Australia will ban alcohol and pornography in Aboriginal communities across the country's vast Northern Territory to combat widespread child sexual abuse, Prime Minister John Howard told parliament yesterday.
Describing the plight of Aboriginal children as "a national emergency," Howard said he was taking control of indigenous communities from the Northern Territory government because it had failed to address the problem.
The prime minister introduced the unprecedented measures in response to a Northern Territory government report released last week that found rampant child abuse fuelled by a "river of grog" [alcohol] in indigenous communities.
"This is a national emergency, there is no greater obligation this parliament has than caring for all the vulnerable and young in our community," Howard said.
"We're dealing with a group of young Australians for whom the concept of childhood innocence has never been present. That's a sad and tragic event and exceptional measures are required to deal with an exceptionally tragic situation," he said.
Howard said once the federal government took over the administration of Aboriginal communities it would enforce sweeping changes including a six-month ban on the sale, possession and transportation of alcohol.
Hardcore pornography would also be barred from the communities once they came under Canberra's control, Howard said.
He said up to 50 percent of welfare payments would be earmarked for food and other essentials to ensure the money was not spent on alcohol, with the payment of some benefits linked to children's attendance at school.
Police patrols in Aboriginal communities would be immediately stepped up and the Australian Medical Association (AMA) would carry out health checks on all Territory children aged 16 or under.
Howard did not specify when the changes would take place but said that, if needed, he would recall parliament from an upcoming break to pass the necessary legislation.
The Northern Territory has one of the highest concentrations of Aborigines in Australia but Howard said the problems were nationwide.
He urged Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales to introduce similar bans.
But West Australian Premier Alan Carpenter said his government was already addressing the issue of Aboriginal child abuse and questioned why Howard had only declared it a national emergency after 11 years in office.
The report cited evidence that children as young as five had sexually transmitted diseases and that girls were being prostituted for gasoline, which is commonly sniffed by youths in Aboriginal areas.
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