They just don’t get it

Monday, 6 August 2007 

The second of two posts ahead of this week’s reconvening of parliament

To underpin its NT intervention, the government is likely to propose a wide-ranging overhaul of the current system this week including welfare payments and the permit system. The Australian reports that Rudd’s support on the intervention will be challenged by the left.

If this is true, they are onto a losing game. Opponents to the NT intervention keep asking what changing the permit system, employment programmes or land right leases has to do with child abuse. On a practical level, probably not much. But on a political level they are totally connected, and it is this link that the opponents of the NT intervention are missing. The connection is simply this, once it is accepted that there is something horrific as a child abuse epidemic it undermines the integrity of a system that allowed it to happen. By accepting the original premise of the intervention, those who want to keep the current system have fatally undermined their case.

This link is missed by many of these defenders of the current system because the use of such extreme cases is so embedded in their politics. Howard’s intervention has come in for plenty of criticism, but not the Wild report that allowed it to happen. It should. For a start, it does not even establish conclusive evidence that there is a child abuse epidemic in the NT. It acknowledges that not only does such evidence not exist, beyond anecdotes, but that getting it is ‘secondary’. In fact gathering such evidence is not only not a priority, it is not even one of the report’s 97 recommendations. Based on the lack of evidence, reports that Brough has admitted that medical checks have led to only a small number of referrals to child protection authorities is not a total surprise. [Update: Kerry O’Brien interviewing the PM says that Brough’s office admits that 500 medical checks so far have not led to a single referral to police].

What the recommendations and the report do focus on is not the sex offenders, but what it sees as the behavioural problems of the indigenous parents. According to the report, it is their inability to prevent alcohol and drug abuse and access to pornography that has led to the social breakdown that as Pat Anderson, one of the report’s authors, said on The 7.30 Report will ‘guarantee’ that children be at risk and ‘eventually going to be sexually abused or abused in some way’. It is this social worker logic that means they do not feel that these indigenous parents require the same onus of proof before state intervention that any other Australian parents would be entitled to.

Having claimed that indigenous parents are incapable of the most basic parental function of protecting their children from sexual abuse, the report’s answer is both more social intervention but also greater autonomy for indigenous communities! This is so incoherent that it is no wonder that Howard can sweep away their recommendations. The moaning by the report’s authors about him doing so will go nowhere.

Now that Howard has used the report to undermine the existing structure, what will he replace it with? Howard has effectively created a vacuum that the federal government will now have to fill. Having by-passed the community leaders, he has no other authority with which to deal with these communities than his cash. It is no wonder that the costs of the intervention are now likely to soar. However, such spending without the people on the ground with influence to know how to use it will result in chaos. The people of Mutitjulu, at the centre of a child abuse smear by the ABC and the government last year, have already experienced the chaos of this type of intervention. The township is set to be a microcosm for the failed state being set up across the NT.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Monday, 6 August 2007.

Filed under Tactics

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