“This is a national emergency, there is no greater obligation this parliament has than caring for all the vulnerable and young in our community,” Howard told parliament.
“We’re dealing with a group of young Australians for whom the concept of childhood innocence has never been present. That’s a sad and tragic event and exceptional measures are required to deal with an exceptionally tragic situation.”
Howard said once the federal government took over the administration of Aboriginal communities it would enforce a six-month ban on the sale, possession and transportation of alcohol.
Hardcore pornography would also be barred from the communities once they came under Canberra‘s control.
He said that up to 50 per cent of welfare payments would be earmarked for food and other essentials to ensure that the money was not spent on alcohol, with the payment of some benefits linked to children’s attendance at school.
Police patrols in Aboriginal communities would be immediately stepped up and the Australian Medical Association (AMA) would carry out health checks on all children aged 16 or under.
|“This is a national emergency; there is no greater obligation this parliament has than caring for all the vulnerable and young in our community”
John Howard, Australian prime minister
Howard did not specify when the changes would take place but said that, if needed, he would recall parliament from an upcoming break to pass the necessary legislation.
Dan Nolan, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Sydney, said: “Alcohol is a major problem in Aboriginal communities … many of these communities have self-imposed bans already and as a result of that have seen huge reductions in violence and suicide rates.”
The Northern Territory has one of the highest concentrations of Aborigines in Australia, but Howard said the problems were nationwide.
He urged Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales – where the federal government does not have the power to override local state legislatures – to introduce similar bans.
But Alan Carpenter, the prime minister of Western Australia, said his government was already addressing the issue of Aboriginal child abuse and questioned why Howard had only just declared it a national emergency after 11 years in office.
The report, carried out by the Northern Territory government, described widespread alcohol abuse and found that children in the impoverished and often overcrowded communities were often exposed to pornography at a young age then imitated what they had seen with each other.
The report cited evidence that children as young as five had contracted sexually transmitted diseases and girls were being prostituted for petrol, which is commonly sniffed by youths in Aboriginal communities.
It also detailed allegations non-indigenous paedophiles were targeting Aboriginal communities and said mine workers in some areas paid young indigenous girls for sex.
The sexual abuse often went unreported, but had harmed generations of indigenous youngsters, the report found.
There are about 470,000 Aborigines in Australia‘s 20 million population.
They are the country’s most impoverished community, with life expectancy more than 17 years lower than their compatriots and higher rates of heart disease, infant mortality and domestic violence.