Lend me your ears!
We have come to bury child abuse, not to praise it.
The evil that policies do lives after them
The good is oft' interred with...
As every Australian will be aware, the Federal Government, primarily Prime Minister John Howard, and Indigenous Affairs Minister, Mal Brough, with the endorsement of Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson, have declared a 'national emergency'. The emergency relates to Aboriginals who dwell in Australia's mythic heartland, the red outback of Central Australia. Veritable 'rivers of grog' have left communities awash in a sea of child sexual abuse, brutal family violence, and rampant sexual abuse. Vital services that might have stemmed the flow of this tide have been chronically under-resourced. Plan after plan, committee after think-tank, has been implemented, without success. The time for talk, or indeed, for thought, is over. Now is the time for action.
At least, this is the message that we have been given by our Government, and by Pearson, repeatedly over the past week. This message has been repeated by many of those who provide opinions in Australia's media. Indeed, the central contention at issue here is not disputed - people of all political stripes believe that there is a problem, that this problem is devastatingly serious, and that something must be done.
Where agreement ends, however, is in the detail. Sceptics point to Howard's history, and paint a picture of a cynical man, who seeks to generate good publicity during an election year, in the midst of disastrous polls. These sceptics are derided as pathological ‘haters’ of Howard, too blinded by ideological enmity to see the benefits of his plan.
Critics point to the lack of consultation with Aboriginal communities. In response, they are told, that consultation has been tried and failed. Such 'niceties' must give way to direct intervention where an emergency is concerned. The gravity of the current crisis is such that a state of exception is in order, whereby the usual processes of debate must be suspended.
Never mind the fact that, of course, this emergency relates to a state of affairs that was near-identical last year, and the year before. Federal and Territory governments were perfectly well aware of this, and did not declare any state of emergency. The NT Government actually approached its Federal counterparts for assistance last year, and were ignored.
Never mind that community consultation has empirical support to suggest its usefulness in the development of these sorts of interventions.
Never mind that land rights will be swept aside, to make way for leases for the communities concerned, only a fortnight after the Federal Government sought to purchase the relevant land.
Never mind that child protection services, ordinarily a State Government jurisdiction, are overburdened to the point of shambles in relatively wealthy, and well-resourced parts of the country (a topic to which I shall return in another post).
Never mind that no amount of 'Leftist' or Aboriginal dissent will influence Government policy one iota, and is therefore completely harmless to Howard's plan.
Never mind that intrusive medical checks, and subjugation to dispassionate authority can re-traumatise those children who have already been hurt. (Of this, the Government says it will be 'mindful').
Never mind the fact that communities are scared that this intervention will see the onset of another Stolen Generation. Prevailing wisdom indicates that perpetrators, not victims, ought to be removed, but the past experience of some communities will prove contrary to this wisdom.
Never mind that the report that sparked this 'emergency' has been ignored, in terms of the detail of its recommendations.
These facts are irrelevant, according to several articles in today's Australian. Both parties have supported the intervention of police and army, therefore the issue is bipartisan. Furthermore, according to Sheridan, Pearson himself is politically bipartisan, a sincere man seeking only to drive politicians to assist his people. The sceptics should 'ditch politics'; after all, Pearson says so, and Pearson is an honourable man.
The Editorial piece advises us that dissenters to the Howard/Pearson proposal are motivated solely by 'blind hatred' - dissent is, obviously, a pathology. After all, dissent is a will to failure, and 'Those who would rather see children continue to suffer than for the Howard plan to succeed should be ashamed of themselves.'
In the same paper, talk-back radio host and News Ltd. writer Neil Mitchell takes umbrage at rival broadsheet, The Age, for its questioning of the proposals. As he puts it:
Get angry with this. Get angry with the chattering classes like The Age who
turn it into a philosophical discussion. This is about kids. It's about
protecting kids and women. This is about people.
It must be self-evident that matters involving people are beyond both politics, and philosophy, and 'chatter'. That is, beyond anything that might subject the Government's plans to even the slightest scrutiny.
Pearson himself made an appearance on ABC's Lateline a couple of nights ago, explaining his support for the plan. His speech was widely lauded for its passion and integrity. He too indicated that dissent to the proposal was equivalent to 'willing failure':
I think that those who have objections to immediate intervention have to
ask themselves whether they're willing this whole exercise to fail, and geez, if
you're willing the whole exercise to fail, what kind of priorities do you have
in relation to the wellbeing of Indigenous children?
The good-willed dissenters apparently also are responsible for current problems in Iraq. Pearson says so, and Pearson is an honourable man:
You know, I hear people bleat uphill and down about self-determination and
in my view self-determination is about people taking responsibility for
themselves, for their own families and for their communities and, you know, it's
an absolutely shameful hour that has descended on us, absolutely shameful hour
where even an emergency intervention to protect the safety of our children is
hindered, is hindered by people who supposedly have good will for Aboriginal
people and in fact, those people are willing, they are willing the protection
and succour to Aboriginal children to fail in the same way and as vehemently as
they will failure in Iraq.
This latter comment is of particular significance, given that it has been noted by the usual pro-Howard shills, in order to further condemn idle discussion. Any hesitation in implementing Howard's proposal is interpreted as yet more evidence of moral depravity from those who dissent. These people are not normally concerned for the welfare of Aboriginals, but priorities change when there are political points to be scored.
Pearson's reference to Iraq is a telling one. Prior to war in 2003, we saw the emergence of emergency, a state of crisis to which the only response was to suspend critical faculties, and proceed to direct action, for the greater good. A state of exception was declared, thus legitimising the extraordinary occurrence of a 'pre-emptive' 'shock and awe' campaign. Yes, thousands protested in the streets, and on the Internet; but then, as now, it made little difference. To disagree with the war was to will a failure of treasonous proportions. In any case, it is fortunate for these unpatriotic dissenters that Bush declared the mission accomplished in 2003, thus rendering failure impossible. The bloodshed that is occurring on a massive scale is apparently a measure of success for war-supporters.
We have an analogous situation here. A long-standing, genuinely tragic, but opportunely 'urgent' situation has to entail that all disagreement to the Government's proposal must be shouted down. One of the most authoritarian and hastily-conceived interventions in Australian history is to be imposed upon our most vulnerable people, without a whimper.
Thus years of inaction, and criminal neglect by Federal, State and Territorial governments gives way to a suspension of all thought. Forget about 'land rights', Pearson tells us, and Pearson, after all, is an honourable man.
Yet just yesterday, the same Federal Government ended its funding for an Aboriginal Employment program in WA.
An author of the Little Children are Sacred report doubts that the Government has got it right.
In a circulating letter, an Aboriginal activist pleads for the Government to reconsider its implementation of the plan.
Aboriginal community leaders have penned an open letter, asking for urgent consultation before the Government's solution is imposed on them.
The ACT's Human Rights Commissioner has condemned the discriminatory singling-out of Aboriginal families for special treatment at the hands of interveners.
Of course, in a time of national emergency, silence is needed. The kind of silence that has been shown by the Labor party, and that Howard himself found 'puzzling'. A silence is needed that will stifle any alternative proposals, any consultation, any questioning. After all, as Neil Mitchell and Noel Pearson say, this is not a philosophical discussion. And Noel Pearson, at least, is an honourable man.
Perhaps they are all honourable men. We can see who is condemning whom, in fits of moral righteousness. The well-meaning dissenters, the thinkers, the other Aboriginal leaders, and those who prattle on about 'rights', are finally getting their come-uppance. Major flaws notwithstanding, to disagree with the plan is to endorse child abuse! Silence is all that is required, and the plan will continue, if need be, irrespective of it.
I make no claims about Noel Pearson's 'integrity', or sincerity. I do not doubt for an instant that he is no Howard stooge. Yes, he is an honourable man. Yes, he is right - urgent action is desperately needed. Nonetheless, if, in his enthusiasm for change, he has 'backed the wrong horse' as they say, and availed his honour to the promotion of a rightfully distrusted Government, he shall be a Brutus to his people.