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The Smallbone Report on youth sexual violence and abuse in Far North Queensland

On 12 March 2016 the ABC reported on the Smallbone Report on youth sexual violence and abuse in Far North Queensland (three suburbs in west Cairns and the indigenous community of Aurukun): ‘The report was commissioned by the Bligh government and delivered to the Newman government three years ago but has only been publicly released today.  Professor Stephen Smallbone, who wrote the report, said the communities identified in the report were not the only ones in which serious problems with sexual violence and abuse had occurred.  

‘”There are undoubtedly other communities in Australia, and in other parts of the world, where similar problems exist.  The problems outlined in our report can sometimes seem overwhelming and impossible to solve. Our approach has been to implement a number of interventions targeting parts of the bigger problem, and to use evaluation outcomes to set the directions for continued improvement. There is no ‘overnight’ solution. We acknowledge the courage and commitment of local community members who are standing up to tackle these difficult problem”.’

Tony Abbott and Mal Brough respond

The Smallbone Report appears to have been leaked to the Courier-Mail which gave detailed coverage to the report and its eminently sensible and detailed recommendations on 12 March.

Treasurer Curtis Pitt, who holds a Cairns seat, accepted that the report was disturbing and responded by announcing that a retired Supreme Court judge would chair a steering committee to review its recommendations.

Federal politicians were less measured in their response and their remarks were given prominence in the Courier-Mail.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott captured a front page headline ‘Rape: It’s black and white’, and a follow-up story on page 2 headed ‘Lock Up the Kids’, declaring that Queensland’s 10-year-old sex offenders should be arrested, charged and forced through the juvenile justice system.

Mal Brough, the architect of the Northern Territory intervention in 2007, has labelled some indigenous communities as ‘hellholes worse than Mad Max’, and believes some should be shut down’. (Courier-Mail, 16.3.16)

A response from Cape York

Fiona Jose (Cape York Partnerships) writes:

‘A report by researchers from Griffith University, led by Professor Stephen Smallbone, on youth sexual violence in Aurukun sat idle through three years of the Newman government before being released by Treasurer Curtis Pitt last weekend.

‘Ostensibly, then-premier Campbell Newman did not release the report because Aurukun Mayor Derek Walpo objected on the basis it would compromise the confidentiality of the children and families involved in the research. This may have been understandable but the failure to respond to the report is appalling. It was provided to the state more than two years ago. …

‘Although I support the establishment of the Smallbone report steering committee led by former Queensland Supreme Court justice Stanley Jones, it will take far more than a committee of eminent outsiders to put this right.

For that committee to have any real impact we must first have faith in the mothers, fathers, aunties, uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers of Aurukun.

‘It’s important to not let the scale of the problem obscure the fact that there are many upstanding individuals and families in Aurukun. The parents who send their kids to school every day, families that nurture and support their children, people who are seeking out a better life for their families, the very parents and grandparents that now stand proud as their children graduate from high school and university. Among them are strong natural leaders in Aurukun. And female leaders are the key.’

A more measured response from Dr Meg Perkins

Meg Perkins writes that there have been calls for the severe punishment of children as young as 10 years old found engaging in coercive sexual activity, such as that described in the recently released report on Aurukun and West Cairns by Professor Stephen Smallbone.

Dr Perkins examines the underlying issues, pointing out that children ‘act out’ what they have seen or what they have experienced. She writes that one of the worrying things that followed the release of the report was the ill-infomed comments of many, including politicians, who should know better.

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