Aboriginal people “scared stiff”, and workforce challenges: more reactions to the Howard war on indigenous autonomy

Reactions are flowing in from various groups on the Howard plan to send in white forces to re-steal land and stamp out autonomy in Northern Territory aboriginal communities.

A delegation representing 60 Aboriginal and community groups is today delivering its “please rethink” message to Canberra:

Olga Havnen, a prominent Aboriginal leader in the Northern Territory, warned the intervention model announced by the government, which involves teams of troops and police, could do more harm than good. Ms Havnen said she had spoken to Aboriginal people in Mutitjulu, the first community to be targeted under the Howard government’s plan.

“People there are scared stiff,” she told Fairfax. “They want to flee, to get out of there. That’s the level of panic and fear that this has caused out in the communities.”

Groups representing medical doctors are also responding. The Sydney Morning Herald confirms that Tony Abbott is sending in military reservist doctors, not sexual abuse or paediatric specialists. And Mark Wenitong, president of the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association, appears to have learnt about this plan in the newspapers just as the Northern Territory government did. Wenitong has called for:

the Federal Government to seek more medical advice before starting health checks of all children. After criticism from medical specialists of the Government’s focus on sex abuse checks, Dr Wenitong questioned whether it had got well based medical advice before pushing for compulsory child health checks including for sexual abuse. “I would be very surprised if there was any medical advice given. I understand that the Government is approaching this from an emergency position, so was developing policy on the run

The Australian examines the practical dealbreaker for the compulsory-health-checks plan, medical workforce and training challenges:

Australian Medical Association Northern Territory president Peter Beaumont said there were “nowhere near enough doctors in the territory” to conduct the checks. “And you can’t just bring people in and train them in a few days and expect them to know how to communicate and deal with Aboriginal people,” Dr Beaumont said. “It’s vitally important that any doctors involved in this are culturally sensitive.”

The Rural Doctors Association concurs. From Peter Rischbieth:

At the moment the workforce crisis is the No1 thing in rural Australia – we really are struggling to deliver timely services across a wide range of professions, including Aboriginal health. It will be a significant challenge to provide the workforce required to meet this recommendation. […] We now need a similar commitment to urgent action from the Government in relation to indigenous health in general,” Dr Rischbieth said. “There is an urgent need to address indigenous health problems in all age groups and not only in those Aboriginal communities located in the Northern Territory.”

And Tony Hobbs, president of the Australian General Practice Network, questioned the Government’s commitment to multi-disciplinary treatment and follow-up of identified problems:

“It is critical that services are supported to work with at-risk Aboriginal people with appropriately trained staff, follow-up services such as rape and drug and alcohol counselling, and the infrastructure necessary to provide and deliver quality care.”

Categories: culture wars, indigenous, Politics, social justice

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6 replies

  1. It just shows how ad hoc the Emergency Plan is. The infrastructure and personnel elements simply don’t exist.

  2. thanks for your coverage of this; both the volume and tone of much of the related news is hard to follow.
    Hopefully the medical groups reality check on Howards plan will at least pressure all parties to invest more in neglected areas of health training.
    At the conferences about sexual assualt services I’ve attended rural and Indigenous health workers speaking always raise this issue. That staff shortages are compounded for their services by the long term lack of educational access for those groups.

  3. Thanks outfox. I’m mostly-spoonless right now; we’ve had a lengthy wave of viral illness through the house over the past couple of weeks. So I’ve been kinda filter-blogging on this while tigtog does the heavy thinking.
    I see the lack of training and cultural knowledge as a massive barrier to the medical-checks side of this plan being successful. I have a looming feeling of dread about it all that’s hard to put into words.
    I just read that Mutitjulu people are beginning to discuss their options for fighting back; banning people from climbing Uluru is one option they’re considering. Climbing Uluru is deeply disrespectful to local beliefs, but the people have been allowing it, with education, as a concession and a gesture of co-operation. The fact that they’re considering discontinuing the practice demonstrates both that that air of co-operation is being stamped out, and that Aboriginal people have few other avenues for effective protest.
    The article also elaborates a little on the atmosphere of fear leading people to consider fleeing the township:

    “I thought the Government was here to protect them. They’re scaring the living daylights out of the kids and women, they think that the army’s coming to grab their kids and the police are coming to help them take them away,” he said.

    Brough responded:

    ”The reality is that when police come into a community people generally warm to them because they’re there to help them and that’s no different on this occasion.”

    Did Brough burn all his history books or something? Did he ever have them in the first place?

  4. This is the first I’m reading about this situation so thank you so much for posting about it. It sounds, frankly, horrifying.

  5. That’s right, I don’t think Brough ever had them[history books]They are both [brough and howard] writting new ones.
    How they warmly embraced capt.cook and the first fleet years later.
    Now they have alcohol,porn, history starting 1788,rags and a multiple of diseases.
    Thank you white man, now you can take the rest of what’s left to us and saving our kids at the same time.
    I always thought that howard haa had a lot of pratice keeping children locked up in immigration centres we even have our own Guantanamo on Christmas island. here is a quote from Voltaire;Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities

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