- Warren Mundine, Chairman of the Government's Indigenous Advisory Council launched on Monday an attack on Australia's political leaders, saying they aren't doing enough to solve the shocking rates of violence against women and sexual abuse of children in Indigenous communities.
- Federal Labor MP Linda Burney has slammed the criticism, saying government funding cuts for programs to tackle domestic violence happened on Mundine’s watch.
Shocking footage of boys being teargassed, hooded and shackled at Darwin's Don Dale Youth Detention Centre was aired on national television in August, triggering a Royal Commission into the Northern Territory's youth detention system.
But in contrast, nobody in political power at a state, territory or federal level is doing anything about domestic violence, Indigenous leader Warren Mundine told ABC Radio on Tuesday.
Mr Mundine says Indigenous women dying at the hands of their partners every week in the NT have been let down, while their children are being sexually abused at a shocking rate.
"Police have responded to 75,000 domestic violence cases in the past three years; every day one child is subjected to domestic violence while three witness it," he wrote in an opinion piece published in The Australian.
Mr Mundine said the scourge is the same across the country. "Aboriginal mothers in Western Australia are 17-and-a-half times more likely to be murdered. Indigenous women are 34 times more likely to be admitted to hospital from domestic violence."
"There's a record number of Indigenous people in the Parliament, they've been ranting and raving now for ages in regard to incarceration rates, which I support," he said. "But where is their ranting and raving in regard to the deaths of Indigenous women?,” he added.
In response, Ms Burney, the first Indigenous woman elected to the House of Representatives and a victim of domestic violence herself, said domestic violence rates in Indigenous communities are a “national disgrace”, but government funding cuts have halted many programs trying to address the issue.
Ms Burney says Mr Mundine has endorsed major funding cuts for initiatives aimed at addressing the issue, as the Prime Minister's Chief Indigenous Advisor.
“It’s just a bit rich for him to be outraged when in fact these things have happened on his watch,” she told the National Indigenous Times.
In the same interview, Ms Burney said Federal and State governments need to re-invest the money that has been cut out of Aboriginal programs and domestic violence services in the last two years.
Ms Burney stressed that Mr Mundine chairs a council that “has overseen the budget for Aboriginal Affairs services cut by a half a billion dollars”.
“It has overseen the introduction of the Indigenous Advancement strategy which has seen the defunding of all the Brighter Futures programs for Aboriginal children across the country, the defunding of many Aboriginal community services that are there to address social justice issues, the defunding of Aboriginal pre-schools, the defunding of legal services that assist Aboriginal people in these situations with legal advice,” Ms Burney says.
Northern Territory Labor Senator McCarthy has echoed Ms Burney’s views, saying Mr Mundine is in a position to change outcomes. She has called on Mr Mundine to use his influence to pressure the Prime Minister to address domestic violence in Indigenous communities.
"We need to remember that Warren Mundine is in a really privileged position as the President of the (Prime Minister's) Advisory Council. He has the phone call to the prime minister and he has access to the prime minister more than any other Australian in this country," McCarthy told the ABC.
"Aboriginal mothers in Western Australia are 17-and-a-half times more likely to be murdered. Indigenous women are 34 times more likely to be admitted to hospital from domestic violence."
Labor Senator for Western Australia Pat Dodson told NITV: “It’s good that Warren has got a bit excited at what’s been a persistent concern for many of us for a long period of time… This is a serious issue. I’ve made some comments about this in the past about the need for us to take responsibility for our own affairs but also to understand that this is complex and it’s not a simple matter.”
Mr Dodson believes there have been consistent failures in policy that have worsened the situation.
“It’s a question of getting the policies right, involving the Aboriginal communities in determining the strategies, and ensuring that the government provides resources in order to help people deal with the challenges that they are faced with”, he says.
Mr Dodson added that men also need support.
“I think there’s a lot of assistance that has to be given to men to fulfill their roles more effectively than they have been in many cases. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t many good men out there trying to lead, trying to carry the burdens and responsibilities, but we are in the midst of a whole social upheaval across the board, not just in Indigenous communities.
“We know that there is (domestic) violence in the mainstream society. This doesn’t justify any of it. We do live in an environment that is alcohol and drug ridden across the board, not just in the Indigenous community. We cannot expect Indigenous people to be exemplary in a society where many of these matters are going unaddressed in any way,” he says.
The debate comes as the Northern Territory government announces it will establish a specialist domestic violence court. NT Families Minister Dale Wakefield said the government will trial a special court in Alice Springs and push Canberra for a volumetric tax on alcohol.