Get parents who shield abusers: Pearson

Tony Koch
Dennis Shanahan
ABORIGINAL leader Noel Pearson has called for criminal charges to be brought against parents who refuse to co-operate with police investigations into child abuse because the abuser is a family member or known to them.
Mr Pearson said parents who did not, or could not, assist police investigations into the abuse of children in their charge because they were ``drunk and passed out at the time'' got off ``scot-free''.
Speaking at a Cairns conference organised by his Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership and sponsored by The Australian, Mr Pearson said there was no way under current laws to hold parents accountable.
``And the cases where they withhold evidence from the investigating police and chuck a veil of secrecy around, there is no recourse under the law to hold parents to account for that,'' he said. ``The parents should be subject to a charge themselves if they don't assist with an investigation.''
John Howard radical blueprint to rid Aboriginal communities of rampant sexual abuse of children, unveiled last week, has reignited national debate on solutions to the crushing poverty afflicting Australia's Aboriginal population.
As federal police met in Darwin to begin the implementation of the Prime Minister's plan, leading American civil rights campaigner Michael Meyers told the Strong Foundations -- Rebuilding Social Norms in Indigenous Communities conference that Aborigines should leave their land and assimilate into mainstream Australia to escape the poverty of isolated communities.
Mr Meyers, president and executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, said indigenous cultures were an antiquated concept in the 21st century: ``People have to move out of their ghettoised attitudes, get away from the idea that people belong in certain lands.''
Kevin Rudd, who has promised bipartisan support for the Prime Minister's blueprint, yesterday said Federal Labor had also endorsed Mr Pearson's welfare reform plan for Cape York communities.
He said Labor, if it won government, would fund and implement Mr Pearson's range of initiatives to make welfare payments and housing conditional on school attendance and the proper care of children.
The proposals have been picked up by Mr Howard as part of a wider strategy to protect indigenous children, starting in the Northern Territory.
Mr Pearson defended the overall thrust of Mr Howard's intervention in Territory indigenous communities as the Prime Minister faced growing dissent from the states. Mr Howard on Thursday challenged the states to follow his lead as he moved to ban alcohol and pornography in NT communities and place obligations on welfare payments.
Health Minister Tony Abbott, touring the Northern Territory, rejected criticism of cultural insensitivity over the plan, saying the concept was ``bullshit'' if it was used to hide unconscionable behaviour. He warned that people incorrigibly implicated in the old ways of Aboriginal affairs could sabotage the Howard Government's attempts to radically stop violence and sexual abuse in the Territory.
His comments came as the Government sent out a plea to senior staff in the Family and Community Sevices Department and Centrelink to work as managers in troubled Aboriginal communities for 12 months. The Government will send 60 senior bureacrats to act as administrators to manage communities. The plea came in a leaked memo sent to staff by Centrelink chief executive Jeff Whalan asking for Centrelink staff to go to the Territory for short rotations.
Speaking as he embarked on a three-day visit to the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands, Mr Abbott rejected calls for summits and intense consultation.
``The real risk is that people who are incorrigibly implicated in the old ways, or who are implacably opposed to the Howard Government, will sabotage this initiative,'' he said.
``They will do so by professing `in-principle support' but calling for continuous consultation and respect for cultural sensitivities. It is endless consultation processes and endless hand-wringing over cultural sensitivities which have got us into the problem in the first place.''
At the Cairns conference dinner last night, Aboriginal leader Gerhardt Pearson paid tribute to News Limited and The Australian newspaper for sponsoring and arranging the attendance of the international guests, including Mr Meyers.
Earlier, Mr Pearson had emphasised that the rights of children to have lives that were not damaged by malnutrition, neglect, physical or sexual abuse, over-rode any ``human right'' of a parent to spend the household welfare income on alcohol, drugs or gambling.
On the contentious issue of withholding welfare cheques, Mr Pearson said the issue should first be addressed at a local level by a body known as the Family Responsibilities Commission, which would be headed by a retired magistrate and include a male and female elder from each community.