Yesterday marked one month since the Prime Minister declared there was “a national emergency in relation to the abuse of children in indigenous communities in the Northern Territory,” in response to the first sentence of the first recommendation of the Little Children are Sacred report.
At the time, it appeared the federal government was ignoring the second sentence of that recommendation (not to mention most of the following 96 recommendations), which was that “governments commit to genuine consultation with Aboriginal people in designing initiatives for Aboriginal communities“. One month after the Prime Minister’s dramatic announcement, the headlines have died down somewhat, but the need has not. For me, a key test is whether subsequent actions have attempted to address the second part of that first recommendation.
The federal Minister’s statement from a couple of days ago says that one month on in the ‘national emergency’, “15 extra police were already on the ground in six communities and five communities have health assessment teams in place.” Meanwhile, more than 500 state and federal police have been working on trying to dig any possible evidence to use against a Muslim migrant who gave a SIM card to his cousin.
Following are links to a couple of pieces on other blogs which are very much worth a read. But before you read those, I recommend having a look at this video of an interview with Reverend Djiniyini Gondarra, from Galiwin’ku on Elcho Island.
The link to that came from this piece by Jane Simpson, which contains many other good links to useful information.
Also worth a read is this post on Club Troppo by Ken Parish, who has long-term experience in the Northern Territory.
Sending in medical teams to conduct comprehensive physical examinations of all indigenous children is a useful if modest step. By definition, however, it will have no long-term health effects in the absence of enhanced ongoing programs staffed by additional permanent doctors, nurses and health workers, which the Commonwealth is not offering to fund and the NT government cannot to any significant extent.
Moreover, these health examinations are unlikely in themselves to detect more than a handful of additional cases of sexual abuse.Similarly, squads of interstate police sent in for 6 months or so may have a short term positive effect on law and order in some especially dysfunctional remote communities, but will also have no long term effects in the absence of a permanent expansion in police numbers, which again the Commonwealth isn’t offering to fund and the NT government cannot to a significant extent.
The recall of Parliament for a “special session to deal with the legislation that will be needed to give effect to the announcements” has not happened. This is a good thing, as any legislation in such circumstances would almost certainly not have been given adequate scrutiny – which is all the more important given the importance and sensitivity of the issues involved.
I have received an enormous amount of correspondence on this issue since the government’s announcement, including some fascinating detail of what has been happening on the ground in the Northern Territory. I hope to visit there for a few days before the Senate resumes to get a better idea of what has been happening there and the views of those who have already been working and living with these issues for a long time without much support.