Malcolm Turnbull has promised a robust investigation and called for child abuse to “always be exposed” after an employee of his department was charged with sex crimes allegedly committed in a remote Central Australian community over Christmas.
The man has worked with a range of community organisations, which yesterday also rushed to condemn child abuse.
“There is no more important obligation for every Australian adult than keeping our children safe from harm,” the Prime Minister said. “Crimes against our nation’s children are shocking and must always be exposed. It is appropriate that these allegations are thoroughly investigated and dealt with swiftly.”
The secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Martin Parkinson, confirmed in a statement that an employee had been “arrested this week for alleged indecent acts against minors”. It is understood he was taken into custody on Sunday.
“The Australian Public Service has a zero tolerance for any abuse, particularly abuse of children. These allegations are extremely disturbing, and we are co-operating fully with the Northern Territory Police,” the statement said.
“The department has suspended this employee pending court processes. We remain committed to ensuring appropriate work practices in dealing with all vulnerable people.”
The man was charged with seven counts of indecently dealing with a child under 16 years, according to police.
He appeared in court in Alice Springs briefly on Monday and was remanded in custody to appear again in late May.
It is understood the man has been employed by the DPMC for several years and that he has been active in several communities in the Alice Springs region.
A spokeswoman for the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress said “any abuse, especially against children, (is) unacceptable and abhorrent”.
Prosecutors are expected to allege the man offered underage girls cigarettes in return for sexual favours. The principal of the Catholic school in the community where the abuse allegedly occurred denied claims the man had also worked there.
Mr Turnbull said his department was “rightly … taking this matter very seriously”.
“I have asked Dr Parkinson to ensure that the department’s practices are robust and to report back to me,” he said.
A spokesman for Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion called the allegations “shocking, appalling and abhorrent”.
“The safety of our children is the No 1 priority for all Australians,” he said.
A Central Land Council spokeswoman said her organisation “does not tolerate any form of violence against children”.
A spokesman for NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner directed inquiries to police and would not say whether the Gunner government planned an independent investigation.
A police investigation is understood to be continuing.
The revelations come after several other high-profile cases involving allegations of child sex abuse in remote communities.
Police figures show that on average one child-sex offence is recorded every two days in the Northern Territory, although only a fraction of those become public. Locals and some experts say the true figure is almost certainly higher because of underreporting.