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Aboriginal land council pushes settlement intervention amid sex abuse allegations

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Toomelah

Toomelah, a small community near the New South Wales - Queensland border faces an uncertain future.

PT0M0S 620 349

AN INDIGENOUS-led intervention for the destitute settlement of Toomelah is being proposed by the NSW peak body for Aboriginal land councils in an internal report which finds some problems pose ''an immediate danger to the health and wellbeing of residents, especially children''.

The NSW Aboriginal Land Council report, seen by the Herald and dated May 2, found ''critical'' water and sewerage issues in the community of roughly 300 on the state's north-west border needed to be addressed as a ''matter of urgency''.

After a series of government agency meetings with residents in the past three weeks, including with senior federal official, James Christian, the community was told it was in such a state of squalor it must accept government intervention or face relocation.

"It's a lack of care and duty to these kids that they've never done anything" ... Madeleine McGrady, Toomelah elder.

"It's a lack of care and duty to these kids that they've never done anything" ... Madeleine McGrady, Toomelah elder. Photo: Sahlan Hayes

Both federal and state governments have denied either option is under consideration, but the state land council has now proposed its own intervention and wants to send in an Aboriginal officer to help get the penniless land council back on its feet.

But new allegations of ongoing child sexual abuse in the former mission, plagued by violence and alcohol and drug abuse, are now being raised.

Residents told the Herald they could identify multiple paedophiles still living in the community, despite a special commission of inquiry which found four years ago about 15 per cent of all the children Toomelah and nearby Boggabilla had been reported for sexual harm or risk of sexual harm in 2004-05.

One government worker said up to half the children had been sexually abused.

''It's a lack of care and duty to these kids that they've never done anything for us to help protect them,'' community elder Madeleine McGrady said.

The police and the community services minister, Pru Goward, said they could not comment on cases of alleged child sexual abuse in the community for fear of jeopardising criminal investigations.

''However, I can say that the government takes these reports very seriously and has sought advice on how to improve services and outcomes for this community,'' Ms Goward said.

A dedicated child protection team had worked in the settlement since 2006, she said.

Ms Goward also said she was seeking legal advice on how videos depicting physical fights between Toomelah and Boggabilla children and young adults could be removed from YouTube.

Her department, along with the Department of Premier and Cabinet and the Office of Aboriginal Affairs were working to address violence among children in the community, she said.

The state land council said it was ''considering a proposal to place a senior officer in the Toomelah community to assist them in re-establishing their own local governance structures''.

Toomelah leaders needed ''intensive support'' to enable them to take control of their own community and government intervention or forced relocation was not the answer, a spokesman for the land council said.

The internal land council report found the closure of the CDEP (Community Development Employment Projects) program in Toomelah by the federal government in 2009 had caused ''a massive decline in community wellbeing in almost all social demographic measures''.

''The impact this single government decision has had on the community cannot be understated,'' the report stated.

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