Here we go again

Thursday, 13 December 2007 

When the Criminal Justice system stuffs up in dealing with the sentencing of a gang of rapists of a 10 year-old girl, who do you blame?

The girl’s family, of course. The furore over the Aurukun case has now led to calls for the NT intervention to be extended into the indigenous communities of Queensland. Once again, a case of child abuse becomes not about the perpetrators but indigenous parents.

The Aurukun case looks like the muddle-headed application of justice, which may appear to be based on helping indigenous people (going by an earlier submission written by the judge in January) but is racially based and inconsistent. Surely the answer is to sentence the rapists on a basis that is racially blind and ignores the skin colour of the defendants. If The Australian’s report is correct, it might even have been helpful that the welfare authorities had listened to the warning from the girl’s family to deal with the boys that had raped her before. In fact, contrary to how it had been generally reported, the family told The Australian that they requested that the welfare authorities not send the girl back from the foster parents until it was safe to do so.

It would seem that if anyone requires intervention it is the institutions of the state that ignored the requests from the girl’s family to protect her and didn’t even bothering telling them that the rapists were being tried. Indeed, if the girl’s family is to be believed it would appear that the problem was that the views of the judge and the prosecutor came from a mis-guided belief that under-aged sex is more tolerated in the communities than it actually is. Now where could they have got that idea?

The Wild Report that kicked off the NT intervention with its claims of widespread child abuse in indigenous communities, had a similar focus on the behavioural problems of indigenous parents, instead of directly dealing with the perpetrators (both indigenous people and white miners) as would be normally be the case. That was why it never bothered compiling any proof beyond hearsay, and why after five months and nearly a thousand medical checks, there have been still no arrests for sex abuse (and the white miners were reportedly just sent home).

What the Wild Report did was to undermine the way indigenous affairs have been conducted since the 1970s. That wasn’t the intention of the authors, who actually wanted to bolster it by encouraging more funding and social worker intervention. Unfortunately, in making such lurid claims about something as horrific as systematic child abuse, it undermined the integrity of a system it had intended to support. It enabled Howard to seize on the claims to build a campaign to try and morally renew a floundering government and so blow the whole system apart.

The NT intervention undermined the old system but put nothing viable in its place. The vacuum that has been left is why the Aurukun case has gone beyond just an isolated, cack-handed example of the judicial system’s gross paternalism with indigenous people. Instead it has led to calls for the intervention to be extended and a shake up of the Queensland system as well (despite the failure of the NT intervention so far).

Rudd is under less pressure than Howard was to act, but is still facing a system that has been fatally compromised. Fortunately for now, he has the incoherent Noel Pearson, who can argue that indigenous people need to take more responsibility at the same time as claiming they can’t deal with what they already have. Pearson’s brand of intervention through his Families Commission project is something that he and Rudd have been discussing since June and Rudd will probably use this as a way to fill the gap in at least the medium term. Pearson was mouthing off about Rudd and his lack of support for the reconciliation referendum before the election, but was singing a very different tune on The 7.30 Report last night claiming Rudd was fully funding his project. That’s the good thing about technocrats, they may not have much time for political stunts, but can cough up the cash when needed.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Thursday, 13 December 2007.

Filed under The Australian state

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