Second Barkly child tragedy highlights need for urgent action



 “The solutions to what needs to be done are largely contained in the Royal Commission report and we need to implement the recommendations with even more urgency in the light of this second tragic event.”

Following reports of a further tragic, alleged sexual assault of a 4 year old boy in a remote Aboriginal community in the Barkly region, the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT (AMSANT) has called for re-doubled efforts to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into the care and protection of children in partnership with NT Aboriginal leaders.
p1941-Havnen,-Donna-Ah-CheeThis requires a real and urgent commitment to the funds that are required for early childhood programs, family support services, multidisciplinary assessment clinics, a new out of home care system and other key initiatives. Priority needs to be given for urgent investment into the Barkly region for enhanced family support services and programs and to consider regional frameworks.
Right: Donna Ah Chee (right) with Olga Havnen. Photo from our archives. 
In particular, high needs families known to the child protection system need to be able to access high quality, evidence based family support services. Unfortunately, the evidence-based model developed by the Aboriginal community controlled health sector, requiring a qualified social worker, working with a local Aboriginal Family Support Worker, was rejected by the former CLP government.
As a result, the intensive family preservation services that were funded are based on workers without university qualifications who on their own are incapable of doing the complex work that is required, and are delivered by a range of non-Aboriginal NGOs. Our sector was ruled out of providing appropriate services.
We have to ask, what family support services, if any, exist in remote communities like Ali Curung?
This case further highlights the need to work to improve the child protection system and to ensure that young people who have repeated interactions with the youth justice system have had the necessary multidisciplinary assessment required to diagnose and manage neurodevelopmental disorders including FASD. Has the 16 year old who has apparently confessed to a crime been assessed and what are the implications of any such assessment? These are vital questions that need to be answered now.
Sexual offences are abhorrent and need to be addressed with the full force of the law, however, AMSANT is very concerned at the level of misinformation that has been yet again used to sensationalise the issue. Why was this story leaked to the media before anything has been substantiated and to what end?
We are advised that the 4 year old boy has suffered no physical injuries and the report in The Australian newspaper that he was transferred to Alice Springs Hospital because of severe injuries is untrue. He was transferred to enable a proper forensic assessment even though there were no signs of injuries on examination. This does not mean he has not been harmed in some way but that the level of harm is as yet not proven and is not what has been reported in The Australian.
This follows on from the misinformation in the case of the 2 year old girl where it was widely reported that her injuries was so severe that she was in an induced coma in intensive care in an Adelaide hospital. This was not true and the girl did not have life threatening injuries, but was transferred to Adelaide for a specialist procedure and discharged into the care of her mother on the same day she was admitted to the hospital.
What is the agenda in the continued misreporting of these tragic, preventable incidents?
Misrepresentation of the existence and extent of physical injuries in these cases takes away from the very real and urgent needs of victims, families and the community to have in place the services and supports that we know will make a difference.
This is also counterproductive in an environment where we are trying to encourage Aboriginal people to come forward with any concerns they might have about possible sexual abuse in children.
At an AMSANT workshop this week we discussed better ways to encourage children to report potential abuse using a free call 1800 number based on successful models in other countries. We also discussed the possibility of introducing “safe houses” specifically designed to support disclosure from children. Adverse media publicity with so many factual errors from a voluntary report made by the mother and grandmother out of genuine concern has the potential to significantly deter others from coming forward. Misreporting has to stop.
The solutions to what needs to be done are largely contained in the Royal Commission report and we need to implement the recommendations with even more urgency in the light of this second tragic event.
In response to the latest reported cases of abuse AMSANT is calling for:
1. The first meeting of the new tripartite forum recommended by the Royal Commission, to include the NT and Commonwealth governments and Aboriginal leaders from APO NT.
2. The immediate funding of a network of evidence based, family support services across the NT capable of providing services in all communities across the NT. This will cost between $30 to $40 million and needs to be based on the original evidence based, Targeted Family Support Service model using the differential response framework.
3. The immediate re-introduction of full lockdown by police on all take-away outlets in regional centres coupled with the removal of take-away alcohol sales from roadhouses up and down the Stuart highway.
4. The urgent funding of the multidisciplinary specialist teams in Darwin and Alice Springs that can ensure that all young people in detention are assessed for neurodevelopmental disorders including FASD. This includes the urgent assessment of the 16 year old young person that has been charged with the latest offence and the 24 year old charged with the earlier offence.
5. The introduction of a free-call 1800 number to enable confidential, easy reporting of possible sexual abuse by children at risk.
Donna Ah Chee,
Chairperson of AMSANT (Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance – NT)


  1. Consider this: the alleged offender in this case is 16 years old and the alleged victim is a four year old.
    In 2007 the teenager in this case was a five year old. That was the year The Intervention was launched by the Federal Government (then Coalition under PM John Howard) in response to the crisis afflicting children on remote communities, initiated to a large extent by reports on the ABC’s Lateline program that triggered the investigation leading to the “Little Children are Sacred” report.
    A major part of The Intervention’s effort was an attempt to deal with the proliferation of pornography in remote communities – which again has been highlighted in recent media coverage.
    The NT Government at the time was Labor, led by Chief Minister Clare Martin, the Member for Fannie Bay.
    Once again the NT Government is Labor, led by CM Michael Gunner who succeeded Ms Martin as Member for Fannie Bay.
    The current Federal Government is again the Coalition; and we still have the same CLP Senator for the NT, Nigel Scullion.
    The Intervention involved many millions of taxpayers’s dollars being spent, and lots of disruption, controversy and debate.
    What has been achieved? What have we learned?
    Maybe there is need again for an Intervention but this time in our system of government, bureaucracy and the mainstream media.
    George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four has got nothing on us – his novel is a work of fiction, ours is the reality.

  2. Ali Curung has an inadequate medical clinic let alone any family support services.
    The need is huge because alcohol abuse is rife.
    Kieran has written a poignant account of the death of a woman near Ali Curung; well worth a read to get a sense of real life in the community.
    ‘Paradise’ is the local name for the nearest alcohol takeaway on the Stuart Highway.
    There is a missing generation in the community, victims of alcohol abuse and their kids are looked after by their grandparents.
    They are old and most are sick so of course the kids are not supervised as well as the grandparents would like.
    Down the road there is Nturiya (Station) and Wilora (Stirling), allegedly serviced from Ti Tree.
    Nturiya has the worst housing and services I have seen anywhere in the Territory and remote Pilbara.
    Camps are common, families living under corrugated iron.
    The community has no store or clinic.
    Wilora is another victim of Ti Tree under servicing.
    There are visiting nurses but no one counts on them.
    Family support services are a distant dream.
    The entire region is a national disgrace.

  3. In case anyone feels I’m unfairly critical of the Federal Coalition and NT Labor, here are some quotes from a feature report “The scourge of child abuse” from an earlier time.
    “Child abuse is running rife in our community.
    “In Alice Springs and the Barkly region 53 cases were reported to welfare authorities last year, compared to 108 in the Darwin region.
    “But authorities believe these figures represent only the tip of an iceberg.
    “Statistics are not available to show whether Alice Springs has a higher incidence of child abuse than other towns of similar size, but authorities agree the potential for abuse in Central Australia is ‘probably greater’.”
    Further: “Reporting of child abuse has increased dramatically since the Community Welfare Act – the Act covering the area of child abuse – was introduced in the Territory in 1982.”
    Under the heading of “The four types of abuse” (physical abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, emotional abuse), it was stated: “Reports of sexual abuse have risen sharply in the past few years with the number of proven cases in 1987 amounting to five times more than that of three years ago.
    “Police statistics show that one in four girls and one in 10 boys under 18 have been sexually abused.”
    Under the title “Action urged on child abuse” comes the following: “Child abuse must be dealt with in the same open and honest manner as AIDS, [the] Health and Community Services Minister said last week.
    “[The Minister] said nearly 400 allegations of child abuse were reported to the Health and Community Services Department in the last financial year.
    “Investigations showed that in 253 cases the reports were found to be true.”
    So now let’s put all this into perspective. This feature report was published on March 9, 1988 – exactly 30 years ago this month.
    The Federal Government at the time was the Hawke Labor Government, and the Member for the Northern Territory was Warren Snowdon, only eight months into his Parliamentary career.
    The NT Government was CLP led by Chief Minister Steve Hatton.
    The Minister for Health and Community Services? None other than Don Dale.

  4. Well founded and accurate and, I am sure, a true representations of the undeniably ongoing, seemingly impossible to resolve problems that present in so-called communities.
    But where do the millions of tax payer dollars that have been provided to encourage a solution go? Twenty years of throwing money at the problem has achieved nothing.
    Now a call for more millions based on a convoluted intellectual platform makes front page. Perhaps those in air-conditioned offices driving one of the hundreds of free vehicles with personalised number plates could do some hard yards on the ground and spend a week or a month mentoring one on one in these neglected communities.

  5. Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), which often includes a degree of cognitive disability, and easy access to the rankest type of online pornography means that the issues outlined in this article will not be going away anytime soon.
    And like many I have absolutely no idea how to address this.

  6. One of the issues that bedevils communities in the Barkly region and which negatively affects many residents is the gutlessness of the housing agency to management properties effectively.
    There might be one occupant in a three bedroom house and a family with six kids in a one bedroom house or even with no house at all so crammed into a relatives house.
    Eight people living in one room.
    Housing will not intervene to remedy this.
    That’s how the ownership of houses had been allowed to happen irrespective of needs.
    Families will own a number of houses and if one is vacant they will put a single individual in that house to maintain their ownership.
    Large families in overcrowded houses see this happen and complain about it but no action is taken.
    There is certainly overcrowding in the Barkly but there would be a lot less if families were assigned houses according to their needs.

  7. The only one making sense here tragically is Alex Nelson. Who said if you don’t learn from history you are set to repeat it?
    And it it looks we are doing it again and again, albeit with different players. Same show, different actors.

  8. Well said, Alex. As usual every department is blaming each other rather than looking in their own back yard.
    Don’t keep asking for more hand outs, get in there and do the job properly that you are already getting paid to do. Go into the places, talk to the people who are affected.

  9. Community problems will continue until the Commonwealth provided personal and corporate exemptions from responsibilities ends.
    Commonwealth racist support for apartheid is not a valid reason for ongoing exemption from responsibilities as land-owners or lease-holders.
    Expectations are that governments must provide public monies to provide and maintain improvements in these privately owned apartheid fiefdom lands. This significantly contributes to current problems.
    When these tenants’ and landlords’ responsibilities and accountability become simpler then most issues will be resolved.

  10. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The majority of the NT’s problems whether black or white are based on alcohol.
    Let’s draw a line in the sand and just ban alcohol in the Territory.
    I’m not a prude, I don’t mind a social drink but I’d be prepared to not consume for the greater good. It’s the only thing that will start the healing from a disease handed down over generations.

  11. Bit simplistic and unrealistic to ban all alcohol, Phil.
    The government gets tax from the sale of alcohol, where is the money going to come from to reimburse hotels, pubs and bottleshops that would be shut down.
    Not to mention all the people put out of work in the pubs and delivery drivers, warehouse staff.
    And the impact to the tourism industry would be horrific Territory wide.
    It would only start up convoys of cars going interstate empty and coming back loaded with grog to sell on the black market.
    Prohibition didn’t work before and it wouldn’t work again, just like the BDR.

  12. Michael Dean, I don’t necessarily disagree with you about it being simplistic but alcohol is the root of all this evil and that’s my suggestion.
    With respect, what’s your answer? If you just remove it from the Indigenous you’re branded a racist (even though my father is a Murri Man).

  13. Phil you said: “The majority of the NT’s problems whether black or white are based on alcohol.” Alcohol only exposes the true reality of how many are suffering in our country, especially in the NT.
    People use drugs and alcohol for many reasons – to relax, have fun, socialise, cope with problems, escape life or dull emotional, physical pain.
    A drunk who has self esteem will be happy, stupid, but not violent.
    In many cases, self-esteem and domestic violence go hand in hand.
    The less in control an offender feels, the more they want to hurt others, and domestic violence offenders tend to prey on women who have low self-esteem, realising that the victim will want and need them no matter what they do.
    Of course, using substances to cope doesn’t make problems go away, and can make them worse or add new problems to the mix as we can witness in Alice Springs.

  14. Am I the only one who thinks another 1800 number is ridiculous? We already have a single number for emergency services (and child abuse is without doubt an emergency), why not spend the money on expanding and training the existing emergency call centres to more effectively deal with reporting?
    Banning grog on the highway won’t help anyone, all it does is move the problem drinkers to a town where they have no housing, their children are not enrolled in school and they are left to run amok with even less care or oversight than they had in their own community. Just ask Mount Isa how the Tennant Creek restrictions are going for them.

  15. @ Jones: It is also worth pointing out that Nturiya had a health centre built some years ago. It was burned to the ground not long after construction was completed.

  16. To everyone who criticises my stance on alcohol and other drugs, especially those who mention the jobs involved in supplying such: We are talking about child abuse and rape, murder and critical injuries here, not you mention foetal alcohol syndrome. You people are up there with America’s National Rifle Association.

  17. Re Phil, Posted April 6, 2018 at 12:44 pm: I doubt if everyone critical of your stand re alcohol, including myself, thinks prohibition is impractical and considers prohibition would fail.
    Contributions from alcohol to other offenses long recognised, while previous excuses of intoxication with alcohol mostly now fail.
    Many are aware of FASD. It is essential ALL children and all persons facing custodial orders be tested for disability indicators. There must be suitable support programs.
    The NT statistical results need to be regularly published.

  18. @ Another Local: It’s interesting that you say that Nturiya had a health centre built some years ago and it was burned to the ground.
    In the white administrative enclave of Ti Tree that is exactly the reason given for the neglect of the community, it is also claimed that 15 years ago the store was burned down.
    Nturiya is pariah community where a few incidents long ago are used to justify the horrific neglect.
    Docker River store was burned down many years ago as was Kintore school etc etc but these communities have stores and schools and clinics.
    I personally have found the people of Nturiya hospitable and peaceful.
    Heard of any Willowra style riots or major family disputes?
    People at Yuendumu were actually compensated by the NT Government when they torched houses and cars.
    About time to stop making excuses and blaming the victims. Put services into these neglected communities.


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