Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Stolen Generations children 'in leprosy tests'

Aboriginal children were used as guinea pigs for medical tests and some were injected with leprosy serum, a member of the Stolen Generations has told a Senate Inquiry in Darwin.

The inquiry is examining a compensation scheme for the Stolen Generations.

Greens senator Bob Brown said he was "shocked and alarmed" by the allegations, heard today by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee's inquiry into a Stolen Generation Compensation Bill 2008.

On the first day of hearings in Darwin today, Kathleen Mills from the Stolen Generations Alliance said the public did not know the full extent of what happened to some children.

And efforts to obtain records that support the claims, such as that children were injected with serums to gauge their reaction to the medication, had been hampered, she said.

"These are the things that have not been spoken about," Ms Mills told the inquiry.

"As well as being taken away, they were used ... there are a lot of things that Australia does not know about."

Outside the inquiry, Kath Mills said Aborigines at a site in Darwin were used as test subjects for leprosy.

She says Aborigines have not spoken about the tests because they feel ashamed by it.

"My uncle worked as a medical orderly, he gave me the name of the medicine and I'm not going to talk about it but it made our people very ill and he said the treatment almost killed them," she said.

"But that was what was used - now that's going to be in Health Department archives."

Senator Brown said it was important to get to the bottom of the claims, which he called "very, very serious".

"It needs investigation. If within the indigenous community there is a feeling that children may have been experimented upon for a treatment for leprosy or anything else, the air needs to be cleared."

Senator Brown said there was a national responsibility to help Aboriginal people to get to all the records, including those being held by church institutions.

"This is about their identity, this about their sense of being, their history," he said.

The compensation bill aims to pay money to victims of the stolen generations, including living descendants, out of a Stolen Generations Fund.

Ex gratia payments would be set at $20,000 as a common experience payment with an additional $3,000 for each year of institutionalisation.

Rodney Dillon, from the National Sorry Day Committee, said that while the government debated action more Aboriginal elders entitled to some form of compensation were dying.

"We are going to lose a lot of people between now and the next time this bill is put on the table," he said.

"Although it does not have all the things in it we would like, I think we should push ahead."

Zita Wallace, chairperson of the Stolen Generations Alliance, said it was time to act "with urgency".

"Because I know we are dying and all of us elders from the first generation we will be all gone ... maybe the government would wish that would happen, then they would not have to pay compensation."

Girls aged 12 'temporarily sterilised'

ABORIGINAL girls as young as 12 have received long-lasting contraceptive implants, according to the Queensland opposition, which claims "temporary sterilisation" tacitly approves of under-age sex, but fails to prevent sexually transmitted infections.

Jann Stuckey, the opposition spokeswoman on child safety, said at least four - and possibly five - adolescent girls had received the implant Implanon over the past two years, in Woorabinda, central Queensland.

She said the information came from four different sources, and one girl had three sexually transmitted infections.

"If this is policy, this is an absolute disgrace," the Liberal MP said, describing the attitude underlying the contraceptive's administration as: "We've got to stop them from being pregnant, but we're condoning rape."

Implanon is a small plastic rod inserted under upper-arm skin. It contains a hormone which stops ovulation, lasts at least three years, and has a low failure rate compared with other contraceptives because users do not have to remember to take a pill.

Mrs Stuckey, who used to be a nurse, said the implants increased the likelihood of girls having sex, tacitly approved under-age, unsafe sex, and were visible to potential sexual partners.

She did not know how widespread the practice was, and yesterday sought figures from the Queensland Government on how many teenage girls with the implant also have sexually transmitted infections.

The state's acting Chief Health Officer, Linda Selvey, issued a statement, saying in "extreme cases" education was of limited help in minimising possible harm, particularly for those not able to make informed decisions about sex and contraception.

"Health professionals have to weigh up the health risk of using such a device versus not using the device, and I can guarantee you that these measures are not considered lightly," Dr Selvey said, and would involve the parents.

David Molloy, a gynaecologist and spokesman for the Australian Medical Association of Queensland, said while doctors discouraged patients from having sex too young, they had to confront the reality of teenage pregnancies.

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