Intervention under legal attack
On the first anniversary of the Little Children are Sacred report, a legal agency representing Aboriginal Territorians says teenagers are being unfairly singled out for prosecution, while the Territory’s director of public prosecutions says some child sex abuse cases are not being prosecuted because of a lack of translators.
The Little Children are Sacred report found child sexual abuse was widespread in the Territory’s Indigenous communities, and was the trigger for the Howard government’s Northern Territory intervention. DPP Richard Coates says a year after the release of the report, there has not been the tidal wave of sex abuse prosecutions some had expected from the government’s response. He says one of the impediments to prosecuting cases involving remote Aboriginal communities is the language barrier, with many many victims speak little or no English.
He says a Northern Territory Supreme Court trial into a case of alleged abuse had to be put off last week because there was no interpreter.”It is going to cause problems in the future, the lack of interpreters, courts not prepared as they were in the past to proceed without an interpreter.”Interpreters are required and there just doesn’t seem to be enough of them to go around.” And a peak legal body representing Indigenous Territorians says the intervention has had the unintended consequence of prosecuting teenagers for having sex with each other.
Helen Wodak from the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency says a year on from the release of the Little Children Are Sacred report, its teenagers who are being targetted. “We expected to see an increase in people being charged for sex offences with children and that’s not what we’ve seen. We’ve seen an increase in teenagers being prosecuted for having sex with other teenagers.”Ms Wodak says the intervention has unevenly targetted Indigenous teenagers, but not other teens who are also having sex.
She says it may be a matter of racial discrimination.
“A fundamental opposition is any prosecution that we see as happening for Aboriginal and not for non-Aboriginal people. One of the issues with respect to the intervention legislation is the suspension of the racial discrimination act and all of its implications.”She says she is concerned pregnant teenagers won’t access health services because they fear the involvement of the courts.
No comment from Rudd
The Prime Minister’s is refusing to comment on the future of the intervention until he sees the results of an official review. Speaking during a stop off in Darwin yesterday, he says a promised 12 month assessment will form the basis of the Government’s future policy making on intervention measures that were initiated under the Howard government. Mr Rudd says statistics about the health checks and increases in police numbers appear to be good news, but he will not be making any judgements yet.
“Let’s be realistic about it and get the data in across the communities and form a seasoned judgement about how this is proceeding. “Where improvements need to occur, we’ll make improvements.”
The review committee will meet this week.
Mr Rudd has also said his Government has not reneged on a commitment to meet regularly with an Indigenous working group to assess the intervention. The Government established a national Indigenous body late last year., and at the time Kevin Rudd said he would visit the Northern Territory every three months for meetings with the group.Mr Rudd says there have been two meetings since his Government came to power and he attended the first. At the most recent meeting he was represented by the Minister for Indigenous Affairs.
“We take our consultations with Indigenous leaders here seriously. We’ve framed our consultative arrangements strongly around the Indigenous leadership of the Northern Territory and they will be integral to the consultative arrangements that we said we would put in place when it comes to the review of the intervention.” He says another meeting is scheduled for July or August, but its not clear whether he will attend.
And a member of the Darwin Aboriginal Rights Coalition who was protesting against the intervention during the Prime Minister’s visit says he has been summonsed to appear in court after asking Mr Rudd to attend a meeting. Mr Suttle spoke to the ABC from the back of a paddy wagon: “Kevin Rudd shook my hand and I gave him a leaflet which was to come to a public event around a community review on the intervention at that time two police officers grabbed me and put me in a paddy wagon.”
His colleague Alyssa Vass says he was manhandled by police, though Territory and federal police have defended their actions saying they were providing close personal protection for the Prime Minister and did not use undue force.