Tonight Insight will bring together indigenous Australians from across the country to talk about their children.


For years now, report after report has pointed to widespread sexual abuse of indigenous children across Australia. The Federal Government described it as a national emergency and responded with a bold intervention into the Northern Territory, which includes police, army, medical teams and other volunteers.

JENNY BROCKIE: Insight will talk about all that in a moment but first, Sashka Koloff with this disturbing story from another part of the Australia, south-east Queensland.


REPORTER: Sashka Koloff

In Cherbourg everyone knows each other, it's a tight-knit community of around 2,000 Aboriginal people. Family ties are strong, but Cherbourg has a dark side. There's been a high incidence of child sexual abuse here.

JULIE: I started thinking if anyone handed me a gun, I would have blew them away straight away, you know, the perpetrators.

Julie was born in Cherbourg and still lives nearby. She says, she was sexually abused for the first time when she was six years old.

REPORTER: That man was known to you.


REPORTER: What was his standing in the community?

JULIE: An elder. My grandfather was the one who got it out of me, yeah. He knew and that's when he kept me away from there.

But for Julie, the sexual abuse continued. She says that between the ages of 6 and 20 she was sexually abused by seven different Aboriginal men. It took a heavy emotional toll.

JULIE: I have learnt to let go of the anger and hatred but I'll never trust people I don't really know again. Especially with my children.

Her mistrust is understandable. When her son was seven, Julie says he was sexually abused by her cousin's girlfriend who they were living with at the time. Her son's revelation came as a shock.

JULIE: Because we shared like child abuse stories and stuff, she'd been sexually abused, and she told me, and I was telling her about myself. And then next thing you know, she was doing it to my son.

Julie reported the alleged abuse to the police, but there wasn't enough physical evidence to lay charges, Julie was one of the first people in Cherbourg to come forward. For many others it's been too difficult.

GRACE STANLEY, CRITICAL INCIDENT GROUP: If any child was molested it was never ever reported, you know, whether the mothers, and mothers were frightened to, you know, say anything about it, you know, to report it to the police, or to anyone else in the community.

But when two cases of child sexual abuse in Cherbourg did come to public attention, a group of local women set up the Critical Incidence Group to encourage families to speak out. Grace Stanley is the group’s chairwoman.

GRACE STANLEY: The likes of us, we stood up, you know we got flak from people in our community, from our own people. But we didn't care, we kept going on, doing what we were doing, you know, and helping. Helping the families, you know, of the children.

Lillian Gray from the group knows first-hand the impact child sexual abuse has had on her community.

REPORTER: Child sexual abuse, would that affect many families that you know?

LILLIAN GRAY, CRITICAL INCIDENT GROUP: Yes, that I know of, yes. There was probably a dozen families that I know in this community that – that has been affected by some form of sexual abuse.

REPORTER: Have you?

LILLIAN GRAY: Yes, I have. I used to be ashamed to say that I was sexually abused, but I am not anymore. It still hurts a bit because I – it still hurts, but I got there – I get there every day by helping somebody else.

JENNY BROCKIE: Well, welcome everybody, thanks very much for joining us. Lillian, brave of you to tell that story, thanks so much for coming along tonight. Why aren't those cases reported as often as they should be, do you think?

LILLIAN GRAY: Well, I don't think there was anybody around like us, like the Critical Incident Group, and I think families in the community, swept it under the carpet, you know, and people in authority swept it under the carpet.

JENNY BROCKIE: Are cases reported more often now because of your group, do you think.


JENNY BROCKIE: What has made the difference, why has that group made a difference.

LILLIAN GRAY: I think the whole thing was and I never heard of this before, was a 3-year-old child had contracted syphilis because of being sexually abused. Someone was arrested over it, but he was found not guilty. Then we had another young girl who was being sexually molested by her stepfather who was non-indigenous, and it went to court too, and he was found not guilty.

JENNY BROCKIE: Does that make people less inclined to come forward.

LILLIAN GRAY: Yes, it does.

JENNY BROCKIE: Grace you helped Lillian to establish the group, now how many of the cases that you know of have been reported, are there still lots of cases going unreported?

GRACE STANLEY: There have been other cases dating back to many years. We had a lady come to us and she was a 26-year-old, and she said, you know, that she had been abused.

JENNY BROCKIE: Some of these stories go way back for people, like Julie's story.

GRACE STANLEY: Yes, and to think that at that time it was swept under the carpet, but when we came into, like, came in as a group, we said enough is enough, we've had enough now, our children are not going to be molested any more.

JENNY BROCKIE: Was that difficult to do inside the community, you mentioned there was flak, was there much flak.

GRACE STANLEY: No, there was. But most of the people there they were with us, you know. Also, they could see what we were doing, and they thought that was good.

JENNY BROCKIE: In that story Julie said it was an elder who had been involved in one of the incidences of abuse, would that make it more difficult for her to report inside the community?

GRACE STANLEY: Yes, it would.

JENNY BROCKIE: Let's look at some other parts of the country, let’s talk to people from other parts of Australia, Mary O'Reeri, you are from the Beagle Bay community North of Broome, do you know of many children in your community that have been sexually abused.

MARY O’REERI: I do. I'm a primary school teacher, and we face a lot of – a lot of children with all types of abuse, and, you know, especially with sexual abuse.

JENNY BROCKIE: What sort of ages are the children?

MARY O’REERI: From two years old up to 20 and ongoing.

JENNY BROCKIE: Would you say it's widespread.

MARY O’REERI: It is widespread, very widespread within the indigenous community within the Kimberleys.

JENNY BROCKIE: What about in your own family, has it affected your family.

MARY O’REERI: Yes. In my family I had two brothers who committed suicide, committed suicide in my parent's home, and the issue is that they were depressed. We know within suicide you become depressed, but we did not get the support, the support to help create a safe environment for our children.

JENNY BROCKIE: Had those brothers been abused.

MARY O’REERI: They had been abused, from a very young age.

JENNY BROCKIE: How old were they when they took their own lives.

MARY O’REERI: One was 22, and the other took his life two years after. He was 24.

JENNY BROCKIE: You felt there was no support as a family for those brothers.

MARY O’REERI: No support. Yes, and no, you know, we needed the duty of care from the government as well to intervene and help the people on the ground to – to find a solution, and work with the people to better the structure.

JENNY BROCKIE: So to create a safe place to report these things.

MARY O’REERI: That's right.

JENNY BROCKIE: Why wasn't it safe as it was. What was wrong, what made it unsafe for your brothers to be able to report it.

MARY O’REERI: At the time as a lady across there mentioned, it was swept under the carpet. Nobody didn't want to hear it. No-one wanted to… It was doomed.

JENNY BROCKIE: Which, of course, is a story we hear about sexual abuse all the time, in all different sections of the Australian community. You are looking after six children, is that right.

MARY O’REERI: That's right.

JENNY BROCKIE: Including three foster children.

MARY O’REERI: That's correct, yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: Have any of those children been sexually abused.

MARY O’REERI: Yes, two of the girls has been sexually abused. One is age of two, and the other is the age of four.


MARY O’REERI: The 2-year-old contracted gonorrhoea, and the 4-year old also and that's ..

JENNY BROCKIE: Have you reported, do you think you know who was responsible for this?

MARY O’REERI: There were five men named, perpetrators, they disclosed five names, the girls disclosed five names who, you know, sexually abused them.

JENNY BROCKIE: Has anything been done about that, has it been reported to the police.

MARY O’REERI: At the moment it's under investigation, and it's under investigation, and it's at that at the moment.

JENNY BROCKIE: Peter Yu, I would like to bring you in at this point, you are working in Halls Creek in Western Australia. 18 people have been charged with child sexual abuse in the Kimberley region in the past fortnight. Has that shocked the community?

PETER YU, HALLS CREEK PROJECT MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE: Yes, I think it has shocked the community. I suppose the community has been going through a hard time for many many years. I think obviously there's this widespread concern throughout the community, and they are trying to deal with it the best way they can with it. They are a resilient community, but it is a very sad tale, and we are trying to work with the community and the task force carrying out the investigations, to ensure that we can start to put in place some decent changes and foundations for the community.

JENNY BROCKIE: Six of those people charged are minors, is that correct?

PETER YU: Yes, as far as I understand, that's correct, yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: I wonder, Peter, since everybody here is telling us their own personal stories, and how it's affected their own families directly, I wonder have you or has anyone in your family been affected by this?

PETER YU: Well, most of us come from very, very large extended families. I suspect that there wouldn't – there would be some members of our family who have been affected in some ways. I guess some of the other speakers have indicated, sometimes there's circumstances which unfortunately people aren't coming forward to bring these things forward. There's perhaps been a lack of confidence with the police, there has been intimidation, shame connected with it. As you would expect with these things, they are highly sensitive, and I guess we can only try and encourage people to come forward and provide with the best support we possibly can.

JENNY BROCKIE: The West Australia police have established a task force now to investigate other communities in the state, is that needed, do you think?

PETER YU: I think you'd have to say from the evidence to date with those that have been charged with these alleged offences, and they are still to go through the process, but I'd have to say that it is something which seems to be, you know, across the board to some extent too.

JENNY BROCKIE: Heidi Mippy I'd like to bring you in at this point, you are an Aboriginal liaison officer, working with the WA police, you are not a police officer, but I understand that you train people to talk to children about personal safety in your area. Now, your area is the remote community of KalumburuWHERE we've seen a number of people charged as well with child sex offences. How difficult is it to get people to talk on the record about what's going on in Kalumburu.

HEIDI MIPPY, TRAINER, PTOTECTIVE BEHAVIOURS INC: It's difficult because there's a lot of things which we, as parents, and community put on our children. Things like unwritten rules, boys don't cry, encourage them not to talk about their feelings, respecting your elders, sometimes we are teaching children that sometimes we need for our own safety, not always do as we are told and not always respect our elders, these are messages we are giving to children, some parents don't want to hear that, they don't want to teach the children. They need to. It's easy, we have disclosures in Kalumburu and in Halls Creek, protective behaviours was also taught in the primary school, so it's making it easier for children to know that everyone has the right to feel safe and it's OK to talk about these things.

JENNY BROCKIE: You have spoken to one of the teenage perpetrators, whose in jail at the moment. I wonder what kind of positions do these alleged perpetrators, and I stress “alleged' because they have only just been charged, what sort of positions do they hold in the community?

HEIDI MIPPY: In WA, you only have to read the newspapers to see that many of the perpetrators that have been arrested are from positions of authority. Which is also a barrier for children to wanting to disclose any abuse, because they do have certain positions, and powerful families and a strong influence in the community.

JENNY BROCKIE: Dawn, you have a Torres Strait island background and you've lived in the community of Mutitjulu in the Northern Territory for 15 years, now child sexual abuse in your community came to national attention with a 'Lateline' program on the ABC last year, we've since heard ferocious denials coming from that community that sexual abuse is a problem in that community, what do you think.

DAWN BRADBROOK: It has been a problem, maybe not in recent times, but in the past times. There have been children in our community that have taken their own lives, and that, with drugs and alcohol, and the sexual abuse, it has happened to them.

JENNY BROCKIE: So why hasn't that come to public attention before, do you think?

DAWN BRADBROOK: Mainly because none of the families want to believe that it's happened, and that the people that probably are the perpetrators, or alleged perpetrators, hold positions in the community where they are in high esteem.

JENNY BROCKIE: Again, we are hearing the same idea, that sometimes, and I stress not all the time, but sometimes we are seeing people in positions of power, or protecting people who are perpetrators.

DAWN BRADBROOK: The thing is they hide a lot behind the laws. Well, the Aboriginal traditional laws, and that, and that's very hard to get women in our community to speak up and say anything.

JENNY BROCKIE: Paul White in Alice Springs, you’re the Northern Territory Police Commissioner, you’ve been listening to all of this, what do you have to say back to all of this, I mean clearly there are problems with people feeling confident about reporting cases of child sexual abuse, there’s been mention that sometimes people don't have confidence in the police. Why aren't more cases getting prosecuted, do you think?

PAUL WHITE, NT POLICE COMMISSIONER: There are a number of reasons. Perhaps the tender age of the child involved, sometimes English is the English language is a barrier. In other occasions we understand that victims might feel shamed or embarrassed by what happened. Sometimes it might be the case that the perpetrator could be a person of authority, as you said. I'd like to stress that, um, one or two of the people on the program tonight have said that the prosecutions weren't successful but that should never be seen as a barrier to coming forward and reporting to the police.

JENNY BROCKIE: But if people do come forward and put themselves on the line and then they have to go back into their community, surely that makes it very difficult for them.

PAUL WHITE: Yes, it is and this is why it really needs to be a partnership issue with the police and other authorities and, it is certainly time that some of the people in these communities stood up to be counted when it comes to child abuse and child sex abuse.

JENNY BROCKIE: So if you had to identify one thing as a police officer that you think is the biggest barrier to moving forward on this, what would it be?

PAUL WHITE: Clearly it's the, the social dysfunction, the social problems that reside in a lot of these communities. If you can measure crime by the degree of dysfunction and social problems, and that is clearly first and foremost the most important issue to address. The second thing is that people need to be really confident that if they do report, that every effort will be taken by not just the police but other authorities to deal with the case.

JENNY BROCKIE: We're looking at the extent of child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities and why so much of it hasn't been prosecuted. Marcia Ella Duncan, you wrote a report last year into child abuse in New South Wales, a report on child sexual abuse in New South Wales, how often did you find in your report about New South Wales that the perpetrators were in positions of power, or the people actually covering up were in positions of power?

MARCIA ELLA DUNCAN, BREAKING THE SILENCE REPORT: Oh, it was very commonly reported. We conducted, you know, consultations in 29 communities across New South Wales and spoke with over 300 individuals and it was like very frequently reported that perpetrators are in positions of power, if not themselves individually, then certainly their family in the community.

JENNY BROCKIE: What happened to your report in New South Wales?

MARCIA ELLA DUNCAN: We handed our report to the New South Wales Government in May, sorry, this is a co author, Greg Telford, in May last year. The Government issued its New South Wales interagency plan to tackle child sexual assault in New South Wales in January this year and the New South Wales Government is currently in the process of establishing an advisory panel.

JENNY BROCKIE: And advisory panel?


JENNY BROCKIE: Do you think that's an adequate response?

MARCIA ELLA DUNCAN: On its own, no, but the interagency plan does address 88 of the recommendations of the Breaking the Silence report. One of our recommendations was to establish a statewide monitoring and advisory body which is the first implementation that's been effectively sorry, the first recommendation that's been implemented.

JENNY BROCKIE: Do you have personal experience of child sexual abuse?




JENNY BROCKIE: How old were you when that happened to you?

MARCIA ELLA DUNCAN: I can't remember. I was very young. It stopped possibly I think by the time I went to high school. It had stopped. I can't remember when it started.

JENNY BROCKIE: And was that within the family? Was that within extended family or was it somebody completely outside?

MARCIA ELLA DUNCAN: It was my family.

JENNY BROCKIE: It was within the family?


JENNY BROCKIE: And you didn't live on a remote community, did you?

MARCIA ELLA DUNCAN: No, I lived in Sydney.

JENNY BROCKIE: So you grew up in Sydney?

MARCIA ELLA DUNCAN: Born and raised in Sydney.

JENNY BROCKIE: And why didn't you report it, or did you report it?

MARCIA ELLA DUNCAN: I don't know that I didn't. I don't know that I did. Um, you know, I guess I need to make something fairly clear is that I probably spent 30 years pretending it didn't happen, or at least 25 years, and I think I did a pretty good job. And that's what helped me to survive, I think, that and involvement in sport, I think was probably my saving grace. It wasn't until some adult nieces and nephews, um, who were, you know, displaying strong suicidal tendencies, having incredible difficulty coping with their own children, and when they started to, you know, reach out to the family for support, you know, one day it just sort of happened, I thought hang on, you know, I know how you're feeling because I felt like that too. And I know what's happened to you and it has certainly cascaded since then and in the years between now and then we have come to understand that there's well over a dozen victims in my family.

JENNY BROCKIE: Of the same perpetrator?

MARCIA ELLA DUNCAN: From the same perpetrator. And I think in fact, it's only in the last seven years perhaps, that it was notified for the first time, formally reported.

JENNY BROCKIE: And what do you put that down to? Do you think that's the same reasons that exist for the whole of the community or do you think it's a mixture of that and other things that are particular to indigenous communities that mean that those things don't get reported?

MARCIA ELLA DUNCAN: I think, you know, it's a combination of things. There are a whole myriad factors that prevent Aboriginal people from disclosing. I think one of the things that makes it quite complicated in Aboriginal families is the nature of our extended networks and extended families. And, you know, some of our caring and sharing and mutual obligation responsibilities that I think makes it difficult to detect grooming behaviours which in other communities might be quite apparent. And I think, you know, some of the things we've heard today or tonight about people perpetrators are being in positions of power and sometimes it's not always community power. But it's absolutely power in the family. But we must understand as well that that's one of the characteristics of child sexual assault, it is an abuse of power.

JENNY BROCKIE: And we've seen that abuse in the church or in churches, we've seen that abuse in families.

MARCIA ELLA DUNCAN: That's right. Now having said that, I do understand both from my own personal experience and testimony from the community during our consultation that that is an incredible barrier and often children will not disclose. If children aren't provided with their environment where they feel safe and they feel confident and they feel loved and respected, they won't necessarily disclose that and I think in our circumstances that was the case, we just didn't disclose because we didn't know it was wrong. This person was held in such esteem that how could he possibly do anything wrong.

JENNY BROCKIE: So the cycle just continues?

MARCIA ELLA DUNCAN: Exactly. And then we have parents then that struggle to provide safe environments for their children because they don't know what a safe environment should look like.

JENNY BROCKIE: Dawn, you were coming tonight with two other women from your community in Mutitjulu, why aren't they here?

DAWN BRADBROOK: Intimidation, that happens in our community.

JENNY BROCKIE: What do you mean by intimidation, what sort of things?

DAWN BRADBROOK: Certain members standing over the family and that, and pointing..

JENNY BROCKIE: Telling them not to speak publicly about this sort of thing?


JENNY BROCKIE: Why then are you speaking publicly about it?

DAWN BRADBROOK: Um, mainly because my husband's a strong man and that, and because of his position in the community and unfortunately because he's an invalid, that's why I'm here speaking on behalf of him and his family.

JENNY BROCKIE: Marion, I'd like to bring you in here, you're a minister in the Northern Territory Government, you represent an area which includes Maningrida where there have been some serious allegations of child sexual abuse and family violence. Why hasn't more been done about it? Why hasn't the Northern Territory Government done more about it?

MARION SCRYMGOUR, MEMBER FOR ARAFURA, NT GOVT: Across to Maningrida, yes, there has been some problems and we've certainly, as a government, because of, I suppose, a well publicised case in Maningrida, legislated to take out customary lore as a defence, which was quite controversial for us as a government at that time, particularly members like myself who, stood in big bush electorates and where men, I suppose, are the dominant, controller out there in a lot of communities. When I stood in 2001, the party that I chose to represent, the ALP, was actually quite frightful to start off with that they would choose a woman to stand in a bush seat because, it was a male dominated culture that was out there in those communities.

JENNY BROCKIE: But what does that mean? What is the point you're trying to make about that?

MARION SCRYMGOUR: Well it's about breaking those systems down. It's about saying and look, I've got to work with a lot of those, you know, with men out there as well as the women. We've gone a long way into changing the system. We've had a system in place that has worked against Aboriginal people. I mean, there has been no victim support services in a lot of our remote communities where we have the bush court circuit, to have an Aboriginal woman give evidence against a perpetrator in her own community is absolute suicide and that's why you don't have a lot of those Aboriginal women coming forward.

JENNY BROCKIE: Why is it suicide?

MARION SCRYMGOUR: Well, I mean if you've got a male that is, a power or a member of a powerful family, in that community, that victim is not going to give evidence against, that with that family. It's not just the pressure that that the young person gets from the offender, but also I have seen cases in some of our communities where, the victim has also received pressure from their own family.

JENNY BROCKIE: Well give us an example of the power of some of these men that you're talking about. What's happened to you, for example, when you've raised issues of violence?

MARION SCRYMGOUR: I worked for 10 years in the health sector prior to going into politics so at the coal face. I mean I've been threatened, even in my role as a member of parliament where I have had a gun held to my head..

JENNY BROCKIE: A gun held to your head by whom and about what?

MARION SCRYMGOUR: Well over reporting.

JENNY BROCKIE: Over reporting what?

MARION SCRYMGOUR: Well drugs, because drugs and the dealing of drugs is a major issue. When we look at all of these abuse issues in our communities, substance abuse lies at the heart of it and there is a lot of

JENNY BROCKIE: Did you report that to the police having a gun held to your head?

MARION SCRYMGOUR: Oh, look, this is years ago, and I move on. If I allow the offenders to rattle, I suppose, and to put me off track, I mean that's just giving into them so it's not about going away.

JENNY BROCKIE: You've just helped establish the Tribal Justice Committee in Maningrida where there's been serious allegations, as I said, of sexual abuse and a new member of that committee was the centre of a controversy for having unlawful sex with his promised 15 year old wife about five years ago. He was also convicted of the manslaughter of his former wife. Is he the right person for the job, to be sitting on this new committee that's going to be dealing with this, Tribal Justice Committee?

MARION SCRYMGOUR: I highlighted my concern to those members that having this individual involved in this committee was going to be an issue. He was elected from his clan and language groups. It is not a committee that Government established. That community and committee is now dealing with that.

JENNY BROCKIE: But is that part of the problem? Is that part of the problem? Is that one example part of the problem here? I'm not saying it's the whole problem but is it part of the problem?

MARION SCRYMGOUR: Look, it's, I suppose, yes and no. I mean he is one man out of 18 members that have been elected and if those and half of those representatives are women and that is for the first time we've actually seen women sit on the Tribal Council out there. They are now standing up and saying we don't want him to be part of it.

JENNY BROCKIE: He will be removed?

MARION SCRYMGOUR: As I understand it from my discussions with the traditional owners out at Maningrida he will be removed.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, we'll move on. Lowitja O'Donoghue, you've been listening to all of this tonight. We've seen patterns in dealing or not dealing with child sexual abuse in the broader community, we've seen what happened in the churches, we've seen what happens in the white community with people protecting their own and sometimes the need for outside pressure to be exerted, to expose cover ups of these crimes. Is the same thing the case here with indigenous communities that it's taken that outside pressure, that drawing it to the broader public's attention to actually start to see people really wanting to act?

LOWITJA O'DONOGHUE, FORMER ATSIC COMMISSIONER: I support the Prime Minister only in that he has stated it's a national emergency and that has brought it to the attention, of course, of the wider community, but it's been a national emergency for many, many, many years. And there have been many reports and where has he been? Where has his government been?

JENNY BROCKIE: Where has anyone been frankly, But can I ask you another question already and you've made your point about the GovernmentWHERE has Aboriginal leadership been on this issue, do you think? Do you think it's been good? Do you think it's been bad?

LOWITJA O'DONOGHUE: Aboriginal leadership has been around all of this time and many of us have spoken in reports and we've also spoken on speaking platforms around the country for a long, long time.

JENNY BROCKIE: Has it been easy to speak about for you? I mean we've heard stories of intimidation?

LOWITJA O'DONOGHUE: In the communities, of course, it is very difficult when you're in a very close community and you have cultural lore that is live and well in communities. And unless governments are going to, in fact, provide safe places for people to come forward and once they have come forward are they in fact going to protect those people in safe places who actually speak out? They haven't done it in the past and they're not doing it now and it's time that that happened in relation to it. The woman who spoke out on 'Lateline', I got in touch with the State Department. I'm a Yunkunytjatjara woman from the north west of South Australia. Mutitjulu are my people, at Mutitjulu and so on. When Murajura spoke out and so on I wanted to know whether in fact was she going to be safeguarded in terms of speaking out. She hasn't been. She came out of the community for a while and the children have been abused, they're still there and so on.

JENNY BROCKIE: So who's responsible for safeguarding her, do you think? Who could safeguard her in that situation?

LOWITJA O'DONOGHUE: The governments must safeguard. They're asking people to come forward.


LOWITJA O'DONOGHUE: They must provide safe houses in the communities and so on for those people.

JENNY BROCKIE: So that's what needed, you need to set up safe houses in the communities to protect those people?


JENNY BROCKIE: Warren Mundine, what do you think is one of the key issues here that needs to that can be addressed immediately?

WARREN MUNDINE: I agree with Lowitja. I agree with a lot of people talking tonight that this is not a new issue. It's something that we knew about, it's something we grew up in our communities about, you know, and we all know the pain and the sufferings that have happened in our families and across Aboriginal communities and that. So we've got to really start the first issue of course is to deal with the policing issues in our communities. We need to start having a complete social change within Aboriginal communities and say no, we don't have people who do these type of things in our communities. We want them out, we want the support of the justice system and unfortunately the justice system we've inherited from England does not do women and does not do children any good.

JENNY BROCKIE: But I'm interested that you mentioned that you've got to say some of these people have to be out.

WARREN MUNDINE: They have to be out.

JENNY BROCKIE: Tonight we've been talking about child sexual child sexual abuse in indigenous communities and we've been hearing a lot about leadership tonight as one of the issues and Warren Mundine, I know along with Noel Pearson you've been schooling a new generation of potential Aboriginal leaders. Let's have a look at what you've been doing. Here's Sashka Koloff.


REPORTER: Sashka Koloff

James Fa'aoso could be one of Australia's next Aboriginal leaders. If anyone understands the challenges facing indigenous Australia, James does. He works with Aboriginal juvenile offenders who've committed crimes including child sexual abuse.

JAMES FA'AOSO: In my line of work you're not suppose to get personal and get involved because a lot of those things would affect you but, as a black fella you can't help it. I know that I can't carry anyone, I know that's impossible for me to do. Yet, if there are tools and ways that I can educate and help them well I can be able to do that, and also be an example for them, you know, to light the way for some of these people to walk.

He's one of 35 people being groomed for future leadership by the Cape York Institute. He's being mentored by two Aboriginal leaders with bold ideas, Warren Mundine and Noel Pearson.

NOEL PEARSON, CAPE YORK INSTITUTE: People say we need more opportunities, we need more opportunities, we need more opportunities, we need more opportunities, but I say back to them, yeah, we need opportunities but listen, we've got to take responsibility before it turns into anything.

But taking responsibility requires confronting issues including the reasons why children are being sexually abused.

NOEL PEARSON: Everybody talks about the cycle of abuse. We've got to get our thinking analysis of the history right in our own black heads, you know, because, you know, the simple story that too many black leaders tell, that this is a cycle that began with the coming of white people and dispossession and, you know, that stolen generations and this ongoing cycle, I mean I disagree with that view.

Pearson says he can pinpoint when child sexual abuse started in his community.

NOEL PEARSON: Don't tell me that there was abuse rampant in Hopevale in the 1960s, there wasn't. Don't tell me that there were abuse in Hopevale in the '70s, there wasn't.

REPORTER: Is there now?

NOEL PEARSON: Oh, it's rampant now. But to tell a story that this is all goes back in history and stuff, nah, nah. This circle of abuse started when grog came in, when marijuana came in, when social norms collapsed. We want happy communities, we want safe families. All our plans are very clear on the what. Where our plans are weak, I think, is the how.

Noel Pearson thinks radical welfare reform is a solution. The Federal Government agrees and has given $48 million to trial it in the Cape. His plan has been met with hostility by many Aboriginal leaders who say it won't work. The criticism has come at a personal cost.

NOEL PEARSON: I see indigenous leaders right across the country. One of the reasons why we're having a hard time of it, we're having such a hard time of it now, I think, is most of our good leaders, you know, they're buggered, they're just burnt out. It destroys people and, I'm hoping that at some point in the future we it need not be this costly.

WARREN MUNDINE, FORMER ALP PRESIDENT: You've got to be a leader, you've got to have courage under fire.

Warren Mundine has also been criticised for his ideas of economic reform in Aboriginal communities. His plan to offer 99 year leases of Aboriginal owned land was picked up by the Federal Government but derided in some Aboriginal circles.

WARREN MUNDINE: I remember, you know, standing with this bloke about this far away from my face screaming at me, that happened on several occasions, about how I was going to sell Aboriginal people down the gurgler and what a bastard I was and stuff like that and some other colourful language which did surprise me at first because if anyone knows my track record in land rights, in the struggle for economic development of Aboriginal people, you know, I was always there and I always fought for them. In fact I even got arrested a couple of times in demonstrations and that to do it. So that surprised me about that attack, yeah. And also some of the language. Like a lot of the times way called things like you're a coconut and things like that.

JAMES FA'AOSO: What makes you fellas tick?

NOEL PEARSON: I can't mind my own business.

James Fa'aoso knows leadership is a difficult path.

JAMES FA'AOSO: That's the consequence you take on when you are a leader, and it's making the hard decisions that need to be made and it's also taking flak.

NOEL PEARSON: I'm hoping the day will come when young, talented indigenous people are going to see leadership as a vocation and not a miserable duty, you know.

JENNY BROCKIE: James, do you think it will be a miserable duty if you get there?

JAMES FA'AOSO: No. For myself, as a young leader, that's the price you pay. It's a lonely path and for a leader it's also, it's a position but it's also a stewardship that you need to take very care of and also be an example to people because, we've seen some of the examples tonight about what bad leadership does and how it affects people and how it affects generations of people as well.

JENNY BROCKIE: Let's get on to the Government's intervention because I know that quite a few of you want to make comments on that. Rex Wild, you chaired the Little Children are Sacred report which has sparked this Federal Government intervention in the Northern Territory. Your inquiry accepted that sexual abuse of indigenous children is common, widespread and grossly underreported, why do you think the government has acted the way it has and how do you feel about it?

REX WILD QC, LITTLE CHILDREN ARE SACRED REPORT: Well, firstly we feel good about the fact they've acted because we are here tonight talking about it, about a subject which has been taboo and which people weren't talking about. The way they've done it is not the way that we recommended. The report's there, there's 97 recommendations in it, none of them involved the army going to communities. We involved the army going to communities. We talked about cooperation between the Northern Territory Government, the Commonwealth Government and the people and the people and that's terribly important.

JENNY BROCKIE: But given that we do have to think about those longer term issues and about consultation, these are crimes we're talking about. We don't consult people we don't consult people about crimes in other circumstances. Is there not a need to act on crimes?

REX WILD: What we've got to consult with the people about is how they can best cope within the community with the people that are the perpetrators. So you need to set up a structure with that gets rid of the dysfunctionality which is the problem that's been raised by many people here, including Commissioner White, which is the root cause of the problems which we've now got.

JENNY BROCKIE: Bill Glasson in Brisbane, can I bring you in here. You're on the Federal Government's task force which is helping to implement this state of national emergency on child sexual abuse. How well thought through is the plan and are these criticisms of leadership outside the Aboriginal community valid criticisms?

DR BILL GLASSON, NT EMERGENCY RESPONSE TASKFORCE: Yes, I think they are, Jenny. I mean at the end of the day we're very happy about the fact we've responded, the Government has responded certainly from the health sector. We've been crying out for years and years about the state of indigenous health that is completely unacceptable, it's Third World and it needs some major intervention. Now you can argue that the fact that this intervention has been maybe too quick or has been rolled out too quickly or whatever, but can I suggest that those on the task force are very, very aware of the need to consult. Now from the health perspective, we deal with the downstream, I suppose, or end result of a dysfunctional system, in this case we're talking about child abuse but we can talk about all sorts of abuse, whether it be physical abuse, emotional abuse, substance abuse or whatever it may be. But at the end of the day we have to actually build this system from the bottom up as well as the top down.

JENNY BROCKIE: How effective will those voluntary health checks be in detecting child sexual abuse? Will they work?

BILL GLASSON: Yeah, I mean in many communities we know the level of child abuse, we know the level of sexually transmitted diseases and some of those communities is up to 50 percent or even higher, so we know there are major issues there. A lot of kids can't hear because they've got middle ear infections, a lot of kids have got rheumatic fever, they've got renal disease because of issues around poor skin hygiene, poor mouth hygiene, they've got no teeth. You can't sort of generalise here. You've got to look at the specific community and see what health intervention ultimately needs to happen but that health intervention needs to be supported by the upstream issues of housing, jobs, you know, education, sanitation all those social determinants of health as we use the term.

JENNY BROCKIE: Rex Wild, you pinpointed alcohol as a very important part of this problem, why?

REX WILD: Well because it's known to every person in this room that..

JENNY BROCKIE: But child sexual abuse specifically.

REX WILD: Yes, it's a natural follow on. You go through a series of stages of the dysfunctionality that we keep saying and you start off with the people not being able to work, the people not being able to get employment obviously, people not sending their kids to school, then they start abusing their wives and they abuse the kids and then eventually it's sexual abuse of the kids. It's just a chain of reaction.

JENNY BROCKIE: I'd like to just bring Lowitja in at this point because we're running out of time. Lowitja, you mentioned before that you're very opposed to the Government's intervention because you think it's a big stick approach, can I ask you specifically what you would do in the short term, immediately to try to deal with this?

LOWITJA O'DONOGHUE: In the short term I think we need to deal with alcohol abuse and so on in communities. So they need to restrict and reduce alcohol and drugs in communities.

JENNY BROCKIE: So you think that's central to the problem?

LOWITJA O'DONOGHUE: It is fairly central to the problem in relation to that and then children can feel women and children can feel safe, can feel safe.

JENNY BROCKIE: Peter Yu, can I get back to you and just ask you what you think should be done. Your response to the Government's intervention and what you think is going to be the most effective way in the short term of dealing with this problem? We know there are long term issues that must be addressed but in the short term what can be done?

PETER YU: Well first and foremost it's a criminal matter and needs to be investigated and those people who are, are being investigated need to be charged if in fact there is enough evidence to do that. Secondly, I think, I agree entirely there has to be concurrent or simultaneous levels of action that relate to dealing with the alcohol and other substance abuse matters. I mean I think that's a given. But immediately, immediately we need to deal and attack the issue of the abuse issues, but fundamentally I think the shortage of decent housing, the overcrowding of 10 to 15 perhaps even more people in some communities is a very, very serious concern particularly here in the Kimberleys and I'm sure that will be across the board. If the Government's serious about it they wouldn't be sending the army in, they'd be sending in serious people to be able to deal with the issue of the offences that have been committed but at the same time putting in place a longer term commitment for the infrastructure and the social development needs of our community.

JENNY BROCKIE: Wesley Aird, how do you think these problems should be addressed and particularly some of the broader issues of dysfunction in some of these remote communities?

WESLEY AIRD, NATIONAL INDIGENOUS COUNCIL: I think there's going to be issues with, some of the long standing government policies where they really haven't treated communities as being, economic, viable communities. They've been funded but they haven't been able to stand on their own two feet.

JENNY BROCKIE: We're going to have to wrap up, I'm sorry. Dawn, I'd like to go back to you. The story at Mutitjulu was a big spark for this whole, this whole inquiry and the Government's response, how do you feel about what's happening now?

DAWN BRADBROOK: Well, it's hard because similar to the fact that, um, lore way, what's been happening like for years over 40,000 odd years, elders have had the power, they've looked after their families, protected them, and everything, and it's come down to modern day now where everything's just all completely out of whack for the Aboriginal people and their communities and their laws and the laws that are imposed on them and they have to sit down with the government, the elders, the traditional senior elders of each community sit down with the government and talk up, both men and women together.

JENNY BROCKIE: Rex Wild, you said in your report that this is an intergenerational issue, how long do you think it will take to get some of these things sorted?

REX WILD: Well we've said in our report 15 years which we classify as a generation before there's a prospect of returning to something like decent society for all these people.

JENNY BROCKIE: 15 years. What do you think, Lillian and Grace, how long do you think it's going to take to actually change things?


JENNY BROCKIE: Why forever?

GRACE STANLEY: Nothing seems to be getting done at all, you know, in many, many ways. But I'd also like to say, you know, we're talking about Aboriginal men abusing our children, but we must remember too in our communities we've got a lot of good Aboriginal men and we know they are good. They're hard working men, certainly those that are perpetrators, they need to be punished and they need to be punished severely for what they are doing to our children.

JENNY BROCKIE: What would be the best thing that could happen for you two in your community?

LILLIAN GRAY: I don't totally agree with Grace. I mean I'd rather everything change in a shorter term and I think it will because if we continue the way we are and have young women follow us, and young men too, follow us, and so they can be leaders in our community that, um, in the short term that we'll have a stronger, safer community.

JENNY BROCKIE: Certainly sounds like you guys are setting a pretty good example. Mary, I'd like to give you the final word, you shared so much of your story with us earlier. I wonder what you would like to see happen now the most? What would help you and your family?

MARY O'REERI: I'd like to see strongly I would like to see the indigenous people in partnership with the government, both State and Commonwealth, to bring forward in place an intervention where we look at where we look at these issues in regards to safety and look at the issues in regards to power and who's on the, who's to be appointed to make decision for our people. I strongly urge for my community that we need an intervention and we need a safe environment for our children.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay. We are going to have to leave it there, we're out of time. Thank you very much, Mary, for joining us. Thank you to all of you for joining us tonight and especially to you Grace and Lillian as well, thanks for coming along. I'd like to thank our guests on satellite Bill Glasson who was with us, of course, from Brisbane and Peter Yu from and also Peter White from Alice Springs.

NATIONAL EMERGENCY: Child Abuse in Indigenous Communities