Howard’s ‘jackboot’ paternalism – so full of holes
I was left almost breathless once again at Howard’s brazen, whirl-wind moves to set back Indigenous rights and reconciliation twenty years in the name of saving Aboriginal children from abuse in remote communities in Northern Territory. Howard, with his Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough, have declared an emergency to deal with the crisis of child abuse in remote Northern Territory Aboriginal communities, as identified in the NT Inquiry report released last week.
A lot has already been said about it all over the news and blogosphere (in particular see Barista's take on it, Cast Iron Balcony's, and Ken's at Club Troppo).
But in a nutshell: the Howard-Brough plan involves the federal government seizing control of 70 Aboriginal controlled communities and townships in Northern Territory; suspending the coverage of the permit system over access roads, airstrips and other 'common areas'; and banning alcohol in affected Aboriginal communities for six months or more are. At the forefront of are steps to send in extra police, under the leadership of the Australian Federal Police and with army logistical backing, to impose 'law and order' in the communities.
The government will also force Aboriginal parents to meet various requirements to keep receiving their welfare payments, such as send their children to school and clean up their homes and streets, and will remove Aboriginal parents' control over half of what they receive in family support and welfare payments by channeling the payments directly to schools, issuing food vouchers and other restrictions aimed at streamlining welfare payments into expenses for children.
What is clear is that Howard's approach doesn't understand, let alone address, the reality that alcohol and other substance abuse, family violence and child abuse, and the myriad other problems the communities face, arise from the underlying dispossession, poverty, disempowerment and dysfunction Aboriginal communities experience – caused by 200 years of white colonisation in the first place.
Howard assures us that all this has the express purpose of protecting Aboriginal children from child abuse. That is why I find it stunning that in the reports of Howard’s plan, there has been very little identified that is directly about children. Other than forcing all Aboriginal children under 16 to undergo health checks (that may include checks for signs of abuse), and forcing parents to send their kids to school – even though there may not be enough tables, chairs, teachers, books or money in the schools, very little is actually outlined that directly assists children – especially those who have suffered the trauma of abuse.
Strong concerns have been raised that there aren’t sufficient culturally appropriate welfare services or therapeutic treatment services to support Indigenous children who have been found to be abused when the government’s heavy handed medical testing and investigation regime kicks in. (For more on this, see this interview by ABC Radion Melbourne's Jon Faine with National Indigenous children's services leader Muriel Bamblett last Friday. An mp3 is available of the conversation, with her in the last half of the hour.)
It is clear from this, and the many more problems with the plan identified by community organisations and experts, such as the shortage of alcohol abuse treatment and rehabilitation services to cope with those affected by suddenly cutting off the supply, that Howard and Brough’s plan has been rushed and poorly thought through for implementation. This suggests to me that it was adopted for the quick fix it offers them to grab control over Aboriginal communities and land.