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Hip-pocket implications of real jobs in remote communities

  • 09 January 2008

The Commonwealth Parliament has now passed five bills described as the national emergency response to child sexual abuse on Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. It was law making at Canberra’s worst. The 600 page bills were introduced and passed through the House of Representatives in less than a day.

They were subject to just a one-day committee review process in the Senate. When government does not have recourse to an elected Aboriginal consultative body, when the government controls the Senate, and when there is an election in the air with an Opposition that refuses to be wedged on non-economic policy issues, there is little prospect of close parliamentary scrutiny of bold new policy proposals for Aboriginal well-being emanating from Canberra.

A central plank of the original proposal was to ensure “compulsory health checks for all Aboriginal children to identify and treat health problems and any effects of abuse.” The initial announcement of the government initiative was so rushed that it took only the most rudimentary consultation with the medical profession to highlight how unethical, unworkable and harmful compulsory health checks would be.

The government claimed to be acting urgently, without consultation with the NT government and NT Aboriginal leaders, in response to the NT report ‘Little Children are Sacred’. And yet the authors of that report had said, “In the first recommendation, we have specifically referred to the critical importance of governments committing to genuine consultation with Aboriginal people in designing initiatives for Aboriginal communities. ” The authors of the report were not invited to give evidence to the Senate committee even though they travelled to Canberra and were in Parliament House.

Those concerned for the well-being of abused children, but not prepared to take the Commonwealth government’s intervention on trust, asked for credible explanations why it was necessary for the Commonwealth to acquire land leases over Aboriginal community lands for five years. Everyone knew that compulsory acquisition of Aboriginal land without reason and without consultation would engender mistrust in those local Aboriginal leaders whose cooperation would be essential if any Canberra initiative were to succeed.

Minister Mal Brough told Parliament, “We cannot allow the improvements that have to occur to the physical state of these places to be delayed through red tape and vested interests in this emergency period. Under normal circumstances in remote communities, just providing for the clean-up and repair of houses on the scale that we are confronted with could well take years if not decades. The children cannot wait that long.” We are now entering a new phase in Aboriginal policy. It is not just about protecting the children. Canberra has decided