Koori History Newspaper Archive

PM puts price on children: professor

Australian - 5th March, 2009
Author: Patricia Karvelas, Political correspondent

INDIGENOUS academic Marcia Langton has accused the Rudd Government of putting ``a price tag on Aboriginal children's heads'' by failing to commit to funding a specialist Australian Crime Commission taskforce into child abuse and listening to Aboriginal lobbyists who deny the existence of child abuse in communities.

In comments that will intensify pressure on the Prime Minister to articulate a clearer line on indigenous affairs and the future of the Northern Territory intervention, Professor Langton said the Government was taking advice from lobbyists who believe child abuse in the NT is a ``fantasy'' and a ``conspiracy''. ``I'm tremendously disappointed that the Government isn't making it very clear that they will continue with the special taskforce,'' Professor Langton, the chairwoman of Australian indigenous studies at Melbourne University, said.

``This attitude puts a very cheap price on the head of an Aboriginal child.''

Howard government indigenous affairs minister Mal Brough this week accused Mr Rudd of destroying the intervention he launched in July, 2007 into 73 Territory communities.

ALP powerbroker Warren Mundine also begged the Government not to backtrack on the intervention, following its refusal to commit to funding the ACC taskforce investigating indigenous child abuse, drug trafficking and alcohol crime.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said on Monday the Government would decide while framing the May budget whether it would fund beyond June the ACC's National Indigenous Violence and Child Abuse Intelligence Unit.

A debate on the future shape and form of the intervention has fired up, with Aboriginal leaders who are opposed to the intervention because they believe it violates human rights becoming more vocal and demanding changes.

Professor Langton is concerned the Government is trying to appease both the anti-interventionist lobby and those like herself, who are arguing for radical reforms to end dysfunction.

Aboriginal leader Patrick Dodson last night delivered a lecture at Notre Dame University in Sydney where he condemned the Rudd Government for not being ambitious enough in its closing-the-gap goals and failing to sign the UN declaration on indigenous rights.

Mr Dodson also attacked the Government for pursuing the NT intervention and infringing on Aboriginal rights.

Professor Langton said she was fed up with the Government playing both sides of the policy debate on indigenous affairs and having no clear policy direction.

``There's quite a deal of behind-the-scenes lobbying of government ministers to relinquish aspects of the intervention and the Government is feeling under pressure and unable to manage one set of views as against another,'' she said.

``Clearly there is no particular view in Government, it's almost Government by spin," Professor Langton said.

"They give an accolade to this Aborigine and then they give an accolade to an Aborigine who has precisely the opposite point of view".

She said the Government can't talk about evidence-based policies and stop the evidence from being revealed and "jump from one policy view to another especially when they are diametrically opposed".

She said the special taskforce was urgently needed.

"There are pedophiles - they may or may not be organised but in any case they live in these communities and they need to be identified," she said.

"It's really only the special taskforce who will follow up on this issue. The NT police won't follow up on this issue, if people refuse to speak they won't take it any further, if the (health) clinics won't share any information they aren't going to follow up so the perpetrators are not being brought to justice".

Professor Langton said there was a group of commentators in indigenous affairs who had convinced the Government to dispense with some of the aspects of the Northern Territory intervention and related policies across the country.

"Their view is that we can't do anything about child abuse until we fix the housing or until we heal Aboriginal people of their colonial oppression from the invasion," she said.

"It's a juvenile view that's affecting the way that the Government thinks about these problems.

"The Government doesn't have a policy. It has a program, it has interventions, but it has no policy. That's what it seems like to me and I'm not impressed, I'm very disappointed, I expected better than this.

"They are being lobbied by those that believe the claims about child abuse are a fantasy invented to insult Aboriginal men. Unfortunately, the people who believe that it's all a conspiracy have sway with the Government."

Pat Dodson last night condemned the Northern Territory intervention.

"The continued suppression of the Racial Discrimination Act in the Northern Territory, under the misguided notion that it is protecting our children and generally for "our own good" is, if not ideology, certainly political expediency!"

He warned the Government was on a path that was well trodden in indigenous affairs, where mistakes will be repeated and the "gap between our two societies will remain as vast as it has ever been".

"The fundamental issue is that the policies and programs for the Closing of the Gap are destined to be administered and implemented by the very same bureaucracies that have overseen decades of ineffectiveness and failure in the delivery of services to indigenous people in remote Australia".

He described the NT intervention as humiliating for indigenous people, adding that punitive income management and massive signs outside communities were "embarrassing and condemning all who reside there".

"If governments continue to belittle the significance of our rights to exist in this, our land, as a unique group of people with rights and responsibilities as recognised by the United Nations in its Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, then it is unacceptable."