‘Take-over’ adds to Aboriginal torment

Nurses on the frontline are outraged at plans to take over remote Aboriginal communities.

The federal government is implementing measures to take over 73 remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, which has sparked strong concern and criticism from nurses on the front line.

Army troops and police have started moving in to remote Aboriginal communities to implement the first phase of the federal government’s radical intervention to stamp out child sex abuse in Aboriginal communities. One of the first communities targeted is Mutitjulu, home of the traditional owners of Uluru.

John Howard announced his ‘emergency plan’ after a report revealed widespread abuse of children in remote communities. The plan includes taking over Indigenous land titles and compulsory medical checks of children for sexual abuse.

Nurses working on the frontline delivering health care to members of these communities say these measures will exacerbate the problems affecting Aboriginal communities and will not address child abuse.

Howard announced the plan to combat child abuse in Aboriginal communities after the release in June of the Little Children are Sacred report by the Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children in the Northern Territory. The report blames ‘rivers of grog’ and the breakdown of traditional Aboriginal society for a child abuse endemic in remote communities.

The report reveals the extreme state of poor health in Aboriginal communities, alcohol and drug abuse, unemployment, the high prevalence of gambling, pornography, poor education, and poor housing – all contributing to a loss of identity and control, which leads to violence and abuse.

The report recommends that governments prioritise Aboriginal child sexual abuse as an issue of urgent national significance.

John Howard and his Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough conjured their hastily devised plan to override laws in the Northern Territory – where federal government has constitutional power to intervene – to deal with what he called ‘a national emergency of child abuse’.

The measures include widespread bans on alcohol, pornography and medical examinations of all Indigenous children under 16. Half of welfare payments from CentreLink will be quarantined so they can be used only for purchasing food and other essentials.

‘Welfare will be dependent on children attending school. We’re going to enforce school attendance by linking income support and family assistance payments to school attendance for all people living on Aboriginal land,’ said John Howard when announcing his plan.

He said law and order would be a central focus of his reforms.

Other ‘reforms’ include scrapping the permit system for common areas and road corridors on Aboriginal lands, and taking control of Aboriginal townships through five-year leases to improve property and public housing.

Critics accused Howard’s dramatic plan as nothing more than an election stunt.

The federal government has an 11-year history of neglect, said Sally Goold, one of Australia’s first Indigenous RNs and chairperson of Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses (CATSIN). Sally is deeply concerned about the Howard government’s ‘military-style’ approach to tackling problems of child sexual abuse.

‘There are good working examples in Australia and internationally of Indigenous communities and governments that have dealt effectively with these serious issues without removing land ownership and with the proper involvement of the communities,’ she said.

Federal govt stats reveal:

Picture of Aboriginal negligence

A Report by the Productivity Commission, called Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage, details statistics showing the state of Indigenous disadvantage.

  • The Report reveals the shocking state of Aboriginal health. Life expectancy for Indigenous Australians is 17 years lower than for Australians overall. This is at least double the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous populations in life expectancy in New Zealand, Canada and the United States, said Productivity Chairman, Gary Banks.
  • There are gaps in virtually all children’s health-related indicators. • Death rates in Indigenous children from external factors are five times more than in children overall.
  • As Indigenous people get older, their health worsens. Eg. They suffer from kidney disease at ten times the rate of the overall population.
  • Indigenous people are half as likely to complete school than the overall population.
  • They have 22% lower workforce participation.
  • They are 13 times more likely to be imprisoned.