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Last Updated: Monday, 25 June 2007, 06:56 GMT 07:56 UK
Aborigine abuse crackdown begins
By Nick Bryant
BBC News, Sydney

Aboriginal people gather in a street in Alice Springs (file image)
Alcohol abuse is rife among the Aboriginal community
Police have begun arriving in Australia's Northern Territory to carry out a controversial programme to combat child abuse in Aboriginal communities.

Prime Minister John Howard has also announced the police will receive military support to implement the plan.

Mr Howard announced his proposals after a report found rampant paedophilia and juvenile prostitution in indigenous communities across the territory.

His plans have been criticised by some as heavy-handed and racist.

About 20 troops are already on the ground in central Australia to provide logistical support for the extra police officers drafted in from all over the country.

The federal government has drawn up a hit list of the most violent and dysfunctional indigenous communities, and they will be targeted first.

It includes Mutitjulu, a community close to the sacred site of Uluru, where it is alleged one man traded petrol for sex with underage girls.

'State of dysfunction'

Mr Howard believes a breakdown in law and order is a major factor in the child abuse problem.

Abuse is serious, widespread and often unreported
Aboriginal people not the only victims or perpetrators of sexual abuse
Contributing factors include poverty, alcohol and drug abuse, gambling, pornography
Health and social services desperately need improving

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"A lack of effective policing has been at the heart of it," he said.

"Until law and order has been established... then we're not going to be able to make progress on things like health checks and compulsory school attendance because there is a state of dysfunction."

Mr Howard's plan though continues to be the subject of fierce debate.

State and territory leaders, suspicious of the federal government's forceful intervention, have called for greater consultation, not least with Aboriginal leaders.

One of Mr Howard's predecessors as prime minister, Malcolm Fraser, has also lashed out at the proposals, calling them a throwback to paternalism.

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12 Feb 07 |  Asia-Pacific
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09 May 07 |  Country profiles

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