Top end upended

Monday, 27 August 2012 

I think you will find that for the first time in this nation’s history, in any state or territory, the outcome has been decided by people in the bush, indigenous people.

ALP NT Senator, Trish Crossin on Saturday

It’s almost axiomatic in Australian political commentary that whenever there is a political event that doesn’t fit comfortably into the politicos’ world-view, it is dismissed as “they do things differently up/over there”.

For those caught up in the two party system, this has usually been applied to the state where it has long been at its weakest, Queensland. But the rot has long since gone south of the Tweed, so now the erosion of Labor’s heartland is put down to those effete inner city elites, the Nationals’ heartland with sea change hippies on the North Coast and the Liberals’ heartland with doctor wives in Toorak. Indeed, if you add in the weird religious mass murderers of Adelaide and that permanent State of Excitement further west, it seems the only “normal” part of the Australian electorate these days is western Sydney and Gerard Henderson’s road to Geelong.

The Northern Territory has long fitted into the “off-the-wall” camp, spiced up with a few whacky croc headlines from the Northern Territory News, which, let’s face it, but for the absence of aggressive wildlife, could just as well appear on the cover of a trivia-driven daily of any major Australian metropolitan these days. Nevertheless it’s no surprise that Saturday’s election result has got short shrift from the nation’s media. But it doesn’t deserve it.

The overall trend in Australian politics over the last decade has been the draining away of the politics from government, especially at the state level, but after a tedious last gasp, soon to arrive at the federal sphere as well. In the Northern Territory, that process has been especially sharp as the draining away of the politics has been on the only real ideological issue to have impacted an otherwise non-ideological Australian polity over the last century – race.

The change on Saturday was summed up by former NT Chief Minster, Clare Martin, on election night when she noted that when she entered NT politics, Labor had largely been confined below the Berrimah line and kept outside of Darwin. Now, after Saturday, that has been reversed.

While Labor’s relatively good showing in Darwin was partly because of the large swing it suffered last time, it also appears to have been helped by the success of Labor’s campaign to remind what is already happening to government jobs from new Liberal governments in Queensland, NSW and Victoria (just as an aside, it is remarkable how enthusiastic has been the opposition to job cuts in the public sector, compared to the fatalism over job losses in the private sector, confirming the on-going politicisation of the IR scene).

But the real change happened outside Darwin. Underpinning the traditional division in Northern Territory politics had been the attitude to land rights compromise: with Labor supportive, helping its indigenous vote in the regions, and the CLP more antagonistic (although never totally opposing). It was the election of Martin’s government in 2001 that marked the dissolution of race as a politicising issue between the parties and saw the Territory move in line with the technocrat, apolitical governments elsewhere in the federation, usually led by Labor as best able to represent the state. In a government town like Darwin, it underpinned the breakthrough to an almost clean sweep by Martin in 2005.

The end of racial division between the parties was reinforced by them both coming together, at least federally, over the intervention into the indigenous communities, which these days can be truly described as Labor’s intervention. If it seems unfair to call it Labor’s, given that it was initiated by Howard, it isn’t really. It’s not just that Federal Labor supported it from the word go, nor even that it has now run it for four and half years against Howard’s six months. It was also Labor, specifically NT Labor, that commissioned the report that claimed mass sexual child abuse that kicked the whole intervention off.

The authors of the report were unhappy with Howard’s response to send in the military, but actually Howard was doing what he always did – take the left up on what it was unwilling to take to a logical conclusion. Just as the left agreed to the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (just ask a former Labor foreign affairs spokesman at the time), so leaving Howard free to draw the obvious conclusion – support the only major power capable of going in and dealing with it – so Howard responded to charges from the left side of politics of mass child sexual abuse across NT indigenous communities as a grave enough crime to justify an appropriate law and order response.

While the intervention has been criticised, Labor’s report that initiated it,All Children Are Sacred, has not. This is surprising, as while it is chock full of social workers’ prejudices, it was, as the report admits itself, light on any proof to back up its lurid claims. Needless to say, despite five years of social workers, health officials and the military crawling over indigenous communities, there has been no evidence that mass sexual abuse of children had actually happened, nor indeed has there been, as far as this blogger is aware, a single arrest made [update: see comments below].

This is a scandal: either children are still being sexually abused on mass scale unhindered or, as more likely, it was a beat up and an unparalleled slur on the indigenous parents of the NT. It certainly wouldn’t be the first, since the ABC’s Lateline had already done a trial run shortly before on the parents of Mutitjulu, in a shoddy piece of journalism for which it was later forced to apologise.

For those who complain of the racially discriminatory measures that have been put in place, it’s probably best to pause first and think about the type of assumptions that lie behind the report that set it off.

If it seems extraordinary that so-called friends of indigenous communities could set up one of the most outrageous slurs against them (even those who took kids away years ago didn’t claim their parents were fiddling with them), it should be understood that the All Children Are Sacred report was merely in line with the special pleading for additional funding, on which the report concluded, and that was in the tradition of the approach taken by indigenous affairs at that time. The problem was that in this report it went too far. The seriousness of the claims could have hardly been justified by inadequate resources but only done so within the straight-jacket of cultural relativism that underpins land rights.

It was understandable, then, that the intervention has sent indigenous politics into disarray and undercut the indigenous support for Labor as seen on Saturday – as the politics of land rights, the framework by which indigenous politics had been conducted, has been turned against the very people it was meant to benefit. The disarray with politicos has seen them split three ways; those like Marcia Langton who have taken up the protection of women and children as paramount and supported the intervention, those like Dodson, seemingly oblivious to the charges that had been made still defending land rights and, finally, ones like Noel Pearson who claims this highlights the need for more rights and responsibilities for indigenous people.

As you would expect, it is Pearson’s response that is the most incoherent as, of course, if the claims were true, as Pearson appears to accept, the response would be the opposite of what he proposes for the perpetrators, namely the withdrawal of rights and responsibilities by locking them up.

Nevertheless, Pearson has become the conservatives’ favourite because his message is what they want to hear as Abbott (along with Rudd/Macklin, although Gillard appears less keen) looks to translate this to a broader approach to welfare to be applied to the non-indigenous population (presumably without the charge of child abuse attached). Abbott isn’t taking the shadow cabinet up to Aurukun (another child abuse “test case” in Queensland) just to play cricket with the kids.

It’s a reminder that race maybe depoliticised between the parties but, as we saw with the Bolt case, it remains embedded in the body politic as a whole. From that angle, far from being “out of it” some politicians have been working hard to make the remote communities in the Northern Territory and Queensland practically avant-garde.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Monday, 27 August 2012.

Filed under State and federal politics

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43 responses to “Top end upended”

  1. kymbos on 27th August 2012 11:01 am

    Totall O/T, Shrike, but if the recent shift to the right on asylum seekers is fixing a problem that is imagined by the political class, why do recent polls so strongly support offshore processing? Only around 20% of respondents now support onshore processing, or thereabouts…

  2. The Piping Shrike on 27th August 2012 11:34 am

    I don’t think people backed onshore processing because of a strong belief in it, but because it seemed the only practical course when there was no other solution.

    Now both sides of the political class agree for the first time that the Pacific Solution works, so I guess most people now think it will.

    Let’s see where we are in a year’s time.

  3. Doug on 27th August 2012 1:32 pm

    The implication of the election result surely is that the CLP will now need to pay attention to the bush to ensure they remain in office? Electoral competition will no longer be restricted to the greater Darwin metropolitan area?

  4. Adamite on 27th August 2012 5:58 pm

    PS – Interesting comment on the effect of the Qld Liberal Government on the Darwin vote. Mumble was also discussing recently whether the experience of wall to wall conservative State and Territory Governments may yet be a crucial factor in the next federal election. Certainly the efforts of the new Qld Government seem to be reflecting psotiviely for Labor in Qld polling?

  5. Jeff on 27th August 2012 6:17 pm

    Shrike, can you explain what you mean by this phrase:
    “the straight-jacket of cultural relativism that underpins land rights” ?

  6. The Piping Shrike on 27th August 2012 6:35 pm

    Land rights is underpinned by the idea of separate cultural development. This is often seen in positive terms but has here definitely worked the other way. Cultural differences can also be used to put the blame on the behaviour of indigenous communities rather than looking elsewhere.

    What comes through in the report (and also the infamous Aurukun ruling on a rape case) is that “different standards apply” when it comes to these issues, resulting in different standards applying when it comes to onus of proof.

    It wouldn’t be the first time cultural differences was used as a cover for making outrageous claims about a people.

  7. The Piping Shrike on 27th August 2012 6:44 pm

    Adamite, the problem is the Qld Libs don’t get that they are there by default, not to implement an agenda. Certainly not a jobs cutting one.

    Because the right see it is as something they’ve done rather than an implosion of Labor, they are highly deluded at the moment about their mandate. If things carry on at the federal level as they are now, we may see that in spades with an Abbott government.

  8. Jeff on 27th August 2012 10:10 pm

    “Land rights is underpinned by the idea of separate cultural development.”
    As Atticus said to Scout: are you sure?
    Land rights is underpinned by prior ownership.
    You may be confusing this with ‘native title’.

  9. The Piping Shrike on 27th August 2012 11:15 pm

    Interesting point. But I think a question of ownership is what it became when the contradictions in the original compromise started to come out with Mabo. But originally I saw it as in terms of separate cultural development, in much of the similar language as used for the separate homelands in apartheid South Africa.

    Recall that the rights given were actually mostly over reservations they were already forced on to. The key change in the late 1960s and early 1970s was to accept separate cultural development within the reservation system and use this to underpin “rights”, or as the NT member supporting the 1967 referendum said at the time, “apartheid without the emotional overtones” and overt racial superiority.

    I covered this is in some detail here.

    It’s important as the awkward elements in the compromise is still present in the racial elements in our constitution and, as Bolt discovered, legislation today.

    The awkwardness has led to a lot of re-writing of history and talking up of the 1967 referendum and the land rights legislation that followed it e.g. check out a recent speech by Langton, an indigenous academic, claiming that Aboriginies became citizens after 1967. Wrong, of course.

  10. Paddy on 28th August 2012 6:44 pm

    There have been 45 convictions for child sex abuse in NTER communities since the Intervention. This compares with 25 in the 4 years prior to the Intervention.

    Look at page 73

    For the record I think the allegations of mass child sex abuse were heinous and unfounded and the conviction rate has more to do with police attention rather than a particularly high rate of offending. But it’s not the case that there have been no arrests.

    It is important to note that the Australian Crime Commission, after 3 years of investigation with “star chamber” powers, definitively rejected the charge that organised pedophilia was happening, at all, in Aboriginal communities. This was a central claim of Howard’s.

  11. Paddy on 28th August 2012 6:47 pm

    Sorry, should also add that Aboriginal legal services have argued that the crack down on “child sex abuse” has been largely targeted at consensual teenage relationships, and there’s no way I’ve found to separate that out from the figures.

  12. The Piping Shrike on 28th August 2012 11:35 pm

    Thanks for that, really useful.

    The figures I was going on was after the NTER’s 11,000 medical checks on children in 2007-08 which as I understand it, resulted in around 40 referrals, none of which led to arrests.

    So given that the arrests didn’t appear to come from the medical checks, the make-up of the increase may be as you suggest, in line with that noted by the Principal Legal Officer to the Central Australia Aboriginal Legal Aid Service, Mark O’Reilly, to Senate Estimates in April 2008 (near the end).

  13. Jeff on 29th August 2012 8:51 am

    Confusion about 1967 aside, the point of Langton’s proposal is to remove ‘race’ from the constitution altogether.
    What Bolt ran into was a law primarily about vilification.
    The law has ‘race’ in its name but ‘race’ is not what it’s about and ‘race’ is not the basis of Bromberg’s judgement against Bolt.
    Recall also that the 60s/70s attempts to legislate for land rights were constrained by the states. The commonwealth ran the NT, so they started there.

  14. The Piping Shrike on 29th August 2012 9:21 am

    Bromberg said:

    “Disparagement directed at the legitimacy of the racial identification of a group of people is likely to be destructive of racial tolerance, just as disparagement directed at the real or imagined practices or traits of those people is also destructive of racial tolerance.”

    Looks about race to me. Baffles me how you can say it wasn’t. The “vilification” was questioning the plaintiffs racial identity, obviously.

    The Commonwealth had powers to legislate about land rights, that was what 1967 was about, but had to wait for Whitlam because of Coalition sensitivity about state rights.

    I don’t think Langton – an academic on the committee to look at indigenous inclusion in the Constitution – getting something so basic wrong like when Aboriginies became citizens was “confusion”, but more likely being disingenuous about the 1967 Referendum and talking it up, because it consolidated the racial provisions she needs to keep land rights intact.

  15. Jeff on 29th August 2012 9:30 am

    Depends on how you want to look at it I suppose; the act covers vilification on a range of grounds. And it wasn’t the plaintiffs who chose ‘race’. It was Bolt. Looks like a racist to me.
    How can you assert that Langton ‘needs’ the race provisions when her point was that they ought be removed?

  16. The Piping Shrike on 29th August 2012 9:37 am

    Don’t understand your point on Bolt. Bromberg’s ruling on what made it ‘vilification’ was quite specific, it was on questioning the racial identity of the plaintiffs.

    Langton would have been well aware that to remove the racial provisions enshrined in the 1967 referendum would undermine the land rights legislation that followed it. That’s why they played word games to keep it. I discuss this in detail in the Australia Day post linked above.

  17. Jeff on 29th August 2012 11:00 am

    “Don’t understand your point on Bolt.”
    The vilification was racist. The act is silent on the nature of ‘race’, it speaks to vilification. As does the judgement.

    Whatever Langton is or isn’t aware of, her entire point is that the racial provisions should go. I can’t see how ‘they’, whoever they are, can avoid that.
    The legislation that came after the 67 referendum didn’t ‘follow’ it, it emerged from the Nabilco case( a defeat ) and Woodward’s RC. The legislation needed to overcome the Nabilco judgement.

  18. Michael (the other one who occasionally comments here) on 29th August 2012 6:28 pm

    But Jeff, Commonwealth legislation must be referrable to a head of power in the Constitution – otherwise it’s unconstitutional and invalid. Apart from allowing the Commonwealth to do pretty much whatever it likes in the territories (even if it grants them ‘self-government’), the only other basis in the Constitution for the land rights legislation is … the race power! That is, power to make laws with respect to “the people of any race, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws”. What the 1967 referndum did was to strike from that the following interpolation: “other than the aboriginal race in any State”.

  19. Jeff on 29th August 2012 10:02 pm


    Yes. I know that.
    Did you read or hear what Langton said?
    She is calling for the ‘race power’ to be removed.

  20. The Piping Shrike on 31st August 2012 5:02 am

    This is covered in my Australia Day post.

  21. Jeff on 31st August 2012 11:19 am

    “This is covered in my Australia Day post.”

    Erm … you mean, ‘this’ is covered in the 68 comments(a PS record?) on your Australia Day Post.

    And which elements of the discussion do you mean by ‘this’?

  22. Bill Kerr on 1st September 2012 3:25 pm

    It’s true that the brief of the Little Children are Sacred report was sexual abuse and that they didn't attempt to quantify it. Nevertheless, the finding of the report was there was aboriginal community dysfunction on a number of levels – education, substance abuse, housing, attitudes to abuse and violence. The children were not safe and still are not being educated to reasonable levels.

    Alison Anderson and Bess Price are both strong supporters of the intervention have been elected. The swing to Bess Price is 18%. The heavy handedness of the intervention may well have been a factor but many of the actual measures or recognition of the factors behind it are supported by indigenous voters in remote electorates. eg. money management is supported. Billboards about grog and porn are not.

    Apparently you haven't studied much of Noel Pearson's writings since his position is the right to take responsibility and not more rights and responsibilities.

  23. The Piping Shrike on 1st September 2012 10:01 pm

    Noel Pearson, first paragraph on his home page of the Cape York Partnerships:

    Our struggle for rights is not over and must continue — but we must also struggle to restore our traditional values of responsibility. We have to be as forthright and unequivocal about our responsibilities as we are about our rights — otherwise our society will fall apart…

    Looks like he’s calling for both rights and responsibilities to me.

    Calling for more responsibilities or rights in response to a mass outbreak of child sexual abuse is bizarre, since for both they would normally be taken away when someone is locked up – as in fact kind of happened when the responsibility (and right?) to manage one’s own money was taken away with income management.

    The intervention, which Pearson supported, took away both rights and responsibilities. In this case, more “responsibility” is usually intepreted instead as meaning that, as usual, indigenous behaviour is to blame. No wonder the right (and others) love him. It’s a useful starting point to roll out things like income management to non-indigenous welfare recipients as well

    On income management, I’m surprised that you say it is supported in the communities. Other accounts say it is not, but it may be politically motivated, so I’m always interested in other evidence.

    Not sure by your mention of Bess Price, but you seem to be implying that I am arguing the Labor/land rights/left line that the swing was a straightforward anti-intervention swing. I am not. As I say, the intervention has sent indigenous politics into disarray and undermined the automatic support Labor relied on from the indigenous communities, going all over the place rather than a straightforward clear reaction. Given the crap coming from indigenous politicians who are going all over the shop themselves, I’m not surprised.

    Rather than vindicating the land rights line, as some in the left might claim, the disarray comes from the way that land rights politics has turned against itself.

    But finally, let’s get to your first point. The main point of the report was not to highlight education, social services, or even domestic violence, because those were already known. What the report did that was new was to claim an epidemic of child sexual abuse, despite its lack of proof. It was that, not the other issues, that prompted the “emergency response” and the sending in of the military. The fact that no evidence was found of it does not mean we need to slide away from the centrality of it in the original report, and the intervention – no matter how politically inconvenient it now may be to both sides of the fence.

  24. Jeff on 2nd September 2012 9:42 am

    We get it.
    You like to play ‘gotcha’ with Pearson, Langton and the sacred children report.
    But you consistently decline to answer or engage with any discussion around indigenous policy.
    And you keep banging on about ‘race’.

  25. Bill Kerr on 2nd September 2012 2:41 pm

    You said Pearson is incoherent but you have not made any effort to read or understand him in any depth. wrt rights and responsibilities you do need to do more than read a website preamble. Pearson understands dialectics. I would say that your blog displays some understanding of dialectics in other respects, on the need to drill down beneath surface impressions, that opposites inter penetrate and do not standalone. There is a dialectic b/w rights and responsibilities that you failed to grasp here.

    Pearson’s support for the intervention was qualified. You only have to look at the differences b/w Cape York policies and NT policies to understand that. Or to quote him directly:

    I’m in agreement with the emphasis on grog and policing. I’m in agreement with attaching conditions to welfare payments. But the difference between the proposals that we’ve put forward to the Government and the proposals announced by Minister Brough, there is a difference in that we would be concerned that those people who are acting responsibly in relation to the payments they receive, should continue to exercise their freedoms and their decisions, we should only target cases of responsibility failure.

    On his reasons for support of the intervention he wrote this in 2007:

    This is my two-step reasoning for supporting intervention.

    The first step is that you have to know what happens in these communities week in, week out. Urban-based critics simply do not know the realities. Neither did 90 per cent of Australia until recently. There is now no excuse because there has been a major expose and official report in almost every jurisdiction.

    The second step is that once you have knowledge of the realities, you must find its continuation unacceptable. Therefore you support intervention. By all means, we can argue about the kind of interventions that should be undertaken, but two things are not negotiable in this discussion.

    The first non-negotiable point is timing: action had to be taken immediately. There is no time to waste when children and adults are not living in safe environments.

    Clare Martin’s Northern Territory Government had already wasted six weeks before making the Anderson-Wild report public. And they didn’t even have a plan at the end of their procrastination.

    The second non-negotiable point is that there had to be primary focus on safety and the restoration of social order by increasing police services and controlling the “rivers of grog”

    Why don’t you read his 2000 essay “Our Right to Take Responsibility” before you make further pronouncements on Pearson’s “incoherence”?

    I disagree with aspects of your interpretation of the Little Children are Sacred report but I do need to study the documents in more detail before responding.

  26. The Piping Shrike on 3rd September 2012 9:52 am

    Sorry, your comment got lost in the spam filter. But please don’t associate my brevity about Pearson with the idea that I don’t follow what he says rather closely. Not because his ideas make sense or even much to do with Pearson at all but, because of the intervention, his ideas have the potential to articulate a changing relationship with the state to be taken up by other politicians and used in a wider context.

    If Rudd hadn’t have been ousted I probably would have written much more about Pearson because Rudd was at the forefront of changing the parameters of the welfare debate and using the type of ideas espoused by Pearson as a means of doing so. Now Abbott and the Liberals are trying to do the same thing, but I think less successfully. So maybe it’s premature, but it’s probably worthwhile going into what Pearson is actually saying in a bit of detail, especially as your account of it is highly partial.

    But for a start let’s just look at Pearson’s first “step” on supporting the intervention for a minute, where he claims that there is “now no excuse because there has been a major expose and official report in almost every jurisdiction.”

    Of course, there was no such “exposé”. Why Pearson needs to glide over the lack of evidence to the claims that led to the intervention is because he is using it as just another means to push his political agenda whatever the reality.

    What is that agenda? Pearson talks of rights and responsibilities, but does so in the context of social norms decided by the community. This is an important piece you have left out and what makes him a favourite to the Liberals as it is a deeply conservative view. It is certainly in contrast to the classic liberal stance of rights as not prescribed by social norms but by the need for necessary freedom from the state. The view that individual behaviour should be prescribed by social norms would seem especially ironic coming from an indigenous leader given what passed for social norms in the past with regards to indigenous people, say, on mixed racial marriages.

    But of course Pearson is not talking about Australian society as a whole, but the indigenous communities. In this reliance on a parallel cultural relativism, Pearson shares a similar view with the land rights crowd he pitches himself against, but at least they have a relatively coherent stance on this. But they both highlight the deep conservatism that runs through indigenous politics that radicals so willingly celebrate.

    It is belief in the sanctity of social norms that leads him to have his blind spot to the crux of the intervention, the charge of mass sexual abuse across the communities – because this means that social norms, as they exist in the communities, are no longer valid. Pearson supports the idea of the intervention because it seems to fit into his politics, but he cannot draw through the logic of what that support means.

    It is why he complains that the problem with the intervention is that it led to the government running things rather than the communities, as happened when income management was brought in at a similar time in the Cape York. But the reason that income management wasn’t imposed on Cape York was that it wasn’t accompanied by the claims that the communities were fiddling with their kids. It is those charges of a mass breakdown of not only individual responsibility, but indeed social norms, that have laid the ground for a broad based government intervention – and why Pearson maintaining his agenda to give qualified support to it is inappropriate to the point of being bizarre.

    Long-time readers of this blog will know that I have written a bit on indigenous affairs and the intervention. This is not because this blog is interested in sob stories but because indigenous affairs remain, whether through the intervention or discussions around the preamble, the weak spot in the political foundations of the Australian state. It is why, during times when the political arrangements of the Australian state are reorganised, indigenous affairs often comes up to prominence before sinking back to the blind spot it usually remains in Australian politics.

    For the intervention, readers will also notice that I haven’t gone on about income management and especially the over-riding of that voluntary apartheid system we prefer to call “land rights”. Instead the focus has been from the outset on the one weak spot of the intervention, that those like Pearson and other “supporters” of indigenous communities cannot address, the unfounded nature of the gross charges that were made by a report that originated from the land rights, left side of politics just over two years ago. It is the weak spot because it attacks the very heart of the supposed contract of rights and responsibilities that faux Rousseauians like Pearson bang on about – namely the right to proof, representation and justice before the law.

  27. Bill Kerr on 3rd September 2012 12:17 pm

    I’ll decline the invitation to continue discussion on whether you or Noel Pearson has a better grasp of how to progress the cause of indigenous Australia. Instead, I’ll post another comment on the central issue you raise about “the unfounded nature of the gross charges that were made by a report …”

  28. Jeff on 3rd September 2012 12:32 pm

    I’d prefer your brevity:
    Indigenous affairs are a weak point in the foundations of the Australian state.
    That remains even without the intervention.

    Your drawn out chain of causation for the intervention doesn’t change that it appears to be supported by at least a plurality of those directly affected by it. And they will influence its continuation(or not) more than it’s murky provenance can.

    Most Indigenous Australians don’t live in the ‘communities’ you allude to, nor do they have access to the current legal remedies you characterise as ‘land rights’.

    What of them?

  29. Bill Kerr on 3rd September 2012 12:42 pm

    P_shrike, you wrote:

    The main point of the report was not to highlight education, social services, or even domestic violence, because those were already known. What the report did that was new was to claim an epidemic of child sexual abuse, despite its lack of proof

    I’ve reread some section of the Little Children are Sacred and some more recent documents from the NTER site including the one linked to by Paddy.

    Here is my initial interpretation. The brief to Anderson-Wild was to explore child sexual abuse. This was not something new which you stated but had been previously documented in earlier reports in WA (2002) and NSW (2004-06). Also the Mulligan Inquiry in SA was running at the same time.

    Anderson-Wild did not attempt to quantify sexual abuse or identify perpetrators (that was not part of their brief). Moreover, there was a very strong flavour in their report that child sex abuse was the tip of the iceberg of pervasive social dysfunction in indigenous communities. You, PS, don’t seem to recognise the pervasive social dysfunction but focus your comments on the possibility that sexual abuse was exaggerated.

    Recent government reports do state that the main problem is child neglect – and this is a huge problem – although sexual abuse is a significant problem. As Paddy pointed out, in his otherwise favourable reception to your post, you had not kept up with the data about this.

    Here are some extracts from another government report:

    … this chapter focuses on risk factors associated with child protection concerns, such as poverty, parental alcohol/substance misuse, domestic violence, unemployment, and inadequate housing. Often, the risk factors that lead to child abuse or neglect are also those that are closely associated with family dysfunction.

    There are limited data to allow any direct monitoring of changes in child safety and family wellbeing in relation to NTER communities. Where available, proxy data show some positive changes in the characteristics of families and communities that are associated with family wellbeing and the safety of children.

    During the period since the introduction of the NTER measures, there has been a
    substantial increase in the number of child protection workers and police. This has been
    associated with an increase in the detection of violence and child abuse and neglect.

    Between 2007–08 and 2010–11, there was an 84 per cent increase in domestic violence
    incidents recorded by police in the NTER communities. This is probably associated with
    both increases in the number of police and the introduction of the mandatory reporting of domestic violence to police.

    Investment in child protection services has increased the availability of staff to investigate child safety concerns. Between 2007 and 2010, there was a 70 per cent increase in full- time equivalent child protection professionals working in the Northern Territory child protection department. Increased resources to authorities with responsibility for
    investigating concerns increase the capacity to detect and respond to notifications. This is associated with an increase in the number of cases that are substantiated, which in turn increases community confidence to make reports knowing that appropriate action is likely to be taken.

    During the period of the NTER, substantiations of child abuse and neglect have increased markedly in the Northern Territory as a whole—particularly in relation to Indigenous children. Similar increases in substantiation rates have occurred in other
    states and territories in the past decade, often in response to system reforms and
    increased investment following from an inquiry or system review.

    Rates of substantiated harm or risk of harm to children increased from 16.8 per 1,000 in
    2006–07 to 33.5 per 1,000 in 2009–10. The largest proportion of substantiations was for
    the ‘neglect’ (51.4% of cases, which represents a rate of 18.1 per thousand children).

    Surveys of NTER communities show that most respondents feel their community to be
    improving, although the improvements were reported more often in small and medium-
    sized communities compared to larger communities.

    In the Evaluation of the Family Support Package: A community perspective report, four
    out of the five remote communities in the Northern Territory that participated in the study perceived that levels of family violence and child abuse had improved over recent years

    It is hard to produce definitive data to examine whether the NTER measures designed to
    prevent and respond to child abuse and neglect have been successful in reducing its
    occurrence. However, evidence suggests that there is an increased awareness of the
    problem of child abuse and neglect in Indigenous communities, and additional resources to deal with increased reporting and investigations have been provided.

    From what is written here it is clear to me that intervention was justified and has resulted in improvements in child protection, etc. I don’t understand, P_shrike, why you want to remain focused on a tip of the iceberg issue of broad social dysfunction in a report that came out years ago.

    At any rate, you are stuck with the fact that Bess Price a well know and much criticised supporter of the intervention has been elected to Stuart with an 18% swing. The people have spoken. Are you listening?

  30. The Piping Shrike on 3rd September 2012 3:19 pm

    You are doing here what the report’s authors did, conflate child sexual abuse with broader issues of neglect. The latter could be partly explained by poor conditions, the sexual abuse of children cannot.

    This was the central fact grapsed by Howard and why his primary response was a law and order one rather than the increased funding that the report wanted.

    That supporters of the intervention are now also mixing them up is because no evidence of mass sexual abuse was found. But the fact remains that it was on the claims of sexual abuse that the emergency response and the subsequent suspension of the anti-discrimination laws was based.

    I must remember that next time when a commenter suggests I am not going into enough detail as to why I would dare to criticise an indigenous leader, not to bother to respond!

  31. Jeff on 3rd September 2012 4:11 pm

    “I must remember that next time when a commenter suggests I am not going into enough detail as to why I would dare to criticise an indigenous leader, not to bother to respond!”

    I dunno if that’s better or worse that simply not responding at all …

    No one has accused you of ‘daring to criticise an indigenous leader’.
    Current supporters of the intervention see some benefit in it.
    That’s all.
    They don’t point to the moral panic you identified as its genesis as their reason for supporting it now.

  32. Matt Campbell on 4th September 2012 11:53 am

    But Jeff, you did accuse him of “playing gotcha ” with a couple of Indigenous people who appear in the news, suggesting that he had some kind of axe to grind. So although you are correct to say you didn’t accuse him of “daring” I think that he got the gist of what was being said.

    I live in the NT, and know a lot of Aboriginal people who do not support the intervention. Although clearly the plural of anecdote is not data, I think that those who would try to argue that most Aboriginal people affected by the intervention support it, do not have any on ground understanding of the complexities of life in the bush (and town camps) to argue this.

    Many people might say- the best thing about the intervention was that something finally happened, its just that they way they went about it was all wrong. Undoubtedly there are some people who like income management, some even like some of the GBMs who come to live in their communities for not more than two years, but overall the lack of consultation and engagement is what gives people the shits.

    The other thing to realise is that the intervention (and stronger futures) is only partially about the NT. The other (and I think larger part) is to do with what wins votes in the marginal seats of the eastern seaboard. There is no end of examples of how the intervention and stronger futures could have been done better, and still could be done better, but these strategies are conspicuous by their absence, suggesting either wilful blindness, or there being another agenda at work. This government bangs on about engaging with Aboriginal people but when it comes down to it, it is their way or the highway. And this is why these Canberra (or Darwin) centric approaches will not being about the change that they claim they will, because they fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the issues at work here.

  33. Jeff on 4th September 2012 1:03 pm

    Matt, yeah, I did.

    Because he does.
    Langton may mangle her interpretation of the 1967 referendum, but that is entirely irrelevant to the argument she made last week, put simply: abolish the ‘race’ powers.
    There’s an axe actually worth grinding.
    Either he doesn’t get that gist, or as he has gnomically revealed, he doesn’t bother to respond.

    As you say, much support for the intervention is of the ‘at least something is being done’ type.
    I don’t know anyone who seriously says that ‘most’ people affected by the intervention support it. But clearly some do. I know people of both persuasions.
    Depending on context, they can both be right.
    It’s complex.

  34. Riccardo on 8th September 2012 11:27 pm


    Piping Shrike’s thesis on this is correct and Jeff and others are fudging.

    I recall at the time wondering when I was going to hear about the hundreds of men being locked up for sexual abuse that was going to be proven. But never did hear that.

    As for the report’s authors saying they never expected the Spanish Inquisition, only a bit more money, how could they have been so naive?

    Pearson has been purely partisan on the whole thing, hence his ability to bash the ALP and praise the Libs about essentially the same policy, to a metropolitan audience.

    As Shrike says, this issue is all about the sexual abuse accusation, this is what Howard, and the Left, ran on, only now the Left are running for cover as you can see in some responses to this post.

  35. Jeff on 9th September 2012 9:48 pm


    Bullshit. This is NOT all about the sex abuse accusation.
    And no one here is fudging that, it was bullshit too as Shrike pointed out years ago.
    You and the Shrike ARE fudging by clinging to the abuse allegations and flat out refusing to discuss anything else.

  36. riccardo on 22nd September 2012 12:45 pm

    I’LL raise you double bs.

    I remember what I remember.

    There were gonna be caring city social workers.

    Children pointing out where uncle touched them on dolls. Dna tests.

    Didn’t need a report to tell me about poverty.

  37. Jeff on 24th September 2012 1:14 pm

    Riccardo … wtf?

    Try again only this time make sense.

    No one on here is arguing with any of that.

    However, now the intervention has been there for some years, clearly some of the people directly affected by it support it.
    You’re here to tell them they’re wrong?

    And Shrike’s ‘thesis’ is what exactly?

  38. The Piping Shrike on 26th September 2012 9:43 am

    My ‘thesis’ is not to respond to those who can’t be arsed to read a detailed response to what they claim to be so concerned about, but really aren’t.

    It simply sums up the bull-shit status of indigneous affairs debate.

  39. Jeff on 26th September 2012 11:08 am

    Yeah right. I’ve read it. And responded to it.

    You can’t be arsed to actually respond to anything that’s raised. That’s the bull-shit status of your ‘debate’, you just decline to respond to any argument.

    The race powers: Shrike, silent on the matter.
    Indigenous australians outside the intervention(i.e. most of them): Shrike, silence again.

    Well not quite silence. He’ll slag off posters for being ‘half arsed’ or accuse them of things they plainly have not said. But actual argument. Nup.

  40. F on 26th September 2012 11:34 am

    Dear Shrike,

    Please end this misery and write a new article.

  41. The Piping Shrike on 26th September 2012 4:40 pm

    Will do. But it does say it all.

  42. F on 26th September 2012 6:47 pm

    On a different subject, please.

  43. Jeff on 26th September 2012 10:39 pm

    ‘ it does say it all. ‘ … what does?

    Your refusal to engage when someone DOES respond?
    Or your personal abuse?

    If you really couldn’t be bothered to reply, you wouldn’t.

    But I forget, Langton doesn’t get 67 right so everything she says can be ignored. And I don’t REALLY care, I only pretend to.
    And F., sorry I made you unhappy.

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