• Thousands of protesters rally in Melbourne on May 1, 2015 to call on the government to abandon plans for the closure of up to 150 remote communities. (AAP)Source: AAP
Opinion: Paternalistic welfare policies are not the answer writes Dr. Hannah McGlade Senior Indigenous Research Fellow at Curtin University.
Dr Hannah McGlade

11 Aug 2017 - 11:16 AM  UPDATED 11 Aug 2017 - 11:16 AM

Every year across the world August 9 is celebrated as the International Day of the Worlds Indigenous People. This day acknowledges the struggles Indigenous people have faced worldwide to have their human rights respected. It recognises that Aboriginal people have long had their human rights abused and violated, including the most fundamental right to self determine our own futures and make decisions ourselves about what is in our best interests.

In West Australia, the Minderoo Foundation mining magnate Twiggy Forrest and the Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan marked this important day by releasing a video highlighting Aboriginal violence and child sexual assault. The video’s stated purpose is to increase the use of income management and cashless debit cards in the mining rich region of the Pilbara.

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They say Aboriginal children’s human rights are suffering and ‘We should listen to the children’. Absolutely, I agree, there is no doubt that children have incredible insight and they want the drinking and fighting and abuse to stop. So do many Aboriginal leaders, women and elders.

What exactly is the cashless debit card that Minderoo and the Police Commissioner claim to be the answer to children’s human rights? The cashless debit card is a form of income management applied in predominantly Aboriginal towns and communities to restrict spending on alcohol, drugs and gambling and increase spending on food and necessities to promote the safety and wellbeing of families and children.

Some Aboriginal leaders support the cards being trialed in Kununurra and Ceduna and others feel this is a reversal to the days past where Aboriginal people were discriminated against, shamed and disempowered. The cards are managed by Indue, a private non-Aboriginal company awarded near $10 million to date for their joint venture with the Commonwealth.

Aboriginal child sexual abuse is a most serious abuse of children’s human rights and one that continues to demand utmost attention from state government, Aboriginal leaders and communities, and philanthropy. Unfortunately it does not receive this level of attention. Having worked over the past 30 years to improve women and children’s safety and human rights, I have routinely witnessed a lack of awareness and commitment to women and children’s human rights. As an Aboriginal woman, human rights advocate and survivor of child sexual assault I know that there is much we could do to end sexual abuse of children. Most importantly, our responses should be framed within human rights, especially the right of children to be cared for and protected by their family and community.

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I am concerned by reports from Save the Children that the cashless debit cards are vulnerable to fraud as people are trading on their cards for cash in turn leaving household poorer. Children are the victims of this practice as there is less household income for food and necessities, and most worryingly it is reported that there is increased vulnerability to sexual abuse as a result. Imagine a child so hungry and deprived their bodies can be exploited by criminals. This is the ugly face of Aboriginal child poverty and child sexual abuse we prefer not to see.

In Roebourne, leader Michael Woodley who took on Andrew Forrest’s attempt to negotiate a less than acceptable financial agreement in relation to mining on his peoples’ traditional lands, asks why should the entire Aboriginal community of Roebourne be punished and have their income managed because of the actions of the perpetrators of child abuse? The community came forward and assisted with the police investigations and supported the prosecutions currently underway. I agree. No Aboriginal women were charged with abusing children so why should these measures apply to any women and the community as a whole?

I have no problem restricting the income of child sex offenders shown misusing income to abuse children, but any restrictions must be carefully considered and not imposed carte blanche by non-Aboriginal governments and policy makers on entire Aboriginal communities.

Child sexual abuse was formed from and within our history, including our quite recent history of colonisation that entailed the widespread removal of Aboriginal children and sexual abuse of Aboriginal children by non-Aboriginal men. This has led to high levels of intergenerational trauma, psychological distress and offending and abuse against children today. Inequality and power differential is a key cause of child sexual abuse, and so we should address structural and systemic inequalities that exist between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, Aboriginal men and women, children and adults. Aboriginal child poverty requires serious considered responses, not the blind eye. Homelessness gives opportunity to offend but public housing is in limited supply and overcrowding too common. We need to talk about child sexual abuse and family violence and prevention is always better than cure. It’s time we got real about ending child sexual abuse and by that I mean commit to develop responses in a way that respects, not undermines, Aboriginal families and children’s human rights.

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If Minderoo and the Police Commissioner are truly concerned about Aboriginal children’s well being as they claim to be, they need to look closely at the findings of the Gordon Inquiry in Aboriginal family violence and child abuse made well over a decade ago. The Inquiry did not support ‘top down’ approaches imposed by governments on Aboriginal people. The police and Aboriginal people should collaborate and set up local action groups to stop offending against children. Recognition of Aboriginal children’s human rights should also be increased through the establishment of a Commissioner for Aboriginal children. To this day, these recommendations, which support Aboriginal self-determination, have not been implemented by the state.

The CDC campaign launched on International Day of the Worlds Indigenous Peoples arguably erodes Aboriginal human rights. Applying income management on entire communities and towns is no answer to child sexual abuse. Aboriginal child sexual assault deserves much more than a paternalistic ‘add water and mix’ solution imposed by powerful non-Aboriginal men over relatively powerless Aboriginal women and children. It cannot and does not address the wider social economic problems, including those underlying and causing sexual abuse, facing Aboriginal communities and children today.