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A selection of some of the letters regarding Frank Brennan's most recent piece

  • 13 July 2007

A selection of some of the letters regarding Frank Brennan's most recent piece:

Marilyn Shepherd
27-Jun-2007 Yes Frank, doesn't it seem only a moment ago that the Bakhtiyari children were dragged from their beds in the middle of the night, thrown onto a jet and sent to the wrong country with no papers and no means of survival.

And despite all of Howard's rhetoric about the old way not working, the old way is his by choice over years of demonising aboriginal people.

s276 is also still on the law books in this country which allows for the permanent and immediate detention of child refugees in whatever conditions the commonweatlth deems suitable.

I remember seeing Frank for the first time when he came out of Woomera looking shocked to the core. I reckon Howard got about 10,000 reports into child abuse in detention and we got s276 as a result.

Humbug. If Howard wanted to protect the kids he would have done it 11 years ago and not taken the land first instead of last.

Joan Seymour
27-Jun-2007 Mal Brough keeps insisting that the people need someone to talk to about what's going on, someone who can do something about it. It seems unlikely that this rushed process, carried out by unfamiliar 'volunteers' with minimal community consultation, will inspire the necessary confidence in the people. (Of course, once the election is over that won't matter....).

Annette Cunliffe
28-Jun-2007 I am also deeply suspicious of the motivation in this rush to action. The needs are enormous and the problems much too deep seated to be redressed by a short-term rush into action that is not underpinned by a shared will and understanding of the real needs.

Brian Godsell
28-Jun-2007 Very disapppaionted that a by and large commentary has to show a political bais against the Prime Minister. Why not help him and Mal Brough get the job done rather than focus on making sure your readers think that the move to help is motivated by the desire to be re-elected.

Geoff Sargent.
28-Jun-2007 I agree with your comments on the critical need for a co-operative approach.

What puzzles me most about a return to the paternalism model is why Mr.Howard did not choose to protect the children under the existing self-determination model, and existing law.

Child abuse is against the law, as is non-attendance at school, as is consuming alcohol in a dry community, so why not deal with these core issues under existing arrangements, rather than this “bring in the army” approach?

It is a fact that many, if not most, social problems in aboriginal communities have developed to where they are now because past governments, including Mr. Howards, failed to provide the basic services and infrastructure indigenous groups needed and wanted.

Unfortunately the cost of providing adequate housing, health services, policing, social services and infrastructure was so great, it was easier to turn a blind eye; - and what is happening now is the real social cost of this previous approach is becoming evident.

A new willingness to intervene at whatever cost is exactly what is needed, but it is tragic it is not being done in a consultative fashion with those affected; - particularly given the problems are not new, and the needs are so obvious.

Most aboriginal communities have wanted more government services, including police, health and housing, for many years and, if they were asked first, would have welcomed their provision.

As a result I see Mr. Howard’s actions motivated by the coming election and a desire to demonstrate leadership and authority; - and to retain government.

The real tragedy though will be if this “boots and all” approach fails in the longer term simply because of a failure to consult, and to use the self-determination model already in place.

Shane Wood
28-Jun-2007 The additional comments made by Alex Mitchell on Crikey can also be taken on board. Even iff we would not be so cynical as to think that land and mining rights are involved, as Frank points out in this article, there are undoubtedly other agendas operating. Those who have been around Aboriginal issues for any length of time know, as do the authors of the NT Report, you cannot get anywhere in the short or long term without cooperation built on positive relationships with the Aboriginal people involved - let alone the NT government.
Kevin Rudd's abandonment of these people to the then unknown and non-specific plans of the PM without so much as a question was disappointing.
Judging by the press, John Howard has his reward already - eveybody has mentioned his name several times a day since the announcement; for politicians in an election mode there is no such thing as bad publicity. there ios no doubting his masterful ability as a politician. Anyone who does not support his actions can expect to be roundly condemned by him, and even by Noel Pearson, as not caring for the children. It is the age-old ends and means debate that needs to be had here. Howard needed to look at the long-term gains required in this situation rather than the potential for short-term political point scoring. Once again, the Aboriginal people are caught in the middle with everybody talking about them and very few talking to them.

Brian Kennedy
28-Jun-2007 Frank
Your article is spot on. To allow a Federal military style operation in Aboroginal communities is short term waffle geared to political agendas, not the long term support needed to address the many problems

Tom R
28-Jun-2007 Indeed so. Prime Minister Holt was a loyal deputy to the right-wing Menzies for many years. He's only recently and reluctantly embraced the cause of amending the Constitution to remove the provisions excluding Aboriginal Australians. And he doesn't seem to give a rats about the Vietnamese children he's blowing to pieces. So I'll be voting "NO" in the Referendum.

Jeff Wild
28-Jun-2007 Thank you for this article, Frank. I'm very disappointed that Kevin Rudd did not raise these same issues. He has dealt himself out of the debate.
Raising important issues of process, and of practicality is not necessarily a sign of political bias. Naturally we want to see the best for the children just as we did for the children of asylum seekers, as we do for the children of Iraq and for abused non-indigenous children of Australia. Raising these questions is in fact assisting John Howard and Mal Brough in their stated aims, and ensuring that whatever is done is effective beyond the end of this year.

Neville ward
28-Jun-2007 For as long as Noel Pearson backs the Howard initiative then so do I.

Yes, some people claim it to be another "children overboard" stunt but most of us knew that stunt to be utter "bull". But the plight of aboriginal children in remote locations is no "bull'.
Whilst any realist would acknowledge the 'political' aspects associated with an election year there is never the less an opportunity here and we all have a social obligation to make it work. Let's try to be positive here. Begin by leaving political games to some trivia that really doesn't matter.

Andrew Coorey
28-Jun-2007 Someone smarter than me once said that when you see through everything, you end up seeing nothing. This should be remembered as people seek to identify the 'real' motivation for John Howard's intervention in Aboriginal communities. It is valid to look for political motivation in any policy initiative but this must come only after the policy has been assessed on its own merits. Cynics must allow for the possibility that a policy is being pursued because it is likely to deliver outcomes.

Politicians are supposed to do things to please voters, and that their instincts are sharpened in an election year is no bad thing.

Further those people who say " look the Howard government has been in for 11 years, why didn't they do something earlier" need to examine their own records. Where this refrain comes from someone in the NT government, someone who was an ATSIC commissioner or employee, someone in NT policing, it has to be said that a bit of self-examination is in order first.
An enquiry into ATSIC's conduct is presumably pointless now but it cannot be proud of its record. It did not stop this descent into the abyss.

As for the idea that Mssrs Brough and Howard’s plan should have been conducted in concert with Aboriginal community leaders and Clare Martin's government; can anybody real blame Canberra for giving a wide berth to such proven failures.
This initiative may lack subtlety but many aspects of the problem are not subtle. Mindless alchoholism, addiction, venereal diseases in pre-school children, constant violence...a prophylactic solution may only be a start, but one needs to start somewhere.

Let's hope that the next phase of debate has the courage to ask what the viability of these communities actually is.
If they are characterised by lack of opportunity, by constant fear in women and children, by addiction and violence as the rule and not the exception, with a near total reluctance to testify against the most horrendous crimes imaginable, then in what sense are they " communities"?
If they are not the setting for interdependence through commerce or employment, if there is no common purpose for individuals to contribute to and to draw from then they are not communities.
I once walked along the main street of the remote settlement of Yuendumu. The garbage in the street was almost ankle deep. There was an item of refuse ( empty bottles, cartons, paper, etc) every 20 or 30 cm. I walked past a large garbage bin and looked in it and the level of rubbish in the bin was identical to the distribution pattern around it…someone seemed to have put some rubbish in it by mistake!

If there is no civic pride as evidence of belonging in the places where Indigenous people live then ( and litter and vandalism tell you plainly there is not) then these are not communities. Settlements perhaps, gulags maybe. But communities? I think not.

Maureen Strazzari
28-Jun-2007 How can the Aboriginal problem suddenly be critical, demanding immediate attention when it has existed for many years? The election is coming, of course and to many it seems that John Howard wants to pull another rabbit out of his hat equal to the Tampa. This time he has hit on an idea which, from his viewpoint, the 'left' must endorse if they are really as caring as they purport to be.

His draconion methods MAY produce some beneficial results. I hope so because it further entrenches the stigma Aborigines have carried through the generations by simplicitly blaming 'the grog' for child abuse. It would have been more honest to admit years and years of neglect in failing to addressing lack of employment, housing, health and other services we take for granted.

Perhaps the most important requirement Aborigines need is a reason for living with dignity. If so, the question we should ask is how can we help them regain their dignity of which they have been stripped through generations of neglect, so that they, themselves, will care about their own behaviour.

Louise Jeffree
28-Jun-2007 A valid argument looking at means and ends without resorting to ideological lingo, as the Australian editorial did today. To what extent is it likely (and timely) for the territory and commonwealth heads to work together?

therese van kints
28-Jun-2007 Judge Clarence Thomas was the first nomineee in 50 years for the Surpreme Court in America to maintain that natural law should be readily consulted in constitutional interpretation. "Natural rights and higher law arguments are the best defense of liberty and of limitted government".

Natural law is a guide to individual conduct. But it also serves as a standard for the laws enacted by the State. A coherent natural law approach affirms objective norms, rooted in nature, that are higher even than the Constitution or the Surpreme Court.

As I see it John Howards reaction and willingness to act is a serious espousal of natural law, which appears to be posing a potential moral threat to the prevailing jurisprudence.

Frank disappoints me. It appears he's moved from a moral to a political theory of law. Law is a reflection of an objective justice.

Let's collectively work on this crisis affecting our indigenous children, and Frank, stop fostering more of the widespread prevailing skepticism about the issue.

chris gow
28-Jun-2007 my advice to everyone is take the time to read the 'suffer the little children report'. Two things are then apparent; the need for urgent intervention is real and justified but Howard/Brough have ignored virtually all of the recommendations of the report. My 'line' is, therefore, support intervention and push as hard as we can for the implementation of the reports recomendations. The full report can be read at http://www.nt.gov.au/dcm/inquirysaac/pdf/bipacsa_final_report.pdf

Gene Trim
28-Jun-2007 It is time for this enormous problem to be dealt with in an effective and consultative manner. Bullying tactics will not achieve the goal of preventing severe health problems. Experience in the Kimberley has shown me that parenting is an area of community life that needs constant assistance and education.

Nance Millar
28-Jun-2007 Today I went to five newsagents in different suburbs of Sydney to obtain a copy of the Koori Mail so that I could see the reaction to the Prime Minister's current directives for the Norther Territory aboriginal communities. At the first three newsagents I was told, either with a self-indulgent smile or decisive, "No we don't carry that". The fourth newsagent told me he did not have interstate newspapers, which bewildered me. The fifth newsagent presented me with a copy of 'The Courier Mail' which I declined and spelled out "Koori Mail" for him. He told me he did not have it. However an assistant directed him to a stack of shelves with newspapers such as La Fiamma, Chinese News etc. In one of the floor level boxes, tucked away in the end corner, was a copy of the 'Koori Mail'. It seems 'out of sight - out of mind' prevails at all levels and is pervasive.

Barry Mahoney
28-Jun-2007 For efficiency purposes, the emphasis should be for the States and Territories to co-operate with the Commonwealth - not the other way about as contended for by Fr. Brennan.

The military, which is under the sole control of the Commonwealth, has the equipment and the skills to deal with difficult terrain and conditions, as clearly demonstrated previously in times of floods and other welfare crises. It does not need to enter upon its presently proposed operations fully armed or even partially so. I cannot recall any victims of flood or other emergency situation, into which the army has been sent, complaining that they had been terrorised by the arrival of troops.

The most important problem is to get the present appalling situation as much under control as possible and to achieve this as soon as possible. Fine tuning, States' Rights and Left v Right squabbles should be postponed to a time when the children and the women are significantly safer than they have been for far too long.

To date, there has been a lot of talk but not enough action. Now there is a real opportunity for something positive to be done. This requires, on all sides, people of good will being prepared to put their respective political preferences to one side and doing their very best not to stall the present momentum.

If the present momentum is lost, we may have to wait another 200 years for it to be restarted.

Ern Azzopardi
28-Jun-2007 Geoff Sargent and Shane Wood are both on the money with their comments. The situation demands urgent but not precipitate action. It must be cooperative, practical and long term.As for suspending any judgment on it being used politically by John Howard - which world do such proponents come from?

Kay McPadden
28-Jun-2007 Well said Frank.Thank you for that perspective or analysis. The subject of children prpbably always evokes a heart response and we need the dynamic of heart, head and hands to avert mass manipulation.

Marg Hawker
28-Jun-2007 Frank,
Why not be positive and hopeful the the Commonwealth and Territory can work together on this. That John Howand and Mal Brough can get it right. There is hope now for Aboriginal women and children. Can you imagine for just one minute, as a child in a house with all that drinking and partying going on, just knowing what will follow!!! If one child is saved from this abuse it is all worth it.
Would you want to be that child trying to hide in a corner?

Elizabeth Mulrennan
28-Jun-2007 I can't help but be reminded of the Australian Government's justification of going to war in Iraq.Mr Brough's language is taken from his war manual "we first have to secure the environment ", he repeated last night on the 7.30 Report.
Mr Howard has said that he will not apologise for taking these radical steps in these communities. Well, he will not say "sorry " to Aboriginal people for any reason. And I doubt they will see the colour of his money in providing ongoing and sustainable improvement of the living conditions of their communities.

Margaret Costigan
28-Jun-2007 When Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders are enabled, and therefore empowered, to further develop their skills to work within their own communities, positive and long term change can occur. Financial support and partnership with people from other cultures able to work cross culturally are essential. Changes will be sustainable if they arise within the community with the recognition that progress will be slow. Their story and their pain are not helped by being played out in the public arena.

Georgina Wright
28-Jun-2007 I'm also suspicious of a new set of laws and policies many of which are racially disciminatory. But at least this outrage has promoted debate and discussion and drawn our attention in a very real way to the enormous disadvantage suffered by our indigenous people.

28-Jun-2007 A fine and compassionate analysis by Frank Brennan . I also read in today's Canberra Times an important opinion piece by Peter Brent (of the "Mumble" blog), who warns, I think with reason, that the government's anti-aboriginal rhetoric may well ramp up as the election approaches - that increasingly, Howard and Brough may try to dog-whistle anti-Aboriginal prejudice, as they ramped up anti-asylum seeker prejudice in the three months following Tampa. Remember, it was eight weeks from Tampa to SIEV X, and eleven weeks from Tampa to the election. Be mindful of those time intervals. How will Howard's aboriginal child abuse gambit develop over the next eleven weeks? Will we be ready to stand up for aboriginal community rights if Howard turns up the heat on them as an election wedge driver? Will our media fulfil their responsibilities to report truth and expose government deceit and falsehood? Unlike with the asylum-seekers who were isolated and dehumanised, our media have access to aboriginal communities - I hope they will use it to the full, to tell us the full truth.

Gabe Lomas
29-Jun-2007 There are intriguing parallels between Howard's invasion of Aboriginal land and Bush's invasion of Iraq.

Both are superficially actions that set out to save oppressed peoples. In both cases, the plight of these peoples was long known to their 'saviours'. In both cases, the oppressed peoples occupy land rich in minerals coverted by the invaders.

In both cases, the invasion is launched just when the invader could do with the minerals in question. In both cases, the oppressed peoples' occupancy of and rights in the lands invaded is severely modified.

In each case, the invaders are closely linked to multi-national conglomerates that will profit enormously from harvesting the minerals that become available.

When Howard made Australia join the Bush invasion of Iraq, Beasley soon lent his support. Now that Howard is invading the territory of the original people of this country, Rudd is giving his blessing to what's happening.

What were Beasley and Rudd told? Do they hold that the end can justify the means? Clearly, Howard does. And Rudd's support for him suggests that the moral morass into which Howard has led us will remain, no matter how the coming election turns out.

Or should we think Rudd will change his mind, and start to put things right?

Davina Lippmann
29-Jun-2007 My concern is that John Howard is cancelling permits and taking land to make it available to mining companies, principally to expand uranium mining. ERA was blocked from accessing a uranium area by a local indigenous community as recently as mid May.
Additionally I am most distressed that children will be subjected to invasive health checks. The thought leads to several questions: How will this lead to the perpetrators of abuse being identified? Will the children be questioned after being so examined? How overwhelming. Will non-indigenous perpetrators be prosecuted? My mind boggles

Davina Lippmann
29-Jun-2007 My concern is that John Howard is cancelling permits and taking land to make it available to mining companies, principally to expand uranium mining. ERA was blocked from accessing a uranium area by a local indigenous community as recently as mid May.
Additionally I am most distressed that children will be subjected to invasive health checks. The thought leads to several questions: How will this lead to the perpetrators of abuse being identified? Will the children be questioned after being so examined? How overwhelming. Will non-indigenous perpetrators be prosecuted? My mind boggles

Bill Barry
30-Jun-2007 What's the point in questioning Howard's motives? He's trying to do something. The efforts of the NT government have proved ineffective. Obviously more strength needs to be applied to protect the children.

George Adams
01-Jul-2007 Over the past week or so we’ve witnessed some amazing episodes in Australian politics. For a start how about that address given by Noel Pearson on Lateline which has been described as one of the finest interviews ever given by any Australian. Then there was the critical mass achieved in the national psyche which led to an overwhelming national wish to see John Howard’s stunning initiative succeed.
How about the generous bipartisan approach offered by Kevin Rudd. In addition there were some very positive editorials from all around Australia including some might think, somewhat surprisingly, one from The Age.
Frank Brennan missed a great opportunity …ah well!

Peter Murnane
01-Jul-2007 John Howard appealed to the country (i.e. voters) by saying that "we cannot remain silent" about the high instance of child abuse in Aboriginal communities. He was less eager to admit or examine the tragic Report about the long-term, institutionalized child abuse during the stolen generations. Nevertheless, we applaud his desire to cure the current abuse. BUT surely not by further disempowering local leaders. No lasting good will be done by heavy-handed intervention from central administration, especially military methods. The principle of subsidiarity is vital here: let local leaders have as much power as possible. Avoid any further weakening of the people's dignity, or of their ravaged communities.

Joe Fernandez
01-Jul-2007 Why should we question John Howard's motives?
Because as John Howard said of Saddam, John Howard has form.

Howard lied to us about the refugees throwing their children overboard and demonised the refugees so as to get reelected.

Howard lied to us about Iraq and took us into an invasion that even the UN has declared illegal and even the Vatican has declared unjust.

As the Sydney Morning Herald reports, John Howard was in August 1999 given the Memmott report documenting in detail the same problems of abuse faced by children and women in these communities, and also the problems of alcoholism and despair faced by men in the communities, and he did nothing.

Therese Smith
01-Jul-2007 Thank you F.B. as usual the article on child abuse and the Fed Gov response spot on.

anthony nolan
02-Jul-2007 There is, of course, a tragic irony in Howard's use of the army to deliver 'emergency' social services: it is a recognition that the so called crisis has developed, during the period of his government, to the level of a 'third world' crisis status. This is therefore a tragic admission of Governmental failure at all levels.

Another point: I am unconvinced that the rate of child sex abuse and violent abuse among Aboriginal communities is any higher than in the general community. Perhaps it is geographically localised and ethnicicsed and therefore being recognised and constructed as a problem internal to indigenous communities.

There is a crisis of child abuse and child sex abuse and it is far more widespread than Aboriginal communities.

Anthony Nolan

Jack Robson
02-Jul-2007 No Frank, you are not being cynical in observing that Mr. Howard has not always put children first when his political future is at stake. The children overboard saga seems like only yesterday. Children in the headlines then certainly played into his hands then!

George Wyer
02-Jul-2007 Thank you,Father Frank, for keeping the big picture before our eyes.So often the nitty gritty clouds it.The contribution below, quirky as it is, might add to that picture.

We do not advance restoration of dignity or its growth within aboriginal people or their communities by sending in police,army and white bureaucrats to solve problems which are essentially theirs and which have been brought about by colonisation and its aftermath.A black view which takes on regrettably a deeper hue.

This nation should lay out its chessboard of black and white equality in rights and freedoms and play by the rules, now that it has set up a white king and queen (the Commonwealth and Stae government) castles,knights and pawns (policies and practicies,army, police and bureaucrats) to commence a game.The bishops are out of it.Their appreciation of rights and freedoms depends upon impingements on their structured heirarchy.An appreciation which seems to be shared by the present dominating king.

The black pieces need to be engaged,otherwise there can be no true game.Dignity, basic to to the enjoyment of rights and freedoms and to any game, will be absent.

White knights and pawns should support determinedly those other pieces who have been involved on the board successfully, patiently fruitful.They should overcome and remove obatacles but leave them on the board. The frustration of their black counterparts should not deter anyone from accepting such support or in promoting vigorously the need for dignity and freedom.

The rules of the game are sound and adequate for today and should be applied consistently and justly in conformity with general community standards.Contemplated new ones are questionable and unwarranted.

Let's play the game on a board within rules to maintain equality between black and white and to achieve checkmate where black and white are equal winners in combating all current problems in aboriginal matters, wherever they are and whatever they be.

Annette Dooley
04-Jul-2007 The Aboriginal road to responsibility and self-management through the experience of same is long and tortuous for them. It is a way strewn with humiliation. Nevertheless in the so doing the process was wickedly frustrated with the demolition of ATSIC by this present federal government. That a similar arrangement be restored is a matter of urgency and righteousness.

Rosemary Faris
05-Jul-2007 I have just returned from a trip to the Western Desert area of NT and WA. There was abundant evidence of the mineral boom. As well, exploration companies anticipating a more favourable political climate towards uranium mining are conferring with aboriginal communities with a view to exploring on their land.

It seems to me that Mr Howard's sudden interest in the welfare of these communities may have a much more sinister component. One of his edicts relates to land. Mal Brough spoke of 'compulsorily acquiring land' (7.30 report June 27). I cannot see how this will be any help to the health of children or prevent their abuse. However, it means the rich and powerful mining companies will no longer be subject to their present restrictions and will have free access to the land without reference to the aboriginal owners. I am pleased Frank Brennan has the same concerns.

Gerry Harant
06-Jul-2007 It seems disappointing that after 11 years of Howard racism and deliberate sabotage of efforts aimed at ameliorating the effects of the first white invasion, there should still be otherwise apparently sane and even concerned people (as demonstrated by some comments to this discussion)who feel they have to give Howard the "benefit of the doubt". Fred Hollows was really concerned and had a real impact on the effects of Trachoma on aboriginal communities. I cannot recall Fred over being particularly concerned with sexual predation during the time he worked amongst aborigines. Nor is Howard; it is simply a convenient peg to hang his racism and sexism on.I find it strange that people should wish to take him up on his original premise as if it were real.
Is this because he is white, religious and believes in cricket? The lesson from this episode should be that next time a proven liar and cheat raises an "issue", don't treat this as if it were real; analyse it from the point of view as to why it was raised in the form it was presented.
Viewed in this light, we must see this as a not-so-smart ploy to win votes in the forthcoming election. Not so smart because the rednecks at whom it is aimed probably would vote for Howard and his ilk anyway. As for the subject, it seems to have worked. There really are some people out there who feel that Howard actually wants to do something to relieve misery and that he is merely misguided, and that they have to "put him right". They also feel that he will take their advice. If they haven't learned after 11 years, I feel there is little hope for them.
I ask you, however to take stock of your own feelings: If they suggest to you that the real problem for aborigines in this country is that they are lesser beings and therefore need the benefit of white religion, I suggest you are part of the problem and are not likely to be part of the solution. Meanwhile, let us learn the lessons of thousands of years of successful aboriginal occupation of this country before it is too late.

Claude Rigney
08-Jul-2007 Frank! Hello!...It's the dereliction of its obligations by the government of the Northern Territory that's left aboriginal children in remote communities in their hell on earth. Remember the good old American adage: 'You broke it , you fix it!'. Give someone else a go and devil take the constiltutional niceties!

Brian Martin
10-Jul-2007 Ignore the talkers&listen to apragmatist like Pearson.The talkers have been supporting the past soft self management approaches which have seen children living in squalor,petrol sniffing houses being wrecked & no parental control.Pearson,Courts& Enquiries have demanded action.Brough the best Minister in this portfolio for years demands action.Howard acts and the talkers say he is Electioneering.HE leaves it for ayear and the Talkers will call him heartless & uncareing.

11-Jul-2007 For a clear un-emotive analysis of the possibilities and limitations of the Howard/Brough initiative, see a recent edition of Norman Swan's 'The Health Report' on Radio National at http://www.abc.net.au/rn/healthreport/stories/2007/1964851.htm

It seems to me at best a misguided and clumsy response, at worst a cynical abuse of vulnerable people for eectoral advantage. As another correspondent says, Howard 'has form'.


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