NORTHERN TERRITORY PROTECTION AGENCIES SWAMPED BY TSUNAMI OF SEX ABUSE
Child protection authorities are overwhelmed by the scale of neglect and under reporting of sexual activity involving children in the Northern Territory, which has seen rates of sexually transmitted infections soar over the past decade. Territory Families took just five sex abuse victims into temporary protective custody between 2012 and 2016 despite substantiating 232 abuse cases, according to data compiled by a royal commission. Then minister, John Elferink, said that he felt “largely powerless” in the face of a “tsunami” of under-reported and under-recognised child welfare problems that no government then or now had the capacity or willingness to resolve.
“What’s the solution? We keep sticking Band-Aids on the amputation, hoping that it will stop the bleeding over time. But it’s simply not good enough,” he said. “Unless a child’s situation is truly bad or they are particularly young, there’s minimal chance that the child will see any form of government protection come their way. “We would almost have had to have declared a state of emergency to deal with all the issues. There’s no way, in the current environment, that you could create a state of emergency, which would be almost like declaring martial law, and so you’re stuck with all these compromise approaches.”
The Howard government’s 2007 NT Emergency Response had failed, he said. Between 2006 and 2016, the numbers of notified cases of childhood STIs rose by as much as 180% for some diseases. Underage Aboriginal girls are now almost 60 times more likely to contract syphilis than their non-Aboriginal counterparts and 30 times more likely to contract gonorrhoea, according to official figures. Former NT Children’s Commissioner Howard Bath said STI rates were considered a better indicator of background levels of abuse than reporting because so many of those cases don’t get reported to anyone, whereas kids with serious infections do tend to go to a doctor,” Dr Bath said.
The Royal Commission showed that while the number of warnings about sex-related harm and exploitation of children received by authorities in 2015-16 was more than 70% higher than 8 years earlier, the number of substantiated cases was down by one-third. In the intervening years, recorded instances of child sexual abuse dwindled to a handful, partly due to errors that saw Territory Families wrongly classify sex abuse as neglect. Commissioner Mick Gooda said the evidence had been included in its final report because the issues were so severe. “That’s why we said that it needs further investigation,” Mr Gooda said. “We were concerned.”
Aboriginal men, who often complain about being demonised, made up about 65% of all those charged with child sexual offences over the past 10 years. Aboriginal people comprise about one-third of the Territory’s population. Dr Bath said the data was very worrying. “Neglect creates the conditions for sexual abuse to occur,” he said. “It’s not that there are any more nasty predators in remote communities; it’s that there’s often easier access and less supervision.” The commission’s final report quoted a senior manager saying: “It is very, very infrequent that we remove children from their families. I think we’ve done it on two occasions.” Mr Elferink said that was correct.
Mr Elferink also claimed the NT Department of Health, which he previously ministered, did not treat STIs in kids older than 14 years as child protection matters. “Children over the age of 14 years were basically abandoned,” he said. “The problems are so entrenched that neither the Territory nor the federal governments have the capacity to deal with them.” Those included giving contraceptives to underage girls. The commission said it was “unclear” how many sex abuse victims remained in environments where the abuse had occurred. Dr Bath said the safety of such kids was hard to guarantee.
Dr Bath went on “I have never had confidence that the child protection system can do the job that needs to be done. The reality is that these kids aren’t safe,” he said, adding that a shortage of out-of-home care in the NT meant removing kids was no “magic bullet”. “There needs to be better protection of kids,” Dr Bath said. “Part of that protection is removing kids and part of it is better family support.” The revelations follow concerns about why Territory Families failed to protect a toddler who was raped in Tennant Creek recently. Mr Gooda said child safety should be the priority and where risks could not be “removed from the child, the child must be removed from the risk”.
Jenni Collard, an Aboriginal woman from WA who headed the Territory’s child protection agency in 2013, said the agency had struggled to find quality staff in outback areas and that those operating in small communities could be reticent about making tough decisions. “In these small offices they all socialise together and can stop seeing what’s right and wrong,” Ms Collard said. Over the past decade, 40-60% of sexual assault cases ended in charges being withdrawn and only about half of those convicted received terms of imprisonment not partially or fully suspended.
In spite of the strong ideological bent to Safe Schools, thousands of Victorian parents are protesting against the program. They are demanding the right to pull their children from these classes, and threatening to support the Victorian opposition unless it is effectively removed. Recently a 16,675 signature petition was delivered to the Victorian Premier’s office by Maria Hill, a mother from Melbourne, and Australian Christian Lobby Victorian director Dan Flynn: “Unless the Andrews Government shows a quick willingness to respond to these parental concerns, voters will look to support other parties that promise to scrap it at this year’s state election,” Mr Flynn said.
“Parents are outraged that the Victorian Government continues to teach that children’s gender is fluid under the cover of a so-called anti-bullying program. The concern is heightened now the government has made it clear that ‘Safe Schools’ will be compulsory for all high school students this year.” The Victorian government is continuing to endorse its ideological gender programs. Addressing the press, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews took a defensive stance. However, while Andrews is taking no positive action on the issue, the Victorian opposition is leveraging the favourable conditions, reaffirming their position on education should they win the November state election.
The Victorian opposition says schoolchildren will focus more on reading, writing and maths instead of learning “a politically correct gender and sexuality agenda” if it wins power. The opposition education spokesman, Tim Smith, said the current curriculum was “over-cluttered” while literacy and numeracy standards were dropping. He also said young people were leaving school without an adequate understanding of how democracy worked. The opposition wants to scrap the Safe Schools program. It is obvious the Victorian Government have underestimated both Victorian parents and the Victorian opposition. If they continue to ignore outraged parents, they do so to their own detriment.
Israel Folau, one of the world’s best rugby players, has once again found himself in the middle of a social media storm over comments about homosexuality. The Australian full-back, who holds a traditional Christian understanding of the issue, replied to a question on Instagram which asked what God’s plan was for homosexual people. He replied: “HELL…Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God.” Despite deleting the post, an image of his comment has been shared online thousands of times. A spokesman for his employer, Rugby Australia, said that Folau’s comments “did not reflect the views” of the organisation.
Folau also received backlash when he publically stated that he wouldn’t support the legalisation of gay marriage in Australia’s referendum on the issue last year. At the time, he said: “I love and respect all people for who they are and their opinions. but personally, I will not support gay marriage.” Rugby Australia has taken no immediate action against Israel Folau over his social media posts during a crisis meeting they have held with the star player after several sponsors, including Qantas, threatened to withdraw their financial support of Rugby Australia.
Self-confessed homosexual and former human rights commissioner and federal Liberal MP Tim Wilson, saidhe believes companies and individuals lashing out at Folau should “take a chill pill”. “Respecting diversity includes diversity of opinion, including on questions of morality,” Wilson says. Wilson, one of the Liberal Party’s most vocal advocates in favour of same-sex marriage during the recent national debate, has also taken aim at the hand-wringing in the sponsorship arena over Folau’s comments. “It is ridiculous for sponsors to walk away from Rugby Australia because of Folau’s opinions,” he says.