An Aboriginal community in Queensland has a rate of sexually transmitted infections 50 times the state average, according to a report that highlights a shocking culture of rape and underage sex. Indigenous leaders called for tougher action to tackle spiralling child abuse, violence and truancy in Aurukun, on the western side of Cape York, where a decade-long ban on alcohol and a hard-line attack on social dysfunction, including the takeover of welfare payments among offending families, have been in place. The township of 1300 is one of four Cape York communities targeted in a state-federal welfare reform trial that is costing tens of millions of dollars.
While the trial, championed by indigenous leader Noel Pearson, has led to improvements in school results, violence and truancy remain rampant across Cape York in the face of sly-grogging and a lack of economic opportunity. The Griffith Youth Forensic Service report, commissioned by the former Bligh Labor government, has not been publicly released although some of its disturbing findings have been leaked to the media. They include:
* The rate of reported sexual offences in Aurukun was six times the state average, between 2001 and 2012.
* The average age of a sexual assault victim was 14, 85 per cent were under 17 and the youngest was just 4.
* Teenage pregnancy accounted for one-third of births.
* More than 200 children under 16 years of age and 29 under 10 were being treated for STDs. In total, there were almost 3000 STD infections recorded — which is 56 times the rate of infection among the wider Queensland population.
The report also uncovered increasing violence, abuse and dysfunction in the western suburbs of Cairns, where many indigenous families have moved from the Cape York communities, the Torres Strait and Papua New Guinea and are living in pockets of social housing. Despite calls from indigenous leaders for its public release, the report is being kept secret on the recommendation of its author, professor Stephen Smallbone. The Griffith University researcher told the Newman government, which says it will eventually release the report, that a public airing of the findings could stigmatise the communities and worsen the problem.
Wik elder Bruce Martin, who is from Aurukun and sits on Tony Abbott’s Indigenous Advisory Council, said the report needed to be released. The community needs to have the information to understand the extent of the issues, needs to have open and difficult conversations,’’ Mr Martin said. He said tougher action needed to be taken, but he warned that a Northern Territory “top-down’’ intervention would not work. “Deeply troubled circumstances will need interventions, but there needs to be buy-in,” he said. “It needs to be driven from the community with the support of police, politicians and leaders.’’
Publicly released state government figures to June last year show that, while some communities have experienced cuts in crime, the larger townships of Aurukun, Lockhart River and Yarrabah still had levels of violence not seen anywhere else in Queensland. While the state-wide rate of “offences against a person’’ sits at six per 1000, in Aurukun it exceeds 117 per 1000; Lockhart River is at 67 offences and Yarrabah is at 125 offences. It is understood the report is still being considered by the Abbott government, which has also given Dr Smallbone $2m in funding to develop strategies to tackle the problems.
The Newman government has defended its refusal to release Dr Smallbone’s report, which it received early last year, saying that it had appointed deputy police commissioner Peter Barron to head a “multi-departmental’’ approach to tackle the problems. The government has opened the door for a relaxation of the alcohol restrictions introduced gradually across Queensland’s 19 indigenous communities from 2002 after a landmark inquiry into the violence headed by Tony Fitzgerald. Indigenous councils were asked to submit alternative alcohol management plans for cabinet approval. It is understood the only community that intends to keep its current plan is Aurukun, which was the first to become dry in 2002.
Police Minister Jack Dempsey said the government was “making significant improvements’’ with its strategy since receiving the secret report early last year. New police squads are targeting the problem areas of Cairns, and teachers are being called upon to be more vigilant in their monitoring of behaviour by children that may signal abuse. “We are working with the communities and the various agencies to get change,’’ Mr Dempsey said. “We won’t release the findings yet, we need to do more work, there is no quick fix.’’
ANGLICAN SYNOD CALLS ON GOVERNMENTS TO PROTECT RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
The 2014 Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia has overwhelmingly backed a call for state and territory leaders to protect religious freedom at home and abroad, in the face of the ‘gagging’ of Christian organisations. The motion, moved by the Bishop of South Sydney Robert Forsyth, affirmed ‘the importance of freedom of religion and its manifestation in the related freedoms of speech, association and conscience for a healthy and mature society’. Bishop Forsyth argued, and the Synod agreed, that freedoms are at risk of being undermined in Australian society “due to a focus on other, sometimes competing, rights.”
Bishop Forsyth defended religious exemptions from anti-discrimination law, saying they did not exist to exclude people but to enable religious communities “to exist and operate in accordance with their unique cultures and beliefs”. Bishop Forsyth said religious organisations needed to be allowed to hire staff in keeping with their ethos and character, to give preference in some services to those for whom the service was established, and to uphold moral standards within faith communities. “I would like us to move from this culture where we are supplicants seeking exemptions to where our governments, state and federal, saw religious freedom as a positive good.” Bishop Forsyth said.
In seconding the motion, Dr Karin Sowada, a former Senator for New South Wales, said the motion was not just about rights in Australia. “The recent imprisonment and death sentence meted out to Meriam Ibrahim in the Sudan for apostasy, crystallised the fears of many Christians for the state of religious freedom and conscience around the world.” She cited research which showed 29 percent of countries had high restrictions on religion. Dean of Bendigo The Very Reverend John Roundhill spoke of the persecution of people from other religions, saying the motion “will be appreciated by many, well beyond our usual constituency.”
Ian Carter, CEO of Anglicare WA spoke of the ‘gagging’ of faith based organisations which deliver government-funded services, such as working among Aboriginal and Torres strait islander people. “Anglicare delivers services to one in 40 Australians. We have a proud history of work in virtually every community around this country. We should not be held back from being able to advocate for the people for which we work. This is a really fundamental issue.” Mr Carter said. The Synod called on the federal government to “continue its advocacy of such freedoms internationally through diplomatic channels and other appropriate instruments of global engagement.”
Source: Press Release from the Anglican Church in Australia
GOVERNMENTS AND CHURCHES URGED TO SHOW MORE COMPASSION TO ASYLUM SEEKERS
The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia has urged the government and opposition to revise immigration policy, particularly offshore detention. A motion moved by the Synod recognises ‘the moral complexities of the task’ but says asylum seekers should not be called ‘illegal’, should not be detained for more than three months, and women and children should not be placed in detention facilities. “The Synod urges Government to work with regional neighbours and the UNHCR to develop a compassionate and workable regional response to refugees and asylum seekers, and to develop immigration policies that are more just and compassionate.”
It is important that our policies can be remembered with pride by future generations of Australians, while appropriately protecting the current generation of Australians,” the motion said. The Rev Peter Lin, whose parish of Fairfield, includes the largest number of asylum seekers in Sydney, spoke passionately about both government and churches welcoming refugees. “We come into contact with many of these frightened, traumatised yet relieved people,” Mr Lin said. “Whatever we think about how they arrived, they are among us, hurting, vulnerable and powerless in many ways. and as someone at the coalface ministering to them, we not only need to care for them but it is important to speak into this sphere as Gods people.
“Our concern and compassion comes from God himself. We are not simply a group of people but a body of God’s people where everything we do is because of God, it is through God and it is for his glory. It is his compassion that compels and drives our compassion for others,” Mr Lin said. “They are amongst us, either in some form of detention or on release, they are in our communities where they still need a lot of care because our experience is that their trauma, confusion, sadness, and pain remain,” he said. As well as urging compassion by governments, Mr Lin wants churches “to engage further in practical love and care but also in sharing the message of Christ’s love.”
Source: Press Release from the Anglican Church of Australia