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Real solutions - not just shock and awe

By Lyn Allison - posted Friday, 29 June 2007

Cast your minds back to September 11. Amid the obvious tragedy I recall very clearly the shutting down of any sort of debate about the appropriateness of the response.

No one denied a response was needed, but suddenly only the President had the insight to decide what the solution to this terrorist attack might be. We had to act. NOW. If you didn’t agree with invading Iraq then you were probably a supporter of terrorism they muttered behind your back. At this time of national emergency let’s demonise the authors of critiques. You’re either with us or agin us.

And so five years later we face another crisis. This time in Australia. Just as horrifying. The sexual abuse of children. Again we need a response. Again it needs to be swift. And again any criticism of the proposal to intervene in the abuse of Indigenous children is, judging by reaction in the press, akin to treason.


Nonetheless I argue that if you refuse to see the context then you cannot see the solution. And more than ever, these children need a solution.

Yes let’s act quickly. Yes let’s dispatch help. That is the top order priority. It has been for decades. But we must not shout our rescue from the hilltops and then fail to deliver. That sort of behaviour betrays our children, but is not without precedent.

Yes I am cynical. This must not be a cruel let down. We all want solutions but it is too much to believe that the epiphany that led to this package of tough measures was frustration with the Northern Territory Government's delayed response to another report of intolerable abuse of children. The reality is that Indigenous women and umpteen reports have urged action for many years and state and federal ministers and bureaucrats have been discussing for just as long how to deal with it.

Little Children are Sacred and the Gordon Report between them set down almost 300 recommendations, only two of which were picked up in the Howard package - the school meals and the boarding schools. Two out of 300. What does that say to you?

Until it was taken over and buried by Mal Brough, the Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination was supposed to oversee services and monitor performance. Like the 30 Indigenous Coordination Centres, it was central to the 2004 Howard Government’s 20- to 30-year vision, intervening in early childhood development, making Indigenous communities safer and building their economies. Pardon me for asking, but what happened to the OIPC and these plans? The office was shut down - that’s what.

As the empty police station at Mutitjulu demonstrates, there is no quick or easy solution and governments have walked away from soundly based but expensive solutions before. It’s also very difficult to function, as a policeman, a lone remote area nurse, or a teacher in an environment of despair.


Some years ago I visited the primary school at Mutitjulu, staffed then by an amazingly dedicated principal and teachers, assisted by grandparents very worried about the future of these children. That future was no schooling beyond primary and no job.

The people of Mututjulu are the traditional owners of Uluru - arguably the most iconic tourist attraction in the country - and their poverty is in stark contrast to the expensive hotels and easy life of the tourists.

A six-month drinking ban may give communities breathing space but better to put in place the much tighter, permanent restrictions on liquor licensing, as proposed in Little Children are Sacred. How is it that in white society it is an offence to sell grog to the inebriated but not in Indigenous communities?

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About the Author

Lyn Allison is a patron of the Peace Organisation of Australia and was leader of the Australian Democrats from 2004 to 2008.

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