Suffer the little children

I have been reading a book by Rosemary Neill called “White Out – how politics is killing black Australia”. It was published back in 2002 but its core message is even more valid now than it was then – that the desire of people from across the spectrum to use Indigenous issues to reinforce their preferred political or ideological narrative is coming before ensuring public policy assists rather than hinders Indigenous Australians in overcoming the immense hurdles so many of them face.

There is nothing new in people selectively using information which reinforces their views while ignoring any evidence that challenges this, but it seems to be especially prevalent with Indigenous issues. But because the human costs of the comprehensive political policy failures and public noninterest in this area are so high, the consequences of this ideological partisanship are much higher.

I am reminded of this at the moment, as I am in the Northern Territory attending Senate Committee hearings to examine a few small amendments being made to the Northern Territory intervention laws which were put in place by the previous government.

The Committee has seven weeks to examine and report on these few amendments and is holding two days of hearings in the Territory – you can see the list of people giving evidence here.  It is impossible not to contrast this process with what happened last year, where the Coalition used its majority in the Senate to force through a large number of far-reaching changes – which were technically complex and highly controversial – in the space of a week with only a one day Committee hearing held in Canberra just days after the laws were made public.

The main change being made by this latest legislation is the reintroduction of the permit system which applies for some Aboriginal communities and lands in the Northern Territory, along with a prohibition on pay TV licensees providing pornography channels into some Aboriginal communities.

The permit system has been a key symbol in some of the ideological stoushes regarding Aboriginal policy, with the issue of child abuse being the current battleground used. However, despite all the heat surrounding the issue, there has never been any evidence put forward showing any link between the permit system and child abuse in Aboriginal communities.

Whilst on balance I support the permit system, it frustrates me immensely that so much attention is being paid to this issue in the context of the Intervention, which is meant to be all about urgently tackling child abuse, when the permit system has at best a very minor link to child abuse. There is something very unsettling about a whole group of lawmakers and commentators, all portraying ourselves as wanting to reduce child abuse but actually spending most of our energy fighting about an issue which has very little to do with it.

It is hard not to feel complicit in a continuing failure of our political system and society to resolve Indigenous inequalities and disadvantage, sitting on a Committee piddling away in a corner about permits and pornography while there are so many major unaddressed problems facing Aboriginal children in the Territory and elsewhere. A few of the many problems with the running of the Intervention have come up in the hearings so far, but I still find it hard to be hopeful that the core issues will be addressed or the necessary ongoing political and financial commitment will be forthcoming.

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12 Comments

  1. And its like Mal Brough is guiding his electioneering hope level via thieving something from here.Which is never the same as the content here,or even a direction from this site.But has as subject nothing at all about the population of Broughs.!

  2. A very interesting post, particularly given the amount of press Indigenous problems (and their proposed solutions) are getting at the moment. We live in a nation where our past has been accepted but not fully reconciled. We’ve said “sorry” but as you say have some way to go before we can claim we’ve addressed the issues which are important.

    The ALP appear to be fiddling at the edges with a number of policies (such as this and the citizenship test) rather than committing themselves to scrapping the ideologically charged Howard era legislation, genuinely listening to the concerns of those concerned and implementing policy based on what is needed and what will work.

    If the permit system is desired and works, great, let’s have it. But let’s keep things in perspective. The aim of any “intervention” should not be to proscribe what Aboriginal life should be but to put a well resourced system in place which allows Indigenous Australia to make its own decisions and liaise with the government to achieve outcomes which are desired by the community that will address the problems they face. This will necessitate some sort of Indigenous representative body (even if Warren Mundine dismisses it as a “white man’s dream”).

    For all Howard’s talk of pragmatism and all Rudd’s talk of evidence based policy, we’ve seen very little in the way of serious analysis by those with the legislative and financial power.

  3. Yesterday a part-aboriginal, highly educated man from the Land Council did the National Press Club Address.

    He said that more aboriginal youths are being trained as apprentices, so they can build the houses in the communities themselves. That sounds like a move in the right direction.

    If the government is prohibiting pornography channels in aboriginal communities, surely it would make sense to do the same EVERYWHERE for EVERYONE in Australia.

    The speech briefly touched upon sexual abuse and the large percentage of young aboriginal males who’ve been to jail.

    But my overall feeling was that the aboriginal peoples espouse the same “separatist” attitudes as most whites.

    They want their own independent dominion, along with the billions of dollars to be made from significant natural gas resources in the area, which was the main focus of the speech.

    I can’t see us becoming a single nation of peoples with this sort of thing going on. It may create greater division.

    Is there a link which tells us how the permit system works? It will help us to assess what is really going on.

  4. I’ve found it quite incredible from the outset,that the Howard govt placed so much emphasis on the need to remove the permit system.I believed then & now that there was a more sinister reason,even for the one fact,that it’s neither necessary nor used in the rest of the community,to remove peoples’property,income or protections of same in order to combat,investigate,arrest,charge or bring to court,suspected perpetrators of abuse-physical or sexual.Coupled with this,was the insistence by many indigenous community leaders or those on the ‘front line’ of Domestic Violence or sexual abuse of children,that the permit system was imperative to control the black & white pedophiles who may merge in with the population.
    I also found it offensive,that any person,black or white who even questioned aspects of the intervention,were classified as supporters of all abuse.
    Less than a handful of adults of chn have been removed.How many chn have received Specialist care?Ears?I also find it autocratic,that the incomes of ALL indigenous Abor.in the NT have had their incomes quarantined(even people with no kids)& have read,that only having access to(3)large stores has exaccerbated provision of food etc.Some people have to travel long distances by taxi.
    I’ve also heard,that in some areas,people had been paid their pension/benefit weekly as a trial program,but despite it being a huge success,govt stopped it & reverted back to fortnightly payments.
    If the Howard govt hadn’t ignored the abuse/neglect issues for almost 12 yrs,I may have had more optimism & respect for the intervention,but I understand,that there’s heaps of applications for mining leases in the NT – Why remove the Anti-Discrimination Act to save aboriginal kids from abuse?Why for 5 yrs? Could it have anything to do with it’s being the length of time under the 1996-7 Amendments to the Native Title Act for mining,exploration etc???

  5. It isnt the time on the job as aboriginal apprentices,it’s still a case of free time,when it comes to porn!? You would think,just being young,encouraging all the young,and get out there and do traditional things ,wouldnt worry a population,that hadn’t wore shoes,and therefore,porn around foot fetishes etc.I think a case could be put,to show aboriginals the matters,of the silliness of this ,shown from the more enlightened traditional ways.I hope that isnt a mine field. And I am not worried by the prospect of an Aboriginal State within a State.If that eventuates in Australia,it is highly likely it will be very sophisticated,intelligent,independent,and maybe even sharing.Even the critics,could get round to actually seeing their criticism being included and accepted,if it was at all reasonable.Getting people into positions used to money and not short-changing processes,isnt a uniquely Aboriginal failure,but setting it up like tattslotto is,something they could resist.I think it must be like Senator Andrew says,a sort of,in other words, clearing of footsteps,to once again have one, then two steps forward,then one step back.I remain,impatient,with all this,as a Australian for reasons to do with my essential jealousy being a good result rather than a bad result for Aboriginal matters.I have my own problems,and I see Aboriginal ones slightly worse,the jealousy is my problems,seem to be near normal,the Aboriginal ones speeding rapidly away from there.I know some-one who is completely and utterly normal,and says he should be compensated for never ever being a reason for compensation,and yet,cares deeply about what can happen to people,this is normal.I am not there yet.

  6. With child abuse in every town and city and suburb in Australia being ignored on a daily basis and not one person so far charged in the NT I can only conclude that this was all along about getting mining leases.

    If Macklin has the training to let the aborigines build their own homes and maintain them they will certainly have great pride in those homes.

    I think the permits should remain and Toohey is a bit full of himself.

    I also think that much of the reporting is mere vilification of aborigines disguised as “objective” reporting by the racists who are doing the reporting and Toohey is no different.

    They all need to investigate and cover the horrendous levels of abuse in the outer and inner suburbs of our cities and see what is really going on but it is easier to focus on demonising aborigines isn’t it.

  7. I think it is primarily a fight over resources worth billions of dollars. The government wants them, and so do the Aborigines.

  8. Would a Bill of Rights support the measures that are necessary for indigenous communities? As well, of course, for all australians. I think it may be a step forward. Every nation should have a Charter of Rights and we amazingly enough don’t have one yet. Just Right and other organisations have been working on this. The primary thing is to cherish each other irrespective of race, religion or creed, but as our brothers and sisters, wherever we may go. It’s a soul thing. You are looking at yourself… for consciousness mirrors itself into all life. Then the children everywhere will be blessed… and All Life.

  9. Lorikeet#7.When have aboriginal people ever won over mining giants?How much money did they get over Nabalco in Gove?They lost that land claim.Aboriginal people never relinquished their rights over their land.Documents over many years proves this. There’s so many inconsistences by those in control(Capital)that they use to denigrate & ensure aboriginal people lose control & use of their lands,culture etc. Howard was going to do it re a nuclear waste dump or two.Both areas would’ve at least interfered with river systems,food areas etc.
    During the years of nuclear tests,the so-called warning signs of danger were in English only. It has been suggested,that the aim was to use aboriginal people as guinea pigs.I understand they’re still dying from ramifications of this.
    Early settlers,explorers were willing to admit,that they could not have succeeded without help & guidance of indigenous people. We have conveniently left much of this out of history books. For example,when was there recognition of aboriginal participation in all wars from the Boer War until the present day?Even though,aboriginal people weren’t even citizens of the country for many of those battles.
    We should ensure, that all protections are made law, & indigenous peoples get majority advantage out of minerals etc under or on top of their land.If mining giants could make viable towns out of desert(Woomera)why can’t govts provide sanitation & decent housing for indigenous people in communication WITH THEM for a change,not dictating our ‘superior’ lifestyles on them,as in the past!
    I feel ashamed by the deliberate practise of not recognising the true history of this country, including many legal opinions over 200 years,that uphold indigenous rights over their land.The border wars lasted over 100 years,with at least 20,000 aboriginal deaths.I support a Bill of Rights-I also support a Treaty with aboriginal people-SOON!

  10. Sounds good, Nancy.

    My youngest son had to draft up a Bill of Rights when he was in Year 7 (2004). His teacher had come here fairly recently from South Africa, but the work was part of the curriculum.

    When I read my son’s Bill of Rights, I didn’t like some of the things that were on it. He said he had to put whatever the teacher told him or lose marks.

    Another teacher told me she was pushing her own views onto the children.

    A Bill of Rights might not suit some of the aboriginal leaders. To my knowledge, they want to have a few different rules from the rest of us.

  11. Completely off the topic, but it’ll be a huge loss when your term runs out Andrew.
    I hope you are snapped up as a govt advisor, consultant or something influential after June.

  12. Brough has been left off Rudd’s advisory panel which is a damn good thing. They don’t need zealots like him around the place who think that bullying and the army are the only way to go.

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