On Australia’s National Emergency

Warning: serious content ahead…

I just don’t get John Howard’s new initiative to tackle sexual abuse of children in Australia’s indigenous communities. He has described the massive problem as a ‘national emergency’.

I mean, on the face of it I understand. The uncontested grounds are that the problem is bad and something needs to be done. I’m not sure the means that Howard has suggested are the right ones [more on this below], but without being an expert I guess it is good to see something being done.

Let’s face it though, Howard’s track record on these sorts of things isn’t exactly outstanding: Tampa and David Hicks come to mind, as do the previous nine years of neglect of indigenous issues. He hasn’t exactly been a poster boy for decisive decisions on matters of social justice, has he?

And in an election year it confuses me even more. Until now, raising issues of indigenous inequality in an election year has been the equivalent of Hilary Clinton declaring she wants tighter gun control; you just don’t do it if you want to win.

Maybe he wants to look ‘Prime Ministerial’ or something, but I reckon his track record on this stuff is just making people suspicious.

On to the actual measures the government is looking to institute in Aboriginal communities. There are a range of measures that I don’t know enough about to comment on: welfare payments tied to education, a ban on alcohol and porn, and compulsory healthy checks of all Aboriginal children.

One measure caught my attention though: increased policing of Aboriginal communities. This will be a huge hit with the locals. Perhaps they could send Chris Hurley, the “clumsy” 200 centimetre, 115 kilogram senior sergeant who was found not guilty of the manslaughter or assault of an indigenous prisoner on Palm Island.

Amazingly, he was the first person ever to stand trial over an Aboriginal death in custody. Even more incredibly, he is now working as a police officer on the Gold Coast.

The prisoner, Mr Doomadgee, died of internal bleeding after his liver was cleaved in two across his spine and his portal vein burst, allegedly after Hurley “fell” on the prisoner, conveniently leading with his knee.

The injuries resulted from the application of what was described to the court as “moderate to massive force” – I’m tipping more of the latter and less of the former.

All I can say is that the government will need to pay top dollar to get patient, compassionate, smart police into Aboriginal communities to start rebuilding the trust that Hurley and so many of his predecessors – individual and institutional – have undermined throughout the years.

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