior project officer involved in the Little children are sacred report, working alongside Rex Wild.

Indigenous communities wanted and needed empowerment. With respect to consultation, the best way to find out something about an Aboriginal person is to talk to him. I note that the member for Kalgoorlie is leaving after his contribution. He talked last week about centralising, and I will touch on that before he leaves. The Aboriginal people actually belong to the land, my friend. The problems that we have in Wadeye are caused because 27 clans are centralised in Wadeye—one clan belongs there; 26 do not. An old friend of mine died last year. He was a Gurindji person. Gurindjis belong to the land. They come and pick up their Gurindji brother, take him back to their land and bury him. So, from the perspective of Aboriginal culture, centralising Aboriginal communities cannot be done.

Member for Kalgoorlie, I respect your passion for Aboriginal people, and I will not go as far as having a go at you about that. Aboriginal people fundamentally belong to the land. There was no evidence to say that the removal of permits was going to help. The member for Isaacs asked me, when he interjected previously, ‘What have the Howard government done in 10 years?’ I would like to tell the member for Isaacs what they have done. The Howard government defunded a range of important programs throughout regional and remote communities. The result of this had a negative impact on the social fabric of many of these Indigenous communities. One example was the Howard government’s withdrawal of funding from women’s centres. These centres were the glue that held a lot of these communities together. Women’s centres provided a safe haven for women and children, counselling and support services. In some communities, they provided Meals on Wheels and services for the frail and elderly. The defunding by the Howard Liberal-National government of women’s centres and other community services of over $400 million that supported women and families in regional and remote areas was criminal in its design and intent. There can be no doubt that it contributed to weakening these communities and aided those who prey on the vulnerable. Further, the ATSIC budget was slashed by over $400 million and ATSIC funded services to communities were cut. Abstudy was cut by $38 million.

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

Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order on relevance. This is a very important bill and it is not a time for taking shots at previous regimes. With respect, we should be focusing on this legislation.

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Solomon has the call.

Photo of Damian HaleDamian Hale (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I apologise to the member for Bowman. I was just trying to enlighten my colleague the member for Isaacs. He asked the question. He came and sat here to hear the answer. Abstudy was cut by almost $39 million and no assistance was given to people by way of away from home study entitlements. We had the stolen generation—the stolen children—report. Most of that was glossed over. Aboriginal input into national policy was reduced and ignored. Aboriginal reconciliation could not go forward. There was no national policy or political will to combat the misinformation. No policies were put in place and we had an increase in racism. That is what the Howard government contributed to Aboriginal communities. Children’s services programs were cut by $800 million, childcare benefits for low-income women were eroded—

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

Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order on relevance. I would ask you to draw the member to the current bill under debate.

Photo of Ms Anna BurkeMs Anna Burke (Chisholm, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I am listening to the member for Solomon. The bill is the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Emergency Response Consolidation) Bill 2008.

Photo of Damian HaleDamian Hale (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Member for Bowman, I will just tidy up on your ex-government’s contribution, anyway. I will start again, seeing that you interrupted me. Children’s service programs were cut by $800 million; childcare benefits for low-income women were eroded, resulting in increased fees; there was a withdrawal of children; there were risks of reducing quality and closure of centres; and non-work-related childcare was restricted. It is amazing how the new party of compassion has suddenly become so caring about many of these programs which they tore the money out of. They have suddenly become so caring about working families, they have suddenly become so caring about interest rates and the stuff they did not care about initially.

I want to have a look at other parts of the bill as well. There are different things in this bill, not just pornography and the permit system. The bill is also to do with community stores. We fully supported the intervention, but there was a lack of consultation at the time with regard to community stores. The amendment will ensure that, where a roadhouse effectively takes the place of a community store, it is properly treated as a community store and can be assessed and licensed along with other community stores. In remote Australia a roadhouse may be the main source of groceries for residents of some communities. It is important that these people have access to a reasonable range of nutritional food and some essential goods to support the wellbeing of children and families in their community. Assessment and licensing of roadhouses that provide such an essential local service will set a standard for the quality, quantity and range of goods available to local people. Licensing will also enable roadhouses to receive managed income contributions. Assessment for a licence will ensure that the roadhouse has the financial, retail and governance capacity to comply with the requirements of the income management regime. Roadhouses upon which local people are not heavily dependent for groceries will not be subject to licensing requirements.

Schedule 2, the transport of prohibited material, amends the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 to permit the transportation of prohibited pornographic material through prescribed areas. It only applies when the sole purpose is to transport it to a place outside the prescribed area. Amendments will also be made to the police seizure powers and return provisions. This will ensure that prohibited pornographic material merely being transported through a restricted area is not seized and, if seized, will be able to be returned. The previous government introduced bans on pornographic material in prescribed areas. Offences for progressing pornography within a prescribed area and for supplying it within those areas came into effect on 14 September 2007. However, this meant that distributors and travellers transporting prohibited pornographic material through prescribed areas but not supplying it to those areas could not do so lawfully. The pornography bans were intended to be consistent with the alcohol bans which allowed transit. This schedule addresses this anomaly.

It will remain an offence for a person to supply intentionally prohibited pornographic material to persons in prescribed areas. R18+ films, DVDs and videos continue to be permitted in prescribed areas and subject to the restrictions in the NT legislation on underage purchase or viewing. However, amendments will prohibit subscription television narrowcasting of programs rated R18+ to subscribers in prescribed areas. This is in keeping with the concerns raised in the Little children are sacred report about the programming on Austar services. It goes back to that report and to my mate Stewart O’Connell, who actually worked on the report. I do not why we do these reports and then do not listen to their outcomes. I do not know why we ignore 20 warnings from the Reserve Bank—we just do.

Let me finish on bipartisanship—it is that warm and fuzzy thing. Today I went and had a look at the Close the Gap conference in the Great Hall. I always enjoy listening to my Prime Minister speak. I listened to the Leader of the Opposition speak, and he speaks very well also on Aboriginal issues. I sat next to the member for Warringah, which was a pleasure—it always is. I played rugby union with him the other week. I did not see too many other senior members of the opposition there supporting the great cause of closing the gap. If they were fair dinkum about Aboriginal issues, they would not oppose things that they have said about bipartisan support. I remember being here on the day of the apology. I saw the Leader of the Opposition and I listened to his speech. I saw the Prime Minister put his hand out in friendship to the Leader of the Opposition in a bipartisan approach to Indigenous issues. I really do hope that, when it comes to supporting amendments to bills or reviews of the intervention, the opposition use the opportunity for the betterment of Aboriginal people and not as a way of scoring political points with the media. I think I have put that as nicely as I can.

During the election campaign the ALP offered support to aspects of the intervention while undertaking the reinstatement of the permit scheme. A modified version of the Community Development Employment Program was also one of our commitments. It is not as if we are springing this on people. It is not as if we have come out in the middle of the night, snuck along and decided to push this legislation through. The Australian people knew our position—unlike in 2004 with Work Choices when they were hoodwinked into believing that when you vote for John Howard you vote for the Aussie battler and he will look after you, and then just as the poll is declared after the election—bang!—‘Welcome Work Choices’. We were totally transparent, because on 26 June, the day that the national emergency response occurred, as a country we galvanised behind the Prime Minister.

I am very proud to say that I have only voted Liberal once in my life, and that was in a meeting of a joint parliamentary committee. There were two Liberal members and they could not work out who was going to be deputy chair. I told them that I had never voted Liberal in my life but I had to vote for one of them. And it hurt me to do it. But I got it right; I think I picked the right one. The point that I am making here—and I will get back to the point before I get interjections from over there—is that we need to continue to be bipartisan on this. It is not about scoring political points. I am sure there will be mistakes made. We have got 200 years of mistakes behind us but we—and I address particularly the member for Kalgoorlie and the member for Solomon—need to be walking forward on this. It upsets me that with something as important as closing the gap I did not see enough colleagues from the other side. We can fight about Work Choices and we can fight about ideologies on business and how we approach all sorts of things—and we can scrap as much as we like; I love it as much as anyone—but on this issue it is time to stop the rot. On 24 November the Australian public chose to go with the Labor Party. They chose to go with Kevin Rudd as their new leader to go forward on all issues. It was a unanimous vote of confidence in Kevin Rudd’s mandate and in the front bench that we enjoy sitting behind now. So please—I hope the members here present take this back to their party room—do not muck around with this. It is not about mucking around and scoring points; it is about doing something for Indigenous people. It is about time that we as a parliament got that right, because I am sick of seeing too many of my friends buried before they are 40.

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—

Photo of Daryl MelhamDaryl Melham (Banks, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It was an election commitment.

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

Yes, absolutely. It was an election commitment to half the community and the other half said it makes no difference at all. I am prepared to concede that, but I am not very impressed with this other tack-on legislation around pornography. You can make a wonderful intellectual debate about this, but we are talking about practicalities. In a practical sense, it is just not the debate that we can have the luxury of having. Let us make something very clear: breaking the cycle has not been easy. Levels of governance have waxed and waned. We have CDEP councils trying to keep everyone busy, active and contributing. We still have a two per cent school completion rate. We have benchmark completions in these remote communities that are in single figures. This is an enormous challenge and federal and state governments have to have complementary legislation. You cannot sit over that side, say you support this intervention and not talk to state governments and bring forward that legislation. I know that the minister has been over to Western Australia, but it has to be more than that. It has to come from here or nothing is going to change. As Bill Neidjie said:

This earth, I never damage. I look after. Fire is nothing, just clean up. When you burn, new grass coming up. That means good animal soon, might be goanna, possum, wallaby.

That is the self-reinforcing, positive cycle of community negotiated, positive social norms. That was the additional positive cycle that communities lived by for tens of thousands of years. They have stepped forward, they have embraced the intervention. It was not well negotiated. It came out of a report that was dropped that really did not penetrate state governments. With the greatest of respect, and well away from the funding issues, there was never any galvanising desire to take control of it.

I want to highlight state education departments as the most guilty. These state departments of education apologised and found excuses for kids not going to school: ‘Three unexplained attendances in a semester, impossible to achieve in an Indigenous community. Indigenous people are not the same as the mainstream. They couldn’t possibly achieve that. Literacy, no, they don’t even speak English by the time they get to school. They can’t possibly learn it at school. You’re asking too much.’ The rest of the world can, but they apologised for Indigenous children and said: ‘It’s their third language. You could never expect to teach them literacy and numeracy. Intensive programs are a waste of time.’ They apologised about the privacy of school attendance data. They would not even provide it to the Commonwealth. Queensland is the only one that has done it. Go back to talk to your state colleagues and say, ‘Don’t you think the provision of school attendance data might be useful, so it can be linked in with welfare reform and quarantine?’ You have a battle on your hands. Talk to those ideologues in your state education departments. Queensland is the only one that did it because we have a premier with the courage to crack heads together. After the disastrous stories that came out of Torres Strait last year, she said: ‘Enough. What do we have to do to make it work?’ Today, I fear that you have let down your own colleagues in Queensland. I do not think it is a positive signal to the state governments, whom we were hoping would follow.

In 2007, there was not a sheet of paper between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. I sat over there and saw the then opposition walk in here and take a seat and there were genuine ashen faces that day when the now Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said, ‘There will be bipartisan support.’ I was so impressed on that day. I think Mal Brough is a great man, but, you know what, there was another person sitting over there who said, ‘Unconditionally, we will support it.’ I expect a new government to say there might have to be a few small changes. But my great fear, and I hope that it does not come to pass, is that there was not a sheet of paper between those two men—and there should have been. I would hate to think it was just rhetoric to get elected. If that is the case, we are going to see more roll back. I will be watching CDEP to see it drop back into communities without it first being reformed. You will be dropping it back just to get the money flowing again, unconditionally, so that drunks can come up and kick the council building and break windows and say, ‘Gimme cash now.’ You are going to have 17-year-olds, virtually illiterate with nothing to do, going straight to CDEP as a career of choice. You are going to be using it for cheap labour in councils, hospitals and schools. These guys will not have real jobs with real pay, they will be on a welfare pedestal—as Noel Pearson calls it. I hope that we do not get to the situation where further roll backs start to reflect what we are going to vote on this afternoon. I hope that you look very carefully at this measure and fix up the provisions and support an amended bill. (Time expired)

1:36 pm

Photo of Daryl MelhamDaryl Melham (Banks, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

At the outset, I indicate that I will not be using my full allocation of time because I understand that the member for Herbert wants to say a few things before question time. Also, in view of some of the contributions to this debate, I am going to cast aside the speech that has been prepared for me by my staff. It is a good speech, but some of the best speeches are never delivered and this will be one instance.

I want to make a couple of points. Let us not kid ourselves. The intervention in the Northern Territory was not commenced as a bipartisan intervention. There was an attempt to blindside the then opposition. There was a press conference shortly before question time on the day the intervention was announced. The Northern Territory government was also not told about the intervention prior to the announcement, but certain Indigenous leaders were. It was not about being well intentioned. I have to say to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I was quite cynical about the intervention at the time. I was not happy. It was not because I did not believe in interventions into the states and territories—and I will come to that in a moment. But my view was certainly strengthened when I saw a post-election interview with a senior cabinet minister, who pointed out that the government did not get the political bounce that they expected from the intervention in the Northern Territory. That said it all; and that is a matter of public record.

What was also dishonest was that the then Prime Minister and the then Indigenous affairs minister said that they were not able to intervene anywhere other than the Northern Territory, in terms of Aboriginal affairs, because the Territory was technically still answerable to the Commonwealth. That is not true. I said at the time, and I repeat: as a result of the successful constitutional referendum of 1967—the Aboriginal referendum, the so-called races power—the Commonwealth has the power to intervene anywhere in Australia in relation to Indigenous matters. And my view is that they should intervene, because I think that constitutional referendum gave the Commonwealth a moral authority. Ninety per cent of people voted in favour of the Commonwealth’s having powers to make laws in relation to Indigenous people. If people are not satisfied with the races power in the Constitution as a basis for intervention in states and territories, then we also have the special measures under the Racial Discrimination Act, which give the Commonwealth the power to intervene anywhere on Australian soil. We are not limited by the Surveyor General’s powers.

In relation to that, I believe the Commonwealth should intervene and that this intervention is, on balance, a welcome intervention, because hopefully it will make the lot of Aboriginal people in the Territory better. In terms of long-term solutions, the intervention is not going to be restricted to young children, and nor should it be. This whole intervention is based on the notion that there is a crisis in Aboriginal communities and that, if we do not intervene, the sky will fall in. The sky has been falling in for a long time in Aboriginal communities, and the white population and governments of both political persuasions have looked the other way. The figures that I want to quote to this parliament are telling. They are: 24 per cent of Aboriginal men survive to the age of 65, and 35 per cent of Aboriginal women survive to the age of 65. That is a disgrace. That is an indictment on this nation, it needs to be addressed, and I note that the current minister is addressing it.

I am quite happy that the former Prime Minister, Mr Howard, and the former Indigenous affairs minister, Mal Brough, both lost their seats at the last election. That is what the Australian public thought of them and their intervention in the Northern Territory, amongst other things. It was a powerful signal. But we need to do this with a bipartisan approach. We need to do this with the alternative government and involve them. I have been in this place for 18 years, and I was a shadow minister for 7½ of them. I have always tried to engage the government so that if there was a change of government we would have long-term security in relation to policy, because there is nothing worse than changes when there is a change of government. It sends the wrong signals. But in this instance, let us not kid ourselves. Particularly in relation to the permit system, the markers were laid by the then Labor opposition as to what we would do if we came into government.

Prime Minister Rudd has been very specific in saying, ‘We are going to honour our election commitments,’ and this legislation is, for the most part, an election commitment that we gave. It was a falsehood to say that abolishing the permit system was what was required for the intervention. It was never mentioned in the Little children are sacred report. The Northern Territory Police Association pointed out the folly of abolishing the permits and giving people free flow. You try to get onto the property of the Packers or the Murdochs without permission. What is wrong with Aboriginal people having to be asked for permission for others to go onto their property, onto their land? It is discriminatory to say, ‘Because you’re black, we’re going to come in anyway.’ That was not even part of the Little children report. It was an add-on, because it was reflecting the then political bent of the then government. The opportunity was used as an add-on.

Yes, there is roll-back, but I think we were telegraphing to the electorate and to the then government where we were going to go in relation to most of what is in this legislation. And that is all this is. It is a pursuit of the election commitments. The intervention has occurred; I applaud it. But I do not think an intervention is going to succeed without the cooperation of Aboriginal people, without the cooperation of the elders and the women in the community, and without the cooperation of the Northern Territory government. I said in the last parliament that the thing that annoyed me the most about the way the then government chose to intervene in the Northern Territory was that $250 million was allocated for administrative costs for the Commonwealth. I would have liked to have used that $250 million for achieving results instead of creating another bureaucracy on top of bureaucracies that already exist. There are little things like that that worry me a little bit.

I do not think the opposition have got anything to complain about, because most of their intervention has remained intact and in accordance with the support that the then Leader of the Opposition gave when we were ambushed with this proposal in question time, when it was put on the table. I have got to tell you: if we had been in government at the time of the intervention, there are aspects of the intervention that are in place now that I would have fought tooth and nail against—and I do not believe they would be in place. That is the test of this government: a commitment was given to support the intervention, and most of the tinkering and the changes that have taken place were telegraphed by the Labor Party before the election.

We went to the election with an honest intent and we delivered on that intent. That is what this amendment bill is all about. So I commend the amendment legislation to the House. I do not think that the opposition have much to complain about other than the fact that they got beat well and truly at the last election. As I said, this is not an ambush; this was telegraphed, and it is a delivery of our election promises. There is some marginal difference between us in how we approach it, but most of what the now opposition introduced has remained intact. Point to one sentence in the Little children are sacred report that talked about permits. It was not there; it was not in the recommendations; it came out of right field, so you cannot complain about it being abolished.

1:45 pm

Photo of Peter LindsayPeter Lindsay (Herbert, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

This is not about the opposition and it is not about the government. The Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Emergency Response Consolidation) Bill 2008 is about disadvantaged people—and children. That is what we have to continually think about, front and centre. I come to this parliament with some experience in these matters. In my electorate, off the coast of Townsville I have Palm Island, an Indigenous community of about 4,000 people. I have been going there for 12 years. Every time I go there my heart goes out to the people because I know and understand that, with the way things are, nothing is going to change in their lives. In 100 years they will be the same—a dysfunctional, hopeless community. It has to change. We have to make sure that we do things that improve the lives and the lot of Indigenous Australians. Later in this speech I will argue one of the ways where I see that that can happen, and it will relate to the provisions of the bill.

Let me tell you about a stark contrast. In late January I was able to go to Vanuatu. Vanuatu has an Indigenous population; they are Melanesian. I was able to go into the Melanesian villages and rub shoulders with the people of Vanuatu. Do you know what I found? I found no permit system—anybody could go into the village. You were welcomed with open arms. There was no pornography. The villages were clean and tidy. The villagers built their own homes and took care of them. Apart from a bit of kava, there was no alcoholism. People were healthy and everybody had a job. The result of all that was that people were happy and lived long and fruitful lives. Why can’t we be like that in Australia? That is what the parliament has to think deeply about.

The world is not black and white. We should not be hung up about whether what we are doing is politically correct or against the Racial Discrimination Act. We should be thinking: does it give the right outcome? In relation to the two major matters in this bill, it does not give the right outcome.

I am a great believer in openness in our society. People complain to me about sexual material on the shelves of newsagents these days and they say, ‘My kids can see; do something about it; ban it.’ I say: ‘No. As a parent I taught my kids not to go anywhere near that material. You can do the same.’ But it is not the same in Indigenous communities for a whole raft of reasons. That is where the world is not black and white. That is why we should maintain this ban on R18+ material going into Indigenous communities, where dreadful, dreadful sexual assaults and domestic violence are going on against kids. We should do something. We should be positively proactive.

Photo of Tony WindsorTony Windsor (New England, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

It is happening in Moree now.

Photo of Peter LindsayPeter Lindsay (Herbert, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for New England indicates what is happening. In relation to the permit system, why shouldn’t there be openness? The member for Banks was right. You would never get onto the Packer or Murdoch properties, but that is not what is being proposed here. What is being proposed is access to the communal areas of the communities. That is right and proper. I remember that on Palm Island some years ago the community made a big deal about not allowing other Australians onto Palm Island. Fortunately, that changed and, fortunately, the people of the north were able to see the sorts of things that needed to be addressed. So I think that the provisions in this bill are wrong, in the interests of Indigenous Australians.

Seven years into the new millennium, the health of Australian citizens is remarkably uneven. The member for Banks alerted us all to that. He told us that, with the life expectancy of Indigenous men, only 24 per cent were expected to reach the age of 65. That is the unevenness of the health problem in this country. I ask: why? I put the proposition to the parliament that we should focus on the question of why health—as opposed to health care—has special moral importance for social justice in health improvement activities. Some would say that that is a very small distinction, but it is not. People’s health—and not the response and the care that you give—is what we should be focusing on. The focus should be as much on intellectual health and moral health as it is on physical health. Across the world, eminent physicians are coming to the conclusion that the patient comes first and last and that we should be looking at what drives the health of the patient, rather than at the particular disease. In Indigenous communities we see diseases such as alcoholism, domestic violence and so on. We should be focusing on the health of the patient in globo.

I encourage my colleagues in the parliament on both sides to relook at this bill. I ask the government to rethink their position and to think about the good people of Vanuatu and the good people of Indigenous Australia. I ask them to withdraw this bill from House.

1:53 pm

Photo of Sophie MirabellaSophie Mirabella (Indi, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Local Government) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Emergency Response Consolidation) Bill 2008. This bill amends the 2007 legislation of the same name which was introduced by the former coalition government. Whilst the name of the bill is the same, there are some important points of difference which highlight the importance of holding firm on all aspects of the Northern Territory intervention and not succumbing to the lure of watering down aspects of the intervention that suit the whims of the left wing of the Labor Party.

The four schedules of this bill are focused on amending various acts in the areas of pay TV services throughout the Northern Territory, the transmission of pornographic material in communities in the Northern Territory, the reintroduction of elements of the permit system and allowing the community stores’ services to be extended to some roadhouses. Clearly the most important aspects of this bill relate to the provisions that water down previous aims of cracking down on access to pornography and, disturbingly, the creeping reintroduction of the permit system.

Sadly, it has been well documented that internet pornography is a means of encouraging children for sex that we know today as grooming. This is an insidious practice and, sadly, one that is not uncommon in today’s society. The Little children are sacred report clearly highlights the nature of the problem and I implore those who have not read the section on pornography in this heartbreaking report to do so. It seems that, in the aftermath of the parliamentary apology to Indigenous Australians, everyone was an apparent expert on the decade-old Bringing them home report which Noel Pearson stated ‘does not represent a defensible history’. Yet very few had bothered to confront the harsh realities contained in the much heavier and disturbing Little children are sacred report dealing with issues of the here and now. This report condemns the stream of freely available pornographic material in Indigenous communities and the report states:

... that pornography was a major factor in communities and that it should be stopped. The daily diet of sexually explicit material has had a major impact, presenting young and adolescent Aboriginals with a view of mainstream sexual practice and behaviour which is jaundiced. It encourages them to act out the fantasies they see on screen or in magazines. Exposure to pornography was also blamed for the sexualised behaviour evident in quite young children. It was recommended that possible strategies to restrict access to this material, generally and by children in particular, be investigated.

So, with significant guts and determination displayed by the former Prime Minister and the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, the previous government’s bill prohibited the provision of all R18+ television in the prescribed areas of the Northern Territory intervention. Some members would be aware that, as part of the Little children are sacred report, it was noted that Austar pay TV services were readily available and, sadly, they were readily available to children. Customers could contact Austar and receive the service of sexually explicit programs unhindered. This particular bill imposes restrictions to pay TV broadcasters who allocate only more than 35 per cent of total broadcast hours to R18+ rated programs and those which are subject to a written declaration by the minister. I have looked hard and deep but I cannot find any reference to the Labor Party saying this would be their policy prior to the last election. I am happy to be enlightened on this matter, but I very much doubt that I will be.

I have to say that the push to water down the Howard government’s ban is a matter of great disappointment. I also remain concerned about Labor’s so-called endorsement of the ground-breaking intervention into the Northern Territory. Yes, Labor did say that they would review the intervention one year after its inception, and I accept that, but that should not give the new government licence to water down aspects of the intervention that they have previously purported to support and support very strongly on a bipartisan basis. The opposition will move a number of important amendments. We vigorously oppose the reintroduction of the permit system, which the current Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs seems to want to bring back. Surely, she has read the comments of Warren Mundine, the most senior Aboriginal in the Labor Party, when he said:

The permit system didn't stop crime. In fact, if you look at all of the reports that have come out in the last few years, crime has flourished under the permit system, so it’s a fallacy to say that it helps law-and-order problems. It really embedded these problems because some powerful people were able to get away with things without being watched.

The opposition seeks to retain its blanket ban on all R18+ pornography. This is not a paternalistic return to past practices but an absolutely modern necessity and a necessary move to complete the suite of policies to ensure that Indigenous Australians are given the best chance we can give them in creating a very safe environment which is far from the reality in many remote Aboriginal communities. Cleaning up the main social contributors to Aboriginal disadvantage is the best way we can go in achieving these aims. The objectives of the previous government’s intervention into the Northern Territory were noble and they were purportedly supported by both sides of the House. This extraordinary about-face is not only disturbing to many Australians who supported and welcomed the intervention but also a disappointment to many women in the Aboriginal community—many women elders who said thank goodness someone has finally done something to stop the destruction of lives of young children and the sexualisation of young children as young as two and three. I condemn this bill and urge those on the other side to reconsider their position in supporting the watering down of the measures contained in the intervention.

Photo of Harry JenkinsHarry Jenkins (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! It being 2 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 97. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.