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The trouble with being a gun negotiator

By Graham Ring - posted Thursday, 21 June 2007

Do you feel lucky, punk? That was the question which Clint Eastwood's “Dirty Harry” used to ask at key points during a string of bad ’70’s movies. Usually he'd be looking at some luckless miscreant along the gun-sights of his .357 Magnum - “the most powerful handgun in all the world” as he was quick to assure those who crossed him.

He'd say that he'd lost count of the number of shots he had fired and that his gun may either be empty or have one bullet remaining in the chamber. “Do you feel lucky, punk?” he would enquire, in a raspy voice which made it quite clear that he would happily tear the perpetrator apart with his bare hands if the gun failed to go off.

Dirty Harry was pretty big on macho posturing. He wasn't much of a consensus man, but he had piercing eyes and a thin-lipped sneer which he employed to wilt the resistance of any who stood in his path. Harry was forever getting into strife with his boss for not doing things by the book. He fairly obviously subscribed to the view that “the ends justify the means”.


This is all well and good in a lightweight action movie which helps pass the time on a quiet Saturday night. However, real problems can result when misguided fans try and export the Dirty Harry technique from the little screen into the real world.

Mal Brough is a pretty fit looking fella, and given his army background there is every chance that he would know how to look after himself when things got sticky.

He might find an Oxford boxing blue like Tony Abbott to be more than a match, but he'd certainly give a good account of himself.

And he seems to enjoy his verbal exchanges with other tough, plain-speaking, salt-of-the-earth, heart-of-gold, sun-bronzed, down-to-earth, call-a-spade-a spade, genuine Aussie blokes like John Laws.

I am guessing that he's a Clint Eastwood fan. But if he wants to negotiate in good faith with Indigenous communities in the 21st century, he should give the Dirty Harry shtick a big miss.

Brough's latest crash-and-burn episode has involved some bullying attempts to force Tangentyere Council - the peak body of the Alice Springs town camp housing associations - to hand over their hard-won leases in return for “a few dollars more”.


These ill-fated discussion are symptomatic of the Howard Government's increasing readiness to throw the switch to “intimidation” in its dealings with Aboriginal communities. “We've had enough of this nonsense” is the subliminal message the government is sending out. “Do what we say - and do it now - or you will suffer the consequences.”

There is a grim irony in the fact that these toe-cutting tactics follow hard on the heels of over 200 years of studied indifference towards Indigenous Australia from governments of all political persuasions.

Minister Brough says he wants the town camps of Alice Springs to become “just like normal suburbs”. Let's leave aside for a moment the question of whether it's going to be culturally appropriate for the campers to live in “normal suburbs” - whatever they may be. Let's assume that Brough has seen fit to earmark 60 million federal dollars because he recognises that it's a national disgrace for Australian citizens to be living in these impoverished conditions.

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First published in the National Indigenous Times, Issue 130 on May 31, 2007.

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About the Author

Graham Ring is an award-winning writer and a fortnightly National Indigenous Times columnist. He is based in Alice Springs.

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