Monday, June 25, 2007

Australia's Katrina?

Late last week, Australian Prime Minister John Howard announced wide-ranging policies targeting the sexual abuse of children in the indigenous communities of the island continent's Northern Territory. Responding to his declining position in electoral campaign polls and the report by Northern Territory authorities into the sexual abuse of children in aboriginal communities in Australia's Northern Territory, Howard has taken drastic action: the Northern Territory aboriginal communities will be subject to stringent action banning alcohol and porn, and threatening a reduction in welfare payments to parents who do not adequately provide for their youngsters. In addition, Howard announced that federal law will override territory law, and military and law enforcement personnel would be stationed in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. Further, Aboriginal children will be medically examined for signs of sexual abuse. The report pointed to systemic conditions in the community, stemming from the history of Australia's relationshiop with its indigenous people, and made several policy suggestions for dealing with the situation on Aboriginal communities, none of which appear to be targeted in the newly announced policy.
Opinion polls suggests that there is support for the announced policy and it has not been opposed by the leader of the labor party, who is afraid of losing support on the polls. Mr. Rudder has now resorted to defending his support for Howard. The plan has been met with a wide range of reactions, ranging from suspicion that Howard is trying to jump start his poll numbers, that this is a thinly veiled attempt to re-assume federal authority over resource-rich Aboriginal land in the name of economic activity, and accusations of paternalistic racism. In the face of protests, Mr. Howard has expressly compared the situation in Aboriginal Australia to Hurricane Katrina in the U.S.
Mr. Howard and the Australia public should ask themselves whether, instead of an army of military and law enforcement personnel, an army of doctors, social workers, sociologists and/or anthropologists and some real commitment to understanding and resource expenditure would bring greater benefits to the Aboriginal communities.

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