Opposition Push For Indigenous Abuse Royal Commission

Liberal backbench MP Bridget Archer has accused her leader of trying to "weaponise" child abuse for political gain in the aftermath of the Voice referendum.

Date: 19-10-2023 06:00

Opposition Push For Indigenous Abuse Royal Commission

Liberal backbench MP Bridget Archer has accused her leader of trying to “weaponise” child abuse for political gain in the aftermath of the Voice referendum.

Ms Archer, a child abuse survivor, voted with Labor on Thursday against Liberal leader Peter Dutton’s push for a royal commission into child abuse in Indigenous communities.

In crossing the floor, the Tasmanian politician said child abuse was not just an issue impacting First Nations Australians.

“We don’t want to divide the country by race, yet we are singling out abuse in Indigenous communities,” she said.

“It’s very difficult to see [this motion] as anything other than weaponising.”

Archer said child abuse was “a significant issue right across the country” and “the numbers bear that out”.

“This is happening in families in every corner of the country. We know that.”

She continued: “Are there issues in Indigenous communities? Of course.

“What’s needed is action. We could act now. Service providers need to be resourced to do more.”

Later, Dutton criticised the backbencher’s decision when he was grilled about the failed motion on 2GB radio with Ray Hadley.

Hadley said Archer had embarrassed the opposition by crossing the floor again and asked Dutton: “How long are you going to put up with Bridget Archer?”

Archer has crossed the floor more than 27 times since entering federal parliament in 2019.

Dutton said he did not understand why Archer had voted with Labor and suggested she had “made a mistake”.

“In the Liberal Party, you’ve got the ability to cross the floor if that’s where your conscience takes you. On this issue though, I don’t understand why Bridget’s crossed the floor,” he said.

“I think it’s a very significant issue for our country as I say, I think she’s made a mistake, it’s the wrong decision.

“Most importantly from my perspective, it takes away from the Prime Minister’s culpability here because he’s the one along with the other 80 who voted against what I think is a pressing need and he’s the one who should be focus at the moment.”

Dutton used a motion — defeated in the House of Representatives on Thursday — to urge the government to back a royal commission.

The opposition motion failed 81 votes to 52.

A similar attempt in the Senate led by Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price on Wednesday was also voted down.

The coalition had also called for an audit on Indigenous spending.

After the voice setback, parliamentary debate has ramped up on the best way to combat Indigenous disadvantage.

Dutton said a royal commission would be able to address long-running community issues.

“The Australian people didn’t want a continuation of the window dressing, they didn’t want another committee, they didn’t want another ATSIC, they want practical action,” Dutton told parliament.

“The power imbalance that exists in some of the communities is something that needs to be delved into and a royal commission has the ability to pull people in to provide evidence to look at the situation as it exists.”

Dutton said the failure to address sexual abuse in Indigenous communities was letting down “those most vulnerable in our community”.

“When you speak with people involved in community services, in policing, they are heartbroken, they are exhausted, he said.

“The capacity of the Northern Territory government to respond is limited.”

Health Minister Mark Butler called the motion in parliament a stunt.

The government was consulting with Indigenous communities about the best action to address disadvantage following the referendum defeat, he said.

“We recognise that the temperature after the weekend … is high, a lot of people were hurt through this campaign,” he said.

“We are trying to have a debate that takes the temperature out of the result on Saturday, that gives time for the dust to settle, to listen to Indigenous communities about the way forward in reconciliation and closing the gap.”

A government spokeswoman said a royal commission was not needed to explain more action was needed.

“Our focus is on the immediate issue of keeping children and women safe,” the spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, a new poll showed a majority of Australians who voted down the Indigenous voice to parliament referendum back putting in place truth in political advertising laws in time for the next federal election.

The Australia Institute surveyed voters about the voice referendum and misinformation after the polls closed last Saturday.

It found both those who voted ‘yes’ (92 per cent) and ‘no’ (83 per cent) agreed that truth in political advertising should be legislated before the next election campaign.

Seven in 10 respondents said they were concerned about misinformation on social media in the lead up to the voice referendum.

Australia Institute executive director Richard Denniss said it shouldn’t be legal to lie in a political ad.

“Misinformation and disinformation swamped the referendum campaign with arguments that often had little to do with what Australians were being asked to vote on,” Dr Denniss said.

“Whether it is an election or a referendum, voters should go to the polls armed with the facts.”

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