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Government sincerity in NT communities requires questioning


Government sincerity in NT communities requires questioningThe most sinister aspect of the Federal Government’s initiative in the Northern Territory is that it is exploiting the abuse of children in order to further undermine Aboriginal rights, with the explicit intention of seizing control of their land. These grossly intrusive measures will ultimately contribute to the continued disempowerment and destruction of Aboriginal people and their ancient cultures.

Having worked as a full-time teacher in a remote Aboriginal community I am fully aware of the social dysfunction that is reported regularly in the mainstream media. Minyerri, like so many other communities is entrenched in a sickening cycle of poverty and oppression. A sense of hopelessness and despair is everywhere: from the pathetic state of housing, to the violent shouts and screams of fighting in the middle of the night, to the festering boils and sores on the arms and legs of the eight year olds I tried to teach.

Such a scenario does not suddenly occur. It is the result of generational neglect by government. Aborigines out bush are the forgotten people: the ones we have chosen to ignore simply because they failed to fully assimilate.

Now though they find themselves at the centre of a heavy-handed military-style operation which the government claims is an attempt to help children who have been sexually abused.

The Little Children Are Sacred report clearly states, "There is nothing new or extraordinary in the allegations of sexual abuse of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory." These problems have been around for decades. Aboriginal leaders have warned politicians about the endemic problems of community life and the desperate need to provide adequate housing, education and health services.

Why is the government suddenly hell bent on assisting the people whose cries for help were reduced to whimpering whispers over years and years of inaction? Why now? What is the motivation for focusing so much energy on a problem that has been completely ignored in the past?

Each individual is entitled to their point of view. Perhaps this is a grand act of altruism, but more than likely, in my opinion, it is not.

If the government was sincere in its endeavors to alleviate child abuse then it would actively engage each community in the healing process. One course of action will not suit 60 different environments. Each community faces a different set of circumstances. It is imperative that the government works in conjunction with community elders to try to formulate courses of action that build on cultural strengths, fully incorporating the Aboriginal world view.

Government sincerity in NT communities requires questioningTragically, the imagination of our government does not stretch this far. It is incapable of empathising with Aboriginal Australians and that is exactly why we are where we are now. It has stormed into these communities without any long-term plan and without consulting the people whose land they are seizing.

It is implementing bans on alcohol without uttering a word about the need to construct culturally sensitive rehabilitation centers for long-term addicts; it is forcing children to go to schools that are inadequately staffed and woefully resourced; it is restricting the only source of income that parents have to supply their large families with food and other essentials. Most importantly, it is taking control of communal land through the imposition of five-year leases.

How does compulsory acquisition of land have anything to do with helping abused children? It doesn’t.

It does, however, tie in neatly with recent government proposals to store highly toxic radioactive waste at Muckaty, Mt Everard, Harts Range and Fishers Ridge: all Aboriginal communities situated in the Northern Territory. If these proposals are approved then Aboriginal people will have nuclear waste (from Lucas Heights, and possibly European countries) deposited close to their communities. It is obvious this will have a profoundly negative impact on their way of life. Exposure to toxic waste is fatal. The waste dump may contaminate the water these people have to drink, the animals they hunt for food and the plants they use for cooking and bush medicine.

Acquisition of Aboriginal land also provides the government with the perfect opportunity to expand their uranium mining interests. The politicians will say they are creating employment for communities, but it is morally unacceptable to force people to desecrate the land that has nurtured them for thousands of years.

So on one hand the government is using the military to control the communities and ensure that children are no longer sexually abused, while on the other hand it is making plans to use the land on which these children live as a waste dump for highly toxic radioactive material.

Support from the public for the government’s radical intervention sadly reflects our ignorance and insensitivity towards Aboriginal cultures. The welfare of children and the empowerment of communities are not truly on the government’s agenda. They have masterfully manipulated this situation to once again serve their own needs. The noose of Aboriginal oppression has been tightened a little more. It is a telling indication of the state of our democracy when the rights of society’s most disadvantaged citizens can be further eroded without a murmur of protest from the majority of our population.



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Existing comments

I think that "Eureka Street" is a Catholic magazine? As a recovered Catholic, reading Jonathon Hill's article makes me wish that I hadn't recovered!
A clear, well-informed, passionate statement about the swindle that is being perpetrated on the aboriginal people, by our governnmen - a cry surely for "Wake Up Australia!" for Australians to stop this current shame and disaster unfolding.

Noel Wauchope | 12 July 2007  

Well explained - and congratulations, Mr Hill.
I trust that it is OK to quote bits of this (with full acknowledgement) on www.antinuclearaustralia.com

Christina Macpherson | 12 July 2007  

Whilst I started reading this article with interest I was disappointed that it disintegrated into emotive speculation, or you could say conspiracy theory, about the Government's real intention behind the compulsory land acquisition. I have no doubt that there are subtexts involved with the acquisition of land. However I suspect they are more aligned with the Governments agenda to introduce private ownership and land tenure. Not because of some malicious intent, but because the Government genuinely believes that this sort of personal, individual ownership has a lot of positive benefits, over communal ownership and management of land. Given most of us actually aspire to owning our own home, they may have a point.

The not so subtle sub text of this article is a criticism of the nuclear industry. The simple fact is that toxic radioactive material does exist, it must be properly managed and disposed of. And it would appear that some Indigenous communities at least are prepared to negotiate with the industry a solution so that this can be done in a way which is safe for humans and for the environment, and can bring about economic benefits for those communities. So we should be denying them this opportunity? Or do we take a position that suggests that they are not able to make their own informed decisions about their future and the future of their land?

I am suspicious of the Governments motivation, however, I am inclined to support Noel Pearson's pragmatic approach. Something desperately needs to be done, and maybe with time and work it will be possible to transform this short term 'intervention' into a considered and resourced plan for bringing about some positive long term benefits for those communities.

Gerard Palk | 12 July 2007  

I thought there was more on the government's agenda for its intervention in aboriginal communities - more than a purely altruistic move to make up for past neglect. My suspicion was that there was the thought of future mining interests, as well as pique at international criticism of the dire state of aboriginal health. Jonathan Hill is clear that land acqisition has nothing to do with health. While action at last is something, people who care must keep on protesting and making a fuss until short term measures are superseded by better, well funded and longlasting programs which will really help aboriginal communities.

Christine Wood | 13 July 2007  

What a beautifully crafted article. One which treats the issues at depth.

Dally Messenger | 13 July 2007  

The longer Mr Howard serves the more I see neo-conservatism seeping into what was once a culture of openess, a fairgo for all, respect for our neighbours. We have experienced the Tampa dishonesty, detention of Refugees, manipulation of the East Timorese's resources, the continual increase in xenaphobic attitudes of white Australians, and now manipulative, dishonest use of the plight of the Aboriginal people and their precious children. As a white middle-class Australian who served this country for 35 years in the Army I am appalled with John Howard's government. I am ashamed that in the year 2007 we are treatig the original owners of this wonderful sacred land with such disdain and disregard. Having been awarded 10 medals for service over my 35 years I would dearly wish that I could hand these back to John Howard in a public setting to show that these medals, which, for me, once carried the ethos of those great men of Gallipoli, no longer represent those traits that were the embryo of this country's basic tenents
Thank you Jonathon

michael lappin | 13 July 2007  

A concise and logical summation of the situation.

michael skennar | 13 July 2007  

It is possible that the Government is maybe misguided in some way, in there approach to this issue. You state that this situation is decades old. So when do you recommend is an appropriate time to take action? Can you suggest a calendar date that suits your schedule? I would think that some action is better than no action, even if it is misguided. The immediate tradegy at hand is the horrific sexual abuse of children which is inexcusable in any community and it must be stopped. Sexual abuse is a destructive poison that permeates families leaving drug and alcohol abuse in its wake. Maybe, just maybe if the Government can restore some safety into the lives of these children then they can at least have an opportunity to experience dignity and self worth. Let us not cloud this issue with political propoganda and realize that these children are victims of horrific sexual abuse. The laws that govern sexual abuse are clear, it cannot be tolerated. Hats off to the Howard Government for finally taking action against this child abuse, it must be stopped. There are many other issues involved but a start in any direction is necessary. We can keep tally of all the imperfect aspects of the past but there would be no time left to focus on the future.

Amanda Ambrus | 13 July 2007  

A sustainable relationship between the Earth and humans is the only basis for humans reaching whatever our cosmic potential is to be. I'm certain a sustainable relationship between Aboriginal and other Australains can assist we 'new comers' in this country meet this challenge. Indigenous wisdom is there and I'm sure ready to be shared. We need Federal and State Governments with wisdom to see this and which can consult aboriginal people, not dictate to them. O for a governments which will lead the Australian community into a life giving relationship between our peoples. The Howard Government has spoken a great deal about leadership. When will we see same in this crucial matter?

Neville and Wenda Edwards | 13 July 2007  

Congratulations on a truly fine article. In fact I can draw hope that someone like Jonathan Hill has expressed how I feel about this issue. His words are full of truth and compassion. We do not have to be intimidated by the juggernauts of power that want us to be no more than robots answerable to an authority whose sense of morality is more than questionable.I am nearing 70 years of age and in that time I have never experienced a government as drunk with power and expediency. It is sad that a part of me is ashamed to be Australian when I see what this government has done to our country and to our indigenous brothers and sisters.

john | 13 July 2007  

The Federal Government reckons that five years should be long enough for their intervention.
I reckon that in five years, a reasonably thorough geological survey can determine which lands have worthwhile ore deposits, and which lands will have communities who have progressed sufficiently to be able to resume their rights. Ive got $20 that says that no Indigeneous land will be in both these classes.
At the Dhugarmin CDEP at Scrub Hill, overlooking Hervey Bay, Butchullah people have been developing a bush tucker horticulture industry based upon Indigeneous knowledge of local food plants, and other plant-based products. I understand that similar schemes have been making progress elsewhere in Australia.
It requires a substantial stretch of credulity to believe that the cancellation of CDEP projects nationwide is not related, both to the forthcoming military incursion into Indigeneous lands, and to Bill Heffernans plans regarding the relocation of white agriculture to Northern Australia.

David Arthur | 14 July 2007  

Thank you, Jonathon. I found the article well-written, clear, informative and not too emotional. In the midst of all that is being written about this issue, all those characteristics are important.

Maryrose Dennehy | 16 July 2007  

.Thanks Amanda Ambrus 13/7 for her well balanced comments.Good discussion is usually lost when cynicism and "evil" theories take over.Hasn't anybody been listening to Minister Brough as he has been pleading in the press,on talk back' on t/v'for months for his Govt'and States to act urgently to fix this abominable situation.Be positive--see this action as the cornerstone on which progress can be made.Be ready with criticism if it starts to awry.

Brian Martin | 17 July 2007  

Send this article to as many newspaper editors as possible as well as all the politicians ... letting them know that "You can't fool all the paople all the time" and the way it is going, their time is getting shorter and shorter (in power).

David Knox | 17 July 2007  

I agree with Gerard Palk and Amanda Ambrus. I profoundly mistrust the government, and I agreed with the article until it degenerated into nonsense about exposure to toxic waste and contaminating people's water supply and food sources. People who are worried about poisoning the land should agitate to have petrol removed from their communities; petrol is much more dangerous than low-level nuclear waste (and not only when it's misused).

Gavan Breen | 17 July 2007  

Ignorance is sadly a huge problem in our "tabloid" society. Long term problems are meaningless to a society that has an attention span of "60 Minutes". It is not that Australians dont care, it is that they don't know.

Rob Cavanagh | 19 July 2007  

This is a well written and spot on analysis of what is happening on the ground, from an intelligent young man who has worked and lived with A&TSI people.
Military and police presence should NEVER have been our First Response to the ‘Little Children are Sacred Report”. Amanda to say that some action is better then none is too, simplistic and shows much naivety. This action is doomed to failure. I suggest that all read the full report: http://www.nt.gov.au/dcm/inquirysaac/

This emergency response is nothing but a second occupation, a continued blow to the first people of this great south land. When you read the report you will see that sexual abuse has become an intergenerational problem since colonisation.

Workable, culturally relevant and sustainable and successful programs(the report talks about current such models and offers further suggestions through open dialogue with the people themselves) that are not subject to a lack of funding in 6 months- as is and has been the case- must be on the table first.
Housing, poverty, right education and health models must be tabled as this report recommends. Fly in Fly Out models of care have only failed in the past and are doomed to failure.

I have read with interest many comments and reactions to the Federal Government's NT intervention. None seem to specifically call for the implementing of the 97recommendations using the 9 Rules of engagement contained in the Little Children are sacred report. The report in full offers the answers to this tragic situation that has been ignored for years. If Howard and Brough are Fair Dinkum they need to heed the experts and endorse FULLY ALL the recommendation this report. For not to do so can only lead to failure again as yet another report gets ignored. (I believe the tragic rates of sexual abuse today are a direct consequent of governments ignoring the full recommendations of previous reports. Which is a real indictment on governments..
But, in this case our Current Federal Government risks "using and abusing further our A&TSI children and people"

The Howard government must endorse and act on the all the recommendation within this full report. At this stage they HAVE used it to justify their unprecedented intervention Aboriginal communities have been destroyed when atomic bombs were tested in the Woomera. So please don't belittle real fears from the ground.

Georgina Gartland (nee Gravener) | 19 July 2007  

A railway to no-where built by Halliburton
Now owned by a British nuclear company?

A huge new US NT air base capable of taking huge planes with very heavy loads.

Aboriginal leaders given millions and tours of Lucas heights (the Ngapa traditional owners will receive $12mil).

The United States Government's 18-year battle to store 77,000 tonnes of highly radioactive nuclear waste deep inside Yucca Mountain.

Can anyone join the dots?

Michael angel | 20 July 2007  

I am an Aboriginal person. I do agree with every thing said. The purpose of intervention is continual undermining of power and taking control, to keep people on handouts, dependency on tax payers and governments. Another form of dissimation and discrimination. It's showing aust/world all aboriginal men are rapist, child molesters.
Why throw a blanket over whole of the territoy, why class all black men as sexual abusers. Surely they could have used certain communities as role models showing good example.

Where is the evidence of all black men are sexual abusers?

If australia were to let us continual practice of our laws, punishments you would have none of this problem of abuse, grog, murders, prisons over filling, but governments have taken all that away. Yet aust government has no real laws, they keep shifting the goal post to when it suits.

Richard Downs | 27 April 2008  

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