Young children are being used as drug mules and runners in remote north-west Queensland Aboriginal communities where the use of illicit substances is rife, a State Government inquiry has been told.

Very young girls were also being groomed for sex. Some aged 12-16 were exchanging sex for drugs, alcohol, food and a bed to sleep in.

These were just some of the dire warnings in a submission by North-West Queensland Indigenous Catholic Social Services to a Queensland Productivity Commission probe into the delivery of services in Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

NWQICSS, which provides a range of community support services in Mt Isa and surrounding areas, said the current system did not work and was producing devastating consequences.

It said an “unknown source” was trafficking illicit drugs, that children were being used as drug mules and that children were also running drug errands for adults in their families.

The organisation said strong education was needed about the legal and punitive consequences of breaching children’s rights.

NWQICSS said there was also no proper scrutiny of external workers who had been alleged to have “interfered” with community members and young people by swapping drugs for sexual favours.

Other areas of concern included overcrowding in houses, poverty, high unemployment, mental health issues, high rates of disease and poor access to primary health care.

NWQICSS said some children were neglected and turned to crime such as breaking and entering to obtain food.

Meanwhile, the Mayor of Yarrabah Aboriginal Shire Council, located 53km from Cairns, told the inquiry overcrowding in his community was “at a catastrophic level” and there weren’t the funds to deal with it.

“Council are only able to house 365 families, while a further 700 families remain homeless,” Ross Andrews said in a submission.

Mr Andrews said an average of 15 people and up to 30 were residing in each house. He said overcrowding and homelessness were the two biggest problems for Yarrabah people.

The QPC draft report said Yarrabah was the most disadvantaged socioeconomic local government area in Queensland.

The Queensland Government has released a draft report that provides a blueprint for overhauling the provision of services to remote communities. A final report will be released in December.

Wendy Caccetta