John Howard sits on his hands with regards to aboriginal issues for ten years. No, that's not quite true. He does actually engage with the issue rather robustly, and on each occasion it is to find a way to smack aboriginal Australians in the face. He refuses to implement all the recommendations of the Stolen Generation report. He attacks land rights gains won in the High Court, he publicly insults and belittles aboriginal leaders, he even goes so far as to abolish ATSIC.
So when I read on the SMH web site yesterday that he will be tackling the social problems of aboriginal communities by marching in with his jackboots, I was outraged but not surprised. This is just so exemplifies how myopic, small-minded and bigoted he and his coalition henchmen are. It is entirely consistent with his patronising and paternalistic pre-1968 world view that aborigines are incapable of self-determination and beneath being treated with equal respect.
This is a highly complex and nuanced problem that requires concerted sophisticated solutions. Is it a crisis? Of course. Has it just suddenly reared up out of nowhere? Of course not. The politicians have for decades done nothing to seriously address the underlying causes of the social dysfunction, of which drug abuse, violence and sexual abuse are but symptoms, not some kind of primary cause. And now, when they finally decide to act decisively in the face of a horrifying report on the state of affairs, it is through high-handed, draconian, knee jerk measures that only serve to reinforce the alienation of aborigines -- they are different to "us" so can be treated differently to "us". This is a sickening response calculated to appeal to the deep-seated racial bigotry of every simple-minded ugly Australian -- the ones who have recently deserted the government in droves. The ones who need a Tampa to bring them back. This is John Howard in Pauline Hanson's clothing. This is vintage Howard seizing a political opportunity, playing the charade of care and compassion for the underprivileged while having nothing but political expedience in mind.
I was surprised then that the initial responses and commentary were pretty positive. Oh, yes, isn't it terrible, all the sexual abuse of the poor children. Cluck, cluck, coo coo. Kudos to Mr Howard for having the guts to do something decisive.
This has to be seen for what it is. A mean-spirited grab for the minds of bigots and a push to exert greater Commonwealth control over aboriginal lands. I was relieved then to start to see s ome comments surface that accord with my reaction, and I hope that this trickle becomes a stream, and the stream a torrent, and the torrent a deluge, and then wash this evil bastard and all his witless cronies into electoral oblivion.
And then perhaps we will find a more humane and respectful way of addressing this tragic problem. How about massive public education campaigns? How about handing greater power and responsibility to the elders of these communities? How about a big increase in health and social workers to help those who are vulnerable to these problems make better choices? These may not offer immediate and comprehensive solutions, but it would be a far more measured and humane response than basically labeling every aborigine a drug-addled, alcoholic pervert until proven otherwise.
Update: I dashed off the above before checking any of the political blogs to make sure that I was relying pretty much on my own analysis. I don't always trust my ability to analyze an issue, but I am pleased to see, now that I have had a bit of a look around, that I am not alone and that there are other much more considered and intelligent analysts coming to much the same conclusions. See also: Andrew Bartlett, Larvatus Prodeo, Club Troppo. A common theme that also disturbed me, but I didn't mention above, was Kevin Rudd's inability to spot the leading edge of the wedge. Labor should have thought through their response a bit more carefully, though I don't believe they have put themselves completely into a corner and still have an opportunity to turn this back on Howard. I only hope they do.