Chapter 3 - Committee View
At the outset, the committee expresses its deep concerns in relation to the
abuse and neglect of Indigenous children described by the Little Children
are Sacred report as well as many previous government and media reports.
The committee is of the view that immediate and absolute priority must be given
to addressing the issues that affect the welfare of Indigenous children in the Northern
Territory. Indeed, the protection of these children from violence and abuse,
and the establishment of conditions that will allow them to lead healthy and
productive lives, in which they achieve their full potential, is of the utmost
importance. More broadly, there is clearly a need for immediate action to
address the disadvantage all Indigenous people confront.
The committee welcomes the policy changes contained in this suite of
bills as a genuine and enduring commitment from the Australian Government to
tackle critical issues in Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.
These issues include high unemployment, alcohol and drug dependency, poor
health and education outcomes, inadequate housing and child abuse. In saying
this, the committee acknowledges that many of the issues that the bills seek to
address are complex and entrenched; however, this is no excuse for failure or
The committee commends the holistic approach taken by the Australian
Government in its policy formulation in this challenging area. The legislation
contains 'on the ground' practical solutions which the committee believes will
go a long way to addressing some of the inherent problems in Indigenous
communities. In this context, the committee notes the close cooperation that
has taken place throughout the policy formulation process between all relevant
The committee is concerned about the conflicting evidence it received on
the issue of the compulsory acquisition provisions in the bills and whether
they consistently provide for just terms compensation. The committee queries
why some provisions in the bills have directly transferred the terminology used
in section 51(xxxi) of the Constitution, while others have used the phrase 'a
reasonable amount of compensation'. The committee believes the government
should provide further clarification in relation to this complex issue when the
Senate resumes its consideration of the bills.
The committee is also concerned about evidence it received regarding the
difficulty individuals may face in calculating the amount of alcoholic
beverages which would equate to 1350 millilitres of pure alcohol. In
particular, the committee considers that there is a danger individuals may be
liable to criminal penalties because they do not understand what the law
requires. The committee recommends that the government develop explanatory
material to assist people to understand this aspect of the offences created
under the National Emergency Response Bill as a matter of high priority.
In a similar vein, the committee believes that there should be further
clarification of what is meant by 'unsatisfactory school attendance' in
relation to the income management provisions of the Welfare Payment Reform Bill
so that welfare recipients have a clear understanding of the requirements the
bill imposes upon them.
The committee received some evidence that suggested there was a need to
expand alcohol and drug rehabilitation services in some Northern Territory
centres. The committee considers that the government should closely examine the
need for these services to ensure that the measures in the intervention package
are consolidated through direct support to individuals who are overcoming drug
and alcohol addictions.
The committee believes that it will be important to carefully monitor
the measures in the National Emergency Response and Other Measures Bill dealing
with the possession and supply of X18+ films to assess their effectiveness in
preventing the use of these films in the sexual abuse or sexualisation of
children and young people in the prescribed areas. Given the ready access to
X18+ films under the Northern Territory’s Classification of Publications,
Films and Computer Games Act, which will continue to apply outside the
prescribed areas, these measures may not be sufficient to achieve the
Consideration may need to be given to extending the prohibition on the
possession and sale of X18+ films throughout the Northern Territory,
or to cutting off the supply of such films at their source through an amendment
to the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956, a prohibition on the
carriage of X18+ films by a carrier service or even a prohibition on the
production and sale of X18+ films in the Australian Capital Territory.
The committee welcomes the recently announced government initiatives in
relation to internet content filtering. The committee considers that these
initiatives may help to address the issue raised by Laynhapuy Homelands
Association Inc about the cost of installing filter software.
As the Minister has publicly acknowledged,
the bills provide him with exceptionally broad powers. While the committee has
some reservations about the breadth of those powers, it accepts that they are
necessary in light of the urgency of the circumstances to be addressed. Moreover,
the committee notes that several significant parts of the National Emergency
Response Bill and the National Emergency Response and Other Measures Bill are
subject to sunset provisions (that is, they will cease to have effect at the
end of a period of five years after commencement).
The committee acknowledges that the bills represent a significant departure
from existing policies. Clearly, implementation of this legislation in the Northern
Territory will provide lessons for Indigenous communities in other areas. As
a result, the committee believes that it is essential that the impact of the
legislation is closely monitored, and subject to regular review and reporting.
The committee is of the view that annual reporting should occur through the
existing Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage reporting framework which provides
for cross-portfolio annual reports that are publicly available.
In the committee's view, the outcomes of the intervention package should be
measured against publicly stated key performance indicators and reported on in
a dedicated section of the Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report.
The committee welcomes evidence from the Northern Territory Emergency
Taskforce that a strategic communications plan is being developed in relation
to the intervention.
The committee is confident that the taskforce will also be developing an initial
operational plan as well as preparing longer term plans. These documents should
all be made publicly available and information regarding revisions to these
plans should be provided in the Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report. The
committee considers that the strategic communications plan and initial
operational plan should be published within six months while the longer term
planning documents should be made available within 12 months.
In making these recommendations, the committee's intent is that there
should be transparency in relation to the specific objectives of the
intervention package, how it is planned to deliver those objectives and how the
government will measure the success of these initiatives.
In addition, the committee recommends that a review of the legislation
should be conducted two years after its commencement, particularly to ascertain
the impact of the measures on the welfare of Indigenous children in the Northern
Territory. The committee does not consider that there needs to be a
legislative requirement for such a review but does recommend that a report on
the review be tabled in Parliament.
Finally, the committee encourages the Australian Government to work
closely with the Northern Territory Government and to engage in dialogue with
Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory to ensure that this initial
emergency response leads to long-term outcomes. The committee recommends, as
suggested by HREOC, that this dialogue should commence with a public
information campaign designed to allay the fears of Indigenous communities in
the Northern Territory and ensure Indigenous people are fully informed about
how this legislative package will impact on them.
The committee recommends that the operation of the measures implemented
by the bills be continuously monitored and publicly reported on annually
through the Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage reporting framework.
The committee recommends that the Northern Territory Emergency Taskforce
make publicly available its strategic communications plan as well as other
operational plans, within six months, and the long term plans being developed
in relation to the intervention, within 12 months; and that information
regarding significant revisions to these plans should be provided in the Overcoming
Indigenous Disadvantage report.
The committee recommends that the operation of the measures implemented
by the bills be the subject of a review two years after their commencement,
particularly to ascertain the impact of the measures on the welfare of
Indigenous children in the Northern Territory. A report on this review should
be tabled in Parliament.
The committee recommends that a culturally appropriate public
information campaign be conducted, as soon as possible, to allay any fears
Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory may hold, and to ensure that
Indigenous people understand how the measures in the bills will impact on them
and what their new responsibilities are.
The committee recommends that the Australian government develop, as a
matter of high priority, explanatory material to assist people to understand
what is meant in practical terms by the phrases 'a quantity of alcohol greater
than 1350 millilitres' and 'unsatisfactory school attendance'.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government should closely
examine the need for additional drug and alcohol rehabilitation services in the
Northern Territory and, if necessary, provide additional funding support to
The committee recommends that the Senate pass the bills.
Senator Guy Barnett
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