Is this the script Howard wanted?

Monday, 25 June 2007 

How appropriate that one of the first places where the government’s child abuse crusade in Aboriginal communities will begin is Mutitjulu, a small township near Uluru.

According to The Age, when Brough opened a police station there last year:

he was threatened with violence by people angry over claims he had made two months earlier that there was a paedophile ring in the township. When questioned, he did not produce evidence to support the claim.

What the residents were angry about was a child abuse smear by what appears to be a shoddy piece of Lateline journalism a year ago and dutifully repeated by the government. Despite that report being discredited Brough was having another go last week saying “elements were back drinking, breaking into houses, threatening people again” on nothing more than the hearsay of a caller into the ABC. The government’s intervention into the township is unlikely to be any more popular this week.

It was the allegation that girls were being prostituted for petrol in Mutitjulu that was one of the motivations for the NT report, which in this blog’s view, is equally reliant on hearsay rather than conclusive statistical evidence. Any doubts on the government’s right to intervene, however, are not being raised outside the Aboriginal communities.

However, this consensus could be Howard’s problem. It was interesting watching him on Meet the Press yesterday. He seemed to be giving the impression that he was reading from a script where the other actors were not coming out with the right lines. Three times in a few minutes he came back on criticisms in a similar way:

“… protecting innocent children is far more important than subservience to a doctrine or a philosophy.”

“… the problem with these debates, they always descend into generalised philosophical exchanges instead of a serious debate about how you make a difference on the ground.”

“… we’re falling into the old Canberra trap of talking about this as some kind of generalised philosophical debate.”

Howard here is obviously trying to pose as the down-to-earth practical doer against the philosophes in Canberra. The problem is such ‘philosophical’ objections are not being raised. There is such a rock solid consensus behind the premise of Howard’s intervention that any criticisms have been mainly practical. Rudd even upped the ante on the Sunday program with the promise to increase the number of federal police to help it along.

However, it is the practicality of this intervention that is precisely the problem. Not only is the intervention based on evidence of dubious quality, but what the federal police is actually meant to do is also unclear. Howard said the first role would be to apply NT’s existing laws that are not being enforced by the Territory’s police. However they may have a good reason for not doing so, the same one as why some of the states are reluctant to be involved – they are impractical. Such draconian laws may be good politics at the local level, but the actual widespread control of a population that would be required in their enforcement is unlikely to be feasible, especially to one that is questioning their legitimacy. It looks as though it was Howard who really wanted a philosophical debate, but is now being left to deal with something else altogether.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Monday, 25 June 2007.

Filed under Tactics

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