Children found starving in rural Australia

Aboriginal disadvantage has not rated a mention during the Australian election campaign – there are few votes in it. But as the party leaders criss-crossed the country this week, shocking evidence emerged at a government inquiry: children in remote indigenous communities are starving.

The claims were made by child protection workers, who said the situation was so dire that an international aid-style programme was needed – an extraordinary state of affairs in one of the world's most affluent nations. The workers called for essential food to be delivered by an organisation such as Oxfam or the Red Cross to ensure that children got enough to eat.

The inquiry was established by the Northern Territory government, with the aim of strengthening the child protection system. It has already heard a series of disturbing allegations, including that children in remote communities are left to wander unsupervised at night, or are abandoned when their parents go on drinking sessions.

It was the Northern Territory that was targeted by a federal government "intervention", initially aimed at tackling child sex abuse. The intervention, which began three years ago during the conservative reign of the then prime minister, John Howard, continued under his Labor successor Kevin Rudd, albeit in a slightly watered-down form. In 2008, when Mr Rudd apologised to Aboriginal people for historic injustices, he pledged to "close the gap" between black and white Australians – the yawning gulf relating to their health, life expectancy, education and employment opportunities.

Little has changed, however. Indigenous people are still dying up to 20 years earlier than their white counterparts, and the mortality rate of babies born to Aboriginal mothers is twice that of other Australian infants.

Claims that children are starving, or "failing to thrive", were contained in a submission to the inquiry in Darwin by child protection staff from the Northern Territory. They said resources allocated to indigenous communities were "grossly inadequate" and the spectacle of children who were failing to thrive was, to them, familiar.

The Darwin-based team covers a vast area and looks after 14,000 people, but has to make do with four welfare workers and four Aboriginal community workers. That level of staffing, combined with a "fly-in, fly-out approach", allows for "little more than superficial child protection responses", the inquiry submission said.

It called for specialised child protection officers to be placed in Aboriginal communities, and for more support for parents, including intensive parenting classes for schoolchildren from the age of 13. In these areas, a high number of young people aged between 15 and 24 have one or more children.

Demanding immediate help for the starving, the child protection workers said: "This could simply be a foreign aid (Red Cross, Oxfam, etc) type feeding programme that does nothing more than deliver essential food to starving children while other programmes address the underlying issues of poor parenting, poverty, overcrowding, violence, drug abuse, alcoholism, gambling etc."

Staff also complained about the "incredible" volume of paperwork they had to plough through, saying: "We spend more time sitting at a computer than we do with our clients and their families."

The inquiry, which is expected to report next month, has heard that it is "normal" for Aboriginal children to be left to wander alone at night, or to be placed in the care of "reluctant" extended family members.

Meanwhile, Alice Springs Hospital has told the inquiry it is used by child protection workers as a "storehouse" for children awaiting foster placement. "[We are] an acute care facility, we are not able to provide appropriate supervision of children and their families," the hospital's submission said.

Dan Baschiera, a veteran social worker, told the inquiry he had seen child protection staff fresh from years of study and training "burn up" after a few months working in Aboriginal welfare. He accused the Northern Territory government of starving the child protection system of funds.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea