The State Government’s Preliminary Response to the Mullighan Inquiry

First posted on 30 July 2008 under Mullighan Inquiry.
This article has been updated and archived.
Tags: child protection & key reports

Summary

On 24 July 2008, the South Australian Government released its Preliminary Response to the 46 recommendations contained in the report of the Mullighan Inquiry into child sexual abuse on the APY Lands.

In tabling the response in Parliament, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation (Hon Jay Weatherill MP) indicated that his government supported “almost two-thirds” of the recommendations. Six others were supported “in principle,” ten were “noted,” while one recommendation was “not accepted in significant part.”[i] The Government is required to make a Full Response to all of the recommendations by 30 October 2008.

The Paper Trail

Background

In June 2007, the Parliament of South Australia established an Inquiry into the incidence of child sexual abuse on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands.

Parliament also established a process for monitoring the State Government’s ongoing response to the Inquiry’s report and recommendations.[ii] Specifically, after receiving the report, the Government is required to provide:

  • a Preliminary Response to the recommendations within three months
  • a Full Response within six months
  • Further Responses annually for five years outlining the progress that has been made in implementing the recommendations .[iii]

The report of the Inquiry into child sexual abuse on the APY Lands was completed and provided to the South Australian Government on 30 April 2008.

On 6 May 2008, the Premier of South Australia (Hon Mike Rann MP) tabled the report in Parliament, commenting:

In all, Commissioner Mulligan makes 46 recommendations. These recommendations cover governance, welfare, health, education and justice … Commissioner Mulligan acknowledges that the issues are complex and will take some time to deal with. The parliament also acknowledged this when it provided the government three months to examine the report and outline its preliminary response on all the recommendations.[iv]

The Preliminary Response

On 24 July 2008, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation (Hon Jay Weatherill MP) tabled the Government’s Preliminary Response to the Mullighan Inquiry in Parliament, stating:

The response I am tabling today shows that the government will support almost two-thirds of the recommendations. A further six are supported in principle, but some further consideration is required regarding their implementation. Ten recommendations are noted: three are primarily directed at bodies other than the state government and the remaining seven require further consideration before committing to them. One recommendation is not accepted in significant part.[v]

The Minister noted that particular recommendations required “further consideration before a detailed response” could be given, and explained:

We are placing significant additional resources on the lands to tackle child sexual abuse and changing the way in which agencies respond. The increased resources and changed practices will themselves affect the nature of the other services which are required and the level of need for those services. Decisions about how existing services are able to accommodate these needs and appropriate new ways of addressing them will require careful analysis. The government will provide a further response to those recommendations in its six-month response.[vi]

Click here to download an electronic copy of the Preliminary Response [File size: 168KB]

Some initial observations on the Preliminary Response

The Paper Tracker recognises that the State Government has until 30 October 2008 to formulate its Full Response to the recommendations of the Mullighan Inquiry and acknowledges the significant challenges involved in developing a comprehensive response to the complex issues raised in the report. That noted, the Paper Tracker offers some initial observations on the Government’s Preliminary Response.

1: Funding
While the State Government has reorganised funding to focus more attention on the APY Lands, to date, it does not appear to have allocated any new funding in response to the report and its recommendations. In contrast, the Federal Government has committed an additional $19 million. The lack of new funding at a State level is at odds with the Inquiry’s finding that addressing “fundamental problems” on the APY Lands will “require significant resources.”[vii] It also sits uneasily with those recommendations that called for the provision of “sufficient funds,” “adequate resources” and “the necessary long-term funding.”[viii]

2: Therapeutic services
Recommendation 8 of the Mullighan Inquiry states:

That the necessary long-term funding be provided to allow Families SA to provide the required therapeutic services to children and young people on the Lands who have been sexually abused.[ix]

The Preliminary Response provides an overview of some existing services and indicates that a task force of State and Commonwealth officers “will evaluate the level of need, and the capacity of existing services to meet that need, and will give further consideration to this recommendation.”[x] It does not comment on the provision of “the necessary long-term funding.”

The Mullighan Inquiry found existing State-based services to be insufficient and overstretched,[xi] reporting:

The evidence … to this Inquiry clearly establishes that there must be a prompt and appropriate therapeutic response to sexual abuse of a child. That response must be provided by suitably trained people such as from the Child Protection Services at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital and the Flinders Medical Centre, and others who are trained to provide that specialised service. Without such a response it is likely that many sexually abused children will suffer lifelong consequences.[xii]

The Paper Tracker is concerned that the planned evaluation by the government task force has the potential to postpone the expansion of badly-needed therapeutic services.

3: Support and advocacy for children who have been sexually abused
Recommendation 12 of the Mullighan Inquiry contains three parts. The third part calls for the State Government to increase funding to the NPY Women’s Council “to enable increased support and advocacy for children who have been sexually abused.”[xiii] While the Preliminary Response expresses “support” for Recommendation 12 it is silent on how the third part of the recommendation will be fulfilled.

4: Funding for child protection services
Recommendation 19 of the Mullighan Inquiry contains five parts. The Preliminary Response expressed support for this recommendation but has, without explanation, omitted the fourth part of the recommendation. This part called on the Government to “adequately” fund the Child Protection Services of the Women’s and Children’s Hospital so that it can assess, investigate and, if required, provide appropriate therapy in response to the identification of sexually transmitted infections of children on the APY Lands.

5: Safe houses
Recommendation 33 of the Mullighan Inquiry calls for the State Government to establish safe houses in APY communities as soon as South Australia Police has located sworn police officers in those communities.[xiv] The Preliminary Response indicates that the Government “supports this recommendation” and commits it to building and operating a safe house at Umuwa, the administrative centre for the APY Lands. The Preliminary Response provides no information on why the government has decided to locate the safe house in Umuwa and not, as recommended, in Anangu communities.

The Paper Tracker hopes that the above matters will be addressed more comprehensively in the Government’s Full Response.

The Paper Tracker believes that the Preliminary Response would have been strengthened by the establishment of projected timeframes for specific actions.

Commonwealth response

The Commonwealth Government played a key role in the establishment of the Mullighan Inquiry. This included providing $1.6 million towards the cost of conducting the Inquiry (matched by an in-kind contribution from the State Government).[xv]

On 6 May 2008, in response to the Inquiry’s report and recommendations, the Commonwealth Government committed an additional $19 million towards the cost of:

  • building a police station at Mimili
  • constructing accommodation for 13 extra police officers and child protection workers
  • expanding the Wiltja residential program for secondary school students
  • providing additional assistance to people suffering mental illness and
  • establishing a safe house outside of the APY Lands to help women and children at risk of violence.[xvi]

The Commonwealth Government has also appointed an Executive Coordinator to lead its response and referred the findings of the Mullighan Inquiry to the Australian Crime Commission. [xvii]

At least five of the 46 recommendations of the Mullighan Inquiry are directed at the Commonwealth Government or organisations that are primarily funded by it:

  • Recommendation 18 focuses on the payment of the Commonwealth’s Baby Bonus
  • Recommendations 6, 15, 20 and 24 focus on the operations and resourcing of Nganampa Health Council.[xviii]

Informing Anangu

In his report, Commissioner Mullighan placed great importance on the need “to empower Anangu to participate in the solutions.”[xix] The report states:

It is fundamental to the success of any measures to prevent sexual abuse of children on the Lands that Anangu, particularly the women, be consulted and assisted so that they are empowered to make decisions about their children and keep them safe. No strategy or program can achieve the ultimate goal of eliminating or even reducing child sexual abuse without Anangu having a real sense of hope and relevance.[xx]

The Paper Tracker considers that such empowerment requires Anangu to have easy access to the Inquiry’s findings and recommendations, as well as all government responses to them. Ideally, this information should be available in Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara.

This article has been archived and will no longer be updated. It will, however, remain accessible online as a source of background information for anyone wishing to undertake further research on this issue. Information included in the article was current at the time it was archived. Keep in mind, however, that Ministerial changes and names of departments, among other things, may have since changed.


[i] Weatherill, J. 24 July 2008, “APY Lands Inquiry,” Hansard, House of Assembly, Parliament of South Australia, p3990.

[ii] The ongoing monitoring requirements were established at the instigation of Hon Sandra Kanck MLC (see: Kanck, S. 20 June 2007, Hansard, Legislative Council, Parliament of South Australia, p390).

[iii] See Section 11A, Commission of Inquiry (Children in State Care and Children on APY Lands) Act 2004.

[iv] Rann, M. 6 May 2008, “APY Lands Inquiry,” Hansard, House of Assembly, Parliament of South Australia, p3149-p3150.

[v] Weatherill, J. 24 July 2008, “APY Lands Inquiry,” Hansard, House of Assembly, Parliament of South Australia, p3990.

[vi] Weatherill, J. 24 July 2008, “APY Lands Inquiry,” Hansard, House of Assembly, Parliament of South Australia, p3990.

[vii] Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry – a report into sexual abuse, pxvi.

[viii] See, for example, Recommendations 8, 14, 26 and 35 of the Mullighan Inquiry.

[ix] Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry – a report into sexual abuse, pxx.

[x] Government of South Australia, July 2008, “Response by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation to the ‘Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands Commission of Inquiry: A report into sexual abuse’,” [p8].

[xi] Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry – a report into sexual abuse, p143-144.

[xii] Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry – a report into sexual abuse, pxiv.

[xiii] Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry – a report into sexual abuse, pxxi.

[xiv] Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry – a report into sexual abuse, p224.

[xv] Weatherill, J. 5 June 2007, ‘Commission of Inquiry (Children in State Care) (Children on APY Lands) Amendment Bill,’ Hansard, House of Assembly, Parliament of South Australia, p311

[xvi] See: Macklin, J. 13 May 2008, Budget: Closing the Gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, p16.

[xvii] Macklin, J. 13 May 2008, Budget: Closing the Gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, p16.

[xviii] In its preliminary response to Recommendations 15, 20 and 24, the South Australian Government noted that Nganampa Health Council “is accountable to the Commonwealth Government through its funding agreement” (Government of South Australia, July 2008, “Response by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation to the ‘Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands Commission of Inquiry: A report into sexual abuse’,” [p15, 20 and 24]).

[xix] Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry – a report into sexual abuse, pv.

[xx] Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry – a report into sexual abuse, pxvii.

The Paper Tracker works hard to provide accurate and up-to-date information. We will correct any inaccurate information as soon as it is brought to our attention. Please contact us if you have additional information or can provide us with an update.