June 22, 2007 | Graham

Playing politics with Aboriginal Children

Imagine that the rampant paedophilia shown to exist in Aboriginal Communities had been found in, say, a set of church run private schools, what would the outcome be? Would we be talking about how to deal gently with the church organisation respecting its traditional ways and property rights? Would we sit on the report for 6 weeks and then want to take another 8 weeks to think about it?
I don’t think so. If my memory is correct, the last time there were incidences of paedophilia in a church school we demanded that the Governor-General be sacked because he hadn’t acted promptly enough when he was head of that church. And Toowomba Prep was a Sunday school picnic compared to what has been revealed in Aboriginal communities.
Yet the gently gently approach is just what a number of commentators, including many in the blogosphere are suggesting. That coupled with criticism of the Prime Minister for applying the “wedge” and running the issue for electoral gain. Take a look at this post by Ken Parish on Club Troppo entitled “Australia’s Day of Shame” for an example, or this “Tampa, 2007 Edition” from Larvatus Prodeo.
No doubt, if the Prime Minister had just sat around while the NT government made up its mind to do nothing about a problem that it had pretended didn’t exist in the first place, the same suspects would be demanding that the Prime Minister be sacked. He’d be described as a racist, and condemned for acting politically and playing Swannee River on the dog whistle.
Instead, the Prime Minister acts, and now he is criticised for being political, racist and playing Dixie on the dog whistle. (Complaining about the “wedge” in these situations appears to be as mandatory for the mindlessly partisan as blaming the referee when your footy team has lost).
I am not suggesting that we shouldn’t look critically at the solutions being proposed, but that criticising the motives of the Prime Minister is not infrequently a sign of bad faith. This issue won’t work to Kevin Rudd’s advantage, but he appears to have accepted that this is just how the cards have fallen. It is not as though the issue has just popped up. 12 months ago the government was being criticised when the new Aboriginal Affairs minister Mal Brough raised allegations which have now been substantially sustained. What we are seeing is the culmination of 12 months of work, not just a few weeks.
Nothing gets me angier than abuse of children, and I’ve been disgusted by the way governments have dealt with the issue. In Queensland there were instances of children being returned by departmental staff to foster homes where they were known to have been infected with an STD by a carer, yet there was hardly a ripple. No resignations, and as far as the public could see, no real change in the department.
I’ve no doubt that Howard gets angry about abuse of children, and unlike me he’s in a position to do something. I’ve also more than a suspicion that the agenda is driven by Mal Brough, and whatever people might say about Howard’s opportunism, Brough is no cynical political operator.
If it works to the government’s political advantage – well that’s what democracy is about. It will certainly be to the advantage of the children involved, and that’s where our attention ought to be directed.

Posted by Graham at 9:47 am | Comments (10) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. Graham,
    I think the concern is not that the government has acted, but in the way it has acted. To use your church analogy, would the government assume control of ALL church property for a period of 5 years, and if it did would there not be an outcry?
    This has all the hallmarks of yet another kneejerk reaction which has not been thought through. Where are the extra trained police going to come from? Doctors? teachers? housing? Why, if this was such a problem apparent to everyone and deserving of the status of EMERGENCY, was Aboriginal health/children’s wellbeing not a central plank of the May budget handed down just 6 WEEKS AGO? And why has it taken 11 years to suddenly become concerned? Could there be an election later this year?

    Comment by barney — June 22, 2007 @ 3:37 pm

  2. Again, Howard only deals with the effect and not the cause. He has had eleven years and done nothing. While it is good that he is taking action, one can not help but be skeptical of his motives.

    Comment by Brendan — June 24, 2007 @ 6:50 pm

  3. Barmey,
    At least a plan of action has been announced. Of course it will take time to organise the doctors, health workers, police and all the supporting community services from housing to water to implement the PM’s initiative.
    Did you expect the PM to stand idly by once he received the report of systematic sexual abuse of the children, like Clare Martin did for weeks?
    He has decided to act now, and we should all be supporting the government’s initiatives to ensure this issue is going to be addressed once and for all.
    If anyone has constructive criticism regarding the PM’s plans, they would be more than welcome to send them to the PM’s of Mal Brough’s office.
    As for the governemnt’s alleged neglect of the Aboriginal community, as Noel Pearson has said, just throwing money at the problem in the form of passive welfare has failed and a new approach has to be implemented.
    At least the PM is trying something else. What if there is a political face to this initiative? All government policies are devised with this in mnd, whether by the Coalition now or by the ALP governemnts in the past.

    Comment by GCM63 — June 24, 2007 @ 7:07 pm

  4. Barney, I think you would find that if a church run school had endemic paedophilia which the church was unwilling or unable to stop, the school would be closed down. No-one would seize the assets, but no-one’s seizing the assets here.
    As to why Howard didn’t act 10 years ago, you might as well ask why Paul Keating didn’t act 13 years ago. The reason in both cases is probably because it wasn’t politically possible then.
    It is politically possible now, and that is partly due to the work of Noel Pearson, and partly due to the fact that attitudes towards aborigines, and Howard, have changed significantly. 10 years ago Aborigines were literally turning their backs on Howard, now they’re much more inclined to work with him.
    Another factor is that Howard has a minister in Brough who is prepared to give it a go. Brough took this portfolio over about one year ago and has been working for change ever since.
    The last factor is that Clare Martin’s negligence gave Howard the opportunity to trump the Northern Territory government. If she’d acted promptly and decisively we probably wouldn’t be seeing this action either.

    Comment by Graham Young — June 24, 2007 @ 8:56 pm

  5. It is interesting that after 11 long years as PM, Howard has suddenly found a passion for solving the problem of child abuse in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, but without having the resources to do what he says wants to do:
    For eg, there are not enough Dr’s in our public hospital system as it is – where are they going to find the Dr’s to go to outback areas to treat people with major cultural differences from our own? What are they going to do with the people they catch drinking or owning pornography? The jails are already overcrowded and there’s not much point fining people who have so little in the first place without making it worse for their families. The plan is only a few days old and already these problems are apparent
    But what I do know is that Howard says he wants to control their land for the next 5 years or so while he does this – they obviously have a plan for the land if not for the people, apart of course from getting all of us arguing the rights and wrongs of the matter – he no doubt hoped it would cause the ALP trouble – as he knows many lefties would automatically hate this idea – what a great divisive issue just before the election.
    However, Howard is very interested in putting a radioactive dump in the Northern Territory. Of course normally he’d have to negotiate with the traditional owners as well as other stakeholders … but if he controls the leases, the local indigenous people will be much less say over what their land is used for.
    I sincerely hope I’m wrong, but it will be interesting who gets the most out of this policy – Aboriginal kids or the nuclear industry. I know which one Howard is 100% passionate about.

    Comment by Anne — June 25, 2007 @ 1:09 pm

  6. Graham,
    This sums up my position much more eloquently than i could ever hope to.
    BTW where are you up to with your survey of voting intentions?

    Comment by barney — June 26, 2007 @ 9:22 am

  7. Graham, can you explain how putting out the welcome mat for every white abuser in the country to walk into these communities helps deal with the problem. Yet that is the effect of the plan to abolish the permit system.
    Brough’s so called concern about the problem doesn’t stop him implementing a long held agenda to undermine land rights, even though this aspect of the plan will obviously lead to more abuse, not less. (It may be overwhelmed by the positive aspects of the government’s actions, but still clearly demonstrates that protecting children is not the only thing on Howard and Brough’s minds).

    Comment by Stephen L — June 27, 2007 @ 12:05 am

  8. Graham,
    You need to ditch the ‘rose coloured’ glasses you are viewing Howard’s policies through.
    Nobody disagrees that our Aboriginal brothers and sisters live in the most inhumane conditions imaginable. But one does not treat the symptoms and ignore the cause.
    John Howard is a cunning polititian who knows how to create an environment which gives him an advantage electorally. Tampa and the ensuing climate of fear politics is as good an example as any.
    How can you ever trust a man who said ‘No GST ever’ or that other famous one liner ‘it is not a core promise’?
    Here is another thought – how would you react if Howard applies the same policies to the rest of Australian society? After all paedophilia, pornography, and drug dependance is not restricted to modern Aboriginal communities only!

    Comment by Ninja — June 27, 2007 @ 9:42 am

  9. Stephen, I was at first puzzled by the changes to the permit system and the plan to take 5 year leases over some aboriginal land.
    I don’t think the changes to the permit system are a big deal. The system doesn’t appear to have been very successful at keeping white paedophiles out, but it could be used to keep out people who might change the situation. If you’ve got a community controlled by criminals, then what sort of person are they going to give permits to and what sort are they going to withhold them from?
    The change on land tenure appears to be to allow the government to grant some private property rights to people wanting to set-up businesses etc. Noel Pearson is right – the problems in these communities stem significantly from the fact that they don’t have a “real” economy. Land tenure is a necessary prerequisite for a real economy, and is therefore part of the long-term solution.

    Comment by Graham Young — June 27, 2007 @ 10:57 am

  10. Graham,
    If there’s any evidence that permits have been used to keep out people who might resolve the paedophelia then lets hear it. So far none seems to have been produced. On the other hand, while the permits have obviously not kept out all external abusers tourists have been kept out and this presumably includes at least some sex tourists. Getting rid of them may not make the problem much worse, but it will certainly make it somewhat worse.
    The point of the abolishing the permit system is to say very clearly to local land owners “This is not your land”. Howard has never supported the concept of aboriginal ownership of land, or even native title, and has opposed it at every opportunity. Here is a chance to deny aborigines the most basic right of all land owners – the right to say who can come onto their land and who cannot.
    As a homeowner I quite rightly can’t refuse police with a valid search warrant from coming into my backyard, but I can prevent someone who feels like snooping. This right has now been denied to aborigines. Its a very big deal and will make the problem worse. It’s hard to take the rest of the package seriously in this context.

    Comment by StephenL — June 28, 2007 @ 1:47 pm

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