Or, as Kim has named it, Tampa 2007.
Prime Minister John Howard has announced a sweeping authoritarian plan of managing indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, with the stated purpose of combatting the horrifying rates of child sexual abuse amongst the indigenous population. Unlike the total beat-up of Tampa, there is a genuine problem to be addressed with respect to sexual abuse, but Howard’s announced plans reek of the Something Approach:
This is Something We Could Do.
Let’s Do That Thing Then.
Certainly, Mr Howard’s plan is Doing Something. But is it the most effective solution to the problem?
Here’s the list publicly announced so far:
* bans on alcohol
* bans on X rated pornography
* all public computers checked for and cleared of pornography
* welfare payments tied to child’s school attendance
* half of family welfare payments will be “quarantined” to be used for children’s expenses
Two extremely disturbing (to me) aspects:
- All indigenous children in the NT under 16 will undergo a medical examination for the express purpose of testing for Sexually Transmitted Diseases, with the tests and any subsequent required medical treatment to be funded by the commonwealth. There is no word as to whether the children, whose healthcare generally has been poor thus far, will receive a full medical examination for possible other problems at the same time. The authoritarian compulsion sits poorly on me as well.
- A move that looks suspiciously susceptible to abuse with respect to indigenous claims on land:
The Federal Government would take control of Aboriginal townships through five-year leases to improve property and public housing, Mr Howard said, adding that compensation would be forthcoming if required. Mr Howard said the reforms would include scrapping the permit system for common areas and road corridors on Aboriginal lands, and marshalling work-for-the-dole participants to clean up Aboriginal communities.
Obviously serious systemic intervention is needed to protect indigenous children, but are authoritarian controls placed on their movements and the movements of their parents actually a sufficiently effective systemic intervention, or just a few bandaids and barricades that look good when spun by the media?
In particular, the reports which shocked the nation regarding the sexual abuse of indigenous minors hardly pointed the finger only at indigenous adults as the sexual predators. The children are made extremely vulnerable by their poverty and the addiction problems of the adults in their communities, and non-indigenous adults abuse the children as well. How do any of the measures above work on making the children less vulnerable to non-indigenous abusers? In fact, don’t the measures above actually make it easier for a non-indigenous abuser to buy access to children using these banned items as currency?
There’s so much here to cater to the former One Nationites and other social conservatives who think that our indigenous people have just been mollycoddled too much and need a short sharp shock (presumably Tony Abbott will want those schools well supplied with canes). At least part of the push to restrict indigenous people comes from a belief that they have received “more than their share” of federal funding over the years without improving their conditions, so Something Must Be Done (and the more punitive the better). A commentor “HAL9000” at Larvatus Prodeo, in discussion of the plans for indigenous welfare reform being pushed by Noel Pearson, wrote:
One of the myths requiring some examination in this debate is the “you can’t solve indigenous issues by throwing money at them’ one. Mythologically, zillions have been poured down the drain, and indigenous Australians have been given all these taxpayer-funded privileges not available to other Australians. In fact, on any calculation of government expenditure per head, indigenous Australians have received less – in the past a great deal less, now just considerably less – on health, education, infrastructure etc. No taxpayer-funded privileges are available to indigenous Australians. The myth serves to exculpate governments from their obligations and helps fuel the Pauline Hanson agenda. Sadly, Pearson’s reported remarks help support the myths although I doubt this is his intention.
The causes of immiseration are much the same for indignous and non-indigeous folk, and it is not “left wing touchy feely’ to say so. People are primarily dependant on welfare because they have few other options. Lack of education helps the intergenerational transfer of poverty. What was true in industrial revolution England is equally true in Hope Vale or Woorabinda.
One of the few aspects I like about the PM’s plan is the aspect which concentrates on education, as in the long run it is the only way out of the immiseration of intergenerational poverty and the degradation of abuse. But the authoritarian and punitive nature of the rest of the plan makes me wonder just how much emphasis on education there actually will be. And if this was what needed doing, why didn’t Howard introduce such plans when he first gained office ten years ago?
Also, the plan isn’t going to stop with our indigenous citizens.
I should also indicate to you that Mr Brough is bringing to Cabinet at its next meeting some proposals to further extend the conditionality of welfare payments to all Australians receiving income support to ensure that these payments are used for the benefit of their children.
I seriously question the efficacy of any such top-down imposed authoritarianism. But it will play well with the conservative base and possible swing voters.
All beautifully timed as Parliament goes into a recess and Rudd was dealing with the Joe McDonald crisis. Rudd’s response so far has been a squib – weak support with no hard questions asked. Howard did have a rabbit in his hat after all.
Updated to add other posts around the ozblogs (will continue updating as they come in – Kim’s post linked above is updating links as well):
Cam at Polemica has published the full list of 97 recommendations from the NT’s Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse, as well as an excellent summation of the issues. Just goes to show that Howard’s plan fails to address more than 2 issues out of the 97 recommendations.
Ken Parish at Club Troppo makes some excellent points, The Dead Roo team fisk the government’s media kit release, Tim Dunlop at Blogocracy calls for a rise above partisan politics to examine what could be measurably effective solutions.
And from A View From Elsewhere, living right there in Centralia.
The Prime Minister has rightly called this situation an emergency, and has relied on the statement within the first recommendation in the report that “Aboriginal child sexual abuse in the Northern Territory be designated as an issue of urgent national significance.”
However, there has not been much mention about another part of that same recommendation – “It is critical that governments commit to genuine consultation with Aboriginal people in designing initiatives for Aboriginal communities.”