Australia: government imposes military-police regime on Aborigines


Richard Moore

Original source URL:
MNN Mohawk Nation News

24.06.2007 09:38:25

Australian government imposes military-police regime on Aborigines

Alarm! Is this the reason for the June 29th ³Phil Fontaine Day²? Are Prime 
Minister Steven Harper and the corporate powers trying to set us up to impose 
martial rule on us? This ratcheting up of violence against Aborigines and 
Indigenous people is erupting at the very moment when courts in Australia and 
Canada are beginning to acknowledge and demand respect for our land and 
³jurisdictional rights². It¹s another land grab. The Howards and Harpers want to
turn even the most peaceful and prosperous parts of the world into another 
Middle East. Sexual abuse was a colonial tactic. It began with the colonists who
treated us like animals. Australians, we¹d like to hear from you. Everyone 
should read this and send objections to Australia and the UN. This is a crime! 
Email: •••@••.••• Posted by MNN Mohawk Nation News.

Australian government imposes military-police regime on Aborigines

By the Socialist Equality Party (Australia)
23 June 2007

Email the author at

Under the cynical guise of protecting indigenous children from sexual abuse, the
Howard government announced on Thursday a ³national emergency² plan to take 
control of dozens of Aboriginal communities throughout the Northern Territory 
and impose virtual martial law conditions. Over coming weeks, police and troops 
will flood into as many as 60 towns and camps to enforce a series of draconian 

Welfare and family payments will be halved, with the seized portions transferred
to food and clothing vouchers. All payments will be cut off if children fail to 
attend school, or are considered ³at risk². Forced labour will be imposed, via 
³work for the dole² programs, to ³clean up² communities.

In ³prescribed² zones across the Northern Territory, all children under the age 
of 16 will be subjected to compulsory medical checks for sexual abuse. Alcohol 
and X-rated pornography will be banned, with individuals as well as suppliers 
facing imprisonment.

At the same time, the existing permit system, which allows indigenous 
communities to restrict access to their lands, will be scrapped. Business 
managers‹so-called ³tsars²‹will take charge of all public housing and government
enterprises. These people will function as modern-day versions of the 
³administrators² and ³protectors² who exercised complete authority over 
Aboriginal reservations in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Federal parliament will be recalled for a special mid-winter session to pass 
extraordinary, yet-to-be-seen legislation to authorise the takeover. The 
proposal was immediately endorsed by the Labor Party, whose leader Kevin Rudd 
pledged to give Prime Minister John Howard whatever support he needed.

Howard insisted that the catalyst for his government¹s ³hardline approach² was a
recently released Northern Territory government inquiry report, ³Little Children
are Sacred,² which found that child sexual abuse was serious, widespread and 
often unreported. But Howard and Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough 
have brushed aside the report¹s findings and recommendations, which called for 
better education and family support services, together with empowerment of 
Aboriginal communities.

The report concluded that ³most Aboriginal people are willing and committed to 
solving problems and helping their children². Aboriginal people were ³not the 
only perpetrators of sexual abuse²‹it existed throughout Australia and 
internationally. In indigenous communities, the roots lay in social problems 
that had developed over many decades: ³the combined effects of poor health, 
alcohol and drug abuse, unemployment, gambling, pornography, poor education and 
housing, and a general loss of identity and control². Above all, ³Improvements 
in health and social services are desperately needed.²

On the contrary, Howard¹s package includes not a single cent for health care, 
education, housing or social services. Such is the acute shortage of medical 
staff throughout indigenous communities, the government is asking doctors to 
donate their services to implement the mandatory medical checks. While the myth 
is routinely peddled that millions of dollars have already been ³squandered² on 
Aboriginal welfare, every available statistic points to decades of chronic 

Less than three months ago, Oxfam Australia condemned Australia¹s ³health 
gap²‹the fact that the federal government spent approximately 70 cents per 
person on the health of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders for every $1 
spent on the rest of the population. The ³Close the Gap² report ranked Australia
as the worst among wealthy nations at improving the health of indigenous people.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders still died nearly 20 years younger than 
other Australians, and infant mortality was three times higher.

Dr Paul Bauert, head of pediatrics at Royal Darwin Hospital, denounced the 
government for ignoring the huge medical challenge produced by poverty-related 
illnesses. The indigenous children he had seen suffered ³pus coming out of their
ears, rheumatic heart disease, pus in their lungs [because] they¹re living in a 
house with 20 other people, with three bedrooms and one bathroom and one 
toilet². He said existing resources were ³minimal,² with the Northern Territory 
having only a quarter of the doctors needed to conduct regular visits to remote 

Far from addressing this social catastrophe, Howard¹s measures will deepen it.

What will happen to the families whose welfare payments are cut off? What will 
be done with those children who fail the medical checks? How many more 
Aboriginal men will be jailed, when the indigenous imprisonment rate is already 
30 times the national average?

According to Aboriginal health specialist, Dr Ben Bartlett, conducting forced 
medical examinations would be traumatic and could, in itself, constitute sexual 
abuse. Another expert insisted that the inevitable result of the government¹s 
³knee-jerk ... military response² would be increased suicide and violence. 
³There will be greater feelings of despair,² said Southern Cross University 
professor Judy Atkinson, the author of three previous reports on child sexual 
abuse in indigenous communities.

Child welfare workers are warning of a new ³Stolen Generation² of children 
placed in institutions or foster homes. Already, figures released this month by 
the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show that the number of children 
aged between 12 and 17 removed from their family in 2006 rose to 9,276, up 
one-third since 1998. Of these children, 1,170, or about 13 percent, were 
indigenous, although indigenous people make up just 2 percent of the population.

Howard¹s political agenda

At Thursday¹s media conference, Howard declared that ³constitutional niceties² 
had to be cast aside for ³the care and protection of young children². In the 
first instance, the new regime will be imposed in the Northern Territory, which 
operates under a different legal framework than the states. But Howard has 
called for urgent meetings with the six state Labor governments to adopt similar

The prime minister claimed he detected a new ³mood² among ³average Australians² 
who felt shame and anger about the sexual abuse of indigenous children, and 
expected governments to respond. With the enthusiastic assistance of the media, 
he is seeking to divert legitimate public outrage at the terrible conditions in 
remote Aboriginal townships away from those responsible‹successive federal, 
territory and state governments.

Howard¹s claim to be concerned for the plight of poor indigenous children is 
contemptible. In reality, he is using the social distress caused by decades of 
official neglect and deprivation, on top of two centuries of massacres, 
dispossession and forced separation of children, as the pretext for a new form 
of state repression. Alcohol and substance abuse, domestic violence and sexual 
abuse are symptoms of deep and longstanding social problems: poverty, 
deprivation and denial of essential infrastructure and services, including 
health care and schools.

The government¹s turn‹with full bipartisan support‹to punitive police-state 
measures against the most disadvantaged layers of the Australian population has 
far-reaching implications for the lives, social conditions and basic democratic 
rights of all working people. During his media conference, Howard revealed that 
federal cabinet is drawing up similar measures for all welfare recipients. 
Precedents are being established, using the most vulnerable members of society, 
that will be extended throughout the country.

At the centre of the new scheme is a massive land grab. The Howard government 
will override the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act and the 1976 Land Rights 
Act‹which granted land tenure to Aboriginal communities in the Northern 
Territory‹in order to take over land, initially through five-year leases. No 
compensation will be paid to the current landholders, despite a constitutional 
requirement to do so. Instead, they will be paid ³in kind²‹through government 
services‹a proposal reminiscent of the days when cattle station owners gave 
Aboriginal workers rations of tea, sugar and flour in lieu of wages.

To enforce these deeply anti-democratic measures, police will be mobilised from 
across the country, backed by military units. According to Indigenous Affairs 
Minister Mal Brough, a former army officer, the police will arrive in military 
vehicles and the army will provide logistical backup for frontline policing.

Brough likened the situation to a community being struck by a cyclone or flood. 
³Certain things have to be put aside. Certain normalities have to be discarded.²
But the epidemic of ill-health and abuse among indigenous children is not a 
natural disaster‹nor has it emerged overnight. It is a social disaster, which is
now being exploited to radically extend the domestic role of the armed forces.

While Labor is marching lockstep with Howard, and a whole layer of privileged 
Aboriginal leaders is collaborating with the government, significant voices of 
opposition have already emerged among health professionals, scholars, lawyers 
and local Aboriginal leaders. Among them is the winner of the 2007 Miles 
Franklin literary award, indigenous writer Alexis Wright. She accused the 
government of ³riding roughshod yet again, trampling heavily, bringing down the 
sledgehammer approach². This opposition will grow and broaden as the true 
character of the government¹s takeover becomes clearer.

As numbers of commentators have observed, there is an element of desperate 
election politics in Howard¹s announcement. Facing the prospect of defeat at 
this year¹s election, according to opinion polls, Howard is anxiously seeking 
another reactionary diversion, like the 2001 ³children overboard² refugee 
accusations or the 2003 ³weapons of mass destruction² fabrications.

But the plan is part of a wider agenda. Throughout his political career, Howard 
has made a point of whitewashing the genocidal policies carried out during the 
past 200 years against Australia¹s indigenous population. His government has 
dismantled representative Aboriginal bodies, such as the Aboriginal and Torres 
Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) and consistently blamed Aboriginal people for
their own plight. He has also sought to abolish native and communal title. Under
the Northern Territory takeover, entire communities are likely to be dispersed 
and their land cleared for unfettered exploitation by mining companies and 

Virtually every media outlet, including the Australian Broadcasting Corporation,
has adopted the government¹s line. The Murdoch media, in particular, has hailed 
Howard¹s announcement. According to Nicolas Rothwell¹s ³analysis² on the 
Australian¹s front page, Howard moved with ³rapier speed and devastating force² 
to sweep away ³a generation¹s worth of political assumptions² and impose a 
³completely new pattern of surveillance and control² on indigenous people.

While this assault has a distinctly racist component, it is directed against the
entire working class. As the social polarization produced by more than two 
decades of ³free market² policies intensifies, the Howard government is erecting
the scaffolding for a police state. At the same time as it turns to militarism 
abroad‹in Iraq, East Timor and the South Pacific‹to realize its economic and 
strategic agenda, the Australian ruling elite is trampling over basic civil 
liberties and democratic rights at home.

The Socialist Equality Party calls on the working class as a whole‹indigenous 
and non-indigenous alike‹to oppose Howard¹s deeply reactionary plan and make a 
political break with the entire official political apparatus, including the 
Labor party. What is required is the unification of the working class on the 
basis of a socialist program to completely reorganise economic and social life 
to meet human need, not corporate profit. Such a program must include the 
allocation of billions of dollars in resources to overcome the social 
disadvantage suffered by Australia¹s indigenous population, and to rectify the 
historic crimes perpetrated against it.

See Also:

Wadeye: a case study of the Australian government¹s Aboriginal agenda

[24 August 2006]

Australia: Aboriginal town camp residents organise first-ever rally
[14 July 2006]

Australia: Riot squad called to shut down Aboriginal community
[7 June 2006]

The crisis in Australia's Aboriginal communities
How right-wing ideologues stand reality on its head
[25 May 2006]

Official response to Aboriginal child sexual abuse in Australia: more law and 
[22 May 2006]

Jenissa Ryan: the violent death of an Australian aboriginal teenager
[27 April 2006]

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