Brough Justice

Since my initial outburst over the Prime Minister’s plan to “do something” about child abuse in Aboriginal communities, I’ve tried to restrain my own knee-jerk reactions, read the reports coming out in the news, and listen to the nuances of what’s being said. And wait to see what will actually happen. But a report today on the ABC News (“Child protection knockback sparks fury”) has done just that–sparked some fury, or at least some indignation, to the point where I’m moved to write about it. The story itself is bad enough, but Brough’s response pushed me over the top.

The basics are these. In the wake of the scandal over three men and three boys who will soon be standing trial for allegedly raping a thwelve year old boy repeatedly over a three month period, locals created the Maningrida Community Action Plan Project (MCAPP), which received funding from Clare Martin’s government in the Territory for an initial period of nine months. (The ABC Report says six months.) Their application for three years of federal funding to continue the program was denied last week.

The federals say it’s not necessarily all over yet: that the program might still be funded under a Shared Responsibility Agreement, according to a report by Nigel Adams published today on news.com.au.

The ABC report noted that MCAPP had been singled out for praise in the Anderson-Wild report, Little Children Are Sacred, the very report that prompted the Howard government to declare the state of emergency. So I decided to see what the Inquiry actually said about the program. Here are some excerpts.

The Maningrida Community Action Plan Project (MCAPP) commenced around September 2006. It is funded by DHCS and was initially given nine months of funding with a report due every three months.

The purpose of the project is twofold:

• Firstly, it is to assist with the response to, and recovery from, the recent well-publicised sexual assault case that occurred at Maningrida. The Inquiry has become aware that this particular case has had an enormous impact on the community of Maningrida. This impact demonstrates the need for these types of case to be handled sensitively and with an awareness of the cultural, family and general community ramifications.

• Secondly, the project is involving community members to develop an overall plan for the protection of children in Maningrida.

A key ingredient of the MCAPP is that it involves Aboriginal locals working in tandem with a non-Aboriginal project officer who has a long-standing relationship of trust with the community.

The two key principles of the MCAPP are that:

• change is only sustainable if community members are the primary designers of the solution

• the solutions must have both a cultural and “mainstream” element.

…The Inquiry regards the MCAPP as an extremely valuable project and one that can be utilised to both establish a Community Justice Group and help guide reform in relation to the mainstream response to child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities. (p. 184)

[T]he Inquiry was impressed with the energy and enthusiasm of the community to develop its own action plan to address community issues of child safety and wellbeing when given appropriate resources and time.

The Inquiry formed the view that the development of local child safety and protection plans provide a mechanism for demonstrating that child protection is “everybody’s business”, are community-owned and controlled and can assist in identifying community strengths. They can also identify service needs and ensure the provision of more coordinated and appropriate service provision at a community level. (p. 190)

Here, from the ABC News report, is Brough’s explanation for the refusal of funding for what is being called a “model for other communities.”

“In this particular case, their application was very poor,” he said.

“It doesn’t mean that what was occurring is very poor but when you have to judge these things, it didn’t come close to being funded.

“But that doesn’t mean it ends there. First and foremost, we actually want to see the Territory Government also pick up the ball here and not pay go-away money to people for six months when there’s been such horrendous crimes in the place.

“What we’re trying to do is to work with them but we aren’t just going to come in here and write cheques for every organisation when there needs to be a joint effort.”

Sorry, this really burns me. Brough’s logic translates this way to me. The applicants can’t fill out their paperwork properly. The program isn’t good enough. It’s Clare Martin’s responsibility anyway. And in the end, the federal government isn’t going to pay for “every organisation,” even the most promising.

Not only does the man have no sense of justice, he has no shame.

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