Care and Protection of Children Act – Northern Territory

Earlier this year the Northern Territory passed the ‘Care and Protection of Children Act’. This meant that doctors had to compulsorily report any child under the age of 16 who they suspected of having sexual intercourse. This would have ruined any patient confidentiality with these kids, probably more with the girls dealing with teenage pregnancy.

Even sillier, it was interpreted that the sale of condoms to anyone under sixteen years also had to be reported to the authorities.

With a lot of pressure from medical and civil rights organisations amongst others the Act has already been amended.

Amendments to the Care and Protection of Children Act

The NT Legislative Assembly passed amendments to the Care and Protection of Children Act on 20 August 2009. This followed a concerted effort by a Coalition of health and legal organisations (Really Caring for Kids Coalition) of which GPNNT was a key contributor.

The amendments to section 26 of the Act, introduced to Parliament as a matter of urgency, addressed health practitioner’ concerns that the mandatory reporting of sexual activity in 14 and 15 years olds had resulted in young people not accessing sexual health advice and treatment through their local general practice or health clinic.

Health Professionals should note the amendments maintain strict mandatory reporting requirements for all Territorians to report harm and exploitation, including sexual abuse, and also recognise the greater responsibility for health practitioners in assessment and notification.

The amendments to section 26 require that:
• all people to report harm and exploitation, including sexual abuse;
• all people to report sexual offences (which includes underage sex) against children aged under 14 years; and
• health practitioners to report sexual offences (which includes underage sex) against children aged 14 or 15 years where there is a greater than 2 year difference between the alleged victim and offender.

A full review of the Act, including section 26, is planned for April 2010, and the Really Caring for Kids Coalition will continue to monitor the progress.

The General Practice Network Northern Territory has produced Recommendations for Health Professionals. If you are an Australian Health Professional please contact them or myself if you require a copy of these recommendations.

• NT Families and Children Central Intake on 1800 700 250
• Sexual Assault Referral Service (SARC)
• 89 7156 – Darwin
• 8951 5880 – Alice Springs
• 896 4364 – Tennant Creek
• Employee Assistance Scheme (EAS) – 08 8941 175
• Bush Crisis Line/CRANA – 1800 805 391
• Lifeline – 131 114; DV/SA National Hot Line – 1800 019 116
• Ruby Gaea, Darwin Centre Against Rape – 8945 0155

Remote Mining and Indigenous Housing

In 2003 a Western Australian commissioned panel looked at the long working hours in the mining industry. A lot of the focus was on the Fly In Fly Out (FIFO) workforce suggesting they suffered from higher levels of drug abuse, depression and family breakdowns. It didn’t seem to stop the increasing numbers of FIFO workers.

I have written before (and here) on what I see as the destructive impacts on local communities by mining companies not putting into these local communities.

MATTHEW CARNEY: Rather than growing communities, centres like Port Hedland were being gutted and the divide between the haves and the have-nots was as wide as an open cut.

However the mining companies continued to produce reports that purportedly showed that FIFO workers benefited communities. With the economic turn-down mining companies seem to be moving opposite ways. A contractor at the Argyle diamond mine will give preference to local workers over FIFO workers as they start laying off staff. Unfortunately the larger mining companies who are the major employers seem to have other ideas.

Port Hedland still wants a rethink on the use of FIFO workers

The Member for the Pilbara, Tom Stephens, has criticised the mining company over its plans to increase its work force by 20 per cent over the next three years without building new houses in Port Hedland and Newman.

ABC TV recently reported on a Western Australia study that showed the health and social effects supposedly suffered by a FIFO workforce (talked about in the opening paragraph) was not correct and there was no more hardship than local workers. This led to one company to say they would increase the FIFO workforce (supposedly to the detriment of local workers, community infrastructure etc as cost is always the driving factor).

When mines are opened on land owned by indigenous people under Native Title, Native Title Agreements are entered into with the land holders. Sometimes this leads to increased local indigenous employment. However some companies quote the indigenous employment at various mine sites with out disclosing many of them are FIFO workers.

Most importantly, research from Griffith University has shown that these agreements between mining companies and native land owners has NOT led to any benefits for the local people.

results show the Tribunal, which administers the Native Title Act (NTA), seriously disadvantages Indigenous groups when negotiating with mining companies. ……..

“In all 17 cases taken to the Tribunal in the last decade, the Tribunal has granted the mining leases and been unwilling to impose conditions that might prove onerous for the miner…..

“Research shows the Tribunal demands more stringent standards of proof from Indigenous groups than from companies, and tends to accept particular types of evidence when this favours companies but reject the same sort of evidence when it favours Indigenous groups.”

Native Title should provide Indigenous people with the opportunity to benefit from Australia’s resources boom, to reduce their dependence on welfare and increase their presence in the ‘real economy

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare in an article titled Housing and Infrastructure states:

Housing has been identified as a major factor affecting the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Adequate housing provides protection from the elements, minimises the risk of disease and injury, and contributes to the physical, mental and social wellbeing of the occupants. Inadequate or poorly maintained housing and the absence of essential infrastructure, such as a supply of safe drinking water and effective sewerage systems, can pose serious health risks.

One hundred and fifty five million dollars is about to be spent in the Northern Territory on indigenous housing as part of a five year, $672 million dollar program. (A list of the involved communities is here). I find it difficult to understand comments made by intelligent men such as those by Gary Johns of The Bennelong Society, who has stated:

“housing should not be provided to remote Aboriginal communities where there are no jobs and people are unable to pay rent or service a mortgage”

and that they should move to where there are jobs.

I have commented here(and over here!) on the health benefits of indigenous people living in small communities on country.

The earlier part of my post talked about the major companies flying in and out workers rather than increasing local infrastructure and employing locally. So where do we build these indigenous houses so they are closer to work? Do we have them move to towns first and live in overcrowded conditions if in a house at all or do we build a house first and try and reduce overcrowding and the diseases that I am sure the members of the Bennelong Society have never suffered from.

Why don’t we look at ensuring the agreements signed between mining companies and native title holders provide real benefits, including jobs, are delivered to the local indigenous population.

Perhaps in their effort to find 50 000 jobs for indigenous Australians rather than fly people from Queensland to Western Australia they could fly remote indigenous Australians from their larger communities to the nearest mine site, provide proper training, assist with schooling and negotiate to improve indigenous communities.

I am sure we as a country and the members of The Bennelong Society if they could bury their ideology for a while) can come up with innovative and workable proposals that benefits as well as respects indigenous Australians and their culture.

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NT Intervention a Failure – How Could That Be?

The Intervention has been running in the NT for a year now and is under review. For those of you in Australia that have been under a rock the Northern Territory Emergency Response was ostensibly brought in by the last government to stop all the child abuse they knew was happening in the NT. I don’t know if they actually identified one case.

But the Intervention is under review. The NTER Review Board is on the job to see if it was beneficial for kids health. Most who have worked bush says it mainly duplicated what was there, and from what I understand in some instances were reporting incidences of disease far lower than what was known to be there.

Twenty-eight doctors have made a formal submission to the NTER Review Board. many of these doctors came to the Territory to assist with the Intervention. And their view – “health checks for indigenous children under the federal intervention have largely been useless.”

“health checks have been costly but ineffective.” (quote from ABC)

They also stated the obvious. The health checks do not make a difference to the child, it is the follow up treatment that provides this. “The main thing about child health checks is that in of themselves they will not improve the health of that child,” she said.

And that is where we require the funding. To ensure we can get people in to town and back for their operation. Lets spend the money on these areas rather than it waste it all on duplicating resources.

I have placed a post on the Intervention previously.

The Intervention: Develop Some Real Solutions

Thanks to the cache on the internet here is an earlier post I lost from Monday Aug 11th.

“I have just completed a six-week stint working as a sexual health specialist in remote Central Australian Aboriginal communities, during which time I revisited many places where I had previously worked and lived as a remote area nurse over a 10-year period. During my latest stint, I was not with the NT Intervention but part of the annual Tri-State screening for STIs (sexually transmitted infections) in Central Australia.

While I saw some positive effects of the Intervention, I have also been horrified by the many negatives.

I am particularly concerned by the huge waste of resources with the child health checks program. What was the point of spending so much money effort describing problems that were already well described? Children in remote communities are the most examined there are in Australia. The Intervention has not turned up anything that was not already known, and it is the follow up treatments that need to be concentrated on.”

So started the article penned by remote area nurse, Chris Wilson in an article in today’s Crikey newsletter. Take a look at the full article here also have a page of comments and articles on the Intervention here

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