Friday, June 22, 2007

Howard Intervenes in Indigenous Communities

The Prime Minister's announcement that the Federal Government will intervene in NT indigenous communities to stop child sex abuse has drawn mixed reactions. The intervention occurred following the release of a report into child sex abuse in indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. He has asked the State Premiers to do likewise, and that he will fund it.

Parts of the plan include:

  • a ban the sale, import and distribution of alcohol
  • a ban on pornographic material
  • quarantining 50% of welfare payments to spent for the benefit of children
  • compulsory health checks and treatment for every child up to 16 years old
The plan has drawn criticism from some: ACT Chief Minister called it racist; Professor Judy Atkinson from Southern Cross University (author of 3 reports into child sex abuse in Aboriginal communities) predicts an increase in violence, suicides, suicide attempts and despair; the NT Anti-discrimination Commissioner called is "discriminatory". I don't believe it's motivated by racism,, or by discriminatory attitudes.

It is certainly true that alcohol and other substance abuse; petrol sniffing; violence and sexual abuse have been known about for decades. It is also true that little has changed. Many people would think that alcohol, petrol sniffing and pornographic material are underlying contributors to acts sexual abuse. They might, or might not, be correct. Some would even question Mr Howard's underlying motives - there is an election due and there is public belief that he has a poor track record on social justice policies. Whether that is true, or not, action is certainly needed.

The shortcomings in Mr Howard's announcement are the social interventions required to help stop the problems recurring. Enforced rule of law, bans and medical checks & treatment are not enough. Mr Howard needs the following:

  • Cooperation and close working with indigenous elders on the health care
  • Social programs to engage the different gender, and aged-based and family groups in meaningful activities. Such activities could include using & developing traditional knowledge and skills, taught by those who have the community's respect.
  • Recreational activities that suit the different ages and genders, and that fit with indigenous interests
  • Inclusion of aboriginal language and culture in formal and indigenous educational settings.
  • Repeat, and on-going health and welfare cooperation, including appropriate diet and counselling services
  • Developing community leadership, including a return to appropriate traditional values of care

None of this was announced. Mr Howard might well be leaning on his logistics experts to develop and implement appropriate strategies and programs. I'm not sure he has the social policy awareness to recognise the extra needs, unless advised.

The Analyst

Postscript: see also my post on 28-June-2007 at