A shocking video showing the “war zone” conditions of regional WA towns will be shown to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Canberra today as a delegation from the State calls for an urgent expansion of the cashless welfare card.
The video, compiled by out-going Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan, regional councils and the Minderoo Foundation will be presented by a group of indigenous and community leaders who want to see the card rolled out to towns ravaged by welfare-fuelled drug and alcohol abuse.
“It is a war zone out there and the victims are little children,” Mr O’Callaghan says in the video, which will also be shown to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Senate crossbenchers whose support will be critical if the Government wants to expand the number of trial sites for the card.
Mr O’Callaghan told The West Australian that tackling drug and alcohol abuse in communities where there was a heavy reliance on welfare payments was an urgently needed “circuit breaker”.
“We need to do something to advocate for a cashless society up there so we can actually get a circuit breaker,” he said.
While the Federal Government has indicated it will introduce the card only where it has community support, Mr O’Callaghan said given the number of children at risk it should be considered regardless of whether it had the support of town leaders.
“I think at some stage the safety of children becomes paramount over what people want to do.
“At some point the State has to take responsibility.”
Today’s meeting will include Port Hedland mayor Camilo Blanco, indigenous leaders Jean O’Reeri and Bianca Crake from Kununurra and Corey McLennan from the Koonibba Aboriginal Corporation in Ceduna in SA where trials of the card were under way.
The video includes CCTV vision of fighting among indigenous people in Roebourne, Leonora and Port Hedland, and statistics outlining the extent of the violence and sexual abuse in the communities.
In Roebourne, 184 of about 500 children in the town have been sexually assaulted — more than 10 per cent of the population — with 36 men facing 300 child abuse charges. The video also highlights problems in Leonora, where six children committed suicide within 18 months.
Minderoo Foundation chairman Andrew Forrest, who will lead today’s delegation, said the welfare system was “enabling those dysfunctional behaviours” by funding alcohol and drug abuse.
He acknowledged the card was not a “silver bullet”.
“But it might just give these children some protection from adults who are so drunk, so high on drugs, that they attack their own children,” he said.
“It might give families a fighting chance at building an optimistic future and a chance to redirect their money to spend on food for their children.
“It might allow parents to get away from the grip of alcohol and drugs long enough to get help, to realise sending their children to school does matter.”
This piece was first seen on ‘The West Australian’ 9 August 2017.