Aboriginal Children

Just before parliament rose for a six week break, the Prime Minister announced a major series of proposals to take control of Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory, and significant aspects of their lives, as part of responding to the latest report on sexual abuse of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory – a topic I spoke on in the Senate earlier this week.

Given that the report itself noted these problems have been well documented for many years, there has been some commentary on the Prime Minister’s motives in taking such dramatic action so close to an election.

I’m not that interested in what the motives might be. I’m interested in whether or not this will improve things or not. There have been plenty of headline grabbing announcements in this area in the past that have made a big splash at the outset, but have failed to deliver improvements on the ground.

The Prime Minister has rightly called this situation an emergency, and has relied on the statement within the first recommendation in the report that “Aboriginal child sexual abuse in the Northern Territory be designated as an issue of urgent national significance.”

However, there has not been much mention about another part of that same recommendation – “It is critical that governments commit to genuine consultation with Aboriginal people in designing initiatives for Aboriginal communities.”

In the introduction to their recommendations, the reports authors emphasise that

The thrust of our recommendations, which are designed to advise the Northern Territory Government on how it can help support communities to effectively prevent and tackle child sexual abuse, is for there to be consultation with, and ownership by the communities, of those solutions.

They also make a point of quoting at length from former Liberal Indigenous Affairs Minister, Fred Chaney, who has said

I think governments persist in thinking you can direct from Canberra,…. that you can have programs that run out into communities that aren’t owned by those communities, that aren’t locally controlled and managed, and I think surely that is a thing we should know doesn’t work.

I am concerned about this, not because of niceties regarding process, but because we have plenty of evidence that developing and implementing the solutions in conjunction with people on the ground dramatically increases the chances of success (or reduces the chances of failure). Virtually every comprehensive report provided to governments into this issue over the past decade or more emphasise this point. It was a key component of the Social Justice Report tabled just last week by the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner.

Professor Boni Robertson, who compiled a similar report in relation to Indigenous children in Queensland in 1999, has been reported making very critical comments about aspects of the plan. “When is this knee-jerk nonsense going to stop and when are they going to start proper consultation with our people so that we can get it done properly?”

You can read a short summary of the report here. It includes this list of “important points made by the Inquiry”:

• Child sexual abuse is serious, widespread and often unreported.
• Most Aboriginal people are willing and committed to solving problems and helping their children. They are also eager to better educate themselves.
• Aboriginal people are not the only victims and not the only perpetrators of sexual abuse.
• Much of the violence and sexual abuse occurring in Territory communities is a reflection of past, current and continuing social problems which have developed over many decades.
• The combined effects of poor health, alcohol and drug abuse, unemployment, gambling, pornography, poor education and housing, and a general loss of identity and control have contributed to violence and to sexual abuse in many forms.
• Existing government programs to help Aboriginal people break the cycle of poverty and violence need to work better. There is not enough coordination and communication between government departments and agencies, and this is causing a breakdown in services and poor crisis intervention. Improvements in health and social services are desperately needed.
• Programs need to have enough funds and resources and be a long-term commitment.

Given that the federal Parliament will have to pass a lot of law changes for the Prime Minister’s plan to operate as he has stated, I assume the Parliament will get a chance to assess the detail of his plan to see how well it addresses the key points of the report.

ELSEWHERE: There’s heaps on commentary around the blogosphere. I won’t try to list them all, but this post at Larvatus Prodeo includes a wide range of links to comments on various sites. Not surprisingly, it has also received enormous coverage in overseas media, as well as on some overseas based blogs.

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  2. John Howard should start by ensuring those having illegal sex with underage minors go to jail – no matter what their race, gender, belief system or community base.

    Adults helping to procure underage girls for their sons (or vice versa) – spiriting them away from a decent family life in the process – should be incarcerated also.

    That should improve the situation for children, and make way for numerous other initiatives to clean up our society across the board.

  3. When I first heard Howard announcing his plan, an image of Gary Foley, who was my tutor once at uni, jumped into my head. I imagined his distress and fury and saw him angrily yelling about patriarchal patronising white politicians and neo-colonial policies…however, part of me feels that something this drastic has to happen. While I feel strongly that the four ‘E’s, education, employment, English and empowerment are eventually the real answer, and know it must be devastating for those elders desperate to play an active role in improving and restoring their communities to be so rudely disempowered and have matters taken out of their control, perhaps this has to happen. The situation in SOME (NOT all) communities, is incredibly tragic, real and in need of urgent immediate attention. If a policy like this can provide enough immediate change to halt some of the abuse and restore some sort of health, and order to communities, then I sincerely believe that empowerment and change from within the community has a better chance of occurring. Provided, of course, that whatever government is in power comes up with comprehensive follow-up, consultative policies which will support this….

  4. Andrew,

    It’s an important point about involving people in the solution.

    At the moment, there are many people in remote communities who don’t even know about yesterdays announcement.

  5. agreed, NIKKI.

    a little light that shines BIG on the stage of clarity, precision in purpose/goalSS.

    why not teach abc kids a little on the lit & num of fair pLAY, in their local conTEXT, using short or tall stories, with abc of their maKING,
    & above all,

  6. I also knew Foley and Munro and others of that time – whatver we think its apparent that the problems of these people have been developing for many many years and laregly through periods where the sort of 1980’s thinking of the Democrast and when the ATSIC, O’Donoghue, Dobsons etc model prevailed.

    Its a bit like the argument that all we need to do is spend more on welfare and everything will be OK. Thats what weve been doing for 40 years and look at the result – and the answer is just spend more. Sorry, obnoxious as it seems somethiogn else has to be done.

    We decry leadership and lack of vision, but what we really want is sitting around and feeling good endlessly consulting but not doing. The two things aer natural opposites, we want a light on the hill, but not before we have agreed on the hill and the light. We actually dont want leadership and vision, if its leadership and vision we dont agree with.

    These communitiesa are living in abject poverty, social chaos, a lawless jungle, and soem still think its a 1970s group therapy exercice at Uni -sitting around and finding a light bulb that wants to change. Granted the timing and motivationm mgiht be advantagoues, but one point I agree wiht Andrew is that regardelss of the motive if something happenms then well and good. Warren Mundines comments on this are particualry apposite.

    I dont particualarly agree wiht the proposede sdapproach, as it has been media described, but hey it couldnt get any worse.

  7. Yet here we are never mind to help educate the Indigenous people, they are already living in poverty, so we take away their means of support – as they feel that this is the means that they are buying drugs, porn, alcohol and never mind their children, yet many of those that have probably made it in this society – were those that were possibly taken from their families and bought up outside of their villages. I agree with Coral that those that are part and parcel of those abusing our future generations need to be jail what ever race colour or creed.

    But no do we ever here of taking away, support from those of the Pakeha or (Whites) no but degrade our indigenous people further – take away their lands again – as the government are looking as well – they say the government to lease the land back from them, what will then happen build homes for them and then make them pay.

    This is just a plight for the Government to say to the people that we are helping them good education – training would be the start.

    When we talk about those indigenous people in this society the worst deprived would be those Aboriginal people of Australia – keep them in poverty and under the control of Government.

    Yet some of those very people that the Government want to put into control of the aboriginal people – in regards to abuse among their children are Government official’s police – defense staff – those that should be there to protect the children are the very ones who are also exploiting our future generations.

  8. Dear Andrew,
    You ask what the real motive is behind these actions given that the PM is only committing 6 months to his proposed actions.

    The real motive is this: it’s a golden opportunity to undermine the rights of people on welfare.

    He and Mal Brough are changing the law so that the government can dictate what welfare recipients spend their welfare on.

    It begins with the Aboriginals but, before too long, welfare payments will become Americanised in that the payments will be made in food stamps leaving people no freedom to save cash, budget and buy anything but the bare necessities.

    This will make an already difficult existence unbearable. This, of course, is the plan.

    Anyone who supports this is supporting the further eroding of civil rights in Australia.

  9. I will read the other blogs later.Howard has been Howard with the way he has approached this taking the limelight from Brough,like the navy response, with Iranians.On that basis alone,it is quite easy to see this is an election configured response, the better late than never, that put Aboriginal matters on the Keating agenda a desperate last.Its sort of strange,that Ken, suggest the Senator is engaging in nineteen eighties think. Does it really matter what the calendar decade is if you are not a desk calendar!? And I would of thought Senator Bartlett is actually following developments as well as knowing the realities of the past. Some want to enjail aboriginal and other sex offenders. I would prefer to see these people work with very restricted freedoms and a huge responsibility as a matter of urgency. Jail as isolation and controlled socialising maybe a better option,and the whiteys amongst them also need the same treatment. I would like to see work where these offenders perspire regularly,and, are introduced to the total printed works of Arthur Janov,the Primal Scream,Primal Revolution and other writings,and conditions for his therapy are set up.This is no holiday and is a long commitment,and essentially a very frightening thing to do initially,and continually.Deep psychological and biological injuries determine matters of our social abilities and self acceptance the Primal approach allows no diversions from the historical self,in this case offenders.Jail is running away,it is an external condition,not the internal condition of self.Certainly padded sound proof rooms can be built in jails,but to voluntary accept the Primal approach is a sentence and punishment in itself where law would or is enacted.Arthur Janov is a hero of mine,and the referenced works of his books will point out my other heroes.No-one who has done primal comes out being a hero though,but, there is a likelihood that necessity of being aware of what one has done presses in deep than a prison door

  10. $3 billion is about the sum Howard the war criminal and child abuser spent locking up innocent men, women and children in deliberately designed third world hellholes in the desert.

    Let me tell you about Howard’s concern for the kids.
    1. 9 year old girl from Iran incarcerated for nearly 3 years because the government bods refused to believe that the Iranian government would not protect a little girl from a christian sect from rape. She hanged herself and nearly died at 10, they moved her from Woomera to Melbourne but they didn’t let her free. How does she recover?
    2. 5 year old boy raped by two men in Curtin -not moved, no investigation, case ignored.
    3. Michael – 20 reports that he was suicidal during 4 years in Woomera – ignored.
    4. Mustafa – 8 years old alone in Woomera from June 2001 – October, denied refugee status and for 2 years in foster care faced being deported back to Afghanistan or sent to an uncle on Nauru.
    5. Zahir – bashed by three guards, no-one was charged.
    6. Pouria, tear gassed and bashed in Woomera at the age of 7. No investigation.

    More stories of absolute horror can be found in the HREOC report into children in detention.

    Howard and Ruddock were the abusers.

  11. Like always, Governments no matter what party they are made up of will never resolve the crisis of Australia’s indigenous peoples.

    You only have to go and read newspapers from 30 years ago to see that the exact same problems exist in many policy areas because politicians only care about the 3 year election cycle. Instead of actually solving problems, they all seem to come up with a tokenistic solution and then everyone thinks its fixed until the issue comes up again a few years down the track.

    There is no doubt there are major problems in Australia’s indigenous communities, but there are also just as equally concerning and critical problems in all communities in Australia. Sexual abuse is by no means only happening in indigenous communities, it happens all around Australia and needs to be dealt with nationally. Interestingly the Howard Government has repeatedly opposed calls from the Democrats for a Royal Commission into child abuse.

    What indigenous people really need is real solutions to their current crisis. Much of the crisis is caused by disadvantage and previous abuse. They need educational facilities, better housing, access to good health services, access to rehabilitation services and counsellors and meaningful employment opportunities.

    Most Indigenous Australians live in extreme poverty that is often compared to the poverty in third world countries. This is a an extremely sad indictment on Australia and no Federal Government has had the guts to tackle the issue of indigenous disadvantage.

    Yes, sexual abuse does need to dealt with, but so does disadvantage. The alternative is that Governments continue to take tokenistic measures that achieve little more than further marginalise our nation’s first people.

    Government’s should be working with indigenous communities to overcome these issues. Instead we see a paternalistic approach that dis-empowers communities and demonises and humiliates all indigenous people

  12. Hi Max,

    I share many of your views on this topic, and enjoyed your comment. I just wanted to point out one line that got me thinking, particularly as I’ve seen it mentioned in discussions elsewhere over the past couple of days:

    Sexual abuse is by no means only happening in indigenous communities, it happens all around Australia and needs to be dealt with nationally.

    While I agree with you on this point, I think it deserves to be expanded upon. Logically it does make sense to target the areas that have been identified as being most in trouble, so I have no problem with a national strategy that begins in this way.

    Of course, we’ve seen little evidence that Howard has the long-term strategies needed to complement his new laws, so your point wasn’t lost on me.

    The troubles faced by NT are very unique, and the isolation of the people involved is one of the greatest barriers to finding a solution. I don’t pretend to have any of the answers, but the paternalistic nature of Howard’s strategy does not sit comfortably with me at all. I believe it treats the symptoms, while ignoring two of the critical contributors: addiction, and loss of identity through the events of the past 200 years.

  13. Is this a disillusioning subject,and I will add the following circular to nurses from 1997,where the stuff has been updated from 1997.I picked this up at our tip ,and is a N.S.W. Gov. circular,which proves beyond all reasonable doubt,the state governments have been working on this and Howard is somewhat 20 years behind playing catch-up.I do not know if the web details are still relevant…http://.internal.health.n.s.w.gov.au/fcsd/rmc/cib/circulars/1997/cir97135.htm Notification Of Suspected Child Abuse And Neglect And Exchanging Information In Child Protection Investigations…………..You could well ask ,for example if you were a N.S.W. resident,why it is the State government hasnt yet hammered home the fact as yet, that N.S.W. has had this organised since 1987 at least?And why are we going round in decade circles!? After cir97135.htm

  14. I believe that sending in more white men to clean up the problems created by other white men is not exactly the answer though.

    I listened to the world debate this last night and the point was made that when the abuse in churches was revealed, again, 5 or 6 years ago, the government didn’t close down the churches, send in the army, strip the parents of the victims of their homes and income and demand that every child under 16 be anally and vaginally tested.

    Even Noel Pearson trusted one too many times and has had his heart broken.

    What is happening out there is a bit like what is happening in the Palestinian territories but a bit less violent.

    An occupying power refusing to talk to or treat the occupied as humans.

  15. I notice that your involvement in this question Senator was noted in the first paragraphs of the NT Government Report,”Children are Sacred”.

    I find it irritating to say the least, that to download a copy of this report, I apparently can only go to the BBC. There are probably other sources, as there are other reports, including one to the NSW government, and it would be useful if access to these reports, if not by the ABC, was more generally known.

  16. The fact is that aboriginal children are malnourished and/or starving.

    I support anything that will put good food on their plates – instead of alcohol in their parent’s brains, causing most of the other problems.

    I wouldn’t mind receiving half of my pension in food vouchers, except for the fact it wouldn’t be enough to feed us.

  17. Lana

    Hear Hear!

    They were voted in in 1996 and they NOW choose to act with these ’emergency’ measures? Give us a break. It’s merely providing an opening for their next target group whose children they intend to steal.

    With the latest ANCD report ‘ Drug Use in the Family: Impacts and Implications for Children
    ANCD Research Paper’ found at:


    There’s no guessing who they intend on demonising as dysfunctional alcoholics.

    Marilyn stated Noel Pearson’s heart was broken. He’s an astute man. Surely he must have realised his people needed to be protected from these guys?

  18. Yes, I’m all for the privacy of all aborigines being invaded, too.
    After all white communities have had themselves and their children subjected to it first.
    Vaucluse and Double Bay first?
    Can you imagine the SCREAM if the little Paris Hiltons and Britney Spears’ of Toorak were singled out for this form of psychological rape, if this measure was applied THERE, to show Howard’s repulsive proposal was not a singling out of one defenceless group?
    Let’s look at what Howard is REALLY up to. We’d all agree a vicious subceptional racial slur of the most outrageous order?
    Lana’s comment concerning the thing used to shoe- horn in another assault of welfare recipients in general, is the other valid point raised.

  19. Andrew, where is the evidence on child abuse that you assert in your senate speech that “Nonetheless, it is clear that this is particularly rife in a number of Indigenous communities”? The NT report argues that the evidence is very scanty and if the substantiated cases are low that this is due to under-reporting. This is the typical excuse of false child abuse panics elsewhere that has done so much damage to communities, such as the Orkney panic in the UK. Shouldn’t we at least have some evidence that the Aboriginal communities are now so degraded that they are incapable of preventing their own children from being sexually abused? Or do we just assume it is true?

  20. as a general matter, the QUALITY of ideas & the

    QUALITY of all U&*i=u, is wHAT ^ ***666, of

    CORE social value, in ALL social trade, in any

    thing TING of value, @ a GLObal,

    on any,
    for any u or i
    as u&I.

    i saw the poor gaLORE,
    before the above haw,
    saw NOT any paw poor,
    of any lore in score,
    else store core in …

  21. As usual the Howard government prefers to make a public gesture, and targets the symptoms, not the causes. Last time I checked, alcohol abuse didn’t cause child abuse – both alcohol abuse and child abuse are the result of a deeply disadvantaged and troubled community.
    Similarly, the problems faced by the Aboriginal community are not unique, they are the same problems faced by displaced, marginalised communities throughout the world. A punitive measure that treats Aborigines as children is not and could never be a serious solution.

    Finally, a significant proportion of the child sexual abuse is carried out by non-Aboriginals, and I fail to see how making it easier for non-Aboriginals to get into a community will reduce the problem.

    Another overseas blog to cover the issue:
    Definitely worth a read.

  22. Ken [7]:
    Yes, something else MUST be done ….. but NOT that blatant pre-election stunt of the Howard government. What a confused, horribly expensive, counter-productive mish-mash of dodgy whims pretending to be policy and action …. which, incidently, has to it two very dangerous aspects {I will not discuss those two aspects here though].

    As a political stunt, it is indeed simple and, initially, clever: If you support the Howard schemes, you are a compliant nong-nong. If you question or criticize the Howard schemes, you run the risk of being seen as opposing the protection of dear little kiddies. Very clever bit of moral blackmail!

    Too clever.

    So clever in fact that now is as good a time as any for His Excellency the Governor-General to ask Mr J W Howard to resign his commission and to request a suitable Coalition parliamentarian to form a new government, one that can actually deal with this chronic neglect and injustice.

    Prime Minister Brough? He would have to be better than what we have had to put up with.

  23. Somone asked the Senator a question,I hope he finds an answer,if, he hasnt answered that one yet.It seems at least Queensland and W.A. state governments are willing to, ask hang on a minute,lets discuss this.Whilst the Capital Territory of Aus. is suggesting its racist.I dont think Howard would know if he is being racist!?But,Gee,some people will put their name down for a job,before even a relative speculative figure of how many child molestors there are in action,and how many chronic alcoholics are endangering how many lives. Only the week before,last, on Australia All Over,the G-G,was taking the positive side,and suggesting the negative side pops up now and again.[not his exact words,but close} Seeing the man has a definite interest,it seems strange Howard couldnt have asked him to oversee the enquiry,because he has already established a good rapport with many Aboriginals.He could also the work on the relationship of Viet Vets in relationship with Aboriginals including in Queensland,on matters of what realistic industries could sustain themselves across the Top End.It was sad for me also to hear,no assistance to sugar growers in the Ord area,re their refinery buyout didnt meet the price the South Koreans wanted. Seems only the military industry with fly-in personnel, and navy and army ratings appeal to sour-puss Howard…granted the problem with refined sugar,and teeeeetttttttthhhhhhh.

  24. The Piping Shrike:

    I think things are still pretty bad in aboriginal communities. The adults need to take greater responsibility for their own behaviour.

    Taking the alcohol away would help a great deal also.

    A lot of child sexual abuse goes unreported. Even if children report what they have experienced, adults often turn a blind eye or blame the children for it. This applies in the white society as well.

    It is much easier to have a yellow stripe running up your back than it is to go the hard yards to protect the child and punish the perpetrator – especially when the perpetrator is a relative, friend or neighbour – or your own husband.

    Then, of course, the police have to get a conviction. Since criminals are now second in the society’s pecking order after animals, obtaining a decent outcome for victims is difficult.

    I know of a man who committed 140 acts of sexual assault on children, only to receive a fairly short jail term.

    I would like to see this person and others like him executed. I’ll throw the switch myself if no one else has the guts.

  25. Piping Shrike

    The NT report says “A disaster is looming for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory unless steps are taken forthwith.” I presume they wouldn’t make that call if the evidence was not there, and nor would they recommend that the issue to be made a national priority.

    I had read the article regarding Mutijulu that you linked to when it came out, and have been following the debate about the town through the National Indigenous Times. There are widely divergent claims and no doubt politics is behind the town being singled out as the starting point for the Commonwealth intervention – which is a bit ironic as the Commonwealth has more responsibility for this community than most others in the Territory by virtue of it being in a Commonwealth run National Park. As I understand it, some of its operational costs actually come through the budget of Parks Australia.

    Anyway, there is obviously some contention about Mutijulu. I have never been there and have not had sufficient discussions with people with direct experience to be able to be confident to make a firm comment on that community.

    But I have read far too many reports and heard far too many speeches by Indigenous people about serious child abuse concerns to dismiss it as an attempt to smear Indigenous communities or culture, even though some white commentators may be happy to use it for those ends.

  26. Why has it taken 11 years, this problem didn’t blow up over night.Mr Howard has made many promises before with out any results,for the sake of the aboriginal children I hope he doesn’t announce another inquiry.Now is time for action not empty words,work with the people don’t go in waving a big stick.As for the people having committed offenses remove them as you would any molester.

  27. Two things are being confused in the upoar about the sexual abuse business.
    On the one hand aboriginal customary law and morality are not the same as the European law and morality, on the other there is the social disintegration that has resulted in no effective community control over sexual activity from either legal and moral view.
    If the two things aren’t sorted out there’s going to be “Yindi Maridjaama” (Big Trouble)as my Yolngu relatives would say.

  28. a strategy for education is to get smart kids to re-write all stuff on this web-site.

    kids can adapt to their own context and thus generalize the CORE ideas in social exchange, across the planet [earth].

    see the maxims of napoleon as a TEST for english for all kids – strategy is personal.

    there is no such thing as “the art of war” – there are only things that have worked in the past, in a given context & players. the war strategies do NOT apply to a modern world or a global stage.

    further, my GOAL is a global system of justice, most people did not have the tools to deliver. i have given u the tools, do u have the WILL?

  29. Neville Scarlett:

    Yes, that’s it in a nutshell. Thank you for making the situation clear.

Comments are closed.