Sat, Aug 18, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Canberra passes package against Aboriginal abuse


The Australian Senate overwhelmingly approved a package of bills yesterday to fight what the government says is rampant child sexual abuse among Aborigines, clearing the last hurdle for a plan condemned by critics as a racist attack on indigenous rights.

The complex package of legislation passed 56 votes to six, with the major opposition Labor Party supporting Australian Prime Minister John Howard's coalition government. It was approved last week by the House of Representatives.

The government plans to seize some of the powers of the Northern Territory government in response to an officially commissioned report that found child abuse was widespread in indigenous communities on Australia's tropical northern frontier.

Under the plan, alcohol and hardcore pornography will be banned from Aboriginal communities and Aborigines will be forced to spend a portion of their welfare checks on family essentials like food.

Traditional owners will also lose their veto power over who enters Aboriginal-owned land in the Northern Territory, an area the size of Texas but populated by only 40,000 people.

The Senate vote was the final hurdle for the government in implementing the ambitious plan, which also involves increasing policing and medical checks in the Outback. The government estimates it will cost more than A$500 million (US$428 million) in its first year.

Labor had unsuccessfully proposed amendments that would have prevented the plan from being exempt from anti-discrimination laws.

Labor Senator Ruth Webber told the Senate during debate this week that she was critical of the government for failing to consult with Aboriginal people over the plan.

"I find this legislation difficult, but I will not allow my personal difficulties to stand in the way of making children safe," she said.

Senator Bob Brown, leader of the Greens party, called the legislation racist because of being exempt from the anti-discrimination laws that protect every other ethnic group in Australia.

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