Originally published in the National Indigenous Times, June 28 2007.
NATIONAL: Drastic new measures have been put in place by John Howard’s federal government in the Northern Territory. Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, is leading the charge.
Citing the sexual abuse of Indigenous children, the government has galvanised into action, sending troops, federal police and a myriad of public servants into the Territory to impose grog and pornography bans and institute health checks of Aboriginal children. Their crisis intervention, they say, stems from “Little Children Are Sacred”, a report into abuse released last week, and political inaction up north. If they had read the report, perhaps they would have done things a little differently. A special report by Brian Johnstone and the NIT team.
There have been millions of words written in mainstream media in the past fortnight about the 316-page Little Children Are Sacred report into child sexual abuse in the Northern Territory.
Precious few have actually quoted from the report.
Even fewer have reported its core findings.
Astonishing as it may sound few of the people who are now – or soon will be – living under martial law in Aboriginal communities even know the report has been publicly released, let alone that it has triggered Prime Minister John Howard’s unilateral invasion of their land and their daily lives.
Make no mistake about this.
For the children and their parents living in those communities this is a foreign takeover by a Prime Minister elected 11 years ago who had pledged to govern for all Australians.
A Prime Minister who has circled the globe but has visited a mere one or two Aboriginal communities in the Territory which he now proposes to occupy.
A Prime Minister who has not only ignored a decades old crisis which was on his doorstep the day he assumed office but whose impractical policies, prescriptions and ignorance for the past 11 years has made matters worse.
His current unilateral action, he says, has been taken in response to a report he has either not read, or has not understood.
This, perhaps, explains why his one dimensional crisis intervention, and the way he has gone about seeking to impose it, is completely at odds with what the authors of the report, and their research team, set out to achieve.
Even before Prime Minister John Howard╒s announcement of his extraordinary intervention, a key member of the team who spent a grim eight months assisting Pat Anderson and Rex Wild painstakingly research, consult, analyse and write the landmark report, was clearly worried that politicians and the media were about to hijack the agenda.
He sent a powerful and elegant plea by email to a long list of people he had “handpicked” as a person “passionate about improving the lives of Aboriginal people in this country”.
This newspaper received that email on Saturday, June 16 – five days before Howard’s announcement.
The author agreed to allow NIT to publish an edited version.
The email said:
“My concern is that the media and politicians already seem to be focusing on the sensational aspects of the report and seem to once again be using these things to push their own agendas.
“Politicians are again focusing on “mainstream” punitive responses – jail, police, jail, police!
“It is a broken record.
“The first (The) Australian editorial on the report did not mention the importance of empowering Aboriginal people or healing but used the report to argue that journalists should have greater access to communities.
“If that is not blatant self interest I do not know what is.
“I am sending the full report to you in the hope that you will at least glance through it and that you will refer it onto your networks. The report goes far beyond the issue of child sexual abuse and most of it╒s drawn from lengthy discussions with Aboriginal people at a grassroots level.
“For that reason it is a good summary of current issues concerning Aboriginal people generally and it is just not relevant to the Northern Territory.
“You will see when you read the report that the main emphasis is on establishing meaningful dialogue with Aboriginal people, working in partnerships, empowering Aboriginal people and utilising cultural strengths to solve current problems.
“The report calls for Aboriginal people to have more involvement in the services that affect them and in the criminal justice system and for Governments to consider modifying systems and processes to better reflect the Aboriginal world view.
“Alcohol is also a massive issue. As is the question of healing. And I don╒t mean healing in a ‘new age’ kind of way. But rather in a meaningful recognition of the devastation that has been wreaked on Aboriginal communities and in a committed effort to redress this devastation both through symbolic and practical gestures.
“I am concerned that the messages of the report will become distorted and/or forgotten unless enough people actually read the report.
“A politician friend of mine once described politics as a ‘two card trick’.
“On any given issue both sides will pick one card each from the full deck and show that to voters.
“The other 50 cards remain hidden from the public view. The public vote on the two cards that they see.
“For that reason I send you the ‘full deck’ on this issue, being the full report.
“Please read it and make up your own mind what needs to be done….”
He expressed a hope that young Aboriginal and non Aboriginal leaders would read the report, run with it and make lasting positive change.
It was a plea from the head and the heart.
The author had participated in a consultation process which had included more than 260 meetings with stakeholders around the Northern Territory, and, in some cases, interstate.
These included meetings with service delivery organisations, Aboriginal communities, government and agency staff in the main regional centres of the Territory and regional and remote communities from the Top End to the Centre, with over 65 submission received by it.
The report records that many communities expressed appreciation for the manner in which the meetings were conducted, the fact that “senior people from Government” (the Inquiry co-chairs), and that the Inquiry “talked with, rather than to communities.”
Enter PM Howard and his Aboriginal Affairs Minister Mal Brough.
Six days after NIT received the email – on the final day of the current sitting of the Federal Parliament before the long winter recess – Howard and Brough called an extraordinary “shock and awe” news conference.
Politically, the timing was exquisite.
Half an hour before the final question time before a long recess months out from the next Federal election with the Prime Minister trailing miserably in the polls, unable to make a telling dent on the electoral fortunes of a much younger and forward thinking opponent, unable to seize the political agenda, and battling a growing perception, he was tired and out of ideas.
Howard and Brough were about to seize the political agenda for at least the foreseeable future.
They announced the occupation of 60 Aboriginal towns and communities in the Territory. It was soon apparent they were armed with a box of bandaids in one hand, a sledgehammer in the other, and in the Prime Minister’s case, precious little knowledge.
The well stocked toolbox recommended by the Little Children Are Sacred report was nowhere in sight.
Under the measures outlined by Howard and Brough grog would be forbidden for six months in their occupied territories, dotted around the grog-sodden Northern Territory, which has the highest rate of alcohol consumption in the world.
There would be a ban on the sale, possession, transportation “and broader consumption of takeaway sales across the northern Territory”.
Health checks, for evidence of sexual abuse, would be compulsory for the 23,000 Aboriginal children under 16 in the NT.
Fifty per cent of welfare payments would be quarantined to ensure they were used for food and other essentials.
An extra 60 police and army troops would be sent in to restore “law and order”, work for the dole recipients marshalled to clean up communities, the permit system effectively abolished, and x-rated pornography banned and publicly-funded computers audited for “evidence of the storage of pornography”.
The Commonwealth Government would “take control” of the 60 towns and communities through five year leases to “ensure property and public housing can be improved”.
The elected community councils would be pushed aside and the Commonwealth “would appoint managers of all government business in all communities”.
This would be a return to the old Mission Superintendent days.
School attendance would be compulsory in communities despite the fact that facilities in many are non-existent or are unable to house the number of children living there.
Howard told the assembled media anybody who had read or examined the report prepared by Ms Anderson and Mr Wild “will be sickened and horrified by the level of abuse”.
“They will be deeply disturbed at the widespread nature of the abuse and they will be looking for the responsible assumption of authority by a government to deal with the problem”.
The Prime Minister said he and his Minister regarded the situation as “akin to a national emergency”.
“Mr Brough’s put it to me this way; that if this set of circumstances had been disclosed as taking place in the suburb of Dickson (in Canberra), can you imagine what the local response from police, from medical authorities and from the State Government would have been. It would have been horror and immediate action and a demand by the community that something be done.”
Dickson is a long way from Docker River, Dagaragu or Daly River.
The affected communities had demanded something be done.
It is not what the Prime Minister and Mr Brough have announced.
It soon became clear they had consulted no-one outside a small coterie of senior non-Indigenous bureaucrats in Canberra and their own party room and Cabinet.
We would urge all readers of the NIT to take the time to read the Little Children Are Sacred report.
It can be found on our website.
On page 204 you will find section 27.
It is entitled: Implementation of the Report.
It said this:
“Wherever the Inquiry has gone, its team has been well received by local people. In some rare cases, proper notice has not been distributed or sorry business or road and weather conditions have limited the response in terms of numbers. However, community members have welcomed the opportunity to discuss the issues. The notion of child sexual abuse is unpleasant and discussion of it is embarrassing and sensitive, nevertheless, women and men were willing to sit down with us. The entire world still regards children as sacred, and those children we spoke to were anxious that they be protected. So, to a large extent, the welcome we received was an acknowledgement that a problem existed that had to be confronted. The first step, therefore, was taken and the relief, or so it seemed to us, was palpable.
“Other points might be made about our visits:
• Although communities have recently become used to hordes descending upon them from the skies (on all kinds of issues), they have had no sense of participation in what was happening or control over these events. From their perspective, there was neither communication nor dialogue.
• The Inquiry set out – and it is perhaps for others to judge how well we succeeded – to have communication and dialogue, NOT monologue. We went there to listen as well as talk. We sat down with the people and shared information. We talked about sensitive and grim matters. We engaged with them.
• The Inquiry was told in many places that this had not happened before. That is, that no senior people had gone out to them and sought their views. We were thanked for coming.
• A rapport was developed between the Inquiry members and the communities. A certain expectation has been raised that this kind of dialogue will continue and that the leaders of the communities will be able to take their rightful positions as spokesmen and women and deal directly with senior mainstream people. (It follows that in our view the expectation of the people in this regard should not be disappointed).
• In many places, there was an initial scepticism about our visits and the sincerity with which the NT Government had embarked upon this exercise (mirroring, to some extent, what has appeared in the political arena and in the media) “What will happen to your report?” “What will happen after you have gone?” were questions frequently asked at gatherings (at all levels of meetings, incidentally) “Will you come back afterwards and, in effect, report to us your findings and what the government will do?”.
•The Inquiry, of course, could give no undertakings about the implementation of its report and its recommendations. We were not able to assure those to whom we spoke that it would be made public. We do recommend that it be made public in its entirety.
• The Inquiry believes that an extremely important aspect of the process which now takes place will include full access to our report by all stakeholders; in effect, every member of the Northern Territory population.
•”They write these great reports: the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Social Justice Reports, and the Bringing them Home report on the stolen generations, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Strategy. What do they do with them? Jack up their bed, put them on the cupboard so that it looks ok! These things have to be implemented and until they do it’s no good talking to us Aboriginals about another plan because they haven╒t actually implemented all these things along the way, and we’re talking about “It’s time for our conscience to get another prick again – we better go and do another report” – and that’s the sad part about it (Puggy Hunter 1999 cited in Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy 2006).
• We have sought to demonstrate our view that partnership with Aboriginal people is essential to success. It is necessary to ensure awareness of what the Inquiry has been told and to ensure the channels of communication are opened and maintained.
• It is not always clear how best to take the message to communities and we, therefore, make recommendations that advice be sought. We were exposed to the Yolgnu radio network operating in Arnhem Land and were impressed with its capacity to educate, entertain and interest its listening public (and, of course, in language!)
• We need to keep before the public eye and on its conscience, the tragedies and traumas experienced by child victims of sexual abuse and the need to protect them. It is everybody’s business.
• To that end, the Inquiry has made a number of recommendations regarding the need for child sexual abuse community education strategies. As part of this, the government should work to better educate the whole community about the trauma and impact experienced by the victims of sexual assault, particularly child victims, and their families.
• Such a campaign should include information on the means of identifying such cases and the necessity to report such cases. The Inquiry recognises that a greater focus on this issue is likely to increase the reporting of abuse and impact on FACS, Police and sexual assault services. Such a campaign should, therefore, be complemented with additional resourcing of FACS and other services to enable them to cope with demand.
• We have previously recommended that the Children╒s Commissioner, envisaged in draft legislation presently being considered by government, be responsible for monitoring and promoting the implementation of this report’s recommendations. In the event that this appointment is delayed, we recommend – to ensure the matters continue to be accorded proper significance – that this responsibility be given to the Deputy Chief Executive of the Department of the Chief Minister.”
The first recommendation from that section called on the Chief Minister to “release forthwith for public scrutiny and consideration this report in its entirety, subject only to the time taken for its printing and publication, and that the Overview section be translated into the nine main Aboriginal languages in the Northern Territory, published in an appropriate format and distributed to communities throughout the Territory.”
This has not happened.
It means the Federal Government shock troops and police and an army of federal bureaucrats have begun descending on the proposed occupied territories before the residents even know the report has been published, let alone what it has found, and of the unilateral intervention which has been invoked in its name.
NIT has been informed that preparations for the translation of the overview of the report into the nine main Aboriginal languages by the NT Government are well advanced, along with a communications strategy to implement the report╒s recommendations.
The overview will be translated into Yolgnu Matha, Anindilyakwa, Kunwingku, Tiwi, Kriol, Murrinpatha, Warlpiri, Pitjanjatrjara and Arrente.
This is expected to be completed within two weeks. A team of specialists will take the translated overview out to communities who will no doubt be struggling to figure out what is going on.
Meanwhile the rest of Australia is still absorbing an avalanche of sensational mainstream media headlines which talk not of an assistance package but of a crackdown.
Many of the reports and the comments around them reinforce many of the myths which have built up around this issue for decades.
This is a matter covered in some detail by the report in a chapter entitled: The nature of child sex abuse in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory.
It says this:
“As noted previously, it is not possible to accurately estimate the extent of child sexual abuse in the Northern Territory╒s Aboriginal communities (see The Extent of Child Sexual Abuse, Part II).
“However, the Inquiry has found clear evidence that child sexual abuse is a significant problem across the Territory. This view mirrors that of most of the individuals and organisations with whom the Inquiry has had contact and from whom submissions were received.
“Giving consideration to the wider context within which sexual abuse has occurred (i.e. other child maltreatment and family violence and the general dysfunction of Aboriginal communities), the Inquiry’s perception is that there has been a breakdown of peace, good order and traditional customs and laws.
“Although the Inquiry’s task was to examine the incidence of child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities and identify ways and means of coping with that problem, it is apparent that little will be achieved by short-term measures aimed at responding after abuse has occurred (crisis intervention). Clearly, a greater investment in prevention of abuse and the structural forces or factors that impact on the health and wellbeing of a community (e.g. education, substance abuse, housing, attitudes to abuse and violence and building on cultural and other community strengths) are required. This theme runs throughout the report.”
“The Inquiry is well aware of the media and political attention surrounding the issue of sexual abuse of Aboriginal children. Using the consultations and submissions received by the Inquiry, it is important to first dispel some of the myths that have been prominent in various media reports and other comments on the issue.”
Myth: Aboriginal men are the only offenders
While the incidence of sexual abuse of Aboriginal children is a significant problem, it does not follow that all Aboriginal males are offenders, or that Aboriginal males are responsible for all offending against Aboriginal children. It is the Inquiry’s experience that the sexual abuse of Aboriginal children is being committed by a range of non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal offenders – and these are a minority of the overall Australian male population.
(In addition, many of the offenders who were identified as having assaulted more than one victim were in fact non Aboriginal)
As would be expected in any community, most of the Aboriginal men the Inquiry spoke with found the idea of child sexual abuse abhorrent and advocated severe, sometimes fatal, physical punishments for offenders. The Inquiry recognises that Aboriginal communities, and Aboriginal men, must be supported to better address the abuse and violence in their communities, but remains concerned that, at times, Aboriginal men have been targeted as if they were the only perpetrators of child sexual abuse in communities.
This is inaccurate and has resulted in unfair shaming, and consequent further disempowerment, of Aboriginal men as a whole.
Myth: Aboriginal law is the reason for high levels of sexual abuse
“This Inquiry notes that this myth has gained popularity in recent times (e.g. Kimm 2004; Kearney & Wilson 2006; Nowra 2007).
“It is a dangerous myth as it reinforces prejudice and ignorance, masks the complex nature of child sexual abuse and provokes a hostile reaction from Aboriginal people that is not conducive to dealing with the problem.
“My alarm bell is that sloppy and questionable academic research has the power to influence many people. Prejudice and ignorance may be reinforced. Media representations may then support such misconceptions, and hence feed into and trigger political action that has the capacity to create more problems. We do need education for early childhood; education for life; education for healing. But please not education that is fatally flawed (Atkinson 2006:22)
“The Inquiry also believes that it promotes poor responses to a complex problem. (An example of this is the Commonwealth Government╒s passing of the Crimes Amendment (Bail and Sentencing) Act 2006.
“A constant theme from both Aboriginal men and women during consultations was that they felt deeply offended by the way the media and some politicians and commentators had spoken about them and their culture.
“This had, in effect, potentially created a further barrier to addressing the issue of child sex abuse.
“The Inquiry believes that the general effect of this misrepresentation of the Northern Territory situation has been that the voices of Aboriginal women and men have been negated by powerful media and political forces. This has hampered the important development of systems, structures and methods that have a genuine chance of reducing violence and child sexual abuse.
“The Inquiry rejects this myth and notes that it is rejected by many other authoritative sources (e.g. Gordon et al. 200); HREOC 2006; LRCWA 2006).
The reasons for the present level of child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities are many and varied. They include the effects of colonisation and ╥learnt behaviour╙. The Inquiry does not take the view that this absolves Aboriginal people from responsibility in dealing with this issue, but it goes some way to explaining why it exists and provides an insight into how to deal with it more effectively.
Myth: Aboriginal law is used as an excuse to justify abuse
“The Inquiry has examined the relevant Northern Territory cases referred to in media reports, political remarks and academic research, as well as Northern Territory cases in general, where Aboriginal law has been an issue. The Inquiry was unable to find any case where Aboriginal law has been used and accepted as a defence (in that it would exonerate an accused from any criminal responsibility) for an offence of violence against a woman or a child.
Similarly, the Gordon Inquiry in Western Australia found no actual criminal cases in that state where legal argument on behalf of men charged with family violence or child sexual abuse has been put to the court to the effect their behaviour was sanctioned under Aboriginal law (Gordon et al. 2002).
The Law Council of Australia has stated that there is “no evidence that [Australian] courts have permitted manipulation of ‘cultural background’ or ‘customary law'” (Law Council of Australia 2006:17).
Myth: Aboriginal culture is the reason for under-reporting
“Many of the Aboriginal people with whom the Inquiry spoke were interested in discussing the problem of child sexual abuse.
During these discussions, it became clear to the Inquiry that child sexual abuse was not a highly visible problem and one of which many people were still unaware. That is, many people did not know what “sexual abuse” was and were confused about what constituted “sexual abuse”. In a number of communities, the attitude was “we are happy to work to stamp out sexual abuse in our community but we don’t know what it is”.
“Further, many of those who did suspect sexual abuse was occurring were unsure how to deal with it.
“The Inquiry noted that, in many cases where the sexual abuse was obvious, the local people had notified the Police or the local health centre. The reasons why other cases were not reported were varied and complex. They included fear and distrust of the
Police, the criminal justice system and other government agencies; shame and embarrassment; language and communication barriers; lack of knowledge about legal rights and services available, and lack of appropriate services for Aboriginal victims. This is discussed in greater detail in the next section, (Reporting Sexual Abuse of Indigenous Children).
“The Inquiry did recognise certain aspects of Aboriginal culture that may discourage some Aboriginal people from disclosing abuse, in particular the obligations under the kinship system.
“However, the Inquiry agrees with the conclusion of the Law Reform Commission in Western Australia in its report on customary law in that while: cultural issues may play a part in the under-reporting of sexual and violent offences against Aboriginal women and children, it is clear that there are numerous other and arguably more compelling reasons why Aboriginal women and children do not speak out about the abuse to government justice and welfare agencies. (2006:26)
Myth: Aboriginal men do not have an important role to play in preventing child sexual abuse
“The Inquiry was pleasantly surprised to meet with groups of up to 60 men in some communities. The men with whom the Inquiry met appeared sincere in their abhorrence of child sexual abuse and were keen to do something about it.
“However, it was a common theme in virtually all places visited by the Inquiry that Aboriginal men felt disempowered. Aboriginal women have been speaking out about issues like sexual abuse and requesting assistance for decades. Many Aboriginal women have been working hard for years to improve their communities.
“Many of the women with whom the Inquiry spoke said they needed their men to join with them in dealing with this problem. As one Yolgnu woman said:
“Our communities are like a piece of broken string with women on one side and men on the other. These strings need to be twisted together and we will become strong again.”
One cannot read these sections of this report without the overwhelming feeling that things are about to get worse before they get better.
Those communities will now have to contend with an army of strangers in their midst.
It is hard to believe, in the total context of the report, that Howard and Brough╒s unilateral declaration and crisis intervention will assist the very children they claim to be seeking to protect.
There is an almost universal view among a range of medical experts in the field that the intervention may in fact exacerbate the problems.
We would also urge our readers, and all Australians, to consider the words of the Prime Minister against the first words of the Little Children are Sacred Report.
It says this:
“There is nothing new or extraordinary in the allegations of sexual abuse of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory. What is new, perhaps, is the publicity given to them and the raising of awareness of the wider community of the issue.
“Sexual abuse of children is not restricted to those of Aboriginal descent, nor committed only by those of Aboriginal descent, nor to just the Northern Territory. The phenomenon knows no racial, age or gender. It is a national and international problem.”
Howard and Brough made it clear their time for talking was over when the report suggest the time for talking has just begun.
Both said they had acted because NT Chief Minister Clare Martin had, in their view, sat on the report for eight weeks and was taking a “business as usual” approach.
No member of the Canberra press gallery, at the news conference or since, has bothered to ask the Prime Minister to explain why it was that his former Aboriginal Affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone had sat on the last major federal report into this issue for 18 months before publicly releasing it way back in January 2001.
No member of the Canberra press gallery thought to ask the Prime Minister why he had called a national summit on violence in Aboriginal communities way back in July 2003 and walked out at the end to declare the fight against it a national priority at the time.
The summit came and went. The violent abuse of women and kids continued.
No-one thought to ask the Prime Minister why he accepted no responsibility for implementing a range of policies over the past 11 years which forced the closure of a raft of community and youth support programmes, including women╒s resource centres and night patrols which were aimed at fighting the scourge.
Howard and his Government have known about this for years.
Northern Territory Chief Minister Clare Martin should not escape political reproach on her handling of this crisis.
But be clear.
The crisis of abuse and violence in Aboriginal communities are not of her making.
It should be remembered that she came into Government in 2001, after the release of the Federal Government╒s last major report on this issue, after 25-plus years of Liberal Party rule in the NT – which ended five years after Howard became Prime Minister.
Would the Prime Minister have intervened during any of those five years? We think not.
Martin has clearly fumbled on this issue but the report makes clear that the “inquiry team worked closely with the relevant Northern Territory Government departments, not only for their advice on the practicality of our recommendations, but also with a view to bypassing the usual and inevitable delays and implementation caused in sending off reports and recommendations for further analysis and advice”.
“We understand that the recommendations contained in the report have the broad support of those departments, although financial implementation issues have been raised with us.”
This brings us back to Howard at his press conference in Canberra.
He told the media his response would cost “some tens of millions of dollars”.
Again, an illustration of how little he is on top of his job.
The Howard Government has received a raft of reports putting the unmet need in basic housing and infrastructure in Aboriginal communities at more than two billion dollars and rising because of the rapidly expanding population.
It has never been willing to commit to a long term plan to tackle this unmet need despite enormous budget surpluses. It has, however, found more than a billion dollars to splurge on politically advantageous advertising campaigns.
The Director of the Centre for Aboriginal and Economic Policy Research, Professor Jonn Altman, who has worked in the field for the entire term of the Howard Government and before, has estimated Howard and Brough’s intervention plan would cost an estimated three to four billion dollars if implemented properly.
“If we are going to have lasting outcomes, not just bandaids, we need to tackle systemic issues of health, housing, education and employment,” he told ABC radio this week.
They are the four key planks of Howard’s failed practical reconciliation policies.
A raft of mainstream media commentators have told us this week that we should not doubt the Prime Minister’s sincerity.
Surely sincerity has nothing to do with it.
The Prime Minister is paid to represent all Australians.
As Western Australian Premier Alan Carpenter pointed out repeatedly in the wake of the Howard-Brough announcement, Mr Howard has been in office for 11 years and the problems have got worse on his watch.
We have gone backwards and now he is telling everyone to jump.
Carpenter is a former state minister for Aboriginal Affairs. He was at the table when Phil Ruddock was Howard’s Aboriginal Affairs Minister and a group of Aboriginal women made an impassioned plea for help in front of the Council of Aboriginal Affairs Ministers in Brisbane years ago. Ruddock sat and read briefing papers throughout their presentation.
Premier Carpenter has made it clear he does not accede to the Howard-Brough request to allocate ten police officers from Western Australia to join the occupation forces.
As this edition of NIT went to press we were informed the Howard-Brough crisis intervention, which had been put together in 72 hours in Canberra and Sydney, was starting to fray at the seams.
We are informed the 60 administrators in 60 proscribed communities had dwindled to 30 community managers and had been reduced to nine Commonwealth officers – one for each shire under the proposed new Northern Territory Government local government reforms.
The compulsory health checks of the 23,000 Aboriginal children had become a proposed voluntary all inclusive physical health check up of about 2,000 children in remote communities by Army reserve doctors, as and when they become available.
The proposed 60 or 50 police had dwindled to about ten who were to be assigned to Mutitjulu, which has a police station about 20 kilometres away at the tourist town of Yulara.
There had still be no official announcement about a recall of the Federal Parliament to amend the NT Land Rights Act or the Self Government Act to deal with the “constitutional niceties” that Howard and Brough had pushed aside. None of this is surprising.
Less than 24 hours after it was launched the man credited in some media outlets as having inspired Howard into action, Noel Pearson, was publicly telling Howard and Brough to amend the plan.
In his regular column in the Weekend Australian, Pearson said this:
“The Howard-Brough plan to tackle grog and to provide policing is correct. However the plan needs to be amended so that there is a concerted strategy to build Indigenous social and cultural ownership.
“Howard and Brough need to understand the challenge is this: we must restore Aboriginal law in these communities. We must restore Aboriginal values and Aboriginal morality in our coammunities.
“Aboriginal law, properly understood, is not the problem. It is the solution.”
He ended the column with this warning.
“Howard and Brough will make a historic mistake if they are contemptuous of the role that a proper and modern articulation of Aboriginal law must play in the social reconstruction of indigenous societies. I support their determination to end the suffering.”
Who would not?
The Anderson-Wild Inquiry found that sexual abuse of Aboriginal children was common, widespread and grossly under-reported.
Their report makes it clear, however, what needs to happen.
“Everything we have learned (since our appointment) convinces us that these (sexual abuses of children) are just symptoms of a breakdown of Aboriginal culture and society.
“There is, in our view, little point in an exercise in band-aiding individual and specific problems as each one achieves an appropriate degree of media and political hype.
“It has not worked in the past and it will not work in the future.”
“What is required is a determined, co-ordinated effort to break the cycle and provide the necessary strength, power and appropriate services to local communities so that they can lead themselves out of the malaise: in a word empowerment.”