On Tuesday night, ABC’s 7.30 Report presented an investigative story into the incidences of child sexual abuse in the community.
Reporter Leigh Sales also spoke with New South Wales Minister for Community Services, Pru Goward, who claimed to be enacting a “long-term, medium and tomorrow” plan for Toomelah, despite never having visited the town herself.
Former Toomelah resident Alice Haines contacted the 7.30 Report after hearing the first Toomelah story.
She told reporters she had experienced sexual abuse while living on and off in Toomelah.
The abuse started when she was less than five-years-old.
Ms Haines said she felt she should have been removed from the environment by case workers.
However, Moree resident Deborah Sykes, a former DOCs case worker for Toomelah, said it was extremely difficult to help the children at risk.
She told the 7.30 Report that there was an unwillingness in the community to report sexual abuse.
Defence Solicitor at the Aboriginal Legal Service in Moree, Paul Underhill, agreed with Ms Sykes about the difficulty in getting people to report the abuse.
“…People won’t come forward unless they know there are police officers there they can trust...,” he said.
A special DOCs task force was set up in 2006, with the task of working in Toomelah every day. The results were assessed in a 2008 commission of inquiry, which found that residents believed having the case workers in the community made people ensure their kids were safer.
Agencies also told the inquiry that it would be “detrimental” for the taskforce not to continue. Despite this, the task force was discontinued in 2008, with a removal date for case workers in 2010.
Leigh Sales interviewed Minister Goward after she viewed the report.
Minister Goward said the State Government planned to address the issue by having Moree case workers go out to Toomelah every second day. She also said the government would be spending almost half a million dollars on repairing housing in Toomelah.
Minister Goward claimed to have spoken to Moree Plains Shire Council about introducing a liquor accord. Mayor Katrina Humphries said talks of a liquor accord would have to start with consultation with the community, police and licensed premises before anything could be put in place, and the council had not yet had the opportunity to do that.
Minister Goward admitted she had not visited the community of Toomelah herself. When asked why, she replied that she thought it was “better to take advice from the experts and the professionals” rather than visiting herself.
Minister Goward was also asked if she was scared of removing children for fear of being labelled racist.
She replied that she was “not at all” frightened of removing children, but didn’t think it was necessarily the best option to address the abuse.
Minister Goward said the most important issue for the government was re-building the trust with the Toomelah community.