Pedophiles in Western Australia's Pilbara region are allegedly using welfare payments to bribe children for sex, prompting the police commissioner to call for an expansion of the cashless welfare program.
But the Aboriginal Health Council of WA says the commissioner should be more concerned about policing in remote communities rather than advocating further disempowerment of indigenous people.
Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan said in an opinion piece in The West Australian newspaper on Tuesday that welfare cash was also being used for drugs, alcohol and gambling at Roebourne and surrounding Aboriginal communities.
He said in an area of about 1500 people, there were 184 known child sex abuse victims, with police charging 36 people with more than 300 offences since the operation began late last year, plus another 124 suspects.
Mr O'Callaghan, who will retire this month after 13 years as police commissioner, said that in 2014 the previous government noted 63 government and non-government providers delivering more than 200 services to Roebourne.
"Despite all of this effort, we have failed to protect the most vulnerable members of that community and have witnessed sufferers of abuse grow up and become offenders, and so the cycle continues," he said.
"We often find children sexually abusing children."
The commissioner said the problem was so widespread that some families had normalised it and he described the hopelessness as a "cancer quickly spreading throughout the community".
"Given the longstanding issues in Roebourne, we ought now to be looking at more fundamental structural reform around welfare and income to reduce the opportunity for offending," he said.
"Targeting welfare is not, by itself, a panacea but it just might give Roebourne the circuit-breaker it needs to allow the state government to build a safe and resilient community."
AHCWA chairperson Michelle Nelson-Cox said the group did not support the "ill-conceived idea" that cashless welfare cards could turn the tide on child abuse.
"There has been no conclusive evidence to date that cashless welfare cards play any role in reducing the impact of issues such as illicit drug use or child sexual abuse," she said.
"Ultimately, we need to see an increase in community programs and comprehensive support services to help address these complex social issues in Aboriginal communities."
Ms Nelson-Cox also said the commissioner's admission that officers could not protect children in remote communities was gravely concerning.