2 July 2007


The measures recently announced by the Federal Government to address the issues of child abuse within Australian indigenous communities in response to the "Little Children are Sacred" report have been cautiously welcomed by the Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council Bishop Christopher Saunders.

Whilst welcoming immediate and decisive if somewhat belated action, to protect vulnerable children, Bishop Saunders stressed the need for a response that went beyond a "law and order" approach. He particularly urged the involvement the Indigenous communities themselves, as well as local governments, church and community groups and community leaders who have important on-the-ground knowledge and long-standing relationships with the communities, in finding a long-term solution to the problem.

Catholic Religious Australia the peak body for all Religious in Australia, and representing many of those with first hand experience of working with indigenous communities, has also issued a statement expressing its concern at the action ofthe Government.

Concerns and a degree of cynicism at the government initiative have also been expressed by advocacy groups including the Edmund Rice Centre and the Australian Council of Social Services.

The failure of the government to respond to repeated calls for action on this and similar issues affecting indigenous people over many years, the failure to consult or work with local communities in seeking to address problems and the proposed measures which include resuming control of Aboriginal land, give rise to the suspicion that the government is more interested in furthering its own interests in an election year than in genuinely seeking long-term solutions to the problem of disadvantage within indigenous communities.

Having just listened to Tom Calma, the Aboriginal Social Justice Commissioner, and Fred Chaney from Reconciliation Australia speaking at the National Press Club, I notice neither played the blame card. What John Howard has instigated is a sign of hope. We all need to ask what next and how. As Fred Chaney pointed out, the way forward is clear, it is hard, it will take money and a long term commitment plus co-operation, community involvement, good governance and ongoing government support. We all need to ask what next and how.
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