The Western Australian government has announced a $3.1m plan to tackle high levels of family violence in the Kimberley, including an extra $1.9m for teams of police and child protection workers to “reset” remote Aboriginal communities with “unacceptable” levels of violence.
The new Kimberley family violence regional plan aims to ground responses to family violence in Aboriginal law and culture by working with elders and law people from the Kimberley’s 40-plus language and tribal groups.
It includes $1.3m for support services and to fund four “family safety teams” which will work with victims and perpetrators of family violence.
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WA’s child protection minister, Helen Morton, said family violence had become so prevalent in the Kimberley that it “has become almost normalised in some communities as being an acceptable way of behaviour”.
Government statistics cited in the Kimberley plan show Aboriginal women are three times more likely to be physically assaulted by their partner than non-Aboriginal women.
Morton said the plan, which was written by Victoria Hovane, an Aboriginal woman from Broome and a leading expert on Aboriginal family violence, was designed to tie into the federal government’s new $100m domestic violence package.
It will involve using elders and Aboriginal law and culture to argue that family violence is not acceptable. And it will reinforce the need for mandatory reporting of family violence, which has slipped among both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in the community who view violence as “a way of life” among Aboriginal people. It also will relocate the “reset teams” of police and child protection workers to the Kimberley.
“You must always remember that these people don’t want to have that unacceptable behaviour occurring in their community either,” Morton said.
The plan ties into the government’s remote community reform program, announced after the WA premier, Colin Barnett, said that up to 150 remote Aboriginal communities faced “closure”, first citing a lack of funding and then claiming they had dysfunctionally high levels of child sexual abuse. Talk of closures has since been rescinded. Morton is one of two ministers steering the remote community reforms, the other is the leader of the National Party, Terry Redman.
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The most obvious connection to remote community reforms are the “reset teams” which, Morton said, “go in for about 18 months at a time to reset a community’s beliefs around normalised behaviour, where we have recognised that that community’s moral compass has got lost”.
That is what happened in Oombulgurri, an extremely remote community 45km north-west of Wyndham, when members of the child sex abuse squad swooped in for what was known as “operation sheepshank” to investigate reports of a paedophile ring.
The results of that investigation, and an earlier coronial inquest into a spate of suicides, led to the state government making the decision to close the community in 2013.
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