Senate debates

Tuesday, 7 November 2006

Questions without Notice

Indigenous Communities

2:29 pm

Photo of Nigel ScullionNigel Scullion (NT, Country Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is directed to Senator Kemp, the Minister representing the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. Will the minister inform the Senate of steps being taken by the Australian government to address family violence amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders?

Photo of Rod KempRod Kemp (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for the Arts and Sport) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you to Senator Scullion—the very hardworking senator from the Northern Territory, I might say—for that important question. Last week the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs noted the release of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report entitled Family violence among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The report highlights again the extent of the problem of violence in Indigenous communities—an intolerable situation in any Australian community. The data released in the report was collected in 2003-04. It shows that Indigenous women are 35 times more likely to be hospitalised because of partner violence and are 10 times more likely to be killed by assault. It also reports that Indigenous women are 13 times more likely to seek refuge than non-Indigenous women.

This is yet another in a long list of reports on violence and child abuse, including Sue Gorton’s report in Western Australia, a report by Bonnie Robertson in Queensland and a recent report on child abuse in Indigenous communities in New South Wales. There may be some who would like to brush this issue away, but they should take heed, I believe, of the contents of this report and others like it. We should face up to the fact that many Indigenous Australians, particularly in remote communities, are at greater risk of family violence than non-Indigenous Australians and that we will not see gains in health and employment outcomes unless this issue is addressed.

The government has been working on these issues for some years with the states and territories. For example, almost $38 million was provided for the Indigenous Family Violence Partnership Program in 2004-05; in the last budget, almost $50 million was provided to expand the number of family violence prevention legal services from 13 to 31; and the Family Violence Regional Activities Program will receive $16 million over four years. This report also provides further endorsement of the outcomes of the Intergovernmental Summit on Violence and Child Abuse in Indigenous Communities. This $130 million package includes $40 million for police infrastructure in remote areas, $2.5 million for two additional sniffer-dog teams in Central Australia and, among other things, $50 million for additional drug and alcohol treatment.

A national intelligence task force has already been established, with its headquarters in Alice Springs. It includes AFP staff as well as police from other jurisdictions, with the Australian Crime Commission gathering information to pass on to authorities. An audit of police numbers in remote communities has started with the appointment of John Vallentine, who will help to identify the number of extra police required in Central Australia. I am pleased to report that negotiations are also well underway with the states to determine their contribution and reach agreement on joint strategies.

The Australian government have also taken steps to amend sentencing provisions under Commonwealth legislation. We cannot water down our sentencing for violent crimes. There is one law in Australia and that is there to protect all Australian citizens, including Indigenous women and children. I would urge the Western Australian government to give a commonsense response to the commission’s report that does not allow for customary law to be used as mitigation in sentencing for violent crimes. The Australian government, let me assure you, will work in a collaborative and positive way with any state or territory government to stamp out this sort of abuse. There is more to be done. We want to see a better future for Aboriginal children, men and women in these remote communities and we have put the money on the table to help make that a reality.