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  • Peter Francis Fenwick

Parental Responsiblity

In July 2016, following the expose on Four Corners, Prime Minister Turnbull announced a Royal Commission into juvenile detention in the Northern Territory.

Many of our indigenous citizens live appalling lives in fractured communities. Far too many indigenous teenagers are incarcerated. Their treatment there is horrific, brutal and inhumane. It is morally unacceptable. Something must be done.

How effective will a Royal Commission be? Is it the appropriate solution? Has the real problem been identified?

To be effective, any solution must consider why so many indigenous teenagers are in the prison system and how to reduce the numbers entering it.

We cannot ignore the fact that fractured communities and poor parenting are a major cause of damaged teenagers.

Over the past century, by deliberate intent, the State has diminished the role of the family. In sometimes subtle ways the process of undermining the family continues. In many cases, parents have been absolved from responsibility for their children.

Professionals – social workers, nurses, police, teachers, etc. – now do much of the work that parents used to do. No matter how much money government spends on this, nor how dedicated these professionals are, they cannot adequately replace good parents.

Throughout Australia, poor parenting is having an adverse effect in many communities.

I agree with Bill Leak. I think his cartoon made a very important point.

I wonder why the focus of our solutions for social problems seems to be to ask strangers to deal with them and government to fund them.

The incidence of family violence in Broken Hill is met by calls to restore funding of a legal aid facility. The incidence of vandalism by 12-year-olds in Kununurra is met by calls for improved juvenile detention facilities.

In both cases, attention to the root causes of the problems might be more effective – minimizing or preventing the problems rather than treating the consequences. In both cases, one wonders what family, friends, neighbours and workmates were doing to allow such anti-social behaviour to persist.

Is there no one prepared to take responsibility?

Is there no one prepared to tell the wife-basher, ‘Mate, this is not acceptable behaviour’?

Is there no family, friend or neighbour prepared to offer the bashed wife a helping hand?

Is there no one prepared to take 12-year old boys aside, inculcate social values and give them more productive activities, tasks and responsibilities so that they can mature into good citizens?

What are the parents doing? What are the grandparents doing? What are the friends and neighbours doing? Is there no one who cares for these young people and their future life?

Has the welfare state sapped our moral strength? Do we believe that all problems can be addressed by strangers and paid for by others?


[10 weeks after publishing his cartoon, Bill Leak has been asked by the Human Rights Commission to defend allegations of racial hatred under the Racial Discrimination Act. We shall never be able to solve difficult social problems if we are prevented from discussing them.]

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