CANBERRA, Australia – The Australian government Tuesday introduced bills in Parliament to fight child sex abuse among Aborigines, in a plan condemned by critics as discriminatory and an attack on indigenous culture.
In introducing almost 500 pages of legislation, Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough described Outback Aboriginal communities as "a failed society where law and order and behavior have broken down and where women and children are unsafe."
"Do we respond with more of what we've done in the past or do we radically change direction with an intervention strategy matched to the magnitude of the problem?" Brough told Parliament.
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 rampant 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 essentials such as food.
Child abuse on Aboriginal-owned land in the Northern Territory, covering an area the size of Texas but populated by only 30,000 people, is fueled by alcohol abuse, unemployment, poverty and other factors leading to a breakdown in society, the report found.
Former Federal Court Judge Murray Wilcox said the government has acknowledged the plan is racially discriminatory because a clause in the proposed legislation exempts it from anti-discrimination laws.
Brough said the government was prepared to bypass anti-discrimination legislation "in the interest of saving children."
He also defended the proposed removal of traditional land owners' power to refuse outsiders permission to enter Aboriginal land and for the government to take control over Aboriginal communities through compulsorily acquired five-year leases.
Aboriginal leaders from the Northern Territory came to the national capital of Canberra on Tuesday to lobby the government to delay the legislation, which the government wants passed this week.
A delegation leader, John Ah Kit, told reporters "our culture being smashed to smithereens" by the federal takeover of indigenous communities.
"This is about the beginning of the end of Aboriginal culture; it is in some ways genocide," Ah Kit, a former Northern Territory government minister, said without elaborating.
Brough rejected the genocide accusation as "sad and also offensive" because the intervention was directed at stopping pedophiles.
"You talk about trying to stop that as genocide, you're either very confused or it's very sad circumstances that you're living in," Brough said.
Social justice organization Oxfam Australia said in a report on the draft laws Tuesday that the erosion of Aboriginal control over their land would not curb child abuse and could create years of conflict between black and white Australians.
The opposition Labor Party announced Tuesday that it would support the legislation but would propose amendments, including making the plan subject to anti-discrimination laws.
But the ruling coalition's majorities in both houses of Parliament mean the government is unlikely to need opposition backing.