Aboriginal Children II

I have been one of many people, black and white, who have been calling on governments for a long time to make child abuse and Indigenous issues major, national priorities. As was noted in the Foreward of the recent Northern Territory Report on the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse, it was via my motion that the Senate passed an all-party resolution last year supporting a national strategy to address child sexual assault (for all children, not just Indigenous ones).

So not surprisingly, I believe it is a good thing that priority and focus has been given to this issue by the Prime Minister. I will do what I can to keep it there, including via regular examination of developments and detail on this blog.

There has been a fair degree of cynicism amongst many of the responses to the government’s plan, including from many Indigenous Australians. Given the past history of many grand government announcements which have not been followed up with adequate resourcing or implementation once the headlines have died down, there is every reason for people to be cynical. However, that should not be a reason to try to tear this plan down, it should be a reason to keep the focus on it, to do everything possible to translate all the current waves of rhetorical flourishes into real and lasting positive change.

Let’s start with a reminder about recommendation 1 from the Northern Territory report, which has been used as the hook for the major federal intervention which has been announced:

That Aboriginal child sexual abuse in the Northern Territory be designated as an issue of urgent national significance by both the Australian and Northern Territory Governments, and both governments immediately establish a collaborative partnership with a Memorandum of Understanding to specifically address the protection of Aboriginal children from sexual abuse. It is critical that both governments commit to genuine consultation with Aboriginal people in designing initiatives for Aboriginal communities.

It looks like we’re on track with the first sentence of that recommendation, but there’s not much sign of the second one even being acknowledged yet, let alone acted on.

As Noel Pearson has said, “Howard and Brough will make a historic mistake if they are contemptuous of the role that a proper and modern articulation of Aboriginal law must play in the social reconstruction of indigenous societies.” He also states that “Aboriginal law, properly understood, is not the problem, it is the solution.

There has been a wide range of comments about the Prime Ministers proposals, which are clearly still being developed. Despite the diversity of the comments, there is still a tendency to put people in the ‘for’ or ‘against’ camp, even when people supposedly in separate camps appear to be saying quite similar things. Given Noel Pearson is put unquestioningly in the camp of those in favour of the proposals, it is worth highlighting a few of the other concerns he has expressed, some of which are quite close to ones others who are seen as ‘against’ have also voiced.

“The Howard-Brough plan to tackle grog and to provide policing is correct. However, the plan needs to be amended so that there is a concerted strategy to build indigenous social and cultural ownership.”

“the Howard-Brough plan needs to be amended so responsible behaviour is encouraged. Responsible people shouldn’t just be lumped in with irresponsible people.”

“There is a huge implementation challenge. Based on the performance of the federal and provincial bureaucracies up to now, I am not confident they are up to it.”

“The land-related measures are clumsy and ideological, but they are not an attempt at a land grab, and the problems with the land measures are nowhere near as high a priority as action for the welfare of children.”

I agree that action on child welfare is more important, but I have not seen any convincing arguments why the land measures are needed. And my concern is while this may not be as urgent an issue, if Land Rights law is changed to implement these measures, there’s a fair chance it may not be changed back, no matter what the success or otherwise is in regards to child welfare.

Pearson also says “If not Brough and Howard’s plan to stop the suffering, then what alternative plan should be pursued? Here most of the critics fall into a deafening silence. They have vociferous views about what will not work, but they are silent about what will work.

I don’t agree with all of this statement. To me, the alternative plans are out there, including Pearson’s own plan for Cape York, which has some similarities to Howard’s but also some very significant differences. The Northern Territory report itself constitutes a comprehensive plan of action in its 97 recommendations, although I would agree it could do with including an immediate circuit breaker or two on top of its suite of measures. Past reports into the same issue also contain comprehensive plans of action which have never been fully acted on or resourced. However, Pearson is right in the sense that only governments are in a position to implement this, so we have to work with what they put forward (assuming they let people work with them). We also have to make damn sure this one is properly resourced, something of which there is little sign so far.

Interestingly, Pearson’s article in last weekend’s Australian is called “Politics aside, an end to the tears is our priority”. This matches well with Kevin Rudd’s proposal for a bi-partisan ‘war cabinet’ to deal with Indigenous issues, an idea which has a lot of appeal to me, as a way of keeping the issue in a state of continuing national priority for all politicians.

A range of Australian blogs recently addressed the theoretical question of whether a politician’s motives are relevant in assessing their policies. The Prime Minister’s plan to tackle sexual abuse of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory provides a very current and crucial real world example. While assessment of motive may give an insight into how likely it is that a policy will be fully followed through, it really isn’t relevant in assessing whether the policy is any good.

The motives may be as pure as can be and the policy still be bad. Conversely, the motives may as devious as possible, but the policy may still be spot on. Indigenous affairs provides lots of sad examples where the political intentions may have been totally honourable, but the policy was disastrous. Some people argue that the hugely destructive policies that led to the Stolen Generations were mostly carried out with good, albeit misguided intentions. This history of the Stolen Generations, which played no small part in creating some of the circumstances that has led to the crisis we are now trying to address, is worth keeping in the back of our minds in this debate. Not because I think these latest proposals are similar, but rather because urgings that “it’s for the good of the children” shouldn’t be used as a catch-all phrase to silence any criticisms or concerns about the details. In the same way that I think it’s a distraction to criticize the Prime Minister’s motives, I don’t think it helps to focus on the motives of people who express concerns about the details.

In his appearance on TV’s Meet the Press today, the Prime Minster waved away questions about on the ground details by saying that was falling into “the old Canberra trap of talking about this as some kind of generalised philosophical debate.”

This is a bit ironic, given that at this stage, the whole thing is being driven and developed by politicians and bureaucrats in Canberra. Given that almost everyone actually supports the stated goal here, I hope the government becomes a little bit more open to advice on how to make their policy work, rather than insist they are the only ones with all the answers. The lack of details, including the lack of work done on the likely costs, is one area which will need urgent attention to flesh out the initial hasty announcement.

If people keep getting howled down everytime they ask for more details, or point out problems they see in details that do become apparent, there’s a fair chance that some good advice on how best to implement this plan will be missed.

Even the head of John Howard’s hand picked taskforce to implement this plan, Sue Gordon, has been quoted as “being among those warning of inadequate resources to support the plan”. However, she has said “her taskforce would move quickly to determine what extra resources were required. And she said the commonwealth had promised to pay.” (my emphasis)

As is pretty obvious just reading the comments by the health experts in the same article, just doing the measures relating to grog properly will probably cost more than the “tens of millions” John Howard has floated as a possible cost of his plan. My guess is that the full cost of properly implementing what has been proposed will go well into the billions of dollars, particularly if it is taken beyond the Territory and into the States, as the Prime Minister is urging, so I hope Sue Gordon has got that promise in writing.

(I will probably do a series of posts on this topic over the coming weeks. You can read my previous post here).

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71 Comments

  1. Mel [on 43]:

    “Perhaps if this time round we tried to integrate non-indigenous people into INDIGENOUS culture ……”.

    Heartily agree. What I learnt from blackfellas when I was a kid did me no harm at all throughoout the rest of my life …. However, for the rest of us to benefit likewise, first you would have to knock down the brick wall of colonial racism, then that of virulent racicm that came with the American military presence 1942~1945 and then the impregnable one, the apartheid-for-funding wall, erected by cynical academics from the ’70s onwards. Con’t worry. There are plenty of ordinary Aussies – not the screaming yobbos that the media always publicizes – who would be only too happy to knock down those walls too ….

    Now, how about having Aboriginal or Islander descent as a qualification for ALL future Governors-General or Presidents?.
    . .

  2. bell, it is NOT a good idea to choose to any person on the basis of skin colour, religion, sex, sexuality, ‘genetics’ [however defined], etC…

    we are all mongrels, any way.

    so, this is my problem for all social criteria that uses implicit [often hidden from a wider public & scrutiny] or explicit [butt hidden under terms that cannot be defined or known to the ‘select few’, or buzz words used by FAT-mice, under the banner of a BENCH_mARK].

    i see sea marTON of nt as a prime case of a chook, dressED up as a turkey, in her mode of speech, tone and the slogans born from abc/ETc.

    “less is more” saID t. sizer, a guru of the mind, in prime prim, in sin-EDUCATION for the train, in machine of HARD-wire.

  3. Piping Shrike, I am fully aware and quite experienced in the barriers faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living every day lives in towns and cities across the country. As for being likened to a WHITE South African supporter of apartheid, you have obviously completely misinterpreted my perspective!The point of my last post was simply that my people should be allowed to practice our culture. This would mean finding innovative ways to integrate it into mainstream culture. This would have benefits not only for indigenous people, but for non-indigenous people, the environment and the economy. Further, I dont believe that during the apartheid era in South Africa there was any such thing as the development of separate cultureS as you suggest…just the dominance and development of one!

    Since past efforts to assimilate and integrate indigenous people into non-indigenous Australia has failed so miserably, its time to be innovative and find ways mainstream culture can accommodate indigenous culture. Its worth a try!

  4. Mel:

    You’re entitled to your opinion, but you don’t “own” the country any more than anyone else of any colour does.

    To live according to the traditional aboriginal culture is to break Australian laws.

  5. can u DEFINE culture for any SOCIAL group or any person.

    the word “culture” is used like an umbrella to hide the hidden culture, to hide unfair acts of violence.

    take the POS aspects of the past & cut the idea that primitive is PRIME in a ‘fair’ society.

    is oz fair? no. so, what do u suggest to make it fair?

    i have my own identity that is my culture or SOUL.

    i used speech & the written word to define who i am & what guides my actions & in-action.

    thus, i have ONE religion that i define as my soul with any errors in speech or my taPESTry on this & other web-sites.

    i just went to a speech by a official from venezuela – i gave him a book to give to chavez called “elements of justice”, with a big bunch of comments inside [plus a photo].

    i asked him to help me claim polly asylum in russia, cuba or vene’.

    like i said, i do not think that the west can get rid of the fascists we have in power.

    of course, if u kiss the right butts, u will get u feed, but u have lost u freedom.

  6. Honestly Andrew

    I wish at times you’d delete Coral’s posts.

    They’re just so redneck that I feel like not participating, and I bet a lot of posters go away because of her repugnant communication style.

  7. With the greatest respect Donna – that a bit rich coming from someone who claimed the objective of basically all government policy is to steal all black kids followed by all other kids, which Coral very sensitiveleey pointed out was a tad over the top.

  8. Don’t be silly, Madd. The culture war isn’t going to be put aside for this issue. Especially since the cultural assault by the Left is a large part of the cause of this problem.

    The failed attempt to preserve a Stone Age society in the midst of the 21st century should be given up. Other Australian communities don’t have the problems that Aboriginal communities do — and if Aboriginal communities were treated the same way as the rest, they wouldn’t have those problems either.

    Separatism has failed, and it’s time to work on integration.

  9. As expected Donna? That’s odd a bit of research might show post 12 Unemployment figures, sarcastic criticism of Coral re red neck posts, mixed with paternalism and protectionism only in QLD, pervious posts noting the enormous array of friends relos and various acquaintances Coral has with knowledge of every subject known to mankind?

    Yes – supported Coral from bullying, who wouldn’t. So in nomenclature you understand a score of “D”.

    Any reasonable person might find this repugnant “They’re motive is to steal those Indigenous children from their Mothers, purely to establish the pathway to move into the white community and do the same there” – but well one can hold a view.

    What’s really stifling this blog is the hijacking of posts by long winded incoherent stream of consciousness type rambles at best related but more often unrelated to the post. I’m sure Andrew is trying to work out a way to deal with that within his Democrats framework of tolerance and freedom of speech.

  10. Ken

    Why not do the same for Coral’s posts to others?

    Then do the same for your own posts to other female posters.

  11. … and I stand by my comments on what the Federal Government are intending.

    Removing welfare is the beginning. The intention is to impoverish women further, so that cases of ‘neglect’ will increase, and the children will be removed.

    Hopefully Deborah or Marilyn won’t leave you waiting too long before providing you with another opportunity for a self-righteous rant.

  12. you have all missed the point .
    if the current govt was fare dinkum it would have tried to do something to resolve the problem of abuse in the community a long time ago its not as if they have not had enough time to try.

  13. I do agree with you Red Crab

    The other part of my post that Ken cut and paste had the following comment:

    ‘They were voted in in 1996 and they NOW choose to act with these ‘emergency’ measures?’

  14. No one is missing the point at all red or Donna -everyone knows the motives for the action are political (well apart from Donna’s secondary motive) – Anderw’s post have been precisley about that, and the conundrum that is involved in acknowledging that we all know the motive, versus at least accepting soemthing is happening.

    But why is everyone so shocked, its actually the democratic process that forces action, forces policy, precisely becasue ALL parties wnat to be elected. Remember medicare gold, Super chnages, the education fund from the budget this year, and dont you think there wont be many more to come from ALL politicians including Andrew Bartlett. Why do you think affordable housing is starting to get a run, becasue its something new, of course not, its about timing policy and announcements with an election cycel.

    its actually showing democracy works, maybe not to everyones liking, but thats the way it is.

  15. Surprise, surprise….this is another example of John Howards 1950’s approach to dealing with issues in the 21st century…..

    Does anybody seriously think this “intervention” is going to make any real difference to improve the lives of our indigenous people?

    Is this yet another can of worms that Howard wants to open….? (remember Iraq, GST and Workchoices!!)

    Aborginal people have to be the masters of their own destiny….not have a paternalistic government dictate how they should live their lives.

    There’s no doubt there are serious problems in these remote places….in a country this wealthy
    no one regardless of ethnicity should have to tolerate living in third world conditions

    remember though our aboriginal people have been here for 40,000 years and europeans for just over 200 years

    the aborigines i have known over the years are resourceful and respectful despite the imposition of european society on them

    they have the right to choose to live where they want just like any other person in australia

    perhaps the resource companies that get rich off mining these remote places should get off their backsides and help the aboriginal people….give them some jobs/training and some hope for the future….it should not be up to the government to dictate how aboriginal people live their lives, thats half the problem when it comes to aboriginal problems it seems that the only source of help has to come from the government…..that simply doesnt work…..

    for far too long these big multinational resource companies have “shirked” their responsibility to the custodians of their land….maybe the government should make them pull their weight….remember the aboriginal people were here long before any mining/resource boom

    thats my message to the PM make corporate australia meet their mutual obligation instead of belting people who are a victim of circumstance.

    perhaps then there might be some real social justice the aboriginal people

  16. ken, couldn’t one equally argue that the Federal Govt’s sudden rediscovery of this issue after a decade of wilful neglect demonstrates a failure of democracy?

    After all, isn’t democracy supposed to be about government for ALL of the people, and not just the ones who will get you re-elected? Or am I simultaneously being more idealistic and cynical than thou?

  17. Ah Feral – as ever an intellignet contribution – A reasonable question – but maybe you are confusing the process of democracy with the outocme.

    The Governments actions or inactions in this area, are not a failure of the democractic process, becasue they have not been principally a major consideration in the electroal process.

    This time that is different becasue they are very much part of this electroal cycle, and should be watched accordinlgy.

  18. Hi ken – you said `maybe you are confusing the process of democracy with the outocme’

    Quite possibly – I’d like to ponder that a while. I’ll get back to you later in the week.

    As for aboriginal issues not being a major consideration in recent elections (apart from land rights, I guess) I suppose that raises the matter of why it has taken so long to gain political traction. If there’s a section of the community that is so desparately in need of support/intervention, then why have they been unable to raise their voices?

    BTW I’m keeping out of thread IV for a while – think that’s judicious.

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