Child Abuse and Permits.

Go together like……..well, like nothing really.

The latest announcement from the Federal Government regarding Entry Permits for Aboriginal land has nothing to do with the Taskforce, but does show their single-minded determination to scrap the permit system for Aboriginal Lands. At issue is the plan to cover remote townships by 99 yr leases. The reasoning is that this will help with private home ownership. There has been much controversy over the 99 yr lease plan, particularly in the community of Nguiu, on Bathurst Is, 80 kms north of Darwin. A spokesman for the Minister has now announced that permits will be scrapped for Nguiu as part of the 99 yr lease, despite residents being previously told that they would not be.

Whatever the problem, scrapping the permit system is the answer for the Federal Government.

The Minister has repeatedly suggested this as part of the answer to child abuse in remote indigenous communities. The ‘Operational Head’ of the NTERT, Maj-Gen David Chalmers, reiterated this just yesterday ,

I’m convinced there needs to be a broad strategy to address those problems, and I think the changes to the permit system are part of that strategy.

Yet, as many critics of the move have pointed out, there appears to be little credible thinking behind the strategy. David Chalmers explained it this way,

If we’re going to help children in these communities, we have to develop opportunities for them, educational opportunities, employment opportunities and the permit system is clearly acting to prevent those opportunities from developing.

Will removing the permit system lead to an increase in housing or health funding? More teachers? Better schools??

There are a series of reports at the top right of the page. They contain many recommendations and strategies for dealing with the issue. But there is one course of action that none of them recommend – removing the permit system. The consensus on this makes me suspect that this is because it is not a solution to the problem.

Which takes me to a general point that is worth repeating. Despite the talk of a child abuse epidemic, the evidence is lacking. The AIHW, Australia’s health and welfare stats agency, says that rates of child sex abuse are less than half that of the rest of Australia. Under reporting (see ‘State of Denial’) is likely a significant issue in these figures, but they are worth keeping in mind amongst the talk of ‘epidemics’.

The co-author of a Commonwealth commissioned child protection report says sex abuse figures for Indigenous children in the Northern Territory are among the lowest in Australia. Diedre Penhaligon from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare confirmed Indigenous children in suburban Victoria are more at risk than those in the Territory.


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