The previous federal government used the spectre of child sexual abuse as justification to scrap the permit system contained in the Land Rights Act, which required people wishing to visit Aboriginal freehold land in the Northern Territory to first obtain permission. It was cheered on its efforts by its ideological fellow-travellers, who were happy to smear anyone who did not support the move as protecting paedophiles and other child abusers.
At a Senate Committee hearing in Darwin examining proposals to reinstate the permit system (although also giving the federal Minister blanket power to waive permits whenever they feel like it), there was unequivocal evidence provided by people opposed to the permit system, supportive of the permit system and agnostic on the permit system, all of who said there was no link between the permit system and child abuse.
Indeed Paul Toohey, a journalist from The Australian who appeared before the Committee and voiced dislike of the permit system that was so vehement it makes Mal Brough’s views on the issue sound moderate, none the less went so far as to say that using the excuse of child abuse to justify these moves was a beat up.
I lean towards having a permit system, mainly because the majority of Aboriginal people affected seem to prefer to have this power, although I think the benefits of it tend to be overstated (not unlike many of the arguments made against it). But it is frustrating to see so much energy and focus being put onto an issue which has little if anything to do with child abuse.
Hopefully at least the pros and cons of the permit system – and maybe other details of the Intervention – can start being debated without people being slandered as protecting paedophiles just because they don’t uncritically support retaining every single aspect of the Howard government’s version of the NT Intervention.