Latham, PM, Ridgeway buy into riot, parenting

Date: February 20 2004

By Brendan Nicholson

Labor leader Mark Latham bought into the Redfern riots yesterday, saying the parents of children involved must bear some responsibility. "Like other Australians I was shocked to see the footage out of Redfern, where you had six- and seven-year-old boys jumping on police cars, smashing windows," Mr Latham said. "Where were their parents? Surely parents need to know where their kids are and ensure they are not on the streets doing that sort of thing." Democrat senator Aden Ridgeway, the only Aborigine in Federal Parliament, had a startling reply: that the parents were in jail, dead or on drugs. "Now if we're serious about dealing with parenting and child issues, let's look at the circumstance of poverty that exists," he told Sky News. "This is the dysfunctional community - not one that's functional where you can have parents come on board and say, 'yes, let's look after the kids'. "These are parents who are struggling to survive themselves," Senator Ridgeway said.

Later, Mr Latham asked Prime Minister John Howard in Parliament if he would support a West Australian plan to force parents of unruly children to attend classes to learn to discipline them. While Mr Howard said he agreed that parents should know where their children were and that he had expressed that view after disturbances in South Australia several months ago, he had a rebuke for the Opposition Leader. Parents "do not need to be told by me, the leader of the Opposition or anybody else how to bring up their children", he said. "Average Australian parents do not need a lecture from people in public office about how to bring up their children." But Mr Howard did offer an insight into parental discipline. "I think one of the reasons that children run riot in the streets is that parents are too selfish about pursuing their own responsibilities as parents to do anything about it."

Mr Howard said 98 per cent of parents did the right thing and they resented the idea that someone was going to come along, "Big Brother-like" and say how it should be done. Speaking at a service in Redfern for Thomas "TJ" Hickey, the teenager whose death - impaled on a fence after coming off his bike - sparked the riot, Senator Ridgeway said he did not support plans by police to round up 40 ringleaders of the violence. In an emotional address to the mourners, including the dead boy's mother, Gail Hickey, and her family, Senator Ridgeway spoke through a breaking voice of discrimination against Aborigines in a white Australia that did not care about them. He said the death of TJ, whose father is in jail, made him feel that he had failed another young Aborigine.

Thomas TJ Hickey will be buried in his home town of Walgett on Tuesday.

- with Martin Daly