The Australian federal government has offered almost $100 million to state authorities to combat violence and sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities. The proposal was made at an emergency meeting in Canberra called in response to claims that young children had been victims of rape and murder in indigenous settlements.
The Australian government wants most of the extra $100 million offered to go toward increasing police numbers in troubled Aboriginal communities, as well as drug and alcohol rehabilitation services. The federal government also plans to set up a national intelligence unit to investigate allegations of child sexual abuse, and to improve health and education services.
The offer is conditional on state governments maintaining law and order in indigenous communities. But Australian state governments believe that because of the cultural diversity within Aboriginal groups, different solutions are needed in different areas.
Authorities in the Northern Territory, for example, want to concentrate on eradicating gasoline sniffing, while the state of Queensland believes housing should be a priority.
Leaders of the Aboriginal community say their people should decide priorities themselves. Indigenous rights activist Ray Minnicone says Aborigines need to be given the resources and responsibility to solve their own problems.
"We know we can do it," said Minnicone. "We have that confidence in ourselves that we can do it and we know what the challenges are, we know what the solutions are; and those solutions are not Canberra-based, they are based in our communities."
Monday's emergency summit in Canberra was called after details emerged last month of attacks on children, including sexual abuse of infants. There have been numerous reports of abuse and violence in many aboriginal communities, which generally are poor, overcrowded and isolated from public services such as medical care.
Gang violence in the largest indigenous community in the Northern Territory has prompted calls for hundreds of residents to be relocated to special camps.
The meeting in Canberra was convened to develop a national action plan to bring about lasting change.
But indigenous leaders have reservations about the prospects for change.
Australia's Aborigines face many problems; they die younger than the non-indigenous Australians and suffer higher rates of substance abuse, unemployment and imprisonment.