Fears for Indigenous parents' freedom


2007 June, 22

Cape York Indigenous leader Noel Pearson says he is concerned responsible Aboriginal parents will be caught up in the Federal Government's crackdown on Indigenous child abuse.

Mr Pearson's arguments on mutual responsibility and welfare dependency have strongly influenced the Federal Government's intervention in the Northern Territory, which was announced yesterday.

The Government is launching a five-year takeover of 60 Indigenous communities, introducing new alcohol and pornography bans, and quarantining half of the welfare payments to parents to ensure money is spent on food and other necessities.

The Commonwealth will boost policing and introduce compulsory medical checks for Indigenous NT children under 16.

Mr Pearson says he agrees with the focus on alcohol and policing, but he is worried about the effect of welfare changes on parents who are already doing the right thing. 

"We would be concerned that those people who are acting responsibly in relation to the payments they receive should continue to exercise their freedoms and their decisions," he said.

"We should only target cases of responsibility failure." 

ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope has denounced the Federal Government's plan as racist and heavy handed. 

But Mr Pearson has rejected the ACT leader's interpretation of the Commonwealth's intervention.

"I don't know what planet Jon Stanhope lives on and I don't know that he knows the circumstances of any Indigenous community we're talking about," he said. 

"Every child that is being subjected to neglect and abuse is calling out for us to take decisive action, not when John Stanhope can deliver nirvana in our times, rather they require relief now." 

Prime Minister John Howard has meanwhile told Channel Seven he has decided leaving it to local leaders to resolve the problems will not work. 

"We have to reverse 20 or 30 years of allowing these things to be resolved at a local level and we have to accept that the local apparatus has broken down," he said. 

"Unless we intervene to require these things, then they're not going to happen and the atmosphere that has allowed the abuse to occur will continue."

Fears for Indigenous parents' freedom