Cold water for the Great Intervention

11 Jul

I have an ongoing page on recent developments in Aboriginal policy and the Northern Territory in which you may see I lend qualified support, as it seems do most Australians, to aspects of Howard and Brough’s activities. But that support is not without cynicism and doubt. Think uranium just for a start…

Yesterday I mentioned Bruce’s post on the Bennelong Society, and the evidence that there really is a deep agenda to wind back Indigenous Land Rights. That, I fear to say, is not a matter of speculation: it is true. That is a very real aim, quite capable of existing cheek by jowl with genuine concern for the welfare of children I might add, behind government thinking. There is never a great gap between government thinking and the thoughts of the Blessed Miranda of Sydney, and she has already pronounced them (June 24, 2007) giving her version of Indigenous history thus:

The utopian socialist fancies of the 1970s are at the root of the crisis in remote communities. A push by then-fashionable economist H.C. “Nugget” Coombs led to the creation of 1200 remote tribal settlements where indigenous people were supposed to live a delightful Stone Age life.

The result is 90,000 people living in Third World conditions, with a life expectancy to match, most of them totally dependent on welfare, with such little education many can’t even speak English.

Professor Helen Hughes chronicles the “devastating impact” of these separatist polices in her new book Lands Of Shame, published by the Centre for Independent Studies.

“The neglect of children by mothers and fathers in the throes of alcoholism, drug abuse and domestic violence is a damning indictment of ‘living museum’ societies,” she writes.

The architects of the disaster and the ideology that underpinned it have never been brought to account; perhaps because they meant well.

In contrast is the self-flagellation about the so-called stolen generations, even when few victims of past policies of removing Aboriginal children from their families have materialised.

The only effect has been to ensure the authorities are so terrified of being accused of “stealing” another generation they leave children in abusive homes.

Of course there should not be separate laws for Aborigines, but Howard has moved to answer that criticism by saying his welfare reforms could extend to anyone. And so they should. Taxpayers never intended welfare money to be spent on alcohol, drugs and gambling at the expense of proper care for children.

And, of course, indigenous social dysfunction is not confined to the Northern Territory.

In NSW a report last year into Aboriginal child sexual abuse was met by imperceptible government action. NSW Aboriginal Affairs minister Paul Lynch was a blathering idiot on radio on Friday night, babbling about 88-point plans, even after 48 hours in which to digest the import of the federal reforms.

What else would you expect from a state government that puts such a priority on indigenous welfare that it once gave the portfolio to Milton Orkopoulos, a politician notable only for the fact he has been charged with child sex offences, of all things.

Yes she scores some debating points, but a more tendentious recount is hard to imagine! She fails to mention, for example, what the government has cut or abolished over the past eleven years, and her comments on “stolen children” are as insulting as they are inaccurate. As for her adoration of Noel Pearson earlier in that article — and I also admire him — I would strongly recommend reading Pearson’s substantive article in the Griffith Review before swallowing Miranda’s interpretation of Pearson whole. See The view from Redfern.

Last night on the 7.30 Report we heard from Olga Havnen, a co-ordinator of The Combined Aboriginal Organisation (CAO), which represents more than 40 community and Indigenous organisations in the Northern Territory.

Olga Havnen, as I just said, in this report released today, it says “the Government’s emergency measures lack insight into effective child protection interventions”. Why? In what way?

OLGA HAVNEN: I think the main concern that we have about the current approach by the Government has been a failure to understand that there are some really deep-seated, underlying structural issues that need to be addressed. Principal amongst those will absolutely be the need for adequate housing. It’s great to have the police on the ground, it’s great to have the medical intervention there and the health checks happening, but in the longer term it’s actually about having better access to a whole range of services which are currently not there.

ALI MOORE: But isn’t the Government recognising that, that what we’re seeing at the moment is the preliminary response. We’re seeing the health workers on the ground, the police on the ground, then they come up with the longer term plan for the secondary response?

OLGA HAVNEN: Well I’m not sure that that longer term plan and that longer term commitment has been quite clearly worked out. The commitments that are there at the moment seem to me, on face of it, to be rather short-term. We’re talking about people being out there as volunteers, police presence perhaps, you know, for periods of six months, and insofar as the administrators and their appointments, we’re talking about 12 month appointments. I think what we’re needing is a much longer term, comprehensive, detailed plan of action that’s really going to address the needs of people in remote communities…

ALI MOORE: If we look at some aspects of this plan. I mean, certainly, the ban on alcohol, everyone agrees alcohol is the problem – has the Government got that right?

OLGA HAVNEN: Well, again it was a curious kind of approach to suggest the need for bans on alcohol in remote communities. Most of our communities are already dry, and in fact out of some 600 communities that we have in the Northern Territory, this is discreet Aboriginal communities, I think only about eight or nine of them have any form of licensed takeaway alcohol sales.

ALI MOORE: The problem is what goes on around them?

OLGA HAVNEN: It’s what goes on around them. I mean, Alice Springs for example has been in the news constantly for the last decade and longer about the difficulties there in applying all kinds of alcohol restrictions. The number of liquor outlets and the availability of alcohol in Alice Springs and some of our major towns is just a disaster…

ALI MOORE: Finally, briefly, optimistic? Can it work?

OLGA HAVNEN: Look, I think with some genuine goodwill, bipartisan support and the engagement of Aboriginal people in all of this, it can be done. This is not something that’s insoluble. I think we can make some real inroads here but it does require some, you know, partnership building and good trust…

John Howard has scored points in the preferred Prime Minister stakes out of this. Let’s keep watching to see how it all really unfolds for Indigenous Australians, their rights and problems.

You will find a good follow-on at The Aboriginal “crisis” and the Commonwealth’s response. And Marcel, I am not insulted and have posted a comment on that post.

Thanks too to Marcel for Jack Waterford in Eureka Street. Miranda Devine he is not, though it was Catholicism too — but a Father Ted Kennedy or Frank Brennan kind of Catholicism — that inspired the Waterfords! I met Jack back when he and other members of his family had associations with Fred Hollows: John Waterford and his wife Nan, Jack’s parents, were neighbours of mine in Glebe in 1977 to 1978, and my friendship with them lasted into the 1990s. I even took M once to visit Nan when she was living in Balmain. I learned a lot from the Waterfords. See also Late Anzac Day thoughts here.


I just reviewed a 2005 post from September as part of my work on the archive blog. Makes interesting reading now. NIT :: The dollars and sense of Shared Responsibility Agreements just don’t add up.

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One response to “Cold water for the Great Intervention

  1. marcellous

    July 11, 2007 at 12:11 pm

    Neil, I know you have had doubts about this from the outset. I was going to comment here but resolved instead to write a post of my own. I hope you won’t be offended by what you might read as an accusation of involuntary racism made against you in that post. It is a charge which I would also make against myself, and I just want to say that here in case, in the interests of simplicity of argument, I have not made that sufficiently clear there.

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