Police chief backs closures

Grant Taylor
Move supported: Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan. Picture: Lincoln Baker/The West Australian

Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan has backed State Government plans to withdraw funding from some remote Aboriginal communities, claiming children needed to be saved from an endless cycle of sexual abuse.

Mr O'Callaghan said he believed the true extent of offending was under-reported by as much as 90 per cent in some communities where girls as young as 11 were being prescribed birth control implants.

He said it was also not "feasible, practical nor possible" to provide those communities with the resources they needed to fix their problems given their number and remoteness.

"I understand that Aboriginal people want to stay connected with their lands by continuing to live in those places, but you can't do that at the expense of the safety of children," he said.

"I certainly think that the principle of closing these communities where we have these sorts of problems is a sound one."

Mr O'Callaghan has written an opinion piece in _The West Australian _today in which he outlines his concerns and says he expects to be criticised for speaking out about what he believes has become a taboo subject.

Colin Barnett was heavily criticised for referring to high rates of sexually transmitted diseases among Aboriginal children when defending his Government's decision to withdraw funding from up to 150 remote communities it considers "unsustainable".

The Premier said there were 39 cases of gonorrhoea infection in Kimberley children in 2013, but Mr O'Callaghan said the real number of infections was likely to have been significantly higher.

He also accused Mr Barnett's critics of missing the point.

"If we facilitate the existence of communities beset by substance abuse, family violence and child abuse hundreds of kilometres from support or intervention services, we must accept the loss of yet another generation of Aboriginal children," he said.

The Government is yet to announce which communities it intends to target, but Mr O'Callaghan said police would be happy to help identify those where children were most at risk. Shadow minister for Aboriginal affairs Ben Wyatt accused Mr O'Callaghan and Mr Barnett of "demonising" Aboriginal communities to help justify what appeared to be little more than a cost-saving initiative.

"We know that those remote communities have significant problems with violence or STDs or substance abuse, but what I don't accept is that shutting them down is going to result in a better outcome," he said.