Tuesday, 17 October 2023
Matters of Urgency
First Nations Australians
The Senate will now consider the proposal from Senator Nampijinpa Price:
Pursuant to standing order 75, I give notice that today I propose to move "That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:
The need for Prime Minister Albanese to support the Opposition's call for a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse in Indigenous communities, audit spending on Indigenous programs, and support practical policy ideas to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians to help Close the Gap."
Is consideration of the proposal supported?
More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
With the concurrence of the Senate, the clerks will set the clock in line with the informal arrangements made by the whips.
That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:
The need for Prime Minister Albanese to support the Opposition's call for a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse in Indigenous communities, audit spending on Indigenous programs, and support practical policy ideas to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians to help Close the Gap.
I rise today to speak on the urgent need for Prime Minister Albanese and the Labor government to support the coalition's call for a royal commission into child sexual abuse in Indigenous communities, audit spending on Indigenous programs and support practical policy ideas to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians and to help close the gap.
Earlier this year, I had the privilege of being joined by the Leader of the Opposition, who has on several occasions travelled to spend real time on the ground in the Northern Territory and hear directly from remote and rural Australian communities. While in the Territory, in my home town of Alice Springs, the opposition leader heard stories of what too many people in remote and rural Australia know all too well—stories of child sexual abuse and stories of children being neglected and abused.
Stories of Indigenous Australians are being ignored because their problems and the solutions they are suggesting don’t fit this government's agenda. There are stories like that of my niece known as Ruby, as reported in theAustralian in 2022. In the remote Northern Territory town of Yuendumu, Ruby, then just 15, was beaten and raped by her own father. Ruby recounts trying to tell her family in Yuendumu of the horrific abuse she was suffering but says they didn't want to believe her. Incredibly, Ruby found the courage to speak up, and two years later, at just 17 years old, she testified against him. A judge in the case said the abuse had been protracted and prolonged and involved the use of weapons.
I know of a case now being dealt with where, from the age of six, a girl was raped and abused by her cousin, a man 12 years older than her. For seven years this young girl was tortured, frightened and in need of help, with no-one to turn to because too many community and family members turned a blind eye. It was only after leaving her home and moving interstate with a family member that she was able to find an adult who would help her.
But helplessness extends to the hands of organisations funded supposedly to help. The ANAO has found that the Northern Land Council is not fully implementing its fraud and corruption policy and that the Central Land Council's fraud control arrangements fall short of the minimum requirements. As I've said many times before, the gap is more about place than about race. It exists not between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians but between the cities and remote Australia, between those who have easy access to education, medicines and emergency services and those who do not. We need to focus our efforts on our most marginalised.
Over the weekend, Australians sent a loud and clear message that they want real outcomes for Indigenous Australians, and particularly our most marginalised. They do not want more of the same. They don't want more bureaucracy; they don't want an activist talkfest. They want accountability, they want transparency and they want action. We need action for those children in remote communities, our most marginalised, suffering sexual abuse, neglect and other abuse. Labor, the Greens and Senator David Pocock have denied our attempts before and chosen to be silent and overlook these issues. This is the last time. Join us in what Australians overwhelmingly seek or we will do it ourselves and hold you all to account.
Of course child sexual assault is abhorrent, and everybody in this place would condemn it. I notice that the relevant organisation in this space in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, SNAICC, has said another royal commission, another inquiry, is not a solution. Like many of the interventions by those opposite, this is all about the politics and not about the solution. It's always about the politics, never about the solution. What is the content of this motion and the letter really about? It's really about an angry pursuit of the people who those opposite don't like and who didn't agree with them in the recent referendum.
Let me make the government's position on this referendum really clear. We accept the result of the referendum unequivocally—without equivocation. The Prime Minister made that very clear on Saturday evening. I understand that there are those opposite who are not interested in solutions but interested in the politics. They are interested in looking for an argument, not in looking for solutions. What we as a government will do is listen. We will listen carefully. We will, as I said, having accepted what happened over the course of the weekend, listen carefully and continue to proceed in a careful and deliberate way. We will listen carefully to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. There is a difference, of course, between the approaches. The Prime Minister of Australia said many, many times in the lead-up to the last election that we would hold a referendum on the request that was made to us in the Uluru statement. And do you know what the Prime Minister did? He held the referendum.
On a point of order, this is just not relevant. This has absolutely nothing to do with the question. The point of order is on the direct relevance of this contribution, which has nothing to do with the royal commission.
I am, of course, responding to the contribution before me, which dealt in substance with these issues. Of course, that's what the Prime Minister did. He did what he said he was going to do, and he advocated for what he believed in. What have we seen from the Leader of the Opposition? In the lead-up to the end of the referendum campaign, he said he wanted a second referendum. And then, in record-breaking time, he flipped over and said we won't have a referendum.
Opposition senators interjecting—
Senator Hughes, please! All interjections are disorderly. I would remind the chamber of that and that speakers should be heard in respectful silence.
We have the Leader of the Opposition—the angriest man in Australian politics and the most extreme leader of the Liberal and National parties in our history, always looking for an argument, never interested in solutions—all of a sudden saying he's interested in a common approach. You'd have to be forgiven for being cynical about what that is all about. Of course, all of the claims will be made and all of the politics played, but what this government will do is continue to listen. (Time expired)
This motion, which calls for a royal commission, has been moved, but it's not in good faith. As someone who's worked with, advocated for and supported victims-survivors, I know the unacceptable statistics for broader Australia but also for First Nations people. This week, the hypocritical attempt to talk up another royal commission into this issue will just be another segue into the intervention-type approach to demonise First Nations people in this country. It will never be framed to understand the real issues, which the opposition have already stated that they don't believe exist for our people, which goes against the plethora of research. It definitely won't focus on the prevalence of white people targeting our communities. It will not be framed in a way that's trauma informed. It won't talk about the systemic failures, most of which have been during the time of their successive governments. It will be dressed up to demonise our communities and our culture, which have sustained us for tens of thousands of years.
Our mob are hurting right now. And I know some people in this chamber don't care. But it's another attempt at their erasure politics—the lack of care, the lack of support and the lack of empathy.
Culture is definitely not the issue here. It is about poverty.
Acting Deputy President, since Senator Cox rose to her feet to commence her contribution, there has been a wall of noise coming from Senator Price and Senator Hughes. It is most disrespectful. And, Chair, I remind you: you have just reminded the chamber that all interjections are disorderly. Would you please call them to order.
How many royal commissions and inquiries are sitting and collecting dust on the shelf? Let me enlighten you. There were four national inquiries between 1997 and 2012, and three of those were Senate community affairs committee inquiries. There were also 15 state-led inquiries between 1990 and 2016. The money that would be spent on a royal commission—because that's what's on show here, in another bloody audit—would have been better spent directly in those communities.
And what is at the core of this is unspeakable. The end goal for that side of the chamber is something completely different from what's written in this motion.
Now I want to read a statement that was given to me today, because those on that side of the chamber who are bringing this motion in here today didn't even go to the national frontline services for sexual assault in this country. And the statement reads: 'NASASV does not support any further inquiries and encourages funding to frontline sexual assault services, to support work in this area across Australia. NASASV does not believe any more inquiries will benefit people and committees. In fact, further inquiries would do more harm. Resources would be better directed to immediate action, including funding frontline sexual assault services. Inquiries will not add any further knowledge base to what we already know, and what we need right now is action.'
The motion calls for a royal commission into child sexual abuse. It calls for an audit of programs that exist to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians. And it seeks to understand the PM's plan B for closing the gap, now that his Voice is no longer the answer.
Child sexual abuse is an uncomfortable subject that we must all get better at speaking about. To do anything else silences the victims and survivors and does nothing to protect those who might come after.
To quote directly from the 2007 Little children are sacred report into Aboriginal child sexual abuse in the Northern Territory:
Sexual abuse of children is not restricted to those of Aboriginal descent, nor committed only by those of Aboriginal descent, nor to just the Northern Territory. The phenomenon knows no racial, age or gender borders. It is a national and international problem.
Importantly though, the report goes on to say:
The classic indicia of children likely to suffer neglect, abuse and/or sexual abuse are, unfortunately, particularly apparent in Aboriginal communities. Family dysfunctionality, as a catch-all phrase, reflects and encompasses problems of alcohol and drug abuse, poverty, housing shortages, unemployment and the like. All of these issues exist in many Aboriginal communities.
I acknowledge they do not exist in all families, but we cannot be blind to the risk factors being greater and the silencing, unfortunately, louder.
And I don't forget that it was you, Labor, that ended the CDC. And you ended the alcohol restrictions without jumping in and having them reinstated quickly. The Greens want to talk about violence and dispossession in the context of a truth and justice commission, to facilitate healing and a way forward—at a cost of $250 million? No. I want to talk about the here and now—the uncomfortable, the difficult, the too-hard. That's my priority.
Just imagine if, instead, that level of funding was directed to families to keep their children safe—prevention; to identify at-risk behaviours—prevention; and so that victims and survivors are better supported—prevention. You know this is an issue. For example, in your own budget in 2023, there was a reference to $1.4 million over four years for increasing specialist services for children with harmful sexual behaviours in the Northern Territory. But the detail that informs that is lacking.
The 2007 Little children are sacred report asks that Aboriginal child sexual abuse in the Northern Territory be designated an issue of urgent national significance. I want to know, 16 years later: is $1.4 million a year enough? A royal commission would tell us that. As the shadow minister for child protection, it is clear from the conversations with the sector that it is past time to start talking about this. Giving unfettered voice to the stories of the sector and those impacted the most will make the difference.
The PM must surely see the need to agree to an audit of Commonwealth funded organisations because this is connected to that. Those delivering services and charged with improving lives must do better. But Labor has no ears for that, the Greens have no ears for that and nor does Senator David Pocock. By holding ministers, the bureaucracy, the agencies and service providers to account, we can make a difference to the lives of families, who can make a difference to their own lives because they have the tools, infrastructure and response to help them do that. That's where the rubber hits the road. That's where the greatest impact will be, and that's why there is no reason or excuse to wait.
In recent months we've called for inquiries into the billions of dollars of Commonwealth funding for the myriad organisations and agencies who provide services to communities. The Australian media was screaming examples of maladministration and possible corruption in organisations that service our most vulnerable. Labor, the Greens and Senator David Pocock said no. There are organisations in the service delivery ecosystem doing it right, but everyone needs to do it right together. An audit will show what is working, what we need to do more of or less of and what we need to stop doing. We need to put the children at the centre and leave ideology at the door.
So far this year 48 women have died, thought to be a consequence of family violence, and the collateral damage is almost always the children. Ideology must be exchanged for common sense. I refer to the Alice Springs women's shelter, where 95 per cent of the women who flee are Indigenous. Yet did they get a look at any of the funding for the so-called A Better, Safer Future for Central Australia plan? No, because they're not Aboriginal community controlled. We must be courageous, we must be uncomfortable and we must remain focused on outcomes for the children if we are to change their futures. Get real!
I rise to speak on this motion this evening, and I do so while acknowledging that the call for a royal commission into child sexual abuse relates to really abhorrent behaviour. Nobody on this side of the chamber—or, I don't think, anyone at all in this chamber—would suggest that any type of child sexual abuse is okay or that any type of child sexual abuse is apologised for by any policy of any government, previous or otherwise. It's really important that we get that language right in here tonight because victims are listening, and I'm sure they would want to hear that everyone in this chamber thinks there should be steps taken to protect any child in any vulnerable position, including reporting to police when people become aware of issues and making sure there are systems in place to protect children. It is really clear that that is something that I think all senators would say is a good thing to do.
Key experts who have considered this call for a proposal, particularly the people who are dealing with child sexual abuse in Indigenous communities—those organisations have said they don't support a royal commission because they want to see more funding and more action right here and right now. I think it's important to put on the record what the government is doing, what action the government is taking and what funding the government is providing in this space. There is the National Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Child Sexual Abuse; it's a 10-year whole-of-nation framework to establish a coordinated and consistent approach to prevent and better respond to child sexual abuse in Australia in all settings, in all families, online and in all organisations. I just want to be clear that a diverse range of non-government stakeholders were consulted on the strategy, including victims and survivors of child sexual abuse and their advocates, and First Nations people. In the development of this strategy, advocates were spoken to and also members of the Indigenous community.
First Nations people, families and communities are a priority group under the national strategy. There are a number of measures under the national strategy specifically designed to support and empower First Nations people. They include two measures led by the NIAA currently, which is action that is happening right now, right on the ground, delivering trauma aware, healing informed and culturally appropriate resources to improve early disclosures and experiences, which is a very important step, and developing healing approaches in partnership with First Nations experts, which are in place and contemplate the specialist support service system for First Nations victims and survivors of child sexual abuse.
The national strategy is a broader, whole-of-community approach. I want to commend the steps taken by this government to put these plans in place. Of course the Keeping Our Kids Safe cultural safety National Principles for Child Safe Organisations resources are designed for this. It's really important that they reach out into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
The rest of this motion talks about closing the gap. I want to talk about that. What is insinuated in the motion is some sort of bipartisan approach. I think that would be great. Let's have a bipartisan approach to closing the gap. Let's have a bipartisan approach to funding housing in Indigenous communities. We know that housing is incredibly important in Indigenous communities. We know that on this side of the chamber we sought to fund $100 million of funding through the HAFF for repairs for Indigenous community housing. The previous government—I appreciate that there are people sitting on the other side of the chamber that weren't part of the previous government, but many of them were—they walked away from NPARIH. They refused to fund Indigenous housing. Our government is really committed to understanding the Closing The Gap targets. The things that lead to closing the gap are incredibly important, as are all the things we are talking about. That's why we're stepping through methodically and taking this work seriously.
I rise to commend the leadership of Senator Price demonstrated during the referendum campaign and to speak in support of this matter of urgency. Labor dismantled the Northern Territory intervention made under John Howard in response to the appalling reports of rampant child sexual abuse coming out of the communities. But the abuse never stopped. Child sexual abuse continues to traumatise another generation of young Indigenous people in remote communities. These kids hit the streets every night because they're safer out there than at home, and they're getting into all sorts of trouble. If they are taken away, then they scream 'stolen generation'.
They deserve support. They deserve a safe home and a safe community. They deserve nothing less than a royal commission into how this abuse has been allowed to continue. I'm very pleased the coalition has adopted my call for a comprehensive audit into the Aboriginal industry gravy train. I have been calling for this audit since I was first elected in 1996. Around $1 trillion has been poured into Indigenous programs since the awful Whitlam era. These programs are designed and delivered mostly by Indigenous advocates and the many Indigenous corporations, land councils and charities. The gaps are not closing.
It hasn't been a total waste. The audit could also identify those few programs which have genuinely delivered better outcomes. I would welcome that with all my heart, because it would help deliver on the third element of this motion—practical policy ideas that really improve the lives of Australians living in disadvantage. I commend this motion to the Senate. If you really want changes, you really want to close the gaps, then have the audit. I have raised on the floor of parliament where there has been corruption and misappropriation of monies. I've named people; yet you sit back and do nothing about it. We need a royal commission into the Aboriginal industry.
I thought I had heard it all in this place but today, in debate on this motion, both Labor and the Greens argued against supporting the opposition's call for a royal commission into child sex abuse in Indigenous communities, audit spending on Indigenous programs and support practical policy ideas to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians. I have now heard it all. Those opposite cannot support a royal commission into this most fundamentally important issue. Despite the Prime Minister saying, 'Oh yes, I've listened, I've learned and I accept responsibility,' clearly you have not. Over 60 per cent of Australians have clearly said your proposal for a top-down voice was not suitable. Clearly, we need a new approach. I could not believe my ears when Senator Cox stood up and basically said, 'No, she's alright; we don't need a royal commission into this.' I think that is outrageous.
If it assists, I will withdraw and I will rephrase it—opposed a royal commission into child sexual abuse. The writers of Utopia would not have dreamed of something as obscene as the debate now occurring in this place. The great hypocrisy was Western Australian voters have seen through those opposite, because the great hypocrisy is, you are talking about a voice. Well, I tell you what. What is the point of having a voice if you do not listen?
For the last 12 months in Western Australia, we have had a conga line of local communities—you know this, Senator Cox—coming here and begging to retain the cashless debit card. These are local communities who wanted the card, who had positive results. They came here to the Prime Minister begging those opposite to keep this card and it fell on completely deaf ears. So the irony of you talking about a voice and then not listening when local community leaders come here is absolutely shameless and devastating for the local communities.
Let me remind you of the things that you refused to listen to and what leaders from our local communities have said.
Senator Reynolds, direct any comments through the chair, please. I don't think the use of hands is against the standing orders, but any comments should certainly be through the chair.
Even the ABC acknowledged why they were doing it. The ABC said, 'The now Labor government philosophically opposes compulsory income management in most circumstances.' There you go. Your philosophical left say, 'We don't agree with this.' Paternalism in action is alive and well and the name is Labor.
What did some of the local leaders from Western Australia say when they begged you to keep the card? 'Local leaders in East Kimberley say the removal of the card had coincided with a surge in alcohol-fuelled violence and antisocial behaviour. … Wyndham East Kimberley Shire president, David Menzel, said frontline workers and Indigenous agencies had raised concerns with him of about the abrupt change. "Disruption to people's way of life, quite a demand for food for kids. There have been increased sales in high-alcohol content drinks.'" What did the President of the Shire of Laverton say? He said, 'The lack of consultation is profound on the government's behalf and the words and the rhetoric do not bode well for the future of Laverton. As local governments do, we will pick up the pieces with other state government agencies. The CDC has brought sanity to people's lives. Most of the spending allocation is to purchase food and other essentials in life for women, children and the elderly.' Yet you did not listen. Big Brother—big paternalist brother, thy name is Labor and the Greens—knew better and didn't listen to local communities. What did Ian Trust, the director of the amazing Wunan Foundation in Kununurra, who knows about this firsthand, say? He said that the cashless debit card had reduced alcohol violence and the harassment of the elderly and vulnerable for cash when they go to the AGM. He said that it wasn't a silver bullet but it was something we could build on and something the local community in Kununurra wanted. So it goes on and on. Senator Nampijinpa Price knows only too well the consequences that your paternalism and your not listening to local communities have had for her community in Alice Springs and right across the Territory. So please never come and lecture us on any moral issue again, because the fact is that you are stopping a royal commission into child sex—