John Howard’s recent announcement of sending police and troops to address the “emergency” that he has declared concerning aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory will not address the many causes of this situation.
Indigenous Australians are facing huge problems including low life expectancy, high infant mortality rates, high rates of diseases such as diabetes, along with drug and substance abuse problems with petrol sniffing, alcohol and kava.
The recent “Little Children are Sacred” report also highlighted another symptom of social breakdown and dysfunction – the sexual abuse of children.
None of these problems are new, yet John Howard suddenly declares an emergency.
It is not surprising that people in these communities are scared and frightened by the prospect of the army and police arriving. They clearly haven’t been widely consulted about these measures and whether they will work. Just imagine if a section of non-aboriginal Australia was suddenly subjected to the same measures.
It also appears that many of the 97 recommendations in the report are being ignored, with one of the report authors Rex Wild QC criticising the Howard government’s actions.
While Mr Howard has expressed some displeasure at being accused of playing politics with this issue, it is hard to believe that this is just another political wedge tactic to catch out Kevin Rudd and create more community dissent about the appropriate course of action to take. Why is Mr Howard and Mr Brough castigating the States and the Northern Territory for inaction on these problems when they have been doing nothing about it during two terms of government either?
Unfortunately, Kevjn Rudd is playing politics too by fully supporting Howard’s police action initiative. It has been left to some Labor State premiers to question Howard’s motives and point out that police action on its own won’t solve all the problems.
This is a matter of human rights and fair treatment of indigenous Australians. There is a law and order issue, but this is a symptom of the problem with a "law and order crackdown" being yet another ill informed attempt at "cure".
Rudd needs to stand up and state what is wrong with Howard's position on this.
What about prevention? What about building resilience in these communities? What about allowing people to develop their own meaning and path in life? Why is there no discussion of prevention measures or causes? Why are we sending in police prior to consulting with the communities in question?
The Howard government's anti-reconciliation, anti-land rights and anti-multiculturalism stances are all implicated as contributing factors to the problems faced by Indigenous Australians.
We need a non-political approach to these problems that carefully assesses all the report’s recommendations and engages the communities involved. There are opportunities to build on the some success stories among indigenous Australians. We need real consultation and leadership on this, not political maneuvering and point scoring.
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