Devastated by reports of horrendous sexual abuse of aboriginal children, the Australian government has announced a series of measures to protect them. Calling the situation a national emergency, Prime Minister John Howard vowed to combat the situation on a war-footing and said that the commonwealth would take control of the aboriginal communities for the next five years.
Widespread bans on alcohol and X-rated pornography would be enforced and all indigenous children under the age of 16 in the territory would be medically examined, he said. The commonwealth will bear the costs of the checks and any subsequent medical treatment.
Welfare payments will be made dependent on children attending school and half the money will be quarantined to ensure "to ensure that these payments are used for the benefit of the children", Howard said. The Federal Government will also ask each state to contribute 10 police officers to be sent to the Northern Territory to be sworn in there.
"We are dealing with children of the tenderest age who have been exposed to the most terrible abuse from the time of their birth, virtually," Howard said. "Any semblance of maintaining the innocence of childhood is a myth in so many of these communities and we feel very strongly that action of this kind is needed."
He criticised the lack of action on the issue from the Northern Territory Government, saying such a shocking situation would be met with horror if it were found to be happening in major centres. Detailing the measures, the Prime Minister said: "In relation to alcohol the intention is to introduce widespread alcohol restrictions on Northern Territory Aboriginal land for six months.
He said 50 per cent of welfare payments through Centrelink to parents of children in affected areas would be quarantined to prevent all their money being spent on alcohol. "The obligation in relation to that will follow the parent wherever that parent may go so the obligation cannot be avoided simply by moving to another part of Australia. "Effectively, the arrangements will be that that 50 per cent can only be used for the purchase of food and other essentials." Mr Howard also announced the commonwealth would make welfare payments dependent on children attending school.
"We're going to enforce school attendance by linking income support and family assistance payments to school attendance for all people living on Aboriginal land," he said. "We will be ensuring that meals are provided to children at school, with parents paying for the meals."
The Federal Government would take control of Aboriginal townships through five-year leases to improve property and public housing, Howard said, adding that compensation would be forthcoming if required. The reforms would include scrapping the permit system for common areas and road corridors on Aboriginal lands, and marshalling work-for-the-dole participants to clean up Aboriginal communities. Possession of X-rated pornography would be banned and all publicly-funded computers searched for evidence of stored pornography.
The Prime Minister said he could not force the states to establish the same measures, but urged them to do so. Parliament would be recalled for a special sitting to pass necessary legislation, he said.