Out here in the field it’s not easy to get a sense of people’s reactions to the federal government’s proposals. This is mainly because of the lack of detail and the complete politicisation of what has been anounced. The fact that the plan lacks detail or even any long-term goals and targets (Howard on NT Stateline last night) and the fact that the government has already back-pedalled on a few aspects, both make it overwhelmingly clear that the plan is little more than a knee-jerk reaction.
The best evidence so far of this has been the retraction of the completely illegal and unethical compulsory forensic medical examinations, yet this has only been replaced with an equally unethical, but legal, coercive version of the same, if children don’t get examined, their parents don’t get their welfare money¹.
Of course the government doesn’t see it as a retraction. The prime minister last night (again, on NT Stateline) claimed that when he said ‘compulsory’, he didn’t mean compulsory-compulsory², what he apparently meant was that surely no parent would refuse a medical examination of their child, the result therefore, would be de facto compulsory. I don’t think I have to point out the logical flaws in that argument. The government, quite typically, appear to be more interested in maintaining face rather than coming up with a workable plan. This also explains why they have been so cavalier in blaming the states for all the problems; so they can be seen to take charge and tackle the hard problems.
The problems though, are chronic, complex, long-term and devastating. They demand something more sophisticated than a bunch of scarcely considered militaristic tactics that serve only to perpetuate this destructive us-vs-them ideology. The government’s favoured weapon here, and really the only legal weapon it has, is the threat of retention of welfare payments to achieve certain goals, and they’ve been rather trigger-happy lately: Make your kids go to school or lose your welfare; sign over your land to us or lose your welfare; and now, force your kids to undergo intrusive, invasive and quite potentially frightening forensic medical examinations - or lose your welfare.
Alan Ramsey put it best when he said “Excuse me while I vomit”.
It’s not just in the community that people are unsure of the situation, in town too, the miners (the vast majority of the population up here) are unaware that many of these measures will affect them. When I alerted them to the fact that the proposed ban on grog would similarly apply to them, they were suitably gobsmacked. I’m sure that it would apply to them because the government couldn’t possibly justify an alcohol restriction that depends on ethnicity, and because it is clear from the Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle “Little Children are Sacred” [pdf] report that the sexual abuse is not only being perpetrated by aboriginal men but also significantly frequently by white men, and especially in mining-based towns (some anecdotal evidence that I’ve heard over the last few days certainly suggests this). Then again, the government appears to have no qualms in ignoring the recommendations of the report, so why not also ignore the content?
In other news, a chance meeting with Bulanjdjan during the week alerted me to the fact that I’ve been over-using the carrot-and-stick metaphor of late, and that I need to find a replacement dichotomy, so any suggestions will be welcomed.
¹Whether or not the welfare money is ‘sit-down’ money as Noel Pearson has termed it is beside the point here.
²I just knew English had reduplication.