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Truth the first casualty

By Graham Ring - posted Tuesday, 18 September 2007

The chances of two events as rare as a prime ministerial visit to a remote Indigenous community and a lunar eclipse occurring on the same day seemed, well, astronomical.

But last week as the moon turned red, the Prime Minister was returning from a visit to Hermannsburg, 120km west of Alice Springs.

It was a clever choice by the PM's minders: the road out there is bitumen all the way, and the Ntaria Council chair, Gus Williams, is a gracious gentleman who treats all his visitors courteously, regardless of their politics.


The Prime Minister arrived and dispensed paternalistic platitudes to residents about how "their future can only be as part of the mainstream community". Then he got into his official car and drove away. The man has a lot on his mind.

Election hostilities have not yet been formally declared, but a haggard Howard Government has already thrown the switch to “panic”. In an increasingly desperate attempt to reverse plummeting poll numbers, the government is blazing away at anything that appears in its gun-sights. But they are losing the battle.

Major General Dave Chalmers, head of the government's intervention task force, apparently heard from his office the impassioned orations from a recent Alice Springs protest meeting.

A fired-up former ATSIC boss Pat Turner, described the intervention as "the final nail in the coffin of self-determination for Aboriginal people".

Chalmers is a military man and has performed with distinction in Australian peacekeeping efforts on foreign shores. But whether his skills are best suited to improving the life-chances of long-neglected Australian citizens in their own country remains to be seen.

The Northern Territory Emergency Response Taskforce has taken to referring to itself as “NTERT” - in the manner of peacekeeping missions around the globe. From time to time they issue brisk and bloodless “operational updates” on their activities. A blizzard of statistics demonstrates that a great many things are being done “to” Aboriginal people, rather than being done “with” them or “by” them.


It's an election year and Indigenous Territorians are just pawns in a bigger political game.

The “children overboard” affair demonstrated the depths to which the Howard Government will stoop for political advantage. No surprise then, that when Mal Brough addressed the National Press Club, recently, he engaged in a bit of peddling of his own.

Not pornography or petrol, but the equally dangerous commodity of misinformation. The cowboy from Caboolture was shooting from the hip. And the ex-military man sprayed his ammunition recklessly. The minister went gunning for Pat Turner, Northern Territory Chief Minister Clare Martin, and Federal Member for Lingiari Warren Snowdon, over their alleged failure to combat Indigenous child abuse.

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First published in the National Indigenous Times, Issue 137, on September 6, 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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