The Government summit on violence and abuse in Indigenous communities must also consider the causes of that violence – endemic poverty, health problems and despair.

Bishop Christopher Saunders, Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, has called on the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs to ensure an opportunity will be taken during the summit to consider more than just the enforcement of law and order.

“This is a unique opportunity to begin to deal with the root causes of the violence. It is not excusing or minimising terrible crimes to point out the deeper reasons why they occur,” said Bishop Saunders.

The Bishop, who has worked with Aboriginal communities of the Kimberley for over 30 years, says “Experience shows that when we are dealing with third-world circumstances of poverty and neglect, more is needed than a law-and-order response to these issues.”

Bishop Saunders cites case after case of desperately overcrowded houses without basic sanitation. “We can’t pretend to be surprised that these conditions breed despair and dysfunctionality in some communities. Countless enquiries, surveys and media reports have told us about the deplorable conditions in communities such as Wadeye in the Northern Territory. They all show that a broad and decisive approach is needed.

“In particular, creative ways to ensure greater and more effective cooperation between State and Federal governments must be employed if those at the fringe of the economic boom-times are not to be further marginalised.

“By looking for ways that the governments of Australia can engage with communities suffering deprivation and ill-health, the summit could explore avenues to include Indigenous leaders in the process of recovery on the pathway to a just existence,” Bishop Saunders said.