CANBERRA OBSERVED: News Weekly
Howard's action on Aborigines long overdue
, July 7, 2007
The smashing of the glass of political correctness is a good thing for Australia's indigenous population.When John Howard won the 2001 "Tampa" election, he pledged to make Aboriginal affairs the priority of his third term as Prime Minister.
Regrettably, it has taken him almost another six years to really bite the bullet on the most glaring social and human problem facing the nation.
Unfortunately too, it has taken the tabling of a horrific Northern Territory report entitled The Little Children are Sacred
to shake authorities out of their torpor.
The report catalogued a litany of abuse of children as young as a few months old, fuelled by "rivers of grog" and freely available pornography.
The shocking report detailed widespread sexual abuse of indigenous children in the territory, which is probably symptomatic of conditions in other parts of Australia.Misguided
In Mr Howard's defence, he has had to overcome three decades or more of misguided political correctness when it comes to government handling of Australia's indigenous population.
In the meantime, the health and well-being of Aboriginal communities, on so many measures, have deteriorated to the point where the conditions of some parts of Australia resemble those of Third World countries.
Resistance to direct government intervention - as opposed to hand-outs - is strong, and remains so, even after Mr Howard's dramatic move to take over more than 60 communities in the Northern Territory.
Previous Howard Government indigenous affairs ministers, Senators John Herron and Amanda Vanstone, have been well-meaning, but in the end were unable to effect change.
They have followed a long line of Labor and Liberal politicians who have done everything to avoid being seen to be "paternalistic", and to give Aboriginal communities independence and autonomy.
The arrival of Queenslander Mal Brough as Indigenous Affairs Minister has been a breath of fresh air, because the former army officer is more interested in results on the ground rather than platitudes.
Together with Mr Howard, he has decided to ban alcohol on Aboriginal land, ban X-rated pornography, and use computer audits to identify illegal material.
There will be compulsory health checks for every Aboriginal child.
And, quite controversially, half of all welfare cash will be quarantined for children to stop parents spending it on alcohol.
Parents who don't ensure their children are sent to school could also lose their welfare payments.
Not surprisingly, some Aboriginal groups and the Australian Democrats have slammed the proposals, describing them as "racist" and opportunistic or paternalistic.
But, as Mr Howard points out, if the same squalor and abuse were occurring in suburban Melbourne or Sydney, there would be immediate demands for government action.
All Australian children are entitled to protection from violence and sexual abuse, irrespective of the colour of their skin.
Mr Howard described the plight of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory as akin to a national emergency.
Opposition leader Kevin Rudd made a sensible decision in refusing to play politics and instead offering bipartisan support. This will help the difficult implementation of the plan.
Mr Howard's plan will be costly, difficult to implement and likely to meet with fierce resistance from some Aboriginal communities and white advisers.
It is also being implemented perilously close to the forthcoming federal election, leading some critics to claim it is a stunt.
The truth of the matter is that the measures probably will bring Mr Howard votes in the coming election, because they are sensible, necessary and long overdue.
But this is not the reason for the intervention, and the smashing of the glass of political correctness is a good thing for Australia's indigenous population, regardless of who wins government at the end of the year.