Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion says the issues raised by the taskforce are a concern. Photo: Alex EllinghausenOrganised crime groups that exploit remote Indigenous communities, and are suspected of drug trafficking and recruiting locals, are being largely ignored by authorities, an internal Australian Crime Commission report reveals.
The ACC tried to keep secret the recommendations of a final report into Indigenous communities, which found that registered child sex offender monitoring systems should be reviewed, and backed the permanent presence of police, child protection and health services in isolated regions.
The 34 recommendations of the ACC National Indigenous Intelligence Taskforce, which investigated remote communities from 2006 to last year, were only released after Fairfax Media appealed to the Australian Information Commissioner.
The taskforce’s final report was released to Fairfax under freedom of information laws in March, but the recommendations, or “response options for consideration”, were redacted.
The ACC argued the public interest of revealing the recommendations was outweighed by the impact that disclosure could have on “the ACC’s ability to provide frank and candid advice to government”, but reversed that decision this month after an appeal to the AIC.
None of the ACC recommendations refer to the forced closure of remote communities, an issue which has sparked national protests that are set to flare again in November.
The report found that “law enforcement agencies may need to increase their focus on the presence of organised crime groups in regional indigenous communities”.
There were also recommendations that raise concerns about: The effectiveness of community-run safe houses for family violence victims;A need to expand the mandatory reporting requirements of organisations that employ people to work with children;The link between the under-reporting of child abuse and poor access to alternative reporting methods, including not being able to report to authorities other than police;Inadequate legislation targeting the supply of alcohol in remote communities which also hampers the prosecution of those who operate sly-grog shops;No targeted education programs to reduce self-harm, or address rising amphetamine and prescription drug use; andA need for better information sharing and collection regarding child protection.
The ACC also backed increased transparency regarding the payment of multimillion dollar mining royalties and Indigenous Land Use Agreements.
It said the payments were open to fraud and the possibility of being stolen or misappropriated by community members, particularly those with gambling problems.
Policing the payments was made more difficult because community groups had limited access to criminal history checks for probity purposes to ensure those they employed could be trusted.
Details of internal reports generated by the taskforce since 2006, including some reports classified as highly protected and Intelligence in-confidence, are also contained in material that had previously been redacted but was recently released to Fairfax.
These reports include details of investigations into Indigenous gangs, the alleged sexual abuse and neglect of children by two unnamed suspects, the suspected criminal behaviour of a powerful family in one community, and probes into the unexplained wealth and suspected criminal activity of several unnamed community members.
The taskforce visited regional towns or Indigenous communities in every state and territory, but focused on Arnhem Land and the Barkly region (Northern Territory), the APY Lands (South Australia), the Kimberley region (Western Australia), and western New South Wales.
Investigators could force members of these communities to give evidence, as the commission has coercive powers.
It was hoped this power would also prevent reprisals against community members who spoke to investigators.
It is unclear how many of the report’s recommendations have been acted on, but Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion told Fairfax in April that the issues raised by the taskforce remained a concern.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott had proclaimed he hoped to be the prime minister for Indigenous Affairs, but his comment that living in remote communities was a “lifestyle choice” was met with scorn by those campaigning to save the communities.
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