July 11, 2007


The drip-drip-drip backlash against the federal government’s drastic interventionist measures to protect abused children and women in dozens of woe begotten outback Northern Territory Aboriginal communities continues.

Combining equal measure of threats and warnings, the backlash essentially seeks to convince us that lifting the veil of secrecy and access to these communities will have a worse effect than letting abuse fester and multiply after decades of inaction. It’s a difficult proposition to argue, one would think, in such emotive circumstances, but placing land rights and old gripes ahead of social order and the well being of individuals within Aboriginal communities is an old trick, which, alas, frequently works a treat.

From July 07, 2007:

"All Australians are entitled to privacy but this must include ensuring that tribal Aboriginal people are not subjected to rampant tourism or rampant journalism - and can live their lives without being photographed and gawked at by busloads of tourists," he said.

"Removing the permit system will mean a free-for-all, with Arnhem Land instantly becoming the world's most sought after backpacker destinations."

Mr Fry said Arnhem Land would be flooded with tourists and backpackers bringing in alcohol and drugs.

"Beaches and rivers in communities will be packed with sunbathing backpackers, four-wheel drives, recreational fishers and campers - at the expense of fragile ecosystems and the interests of Aboriginal people," he said.

"Respect for private property rights and protection of privacy and the environment are legitimate concerns shared by all Australians."

Yes, privacy is very important to minimizing intrusion and identification of abused women and children: this is a universal truth.

Waving the greenie-environmental flag is, at most, a lame token gesture for gaining support from middle-class activist students and greens in the white community.

Offering up the image of a fragile ecosystem on the brink of backpacker inundation is a curious priority to place over and above fragile and chronically abused children and women, who must, we assume, be long past the brink of stupefying physical and emotional devastation.

For a change of pace:

"Another Aboriginal leader wants half of the "stolen" Australia returned to his people so they can establish self-sufficient communities free of federal and state politics."

Throwing in red-herrings is an overused and abused diversionary tactic, and, unfortunately, another one that plays well to a post-modernist white community incapable of applying moral condemnation to anything at all. Asking for half the country to be handed over smack bang in the middle of a shameful exposure of the appalling state of Aboriginal communities is, at best, a stupid stunt, at worst, a distasteful dismissal of the very real problems at hand. Land rights have not stopped the rampant growth of child abuse. More land will not stop the revolting fact of high prevalence of STDs amongst children.

But back to the rampant sunbathing, drink and drug running, four-wheel driving, fishing, camping gadabout tourists: it won’t happen, but nice try.

Besides, placing such far-fetched concerns above the rampant sexually transmitted disease among Aboriginal children is perverse. STDs at a rate of at least 25% among children has a much higher priority than keeping out a few backpackers in search of serious sunburn.

Also on July 07, 2007:

“NT Chief Minister Clare Martin yesterday led growing criticism of the intervention in the territory, saying seizing control of townships and scrapping the permit system did not make sense. She said the moves would not stop child sexual abuse."

Martin's government has decided that they will not support the removal of permits, and will support any legal challenges to the removal of permits.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough provided the obvious and sensible response:

"He said the NT Government "can no longer hide behind the permit system for the lack of policing in indigenous communities. It has failed to protect children in indigenous communities from abuse."

Another common attack in this last fortnight has been in relation to the ignored 97 recommendations:

"Hilary Tyler, from Alice Action, said yesterday that the child sex abuse report that prompted the Federal Government's intervention had been ignored.

"Of the 97 recommendations in the Little Children are Sacred report, none of which mention acquisition of land, the Howard Government is implementing only three," she said. "Clearly, there is a separate agenda — that of land grab."

I'm already bored with the "land grab" cliché, besides, it's an insult to every Aboriginal woman and child in the country.

I haven't seen the 97 recommendations, but I do know that of the NINETY SEVEN recommendations in relation to child abuse and child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities, a scant TWO recommendations concern men. Seriously. Think about that for two seconds.

In today's reports some new angles are taken out for a stroll:

"The dismantling of the permit system, which restricts access to towns, would make it easier for "grog runners and shonky art dealers"

Ah, yes, shonky art dealers. Gotta keep a handle on them. Big priority. Because there really is such a thing as too many shonky art dealers.

"The report warns that if the Government's emergency measures are implemented without community consent and ownership, there is a risk that problems such as alcohol addiction "will be driven underground and that initiatives to help prevent child sexual abuse and family violence will be resisted".

Out there in the outback, I'm not entirely sure how any problem or activity could possibly be "driven underground". These are, by any standard, small communities, with an embedded communal culture, along with limited outlets for supplies of alcohol, or petrol, or drugs. Hiding anything would be damned hard, taking it "underground" even harder. This isn't like some sophisticated urban cocaine operation. This is rudimentary cheek-by-jowl communal living, in the middle of nowhere, in which even the itinerant numbers are known and their movements well understood.

The far more serious suggestion that "initiatives to help prevent child sexual abuse and family violence will be resisted" is yet another slap in the face to the members of these communities. To suggest that Aborigines are so uncaring and petulant that they would spit-the-dummy rather than cooperated in efforts to protect the children and women in their communities is patronising and deplorable.

"Consent and ownership" is illusionary, feel good, and worthless at this point. It was a nice idea sometime last century, and it didn't work then either.

"Many of the Government's 'emergency' measures to stop child sexual abuse extend well beyond an immediate response to the problem. The resolution of wider problems such as joblessness, poor housing and the destruction of family, culture and community cohesion is part of any effective strategy to stop child sexual abuse and violence …"

Yawn, bored already. See, I have a very short attention span when people avoid reality, and assiduously avoid the problem that has engendered Federal government intervention. I most especially get bored when they parrot the same lines, wanting the government to turn water into wine, and a loaf of bread into a feast, in the middle of no-where. Not a single middle of no-where either, but up to 60 (?) remote settlements, and that's only in the Northern Territory.

I can't account for "the destruction of family, culture and community cohesion", really I can't. The permit system prevents the likes of me and you from going anywhere near these communities, so who is destroying the families, how is the culture, isolated as it is, being broken down, and why, in these far away places, where very few white people are permitted to venture or stay, is community cohesion falling apart?

"Proposals to take control of Aboriginal land (through five-year leases, administrators and removal of the permit system controlling access to lands) are likely to weaken the communities' capacity to deal with these problems."

Because owning the land and controlling access has proved to be so remarkably successful in providing jobs, housing and well cared for, safe children? Is that what the land has delivered? No? Is there a magical target date for when the ownership of land will confer safety, education, housing, sobriety, and jobs? By osmosis?

Veteran Aboriginal leader Pat Dodson, shared his wisdom with the ABC:

"Removing child abusers from their communities had a downside. "Fundamentally, you're destroying families as well as implementing what your good intentions may be"

"You remove … 100 men out of the community, they're someone's uncle or grandfather or brother — you remove a fairly big portion of the community out of the place for arrests or whatever, what do you do with a community that's left to deal with those factors?"


If there were 100 child abusers, or men bashing up women, in a community of say, 2000 people, wouldn't most of us feel, you know, somewhat alarmed? Wouldn't most of us be concerned that "someone's uncle or grandfather or brother" is raping children, or bashing up women? Wouldn't most of us be, like, hyperventilating at the idea of "the family" being sacrosanct, in those circumstances? Wouldn't most of us be very, very concerned to see that these men are arrested and charged, and, heck, let's say it: removed?

Let's be blunt here: wouldn't most of us be plain horrified and repelled by the idea of 100 abusers being kept within the warm glow of a tiny community? Horrified at the idea of identifying perpetrators but excluding them from our laws?

It all begs the question what contribution Mr Dodson believes these uncles, grandfathers and brothers are making to family and community life that is so valuable that it exceeds the damage of abused women and children.

It is precisely these circumstances that make the front pages of our newspapers when white urban families are encouraged and supported to stay together by the Dept of Human Services, or whose files are closed despite dozens of reports and violent incidents. There is always community revulsion and outrage when the details of such cases, generally after the murder of a child, invade our delicate sensibilities.

If touting to keep abusers within the family creates moral outrage in white urban communities, how can we begin to comprehend the suggestion of keeping abusers, dozens, or hundreds, within tiny, isolated communities.

It's impossible to comprehend what contribution Mr Dodson so strongly believes these men are making that requires their continued presence. Economic , social cohesion, moral leadership, role models for future Aboriginal leaders? I don't think so. Generally speaking, child rapists don't fulfill such valuable social and community functions.

Covering up or tacitly condoning the chronic abuse of children and women must be rejected, by everyone. This should not ever require elaboration or justification.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:28 PM

    Bravo Caz! Great post.
    What should be paramount is the protection of poor defenceless children..All this peripheral nonsense is clouding this basic fact!
    Gee.. If only we had more people with your insight, commonsense and compassion in politics..