Welfare used as bribe for sex with kids in the Pilbara: Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan

Gabrielle KnowlesThe West Australian
Camera IconCredit: Getty Images

WA’s top cop claims paedophiles in the Pilbara are using welfare payments to bribe children to have sex with them and has called for an urgent expansion of the cashless welfare program.

Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan said officers had uncovered evidence of welfare cash being spent on sexual favours as well as drugs and alcohol during an investigation into child sex abuse in Roebourne and surrounding Aboriginal communities.

The scale of the abuse uncovered was the worst WA Police had ever seen and the communities were in an “almost unrecoverable crisis”, Mr O’Callaghan claimed.

“In a town (including surrounding communities) of about 1500 people, a staggering 184 child victims of sexual abuse have been identified,” he said.

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Police have 124 suspects for the crimes and have already charged 36 people with more than 300 offences since launching the operation late last year, he revealed.

“The current inquiry has shown that a significant number of child victims receive money, drugs or both in exchange for giving sexual favours and may also steal money from the offenders,” he said.

“Offending activity seems to increase when offenders receive substantial amounts of money.”

Mr O’Callaghan described the situation in Roebourne, where more than 80 per cent of residents are welfare recipients, as “frightening” but claimed similar problems were evident in remote communities across the country.

He has called on the Federal Government to show “courage” and introduce income management Australia-wide.

Offending activity seems to increase when offenders receive substantial amounts of money,

Karl O’Callaghan

“We know that there are hundreds and hundreds of families in those communities who are not spending money on food, who are not properly looking after the kids and there are some other ongoing consequences as well, like we see in Roebourne,” he said.

“It’s not just about child abuse, the whole point about cashless welfare is to stop the inflow of money to families being diverted to the purchase of alcohol and drugs.

“In all of the communities it would certainly settle down the consumption of substances and hopefully divert the money back to families to spend on kids.”

Police Comissioner Karl O'Callaghan described the situation as frightening.
Camera IconPolice Comissioner Karl O'Callaghan described the situation as frightening. Credit: Steve Ferrier/The West Australian

Mr O’Callaghan acknowledged there would be criticism of his calls but strong inter-vention was needed to protect young lives.

He said his previous warnings about widespread sexual abuse in remote Indigenous communities and the inability of police to protect those children had sadly been borne out in the Roebourne inquiry.

Successive state governments had spent huge amounts funding services in Roebourne but it had been a “complete failure” and a national solution was needed, he said.

Early reviews of trials of cashless debit cards, where 80 per cent of payments are quarantined, indicated nearly half of residents in towns where the cards were used believed life was better and a third reported that they could take better care of their children, Mr O’Callaghan said.

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