Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Howards military plan causing panic in Indigenous communitues

"...they think the army is coming to grab their kids and the police are coming to help them. The women and the kids are scared and they are running to the sand hills..."

June 26, 2007 - A group of 60 Aboriginal and community groups will deliver a letter to Prime Minister John Howard urging him to rethink his military plan to stamp out indigenous child abuse in the Northern Territory. The delegation from all states and territories call for Mr Howard to consult with indigenous people on ways to tackle the root causes of the abuse rather than send in the troops.

Mr Howard says he will abolish the Aboriginal permit system and mobilise extra police and defence forces into remote Indigenous communities. The Federal Government says it may compulsorily acquire as many as 70 Northern Territory Indigenous communities.

Aboriginal mothers in the NT are taking their children and fleeing into the sandhills because of fears the government will take them away...
Federal Police officers began arriving in the Northern Territory this week with other states to follow. The Federal Justice Minister David Johnston says the Prime Minister can force states to send officers to join the invasion.

Olga Havnen, a prominent Aboriginal leader in the Northern Territory, warned the intervention model announced by the government, could do more harm than good. "It's crazy stuff. I don't think people have thought through the unintentional consequences," said Ms Havnen, the deputy chief executive of the Northern Land Council. "People there are scared stiff," she told a corporate media source.

"They want to flee, to get out of there. That's the level of panic and fear that this has caused out in the communities." She said the plan for every child to have a compulsory health check was met with "shock and horror". "It's pretty draconian and drastic, one would have thought," Ms Havnen said.

Mutitjulu Elder Vince Forrester says the changes are unnecessary and are causing widespread fear in Central Australia. Police and the defence force are expected to be deployed to Mutitjulu next week and Mr Forrester says many Aboriginal mothers are taking their children into the sandhills because of fears the government will take them away.

The community says the Howard Government declared an emergency at the local health clinic more than two years ago. It says since then Mutitjulu has been without a doctor, has had health and youth programs cut and the council has been sacked. The leaders say community members must be consulted to ensure the success of any program.

Greens leader Bob Brown says years of inaction by Mr Howard have forced the Government into dangerous racial discrimination territory. "It is a pre-election push which is action on a scale that is absolutely not needed," he said.

Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett says it is an outrageous authoritarian crackdown, and he is outraged Mr Howard did not first consult the Indigenous communities. "If they aren't involved in developing the solutions, then the solutions aren't going to work," he said.

Mutitjulu locals accuse the commonwealth of treating their community as a "political football", saying it should concentrate on health, education and social services instead of sending troops.

They charge that government neglect had brought the situation to a crisis point. "We have been begging for an alcohol counsellor and a rehabilitation worker so that we can help alcoholics and substance abusers but those pleas have been ignored," they said.

"When your bringing armed forces into the communities obviously people's minds are going to start playing tricks on them," Vince Forrester said. "You don't bring an army into the community, this is just intimidation of the aboriginal community in the Northern Territory."

Mutitjulu resident Mario Giuseppe says the community is in "terror". "I thought the government was here to protect the women and children and they are scaring the living daylights out of them," he told the ABC. "This is bringing back a lot of memories and opening a lot of scars for these old people here, they are running to the hills and hiding."

Women were scared that police were being sent out to the community to take away their children, Mr Giuseppe said. "They think the army is coming to grab their kids and the police are coming to help them. The women and the kids are scared and they are running to the sand hills."

Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser, who calls the measures "a throwback to paternalism," along with indigenous leader Lowitja O'Donoghue, also criticise the Commonwealth proposal. They say the Government measures show a lack of consultation and funding. "Without respect, without discussion and agreement it is difficult to see any measures working as effectively as we would all want..." they said. They pointed also to the disbanding of ATSIC, saying Australia was alone among the western democracies in not having elected representation for its indigenous people.

Mick Dodson, professor at ANU noted the Little Children are Sacred report had emphasised that "the majority of perpetrators in Aboriginal communities are non-indigenous men people who come into the communities to work".

The Federal Government has established a panel including WA magistrate Sue Gordon, the Australian Federal Police's Shane Castles, former Woolworths boss Roger Corbett and former AMA boss Bill Glasson. Mr Howard confirmed cabinet would soon extend the quarantining of welfare payments for Aboriginal people.

The West Australian Premier, Alan Carpenter, says the action is an election-year stunt, declaring there was no doubt this was Howard's "new Tampa". WA Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan says he has no plans of sending officers to the Northern Territory. Mr O'Callaghan says police working in regional areas of Western Australia already have their hands full.

Professor George Williams from the University of NSW says it is the most significant takeover of territory power since self-government, and it highlights the paternalistic relationship between the Commonwealth and the NT. "We've never seen such extensive intervention, nor such an intervention that would affect so many people within the Territory," he said.

Aboriginal leaders in the territory want to know whether the Federal Government will provide the money needed for housing, education and health in remote areas. "If the Government does not provide the funds it will be seen to be playing politics with Aboriginal people's lives," said Tracker Tilmouth, a former head of the Central Land Council.

The Territory needs 4000 houses, at a cost of $1.4 billion. Even if Canberra put up the money it would be impossible to find workers and materials to build them immediately.

The need for schools is estimated at $60 million a year over 10 years just to provide teachers and facilities for school-age children if they all turned up for classes each day. A further $50 million a year for the next 10 years is needed to fix health services.

Indigenous mothers running scared: Elder
ABC News
Mutitjulu in eye of storm
Canberra Times
Statement from the Stolen Generations Alliance
Australia: military occupies aboriginal communities

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