So I think there may be a misconception that we're here to fix things. We're not. We're here to examine as many kids as we can in two weeks and to send the figures back to Canberra, and also to give the figures to the local health service. (Volunteer doctor, stationed in Titjikala, south of Alice Springs for two weeks as part of the Government's response.)
It's now a month since the Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, stood together to announce that There is A National Emergency of sexual abuse on Aboriginal communities, And the Government Will Send Out The Gunships.
We have a right to expect that if the Government sends out the gunships, there is good reason to. There is. We also have a right to expect that when the problems are longstanding there should be a good plan with long-term solutions. The last month has shown that there isn't.
The gunships were sent off with only a mud-map, under the command of a taskforce which has no member professionally trained to work with sexual abuse victims. Without advice from Indigenous doctors or people who know about Indigenous health interventions, sex abuse or Indigenous children. Without paying attention to the advice of Pat Anderson and Rex Wild, the authors of the report that triggered the announcement. (“Gunships” and “swarms of locusts” are Wild's metaphors). And with no idea of how much the operation would cost.
It's bright shiny lip-gloss to call the present disastrous state of many Indigenous communities a National Emergency - because emergencies are things you don't expect, and you can be forgiven for not foreseeing them. The problems in Australian Indigenous communities have been laid out in report after report after report over the last 10 years. Many people have shown the need for long-term solutions, and many communities have trialled solutions, some successful, some not.
Lots of people very much want this intervention to work. But their hopes for change are being undermined by the Iraq-sized lack of planning, the arrogant dismissal of the people who've been working on these problems for years, and the unbelievable stupidity of linking land tenure to sexual abuse. The saddest moment of the last month was watching the Reverend Djiniyini Gondarra during a Mawul Rom “workshop” at Galiwin'ku on Elcho Island, on the 7.30 Report (thanks Mel). There's an extended interview on video here. I recommend it. He is speaking with passion and a bitter sense of betrayal. He and his community had been negotiating a shared responsibility agreement with Mal Brough.
DR DJINIYINI GONDARRA: When he [Mal Brough] came here [last year] there was a good spirit, do you know? We sat and we talked to him, you know? We didn't march, we didn't demonstrate. We said, "Come and sit down. We are your friend. We want to talk to you. We want to solve problems. What are your problems? Tell us. We can work together."
Mal Brough offered them 50 new houses, classrooms, more teachers, more doctors, help for people starting small businesses. They said "This is good, we can work with you". They wanted to work together to improve law and order. But when he asked them for a 99-year lease, they said, not yet, they needed to talk it through. They did what he told them to, they consulted with 15 clan nations, they gave him reports. They thought they were starting something new; they would build a better community.
Then this year the gunships sailed in. Compulsory acquisition, abolish the permits.
DR DJINIYINI GONDARRA: I am really sad, I am sad. Here was this government of the day asking us to work with them. New ways, they said, new ways. A new way is sitting and talking. And fine, the solution was the best way and when we're ready to take that challenge, they change their mind. What sort of government is this? What are they really doing? Are they really want to sit and talk?
But now John Howard and his government has just let us down ... Everything is just spoiled ... There’s nothing we can hope for ... Who can believe this sort of a government - doesn't emphasis peace just emphasise inconsistency [my transcription].
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