Liam Mendes, Sophie Elsworth The Australian April 13, 2023
Indigenous senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price has accused the Northern Territory government of the “absolutely disgusting” denial that young Indigenous children are suffering rampant sexual abuse in Central Australia. A political storm erupted on Thursday during Peter Dutton’s visit to Alice Springs, as the ABC came under fire for abruptly ending the live broadcast of a fiery exchange between the Opposition Leader and an ABC journalist over the claims.
NT Police Minister Kate Worden attacked Mr Dutton for “absolutely opportunistic political game-playing” in alleging widespread child sexual abuse in the territory.
“It’s quite frankly a dog act,” Ms Worden said, calling on Mr Dutton to report any evidence he had to police.
Labor senator for the NT, Malarndirri McCarthy, also called for the allegations to be referred to police. “I would ask Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, if you are aware of this, then you need to mandatorily report it to police so that there can be an investigation immediately, and if you have not done that, I would urge you to do so as soon as possible,” she said.
Senator Price, from the NT, labelled Ms Worden’s comments “absolutely disgusting”, saying she had personally sat through a court case of a teenage girl raped by her own father.
“To claim that it is a dog act from Dutton for actually caring and want to see a reduction in the abuse of children – that is the dog act,” Senator Price said.
Mr Dutton had earlier called for Australian Federal Police to be brought in to Alice Springs to help restore law and order during a heated news conference in which he angrily rejected questions from a local ABC reporter who asked for evidence of widespread child sexual abuse in the territory.
Standing alongside Senator Price, Mr Dutton said: “You’ve got kids here tonight who are going to be sexually abused, or families where domestic violence has now become a current occurrence and we’re told that nothing could be done about it.
“I just find it completely and utterly deplorable.”
The ABC reporter then asked Mr Dutton why peak bodies advocating for Indigenous children had rejected his call for a royal commission and “what evidence do you have that there is this so called rampant child sexual abuse occurring in remote Central Australia?”
Mr Dutton replied: “With respect that’s such an ABC question. Do you live locally, do you speak to people on the streets to hear what it is they’re saying to you?”
“I live locally,” the journalist said.
“You live locally? You don’t believe there’s any problem here?” Mr Dutton replied.
“I’m asking you what evidence do you have …” the journalist said.
“I’ve spoken to the police and the social workers, some of whom are out on stress leave at the moment because of the scenes that they’ve endured,” Mr Dutton said.
“They have kids taking them back into homes where they’ve been sexually assaulted and six- year-olds grabbing onto their legs screaming not to be left there.”
He cut off the line of questioning after the journalist asked for Mr Dutton’s data, after which Senator Price joined in.
“The data that I know of suggest otherwise, that Indigenous children have experienced the highest rates of abuse in the nation and the children, particularly in places like remote communities, are those children that are suffering the most,” she said.
The live broadcast was aired on ABC’s 24-hour news channel but was cut off moments after Mr Dutton questioned the ABC.
The live channel returned to host Joe O’Brien, who was presenting the news from Sydney, at 10.57am AEST. He told viewers: “OK, we’ve got to leave it there because we are going to our break.”
He then moved on to provide an update from the Bureau of Meteorology about tropical cyclone Ilsa approaching the West Australian coast.
An ABC spokesperson said the live broadcast cut away as scheduled because it was the top of the hour. “This is normal in TV broadcasting. The ABC replayed the questions and answers shortly afterwards as well as during the afternoon, and it was a key element of the 7pm news story, with the response.”
The fallout comes just two months after the ABC aired an AM report that claimed there were elements of “white supremacy” at an Alice Springs community meeting that was held to discuss the concerns around rising crime in the area.
The ABC’s corporate affairs department initially defended the story despite receiving extensive criticism.
But four days later it did a backflip and apologised for airing an “incomplete” story. Senator Price told The Australian on Thursday the ABC had shown it could not be trusted for transparent and unbiased journalism.
“It was an ABC question and Mr Dutton, who has actually spoken to locals and was ready to give their voices a megaphone, was cut off by the ABC,” she said.
Senator Price strongly criticised Ms Worden’s attack on Mr Dutton. “I think it’s utterly disgusting that someone with the responsibility that she has will be in such denial,” she said.
“They have failed the people of the Territory, they are failing to protect children and Kate Worden must be walking around with her eyes closed if she can’t see what’s going on.
“I have personally sat through court cases and heard the evidence: (for example a) teenage girl (gave) evidence of her own case where she was raped by her own father and heard the harrowing stories first-hand … everything they do suggests to me that they’re trying to cover everything up and that includes the ability to debate issues in parliament itself, so I don’t trust them a bit.”
The Opposition Leader arrived in Alice Springs on Wednesday to meet residents who have faced a surge in youth and alcohol-fuelled violence.
Mr Dutton said it was “heartbreaking” to hear from locals who expressed concern for their safety and that of their loved ones.
“We’ve spoken to a number of locals who are making a decision to leave and to relocate to some other part of the Northern Territory, or indeed, to another part of the country, and that is devastating,” he said.
He said another life would be lost and that “law and order” could be restored only if Anthony Albanese called in the AFP.
“If Natasha Fyles, the Chief Minister, is saying there’s nothing to see in Alice Springs, then the Prime Minister should overrule her because he should listen to the people on the ground here and start to restore some dignity to protect these kids from continued violation of their own human rights,” he said.
1/ Opposition leader Peter Dutton claimed there was widespread child abuse in Alice Springs, while Senator Jacinta Price said the government’s response was “absolutely disgusting”. Picture: Liam Mendes