During the week, MLA for Daly, Rob Knight, visited the community here to explain the federal government’s initiatives and plans in straightforward terms.
I always try at least to be healthily sceptical whenever listening to a politician. In spite of how much I still favour his party’s policies over the federal government’s, recent resources-related issues have made me bitter towards both Labor and the Coalition.
That aside, one of his main points was to differentiate between those aspects of Howard’s plan that are more or less recommended by the Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle “Little Children are Sacred” report, and those that were not at all mentioned in the report. While the former were all pretty much related to health, housing, alcohol and drugs, pornography and so on, most of the latter were related to land or, more specifically, to the federal reclamation of aboriginal land.
It’s not hard to imagine this. They have, after all, been trying to do away with the Land Rights Act for years, but have never had the support to do so. This report gave them the political ammunition to take control.
Of course, there have been other reports in the last 10 or so years, all saying much the same thing: that living conditions in many aboriginal communities in remote Australia were well below the poverty line, that this contributes to alcohol and drug abuse, which in turn contributes to domestic violence and child abuse and neglect. But no other report was ever taken up by the government, let alone has one ever provoked any change.
Why, for instance, didn’t the government latch onto the finding of several months ago that health in aboriginal people in Australia lagged behind the rest of the country, or the entire west even, by a rough estimate of 100 years? Surely that’s a very serious issue and is huge cause for alarm, yet it sparked no emergency response, no taskforce and no military intervention.
As an aside, a letter to yesterday’s Herald made the profound point, keeping in mind that he is soon to celebrate turning 68, that had Howard been an aboriginal man, chances are he’d have been dead before being elected in the first place.
As I started saying in this post before getting distracted, it’s all about land. Alan Ramsey’s opinion piece¹ in today’s Herald provides plenty of evidence for this. It goes right back to late-nineties and Howard’s attempt to ‘gut’ the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (ALRA) of 1976, using a report that recommended as much, commissioned by the government back in ’98, compiled by John Reeves QC, a former Labor-right NT mining advocate. Reeves now serves on the PM’s Emergency Response Taskforce.
It emerges that most of the initiative that the government is proposing in repsonse to the apparently above-average levels of child abuse (though not in reality, it seems), that is, the 5-year leases (after which there is no guarantee that the land will revert to the current ownership), the taking over of town-camps, the 99-year leases in the Tiwi Islands and the Kimberly and the scrapping of the permit system, are all basically rehatched versions of the recommendations in Reeves 1999 report.
With some modifications, the current proposals are a revisiting of the 1998 review by John Reeves, QC. Reeves’s central target was the role of traditional owners under the act. He recommended breaking the nexus between traditional owners and decision-making. His recommendations were widely criticised at the time and were rejected by a 10-member parliamentary committee in a unanimous cross-party report in 1999.
Reeve’s recommendations were unanimously rejected. So how is it that 8 years later, the government is able to get away with much the same, with very little meaningful or even vocal opposition (I’m talking to you, Kevin Rudd)?
In other news, Northern Territory police support the current permit system.
¹Yes, I know I’ve linked to Ramsey’s column two weeks in a row now, but realistically, he’s just spot on when it comes to the political history of these issues, and of most of Australian local politics over the past 40 years or so. Today’s is a brilliant piece, as usual.