• Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy during Question Time in the Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra. (AAP)
Media reports linking STI rates to the abuse of children without evidence have come under fire from Indigenous community leaders and organisations.
By
Robert Burton-Bradley, Elliana Lawford

13 Mar 2018 - 1:28 PM  UPDATED 14 Mar 2018 - 11:42 AM

Indigenous organisations have called out comments by politicians and media who have linked STI rates among Indigenous children to abuse without substantial evidence.

Today the federal Children's Minister David Gillespie was quoted in News Corporation paper the Courier Mail saying he was shocked by the rates of sexually transmitted diseases amongst Indigenous children and appeared to link the rates to abuse.

Mr Gillespie acknowledged there may be concerns about creating another Stolen Generation, but says he's more worried about creating an "abandoned and damaged generation".

"I don't want them recycled back into harm. I've had my eyes opened in the last couple of weeks ... looking at STD rates (among Aboriginal children) is just mind-blowing," he was quoted as saying.

"If a child is being raped we can't just say it's OK on cultural grounds."

Federal Labor Senator for the Northern Territory and Yanyuwa woman Malarndirri Mccarthy told NITV News said politicians needed to be careful in the language they used.

"I think in terms of where this debate is going, I would remind political leaders that the language they use is important, absolutely critical here in making sure that other families, particularly here in the Northern Territory don’t feel vilified by particular comments which are just not helpful," she said.

"The care and protection of Aboriginal children is everyone’s business — to isolate it to race is absolutely wrong and sets a very dangerous precedent for where our country is going if these debates are purely focused on the colour of your skin."

 

The Courier Mail article this morning claimed Mr Gillespie was in favour of ‘white families’ being allowed to adopt Aboriginal child abuse victims, something they can already do in certain circumstances.

However, Mr Gillespie later told SBS News he was taken out of context and that he wanted more adoptions for Indigenous and non-Indigenous children.

“I’ve never looked at life through the prism of race or culture,” he said.

Western Australian Labor senator Pat Dodson said the comments needed to be retracted.

"Minister Gillespie’s comments today were reprehensible and just plain wrong," he told NTV News.

"They demonstrate the Federal Children’s Minster’s ethnocentric views and shallow understanding of this complex issue. His comments have sparked hurtful and bigoted commentary on the protection of First Nations children.

I understand that the Minister has told SBS that his comments were taken out of context, but I would urge the Minister to retract the comments."

This morning in a statement, the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples said the claims by the minister and certain sections of the media, saying that STI rates were a result of abuse were wrong and had echoes of the NT Intervention.

"The debates in response to news coming out of Tennant Creek and about high STI rates in underage children have splintered. A narrow debate has centred primarily on whether or not to ‘remove children who have suffered’," the statement said.

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"Child abuse in any form, such as we have seen in Tennant Creek, requires that perpetrators must be brought to account in accordance with the law. Plus, it is important to help bring about appropriate responses, but those responses need to come in close consultation with Aboriginal people and organisations. Depicting our leaders as silent or ‘uninterested’ about what is happening in Aboriginal communities is not only counterproductive, but malicious."

"It is highly offensive and ignorant to link any form of child abuse with being acceptable in Aboriginal culture." - National Congress

Ms McCarthy said there were many reasons for STI infections and for reporters to assume they were because of abuse was naive and dangerous.

"That kind of reporting is very irresponsible if you are not speaking to the frontline health workers, to the Aboriginal community organisations, health organisations, which will be to explain in many circumstances the reason behind many particular rates of STIs," she said.

National Congress said Indigenous communities and organisations were well aware of the issues in remote communities and had been working to resolve them, but pointed out that since the intervention that job had been made much harder.

"These peak organisations are aware of what is happening on the ground within Aboriginal communities in urban, regional and remote communities. Leaders from these organisations can never be said to be silent on child abuse, poor health and family breakdown. They are tireless advocates."

"Aboriginal control of our own communities and the services in those communities have been greatly diminished. Appalling housing, health, education and employment statistics tell us that many Aboriginal people are experiencing great stress and hardship. They are struggling to take control of their lives."

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Additional reporting AAP